Common Things: Romance and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Atlantic Modernity

Common Things: Romance and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Atlantic Modernity

Timothy C. Campbell series editor
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Common Things: Romance and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Atlantic Modernity
    Book Description:

    What are the relationships between the books we read and the communities we share? Common Things explores how transatlantic romance revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth century influenced--and were influenced by--emerging modern systems of community. Drawing on the work of Washington Irving, Henry Mackenzie, Thomas Jefferson, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Charles Brockden Brown, the book shows how romance promotes a distinctive aesthetics of belonging--a mode of being in common tied to new qualities of the singular. Each chapter focuses on one of these common things--the stain of race, the "property" of personhood, ruined feelings, the genre of a text, and the event of history--and examines how these peculiar qualities work to sustain the coherence of our modern common places. In the work of Horace Walpole and Edgar Allan Poe, the book further uncovers an important--and never more timely--alternative aesthetic practice that reimagines community as an open and fugitive process rather than as a collection of common things.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5518-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-X)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Common Things
    (pp. 1-14)

    In a powerful series of paintings composed between 2005 and 2008, the French artist Armelle Caron creates a set of decontextualized images of the modern cityscape (figure 1). On the left side of each image, the artist presents a familiar, monochromatic map of a major city—New York, Montpellier, or Paris, for example—while on the right side she identifies the units of the map and rearranges them in neat rows. She often exhibits these paintings along with wooden blocks, shaped in similar units, that are spread out on the floor underneath. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to rearrange...

  5. 1 GENRE
    (pp. 15-49)

    With the addition of one word to the second edition ofThe Castle of Otranto(1765), Horace Walpole performed the perfect generic gesture. Whereas the first edition of his bizarre tale of incest, patriarchal violence, and talking paintings is subtitled simply “A Story,” with the second edition, published only months after the scandalous original, Walpole made an addition that has come to haunt literary critics ever since. Now titledThe Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story, Walpole composed a new preface that famously outlines his approach to genre, an approach that claims to “blend the two kinds of romance, the...

  6. 2 FEELING
    (pp. 50-74)

    In one of the nineteenth century’s most influential romances, we are introduced to a restless young man who abandons his sleepy hometown, eager to try his fortunes in the big city. He meets a girl. Though separated by massive disparities in wealth, education, and social stature, they nevertheless cast “wooing glances” at each other and begin a courtship.¹ Consumed by the common desire that unites them, their passion for each other quickly grows. But, as the narrator of the romance is quick to remind us, “the course of true love never did run smooth” (202): in his dealings with the...

    (pp. 75-119)

    When Arthur Mervyn, the eponymous hero of Charles Brockden Brown’s 1798 romance, begins to hear reports of a yellow—fever epidemic taking root in nearby Philadelphia, he immediately filters the gruesome details through an aesthetics of the sublime. These reports, he later reflects, were

    of a nature to absorb and suspend the whole soul. A certain sublimity is connected with enormous dangers, that imparts to our consternation or our pity, a tincture of the pleasing. This, at least, may be experienced by those who are beyond the verge of peril. My own person was exposed to no hazard. I had...

    (pp. 120-167)

    In the previous chapter, we saw how modern forms of property and personhood invoke Gothic conjurations of the flesh, metempsychotic wanderings of the spirit, and mesmeric pathways of pestilence and infection. Although frequently employed by discourses of democracy and abolition, I argued that these peculiar common things are already deeply implicated in Atlantic modernity’s romance of racial difference. We need only turn again to the figure of John Locke in order to see howclaimingproperty—as well as outlining its formal qualities—involves animating an equally impressive array of special aesthetic effects.

    For Locke, the question of property’s form...

    (pp. 168-208)

    In stories like “The Man That Was Used Up,” we have seen how Poe exposes the spectral special effects demanded by modern forms of national, racial, and colonial community. Like Sterne, Brockden Brown, and Montgomery Bird before him, Poe shows us how the literature of romance helps to conjure some of the peculiar common things—such as the “air distingué” of the general’s voice—around which modern forms of belonging were beginning to gravitate. But Poe’s engagement with the aesthetics of community is not limited to the mode of critique. As we’ll see at the conclusion of this chapter, in...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 209-236)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 237-239)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-246)