Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Book??
“John Shields's book is a provocative challenge to the venerable Adamic myth so exhaustively deployed in examinations of early American literature and in American studies. Moreover, The American Aeneas builds wonderfully on Shields's considerable work on Phillis Wheatley. “?—American Literature??
“The American Aeneas should be of interest to classicists and American studies scholars alike.” ?—The New England Quarterly??
John Shields exposes a significant cultural blindness within American consciousness. Noting the biblical character Adam as an archetype who has long dominated ideas of what it means to be American, Shields argues that an equally important component of our nation’s cultural identity—a secular one deriving from the classical tradition—has been seriously neglected.??Shields shows how Adam and Aeneas—Vergil’s hero of the Aeneid— in crossing over to American from Europe, dynamically intermingled in the thought of the earliest American writers. Shields argues that uncovering and acknowledging the classical roots of our culture can allay the American fear of “pastlessness” that the long-standing emphasis on the Adamic myth has generated.
John C. Shields is the editor of The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley and the author of The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self, which won a Choice Outstanding Academic Book award and an honorable mention in the Harry Levin Prize competition, sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association.
In America as in Britain, the rise of the Gothic represented the other—the fearful shadows cast upon Enlightenment philosophies of common sense, democratic positivism, and optimistic futurity. Many critics have recognized the centrality of these shadows to American culture and self-identification. American Gothic, however, remaps the field by offering a series of revisionist essays associated with a common theme: the range and variety of Gothic manifestations in high and popular art from the roots of American culture to the present.
The thirteen essayists approach the persistence of the Gothic in American culture by providing a composite of interventions that focus on specific issues—the histories of gender and race, the cultures of cities and scandals and sensations—in order to advance distinct theoretical paradigms. Each essay sustains a connection between a particular theoretical field and a central problem in the Gothic tradition.
Drawing widely on contemporary theory—particularly revisionist views of Freud such as those offered by Lacan and Kristeva—this volume ranges from the well-known Gothic horrors of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to the popular fantasies of Stephen King and the postmodern visions of Kathy Acker. Special attention is paid to the issues of slavery and race in both black and white texts, including those by Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner. In the view of the editors and contributors, the Gothic is not so much a historical category as a mode of thought haunted by history, a part of suburban life and the lifeblood of films such as The Exorcist and Fatal Attraction.
Nathanael West has been hailed as “an apocalyptic writer,” “a writer on the left,” and “a precursor to postmodernism.” But until now no critic has succeeded in fully engaging West’s distinctive method of negation. In American Superrealism, Jonathan Veitch examines West’s letters, short stories, screenplays and novels—some of which are discussed here for the first time—as well as West’s collaboration with William Carlos Williams during their tenure as the editors of Contact. Locating West in a lively, American avant-garde tradition that stretches from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol, Veitch explores the possibilities and limitations of dada and surrealism—the use of readymades, scatalogical humor, human machines, “exquisite corpses”—as modes of social criticism. American Superrealism offers what is surely the definitive study of West, as well as a provocative analysis that reveals the issue of representation as the central concern of Depression-era America.
In the antebellum years, the Western world’s symbolic realities were expanded and challenged as merchant, military, and scientific activity moved into Pacific and Arctic waters. In Antebellum at Sea, Jason Berger explores the roles that early nineteenth-century maritime narratives played in conceptualizing economic and social transitions in the developing global market system and what these chronicles disclose about an era marked by immense change.
Focusing on the work of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville, Berger enhances our understanding of how the nineteenth century negotiated its own tenuous progress by portraying how a wide range of maritime stories lays bare disturbing experiences of the new. Berger draws on Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian notion of fantasy in order to reconsider the complex way maritime accounts operated in the political landscape of antebellum America, examining topics such as the function of maritime labor know-how within a transformation of scientific knowledge, anxiety produced by conflict between gender-specific and culture-specific forms of enjoyment, and how legal practices illuminate troubling juridical paradoxes at the heart of Polk-era political life.
Addressing the ideas of the antebellum age from unexpected and revealing perspectives, Berger calls on the conception of fantasy to consider how antebellum maritime literature disputes conventional views of American history, literature, and national identity.
