Title

Understanding Eliot: Mass media and literary modernism in the American Century

Abstract

T. S. Eliot's extraordinary popularity in the United States during the late 1940s and the 1950s rests in part on how mass-market magazines like Time and Life reinterpreted his poetry from the 1920s as transparent, realistic, and, most strikingly, American. These magazines widely circulated Eliot's prewar poetry, especially The Waste Land, as an allegory of the crisis in national and nationalist culture during the "American Century," a term coined by Henry Luce in 1941. The articles about and reproductions of Eliot's work leading up to his Nobel Prize in 1948 not only figure literary modernism as part of the "vital center" of Cold War politics but, improbably, position postwar nationalist anxiety as a version of modernist ennui. This unlikely picture of an American Eliot exposes a momentary reinterpretation of modernism as inherently nationalist in postwar periodical culture, while it also suggests the possible critical payoff of taking failed readings seriously.

Publication Title

Modern Language Quarterly

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