Dismantles the Woody Guthrie we have been taught–the rough and ready rambling man–to reveal an artist who discovered how intimacy is crucial for political struggle. Woody Guthrie is often mythologized as the quintessential American ramblin’ man, a real life Steinbeckian folk hero, who fought for working class interests and mentored Bob Dylan. Biographers and fans frame him as a foe of fascism and focus on his politically charged folk songs. What’s less examined is how the bulk of his work–most of which is unpublished or little-known–explores the role of illness and intimacy in leftist political thinking. American studies scholar Gustavus Stadler revives Guthrie’s story as a dramatic portrait understood more fully through the lens of disability and close relationships, as he faced setbacks including his daughter’s death, an obscenity arrest, therapy in a sex deviance clinic, and repeated stays in mental wards. Guthrie believed art was an instrument for breaking down the boundaries between people, boundaries that make them vulnerable to fascism’s call. When paired with unionism, art is thus a powerful weapon against loneliness and isolation, the customary emotional states of capitalist cultures. Fresh and timely, Stadler shows how Guthrie can serve as a model for modern leftists grappling with the dehumanizing mechanisms of capitalism and fascism today.
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