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Modernism and the American system: standardization, ugliness, literature, 1900-1930

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Title: Modernism and the American system: standardization, ugliness, literature, 1900-1930
Author(s): Unger, Mary
Director of Research: Bauer, Dale M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Bauer, Dale M.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Parker, Robert Dale; Hutner, Gordon; Maxwell, William J.
Department / Program: English
Discipline: English
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): American modernism twentieth-century American literature ugliness poetry avant-garde Harlem Renaissance standardization
Abstract: By the early twentieth century, America had become enamored with standards. Desiring industrial, economic, geographic, and social normalcy, Americans advocated programs—such as eugenics, ugly laws, City Beautiful movements, and the scientific rationalism of Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor—that systematically excised forms of difference in the modern scene. In an increasingly standardized U.S., then, forms of the irregular and unsightly disordered this national agenda, termed the American System, thereby inciting widespread anxiety about the stability of the U.S. Modernism and the American System investigates this ensuing “ugly panic” that transformed artistic values, and, I argue, that catalyzed new literary modes within modernity. As I analyze texts by Upton Sinclair, Djuna Barnes, Fannie Hurst, and Wallace Thurman fascinated with American difference, and the American System’s attempts to standardize it, I unveil a literary tradition outside the norms of the U.S. crusade against waste, and outside the standard modernist canon. In order to become modern, American authors had to innovate within a new and often conflicting set of standards at the dawn of America’s clean century. By showing how authors from various traditions (social realism, avant-garde, middlebrow, Harlem Renaissance) negotiated this new cultural terrain, my project expands the field of modernism while providing cultural and aesthetic links that integrate these traditions into one cohesive narrative of literary production during the early twentieth century.
Issue Date: 2012-09-18
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Mary Unger
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-09-18
Date Deposited: 2012-08

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