Critical Presentism

The essay contains excerpts from Liberal Identity, Literary Pedagogy, and Classic American Realism. Developing an iconoclastic methodology that I call "critical presentism," the book uses close analysis of works by such classic American realists as Wharton, Twain, James, and Chopin to "read" contemporary liberal identity in contexts that range from an affirmative action court case to the liberal arts classroom. The book's aims are two-fold: to provide new critical insights and pedagogical approaches to specific realist works, but also to develop fresh interpretative and political leverage over present-day liberalism. I seek to investigate liberal identity primarily as it overlaps with currently-lived modes of American exceptionalism and whiteness. The book's methodology offers a pedagogical and critical alternative to what James Chandler has described as the "regime of historicism" currently dominating critical studies.