Blackballed by the Radicals: The Exclusionary Criteria of the Post-1945 American Avant-Garde

Stevenson, Guy. 2015. 'Blackballed by the Radicals: The Exclusionary Criteria of the Post-1945 American Avant-Garde'. In: BAAS (British Association of American Studies)/IAAS (Irish Association of American Studies) Joint Conference. Queens University, Belfast, United Kingdom 7 - 9 April 2016. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

With every new wave of experimentalist literature there comes a purge, not only of the established old guard standing in its way but of potential avant-garde allies cast as damaging by association. This paper will interrogate the criteria that dictate such exclusions, focusing particularly on the generation who came to prominence in America after World War Two. Taking as a starting point the case of Henry Miller – a Brooklyn expat to Paris in the 1930s who was seminal but under-acknowledged as a forerunner to the Beat Generation – I will look into the issue of influence and denial, shedding light on the unspoken codes that render certain forebears acceptable and others expressly not. Embarrassed, to some degree, by the Miller connection, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs preferred to be seen as successors to earlier European modernists like Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Oswald Spengler. In this way, I argue, their radical projects reveal a paradoxical protectionism related to a wider, unexpected conservatism. Beyond the Beats, Miller’s debt to Celine, Spengler, Ezra Pound and various other canonical modernists later contributed to charges of anachronism in a postmodern world. Explaining this marginalization as the result of his slippage between progressive and conservative impulses, I will provide the grounding for questions about a similar but more subtly concealed paradox in the work of radical authors whose reputations have endured comparatively well.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


12 December 2015Accepted
April 2016Completed

Event Location:

Queens University, Belfast, United Kingdom

Date range:

7 - 9 April 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2024 11:05

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2024 11:05


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