American Literature & the Culture Wars

By Gregory S. Jay | Go to book overview

f i v e The End of "American" Literature

It was a long and hard fight that established, by the middle of the twentieth century, the legitimacy of courses in American literature and (a little later) American studies. Now the angry quarrels brought on (yet again) by the question "What is an American?" have made the use of the very term "American" troublesome, for it no longer seems to provide a stable ground or point of clear origin for organizing the discipline. The patriotic nationalism and proselytizing spirit that once helped excite enthusiasm for putting the "American" into the curriculum do not have the same hold in the academy, or among public intellectuals, that they once had. Worldliness cautions against building up another imperial narrative of America's unique cultural virtues or manifest political destiny. Even "victory" in the Cold War has left the United States unsure of its mission and vulnerable to seeking out enemies within to replace the

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