The Power of Negative Thinking : Cynicism and the History of Modern American Literature

Benjamin Schreier

Suspicious of the equation of cynicism with quietism, nihilism, selfishness, or false consciousness, Benjamin Schreier rejects the representation of cynicism as something categorically different from the classical outlook of Diogenes. In his reading of Henry Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams, Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, he examines cynicism as an important and underappreciated current in modern American literature and contributes to ongoing debates about the tendency to want the analysis of texts to yield something normative. His focus is less on the cynical characters in the texts he treats and more on the strategies used to render normative narratives legitimate.