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Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973
In a midcentury American cultural episode forgotten today, intellectuals of all schools shared a belief that human nature was under threat. The immediate result was a glut of dense, abstract books on the “nature of man.” But the dawning “age of the crisis of man,” as Mark Greif calls it, was far more than a historical curiosity. In this ambitious intellectual and literary history, Greif recovers this lost line of thought to show how it influenced society, politics, and culture before, during, and long after World War II.
During the 1930s and 1940s, fears of the barbarization of humanity energized New York intellectuals, Chicago protoconservatives, European Jewish émigrés, and native-born bohemians to seek “re-enlightenment,” a new philosophical account of human nature and history. After the war this effort diffused, leading to a rebirth of modern human rights and a new power for the literary arts.
Critics’ predictions of a “death of the novel” challenged writers to invest bloodless questions of human nature with flesh and detail. Hemingway, Faulkner, and Richard Wright wrote flawed novels of abstract man. Succeeding them, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, and Thomas Pynchon constituted a new guard who tested philosophical questions against social realities—race, religious faith, and the rise of technology—that kept difference and diversity alive.
By the 1960s, the idea of “universal man” gave way to moral antihumanism, as new sensibilities and social movements transformed what had come before. Greif’s reframing of a foundational debate takes us beyond old antagonisms into a new future, and gives a prehistory to the fractures of our own era.
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
Sentimental Literature and Nineteenth-Century American Religion
Displays of devout religious faith are very much in evidence in nineteenth-century sentimental novels such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Little Women, but the precise theological nature of this piety has been little examined. In the first dedicated study of the religious contents of sentimental literature, Claudia Stokes counters the long-standing characterization of sentimental piety as blandly nondescript and demonstrates that these works were in fact groundbreaking, assertive, and highly specific in their theological recommendations and endorsements. The Altar at Home explores the many religious contexts and contents of sentimental literature of the American nineteenth century, from the growth of Methodism in the Second Great Awakening and popular millennialism to the developing theologies of Mormonism and Christian Science.
Through analysis of numerous contemporary religious debates, Stokes demonstrates how sentimental writers, rather than offering simple depictions of domesticity, instead manipulated these scenes to advocate for divergent new beliefs and bolster their own religious authority. On the one hand, the comforting rhetoric of domesticity provided a subtle cover for sentimental writers to advance controversial new beliefs, practices, and causes such as Methodism, revivalism, feminist theology, and even female clergy. On the other hand, sentimentality enabled women writers to bolster and affirm their own suitability for positions of public religious leadership, thereby violating the same domestic enclosure lauded by the texts. The Altar at Home offers a fascinating new historical perspective on the dynamic role sentimental literature played in the development of innumerable new religious movements and practices, many of which remain popular today