Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

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Imagining the American Right: Postwar Fiction, Race, and the Rise of Modern Conservatism, 1945-2005
by Santin, Bryan Michael, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 2017, 364; 13836352
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation presents a fundamental reinterpretation of the cultural politics of postwar American fiction, arguing that the robust linkage between liberalism and highbrow literary fiction in the post-sixties United States must be understood in relation to the rise of modern conservatism and its evolving positions on race. In the best existing accounts describing the influence of American politics on postwar fiction, scholars such as Michael Szalay and Sean McCann emphasize a constellation of aesthetic disputes between the technocratic rationality of the Old Left and the anti-authoritarianism of the New Left. But I argue that the conservative movement played an equally significant role in reshaping the dominant political order in ways that also reshaped normative assumptions about novelistic form, literary merit, and the value-laden implications of literary fiction. At midcentury, movement conservatives positioned themselves as elite traditionalists who supported Jim Crow segregation and defended high culture against the masses. During the 1960s, though, they began to embrace both laissez-faire capitalism and coded racial populism in ways that generated the institutional conditions for the eventual presumed linkage between liberalism and highbrow literary fiction.

Bringing together a politically diverse group of fiction writers including, but not limited to, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O'Connor, Ayn Rand, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Thomas Pynchon, William F. Buckley, Jr., Tom Wolfe, and Toni Morrison, I advance this argument through two key, interdependent claims: first, that fiction as a cultural form played a larger role than previously assumed in the emergence and evolution of movement conservatism’s racial politics; second, and most importantly, that major American writers responded to the dynamic rise of conservatism by reimagining the equivocal, racially fraught term conservative and thus the complex political ramifications of their works. In this first book-length study of the more than half-century intersection between American fiction and postwar conservatism, I trace the shifting racial politics of movement conservatism, neoconservatism, and the New Right in order to show that the postwar conservative movement was a major driver of literary change, and ultimately reveal how contemporary literary form is inextricably bound up with the rise of the American Right.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gustafson, Sandra M.
Commitee: Gustafson, Sandra M., Wilkens, Matthew, Zuckert, Michael
School: University of Notre Dame
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 80/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Literature, American literature
Keywords: African American literature, American literature, Politics, Post-1945 fiction, Race, The American novel
Publication Number: 13836352
ISBN: 9780438835382
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