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After Utopia

The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction

Nicholas Spencer

Publication Year: 2006

By developing the concept of critical space, After Utopia presents a new genealogy of twentieth-century American fiction. Nicholas Spencer argues that the radical American fiction of Jack London, Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, and Josephine Herbst reimagines the spatial concerns of late nineteenth-century utopian American texts. Instead of fully imagined utopian societies, such fiction depicts localized utopian spaces that provide essential support for the models of history on which these authors focus. In the midcentury novels of Mary McCarthy and Paul Goodman and the late twentieth-century fiction of Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Joan Didion, and Don DeLillo, narratives of social space become decreasingly utopian and increasingly critical. The highly varied "critical space" of such texts attains a position similar to that enjoyed by representations of historical transformation in early twentieth-century radical American fiction. After Utopia finds that central aspects of postmodern American novels derive from the overtly political narratives of London, Sinclair, Dos Passos, and Herbst.

Spencer focuses on distinct moments in the rise of critical space during the past century and relates them to the writing of Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch, Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt, Henri Lefebvre, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and Paul Virilio. The systematic and genealogical encounter between critical theory and American fiction reveals close parallels between and original analyses of these two areas of twentieth-century cultural discourse.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

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pp. ix-x

I would have been unable to arrive at the point of completing this book if it were not for the help and support of many people. I am grateful to the marvelous persons at the University of Nebraska Press for their sustained encouragement and belief. My institutional home in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska...

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pp. 1-12

Over the past decade the study of textualizations of space has become one of the most widespread and influential trends in many areas of cultural criticism. For some observers, the popularity of spatial critique is an unwelcome sign of faddishness. However, it is, I think, more appropriate to regard the extent of contemporary spatial...

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1. Utopian Naturalism in Conflict

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pp. 13-58

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the late-nineteenth century boom in utopian American fiction was in decline. Yet the spatial imagination that informed these utopian texts did not disappear. Rather, it migrated to socialist fiction, such as that of Jack London and Upton Sinclair. The novels of these authors invert utopian...

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2. Hegemony, Culture, Space

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pp. 59-98

Like the novels of London and Sinclair, the 1930s fiction of John Dos Passos and Josephine Herbst offers representations of critical space that are entwined with articulations of left-wing politics. However, Dos Passos's and Herbst's representations of spatiality significantly differ from those of London and Sinclair. Such differences are reflected...

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3. The Divergence of Social Space

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pp. 99-137

Michael Denning describes the leftist "Cultural Front" of the 1930s as "a second American Renaissance" that "triggered a deep and lasting transformation of American modernism and mass culture" (xvi). As Denning shows, American culture in the 1940s and 1950s continued to exhibit many of the concerns of the Popular...

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4. Realizing Abstract Space

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pp. 139-178

Among the texts that represent critical space in twentieth-century American fiction, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973) and William Gaddis's JR (1975) occupy a decisive transitional position. In these novels the localized spatial analytics of Goodman's The Empire City are greatly expanded. Goodman portrays the effects of power in...

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5. Territoriality and the Lost Dimension

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pp. 179-218

The fiction of Joan Didion and Don DeLillo shares Pynchon's and Gaddis's emphasis on the centrality of critical space as a mode of social analysis. However, the representations of critical space that we find in the texts of Didion and DeLillo are not predicated on models of dialectical opposition. Like Pynchon and...

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pp. 219-227

Scholarly considerations of developments in twentieth-century American fiction often do not prioritize connections between the radical fiction of the early twentieth century and narratives of the era of postmodernity. It is as if, in the scholarly imagination, the writings of authors such as Upton Sinclair and Josephine Herbst are wholly...


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pp. 229-248


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pp. 249-260


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pp. 261-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780803253971
E-ISBN-10: 0803253974

Publication Year: 2006