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American Ghosts, Millennial Passions, and Contemporary Gothic Fictions

Arthur Redding

Publication Year: 2011

In Haints, Arthur Redding examines the work of contemporary American authors who draw on the gothic tradition in their fiction, not as frivolous or supernatural entertainments, but to explore and memorialize the ghosts of their heritage.
Ghosts, Redding argues, serve as lasting witnesses to the legacies of slaves and indigenous peoples whose stories were lost in the remembrance or mistranslation of history. No matter how much Americans willingly or unwillingly repress the true history of their ancestry; their ghosts remain unburied and restless.

Such authors as Toni Morrison and Leslie Marmon Silko deploy the ghost as a means of reconciling their own violently repressed heritage with their identity as modern Americans. And just as our ancestors were haunted by ghosts of the past, today their descendents are haunted by ghosts of contemporary crises: urban violence, racial hatred, and even terrorism. In other cases that Redding studies—such as James Baldwin’s The Evidence of Things Not Seen and Toni Cade Bambara’s Those Bones Are Not My Child—gothic writers address similar crises to challenge traditional American claims of innocence and justice.
Finally, Redding argues that ghosts emphasize a growing worry about a larger impending crisis: the apocalypse. Yet the despair the apocalypse inspires is vital to providing the grounds for new solutions to modern issues. In the end, the armies of the dispossessed enlist the forces of the spirit world to create a better future—by ensuring that mistakes of the past are not repeated, that Americans do not deny their heritage, and that accountability exists for any given crisis.



Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This work was originally conceived in the mid 1990s, when I found myself in Central Europe teaching a variety of courses on contemporary American literature. My students and I were surprised to encounter so many ghosts in the writing we considered and were spurred to begin a shared inquiry into...

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Introduction: A Land Without Ghosts

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pp. 1-11

In 1944, the last year, no doubt, in which it still might have been possible to speak with a straight face of American “innocence,” Fei Xiaotang, a Chinese anthropologist and sociologist on a visit to the United States, observed that America is a land without...

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1. Haints and Nation: Ghosts and the Narrative of National Identity

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pp. 12-41

Let me begin, then, with a brief propaedeutic discussion of the role and purpose of “culture” in contemporary life. Critics of “multiculturalism” and the emerging discipline of “cultural studies” lament that culture is a term so vague and ephemeral as to be emptied of all precise meaning...

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2. Memory, Race, Ethnicity, and Violence

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pp. 42-78

The debts we owe the past can only be paid off through hard work, and in this chapter, I aim to demonstrate how contemporary practices of memory involve labor. Toni Morrison, whose work I will treat as a very special example, speaks of the work of memory...

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3. Abandoning Hope in American Fiction: Catalogs of Gothic Catastrophe

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pp. 79-106

“Disaster,” as Eric Cazdyn reminds us in his introduction to a 2007 special issue of The South Atlantic Quarterly, is contingent, “is that moment when the sustainable configuration of relations fails, when the relation between one thing and another breaks...

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Conclusion: American Innocence

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pp. 107-122

I opened by suggesting that 1944 was the last year America might reasonably claim its innocence; in a brave new world of technological menace, amid the paranoid fantasizing of the Cold War (note how science fiction during the fifties and sixties transforms itself from a progressive to a paranoid discourse...


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pp. 123-129

Works Cited

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pp. 131-140


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pp. 141-149

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780817385729
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317461

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 772845334
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Haints

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ghost stories, American -- History and criticism.
  • Gothic fiction (Literary genre), American -- History and criticism.
  • Collective memory in literature.
  • Ghosts in literature.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
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