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After the End of History

American Fiction in the 1990s

Samuel Cohen

Publication Year: 2009

In this bold book, Samuel Cohen asserts the literary and historical importance of the period between the fall of the Berlin wall and that of the Twin Towers in New York. With refreshing clarity, he examines six 1990s novels and two post-9/11 novels that explore the impact of the end of the Cold War: Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, Roth's American Pastoral, Morrison's Paradise, O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, Didion's The Last Thing He Wanted, Eugenides's Middlesex, Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, and DeLillo's Underworld. Cohen emphasizes how these works reconnect the past to a present that is ironically keen on denying that connection. Exploring the ways ideas about paradise and pastoral, difference and exclusion, innocence and righteousness, triumph and trauma deform the stories Americans tell themselves about their nation’s past, After the End of History challenges us to reconsider these works in a new light, offering fresh, insightful readings of what are destined to be classic works of literature.

At the same time, Cohen enters into the theoretical discussion about postmodern historical understanding. Throwing his hat in the ring with force and style, he confronts not only Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalist response to the fall of the Soviet Union but also the other literary and political “end of history” claims put forth by such theorists as Fredric Jameson and Walter Benn Michaels. In a straightforward, affecting style, After the End of History offers us a new vision for the capabilities and confines of contemporary fiction.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. ix-x

The history of After the End of History is the history of all the help I’ve been given over the years. The people who have taught me, supported me, and responded to my work are responsible for anything of value in this book. Any faults in it are mine alone. ...

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Introduction: The End of History

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pp. 1-30

On or about September 11, 2001, human character did not change. American character probably did not fundamentally change either. However, the intentional crashing of four commercial airlines — two into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and another, probably destined for the White House, in a field in western Pennsylvania...

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1. After Enlightenment: Mason & Dixon and the Ampersand

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pp. 31-60

The story goes that Thomas Pynchon was heavily involved in the graphic design of his 1997 novel Mason & Dixon, inside and out. In particular, he is said to have been involved in the making of the novel’s cover (Mxyzptlk). The dust jacket comes in two parts, a paper jacket and a transparent overlay. The paper jacket features the title, in an eighteenth-century–looking ...

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2. After the Fall: Roth and the 1960s

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pp. 61-90

In an October 2002 interview, Philip Roth was asked about the events of September of the previous year. The interviewer offered, “It has been said many times that with September 11, the United States lost its innocence.” Roth responded, “What innocence? That’s so naive. From 1668 to 1865, we had slavery in this country. Then, from 1865 to 1955, a society marked by brutal ...

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3. After Identity: Morrison and Genealogy

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pp. 91-118

In late December, 1997, seven months after the appearance of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, Toni Morrison’s Paradise was published by Knopf. It was Morrison’s seventh novel, the latest in a career that had garnered her great acclaim (including a Nobel Prize four years earlier) and had exerted a great influence on American letters and culture. In becoming the most widely ...

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4. How to Tell a True Cold War Story: O’Brien, Didion, and Closure

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pp. 119-154

George Kennan, author of the famous 1946 cable known as the “Long Telegram” and the article that was its descendant, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in 1947 in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym “X,” died in March of 2005 at the age of 101. These two pieces of writing are two of the most important texts in American foreign policy history: they es-...

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5. History Is What Heals: 9/11 and Narrative in Eugenides and Lethem

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pp. 155-188

During a ceremony held in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1991, the fiftieth anniversary of the Japanese attack, President George Bush put the end of the Cold War into what he saw as its proper context: “Now we stand triumphant,” he said, “for a third time this century, this time in the wake of the Cold War. As in 1919 and 1945, we face no enemy menacing our security” (qtd. ...

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Afterword: DeLillo and the Anticipation of Retrospection

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pp. 189-202

In his epilogue to the 2000 reissued edition of The Sense of an Ending, Frank Kermode reflects on the time when his study of fiction and apocalypticism first appeared:


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pp. 203-212

Works Cited

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pp. 213-230


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pp. 231-237

E-ISBN-13: 9781587298905
E-ISBN-10: 1587298902
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298158
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298155

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: cloth

OCLC Number: 503172983
MUSE Marc Record: Download for After the End of History

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Subject Headings

  • Literature and history -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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