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On Company Time: American Modernism and the Big Magazines

  • Author(s): Harris, Donal Frederick
  • Advisor(s): McGurl, Mark
  • North, Michael
  • et al.
Abstract

On Company Time: American Modernism and the Big Magazines situates the evolution of American modernism within its capacious mass-market periodical context, and in doing so finds that hallmark modernist texts such as Willa Cather's The Professor's House and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land participate in a more complex and far-reaching print ecology than is often understood. I contend that reading modernist formal experimentation within, rather than against, popular print culture raises a new set of questions about how reactions to "mass civilization," to use F.R. Leavis's phrase, feed back into the content of midcentury mass media. By excavating the deep institutional, economic, and aesthetic affiliations that bridge the golden days of modernism and American magazine culture, this study challenges the recent focus on little magazines and coterie circles in determining modernism's cultural circulation. Instead, through readings of Cather, Eliot, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jessie Fauset, James Agee, Kenneth Fearing, Ernest Hemingway, and others, I argue that the influence of little magazines on modernist production and circulation looks rather narrow when compared to well-funded and massively popular titles like McClure's, Time, Life, and Esquire. Rather than simply instantiate a bland mass culture against which modernism reacts, early twentieth-century magazines comprise a heterogeneous cluster of serial publications that differentiated themselves by form, genre, and readership. This double life of modernism and magazines is equally epistemological and formal, for the authors I discuss take their ambivalences about institutional affiliation as an occasion for material and aesthetic experimentation. By simultaneously analyzing literary history, media forms, and narrative structure, I contribute to an emerging body of scholarship at the intersection of media studies, book history, and literary criticism. This study expands the material and institutional history of print culture while attending to the ways authors, genres, and literary styles can move through a literary marketplace.

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