A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World

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Princeton University Press, 2005 - Literary Criticism - 280 pages
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In a famous passage in The Red and the Black, the French writer Stendhal described the novel as a mirror being carried along a roadway. In the twentieth century this was derided as a naïve notion of realism. Instead, modern writers experimented with creative forms of invention and dislocation. Deconstructive theorists went even further, questioning whether literature had any real reference to a world outside its own language, while traditional historians challenged whether novels gave a trustworthy representation of history and society.


In this book, Morris Dickstein reinterprets Stendhal's metaphor and tracks the different worlds of a wide array of twentieth-century writers, from realists like Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, and Willa Cather, through modernists like Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett, to wildly inventive postwar writers like Saul Bellow, Günter Grass, Mary McCarthy, George Orwell, Philip Roth, and Gabriel García Márquez. Dickstein argues that fiction will always yield rich insight into its subject, and that literature can also be a form of historical understanding. Writers refract the world through their forms and sensibilities. He shows how the work of these writers recaptures--yet also transforms--the life around them, the world inside them, and the universe of language and feeling they share with their readers.


Through lively and incisive essays directed to general readers as well as students of literature, Dickstein redefines the literary landscape--a landscape in which reading has for decades been devalued by society and distorted by theory. Having begun with a reconsideration of realism, the book concludes with several essays probing the strengths and limitations of a historical approach to literature and criticism.


 

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A mirror in the roadway: literature and the real world

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Blending cultural history and literary biography with the barest traces of memoir, Dickstein (English, CUNY Graduate Ctr.; Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties ) has produced in his newest ... Read full review

Contents

A Mirror in the Roadway
1
New York and the American Writer
17
The Second City Chicago Writers
36
Upton Sinclair and the Urban Jungle
41
A Radical Comedian Sinclair Lewis
51
Willa Cathers Lost Lady
60
The Authority of Failure F Scott Fitzgerald
77
Three Phases
89
Talking Dogs and Pioneers S Y Agnon
144
Celine in America
153
The Complex Fate of the Jewish American Writer
168
The Eclipse of Distance in Contemporary Fiction
184
Carver Ford and BlueCollar Realism
199
Late Bellow Thinking About the Dead
209
William Kennedys Albany Cycle
214
The Decay of Reading
223

A Glint of Malice Mary McCarthy
96
Silence Exile Cunning
104
An Outsider in His Own Life
115
Kafka in Love
119
Orwell and the Future
126
Magical Realism
137
A Fishy Tale Gaenter Grass
140
Finding the Right Words Irving Howe
234
The Social Uses of Fiction Martha Nussbaum
243
Literary Theory and Historical Understanding
248
Sources
259
Index
271
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About the author (2005)

Morris Dickstein is Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

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