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The Next SAM Seminar
SAM Seminar Series

The Spaces of Complicity in
Mid-20th-century U.S. Literature 

Will Norman

When Tuesday, 27 March, 3:30pm - 5pm
Where Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building, UNSW Sydney

This paper focuses on the difficulty of representing complicity in the United States in the 1940s and 50s. The word complicity is derived from the Latin complicare, meaning to fold together, and in its modern sense tends to designate the way individuals become entangled in harmful systems over which they have little or no control. Complicity, I argue, was a pressing concern for intellectuals and writers in mid-century America, yet its structure and experience posed a particular kind of challenge to representation in language. Taking examples from Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia, and short stories by Mary McCarthy and Vladimir Nabokov, I show how complicit relationships become graspable in mid-century writing through the way that individuals experience social spaces – the train compartment, the restaurant, and the bourgeois salon.


Will Norman is a Reader in American Literature and Culture at the University of Kent, where he is Director of the Centre for American Studies. He has been a Fulbright Research Fellow at Yale University and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sydney. His book publications include Nabokov, History and the Texture of Time (Routledge, 2012) and Transatlantic Aliens: Modernism, Exile and Culture in Midcentury America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), as well as various articles on hardboiled style, the sociology of crime fiction and the culture industry in mid-century America. He is currently working on an intellectual and literary history of complicity in the United States since 1945. 

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Map Reference G14. Cinema 327 is located on the third floor. 
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