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Chapter 14 - Postmodern American Literature at the End of History

from Part II - American Apocalypse in (and out of) History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2020

John Hay
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Summary

When Francis Fukuyama announced “the end of history” as the Cold War ended, he suggested that the teleology of historical progression had passed and that Western-style liberal democracy had prevailed. Postmodern American novelists, however, have portrayed not history’s end but its rebirth as a form of interrogation and reinvention. Recognizing that new technologies for instant representation (radio, television, the internet) have altered both our sense of history and the practice of history, postmodern writers treat history as something happening and being created in the present moment. Like currency, history becomes fungible. Consequently, received versions of history no longer have the same power. They are subject to exchange. It is not precisely that history has always been lies but rather fictions in which people may choose to believe. Writers such as Toni Morrison or Joan Didion write alternative versions of history that critique received exceptionalist, racist American ones. On the other hand, in the era of climate change, the “end of history” has taken on an apocalyptic valence as writers such as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Kurt Vonnegut portray the end of history as the beginning of the Anthropocene era: truly the end of history.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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