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Late Modernist Obsolescence: Isherwood and Adorno in Mid-Twentieth Century Los Angeles

Norman, Will (2022) Late Modernist Obsolescence: Isherwood and Adorno in Mid-Twentieth Century Los Angeles. In: Arrington, Lauren, ed. Late Modernism and Expatriation. Clemson University Press: Modernist Constellations . Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1-942954-75-0. (KAR id:82061)


Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man (1964) and Theodor W. Adorno’s Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (1951) represent two of the paradigmatic literary works of intellectual alienation in the U.S. post-war period. Their surface similarities are striking: both texts address themselves explicitly to the situation of the white male émigré in Los Angeles, marooned in a sea of mass culture. Both are shot through with gestures of aggressive defamiliarization and hostility to their environment. Read together in dialogue, and loosened from their conventional frames of reference, they offer us an opportunity to revise some of the dominant arguments about the literary-historical categories of late modernism, such as its alignment with ideologies of aesthetic autonomy, and to propose instead a more relational orientation to its meaning.1 Out of this comparative encounter emerges a distinctive set of concerns for expatriate modernists of Adorno and Isherwood’s generation, which centre on the intersection of several temporalities: of biological time, literary history, and capitalist development. In this case, these temporalities meet one another on the terrain of everyday bourgeois existence in mid-century Los Angeles, in a blending of variant rhythms with social space which creates some distinctive aesthetic and philosophical effects.2 These effects will lead us ultimately to a consideration of late modernism’s narrative articulations of death and obsolescence.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: Isherwood, Adorno, Late Modernism, Exile, Death, Los Angeles, Obsolescence
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN851 Comparative Literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Will Norman
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2020 13:17 UTC
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2023 00:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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