Michael LeMahieu

Michael LeMahieu (Clemson) is an Associate Professor English and a coeditor of Contemporary Literature. His Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975 contends that the philosophy of logical positivism, considered the antithesis of literary postmodernism, exerts a determining influence on the development of US fiction in the mid-twentieth century. According to LeMahieu, 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. The book charts a genealogy often erased in the very texts where it registers, a genealogy disowned by the very authors that it includes. The centrality of the fact/value problem to both positivism and postmodernism 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. That centrality demands a rethinking of postwar literary history.

His talk, “Post 54: Reconstructing Civil War Memory after Brown v. Board of Education” studies how, in the aftermath of the famous 1954 Supreme Court decision, US writers reconstructed genres of Civil War memory that romanticized military valor, mutual sacrifice, and sectional reconciliation in order to minimize the legacies of slavery. Memorials to the Confederate dead, especially, were erected decades after the end of the war as symbolic adjuncts to the physical terrors of lynching. Whether embodied in public monuments or depicted in feature films, Civil War memory circulates through cultural narratives whose generic form often performs ideological functions: chivalric romance underwrites racial violence; pastoral elegy encodes agrarian ideology; alternate history promulgates Confederate apologetics; and concepts of tragedy undo narratives of emancipation. Through works that simultaneously inhabit and transfigure these generic forms, writers during the civil rights movement advanced counter-genres of Civil War memory that strategically debunk Lost Cause mythology and actively intervene in civil rights struggles.


Posted in Past Presenters