Old-Fashioned Modernism — Ebook

Rural Masculinity and Midwestern Literature

Author : Andy Oler
Publication : 2019-06-12
Language : English
Pages : 248
Publisher : LSU Press
ISBN : 9780807171615
Categories : Literary criticism / American / General, Social science / Sociology / Rural

The Midwest holds two conflicting positions in the American cultural imagination, both of which rob the region of its distinctiveness. Often, it is seen as the “heartland,” a pastoral ideal standing in for all of American culture. Alternatively, the Midwest can represent “flyover country,” part of an expansive, undifferentiated mass between the coasts. In Old-Fashioned Modernism: Rural Masculinity and Midwestern Literature, Andy Oler challenges both views by pairing fiction and poetry from the region with cultural and material texts that illustrate the processes by which regional modernism both opposes and absorbs prevailing models of twentieth-century manhood.

Although it acknowledges a tradition of Midwestern urban literature, Old-Fashioned Modernism focuses on representations of life on farms and in small towns that generate specific forms of rural modernity. Oler considers a series of male protagonists who both fulfill and resist conventional American narratives of economic advancement, spatial experience, and gender roles. The writers he studies portray the onset of socioeconomic and mechanical modernity by merging realist and naturalist narratives with upwellings of modernist form and style. His analysis charts a trajectory in which Midwestern literature depicts experiences that appear dependent on nostalgic pastoralism but actually foreground the ongoing fragmentation and emerging anxieties of the countryside. In detailed readings of novels by Sherwood Anderson, William Cunningham, Langston Hughes, Wright Morris, and Dawn Powell, as well as the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, Oler highlights images of men from the rural Midwest who face the tensions between agricultural production and mass industrialization. These works of literature, which Oler examines alongside pieces of material culture like advertisements for farm implements and record labels, feature communities that support self-made as well as corporate identities. As portraits of the Midwest that resist the totalizing trajectory of industrialization, these texts generate spaces that meld rural and urban economics, land use, and affective experiences.

Old-Fashioned Modernism reveals how Midwestern regionalism negotiates the anxieties and dominant narratives of early- and midcentury rural masculinities, as regional literature and culture alter the forms and spaces of literary modernism.

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