Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Red pulp: Repression and radicalism in mid-twentieth century United States "genre" fiction
by Ramsey, Joseph G., Ph.D., Tufts University, 2007, 428; 3274612
Abstract (Summary)

Red Pulp recuperates, resituates, and re-evaluates the voluminous mid-century mass culture production of a series of once-popular, subsequently suppressed left-wing U.S. writers of "genre" fiction. More specifically, it is to date the first full-length, close study of three different re-emerging progressive, anti-racist writers of this period: Guy Endore, Paul William Ryan, and Len Zinberg. Doubly derided by critics and censors as "Red" and as "pulp" writers, the subjects of my study deserve critical and popular reconsideration, I argue, for reasons political, historical, and literary.

All three writers' work defies current categorizations of American Left writing, combining, in heretofore unnoticed ways, explicitly radical, proletarian and anti-racist social commentary, modernist formal experimentation, and sensational, at times seemingly conservative, even reactionary aspects of "pulp"—that is, hard-boiled, detective, adventure, and horror fiction. My study of these writers' varied work, work which was often produced under pseudonyms, and in contexts conditioned by political persecution, calls into question prevalent historical notions of how the "Old" Left related to mass culture, how it thought about race, racism, and imperialism, and of how successfully the Communist cultural Left's opposition to U.S. racism was "silenced" during the Cold War.

In chapter one I critically review the scholarly literature regarding the generic tendencies, limitations, and politics of "pulp fiction" as a subset of mass-cultural forms. I engage with Marxist cultural theorists such as Fredric Jameson, Ernest Mandel, Antonio Gramsci, and Teodor Adorno, as well as figures within and American and cultural studies such as Michael Denning, and recent reader-response, and working-class studies interpreters of pulp fiction, such as Erin Smith. Synthesizing and complicating each of these theorists take on pulp, I argue for an understanding of pulp fiction as a contradictory medium for the articulation of left-wing politics to an American mass audience in the early-to-mid Twentieth Century.

I further track this account of pulp fiction in relationship to the ongoing literary-historical recovery and revaluating work being done on the U.S. Literary Left. Barbara Foley, Denning, Alan Wald and others in this vein have documented and begun to map the complicated and long-suppressed terrain of American literary radicalism of the mid-20th century. Red Pulp is an effort to complicate and expand our understanding of proletarian or revolutionary American fiction beyond the overly narrow notion of the term currently either affirmed (or more often, dismissed) by contemporary scholars and critics of the period.

In each subsequent chapter of Red Pulp, I examine these left literary works in close detail. I demonstrate in each case how the work of Endore, Zinberg, and Ryan, is sophisticated, self-reflexive, and ironic in ways not previously noticed. I further argue that returning left-wing, Jewish, and working-class writers, such as Guy Endore, Len Zinberg, and Paul William Ryan, to the "pulp" contexts and discourses where they belong forces us to rethink the status of these popular discourses and their historical development. In chapters two through four I turn to the life and works of Guy Endore, author of among other novels, the best-selling horror "classic" Werewolf of Paris (1933) and Babouk (1934), a sensational, experimental historical novel about the Haitian Revolution. Endore's work and its reception reveal both the tremendous possibilities but also the formidable dangers and limitations of appropriating conservative established mass-cultural generic confines for "progressive" ends. Positioning Endore biographically, politically, and discursively, in part through the examination of materials unearthed by original archival research at the Endore Papers held at UCLA, I argue that he occupied a productively liminal location within/without the burgeoning American mass culture industries, and the growing Communist-led cultural movement of the Depression. In each of these three chapters I position Endore's work in relationship to a different mass-popular genre; historical fiction, horror fiction, US colonialist writing on Haiti, respectively.

In chapters five and six I turn to the work of Paul William Ryan, who maintained dual, concurrent—and I argue, interrelated—writing careers: as a West Coast proletarian journalist, political poet, and pamphleteer, under the name "Mike Quin," and as a successful writer of pulp fiction novels immediately after WWII and on the cusp of the Cold War under the pseudonym "Robert Finnegan." In chapter seven and eight I examine the voluminous literary production of Len Zinberg, better known as international best-selling pulp writer, "Ed Lacy." Zinberg's early works such as his anti-racist boxing thriller Walk Hard-Talk Loud (1939), and his critical bilndungsroman of an ex-radical journalist, Hold with the Hares (1947) reveal sophisticated but explicit left-critiques of American society, while his later pulp works maintain a subtle, subversive, at time subdued, but nonetheless consistent left commentary on U.S. post-war racism, imperialism, and American Big Business. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Roy, Modhumita, Wald, Alan
Commitee: Cantor, Jay, Sharpe, Christina
School: Tufts University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 68/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, American literature
Keywords: Endore, Guy, Genre fiction, Pulp fiction, Radicalism, Repression, Ryan, Paul William, Zinberg, Len
Publication Number: 3274612
ISBN: 9780549130055
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