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Shock and Awe

American Exceptionalism and the Imperatives of the Spectacle in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

William V. Spanos

Publication Year: 2013

Inspired by the foreign policy entanglements of recent years, William V. Spanos offers a dramatic interpretation of Twain's classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, offering a heretofore unexplored assessment of American exceptionalism and the place of a global America in the American imaginary. Spanos insists that Twain identifies with his protagonist, particularly in his defining use of the spectacle, and thus with an American exceptionalism that uncannily anticipates the George W. Bush administration's normalization of the state of exception and the imperial policy of "preemptive war," unilateral "regime change," and "shock and awe" tactics. Equally stimulating is Spanos's thoroughly original ontology of American exceptionalism and imperialism and his tracing of these forces through a chronological examination of Twain studies and criticism over the past century.

As an examination of an overlooked text and a critical history of American studies from its origins in the nation-oriented "Myth and Symbol" school of the Cold War era into its present globalizing or transnationalizing perspective, Shock and Awe will appeal to a broad audience of American literature scholars and beyond.

Published by: Dartmouth College Press

Series: Re-Mapping the Transnational: A Dartmouth Series in American Studies


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pp. C-C

Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

In spring 2010, I taught a graduate seminar on Herman Melville’s fiction in which we focused on his lifelong engagement with and interrogation of the myth of American exceptionalism. In the process of our study, we realized that Melville’s insistent and polyvalent critique of “the American calling” uncannily...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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1 | American Exceptionalism: A Genealogy

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pp. 1-28

A superficial explanation for the absence, until quite recently, of the use of the term “American exceptionalism” in readings of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is that it did not come into being until the period of the Cold War. As Donald Pease has observed of the genealogy of this term in his ...

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2 | "A Connecticut Yankee" as American Jeremiad: The Historical Context

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pp. 29-42

The archive of commentary and criticism on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court that has accumulated since its publication in 1889 is massive. Moreover, virtually every Americanist literary critic who has been identified with the founding of American literary studies as a discipline has written about it. Both these facts testify to the novel’s canonical status, despite ...

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3 | Americanist Criticism of "A Connecticut Yankee": A Critical History

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pp. 43-96

The body of criticism and commentary on A Connecticut Yankee is, of course, too vast to be adequately treated in this limited space. Nevertheless, an extensive chronological reading of this inordinately popular American work from the contrapuntal perspective afforded by the New Americanist studies, particularly ...

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4 | Staging the Spectacle: A Contrapuntal Reading of "A Connecticut Yankee"

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pp. 97-156

The reading of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court that I undertake in this chapter will be, following Edward Said’s directives, contrapuntal: it will avow what this eminently American text disavows. Ultimately, however, it will be genealogical in Michel Foucault’s sense of the word. Assuming, with Said and Foucault, that Mark Twain’s novel is a “worldly text,” my ultimate...

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5 | "A Connecticut Yankee" and America’s 'War on Terror': Thinking the Spectacle

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pp. 157-178

As many critics have observed, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is, from an aesthetic point of view, a highly flawed novel. But this common negative aesthetic judgment has not prevented it from becoming one of the most read and written about texts in the American literary canon. As the history of commentary and criticism of the novel—both that which...


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pp. 179-214


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pp. 215-222

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684636
E-ISBN-10: 1611684633
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611684612

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Re-Mapping the Transnational: A Dartmouth Series in American Studies
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OCLC Number: 857968077
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Shock and Awe