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Title: After the new failure of nerve : Charles Olson and American modernism, 1946-1951
Author: Byers, Mark
ISNI:       0000 0004 6060 3364
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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One medium has dominated accounts of American art in the years following the Second World War. The period witnessed, in the words of one critic, a 'Triumph of American Painting', with advances in the easel picture far surpassing those in other media. Whilst more recent accounts have nuanced this view, drawing attention to developments in music and sculpture, literary contributions to the new American modernism have gone almost without assessment. Were there advances in literature comparable to those of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, David Smith and John Cage? Drawing extensively on his unpublished writings, After the New Failure of Nerve reveals the poet Charles Olson to have been the keenest literary advocate of the new American avant-garde and one of the most astute observers of its conditions and possibilities. Paying special attention to unpublished notes, lectures, and correspondence, the thesis utilises Olson's early writings in order to examine the momentum given early postwar modernism by a potent contemporary reaction against abstract rationality, a reaction identified at the time as a 'New Failure of Nerve'. Born of recent disillusionment with 'scientific' Marxism and New Deal progressivism, the thesis demonstrates the several ways in which this 'New Failure of Nerve' fuelled vanguard American art from the middle of the Second World War to the end of the decade. It argues that the new critique of abstract rationality - which was also reflected in the contemporary American work of the Frankfurt School - defined the way American artists understood the function of postwar modernism, the posture of the postwar modernist artist, and the status of the postwar modernist artwork. This pivotal moment in the history of modernism was shaped, I contend, by a philosophical critique explored most ambitiously by an American poet.
Supervisor: Bate, Jonathan Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Modernism (Aesthetics)--United States--History--20th century ; American poetry--20th century--History and criticism ; Avant-garde (Aesthetics)--United States--History--20th century ; Art and society--United States--History--20th century ; United States--Intellectual life--20th century