Cross posted from the comments at Blographia Literaria:
Too often the literature establishment produces (I’ve noted elsewhere) “almost meaningless skirmishes between the so-called ‘hysterical realists’ and Flaubertian intimatists, between the free-wheeling fabulists and the empathetic realists, and other establishment fronts and alignments.” This is a narrow formalism dominant. I point this out in context of the Cold War at Fiction Bound.
Normative concerns, especially expressed as multicultural in recent decades, “expand the floor of the cage,” so to speak, broaden the discussion, increase the vitality. More economic or revolutionary concerns or these existing concerns taken further can be ever more liberatory and ever more vital to art. Indefinitely.
What must be overcome simultaneously are longstanding conditions of repressive focus and neglect in academia and society. Barbara Foley, for example, for one, has resisted the oppression and does very notable work in this regard. Her 1993 book Radical Representations is tremendous, and her forthcoming book on Ellison’s Invisible Man seems extremely valuable, a much needed study. Below, she was recently interviewed by Joseph Ramsey in reconstruction: studies in contemporary culture – link via Read Red:
JR: It’s been over 20 years now since you first published Telling the Truth: the theory and practice of documentary fiction, and a decade and a half since Radical Representations came out. How far has the study of proletarian literature and left culture of the mid-20th century more generally come since the 1980s and early 90s? What have been the most remarkable changes in how people relate to radical and proletarian literature, since you first entered the field?
BF: A lot has been accomplished as regards the study of proletarian literature over the past couple of decades; I could list some two or three dozen books, as well as scads of articles, which show that this body of literature is now routinely accorded a good deal of respectability. Hey, literary proletarianism is even seen as integral to modernism (which of course the literary radicals of the time realized – they were all for “making it new.”) Radical Representations (1993) helped to do some of the ground-clearing of the knee-jerk anticommunism that had guided almost all discussions of leftist literature up to the late 1980s; I am glad wrote the book.
BF: To this day, though, anticommunism continues to color a lot of the commentary on literary radicalism. It has gone into the groundwater of much contemporary theory, taking the form of a critique of “class reductionism” and “master narratives,” the relegation of class to a matter of identity, and the embrace of various “intersectionality” models for examining what Terry Eagleton calls the “holy trinity” of gender/race/class. So much work remains to be done.
The Cultural Front by Denning and Radical Representations by Foley are quality contemporary scholarly books about the 1930s. Foley’s book is especially strong, far more incisive, more accurate. Both books are accessible as overviews with a wealth of information in their own right and useful for the many details that reward further exploration.
For further discussion of race and class, power and control in long fiction, see the far more extensive related discussion at a preceding BL link and comments. Also see Read Red’s comments on race, racism, and Flannery O’Connor.