Hlam Notes 07

January 12, 2018 | Author: Paweł Stachura | Category: Ethnicity, Race & Gender, Feminism, Vladimir Nabokov, American Literature, Novels
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History of American literature...


1945-2000 Literature of Protest and Literature of Exhaustion/ Social and historical developments: doubts about affluence and world power. Technically, the United States has been controlling unprecedented, virtually unlimited powers to destroy and create anything on the planet (modern industry and agriculture, science and engineering, large and efficient organizations, nuclear weapons). For many people, this was a source of optimism and pride, but many others, especially among authors and critics, were afraid and outraged. For them, the new powers were a threat to individual human freedom and dignity; this has become a major theme for many authors discussed below (John Cheever, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsberg). The immediate practical results of new powers were dubious: on the one hand, the level of affluence and welfare grew to new unprecedented levels, but on the other, the new wealth has never been fairly divided, and many people (women, ethnic minorities) did not get to enjoy much of it. Also, the new affluence had its price in environmental damage and excessive demands put on people working and living in increasingly technicized environment. This caused critique and rejection of modern lifestyle by successive generations of (forever) young people. This dissent (or at least concern) was voiced in numerous works (the Beatnik generation, Gary Snyder, Sylvia Plath, Black and ethnic writers). In foreign policy, the incredible military and political power of the United States led to unprecedented moral dilemmas: it has been possible to kill, instantly, all (or most) people on the planet; to inflict crippling damage to any enemy; to set up and overthrow governments in almost any country; to set up new countries or remove old ones from anywhere on the map of the world. For the first time in history, America could do all this at will, easily and quickly. For many authors, this superpower has been a source of moral concern, which they expressed in literature (war literature, Norman Mailer). The above paragraphs are about power; individual and collective life is described in terms of control and power. Many people, including authors and critics, have been trying to create new ways of thinking about identity and community: not in terms of power and control, but in terms of something else. Perhaps the most important proposals were suggested by women, who allegedly do not construct their identities and communities in terms of power and control. If this is true, then recent developments in feminism are among the pivotal events in contemporary history. This important view was expressed by numerous representatives of post-war literature and criticism (Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, .

Exhaustion, happy chaos, dissent. Not only in prose, but in all genres, the general trend was

towards proliferation and diversification of literature. By the end of the 20th century, there are more than 100,000 works of fiction (mostly novels) published every year in the States. If a single person was to read all of it, he or she would have to go through about 300 volumes every day. The situation in poetry is even more daunting. This means that national literature becomes incomprehensible for someone who wants to understand it fully (in terms of hermeneutics, it becomes opaque, and in terms of phenomenology, it ceases to be an intentional object). So what do you do? How do you know what to read? Where is that wonderful American book that will make American life better and give it a meaning? It is lost, like a needle in a haystack. There are several responses to this state of affairs. One is resigned and melancholy acceptance of the crisis: everything has been written, literature is finished, there is nothing to say. What an author can do, then, is to self-consciously ponder over conventions, limitations, and paradoxes of writing. This approach can be described as literature of exhaustion. Another approach is to embrace the crisis and enjoy its chaotic quality: anything goes, nothing matters, but it is fun. This view leads to blurring borders between high and low literature (and art), and to happy experiments with different conventions and genres, which generally may be described as postmodern literature. Finally, it is possible to decide that literature (or art) has to be applicable here and now, to deal with imminent and localized problems such as injustice and violence, especially when directed against women and ethnic or sexual minorities. This is a pragmatic view of literature as an expressive tool that creates communities and identities. This is a traditional view of national literature, only it is applied on the level of a smaller community (ethnic minority, or an otherwise uderprivileged social group). Much of this kind of literature is an expression of protest, concern, or of outrage and dissent. In general it may be described as literature of dissent. This threefold distinction is best applicable to prose and drama, and less distinct in poetry.1 Fiction. Realism and dissent. Numerous authors continued to write conventional realist and naturalist works, and received just and due rewards for them (Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, popularity among readers). Many of these authors expressed the concerns and anxieties described above; much of feminist, Black, and ethnic fiction is realist and avoids experiment. Thus, in one way or another, realism is the most important convention in literature of dissent (even though some dissenters actually dissent against one another). This vein of contemporary American fiction The threefold division cannot be consistently applied to authors, because many authors, e.g. John Barth, would write happy postmodern experiments, e.g. The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) and very self-conscious texts (texts about how to make texts) such as Lost in the Funhouse (1968). It is better to divide texts, not authors, in this way. 1

is actually the most popular prose, and it has most representatives. This time there are so many representatives, that it makes more sense to list them, like below, and then classify according to typical themes and concerns. Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), already discussed as a poet, wrote a series of regionalist novels about history of the South, most famously All the King’s Men (1946), about a powerhungry and controversial governor, and about uneasy relations between the present and the past in individual and collective life. The themes are similar to those of William Faulkner. Warren’s other novels include Night Rider (1939) and World Enough and Time (1950). All were critically and popularly acclaimed. All the King’s Men was awarded Pulitzer prize in fiction (in 1947), making Warren the only author who received the prize both for poetry and fiction. William Styron (1925–) began his career with the well known debut, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), about a downfall of a family from Virginia (concluded by suicide of the daughter, who tried to break free from her cruel and inhuman backgrounds). It is a psychological novel about inability to free oneself from the past, a sort of Faulkner on an individual scale. In Poland, Styron is probably best known for Sophie’s Choice (1979) about a similarly impossible and unsuccessful escape from terrible wartime memories (a Polish Jew, survivor of a concentration camp). He also wrote a historical novel about Black slave rebellion in 1831, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), and several novels about his experience as soldier. Saul Bellow (1915–) winner of Nobel Prize in literature (1976) wrote philosophical and satirical novels about the situation of estranged and intelligent mature men in a collapsing and decaying society. Much of his fiction reflects his background of an intellectual and a secondgeneration Jewish immigrant: his characters are American, but their intelligence and sensitivity do not make them feel at home in the USA. His best known novels of this sort are Herzog (1964), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970). Bellow’s thematic range is wider, however, and it includes The Dangling Man (1944, first novel) about wartime anxiety, The Adventures of Augie March (1953), an American picaresque, and Henderson the Rain King (1959) a philosophical novel about fantasies of renewal through wild adventure. Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) the most famous representative of the Beatnik movement in fiction, author of exhibitionist novels about anxieties of young men who do not want to take part in mainstream American culture, which they find repulsive and corrupted. Kerouac’s most famous novel, On the Road (1957) is a first-person narrative (stream of consciousness) about an escapist journey across the USA; it is considered to be a manifesto of the movement, together with Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl (1956). John Cheever (1912-1982) wrote satirical realistic descriptions of suburban family and social life, much in the manner of Sinclair Lewis, but with more desperation and frank treatment of evil and sex. His best known novels include The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), and Bullet Park (1969). Apart from novels, he is remembered for numerous and excellent short stories, collected in The Way Some People Live (1943, first book), or The Enormous Radio and Other Stories (1953). John Updike (1932-2009) began in a manner similar to John Cheever, but continued with more than twenty novels until the beginnings of the 21st century. He is best known for the series of novels about Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, a typical middle-class American male: Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redoux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), Rabbit at Rest (1990). Updike satirically described changing American attitudes in novels such as Couples (1968), or

