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American Night

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

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    American Night
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0150-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xx)
  4. Introduction Late Antifascism
    (pp. 1-21)

    Sidney Greenspan (1915–44) was a small, skinny, myopic Jew with sloping shoulders, a prominent nose, and thin brown hair. He died brutally in Carano, Italy, during World War II’s “Operation Shingle.” His death occurred two days after Allied forces carried out an amphibious landing on Anzio Beach to outflank the German troops and facilitate an attack on Rome. On 24 January 1944, Sidney, serving as a medic, was hit by machine-gun fire that first shattered his right hip and then splintered his left forearm. Sidney continued caring for the wounded, hauling them to safety until he bled to death....

  5. Chapter One Postwar
    (pp. 22-48)

    In March 1944, as World War II peaked ferociously in Europe, theNew York Times Book Reviewgently registered the premonitory rumblings of a new chapter in the history of the novel in the United States.Dangling Man, the first published volume of fiction by future Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow (1915–2005), was the subject of “Man Versus Man,” a canny appraisal by Depression-era celebrity poet Kenneth Fearing (1902–61). “In this curious interim between two ages,” Fearing announced, “when history has dropped the curtain upon one of them but seems in no hurry to give the next one...

  6. Chapter Two Scenes from a Class Struggle
    (pp. 49-83)

    InThe Decay of Living(1889), Oscar Wilde famously reversed mimesis: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”¹ Pro-Communist writers in the postwar years, fashioning both their art and literary criticism in a tradition variously identified as proletarian literature, socialist realism, democratic culture, and people’s art, faced a parallel tussle between their personal visions, growing out of psychology and experience, and the succession of models and doctrines exalted by the international Communist movement.² How does a creative writer express subjectivity, or a critic provide assessments, when facing the beckoning call of a social aesthetic? Proletarianism, in many ways...

  7. Chapter Three The Cult of Reason
    (pp. 84-116)

    The world the novel makes proposes its own causality and contingency. To treat post–World War II Marxist fiction solely as a declension narrative, due to the ultimate disaster of the Communist movement in 1956, is to miss one of U.S. culture’s most significant streams. Customary accounts of the “Long Retreat” of literary radicalism obviously contain some truth, and there are sound reasons why the political parable of the clean sweep of Cold War liberalism in fiction has had its remarkable run.¹ But scores of novelists once affiliated with or newly drawn to the pro-Communist Left would be a forceful...

  8. Chapter Four The “Homintern” Reconsidered
    (pp. 117-149)

    By 1951, much of the leadership of the Communist Party was convinced of the inescapability of a war between the Soviet Union and the United States. For that reason, instructions were sent from the Communist Party’s national office to district organizers such as Junius Irving Scales (1920–2002), who supervised North and South Carolina, to interview each member during the annual registration. Scales’s mandate was to seek out weak links who might compromise the Party if it was outlawed and its adherents required to go underground; he was told to interrogate members about their intimate affairs but write nothing down....

  9. Chapter Five Lonely Crusaders, Part I
    (pp. 150-178)

    Life on the postwar Left for African American writers was overflowing with exiles among exiles. Willard Motley (1909–65), after publishingWe Fished All Night(1951), his novel of Progressives, Communists, and the labor movement in late 1940s Chicago, withdrew to Mexico for the remainder of his life. James Baldwin, whose casual associations with Communism were evidenced in 1937 and 1946, took off for Paris and London in 1948, from where he published his first novel,Go Tell It on the Mountain(1953). William Gardner Smith (1927–74), a student of Communist philosopher Barrows Dunham (1905–95) and friend of...

  10. Chapter Six Lonely Crusaders, Part II
    (pp. 179-215)

    Ann Petry’sThe Narrowsunveils a panorama of Marxist stasis, closer to suspended animation than hypersleep.¹ The 1953 novel, depicting events from October 1951 to the spring of 1952, bequeaths a social vision like that in Melville’sMoby Dick, according to the analysis published that same year by C. L. R. James. InMariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In, James posits that, for the mid-nineteenth-century world of thePequod’s doomed crew of international sailors, Melville sees change in social power as mandatory for survival; there must be a way to stop...

  11. Chapter Seven Jews without Judaism
    (pp. 216-249)

    The record of Jewish American cultural achievement in the postwar decades is extensive and irregular. Many of the emerging writers in the era, now treated as fomenting a “Jewish American Renaissance,” had a background in Marxism, usually Communism, by personal or family association.¹ What is still visible of the left-wing reference points of this literary tradition resembles a disrupted itinerary, fractured but conveying information nonetheless. A few authors made open but laconic references to their political pasts in their writing, including Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsberg, Grace Paley, and Tillie Olsen. Others, such as Bernard Malamud, evaded the subject,...

  12. Chapter Eight Off Modernityʹs Grid
    (pp. 250-291)

    On the bitterly cold morning of 8 February 1954, the year that the bipartisan Communist Control Act was passed by Congress, the thirty-three-year-old Marxist poet Aaron Kramer (1921–97) unfolded his New York City newspaper to lurid banner headlines about a sensational double murder. Maxwell Bodenheim (born Maxwell Bodenheimer, 1892–1954), the Jewish poet and novelist who had briefly joined the Communist Party at the outset of the 1930s and never repudiated his stance, had been shot in the heart with a .22 rifle bullet just a few blocks from where Kramer lived. Bodenheim’s young third wife, Ruth Fagan, daughter...

  13. Conclusion The Sense of an Ending
    (pp. 292-318)

    It would be simpler if the end of the Communist literary tradition happened quickly, if the demise of the authority of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party over culture suddenly gave rise to liberating impulses producing a massive prison break, a cultural Prague Spring. Yet the afterlife of Literary Communism began much earlier than 1956 and goes on and on; one still does not have the sense of an ending. The 1930s set the stage for intersections of social realism and the avant-garde, while the postwar years produced the new contingency and then Communist literary modernism. The calamity of...

  14. A Note on Methodology
    (pp. 319-324)

    This book was written with the conviction that postwar U.S. literature, while the focus of several acute studies, remains an era in search of a critic. The method ofAmerican Nightfollows an observation of Walter Benjamin’s: “To write history is to give the dates a physiognomy.”¹ Aiming to craft a “human-scape” of several generations of Left writers, I have also tried to respond to an intellectual challenge posed by Theodor Adorno: “Even the biographical individual is a social category. It can only be defined in a living context together with others; it is this context that shapes its social...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 325-390)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 391-396)
  17. Index
    (pp. 397-412)