In the final volume of a trilogy about the concept of culture and its relation to politics, Francis Mulhern defines a new genre, the condition of culture novel, and traces it from Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and E. M. Forster’s Howards End to Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, reading off from it middleclass anxieties about the rise of the working-class movement. What does it mean about the novel or about the working-class movement itself that so many working-class characters are killed off by their aspiration to culture or are presented as murderers of their so-called superiors? Is the aspiration itself fundamentally flawed, or is the flaw in the novels? Mulhern’s persuasive allegorical readings can be read as a fascinating application of the Greimasian semiotic square as well as a renewal of Mulhern’s epic debate with the intellectual historian Stefan Collini, in the pages of New Left Review, over the proper relation between culture and politics.
Class, Culture, and Killing
Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. His latest books are The Beneficiary (Duke University Press, 2017) and, with Paulo Horta, the edited collection Cosmopolitanisms (2017). He is working on a book about atrocity and a documentary about the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand.
Bruce Robbins; Class, Culture, and Killing. boundary 2 1 February 2020; 47 (1): 201–213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-7999569
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