Late Postmodernism and the Utopian Imagination

  • Jeremy Green


In a British television documentary on his work, Don DeLillo quoted an excerpt from John Cheever’s journal that describes an evening spent watching baseball at Shea Stadium in the summer of 1963. Cheever wrote and DeLillo read:

I think that the task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain, but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball. This is ceremony. The umpires in clericals, sifting out the souls of the players; the faint thunder as ten thousand people, at the bottom of the eighth, head for the exits. The sense of moral judgments embodied in a migratory vastness.1

Cheever’s remarks are surprising, given his usual sharp-eyed interest in middle-class suburban lives, the private anguish of the woman rather than the Whitmanesque word en masse, but they evoke nonetheless a sense of purpose and cultural authority for the writer. He calls for the American author to engage with the symbolic acts—spectatorial participation in a panoply of election—by which a national identity is enacted and affirmed. As the 400 spectators reach for the foul ball as one, they play out a ritual that culminates, according to Cheever, in the “sense of moral judgments embodied in a migratory vastness.” This migratory vastness is not simply the clamorous expanse of the baseball stadium; it is America itself, and the writer participates in the “ceremony” of national identity.


Moral Judgment Consumer Culture Social Body Shared Concern Cultural Authority 
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  1. 1.
    John Cheever, The Journals (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991), p. 185. DeLillo read the passage in a documentary entitled “The Word, The Image and The Gun” (directed by Kim Evans), broadcast on BBC1, September 27, 1991.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, in particular, Duvall, “The (Super)Marketplace of Images,” and McClure, Late Imperial Romance ( London: Verso, 1994 ), pp. 118–151.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Richard Powers, Gain ( New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998 ).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Evan Dara, The Lost Scrapbook (Normal, IL: FC2, 1995). All references will be parenthetical.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See the important discussion in Miriam Hansen, “Foreword” to Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, trans. by Peter Labanyi, Jamie Daniel, and Assenka Oksiloff (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. ix–xli.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Allan Bloom, The Closing ofthe American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987 ).Google Scholar

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© Jeremy Green 2005

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  • Jeremy Green

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