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Centennial Essays on the Works of James Agee
Drawn mainly from the centennial anniversary symposium on James Agee held at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2009, the essays of Agee at 100 are as diverse in topic and purpose as is Agee’s work itself. Often devalued during his life by those who thought his breadth a hindrance to greatness, Agee’s achievements as a poet, novelist, journalist, essayist, critic, documentarian, and screenwriter are now more fully recognized. With its use of previously unknown and recently recovered materials as well as established works, this groundbreaking new collection is a timely contribution to the resurgence of interest in Agee’s significance. The essays in this collection range from the scholarly to the personal, and all offer insight into Agee’s writing, his cultural influence, and ultimately Agee himself. Dwight Garner opens with his reflective essay on “Why Agee Matters.” Several essays present almost entirely new material on Agee. Paul Ashdown writes on Agee’s book reviews, which, unlike Agee’s film criticism, have received scant attention. With evidence from two largely unstudied manuscripts, Jeffrey Couchman sets the record straight on Agee’s contribution to the screenplay for The African Queen and delves as well into his television “miniseries” screenplay Mr. Lincoln. John Wranovics treats Agee’s lesser-known films--the documentaries In the Street and The Quiet One and the Filipino epic Genghis Khan. Jeffrey J. Folks wrestles with Agee’s “culture of repudiation” while James A. Crank investigates his perplexing treatment of race in his prose. Jesse Graves and Andrew Crooke provide new analyses of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Michael A. Lofaro and Philip Stogdon both discuss Lofaro’s recently restored text of A Death in the Family. David Madden closes the collection with his short story “Seeing Agee in Lincoln,” an imagined letter from Agee to his longtime confidante Father Flye.
Reading the Contemporary American Novel
A frequent complaint against contemporary American fiction is that too often it puts off readers in ways they find difficult to fathom. Books such as Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, and Don DeLillo's Underworld seem determined to upset, disgust, or annoy their readers-or to disorient them by shunning traditional plot patterns and character development. Kathryn Hume calls such works "aggressive fiction." Why would authors risk alienating their readers-and why should readers persevere? Looking beyond the theory-based justifications that critics often provide for such fiction, Hume offers a commonsense guide for the average reader who wants to better understand and appreciate books that might otherwise seem difficult to enjoy.
In her reliable and sympathetic guide, Hume considers roughly forty works of recent American fiction, including books by William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Chuck Palahniuk, and Cormac McCarthy. Hume gathers "attacks" on the reader into categories based on narrative structure and content. Writers of some aggressive fictions may wish to frustrate easy interpretation or criticism. Others may try to induce certain responses in readers. Extreme content deployed as a tactic for distancing and alienating can actually produce a contradictory effect: for readers who learn to relax and go with the flow, the result may well be exhilaration rather than revulsion.
The Literary Magazine of a Progressive Canal Town (1849-1850), Complete and Annotated
The Akron offering is the republication of a full year of a literary magazine produced in Akron, Ohio from 1849 to 1850. The book provides a primary look into a progressive canal town on the verge of being transformed by the railroad wave that is sweeping the nation.Also, during this period, woman's rights conventions are taking place across the country refected by the Sojourner Truth speech on High Street in Akron. The vast amount of material in this edition is available for the first time.
A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates
Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature
Throughout Porter's long career, writes Titus, she repeatedly probed cultural arguments about female creativity, a woman's maternal legacy, romantic love, and sexual identity, always with startling acuity, and often with painful ambivalence.” Much of her writing, then, serves as a medium for what Titus terms Porter's gender-thinking”--her sustained examination of the interrelated issues of art, gender, and identity.
Porter, says Titus, rebelled against her upbringing yet never relinquished the belief that her work as an artist was somehow unnatural, a turn away from the essential identity of woman as the repository of life,” as childbearer. In her life Porter increasingly played a highly feminized public role as southern lady, but in her writing she continued to engage changing representations of female identity and sexuality. This is an important new study of the tensions and ambivalence inscribed in Porter's fiction, as well as the vocational anxiety and gender performance of her actual life.
