Is there an American Focal Center? Community, Dissonance, and Myths of Nationhood in the 19th Century U.S.
Is there an American Focal Center?
Community, Dissonance, and Myths of Nationhood in the 19th Century U.S.
An exploration of the powers--and limits--of cultural mechanisms seeking to impart integrity and communalizing focus to a sprawling US society during the nineteenth century. At the outset, we’ll study US art and culture in general--maps, Currier and Ives engravings, and other cultural artifacts through the lens of which ostensible American wholeness and identity are imagined--as well as major theorists of the nation-building process such as Sacvan Bercovitch, Homi Bhabha, and Benedict Anderson. We’ll then proceed to focus throughout the remainder of the course on how the problem of a US focal center plays itself out in literary texts. To what degree do versions of a US communal imaginary become persuasive and credible against a backdrop that includes increasingly globalized, trans-national space, racial, class and gender inequities, Indian removal, immigration, slavery, and civil war? What sort of cultural work do rhetorics and symbols of American unity perform–-or fail to perform-–throughout this period? To what degree do symbolic affirmations of American unity require a supplementary amnesia: a forgetfulness of underlying conditions which much American literature and art then proceeds to remember?
Let me emphasize that by virtue of its very subject matter, this course gathers in a representative selection of literary and visual materials from across the spectrum of nineteenth-century American culture, and so serves to provide a fairly comprehensive guide to this period, and to nineteenth-century studies in general.
Readings will include the following (either in totality or by focusing on selections): Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes, in 1843; Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Portable Hawthorne; Whitman, Leaves of Grass; Whittier, Snow-Bound; Melville, Moby-Dick; Frederick Douglass, Narrative and My Bondage and My Freedom; Chief Seattle’s Speech and the text of the Indian Removal Act; W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills and Other Stories; Kate Chopin, The Awakening; Stephen Crane, The Portable Stephen Crane; Henry James, The American Scene.