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Tomorrow's Parties

Tomorrow's Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America

Peter Coviello
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 265
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    Tomorrow's Parties
    Book Description:

    Dazzling intelligence radiates here, out from sentences giving such pleasure, yielding the finest devotion I've seen to literature's own theoretical force. Coviello listens, carefully, brilliantly, for the flickerings, the liquid meanderings, all too easily explained as sexual - or never even perceived at all. Here is a critic as joyful as Whitman, with his dark core fully afire. - Kathryn Bond Stockton, Distinguished Professor of English at University of UtahIn nineteenth-century America - before the scandalous trial of Oscar Wilde, before the public emergence of categories like homo- and heterosexuality - what were the parameters of sex? Did people characterize their sexuality as a set of bodily practices, a form of identification, or a mode of relation? Was it even something an individual could be said to possess? What could be counted as sexuality?Tomorrow's Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America provides a rich new conceptual language to describe the movements of sex in the period before it solidified into the sexuality we know, or think we know. Taking up authors whose places in the American history of sexuality range from the canonical to the improbable - from Whitman, Melville, Thoreau, and James to Dickinson, Sarah Orne Jewett, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and Mormon founder Joseph Smith - Peter Coviello delineates the varied forms sex could take in the lead-up to its captivation by the codings of modern sexuality. While telling the story of nineteenth-century American sexuality, he considers what might have been lostin the ascension of these new taxonomies of sex: all the extravagant, untimely ways of imagining the domain of sex that, under the modern regime of sexuality, have sunken into muteness or illegibility. Taking queer theorizations of temporality in challenging new directions, Tomorrow's Parties assembles an archive of broken-off, uncreated futures - futures that would not come to be. Through them, Coviello fundamentally reorients our readings of erotic being and erotic possibility in the literature of nineteenth-century America.Peter Coviellois Professor of English at Bowdoin College. He is the author ofIntimacy in America: Dreams of Affiliation in Antebellum Literature and the editor of Walt Whitman's Memoranda During the War.In theAmerica and the Long 19th Centuryseries

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-1742-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction: The Unspeakable Past
    (pp. 1-26)

    In the summer of 1914, from his sanctuary at Lamb House in Rye, England, Henry James wrote a small letter he addressed to “Mrs. Fields.” This was Annie Adams Fields, the widow of Boston publisher James Fields and, for nearly a quarter of a century, the intimate companion of another famed American writer, Sarah Orne Jewett, who had died in 1909. (Fields was herself to die, at age eighty, in January of 1915.) “Dear Mrs. Fields,” James begins, I have left so many days unacknowledged the so beautiful & touching letter prompted by your generous appreciation of my volume of...

  5. PART ONE Lost Futures

    • 1 Disappointment, or, Thoreau in Love
      (pp. 29-47)

      In the midst of the “Ponds” chapter ofWalden, his much-polished opus of 1854, Henry David Thoreau offers up a wonderfully illustrative anecdote—wonderful because, though largely shorn of the leaning toward metaphor that characterizes so much of the rest of the book, the little passage nevertheless elegantly condenses many of the principal elements of Thoreau’s style, his humor, and his genuine idiosyncrasy as both writer and thinker.

      “Once in winter, many years ago,” Thoreau writes,

      when I had been cutting holes through the ice in order to catch pickerel, as I stepped ashore I tossed my axe back on...

    • 2 Whitman at War
      (pp. 48-63)

      InThe Better Angel, a history of Walt Whitman’s war years, Roy Morris Jr. recounts the story of an exchange of letters between the poet and one William H. Millis, a soldier Whitman had come to know in the hospitals through which he daily toured from late 1862 through 1864. Millis wrote to Whitman from his hospital ward in 1865, “I never will forget you so long as life should last. . . . I cant find words to tell you the love their is in me for you.” And then, a decade later, Millis wrote once more: “Again I...

    • Coda: A Little Destiny
      (pp. 64-76)

      “The only excuse for reproduction,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “is improvement.” “Beasts merely propagate their kind.”¹ This moment, from “Chastity & Sensuality,” suggests I think not the sexual squeamishness often attributed to him, but rather an insistence on sex as something other than an isolable property in the self, to be turned to use, instrumentalized and profited from like any other aspect of being organized by a market-inflected possessive individualism.² Though he would himself feel notably little of Thoreau’s uneasiness before the prospect of the bestial, Whitman, too, dreams of a kind of generation that is erotic and vibrantly corporeal,...

