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John Dos Passos’s earliest essays decried how modern culture had been dehumanized by the development of what he called “Mechanical Civilization” (1916). The novelist’s “business,” he wrote, was to oppose its manifestations. This essay traces how the force and image of the machine became signs of these destructive powers in his work of the 1920s and his modernist novels of the 1930s, then explores how he evoked the force of modernity structurally in his work by holding in tension the concept and image of the machine as destroyer with the machine’s creative potential. In his iconic U.S.A. and in his 1936 unpublished film treatment, “Dreamfactory,” he recreates the ambiguous dynamics inherent in one of modernity’s most iconic machines, the camera. The treatment demonstrates the problematic tension in the role of artists: they must not only reflect their culture but also acknowledge how they shape and interpret it.