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Intimacy in America: Dreams of Affiliation in Antebellum Literature

Peter Coviello
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    Intimacy in America
    Book Description:

    Reading seminal works by Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Walt Whitman, Peter Coviello traces these writers's ambivalences about the idea of an intimate nationality, revealing how race and sexuality were used as vehicles for an assumed coherence. Intimacy in America gives us a new perspective on the dream of Americanness as a relation to anonymous others.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9613-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: “What Is It Then between Us?”
    (pp. 1-24)

    In the summer of 1856, one year after the first publication ofLeaves of Grass,Walt Whitman wrote a political tract entitled “The Eighteenth Presidency!” Though the piece went unpublished in Whitman’s lifetime, making it only as far as printer’s proofs, it nevertheless finds him in characteristically high rhetorical form. But rather than praise the singular grandeur and native genius of the American nation, as he had done so unabashedly in his preface toLeaves of Grass,Whitman here gathers his verbal forces for very different purposes. What he offers is not the nationalist panegyric of the previous year but...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Intimate Property: Race and the Civics of Self-Relation
    (pp. 25-58)

    By the standards of mid-nineteenth-century America, Thomas Jefferson failed in many respects to recognize or represent himself as a properly white man. Or, to put it a little less obliquely, Jefferson carried his whiteness in a manner that would seem to the generation following him not merely anachronistic but, in a fundamental way, insupportable. While defending the nobility of the American “Indian” from the attacks of an illintentioned French naturalist, Jefferson found himself indicting, with only slight qualification, the tendency to understand race as a necessarily determining moral category. “I do not mean to deny,” he writes in his 1787...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Melancholy of Little Girls: Poe, Pedophilia, and the Logic of Slavery
    (pp. 59-90)

    Tucked in among the many other curiosities surrounding the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe is the following fact: more than any other major figure in the American literary canon, and certainly more than any author of the American Renaissance, Poe is read to, and read by, children. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of a so-called serious writer, from any nation or era, to whom American schoolchildren are likely to be introduced before they encounter Poe. (It is in just this vein that Leslie Fielder, thinking particularly of Poe, writes that “our classic literature is a literature of horror...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Bowels and Fear: Nationalism, Sodomy, and Whiteness in Moby-Dick
    (pp. 91-126)

    As Poe’s messy entanglements with the literati of antebellum New York suggest, the literary world of the 1840s was one full of contention, suspicion, and not a little hostility. Perry Miller’s landmark studyThe Raven and Whalereminds us further that, among the denizens of this world, few platforms were more hotly debated than the call for a program of literary nationalism. Miller maps his study around the career of Evert Duyckinck, a prominent New Yorker, one-time leader of the Young America sect of nationalist Democrats, an author, and all-aroundlitterateur.Most importantly, though, Duyckinck was an editor who, along...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Loving Strangers: Intimacy and Nationality in Whitman
    (pp. 127-156)

    Or again:Is it possible to be intimate with someone you haven’t met?

    To those already wary of Walt Whitman’s hyperbolically grand ambitions, both for himself and for poetry, the importance to his work of this curious question will not be reassuring. For however much forbearance one brings to Whitman’s moments of gunslinger bravado, however figuratively one tries to read his boasts about the poet who would be “president” and sole arbiter of national life, one must eventually confront a single stubborn fact: virtually every strand of Whitman’s utopian thought devolves upon, and is anchored by, an unwavering belief in...

  9. Epilogue: Nation Mourns
    (pp. 157-176)

    Whitman’s America is and is not our own. In the nation’s modern forms of coherence and vocabularies of belonging we find both unbridgeable dissensions from the past and points of startling continuity. Most obviously, race is not now what then it was, at least not in the prevailing epistemologies of national life. The matter is not simply that racial slavery no longer survives, but that racemeansin ways so fundamentally transformed that we cannot call on it to do the same work as we once expected it to do, even quite recently. No one makes this point more forcefully,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 177-218)
  11. Index
    (pp. 219-229)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)