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  • Institutionalized
  • Justine S. Murison (bio)
Interior States: Institutional Consciousness and the Inner Life of Democracy in the Antebellum United States by Christopher Castiglia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Pp. 400. $89.95 cloth, 24.95 paper.

"Marriage is a great institution," so the old joke goes, "but who wants to be in an institution?" The punch line, of course, turns on the rhetorical play around the inexact but ubiquitous word institution—that it somehow applies both to the collective, legalized state of hetero-normative marriage and to insane asylums. Christopher Castiglia takes this conjunction seriously, to our great benefit, in Interior States. "Institutional consciousness," as Castiglia theorizes it, combines two modern constructions seemingly at odds: institutions and interiority. These two are conjoined forces in Castiglia's narrative, in which the "emerging social theory of institutionalism" depended on the production of an interiority perceived as a private space of self-management (5). Shifting focus away from the nation and nationalism, Castiglia argues that interiorized citizenship was the necessary correlative to the new institutions that mediated and managed the public sphere in the antebellum United States. Interior States therefore revises two common working assumptions in antebellum literary scholarship, by arguing, first, that institutions, not the nation-state, produced citizenship in this era; and, second, that the discourse of the nervous system was central to American politics and literature well before George Miller Beard's American Nervousness (1881). Of this second point, Castiglia reminds [End Page 153] nineteenth-century scholars of the rich and complex language of the nervous system in the antebellum United States, which he uses to argue that interior self-management produced anxious citizens rather than reformed them. Thus, democracy turned from a radical sociality into a privatized internal struggle, with disruptive anxieties and desires continually deferred to impersonal and extrapolitical institutions for their proper management.

To explain how the sociability of revolution was rerouted into the interiority of citizenship, Interior States accounts for the temporal, as well as spatial, dimensions of the paradoxical process of becoming a citizen. Spatially, the bodily interior becomes misperceived as social; in other words, sociality between people, the jangling and discords of democracy, is "interiorized" and experienced as competing desires, faculties, or "organs." In this way, Interior States argues, citizens mistake self-management for democratic participation. Temporally, this nervous self-management endlessly defers present pleasures to future goals, a deferral solidified by institutions. Castiglia tracks the process of interiorization in chapter 1, which introduces a useful term for the spacialization of the "deep self": federal affect. Federal affect channels local affections into federal coherence at the level of the nation. Through this process, local forms of sociality become either a relic of the past mourned in a range of literature, including Hannah Foster's The Coquette (1797) and Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" (1819), or a possibility foreclosed in the present as disruptive to civil peace. Crucially, as Castiglia emphasizes throughout Interior States, desire is not at odds with institutionalism but its most productive engine. It bolsters an emerging speculative capitalism that encourages citizens, as Castiglia notes, "to invest in pleasures deferred to some unspecified future" (190, emphasis in original).

Federal affect, as it turns out, was short lived, and Castiglia is most concerned with how emerging institutions replaced its aims and functions in the antebellum years. Thus, social theorist Francis Lieber, who famously promoted the institutions of democracy, is a key figure. Lieber voices what Castiglia calls a "theory of institutionality," the promise of public participation through self-management and the deferral of pleasure and sociability. As Castiglia clarifies, Lieber's theory of institutionality depended upon the assumption that the future will and should be maintained along the same premises as the present. Historians like Robert Wiebe and Cecilia Elizabeth O'Leary affirm what Castiglia traces: that national institutions in the United States preceded feelings of national loyalty.1 The Civil War is therefore [End Page 154] the absent conclusion to Castiglia's historical narrative: the moment when an unsteady nationalism lost its coherence but was sustained by northern institutionalism.

The emergence of a theory of the nervous system, which Interior States introduces in chapter 5, grounds the production of "institutional...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0342
Print ISSN
0011-1589
Pages
pp. 153-158
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-30
Open Access
No
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