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Ambivalent Art of Katherine Anne Porter

Mary Titus

During a life that spanned ninety years, Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) witnessed dramatic and intensely debated changes in the gender roles of American women. Mary Titus draws upon unpublished Porter papers, as well as newly available editions of her early fiction, poetry, and reviews, to trace Porter's shifting and complex response to those cultural changes. Titus shows how Porter explored her own ambivalence about gender and creativity, for she experienced firsthand a remarkable range of ideas concerning female sexuality. These included the Victorian attitudes of the grandmother who raised her; the sexual license of revolutionary Mexico, 1920s New York, and 1930s Paris; and the conservative, ordered attitudes of the Agrarians.

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.

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Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death

Sharon Talley

“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.

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America's Asia

Racial Form and American Literature, 1893-1945

Colleen Lye

What explains the perception of Asians both as economic exemplars and as threats? America's Asia explores a discursive tradition that affiliates the East with modern efficiency, in contrast to more familiar primitivist forms of Orientalism. Colleen Lye traces the American stereotype of Asians as a "model minority" or a "yellow peril"--two aspects of what she calls "Asiatic racial form"-- to emergent responses to globalization beginning in California in the late nineteenth century, when industrialization proceeded in tandem with the nation's neocolonial expansion beyond its continental frontier.

From Progressive efforts to regulate corporate monopoly to New Deal contentions with the crisis of the Great Depression, a particular racial mode of social redress explains why turn-of-the-century radicals and reformers united around Asian exclusion and why Japanese American internment during World War II was a liberal initiative.

In Lye's reconstructed archive of Asian American racialization, literary naturalism and its conventions of representing capitalist abstraction provide key historiographical evidence. Arguing for the profound influence of literature on policymaking, America's Asia examines the relationship between Jack London and leading Progressive George Kennan on U.S.-Japan relations, Frank Norris and AFL leader Samuel Gompers on cheap immigrant labor, Pearl S. Buck and journalist Edgar Snow on the Popular Front in China, and John Steinbeck and left intellectual Carey McWilliams on Japanese American internment. Lye's materialist approach to the construction of race succeeds in locating racialization as part of a wider ideological pattern and in distinguishing between its different, and sometimes opposing, historical effects.

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America's Darwin

Darwinian Theory and U.S. Culture

Tina Gianquitto

While much has been written about the impact of Darwin’s theories on U.S. culture, and countless scholarly collections have been devoted to the science of evolution, few have addressed the specific details of Darwin’s theories as a cultural force affecting U.S. writers. America’s Darwin fills this gap and features a range of critical approaches that examine U.S. textual responses to Darwin’s works.

The scholars in this collection represent a range of disciplines—literature, history of science, women’s studies, geology, biology, entomology, and anthropology. All pay close attention to the specific forms that Darwinian evolution took in the United States, engaging not only with Darwin’s most famous works, such as On the Origin of Species, but also with less familiar works, such as The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Each contributor considers distinctive social, cultural, and intellectual conditions that affected the reception and dissemination of evolutionary thought, from before the publication of On the Origin of Species to the early years of the twenty-first century. These essays engage with the specific details and language of a wide selection of Darwin’s texts, treating his writings as primary sources essential to comprehending the impact of Darwinian language on American writers and thinkers. This careful engagement with the texts of evolution enables us to see the broad points of its acceptance and adoption in the American scene; this approach also highlights the ways in which writers, reformers, and others reconfigured Darwinian language to suit their individual purposes.

America’s Darwin demonstrates the many ways in which writers and others fit themselves to a narrative of evolution whose dominant motifs are contingency and uncertainty. Collectively, the authors make the compelling case that the interpretation of evolutionary theory in the U.S. has always shifted in relation to prevailing cultural anxieties.

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American Audacity

Literary Essays North and South

Christopher Benfey

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

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American Bards

Walt Whitman and Other Unlikely Candidates for National Poet

Edward Whitley

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.

