Current Issue Article Abstracts
Volume 8, Number 2, Fall 2020
Ledger No. 1
Christina Michelon, Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Megan Walsh
This essay explores how Frederick Douglass’s The Heroic Slave (1853) both reveals and intervenes in the often-implicit controversies over the accessibility of slave interiority for white audiences that underpinned competing representations of slavery in the antebellum public sphere. Focusing on The Heroic Slave’s exploration of white people’s desire to probe the inner lives of enslaved persons, the essay argues that The Heroic Slave not only displays Douglass’s skillful deployment of fiction, but also constitutes a complex metafictional engagement with fiction’s increasingly central role in the struggle over slavery. As fiction became an important genre for representing slavery in the early 1850s, the conventions of fiction, especially its direct narration of unspoken thoughts and feelings, increasingly mediated how white audiences understood their ability to access the inner lives of enslaved persons. In The Heroic Slave, Douglass developed alternative formal strategies for representing slave interiority in fiction in order to resist the fantasy of complete knowledge of inner life associated with conventional fictional psychonarration. Drawing on recent work on fictionality, this essay shows how Douglass retheorized fiction’s value, positing fiction as both a useful vehicle for probing inner life and a powerful means of confronting readers with the necessarily speculative nature of this revelatory access to interiority.
Pleasure in Melville’s fiction is never unalloyed. It is inseparable from pain and dependent upon economic forms: in “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids,” the Melvillean bachelors’ delights are part of an economic system that opposes the British owners’ pleasurable leisure to the American laborers’ painful efforts. This exemplifies what Catherine Gallagher has described as the “somaeconomics” of the classical political economic tradition (Smith, Ricardo, Mill), the central tenet of which is a “pain theory of value.” It also signals a globalized understanding of economic forces that have an impact on bodies and affects.
This essay argues that such a Western “pain theory of value” is at the core of the narrator’s perception of work and leisure in Typee and Omoo. In these works, the narrator’s representation of the Polynesian proto-economy of pleasure, characterized by what I call a “pleasure theory of value,” is gradually replaced by the Western somaeconomics of toil and suffering, a combination of Protestantism and capitalism. Such a replacement replicates and defines the colonization process itself. In both narratives, an economic understanding of pleasure and pain (and conversely, a somatic understanding of the economy) is at the core of the description of imperialism in Polynesia.
The Sweet Truth of Slavery
This article performs a case study of the post-truth phenomenon in American literature. The discourse around post-truth has gained prominence as a means to explain recent political upheavals and media innovations; arguments about the topic frequently proceed from the assumption that post-truth rhetoric is adjunct to new mass media technologies and thus is novel. This article studies a set of pro-slavery novels that borrow from slave narratives and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin— “anti-Tom” novels—to demonstrate a much earlier instance of the phenomenon. One goal of this article is to question the periodization assigned to post-truth as a means to begin to contend with post-truth’s enduring relationship to how race is constructed on the page. The larger goal of this argument is to consider the radical in/visibilization of black suffering “anti-Tom” novels perform which destabilizes the racial claims these texts seek to make.
Drawing on transnational approaches to American literature, this essay reconsiders the politics of US Civil War cartoons. Whereas prior studies analyze how pro-Union and Confederate periodicals satirize both the enemy and themselves to bolster their respective causes, I ask what is at stake in jokes about foreign encounters. In the largely unstudied humor magazine Yankee Notions, cartoons persistently touch on fears that the war would weaken the country’s status and fantasies that Union victory could affirm US global authority. The cartoons strive to manage these sentiments by revising familiar caricatures. In so doing, they implicitly assure readers that Americans understand foreign peoples and themselves well enough to make light of international relations. Moreover, the magazine defines who is worth knowing, as it focuses on how Europe views the United States and vice versa. The cartoons thereby assert that ostensibly white, civilized empires recognize the Union as their equal, while occluding questions of how peoples of color view US imperialism.
This article explores the transnational and gendered aspects of nineteenth-century poem dedications authored by women in Spanish-language newspapers. These intimate exchanges routinely contaminated the public sphere with very personal missives, resulting in the development of a genre that was both socially performative and literary. The article considers a previously unstudied exchange between the Central American poet Amelia Denis and the Mexican-American poet Carlota S. Gutierrez as a flashpoint for thinking through these issues. In September of 1875, Denis dedicated a poem “A la Señorita Carlota S. Gutierrez” in the San Salvador newspaper La America Central. Gutierrez published her response in May of 1876 in La Crónica of Los Angeles, with the title: “A la Inspirada Poetisa Columbiana Amelia Denis.” Their poems express intense admiration for one another via the articulation of a collaborative and gendered ars poetica. They also emphasize Latinx identity as playing a part in creativity, Denis referring to Gutierrez’s poetry as “flower of Mexican soil.” While the industrialized production and circulation of paper media puts women across continents in contact, my study contends that it is the unique form of the poem dedication that makes this precarious and gendered performance of panlatinidad possible in the nineteenth century.
Recent calls for literary critics to return to form and affect have faulted historicist methods for denying textual alterity. Historicism was likewise cast as a tool for denying textual power in the course of Protestant debates about Bible reading in the late nineteenth century. This essay tracks the charge of historicist narcissism as a constitutive link between sacred and secular reading practices from then to now. It describes a shared project, carried on by literary studies and theology alike, of protecting free agency from the felt threat of historicist determinism. But by reexamining the theological counterargument for a historicism that enhanced, not diminished, a reader’s encounter with divine alterity, the essay also demonstrates that historicism is not always secularizing. The point is not to argue for a more thoroughly secular mode of historicism, nor to expose the religiosity at the heart of literary studies. The point is to articulate an ideal of historically embedded alterity that can stand as a professional value worth defending.
This forum explores how the fraught nexus of gender and race became central to questions of citizenship and the franchise in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. How did conceptions of the populace – an unremitting contestation of the “we” in “We the People”– shift with the changing electorate before, during, and after the Civil War? Following an introduction by Christopher Malone, Leila Mansouri investigates how slave narratives staged the paradoxes of black electoral politics during the antebellum period. Laura Free then ponders the loyalty oaths imposed on southerners in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, exploring their relevance to more fundamental questions of citizenship and inclusion. Next, through a close reading of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Jennie Kassanoff uncovers how the “gerrymandered black body” consolidated the myth of white male majority rule in an era of tense partisan reapportionment. Collectively, these essays ask us to consider the ways that the nineteenth century continues to reverberate in contemporary debates over race, gender, citizenship and voting rights in today’s fractious United States.
Voting Rights in the Age of Formal Equality
Outvoting: Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Logic of Apportionment
Jennie A. Kassanoff