At the end of apartheid, under pressure from local and transnational capital and the hegemony of Western-style parliamentary democracy, South Africans felt called upon to normalize their conceptions of economics, politics, and culture in line with these Western models. In Against Normalization, however, Anthony O’Brien examines recent South African literature and theoretical debate which take a different line, resisting this neocolonial outcome, and investigating the role of culture in the formation of a more radically democratic society. O’Brien brings together an unusual array of contemporary South African writing: cultural theory and debate, worker poetry, black and white feminist writing, Black Consciousness drama, the letters of exiled writers, and postapartheid fiction and film. Paying subtle attention to well-known figures like Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, and Njabulo Ndebele, but also foregrounding less-studied writers like Ingrid de Kok, Nise Malange, Maishe Maponya, and the Zimbabwean Dambudzo Marechera, he reveals in their work the construction of a political aesthetic more radically democratic than the current normalization of nationalism, ballot-box democracy, and liberal humanism in culture could imagine. Juxtaposing his readings of these writers with the theoretical traditions of postcolonial thinkers about race, gender, and nation like Paul Gilroy, bell hooks, and Gayatri Spivak, and with others such as Samuel Beckett and Vaclav Havel, O’Brien adopts a uniquely comparatist and internationalist approach to understanding South African writing and its relationship to the cultural settlement after apartheid. With its appeal to specialists in South African fiction, poetry, history, and politics, to other Africanists, and to those in the fields of colonial, postcolonial, race, and gender studies, Against Normalization will make a significant intervention in the debates about cultural production in the postcolonial areas of global capitalism.
Why hasn’t democracy been embraced worldwide as the best form of government?
Aesthetic critics of democracy such as Carlyle and Nietzsche have argued that modern democracy, by removing the hierarchical institutions that once elevated society’s character, turns citizens into bland, mediocre souls. Joel A. Johnson now offers a rebuttal to these critics, drawing surprising inspiration from American literary classics.
Addressing the question from a new perspective, Johnson takes a fresh look at the worth of liberal democracy in these uncertain times and tackles head-on the thorny question of cultural development. Examining the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and William Dean Howells, he shows that through their fiction we can gain a better appreciation of the rich detail of everyday life, making the debate relevant to contemporary discussions of liberal democracy.
Johnson focuses on an issue that liberals have inadequately addressed: whether people tend to develop fully as individuals under liberal democracy when such a regime does little formally to encourage their development. He argues that, though the liberal fear of state-guided culture is well founded, it should not prevent us from evaluating liberalism’s effect on individual flourishing. By extending the debate over the worthiness of liberal democracy to include democracy’s effect on individual development, he contends that the democratic experience is much fuller than the aristocratic one and thus expands the faculties of its citizens.
Critics of American democracy such as John Rawls have sought to transform it into a social or egalitarian democracy in the European style. Johnson shows that neither the debate between Rawls and his communitarian critics nor the ongoing discussion of the globalization of American values adequately addresses the fundamental critique of democratic culture advanced by the aesthetic critics. Johnson’s cogent analysis reaches out to those readers who are ready for a more comprehensive evaluation of liberal democracy, offering new insight into the relationship between the state and the individual while blazing new trails in the intersection of politics and literature.
Zita Nunes argues that the prevailing narratives of identity formation throughout the Americas share a dependence on metaphors of incorporation and, often, of cannibalism. From the position of the incorporating body, the construction of a national and racial identity through a process of assimilation presupposes a remainder, a residue.
Nunes addresses works by writers and artists who explore what is left behind in the formation of national identities and speak to the limits of the contemporary discourse of democracy. Cannibal Democracy tracks its central metaphor’s circulation through the work of writers such as Mário de Andrade, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Toni Morrison and journalists of the black press, as well as work by visual artists including Magdalena Campos-Pons and Keith Piper, and reveals how exclusion-understood in terms of what is left out-can be fruitfully understood in terms of what is left over from a process of unification or incorporation.
Nunes shows that while this remainder can be deferred into the future-lurking as a threat to the desired stability of the present-the residue haunts discourses of national unity, undermining the ideologies of democracy that claim to resolve issues of race.
