Current Issue Article Abstracts
Spring 2017 Issue 5.1
“Narrating Slow Violence: Post-Reconstruction Necropolitics and Speculating beyond Liberal Anti-Race Fiction” explores through the works of W.E.B. Du Bois and Charles Chesnutt a post-Reconstruction racial order’s more dispersed, yet more virulent attritional biopolitics of “slow violence” and argues that turn-of-the-twentieth-century African American writers turned to a speculative realism as a narrative strategy to give shape to the differential vulnerabilities, risks, and devaluations of black life within early modern racial capitalism. To trace out this unstoried history of slow violence, the essay first looks at W.E.B. Du Bois’s study of “Negro Health” in The Philadelphia Negro (1899) and then turns for a more detailed narrative analysis to his ignored first novel The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) to argue that Du Bois in his fictionalized account of his earlier economic study of the tenant farmers in Lowndes County, Alabama, re-imagines a repressed story of negro health by showing how a necropolitics of contamination cooperated with a neo-slavery of debt and foreclosure. After recovering Du Bois’s speculative realism, the essay then examines how the fiction of Charles Chesnutt worked both to circulate and overturn liberal anti-race fiction’s representational strategies. Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901) is a text haunted by a never quite fully named slow violence that is finally closed off in the novel’s healing image of racial sympathy through a colorblind vulnerability to disease and death. In contrast, Chesnutt in his earlier conjure tales (1899) speculates beyond this liberal protest narrative by turning to the time of conjuring, which in its accelerated injury, overlap of temporalities, and blurring of human and nonhuman agency invokes the unrepresented story of the New South racial capitalism’s slow violence.
Several decades removed from the historical “turn” in professional literary study, formal aesthetic considerations remain central to the scholarship of nineteenth-century American literature. The body of writing on U.S. author Herman Melville’s work provides one among many sites where the resultant available range of critical methodologies, including both aesthetic and historical approaches, have co-existed, if not always peacefully. What follows is in part a meta-critical consideration of this co-existence, the better to account for the continued interpretive purchase of historicism amid the field-wide resurgence of a “New” Formalism. At the same time, by singling out the signature New Historicist interest in anecdote as a literary form, this essay not only attempts to reconcile historical and formalist approaches to Melville’s general oeuvre; it interrogates one of the writer’s specific mid-career novels, Israel Potter (1855), in a synthesizing effort to demonstrate how the “little” narrative vehicle of the anecdote informed the author’s valorizing investment (at once personal, historical, and aesthetic) in smallness.
Analyzing Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s proprietary authorship of Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883) in relation to her negotiation of US print culture reveals that the print cultures Winnemucca encountered in Boston and Nevada, as well as the cross-racial collaborations she formed in those locations, determined her uses of authorship. Although her cross-racial friendship with Elizabeth Palmer Peabody resulted in Winnemucca’s productive proprietary authorship, Life evidences extensive reprinting practices. Juxtaposing Winnemucca’s unacknowledged reprinting of General Oliver O. Howard’s Bannock War Report with her acknowledged reprinting of the Report of Major-General McDowell shows how Winnemucca used reprinting to rewrite the US military’s Bannock War narrative, signal successful cross-racial praxis, and intimate the betrayal she felt when Howard’s refused to defined her in print. This essay challenges Philip H. Round’s representation of proprietary authorship as a more productive tool for American Indian authors than was reprinting and disputes his representation of Peabody as steering Winnemucca into print. Doing so, it argues that increased attention to how individual American Indian authors used print culture, especially attention to extratextual materials such as the previously unexamined newspaper accounts this essay draws upon, will further understanding of nineteenth-century American Indian authorship.
This essay explores how patent law offered mid-nineteenth century American authors a conceptual framework for considering creative genius in terms of novelty and public disclosure. To receive a patent, inventors needed to share their ideas with the public and prove their novelty within broad historical and geographical contexts. Such principles were on display in the models in the U.S. Patent Office gallery, which materially showcased ideas of public disclosure crucial to the patent process. Linking literary accounts of the gallery’s collection to the legal and administrative functions of patent law, this essay explores how the intellectual and cultural history of patents informs literary discussions of novelty and the nation throughout the mid-nineteenth century. By examining writings by Emerson and Whitman in the context of the history of patents, we can see how the concept of patentable novelty offered an alternative to more individualist notions of originality in nineteenth-century discussions of creative genius and the political forces that shape them.
Constance Feminore Woolson’s poetic renderings of Civil War memory, most of them published in Appletons’ Journal from 1873 through 1877, examine the regionalization of speech as a factor bearing on national reconciliation—a concern that is largely absent from better-known commemorations by Melville, Whitman, Whittier, Lowell, and Piatt, and that remains underexplored in recent work in historical poetics. This essay finds Woolson participating in the cultural project of ballad reconstruction, employing vernacular modes and regional speech in the dramatic realism of her more successful dialogue-based poems. “Kentucky Belle,” popularized by actress Charlotte Cushman, marks the linguistic residue of antebellum sectionalism, which Woolson then formally subordinates to a national linguistic standard in the verse drama “Two Women” as well as “At the Smithy” and “Dolores.” While this standard offers an opportunity for the incorporation of oppressed minorities, it does not foster reconciliation between Northern and Southern whites. The terms of war memory favored regionalization. By contrast, Woolson’s genteel lyric commemorations in “Morris Island” and an unpublished poem on Gettysburg only mourn the war’s losses without the compensation of re-Union. Read as a collection, then, Woolson’s Civil War poems underscore the persistent visibility and audibility of Northern and Southern identities still shaped by war memory during the reconciliationist stage of the late nineteenth century.
This essay explores the imagery of Spiritualist religion that runs through Elizabeth Stoddard’s The Morgesons, arguing that the exercise of Spiritualist gifts including clairvoyance, trance-speaking, and spirit-traveling enables the Morgeson sisters to access multiple forms of cross-gender and cross-class agency. The Morgesons has long been read as a novel of secularization that records the decline of New England Calvinist orthodoxy in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. In fact The Morgesons depicts the secular situation in the antebellum period—characterized by increasing religious diversity and new religious modalities—and explores the multiple forms of female agency made available by a secular milieu. This essay reveals how critical regimes that prioritize liberal, secularized models of agency over discursive, secular models obscure the forms of circulating and collaborative agency at play in novels by Stoddard and other women writers.