Melting-Pot Modernism

Melting-Pot Modernism

by Sarah Wilson
     
 

Between 1891 and 1920 more than 18 million immigrants entered the United States. While many Americans responded to this influx by proposing immigration restriction or large-scale "Americanization" campaigns, a few others, figures such as Jane Addams and John Dewey, adopted the image of the melting pot to oppose such measures. These Progressives imagined

Overview

Between 1891 and 1920 more than 18 million immigrants entered the United States. While many Americans responded to this influx by proposing immigration restriction or large-scale "Americanization" campaigns, a few others, figures such as Jane Addams and John Dewey, adopted the image of the melting pot to oppose such measures. These Progressives imagined assimilation as a multidirectional process, in which both native-born and immigrants contributed their cultural gifts to a communal fund.

Melting-Pot Modernism reveals the richly aesthetic nature of assimilation at the turn of the twentieth century, focusing on questions of the individual's relation to culture, the protection of vulnerable populations, the sharing of cultural heritages, and the far-reaching effects of free-market thinking. By tracing the melting-pot impulse toward merging and cross-fertilization through the writings of Henry James, James Weldon Johnson, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein, as well as through the autobiography, sociology, and social commentary of their era, Sarah Wilson makes a new connection between the ideological ferment of the Progressive era and the literary experimentation of modernism.

Wilson puts literary analysis at the service of intellectual history, showing that literary modes of thought and expression both shaped and were shaped by debates over cultural assimilation. Exploring the depth and nuance of an earlier moment's commitment to cultural inclusiveness, Melting-Pot Modernism gives new meaning to American struggles to imaginatively encompass difference—and to the central place of literary interpretation in understanding such struggles.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Melting-Pot Modernism is an intelligent and beautifully written examination of the 'melting pot' as taken up in the work of four modernist writers. For Henry James, James Weldon Johnson, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein, questions of novelty and difference familiar to the immigration, assimilation, and nativist debates were likewise aesthetic concerns for problems of form, the self, and one’s relation to the past and to others. Sarah Wilson’s readings of individual texts are ingenious and illuminating; her argument is fruitfully grounded in solid historical understanding of the authors’ lives and of contemporaneous debates on immigration."—Christopher Douglas, University of Victoria, author of A Genealogy of Literary Multiculturalism

"Melting-Pot Modernism persuasively links early modernist experimentation to a specific social context: the discussions and political programs addressing questions of assimilation at the turn of the twentieth century. Wilson integrates into her discussion of 'melting-pot discourse' a wide array of texts—from immigrant autobiographies and sociological studies to the New History movement—that illuminate the themes and formal innovations of literary works by Henry James, James Weldon Johnson, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein."—Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania

"Sarah Wilson reopens the debate surrounding the efficacy of the melting-pot metaphor, tracing its influence from the discourses of Progressive-era America to the innovative exchanges of literary modernism. . . . Melting-Pot Modernism persuasively traces the durability of this self-consciously literary discourse and demonstrates the importance of close reading to the historical study of acculturation and diversity."—Alicia Rix, Times Literary Supplement (5 August 2011)

"Drawing on Progressive thinkers such as John Dewey, Robert E. Park, and Jane Addams, this adroit book develops a sociological lens through which the reader can view modernist literary experiments as reflecting dramatic cultural shifts."—Choice

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801448164
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
09/16/2010
Pages:
264
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Wilson is Professor of Modern Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.

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