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Literature > American Literature

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American Poetry in Performance Cover

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American Poetry in Performance

From Walt Whitman to Hip Hop

Tyler Hoffman

American Performance Poetry is the first book to trace a comprehensive history of performance poetry in America from Whitman through the rap-meets-poetry scene and to show how the performance of poetry is bound up with the performance of identity and nationality in the modern period. This book will be a meaningful contribution both to the field of American poetry studies and to the fields of cultural and performance studies, as it focuses on poetry that refuses the status of fixed aesthetic object and, in its variability, performs versions of race, class, gender, and sexuality both on and off the page. Relating the performance of poetry to shifting political and cultural ideologies in the United States, Hoffman argues that the vocal aspect of public poetry possesses (or has been imagined to possess) the ability to help construct both national and subaltern communities. In doing so, American Performance Poetry explores public poets’ confrontations with emergent sound recording and communications technologies as those confrontations shape their mythologies of the spoken word and their corresponding notions about America and Americanness.

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American Risorgimento

Herman Melville and the Cultural Politics of Italy

Although Herman Melville is typically considered one of America’s earliest cosmopolitan writers, scholarship has focused primarily on his involvement with the South Seas, England, and the Holy Land. In American Risorgimento: Herman Melville and the Cultural Politics of Italy, Dennis Berthold extends Melville’s transnational vision both geographically and historically by examining his many references to Italy and Rome in the context of the Risorgimento, Italy’s long quest for independence and political unity. Melville’s contemporaries, notably Margaret Fuller and Henry T. Tuckerman, recognized the similarities between the Risorgimento and America’s struggle for national identity, and the influx of exiles from the failed Italian revolutions of 1820 and 1831 made Melville’s New York a hotbed of Risorgimento sympathies. Literary and political expostulations on Italy’s plight combined to create a distinctively American view of the Risorgimento that Melville elaborated in his fiction through allusions, characterizations, and direct commentary on Roman history, Dante, Machiavelli, Pope Pius IX, and Giuseppe Mazzini. Melville followed the unfolding drama of Italian nationalism more closely than any other major American writer and found in it tropes and themes that fueled his turn to poetry, particularly after his visit to Italy in 1857. The Civil War, a crisis for American nationalism as urgent and profound as the Risorgimento, reinforced the symbolic parallels between the United States and Italy and led Melville to meditate on Giuseppe Garibaldi and other Italian patriots in one of his longest poems. Melville’s literary appropriations of Italian history, art, and politics demonstrate that transnational cultural exchanges are not confined to later American writing but originate with the country’s earliest authors and their recognition that any national literature worthy of the name must incorporate a broad international frame of reference.

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American Road Narratives

Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film

Ann Brigham

The freedom to go anywhere and become anyone has profoundly shaped our national psyche. Transforming our sense of place and identity--whether in terms of social and economic status, or race and ethnicity, or gender and sexuality—American mobility is perhaps nowhere more vividly captured than in the image of the open road. From pioneer trails to the latest car commercial, the road looms large as a form of expansiveness and opportunity.

Too often it is the celebratory idea of the road as a free-floating zone moving the traveler beyond the typical concerns of space and time that dominates the discussion. Rather than thinking of mobility as an escape from cultural tensions, however, Ann Brigham proposes that we understand mobility as a mode of engagement with them. She explores the genre of road narratives to show how mobility both thrives on and attempts to manage shifting conflicts about space and society in the United States.

From the earliest transcontinental automobile narratives from the 1910s, through classics like Jack Kerouac's On the Road and the film Thelma & Louise, up to post-9/11 narratives, Brigham traces the ways in which mobility has been imagined, created, and interrogated over the past century and shows how mobility promises, and threatens, to incorporate the outsider and to blur boundaries. Bringing together textual and cultural analysis, theories of spatiality, and sociohistorical frameworks, this book offers an invigoratingly different view of mobility and a new understanding of the road narrative’s importance in American culture.

Cultural Frames, Framing Culture

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American Socialist Triptych

The Literary-Political Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, and W. E. B. Du Bois

