A Theory of Witnessing from Nineteenth-Century American Literature
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
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I would never have found as much quietness as I did without the gen-erosity of professors, colleagues, friends, and family. I am grateful to Paul Kane, who caught me as a freshman at Vassar and taught me to read closely. The English department at the University at Albany is not known for being quiet, but its feistiness made scholarship feel urgent and ...
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Testimony tends to be thought of as loud: it is associated with decla-rations, depositions, and confessions, issued from courtrooms and soapboxes, and charged with exhorting, proclaiming, establishing, and convincing. Nineteenth-century America produced no shortage of tes-timonies possessing these characteristics of loudness, especially within ...
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The passage with which I begin will likely be familiar to Emersonâs read-ers, if only because of its proximity to one of his most famous and chal-lenging images, the transparent eyeball. The paragraph that follows it in Nature is, I propose, just as unexpected and just as revealing of a major strand of thought in Emersonâs workâand therefore just as worthy of ...
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Frederick Douglass wrote three autobiographies, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), and then he decided that he had more to say. His supplement expanding Life and Times (the new version was published in 1892) was, he writes, the result of a call: âI find myself ...
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Melvilleâs later works begin quietly. They may describe momentous actionsâsuch as Ishmaelâs plan to join a whaling crew or the arrival of a mysterious ship in a lonely portâbut rather than herald ensuing plots, the texts tend to focus on an observation of something or someone that does not speak. At the outset of Moby-Dick, for instance, Ishmael reports, ...
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There is a dead woman in Henry Jamesâs account of his visit to Charleston in The American Scene. He introduces the image as a point of compari-son, but it startles the reader nevertheless; it is as if James has stumbled on a corpse in the midst of the sleepy southern city. This corpse, it turns out, is quite extraordinary: it testifies to the cityâs lifelessness, and on ...
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The narrative that this bookâs chapters implicitly tell may initially have seemed familiar: while Emerson hails the testimony of all natural things, Douglass is more measured and limited in his optimism, and Melville rejects exuberance completely, resting instead in elusiveness. The fig-ures become progressively less willing to assert that the world makes ...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013