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Ambiguous Borderlands: Shadow Imagery in Cold War American Culture by Erik Mortenson

The image of the shadow in mid-twentieth-century America appeared across a variety of genres and media including poetry, pulp fiction, photography, and film. Drawing on an extensive framework that ranges from Cold War cultural histories to theorizations of psychoanalysis and the Gothic, Erik Mortenson argues that shadow imagery in 1950s and 1960s American culture not only reflected the anxiety and ambiguity of the times but also offered an imaginative space for artists to challenge the binary rhetoric associated with the Cold War.
After contextualizing the postwar use of shadow imagery in the wake of the atomic bomb, Ambiguous Borderlands looks at shadows in print works, detailing the reemergence of the pulp fiction crime fighter the Shadow in the late-1950s writings of Sylvia Plath, Amiri Baraka, and Jack Kerouac. Using Freudian and Jungian conceptions of the unconscious, Mortenson then discusses Kerouac’s and Allen Ginsberg’s shared dream of a “shrouded stranger” and how it shaped their Beat aesthetic. Turning to the visual, Mortenson examines the dehumanizing effect of shadow imagery in the Cold War photography of Robert Frank, William Klein, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard.  Mortenson concludes with an investigation of the use of chiaroscuro in 1950s film noir and the popular television series The Twilight Zone, further detailing how the complexities of Cold War society were mirrored across these media in the ubiquitous imagery of light and dark.
From comics to movies, Beats to bombs, Ambiguous Borderlands provides a novel understanding of the Cold War cultural context through its analysis of the image of the shadow in midcentury media. Its interdisciplinary approach, ambitious subject matter, and diverse theoretical framing make it essential reading for anyone interested in American literary and popular culture during the fifties and sixties.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809334322
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 02/26/2016
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Erik Mortenson is an assistant professor in the department of English and Comparative Literature at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. He is the author of Capturing the Beat Moment: Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Presence, which was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2011.

Table of Contents

List of Figures xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Shadows and Their Place in Postwar America 1

1 A Fascinating Anxiety: The Paradoxes of Life in the Shadow of the Bomb 20

2 What the Shadows Know: The Return of the Crime-Fighting Hero the Shadow in Late-1950s Literature 54

3 Taking Back the Shadows: Alien Ginsberg's and Jack Kerouac's Struggles to Reclaim the American Unconscious 91

4 The Ghost of Humanism: The Disappearing Figure in Postwar Photography 127

5 The Battle of Light and Dark: Chiaroscuro in Late Film Noir 173

6 A Journey into the Shadows: The Twilight Zone's Visual Critique of the Cold War 217

Conclusion: Adumbration, Penumbra, Foreshadowing 241

Notes 251

Bibliography 277

Index 295

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