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The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance : Kenneth Fearing, Nathanael West, and Mass Culture in the 1930s - Rita Barnard

The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance

Kenneth Fearing, Nathanael West, and Mass Culture in the 1930s

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Published: 27th January 1995
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Two contradictory, or apparantly contradictory, pairs of terms - depression and abundance, and literature and mass culture - make up the framework of this study in 1930s culture. Rita Barnard suggests that despite the painful national experience of scarcity and poverty, one can detect in the culture of the American thirties the now familiar outlines of an image-mediated, consumer society. She argues that the hierarchical opposition between 'high art' and 'mass culture' was powerfully contested in cultural productions of the depression era: as book clubs, radio, popular exhibitions, star conductors such as Toscanini and many other vehicles brought high culture to millions of people. In the meantime, writers with 'serious' literary interests borrowed from the discourse of the media in their writing. The central figures of this study emerge as pre-eminent - and in some sense prophetic - figures: their poetry and prose illuminate emergent cultural forces which have since attained new stature in our post-modern world. Despite their sharp and often prescient social critique, they are not to be mistaken for elitists, they recognised at once the deceit and the promise of our emergent culture of abundance.

"Barnard's analysis helps explain why writers such as Benjamin and West should reappear now as significant figures for another generation of intellectuals. The mark of a good critic is that she makes you want to go directly to the text. Barnard reminded me of what a great poet Fearing was as she seconded my return trip to West; I expect this study to spark a Fearing revival...Like the shock of finishing a plate of potato salad to find Salamina's hairy legs sprouting from the prairie, these 1930s writings draw Marxist critiques of commodity fetishism from the very icons of capitalist consumption. And make you ask fir seconds. So does Rita Barnard." Paula Rabinowitz, Novel "Rita Barnard's The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance offers a rich and insightful study of the Depression as seen through the work of two of its most important, albeit insufficiently recognized, cultural observers: Kenneth Fearing and Nathanael West." American Literature "This book will force scholars to rethink the meaning of mass culture in the Depression years...Barnard takes a fresh approach...This is a brilliant book." Robbie Lieberman, AmericanHistorical Review

Acknowledgements
Context
Introduction: literature and mass culture in the thirties
Hard times, modern times
Kenneth Fearing
The politics of literary failure: fearing, mass culture and the canon
The undercover agent and the culture of the spectacle
'Zowie did he live and Zowie did he die': mass culture and the fragmentation of experience
Nathaniel West
'A surfeit of shoddy': West and the spectacle of culture
'When you wish upon a star': fantasy, experience and mass culture
The storyteller, the novelist and the advice columnist Epilogue: 'happy ending'
Notes
Index
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780521450348
ISBN-10: 0521450349
Series: Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 284
Published: 27th January 1995
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 22.8 x 15.2  x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.59