Reading in an Age of Catastrophe

Edward Mendelson:

George Hutchinson’s Facing the Abyss has bracing and revelatory things to say about American culture in the 1940s; also, by contrast and implication, about American culture today. The book brings into focus intellectual and emotional realities of the decade during and after World War II that current historical memory largely occludes behind heroicizing or condescending stereotypes. On the one hand, popular media serve up nostalgia for a “Greatest Generation.” On the other hand, academic dogma rebukes the decade’s aspirations for “universality,” for an inclusive sense of what it means to be human, portraying those hopes as imperialist cudgels designed to impose Western values on a postcolonial world. Hutchinson’s demolitions of these and other recent fantasies typically begin with phrases like “On the contrary” or “This was not the case.”