This essay examines the English Communist novelist, Edward Upward (1903–2009) in a hitherto unexplored comparative frame. Until recently, Upward's authorship was largely dismissed as formally uninspired and dogmatically “Stalinist,” the work, as Samuel Hynes put it, of “a gifted man who traded his gift for the security of a cause.” Recuperative readings of the last few years have instead stressed Upward as an eccentric modernist rather than a doctrinaire adherent of socialist realism. Drawing extensively on unpublished archival sources, I argue that these recent recuperative accounts, while correct in debunking the myth of Upward's slavishness to Moscow, erase the crucial comparative frame through which his work must be understood. Reading Upward's writing of the 1930s alongside Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, and socialist realists such as Fyodor Gladkov and Alexander Fadeev, I show how Upward's work was centrally shaped by Soviet aesthetics, a reception which led him to an innovative conception of literary commitment, surprisingly resistant to the powerful critiques later offered by Theodor Adorno and Raymond Williams. This conception of commitment emerges through a process of literary praxis in which aesthetic-ideological formations are rigorously critiqued and tested against three mutually constitutive concerns: Upward's personal transformation as a Marxist, the specific demands of the revolutionary movement in England, and the work of narrative itself. Rather than exhibiting the mechanistic understanding of cultural production for which English thirties leftists are typically condemned, Upward develops a mode of commitment that sees praxis as inherent to the cultural field. Reading Upward's work in terms of cultural praxis thus adumbrates new lines of inquiry in the cultural and intellectual history of English Marxism, as his leftist self-fashioning involves sophisticated modes of theoretical engagement more usually associated with later formations such as the second-generation New Left.
Glyn Salton-Cox; Literary Praxis Beyond the Melodramas of Commitment: Edward Upward, Soviet Aesthetics, and Leftist Self-Fashioning. Comparative Literature 1 December 2013; 65 (4): 408–428. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2376615
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