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Stranger America

A Narrative Ethics of Exclusion
Josh Toth

BUY Cloth · 298 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941103 · $79.50 · Apr 2018
BUY Paper · 298 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941110 · $39.50 · Apr 2018
BUY Ebook · 298 pp. · ISBN 9780813941127 · $79.50 · Apr 2018

Contradictory ideals of egalitarianism and self-reliance haunt America’s democratic state. We need look no further than Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and victory for proof that early twentieth-century anxieties about individualism, race, and the foreign or intrusive "other" persist today. In Stranger America, Josh Toth tracks and delineates these anxieties in America’s aesthetic production, finally locating a potential narrative strategy for circumnavigating them.

Toth’s central focus is, simply, strangeness—or those characters who adamantly resist being fixed in any given category of identity. As with the theorists employed (Nancy, Žižek, Derrida, Freud, Hegel), the subjects and literature considered are as encompassing as possible: from the work of Herman Melville, William Faulkner, James Weldon Johnson, and Nella Larsen to that of Philip K. Dick, Woody Allen, Larry David, and Bob Dylan; from the rise of nativism in the early twentieth century to object-oriented ontology and the twenty-first-century zombie craze; from ragtime and the introduction of sound in American cinema to the exhaustion of postmodern metafiction.

Toth argues that American literature, music, film, and television can show us the path toward a new ethic, one in which we organize identity around the stranger rather than resorting to tactics of pure exclusion or inclusion. Ultimately, he provides a new narrative approach to otherness that seeks to realize a truly democratic form of community.


Stranger America offers an original and brilliant interpretation of American expressive culture as a working out of the problematics of singularity, finitude, and community developed by Jean-Luc Nancy. The book is clearly and compellingly written, and Toth’s contribution to literary studies, American culture, and literary theory is substantial. By bringing together film, literature, popular music, and painting, Toth provides an appealingly interdisciplinary account. The result is a subtle, complex analysis that promises a persuasive new ‘model’ for American cultural study. It will garner a significant audience of professional critics and influence all who read it.

Greg Forter, Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, is the author of Gender, Race, and Mourning in American Modernism.

Stranger America shows how American identity has its basis in the paranoid suspicion of the other. At the same time, the book makes clear that this identity has been accompanied by the undercurrent of a stranger ethics, an ethics that foregrounds the integrality of the stranger. Toth uncovers the strand of stranger ethics running through key texts of the American tradition. The examples are always well chosen and show convincingly the central role that the stranger or other plays in the formation of American identity.

Todd McGowan, author of Only a Joke Can Save Us: A Theory of Comedy

[ Stranger America excels in its close reading of several specific works of art, literature, film, and song.... The theme is outsiders—their portrayal (racial, sexual, and otherwise), their relationship to a democratic society, and the potential for them to be included to make a richer, more complex society or excluded to appease the majority's anxiety. Summing Up: Recommended.


About the Author(s): 

Josh Toth is Associate Professor of English at MacEwan University.

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