Armstrong and Montag offer a suspicious reading of the posttheoretical attempt to confine literature to the “surface” of the singular text. They suggest that there's a reason why this effort to redefine the way we read literature coincides with a number of major theoretical attempts to formulate global or world systems of literature. Drawing on Franco Moretti's recent call for us to “unlearn” our traditional literary training, they contend that novels defy any attempt to confine them to the boundaries of the individual work or a national tradition, raising basic questions about what we do as literary scholars who read novels: Does the failure of novels to observe the categories of the literary discipline mean that they are not in fact literature? Or do we have to rethink both the novel and the discipline that has had trouble housing it—especially in recent years?
Are Novels Literature?
nancy armstrong is Gilbert, Louis, and Edward Lehrman Professor of English at Trinity College of Duke University and editor of the journal Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Her books include Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (1986); The Imaginary Puritan: Literature, Intellectual Labor, and the Origins of Personal Life (1992); Fiction in the Age of Photography: The Legacy of British Realism (1999); How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism, 1719–1900 (2005); and most recently, with Leonard Tennenhouse, Novels in the Time of Democratic Writing (2017).
warren montag is the Brown Family Professor of Literature at Occidental College in Los Angeles. His most recent books include the collection, coedited with Hanan Elsayed, Balibar and the Citizen Subject (2017); Althusser and His Contemporaries (2013); and The Other Adam Smith (2014). Montag is also the editor of Décalages, a journal on Althusser and his circle, and translator of Étienne Balibar's Identity and Difference: John Locke and the Invention of Consciousness (2013).