I’ve just published “Situating Normal,” a long review-essay of several recent book on twentieth-century US literature and culture in American Literary History. The piece chews on the slipperiness of the concept of normality, especially from the standpoint of the early 21st century, in which such phenomena such as climate change, asset bubbles, and anxieties about terrorism have given rise to the catchphrase the “new normal,” which succinctly captures in its wishfulness the evanescence of any sense of normality in contemporary life.
From this standpoint, the older normal of midcentury becomes quite interesting, since it seems quite exotic in a way to think about a period in which a sense of normality, whatever its tensions and contradictions, was widely diffused and deeply felt.** Give it a read and let me know what you think.
**insert copious qualifications re: the many people and communities who didn’t experience the 1950s as normal, or for whom that particular construction of normality was somewhere between a constant, dehumanizing irritant (e.g., the middle-class bearer of the “feminine mystique) and an annihilating hell (e.g., Emmett Till).