The idea of the underground
The term ‘underground’ emerges as a descriptor of dissident aesthetics and politics in America immediately after the Second World War. As the term catches on, individuals variously deployed it to refer to subcultural or countercultural spaces apart from the ‘mainstream’ — clandestine political resistance, notionally transgressive art — and as a buzzword that sells that art.
This lecture is an excerpt from a larger project that reads the diverse yet interimplicated meanings of the underground across a wide range of media from the late 1940s up to the 1970s.
Concentrating here on literature from the 1940s and 50s, Guy Davidson, associate professor in the School of the Arts, English and Media at the University of Wollongong in Australia, explores the connections and tensions between queer, African American and bohemian undergrounds as they are elaborated in the writing of, among others, Chandler Brossard, Richard Wright and William Talsman.
Davidson suggests that the idea of the underground marks out various cultural crises that cross identity categories, even as it focuses on and is generated by racial and sexual ‘otherness.’