E 395M • Emergences: Fictions of the Fifties
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
This course will examine American writing in the 1950s, mostly fiction but some drama and essays as well, showing the turn from direct social protest toward fictions reflecting existential philosophy and Freudian and Reichian psychology. This turn enunciated the emergence of new identities, Jewish, black and queer, and new sensibilities, alienated, freaky, and, in some instances, nihilistic. Doubts about the state of things in Eisenhower America were intensified by such studies as David Riesmans The Lonely Crowd (1950), Theodore Adornos The Authoritarian Personality (1950), and C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1956). The esthetic turn was toward subjectivity, resulting in poetic and symbolic modes of writing in which identity emerges obliquely. Ultimately the turn seems one not so much against political radicalism as forecasting the free floating protest politics and identity politics of the 1960s and 1970s. The emergence of postmodernism (before it had a name) is also apparent in works by Ellison, Nabokov, Highsmith, Barth, and Albee. Finally, a number of culturally as well as literarily resonant new stories are being told in these works: the freak story, coming from those alienated in their sexual identity; the race story, from the racially marginalized; the religious story from the religiously marginalized; the adolescent story, coming from a new category of the alienated; and what one might call the default alienated as in the Marlon Brando quote in The Wild One in response to the plaintive query What are you rebelling against? What Have You Got?
Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky (1949), Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951), J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952), Flannery OConnor, Wise Blood (1952), James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953), Gwendolyn Brooks Maud Martha (1953), Nabokov, Lolita (1955), Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955), Bellow, Seize the Day (1956), Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1956), Barth, The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958), Kerouac, On the Road (1957), Mailer, The White Negro (1957), Albee, The Zoo Story (1959).