Takes a hard, systematic look at the depiction of blacks, whites, and race relations in Mark Twain's classic novel, raising questions about its canonical status in American literature
Using as a gauge for analysis the historical record left by both slaves and slaveholders, the Menshes compare Twain's depiction with historical reality, attempting to determine where the book either undermines or upholds traditional racial attitudes. Surveying the opinions of fellow critics, they challenge the current consensus that Huckleberry Finn fosters rapport between blacks and whites, arguing that the book does not subvert ingrained beliefs about race, and demonstrating that the argument over black-white relations in the novel is also an argument over non-fictional racial relations and conflicting perceptions of racial harmony.
Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West returns to familiar cultural forces—the West, anticommunism, and manliness—to show how they combined to suppress dissent and dominate the unruliness of literature in the name of a national identity after World War II. Few realize how much the domination of a “white male” American literary canon was a product not of long history, but of the Cold War. Suzanne Clark describes here how the Cold War excluded women writers on several levels, together with others—African American, Native American, poor, men as well as women—who were ignored in the struggle over white male identity.
Clark first shows how defining national/individual/American identity in the Cold War involved a brand new configuration of cultural history. At the same time, it called upon the nostalgia for the old discourses of the West (the national manliness asserted by Theodore Roosevelt) to claim that there was and always had been only one real American identity.
By subverting the claims of a national identity, Clark finds, many male writers risked falling outside the boundaries not only of public rhetoric but also of the literary world: men as different from one another as the determinedly masculine Ernest Hemingway and the antiheroic storyteller of the everyday, Bernard Malamud. Equally vocal and contentious, Cold War women writers were unwilling to be silenced, as Clark demonstrates in her discussion of the work of Mari Sandoz and Ursula Le Guin.
The book concludes with a discussion of how the silencing of gender, race, and class in Cold War writing maintained its discipline until the eruptions of the sixties. By questioning the identity politics of manliness in the Cold War context of persecution and trial, Clark finds that the involvement of men in identity politics set the stage for our subsequent cultural history.
The idea of "the great American novel" continues to thrive almost as vigorously as in its nineteenth-century heyday, defying 150 years of attempts to dismiss it as amateurish or obsolete. In this landmark book, the first in many years to take in the whole sweep of national fiction, Lawrence Buell reanimates this supposedly antiquated idea, demonstrating that its history is a key to the dynamics of national literature and national identity itself.The dream of the G.A.N., as Henry James nicknamed it, crystallized soon after the Civil War. In fresh, in-depth readings of selected contenders from the 1850s onward in conversation with hundreds of other novels, Buell delineates four "scripts" for G.A.N. candidates. One, illustrated by The Scarlet Letter, is the adaptation of the novel's story-line by later writers, often in ways that are contrary to the original author's own design. Other aspirants, including The Great Gatsby and Invisible Man, engage the American Dream of remarkable transformation from humble origins. A third script, seen in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Beloved, is the family saga that grapples with racial and other social divisions. Finally,mega-novels from Moby-Dick to Gravity's Rainbow feature assemblages of characters who dramatize in microcosm the promise and pitfalls of democracy.The canvas of the great American novel is in constant motion, reflecting revolutions in fictional fashion, the changing face of authorship, and the inseparability of high culture from popular. As Buell reveals, the elusive G.A.N. showcases the myth of the United States as a nation perpetually under construction.
In this survey of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American drama, Tice L. Miller examines American plays written before a canon was established in American dramatic literature and provides analyses central to the culture that produced them. Entertaining the Nation: American Drama in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries evaluates plays in the early years of the republic, reveals shifts in taste from the classical to the contemporary in the 1840s and 1850s, and considers the increasing influence of realism at the end of the nineteenth century.
Miller explores the relationship between American drama and societal issues during this period. While never completely shedding its English roots, says Miller, the American drama addressed issues important on this side of the Atlantic such as egalitarianism, republicanism, immigration, slavery, the West, Wall Street, and the Civil War.
In considering the theme of egalitarianism, the volume notes Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation in 1831 that equality was more important to Americans than liberty. Also addressed is the Yankee character, which became a staple in American comedy for much of the nineteenth century.
Miller analyzes several English plays and notes how David Garrick’s reforms in London were carried over to the colonies. Garrick faced an increasingly middle-class public, offers Miller, and had to make adjustments to plays and to his repertory to draw an audience.
The volumealso looks at the shift in drama that paralleled the one in political power from the aristocrats who founded the nation to Jacksonian democrats. Miller traces how the proliferation of newspapers developed a demand for plays that reflected contemporary society and details how playwrights scrambled to put those symbols of the outside world on stage to appeal to the public. Steamships and trains, slavery and adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and French influences are presented as popular subjects during that time.
