This essay argues that literary redescriptions of international American Express offices by queer writers like Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, and James Baldwin allowed the 1960s literary counterculture to establish a relationship to American corporate culture grounded in irony: the knowledge that the vocabulary used to describe the social world is not fixed, but contingent and fluid. By ironizing the American Express—that is, by describing it only to destabilize one’s own description—novels like Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Corso’s The American Express (1960) consciously resignified the institutional brand and circulated this literary resignification in tandem with the company’s promotional materials. I show how ironic style underwrote the counterculture’s surprising attraction to corporate life and the corporation’s equally surprising embrace of queer intimacies.
Merve Emre; Ironic Institutions: Counterculture Fictions and the American Express Company. American Literature 1 March 2015; 87 (1): 107–136. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2865211
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