The University of Wisconsin Press

Literature & Criticism

Critical Theory and the Novel
Mass Society and Cultural Criticism in Dickens, Melville, and Kafka
David Suchoff

Using the methods of Frankfurt School theorists Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, David Suchoff offers new readings of Dickens, Melville, and Kafka that underscore the political and social critiques inherent in their novels. Suchoff's aim is to redeem the critical power of mass culture in the modern novel, and he argues that ideological battles fought in American literary criticism during the Cold War decades have limited our current interpretations of mass culture's critical force in political fiction.

Suchoff demonstrates how the works of these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novelists were taken up into the Cold War literary canon and made to fit the arguments of American liberal critics for subversive fiction and of New Historicist critics for a "contained" modern novel.

Applying Benjamin's redemptive criticism and Adorno's dialectical method, Suchoff's readings of Dickens, Melville, and Kafka show how the political problems posed by mass culture and audience for each writer became part of the dialectically critical grain of their most important social novels. He examines Dickens's struggle with Victorian taste and the relation of his work to advertising and other nonliterary forms, Melville's confrontations with popular ideologies of American expansion and race, and Kafka's concern with the popular Yiddish theater and Jewish political movements. Throughout, Suchoff reveals the continuing importance of commodity culture in the novel tradition and the concurrent development of cultural criticism.

Critical Theory and the Novel provides a useful introduction to Benjamin and Adorno and their uses in practical criticism. It is also an illuminating study of the historical origins of literary theory and cultural criticism and a contribution to the expanding field of Cultural Studies.

David Suchoff is assistant professor of English at Colby College. He is the co-translator of, and author of the introduction to, Alain Finkielkraut’s The Imaginary Jew.

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Men walking across a bridge

April 1994

LC: 93-021116 PR
232 p
p.   6 x 9

The 1994 cloth edition, ISBN: 978-0-299-14080-9 $45.00 s, is uanvailable, but the paperback is available.

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ISBN 978-0-299-14084-7
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