Fantasies of the New Class

Ideologies of Professionalism in Post–World War II American Fiction

Stephen Schryer

Columbia University Press

Fantasies of the New Class

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Pub Date: March 2011

ISBN: 9780231157575

288 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£24.95

Pub Date: March 2011

ISBN: 9780231157568

288 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£74.95

Pub Date: March 2011

ISBN: 9780231527477

288 Pages

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List Price: $29.99£24.95

Fantasies of the New Class

Ideologies of Professionalism in Post–World War II American Fiction

Stephen Schryer

Columbia University Press

America's post–World War II prosperity created a boom in higher education, expanding the number of university-educated readers and making a new literary politics possible. Writers began to direct their work toward the growing professional class, and the American public in turn became more open to literary culture. This relationship imbued fiction with a new social and cultural import, allowing authors to envision themselves as unique cultural educators. It also changed the nature of literary representation: writers came to depict social reality as a tissue of ideas produced by knowledge elites.

Linking literary and historical trends, Stephen Schryer underscores the exalted fantasies that arose from postwar American writers' new sense of their cultural mission. Hoping to transform capitalism from within, writers and critics tried to cultivate aesthetically attuned professionals who could disrupt the narrow materialism of the bourgeoisie. Reading Don DeLillo, Marge Piercy, Mary McCarthy, Saul Bellow, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ralph Ellison, and Lionel Trilling, among others, Schryer unravels the postwar idea of American literature as a vehicle for instruction, while highlighting both the promise and flaws inherent in this vision.
Fantasies of the New Class is highly original and keenly argued. Stephen Schryer does a superb job of reconstructing concepts central to the intellectual and political debate of the era, and he shows, often with striking critical insight, how major writers worked out the subtleties and contradictions in these ideas. As Schryer convincingly demonstrates, these artists' ideas about literary vocation accompanied much more sweeping and consequential changes in the ways in which expertise and authority were conceived in the United States. His elegant analysis gives a compelling new map of postwar American cultural history. Sean McCann, Wesleyan University, author of A Pinnacle of Feeling: American Literature and Presidential Government
Fantasies of the New Class is a major contribution to our understanding of the relationship between history and literary form in the postwar United States. Through sophisticated readings of fiction and sociology, Schryer ably shows how American writing from the 1940s through the 1980s resonates with (and helps to create) a transformed vision of the professional. Whether demonstrating the importance of understudied writers like Mary McCarthy or breathing new life into such critical favorites as Ralph Ellison and Don DeLillo, Schryer offers a fascinating new way to read the fiction of the second half of the twentieth century. With Fantasies of the New Class, he enters the first rank of scholarship on this period. Andrew Hoberek, University of Missouri-Columbia, author of The Twilight of the Middle Class: Post-World War II American Fiction and White-Collar Work
Interesting, insightful synthesis. Choice
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Fantasies of the New Class
1. The Republic of Letters: The New Criticism, by Harvard Sociology
2. "Life Upon the Horns of the White Man's Dilemma": Ralph Ellison, by Gunnar Myrdal
3. Mary McCarthy's Field Guide to U.S. Intellectuals: Tradition and Modernization Theory in Birds of America
4. Saul Bellow's Class of Explaining Creatures: Mr. Sammler's Planet and the Rise of Neoconservatism
5. Experts Without Institutions: New Left Professionalism in Marge Piercy and Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Don DeLillo's Academia: Revisiting the New Class in White Noise
Afterword
Bibliography
Index
Web Features:

Robert K. Martin Prize for Best Book

About the Author

Stephen Schryer is assistant professor of English at the University of New Brunswick. He has published in PMLA, Modern Fiction Studies, and Arizona Quarterly.