As the first African-American fiction writer to achieve a national reputation, Ohio native Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) in many ways established the terms of the black literary tradition now exemplified by such writers as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Charles Johnson.
Following the highly autobiographical nonfiction produced by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and other slave narrative writers, Chesnutt’s complex, multi-layered short fiction transformed the relationship between African-American writers and their readers. But despite generous praise from W. D. Howells and other important critics of his day, and from such prominent readers as William L. Andrews, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Eric Sundquist in ours, Chesnutt occupies a curiously ambiguous place in American literary history.
In The Absent Man, Charles Duncan demonstrates that Chesnutt’s uneasy position in the American literary tradition can be traced to his remarkable narrative subtlety. Profoundly aware of the delicacy of his situation as a black intellectual at the turn of the century, Chesnutt infused his work with an intricate, enigmatic artistic vision that defies monolithic or unambiguously political interpretation, especially with regard to issues of race and identity that preoccupied him throughout his career.
In this first book-length study of the innovative short fiction, Duncan devotes particular attention to elucidating these sophisticated narrative strategies as the grounding for Chesnutt’s inauguration of a tradition of African-American fiction.
The contemporary moment has been described in terms of both a “narrative” and a “performative turn,” but the overlap between these two has largely escaped attention. This curious gap is explained by the ways in which scholars across the humanities have defined narrative and performance as opposite forces, emphasizing their respective affiliations with time vs. space and identity constitution vs. its undoing. Although the opposition has been acknowledged as false by many in this simple form, its shifting instantiations continue to shape the ways we make sense of the arts as well as society. Instead, An Aesthetics of Narrative Performance: Transnational Theater, Literature, and Film in Contemporary Germany by Claudia Breger maps the complexities of imaginative worldmaking in contemporary culture through an aesthetics of narrative performance: an ensemble of techniques exploring the interplay of rupture and recontextualization in the process of configuration. Interlacing diverging definitions of both narrative and performance, the study outlines two clusters of such techniques—scenic narration and narrative “presencing” in performance vs. forms of narrative theatricalization—and analyzes the cultural work they do in individual works in three different media: literature, film, and theater. These readings focus on the rich configurations of contemporary worldmaking “at location Germany.” In the discussed representations of German unification, contemporary cultures of migration, and the transnational War on Terror, the aesthetics of narrative performance finds its identity as a multifaceted imaginative response to the post/modern crisis of narrative authority.
In America as in Britain, the rise of the Gothic represented the other—the fearful shadows cast upon Enlightenment philosophies of common sense, democratic positivism, and optimistic futurity. Many critics have recognized the centrality of these shadows to American culture and self-identification. American Gothic, however, remaps the field by offering a series of revisionist essays associated with a common theme: the range and variety of Gothic manifestations in high and popular art from the roots of American culture to the present.
The thirteen essayists approach the persistence of the Gothic in American culture by providing a composite of interventions that focus on specific issues—the histories of gender and race, the cultures of cities and scandals and sensations—in order to advance distinct theoretical paradigms. Each essay sustains a connection between a particular theoretical field and a central problem in the Gothic tradition.
Drawing widely on contemporary theory—particularly revisionist views of Freud such as those offered by Lacan and Kristeva—this volume ranges from the well-known Gothic horrors of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to the popular fantasies of Stephen King and the postmodern visions of Kathy Acker. Special attention is paid to the issues of slavery and race in both black and white texts, including those by Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner. In the view of the editors and contributors, the Gothic is not so much a historical category as a mode of thought haunted by history, a part of suburban life and the lifeblood of films such as The Exorcist and Fatal Attraction.
The Arbiters of Reality: Hawthorne, Melville, and the Rise of Mass Information Culture disrupts our critical sense of nineteenth-century American literature by examining the storytelling strategies of both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville in light of an emerging information industry. Peter West reveals how these writers invoked telegraphic and penny press journalism, daguerreotypy, and moving panoramas in their fiction to claim for themselves a privileged access to a reality beyond the reach of a burgeoning mass audience.
Locating Hawthorne and Melville in vivid and overlooked contexts—the Salem Murder scandal of 1830, which transformed Hawthorne's quiet city into a media-manufactured spectacle, and Melville's New York City of 1846–47, where the American Telegraph was powerfully articulating a nation at war—West portrays the romance as a reactive, deeply rhetorical literary form and a rich historical artifact.
In the early twenty-first century, it has become a postmodern cliché to place the word “reality” in scare quotes. The Arbiters of Reality suggests that attending to the construction of the real in public life is more than simply a language of critique: it must also be understood as a specific kind of romantic self-invention.
The critical literary world has spent a wealth of thought and words on the question of Hawthorne himself: Where does he stand in his works? In history? In literary tradition? In this major new study, G. R. Thompson recasts the "Hawthorne question" to show how authorial presence in the writer's works is as much a matter of art as the writing itself. The Hawthorne who emerges from this masterful analysis is not, as has been supposed, identical to the provincial narrator of his early tales; instead he is revealed to be the skillful manipulator of that narrative voice, an author at an ironic distance from the tales he tells. By focusing on the provincial tales as they were originally conceived--as a narrative cycle--Thompson is able to recover intertextual references that reveal Hawthorne's preoccupation with framing strategies and variations on authorial presence. The author shows how Hawthorne deliberately constructs sentimental narratives, only to deconstruct them. Thompson's analysis provides a new aesthetic context for understanding the whole shape of Hawthorne's career as well as the narrative, ethical, and historical issues within individual works. Revisionary in its view of one of America's greatest authors, The Art of Authorial Presence also offers invaluable insight into the problems of narratology and historiography, ethics and psychology, romanticism and idealism, and the cultural myths of America.
This collection of prefaces, originally written for the 1909 multi-volume New York Edition of Henry James’s fiction, first appeared in book form in 1934 with an introduction by poet and critic R. P. Blackmur. In his prefaces, James tackles the great problems of fiction writing—character, plot, point of view, inspiration—and explains how he came to write novels such as The Portrait of a Lady and The American. As Blackmur puts it, “criticism has never been more ambitious, nor more useful.”
The latest edition of this influential work includes a foreword by bestselling author Colm Tóibín, whose critically acclaimed novel The Master is told from the point of view of Henry James. As a guide not only to James’s inspiration and execution, but also to his frustrations and triumphs, this volume will be valuable both to students of James’s fiction and to aspiring writers.