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Article

Aesthetics and Form in Charles Darwin’s Writings  

Ian Duncan

Aesthetic modes and categories of perception and judgement were crucial to the development of Charles Darwin’s “theory of descent with modification through natural selection.” Indeed, Darwin understood the aesthetic as fundamentally constitutive of the natural historian’s method. In the closing retrospect of the journal of his circumnavigation as ship’s naturalist on HMS Beagle (1836), Darwin assesses his experience in aesthetic terms—of pleasure and pain, wonder and horror, the picturesque and sublime—rather than in terms of acquired scientific knowledge. Darwin’s account of the voyage makes aesthetic discrimination the main technique of natural-historical observation: it affords cognition of the natural world as a complex interplay of formal differences constituting a dynamic totality, a living system. A key aesthetic category, the sublime, articulates the awful discrepancy between human and natural scales of history, event, and meaning. Darwin makes a strategic appeal to the aesthetic to justify his new vision of nature to the Victorian public, overriding its scandalous ethical and political implications, in On the Origin of Species (1859): “There is grandeur in this view of life . . . from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” As well as the exposition of an argument, the Origin is a treatise on method. Darwin trains his readers to appreciate the evaluative scrutiny of formal difference that characterizes the operation of natural selection itself. The opening chapter, on artificial selection, proposes the domestic animal breeder as a “connoisseur,” expert in assessing minute morphological variations without concern for an ultimate end—that is, the improvement of the race. The figure is an analogue for natural selection, the motive principle of which is the fine but decisive discrimination (for life or death) of individual differences. The “powers of discrimination and taste” determine human evolution—constituting its medium, the semi-autonomous domain of culture—according to Darwin’s next synthetic statement of his theory. The Descent of Man (1871) proposes the supplementary agency of sexual selection as the main motor of human cultural development. Its productive principle is, once again, the evaluation of fine formal differences (“there is in the mind of man a strong love for slight changes in all things”), trained, however, upon pleasurable appearance rather than function or use. Sexual selection generates “the differences in external appearance between the races of man,” as well as between the sexes, explicitly on grounds of aesthetic preference: Darwin conflates skin color, body hair, and other physiological features with artificial ornaments in a rhapsodic vision of the infinite variety of human standards of beauty. Sexual selection claims a field of formal superfluity or redundancy, neutral with respect to the pressures of natural selection, in which the aesthetic comes into play, originated by the erotic drive but not functionally bound by it. Darwin decisively relocates aesthetic judgement—and the play of form—upon a principle of etiologically generated, infinite formal differentiation: emancipating it from the strongly normative teleological account that Victorian culture took over from German Idealism.

Article

American Renaissance  

David S. Reynolds

The richest period in American literary history, the American Renaissance (1830–1865) produced Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. A distinction is traditionally made between the so-called light or optimistic authors (Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman) and the dark or gloomy ones (Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville), with Emily Dickinson, occupying a middle ground, shifting between the light and the dark. Optimistic themes included nature’s miraculous beauty, spiritual truths behind the physical world, the primacy of the poetic imagination, and the potential divinity of each individual. Pessimistic ones included haunted minds, perverse or criminal impulses, doubt, and ambiguity. Americans probed these themes with special intensity largely because of the nation’s Puritan heritage. Calvinist preachers from John Cotton through Jonathan Edwards had devoted their lives to probing ultimate questions about death, God, and human nature. When this metaphysical impulse collided with 19th-century skepticism and secularism, the result was literature that ranged from the exhilarating to the disquieting, from Emerson’s affirmations to the ambiguities of Hawthorne and Melville. The American authors were strongly influenced by foreign literature, from the ancients to the Romantics. This transnational influence mingled with the styles and idioms of an emerging popular culture that was distinctively American, divided between conventional, sentimental-domestic writings and sensational or grotesquely humorous ones. Integrating themes and images from this variegated popular culture, the major authors also projected in their works the paradoxes of a nation that promoted both individualism and union, that touted freedom but tolerated chattel slavery, that preached equality but witnessed widening class divisions and the oppression of women, blacks, and Native Americans. These oppressed groups produced a literary corpus of their own that was once neglected but that has assumed a significant place in the American canon.

