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Abstract

In her article, "Twentieth-Century American Literary Historiography," Marietta Messmer analyzes the ways in which contemporary histories of American literature -- members of a discursive formation that has traditionally privileged a nationalist paradigm -- position themselves in the context of current debates on constructions of post-national cultural identity. Concentrating on the changing conceptualizations of the term "American" employed in these literary histories, Messmer traces briefly the major shifts in historiographical negotiations of American interliterary and intercultural relations throughout the twentieth century. Messmer discusses the ways in which American histories of literature move from an earlier -- albeit reductionist -- interest in defining American literary identity through difference (manifesting itself in attempts to disaffiliate American literary texts from their transatlantic, and in particular their British, contexts) toward a seemingly more inclusive focus on American literature's intracultural diversity and polyvocality. Ultimately, however, Messmer argues that, to a large degree, the current historiographical emphasis on intra-American pluralism is all too frequently accompanied by new attempts at establishing (a revised version of) historiographical nationalism. In this sense, transatlantic disaffiliative and intra-American pluralist constructions of identity can be interpreted as two versions of American cultural and literary nation building.

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