Zita Nunes is associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park.
An exciting addition to the ongoing debate about the place of regionalism in American literary history.
American regionalism has become a contested subject in literary studies alongside the ubiquitous triad of race, class, and gender. The Color of Democracy in Women's Regional Writing enters into the heart of an ongoing debate in the field about the significance of regional fiction at the end of the 19th century. Jean Griffith presents the innovative view that regional writing provided Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, and Willa Cather with the means to explore social transformation in a form of fiction already closely associated with women readers and writers.
Griffith provides new readings of texts by these authors; she places them alongside the works of their contemporaries, including William Faulkner and Langston Hughes, to show regionalism's responses to the debate over who was capable of democratic participation and reading regionalism's changing mediations between natives and strangers as reflections of the changing face of democracy.
This insightful work enriches the current debate about whether regionalism critiques hierarchies or participates in nationalist and racist agendas and will be of great interest to those invested in regional writing or the works of these significant authors.
In Interior States Christopher Castiglia focuses on U.S. citizens’ democratic impulse: their ability to work with others to imagine genuinely democratic publics while taking divergent views into account. Castiglia contends that citizens of the early United States were encouraged to locate this social impulse not in associations with others but in the turbulent and conflicted interiors of their own bodies. He describes how the human interior—with its battles between appetite and restraint, desire and deferral—became a displacement of the divided sociality of nineteenth-century America’s public sphere and contributed to the vanishing of that sphere in the twentieth century and the twenty-first. Drawing insightful connections between political structures, social relations, and cultural forms, he explains that as the interior came to reflect the ideological conflicts of the social world, citizens were encouraged to (mis)understand vigilant self-scrutiny and self-management as effective democratic action.
In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth, as discourses of interiority gained prominence, so did powerful counter-narratives. Castiglia reveals the flamboyant pages of antebellum popular fiction to be an archive of unruly democratic aspirations. Through close readings of works by Maria Monk and George Lippard, Walt Whitman and Timothy Shay Arthur, Hannah Webster Foster and Hannah Crafts, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, Castiglia highlights a refusal to be reformed or self-contained. In antebellum authors’ representations of nervousness, desire, appetite, fantasy, and imagination, he finds democratic strivings that refused to disappear. Taking inspiration from those writers and turning to the present, Castiglia advocates a humanism-without-humans that, denied the adjudicative power of interiority, promises to release democracy from its inner life and to return it to the public sphere where U.S. citizens may yet create unprecedented possibilities for social action.
American children need books that draw on their own history and circumstances, not just the classic European fairy tales. They need books that enlist them in the great democratic experiment that is the United States. These were the beliefs of many of the authors, illustrators, editors, librarians, and teachers who expanded and transformed children’s book publishing between the 1930s and the 1960s.
Although some later critics have argued that the books published in this era offered a vision of a safe, secure, simple world without injustice or unhappy endings, Gary D. Schmidt shows that the progressive political agenda shared by many Americans who wrote, illustrated, published, and taught children’s books had a powerful effect. Authors like James Daugherty, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, Virginia Lee Burton, Robert McCloskey, and many others addressed directly and indirectly the major social issues of a turbulent time: racism, immigration and assimilation, sexism, poverty, the Great Depression, World War II, the atomic bomb, and the threat of a global cold war.
The central concern that many children’s book authors and illustrators wrestled with was the meaning of America and democracy itself, especially the tension between individual freedoms and community ties. That process produced a flood of books focused on the American experience and intent on defining it in terms of progress toward inclusivity and social justice. Again and again, children’s books addressed racial discrimination and segregation, gender roles, class differences, the fate of Native Americans, immigration and assimilation, war, and the role of the United States in the world. Fiction and nonfiction for children urged them to see these issues as theirs to understand, and in some ways, theirs to resolve. Making Americans is a study of a time when the authors and illustrators of children’s books consciously set their eyes on national and international sights, with the hope of bringing the next generation into a sense of full citizenship.
