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Abolitionist Geographies

Martha Schoolman

Traditional narratives of the period leading up to the Civil War are invariably framed in geographical terms. The sectional descriptors of the North, South, and West, like the wartime categories of Union, Confederacy, and border states, mean little without reference to a map of the United States. In Abolitionist Geographies, Martha Schoolman contends that antislavery writers consistently refused those standard terms.

Through the idiom Schoolman names “abolitionist geography,” these writers instead expressed their dissenting views about the westward extension of slavery, the intensification of the internal slave trade, and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law by appealing to other anachronistic, partial, or entirely fictional north–south and east–west axes. Abolitionism’s West, for instance, rarely reached beyond the Mississippi River, but its East looked to Britain for ideological inspiration, its North habitually traversed the Canadian border, and its South often spanned the geopolitical divide between the United States and the British Caribbean.

Schoolman traces this geography of dissent through the work of Martin Delany, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Wells Brown, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, among others. Her book explores new relationships between New England transcendentalism and the British West Indies; African-American cosmopolitanism, Britain, and Haiti; sentimental fiction, Ohio, and Liberia; John Brown’s Appalachia and circum-Caribbean marronage. These connections allow us to see clearly for the first time abolitionist literature’s explicit and intentional investment in geography as an idiom of political critique, by turns liberal and radical, practical and utopian.

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Aboriginal Canada Revisited

edited by Kerstin Knopf

Exploring a variety of topics—including health, politics, education, art, literature, media, and film—Aboriginal Canada Revisited draws a portrait of the current political and cultural position of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. While lauding improvements made in the past decades, the contributors draw attention to the systemic problems that continue to marginalize Aboriginal people within Canadian society. From the Introduction: “[This collection helps] to highlight areas where the colonial legacy still takes its toll, to acknowledge the manifold ways of Aboriginal cultural expression, and to demonstrate where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are starting to find common ground.” Contributors include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars from Europe and Canada, including Marlene Atleo, University of Manitoba; Mansell Griffin, Nisga’a Village of Gitwinksihlkw, British Columbia; Robert Harding, University College of the Fraser Valley; Tricia Logan, University of Manitoba; Steffi Retzlaff, McMaster University; Siobhán Smith, University of British Columbia; Barbara Walberg, Confederation College.

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Abstractionist Aesthetics

Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture

Phillip Brian Harper

In a major reassessment of African American culture, Phillip Brian Harper intervenes in the ongoing debate about the “proper” depiction of black people. He advocates for African American aesthetic abstractionism—a representational mode whereby an artwork, rather than striving for realist verisimilitude, vigorously asserts its essentially artificial character.  Maintaining that realist representation reaffirms the very social facts that it might have been understood to challenge, Harper contends that abstractionism shows up the actual constructedness of those facts, thereby subjecting them to critical scrutiny and making them amenable to transformation.
 
Arguing against the need for “positive” representations, Abstractionist Aesthetics displaces realism as the primary mode of African American representational aesthetics, re-centers literature as a principal site of African American cultural politics, and elevates experimental prose within the domain of African American literature. Drawing on examples across a variety of artistic production, including the visual work of Fred Wilson and Kara Walker, the music of Billie Holiday and Cecil Taylor, and the prose and verse writings of Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and John Keene, this book poses urgent questions about how racial blackness is made to assume certain social meanings. In the process, African American aesthetics are upended, rendering abstractionism as the most powerful modality for Black representation. 

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Academic Instincts

Marjorie Garber

In this lively and provocative book, cultural critic Marjorie Garber, who has written on topics as different as Shakespeare, dogs, cross-dressing, and real estate, explores the pleasures and pitfalls of the academic life. Academic Instincts discusses three of the perennial issues that have surfaced in recent debates about the humanities: the relation between "amateurs" and "professionals," the relation between one academic discipline and another, and the relation between "jargon" and "plain language." Rather than merely taking sides, the book explores the ways in which such debates are essential to intellectual life. Garber argues that the very things deplored or defended in discussions of the humanities cannot be either eliminated or endorsed because the discussion itself is what gives humanistic thought its vitality.

Written in spirited and vivid prose, and full of telling detail drawn both from the history of scholarship and from the daily press, Academic Instincts is a book by a well-known Shakespeare scholar and prize-winning teacher who offers analysis rather than polemic to explain why today's teachers and scholars are at once breaking new ground and treading familiar paths. It opens the door to an important nationwide and worldwide conversation about the reorganization of knowledge and the categories in and through which we teach the humanities. And it does so in a spirit both generous and optimistic about the present and the future of these disciplines.

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Academic Lives

Memoir, Cultural Theory, and the University Today

Cynthia G. Franklin

Since the early 1990s, there has been a proliferation of memoirs by tenured humanities professors. Although the memoir form has been discussed within the flourishing field of life writing, academic memoirs have received little critical scrutiny. Based on close readings of memoirs by such academics as Michael Bérubé, Cathy N. Davidson, Jane Gallop, bell hooks, Edward Said, Eve Sedgwick, Jane Tompkins, and Marianna Torgovnick, Academic Lives considers why so many professors write memoirs and what cultural capital they carry. Cynthia G. Franklin finds that academic memoirs provide unparalleled ways to unmask the workings of the academy at a time when it is dealing with a range of crises, including attacks on intellectual freedom, discontentment with the academic star system, and budget cuts.