Terrorist (2006). He also wrote The Witches of Eastwick (1984), a mock-Gothic satire. Philip Roth (1933–) is a versatile writer, but several of his earlier books described the anxiety of young and slightly estranged Jewish men, most importantly in the story collection Goodbye Collumbus (1959, first book), and the novel Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). Roth is also the author of several novel cycles where the protagonists are Roth’s alter egos, e.g. Nathan Zuckerman or David Kepesh. One of Roth’s recent novels, The Plot Against America (2004) is a warning against Nazism written in the science-fiction convention of alternative history. Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was a regionalist author from the South (she rejected this categorization, and thought of herself as simply a psychological realist). Welty, like several authors described in the previous chapters, is best known for her numerous and excellent short stories; she is part of the tradition of American short story (Twain, James, Anderson, Hemingway). Her psychological insight can be compared to modernist writing, e.g. by Virginia Woolf or Ernest Hemingway. She usually presents her themes in a local setting, withing a single family, or a few families (this may be called small realism; it is apparently a feminist approach). Her best known story collection is The Golden Apples (1949), a set of interrelated stories about search for fulfillment. Other collections include A Curtain of Green (1941, first book), which combines local color with modernist techniques and mythological symbolism, and The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories (1955), a reenactment of the Circe myth in modern setting. Welty also wrote novels, most importantly Delta Wedding (1946) and The Ponder Heart (1954). Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), like Welty, is another author who is wrongly described as a Southern regionalist. Like Welty, she is best known for short stories. Her fiction, like Nathaniel West’s or Carson McCullers’s, uses realistic conventions to create a fantastic (and usually cruel or ironic) allegory.2 Her most important themes were decay and passing, suffering, and (reluctand and ambiguous) religious redemption. O’Connor uses images of disfigured body, disease, and dying, to show evil and destructive (modern) passions and institutions: hatred, racism, greed, failure to love. Her output, again like West’s and McCullers’s, is limited: two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two collections, A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything that Rises Must Converge (1965). Carson McCullers (1917-1967) is stylistically related to Flannery O’Connor and Nathaniel West, in that she uses similar imagery and charges it with allegorical meanings. Like O’Connor, she is also descrbed as a Southern writer. Her early-age novelistic debut, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) is about the excluded, unfulfilled, selfless people, who fail in quests for love, identity and purpose in their lives. Another, perhaps best known novel, is The Balld of the Sad Cafe (1943). The theme of quest for identity is often represented as (unsuccesful) development of a young person (who tries, acquires or rejects different roles: gender, class, religion, profession, regional identity). This theme is most pronounced in The Member of the Wedding (1946). McCullers’s relatively limited output consists of two more novels, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) and Clock without Hands (1961), a play The Square Root of Wonderful (1958), and short stories (collected posthumously in 1987). Joyce Carol Oates (1938–) is one of the most productive and diverse post-war authors (over one hundred books, including over fifty novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and fiction for children and young adults). She portrayed moral and social condition of Americans over This provoked angry responses from local patriots, who accused O’Connor of unfair and false representation. She answered that, obviously, her fiction was about a land of fiction, not about the South. 2

several post-war decades, often concentrating on chaos, indifference, thoughtlessness, violence and self-destructive drive. These themes are most pronounced in Oates’s early trilogy (or actually a triptych, because they do not tell one story), A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967), Expensive People (1968), and them (1969). In the 1980s Oates published a series of Gothic novels, which combine the conventions of fantasy, crime, and horror with historical fiction: Bellefleur (1980), A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982), and Mysteries of Winterthun (1984). The author subsequently returned to realistic fiction. Apart from novels, Oates writes acclaimed short stories, collected in over thirty volumes, including By the North Gate (1963), The Wheel of Love (1970), and Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1993). Raymond Carver (1938-1988) writes short stories about the working class, but he does not exacly follow realist conventions. His style is described as minimalist, in that he avoids narrative comments, uses almost non-existent plots, and attempts to imitate incoherent everyday-speech in dialogues. His relatively limited body of work consists of five story collections and six books of poetry. His most famous collections were Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), and Cathedral (1988). J.D. Sallinger (1919–) is the author of (short) novels and short stories which reflect the anxieties of young people in the 1950s (resistance and conformity to social norms, moral concerns about hipocrisy, futile rebelion and reconciliation). His most famous works used to enjoy continuing popularity among several generations of young readers; they consist of four books: The Catcher in the Rye (1951, a short novel), Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961, two short stories), and Rise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour – An Introduction (1963, two short stories). Ralph Ellison (1914–1994) is an author of one book, The Invisible Man (1952), which is a developmental novel (from German Bildungsroman) about a young Black man entering into adulthood. The novel is one of the most important books by a Black American. Ellison’s brilliance consists in the allegorical use of ordinary situations and settings: he can describe work in a factory or life at a college so that it becomes symbolic and almost fantastic. Ellison’s eagerly awaited second novel never materialized until its unfinished manuscripts were published posthumously in 1999 as Juneteenth: A Novel. James Baldwin (1924–1987) was a Black author, whose psychological-realist novels are related to Richard Wright’s fiction, e.g. in Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953). Baldwin’s themes, however, are not limited to Black identity or racial violence. His second novel, Giovanni’s Room (1956) was renowned for its frank and sympathetic treatment of homosexuality. Baldwin applauds the healing power of love, sensuality, and sexual encounter. The theme is most pronounced in Another Country (1962), which was very successful with readers. Apart from novels, Baldwin wrote important non-fiction on interracial relations in America, especially The Fire Next Time (1963), which is a militant combination of autobiography, criticism, and political writing. Toni Morrison (1931–) is probably the most accomplished contemporary Black author; she received Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. She portrays Black communities (especially women) at various times in American history: The Bluest Eye (1970, first novel) is about a tragic girlhood in a violent family, Sula (1974) is about two women’s friendship in an Ohio community after the First World War, Song of Salomon (1977) is a family saga covering the fate of several generation. Her most acclaimed novel, Beloved (1987) is a travesty of Gothic conventions and other historical literary forms (slave narrative, sermon) into a haunting story

about slavery and its aftermath, but also about excessive and desperate love (a mother kills her daughter not to let her be recaptured into slavery). After Beloved, Morrison wrote two more novels whose theme is excessive love: Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998). N. Scott Momaday (1934–) is a Native American of Kiowa descent. He was one of the first and most prominent writers of the so called Native American Renaissance, a post-war period of critical recognition and intensive creative effort; other Renaissance authors include Leslie Mormon Silko and Louise Erdrich. His sensational novelistic debut, House Made of Dawn (1968) uses elaborate writing techniques which are influenced by modernist fiction and by Native American patterns of storytelling (or more generally, of thinking). The theme of the novel, i.e. inability to find a place between tradition (family and Native American culture) and individual freedom to break ties with one’s backgrounds. The theme is important for most Native American and ethnic fiction. Momaday continues it in The Anciend Child (1989), and in his famous work of non-fiction, The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969). Alice Walker (1944–) is a Black author, noted for her political and social engagement. Her most famous novel is The Color Purple (1982), a story of oppression and abuse of a Black woman (girl) by men (first her stepfather and then her husband). She expresses her social concerns about racial and gendered violence and injustice in influential works of non-fiction, e.g. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983) and Sent by Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit after the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001). Leslie Marmon Silko (1948–) is a Native American author of short stories which celebrate her family background and cultural tradition. Her early stories were collected in The Man to Send Rain Clouds (1974). She also wrote novels, including Ceremony (1977) and Almanac of the Dead (1991). Probably her most acclaimed work, Storyteller (1981) is an autobiographical collection of photographs, essays, and poetry; the work transcends traditional genres, and may be described as a new, specific, feminine and ethnic form of expression. Silko also wrote several books of poetry and collections of essays. Sandra Cisneros (1954–) is a representative of Chicana/Chicano literature (i.e. literature written by Americans who descend from original Mexican population of what is now South East of the United States). Cisneros focuses on her identity (cultural and family tradition) as a woman and a Chicana, and on her difficult situation in American society. She uses a variety of literary forms, mixing different forms of narrative fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and using English and Spanish simultaneously. Her most important books are the debut novel The House on Mango Street (1984) and short-story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991). Louise Erdrich (1954–) is an acclaimed younger novelist of the Native American Renaissance. Her first and most famous novel, Love Medicine (1984), is a collection of interrelated short narratives, which together describe lives of several families. Erdrich combines a contemporary setting with a wider temporal and mythic perspective (old family histories and general history of the Ojibiwe nation). Erdrich is a productive and popular writer, author of twelve novels, including The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003) and The Painted Drum (2005). She also wrote three books of poetry and several collections of nonfiction. Importantly, for two or three decades after the war, several major authors described in the previous chapter continued to be regarded as the most important ones, e.g. William Faulkner