"Amid gloomy forecasts of the decline of the humanities and the death of poetry, Angus Fletcher, a wise and dedicated literary voice, sounds a note of powerful, tempered optimism. He lays out a fresh approach to American poetry at large, the first in several decades, expounding a defense of the art that will resonate well into the new century.
Breaking with the tired habit of treating American poets as the happy or rebellious children of European romanticism, Fletcher uncovers a distinct lineage for American poetry. His point of departure is the fascinating English writer, John Clare; he then centers on the radically American vision expressed by Emerson and Walt Whitman. With Whitman this book insists that ""the whole theory and nature of poetry"" needs inspiration from science if it is to achieve a truly democratic vista. Drawing variously on Complexity Theory and on fundamentals of art and grammar, Fletcher argues that our finest poetry is nature-based, environmentally shaped, and descriptive in aim, enabling poets like John Ashbery and other contemporaries to discover a mysterious pragmatism.
Intense, resonant, and deeply literary, this account of an American poetics shows how today's consumerist and conformist culture subverts the imagination of a free people. While centering on American vision, the argument extends our horizon, striking a blow against all economically sanctioned attacks upon the finer, stronger human capacities. Poetry, the author maintains, is central to any coherent vision of life. "
In this surprisingly timely book, Stephen Mack examines Whitman’s particular and fascinating brand of patriotism: his far-reaching vision of democracy. For Whitman, loyalty to America was loyalty to democracy. Since the idea that democracy is not just a political process but a social and cultural process as well is associated with American pragmatism, Mack relies on the pragmatic tradition of Emerson, James, Dewey, Mead, and Rorty to demonstrate the ways in which Whitman resides in this tradition.
Mack analyzes Whitman's democratic vision both in its parts and as a whole; he also describes the ways in which Whitman's vision evolved throughout his career. He argues that Whitman initially viewed democratic values such as individual liberty and democratic processes such as collective decision-making as fundamental, organic principles, free and unregulated. But throughout the 1860s and 1870s Whitman came to realize that democracy entailed processes of human agency that are more deliberate and less natural—that human destiny is largely the product of human effort, and a truly humane society can be shaped only by intelligent human efforts to govern the forces that would otherwise govern us.
Mack describes the foundation of Whitman’s democracy as found in the 1855 and 1856 editions of Leaves of Grass, examines the ways in which Whitman’s 1859 sexual crisis and the Civil War transformed his democratic poetics in “Sea-Drift,” “Calamus,” Drum-Taps,and Sequel to Drum-Taps, and explores Whitman’s mature vision in Democratic Vistas, concluding with observations on its moral and political implications today. Throughout, he illuminates Whitman's great achievement—learning that a full appreciation for the complexities of human life meant understanding that liberty can take many different and conflicting forms—and allows us to contemplate the relevance of that achievement at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
During the Cold War, the editor of Time magazine declared, “A good citizen is a good reader.” As postwar euphoria faded, a wide variety of Americans turned to reading to understand their place in the changing world. Yet, what did it mean to be a good reader? And how did reading make you a good citizen? In Reading America, Kristin L. Matthews puts into conversation a range of political, educational, popular, and touchstone literary texts to demonstrate how Americans from across the political spectrum—including “great works” proponents, New Critics, civil rights leaders, postmodern theorists, neoconservatives, and multiculturalists—celebrated particular texts and advocated particular interpretive methods as they worked to make their vision of “America” a reality. She situates the fiction of J. D. Salinger, Ralph Ellison, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and Maxine Hong Kingston within these debates, illustrating how Cold War literature was not just an object of but also a vested participant in postwar efforts to define good reading and citizenship.
In the midst of a crisis of democracy, we have much to learn from Walt Whitman’s journey toward egalitarian selfhood.
Walt Whitman knew a great deal about democracy that we don’t. Most of that knowledge is concentrated in one stunning poem, Song of Myself.
