The contemporary is a category on the minds of many literary scholars, and Theodore Martin's impressive new book tells us why. More than a catchall term for the cultural archive of the present, the contemporary functions as veritable shorthand for the puzzle of doing literary history without the benefit of hindsight. For Martin, a literary history of the present is inherently paradoxical since it demands that scholars take stock of a time period that is never properly over and so never technically a period. Contemporary literature is moreover a field with no real consensus about its temporal origins (1945, 1960, 1989, and 2000 are all potential beginnings). Surely, the same claim could be made of other field monikers from realism to modernism to postcolonialism and postmodernism; yet the difference the contemporary makes lies in the word itself. “Tempor,” the Latin root for “time,”...

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