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American Literature and Culture in an Age of Cold War

A Critical Reassessment

Steven Belletto

Publication Year: 2012

The time is right for a critical reassessment of Cold War culture both because its full cultural impact remains unprocessed and because some of the chief paradigms for understanding that culture confuse rather than clarify.
A collection of the work of some of the best cultural critics writing about the period, American Literature and Culture in an Age of Cold War reveals a broad range of ways that American cultural production from the late 1940s to the present might be understood in relation to the Cold War. Critically engaging the reigning paradigms that equate postwar U.S. culture with containment culture, the authors present suggestive revisionist claims. Their essays draw on a literary archive—including the works of John Updike, Joan Didion, Richard E. Kim, Allen Ginsberg, Edwin Denby, Alice Childress, Frank Herbert, and others—strikingly different from the one typically presented in accounts of the period.

Likewise, the authors describe phenomena—such as the FBI’s surveillance of writers (especially African Americans), biopolitics, development theory, struggles over the centralization and decentralization of government, and the cultural work of Reaganism—that open up new contexts for discussing postwar culture. Extending the timeline and expanding the geographic scope of Cold War culture, this book reveals both the literature and the culture of the time to be more dynamic and complex than has been generally supposed. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: New American Canon

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-9

We would like to thank our contributors for their generosity and labor, and for their patience as we were completing this volume. Charlotte Wright and the entire staff at the University of Iowa Press have been wonderful. Special thanks...

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pp. 1-14

When in June of 2010 news broke concerning a longterm undercover Russian spy operation in the United States, the media had their summer blockbuster. Nearly every news story or radio broadcast featured some variation of “not since the Cold War,” mused about whether the conflict had ever really ended, and commented on the oddity of this espionage ring. The television...

I. Rethinking Domestic Cultures

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pp. 15-25

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1 Total Literary Awareness: Why Cold War Hooverism Pre- Read Afro- Modernist Writing

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pp. 17-36

In the upshot of World War II, it first appeared that the subject of this chapter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s invasive surveillance of African American authors, would go the way of the 1919–20 Palmer Raids, a relic of the anticommunist emergency flushed from Bureau memory. “The world that the [FBI] faced in September 1945 was very different from the world of 1939 when the war

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2 Reviewing Cold War Culture with Edwin Denby

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pp. 37-58

At his death in 1983, Edwin Denby was described in the New York Times as “a poet and one of the most influential dance critics in America.” The phrasing seems an insinuation: Denby’s poems deserve acknowledgment—he published four volumes of poetry, after all—but it is the dance writing that commands attention. However much he considered himself “a poet first,” the obituary continues, Denby...

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3 Democracy, Decentralization, and Feedback

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pp. 59-82

Among the metaphors that Americans of the Cold War era used for thinking about their world, that of the feedback loop has proven one of the most persistent and most powerful. Once recognized, the image of a decentralized system held together by feedback loops can be identified as a key component of the democratic vista from the 1940s through the 1970s. This chapter closely...

II. Domestic Cultures/Global Frames

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pp. 83-93

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4 The New Frontier: Dune, the Middle Class, and Post- 1960 U.S. Foreign Policy

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pp. 85-108

In a February 24, 1957, speech to the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Cleveland, then- Senator John F. Kennedy outlined some of the factors that he believed pertinent to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. These included the Suez Canal crisis of the previous year, the problems of disputed boundaries...

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5 Cold War Intimacies: Joan Didion and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason

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pp. 109-132

In her A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), Gayatri Spivak, the preeminent founder of the field of postcolonial studies, challenged the contemporary postcolonial academy to rethink strategy.1 Tracking how the postcolonial critique had come to establish itself as academic truth—and at what costs—Spivak traced the philosophical, anthropological, and historical underpinnings of postcolonial thought to...

III. The Global Cold War

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pp. 133-143

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6 Pyongyang Lost: Counterintelligence and Other Fictions of the Forgotten War

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pp. 135-162

In his preface to The Hidden History of the Korean War(1952), an investigative report published when “truce talks [were being] dragged out” and the prospect of peace was serially deferred, American journalist I. F. Stone likened writing the Korean War’s “hidden history” to “writing a novel, with suspense and with three- dimensionality.”1 After a...

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7 The Race War Within: The Biopolitics of the Long Cold War

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pp. 163-186

How might we view Cold War American culture in a way that preserves the insights of the containment model but that moves beyond that model’s limitations in dealing with nonrepressive exercises of postwar power? This chapter suggests that the most comprehensive framework for understanding the complexities of the Cold War era has...

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8 The Empire Strikes Out: Star Wars (IV, V, and VI) and the Advent of Reaganism

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pp. 187-208

Reaganism is a phenomenon from long ago in a galaxy far, far away that, despite its extraterrestrial (that is, cinematic) origins, was able to snatch the body politic of the United States by reconnecting the umbilical cord of its national imaginary to the bipolar global- political antipathies of the 1950s. An important aspect of that alien seduction is that Reaganism found a story able to serve, as had the conquest of the...


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pp. 209-228


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pp. 229-230


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pp. 231-240

Back Cover

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p. 250-250

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381448
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381134

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: New American Canon