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Violet America

Regional Cosmopolitanism in U.S. Fiction

Jason Arthur

Publication Year: 2003

Violet America takes on the long habit among literary historians and critics of thinking about large segments of American literary production in terms of regionalism. Jason Arthur argues that classifying broad swaths of American literature as regionalist or “local color” writing brings with it a set of assumptions, informed by longstanding habits of thought about American culture, that marginalize important literary works and deform our understanding of them. Moreover, these assumptions reinforce our ideas about the divisions between city and country, coast and center, cosmopolitan and provincial that lie behind not only our literature, but our politics.

Against this common view, Violet America demonstrates just how cosmopolitan the regional impulse can be. In the works of James Agee, Jack Kerouac, Maxine Hong Kingston, Russell Banks, and Jonathan Franzen, the regional impulse yields narratives about the interdependence between privilege and poverty, mainstream and margin, urban and rural. These narratives counteract the polarizing cultural lens that, when unquestioned, sees the red-state/blue-state geography of twenty-first-century America as natural. Tracking the evolution of this impulse to depolarize, Violet America develops a literary history of “regional cosmopolitanism,” a key urge of which is to represent the interconnectedness of the local, the national, and the global. Writers incorporating this perspective redress the blight of America’s neglected places and peoples without also falling victim to the stigmas of being purely regional in their scope and interest. Rather than simply celebrating regional difference, the regional cosmopolitan fiction that Arthur discusses blends the nation’s cultural polarities into a connected, interdependent America. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: New American Canon


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

I would have never written this book had it not been for Andrew Hoberek’s patient guidance and Jeffrey J. Williams’s persistent belief in me.
Because of their insightful conversations and generous advice during the years I spent writing this book, I’m lucky to thank such brilliant people

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Introduction: Regional Cosmopolitanism

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pp. xi-xiv

Quite a bit of recent critical attention has been paid to American regional fiction.1 This attention, however, hasn’t changed the fact that regionalism is still considered the backwoods cousin of realism or that American literature survey courses still ...

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1. Specific Soil: James Agee and the Poverty of Documentary Work

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pp. 1-28

James Agee played a crucial role in carrying regional cosmopolitanism from the Depression era to the Civil Rights era. Specifically, his documentary book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, kept alive a conversation about the legacy of rural poverty in ...

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2. Pavement: Jack Kerouac and the Delocalization of America

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pp. 29-59

In “Regionalism in American Fiction” (1932), Mary Austin predicts that, as American culture starts to speed up, the American reading public will start to settle for “less than” the careful localization of regional fiction. In effect, the sharp, inclusive geography of the “American scene” will give way to ...

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3. The Chinatown and the City: Maxine Hong Kingston and the Relocalization of San Francisco

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pp. 61-88

Maxine Hong Kingston is widely considered to be a pivotal figure in what Yunte Huang calls the “multicultural recanonization” of American literature (142). Her memoirs, The Woman Warrior (1976) and China Men (1980), are regularly read both in and out of academic settings. They have ...

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4. The Deflowering of New England: Russell Banks and the Wages of Cosmopolitanism

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pp. 89-117

Van Wyck Brooks concludes his landmark study of New England literature, The Flowering of New England (1936), with a series of vignettes about the deaths of the region’s literary giants (Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Emerson). These deaths mark a shift in the creative imagination of New England, a shift ...

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Epilogue: Jonathan Franzen and the Unity of Discord

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pp. 119-130

Part of what makes Jonathan Franzen infuriating to so many of his contemporaries is that he acts as though he invented the desire to have a big audience for literary fiction, as if his decision to write readable social novels is part of some private, Promethean urge to consolidate the otherwise niche ...


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pp. 131-144


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pp. 145-160


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pp. 161-168

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381486
E-ISBN-10: 1609381483
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381479
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381475

Page Count: 195
Publication Year: 2003

Edition: paper
Series Title: New American Canon
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 840818354
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Violet America