received Nobel prize in 1950, Ernest Hemingway in 1954, and John Steinbeck in 1962. Their presence must be remembered in the course of reading of this chapter. The chronological listing of realists is still not clear, so the authors could be subdivided according to their backgrounds and concerns (reasons for dissent), i.e. according to their themes. Perhaps surprisingly, many of those themes are somehow autobiographical, either related to an author’s personal life, or an author’s background (usually extended family or region). The subdivision is definitely arguable, but here goes: Women (white, middle class, or white, lower class, with themes corresponding to their living standards) Flannery O’Connor Mary McCarthy Joyce Carol Oates Blacks (men and women tend to be grouped and discussed separately). Ralph Ellison (1914–1994) James Baldwin (1924–1987), Toni Morrison (1931–), Alice Walker (1944–), Sexual minorities: the theme of victimization. Also, the dominant culture does not provide ready-made role models for these people, so they must develop their own, alone or in relatively small communities. This is very difficult and creates anxiety; it is a great theme. James Baldwin (1924–1987), Gore Vidal Ethnic minorities: hispanics, chicanos, Chinese and Japanese immigrants and their children. The theme of discrimination, victimization, and conflict between (white) American culture and the native culture (often represented by older members of a family). Sandra Cisneros (1954–), Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan Native Americans: themes as above, but this time it is American history. N. Scott Momaday (1934–), Leslie Marmon Silko (1948–), Louise Erdrich (1954–). Jews, old immigrants from Europe: the theme of being an alienated and traumatized European. Saul Bellow (1915–), Isaac Bachevis Singer

Jews, younger and frustrated, born in America: the theme of individual rebellion against family or society (usually some reconciliation follows). Philip Roth (1933–), J.D. Sallinger (1919–),

Whites from the South and other backwater regions. (Estranged from mainstream, middleclass, urban, Northern and Eastern cultures.) Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), William Styron (1925–), Eudora Welty (1909-2001), Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), Whites, old, self-obsessed (sorrows of an individualist), or not (sorrows of a sociable man). Melodramas of behest manhood. Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), William Styron (1925–), John Cheever (1912-1982), Saul Bellow (1915–), John Updike (1932-2009), J.D. Sallinger (1919–), Ralph Ellison (1914–1994), Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck Whites, young and frustrated, also self-obsessed (sorrows of an innocent rebel). Usually some amount of misogyny. Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), J.D. Sallinger (1919–), Very poor whites (both women and men, the theme of bitter survival). Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Grace Paley As you can see, there are many authors who belong to several pigeonholes, simply because their thematic range is wide. With enough reading, however, anyone can create their own divisions, and so can you. The divisions tend to be reasons for quarrels among critics and authors; this is part of the critical industry. Experimental fiction Apart from the numerous authors who write in the realist mode, several fiction writers tried (and try) to write in a different way. This attitude usually produces works which are very difficult to read, because general readers are not accustomed to anything else but realism. This is the point: realism is adjusted to the expectations and opinions of general readers (or, realism reflects the general way of thinking). General way of thinking and reading corresponds to what is (perhaps belatedly and mistakenly) called common sense: experience ordered into cause-and-effect relations, lives ordered according to linear sequences of events, worldly variety ordered into groups according to clear categories. In many situations this does not work: common sense may lead to morally dubious behavior, to disasters, or to desperation and meaningless life. Experimental authors try to undermine these conventions, and to show their weakness or destructive potential; they (openly) manipulate language to show that it is always manipulated, and that it manipulates people. The most significant experimental fiction authors are V l a d i m i r N a b o k o v (1899-1977),

W i l l i a m S . B u r r o u g h s (1914-1997), W i l l i a m G a d d i s (1922-1998), K u r t V o n n e g u t (1922-2007), J o h n

B a r t h (1930-), D o n a l d

B a r t h e l m e (1931-1989), and T h o m a s

P y n c h o n (1937-). Vladimir Nabokov experimented with the notion that a text is more closely related to other texts than to reality it represents. What follows, is that a text follows the logic of artistic composition more than the usual logic used in everyday life. To show this, Nabokov resorts to numerous, intricate (and hidden) references to other texts (intertexutalism): hidden quotations, significant names of characters, similarities in plots and figures, or including the author among the characters. His most famous book, perhaps unfortunately, is Lolita (1955), whose theme and succès de scandale discourages many people from Nabokov’s fiction. Nabokov’s American novels, apart from Lolita, were Bend Sinister (1947), about totalitarian oppression, Pnin (1957) about a character whose miserable life is created by another (hidden) character-narrator, Pale Fire (1962) which is written in the convention of parody of editorship and criticism, Ada; or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969) is set on the Antiterra planet which is a magnificent counterpart of our own (similar setting is used a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “The Dream of an Insignificant Man”), Transparent Things (1972) with ghosts hidden in the very texture of the novel, and Look at the Harlequins! (1974) which plays at including the author-persona among the characters. Nabokov was a Russian immigrant, and English was his second language. Before the American ones, Nabokov wrote several novels in Russian, under pseudonym of V. Sirin, beginning with Mary (Mashen’ka 1926, 1970), and including Glory (Podvig 1932, 1971), and Invitation to a Beheading (Priglashenie na kazn’ 1938, 1959); he later translated them into English (those are the second dates of publication). Nabokov is also famous for his criticial writings, e.g. Lectures on Literature (1980) and Lectures on Russian Literature (1981). William Borroughs is usually associated with the Beat movement, but his experimental prose lacks the Beatniks’ spontaneity and sentimental exhibitionism. Instead, Burroughs experimented by creating artificial realities reminiscient of narcotic visions and paranoid and schizophrenic delusions; he also uses images from popular literature on an unprecedented scale, and inspired popular writers with his own images, blurring borders between pop and highbrow. To do so, the author used chance distrotions of the narrative and of language, e.g. by including nightmare images unrelated to plots, or by cutting up and randomly re-editing the narrative recorded on a tape. Burroughs’s first two novels were Junky: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict (1953), and Naked Lunch (1959), a novel set in a mythic “Interzone” controlled by feuding factions fighting against (or for) “the Human Virus” similarities between Burroughs and modern science fiction testify his long-lasting influence on pop literature. The random editing technique was used in Burroughs cut-up trilogy: The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964); in gruesome and chaotic images, Burroughs builds a vision of our world as result of an alien invasion, with individuals hopelessly rebelling against it (especially when it turns out that language itself is the invader’s tool, which must be destroyed). Similar themes and techniques were used in The Wild Boys (1971), about a tribal homosexual colony, Cities of the Red Night (1981) about another virus which somehow shapes human

history. Burroughs was well known for his collaboration with pop artists, e.g. with Tom Waits and Kurt Cobain. William Gaddis wrote only four novels, notable for their intricate intertexutalism, extensive use of dialogue (whole sections consist entirely of colloquial conversations), and penetrating, often prophetic insights into basic notions and problems: The Recognitions (1955), about truth/forgery, JR (1975), about money and value, Carpenter’s Gothic (1985), about war and world power, and A Frolic of His Own (1994), about law and justice. The Recognitions is a long novel about the problem of real and forged values (and their divine or human sources), reflected on the example of art forgery. The title refers to an ancient novel (the first Christian novel) by St. Clement of Alexandria (one of the Fathers of the Church). Inasmuch as The Recognitions were about ethical values,

