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Accented AmericaThe Cultural Politics of Multilingual Modernism$
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Joshua L. Miller

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195336993

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336993.001.0001

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Foreignizing “english”

Foreignizing “english”

Chapter:
(p.135) 3 Foreignizing “english”
Source:
Accented America
Author(s):

Joshua L. Miller (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195336993.003.0004

This chapter presents literary modernism as a matrix of coterminous and varied movements that experimented radically with narrative form by reconfiguring linguistic systems of expression and signification. These strands of modernism led authors to fashion new literary idioms that could better evoke the irreducible multiplicity of actual U.S. speech forms, which made a singular American language inconceivable. This chapter poses a contrast between two of the most audaciously ambitious, linguistically innovative modernist novelists: Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos. Stein's The Making of Americans opens up wholly unexpected possibilities of early modernist linguistic and literary utopianism. Teetering on the edge of coherence, the Making confronted the logic of efficient, functionalist language with her flaunting of aural vernacularity unmoored from narrative and mimesis. Dos Passos's sweeping U.S.A. indicated another kind of ambition for modernist language and narrative, comprehensive inclusivity of all of the languages and accents of the national populace. Yet, Dos Passos's Depression‐era, late modernist suspicions of leftist politics and narrative experimentation led him to turn his trilogy into a dystopic elegy of the failure of grand ambitions to rearticulate the nation and transnational modernity itself through newly inclusive literary idioms.

Keywords:   experimental narrative, Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, signification, literary idioms, multilingualism, vernacularity

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