"A song along the keyboard": Popular music and literature in postwar American culture
Sirkin, Jeffrey Stephen
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This dissertation draws together the history of recording technologies with theoretical discussions of art, music, and celebrity culture, and pairs these with literary explorations of music from the postwar era. Framed by discussions of Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, and Kurt Cobain, and set within the context of the post-aesthetic theories of Theodor Adorno, Martin Heidegger, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques Attali, careful readings of the work of the poet Frank O'Hara and the novelist Don DeLillo demonstrate not only that our postwar literary writers were among the first to offer sophisticated theories of popular music and the cultural function of popular musicians, but that reading these writers through the frame of popular music can provide a unique perspective on what is often referred to as "postmodern" art, literature, and culture. In so doing, this dissertation finds that a perceived shift of "music" to "popular music" in the postwar period--a transition from music understood as ephemeral performance to music conceived as a mass-produced studio product--became a lens through which avant-garde writers and thinkers were able to understand a newly ubiquitous mass-media culture and, at the same time, to reconceive the role of art and literature as a socially transformative practice within postwar American culture more generally.