Mark W. Van Wienen

"A meticulously researched, highly informed, carefully argued, and very accessible account of American socialism, socialists, and socialistic thinking, from the late nineteenth century through the 1960s . . . challenges the intellectual and political legacy of Werner Sombart's Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?, whose spirit still hovers over animated discussions about the 'failures' of socialism in the United States." ---James A. Miller, George Washington University "A valuable rethinking and reframing of the traditions of leftist literary scholarship in the U.S." ---Sylvia Cook, University of Missouri, St. Louis American Socialist Triptych: The Literary-Political Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Upton Sinclair, and W. E. B. Du Bois explores the contributions of three writers to the development of American socialism over a fifty--year period and asserts the vitality of socialism in modern American literature and culture. Drawing upon a wide range of texts including archival sources, Mark W. Van Wienen demonstrates the influence of reform-oriented, democratic socialism both in the careers of these writers and in U.S. politics between 1890 and 1940. While offering unprecedented in-depth analysis of modern American socialist literature, this book charts the path by which the supposedly impossible, dangerous ideals of a cooperative commonwealth were realized, in part, by the New Deal. American Socialist Triptych provides in-depth, innovative readings of the featured writers and their engagement with socialist thought and action. Upton Sinclair represents the movement's most visible manifestation, the Socialist Party of America, founded in 1901; Charlotte Perkins Gilman reflects the socialist elements in both feminism and 1890s reform movements, and W. E. B. Du Bois illuminates social democratic aspirations within the NAACP. Van Wienen's book seeks to re-energize studies of Sinclair by treating him as a serious cultural figure whose career peaked not in the early success of The Jungle but in his nearly successful 1934 run for the California governorship. It also demonstrates as never before the centrality of socialism throughout Gilman's and Du Bois's literary and political careers. More broadly, American Socialist Triptych challenges previous scholarship on American radical literature, which has focused almost exclusively on the 1930s and Communist writers. Van Wienen argues that radical democracy was not the phenomenon of a decade or of a single group but a sustained tradition dispersed within the culture, providing a useful genealogical explanation for how socialist ideas were actually implemented through the New Deal. American Socialist Triptych also revises modern American literary history, arguing for the endurance of realist and utopian literary modes at the height of modernist literary experimentation and showing the importance of socialism not only to the three featured writers but also to their peers, including Edward Bellamy, Hamlin Garland, Jack London, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Claude McKay. Further, by demonstrating the importance of social democratic thought to feminist and African American campaigns for equality, the book dialogues with recent theories of radical egalitarianism. Readers interested in American literature, U.S. history, political theory, and race, gender, and class studies will all find in American Socialist Triptych a valuable and provocative resource.

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American Superrealism

Nathanael West and the Politics of Representation in the 1930s

Jonathan Veitch

Nathanael West has been hailed as “an apocalyptic writer,” “a writer on the left,” and “a precursor to postmodernism.” But until now no critic has succeeded in fully engaging West’s distinctive method of negation. In American Superrealism, Jonathan Veitch examines West’s letters, short stories, screenplays and novels—some of which are discussed here for the first time—as well as West’s collaboration with William Carlos Williams during their tenure as the editors of Contact. Locating West in a lively, American avant-garde tradition that stretches from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol, Veitch explores the possibilities and limitations of dada and surrealism—the use of readymades, scatalogical humor, human machines, “exquisite corpses”—as modes of social criticism. American Superrealism offers what is surely the definitive study of West, as well as a provocative analysis that reveals the issue of representation as the central concern of Depression-era America.

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American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War

Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962

Bruce A. Mcconachie

In this groundbreaking study, Bruce McConachie uses the primary metaphor of containment—what happens when we categorize a play, a television show, or anything we view as having an inside, an outside, and a boundary between the two—as the dominant metaphor of cold war theatergoing. Drawing on the cognitive psychology and linguistics of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, he provides unusual access to the ways in which spectators in the cold war years projected themselves into stage figures that gave them pleasure.

McConachie reconstructs these cognitive processes by relying on scripts, set designs, reviews, memoirs, and other evidence. After establishing his theoretical framework, he focuses on three archtypal figures of containment significant in Cold War culture, Empty Boys, Family Circles, and Fragmented Heroes. McConachie uses a range of plays, musicals, and modern dances from the dominant culture of the Cold War to discuss these figures, including The Seven Year Itch, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The King and I,A Raisin in the Sun, Night Journey, and The Crucible. In an epilogue, he discusses the legacy of Cold War theater from 1962 to 1992.

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American Unexceptionalism

The Everyman and the Suburban Novel after 9/11

Kathy Knapp

American Unexceptionalism examines a constellation of post-9/11 novels that revolve around white middle-class male suburbanites, thus following a tradition established by writers such as John Updike and John Cheever. Focusing closely on recent works by Richard Ford, Chang-Rae Lee, Jonathan Franzen, Philip Roth, Anne Tyler, Gish Jen, A. M. Homes, and others, Kathy Knapp demonstrates that these authors revisit this well-trod turf and revive the familiar everyman character in order to reconsider and reshape American middle-class experience in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and their ongoing aftermath.

The novels in question all take place in the sprawling terrain that stretches out beyond the Twin Towers—the postwar suburbs that since the end of World War II have served, like the Twin Towers themselves, as a powerful advertisement of dominance to people around the globe, by projecting an image of prosperity and family values. These suburban tales and their everyman protagonists grapple, however indirectly, with the implications of the apparent decline of the economic, geopolitical, and moral authority of the United States. In the context of perceived decay and diminishing influence, these novels actively counteract the narrative of American exceptionalism frequently peddled in the wake of 9/11.