Entertaining the Nation effectively outlines the civilizing force of drama in the establishment and development of the nation, ameliorating differences among the various theatergoing classes, and provides a microcosm of the changes on and off the stage in America during these two centuries.
With the environmental crisis comes a crisis of the imagination, a need to find new ways to understand nature and humanity's relation to it. This is the challenge Lawrence Buell takes up in The Environmental Imagination, the most ambitious study to date of how literature represents the natural environment. With Thoreau's Walden as a touchstone, Buell gives us a far-reaching account of environmental perception, the place of nature in the history of western thought, and the consequences for literary scholarship of attempting to imagine a more "ecocentric" way of being. In doing so, he provides a major new understanding of Thoreau's achievement and, at the same time, a profound rethinking of our literary and cultural reflections on nature.The green tradition in American writing commands Buell's special attention, particularly environmental nonfiction from colonial times to the present. In works by writers from Crevecoeur to Wendell Berry, John Muir to Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson to Leslie Silko, Mary Austin to Edward Abbey, he examines enduring environmental themes such as the dream of relinquishment, the personification of the nonhuman, an attentiveness to environmental cycles, a devotion to place, and a prophetic awareness of possible ecocatastrophe. At the center of this study we find an image of Walden as a quest for greater environmental awareness, an impetus and guide for Buell as he develops a new vision of environmental writing and seeks a new way of conceiving the relation between human imagination and environmental actuality in the age of industrialization. Intricate and challenging in its arguments, yet engagingly and elegantly written, The Environmental Imagination is a major work of scholarship, one that establishes a new basis for reading American nature writing.
Behdad shows how political, cultural, and legal texts have articulated American anxiety about immigration from the Federalist period to the present day. He reads texts both well-known—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—and lesser-known—such as the writings of nineteenth-century nativists and of public health officials at Ellis Island. In the process, he highlights what is obscured by narratives and texts celebrating the United States as an open-armed haven for everyone: the country’s violent beginnings, including its conquest of Native Americans, brutal exploitation of enslaved Africans, and colonialist annexation of French and Mexican territories; a recurring and fierce strand of nativism; the need for a docile labor force; and the harsh discipline meted out to immigrant “aliens” today, particularly along the Mexican border.
If racially offensive epithets are banned on CNN air time and in the pages of USA Today, Jonathan Arac asks, shouldn’t a fair hearing be given to those who protest their use in an eighth-grade classroom? Placing Mark Twain’s comic masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, in the context of long-standing American debates about race and culture, Jonathan Arac has written a work of scholarship in the service of citizenship.
Huckleberry Finn, Arac points out, is America’s most beloved book, assigned in schools more than any other work because it is considered both the “quintessential American novel” and “an important weapon against racism.” But when some parents, students, and teachers have condemned the book’s repeated use of the word “nigger,” their protests have been vehemently and often snidely countered by cultural authorities, whether in the universities or in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The paradoxical result, Arac contends, is to reinforce racist structures in our society and to make a sacred text of an important book that deserves thoughtful reading and criticism. Arac does not want to ban Huckleberry Finn, but to provide a context for fairer, fuller, and better-informed debates.
Arac shows how, as the Cold War began and the Civil Rights movement took hold, the American critics Lionel Trilling, Henry Nash Smith, and Leo Marx transformed the public image of Twain’s novel from a popular “boy’s book” to a central document of American culture. Huck’s feelings of brotherhood with the slave Jim, it was implied, represented all that was right and good in American culture and democracy. Drawing on writings by novelists, literary scholars, journalists, and historians, Arac revisits the era of the novel’s setting in the 1840s, the period in the 1880s when Twain wrote and published the book, and the post–World War II era, to refute many deeply entrenched assumptions about Huckleberry Finn and its place in cultural history, both nationally and globally. Encompassing discussion of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, Archie Bunker, James Baldwin, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, and Mark Fuhrman, Arac’s book is trenchant, lucid, and timely.
Early in his career, John Updike announced his affinity with the Christian existentialism of Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, and others. Because of this, many of Updike's critics have interpreted his work from within a Christian existentialist context. Yet Kierkegaard and Barth provide Updike with much more than a mere context, for their dialectical thinking serves as the springboard for Updike's own unique dialectical vision, a complex matrix of ethical precepts, theological beliefs, and aesthetic principles that governs nearly all of his literary output. Nowhere else in his immense corpus is this vision more clearly and thoroughly expressed than in his four Rabbit novels, which were gathered into the single volume Rabbit Angstrom in 1995. However, because Updike's critics have chosen to read the Rabbit novels as discrete, freestanding texts, they have by and large failed to extract the precepts of this private vision.