Franklin considers how academic memoirs have engaged with a core of defining concerns in the humanities: identity politics and the development of whiteness studies in the 1990s; the impact of postcolonial studies; feminism and concurrent anxieties about pedagogy; and disability studies and the struggle to bring together discourses on the humanities and human rights. The turn back toward humanism that Franklin finds in some academic memoirs is surreptitious or frankly nostalgic; others, however, posit a wide-ranging humanism that seeks to create space for advocacy in the academic and other institutions in which we are all unequally located. These memoirs are harbingers for the critical turn to explore interrelations among humanism, the humanities, and human rights struggles.

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Accessories to Modernity

Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France

By Susan Hiner

Accessories to Modernity explores the ways in which feminine fashion accessories, such as cashmere shawls, parasols, fans, and handbags, became essential instruments in the bourgeois idealization of womanhood in nineteenth-century France. Considering how these fashionable objects were portrayed in fashion journals and illustrations, as well as fiction, the book explores the histories and cultural weight of the objects themselves and offers fresh readings of works by Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola, some of the most widely read novels of the period.

As social boundaries were becoming more and more fluid in the nineteenth century, one effort to impose order over the looming confusion came, in the case of women, through fashion, and the fashion accessory thus became an ever more crucial tool through which social distinction could be created, projected, and maintained. Looking through the lens of fashion, Susan Hiner explores the interplay of imperialist expansion and domestic rituals, the assertion of privilege in the face of increasing social mobility, gendering practices and their relation to social hierarchies, and the rise of commodity culture and woman's paradoxical status as both consumer and object within it.

Through her close focus on these luxury objects, Hiner reframes the feminine fashion accessory as a key symbol of modernity that bridges the erotic and proper, the domestic and exotic, and mass production and the work of art while making a larger claim about the "accessory" status—in terms of both complicity and subordination—of bourgeois women in nineteenth-century France. Women were not simply passive bystanders but rather were themselves accessories to the work of modernity from which they were ostensibly excluded.

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Accessus ad auctores

Medieval Introductions to the Authors

editor and translator

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Accounted For

Jeannine Savard

Accounted For is a collection of lyrical poems voiced by a multi-faceted persona negotiating the transience of self and the social and psychological illusions of time. Other selves are encountered—mirrored, intimated, drawn, or fully detailed, each opening a view to the fractures of psyche. Prayers, dreams, invocations, and meditations suggest a relationship with the Unseen that can breach the natural world with the power of image. Endless contingency and depth of vision characterize these poems, open wholly to the mysteries of life and death.

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The Achievement of Wendell Berry

The Hard History of Love

Fritz Oehlschlaeger

Arguably one of the most important American writers working today, Wendell Berry is the author of more than fifty books, including novels and collections of poems, short stories, and essays. A prominent spokesman for agrarian values, Berry frequently defends such practices and ideas as sustainable agriculture, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of work, and the interconnectedness of life. In The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love, Fritz Oehlschlaeger provides a sweeping engagement with Berry’s entire corpus. The book introduces the reader to Berry’s general philosophy and aesthetic through careful consideration of his essays. Oehlschlaeger pays particular attention to Berry as an agrarian, citizen, and patriot, and also examines the influence of Christianity on Berry’s writings. Much of the book is devoted to lively close readings of Berry’s short stories, novels, and poetry. The Achievement of Wendell Berry is a comprehensive introduction to the philosophical and creative world of Wendell Berry, one that offers new critical insights into the writing of this celebrated Kentucky author.

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Achilles and the Tortoise

Mark Twain's Fictions

 Covering the entire body of Mark Twain's fiction, Clark Griffith in Achilles and the Tortoise answers two questions: How did Mark Twain write? And why is he funny? Griffith defines and demonstrates Mark Twain's poetics and, in doing so, reveals Twain's ability to create and sustain human laughter.

 Through a close reading of the fictions–short and long, early and late–Griffith contends that Mark Twain's strength lay not in comedy or in satire or (as the 19th century understood the term) even in the practice of humor. Rather his genius lay in the joke, specifically the "sick joke." For all his finesse and seeming variety, Twain tells the same joke, with its single cast of doomed and damned characters, its single dead-end conclusion, over and over endlessly.

As he attempted to attain the comic resolution and comically transfigured characters he yearned for, Twain forever played, for Griffith, the role of the Achilles of Zeno's Paradox. Like the tortoise that Achilles cannot overtake in Zeno's tale, the richness of comic life forever remained outside Twain's grasp.

The last third of Griffith's study draws parallels between Mark Twain and Herman Melville. Although the two authors never met and seem not to have read each other's works, they labored under the sense of what, in Moby-Dick, Ishmael calls "a vast practical joke . . . at nobody's expense but [one's] own." The laughter occasioned by this cosmic conspiracy shapes the career of Huckleberry Finn fully as much as it does Ishmael's voyage. Out of the laughter are generated the respective obsessions of Captain Ahab and Bartleby, of Pudd'nhead Wilson and Hadleyburg. Reduced at last to a dry mock, the laughter is the prevailing tone of both Billy Budd and The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts.

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