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Modernist Imagination, African American Imaginary
This book explores the impact of African American culture on modernist poetic language by placing black literature and culture at the center of an inquiry into the genealogy of avant-garde poetics. Geoffrey Jacques looks at how blackface minstrelsy, ragtime, vernacular languages, advertising copy, Freud’s idea of the Uncanny, vaudeville, the cliché, and Tin Pan Alley–style song all influenced modernist poetry. In a key insight, Jacques points out that the black urban community in the United States did not live in ghettos during the years before World War I, but in smaller enclaves spread out among the general population. This circumstance helped catalyze African American culture’s dramatic and surprising impact on the emergent avant-garde. By using a wide range of theoretical tools, Jacques poses new questions about literary, cultural, and social history, the history and structure of modernist poetic language, canon formation, and the history of criticism.This contribution to the ongoing debate over early twentieth-century culture presents modernism as an interracial, cross-cultural project, arguing for a new appreciation of the central role black culture played within it. Writers and artists whose works are discussed include Marianne Moore, Charles Chesnutt, Jean Toomer, Wallace Stevens, James A. Bland, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gertrude Stein, Bert Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, Samuel Beckett, W. C. Handy, Hart Crane, and Clement Greenberg.
Author of the National Book Award–winning novel Middle Passage, Charles Johnson belongs to a generation of writers who collectively raised African American literature to a new position of prominence during the late twentieth century. In this book, Linda Furgerson Selzer takes an interdisciplinary approach to Johnson’s major fiction, providing fresh insight into his work by placing it within a broad historical context. In addition to Middle Passage (1990), Selzer focuses on three other novels: Faith and the Good Thing (1974), Oxherding Tale (1982), and Dreamer (1998). She shows how these works reflect Johnson’s participation in the larger cultural projects of several significant but often overlooked groups—young black philosophers who challenged the dominant Anglo-American empiricist tradition during the 1960s and 1970s; black Buddhists of the post–civil rights era who sought to translate an ancient religious practice into an African American idiom; and black public intellectuals who attempted to revive a cosmopolitan social ethic during the 1990s. The cultural histories of each of these groups, Selzer argues, provide important contexts for understanding Johnson’s evolution as a novelist. In the academic experience of black students who entered philosophy programs during the turbulent 1960s, the spiritual concerns of black Buddhists who have only recently begun to speak more publicly about their faith, and the cultural issues surrounding the emergence of a new cohort of African American public intellectuals, we see the roots of the social, moral, and aesthetic vision that informs what some have described as Johnson’s “philosophical fiction.” Selzer’s probing analysis of the influence of each of these contexts not only enriches our understanding of Charles Johnson’s fiction, it also makes a broader contribution to the cultural history of African America during the past half century.
How America's Religious Exemption Laws Harm Children
When a four-year-old California girl died on March 9, 1984, the state charged her mother with involuntary manslaughter because she failed to provide her daughter with medical care, choosing instead to rely on spiritual healing. During the next few years, a half dozen other children of Christian Science parents died under similar circumstances. The children’s deaths and the parents’ trials drew national attention, highlighting a deeply rooted, legal/political struggle to define religious freedom. Through close analysis of these seven cases, legal historian Alan Rogers explores the conflict between religious principles and secular laws that seek to protect children from abuse and neglect. Christian Scientists argued—often with the support of mainline religious groups—that the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause protected religious belief and behavior. Insisting that their spiritual care was at least as effective as medical treatment, they thus maintained that parents of seriously ill children had a constitutional right to reject medical care. Congress and state legislatures confirmed this interpretation by inserting religious exemption provisos into child abuse laws. Yet when parental prayer failed and a child died, prosecutors were able to win manslaughter convictions by arguing—as the U.S. Supreme Court had held for more than a century—that religious belief could not trump a neutral, generally applicable law. Children’s advocates then carried this message to state legislatures, eventually winning repeal of religious exemption provisions in a handful of states.
The National Security State and the Possibilities of Dissent
In the wake of 9/11, many Americans have deplored the dangers to liberty posed by a growing surveillance state. In this book, Andrea Friedman moves beyond the standard security/liberty dichotomy, weaving together often forgotten episodes of early Cold War history to reveal how the obsession with national security enabled dissent and fostered new imaginings of democracy. The stories told here capture a wide-ranging debate about the workings of the national security state and the meaning of American citizenship. Some of the participants in this debate—women like war bride Ellen Knauff and Pentagon employee Annie Lee Moss—were able to make their own experiences compelling examples of the threats posed by the national security regime. Others, such as Ruth Reynolds and Lolita Lebrón, who advocated an end to American empire in Puerto Rico, or the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who sought to change the very definition of national security, were less successful. Together, however, they exposed the gap between democratic ideals and government policies. Friedman traverses immigration law and loyalty boards, popular culture and theoretical treatises, U.S. court-rooms and Puerto Rican jails, to demonstrate how Cold War repression made visible in new ways the unevenness and limitations of American citizenship. Highlighting the ways that race and gender shaped critiques and defenses of the national security regime, she offers new insight into the contradictions of Cold War political culture.