In John Updike's Rabbit Tetralogy, Marshall Boswell redresses this imbalance by treating the Rabbit tetralogy as a single, unified "mega-novel." He demonstrates that, taken together as a single work, the four discrete sections of the tetralogy not only provide a coherent and complete articulation of Updike's unique existential vision but also compose a unified work of remarkable formal complexity. Boswell brings to Updike's work the concept of "mastered irony," a term coined by Kierkegaard to describe the presentation of two legitimate but contradictory sides of an issue. In the Rabbit novels, these issues range from adultery to drug addiction, from race to redemption, with each issue examined through the refracting lens of Updike's own ironic method. Boswell shows that although each of the four individual Rabbit novels confirms this dialectical strategy in a unique way, the completed tetralogy comprises an additional series of dialectical pairs that sustain, rather than resolve, thematic and formal tension. Ultimately, the structure of the finished "mega-novel" echoes the work's thematic rationale.
To help readers who are interested in a particular Rabbit novel, Boswell devotes a chapter to each individual section of the tetralogy. At the same time, he treats each novel as an integral part of the more comprehensive whole. Honoring the full complexity of Updike's provocative thinking without losing sight of the tetralogy's popular appeal, John Updike's Rabbit Tetralogy makes a valuable addition to the study of Updike's work.
Is American vision implicitly possessive, as a generation of critics contends? By viewing the American poetic tradition through the prism of pragmatism, Elisa New contests this claim. A new reading of how poetry "sees," her work is a passionate defense of the power of the poem, the ethics of perception, and the broader possibilities of American sight.American poems see more fully, and less invasively, than accounts of American literature as an inscription of imperial national ideology would allow. Moreover, New argues, their ways of seeing draw on, and develop, a vigorous mode of national representation alternative to the appropriative sort found in the quintessential American genre of encounter, the romance. Grounding her readings of Dickinson, Frost, Moore, and Williams in foundational texts by Edwards, Jefferson, Audubon, and Thoreau, New shows how varieties of attentiveness and solicitude cultivated in the early literature are realized in later poetry. She then discloses how these ideas infuse the philosophical notions about pragmatic experience codified by Emerson, James, and Dewey. As these philosophers insisted, and as New's readings prove, art is where the experience of experience can be had: to read, as to write, a poem is to let the line guide one's way.
Within the ephemera of the everyday--old photographs, circus posters, iron toys--lies a challenge to America's dominant cultural memory. What this memory has left behind, Bill Brown recovers in the "material unconscious" of Stephen Crane's work, the textual residues of daily sensations that add up to a new history of the American 1890s. As revealed in Crane's disavowing appropriation of an emerging mass culture--from football games and freak shows to roller coasters and early cinema--the decade reappears as an underexposed moment in the genealogy of modernism and modernity.Brown's story begins on the Jersey Shore, in Asbury Park, where Crane became a writer in the shadow of his father, a grimly serious Methodist minister who vilified the popular amusements his son adored. The coastal resorts became the stage for debates about technology, about the body's visibility, about a black service class and the new mass access to leisure. From this snapshot of a recreational scene that would continue to inspire Crane's sensational modernism, Brown takes us to New York's Bowery. There, in the visual culture established by dime museums, minstrel shows, and the Kodak craze, he exhibits Crane dramatically obscuring the typology of race.Along the way, Brown demonstrates how attitudes toward play transformed the image of war, the idea of childhood and nationhood, and the concept of culture itself. And by developing a new conceptual apparatus (with such notions as "recreational time," "abstract leisure," and the "amusement/knowledge system"), he provides the groundwork for a new politics of pleasure. A crucial theorization of how cultural studies can and should proceed, The Material Unconscious insists that in the very conjuncture of canonical literature and mass culture, we can best understand how proliferating and competing economies of play disrupt the so-called "logic" and "work" of culture.
The Modernist Nation examines why America's modern literary movements have come to be characterized as "generations" and "renaissances," such as the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation or the Harlem, Southern, and San Francisco Renaissances. The metaphor of rebirth, Michael Soto argues, offered and continues to offer American writers a kind of shorthand for imagining American cultural history, especially as a departure from Old World (English) trappings.