Esteemed cultural and literary thinker Mark Edmundson offers a bold reading of the 1855 poem, included here in its entirety. He finds in the poem the genesis and development of a democratic spirit, for the individual and the nation. Whitman broke from past literature that he saw as “feudal”: obsessed with the noble and great. He wanted instead to celebrate the common and everyday. Song of Myself does this, setting the terms for democratic identity and culture in America. The work captures the drama of becoming an egalitarian individual, as the poet ascends to knowledge and happiness by confronting and overcoming the major obstacles to democratic selfhood. In the course of his journey, the poet addresses God and Jesus, body and soul, the love of kings, the fear of the poor, and the fear of death. The poet’s consciousness enlarges; he can see more, comprehend more, and he has more to teach.
In Edmundson’s account, Whitman’s great poem does not end with its last line. Seven years after the poem was published, Whitman went to work in hospitals, where he attended to the Civil War’s wounded, sick, and dying. He thus became in life the democratic individual he had prophesied in art. Even now, that prophecy gives us words, thoughts, and feelings to feed the democratic spirit of self and nation.
How do novels that literally discuss invention and inventors engage through such discussions an array of critically important conversations and issues beyond invention? And to where and how can we trace and follow such discourses? In Where the World Is Not: Cultural Authority and Democratic Desire in Modern American Literature, Kim Savelson examines the ways in which resoundingly popular U.S. novels by Frank Norris, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ralph Ellison host the tug-of-war between thought and action, between the democratic agenda of the pragmatist movement and the aristocratic idea of aesthetics. Savelson argues for and reads these novels as a way of thinking through the implications for the meaning and making of “culture” brought about by the ongoing social revolution of democratic modernity. She thus expands the scope of the current work being done on pragmatism, as well as the work being done on literature and democracy, carving out an intersection of these two fields.
Savelson demonstrates that the questions under her consideration appeared at different key moments over the course of the first half of the twentieth century, embodying and deepening the struggle between the abstract and the practical, the cultural and the commercial—a struggle that turned into a dilemma and a period of growth for modern democratic desire. In so doing, she offers a historical recontextualization of selected literary texts, analyzing them as a way of thinking about intellectual history with subtlety and particularity.
The Whitman Revolution brings together a rich collection of Betsy Erkkila’s phenomenally influential essays that have been published over the years, along with two powerful new essays. Erkkila offers a moving account of the inseparable mix of the spiritual-sexual-political in Whitman and the absolute centrality of male-male connection to his work and thinking. Her work has been at the forefront of scholarship positing that Whitman’s songs are songs not only of workers and occupations but of sex and the body, homoeroticism, and liberation. What is more, Erkkila’s writing demonstrates that this sexuality and communal impulse is central to Whitman’s revolutionary poetry and his conception of democracy itself—an insight that was all but suppressed during the mid-twentieth century emergence of American literature as a field of study.
Highlights of this collection include Erkkila’s essays on pairings such as Marx and Whitman, Dickinson and Whitman, and Melville and Whitman. Across the volume, she demonstrates an international vision that highlights the place of Leaves of Grass within a global struggle for democracy. The Whitman Revolution is evidence of Erkkila’s remarkable ability to lead critical discussions, and marks an exciting event in Whitman studies.
In this elegant study, Walt Whitman's democratic, consensual idealism emerges for the first time as truly central to his poetic achievement. Though Whitman's democratic idealism has often been dismissed as a blindness to the political complexities of his day, Kerry C. Larson argues that the poet was in fact vitally engaged in the problems of preserving social continuity at a time (1855-60) when the specter of disunion and fractricidal war grew increasingly ominous. Whitman conceived his poems as vehicles for social integration whose entire aim was to dramatize the joining of the many and the one, speaker and listener, universal and particular without subordinating either term. For Whitman, the poet's role was to be "the better President," the figure in whose person all contending interests and competing factions would be resolved. The importance of "drama" in Larson's title is borne out in his argument that Whitman's most memorable poems depict the goal of consent as an active process, something to be achieved rather than merely affirmed. By way of making this drama vivid, these poems project a fictive audience or interlocutor which, in being invoked by the poet, furnishes him with a partner in the ongoing dialogue of voices Leaves of Grass both embodies and records.