Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Will It Ever End? Of Racism and Responsibility

If the subtitle doesn't make it clear, my title is a reference both to my "Old News" blogging and the question of responsibility I take up in this part of Chapter Two....


The claim I have advanced in this chapter is that we should stop ignoring Hawthorne’s scandalous perspective on slavery, just as we should stop trying to explain it away or averting our eyes from its effects and consequences. Instead, we should try to understand it, with all the “critical sympathy” David Levin calls on us to muster. And I contend that the best place to begin is with the acknowledgment of Hawthorne’s racism. How, then, does our view of one of antebellum America’s preeminent moral and intellectual historians change when we explicitly bring issues of race, racism, removals, slavery, supplantation, manifest destiny, and the Civil War into focus? I want to suggest that if we are to take Hawthorne’s moral historicism seriously, we should not exempt him from the kind of searching questions he posed to the Puritan past. How, then, should we evaluate claims that Hawthorne’s moral and intellectual historicism has a kind of exemplariness--that it deserves to be a model for contemporary Americanist endeavors?

I allude here, of course, to Michael Colacurcio’s argument that “some generalized form of [Hawthorne’s] inquiry offers the best rationale for our own efforts at a distinctive American Studies.” Colacurcio’s Hawthorne is less the source out of which all American literature flows than the origin, inspiration, and high-water-mark of what is best about the American Studies project: “to consider, even if only to problematize, what [we] find distinctive in [our] own national culture” (17), even as we continue to discover reasons for persistently making “significant denial[s] of the separate moral existence of America” (16). To Colacurcio, Hawthorne is an exemplary intellectual historian insofar as he dispassionately, often ironically, and never in a celebratory manner, marks what is American about the United States. He is an exemplary moral historian in that he denies the “American ideology,” denies, that is, any kind of American moral exceptionalism.

There are worse examples to follow than Hawthorne’s (and Colacurcio’s), I concede, but if my chapter accomplishes anything, it will be to problematize Colacurcio’s vision of Hawthorne as exemplary moral historian. A step further: if this book accomplishes anything, it will be to problematize Colacurcio’s vision for American Studies in the next century. This chapter has been something of an extended quarrel with Colacurcio’s granting of exemplary status to Hawthorne’s moral historicism. To be clear, I have not tried to argue that Colacurcio’s commitment to Puritan origins has blinded him to the significance of race and racism. In fact, the great achievement of The Province of Piety was not only to demonstrate the interrelation of the “matter of the Puritans” and the “matter of the Revolution,” but also to imply that both are linked indissociably yet indirectly with “the matter of the Indians.” Colacurcio implies that Hawthorne saw the “matter of the Indians” through the lens of the “matter of the Puritans” and “the matter of the Revolution,” so that he tended to reenact rather than analyze his age’s view of what was “the matter with the Indians,” even as he carefully, subtly, and sensitively explored what was “the matter with the Puritans” and “the matter with the Revolution.” Furthermore, Colacurcio’s work implies that Hawthorne, like too many of his contemporaries, had little to say about “the matter of slavery,” a matter that only the abolitionists were claiming was what made the United States “America.” Still, my point in this chapter is to emphasize that Hawthorne’s exemplarity extends to his limitations as well as his achievements.

Colacurcio’s own willingness to broach moral issues in scholarship leads me to wonder what impact, if any, the understanding of Hawthorne’s racial politics I have been advancing might have on Hawthorne’s literary and intellectual reputation. I want to caution against one inference that might be drawn from my argument. Some might conclude that because Hawthorne may well have been racist in a manner similar to his narrator in “Old News,” our only recourse is to repudiate him, to stop reading his works. Such a move, I believe, would be to reenact rather than to analyze the limitations of the traditional stories we have told about Hawthorne’s racial politics. In this day and age, we take for granted our transcendance of both nineteenth-century racial science and nineteenth-century literary criticism. But why is it that most of our best analyses of race and Hawthorne almost precisely reproduce some of their most troubling assumptions? Twentieth-century Hawthornists have by and large been just as troubled as Hawthorne’s contemporaries by the question, “Why not slavery?” Of course, we no longer mimic George Curtis’s and Edward Dicey’s appeals to Hawthorne’s nature, his mental constitution, his genius--in short, his white-but-not-quite-Anglo-Saxon racial identity--to explain why he didn’t directly confront the question of slavery in his romances. That is, we are less likely today to naturalize ethical issues, to make the question of responsibility and inheritance a matter of nature. We are more likely to appeal to Hawthorne’s racism, though. And if this appeal has the formal function of the earlier appeals to Hawthorne’s race--to shut down further inquiry so as to allow us to move on to what we like about Hawthorne’s fiction--then it will be no advance from, much less transcendence of, the racialist presuppositions of our earliest literature and criticism. What if instead of aiming for transcendance of these presuppositions we were to immerse ourselves in them so as to better understand their incredible and troubling persistence? What if instead of assuming that writers have a responsibility to write directly and realistically about the political issues of their times we were to take responsibility for recognizing how their fictions are shaped by and intervene on their times in necessarily indirect and mediated ways, and that there is no substitute for reading them?

