Introduction
in The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
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Opening with a discussion of Norman Rush’s 2013 novel Subtle Bodies, this Introduction explores the long history of the connection between friendship and politics. Friendship has played a central role in the theory and practice of democracy since Aristotle suggested philia as fundamental to citizenship. In the US context, male friendship in particular functioned as a model for civic association in the early republic, and continued to be employed as a figure of egalitarian affiliation through the nineteenth century, including in canonical works of fiction. Yet despite its prominence historically in the US civic imaginary, friendship was sidelined from American political culture for much of the twentieth century, until its dramatic and widespread rediscovery in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a broad communitarian critique of liberal individualism. The Introduction analyses how this revival of critical commentary within mainstream liberal thought coincided with continental philosophy’s exploration of friendship’s role in democratic theory, and a renewed interest in same-sex friendship within gender studies and queer theory. Marshalling these histories, the Introduction demonstrates how understanding male friendship as an important intellectual discourse in this period reframes existing accounts of contemporary American literary culture.

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