In Cold War America, “confession” captured the public imagination. The growing popularity of psychoanalysis had something to do with it, as did legal controversies about criminal confession; but, as this introduction argues, there also arose in this period a broader desire for authentic, personal expression—and especially for art that took its time rising from the level of the personal to that of the social, the political, or the universal. Comparing trends in poetry and comedy of the 1950s and 1960s, this introduction argues that a new aesthetic was born at this time, a newly personal approach to art called “confessionalism.” Whatever the medium of the art in question, performance was essential to confessionalism. In performance, artists could play with and against mediation. They could enact their containment, then stage a breakthrough back into life.
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