You are looking at 161-180 of 574 articles
Any writer attempting an overview of Frederick Douglass's life and work confronts an embarrassment of riches: Douglass himself undertook the task not once but three times—in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself (1881), a volume itself reprinted with additional material in 1892. Each book is rewarding in its own right, each sums up a distinct phase in Douglass's long and astonishingly productive career, and together they give us an indispensable record of the nineteenth century: of the abolition movement; the meteoric rise of the Republican Party; the Civil War, Reconstruction; and beginning in the mid-1870s, the bitter forfeiture of the great emancipating enterprise that the better angels of our nature (as Lincoln might have said) have always held in view.
By most accounts, Theodore Dreiser is considered a modern American writer, which is to say that philosophically and thematically his work belongs to the twentieth century instead of the nineteenth. As a result he is often compared to such writers as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Indeed, Fitzgerald's most famous work, The Great Gatsby, and Dreiser's most famous work, An American Tragedy, were both published in 1925. Both novels are set in the Roaring Twenties and concern the baneful influence of American materialism. Yet while the set for Fitzgerald's novel includes flappers and bootleg whiskey, Dreiser's work reaches back to the second half of the nineteenth century for some of its cultural artifacts, which he mixes freely with those of the 1920s. Whereas Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as part of the Lost Generation of Americans in Paris during the 1920s, responded to the heady materialism in America, Dreiser was equally concerned about the American malaise as it had existed in the 1880s and 1890s, during the era of the robber barons, whose American fortunes often relied on the exploitation of immigrants such as Dreiser's German-born father.
Half-way between Maine and Florida, in the heart of the Alleghenies,” wrote W. E. B. Du Bois in John Brown (1909), the year before he helped found the NAACP, “a mighty gateway lifts its head and discloses a scene which, a century and a quarter ago, Thomas Jefferson said was ‘worthy a voyage across the Atlantic.’ ” Whereupon he continues citing Jefferson's words from Notes on the State of Virginia (1785):
David L. Dudley
Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872, became the first African American to make his living solely as a writer. When he died of tuberculosis in 1906, he was perhaps the most famous and best-loved black man in America. During a short but prolific career, Dunbar composed about five hundred poems, one hundred short stories, four novels, many essays, and song lyrics. His public performances of his own works were wildly popular, and generations of African Americans were raised knowing, often by heart, his best-loved poems.
In 1896, William Dean Howells, dean of American literary critics, hailed Dunbar’s work, but singled out the dialect poems for special praise. The public preferred them, too. For the decade that remained to him, Dunbar continued to write dialect poems, some of which seem to reinforce negative stereotypes of African Americans, and others that appear to romanticize the “good old days” of the antebellum South. On the other hand, Dunbar produced essays and poetry critical of America and the severe limits and indignities imposed on African Americans. Why would such a writer produce works so contradictory? This has been the crux of Dunbar studies almost from the time of his death. His critical reception reveals much about the taste and political views of subsequent generations of his readers and critics, who would do well to remember the enormous challenges facing Dunbar and all African American artists who strove to find their voices and make a living during those post-Reconstruction years, the “nadir” of the black experience in America.
Not until the end of the 20th century did scholars begin to look at early African American print culture in the depth it deserves. A story painfully intertwined with the transatlantic slave system and racism, early black print engagement combined, from its beginnings, responses to white aggression and a powerful set of individual and communal desires to read about, record, and, via print, share truths of black life in the United States. Some of the first creators of black print in the United States, from the authors of the earliest slave narratives to poet Phillis Wheatley, had to think through questions of individual and communal identity vis-à-vis emerging American socio-political structures and find ways to ensure control over their own voices in a white-dominated culture that tried to exclude, use, or abuse those voices.
But early black print culture is not simply the story of a single genre like the slave narrative or of exceptional individuals like Wheatley. Rather, it is also the story of organizational print tied to churches, conventions, and activist groups. It is as well the story of a diverse range of modes, from the rich pamphleteering tradition (perhaps most excitingly expressed by David Walker) to early black periodicals like those edited by Samuel Cornish and Philip Bell. Especially after 1830, it also became the story of a range of black women (from Maria Stewart and Jarena Lee to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper), of African Americans across the North (and occasionally in the midst of the slave South), and of an increasing number of formats, genres, and approaches. And it became a story of how black activists might interact (in print and beyond) with white antislavery activists, recognizing both shared and different goals and philosophies as they attempted to fight not only for emancipation but for broader civil rights.
