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The Modernist Nation

Generation, Renaissance, and Twentieth-Century American Literature

Written by Michael Soto

Publication Year: 2004

"Soto is a clever and convincing reader of modernist prose and makes a fair case for the value of the generational model.   [His book] beats notions of 'ages' or 'epochs', because it is organic and bridges individual and collective historiography, while also allowing for the non-contemporaneity of the contemporaneous, the coexistence of multiple generations in time and space."
Modern Language Review
"[The Modernist Nation’s] historical span is impressive, ranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to James Baldwin. . . . One of Soto's contributions is to continue the work of thinking about race in conjunction with American nationality. . . . Soto takes 'seriously the assertion that American writers imagine their craft as a kind of childbirth, a figure of speech long connected to artist creation. Such an idea leads him to consider writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams in whose work he finds frequent analogies between writing and procreation."
— Donna M. Campbell, American Literary Scholarship
"Modernist Nation constructs a history of modernist literary movements and their labels as a way of detailing the improvisational qualities of American identity. . . . Soto's. . . .work is an important contribution to American literary studies because [it illustrates] how racial and ethnic experiences make claims on the shape of our cultural traditions and critical practices. . . . Soto's evaluations are valuable because he sees the traps of essentialist thought in movement labels.”
Walton Muyumba, electronic book review

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. vii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: America, Modernism, and All that Jazz

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pp. 1-13

Imagine for a moment that Ralph Waldo Emerson had been born and raised in the Midwest, say, Cincinnati, and spent the bulk of his writing career in Berlin or Paris: Emerson’s poetry and prose might have assumed another shape and treated entirely different themes; the so-called American Renaissance of the mid–nineteenth century might be known today by another...


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1. Generational Rhetoric and American Avant-Gardism

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pp. 17-56

The monumental and today much-maligned Literary History of the United States (1948) begins with a prominent trope in American literary historiography, one with deep roots: “Each generation should produce at least one literary history of the United States, for each generation must define the past in its own terms” (Spiller et al. vii). Since then virtually every major contribution...

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2. Renaissance Rhetoric and American Cultural Nationalism

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pp. 57-91

Can we not build up a national tradition, a national literature, which shall be none the less Irish in spirit from being English in language?. . . America, which has no past to speak of, a mere “parvenue” among nations, is creating a national literature which in its most characteristic products differs almost as much from English literature as does the literature of France. ...


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3. American Modernism Is Born: The Rise of the Bohemian Artist Narrative

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pp. 95-138

So no wonder that in certain cities of America, in New York of course, and New Orleans, in Chicago and San Francisco and Los Angeles, in such American cities as Paris and Mexico, D.F., this particular part of a generation was attracted to what the Negro had to offer. In such places as Greenwich Village, a ménage-a-trois was completed—the bohemian and the...

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4. The Modernist Generation: Growing Up in the American Race

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pp. 139-176

The previous chapter traced the genealogy of not one but two varieties of bohemian narrative: on the one hand are explicitly autobiographical memoirs, a genre that emerged as a publishing industry staple during the twentieth century; on the other hand are autobiographical novels, a genre with thinly disguised characters and plot elements based on writers’ lives. ...

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Epilogue: Good-bye, Jazz Age

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pp. 177-181

In the summer of 1957, Richard Chase, a member of the faculty of Columbia University, published his thoughts on “The Fate of the Avant-Garde” in the Partisan Review, by then one of the few remaining bastions of left criticism in the United States. To anyone already exposed to The American Novel and Its Tradition, which was published that same year, his argument must have...


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pp. 183-201

Works Cited

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pp. 203-219


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pp. 221-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380502
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354671

Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 183311628
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Modernist Nation

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • Avant-garde (Aesthetics) -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • Conflict of generations in literature.
  • Nationalism in literature.
  • Artists in literature.
  • Beat generation.
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