Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction

Overview

America's post-World War II prosperity created a boom in higher education, expanding the number of university-educated readers and making a new literary politics possible. Writers began to direct their work toward the growing professional elite, and the American public in turn became more open to literary culture. This relationship imbued fiction with a new social and cultural import, allowing authors to envision themselves as unique cultural educators. It also changed the nature of their work, introducing new ...

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Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction

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Overview

America's post-World War II prosperity created a boom in higher education, expanding the number of university-educated readers and making a new literary politics possible. Writers began to direct their work toward the growing professional elite, and the American public in turn became more open to literary culture. This relationship imbued fiction with a new social and cultural import, allowing authors to envision themselves as unique cultural educators. It also changed the nature of their work, introducing new strategies of expression and representation to shape this audience.

Linking literary and historical trends, Stephen Schryer underscores the exalted fantasies of postwar American writers as they arose from this new conception of their cultural mission. Hoping to cultivate aesthetically attuned professionals who could disrupt the narrow materialism of the bourgeoisie, writers and critics deployed paradox and contradiction, crafting an audience that might transform capitalism from within. Their exaggeration of intellectual agency wasn't without consequences, however, generating its own cultural fiction, in which America's social reality was nothing more than a tissue of ideas produced by competing elites. Reading Don DeLillo, Marge Piercy, Mary McCarthy, Saul Bellow, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ralph Ellison, and Lionel Trilling, among others, Schryer unravels the postwar idea of American literature as a vehicle for instruction& mdash;highlighting the promise and deep flaws inherent in this fantasy.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Interesting, insightful synthesis.

Sean McCann
Fantasies of the New Class is highly original and keenly argued. Stephen Schryer does a superb job of reconstructing concepts central to the intellectual and political debate of the era, and he shows, often with striking critical insight, how major writers worked out the subtleties and contradictions in these ideas. As Schryer convincingly demonstrates, these artists' ideas about literary vocation accompanied much more sweeping and consequential changes in the ways in which expertise and authority were conceived in the United States. His elegant analysis gives a compelling new map of postwar American cultural history.
Andrew Hoberek
Fantasies of the New Class is a major contribution to our understanding of the relationship between history and literary form in the postwar United States. Through sophisticated readings of fiction and sociology, Schryer ably shows how American writing from the 1940s through the 1980s resonates with (and helps to create) a transformed vision of the professional. Whether demonstrating the importance of understudied writers like Mary McCarthy or breathing new life into such critical favorites as Ralph Ellison and Don DeLillo, Schryer offers a fascinating new way to read the fiction of the second half of the twentieth century. With Fantasies of the New Class, he enters the first rank of scholarship on this period.
Choice
Interesting, insightful synthesis.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231157568
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/8/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Schryer is an assistant professor of English at the University of New Brunswick and has published in PMLA, Modern Fiction Studies, and Arizona Quarterly.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Fantasies of the New Class 1

1 The Republic of Letters: The New Criticism, Harvard Sociology, and the Idea of the University 29

2 "Life Upon the Horns of the White Man's Dilemma": Ralph Ellison, Gunnar Myrdal, and the Project of National Therapy 55

3 Mary McCarthy's Field Guide to U.S. Intellectuals: Tradition and Modernization Theory in Birds of America 83

4 Saul Bellow's Class of Explaining Creatures: Mr. Sammler's Planet and the Rise of Neoconservatism 111

5 Experts Without Institutions: New Left Professionalism in Marge Piercy and Ursula K. Le Guin 141

6 Don DeLillo's Academia: Revisiting the New Class in White Noise 167

Afterword 193

Notes 203

Bibliography 241

Index 257

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