The Death and Life of the American Novel: Radicalism and the Transformation of U.S. Literature in the 1960s

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2020

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The sixties have long been regarded as a watershed moment in the history of the American novel. In the seventies and eighties critics tended to assume that the era dealt a deathblow to social realism and, by extension, the dream of the Great American Novel. Today the prevailing view is that no such thing occurred; on the contrary, as black, feminist, and queer voices took center stage in American life and fiction during the sixties, the novel enjoyed something of a renaissance. While this assessment of sixties literature holds true, it needs to be expanded to account for how the novel diversified in other important ways. The Death and Life of the American Novel: Radicalism and the Transformation of U.S. Literature in the 1960s shows how sixties novels, including those by women and people of color, shifted the locus of political life away from the industrial proletariat to figures previously deemed superfluous to class struggle—housewives, welfare mothers, outlaws, students, and queer bohemians. This shift revealed possibilities for revolutionary agency overlooked in traditional proletarian literature and orthodox Marxism. In the sixties, novelists discovered the feminine domestic sphere, the culture industry, and the administrative state as axes of false consciousness and radicalization. Framing their work in terms of its diverse explorations of political subjectivity not only brings to light how they found new ways to represent class struggle’s imbrications with racial and sexual identity, but also how they engaged critically with twentieth-century social protest movements.

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Mitchell, Justin David (2020). The Death and Life of the American Novel: Radicalism and the Transformation of U.S. Literature in the 1960s. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21473.

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