The end of the “American Century” (and the beginning of a new, as yet unlabeled one) provides an opportunity to reflect on the aims, functions, and effects of a literary culture industry that not only belonged very much to the twentieth century, but had a hand in creating it. The critics and scholars who helped form American literary studies in the immediate postwar era did so in the service of an ideology of triumphant Americanism typified by Henry Luce’s famous label, and the revisionist New Americanist critics later reinforced this ideology, which involves an almost religious faith in transcendent, nationalist principles. In our era of globalisation, what is needed is a much more worldly, world literature. “American literature” is itself a twentieth-century phenomenon, and one wonders whether there really can even be a meaningfully American literature after the American Century. The time has arrived for a post-American literature.
Full text: PDF