Urban Performance and Literature in the 1920s
A wide-ranging study of the cultural, social, and technological developments of the 1920s and their effect on the performing arts and literature
In this multidisciplinary study, Amy Koritz examines the drama, dance, and literature of the 1920s, focusing on how artists used these different media to engage three major concurrent shifts in economic and social organization: the emergence of rationalized work processes and expert professionalism; the advent of mass markets and the consequent necessity of consumerism as a behavior and ideology; and the urbanization of the population, in concert with the invention of urban planning and the recognition of specifically urban subjectivities.
Koritz examines several plays from the 1920s--including Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine, and Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal--that embodied anxieties created by the mechanization of labor through both the Taylorized assembly line of Fordism and the rationalization of office work in corporate bureaucracies. She also focuses on the playwright Rachel Crothers, whose middlebrow flapper plays considered the consequences of mass production for the young affluent women expected to consume its goods.
The 1920s saw significant developments in both popular and formal dance, and Koritz explores the dance of this era through the lens of gender. Exploring the cultural anxieties surrounding female behavior and physical expression, she looks at the rise of popular dance during this time, particularly the extraordinarily popular Charleston. Legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham also began her career as a modern dancer during this time, and Koritz examines Graham's ability to achieve significant prestige as a female artist in a genre still considered marginal.
Finally, in the domain of American fiction and letters of the 1920s, this study points to several authors’ concerns with the social and cultural effects of urbanization in modern America. Analyzing the various and sometimes contrasting strategies of Anzia Yezierska's Salome of the Tenements, John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer, and Lewis Mumford’s commentary on architecture and urban planning, Koritz shows how writers and public intellectuals were deeply engaged with working out the problems and possibilities of urban life.
"Cleverly investigates ways in which drama, dance, and literature either embraced or challenged the rhythm of the time. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice
"A lucid and insightful cross-genre study of the engagement between cultural producers and the transformations that took effect in American society in the decade often characterized as the Jazz Age."--American Studies
“Amy Koritz's engaging book brings together drama, dance, and fiction of the 1920s in paired case studies of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. Koritz provides an eloquent and refreshing collection of detailed, insightful case studies that illuminate the way in which artists, intellectuals, and cultural commentators used culture-making to pose ‘symbolic resolutions’ to key social and cultural tensions of modernity.”--David M. Scobey, author of Empire City: The Making and Meaning of the New York Landscape
"Amy Koritz makes a compelling case for the necessity of cultural production to a just society. Looking across an era, Culture Makers shows how several kinds of artistic producers and their work strove to make sense of radical changes confronting people in the 1920s United States. This excellent book speaks eloquently to dance studies, American studies, theatre studies, and architecture and urban design readers alike."--Linda J. Tomko, author of Dancing Class: Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Divides in American Dance, 1890-1920
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