After Utopia: The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction

After Utopia: The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction

After Utopia: The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction

After Utopia: The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 analyses as the sign of a legitimate sharing of concerns. Critical assessments that simply repeat existent conclusions or fail to develop their outlook in any depth should, of course, be accorded limited acclaim. But rather than striving to curtail spatial analyses in the belief that such endeavors are now passé, critical culture is best served by building upon existing spatial critique and creating new frameworks and contexts for investigations into cultural space. in this book I seek to accomplish both these goals. After Utopia mobilizes the concept of “critical space” to reorient scholarly perspectives on twentiethcentury American fiction. the critical paradigm that is articulated in the following chapters is rooted in one of the most influential theses of contemporary spatial critique. Speaking of early-twentieth-century culture, Michel Foucault argues, “Space was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary, was richness, fecundity, life, dialectic” (“Questions” 70). in a related argument Foucault claims “that the anxiety of our era has to do fundamentally with space, no doubt a great deal more than with time” (“Of” 23). in other words, Foucault perceives in late-twentieth-century culture a reversal of the dominance of temporality over spatiality that he attributes to the earlier part of the century. Taking Foucault’s theorization as its starting point, After Utopia examines the function of . . .

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