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The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie
In Alabama Getaway Allen Tullos explores the recent history of one of the nation’s most conservative states to reveal its political imaginary—the public shape of power, popular imagery, and individual opportunity.
From Alabama’s largely ineffectual politicians to its miserly support of education, health care, cultural institutions, and social services, Tullos examines why the state appears to be stuck in repetitive loops of uneven development and debilitating habits of judgment. The state remains tied to fundamentalisms of religion, race, gender, winner-take-all economics, and militarism enforced by punitive and defensive responses to criticism. Tullos traces the spectral legacy of George Wallace, ponders the roots of anti-egalitarian political institutions and tax structures, and challenges Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice’s use of the civil rights struggle to justify the war in Iraq. He also gives due coverage to the state’s black citizens who with a minority of whites have sustained a movement for social justice and democratic inclusion. As Alabama competes for cultural tourism and global industries like auto manufacturing and biomedical research, Alabama Getaway asks if the coming years will see a transformation of the “Heart of Dixie.”
In "The Big Bang and the Good House", Tony, a former drug dealer, pits his urge toward chaos against the orderly pleasures of marriage, finally yielding to the solidity and spaciousness of domestic love: "I feel myself gathering weight, density. Cautiously, I allow myself to inhabit this Good House, which surprisingly fits like my own body". Julia, the aging protagonist of "Simplifying", risks her fragile health in a love affair; her generosity of spirit toward her lover is matched in inverse proportion by the frugality with which her lover doles out his affections. In "The March of the Toys", a young woman flees Delaware, her chronically ill father, and her grieving mother, only to find that she's traded the neediness of her family for the harrowing disturbances of her lovers. She muses, "I couldn't affect anyone's life. I could only attend it".
In "Hualapai Dread", an investment broker's infatuation with an enigmatic Hualapai Indian woman, as elusive as she is beautiful, brings out his most predatory instincts and unmasks her own deceit. Acting on similar but more destructive impulses toward the object of his sexual obsession, a character in another story takes his soon-to-be ex-wife on a bizarre "honeymoon for divorce". The close-knit family of "Builders" breaks under the strain of constructing their dream house with their own hands, and eventually they are forced to leave behind the illusion of safety and permanence: "Once the three had imagined themselves as a house on a hill, dug into stone with the tenacity of a lion. Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure".
Embodying the transience and openness of the New West, the characters in All My Relations reinvent themselves, even as they struggle with the age-old, perilous necessity of loving.
A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia
The Autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, Pioneer of the National Black Press
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.
The United States in the Western Hemisphere
James Tanner in War and Peace
James Tanner may be the most famous person in nineteenth-century America that no one has heard of. During his service in the Union army, he lost the lower third of both his legs and afterward had to reinvent himself. After a brush with fame as the stenographer taking down testimony a few feet away from the dying President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, Tanner eventually became one of the best-known men in Gilded Age America. He was a highly placed Republican operative, a popular Grand Army of the Republic speaker, an entrepreneur, and a celebrity. He earned fame and at least temporary fortune as “Corporal Tanner,” but most Americans would simply have known him as “The Corporal.” Yet virtually no one—not even historians of the Civil War and Gilded Age— knows him today.
America’s Corporal rectifies this startling gap in our understanding of the decades that followed the Civil War. Drawing on a variety of primary sources including memoirs, lectures, newspapers, pension files, veterans’ organization records, poetry, and political cartoons, James Marten brings Tanner’s life and character into focus and shows what it meant to be a veteran— especially a disabled veteran—in an era that at first worshipped the saviors of the Union but then found ambiguity in their political power and insistence on collecting ever-larger pensions. This biography serves as an examination of the dynamics of disability, the culture and politics of the Gilded Age, and the aftereffects of the Civil War, including the philosophical and psychological changes that it prompted.
The book explores the sometimes corrupt, often gridlocked, but always entertaining politics of the era, from Tanner’s days as tax collector in Brooklyn through his short-lived appointment as commissioner of pensions (one of the biggest jobs in the federal government of the 1880s). Marten provides a vivid case study of a classic Gilded Age entrepreneur who could never make enough money. America’s Corporal is a reflection on the creation of celebrity—and of its ultimate failure to preserve the memory of a man who represented so many of the experiences and assumptions of the Gilded Age.
Published with the generous support of the Amanda and Greg Gregory Family Fund
Darwinian Theory and U.S. Culture
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.
Encounters in the Customs of Mourning
Someone dies. What happens next?One family inters their matriarch’s ashes on the floor of the ocean. Another holds a memorial weenie roast each year at a greenburial cemetery. An 1898 ad for embalming fluid promises, “You can make mummies with it!” while a leading contemporary burial vault is touted as impervious to the elements. A grieving mother, 150 years ago, might spend her days tending a garden at her daughter’s grave. Today, she might tend the roadside memorial she erected at the spot her daughter was killed. One mother wears a locket containing her daughter’s hair; the other, a necklace containing her ashes.What happens after someone dies depends on our personal stories and on where those stories fall in a larger tale—that of death in America. It’s a powerful tale that we usually keep hidden from our everyday lives until we have to face it.American Afterlife by Kate Sweeney reveals this world through a collective portrait of Americans past and present who find themselves personally involved with death: a klatch of obit writers in the desert, a funeral voyage on the Atlantic, a fourth-generation funeral director—even a midwestern museum that takes us back in time to meet our deathobsessed Victorian progenitors. Each story illuminates details in another until something larger is revealed: a landscape that feels at once strange and familiar, one that’s by turns odd, tragic, poignant, and sometimes even funny.