M.A.D. Lit 101: American Fiction and the Cold War

The year 1953 was like most of the years following the end of the slaughter of World War II. It was another year of the baby boom that filled maternity wards in the United States, a generation that ironically couldn’t wait to leave these suburbs. The Cold War was well under way, and anti-communism in the U.S. was at its peak. Politicians pontificated that it was “better to be dead than Red.” In the East and the West, the military apparatus stockpiled nuclear weapons capable of ending life on this planet thousands of times over — Mutually Assured Destruction.

We began this reading group with Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” followed by a shared reading of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl, and have nowcompleted our discussion of Ring Lardner, Jr.’s The Ecstasy of Owen Muir. We have just started The Public Burning by Robert Coover, after which we will read and discuss Richard Wright’s The Outsider. Coover’s novel is a political economy of the US as the hegemon of Post World War II capital global restructuring and the shift of much production to energy, the military and finance and the attempted thorough destruction of any semblance of a left opposition.

What can we learn from these literary renderings and how do they help us understand the perilous period in history that we now find ourselves living?

The MEP LITERATURE GROUP has been meeting to discuss literature since the first days of The Marxist Education Project following a presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on her Indigenous Peoples History of the United States and her recommendation that we take up literature with Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of The Dead. The group has rcompleted readings of Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years which was followed by Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Other studies have included novels related to World War I, the depression of the 1930s, and novels on migration,border politics and labor organizing and our most recent session on Women Who Wrote Against Fascism, and this summer will the group will host a 5th consecutive Noir Summer.