Andrew Way Leong
Early Japanese American literature is not just the sum total of literary works written by the first persons of Japanese descent in the United States. Nor is it just a set of texts where two pre-existing categories of “Japanese” and “American” national literature happened to overlap. Early Japanese American literature is best understood as an ideological terrain, an arena where later, taken-for-granted ideas about the boundaries of identities and literatures known as “Japanese” and “Japanese American” were first constructed.
Due to the enduring legacies of single-nation and monolingual approaches to the study of modern literatures, only a handful of scholars have devoted serious comparative attention to the long history and formal breadth of literary production by persons of Japanese descent who traveled to or resided within the continental United States. In linguistic terms, early Japanese American literary production includes works written in Japanese, English, and other languages, such as classical Chinese, German, and Russian. In historical terms, the emergence of early Japanese American literature extends from travel narratives produced by castaways in the 1820s to the publication of full-fledged literary magazines and newspaper sections in the 1890s. In formal terms, early Japanese American literature includes literary forms that readers more familiar with European contexts might associate with early modernity, such as phrasebooks, essays on education, spiritual autobiographies, and diplomatic guides.
Jonathan Edwards is perhaps bestknown for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741). The occasion for it was a Sunday service on 8 July 1741 in a church in Enfield, Connecticut. Edwards reportedly read his message in a level voice, as usual, without gesticulation or outburst. Yet his words had a very powerful effect on the congregation listening to him, members of which were brought to tears, and on a generation of New England readers who received the sermon in published form later that same year. Apparently, the power of his rhetoric was not solely in his delivery, whether spoken or written, but in the strength of his conviction.
Ekphrasis is a Greek term whose etymological meaning is “to speak out” or “to show in full.” Debates on ekphrasis go back to classical antiquity and Homer’s lines on Hephaestos making Achilles’ shield in Book 18 of the epic The Iliad (8th century
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on 26 September 1888 in St. Louis. The Eliots originally hailed from Somerset in England and settled in America in the late seventeenth century. They began as a Boston family, but Eliot's grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, settled in Missouri in 1834 to preach as a Unitarian minister, dying the year before Eliot was born. Eliot's father, Henry Ware Eliot, a prosperous manufacturer of bricks, was in his forties by the time his wife, Charlotte, gave birth to their last child, T. S. Eliot, who had four elder sisters and a brother.
The writer Stanley Elkin is perhaps known best for his prodigious ear for comedy, although his work is equally admired for its virtuosic prose: its legato phrasing and staccato rhythms, its unique mixture of high and low idioms, its mastery over extending metaphors, and its singular ability to push language to extremes rarely matched in American literature. Born to Phil Elkin and Zelda Feldman in Brooklyn, New York, on 11 May 1930, he spent most of his childhood in Chicago, Illinois, eventually studying English at the University of Illinois, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1952, a master's degree in 1953, and a doctorate in 1961. In 1960 Elkin became an instructor in English at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he would remain for the rest of his life, becoming assistant professor in 1962, associate professor in 1966, and full professor in 1969. In 1983 Elkin was appointed Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at the university. Diagnosed in 1972 with multiple sclerosis, Elkin remained remarkably prolific despite his illness, writing ten novels, two collections of novellas, a collection of essays, and three scripts in his lifetime. He received numerous awards, including the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award in 1980 for his novel The Living End (1979). The Dick Gibson Show (1971), Searches and Seizures (1973), and The MacGuffin (1991) were nominated for the National Book Award in fiction. Searches and Seizures received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in 1974. The 1976 film Alex and the Gypsy was based on one of the novellas contained in Searches and Seizures. He was awarded two National Book Critics Circle Awards in fiction: the first came in 1982 for his novel George Mills (1982), about a one-thousand-year lineage of cursed losers all named George Mills, and the second in 1995, posthumously, for Mrs. Ted Bliss (1995), a novel published that year about a widow at an elderly retirement village who finds herself involved with a drug ring.
William R. Nash
Although he published relatively little (several stories, two collections of essays, some prefaces, and one novel) in his lifetime, Ralph Ellison indisputably ranks among the most important writers of the twentieth century. His National Book Award–winning novel, Invisible Man (1952), is a masterpiece of form and content that set a standard by which all subsequent American philosophical novels have been judged. An African American who believed firmly in integration, Ellison created in Invisible Man a portrait of a black man who resolves his identity crisis by recognizing and embracing his link to American society, even as he acknowledges the injustice that white America has done him and all his fellow blacks. Because of his integrationist views, Ellison often appeared out of step with prevailing currents of the African-American literary canon, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the architects of the Black Aesthetic derided him as an irrelevant Uncle Tom. With the rise of multiculturalism and the reassessment of definitions of identity and race in the 1980s and 1990s, however, Ellison regained an unchallenged position of prominence in American letters. Regardless of whether his popularity was waxing or waning, Ellison never wavered from his intellectual course, always arguing that blacks were integral to any true sense of American identity and that one could not sever the ties that bind black and white culture in America. In many ways a prophet, he was among the clearest observers of life in twentieth-century America, where race was central to virtually all discussions of personal and national identity.
