In “`Do You Believe in Magic?' Literary Thinking After the New Left,” Sean McCann and Michael Szalay argue that postmodern American novelists, by celebrating “the spontaneous, the symbolic, and ultimately the magical” undermine the good sense of progressive thought and contribute to the hegemony of neoliberalism. That literary thinking in the contemporary American novel breaks with conventional progressive thinking in several ways is undeniable. But that it does so in a manner consistent with the “magical thinking” of the sixties and inconsistent with the broader progressive project is not. On the contrary, many of the writers McCann and Szalay indict—Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and Toni Morrison, for instance—are as aware of the limits of magical politics as they are, and as committed to a chastened, melioristic model of social struggle. Where the novelists break with McCann and Szalay, this article argues, is in their readiness to grapple with the profound crisis of ideas and strategies that overtook the Left in the second half of the twentieth century, as the tenets of traditional progressive thought and struggle came to seem ever less efficacious. The break with conventional ideas and strategies of struggle, the turn to spirituality, and the exploration of practices of retreat in this literature needs to be seen as an effort to negotiate this crisis and imagine new forms of progressive becoming. In developing this argument, the article draws heavily on William Connolly's efforts to imagine a new progressivism in Capitalism and Christianity, American Style.
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John A. McClure; Do They Believe in Magic? Politics and Postmodern Literature. boundary 2 1 May 2009; 36 (2): 125–143. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2009-007
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