American Literature and the Long Downturn: Neoliberal Apocalypse

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American Literature and the Long Downturn: Neoliberal Apocalypse

English | ISBN: 0198852703 | 2021 | 208 Pages | PDF | 1 MB

Apocalypse shapes the experience of millions of Americans. Not because they face imminent cataclysm, however true this is, but because apocalypse is a story they tell themselves. It offers a way out of an otherwise irredeemably unjust world. Adherence to it obscures that it is a story, rather than a description of reality. And it is old. Since its origins among Jewish writers in the first centuries BCE, apocalypse has recurred as a tempting and available form through which to express a sense of hopelessness. Why has it appeared with such force in the US now? What does it mean?

This book argues that to find the meaning of our apocalyptic times we need to look at the economics of the last five decades, from the end of the postwar boom. After historian Robert Brenner, this volume calls this period the long downturn. Though it might seem abstract, the economics of the long downturn worked its way into the most intimate experiences of everyday life, including the fear that there would be no tomorrow, and this fear takes the form of ‘neoliberal apocalypse’.

The varieties of neoliberal apocalypse-horror at the nation’s commitment to a racist, exclusionary economic system; resentment about threats to white supremacy; apprehension that the nation has unleashed a violence that will consume it; claustrophobia within the limited scripts of neoliberalism; suffocation under the weight of debt-together form the discordant chord that hums under American life in the twenty-first century. For many of us, for different reasons, it feels like the end is coming soon and this book explores how we came to this, and what it has meant for literature.

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