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Fractured Front: Gender, Authenticity, and the Remaking of the American Left after World War Two
Larocco, Christina G.
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This dissertation is a study of one long&ndashterm, inherently gendered effect of the Cold War. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, as the emerging Cold War empowered a long&ndashstanding anti&ndashcommunist strain in U.S. political culture, many artists and intellectuals feared the massification of human beings communism allegedly produced. One of the tools they developed to combat this specter of massification was the discourse of authenticity. Authenticity was predicated on the belief that useful analyses of the world came only from individual thought, experience, and emotion&mdashnot existing political theories or overarching explanations. The artists and intellectuals who developed this theory argued that the expression of this individual truth was the best way to combat and prevent totalitarianism. Authenticity continued to be important to the white, left&ndashleaning social movements of the 1960s. Through them, it fed into the identity politics of the 1970s and 1980s. I thus draw a straight line between Cold War anti&ndashtotalitarianism and identity politics. I explore this phenomenon in a range of cultural, intellectual, and political realms, including the anti&ndashtotalitarian thought of Frankfurt School intellectuals, the Method acting of Lee Strasberg, the Beat writing of Jack Kerouac, and the New Left politics of Students for a Democratic Society. In each arena, I trace two key patterns. The first is the gendering of authenticity. The men who dominated these fields often insisted that women were too deeply tied to the conformist &ldquomass&rdquo to be truly authentic. Women like Method actress and teacher Stella Adler, liberal feminist Betty Friedan, Beat writer Joyce Glassman Johnson, and the women's liberationists who broke off from SDS had to fight to be included in this culture. I document their attempts to do so. Second, I argue that the connection between 1950s culture and 1960s New Left activism went far beyond a shared gender politics. The discourse of authenticity also granted special authority to the artist, who was imagined as the figure best equipped to resist the forces of massification. This belief had far-reaching effects on the relationship between cultural production and left politics, precluding the appearance of a 1930s&ndashstyle &ldquocultural front&rdquo.