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Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism

Overview

In the 1940s, American thought experienced a cataclysmic paradigm shift. Before then, national ideology was shaped by American exceptionalism and bourgeois nationalism: elites saw themselves as the children of a homogeneous nation standing outside the history and culture of the Old World. This view repressed the cultures of those who did not fit the elite vision: people of color, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. David W. Noble, a preeminent figure in American studies, inherited this ideology. However, like many ...
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Overview

In the 1940s, American thought experienced a cataclysmic paradigm shift. Before then, national ideology was shaped by American exceptionalism and bourgeois nationalism: elites saw themselves as the children of a homogeneous nation standing outside the history and culture of the Old World. This view repressed the cultures of those who did not fit the elite vision: people of color, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. David W. Noble, a preeminent figure in American studies, inherited this ideology. However, like many who entered the field in the 1940s, he rejected the ideals of his intellectual predecessors and sought a new, multicultural, postnational scholarship. Throughout his career, Noble has examined this rupture in American intellectual life. In Death of a Nation, he presents the culmination of decades of thought in a sweeping treatise on the shaping of contemporary American studies and an eloquent summation of his distinguished career.

Exploring the roots of American exceptionalism, Noble demonstrates that it was a doomed ideology. Capitalists who believed in a bounded nationalism also depended on a boundless, international marketplace. This contradiction was inherently unstable, and the belief in a unified national landscape exploded in World War II. The rupture provided an opening for alternative narratives as class, ethnicity, race, and region were reclaimed as part of the nation's history. Noble traces the effects of this shift among scholars and artists, and shows how even today they struggle to imagine an alternative postnational narrative and seek the meaning of local and national cultures in an increasingly transnational world. While Noble illustrates the challenges that the paradigm shift created, he also suggests solutions that will help scholars avoid romanticized and reductive approaches toward the study of American culture in the future.

David W. Noble is professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of numerous books, including The End of American History and The Free and the Unfree: A Progressive History of the United States.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816640812
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Series: Critical American Studies
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword: The Unpredictable Creativity of David Noble
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Space Travels
1 The Birth and Death of American History 1
2 Historians Leaving Home, Killing Fathers 38
3 The Crisis of American Literary Criticism from World War I to World War II 79
4 Elegies for the National Landscape 106
5 The New Literary Criticism: The Death of the Nation Born in New England 129
6 The Vanishing National Landscape: Painting, Architecture, Music, and Philosophy in the Early Twentieth Century 151
7 The Disintegration of National Boundaries: Literary Criticism in the Late Twentieth Century 215
8 The End of American History 250
Epilogue 287
Notes 303
Index 337
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