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The twenty-five years after the Second World War were a lively and fertile period for the American novel and an era of momentous transformation in American society. Taking his title from the Kafka parable about the leopards who kept racing into the courtyard of the temple, disrupting the sacrifice, until they were made part of the ritual, Morris Dickstein shows how a daring band of outsiders reshaped the American novel and went on to dominate American fiction for the rest of the century.
In fluid prose, offering a social as well as a literary history, Dickstein provides a wide-ranging and frank reassessment of more than twenty key figures--including Jewish writers like Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, African-Americans such as Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, colorful emigres like Vladimir Nabokov, and avatars of a new youth culture, including J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac.
Disputing the received wisdom about the culture of the cold war, Dickstein shows why artists turned inward after the war and demonstrates how the writing of the 1960s emerged from the cultural ferment of the preceding decades, including road novels, avant-garde painting, bebop, film, psychoanalysis, and social changes that continue to affect us today.
Leopards in the Temple is the only lucid and enjoyably written study of postwar American fiction to have come along in years...Dickstein wants to revise the conventional view of the 1950s as a time of social conformity and political consensus, in which both types of complacency were nourished by tremendous economic growth and a sense of almost majestic power following the victories over Germany and Japan.
— Lee Siegel
Leopards in the Temple is a remarkably lucid, elegant and exhilarating work of literary and cultural history that should decisively change the way students of 20th-century American fiction think about their field.
— Marshall Boswell
Like Kafka's leopards, Dickstein asserts, these Jewish writers and other "outsider" writers—mostly black, Southern, or gay—would gradually be "integrated into the once-decorous rites of American literature" and ultimately "would become American literature"...Dickstein uses social history to document the broad palette of sensibility that groups, which until then had been largely marginalized, brought to the postwar artistic scene...He presents a highly perceptive and discerning overview of the literary figures and groups who defined an era.
— Diane Cole
Dickstein is a convincing advocate of the books he values...He also backs his judgments and interpretations with striking parallels and contrasts, not just between individual novels and novelists but between novels and films, paintings, jazz, literary criticism, and a range of literature from previous periods...I can think of few contemporary literary histories as lively or broadly persuasive, or as free of boilerplate and jargon.
— Zachary Leader
1. Introduction: Culture, Counterculture, and Postwar America
2. War and the Novel: From World War II to Vietnam
3. The New Fiction: From the Home Front to the 1950s
4. On and Off the Road: The Outsider as Young Rebel
5. Apocalypse Now: A Literature of Extremes