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F.O. Matthiessen

Historians and American Fiction

In 1989, Richard Rorty lamented that Americans had only partially let go of Enlightenment universalism and absolutist thinking. To complete the relativist turn, Rorty argued, Americans needed to replace enthusiasm for inquiry with imagination, to view America as “an endless process– an endless, proliferating realization of Freedom, rather than a convergence toward an already existing Truth.”1 Philosophy represented inquiry in pursuit of truth; fiction, philosophy’s opposite, stressed imagination over inquiry and freedom over truth. Fiction, Rorty insisted in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, could serve “as a tool” to help Americans protect pluralism, interrogate contradiction, and construct community without absolutes or Read more