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Death of a Nation

American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism

2002
Author:

David W. Noble
Foreword by George Lipsitz

Death of a Nation

A trenchant examination of epic shifts in American thought by a major scholar in the field.

In Death of a Nation, David Noble presents the culmination of decades of thought in a sweeping treatise on the shaping of contemporary American studies and an eloquent summation of his distinguished career.

This is a powerful book from an independent radical who gives us the defining history of American studies.

Dana Nelson, author of National Manhood

In the 1940s, American thought experienced a cataclysmic paradigm shift. Before then, national ideology was shaped by American exceptionalism and bourgeois nationalism: elites saw themselves as the children of a homogeneous nation standing outside the history and culture of the Old World. This view repressed the cultures of those who did not fit the elite vision: people of color, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. David W. Noble, a preeminent figure in American studies, inherited this ideology. However, like many who entered the field in the 1940s, he rejected the ideals of his intellectual predecessors and sought a new, multicultural, postnational scholarship. Throughout his career, Noble has examined this rupture in American intellectual life. In Death of a Nation, he presents the culmination of decades of thought in a sweeping treatise on the shaping of contemporary American studies and an eloquent summation of his distinguished career.

Exploring the roots of American exceptionalism, Noble demonstrates that it was a doomed ideology. Capitalists who believed in a bounded nationalism also depended on a boundless, international marketplace. This contradiction was inherently unstable, and the belief in a unified national landscape exploded in World War II. The rupture provided an opening for alternative narratives as class, ethnicity, race, and region were reclaimed as part of the nation’s history. Noble traces the effects of this shift among scholars and artists, and shows how even today they struggle to imagine an alternative postnational narrative and seek the meaning of local and national cultures in an increasingly transnational world. While Noble illustrates the challenges that the paradigm shift created, he also suggests solutions that will help scholars avoid romanticized and reductive approaches toward the study of American culture in the future.

Death of a Nation

David W. Noble is professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of numerous books, including The End of American History (1985) and The Free and the Unfree: A Progressive History of the United States (with Peter N. Carroll, 2001).

Death of a Nation

This is a powerful book from an independent radical who gives us the defining history of American studies.

Dana Nelson, author of National Manhood

A senior historian’s account of the intellectual, cultural, political, and economic commitments of the founding fathers of American studies and the ‘paradigm dramas’ enacted by their intellectual descendants. Death of a Nation is a book that provides hope in a post-9/11, rapidly globalizing world. Noble offers the vision of a transnational coalition of people mobilized against a global capitalistic market and unified by the desire to live in local communities organized by a sustainable relationship to the environment. Here hope resides in broadly conceived notions of difference, home, and global limits, rather than in myths of the boundless, timeless nation or the ever-expanding marketplace. Noble’s vision offers more than ‘gratitude’ to the nation, it helps generate new governing societal metaphors even as it prevents us from forgetting the conditions of their production.

American Studies International

Timely. An impressive volume.

American Quarterly

It is not an overstatement to say that this book is David W. Noble’s magnum opus. Filled with the provocative ideas, insightful and honest self-reflection, and breadth of knowledge that mark this historian’s more than half-century career as a scholar and teacher of the cultural and intellectual history of the United States.

Labour/Le Travail

Death of a Nation

Contents

Foreword:The Unpredictable Creativity ofDavid Noble George Lipsitz
Acknowledgments

Introduction: Space Travels

ONE The Birth and Death ofAmerican History
TWO Historians Leaving Home,Killing Fathers
THREE The Crisis ofAmerican Literary Criticism from World War I to World War II
FOUR Elegies for the National Landscape
FIVE The New Literary Criticism:The Death ofthe Nation Born in New England
SIX The Vanishing National Landscape:Painting,Architecture,Music, and Philosophy in the Early Twentieth Century
SEVEN The Disintegration ofNational Boundaries:Literary Criticism in the Late Twentieth Century
EIGHT The End ofAmerican History

Epilogue

Notes

Index