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Title: The Blue Period: Black Writing in the Early Cold War, 1945-1965
Authors: McCarthy, Jesse Dylan
Advisors: Brooks, Daphne A
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Affect Theory
African American Literature
Black Studies
Cold War
Literary Form
Subjects: Modern literature
African American studies
American literature
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: An important shift in black writing took place during the early years of the Cold War. Marked by the ideological antagonism of Soviet Communism and American liberal capitalism, black writers, who had come of age in close contact with Communist ideals, became newly alienated. Caught between the surveillance and repression of “Red scare” McCarthyism on the one hand, and the rise of Stalinism within the Soviet bloc on the other, these writers sought to capture the “structure of feeling” of their time, channeling their alienation into experiments in literary form. Privileging racial affect and interiority, they forged an aesthetic resistance premised on a fierce dissension from, and disillusionment with, both U.S. racial liberalism and Soviet Communism. I call this literary moment, lasting from the end of World War II to the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and the subsequent rise of the Black Arts Movement and Black Power: “the Blue Period.” This periodization argument builds on recent scholarship at the intersection of African American literature and Cold War cultural politics by scholars like Lawrence Jackson, Mary Helen Washington, James Smethurst, Vaughn Rasberry, William J. Maxwell, Bill V. Mullen, Ayesha Hardison, and Cheryl A. Wall. Through its interest in aesthetics it also engages work by theorists and scholars like Fred Moten, Elizabeth Alexander, Nathaniel Mackey, and Lindon Barrett. The Blue Period provides a fresh critical and comparative framework that challenges disciplinary and archival commonplaces. It clarifies the affinities between James Baldwin and Édouard Glissant’s debuts in Paris in the 1950s; allows us to see the common affective and aesthetic strategies in Gwendolyn Brooks and Paule Marshall; to recover neglected writers like Vincent O. Carter and reconstruct the battle of ideas between Richard Wright and Frantz Fanon as each sought to fashion a black humanist aesthetics for the Bandung non-aligned movement. Like Ellison’s Invisible Man, black writers in the early Cold War went underground, I argue, not to depoliticize or liberalize their work, but to make it more radical—keeping alive affective commitments for a future time. This dissertation also includes an appendix making available for the first time facsimile reproductions of Vincent O. Carter’s unpublished correspondence with his family and literary agent.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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