The Great American Songbooks: Musical Texts, Modernism, and the Value of Popular Culture

ISBN : 9780199862115

T. Austin Graham
320 Pages
159 x 238 mm
Pub date
Jan 2013
Modernist Literature & Culture
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The Great American Songbooks shows how popular music shapes and permeates a host of modernism's hallmark texts. Austin Graham begins his study of 20th-century texts with a discussion of American popular music and literature in the 19th century. He posits Walt Whitman as a proto-modernist who drew on his love of opera to create the epic free-verse poetry that would heavily influence his bardic successors. One can witness this in T. S. Eliot, whose poem The Waste Land relies on Whitman's verse style to emphasize how 19th-century structures of feeling regarding music persist into the 20th century. From opera and standards of the Victorian musical hall, Graham moves to the blues to reveal the multifaceted ways it shaped works in the Harlem Renaissance, most notably in the verse of Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer's stream-of-consciousness masterpiece, Cane. The second half of Songbooks advances an argument for a musical eclecticism that arose alongside rapid industrialization. Writers like Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos, Graham argues, developed a notion of musical eclecticism to help them process-or cope-with the unprecedented invasiveness of popular music, particularly in major cities. This eclecticism runs counter to critics like Adorno who equate popular music with mass produced mechanisms such as the phonograph and radio, and thus with degraded, cultural forms. In conclusion, Graham suggests how modernist writers experienced, and sometimes theorized, a more nuanced, sophisticated, and fluid mode of interaction with popular music.


A Note on Audio
Series Editors' Foreword
1. Musical Literature, Its Theory and Practice
Writing About Music
Listening to Books
Valuing Popular Culture
2. Songs Not In Thy Songs: Musical Forms and American Free Verse
Leaves of Grass
Eliot's Early Poetry and The Waste Land
Linking Transcendentalism and Modernism
3. The Literary Soundtrack: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Heard and Unheard Melodies
This Side of Paradise
The Beautiful and Damned
The Great Gatsby
4. Make Them Black and Bid Them Sing: Musical Poetics, Racial Transformation, and the Harlem Renaissance
The Weary Blues and Fine Clothes to the Jew
The Legacy of the Harlem Renaissance
5. "Got Over": The Chorus Girl Novel and the Musical Stage
Sister Carrie
Manhattan Transfer
U.S.A. and Beyond
6. The Bridge: Motifs in Contemporary Musical Fiction
Audio Guide

About the author: 

T. Austin Graham is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

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