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ParaliteraryThe Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America$
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Merve Emre

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226473833

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226474021.001.0001

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Reading like a Bureaucrat

Reading like a Bureaucrat

(p.173) Chapter Five Reading like a Bureaucrat

Merve Emre

University of Chicago Press

Not all institutions of communication are enduring successes. What can we learn from the failure to streamline reading and writing practices within a state bureaucracy? This chapter concerns William Faulkner’s dysfunctional administration of the People-to-People Initiative (PTPI), which, like his 1950s novels (e.g., Snopes: A Trilogy), tried to calibrate individual acts of self-representation with the representation of an institutional (and a national) totality. Connecting Faulkner’s bureaucratic scuffles with Marianne Moore, Saul Bellow, and Thornton Wilder to these writers’ reading and writing practices as erstwhile bureaucrat-novelists, the chapter shows the creative interplay between the individual writer’s commitment to “speaking the truth” about the nation and the civil servant’s disciplined expressivity. While Faulkner’s inability to reconcile these two modes of communication led to the spectacular, drunken dissolution of the PTPI writers’ committee, the chapter argues that we can learn as much, if not more, from the failure to institute communication through reading as we can from its successes.

Keywords:   William Faulkner, Thornton Wilder, Saul Bellow, Marianne Moore, The Town, People-to-People Institute, Dwight D. Eisenhower

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