Afterlives of Modernism: Liberalism, Transnationalism, and Political Critique

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Surely, politics figures into his work, but as promised, Rowe makes some surprising claims as to just how it fits.

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Focusing on Roth's famed "voluminous productivity since the mids," Rowe calls the novels written then, and since, Roth's "most ambitious and politically relevant, as well as technically superb in formal conception and stylistic execution" It's not that Roth achieved a sudden profundity or prescience, even topicality, in his later work. Rowe sees these novels as "an intriguing instance of how liberal culture has contributed to these conservative values, despite a self-conscious effort to chart a middle course between right- and left-wing extremes" More ominously, these works place Roth "in a liberal middle that turns out to be far more conservative than he thinks" This ties in beautifully with Roth's career-long approach to characterization.

Rowe credits Roth with having always imbued his work with a "philosophical existentialism"—an understanding "that each of us is alienated, profoundly stereotyped, and misunderstood, but also finally an individual who cannot be encompassed by any 'we,' except the loose collective of such individuals Roth imagines as U. While the first part holds true, for virtually any of the protagonists written about during this period, the "loose collective" being imagined by Roth as representative of democracy seems more of an attempt to fit Rowe's thesis, and if anything, a slightly assumptive, if not downright facile, analysis of Roth's work.

Rowe sees Roth as having "tapped into the essential features of the American literary canon, whose focus has long been on the development of such a distinctively American individual out of his diverse, often contradictory backgrounds" Interestingly, Rowe aligns Roth with Trilling as a result of [End Page ] this heightened individualism, explaining: "Roth's aesthetic and moral values since the mids closely resemble Trilling's views in The Liberal Imagination , insofar as Roth defends liberal individuals who cannot or should not be Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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