No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives

No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives

No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives

No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives

Synopsis

No Accident, Comrade argues that chance became a complex yet conflicted cultural signifier during the Cold War, when a range of thinkers--politicians, novelists, historians, biologists, sociologists, and others--contended that totalitarianism denied the very existence and operation of chance in the world. They claimed that the USSR perpetrated a vast fiction on its population, a fiction amplified by the Soviet view that there is no such thing as chance or accident, only manifestations of historical law (hence the popular American refrain used to refer to Marxism: "It was no accident, Comrade").

By reading an expansive range of American novels published between 1947-2005, alongside nonfiction texts by the likes of Jerzy Kosinski, Daniel Bell, Ian Hacking, and mid-century game theorists, No Accident, Comrade explains how associations of chance with democratic freedom and the denial of chance with totalitarianism circulated in Cold War America. Chance became tied to the liberties of U.S. democracy, whereas its eradication or denial became symptomatic of Soviet tyranny. With works by Nabokov, Ellison, Pynchon, Didion, DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, and many others, Steven Belletto shows how writers developed innovative strategies for dealing with and incorporating these ever-present beliefs about chance and its role in their culture. These newly developed narrative techniques allowed them to theorize, satirize, and make sense of the constantly changing relationship between the individual and the state during a largely rhetorical conflict.

Excerpt

It was a Friday in late December 1957, and a light rain fell on Idlewild. Those were the days before the airport could boast Eero Saarinen’s ultramodern TWA terminal, so the most arresting feature for the freshly disembarked was perhaps the massive Alexander Calder mobile dangling from the ceiling of the International Arrivals Building, which had just opened earlier that month. For one new arrival in particular, a 24-year-old student from Poland who wandered into immigration with a mere $2.80 in his pocket, the sheer scale of that building must have represented the potential of his new life in the United States. Although he was already accepted by Columbia University’s doctoral program in sociology, it still seems remarkable that this young man, who had only a working knowledge of English, could have in eight months managed to secure a contract with Doubleday for a book explaining Soviet life to American audiences. The book was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post and condensed in Reader’s Digest, and when it was published in 1960, it caught the attention of readers as eminent and far-flung as Konrad Adenauer and Bertrand Russell, who wrote the author a letter of admiration.

The young man, Jerzy Kosinski, would go on to write such classic novels as The Painted Bird (1965) and Being There (1971) but that first book, The Future Is Ours, Comrade, was billed as a nonfiction blend of sociological analyses and reportage. That Kosinski came to publish the book so quickly is explained by the special position he occupied, somewhere between the cultural norms of the world’s two superpowers. As he soon discovered, the Cold War had its own peculiar logic and strange obsessions, and Americans were bent on exploring their grim fascination with their remote rivals. Kosinski was a Russian speaker with detailed notes from a research trip he had taken to the Soviet Union in the mid1950s, and he found that he could exploit such a position to help explain why the two political and economic systems clashed. The prospects for peace at that time were indeed tenuous: earlier the very week Kosinski arrived in the States, there had been a NATO conference in Paris; before flying back home, Dwight . . .

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