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Title:Dangerous Subjects: U.S. War Narrative, Modern Citizenship, and the Making of National Security, 1890-1964
Author(s):Vincent, Jonathan E.
Director of Research:Hutner, Gordon
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hutner, Gordon
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Bauer, Dale M.; Nelson, Cary; Rothberg, Michael
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
the State
Abstract:“What if we approach war,” Leerom Medovoi asks, “not as an exception to or the opposite of regulation, but rather as continuous with it, as the point when regulation’s militarism has surged into the open air?” Taking that question as my point of departure, this research explores literary accounts of U.S. warfare—from post-Reconstruction nationalization through the first phase of the Cold War—as rhetorically convergent with an evolving discourse of public regulation and national security. As I suggest, war narrative performs a distinctly pedagogical function, one seemingly native to the genre. Given the established preference for laissez-faire governance and a reluctance toward foreign “meddling,” U.S. citizens traditionally evinced little love for either “standing armies” or the bureaucratic state, relics that they were of European tyranny and corruption. To supplement that intolerance toward state interference, war writing supplies a “felt sense” of collectivity and danger able to bypass the embedded esteem for liberal autonomy and rational self-ownership. A collectivity that once excluded women and nonwhite actors, the nation-in-crisis widens its circle of “inclusion” and “recognition,” incorporating a plurality of competing identities into a narrative of harmonious collaboration, what Srinivas Aravamudan dubs “a contract of security for quiescence” that is “the ideal limit of the pacification project of the state.” Transnational in representational scale, enmeshed in crises of political valuation (both internal and external to the nation), portraying citizens at work outside the normative order of the liberal contract: together these features imbue war narrative with a distended structure of imagining topically suited to address changing orientations toward civic life and foreign policy. Compelled by the turn toward the state in American Studies, “Dangerous Subjects” interweaves its account of almost one-hundred literary texts with currents in cultural history and political theory. In interdisciplinary fashion, it presents an interpretive history of the American “body politic”—a remarkably dynamic entity—as it is constructed out of a basically “stateless” Progressive Era, developed in response to Wilsonian internationalism and the public regulation of the New Deal, and established full-bloom in the so-called consensus society of the Cold War. Because it traces developmental continuities across time, this project reorients the prevailing assessment of war narrative in established literary history. Generally speaking, scholars have discussed American war-making and the literary responses to it as a sequence of military events fastened to corresponding aesthetic modes: the Civil War gives rise to realism and naturalism; modernism derives from the fallout of World War I; and together World War II and the Cold War hail the appearance of the postmodern. While acknowledging the general truth of some of these claims, my genealogy is less segmented and more consecutive, regarding all of these phases as stages in the longer development of an imperial modernism. I begin with an introductory chapter that theorizes the relationship between war participation and the logic of national belonging. Three interpretive strands of thought animate my discussion: war narrative’s interaction with (a) the dichotomous imaginary structure of the nation’s inside/outside form; (b) the more “sacred” or “erotic” nature of collective life masked by the vagaries of the social contract; and (c) the more flexible “art of government” Foucault detects in the modern “biopolitical” state’s simultaneous drives toward individuation and totalization. Among the central interlocutors here are Wendy Brown, Susan Buck-Morss, Brian Massumi, Claude Lefort, Etienne Balibar, Lauren Berlant, and Paul Kahn, who help elaborate the relationship between a discourse of danger and the socializing structure of state power. That constitutive relationship is considered at length in Chapter 1, which describes how middle-class reformers in the late nineteenth century altered the partisan memory of the Civil War to bypass impediments to nationalization. Central to that task, I claim, was the way a host of novels like Harold Frederic’s The Copperhead (1893), Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (1895), Winston Churchill’s The Crisis (1901), Ellen Glasgow’s The Battleground (1902), and Mary Johnston’s The Long Roll (1911) recast the “creative” war story (revolutionary, dialectical) as a parable of mutually-endured affliction tempering a stronger, more reconciled union (preservationist, providential). Essential to that textual translation is their idealization of the corporate personality as a salutary renovation of the sovereign, self-ruling individual. Obliged to accept more modestly aggregated roles within a coordinated professional stratum, male and female characters alike model versions of collective identity validated by nativist and masculinist blood lore, spiritual assurances of profit-through-sacrifice, and the consolations of membership in the nation’s transhistorical body, its “mystical corpus.” Chapters 2 and 3 extend this train of thought. How, they ask, did a generally isolationist polity come to regard transcontinental events, events occurring in domains long-considered “inauspicious to liberty,” as fungible aspects of their own national life? Here, I trace literature’s investment in the Preparedness Movement, a conservative wing of the progressive program. A “public health project” in Theodore Roosevelt’s terms, preparedness promoted permanent war training and global military intervention as means to stabilize an unraveling social order, an order threatened by labor uprisings, women’s rights activism, and racial-ethnic diversity, around therapeutic notions of an endangered common life. I consider the socializing role bestselling potboilers played as they summoned metaphysical appeals to sacrifice to channel a diversity of political loyalties into a concordant public mainstream. I also treat neglected “preparedness texts” like Leonard Nason’s Chevrons (1926) and better-known examples like Edith Wharton’s A Son at the Front (1923) for their visions of mystical self-conferment in the incorporated life alone. Harlem Renaissance fiction like Jessie Fauset’s There is Confusion (1924) and Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem (1928) as well as modernist works like Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929), Laurence Stallings’s Plumes (1924), and e.e. cummings’s The Enormous Room (1920) receive substantial attention as I contend with the politics of modernist “backlash.” The central contribution here is showing how modernism’s alleged culture of protest, a culture reactive to the rhetorical challenges of mobilization, actually reconciles the crises of the Fordism and “mass society” in ways convergent with the social optic of the liberal-pluralist state. My final three chapters assemble a large archive of Spanish Civil War and World War II writing to address how the literary memory of antifascism was transformed by and harnessed to the geopolitical realism of the national security paradigm. Although these democratic struggles were waged against infamous authoritarian regimes, the liberal universalism that emerges masks an increasingly normative discourse of capitalist expansion evinced in the “managerial cosmopolitanism” of works like John Hersey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Bell for Adano (1944) and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny (1951). Facilitating that process, homefront war representation increasingly captures contrarian desire in a conservative undertow, acclimating citizens to the Cold War consensus and its culture of consumption. One of the central objects of my critique involves the de-politicization enabled by the psychic puzzling of the “inward turn” in novels like James Gould Cozzens’s Guard of Honor (1948)—also a Pulitzer-winner—but even Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948) and Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions (1948). My final chapter, however, describes the political pressure a diversity of writers applied to the orthodoxy of national security, especially at a time when such dissent was deeply unpopular. Central to that discussion are renowned examples such as Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1955/61), but also lesser-known works by women, nonwhite, and queer writers such as John Horne Burns’s The Gallery (1947), Maritta Wolff’s About Lyddy Thomas (1947), John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957), and John Oliver Killens’s And Then We Heard the Thunder (1961). Refusing to confirm mobilization’s idealization of the heteronormative nuclear family or the “metonymic nationalism” of cultural pluralism, these novelists open the way for an emerging ethos of political opposition. I close, however, with an Afterword that considers the lingering effects of national security culture in recent decades: its odd conjoining of neoliberal and neoconservative rationalities. Crucial to that discussion is my assessment of the “quiet” militarization of everyday life, the development of an American “affective public” enabled by what Brian Massumi calls the “political ontology of threat.”
Issue Date:2011-05-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Jonathan E. Vincent
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-25
Date Deposited:2011-05

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