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American Book Review

Vol. 27 (2005) through current issue

Founded in 1977, the American Book Review is a nonprofit, internationally distributed publication that appears six times a year. ABR specializes in reviews of frequently neglected published works of fiction, poetry, and literary and cultural criticism from small, regional, university, ethnic, avant-garde, and women's presses. ABR as a literary journal aims to project the sense of engagement that writers themselves feel about what is being published. It is edited and produced by writers for writers and the general public.

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American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary

Deborah Barker

Employing innovations in media studies, southern cultural studies, and approaches to the global South, this collection of essays examines aspects of the southern imaginary in American cinema and offers fresh insight into the evolving field of southern film studies.
 
In their introduction, Deborah Barker and Kathryn McKee argue that the southern imaginary in film is not contained by the boundaries of geography and genre; it is not an offshoot or subgenre of mainstream American film but is integral to the history and the development of American cinema.
 
Ranging from the silent era to the present and considering Hollywood movies, documentaries, and independent films, the contributors incorporate the latest scholarship in a range of disciplines. The volume is divided into three sections: “Rereading the South” uses new critical perspectives to reassess classic Hollywood films; “Viewing the Civil Rights South” examines changing approaches to viewing race and class in the post–civil rights era; and “Crossing Borders” considers the influence of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and media studies on recent southern films.
 
The contributors to American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary complicate the foundational term “southern,” in some places stretching the traditional boundaries of regional identification until they all but disappear and in others limning a persistent and sometimes self-conscious performance of place that intensifies its power.

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The American Counterfeit

Authenticity and Identity in American Literature and Culture

Written by Mary McAleer Balkun

Fakery, authenticity, and identity in American literature and culture at the turn of the 20th century

Focusing on texts written between 1880 and 1930, Mary McAleer Balkun explores the concept of the “counterfeit,” both in terms of material goods and invented identities, and the ways that the acquisition of objects came to define individuals in American culture and literature. Counterfeiting is, in one sense, about the creation of something that appears authentic—an invented self, a museum display, a forged work of art. But the counterfeit can also be a means by which the authentic is measured, thereby creating our conception of the true or real.

When counterfeiting is applied to individual identities, it fosters fluidityin social boundaries and the games of social climbing and passing that have come to be representative of American culture: the Horatio Alger story, the con man or huckster, the social climber, the ethnically ambiguous.

Balkun provides new readings of traditional texts such as The Great Gatsby, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The House of Mirth, as well as readings of less-studied texts, such as Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days and Nella Larsen’s Passing. In each of these texts, Balkun locates the presence of manufactured identities and counterfeit figures, demonstrating that where authenticity and consumerism intersect, the self becomes but another commodity to be promoted, sold, and eventually consumed.

 

 
 

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American Culture, Canons, and the Case of Elizabeth Stoddard

Elizabeth Stoddard was a gifted writer of fiction, poetry, and journalism; successfully published within her own lifetime; esteemed by such writers as William Dean Howells and Nathaniel Hawthorne; and situated at the epicenter of New York's literary world. Nonetheless, she has been almost excluded from literary memory and importance. This book seeks to understand why. By reconsidering Stoddard’s life and work and her current marginal status in the evolving canon of American literary studies, it raises important questions about women’s writing in the 19th century and canon formation in the 20th century.
 
Essays in this study locate Stoddard in the context of her contemporaries, such as Dickinson and Hawthorne, while others situate her work in the context of major 19th-century cultural forces and issues, among them the Civil War and Reconstruction, race and ethnicity, anorexia and female invalidism, nationalism and localism, and incest. One essay examines the development of Stoddard's work in the light of her biography, and others probe her stylistic and philosophic originality, the journalistic roots of her voice, and the elliptical themes of her short fiction. Stoddard’s lifelong project to articulate the nature and dynamics of woman's subjectivity, her challenging treatment of female appetite and will, and her depiction of the complex and often ambivalent relationships that white middle-class women had to their domestic spaces are also thoughtfully considered.
 
The editors argue that the neglect of Elizabeth Stoddard's contribution to American literature is a compelling example of the contingency of critical values and the instability of literary history. This study asks the question, “Will Stoddard endure?” Will she continue to drift into oblivion or will a new generation of readers and critics secure her tenuous legacy?


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