Reality in America, Redux
On or about November 2016, human reality cracked. Or at least that’s how it appeared to a whole segment of liberal Americans reeling from the election of Donald Trump. The fall-out of that moment launched hundreds of think-pieces and editorials, many I told you so’s from the Left, and, after a few years, a growing subgenre of novels that we might call “Trump panic” fiction. This talk considers two instances of this subgenre, Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies (2020) and Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking about This (2021), to argue that large-scale worries about “reality” have facilitated parallel worries about powers of “fiction.” In this way, I aim to reboot Lionel Trilling’s analysis of the ideas about reality that guided early-twentieth-century US fiction in "Reality in America", updating it for an era of autofiction, fake news, and the internet.
Nicholas Gaskill is Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of Oxford. He's the author of Chromographia: American Literature and the Modernization of Color, and an editor of The Lure of Whitehead. He co-edited, along with Kate Stanley, a recent "Theories and Methodologies" section of PMLA called "Aesthetic Education: A Twenty-First-Century Primer." His current projects include an analysis of intensity as an aesthetic category and a study of pragmatism, aesthetics, and US literature and criticism from 1910 to 1960.