As the US imperium lurches towards its economic twilight, comparisons with the fate of the British Empire have become increasingly commonplace. Surpassed as the world's most vigorous capitalist manufacturer by Japan and Germany, the US now seems bound for the same rocky shores as those on which Britannia foundered at the end of the nineteenth century. John McClure charts the course of decline, first in the works of Joseph Conrad, chronicler of high imperialism's contradictions, then in the post-war fictions of Joan Didion, Robert Stone and Thomas Pynchon. He maps the complex field of romantic ideology where one can at once excoriate imperialist adventures and yet savor their taste. Late Imperial Romance thus pinpoints the contradictions and aporias of anti-imperial rhetoric among the high intelligentsia of the post-war US.
Through close, sensitive, historically informed readings of their work, McClure shows how these writers create an emotive space in which the critique of imperialism is shadowed by a continuing entanglement with its ideology: running through these works is a basic imperialist theme which portrays the non-metropolitan world as enchanted environs where the white hero or heroine is tested - and not infrequently corrupted. Building on work by Frederic Jameson, McClure presents a highly original and provocative account of the ideological function of romantic fictions in the late capitalist US. A model of intelligent cultural analysis, Late Imperial Romance combines skilful literary interpretation with an acute sense of the socio-historical conditions of literary production.
John McClure is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University. He is the author of Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction.
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