“Sharon Talley draws on psychoanalytic theory to illuminate the connections between Bierce’s life and works, without ever losing sight of the historical contexts—especially his experience in the Civil War—that also shaped his creativity. This judicious and comprehensive book will give a major boost to the reassessment of Bierce’s place in American letters.”
—Peter L. Rudnytsky, author of Reading Psychoanalysis: Freud, Rank, Ferenczi, Groddeck
Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death uses psychoanalytic theory in combination with historical, cultural, and literary contexts to examine the complex motif of death in a full range of Bierce’s writings. Scholarly interest in Bierce, whose work has long been undervalued, has grown significantly in recent years. This new book contributes to the ongoing reassessment by providing new contexts for joining the texts in his canon in meaningful ways.
Previous attempts to consider Bierce from a psychological perspective have been superficial, often reductive Freudian readings of individual stories such as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser.” This new volume not only updates these interpretations with insights from post-Freudian theorists but uses contemporary death theory as a framework to analyze the sources and expressions of Bierce’s attitudes about death and dying. This approach makes it possible to discern links among texts that resolve some of the still puzzling ambiguities that have—until now—precluded a fuller understanding of both the man and his writings.
Lively and engaging, Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death adds valuable new insights not only to the study of Bierce but to that of nineteenth-century American literature in general.
Sharon Talley is the author of the Student Companion to Herman Melville. Her articles have been published in Nineteenth-Century Prose, American Imago, and the Journal of Men’s Studies. She is associate professor of English at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.
Literary Essays North and South
One of the foremost critics in contemporary American letters, Christopher Benfey has long been known for his brilliant and incisive essays. Appearing in such publications as the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and the Times Literary Supplement, Benfey's writings have helped us reimagine the American literary canon. In American Audacity, Benfey gathers his finest writings on eminent American authors (including Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman, Millay, Faulkner, Frost, and Welty), bringing to his subjects---as the New York Times Book Review has said of his earlier work---"a scholar's thoroughness, a critic's astuteness and a storyteller's sense of drama." Although Benfey's interests range from art to literature to social history, this collection focuses on particular American writers and the various ways in which an American identity and culture inform their work. Broken into three sections, "Northerners,""Southerners," and "The Union Reconsidered," American Audacity explores a variety of canonical works, old (Emerson, Dickinson, Millay, Whitman), modern (Faulkner, Dos Passos), and more contemporary (Gary Snyder, E. L. Doctorow). Christopher Benfey is the author of numerous highly regarded books, including Emily Dickinson: Lives of a Poet; The Double Life of Stephen Crane; Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable; and, most recently, The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan. Benfey's poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Pequod, and Ploughshares. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Currently he is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. "In its vigorous and original criticism of American writers, Christopher Benfey's American Audacity displays its own audacities on every page." ---William H. Pritchard
Walt Whitman and Other Unlikely Candidates for National Poet
In this ms Whitley works to defamiliarize and so explore in a fresh way the literary landscape of the mid-19th century into which Whitman emerged. He explores how the idea of a national poet resonated at that time as well as how Whitman stepped into that role. To accomplish this, Whitley traces the histories and literary achievements of three other antebellum poets whose names are not nearly so well-known but whose work paralleled Whitman’s in unexpected ways: James M. Whitfield, Eliza Snow, and John Rollin Ridge. He puts their work in dialogue with Whitman’s poetry--both as it functions now and as it reflected and affected the literary landscape of 19th-c. America. Each of these American poets adopted a posture similar to that of Whitman’s antebellum persona of a social outsider who audaciously claims to be a representative national bard. Rereading Whitman’s place in the nationalist literary milieu of the 1850s through Whitfield, Snow, and Ridge suggests cultural alternatives to the nation-centered discourse that has come to characterize received notions of the antebellum period.