Soto highlights the interracial dynamics of American literary movements, touching on authors as varied as James Weldon Johnson, Malcolm Cowley, W. E. B. DuBois, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jack Kerouac. After assessing the origins of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance, Soto traces the rise of the "bohemian artist" narrative, and demonstrates how a polyethnic cast of writers and critics constructed American literary production in terms of symbolic rebirth.
Contributors. Jonathan Arac, Lauren Berlant, Robert J. Corber, Elizabeth Freeman, Kathryn V. Lingberg, Jack Matthews, Alan Nadel, Patrick O'Donnell, Daniel O'Hara, Donald E. Pease, Ross Posnock, John Carlos Rowe, Rob Wilson
Since the birth of the nation, we have turned to stories about the American South to narrate the rapid ascendency of the United States on the world stage. The idea of a cohesive South, different from yet integral to the United States, arose with the very formation of the nation itself. Its semitropical climate, plantation production, and heterogeneous population once defined the New World from the perspective of Europe. By founding U.S. literature through opposition to the South, writers boldly asserted their nation to stand apart from the imperial world order.Our South tracks the nation/South juxtaposition in U.S. literature from the founding to the turn of the twentieth century, through genres including travel writing, gothic and romance novels, geography textbooks, transcendentalist prose, and abolitionist address. Even as the southern states became peripheral to U.S. politics and economy, Jennifer Rae Greeson demonstrates that in literature the South remained central to the expanding and evolving idea of the nation.Claiming the South as our deviant and recalcitrant “other,” Americans have projected an anti-imperial imperative of domesticating and civilizing, administering and integrating underdeveloped regions both within our borders and beyond. Our South has been a primal site for thinking about geography and power in the United States.
Liberal individualism, a foundational concept of American politics, assumes an essentially homogeneous population of independent citizens. When confronted with physical disability and the contradiction of seemingly unruly bodies, however, the public searches for a story that can make sense of the difference. The narrative that ensues makes "abnormality" an important part of the dialogue about what a genuine citizen is, though its role is concealed as an exception to the rule of individuality rather than a defining difference. Reading Embodied Citizenship brings disability to the forefront, illuminating its role in constituting what counts as U.S. citizenship.
Drawing from major figures in American literature, including Mark Twain, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and David Foster Wallace, as well as introducing texts from the emerging canon of disability studies, Emily Russell demonstrates the place of disability at the core of American ideals. The narratives prompted by the encounter between physical difference and the body politic require a new understanding of embodiment as a necessary conjunction of physical, textual, and social bodies. Russell examines literature to explore and unsettle long-held assumptions about American citizenship.
Out of many, one—e pluribus unum—is the motto of the American nation, and it sums up neatly the paradox that Stephanie Foote so deftly identifies in Regional Fictions. Regionalism, the genre that ostensibly challenges or offers an alternative to nationalism, in fact characterizes and perhaps even defines the American sense of nationhood.
In particular, Foote argues that the colorful local characters, dialects, and accents that marked regionalist novels and short stories of the late nineteenth century were key to the genre’s conversion of seemingly dangerous political differences—such as those posed by disaffected Midwestern farmers or recalcitrant foreign nationals—into appealing cultural differences. She asserts that many of the most treasured beliefs about the value of local identities still held in the United States today are traceable to the discourses of this regional fiction, and she illustrates her contentions with insightful examinations of the work of Sarah Orne Jewett, Hamlin Garland, Gertrude Atherton, George Washington Cable, Jacob Riis, and others. Broadening the definitions of regional writing and its imaginative territory, Regional Fictions moves beyond literary criticism to comment on the ideology of national, local, ethnic, and racial identity.
The United States Constitution, battleground of a politically bifurcated nation, and sponsor of that nation's now threatened cultural unity, is a quintessentially political document. Americans' representatives swear loyalty to it, and her soldiers die for it. Yet no one has ever seriously considered the formative influence this document, so central a force for all Americans, has had on American cultural life. Now, in this ambitious book, Mitchell Meltzer has for the first time demonstrated the extent to which the Constitution is both source and inspiration for America's greatest literary masterworks.Retelling the history of the Constitution's formation, Meltzer explains how the peculiarly paradoxical form of the Constitution, its "secular revelation," underwent a literary rebirth after the passing of the Founders' generation, and issued in what is strangest and most characteristic in America's classic literature. By combining the secular with the revealed, a Constitutional poetics results that gives rise, in both politics and literature, to the formation of more perfect unions.Offering powerful new perspectives on Lincoln, Emerson, Whitman, and Melville, Meltzer reveals how the Constitution counterintuitively generated such oft-noted tendencies as these writers' penchant for self-contradiction, their willingness to court radical discontinuity, and their intensely conflicted, romance-directed fictions.Secular Revelations presents the Constitution in a new role, the inspiration of a great national literature.
