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Literary Criticism / American History / Cultural Studies / Film History





American Superrealism
Nathanael West and the Politics of Representation in the 1930s
Jonathan Veitch


Wisconsin Project on American Writers


"Clearly the best study we have of the achievement and significance of Nathanael West."
—Sacvan Bercovitch, Harvard University


Nathanael West has been hailed as "an apocalyptic writer," "a writer on the left," and "a precursor to postmodernism." But until now no critic has succeeded in fully engaging West's distinctive method of negation. In American Superrealism, Jonathan Veitch examines West's letters, short stories, screenplays and novels—some of which are discussed here for the first time—as well as West's collaboration with William Carlos Williams during their tenure as the editors of Contact. Locating West in a lively, American avant-garde tradition that stretches from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol, Veitch explores the possibilities and limitations of dada and surrealism—the use of readymades, scatalogical humor, human machines, "exquisite corpses"—as modes of social criticism. American Superrealism  offers what is surely the definitive study of West, as well as a provocative analysis that reveals the issue of representation as the central concern of Depression-era America.

"A landmark in literary and cultural studies. Veitch considers the crucial decade of the 1930s in light of the work of Nathanael West; the result is a sweeping revision, not only of West's achievement but of the broad social, aesthetic, and intellectual movements that shaped modern America. It is perhaps the best analysis from within of the Depression Decade, a comprehensive overview of the influence in this country of dada and surrealism, a compelling analysis of the dynamics of mass culture, and the best study we have of the achievement and significance of Nathanael West."
—Sacvan Bercovitch, Carswell Professor of American and English Literature, Harvard University

"A brilliant contribution to Nathanael West studies and American studies more generally."—Dickran Tashjian, author of A Boatload of Madmen: Surrealism and the American Avant-Garde, 1920-1950

Jonathan Veitch was until recently professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is now chairman of humanities at the New School for Social Research in New York. This is his first book.

Inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at publicity@uwpress.wisc.edu or (608) 263-0734.


The cover of Veitech's book is brown.

November 1997
LC: 97-014031 PS
200 pp.   6 x 9   1 illus.

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Sophisticated. Veitch's great virtue is his ability to place West within a complex web of issues relating to the production of social knowledge and the problem of representation. In doing so, he gives us a fresh view of West and of the period as a whole."
—Miles Orvell, author of After the Machine: Visual Arts & the Erasing of Cultural Boundaries

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