Charting a new course in the criticism of postwar fiction, Cool Characters examines the status of irony in American cultural and political life, showing how it migrated from the countercultural margins of the 1950s to the cultural mainstream of the 1980s. Along the way, irony was absorbed into postmodern theory and ultimately become a target of recent writers who have sought to create a practice of "postirony" that might move beyond its limitations. Irony has been theorized from countless angles, but Cool Characters argues that it is best understood as an attitude toward the world embodied in different character types. Lee Konstantinou traces five types-hipster, punk, believer, coolhunter, occupier-in new interpretations of Ralph Ellison, Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, Dave Eggers, William Gibson, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Rachel Kushner, and others. For earlier generations of writers, irony was something vital to be embraced, but beginning with David Foster Wallace, dissatisfaction with irony's alleged tendency to promote cynicism and passivity gained force.
Postirony-the end point in an arc that begins with naive belief, passes through irony, and arrives at a new form of contingent conviction-illuminates the literary environment that has prevailed in the United States since the 1990s.