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This review is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

AARON DEVESON Open Like a Day: Edwin Denby and the Temporality of Affluence

In 1958 the socially liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith published his best-selling book, The Affluent Society, which encouraged Americans to think beyond a system of security based on an endless arms race and to swell the ranks of a New Class of citizens for whom the import of this flurry of rhetorical questions would be considered a self- evident truth:

Why should men struggle to maximize income when the price is many dull and dark hours of labor? Why especially should they do so as goods become more plentiful and less urgent? Why should they not seek instead to maximize the rewards of all the hours of their days?1

Galbraith’s anti-conformist, rationalist rhetoric has more to tell us about the Cold War era of American poetry - and about the rhetorically often anti-rationalist poetry of the Cold War era in New York, in particular - than might at first appear to be the case.2 To begin with, it provides a very generalised socio-economic context for the work of James Schuyler, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. As Marjorie Perloff puts it, in a 1998 essay which elsewhere acknowledges the tensions and contradictions of the era:

If you were a male white poet, even a gay male white poet in 1956 [living in New York or San Francisco], the reality of everyday life was the reality of possibility: new ballets to see and great Italian movies to go to, new travel possibilities ...


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