From the rise of the novel to the outpouring of lyric self-expression, claims about literature’s promotion of a distinctly modern identity known as “the individual” have settled into truths. The three books under review here turn to biopolitics in an effort to describe how aesthetic and other texts help define and shape entities far larger than the individual: citizenry, mass, public, population. The archives they invoke are not recognizably literary in nature, ranging from an infamous photograph of a Vietnam War atrocity to the stories of refugee scientists building bombs for the US military and from studies of bacteriology to a discontinued sci-fi television series. Nor do their Library of Congress call numbers fit the recognizable classifications used to shelve American literature in college libraries. Only two novels, Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle (1996) and Bruce Sterling’s Distraction (1998), receive sustained examination...

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