No Accident, Comrade

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No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)


No Accident, Comrade argues that chance became a complex yet conflicted cultural signifier during the Cold War, when a range of thinkers–politicians, novelists, historians, biologists, sociologists, and others–contended that totalitarianism denied the very existence and operation of chance in the world. They claimed that the USSR perpetrated a vast fiction on its population, a fiction amplified by the Soviet view that there is no such thing as chance or accident, only manifestations of historical law (hence the popular American refrain used to refer to Marxism: “It was no accident, Comrade”).

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By reading an expansive range of American novels published between 1947-2005, alongside nonfiction texts by the likes of Jerzy Kosinski, Daniel Bell, Ian Hacking, and mid-century game theorists, No Accident, Comrade explains how associations of chance with democratic freedom and the denial of chance with totalitarianism circulated in Cold War America. Chance became tied to the liberties of U.S. democracy, whereas its eradication or denial became symptomatic of Soviet tyranny. With works by Vladimir Nabokov, Ralph Ellison, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, Joan Didion, Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, Paul Auster, Chang-rae Lee, Harry Mathews, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, John A. Williams and many others, Belletto shows how writers developed innovative strategies for dealing with and incorporating these ever-present beliefs about chance and its role in their culture. These newly developed narrative techniques allowed them to theorize, satirize, and make sense of the constantly changing relationship between the individual and the state during a largely rhetorical conflict.