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This book is about changing texts, about the already changed nature of some texts, and about the desirability from a radically democratic standpoint of encouraging these changes.But since texts do not read themselves, this is also a book about changing readers, most particularly about changing those influential readers we call literary critics. The text I am ultimately concerned with is that vast social text we call the world, and my premise is that the putatively other worldly world of literature may tell us some important things about "the real world" of politics, particularly the world of social movements, that we do not learn as readily from other forms of written and spoken language. My aim is to assist the project of convincing literary critics that their work is unavoidably political and needs to become more attuned to radically democratic social movements. Less directly, I hope also to help convince social movement actors (including some, but not enough, critics) that their work needs to become more literary, needs to recognize and utilize some of the complexity, irony, polyphony, and power found in the kind of rhetorical performance labeled literary or aesthetic. Drawing on a metaphor from Bob Dylan, I want to suggest that among those much-needed word and world jugglers we call postmodernists, there are and must be some believers , believers in political values and practical strategies for social change that move both inside and outside of the postmodern.

I want to interweave questions and strategies emerging from the "new literary theory" (reader response, poststructuralist, new historicist, fem-


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inist, neo-Marxist), with questions and the strategies emerging from the "new social movements" (antinuclear, peace, feminist, antiracist, anticolonial, gay, anticorporate, environmental, and so forth). The logic of recent theory leads criticism toward political action, while the logic of contemporary politics leads social movements to questions of representation that can be illuminated by cultural theory. I want to suggest that these two sets of theorized practices, while not reducible to each other, are nevertheless implicated in each other. Many of the best political insights of the new literary theory are in danger of being trapped in a textualist hermeticism; only social movements can realize those insights, not so much by "translating them into action," since language is always already action, but by widening and specifying the field of action sufficiently to offer a serious challenge to the antidemocratic forces of postmodern capitalism. Conversely, while the new social movements are already practicing much of what the new theorists have been theorizing, some of the theoretical insights and rhetorical tricks of literature and cultural criticism can assist these movements in dislodging forms of oppression embedded in oppressive forms.

If literature, politics, and theory existed, this would be a book about their inter-action. But since it is one of my premises that literature, politics, and theory do not exist, at least not as wholly separable practices or fields of discourse, it would be more accurate to say that this is a book about "politerature" as theory. On the one hand, I want to show how certain writing and reading strategies help reveal that the boundaries between literature and politics are themselves fictive and political. On the other hand, I wish to show that theory cannot stand above or around literature and politics but is rather going on amidst and through acts we call literary and political. I do not, however, think that the logics of literature and the logics of politics are the same, and I will have some harsh things to say about certain ways of politicizing aesthetics and aestheticizing politics. Each of my six chapters approaches this inter-action in a slightly different way, but all directly or indirectly address the following questions: What can "literary" strategies tell us about the kinds of political strategies needed by movements today? What can thinking about the strategic needs of social movements do to make literary theory and practice more effective in assisting efforts at radical change? How have literary texts and social movements as (con)texts shaped and been shaped by those conditions labeled "postmodern"? Sometimes these questions are addressed directly, at others times through an extended allegory suggesting that the kind of rhetorical flexibility called forth in per-


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forming the "literary" texts I examine is the kind required by political actors in the contemporary world.

Chapter 1 sets these questions in relation to the bodies of theory and practice, political and literary, out of which they emerge. I offer a set of provocations aimed at unsettling certain critical and political orthodoxies (my own included) that inhibit the kind of border crossings I want to examine. I choose the word provocations, rather than argument or position because, though arguments are made, positions taken, I seek less to "nail down" a position than to offer a gentle jeremiad pointing toward spaces where new arguments, new positions are emerging. In Chapter 1 I also introduce the seriously playful term "postmodernist realism" to name certain literary and critical reading/writing strategies that question not only the putative boundary between literature and politics but also the equally fictive, politically fractious boundary between radical humanism and poststructuralism.

Following this initial set of provocations come four chapters in which I perform interpretations of four different kinds of texts: a documentary, a novel, a nonfiction novel/history, and a political demonstration. These readings do not illustrate the general points made in chapter 1 but rather stand in dialogue with them, suggesting that only particular, concrete acts of theorizing (through literature, through movements) can clarify, alter, realize the questions I raise. Placed in chronological order, the texts trace important moments in American radical democratic political culture as it is transformed and transforms itself from the 1930s through to the 1980s, but no attempt is made to give a definitive or comprehensive history. Rather I want to illuminate certain motifs that point up recurring general problematics in the history of "the" left (recognizing that the American left has not been a single coherent entity but rather a cluster of relations cut across by ideological, class, racial, and gender divisions). I have chosen texts that posed important questions about forms and rhetorics of resistance in their own time, but whose prime interest is their resonance for social movements in the present.

Each of my focal texts is viewed as a social matrix, as simultaneously a reflection of and a reflection on both movements and the larger social formation. The texts are treated not as autonomous from the real world nor as simple reflections of it, but rather as reflections on a world in which numerous competing texts, tropes, narratives are already at play. Each text parodies, critiques, or otherwise illuminates the prevailing, normative modes of storytelling in the particular political cultures they re-present and comment on. All the texts also question the boundaries


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between fact and fiction, pointing up ways in which these putative boundaries have been policed in the interests of dominant political groups.