Article

Bildungsroman  

Anne Rüggemeier

The Bildungsroman, or novel of formation, is one of the most widely used and most adaptable genres in literary history. Characteristically, the plot unfolds through the narrative of a young person’s development and formation that ideally results in “maturity”—a rather contested concept, which is traditionally understood as the harmonious integration of personal aspirations and the demands of the social. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1795) has traditionally been discussed as the urtext of the Bildungsroman. The genre has been interpreted as a form of self-expression of the intellectually emancipated but economically powerless German bourgeoisie. The tension between inner aspirations and outer limitations remains a key topic of the Bildungsroman throughout the centuries. The history of the Bildungsroman is closely interrelated with the emergence of the novel and with the idea of Bildung as it was discussed and refined in post-Kantian thought, German Idealism, and also the movement of German Pietism. Despite critical attempts to deny the existence of the genre, the Bildungsroman continues to enjoy tremendous popularity and has been adapted, developed, parodied, and rewritten in various European and non-European literatures. Throughout the centuries, as the genre takes on ever new forms, the idea or ideal of Bildung is constantly renegotiated. The generic demarcations between Bildungsroman and the so-called Anti-Bildungsroman continuously blur as the latter marks the shortcomings of the former, demonstrating how modern understandings of self-formation and social success are unavoidably marked by contradictions.

Article

Copyright and the Commodification of Authorship in 18th- and 19th-Century Europe  

Maurizio Borghi

The modern concept of authorship evolved in parallel with the legal recognition of the author as the subject of certain property rights within the marketplace for books. Such a market was initially regulated by a system of printing privileges, which was replaced by copyright laws at the juncture of the 18th and 19th centuries. The inclusion of copyright under the umbrella of property and the dominating economic discourse marked the naissance of a new figure of the author, namely, the author as supplier of intellectual labor to the benefit of society at large. In this sense, products of authorship became fully fledged commodities to be exchanged in the global marketplace. Focusing on the transition between the privilege and the copyright systems, and the prevailing economic rationale for the protection of works of authorship, leads to a more original understanding of authorship as rooted in the human need for reciprocal communication for the sake of truth. Modern authorship, being grounded in a narrow utilitarian understanding of authors’ rights, is detached from both the economic logic of the privilege system and the rational foundation of copyright.

Article

Early African American Print Culture  

Eric Gardner

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.

Article

Immigration and Asian American Autobiographical Writing: An Unstraightforward Story  

Theresa A. Kulbaga

Asian American autobiographical writing about immigration—from the earliest available examples to the contemporary experiments with genre and form—does not tell a straightforward story. Rather, Asian American autobiographies trouble the sustaining myths of American exceptionalism, the American dream, meritocracy, and belonging and therefore challenge narratives of immigrant striving and success. Immigrant narratives examined in this essay by Maxine Hong Kingston, Jade Snow Wong, Kathleen Tamagawa, Carlos Bulosan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Kao Kaila Yang, and Shailja Patel, among others, show the contested and constructed quality of national borders. They show that the nation has always been constructed transnationally, through relationships with other countries and cultures and flows of migration that exceed straightforward definition. Examining narratives from various historical periods and cultural traditions brings into view the connections and contradictions among them and shows how each text intervenes in immigration discourse and exercises autobiographical agency. Rather than straightforward stories, then, Asian American autobiographical narratives illuminate the various entanglements of self-representation, family, identity, and agency with imperialism, racialization, nationalism, and global capitalism. Nor does autobiographical writing merely document experience or history. Instead, it actively constructs self, identity, and nation even as it draws on the culturally available narratives that enable and constrain the stories writers tell about their lives. As it does so, it creates new, unstraightfoward narratives and forms.

