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Against Democracy:Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

Simon During Australian Research Professor University of Queensland

Publication Year: 2012

This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history's end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it. In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature's deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism. Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism's contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix

This book asks: How democratic is literature? And it answers: Barely at all, not politically. At least until recently. Which is where its strongest—or at any rate boldest—claims kick in. Literary history, I contend, is to be . . .

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One: Democracy Today

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pp. 1-13

Literature and democracy? It’s a topic that only a few years ago would have seemed remote from what was most urgent in the academic humanities. But the situation has changed. Democracy in particular solicits our attention. . . .

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Two: Reform or Refusal? Living in Democratic Capitalism

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pp. 14-36

Democracy’s authority, its charisma of legitimacy, is so overwhelmingly strong that it is diffi cult to see how we might stand outside it. Yet it is not as if radical and crippling criticism of contemporary democratic society is rare . . .

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Three: Conservatism and Critique

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pp. 37-57

Certain historical moments prophetically illuminate the future. One such moment occurred during the dark early days of World War II in Britain, when it seemed as if Nazi Germany were about to defeat Western liberal . . .

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Four: Literary Criticism’s Failure

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pp. 58-76

As I have suggested, up until World War II serious literature was inhospitable to democratization’s purposes and processes, at least in Europe. So too, as many scholars have noted, was literary criticism (see Asher 1995, . . .

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Five: The Literary Origins of Modern Democracy

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pp. 77-104

It was in the 1830s that it fi rst became clear that, come what may, democracy would ultimately triumph over its enemies. That was also the last decade in which it was still possible to think cogently of European . . .

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Six: Howards End’s Socialism

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pp. 105-122

E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End records the descent of the “angel of democracy” on Britain. In testifying to this annunciation, Forster was not just registering the social democratic state’s emergence but engaging the . . .

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Seven: Saul Bellow and the Antinomies of Democratic Experience

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pp. 123-148

To the academic literary critic, few writers offer greater challenges—and, I think, greater rewards—than Saul Bellow. That’s partly because he was one of us. For much of his career, he was a professor at the University of Chicago’s . . .


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pp. 149-157


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pp. 159-172


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pp. 173-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246632
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823242542
Print-ISBN-10: 0823242544

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023767
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Against Democracy:Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

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Subject Headings

  • Literature -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • Democracy in literature.
  • Conservatism in literature.
  • Politics and literature.
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