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Cultural Considerations

Essays on Readers, Writers, and Musicians in Postwar America

Joan Shelley Rubin

Publication Year: 2013

A highly regarded scholar in the fields of American cultural history and print culture, Joan Shelley Rubin is best known for her writings on the values, assumptions, and anxieties that have shaped American life, as reflected in both “high” culture and the experiences of ordinary people. In this volume, she continues that work by exploring processes of mediation that texts undergo as they pass from producers to audiences, while elucidating as well the shifting, contingent nature of cultural hierarchy. Focusing on aspects of American literary and musical culture in the decades after World War II, Rubin examines the contests between critics and their readers over the authority to make aesthetic judgments; the effort of academics to extend the university outward by bringing the humanities to a wide public; the politics of setting poetic texts to music; the role of ideology in the practice of commissioning and performing choral works; and the uses of reading in the service of both individualism and community. Specific topics include the 1957 attack by the critic John Ciardi on the poetry of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in the Saturday Review; the radio broadcasts of the classicist Gilbert Highet; Dwight Macdonald’s vitriolic depiction of the novelist James Gould Cozzens as a pernicious middlebrow; the composition and reception of Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy”; the varied career of musician Gunther Schuller; the liberal humanism of America’s foremost twentieth-century choral conductor, Robert Shaw; and the place of books in the student and women’s movements of the 1960s. What unites these essays is the author's ongoing concern with cultural boundaries, mediation, and ideology--and the contradictions they frequently entail.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-8


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pp. vii-x

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Introduction: Cultural History in Practice

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pp. 1-8

These essays take as their common subject aspects of American lit-erary and musical culture in the decades following the Second World War. They examine the activities of readers, writers, listeners, musicians, and critics in order to contribute to a history that registers the social fac-tors influencing the creation, dissemination, and reception of a variety of cultural artifacts. The essays—some previously published, some appearing ...

Part I: Readers & Critics

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1. The Genteel Tradition at Large

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pp. 11-28

In 1937, when Malcolm Cowley, then literary editor of the New Repub-lic, assembled a collection of essays on American authors of the 1910s and 1920s, he called the book After the Genteel Tradition. The phrase de-fined Cowley’s own critical stance, allying him with a rebellion of younger writers against the morality and taste of the post–Civil War generations. “Gentility” demanded a literature steeped in optimism and idealism, Cow-...

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2. The Scholar and the World: Academic Humanists and General Readers in Postwar America

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pp. 29-58

Two scenarios currently dominate historical accounts of American literary and cultural criticism in the decades immediately following the Second World War. Taking off from the position Irving Howe articu-lated in his 1954 essay “This Age of Conformity,” the first depicts intel-lectuals abandoning the adversarial politics and aesthetic experimentation of the prewar period for the shelter and safety of the nation’s expanding ...

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3. Repossessing the Cozzens-Macdonald Imbroglio: Middlebrow Authorship, Critical Authority, and Autonomous Readers in Postwar America

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pp. 59-84

Dwight Macdonald’s trenchant essay “Masscult and Midcult” (1960) is the most sweeping—and the most famous—formulation by an American of the postwar animus against middlebrow culture. Yet “Masscult and Midcult” was not the opening shot in Macdonald’s war against the pernicious products of the entertainment and publishing in-dustries but, rather, the culminating episode in a campaign the writer had ...

Part II: Composers, Conductors & Their Audiences

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4. The Composer as a Reader: Poetry, Music, and the Politics of a Neglected Genre

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pp. 87-107

What happens when a composer transforms a poem into a piece of music? From the musicologist’s usual angle of vision, the answer is that composers “set texts” by endowing words with notes, rhythm, and phrasing appropriate to (although arguably in tension with) the poet’s lan-guage. But what if we applied to the practice of text-setting the concepts that scholars of print culture have made familiar? In that light, compos-...

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5. Ideology and Practice in the Career of Robert Shaw

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pp. 108-141

When he died in 1999 at the age of eighty-two, Robert Lawson Shaw was the preeminent American choral conductor of the twen-tieth century. As director in the 1940s and 1950s both of the Collegiate Chorale, whose members were highly skilled amateurs, and of the smaller professional ensemble that bore his name, Shaw brought high seriousness to choral singing through his musical gifts, repertory choices, and ideo-...

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6. Gunther Schuller: The Musician as Mediator

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pp. 142-149

Near the beginning of his landmark study Early Jazz (1968), Gunther Schuller describes a chord pattern called “fours” that jazz musicians sometimes introduce into the conventional thirty-two-bar song form. After noting that the pattern can give rise to intriguing sounds when the improvisers play different parts of the whole structure as the piece pro-gresses, he remarks, “The ‘bridge’ produces especially interesting combi-...

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Conclusion: The Enduring Reader

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pp. 150-168

Among the products of the post–World War II paperback revolu-tion was a volume decidedly different from the racily packaged novels the paper format encouraged: a book issued by Pelican/Penguin titled Good Reading: A Guide to the World’s Best Books (1947). First published in 1932 as a pamphlet assembled by the National Council of Teachers of English, Good Reading had undergone extensive revision prior to its paperback de-...


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pp. 169-188


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pp. 189-196

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About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 197-212

Joan Shelley Rubin was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Rochester, New York. She received an AB magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1969 and a PhD in American studies from Yale University in 1974. She has taught at Yale, McMaster University, the University of Western Ontario, SUNY Brockport, and Princeton University...

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762622
E-ISBN-10: 1613762623
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340139
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340133

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 868223117
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cultural Considerations

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Subject Headings

  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Books and reading -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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