A host of writers are exploring the post-postmodern, post-Civil Rights moment in American racial formations. I wish to make the case that these works represent a distinctive turn in the history of contemporary American ethnic and general fiction. In doing so, they share four distinctive features, which in the aggregate constitute a new aesthetic that I term Speculative Realism. In these novels,
1. Speculative realism is a mode in critical dialogue with the aesthetics of postmodernism.
2. Speculative realism draws on the history of genres and mixes generic forms.
3. Speculative realism is invested in the Real while working in the mode of fantasy.
4. Speculative realism explores the thematics of race, seeking a racial imaginary for twenty-first century America.
For the generation of writers born in the 1960s and ‘70s, the heroic era of the struggle for Civil Rights is not a personal memory but a matter of social history. At the same time, the ugly power of racism remains undiminished in American society. In the post-Civil Rights era, and now in what some are calling the post-Obama era, faced with the unapologetic return to white supremacist ideologies among growing sectors of the American public, numerous social critics, writers, and artists are asserting the need for a renewed racial imaginary. This perceived need for a twenty-first century racial imaginary that might allow for a deeper understanding of the relationships between race and social justice, race and identity, race and history requires American writers of color to invent a new “imaginary” for thinking about the nature of a just society and the role of race in its construction. Using the tools of traditional literary analysis plus elements drawn from the digital humanities, I wish to account for these four aspects common to the writings of contemporary ethnic writers and the defining aesthetic that results from the new racial imaginaries being forged around us. A method for the historiography of contemporary ethnic fiction emerges from this focus on the author, on genre, and the function of quantitative data in literary analysis..
RAMÓN SALDÍVAR, professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Hoagland Family Professor of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama in 2012. He is Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Studies, and has served as Chair of the Department of English and the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Since 2012, Professor Saldivar has served as the Burke Family Director of the Bing Overseas Studies Program at Stanford. He has also served as the Director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. He was Faculty Athletic Representative from 2002 – 2005 and again in 2010 – 2011. His teaching and research focus on the areas of literary criticism and literary theory, the history of the novel, 19th, 20th and 21st century literary studies, cultural studies, issues concerning transnationalism and globalization, and U.S. Latino and Latina Studies. He is the author and editor of four books and numerous other scholarly publications. In 2006, he was awarded the Modern Language Association Prize in US Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies for his book, The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary (Duke, 2006). He is currently working on a new project, tentatively titled “The Racial Imaginary: Speculative Realism and Historical Fantasy in Contemporary American Fiction.” In March 2013 President Obama appointed him to a six -year term on the National Council on the Humanities.
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