Liberalism’s ideological contradictions have drawn growing interest from political theorists, historians, and literary critics. In Liberal Modernism, I argue that modernist authors began to respond to these tensions as early as the 1930s. My book project demonstrates how literary modernism, usually polarized as a canon of reactionary authors against a few recuperated radicals, played a central role in liberalism’s shift from a politics of crisis after the Great Depression to a politics of consensus in the Cold War. Whereas the realist novel provided a medium for disseminating liberal values in Victorian England, Liberal Modernism argues that modernist fiction’s irony and ambiguity made it a privileged medium for grappling with tensions in liberal thought that emerged in midcentury America. My project provides a thick sense of this era through a wide interdisciplinary archive, which includes legal case histories on reproductive reform and desegregation, Democratic Party campaign speeches, mass-market publications on social psychology, public criticism from the “little magazines,” tracts on political economy, and government propaganda on moral character. This work has produced a pair of essays, published in ELH and Modern Fiction Studies.
My ongoing effort to map the cultural tensions that shaped midcentury American life has recently led me to argue for the need to periodize a “late modernist studies.” In an essay with Literature Compass, I review the existing scholarship on this growing subfield, and in a forthcoming piece with Modernism/modernity, I propose my own theory of American late modernism, arguing for the need to delimit this period through an appreciation of growing debates about mass culture and nationalism from the 1930s to the 1950s, which I examine by looking at the use of questionnaires in Partisan Review.
My next major project aims to map the evolving relationship between leftist intellectual communities and transnational periodicals. Rather than providing a linear narrative history of one such group, anchored by their national origin or ideological allegiance, my project instead aims to catalog the distinctive formal affordances that periodicals have provided for disparate, left intellectual networks as the material conditions for an international print culture have changed over the last century. Beginning with the collapse of the Popular Front and the waning of International Communism as a rallying cry for the literary left, this project will end by entering contemporary debates about the changing structure of intellectual labor, mapping a new literary left emerging today around partly-digital journals such as n +1, Jacobin, and Commune.
I will take up this work next summer as a 2019 Fellow at the Obama Institute in Mainz, Germany. Spending a month in residency, along with 2-3 other fellows, I will begin work on an essay about KAPITALISTATE, the Anglo-German leftist magazine that emerged in 1973 attempting to reconcile Marxism with States Theory. My interest in these left intellectual communities reflects a deeper, underlying question that I have been grappling with since I entered graduate school on the heels of the 2008 financial collapse: what form should intellectual commitment take today?