As something of a student of postmodernism, albeit in an unserious, postmodern way, I had always supposed that its roots lay in the writings of the French literary theorists, especially Foucault and Derrida, and gained a pop cultural boost in the form of “camp” as first described by Susan Sontag in 1964 with its un-modernist emphasis on artifice derived from Oscar Wilde. That may be true, but a recent dip into a now nearly-forgotten author of the 1940s and ’50s has persuaded me that the phenomenon has an American precursor. I don’t suppose that anyone today reads any of the thirty-odd novels, mostly science fiction and futuristic fantasy, of Philip Wylie (1902–1971) or, indeed, his many volumes of social criticism apart from 1942’s Generation of Vipers, revised and reprinted in 1955. That book’s survival is most likely a result of its coinage of the term “Momism” to describe what Wylie regarded as...


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