"Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America" explores the relationship
between confessional poetry and constitutional privacy doctrine,
both of which emerged at the end of the 1950s. While the public
declarations of the Supreme Court and the private declamations of
the lyric poet may seem unrelated, both express the upheavals in
American notions of privacy that marked the Cold War era. Nelson
situates the poetry and legal decisions as part of a far wider
anxiety about privacy that erupted across the social, cultural, and
political spectrum during this period. She explores the panic over
the "death of privacy" aroused by broad changes in postwar culture:
the growth of suburbia, the advent of television, the popularity of
psychoanalysis, the arrival of computer databases, and the
spectacles of confession associated with McCarthyism.
Examining this interchange between poetry and law at its most
intense moments of reflection in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, Deborah
Nelson produces a rhetorical analysis of a privacy concept integral
to postwar America's self-definition and to bedrock contradictions
in Cold War ideology. Nelson argues that the desire to stabilize
privacy in a constitutional right and the movement toward
confession in postwar American poetry were not simply
manifestations of the anxiety about privacy. Supreme Court justices
and confessional poets such as Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, W. D.
Snodgrass, and Sylvia Plath were redefining the nature of privacy
itself. Close reading of the poetry alongside the Supreme Court's
shifting definitions of privacy in landmark decisions reveals a
broader and deeper cultural metaphor at work.
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