If suburban fiction has historically been faulted for its limited vision, this newest iteration has developed a depth of field that self-consciously folds the personal into the political, encompasses the have-nots along with the haves, and takes in the past when it imagines the future, all in order to forge a community of readers who are now accountable to the larger world. American Unexceptionalism traces the trajectory by which recent suburban fiction overturns the values of individualism, private property ownership, and competition that originally provided its foundation. In doing so, the novels examined here offer readers new and flexible ways to imagine being and belonging in a setting no longer characterized by stasis, but by flux.

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The Americanist

Daniel Aaron

“I have read all of Daniel Aaron’s books, and admired them, but in The Americanist I believe he has composed an intellectual and social memoir for which he will be remembered. His self-portrait is marked by personal tact and admirable restraint: he is and is not its subject. The Americanist is a vision of otherness: literary and academic friends and acquaintances, here and abroad. Eloquently phrased and free of nostalgia, it catches a lost world that yet engendered much of our own.” —Harold Bloom “The Americanist is the absorbing intellectual autobiography of Daniel Aaron, who is the leading proponent and practitioner of American Studies. Written with grace and wit, it skillfully blends Daniel Aaron’s personal story with the history of the field he has done so much to create. This is a first-rate book by a first-rate scholar.” —David Herbert Donald, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University The Americanist is author and critic Daniel Aaron’s anthem to nearly a century of public and private life in America and abroad. Aaron, who is widely regarded as one of the founders of American Studies, graduated from the University of Michigan, received his Ph.D. from Harvard, and taught for over three decades each at Smith College and Harvard. Aaron writes with unsentimental nostalgia about his childhood in Los Angeles and Chicago and his later academic career, which took him around the globe, often in the role of America’s accidental yet impartial critic. When Walt Whitman, whom Aaron frequently cites as a touchstone, wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” he could have been describing Daniel Aaron—the consummate erudite and Renaissance individual whose allegiance to the truth always outweighs mere partisan loyalty. Not only should Aaron’s book stand as a resplendent and summative work from one of the finest thinkers of the last hundred years, it also succeeds on its own as a first-rate piece of literature, on a par with the writings of any of its subjects. The Americanist is a veritable Who’s Who of twentieth-century writers Aaron interviewed, interacted with, or otherwise encountered throughout his life: Ralph Ellison, Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, Richard Hofstadter, Alfred Kazin, Sinclair Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Crowe Ransom, Upton Sinclair, Edmund Wilson, Leonard Woolf, and W. B. Yeats, to name only a few. Aaron’s frank and personal observations of these literary lights make for lively reading. As well, scattered throughout The Americanist are illuminating portraits of American presidents living and passed—miniature masterworks of astute political observation that offer dazzlingly fresh approaches to well-trod subjects.

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The Americas of Asian American Literature

Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation

Rachel C. Lee

Drawing on a wide array of literary, historical, and theoretical sources, Rachel Lee addresses current debates on the relationship among Asian American ethnic identity, national belonging, globalization, and gender. Lee argues that scholars have traditionally placed undue emphasis on ethnic-based political commitments--whether these are construed as national or global--in their readings of Asian American texts. This has constrained the intelligibility of stories that are focused less on ethnicity than on kinship, family dynamics, eroticism, and gender roles. In response, Lee makes a case for a reconceptualized Asian American criticism that centrally features gender and sexuality.

Through a critical analysis of select literary texts--novels by Carlos Bulosan, Gish Jen, Jessica Hagedorn, and Karen Yamashita--Lee probes the specific ways in which some Asian American authors have steered around ethnic themes with alternative tales circulating around gender and sexual identity. Lee makes it clear that what has been missing from current debates has been an analysis of the complex ways in which gender mediates questions of both national belonging and international migration. From anti-miscegenation legislation in the early twentieth century to poststructuralist theories of language to Third World feminist theory to critical studies of global cultural and economic flows, The Americas of Asian American Literature takes up pressing cultural and literary questions and points to a new direction in literary criticism.

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Amistad Revolt

Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie

From journalism and lectures to drama, visual art, and the Spielberg film, this study ranges across the varied cultural reactions--in America and Sierra Leone--engendered by the 1839 Amistad slave ship revolt.

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie is a native of Sierra Leone, from where the Amistad's cargo of slaves originated. She digs deeply into the Amistad story to show the historical and contemporary relevance of the incident and its subsequent trials. At the same time, she shows how the incident has contributed to the construction of national and cultural identity both in Africa and the African diasporo in America--though in intriguingly different ways.

This pioneering work of comparative African and American cultural criticism shows how creative arts have both confirmed and fostered the significance of the Amistad revolt in contemporary racial discourse and in the collective memories of both countries.

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