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This chapter considers the impact of what Mark McGurl has called ‘the Program Era’ on recent Irish fiction. It tracks the emergence of a new kind of Irish novel moving back and forth across the Atlantic between Ireland and the United States. Taking Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic and Mary Costello’s Academy Street as examples, the chapter proposes that these works indicate the gravitational force of American cultural and economic supremacy in ‘the Program Era’ as the United States has drawn Irish writing into its orbit. However, even as the Irish Transatlantic novel attests to some convergences of Irish and American realities, the form also hints at an autumn or early winter of American global hegemony.
The Great Gatsby and Long Day’s Journey are as near as the twentieth-century United States came to creating successful novelistic and theatrical modernist epics. Each work proffers a tale of male rags-to-riches success: James Gatz’s remaking of his impoverished Midwestern self as the gorgeous Long Island millionaire, Jay Gatsby; James Tyrone’s climb from immigrant slum destitution in Buffalo to become the wealthy Broadway star-actor in The Count of Monte Cristo. Both works offer tempting visions of class bonding in the marriage of upper- and lower-class men and women, and of 'high' and 'popula' cultural coupling through male friendship or filial relations. However, in the end, no fructifying totalization succeeds; instead, things come apart and tales of epic overcoming become world-weary tragedies. In their respective ways, Gatsby and Long Day’s Journey testify to the spellbinding seductiveness of American 'low' or 'mass' culture only to suggest the ultimate incompatibility of merging high cultural sophistication with low cultural glamour and popularity. In the age of American ascendancy, American high culture and American mass culture, like Faust and Mephistopheles, need but destroy each other, titanic ambition ending in mutual ruin.
World War I reversed America’s foundational movement of westward settlement. Indeed, some commentators including President Wilson viewed America’s involvement, notwithstanding its eastward orientation, as an extension of Manifest Destiny. Given the Midwest’s democratic associations with pioneers and the Jeffersonian farmer, the notion of the war as a replacement for the frontier was inescapably linked to the region’s unique cultural iconography. This essay considers prose narratives that explore wartime reciprocities running between the Midwest and Europe. The Midwest not only sent hundreds of thousands of men but also increased agricultural production and exportation. Moreover, the region’s democratic heritage was drawn on to bolster support for the war. Conversely, German immigrants experienced xenophobic attacks, bringing the tensions of the war to the home front. Meanwhile, Midwestern soldiers in France were repeatedly struck by the similarity the countryside bore to their native topographies. By registering the topographical familiarity of the New World – and frequently comparing the war with the activities of pioneers – Midwestern writers variously explore, critique, and reject the idea of the war as a replacement for the frontier, or as a fulfillment of the democratic values enshrined in the region’s pioneer and agrarian culture.
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