JR is about

economic value of the money; it is a record of (mostly) of conversations by and about a thirteen-yearold boy, who manages to build a trade empire out of nothing, solely through telephone calls and letters. The novel shows how money value is created and managed, rather than objectively and factually given. Carpenter’s Gothic is a travesty of spy thriller, which explores American power politics in the Third World, and prophetically anticipates the current world events (i.e. war on terror and Iraq). Finally, The Frolic of His Own is a satire on the American litigation culture, but more importantly it is about the paradoxical limits of law and guilt, e.g. one of its most important themes is a lawsuit against God, who is technically (legally) responsible for an accident, but who is also the ultimate source of legal notions and institutions (i.e. of people’s world), which made the litigation possible. Gaddis, who notoriously refused to discuss and promote his fiction, is an outsider whose popularity and influence is limited to relatively few readers and writers (e.g. he influenced Thomas Pynchon’s first novel, V). Kurt Vonnegut is the author of Slaugterhouse-Five (1969), a successful combination of science fiction, anti-war realism, and experimental composition (the novel is made of small fragments which are not arranged chronologically). His early novels may be described as more or less conventional science fiction, e.g. Player Piano (1952) and The Sirens of Titan (1959), and perhaps in Cat’s Cradle (1963). After Slaugterhouse-Five, Vonnegut wrote fiction which was technically conventional, but focused on innovative themes and featured unusual characters, while selfconsciously referring to science fiction and pop in general, e.g. Breakfast of Champions (1973) is about a paranoid reader of science fiction, Galápagos (1985) is about accelerated evolution, and Hocus Pocus (1990) is a distopian vision of the United States in 2001. John Barth wrote several works of “metafiction”, where he (like Barthelme) studied the selfreferential moments in a narrative: story within a story, story about a story, narrator re-entering as character in another narrator’s story, text in text (appearing as manuscript). Similar experiments were made at the very beginnings of narrative art, e.g. in The Thousand and One Nights, in Decameron, or in Don Quixote. Barth was inspired by these story cycles, as well as by Jorge Louis Borges’s fiction. His first two novels, The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958) may be read as existential parables, but already in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) the novel becomes a theme for itself:

Barth combines and parodizes established American historical myths into a picaresque. More convoluted experiments are conducted in Giles Goat-Boy; or, The Revised New Syllabus (1966), which is an allegory of the world (including the author) as university campus, Lost in the funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice (1968), which freely incorporates technical notes and critical remarks into the narrative, or in LETTERS: An Old Time Epistolary Novel by Seven Ficticious Drolls & Dreamers, Each of Whom Imagines Himself Actual (1979). Barth is also famous for his critical writings, most importantly the manifesto of metafiction called “Literature of Exhaustion” (1968). Donald Barthelme wrote short fiction, rather like micro-experiments, published in several volumes including Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964, first book), or Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (1968), and collected in 1981 and in 1987. Barthelme, for instance, can include well known figures, but present them in strange ways or contexts (e.g. a mysterious president that is kept in a small box). He also wrote four (short) novels: Snow White (1967), which retells the fairy tale in a surreal modern world, The Dead Father (1975), where the dead father talks and discusses his status as character, Paradise (1986), and The King (1990). Thomas Pynchon’s experiments with creating or “discovering” meanings of history: his novels include secret societies, plots, secret research projects and military operations, and people who hopelessly try to unravel them. Pynchon combines images, characters, and motifs from a great variety of sources, and presents them in brilliant, extremely fluent prose which parodizes popular genres. His relatively small body of work consists of a volume of early short stories (collected 1984), and six novels: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), which is his best known work (National Book Award in 1974), Vineland (1989), Mason & Dixon (1997), and Against the Day (2006).

Non-Fiction and Literary Criticism Non-fiction after 1945 was enriched by a variety of texts which combined (auto)biography, fiction, and reporting; they usually addressed important American issues, such as Vietnam war, or more general ones, such the environment or the position and identity of ethnic minorities. Some of works of non-fiction came to be called “new journalism,” because they crossed the boundary between press reporting and literary art. In literary criticism (and in philosophy), probably the most important event was the emergence of radical criticism of status quo by people who could not find an acceptable place in their nation and society. This consisted in development of a number of (literary) theories: Black, ethnic, queer, neocolonial, subaltern, and probably most importantly, the feminist theory. Representatives of non-fiction include T r u m a n


(1923-1984), N o r m a n

M a i l e r (1923--), J o a n D i d i o n (1934--), and A n n e D i l l a r d (1945--). Capote, who was also a recognized author of fiction, wrote one of the most famous examples of New Journalism, i.e. In

Cold Blood (1968), which is a long report about a brutal murder, police investigation, trial and punishment. Capote described this very popular book as a “nonfictional novel”; it is notable for its impersonal narration, as if the author wanted to disappear from his book. Capote used similar technique in his second nonfictional novel, Music for Chameleons (1980). Norman Mailer, contrary to Capote, freely combined autobiography and authorial comment with New Journalism and cultural criticism; Mailer often seems to be writing about himself. Thus, Armies of the Night (1968) record Mailer’s involvement in peace protests and the civil rights movement, and Of Fire on the Moon (1970) is a personal reflection on the Apollo program (American landing on the Moon). Mailer also wrote several volumes of cultural criticism, including The White Negro (1957). Joan Didion, who is also an established novelist, writes popular and critically acclaimed collections of essays and reports, such as Slouching Towards Betlehem (1968), The White Album (1979), Salvador (1983), Political Fictions (2001), and The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). The White Album, one of Didion’s most important books, is a collection of essays on various topics (subcultures, feminism, psychiatry), which together form a sceptical response to the counterculture (hippie) movement of the 1960s and its aftermath. Political Fictions is a similar collection about more recent times, and The Year of Magical Thinking is a book-length essay about death (i.e. bereavement), combining autobiography with observations about American culture. Anne Dillard is described as a nature writer, similar to Henry David Thoreau, in that she combines personal essay with philosophical reflection, scientific interests, and meticulously described observations of nature. e.g. in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982). Her best known work, Holy the Firm (1977), explores these themes in the form of an experimental collage. Dillard is usually associated with the tradition of American nature writing, i.e. with the search for human and national identity (and meaning of life) through reflection on nature (rather than history or society): R. W. Emerson, H. D. Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Wallace Stevens also belong to this tradition. Literary criticism and theory in the 1950s and the 1960s continued the themes originated by F.O. Mathiessen in The American Renaissance (1942), and Perry Miller in his histories of ideas. Consequently, many critical works were attempts to define national literature (and indentity) in terms of specific themes. These attempts were often conducted in terms of myth, symbol, and archetype, referring either to Neokantian philosophy of symbolic forms, or to Carl Gustav Jung’s archetypal psychology. Regardless of theory, many of them were thoroughly researched, thematic histories of American literature, with numerous analyses of half-forgotten and previously unrecognized authors (which led to an extension of national literary canon). Examples include Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950), R.W.B. Lewis’s The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1955), and Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel (1960). A new, radical turn in literary criticism was related to more general intellectual developments in the 1960s, i.e. the emergence of the second-wave of American feminism, and a variety of protest movements (Blacks, native Americans, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities). Together, the general

