Tag Archives: Mary McCarthy

Reading Catherine Keyser’s Playing Smart: The Limits of Irony?

The third installment of the MagMods book club comes from Michael Rozendal, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Language at the University of San Francisco.  His research focuses on the overlap between modernist and proletarian writers in the print culture of the 1930s.  His recent work has  focused on the institutionalization of these radicalisms in the late thirties and has incorporated teaching about the literary subcultures of San Francisco.

It has been a pleasure to read Catherine Keyser’s exploration of the development of smart interwar magazines as a liberating yet deeply problematic cultural formation.  She explores the ways that this gendered nexus of wit and physical polish, independence and conspicuous consumption offers increasingly public spaces for writers like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, and other figures who have been largely dismissed from canonical narratives for falling too far into the popular.  Keyser’s account of these authors’ self-awareness at this crux of often conservative gender roles and personal celebrity is striking, but for this post I am most interested in exploring the later developments of the thirties/early forties that she explores in her chapter on Mary McCarthy.  In what ways is the thirties a horizon to smartness?  Is it the waning of the promise of liberation through urbane performance?  Is it the hardening of gendered hierarchies in the magazines? Is it the shift from the flapper to the gun Moll that David Earle sketched at the MSA? Is it the dispersal of irony as a general postmodern stance (as Daniel nods toward in his post)?  Is it the institutionalization of the “middlebrow” magazines? Continue reading