Negative Liberties: Morrison, Pynchon, and the Problem of Liberal Ideology

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Duke University Press, May 28, 2001 - Literary Criticism - 239 pages
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Since the nineteenth century, ideas centered on the individual, on Emersonian self-reliance, and on the right of the individual to the pursuit of happiness have had a tremendous presence in the United States—and even more so after the Reagan era. But has this presence been for the good of all? In Negative Liberties Cyrus R. K. Patell revises important ideas in the debate about individualism and the political theory of liberalism. He does so by adding two new voices to the current discussion—Toni Morrison and Thomas Pynchon—to examine the different ways in which their writings embody, engage, and critique the official narrative generated by U.S. liberal ideology.
Pynchon and Morrison reveal the official narrative of individualism as encompassing a complex structure of contradiction held in abeyance. This narrative imagines that the goals of the individual are not at odds with the goals of the family or society and in fact obscures the existence of an unholy truce between individual liberty and forms of oppression. By bringing these two fiction writers into a discourse dominated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls, George Kateb, Robert Bellah, and Michael Sandel, Patell unmasks the ways in which contemporary U.S. culture has not fully shed the oppressive patterns of reasoning handed down by the slaveholding culture from which American individualism emerged.
With its interdisciplinary approach, Negative Liberties will appeal to students and scholars of American literature, culture, sociology, and politics.
 

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Contents

Narrating Individualism
1
Idealizing Individualism
34
Unenlightened Enlightenment
82
Contemplating Community
141
Beyond Individualism
186
NOTES
197
WORKS CITED
219
INDEX
231
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About the author (2001)

Cyrus R. K. Patell is Associate Professor of English at New York University. He is the author of Joyce's Use of History in “Finnegans Wake” and a contributor to the Cambridge History of American Literature, Volume 7: Prose Writing, 1940–1990.

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