new tendency may be described as a quest for identity, respect and recognition, and civil rights (by those people who do not get it from mainstream culture). This amounts to emergence (or at least definition and recognition) of new identities, ways of thinking, ways of life, and cultures, radically different from dominant culture, and perhaps better suited for uncertainties and contingencies of the 21st century.3 More general books of this kind may be described as social (or cultural) criticism;

they include Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique (1963), an important analysis of artificial and unreal ideas about woman’s social roles, Audre Lorde’s feminist essays (discussed below in the section about poetry), and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1989), which is a philosophical analysis of relations between individuality and identity (defined in terms of a group and belonging). In American literary criticism, significant feminist works include Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics (1970), a seminal work which described implicit sexist attitudes in (supposedly universal) fiction of English and American modernist (male) authors. A similar approach (revision of male canon) was adopted in Nina Baym’s Melodrama’s of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Literature Exclude Women Authors (1981). Numerous continuations and developments of feminist criticism were aimed at extending the national canon, by rediscovering and recognizing women authors. Thus, Elaine Showalter discussed A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (1977), Nina Baym recognized numerous American women novelists (domestic novel) in Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870 (1978), and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar presented a set of feminist interpretations in The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979). Similar discussions of American literature from Black and postcolonial (and ethnic) perspectives were presented, among others, by Eric J. Sundquist in To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature (1993) and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the “Racial” Self (1987), or The Signifying Monkey (1988), which draws surprising parallels between Black American and African mythologies. Poetry American poetry after the Second World War is divided into numerous schools, groups and movements. This is not just to aid the reader’s memory, because members of different groups usually disagreed about what poetry is, and how it should be written; in their eyes American poetry had to be divided. But then again, some groups were and are pigeon holes invented by critics. Finally, after the There is not enough place here to discuss them, although they are probably more important than American literature (and definitely more important than this book). However, check these names, and go read (the list is selective, incomplete, and includes mostly non-American names): Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. 3

1960s, groups and schools began to proliferate and became increasingly self-centered, so it became difficult to talk about a single American poetry, which has already been mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, because it happens to the national literature in general. Here is a tentative breakdown of the poetic groups: 1945-1956: “Middle generation”: post-war influenced by T.S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Wallace Stevens. Robert Lowell, early poems by Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath (or early poems by any other younger poet active in the 1960s). 1945-1956: early work of other poets, who rejected Eliot or Auden as influences, and preferred Marianne Moore or William Carlos Williams. Elizabeth Bishop, Theodore Roethke. 1956-1975: several groups/movements, general rejection of Eliot’s vision of poetry (as concoction of traditional images): - confessional poetry (very personal free verse) - Los Angeles poets (Beatniks) - New York School - Black Mountain College (or projectivist verse) Olson, Creeley, Levertov - Bishop – Roethke – Ammons - angry Black poets 1975-1990: proliferating schools, but most generally: - language poetry - neoclassicism - ethnic and Black poetry - continuing activity and new adherents of earlier schools 1990-2010: increasing use of other media (music, performance, video, computers, the internet)

Middle generation. These poets were born in the first two decades of the 20th century, and usually wrote their first books in the 1940s. They worked under a tremendous influence of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and W.H. Auden4 (they were the first generation, the modernists). New Criticism (discussed in the previous chapter) was also an important influence. Middle generation included R a n d a l l J a r r e l (1914–1965), J o h n B e r r y m a n (1914–1972), and early work by R o b e r t L o w e l l (1917–1977), but the term can describe early work by younger poets discussed in subsequent sections. The poetry of the middle generation, because of Eliot’s influence, used symbolic and historical images, and combined them into intellectually intricate constructions made in free verse. 4

Auden was a British modernist, who emigrated to the States in the 1940s, and continued his career there.

Their poetry may be described as academic, cold, and intellectual. Randall Jarrel began his literary career with two books of poetry inspired by the Second World War: Little Friend, Little Friend (1945),5 and Losses (1948). Subsequently, Jarrel became an important literary critic, responsible for the fame and recognition for Wallace Stevens and W.C. Williams in the 1950s. John Berryman, in his early phase, wrote several books which were inspired by high modernists such as Eliot and Auden: Poems (1942), The Dispossessed (1948), and most importantly Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1953, book publication 1956). Homage is paid to Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan poet who was discussed in the first chapter here. Berryman meditates on images and themes from Bradstreet’s poetry, combining them with modern free verse, frank self-expression, and existentialist reflection. Robert Lowell was the most prominent representative of the middle generation. He belonged to New England aristocracy, and his family history ranged back to colonial times, American Revolution, and the Civil War. In this way, Lowell could combine personal memory, the small history of his family, with national history and collective American tradition. He does so in his important early book, Lord Weary’s Castle (1946), where he combines incredible, gruesome, and incongruous images into symbolic complexes that reflect his view of American history (and human life in general). The book includes two poems that refer to well known works of American literature (discussed in this book, too): “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket” is a reflection on Melville’s Moby Dick, written from the perspective of the Second World War, and “Mr. Edward’s and the Spider” refers to Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon and to his juvenile writings on natural philosophy. Middle generation: outsiders. Several poets of the middle generation did not accept Eliot’s authority and poetic method (combining images), and chose to write in a less intellectual way, in a more direct, descriptive and objective mode, without intricate symbols and references to history. These poets included, most importantly T h e o d o r e R o e t h k e (1908–1963) and E l i z a b e t h B i s h o p (1911–1979). Thodore Roethke was famous for his early poems about nature, included in the Open House (1941) and The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948), where he praises the vibrant, sensual life power of plants. Subsequently, Roethke extended his thematic range in The Waking (1953), a book for which he was awarded Pulitzer Prize. The eponymous poem in the collection is a jubilant hymn of acceptance and submission to natural sequence of human life. Another acclaimed book, Words for the Wind (1958, National Book Award) includes a love lyric, “I Knew a Woman,” which praises the majesty and power of the human body. Roethke’s posthumous book, The Far Field (1964) includes meditations on passing and aging, anticipating the poet’s death. Elizabeth Bishop, who was influenced and encouraged by Marianne Moore, wrote with constraint and intellectual distance, concentrating on descriptive poetry, and often using regular, classic verse forms (sestina, villenelle, quatrains). The descriptive mode is exemplified by two od her early poems, “The Fish” (1955), and “At the Fishhouses” (1955), both from the North&South and A Cold Spring (1955), a volume which for which Bishop was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her subsequent volumes include Poems (1956), Questions of Travel (1965), based on her long sunourn in Brazil, The Ballad of the Burglar of Babylon 5

The title is from the radio code of American bomber air crews; this is how they called fighter planes for help.