Sheldon W. Liebman
By 1860, the United States hadachieved what few Europeans and even fewer Americans of an earlier generation would have thought possible: a level of literary excellence so surprising that it took more than half a century to acknowledge it. By that year, half a dozen writers—Poe, Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman—had written such an astonishing number of important works that the preceding decade or so has come to be called the American Renaissance. However, at that point in the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was the only one of these writers who had attained a degree of popularity commensurate with his later literary reputation. Even after the 1860s, his fame continued to grow, prompting a dozen or so memoirs, biographies, and studies between the time of his death and the revival of attention that was accorded the aforementioned writers shortly after World War I. He was also known widely in Europe, especially in England, where he was lauded by the most important members of the literary establishment: the essayist Thomas Carlyle, the poet-critic Matthew Arnold, and the novelist George Eliot
Tamara S. Wagner
Colonial settler narratives comprise chiefly fictional as well as autobiographically inspired or anecdotal writing about emigration and settler life. The 19th century saw an increasingly systematic mass migration across the globe that proceeded on an unprecedented scale. Global movements, including emigration and return, were facilitated by improved transport technology, new trading routes, and burgeoning emigration societies. A new market for writing about migration and the settler world emerged. The settler narratives of British colonizers present a valuable record of growing public interest in the experience of emigrants and settlers at the time. Whereas accounts of first-hand experience at first simply formed a central part of an expanding information industry and were promptly harnessed by pro-emigration propaganda, settler narratives quickly evolved into a diverse set of writing that consisted of (1) prescriptive and cautionary accounts, presented in narrative form, (2) tales of exploration and adventure, including bush yarns and mateship narratives, as well as (3) detailed descriptions of everyday settler life in domestic and increasingly also New Woman fiction. Equally important, writing produced within the settler colonies had a twofold relationship with British-authored literature, written at the imperial center, and hence participated in the formation of literary traditions on several levels. Exploring Victorian narratives of the colonial settler world helps map how genre travels and becomes transformed, shaping the literature of a global 19th century. These narratives provide a rich source of material for a much-needed reassessment of the diverse experiences and representations of emigration and settlement in the 19th century, while demanding renewed attention as an important part of literary history.
While the relationship between humans and environment in Australia stretches back some 50,000 years, the colonization of the continent by Europeans in the late 18th century dramatically altered Australia’s ecology. Creative literature has responded variously to the encounter that colonization precipitated. In particular, modulations appear through successive epistemological and ideological paradigms: Enlightenment rationality, romantic sensibility, nationalist celebration, and ecological alarm. While early conservationist impulses are visible in the colonial period, in the middle of the 20th century, the birth of the modern ecological consciousness understands that not only particular species or habitats are at risk, but the entirety of nature seems to suddenly face a historically unprecedented vulnerability. In this sense, it is methodologically useful to separate Australian environmental texts between those that are “pre-ecological” and those that are “post-ecological.”
Western American literature is a diverse body of writing that documents human responses to the ecological changes that have reshaped the region over the years. The literature includes narratives of contact and encounter, nonfiction nature essays, borderlands literature, popular Westerns, hard-boiled detective narratives, Dust Bowl novels, eco-memoirs, climate change fiction, and other genres. At a time when the West faces a number of environmental crises, a survey of the region provides insights into how we arrived at this point by addressing key moments in the environmental past, including struggles over land use, conflicts over resources, the historical meanings of eco-disaster, and efforts at finding solutions to these problems. In settler colonial imaginaries, the region appears as a space of promise and possibility. It offers a retreat from a hyper-modernizing world and serves as a bulwark against changes taking place elsewhere. In this way, the region is also a shifting terrain associated with the nation’s moving frontiers and contact zones, as Europeans continually pushed beyond the spaces of their previous settlements. Before the West was called the West, however, it was home to hundreds of tribal groups who did not configure the land through this geographical lens. Likewise, for some Hispanics, it was known as Aztlán, the mythic land of the ancient Aztecs, and also el Norte. Beginning in the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants called the area in what is present-day California “gold mountain,” while from 1733 to 1867, parts of the West from Alaska to California were recognized as “Russian America.” As a place that calls forth diverse memories about encounters and conflicts, stories about dispossession and recovery, and dreams of enrichment and tales of going bust, the West remains a contested terrain whose literature carries traces of the economies and ecologies of the people who have made it their home.