  6. PART TWO To Speak of the Woe That Is in Marriage

    • 3 Islanded: Jewett and the Uncompanioned Life
      (pp. 79-103)

      “History,” Frederic Jameson tells us, in the famous phrase, “is what hurts.”¹ It is, as theoretical pronouncements go, near on to indisputable, and not any less so in the case of women in the nineteenth century, ensnared as they must be (as Dickinson has already suggested to us) in the workings of a marriage plot not typically written for their benefit. For women ill-at-home in those workings, the pains come in particular intensities. Loneliness, isolation, a certain out-of-timeness, a pervasive sense of one’s own illegibility, or even impossibility, to and in the given world: no one would dispute that these...

    • 4 What Does the Polygamist Want? Frederick Douglass, Joseph Smith, and Marriage at the Edges of the Human
      (pp. 104-128)

      What does the polygamist want?In a world already ordered by patriarchy, coverture, and the traffic in women, in a world in which the need for a clear dispensation of property along succeeding lines of men makes compulsory monogamy the rule for middle-class women in a way that it conspicuously is not for men, in a world where the de facto concubinage of chattel slavery renders only the more fanciful the very idea of a confining white male monogamy—inthisworld, where the yoke of marital exclusiveness falls upon white men quite loosely, what can it mean to insist,...

    • Coda: Unceremoniousness
      (pp. 129-142)

      The history of sexuality that Michel Foucault famously begins to outline in his introductory first volume is, of course, conspicuously European. The movement from Catholic pastoral to expert rational discourse, for instance, looks markedly different in an American context thatbeginswith Protestant reform, and is convulsed across the nineteenth century by revivalisms of various pitches and intensities, of which Joseph Smith’s Mormonism is only one especially vivid example.¹ But the Americanist reader ofThe History of Sexualitymight be startled, too, by Foucault’s turn to what he calls “racism”: to the strand of racism, rooted in a sense of...

  7. PART THREE Speech and Silence:: Reckonings of the Queer Future

    • 5 The Tenderness of Beasts: Hawthorne at Blithedale
      (pp. 145-167)

      What would it mean if, just this once, we were to read Hawthorne straight? With respect toThe Blithedale Romance, nothing, it seems, has been less easily accomplished. In his famous preface to that novel of 1852—famous largely for its meditation on the perils and possibilities, for the “the American romancer,” of “Fiction” in its relation to “everyday Probability”¹—Hawthorne begs us to recall that the novel that follows, whatever its origins in “the Socialist Community” established at Brook Farm, emphatically does not “put forward the slightest pretensions to illustrate a theory, or elicit a conclusion, favorable or otherwise,...

    • 6 Made for Love: Olive Chancellor, Henry James, and The Bostonians
      (pp. 168-189)

      In the early course of her intimacy with Kate Croy—an “intimacy as deep as it had been sudden”—Milly Theale, death-stricken heroine of Henry James’s 1902 novelThe Wings of the Dove,wonders over the labyrinthine silences that so strangely animate her new fast friendship.¹ “What had happened,” James writes, his free indirect discourse routed in this instance through Milly’s consciousness,

      was that afterward, on separation, she wondered if the matter hadn’t mainly been that she herself was so ‘other,’ so taken up with the unspoken; the strangest thing of all being, still subsequently, that when she asked herself...

    • Coda: The Turn
      (pp. 190-206)

      The Wilde trials, which unfolded in the spring of 1895, were gripping public theater. Henry James was among the captivated. Wilde and the scene surrounding him struck James, as he would aver in a letter to Edmund Gosse, as

      hideously, atrociously dramatic & really interesting—so far as one can say that of a thing of which the interest is qualified by such a sickening horribility. It is the squalid gratuitousness of it all—of the mere exposure—that blurs the spectacle. But thefall—from nearly 20 years of a really unique kind of “brilliant” conspicuity . . ....

  8. Notes
    (pp. 207-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-252)
  10. About the Author
    (pp. 253-253)