The twenty-five years after the Second World War were a lively and fertile period for the American novel and an era of momentous transformation in American society. Taking his title from the Kafka parable about the leopards who kept racing into the courtyard of the temple, disrupting the sacrifice, until they were made part of the ritual, Morris Dickstein shows how a daring band of outsiders reshaped the American novel and went on to dominate American fiction for the rest of the century.
In fluid prose, offering a social as well as a literary history, Dickstein provides a wide-ranging and frank reassessment of more than twenty key figures—including Jewish writers like Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth; African-Americans such as Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin; colorful emigrés like Vladimir Nabokov; and avatars of a new youth culture, including J. D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac.
Disputing the received wisdom about the culture of the Cold War, Dickstein shows why artists turned inward after the war and demonstrates how the writing of the 1960s emerged from the cultural ferment of the preceding decades, including road novels, avant-garde painting, bebop, film, psychoanalysis, and social changes that continue to affect us today.
In short, this is criticism about as full as one could possibly wish for: as sophisticated an integration of aesthetic and cultural criticism as I've seen, ranking with the best of Trilling...This is a great book, of interest to any serious literary reader.
It is a model in its own right of literary history, and specifically of the complex intermeshings of history and the novel, of aesthetics and culture, of racial, ethnic, and social issues in the process of literary creation. I predict that this brilliant book will become the standard authority in its field.
In this sharply sketched history of American fiction in the postwar years, Dickstein upends prevailing caricatures, showing that the culture of the fifties was "highly self-critical...and alive with the change at the margins," and that the new American novel epitomized the era. Writers who once would have been considered "outsiders"--Ellison, Baldwin, Bellow, Roth, and Mailer--became central, producing works that fused the novel's traditional emphasis on the social with a newfound fascination with the psychological. Kerouac and Salinger reinvigorated first-person narrative while writers like Updike and Yates explored spiritual doubt in suburbia. Dickstein's criticism is pointed without being harsh, and he is alive to the pleasures that even flawed works can provide. Most impressively, he uses history to illuminate fiction, and vice versa, but never forgets to keep the two realms separate.
Leopards in the Temple is the only lucid and enjoyably written study of postwar American fiction to have come along in years...Dickstein wants to revise the conventional view of the 1950s as a time of social conformity and political consensus, in which both types of complacency were nourished by tremendous economic growth and a sense of almost majestic power following the victories over Germany and Japan.
Leopards in the Temple is a remarkably lucid, elegant and exhilarating work of literary and cultural history that should decisively change the way students of 20th-century American fiction think about their field.
Like Kafka's leopards, Dickstein asserts, these Jewish writers and other "outsider" writers--mostly black, Southern, or gay--would gradually be "integrated into the once-decorous rites of American literature" and ultimately "would become American literature"...Dickstein uses social history to document the broad palette of sensibility that groups, which until then had been largely marginalized, brought to the postwar artistic scene...He presents a highly perceptive and discerning overview of the literary figures and groups who defined an era.
Dickstein is a convincing advocate of the books he values...He also backs his judgments and interpretations with striking parallels and contrasts, not just between individual novels and novelists but between novels and films, paintings, jazz, literary criticism, and a range of literature from previous periods...I can think of few contemporary literary histories as lively or broadly persuasive, or as free of boilerplate and jargon.
An extensive survey of post-war American fiction is mapped out in Morris Dickstein's Leopards in the Temple...[It] persuasively examines how the writing of the 1960s emerged from the cultural phenomena of the preceding decades, including road novels, avant garde painting, bebop, film, and psychoanalysis. As mentioned, the range of this survey is impressive, and the multiple references to different novels are encyclopedic.
- 256 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
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