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The Naked Communist:Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

Roland Vegso

Publication Year: 2012

The Naked Communist argues that the political ideologies of modernity were fundamentally determined by four basic figures: the world, the enemy, the secret, and the catastrophe. While the "world" names the totality that functioned as the ultimate horizon of modern political imagination, the three other figures define the necessary limits of this totality by reflecting on the limits of representation. The book highlights the enduring presence of these figures in the modern imagination through detailed analysis of a concrete historical example: American anti-Communist politics of the 1950s. Its primary objective is to describe the internal mechanisms of what we could call an anti-Communist "aesthetic ideology." The book thus traces the way anti-Communist popular culture emerged in the discourse of Cold War liberalism as a political symptom of modernism. Based on a discursive analysis of American anti-Communist politics, the book presents parallel readings of modernism and popular fiction from the 1950s (nuclear holocaust novels, spy novels, and popular political novels) in order to show that, despite the radical separation of the two cultural fields, they both participated in a common ideological program.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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p. ix

I would like to start by thanking my mentors at the English and Comparative Literature Departments of the State University of New York at Buffalo for their unfailing guidance and inspiring friendship: Joan Copjec, Ernesto Laclau, David Schmid, Tim Dean, and Rodolphe Gasché. At the same time, I would like to acknowledge...

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pp. 1-6

Those familiar with the history of American anti-Communism will immediately recognize that I borrow my title from Cleon W. Skousen’s The Naked Communist (1958).1 The book belongs to the same genre as J. Edgar Hoover’s better-known classic, Masters of Deceit (1958), and it presents to a general audience...

Part 1 Anti-Communist Politics

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1 / The Aesthetic Unconscious

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pp. 9-35

Since the end of the eighteenth century, “aesthetics” and “ideology” have inhabited overlapping theoretical domains, but the combination of the two terms into a unified concept (“aesthetic ideology”) is of relatively recent vintage. Why this delay? Why did we have to wait until the second half of the twentieth century for the birth of this concept? In order to answer this question, we should first...

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2 /Anti-Communist Politics and the Limits of Representation

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pp. 36-52

Any consideration of Cold War anti-Communism has to start with the acknowledgment that anti-Communist discourse, even in America, long predates the Cold War.1 Although in Europe anti-Communist politics was already fully formed by the middle of the nineteenth century, in America it was the turn of the...

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3 /The Enemy, the Secret, and the Catastrophe

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pp. 53-81

The construction of this necessary anti-Communist knowledge was mostly driven by the ideological figure of the enemy, and it gave rise to what we could call the political theology of American nationalism in the Cold War. We are well accustomed to speaking of the structure of Cold War enmity as a highly...

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4 /Anti-Communist Aesthetic Ideology

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pp. 82-108

Let us now turn to the problem of “art” as it appeared in anti-Communist politics. We must start here by acknowledging the fact that anti-Communist aesthetic ideology was born at the intersection of the politics of anti-Communism and the aesthetics of high modernism. When it comes to a definition of art...

Part 2 Anti-Communist Fiction

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5 /One World: Nuclear Holocausts

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pp. 111-139

The minimal historical precondition of the type of literature that we are concerned with here is the invention of a particular notion of the “world.” It is not enough to say that atomic holocaust fiction is only possible in an “atomic age” in which speculation about atomic matters assumes a certain realistic relevance...

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6 /Two Worlds: Stolen Secrets

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pp. 140-169

Whereas nuclear holocaust fiction introduced the idea of the “world” into anti-Communist fiction and strove to establish the unity of this world, spy thrillers split the world into two and claimed that it was always at least two worlds. This split simultaneously accounts for the obstacles that prevent the world of anti-Communism...

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7 /Three Worlds: Global Enemies

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pp. 170-198

So far, I have argued that nuclear holocaust fiction established the unity of the world and spy fiction introduced the idea that, in order to protect this unity, the world of democracy had to be constitutively split between the normal world of publicity and the clandestine world of sovereign violence. If we now turn our...

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pp. 199-202

Close to the end of Philip Roth’s 1998 novel, I Married a Communist, in a characteristically straightforward fashion, the text raises a self-reflexive question: Why would anyone write a novel about the American 1950s at the dawn of the new millennium? The question, thus, concerns the relevance of the fifties for...


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pp. 203-228


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pp. 229-238


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pp. 239-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823245567
Print-ISBN-10: 082324556X

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 b/w
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text

OCLC Number: 820632016
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Naked Communist:Cold War Modernism and the Politics of Popular Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Anti-communist movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Anti-communist movements -- United States -- Philosophy.
  • Cold War -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Popular culture -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Aesthetics -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • Anti-communist movements in literature.
  • Cold War in literature.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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