Fictions of Fact and Value: New Book by Michael LeMahieu

Congratulations to Michael LeMahieu! His new book Fictions of Fact and Value will be out through Oxford University Press next month.

9780199890408_450About: Fictions of Fact and Value argues that the philosophy of logical positivism, considered the antithesis of literary postmodernism, exerts a determining influence on the development of American fiction in the three decades following 1945 in what amounts to a constitutive encounter between literature and philosophy at mid-century: after the end of the modernism, as it was traditionally conceived, but prior to the rise of postmodernism, as it came to be known. Two particular postwar literary preoccupations derive from logical positivist philosophy: the fact/value problem and the correlative distinction between sense and nonsense. Yet even as postwar writers responded to logical positivism as a threat to the imagination, their works often manifest its influence, particularly with regard to “emotive” or “meaningless” terms. Logical positivist philosophy appears tactically in works of fiction in order to advance aesthetic strategies. Far from a straightforward history of ideas, Fictions of Fact and Value charts a genealogy that is often erased in the very texts where it registers and disowned by the very authors that it includes. LeMahieu complicates a predominant narrative of intellectual history in which a liberating postmodernism triumphs over a reactionary positivism by historicizing the literary response to positivism in works by John Barth, Saul Bellow, Don DeLillo, Iris Murdoch, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The centrality of the fact/value problem to both positivism and postmodernism demands a rethinking of postwar literary history


Readership: Students of postwar American fiction and those interested in twentieth-century fiction more broadly. Also, anyone interested in the theoretical and literary-historical arguments.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: “Postwar Fiction, the Fact/Value Problem, and the Literary Response to Logical Positivism”

Chapter One: “Indigestible Residues”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Aesthetic Negativism, and the Incompleteness of Logical Positivism

Chapter Two: “Negative Appearance”
Flannery O’Connor, the Fact/Value Problem, and the Threat of Logical Positivism

Chapter Three: “Contradictory Feelings”
John Barth, Non-Mystical Value-Thinking, and the Exhaustion of Logical Positivism

Chapter Four: “Eternal Things”
Saul Bellow, the Infinite Longings of the Soul, and the Shortcomings of Logical Positivism

Chapter Five: “Illogical Negativism”
Thomas Pynchon, the Critique of Modernism, and the Erasure of Logical Positivism

(Thanks to Karen Zumbagen-Yekple for the heads up. I’m very much looking forward to her and Michael’s co-edited volume, Wittgenstein and Modernism, under contract with the University of Chicago Press.)



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