Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Abstract

In the past twenty years, scholars on the Left have attempted to explain a turn to conservatism and an accompanying melancholy within American Modernism during the canonization of its literary texts, or they have attempted to "recover" the once-thriving but now repressed political energies of Leftist literary texts. These projects raise questions about the validity of the conservative literary history we have received, but they also raise questions about the subjectivity and legitimacy of revisionist histories. They participate in a key assumption of cultural studies that textual interpretations and historiography are inescapably subjective activities, and they treat all texts and history-as-it-may-have-happened as "things in themselves" that can never be known. This dissertation challenges those philosophical assumptions of contemporary postmodern theory by locating them within the continuum of capitalist ideology.

We need an anti-humanist, dialectical methodology that can escape the subjective interpretive codes and practices of liberal humanism to write a more objective literary history, to explain the turn to conservative melancholy in American Modernism, and to level the ideological field between Left and Right. Both conservative and progressive writers, such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Carl Sandburg, aimed at such a scientific knowledge, but they did not understand the limits of their own formal aesthetics. However, some literary texts within Modernism manifest just such a methodology and produce a scientific knowledge of capitalist ideology and its self-conscious literary forms. A decade before Bertolt Brecht developed his Verfremdungseffekt (or "alienation effect"), Sarah N. Cleghorn, Anna Louise Strong, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (in his short story "Winter Dreams") wrote dialectical metafiction, a literary form that reproduces the ideological forms of consciousness while contextualizing them within determinate levels of material and ideological production, and they challenge heretofore subjective ways of understanding American Modernism.

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