(1968), and Geography III (1977); six volumes in all, a relatively limited output. The last volume contains some of Bishop’s most famous poems, where objectivist description is enriched by introspection or by the life-giving aura of animate and inanimate nature: “The Waiting Room” (1976) is a contemplation of the birth of consciousness in a child, “The Moose” (1976) describes an elating encounter between the animal and people in a bus, and “One Art” (1976) is a vilanelle on the theme of loss and passing away. A younger outsider, whose continuing voice cannot be easily associated with any group, is A.R. Ammons (1926-2001), author of more than twenty volumes of poetry, whose themes and formal qualities vary dramatically over his long career. From his first book, Ommateum (1955), Ammons’s great theme is the relation between nature and the mind, which puts him into the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens; Ammons enriched this theme with his frequent use of scientific imagery, and unprejudiced use of natural images: garbage, bodily organs, slime, bacteria, e.g. in the long poem Garbage (1993), which received National Book Award. Ammons’s poetry is very accessible to readers, even though he is known for several formal innovations, e.g. very short poems, frequent use of colons, and unusual breaking of lines (in Tape for the Turn of the Year, 1965, he recorded everyday activities on a narrow paper tape in his typewritter). New American Poetry: Individuals and Groups After 1956 In general, new currents in American poetry were directed against (or away from) formalism, symbolism and historical imagery; younger poets rejected the kind of poetry that T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden wrote. Instead, they proposed an easier, more colloquial poetic idiom, rooted in individual experience, intimate confessions, ordinary objects and everyday life; this was the kind of poetry that Walt Whitman wrote in the 19th century, and William Carlos Williams in the 20th. There were strong links, both artistic and social, between Williams and several groups of younger poets, especially of the San Francisco school. Confessional Poetry, as the name suggests, had intimate experiences and emotions as its theme. For all the thematic similarities, confessional poets did not form an organized group. They included Robert Lowell (who ‘converted’ to confessional poetry late in the 1950s), John Berryman (another turn to confession), and S y l v i a P l a t h (1932-1963). Lowell’s confessional poetry was included in Life Studies (1959). The volume includes “Memories of West Street and Lepke,” based on Lowell’s stay in prison, when he refused to serve in armed forces during the Second World War, and “Skunk Hour,” which is an intimate record of depression. Lowell’s subsequent volume, For the Union Dead (1964) includes the eponymous poem which records the poet’s doubts about devaluation of American political and historical ideals. Berryman’s confessions are best exemplified by his 77 Dream Songs (1964), which was an accumulating collection developed over years, like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The poems, written mostly in irregular six-line stanzas, record states of despair, disillusionment, and ironic distance, often using alternative personas, through which the poet speaks. Sylvia Plath combined the confessional poetic with feminist themes: subjection to male dominance,

search for feminine identity and expression, the body. Plath combined these themes with formal discipline in her first book of poetry, The Colossus (1960). She juxtaposed an incredible variety of (sometimes drastic) images related to violence and death, especially in her second and most famous volume, Ariel (1965, posthumous publication), which includes some of her best known poems: “Lady Lazarus” (about suicide attempt), and “Daddy” (a difficult relation between father and daughter epitomizes male violence and dominance, and female rebellion). Two posthumous collections of Plath’s poetry, Crossing the Water (1971), and Winter Trees (1972), include a greater variety of themes, most importantly impressionist studies of landscape and nature. Plath also wrote a very popular and influential novel, The Bell Jar (1960), about oppressive social limitations and conventions that lead a young woman to a suicide attempt and mental breakdown. (Many confessional poets suffered mentally and committed suicide; the list includes Lowell, Berryman, and Plath). San Francisco Renaissance and the Beat generation were two closely related groups, whose most important representatives were Kenneth Rexroth and A l l e n G i n s b e r g (1926-1997), the most important Beatnik poet. Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems (1956) includes “Howl,” a long, militant incantation directed against American militarism, oppressive conformism, consumerism and injustice. The poem, written in long lines similar to Walt Whitman’s poetry, was written in inspired and yet colloquial language, becoming a sort of voice of the nation. It included then-drastic vulgar vocabulary, descriptions of homosexual acts, and terrible images of oppression, destruction of individuality, and lives directed by technology and madness. The poem was very popular and influential with subsequent poets and counter-culture movements. Ginsberg’s subsequent works included Kaddish and Other Poems (1961), an elegy for his mentally ill mother, and The Fall of America (1972), an account of Ginsberg’s travels through the States; this book was awarded National Book Award. Apart from Ginsberg, another well known Beatnik poet was G a r y S n y d e r (1930--), whose deep commitment to nature and simple life was an inspiration for environmentalist movements. His best known work is Turtle Island (1974), a best-selling collection of non-fiction and poetry, which was awarded Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The two most prominent representatives of the New York school of poetry were F r a n k O ’ H a r a (1926-1966) and J o h n A s h b e r r y (1927--). Their poetry, emerging in the 1950s, rejected the sphisticated, formalist symbolism of T.S. Eliot and his followers. Instead, like San Francisco poets, the New Yorkers developed a colloquial idiom based on Whitman’s and W.C William’s poetry. Thematically, New York poets concentrated on fine arts, introspection and friendship, but also paid frequent homage to the vibrant atmosphere of everyday life in New York, including the powerful effusions of popular culture (cinema, music, advertising). Ideologically, they were sceptical and ironic, accepting the unpredictability and absurdity of life as something actually funny and edifying. Frank O’Hara was a prolific author, who published eight books of poetry between 1952 and 1965, but the bulk of his poetry was published only posthumously in Collected Poems (1971). Throughout his writing career he showed great interest and knowledge of visual arts, especially painting. His early works were inspired by (French) Surrealism, with absurd imagery, and

frequent elements of pastiche and parody, e.g. in “A Day in the Life of the Czar” (1954) is a mock libretto to a Russian opera, with surrealistc appearances of a Russian composer, Anna Karenina, cossacks, and the Czar himself. Similarly, “Poem ‘It’s only me knocking on the door” (1952) is a surreal representation of friendship. O’Hara’s interest in visual art, and its relation to poetry, is the theme of “Why I Am Not a Painter” (1956), his acclaim for popular culture was expressed in “To the Film Industry in Crisis” (1955), and the vibrant atmosphere of the mundane New York is described in “A Stem Away from Them” (1956): these were important themes in the later phase of his work. Apart from O’Hara, the most prominent New York poet was John Ashberry, who has been continuing to publish poetry from 1953 until today. His work, given the fact that it covers an entire lifetime, shows great variety: his second volume, Some Trees (1956), consisted of formal poetry, The Tennis Court Oath (1962) contained cryptic poems, with surreal imagery and sophisticated references (in the eponymous poem) to visual arts and history. Ashberry’s most famous volume was Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), whose introspective meditations include “Worsening Situation,” about a disintegrating life of a middle-aged man, and the eponymous poem, which is a compex and long meditation on art (visual, poetic), subjectivity (personality), and nature, united in the act of writing about a painting. Ashberry’s subsequent work consists of an impressive sixteen of books, from Houseboat Days (1977), till Your Name Here (2000). Houseboat Days include “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name,” where the theme of visual and poetic art is combined with existential reflection. His later poetry continues to be more intimately personal (confessional) and approachable, and “Late Echo” from As We Know (1979) declares this theme to be central for poetry today, even though it may be repetitive. With pessimistic undertones (the theme of passing and forgetting) Ashberry took to this theme in “This Room” and “The History of My Life” from his last volume, Your Name Here (2000). Black Mountain group was centred around C h a r l e s O l s o n (1910-1970), and also included R o b e r t D u n c a n (1919-1988) and R o b e r t C r e e l e y (1926-). The name of the group comes from an independent college where Olson taught, and where the group developed. The group was based on a theoretical poetic essay by Charles Olson, called “Projective Verse” (1949). Olson advocated for a sort of poetic equivalent of abstract expressionist paiting: opening (i.e. irregularity) of form, spontaneous play of associations, poetry as recording of creative activity, primacy of inspired speech over thought, vibrant ‘projection’ (hurling theme into language) instead of premeditated design. His early books of poetry, In Cold Hall, In Thicket (1953), and The Distances (1960) were attempts to create poetry as an immediate, living (organic) response to a theme, and to avoid the petrifying force of formal poetry. In 1960, Olson began his cycle of Maximus poems, whose theme was Gloucester, Massachusetts, a small town where he spent the remainder of his life. The cycle comprises three books: Maximus (1960), Maximus IV, V, VI (1968), and Maximus, vol. 3 (1975). The poems, comparable to Williams’s Paterson, describe different aspects (and origings) of the town’s community, geography, and history, treating Gloucester as a sort of microcosm and reflection of humanity and history of the world. Olson influenced numerous younger poets and artists of the American avant-garde, such as John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Rauschenberg, who were at Black

