Our Conrad: Constituting American Modernity

Our Conrad: Constituting American Modernity

Our Conrad: Constituting American Modernity

Our Conrad: Constituting American Modernity

Synopsis

Our Conrad is about the American reception of Joseph Conrad and its crucial role in the formation of American modernism. Although Conrad did not visit the country until a year before his death, his fiction served as both foil and mirror to America's conception of itself and its place in the world.

Peter Mallios reveals the historical and political factors that made Conrad's work valuable to a range of prominent figures- including Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Richard Wright, Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore and Edith Roosevelt- and explores regional differences in Conrad's reception. He proves that foreign-authored writing can be as integral a part of United States culture as that of any native. Arguing that an individual writer's apparent (national, gendered, racial, political) identity is not always a good predictor of the diversity of voices and dialogues to which he gives rise, this exercise in transnational comparativism participates in post-Americanist efforts to render American Studies less insular and parochial.

Excerpt

This book is a literary and cultural history of the modern American invention of Joseph Conrad as a “master” literary figure between 1914 and 1939. It is primarily a book about reading: reading war and peace; reading crises of U.S. and world history; reading conflicts of culture, democracy, coloniality, nation; asking why we read, and how, and whom; reading U.S. Americans who once read Joseph Conrad, and asking what this stands to contribute to contemporary comparativist and international developments in the fields of Americanist, modernist, and Conrad studies. This is also a book about dialogue: the cultural dialogue that produced Conrad as a “master” literary figure in the United States during and after the First World War, and the potential for dialogue between American studies and Conrad studies, Americanist endeavor and transnational modernist literary inquiry more generally, in ways that have been more foreclosed than one might think. Finally, this book concerns methodology. Although the empirical recovery of Conrad’s “heterotopic” cultural and political resonance in the modern United States is this book’s scholarly priority, it is also an occasion to advance and argue for an extended practice of what I call “capillary comparativism,” a critical approach predicated on the minute investigation of the constitution and contestation of “domestic” spaces by “foreign” signs. Throughout and through Conrad, Our Conrad seeks to emphasize the revisionist power of and need for this approach in contributing to other recent efforts to transnationalize the terms of global literary and cultural studies in a (still) formidably and often frighteningly nationalized world.

I hope it will be clear that the Americanist emphases of this book are professional (i.e., it is my field—and that field, I argue, includes Conrad) and strategic, not appropriative or territorializing. Though the original American meaning of “our Conrad,” as we shall see, was quite possessive, the last thing I would wish is that whatever energy and intensity one might find in this book should be construed as a gesture of “claiming” Conrad for Americans (or Americanists)—especially when what inspired this book in the first place was the example of so many different world scholars of Conrad who have pioneered . . .

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