Louise Erdrich was born in LittleFalls, Minnesota, in 1954, the eldest of seven children raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, not far from the Turtle Mountain Reservation, where their mother was born. Her parents, of German-American and Ojibwe (Chippewa) descent, taught at the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school. Erdrich attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1976, after which she earned her M.A. degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. Since then she has written eight adult novels, one nonfiction book, three children's books, and two poetry collections. She received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), and she was a finalist for the National Book Award for The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001). In addition, Erdrich's children's book The Birchbark House (1999), which she illustrated, was a finalist for the National Book Award for young people's literature. She also edited the 1993 edition of The Best American Short Stories
Any discussion of the American essay must begin with the problem of definition, rooted in the bifurcate history of the essay and in the nature of the genre itself. Depending on the type of essay in discussion, one of two progenitors is named: the Frenchman Michel de Montaigne, father of the informal essay, or the Englishman Francis Bacon, father of the formal. In the years since 1580 and 1601, when, respectively, Montaigne and Bacon published their first volumes of essays, writers and critics have wrangled over the “true” characteristics of the essay in an attempt to nail down the form. But if anything has remained constant about the essay over the centuries, it is the essay's refusal to remain in one place, its chameleonic adaptability to the changing social, political, and literary climate. Thus, the essay may be labeled familiar, personal, autobiographical, literary, creative nonfiction, or academic; or it may be named for its chief subject: the nature essay, the science essay, the philosophical essay, the review essay. It may take the shape of a letter, a periodical serial, a political tract, a newspaper or magazine column. Whatever the prevailing label or shape, the American essay is as varied as its possibilities.
Niels Ole Finnemann
Electronic text can be defined on two different, though interconnected, levels. On the one hand, electronic text can be defined by taking the notion of “text” or “printed text” as the point of departure. On the other hand, electronic text can be defined by taking the digital format as the point of departure, where everything is represented in the binary alphabet. While the notion of text in most cases lends itself to being independent of medium and embodiment, it is also often tacitly assumed that it is in fact modeled on the print medium, instead of, for instance, on hand-written text or speech. In late 20th century, the notion of “text” was subjected to increasing criticism, as can be seen in the question that has been raised in literary text theory about whether “there is a text in this class.” At the same time, the notion was expanded by including extralinguistic sign modalities (images, videos). A basic question, therefore, is whether electronic text should be included in the enlarged notion that text is a new digital sign modality added to the repertoire of modalities or whether it should be included as a sign modality that is both an independent modality and a container that can hold other modalities. In the first case, the notion of electronic text would be paradigmatically formed around the e-book, which was conceived as a digital copy of a printed book but is now a deliberately closed work. Even closed works in digital form will need some sort of interface and hypertextual navigation that together constitute a particular kind of paratext needed for accessing any sort of digital material.
In the second case, the electronic text is defined by the representation of content and (some parts of the) processing rules as binary sequences manifested in the binary alphabet. This wider notion would include, for instance, all sorts of scanning results, whether of the outer cosmos or the interior of our bodies and of digital traces of other processes in-between (machine readings included). Since other alphabets, such as the genetic alphabet and all sorts of images may also be represented in the binary alphabet, such materials will also belong to the textual universe within this definition. A more intriguing implication is that born-digital materials may also include scripts and interactive features as intrinsic parts of the text.
The two notions define the text on different levels: one is centered on the Latin, the other on the binary alphabet, and both definitions include hypertext, interactivity, and multimodality as constituent parameters. In the first case, hypertext is included as a navigational, paratextual device; whereas in the second case, hypertext is also incorporated in the narrative within an otherwise closed work or as a constituent element on the textual universe of the web, where it serves the ongoing production of (possibly scripted) connections and disconnections between blocks of textual content. Since the early decades of early 21st century still represent only the very early stages of the globally distributed universe of web texts, this is also a history of the gradual unfolding of the dimensions of these three constituencies—hypertext, interactivity, and multimodality. The result is a still-expanding repertoire of genres, including some that are emerging via path dependency; some via remediation; and some as new genres that are unique for networked digital media, including “social media texts” and a growing variety of narrative and discursive multiple-source systems.
