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American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War

American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War

by Alan M. Wald


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American Night, the final volume of an unprecedented trilogy, brings Alan Wald's multigenerational history of Communist writers to a poignant climax. Using new research to explore the intimate lives of novelists, poets, and critics during the Cold War, Wald reveals a radical community longing for the rebirth of the social vision of the 1930s and struggling with a loss of moral certainty as the Communist worldview was being called into question. The resulting literature, Wald shows, is a haunting record of fracture and struggle linked by common structures of feeling, ones more suggestive of the "negative dialectics" of Theodor Adorno than the traditional social realism of the Left.
Establishing new points of contact among Kenneth Fearing, Ann Petry, Alexander Saxton, Richard Wright, Jo Sinclair, Thomas McGrath, and Carlos Bulosan, Wald argues that these writers were in dialogue with psychoanalysis, existentialism, and postwar modernism, often generating moods of piercing emotional acuity and cosmic dissent. He also recounts the contributions of lesser known cultural workers, with a unique accent on gays and lesbians, secular Jews, and people of color. The vexing ambiguities of an era Wald labels "late antifascism" serve to frame an impressive collective biography.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469618814
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 08/01/2014
Edition description: 1
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Alan M. Wald is the H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor of English Literature and American Culture at the University of Michigan and is the recipient of the Mary C. Turpie Prize of the American Studies Association. The rest of his trilogy includes Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left and Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Introduction Late Antifascism 1

Chapter 1 Postwar 22

The Culture Wars of Kenneth Fearing 22

The Mask of Irony 27

Rage against the Machine 33

Study in Fundamentals 37

The Virtue of intentions 41

Chapter 2 Scenes from a Class Struggle 49

Somewhere beyond Proletarianism 49

The Intellectual under Fire 55

The Making of Zhdanovists 60

Grand Illusions 70

Humboldt's Gift 75

Chapter 3 The Cult of Reason 84

Coming Home 84

After the Popular Front 92

The Sublime Saxton 98

The Ruins of Memory 103

Gender and the Crisis of Form 107

Chapter 4 The "Homintem" Reconsidered 117

Butterfly Friends 117

The Closeted Past 127

The Double Life of Harry Dana 134

Tough Guys 139

Mama's Boys 144

Chapter 5 Lonely Crusaders, Part I 150

The Great Outsider 150

"I Tried to Be a Communist" 156

Personal History 163

American Pages 169

The Radical Stranger 174

Chapter 6 Lonely Crusaders, Part II 179

Melville in Old Saybrook 179

Contingencies of Gender 184

The Fog 190

The Etiology of Mourning 195

Red, Black, and Gay 201

Exile and Its Discontents 208

Chapter 7 Jews without Judaism 216

Deconversion and Disavowal 216

Friends of the Unconscious 225

Analytical Realism 230

The Book of Memory 238

A Novel of Emotions 243

Chapter 8 Off Modernity's Grid 250

The Strange Career of People's Poetry 250

Imaginary Friends 256

Memories of the Future 265

Socialist Surrealism 271

Auden in Brooklyn 281

Conclusion The Sense of an Ending 292

The Afterlife of Literary Communism 292

The Indeterminacy of Art 296

The Presence of an Absence 304

A Note on Methodology 319

Notes 325

Acknowledgments 391

Index 397

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The work of a scholar at the height of his powers. With intensive archival research, oral histories, and extensive reading in primary sources and theoretical approaches, Wald unveils the hidden history of Left culture in the United States.—Paula Rabinowitz, University of Minnesota

The dark days of literary radicalism which conclude Wald's magnificent trilogy present their own deep fascinations. Tragedy and irony abound in the writings, and the lives, of the celebrated and too little-known artists whom readers meet. A stunning work of history as well as literary criticism, American Night situates its subject in the Cold War and changes the very ways we think about that period.—David Roediger, University of Illinois, coauthor, with Elizabeth Esch, of The Production of Difference

American Night is the capstone of Alan Wald's assiduous archeology of the literary left in the mid twentieth century. The book explores an era when the organized left, under fire and in disarray, had all but disintegrated, though its influence survived in the feelings and ideals of individual writers. With a zeal for recovering forgotten lives and books, Wald scrupulously reconstructs a largely unknown chapter of our cultural history.—Morris Dickstein, author of Gates of Eden and Dancing in the Dark

Superbly documented, richly satisfying, and elegant. American Night is an indispensable guide to pro-Communist radical traditions of the 1930s through the 1950s and a tough critique of previous concepts of literary Communism. Wald takes us on a fascinating luge ride through the strikingly diverse biographies of three generations of postwar radical writers and artists as they confronted and wrote about the great violence and repression of the mid-twentieth century.—Mary Helen Washington, University of Maryland

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