American Literary Studies

American Literary Studies: A Methodological Reader

Michael A. Elliott
Claudia Stokes
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 349
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  • Book Info
    American Literary Studies
    Book Description:

    American Literary Studies: A Methodological Reader gathers together leading scholars of American literature to address the questions of methodology that have invigorated and divided their field: the rise of interdisciplinarity and the wealth of theoretical methods now available to the critic of American literature. Their engagement with these issues takes a unique form in this book: Each scholar has chosen a methodologically innovative essay, which he or she then introduces, explaining why it is both exemplary in its approach and central to the issues that most engage American literary scholarship today. The book includes both an introduction to the controversial interdisciplinary methods that have made American literary studies such a vibrant field, as well as groundbreaking scholarship on topics as diverse as James Fenimore Cooper, minstrel songs, and Lakota Indian stories. This volume has been designed to serve as a starting point for teachers and students to explore the fundamental questions of American literary scholarship: What does "method" mean in literary studies? Which texts should it study? What makes literary study unique? What should literary scholarship do? American Literary Studies argues that these questions can only be answered through a discussion of the interdisciplinary methods currently in use by scholars today. Finally, an original introduction by Michael A. Elliott and Claudia Stokes explains why questions of method are crucial to American literary studies and how past scholars of American literature have tried to answer them. Contributors include: Lauren Berlant, Russ Castronovo, Wai Chee Dimock, Ann duCille, Michael A. Elliott, Frances Smith Foster, Elaine A. Jahner, Rob Kroes, Arnold Krupat, Paul Lauter, Marilee Lindemann, W. T. Lhamon, Jr., Christopher J. Looby, David Palumbo-Liu, Roy Harvey Pearce, Lora Romero, Ramn Saldvar, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Werner Sollors, Claudia Stokes, Claudia Tate, Paula A. Treichler, Priscilla Wald, Michael Warner, Laura Wexler, Sau-ling C. Wong

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2288-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. A Note on the Text
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Introduction: What Is Method and Why Does It Matter?
    (pp. 1-16)
    Michael A. Elliott and Claudia Stokes

    The recent emphasis on interdisciplinary scholarship—manifest in the resurgence of institutional programs like American studies and publications in cultural studies—has relocated both the literary critic and the literary text to unfamiliar territory. This new interest in broaching disciplinary limits has proved to be exciting and invigorating. Literary critics have turned their attention to media other than the written text, and nonliterary specialists, such as historians and sociologists, have used literary texts to support their own research. This book is a response to American literary interdisciplinarity and attempts to raise, and address, the inevitable questions that emerge when disciplines...

  5. PART ONE: History and Literature in America
    • Chapter 1 Domesticating Virtue: Coquettes and Revolutionaries in Young America
      (pp. 19-40)
      Carroll Smith-Rosenberg

      Is close reading an archaic skill, the province of literary connoisseurship? Is the study of history best conducted by way of measurable facts and numbers? And are literary analysis and historical analysis mutually exclusive, set apart by a disparity in scale—the former working with minute details, and the latter presiding over a big picture?

      To all these questions, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg responds with an emphatic “No.” Her memorable essay “Domesticating Virtue: Coquettes and Revolutionaries in Young America” is a sustained demonstration of why textual analysis still matters, and matters even in large-scale analyses. Smith-Rosenberg, a distinguished historian, is in one...

    • Chapter 2 Vanishing Americans: Gender, Empire, and New Historicism
      (pp. 41-62)
      Lora Romero

      I hope that in the 1990s institutional circumstances will allow intellectuals writing on minority cultures to create an alternative rhetoric of accreditation, one which they can put to use in transforming the educational system and making it more responsive to the needs of ethnic communities.

      —Lora Romero

      Lora Romero’s great strengths in the areas of classical American studies, the American Renaissance, the antebellum period broadly, and American modernism allow her to forge connections between canonic and contestational literary traditions. Her bookHome Fronts: Nineteenth Century Domesticity and Its Critics in the Antebellum United States(1997) is a study of classic...

    • Chapter 3 Seeing Sentiment: Photography, Race, and the Innocent Eye
      (pp. 63-94)
      Laura Wexler

      In 1946, Richard Wright selected Gertrude Stein’s “Melanctha” for the book with the wonderful titleI Wish I Had Written That. It would also be an appropriate title for the present collection, which is based on some critics’ responses to the editors’ request to present exemplary, innovative, and interdisciplinary essays in the field of American literary studies. In choosing an essay that lives up to an interdisciplinary American Studies tradition, I was drawn to the work of a scholar who examines and advances the concept of “sentimentalism” in American literary history, focuses centrally on photography, and simultaneously employs, with excellent...

    • Chapter 4 The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Harriet Jacobs, Frances Harper, Anita Hill
      (pp. 95-124)
      Lauren Berlant

      Is it fair to compare an autobiographical narrative of 1861, a novel of 1892, and testimony given before the U.S. Senate in 1991—and to top off the comparison with a few words on a once popular TV sitcom? That is precisely what Lauren Berlant undertakes in her bold analysis of the racial and sexual politics of the public sphere in America, “The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Harriet Jacobs, Frances Harper, Anita Hill.” It is audacious to move across history and genre in the way Berlant does here, for one runs the dual risk of being ahistorical...