Article

Late 19th-Century Latina/o Letters: A Heterogeneous Archive  

Anita Huizar-Hernández

Though the 19th century witnessed the creation of new nations throughout the Americas, late-19th-century Latina/o writing in many respects defies national borders and boundaries. From exiles and immigrants to conquered populations living within the ever-expanding reach of the United States, Latinas/os in the latter part of the century often invoked a transnational and hemispheric perspective in their writing that reflected the border-crossing scope of their experience. From New Orleans to New York to New Mexico, late-19th-century Latina/o writing comprises a heterogeneous archive that is geographically, linguistically, politically, and culturally diverse. Though many texts continued to be written in Spanish, some texts in English began to emerge. The authors of these texts came from a wide variety of racial and class backgrounds, in some cases pursuing cross-racial and cross-class alliances via their writings while in other cases defending their claims to an upper-class white racial identity. Despite this diversity, by the end of the century Latina/o writers of all backgrounds were increasingly subject to marginalization as racialized others within mainstream US society. Many Latina/o texts from this period have been recovered from archives, edited, and republished for contemporary audiences. Scholars of this literature are necessarily involved in the recovery of texts that have been overlooked in private, regional, university, and national archives throughout the Americas. The deep fragmentation of this body of work speaks to the border-crossing nature of late-19th-century Latina/o writing, as well as to the dynamism of a field whose objects of study are constantly expanding and consequently shifting the terrain of what such writing might mean.

Article

The Latin American Chronicle  

Claudia Darrigrandi

The Latin American chronicle has a rich tradition, yet its status within the academic field remains variable across the continent. The term “Latin American chronicle” encompasses a wide range of nonfiction writings that blend journalism and literature, published in newspapers, magazines, and books. The Latin American chronicle possesses a sense of social importance that renders it an appealing genre, and during the first decades of the 21st century, the genre gained widespread recognition. Several factors contribute to this attribute, including: the genre’s origins and its diverse manifestations since the 16th century; its hybrid nature that blends features from literature, journalism, and the social sciences; its cultural manifestation as a social and cultural practice; the convictions of the chroniclers and their attributed functions to the chronicle; and the growing interest of the reading audience. The appeal enveloping Latin American chronicles is related to a mode of conducting journalism, a perspective of what constitutes journalism and literature, and the attitudes of chroniclers toward their contemporary time and events in the Latin American context. Part of the appeal of this genre has to do with the challenges of providing a clear definition of it. Chronicle and narrative journalism are not synonymous, although in certain contexts, they may appear interchangeable. Narrative journalism, as the name suggests, pertains to the field of journalism. Concisely stated, it involves incorporating literary techniques into journalistic writing, whether in the form of an article, chronicle, column, or reportage. Similarly, the term crónica in Latin America has encompassed various writing genres and journalistic forms, including profiles, interviews, reportages, columns, and articles. Nevertheless, the chronicle is a distinct genre within narrative journalism, and despite the challenge of providing a precise definition, it exhibits its own qualities. A straightforward way to define the Latin American crónica is as a journalistic-literary genre, primarily published in magazines and newspapers from the late 19th century to the 21st century, which explores an event or fact. Since 2012, the Latin American chronicle has captured the attention of publishers, readers, and researchers, prompting discussions about its origin as a hybrid genre. There is some debate as to whether its roots come from the historical chronicle—or Crónica de Indias—or from Latin American chronicle published around the turn of the 20th century (1880–1920). Each choice implies, to some extent, different trends concerning its ethos. While the reference to Crónica de Indias conveys a particular mission linked to showing and exposing what the writer or journalist witnessed, in the Spanish and Brazilian modernist chronicle, documentary writing is less compelling than the style itself. As there is no agreement on whether it is possible to construct a genealogy of the crónica latinoamericana, what it is true is that the term crónica latinoamericana conveys much more than a literary, journalistic, or hybrid genre. Historically, the Latin American chronicle has provided a platform for expressions not typically found in other literary genres, fulfilling a societal and cultural need by virtue of its profound commitment to the contemporary moment.

