In the post-New Deal era, the social location of the intellectual became one of paradox and anxiety. Understood as integral to a cultural center, organizing society through the dissemination of ideas, intellectual work emerged as the unlocatable nucleus of US culture. Three recent monographs in different ways speak to this transitional and contradictory period in American literary production: Stephen Schryer’s Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction (2011), Michael Szalay’s Hip Figures: A Literary History of the Democratic Party (2012), and Alan M. Wald’s American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War (2012). Whereas Schryer and Szalay address the fiction of and for the emerging professional-managerial class, Wald considers the transformation and suppression of the pro-Communist literary Left during the forties and fifties. They all nonetheless engage with what Lizabeth Cohen terms the postwar “Consumers’ Republic,” in which “good consumer” became synonymous with “good citizen.” What is the cultural work of literary fiction in a milieu in which nothing, it seems, exists outside the terms of commodity exchange? These studies trace this anxiety through the mid-century decades in which the dream of the Old Left met the fantasy of the new class.
Joseph Darda; Old Left, New Class: Literary Anxiety in the Consumers’ Republic. the minnesota review 1 May 2014; 2014 (82): 151–160. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-2412977
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