The Introduction contextualizes the book’s broader legal and philosophical debates about corporate personhood, collective agency, and modernism. The book’s methodology and structure are explained using accessible modernist poems, political cartoons, and legal case studies to present to non-experts the key ideas and historical background of corporate personhood in the U.S., with its first life not after the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United (2010), but after Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886). Beginning with an extended example from Muriel Rukeyser’s long poem, The Book of the Dead, the Introduction canvasses American literature from the nineteenth through the twentieth century to show how the book renders the field of modernist studies radically different, as modernism’s formal speculations emerge as deeply entangled with a range of social and political developments. Asking the question “Has a corporation a soul?” becomes a means to explore the aims of collective social agents, and to think through how collective forms produce meaning by their acts. Not until the postwar era did philosophy synthesize these ideas (on the possibility of corporate intention) being teased out in mostly prewar novels, poetry, and short stories. The third section situates this analysis within modernist literary studies as a field, culminating with a reading of an Archibald MacLeish poem in light of this focus on collective action and literary form and descriptions of each subsequent chapter.
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