Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics

Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics

by Peter J. Kalliney
     
 

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Commonwealth of Letters examines midcentury literary institutions integral to modernism and postcolonial writing. Several organizations central to interwar modernism, such as the BBC, influential publishers, and university English departments, became important sites in the emergence of postcolonial literature after the war. How did some of modernism's leading

Overview

Commonwealth of Letters examines midcentury literary institutions integral to modernism and postcolonial writing. Several organizations central to interwar modernism, such as the BBC, influential publishers, and university English departments, became important sites in the emergence of postcolonial literature after the war. How did some of modernism's leading figures of the 1930s-such as T.S. Eliot, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender-come to admire late colonial and early postcolonial literature in the 1950s? Similarly, why did late colonial and early postcolonial writers-including Chinua Achebe, Kamau Brathwaite, Claude McKay, and Ngugi wa Thiong'o-actively seek alliances with metropolitan intellectuals? Peter Kalliney's original and extensive archival work on modernist cultural institutions demonstrates that this disparate group of intellectuals had strong professional incentives to treat one another more as fellow literary professionals, and less as political or cultural antagonists.

Surprisingly, metropolitan intellectuals and their late colonial counterparts leaned heavily on modernist theories of aesthetic autonomy to facilitate their collaborative ventures. For white, metropolitan writers, T.S. Eliot's notion of impersonality could help recruit new audiences and conspirators from colonized regions of the world. For black, colonial writers, aesthetic autonomy could be used to imagine a literary sphere uniquely resistant to the forms of racial prejudice endemic to the colonial system. This strategic collaboration did not last forever, but as Commonwealth of Letters shows, it left a lasting imprint on the ultimate disposition of modernism and the evolution of postcolonial literature.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Peter Kalliney's fine book combines a subtle historical sociology of literature with skillful close readings of literary texts to provide a new mapping of the period of late literary modernism and early postcolonial literature. ... Kalliney has a rare gift for joining clear, consistent argument to subtle analysis that is open to complexity and contradiction. ... This book should change the way that scholars of postcolonial literature and modernist literature view the cultural history of this period." —New West Indian Guide

"Commonwealth of Letters is an original and revisionist account of the historical encounter between the writers and institutions of English modernism and late colonial intellectuals, informed by solid archival research and refreshing new readings of the postcolonial canon, and keenly attuned to the complex history of cultural exchanges across the Atlantic." —Simon Gikandi, author of Slavery and the Culture of Taste

"For too long, modernist autonomy and postcolonial politics were thought to be antithetical. This book's splendid research deals this dichotomy a convincing blow. With illuminating insights into crossracial networks in radio, publishing, and other cultural institutions, Kalliney brilliantly shows how modernism enriched African and Caribbean literatures and was itself sustained by them." —Jahan Ramazani, author of A Transnational Poetics

"A fascinating study which explores how modernist ideas influenced a generation of black and white writers-often working sideby-side-and created international networks of affiliation which rise up above race or geography. An illuminating and convincing examination of Anglophone literary history in the second half of the twentieth century." — Caryl Phillips, author of Color Me English: Migration and Belonging Before and After 9/11

"This densely argued study covers a lot of ground, from literary modernism to postcolonial Anglophone literature from the West Indies and Afria. The book's bibloiography testifies to Kalliney's prodigious research." —M.S. Vogeler, emerita, California State University, Fullerton, CHOICE

"Kalliney's argument is extensive, meticulously researched, and compellingly revisionist... Kalliney provides a startling and thorough reimagining of the complex lines of aesthetic, philosophic, and institutional affiliation between metropolitan and colonial authors in the period 1930-70." —Novel

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199977970
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
08/27/2013
Series:
Modernist Literature and Culture Series
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Kalliney is Associate Professor of English at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of Cities of Affluence and Anger: A Literary Geography of Modern Englishness.

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