Structures of the Jazz Age: Mass Culture, Progressive Education, and Racial Discourse in American Modernism

Structures of the Jazz Age: Mass Culture, Progressive Education, and Racial Discourse in American Modernism

Structures of the Jazz Age: Mass Culture, Progressive Education, and Racial Discourse in American Modernism

Structures of the Jazz Age: Mass Culture, Progressive Education, and Racial Discourse in American Modernism

Synopsis

Rhodes grants the truth of appearances to the cliches of the Jazz Age - the lost generation of writers, the era of mass consumption and the silver screen - while revealing their roots in a conservative ideology which sustained Republican rule.

Excerpt

When surveying the volume of writings on the twenties, it would seem that no period has been as exhaustively "done." It is the "Roaring Twenties" and the "Jazz Age," the most chronicled and caricatured decade in US history. We know its figures--Calvin Coolidge, Rudolph Valentino, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh, Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein--and we know its many well-worn narratives. And, more than any other period in US history, we have accepted the twenties' conception of itself. The clichés about the period we alternately embrace and debunk were clichés to the participants themselves. Memoirs by figures from the period are full of references to its distinctiveness and to its status as a watershed in American cultural history.

The same clichés, the same notion of a "watershed," occur in the major treatments that the period has received in American literary history. With Fitzgerald and Hemingway as its emblems, the literature of the "lost generation" is well known to even the most casual student of American literature. Though the reasons given by literary historians differ, the twenties are widely regarded as the high point of American literature, the moment when it emerged from the monotonous nightmare of naturalism into the daylight of modernism. While some recalcitrants like Dreiser continued to write into the twenties, so the argument goes, the majority of "serious" writers turned away from a historical moment that sickened them, because World War One disillusioned them, because consumer culture embarrassed them-- for all these reasons, American writers chose art over society with some impressive results.

It is worth noting that the canonical works from the twenties that we study today were by no means agreed upon by the end of that decade. For some time, it seemed likely that James Branch Cabell and Joseph Hergesheimer might prove its most enduring writers. Many literary histories of the period written during the thirties and forties discuss Cabell and Hergesheimer more than Hemingway and Fitzgerald. In general, however, the image of the twenties that we possess today differs little from that . . .

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