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27. The Modern Novel in a New World Context

George B. Handley

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00030.x


Literary modernism's various and contemporaneous manifestations across many New World nations exhibit similar interests in racial, linguistic, and geographical distinctions, what is commonly known as “local color.” This was true in the US West and South, and in the Harlem Renaissance, but also throughout the Caribbean basin and Latin America, where similar movements in the early twentieth century were afoot to affirm the value of memories and cultures that derived from African, indigenous, and rural sources. What motivated this interest and fostered an impatience for signs of national or regional exceptionality was a climate of postcolonial anxiety among nations seeking to deepen their claims to cultural autonomy, often in the wake of civil and racial conflict. The allure of a local essence offered itself as a cure for these anxieties, but this literature's modernism is demonstrated by its self‐conscious awareness of the seemingly inevitable failure to find and identify that essence. That is, New World literary modernism is a performance of a search for an essence, a search that remains as necessary as the essence is elusive. The forces of Western modernity pose the greatest threat to that alterity the authors seek, specifically the uneven advancement of modernization and its concomitant promises and disappointments regarding the liberation of the citizen subject through technology, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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