Richard Chase’s Liberal Allegories
Beginning with debates in the 1940s between progressive liberals and New Liberals, this chapter argues that Richard Chase adapted the ideals of collective sympathies, social critique, and hopeful idealism central to a previous generation’s liberalism while adapting them to the changing conditions of early Cold War America. In so doing, Chase transformed a politics originally understood as a revolution in material conditions into a psychological struggle toward a social ideal that looked surprisingly progressive. That transformation is most evident in Chase’s discussions of allegory, which became in his handling a demonstration of simultaneous alienation and idealism, of human limitation and social aspiration. Melville’s allegories, in Chase’s analysis, combine a critique of a culture of conformity and a vision of how that society might be revitalized. By shaping Melville into a writer capable of critique and idealism, critique as idealism, Chase made Romanticism an effective critical practice of hope. The particular hope Melville’s allegories offered Chase centered on same-sex countersocialities that exemplified anti–Cold War ideals. Representing both the historic formation of sexual subcultures and the idealist vision of a radical countersociality, same-sex intimacy was at the core, for Chase, of the genre of allegory.
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