American Modernism and Depression Documentary by Jeff Allred

By Jeff Allred

American Modernism and melancholy Documentary surveys the asymmetric terrain of yankee modernity throughout the lens of the documentary booklet. Jeff Allred argues that photo-texts of the Nineteen Thirties degree a suite of mediations among rural hinterlands and metropolitan components, among elite manufacturers of tradition and the "forgotten guy" of Depression-era tradition, among a delusion of consensual nationwide team spirit and diverse competing ethnic and nearby collectivities. In mild of the complexity this involves, this examine takes factor with a severe culture that has painted the documentary expression" of the Nineteen Thirties as a simplistic and propagandistic divergence from literary modernism. Allred situates those texts, and the "documentary modernism" they characterize, as a significant a part of American modernism and reaction to American modernity, as he appears on the impoverished sharecroppers depcited within the groundbreaking allow us to Now compliment recognized males, the disenfranchised African americans in Richard Wright's polemical 12 Million Black Voices, and the experiments in Depression-era images present in existence magazine.

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21 He elaborates the metaphor linking writing with telecommunications in a problematic but provocative manner: The receiver has to be tuned to a fairly limited range . . vaguely laid down to be the masses. . 22 The emergent technology of radio is envisioned here as a solution to the problem Dos Passos outlines above for the modern writer: by tuning in to the American vernacular, writers escape the pigeonholing and isolation to which their structural position as literary professionals otherwise condemns them.

Perhaps the thorniest concerned the relationship between, to use a distinction from the era, “brain” and “muscle” work: on the one hand, “proletarian” writers/critics like Mike Gold argued that writing should be as close a translation as possible of “muscle work”; on the other, writers like John Dos Passos and Kenneth Burke argued in behalf of a specialized cultural work oriented toward the interests of the working-class majority. The documentary expression of the Depression era borrows elements from both of these intellectual strands, emphasizing, on the one hand, the documentary text as a bearer of direct traces of working-class experience and, on the other, the documentarian as a “technician” or “engineer” of culture, using the synthetic space of the documentary text to forge new collective subjects.

The list runs along a spectrum from materialized but unauthorized literary forms, such as letters, diaries, and confessions, to modes of expression like “sobs” and “laughter” that defy textual representation and gesture toward a surrealist aesthetics of shock. It also hails people from a wide range of class positions, ranging from the orthodox revolutionary workers to lumpen figures like hoboes and dislocated members of middle-class professions. One finds here an emphasis on the role of the magazine as a central node in a network of literary transmission and translation.

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