The Mad Men in the attic: Seriality and identity in the narrative of capitalist globalization

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This essay connects the television series Mad Men to Anthony Trollope's Prime Minister and Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. All are serialized narratives of capitalist globalization in which motifs of exile articulate the experience of breached sovereignty in a modern world. Mad Men belongs to a long line of naturalist narratives in which the outsider within (often a Jew or probable Jew) assimilates the myriad impacts of capitalist globalization and thus exemplifies the periodic resurgence of historical realism, which Georg Lukács predicted in The Historical Novel. Serial forms synchronize naturalist representation through a slow temporality that enables viewers and characters to share a deferred longing for the social transformations once symbolized by the 1960s. Mad Men's objective situation is today's neoliberal condition, connected to the longue durée of capitalist and imperial unfolding through the recurrence of Judaized otherness and virtualized Jewishness. Don Draper is a virtual Jew in whom the minority subject's aberrant particularity and the majority subject's universalist status collide, but serial forms like montage synchronize Don's virtual condition with the experiences of the show's "mad women." Like Emma Bovary, Don is a "madwoman in the attic," for whom aestheticism and adultery are the sole consolations for the experience of singing for one's captors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-235
Number of pages35
JournalModern Language Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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