History and Refusal: Consumer Culture and Postmodern Theory in the Contemporary American Novel

By Stephen N. Docarmo | Go to book overview

Introduction: Theory, Fiction, and
Late-Capitalist Consumer Culture

IN 1906, SOCIALIST FICTION WRITER UPTON SINCLAIR WAS ABLE TO conclude The Jungle, his exposé of the hell of working-class life in turn-of-the-century Chicago, with this remarkably optimistic forecast, delivered by an orator at a socialist workers’ meeting who “seem[s] the very spirit of the revolution”:1

We shall have the sham reformers self-stultified and self-
convicted; we shall have the radical Democracy left without a lie
with which to cover its nakedness! And then will begin the rush
that will never be checked, the tide that will never turn till it has
reached its flood—that will be irresistible, overwhelming—the
rallying of the outraged workingmen of Chicago to our standard!
And we shall organize them, we shall drill them, we shall marshal
them for the victory! We shall bear down the opposition, we shall
sweep it before us—and Chicago will be ours! Chicago will be
ours! CHICAGO WILL BE OURS!2

Sixty-five years later, E. L. Doctorow, another leftist American novelist, would cast a considerably warier eye at the prospect of an effective radical politics in America. In The Book of Daniel (1971), Daniel Isaacson, son of a fictional version of the Rosenbergs, reflects on the volumes produced about his parents after their executions, telling us “all possible opinions are expressed [in them], from Sidney P. Margolis famous Hearst philosopher (SPIES ON TRIAL) to Max Krieger liberal bleeder (THE ISAACSON TRAGEDY).”3 Daniel goes on to quote both of these:

For all the hysteria drummed up by the commies, their fellow
travelers, and their dupes, the Isaacsons received a fair trial….
Who but the very ideologues committed to overthrowing our
democratic way of life can dare claim in view of the defendants’

-13-

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