Sensational Modernism: Experimental Fiction and Photography in Thirties America / Edition 1by Joseph B. Entin
Pub. Date: 09/03/2007
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Challenging the conventional wisdom that the 1930s were dominated by literary and photographic realism, Sensational Modernism uncovers a rich vein of experimental work by politically progressive artists. Examining images by photographers such as Weegee and Aaron Siskind and fiction by writers such as William Carlos Williams, Richard Wright, Tillie Olsen, and Pietro di Donato, Joseph Entin argues that these artists drew attention to the country's most vulnerable residents by using what he calls an "aesthetic of astonishment," focused on startling, graphic images of pain, injury, and prejudice.
Traditional portrayals of the poor depicted stoic, passive figures of sentimental suffering or degraded but potentially threatening figures in need of supervision. Sensational modernists sought to shock middle-class audiences into new ways of seeing the nation's impoverished and outcast populations. The striking images these artists created, often taking the form of contorted or disfigured bodies drawn from the realm of the tabloids, pulp magazines, and cinema, represented a bold, experimental form of social aesthetics. Entin argues that these artists created a willfully unorthodox brand of vernacular modernism in which formal avant-garde innovations were used to delineate the conditions, contradictions, and pressures of life on the nation's fringes.
Table of Contents
Scrutiny, Sentiment, Sensation: American Modernism and the Bodies of the Dispossessed 35
Sensational Contact: William Carlos Williams's Short Fiction and the Bodies of New Immigrants 76
Modernist Documentary: Aaron Siskind's Harlem Document 107
A Piece of the Body Torn Out by the Roots: James Agee, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner, and the Contingencies of Working-Class Representation 141
Monstrous Modernism: Laboring Bodies, Wounded Workers, and Narrative Heterogeneity in Pietro di Donato's Christ in Concrete 181
No Man's Land: Richard Wright, Stereotype, and the Racial Politics of Sensational Modernism 215
Conclusion: Modernism, Poverty, and the Politics of Seeing 257
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