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Proletarian Modernism: Film, Literature, Theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


This article identifies a body of work—films, literary texts, and theories of the aesthetic—that can help us reopen the question of what it means for an artwork to project a vision of classlessness. The article begins by focusing on early-twentieth-century proletarian modernism, in particular in the cinematic work of Sergey Eisenstein and in British literary works that repurposed Woolfian and Joycean styles during the later interwar years. Proletarian modernism, I argue, highlights an alternative route taken by modernist literature and art: unlike the late modernists feted in much recent scholarship, proletarian modernists aimed to retool modernism, opening up new and global political futures for it rather than anticipating its end. The article concludes by showing that the cultural genealogy of proletarian modernism mapped out here doubles as a prehistory of contemporary aesthetic theory: it enables us to recognize the significant political and theoretical erasures that structure recent accounts of art's democratic potential.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2019

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