Emily O'Rourke

Dissertation Title

Custodians of Value: Meritocracy, Classlessness, and Other Late Modernist Myths

Research Interests

modernism/modernity, film and media, modern social and political theory, moral imaginaries specific to capitalism, literary theory, political economy, feminist theory, visual culture, cultural history, globalization


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My dissertation, “Custodians of Value,” critically reassesses how we read and understand modernist literature, culture, and thought in the late context of the postwar rise of meritocratic beliefs under conditions of growing economic equality in advanced industrial democracies. I analyze and excavate postwar developments in literature, drama, moral philosophy, psychoanalysis, and documentary film to show how transatlantic figures like D.W. Winnicott, Samuel Beckett, Iris Murdoch, and filmmaker Frederick Wiseman became custodians of a seemingly universal, transferable, and immutable set of meritocratic values revalued and … read more