American Superrealism: Nathanael West and the Politics of Representation in the 1930s

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Nathanael West has been hailed as “an apocalyptic writer,” “a writer on the left,” and “a precursor to postmodernism.” But until now no critic has succeeded in fully engaging West’s distinctive method of negation. In American Superrealism, Jonathan Veitch examines West’s letters, short stories, screenplays and novels—some of which are discussed here for the first time—as well as West’s collaboration with William Carlos Williams during their tenure as the editors of Contact. Locating West in a lively, American avant-garde tradition that stretches from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol, Veitch explores the possibilities and limitations of dada and surrealism—the use of readymades, scatalogical humor, human machines, “exquisite corpses”—as modes of social criticism. American Superrealism offers what is surely the definitive study of West, as well as a provocative analysis that reveals the issue of representation as the central concern of Depression-era America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A landmark in literary and cultural studies. Veitch considers the crucial decade of the 1930s in light of the work of Nathanael West; the result is a sweeping revision, not only of West’s achievement but of the broad social, aesthetic, and intellectual movements that shaped modern America. It is perhaps the best analysis from within of the Depression Decade, a comprehensive overview of the influence in this country of dada and surrealism, a compelling analysis of the dynamics of mass culture, and the best study we have of the achievement and significance of Nathanael West.”—Sacvan Bercovitch, Carswell Professor of American and English Literature, Harvard University

“Sophisticated.… Veitch’s great virtue is his ability to place West within a complex web of issues relating to the production of social knowledge and the problem of representation. In doing so, he gives us a fresh view of West and of the period as a whole.”—Miles Orvell, author of After the Machine: Visual Arts & the Erasing of Cultural Boundaries

“A…brilliant contribution to Nathanael West studies and American studies more generally.”—Dickran Tashjian, author of A Boatload of Madmen: Surrealism and the American Avant-Garde, 1920-1950

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299157005
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1997
  • Series: Wisconsin Project on American Writers Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Veitch was professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and  is now chairman of humanities at the New School for Social Research in New York. This is his first book.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Who Can We Shoot? The Crisis of Representation in the 1930s 3
1 American Superrealism 15
2 Euclid's Asshole: The Dream Life of Balso Snell 23
3 "Lousy with Pure / Reeking with Stark": Contact 47
4 The People Talk: Miss Lonelyhearts 67
5 The Folklore of Capitalism: A Cool Million 88
6 The Cliches Are Having a Ball: The Day of the Locust 113
Postscript: Madonna's Bustier; or "The Burning of Los Angeles" 132
Notes 139
Index 175
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