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Stephen Schryer’s Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-War American Fiction provides an insightful and thought provoking exploration of the often inherently contradictory ideologies pertaining to the new class of professionals that emerged [End Page 207] following the Second World War. The formation of the new class had significant implications for the role of intellectuals. With the expansion of postsecondary education, literary culture found a more prominent position in the mainstream of the United States. Schryer traces and carefully analyzes the ways in which professionalism diverged from an earlier ideology that “claimed that professionals transcended the purely pecuniary motives of the capital-owning bourgeoisie. Instead, it highlighted professionals’ technical expertise and concern for the public welfare” (2). Schryer effectively argues that the fantasy of the new class responsible for this divergence, which “pervaded the work of writers and sociologists across the political spectrum” (12), was and continues to be reconsidered and renegotiated in an array of postwar era writings.
Schryer largely attributes the model of professionalism followed by the new class to Lionel Trilling. Trilling’s vision for intellectuals, which Shcryer refers to as “new class fantasy” (6), entails a subtle difference from the social trustee model of professionalism: “Rather than building institutions, the intellectual improves the culture, driving the expanding new class to adopt more complicated patterns of thinking associated with the practice of professionalism itself” (6). This seemingly subtle difference between ideologies of professionalism proves significant as it provides the basis for Schryer’s argument. Schryer examines the manifestation of this model of professionalism in fiction and sociological writings that span from the 1930s to Don Delillo’s 1985 novel White Noise. In his selection, Schryer includes the works of New Critics such as John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate as well as the sociological works of Talcott Parsons. Schryer’s wide selection of writings spans not only the twentieth century, but also provides insight into ideas pertaining to professionalism across disciplines.
Schryer begins with a discussion of the attempt to separate sociology from literary studies via structural functionalism, arguing that New Critics and sociologists “masked underlying affinities between the two disciplines’ attitude towards the new class” (31). What ultimately unites the ideas of professionalism in New Criticism and structural functionalism for Schryer is the way in which both “exemplify the fracturing of social trustee ideology that took place within the post-World War II academy” (32). Schryer asserts that sociology and literary studies shared a concern with the well-being and moral standards of society. While New Critics connected their practices to “the imagined moral effects of literature in modern society” (31), sociologists saw themselves in a position to “maintain and reproduce these [moral] values” (32); both did so while placing greater emphasis on their kinship with professional scientists. This emphasis on social values, then, maintains a degree of the social trustee ideology, [End Page 208] while advocating professional awareness. By examining the nuanced changes within the disciplines, Schryer demonstrates the convergence of social sciences and literary studies that began prior to the Second World War. Schryer builds on this correlation between social sciences and humanities in his analysis of novels by canonical postwar writers including Ralph Ellison, Mary McCarthy, and Saul Bellow. According to Schryer, the novels of Ellison, McCarthy, and Bellow indicate that “ideas and the intellectuals who create them move into the center of novelistic representation,” positioning these novels as “records of conflicts taking place within the cultural center” (16).
While the novels that Schryer selects address ideologies of new class professionalism, the degree to which these novels function as records of the expectation that intellectuals will succeed in their endeavors to transform the expanding middle-class is never as extensive as Schryer initially insists. The writers that Schryer examines appear to be aware, although to varying degrees, of the ambiguous role of the intellectual. In this sense, the epigraph from C. Wright Mills’ “The Social Role of the Intellectual,” in which Mills articulates the tenuous position of...