Thesis

Graffiti: contesting visual narratives of waste in Don Delillo's America

What I would like to challenge is this notion that graffiti has to be eradicated because it causes damage and that it is nothing more than vandalism, waste, and destruction. Rather, I claim that graffiti is a representation of an alternative visual narrative to the dominant forces of the city, and as such, contests what it means to live in the urban environment. I argue that all graffiti acts are personal accounts, though, not all are politically motivated. I employ the use of fictional characters from Don Delillo’s Underworld, Moonman 157 and Klara Sax, in order to illustrate graffiti as a visual narrative (Delillo 1997). These characters felt an intense drive to tell the world about their experiences with people, places, and things that had passed through the world unnoticed, which is described as the urge to write graffiti. Their passion and natural propensity for writing untold narratives, in untraditional ways, is what drove them. I claim that the graffiti instinct contests the urge to give in to accepted norms, which are often heavily dictated through media as well as the ordered urban environment. Thus, the graffiti instinct, I claim, is the missing element in current academic scholarship on graffiti as a visual narrative. I will be using narrative theory in order to argue that graffiti, as a visual narrative, has the ability to make positive contributions to scholarship. I will begin with a brief summation of graffiti’s background and history, as well as its criminal reputation in the United States. I will then give examples as to how Delillo’s novel illustrates the use of narrative theory and its impact on how history is recorded and perceptions of graffiti, as a problem, and how this has been perpetuated in the media. In other words, I will show how his words seek to disrupt order, much like the graffiti writer who seeks to both disrupt and create. By using this methodology, it is my hope to bring new perspectives into the complex, provocative, and controversial world of graffiti as a worthy subject of study that continues to thrive and evolve well into the twenty-first century.

What I would like to challenge is this notion that graffiti has to be eradicated because it causes damage and that it is nothing more than vandalism, waste, and destruction. Rather, I claim that graffiti is a representation of an alternative visual narrative to the dominant forces of the city, and as such, contests what it means to live in the urban environment. I argue that all graffiti acts are personal accounts, though, not all are politically motivated. I employ the use of fictional characters from Don Delillo’s Underworld, Moonman 157 and Klara Sax, in order to illustrate graffiti as a visual narrative (Delillo 1997). These characters felt an intense drive to tell the world about their experiences with people, places, and things that had passed through the world unnoticed, which is described as the urge to write graffiti. Their passion and natural propensity for writing untold narratives, in untraditional ways, is what drove them. I claim that the graffiti instinct contests the urge to give in to accepted norms, which are often heavily dictated through media as well as the ordered urban environment. Thus, the graffiti instinct, I claim, is the missing element in current academic scholarship on graffiti as a visual narrative. I will be using narrative theory in order to argue that graffiti, as a visual narrative, has the ability to make positive contributions to scholarship. I will begin with a brief summation of graffiti’s background and history, as well as its criminal reputation in the United States. I will then give examples as to how Delillo’s novel illustrates the use of narrative theory and its impact on how history is recorded and perceptions of graffiti, as a problem, and how this has been perpetuated in the media. In other words, I will show how his words seek to disrupt order, much like the graffiti writer who seeks to both disrupt and create. By using this methodology, it is my hope to bring new perspectives into the complex, provocative, and controversial world of graffiti as a worthy subject of study that continues to thrive and evolve well into the twenty-first century.

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