Asian American literature has capaciously explored the issues of gender, sexuality, and reproduction that have been so foundational to Asian American racial formation. It has likewise engaged, directly or indirectly, with “eugenics,” a pseudoscience by which nation states sought to improve their populations through managing reproduction. Eugenics, a term coined by Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton in 1883, spans the late 19th to the early 21st centuries, where it continues in the form of population control and the “new” eugenics of genetic and reproductive technologies. In some national sites eugenics was aligned with feminist movements for birth control, whereas in others, such as the United States, they were largely opposed. Nonetheless, eugenic feminists argued that women’s right reproduction was the necessary mechanism by which women should gain rights within the state; as a formation, moreover, eugenic feminism specifically targeted Asian American women as standing in the way of US feminist advance. As such, one of the key ways eugenics was practiced in the United States in relationship to Asian populations was through immigration policy. The history of Asian exclusion in the United States therefore speaks to a larger eugenic project predicated on the notion that Asian immigrants embodied a public health threat in terms of diseases and deviant sexualities of various sorts. The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act opened up Asian immigration to the United States and also gave rise to a new set of stereotypes, gendered and otherwise, about Asian Americans as model minorities. Asian American literature has critically mined these issues, with some Asian American literature acceding to eugenics by stressing an assimilationist politics and with other works challenging it by critiquing eugenics’ reproductive logic of purity.
Robert W. Rix
From the 1750s until the 1840s, the interest in Icelandic manuscripts of mythology and heroic sagas, as well as various forms of Nordic folklore, entered a new phase. One of the central reasons for this was an emergent attention to vernacular, national, and even primitive literature associated with the rise of Romanticism. Investigations of the Nordic past had been carried out before this time, and a popular craze for all things “Viking” came later in the 19th century, but the Romantic period marks a major juncture in relation to providing the Old North with cultural meaning. If the intellectual history of rediscovering Old Norse texts (i.e., poetry and prose written in the North Germanic language until the 14th century, known primarily from Icelandic manuscripts) and medieval Nordic folklore (found in medieval ballads, sagas, and heroic legends) differed in various European countries, there was also a remarkable sense of common aim and purpose in the reception history as it developed during the Romantic period. This was because European scholars and writers had come to see medieval Nordic texts as epitomizing the manners and literature of a common Germanic past. In particular, Old Norse texts from Icelandic manuscripts were believed to preserve the pre-Christian religion, as this was once shared by Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and the Franks. Thus, interest in such texts circulated with particular intensity between Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain, as well as, to a lesser degree, France. Paradoxically, if medieval Nordic texts were seen as wild and unwieldy pieces, unaffected by classical learning and sophistication, they were also sought out as triumphant records of the vernacular and national. In addition to this, the untamed use of fantastic and sublime elements in these texts fitted into a new Romantic emphasis on the primitive and imaginative resources of literature.
There are three interrelated areas in which Nordic texts made an impact. The first of these was in the field of antiquarian studies. Scholars had taken an interest in the texts and culture of the Nordic past beginning in the 17th century, publishing their findings primarily in Latin. But efforts were redoubled after Paul Henri Mallet, a professor at Copenhagen, published a popular history of the Old North (1755) and a selection of Norse poetry (1756) in French. These works gained wide European traction and influenced the reception history in fundamental ways during the Romantic period. The second area of impact was the acceleration of translations and/or adaptations of original manuscript texts that began to appear in modern European languages. But, in effect, a relatively small body of texts were repeated and reworked in various national languages. The third area in which the interest in Nordic literature asserted its impact was among writers and poets, who trawled antiquarian works on Norse history and mythology as an ore to be mined for the purpose of creating—or rather reviving—a national literature. This was a literature that consciously broke with classical models and decorum to provide a new poetic orientation that was both more vernacular and imaginative.
The celebration of medieval Nordic literature cannot be treated in isolation, as if it were an independent phenomenon; it was part of a wider revival of ancient national/vernacular literary forms around Europe. To a significant degree, the attention to Old Norse texts was propelled by the phenomenal success that the Gaelic Ossian poetry enjoyed across Europe. Norse poetry was harnessed as a Germanic parallel that could match both the vigor and purported ancientness of the Ossian tradition. Sometimes the Nordic past was invoked as a larger legacy that represented a shared ethno-cultural past; at other times, it was used with a more focused nationalist aim. But, whatever the intent in individual circumstances, the rediscovery of the Old North took place through the circulation of ideas and key texts as part of a wider European exchange.