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Title: Radical politics and literary form in 20th century American writing
Authors: Cooper, Simon Eric.
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis focuses on the US literary left of the 1930s, tracing precursors in pre-WWI anarchism and the bohemian culture of 1920s Greenwich Village, and following the careers of key authors, beyond the Depression, into popular and mainstream culture post-WWII. The free verse of Michael Gold, the ‘proletarian’ novels and short fiction of Robert Cantwell, Tillie Olsen and Erskine Caldwell are read as instances of a kind of modernism from below. As such, they are held up for consideration alongside the more politically conservative modernisms of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and D. H. Lawrence, as well as the work of two writers also on the left but more securely situated in the official canon: Ralph Ellison and George Oppen. The emphasis throughout is on form, understood as fluid and subject to self-conscious experimentation: the politics of the works considered are in this sense embodied in the transformation of pre-existing forms and structures. For this reason a multidisciplinary approach is adopted, with attention being paid to contemporaneous production (with some overlap of personnel) in music and visual culture. There are considerable difficulties involved in the attempt to harness the techniques of ‘high’ cultural thinking to the needs of an organised left with close links to the labour movement: problems of intention; matters of tone; issues of distribution. These difficulties are worked through in order to answer two fundamental questions. First, how did this historical project, riven by contradiction from the outset, manage to achieve even the limited success that it did? Second, why should a place be maintained in contemporary criticism for its recovery? Ultimately, an argument is made for an inclusive critical practice sensitive to the traces of exclusion and absence as figured in the non-representational, whilst at the same time resisting the temptations of obscurantism, superficiality or idealization.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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