Article

Mixed Race Asian American Literature  

Jennifer Ann Ho

Asian American literature was born from two mixed race Eurasian sisters, Edith Maude Eaton and Winnifred Eaton, who wrote in the early 20th century under the pen names Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna, respectively. Edith spent her career chronicling, in fiction and non-fiction, the lives of Chinese in North America, and recounted her own multiracial experiences in the autobiographical “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,” while Winnifred is best known for her popular fiction about the exotica of Japan, novels and stories that include several mixed race protagonists. More than thirty years later, Kathleen Tamagawa penned a mixed race memoir, Holy Prayers in a Horse’s Ear, describing the difficulties of living as a biracial Japanese-white woman trying to assimilate into the white mainstream of US society. The number of mixed race Asian American authors rose in the mid- to late 20th century due to an increase in mixed race marriages and Asian immigration. The turn of the 21st century saw prominent multiracial Asian American authors writing about Asian American lives, mixed race Asian American authors choosing not to write about multiracial Asian American characters, and monoracial Asian American writers who populate their fiction with multiracial Asian American characters. Among these authors, Ruth Ozeki stands out as someone who has consistently focused her attention on multiracial Asian American characters, illustrating the richness of their mixed race experiences even as her fictional storyworlds shine a light on the environmental issues in a globalized world.

Article

Seguín, Juan Nepomuceno  

Jesús F. de la Teja

Juan Nepomuceno Seguín (1806–1890) was the leading Mexican-Texan military figure of the Texas Revolution (1835–1836) to participate on the Texas side of the struggle. He was the only Mexican Texan to serve in the Senate of the Republic of Texas and was the last Mexican Texan to serve as mayor of San Antonio until the 1980s. Having fled to Mexico to avoid violence at the hands of enemies he made during his tenure as mayor, he commanded an auxiliary cavalry company of fellow Mexican-Texan exiles in the Mexican army until the end of the US-Mexico War. During his effort to reestablish himself in Texas in the 1850s he wrote his memoirs of the Texas Revolution. He was one of only three Mexican Texans to do so, and the only one to have them published during his lifetime. Seguín returned to Mexico on the eve of the US Civil War to participate in Mexico’s civil conflicts. In about 1870 he permanently settled in Nuevo Laredo, where he died in 1890.

Article

Women and Writing in Spanish America from Colonial Times through the 20th Century  

Carolina Alzate and Betty Osorio

As in the case of other Western literary traditions, women’s relationship to writing in Spanish America has been problematic since early modernity. From colonial times onward, women’s emergence on the writing scene as authors went hand in hand with a redescription of the feminine that allowed them to become producers of written culture and to find a respectable entry into the public sphere from which they were excluded. Spanish-American feminine tradition from the 16th through the 20th centuries may be read as a gradual, heterogeneous, and difficult but nonetheless sustained and very productive occupation of new ground. Legitimation of their voice passed through the reading of the male tradition, the establishment of a female tradition, and the redescription of a subjectivity that would make it possible for them to take up the pen and eventually to imagine themselves being read by others. Establishing the contents of these women’s libraries, reconstructed through their testimonies of reading both in a colonial society in which illiteracy was very high—especially among women—and in 19th-century society in general, and in which access to the written word remained restricted, are key elements for understanding their writing. Most female authorship during the colonial period took the form of religious writing and was dependent upon the male figure of the confessor, as was the possibility of publishing their life stories and writings. But women authors were not only nuns, and it is also possible to find examples of women who left their mark on writing due to special circumstances (travelers and so-called witches). Male tutelage tended to remain in force throughout the 19th century, and newspapers would provide vitally important new spaces for publication in the young independent republics. Women’s relationship to newspapers, both as readers and authors, was essential to this writing tradition, and it would allow them to build reading and editorial networks—both within the Americas and across the Atlantic, a context that must be understood to properly understand their writing projects. Women writers in the early 20th century would travel, not without difficulty, along the roads paved by the pioneers. The year 1959, a provisional closing date marked by the Cuban Revolution, helps position 20th-century literature as one of the forms of the crisis of modernity: that which reveals and celebrates heterogeneity and could no longer openly continue excluding women from the authorized spaces for the production of meaning.