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Mass-Market Fiction and the Crisis of American Liberalism, 1972–2017 tracks the transformation of liberal thought in the contemporary United States through the unique lens of the popular paperback. The book focuses on cultural shifts as they appear in works written by some of the most widely-read authors of the last fifty years: the idea of love within a New Economy (Danielle Steel), the role of government in scientific inquiry (Michael Crichton), entangled political alliances and legacies in the aftermath of the 1960s (Tom Clancy), the restructured corporation (John Grisham), and the blurred line between state and personal empowerment (Dean Koontz). To address the current crisis, this book examines how the changed character of American liberalism has been rendered legible for a mass audience.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction: Popular Paperbacks and the Transformation of American Liberalism

Abstract
This introduction establishes the cultural context of the period under review (1972–2017). It then articulates the urgent need for a study of mass-market fiction as a way to address the transformation of liberalism in the United States. With an unofficial tally of over 1.2 billion copies sold (and counting), the novels considered in this book consistently perch atop all-time bestselling lists. One might reasonably assume that readers choose these specific texts due to their clarity, accessibility, and coherence. These traits remain useful indices of intelligibility. As this introduction seeks to illustrate, popular paperbacks serve as ideal sites for tracking the readability—or incongruity—of political sentiments in the contemporary United States.
Michael J. Blouin

The Neoliberal Turn

Frontmatter

Chapter 2. The Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic of Mass-Market Fiction

Abstract
This chapter considers contemporary attitudes toward mass-market fiction. Specifically, it examines the so-called book wars of the late twentieth century in order to outline the era’s structure of feeling. On one hand, mass-market fiction becomes a site for more intense experience (the self-entrepreneurship behind reading and writing advocated by figures like Stephen King). Emotions such as vulnerability and uncertainty become heightened. On the other hand, mass-market fiction serves as a site for increasingly detached calculation (the econometrics of bestselling lists and criticism from figures such as Franco Moretti and Harold Bloom). By considering the way society generally talks about mass-market fiction, we might further investigate what sociologist Eva Illouz describes as the “cold intimacy” of the past fifty years.
Michael J. Blouin

Chapter 3. Danielle Steel and New Home Economics

Abstract
This chapter investigates the changing character of contemporary romance through the immensely popular works of Danielle Steel. Victorian lines drawn between family and corporation, self and marketplace, have long provided propulsion for the romance formula. In Steel’s universe, however, readers experience an erasure of these lines. The notion of love becomes inseparable from the machinations of high finance. This chapter investigates how Steel dramatically alters the contemporary romance (and reader expectations that in turn extend beyond the confines of these novels).
Michael J. Blouin

Chapter 4. Michael Crichton and the Heritage of Invention

Abstract
What happens when the rejection of a “planned society” extends into one’s relationship with the scientific community? This chapter places the fiction of Michael Crichton in direct conversation with the theories of Michael Polanyi (an early advocate of neoliberal policy). Like Polanyi, Crichton deconstructs social planning and champions uncertainty. This manufactured uncertainty can be utilized as a weapon to undercut political engagement with issues such as climate change. In addition, the metaphor of DNA in Crichton’s works helps to naturalize the expansion of neoliberal thought.
Michael J. Blouin

Conjunctures

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. Tom Clancy and the Liberal Family Tree

Abstract
Critics of Tom Clancy’s fiction tend to reject Clancy’s work as evidence of a black-and-white “conservative” agenda. This chapter argues that such a misreading obfuscates the complex legacy of liberalism in the United States. Placing Clancy in dialogue with the ascendance of neoconservatism (a hybrid of traditionally liberal and conservative values), this chapter argues that Clancy’s unsettled prose does not reflect a cleanly bifurcated society. Rather, it reflects a confused liberal imagination.
Michael J. Blouin

Chapter 6. John Grisham and the New Economy Thriller

Abstract
This chapter explores a shift from bureaucratic managerialism to the so-called gig economy. Grisham’s New Economy thrillers manifest an ambivalent attitude toward corporate governance. His readers are simultaneously asked to celebrate rogue actors and mourn the loss of communal ties within a given firm. While critics tend to pan Grisham for his flat writing style, this chapter reflects upon the hidden contours of his novels. By extension, it reflects upon the unsettled qualities of contemporary American liberalism.
Michael J. Blouin

Chapter 7. Dean Koontz and the Problem with Power

Abstract
This final chapter explores a core contradiction within American liberalism: over the course of the past half century, the subject has been tasked with ascetically rooting out Power in its nefarious webs (internal and external) while aesthetically fostering personal power through entrepreneurial selfhood. This paradox, parsed out in detail in the preceding chapters, informs the Foucauldian character of Dean Koontz’s thrillers. Is the goal of American liberalism to abolish Power or to perfect it? Upon considering confluences and contradictions, one might start to imagine the future of the liberal project—or its imminent collapse.
Michael J. Blouin

Backmatter

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