Archives of American Time

Archives of American Time: Literature and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century

Lloyd Pratt
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Archives of American Time
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0353-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: Written to the Future
    (pp. 1-23)

    In the winter of 1829, a handful of young women and men on the island of Nantucket began gathering the first Thursday of every month to write the history of the future. Before their meetings, each member of the group composed a short piece of writing. Upon arrival, they deposited their anonymous contributions in a small bag, or “budget,” that gave the group its name: the Budget Society. One by one, each piece was drawn from the bag; one by one, each piece was subjected to friendly critique. The Budget Society wrote on many topics and in several genres. Their...

  4. Chapter 1 Figures of Print, Orders of Time, and the Character of American Modernity
    (pp. 24-62)

    The figure of print epitomizes a certain theory of American literature. As in Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” nineteenth-century American writing often features images of invasive handbills, newspapers, and other forms of print culture assaulting the integrity of local people and their places. Delivered by strangers who resemble Irving’s “bilious-looking fellow,” these figures of print signify a new way of being in time and a recalibration of the scale of social life.¹ In the epigraph to this chapter, for example, Irving asks his reader to date the Hudson Valley’s nationalization to the intrusion of printed matter into bucolic scenes of...

  5. Chapter 2 “A Magnificent Fragment”: Dialects of Time and the American Historical Romance
    (pp. 63-124)

    The first half of the nineteenth century saw large numbers of Americans begin the task of writing—and reading—new histories of their young nation. Committed to the endurance of the Republic, emboldened by the patriotic aftermath of the century’s first international wars, and troubled by the entropic energies of the market revolution, legions of writers set about filling in the faint lines of descent connecting the modern American nation to its colonial and premodern prototype. They ventured to write narratives of serial continuity linking the not-too-distant origins of their country to a much anticipated future that would feature a...

  6. Chapter 3 Local Time: Southwestern Humor and Nineteenth-Century Literary Regionalism
    (pp. 125-156)

    One of the first outbreaks of nostalgia in America has gone largely unreported. From the seventeenth-century onward, European physicians documented viral plagues of this incapacitating disease. According to these doctors, this malady of the soul especially afflicted soldiers, poets, and philosophers. Its European observers thought nostalgia was a social ill worth fighting; they proposed radical treatments that included the burying of soldiers alive. Yet American doctors “proudly declared that the young nation remained healthy and didn’t succumb to the nostalgic vice until the American Civil War.”¹ In the historiography of nineteenth-century America, which mirrors the reports of these doctors, the...

  7. Chapter 4 The Deprivation of Time in African American Life Writing
    (pp. 157-186)

    The fugitive slave narratives, spiritual autobiographies, and fictionalized biographies of African America faced a double demand. On the one hand, they were expected to detail the dehumanizing realities of slavery and racism. This first requirement explains the genre’s recurring descriptions of blood-clotted whips, shredded flesh, and rape—not to mention segregation, prohibitions against literacy, and spiritual betrayal. On the other hand, these narratives were asked to certify the preternaturally durable humanity of enslaved and free African Americans. So to anticipate the charge that African Americans were unfit for immediate emancipation because they had been made inhuman, these narratives are leavened...

  8. Epilogue: The Spatial Turn and the Scale of Freedom
    (pp. 187-200)

    It has been intriguing to watch the spatial turn barnstorm the academy, but perhaps it is time to ask why the embrace has been so quick and eager. Why is it that the accommodation of old modes of humanistic study to this new one has proceeded so smoothly? What makes it possible for new curricular programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels to have such remarkable traction? In these final pages, I suggest very briefly that the answer might lie with the particular logic of social becoming that the spatial turn permits. I also propose a short list of questions...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 201-228)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-240)
  11. Index
    (pp. 241-250)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 251-252)