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Facing the Other

Ethical Disruption and the American Mind

Linda Bolton

Publication Year: 2004

“Bolton is admirably focused, centering broader ventures around precise turning points in the documents and incidents she has selected. . . . The book crosses generic boundaries . . . in the spirit of an other who transcends any single history or discipline.”—Religion and Literature Linda Bolton uses six extraordinarily resonant moments in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history to highlight the ethical challenge that the treatment of Native and African persons presented to the new republic’s ideal of freedom. Most daringly, she examines the efficacy of the Declaration of Independence as a revolutionary text and explores the provocative question “What happens when freedom eclipses justice, when freedom breeds injustice?” Guided by the intellectual influence of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, Bolton asserts that the traditional subject-centered—or “I”—concept of freedom is dependent on the transcendent presence of the “Other,” and thus freedom becomes a privilege subordinate to justice. There can be no authentic freedom as long as others, whether Native American or African, are reduced from full human beings to concepts and thus properties of control or power. An eloquent and thoughtful rereading of the U.S. touchstones of democracy, this book argues forcefully for an ethical understanding of American literary history. “Facing the Other is not a cultural history; its focus is the relevance of an ethical analytic to all of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literature. . . . Using Emmanuel Levinas to guide her discussions, Bolton argues that the way in which Americans valorize freedom as an ideal leads us to ignore our responsibilities for doing justice.”—American Literature

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-ix


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pp. x


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pp. xi-15

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INTRODUCTION: Towards Confronting the “Hatred by the Other Human”

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pp. 1-16

A year before his death, Thomas Jefferson reflected upon the meaningof the Declaration of Independence he had drafted a half-century earlier. The real purpose or “object” of the Declaration, Jefferson stated, was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before...

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1 FACING ALTERITY: The Ethics of Conversion in Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer

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pp. 17-53

In September 1759, Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Cre`vecoeur, having resigned his commission as a second lieutenant in the French Canadian militia, arrived in New York City. Although born in France, Cre`vecoeur had been a resident of England before his initial emigration to Canada...

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2 IN THE NAME OF “JUSTICE AND HUMANITY”: Thomas Paine’s Ethical Envisionings of the American Republic

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pp. 54-93

On January 10, 1776, when Thomas Paine’s Common Sense first appeared in print, its intent was revolutionary, its effects dramatic and disruptive. Almost immediately, Paine’s insurgent pamphlet achieved unprecedented sales, surpassing“those of any of the other 400 pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary debate...

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3 STANDING IN THE “FIELD OF FREEDOM”: Thomas Jefferson and the Reverberations of that Declaratory Promise

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pp. 94-123

The Declaration of Independence has always been America’s most problematic document. Articulatingthe nation’s founding claims of freedom and independence, the Declaration guarantees the “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” affirms “in the course of human events” the necessity “for one people to dissolve the political bands...

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4 FUGITIVE POSEURS: The Native Eloquence of Frederick Douglass and Sarah Winnemucca

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pp. 124-171

In the openingparag raphs of Frederick Douglass’s sole novella, “The Heroic Slave,” Douglass focuses our gaze upon the impressive figure of Madison Washington, standing concealed in the midst of a “dark pine forest.” In the presence of God and under the protective grace of Nature, Washington utters a series...

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5 IN THE PRESENCE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN CRIMINAL: John Brown’s Triumphant Failure at Harpers Ferry

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pp. 172-198

“I never thought that I should ever join in doing honor to or mourningany American white man,” Charles H. Langston declared to a Cleveland audience in December 1859 when the state of Virginia brought to the gallows its most notorious criminal. There is little doubt that Langston spoke for many others of African descent...


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pp. 199-204


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pp. 205-209

E-ISBN-13: 9780807137512
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807136461

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2004