Pluralist Desires

December 2015
190 pages
9x6 in
European Studies in North American Literature and Culture
ISBN: 9781571139528
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004020, HIS037070

Pluralist Desires

Contemporary Historical Fiction and the End of the Cold War

Philipp Löffler

Excavates the contemporary revival of 19th-century cultural pluralism, revealing how American novelists since the 1990s have appropriated the historical novel in the pursuit of selfhood rather than truth, fundamentally repositioning the genre in American culture.
In Pluralist Desires, Philipp Löffler explores the contemporary historical novel in conjunction with three cultural shifts that have crucially affected political and intellectual life in the United States during the 1990s and 2000s: the end of the Cold War, the decline of postmodernism, and the re-emergence of cultural pluralism. Contemporary historical fiction -- from Don DeLillo's Underworld and Philip Roth's American trilogy to Richard Powers's Plowing the Dark and Toni Morrison's A Mercy -- relates and authorizes these developments by imagining the writing of history as a powerful form of world-making. Rather than asking whether history can ever be true, contemporary historical fiction investigates the uses of history for our individual lives. How can we use history to make our individual lives meaningful and worthy in the face of an unknown future?
Pluralist Desires approaches these issues by excavating the origins of 19th-century pluralism and its revival in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, revealing how major American novelists have appropriated the genre of the historical novel in the pursuit of selfhood rather than truth. Löffler complements standard accounts of the end of history with a selection of careful close readings that fundamentally reposition the form and the function of the historical novel in contemporary American culture.

Philipp Löffler is Assistant Professor of American Literature at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Saving Private Ryan, the End of the Cold War, and the Value of Historical Experience
The Uses of History: From Nineteenth-Century Historicism to Twenty-First-Century Pluralism
"No Longer and Not Yet": Don DeLillo and the Aftermath of the Cold War
After Race: Body Language and Historiography in Toni Morrison's Beloved and A Mercy
"A Singular Act of Invention": Storytelling, Pluralism, and Philip Roth's American Trilogy
Lukácsian Aesthetics, Self-Creation, and Richard Powers's Plowing the Dark


In sum, Pluralist Desires achieves an impressively compact revaluation of a number of novels written between the end of the Cold War and the early 2000s that may, at first glance, not share as much as Löf?er ably shows they do. Pluralist Desires is an inescapable book for students of the authors it discusses, of historical fiction, and of contemporary literature. AMERIKASTUDIEN

[T]he juxtaposition of seemingly disparate novels . ultimately proves successful, illuminating the value and logic of subjective experience in the contemporary historical novel and renewing fruitful discourse on the ways in which we read these texts. SYMPLOKE

Focusing on historical novels written in the 1990s through the 2000s, this study of post-Cold War US literary culture . provides a genealogy of cultural pluralist thought in the United States, outlining the resonant historical influences of Friedrich Nietzsche and William James. AMERICAN LITERATURE

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