Brainwashing and Postwar American Society
First popularized during the 1950s, the concept of “brainwashing” is often viewed as an example of Cold War paranoia, an amusing relic of a bygone era. Yet as Matthew W. Dunne shows in this wide-ranging study, over time brainwashing came to connote much more than a sinister form of Communist mind control, taking on broader cultural and political meanings. Moving beyond well-known debates over Korean War POWs and iconic cultural texts like The Manchurian Candidate, Dunne explores the impact of the idea of brainwashing on popular concerns about freedom, individualism, loyalty, and trust in authority. By the late 1950s the concept had been appropriated into critiques of various aspects of American life such as an insistence on conformity, the alleged “softening” of American men, and rampant consumerism fueled by corporate advertising that used “hidden” or “subliminal” forms of persuasion. Because of these associations and growing anxie-ties about the potential misuse of psychology, concerns about brainwashing contributed to a new emphasis on individuality and skepticism toward authority in the 1960s. The notion even played an unusual role in the 1968 presidential race, when Republican frontrunner George Romney’s claim that he had been “brainwashed” about the Vietnam War by the Johnson administration effectively destroyed his campaign. In addition to analyzing the evolving meaning of brainwashing over an extended period of time, A Cold War State of Mind explores the class and gender implications of the idea, such as the assumption that working-class POWs were more susceptible to mind control and that women were more easily taken in by the manipulations of advertisers.
Black Presentation in American Animated Short Films, 1907-1954
From the introduction of animated film in the early 1900s to the 1950s, ethnic humor was a staple of American-made cartoons. Yet as Christopher Lehman shows in this revealing study, the depiction of African Americans in particular became so inextricably linked to the cartoon medium as to influence its evolution through those five decades. He argues that what is in many ways most distinctive about American animation reflects white animators' visual interpretations of African American cultural expression. The first American animators drew on popular black representations, many of which were caricatures rooted in the culture of southern slavery. During the 1920s, the advent of the sound-synchronized cartoon inspired animators to blend antebellum-era black stereotypes with the modern black cultural expressions of jazz musicians and Hollywood actors. When the film industry set out to desexualize movies through the imposition of the Hays Code in the early 1930s, it regulated the portrayal of African Americans largely by segregating black characters from others, especially white females. At the same time, animators found new ways to exploit the popularity of African American culture by creating animal characters like Bugs Bunny who exhibited characteristics associated with African Americans without being identifiably black. By the 1950s, protests from civil rights activists and the growing popularity of white cartoon characters led animators away from much of the black representation on which they had built the medium. Even so, animated films today continue to portray African American characters and culture, and not necessarily in a favorable light. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including interviews with former animators, archived scripts for cartoons, and the films themselves, Lehman illustrates the intimate and unmistakable connection between African Americans and animation.Choice
The Olmsted Firm and the Development of Brookline, Massachusetts
In 1883, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. moved from New York City to Brookline, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb that annointed itself the “richest town in the world.” For the next half century, until his son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. relocated to California in 1936, the Olmsted firm received over 150 local commissions, serving as the dominant force in the planned development of this community. From Fairsted, the Olmsteds’ Brookline home and office, the firm collaborated with an impressive galaxy of suburban neighbors who were among the regional and national leaders in the fields of architecture and horticulture, among them Henry Hobson Richardson and Charles Sprague Sargent. Through plans for boulevards and parkways, residential subdivisions, institutional commissions, and private gardens, the Olmsted firm carefully guided the development of the town, as they designed cities and suburbs across America. While Olmsted Sr. used landscape architecture as his vehicle for development, his son and namesake saw Brookline as grounds for experiment in the new profession of city and regional planning, a field that he was helping to define and lead. Little has been published on the importance of Brookline as a laboratory and model for the Olmsted firm’s work. This beautifully illustrated book provides important new perspective on the history of planning in the United States and illuminates an aspect of the Olmsted office that has not been well understood.
Love and Loss in the Memoirs of C. S. Lewis, John Bayley, Donald Hall, Joan Didion, and Calvin Trillen
In Companionship in Grief, Jeffrey Berman focuses on the most life-changing event for many people—the death of a spouse. Some of the most acclaimed memoirs of the past fifty years offer insights into this profound loss: C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed; John Bayley’s three memoirs about Iris Murdoch, including Elegy for Iris; Donald Hall’s The Best Day the Worst Day; Joan Didion’s best-selling The Year of Magical Thinking; and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice. These books explore the nature of spousal bereavement, the importance of caregiving, the role of writing in recovery, and the possibility of falling in love again after a devastating loss. Throughout his study, Berman traces the theme of love and loss in all five memoirists’ fictional and nonfictional writings as well as in those of their spouses, who were also accomplished writers. Combining literary studies, grief and bereavement theory, attachment theory, composition studies, and trauma theory, Companionship in Grief will appeal to anyone who has experienced love and loss. Berman’s research casts light on five remarkable marriages, showing how autobiographical stories of love and loss can memorialize deceased spouses and offer wisdom and comfort to readers.
How did Shakespeare and his contemporaries, whose works mark the last quarter century of Elizabeth I’s reign as one of the richest moments in all of English literature, regard and represent old age? Was late life seen primarily as a time of withdrawal and preparation for death, as scholars and historians have traditionally maintained? In this book, Christopher Martin examines how, contrary to received impressions, writers and thinkers of the era—working in the shadow of the kinetic, long-lived queen herself—contested such prejudicial and dismissive social attitudes. In late Tudor England, Martin argues, competing definitions of and regard for old age established a deeply conflicted frontier between external, socially “constituted” beliefs and a developing sense of an individual’s “constitution” or physical makeup, a usage that entered the language in the mid-1500s. This space was further complicated by internal divisions within the opposing camps. On one side, reverence for the elder’s authority, rooted in religious and social convention, was persistently challenged by the discontents of an ambitious younger underclass. Simultaneously, the aging subject grounded an enduring social presence and dignity on a bodily integrity that time inevitably threatened. In a historical setting that saw both the extended reign of an aging monarch and a resulting climate of acute generational strife, this network of competition and accommodation uniquely shaped late Elizabethan literary imagination. Through fresh readings of signature works, genres, and figures, Martin redirects critical attention to this neglected aspect of early modern studies.