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While William Leuchtenburg is certainly correct in concluding that the shadow of both FDR and the New Deal is receding, the decade of the 1930s is still regarded as the acme of progressive reform in America. Although the memories of the 1930s are fading and the reforms of the decade have been contested, in this narrative the achievements of the New Deal are still heroic.
Of all the great silent film comedians, it is Buster Keaton who most completely inhabits and exemplifies the machine age, perhaps because, unlike other performers, Keaton repeatedly foregrounds the notion that the movie camera itself is a machine, one more device in an automated jungle of sprockets, cranks and motors. Certainly, no other comedian of the period seems so aware of the essentially mechanical nature of the medium, its specifically machine-made possibilities and absurdities; with its flattened space, accelerated tempo and discontinuous leaps in time and space, film acts as a kind of technological synonym for modernity, a modernity in which Keaton's poetic engineering and ingenuous modes of transport appear wholly, indivisibly, at home.
In Cane the reader is immediately struck by Jean Toomer's bold manipulation of a collage technique; he abandons progressive plotting, instead assembling a variety of disparate forms and genres. As well as signalling the heterogeneity of the collage elements through typographical layout, he stretches and scrambles familiar forms, breaking them, splitting them open and stitching them onto other genres. In a letter to Toomer on 25 April 1922, Waldo Frank describes the effect of these broken forms: “in the reading the mind does not catch on to a uniformly moving Life that conveys it whole to the end, but rather steps from piece to piece as if adventuring through the pieces of a still unorganized mosaic.” As Frank points out, Toomer abandons linear narrative and “uniform” progression, subjecting the reader to chaotic surprises and unexpected truths revealed through the process of piecing together the meaning of seemingly random fragments.
In August 1962 the American novelist Mary McCarthy surprised everyone by extolling the virtues of William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959), thereby raising the public profile of both the novel and novelist. The occasion was an Edinburgh conference on writing and censorship organized by the publisher John Calder, and attended by literary luminaries such as Norman Mailer and Henry Miller. For McCarthy the virtue of Naked Lunch was its timeliness, the way it appeared “sort of speeded up like jet travel”; “it has that somewhat supersonic quality.” Addressing the conference audience, Burroughs went a step further, heralding a new epoch of space writing:
I feel that a new mythology is now possible in the space age and that we can again have heroes and villains, with respect to the planet, and in closing I would say that the future of writing is in space and not in time.
In a 1992 interview, Art Spiegelman described the genealogy of Maus, his acclaimed comic-book treatment of the Holocaust. He was inspired to write Maus, he stated, when asked to contribute to a commix anthology called Funny Aminals; the only restriction on his creativity was that the story must somehow involve anthropomorphized animals. “At the time I was trying to figure this out,” Spiegelman reports,
I went to sit in on some classes of a friend of mine, Ken Jacobs, a filmmaker and very wonderful teacher at SUNY Binghamton, who was showing some old animated cartoons in his class with cats and mice romping around, and then he was showing some racist cartoons from the same period, and it became clear that there was a connection between the two, that Al Jolson was Mickey Mouse without the ears. At that point I said, “I have it: I'll do a comic-book story about the Ku Klux Kats, and a lynching of some mice, and deal with racism in America using cats and mice as the vehicle.” And that lasted about ten minutes before I realized that I just didn't have enough background and knowledge to make this thing happen well, that it would just come across as well intended liberal slop. And instantly the synapses connected, and I realized that I had a metaphor of oppression much closer to my own past in the Nazi Project. (Spiegelman CD-ROM)
This essay will discuss corporeal and racial representation in the work of John Gregory Brown, a little-known, yet immensely rewarding, New Orleans novelist. Placing the discussion within the rich literary tradition of the American South, I will focus on the male protagonists of his first two novels – Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery (1994) and The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur (1996) – and examine why Brown's characters constantly shift between different racial positions, and how notions such as racial purity or fixed subjectivity are exposed and interrogated. My analysis will also address physical defect, and explore how Brown destabilizes the ideal of the body as a privileged locus of authoritative wholeness. I will be arguing that, as a cultural and racial signifier, the body in Brown's work is linked with fluidity and fragmentation, and that the boundaries between whiteness and blackness are continuously reshaped by the characters' ambiguous perceptions of themselves as subversive, multi-racial subjects. The conclusion will maintain that both novels offer new insights into the interaction between corporeal representation and racial identity, which make an important contribution to the tradition of American and, particularly, southern literature.
This article focusses on the concept of cultural pluralism in the North American folk music revival of the 1960s. Building on the excellent work of earlier folk revival scholars, the article looks in greater depth at the “vision of diversity” promoted by the folk revival in North America – at the ways in which this vision was constructed, at the reasons for its maintenance and at its ultimate decline and on the consequences of this for anglophone Canadian and American musicians and enthusiasts alike.
The American poet Susan Howe is perhaps the best-known of the generation of poets that came to attention under the banner of “language poetry.” Her work has been widely anthologized and it has drawn a considerable amount of critical commentary. The “language” label, like most such tags, was unpalatable to most of the poets who came under it. It did after all mask a diverse range of poets. But, even given such reservations, it was clear from the start that Howe's poetry was out of step with certain general tendencies within language poetry. We know from the correspondence that Ron Silliman was criticized by some language poets for including Howe in his influential 1986 anthology In the American Tree. In a 1985 letter to Howe, Silliman expresses his reading of the relation between her work and language poetry:
I do think one of the most important aspects of this writing [i.e. language writing], from the perspective of literary history if nothing else, is that it is anti-romantic, anti-mystical and anti-lyric (tho there are exceptions …) And your writing does seem to me to be at odds with this larger tendency. How you work with this tension in your poetry seems to me one of its most compelling dimensions.
The Second World War continues to be an attractive subject for scholars and even more so for those writing for a general readership. One of the more traditional areas of focus has been the ‘Big Three’ – the alliance of the United States with Britain and the Soviet Union. Public interest in the three leaders – Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – remains high, and their decisions continue to resonate in the post-Cold War era, as demonstrated by continued (and often ahistorical) references to the decisions made at the Yalta Conference. Consequently, while other aspects of Second World War historiography have pushed into new avenues of exploration, that which has looked at the Grand Alliance has followed fairly conventional lines – the new Soviet bloc materials have been trawled to answer old questions and using the frames of reference that developed during the Cold War. This has left much to be said about the nature of the relationship of the United States with its great allies and the dynamics and processes of that alliance, and overlooked full and rounded analysis of the role of that alliance as the instrument of Axis defeat.