Historical Fantasy, Speculative Realism, and Postrace Aesthetics in Contemporary American Fiction

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2011-09-05 19:00Z by Steven

Historical Fantasy, Speculative Realism, and Postrace Aesthetics in Contemporary American Fiction

American Literary History
Volume 23, Number 3 (Fall 2011)
pages 574-599
E-ISSN: 1468-4365 Print ISSN: 0896-7148

Ramón Saldívar, Professor of History
Stanford University

Since the turn of the century, a new generation of minority writers has come to prominence whose work signals a radical turn to a postrace era in American literature. Outlining a paradigm that I term historical fantasy, I argue that in the twenty-first century, the relationship between race and social justice, race and identity, and indeed, race and history requires these writers to invent a new “imaginary” for thinking about the nature of a just society and the role of race in its construction. It also requires the invention of new forms to represent it. In this light, I address the topic of race and narrative theory in two contexts: in relation to the question of literary form and in relation to history. Doing so will allow me to explain the reasons for what I take to be the inauguration of a new stage in the history of the novel by twenty-first-century US ethnic writers.

At the outset, I wish to make one thing clear about my use of the term “postrace”: race and racism, ethnicity and difference are nowhere near extinct in contemporary America. W. E. B. Du Bois’s momentous pronouncement in 1901 that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” could not have been a more accurate assessment of the fate of race during the twentieth century (354). Today race remains a central question, but one no longer defined exclusively in shades of black or white, or in the exact manner we once imagined. That is, apart from the election of Barack Obama, one other matter marks the present differently from the racial history of the American past: race can no longer be considered exclusively in the binary form, black/white, which has traditionally structured racial discourse in the US. If for no other reason than the profoundly shifting racial demographics of early twenty-first-century America, a new racial imaginary is required to account for the…

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