Synopses & Reviews
"With communism collapsing all over the world, we are no doubt due for many retrospective analyses of various aspects of its long struggle with capitalism. But let us hope that they do not all make Thomas Schaub's mistake of thinking that just because the Cold War is over, it never happened. Schaub sets out to analyze how liberal critics and authors fell prey to what he views as American Cold War myths. The problem with his approach is that he uncritically assumes that liberal attitudes were irrational and hence need explanation. From the safety of the 1990's, Schaub can present the frightening events of the past with astonishing blandness: 'The victory of Chinese communism in 1949 and the discovery that the Soviet Union had exploded an atom bomb further contributed to the culture of anticommunism.' Ah, those paranoid liberals: unaccountably upset that a billion people had gone over to the other side and mysteriously troubled that Joseph Stalin had acquired nuclear weapons. Another example of a liberal myth for Schaub is 'the dominant cold war polarities which privileged American democracy, imagined as a fruitful tension of conflicting groups in contrast with the monolithic repressiveness of the Soviet Union.' What a shame that even the Soviet people have now succumbed to this American myth and rejected their Marxist political heritage. These quotations give some sense of how shallow, theoretically naïve, and dogmatically left-wing this book is." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
In American Fiction in the Cold War Thomas Hill Schaub makes it clear that Trilling’s summary was in itself a mythic reconstruction, a prominent example of the way liberal writers in the late 1940s and 1950s came to terms with their political past. Schaub’s book brilliantly analyzes their efforts to reshape an “old” liberalism alleged to hold naively optimistic views of human nature, scientific reason, and social progress into a “new,” skeptical liberalism that recognized the persistence of human evil, the fragility of reason, and the ambiguity of moral decision.
Most important, as American Fiction in the Cold War demonstrates, these liberal reassessments of history, politics, human nature, and destiny—what Schaub calls the “liberal narrative”—mediated the critical and imaginative production of the literary community after World War II. Schaub shows that the elements of this narrative are visible in a wide spectrum of cultural narratives in American history, political philosophy, and social criticism during the Cold War era. His analysis of the dominant critical communities of the late 1940s—led by critics such as Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe, Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate—recovers the political meanings embedded within their debates over the nature of literary realism, the definition of the novel, and speculations on its “death.”
In the second part of his study, Schaub turns to Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Norman Mailer, and John Barth. His readings of their fiction isolate the political and cultural content of works often faulted for their apparent efforts to transcend social history. Reviewing John Barth’s End of the Road, for example, he shows the politics of culture concealed within what seems to be a philosophical narrative. In novel after novel, he demonstrates, the liberal narrative is operating from within, tuning and steering the direction of the plot and the creation of the character. Schaub’s penetrating exploration of the relationship between U.S. political and social thought and the literary consciousness in the early postwar years will be of interest to intellectual historians and to students of American literary culture.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 195-205) and index.