The first of my readings deals with James Agee and Walker Evans's photographic/prose (anti)documentary, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men . Long read as a classic account of the lives of three families of Southern tenant farmers in Depression America, I argue that the text should also and more centrally be read as an interrogation of the politics and ethics entailed by attempts (by artists, critics, political activists) to represent those labeled politically, economically, and/or culturally "underprivileged." I analyze the strategies Agee and Evans use to represent (and refuse to represent) the tenant families as a critique of liberal and Communist representational strategies in the 1930s, and as a model for countering liberal and radical elitisms in the current scene.

Chapter 3 continues this discussion of strategies for representing marginalized social actors through an examination of inter-relations between literary politics and the poetics of black liberation in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man . I begin with an analysis of how as the first novel by an African-American to become securely "integrated" into the American literary canon, the text was inextricably caught in the particular aesthetic politics imposed on black writers during the rise of the New Criticism and the Cold War. Then I turn to examine how what I call the double visionary trickster politics of the novel can illuminate and suggest alternatives to the conflict between integrationist Civil Rights movements and nationalist Black Power movements.

While the first two readings share an interest in the poetics of representing marginalized social actors, the next two chapters take the term actor somewhat more literally and focus on the dramatics of political demonstrations. Chapter 4 reads Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night , a nonfiction novel about the 1967 antiwar "siege of the Pentagon," as an analysis of the power and limits of the theatrical politics of the sixties New Left. Chapter 5 analyzes an ecofeminist theatrical demonstration at the Pentagon in the early eighties as an implicit critique of aspects of New Left dramaturgy and as a model for a new, more self-reflexive theatrical politics/political theatrics in keeping with a radically democratic, feminist, new social movement politics.

Each of the four textual analyses is designed to stand on its own as a contestatory contribution to the history of readings of the particular texts I focus on, as well as act as part of a series of reflections on the


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interlinked rhetorical practices of literature, criticism, and social movements.

In Chapter 6 1 return to the broad theoretical issues outlined in Chapter 1, beginning with some observations about current roles played by literary intellectuals and about particular theoretical positions that have kept literary theory and practice from becoming a more effective ally of contemporary social movements. I conclude by analyzing the politics implied by various theories of "postmodernity" (as general social condition) and "postmodernism" (as aesthetic practice), and by outlining possibilities for bringing various cultural and political forms into some postmodern populist alliances that could offer more successful challenges to current systems that perpetuate a host of social injustices.

On a more personal level this work is an attempt to bring two parts of my life closer together: a life lived as an activist in antiracist, feminist, antimilitarist, union, and ecological movements, and a life lived as a professional scholar-teacher in the university. At times these two parts of my life have flowed together smoothly or worked in creative tension, but at other points the activist and the academic dimensions of my experience have been in debilitating conflict. I do not pretend that there is an easy resolution of this conflict in what follows, but this book was written in part out of anger and frustration that I and others like me have not found better ways to bring the vast intellectual resources of the academy into the service of wider social change. In this volume I work primarily on academic turf, on texts produced mostly outside social movements, pushing these texts toward movement (con)texts. In a forthcoming companion volume, The Arts of Social Change , I will examine aesthetic works produced in and for movements (music, drama, murals, poetry, and so forth). I want to raise similar questions from another angle, by bringing movement cultures into contexts of cultural criticism, to explore ways to make them richer and more reflective. In both works the routes of resistance I chart are presented as some among many possible ways of bringing cultural criticism and social activism into more fruitful interaction. The present book, then, is not meant as a call for others to follow a plan I have already worked out; it is, rather, a call from inside a set of problems for the assistance of others in exploring new and renewed ways of bridging the distance between criticism and activism.


This book has moved with me through several different environments but it bears most fully the marks of its first home at the University of


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California, Santa Cruz. I owe my biggest debt to the extraordinary intellectual community in and around the History of Consciousness cultural studies program at UCSC. Among the many friends and colleagues who helped this project find its forms I'd like especially to thank Stewart Burns, Kathy Chetkovich, Jim Clifford, Michael Cowan, Ruth Frankenberg, Deborah Gordon, Katie King, Hilary Klein, Donna Haraway, Billie Harris, Deena Hurwitz, Lata Mani, Margit Mayer, Jack Schaar, Barry Schwarz, Zoë Sofia (Sofoulis), and Hayden White. I'd like to offer my deepest thanks and my love to Don Beggs and Elizabeth Bird as the best of friends and the best of colleagues.

Among my newer friends and colleagues at Washington State University, I'd like to thank Fred Schwarzbach and Sue Armitage for helping to provide me with time to work on this book, Alex Hammond for some friendly mentoring that likewise opened up time for the project, and Karen Weathermon for thoughtful proofing and indexing. I am also indebted to Richard Ohmann, Pat Camden, and Jackie Rich of the Wesleyan University Humanities Center for their hospitality and assistance during the final stages of my work. At the University of California Press, I'd like to thank Doris Kretschmer, Mark Pentecost, and Nancy Lerer for patient and professional editorial work.

I owe another deeper, less tangible debt to Bob Dylan for teaching me to juggle beliefs and to Alice and Ted Braun for teaching me to believe in jugglers (and other apostrophic jesters). To my parents, and to Jim, Michelle, and Linda I owe an immense debt for their loving support. Last and most I give my love and thanks to Noël A. Sturgeon—my best and most diligent editor, my favorite "affinite" and political conscience, my most influential intellectual companion, and the person who has brought the most joy (bundled and otherwise) into my life.

T. V REED


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