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Complicit Atmospheres: Anti-Semitism and Midcentury U.S. Fiction

Norman, Will (2019) Complicit Atmospheres: Anti-Semitism and Midcentury U.S. Fiction. Comparative Literature Studies, 56 (4). pp. 731-749. ISSN 0010-4132. E-ISSN 1528-4212. (doi:10.5325/complitstudies.56.4.0731)

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http://dx.doi.org/10.5325/complitstudies.56.4.0731

Abstract

In this article I explore how US writers and intellectuals in the years following World War Two responded aesthetically to the questions of complicity raised by anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. I discuss two short stories in particular: Vladimir Nabokov's "Double Talk" (1945) and Mary McCarthy's "Artists in Uniform" (1953). These form part of a group of literary works that share a striking and singular theme: the nightmare of the liberal intellectual finding her- or himself complicit with anti-Semitism in the confined space of a social encounter, and unable to escape. In reading these stories for their points of contact and shared concerns, we can begin to build an account of how complicity was addressed by members of a particular cultural formation in the early Cold War, that of an East-Coast intelligentsia characterized by its rejection of Stalinism, adherence to classically liberal political values and commitment to the aesthetic values of European modernism. More specifically, we gain an insight into why the aesthetics of complicity should be understood as a necessary and constitutive element of this group’s intellectual ethos.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.5325/complitstudies.56.4.0731
Uncontrolled keywords: Complicity, Anti-Semitism, Vladimir Nabokov, Mary McCarthy, US Fiction, Midcentury
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Will Norman
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2019 10:33 UTC
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2020 15:17 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/75489 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Norman, Will: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4967-8213
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