Mass and Popular Culture

Kinohi Nishikawa

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Mass and Popular Culture


A relatively young tradition in world letters, American literature matured over a period that coincided with the rise of industrial capitalism and the birth of consumer society. While the study of American literature became a respectable vocation only after critics had insisted on its formal complexity (particularly in work by the great poets and novelists of the American Renaissance), the field has always had to tarry with mass and popular culture in positing the uniqueness of the national tradition. Simply put, no American literary text emerged in isolation from individual and structural recognition of the politics of the marketplace and the existence of mass-cultural phenomena. Even among the likes of Poe, Melville, and Henry James, the business of professional authorship was identified with the need to sell their work to as wide a readership as possible. In that sense, the individuals we now deem authors of classic American literature had more in common with everyday consumers than previous scholars have acknowledged. Indeed it is among everyday consumers themselves that the study of mass and popular culture has expanded our view of “literature” to a welcome degree. No longer confined to the classics, the field now considers best sellers, genre fiction, and a range of non-print media to be valid, and necessary, objects of study. Although the best scholarship in the field continues to stress the importance of textual analysis, the shift in presumed quality and quantity of texts has enabled more historically situated accounts of literature’s expansive domain in American culture.

Article.  11524 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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