  6. PART TWO: Reading “Culture”
    • Chapter 5 Mass Culture/Popular Culture: Notes for a Humanist’s Primer
      (pp. 127-149)
      Roy Harvey Pearce

      In 1961, Roy Harvey Pearce won the Chap-Book Award of the Poetry Society of America forThe Continuity of American Poetry, the “first full-length and comprehensive study of the tradition of American poetry.” This “ambitious undertaking” was, in his words, “a study inculturalhistory” (emphasis added). The next year, Pearce published “Mass Culture/Popular Culture: Notes for a Humanist’s Primer,” a manifesto that more succinctly articulated the theory implicit in his earlier book. In this essay he confesses that his project is nothing less than the transformation of the study of literature from what he called “the reductionism of positivistically...

    • Chapter 6 Dancing for Eels at Catherine Market
      (pp. 150-181)
      W. T. Lhamon Jr.

      Race, racial identity, racialization, race-crossing, and race-mixing: these rubrics have been central, quite properly, to much recent research and writing in American literary studies. What has been more central, after all, to American culture than the experience of racial conflict, contact, and occasional compact? The great virtue of W. T. Lhamon, Jr.’s work is that it brings to these matters not predetermined critical attitudes but an unjaundiced curiosity and hope. What it also brings: deep and intellectually searching archival research, a lively eye and ear for unexpected subtleties and surprising inflections, and an engaging writerly style that respects the norms...

    • Chapter 7 AIDS, Homophobia, and Biomedical Discourse: An Epidemic of Signification
      (pp. 182-210)
      Paula A. Treichler

      The contentiousness evident in English departments and professional meetings of late signals a discipline in flux. The demand for social relevance issued from a variety of directions since the 1960s has transformed the subject matter and methodologies that students encounter when they take “English classes.” We have broadened both what it means to “read literature” and what constitutes “reading practices.” Self-scrutiny—coming in a range of forms from manifestos and position papers to institutional analyses—has challenged scholars in the field to rethink what we do and how and why we do it. The clarity and compassion evident in Paula...

    • Chapter 8 The Occult of True Black Womanhood
      (pp. 211-240)
      Ann duCille

      In “The Occult of True Black Womanhood,” Ann duCille signifies on the title of Barbara Welter’s influential “The Cult of True Womanhood,”¹ to ask, “Why have black women become the subjected subjects of so much contemporary scholarly investigation?” DuCille combines her rigorous readings with her characteristic witty critical acuity and an uncompromising exposure of scholarly affect—her own and others. She acknowledges the pleasure and anxiety that the recent focus on the cultural work of African American women has engendered in the academy. The attention has been astounding, as a cursory survey of the tables of contents and the covers...

  7. PART THREE: Nationalism Reconsidered
    • Chapter 9 The Mass Public and the Mass Subject
      (pp. 243-263)
      Michael Warner

      Michael Warner does not investigate novels or other genres of fiction in his essay, which moves from eighteenth-century civic virtue to less than “virtuous” desires in the late twentieth century to penetrate Ronald Reagan. Instead, he brings tools of literary analysis to bear on political theory, arguing that the notion of the public is itself a fiction. As the story goes, an ideal public sphere invites qualified individuals to participate in a realm of open debate and rational exchange. But this fiction—one could just as easily call it a political theory—has rarely, if ever, approximated reality because the...

    • Chapter 10 Traditional Narrative: Contemporary Uses, Historical Perspectives
      (pp. 264-289)
      Elaine A. Jahner

      Although Native American literatures still remain the red sheep, as it were, of the multicultural, diversity-university, it is fortunately the case that since the early 1990s, more (and more sophisticated) critiques of Native poetry, fiction, and autobiography written in English have begun to appear. But few literary scholars have turned their attention to the texts that derive fromoral traditions—texts, that is to say, that are transcriptions and translations of stories, songs, chants, and speeches historically, and in many cases presently,performedin indigenous languages. Elaine A. Jahner notes “the important specialized work of the last two decades of...

    • Chapter 11 The Stakes of Textual Border-Crossing: Hualing Nieh’s Mulberry and Peach in Sinocentric, Asian American, and Feminist Critical Practices
      (pp. 290-317)
      Sau-ling C. Wong

      The landscape of American literary studies has shifted dramatically over the past decade—its geographic parameters have broadened as notions of “American” identity have begun to accommodate not only the changing cultural and historical borders of the United States proper, but also the expansion of U.S. cultural production into the spaces into which the United States has historically encroached. Similarly, the United States itself has been apprehended as increasingly (and more complexly) inhabited by diverse populations that press notions of “multiculture” past the usual limits of understanding—rather than being constituted simply as a “plurality” of cultures, these new formations...

    • Chapter 12 Americanization: What Are We Talking About?
      (pp. 318-338)
      Rob Kroes

      In “Americanization: What Are We Talking About?” Rob Kroes offers an entry point into several key questions related to the increasing internationalization of American literary studies. First, he raises the issue of how or indeed whether the work of European and other overseas scholars can gain a meaningful audience within the American studies community and what that might mean to a definition of the fields of literary and cultural studies. Second, he illustrates the differing intellectual contexts through which scholars from overseas can view the subject matter of American culture, society, and politics. And, to reverse the movement somewhat, he...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 339-343)
  9. Index of Names
    (pp. 345-349)