Mountain, and later, less directly, the Fluxus movement and the Neo-Dada movement, including famous artists such as Carolee Schneeman or Laurie Anderson. Thogether with Whitman and Williams, Olson belongs to the tradition of vibrant, anarchistc experiment in American letters and arts, which was continued by more recent groups, such as the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, and the Deep Image school. Women Poets: Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukeyser, Denise Levertov, Louise Glück Before the 1960s, women had to write like men in order to be treated seriously as poets. This may sound gruff, but it is because it was gruff. Women’s poetry, when it emerged, consisted in the use of feminine themes, expressive style mixing personal emotions with discussion of ideas, and new modes of impression in descriptive passages. Thematics, most importantly, shifted to the body, emotions, childbearing, family, and everyday work: all these themes would be deemed inaproppriate in earlier poetry, dismissed as sentimental, exhibitionist, lacking universality (as if housework or childbearing were not universal), etc. Women’s poetry has become an important part of American literature since then. The most important predecessors and inspirations were Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, but the emergence of the second and third waves of the America feminist movement in the 1950s and the 1960s was also an important factor. The representatives of women’s poetry included Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton (both usually described as confessional poets), who were discussed above. Apart from Plath, probably the most important representative is A d r i e n n e R i c h (1929--), who has been publishing poetry since the 1950s until today. Her first volume, A Change of World (1951), includes poems such as “Storm Warnings,” an elegant set of domestic images arranged in accordance with Eliot’s poetic. Feminist themes and views began to emerge in Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963) and Nacessities of Life (1966), where Rich questions plausibility and value of the male-dominated tradition that still shapes her poetry. In the 1970s Rich wrote some of her most famous and most radical poetry, including Diving Into the Wreck (1973) and The Dream of a Common Language (1978). Many of her poems from that decade are poignant statements about the position of women in culture and about relations of power and dominance between men and women: “Cartographies of Silence” (1975, 1978) are about inability to communicate, both on personal and public level, as the origin of suffering and evil, Twenty-One Love Poems (1974-1976, 1978) reflect Rich’s conviction that love between women is more tender and meaningful than between men and women, and “Diving Into the Wreck” (1973), probably her most famous poem, compares feminist revision of mythology to a terrifying and mysterious deep-sea adventure. Subsequently, Rich published eight books and collections: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me Thus Far (1981), The Fact of a Doorframe (1984), Your Native Land, Your Life (1986), Time’s Power (1989), An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991), Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (1995), Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 (1999), and Fox (2001). Apart from feminist themes, Rich frequently presents a feminist perspective on history, especially history of political and social dissent, often referring to

European (Russian and German) examples; Rich is a notable translator of Russian literature. She also wrote several important works of non-fiction, which present political and social views, e.g. The Will to Change (1971), which is a protest against the Vietman War, and Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976). Muriel Rukeyser’s pre-war poetry was discussed in the previous chapter. After the war, her poetry focused on themes which were dismissed by formalist poets and critics: personal emotions, intimate confession, political involvement, family, power, submission and rebellion. These themes were recognized again only in the 1960s, with the emergence of confessional poetry, and in the 1970s, with the emergence of feminist poetry. In particualr, The Speed of Darkness (1968), and Breaking Open (1973), were acclaimed by feminist critics, and quotations from two of Rukeyser’s poems from The Speed of Darkness became titles of feminist poetry anthologies in the 1970s: “Kathe Kollowitz” and “The Poem as a Mask.” The Gates (1976), her last volume, records the experience of a stroke which temporarily impeded her speech, and precipitated her death. Denise Levertov (1923-1997) is usually associated with the Black Mountain school, i.e.

her poetry focused on everyday themes, and tired to break free from formal constraints and from premeditated design of imagery. In her later poems, however, she used a variety of themes, importantly religious mysticism, and political and social protest. Levertov, who was English, published her first book of poetry in Great Britain; it was Double Image (1946). Her first American book, Here and Now (1957), is a set of descriptive poems influenced by W.C. Williams and H.D. The famous eponymous poem in her fifth book, Jacob’s Ladder (1961), is an autothematic image of poetry as ascent to heaven. (Mystical visions and revelations were an important theme for the poet.) Political themes, including protests against Vietnam War, were voiced in Levertov’s poetry of the 1970s, e.g. in The Freeing of the Dust (1975). Her last volumes, Evening Train (1993) and Tesserae (1995) return to religious and visionary themes. The younger generation of women poets is represented by Louise Glück (1943--), a poet who does not continue the feminist tradition and social protest, and writes lyrical poetry which combines traditional images (especially from Greek and Roman mythology) with mundane images: everyday life, gardening, and the body. Sometimes Glück uses a myth as framework for an entire volume, e.g. in The Triumph of Achilles (1985), or in Averno (2005). Glück’s recurrent theme is existential doubt, especially about sources of suffering and human ignorance about the meaning of existence. Much of her poetry also expresses doubts about the potential of love or art to answer (or appease) these questions; Glück is a poet of unending, unavoidable, and unavertable suffering. Her early poetry, e.g. in Firstborn (1968) and The House on Marshland (1975), often represented the body and sexuality as a limitation and source of suffering, rather than celebrating it in the feminist way (as Adrienne Rich would do, for example). “The Messengers” (1975), for instance, is a celebration of natural unity of the

body and individual life in animals, but unattainable for humans. Another of Glück’s great themes is conscience and penitance, moral consequences of one’s actions. Thus, in The Wild Iris (1992), probably her most famous volume, “Snowdrops” is a medidation of emotional death and rebirth (emerging from the ground into cold winter), and “Vespers” compare guilt and goodness to efforts of a gardener: accepting responsibility, but not expecting much success. Glück’s most recent volume, Averno (2005), addresses the trauma of 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing war (Averno is the opening of hell in Roman mythology). Black Poets Black poetry after the war is represented by G w e n d o l y n B r o o k s (1917-2000), A u d r e L o r d e (1934-1992), and A m i r i B a r a k a (1934--). Gwendolyn Brooks evolved from descriptive poetry similar to Langston Hughes’s poetic descriptions of ghetto life, to her militant poetry of protest beginning in 1967. Brooks’s style is marked for her command of prosody: perfectly balanced melody of (often short) lines with stressed focal points, expressive use of rhythms (of jazz music and colloquial English). This is exemplified by one of her best known poems, “We Real Cool” (1959, in Poetry magazine). Her early volumes, e.g. A Street in Bronzeville (1945, first book), and Annie Allen (1949) are semi-autbiographical, gritty realist descriptions of everyday life, family, and growing up in a Black community. In 1950, as the first Black author, Brooks received Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen. Her growing disconent is expressed in poems such as “The Ballad of Emmet Till” and “The Bean Eaters,” both in The Bean Eaters (1960). More militant protest was expressed in later volumes such as In the Mecca (1968) or To Disembark (1981), and Children Coming Home (1991). Audre Lorde combined several themes in her poetry of protest, claiming that they are inextricably related: intollerance against homosexual people, violence and discrimination against women, lack of recognition and respect for difference, and silencing of those who differ from the strongest majority. In this, Lorde created perhaps the broadest agenda of feminist theory, including not just women, but also people who are silenced, excluded and persecuted because of their racial and sexual (or, indeed, any kind of) difference. She published nine volumes of poetry, including The First Cities (1968, first book), Coal (1976), which includes some her most powerful protests against silence and discrimination: “Coal” and “The Woman Thing,” The Black Unicorn (1978) and The Dead Behind Us (1986), which reflect her interest in African mythology. Apart from poetry, Lorde wrote several important works of non-fiction, including The Cancer Journals (1980) about her fight against death, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), which describes her personal evolution towards lesbian identity, and numerous essays in feminist theory, collected in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1990). Amiri Baraka (who earlier wrote as LeRoi Jones) was the leader of the Black Arts movement, a militant group which included Black writers and artists such as Ishmael Reed and Askia M. Touré. Baraka’s early poetry is associated with the Beat generation: the same personal/sentimental