A wide-ranging reconsideration of a literary landmark, Spoon River America tells the story of how a Midwesterner's poetry helped change a nation's conception of itself.
Contributors. Daniel Cooper Alarcón, Lori Askeland, Stephanie Athey, Nancy Bentley, Lauren Berlant, Michele A. Birnbaum, Kristin Carter-Sanborn, Russ Castronovo, Joan Dayan, Julie Ellison, Sander L. Gilman, Karla F. C. Holloway, Annette Kolodny, Barbara Ladd, Lora Romero, Ramón Saldívar, Maggie Sale, Siobhan Senier, Timothy Sweet, Maurice Wallace, Elizabeth Young
Transfiguring America is the product of more than ten years of research and numerous published articles on Margaret Fuller, arguably America's first feminist theorist and one of the most important woman writers in the nineteenth century. Focusing on Fuller's development of a powerful language that paired cultural critique with mythmaking, Steele shows why her writing had such a vital impact on the woman's rights movement and modern conceptions of gender.
This groundbreaking study pays special attention to the ways in which Fuller's feminist consciousness and social theory emerged out of her mourning for herself and others, her dialogue with Emersonian Transcendentalism, and her eclectic reading in occult and mythical sources. Transfiguring America is the first book to provide detailed analyses of all of Fuller's major texts, including her mystical Dial essays, correspondence with Emerson, Summer on the Lakes, 1844 poetry, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and New York Tribune essays written both in New York and Europe.
Starting from her own profound sense of loss as a marginalized woman, Fuller eventually recognized the ways in which the foundational myths of American society, buttressed by conservative religious ideologies, replicated dysfunctional images of manhood and womanhood. With Woman in the Nineteenth Century, after exploring the roots of oppression in her essays and poetry, Fuller advanced the cause of woman's rights by conceptualizing a more fluid and equitable model of gender founded upon the mythical reconfiguration of human potential. But as her horizons expanded, Fuller demanded not only political equality for women, but also emotional, intellectual, and spiritual freedom for all victims of social oppression.
By the end of her career, Steele shows, Fuller had blended personal experience and cultural critique into the imaginative reconstruction of American society. Beginning with a fervent belief in personal reform, she ended her career with the apocalyptic conviction that the dominant myths both of selfhood and national identity must be transfigured. Out of the ashes of personal turmoil and political revolution, she looked for the phoenix of a revitalized society founded upon the ideal of political justice.
The turn of the last century, amid the excesses of the Gilded Age, variety became a key notion for Americans—a sign of national progress and development, reassurance that the modern nation would not fall into monotonous dullness or disorderly chaos. Carrie Tirado Bramen pursues this idea through the works of a wide range of regional and cosmopolitan writers, journalists, theologians, and politicians who rewrote the narrative of American exceptionalism through a celebration of variety. Exploring cultural and institutional spheres ranging from intra-urban walking tours in popular magazines to the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, she shows how the rhetoric of variety became naturalized and nationalized as quintessentially American and inherently democratic. By focusing on the uses of the term in the work of William James, Anna Julia Cooper, W. E. B. Du Bois, Hamlin Garland, and Wong Chin Foo, among many others, Bramen reveals how the perceived innocence and goodness of variety were used to construct contradictory and mutually exclusive visions of modern Americanism.Bramen's innovation is to look at the debates of a century ago that established diversity as the distinctive feature of U.S. culture. In the late-nineteenth-century conception, which emphasized the openness of variety while at the same time acknowledging its limits, she finds a useful corrective to the contemporary tendency to celebrate the United States as a postmodern melange or a carnivalesque utopia of hybridity and difference.
Throughout Virtual Americas Giles focuses on specific examples of transatlantic cultural interactions such as Frederick Douglass’s experiences and reputation in England; Herman Melville’s satirizing fictions of U.S. and British nationalism; and Vladimir Nabokov’s critique of European high culture and American popular culture in Lolita. He also reverses his perspective, looking at the representation of San Francisco in the work of British-born poet Thom Gunn and Sylvia Plath’s poetic responses to England. Giles develops his theory about the need to defamiliarize the study of American literature by considering the cultural legacy of Surrealism as an alternative genealogy for American Studies and by examining the transatlantic dimensions of writers such as Henry James and Robert Frost in the context of Surrealism.
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