American historians have typically argued that a shared
experience of time worked to bind the antebellum nation together.
Trains, technology, and expanding market forces catapulted the
United States into the future on a straight line of progressive
time. The nation's exceedingly diverse population could cluster
around this common temporality as one forward-looking people.
In a bold revision of this narrative, Archives of American
Time examines American literature's figures and forms to
disclose the competing temporalities that in fact defined the
antebellum period. Through discussions that link literature's
essential qualities to social theories of modernity, Lloyd Pratt
asserts that the competition between these varied temporalities
forestalled the consolidation of national and racial identity.
Paying close attention to the relationship between literary genre
and theories of nationalism, race, and regionalism, Archives of
American Time shows how the fine details of literary genres
tell against the notion that they helped to create national,
racial, or regional communities. Its chapters focus on images of
invasive forms of print culture, the American historical romance,
African American life writing, and Southwestern humor. Each in turn
revises our sense of how these images and genres work in such a way
as to reconnect them to a broad literary and social history of
modernity. At precisely the moment when American authors began
self-consciously to quest after a future in which national and
racial identity would reign triumphant over all, their writing
turned out to restructure time in a way that began foreclosing on
that particular future.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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