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The Rise of Critical Space in Twentieth-Century American Fiction
Spencer focuses on distinct moments in the rise of critical space during the past century and relates them to the writing of Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch, Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt, Henri Lefebvre, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and Paul Virilio. The systematic and genealogical encounter between critical theory and American fiction reveals close parallels between and original analyses of these two areas of twentieth-century cultural discourse.
The hit Broadway show of 1912; the lost film of 1919; Katharine Hepburn, as Jo, sliding down a banister in George Cukor’s 1933 movie; Mark English’s shimmering 1967 illustrations; Jo—this time played by Sutton Foster—belting “I'll be / astonishing” in the 2004 Broadway musical flop: these are only some of the markers of the afterlife of Little Women. Then there’s the nineteenth-century child who wrote, “If you do not . . . make Laurie marry Beth, I will never read another of your books as long as I live.” Not to mention Miss Manners, a Little Women devotee, who announced that the book taught her an important life lesson: “Although it’s very nice to have two clean gloves, it’s even more important to have a little ink on your fingers.” In The Afterlife of “Little Women,” Beverly Lyon Clark, a leading authority on children’s literature, explores these and other after-tremors, both popular and academic, as she maps the reception of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel, first published in 1868. Clark divides her discussion into four historical periods. The first covers the novel’s publication and massive popularity in the late nineteenth century. In the second era—the first three decades of the twentieth century—the novel becomes a nostalgic icon of the domesticity of a previous century, while losing status among the literary and scholarly elite. In its mid-century afterlife (1930–1960), Little Women reaches a low in terms of its critical reputation but remains a well-known piece of Americana within popular culture. The book concludes with a long chapter on Little Women’s afterlife from the 1960s to the present—a period in which the reading of the book seems to decline, while scholarly attention expands dramatically and popular echoes continue to proliferate. Drawing on letters and library records as well as reviews, plays, operas, film and television adaptations, spinoff novels, translations, Alcott biographies, and illustrations, Clark demonstrates how the novel resonates with both conservative family values and progressive feminist ones. She grounds her story in criticism of children’s literature, book history, cultural studies, feminist criticism, and adaptation studies. Written in an accessible narrative style, The Afterlife of “Little Women” speaks to scholars, librarians, and devoted Alcott fans.
Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations
This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history's end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it. In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature's deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism. Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism's contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.
Antebellum American Writers and the Movement to Abolish Capital Punishment
In Against the Gallows, Paul Christian Jones explores the intriguing cooperation of America’s writers—including major figures such as Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, E. D. E. N. Southworth, and Herman Melville—with reformers, politicians, clergymen, and periodical editors who attempted to end the practice of capital punishment in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s. In an age of passionate reform efforts, the antigallows movement enjoyed broad popularity, waging its campaign in legislatures, pulpits, newspapers, and literary journals.
Postwar Poetry and the American Scene
W. H. Auden's emigration from England to the United States in 1939 marked more than a turning point in his own life and work--it changed the course of American poetry itself. The Age of Auden takes, for the first time, the full measure of Auden's influence on American poetry. Combining a broad survey of Auden's midcentury U.S. cultural presence with an account of his dramatic impact on a wide range of younger American poets--from Allen Ginsberg to Sylvia Plath--the book offers a new history of postwar American poetry.
For Auden, facing private crisis and global catastrophe, moving to the United States became, in the famous words of his first American poem, a new "way of happening." But his redefinition of his work had a significance that was felt far beyond the pages of his own books. Aidan Wasley shows how Auden's signal role in the work and lives of an entire younger generation of American poets challenges conventional literary histories that place Auden outside the American poetic tradition. In making his case, Wasley pays special attention to three of Auden's most distinguished American inheritors, presenting major new readings of James Merrill, John Ashbery, and Adrienne Rich. The result is a persuasive and compelling demonstration of a novel claim: In order to understand modern American poetry, we need to understand Auden's central place within it.
Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973
In a midcentury American cultural episode forgotten today, intellectuals of all schools shared a belief that human nature was under threat. The immediate result was a glut of dense, abstract books on the “nature of man.” But the dawning “age of the crisis of man,” as Mark Greif calls it, was far more than a historical curiosity. In this ambitious intellectual and literary history, Greif recovers this lost line of thought to show how it influenced society, politics, and culture before, during, and long after World War II.
During the 1930s and 1940s, fears of the barbarization of humanity energized New York intellectuals, Chicago protoconservatives, European Jewish émigrés, and native-born bohemians to seek “re-enlightenment,” a new philosophical account of human nature and history. After the war this effort diffused, leading to a rebirth of modern human rights and a new power for the literary arts.
Critics’ predictions of a “death of the novel” challenged writers to invest bloodless questions of human nature with flesh and detail. Hemingway, Faulkner, and Richard Wright wrote flawed novels of abstract man. Succeeding them, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, and Thomas Pynchon constituted a new guard who tested philosophical questions against social realities—race, religious faith, and the rise of technology—that kept difference and diversity alive.
By the 1960s, the idea of “universal man” gave way to moral antihumanism, as new sensibilities and social movements transformed what had come before. Greif’s reframing of a foundational debate takes us beyond old antagonisms into a new future, and gives a prehistory to the fractures of our own era.
Centennial Essays on the Works of James Agee
Drawn mainly from the centennial anniversary symposium on James Agee held at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2009, the essays of Agee at 100 are as diverse in topic and purpose as is Agee’s work itself. Often devalued during his life by those who thought his breadth a hindrance to greatness, Agee’s achievements as a poet, novelist, journalist, essayist, critic, documentarian, and screenwriter are now more fully recognized. With its use of previously unknown and recently recovered materials as well as established works, this groundbreaking new collection is a timely contribution to the resurgence of interest in Agee’s significance. The essays in this collection range from the scholarly to the personal, and all offer insight into Agee’s writing, his cultural influence, and ultimately Agee himself. Dwight Garner opens with his reflective essay on “Why Agee Matters.” Several essays present almost entirely new material on Agee. Paul Ashdown writes on Agee’s book reviews, which, unlike Agee’s film criticism, have received scant attention. With evidence from two largely unstudied manuscripts, Jeffrey Couchman sets the record straight on Agee’s contribution to the screenplay for The African Queen and delves as well into his television “miniseries” screenplay Mr. Lincoln. John Wranovics treats Agee’s lesser-known films--the documentaries In the Street and The Quiet One and the Filipino epic Genghis Khan. Jeffrey J. Folks wrestles with Agee’s “culture of repudiation” while James A. Crank investigates his perplexing treatment of race in his prose. Jesse Graves and Andrew Crooke provide new analyses of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Michael A. Lofaro and Philip Stogdon both discuss Lofaro’s recently restored text of A Death in the Family. David Madden closes the collection with his short story “Seeing Agee in Lincoln,” an imagined letter from Agee to his longtime confidante Father Flye.
Reading the Contemporary American Novel
A frequent complaint against contemporary American fiction is that too often it puts off readers in ways they find difficult to fathom. Books such as Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, and Don DeLillo's Underworld seem determined to upset, disgust, or annoy their readers-or to disorient them by shunning traditional plot patterns and character development. Kathryn Hume calls such works "aggressive fiction." Why would authors risk alienating their readers-and why should readers persevere? Looking beyond the theory-based justifications that critics often provide for such fiction, Hume offers a commonsense guide for the average reader who wants to better understand and appreciate books that might otherwise seem difficult to enjoy.
In her reliable and sympathetic guide, Hume considers roughly forty works of recent American fiction, including books by William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Chuck Palahniuk, and Cormac McCarthy. Hume gathers "attacks" on the reader into categories based on narrative structure and content. Writers of some aggressive fictions may wish to frustrate easy interpretation or criticism. Others may try to induce certain responses in readers. Extreme content deployed as a tactic for distancing and alienating can actually produce a contradictory effect: for readers who learn to relax and go with the flow, the result may well be exhilaration rather than revulsion.