The Early Nation
In this course, we will address a set of literary texts written in the U.S. between (roughly) 1790 and 1860, not as examples of a seemingly self-evident category (early national American literature) but rather as an opportunity to interrogate what literature has to do with nationality. We will consider how competing ideas about citizenship and national belonging are at stake in the literary texts themselves at a historical moment when the relation of “literature” to “politics” was differently imagined than today. The readings will invite us to examine how the simultaneously tangible and intangible thing that is “the nation” is bound up in conceptions of freedom, property, race, class, and gender, and, too, in the institutions (such as the law, the market, and the family) where these conceptions are materialized and reproduced. Relatedly, we will explore competing definitions of the literary in the period and how ideologies of nationhood are linked to norms of literary value.
Reading will include work by Susanna Rowson (Charlotte Temple), Charles Brockden Brown (Edgar Huntly), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Herman Melville (Benito Cereno) and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), as well as short fiction by Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Critical materials will include essays by Cathy Davidson, Michael Warner, Jacques Derrida, Joan Dayan, Michael Rogin, Karen Sanchez-Eppler, and Valerie Smith.