tone, individualist protest, and fascination with jazz music characterises his first book, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961). There followed a book of non-fiction (music criticism), Blues Pride: Negro Music in White America (1963), a provokative play Dutchman and the Slave (1964), and a novel, The System of Dante’s Hell (1965). Baraka’s subsequent volume of poetry, Black Magic (1969), marked his radical turn todards militant Black protest; this turn was also indicated by change of name from LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka. The poems from this book are among his most controversial ones: “Ka’Ba” praises Black pride, and fascination with Black and Muslim mythology, whereas “Babylon Revisited” is an example of Baraka’s misogyny and antisemitism. Subsequent volumes continued these themes; they include It’s Nation Time (1970), Hard Facts (1975), Why’s/Wise (1995), a historical description of Blacks’ plight in America, and Somebody Blew Up America (2003), a controversial reaction to the outbreak of hatred after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Stylistically, his poetry imitates the cadences of colloquial Black English, or jazz and soul music, e.g. in “Monday in B-Flat” (1994), and “Wise I” (1995). Drama The most prominent representatives of American drama after 1945 were T e n n e s s e e W i l l i a m s (1911-1983), W i l l i a m I n g e (1913-1973), A r t h u r M i l l e r (1915--), E d w a r d A l b e e (1928--), S a m S h e p a r d (1943--), and D a v i d M a m e t (1947--). (All men, all white.) Out of this group, the most important author is probably Tennessee Williams. The list does not take into accout experimental, alternative, or Black and ethnic drama, with dramatists and performance artists such as Amiri Baraka, Louis Valdez, Laurie Anderson, August Wilson, Tony Kushner, Ntozake Shange, Megan Terry, or Martha Clarke. Tennessee Williams introduced several important themes into American drama: violence, sex, damaged lives, and lives damaged by oppression. Another important theme was oppression and violence directed against homosexuality (or, indeed, any kind of difference). He is also noted for expressive use of staging techniques (theatre rather than text: music, stageset, mise en scene, opportunities for expressive acting). His most important plays include The Glass Menagerie (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), The Rose Tatoo (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and The Night of Iguana (1961). His first success was The Glass Menagerie, a lyrical and sentimental tribute to memory and grief over unfulliflled lives and impossible love (characters, a disfunctional family, were unable to overcome their inhibitions and crooked relations). Williams’s most famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire, is an expressive representation of evil and violence (and indifference), confronted with frail sensitivity of Blanche DuBois, who is probably the most important character in the play (Blanche may, as victim, symbolize the situation of gay and lesbian people, or of brutalized people in general). Another important play by Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, shows conflicts withing a Southern family (wife and husband, brothers, father and son), and impossibility of a resolution which would give each person their own desired identity, i.e. impossibility of being oneself. William Inge, who enjoyed considerable popularity in the 1950s, wrote realist plays which

celebrated self-denial and resignation in lives of ordinary people. These include Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), about a quietly desperate but perservering middle-aged married couple, Picnic (1952), about emotional and sexual frustration, Bus Stop (1955), with several characters trying, unsuccessfully, to change their meaningless lives, and Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957), which is a portrait of a family with children about to enter adulthood. Arthur Miller wrote several famous works which may be described as American morality plays: All My Sons (1947), about a corrupt industrial manager who tries (unsuccessfully) to rationalize his wrongdoings, Death of a Salesman (1949), about a life wasted away by a man dreaming about success, The Crucible (1953), about Salem witch trials and mechanisms of terror and mass hatred, and A View from the Bridge (1955), about a conflict between falsely conceived family honor and loyalty to one’s friends and relations. These important and very popular plays show the tragic condition of modern Americans, represented as ordinary people who cannot control their own lives and fullfill their dreams about liberty, success, and justice. Miller’s later plays, e.g. After the Fall (1964) and Incident at Vichy (1964) have similar themes, but did not enjoy the warm receptions of the earlier ones. Edward Albee and Megan Terry (1932--) represent a younger generation of dramatists. Albee’s most famous play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962) is a very successful psychological/naturalist drama about a marriage beset by destructive passions (and about intellectuals incapable of understanding or controling these passions). Similar concerns were raised in Tiny Alice (1964) and A Delicate Balance (1966). More recent plays by Albee include The Man who Had Three Arms (1983) and Three Tall Women (1991). Megan Terry’s plays address feminist concerns: subjection and discrimination of women, violence and the body, difficulties in finding and expressing one’s identity, language as tool of oppression. Her extensive work includes early “transformation” plays (where actors had to transform their sex, age, character) such as Viet Rock (1966), feminitst plays such as Approaching Simone (1970), which is a dramatical biography of the French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil. Later, more militant plays inluce Babes in the Bighouse (1974), about women prisoners, and American Kings English for Queens (1978), about sexist language. Her more recent plays include Walking Through Walls (1987). Sam Shepard is a representative of more alternative and experimental tendencies in American drama, and his style is sometimes describes as mythic symbolism. He also combines his playwriting with acting, directing, music (work with Patti Smith and Bob Dylan), and a successful career in film making, e.g. as actor in The Right Stuff (1983) and Pelican Brief (1996), or script writer in Zabriskie Point (1970) and Paris, Texas (1984). As playwright, Shepard is associated with the off-off-Broadway theaters in New York, noted for their small size, experimental art, and political radicalism. His first success, Burried Child (1973), a symbolic play about a declining farming family, was awarded Pulitzer Prize. The play features symbolic dialogues and settings, mythic and intertextual references, use of pastiche and parody, which became characteristic qualities of Shepard’s plays. His best known plays were True West (1980), a meditation on frustrated dreams and their ultimate falsehood, Fool for Love (1983, and film adaptation in 1986), notable for its surreal and symbolic mise en scene. More

recent plays include Simpatico (1993), about redemption of guilt-ridden past, and The God of Hell (2004), which addresses the wave of hatred in America after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Shepard also writes fiction, including Motel Chronicles (1982), a series of autobiographical sketches, and two volumes of short stories: Cruising Paradise (1997), and Great Dream of Heaven (2002). David Mamet is one of the younger established dramatists; he writes successful traditional realist plays and film scripts. He is noted for his expressive dialogues consisting of ragged, incomplete phrases, which hide mannipulative speech and implicit undertones; this is sometimes called “Mamet speak,” and it offers great opportunities for actors. Mamet is also known and popular for his excellent comedies. His early plays include The Duck Variations (1972), Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1974), a bitter comedy of manners with hilarious bed scenes, and American Buffalo (1975), a study of (male) violence, foolishness, and stupidity. Probably his best known play (later turned into a film), Gungarry Glenn Ross (1984), is about ruthless practices of American business life, and contains some of the most characteristic examples of the “Mamet speak.” More recent plays are Oleanna (1992), a study of impossibility of communication which leads to unintentional evil (the two-actor play is a series of disastrous encounters between a teacher and a student), The Cryptogram (1995) about relations between father and son, Boston Marriage (1999), a heartening comedy with excellent women characters, Romance (2005), a courtroom farce about prejudice and intollerance, and November (2008), a political satire set in the White House.

Some missing names Pearl S. Buck John Irving John Cage Stanley Kunitz Bernard Malamud James Merrill

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