That Hawthorne probably shared many of the racist attitudes of his times is only the beginning of the story. I have tried to show in this chapter that his racism was no mere personal prejudice, not simply a set of attitudes or ideas that are easy to separate from what he does best. On the contrary, his racism contributed to shaping his very aesthetics and his conception of American citizenship and nationhood. But there is a way in which my decision to read “Old News” replicates the very problem I have tried to diagnose: our tendency as critics to attack the question of Hawthorne’s racism in isolation and by piecemeal, focusing almost obsessively on the same half-dozen individual works, the same dozen passages, and bringing it all down to our interpretation of a few choice words. I still think this step is a necessary one. But it certainly is not sufficient. Hawthorne was partially right when he claimed in the preface to The Snow-Image that we will have to study the whole range of his characters to decide this question, but the task is actually much larger than this. It involves rethinking our sense of the shape of his career, reading the full range of his race writings, considering his relations with his contemporaries, and contextualizing the discourses he drew on and revised. In other words, there are limits to conceiving of an author’s racism as a purely individual matter, as a question of an individual’s intentions. Clearly, there is much more to the issue of authorial racism than stereotype-hunting, for merely identifying a stereotype does nothing to analyze how a given stereotype is embedded in a narrative and how it is being deployed--whether is being critiqued, transformed, or simply reiterated. This word “deployed,” in conjunction with “narrative,” brings the author back in a non-expressivist way--it emphasizes the importance of reading if we are to come up with a plausible, non-reductive account of authorial intent. Yet there is a way in which too firmly linking the issue of racism with the issue of intentionality ensures that we will absolutely miss the most insidious ways white supremacy works. For if we set our standard for identifying a racist literary utterance as a strict version of “with malice aforethought,” we will have capitulated to an ahistorical, decontextualized, individualist conception of what is at stake in racism. Unless, that is, we understand that questions of race and racism are inseparable from questions of ideology and history, and that none of these questions can be answered without careful reading, we are likely to continue avoiding an engagement with Hawthorne’s perspective on slavery.

One legacy of our New Critical distrust of intentionality means that most efforts to identify authorial racism through reference to authorial intention will be half-hearted at best. At the same time, our efforts to defend or vindicate Hawthorne can be just as problematic and just as reliant on discovering authorial intent. They often smack of the strategy of the defense attorneys in the beating of Rodney King case; it sometimes seems that, like them, we slow down Hawthorne’s narrative flow into “super slo-mo” and then stop it and display a series of freeze-frames, inscribing them into our own narrative of Hawthorne’s intentions in the process. But if defining racism or anti-racism strictly by an individual agent’s intentional acts is problematic, jettisoning the category of intentionality altogether guarantees that we will miss the question of responsibility. As I showed in the previous chapter, even in those very approaches that seem to have rigorously excluded them, appeals to authorial intention uncannily return. My solution to this problem has been to attempt to produce the most sophisticated reading of authorial intent that I could on a specific sketch and to make some preliminary contextualizing gestures. Moving from moralizing on an individual’s lamentable prejudices to identifying the racial projects with which individuals align themselves in a given racial formation is the way I have tried to refigure the problem of racism and intentionality.

A brief look at how Jacques Derrida has dealt with the scandal of Nietzsche’s appropriation by Nazism can be instructive here. Contrary to the popular stereotype of deconstruction’s celebration of the “death of the author” and of the “free-floating signifier,” Derrida is most concerned with preventing Nietzsche scholars from letting Nietzsche and themselves off the hook by rejecting the Nazis’ use of Nietzsche as a “falsification of a legacy and an interpretive mystification.” That is, Derrida criticizes the notion that intentional readings (“Nietzsche meant this; the Nazis misread him”) are the final word--“the effects or structure of a text are not reducible to its ‘truth,’ to the intended meaning of its presumed author, or even its supposedly unique and identifiable signatory” (28)--precisely in order to emphasize, not dissipate, the question of responsibility. Derrida ventriloquizes a possible response to this line of thought:

One can imagine the following objection: Careful! Nietzsche’s utterances are not the same as those of the Nazi ideologues, and not only because the latter grossly caricaturize the former to the point of apishness. If one does more than extract certain short sequences, if one reconstitutes the entire syntax of the system with the subtle refinement of its articulations and its paradoxical reversals, et cetera, then one will clearly see that what passes elsewhere for the “same” utterance says exactly the opposite and corresponds instead to the inverse, to the reactive inversion of the very thing it mimes. (30)

Derrida’s response to this objection is absolutely crucial:

Yet it would still be necessary to account for the possibility of this mimetic inversion and perversion. If one refuses the distinction between unconscious and deliberate programs as an absolute criterion, if one no longer considers only intent--whether conscious or not--when reading a text, then the law that makes the perverting simplification possible must lie in the structure of the text “remaining” . . . . Even if the intention of one of the signatories or shareholders in the huge “Nietzsche corporation” had nothing to do with it, it cannot be entirely fortuitous that the discourse bearing his name in society, in accordance with civil laws and editorial norms, has served as a legitimating reference for ideologues. There is nothing absolutely contingent about the fact that the only political regimen to have effectively brandished his name as a major and official banner was Nazi. (30-31)

This is not as formalist an answer as it may first appear, for later in his essay Derrida links the possibility of Nazi rearticulations of Nietzsche to the uncanny and to ideological apparati, including the educational system and other institutions. But Derrida’s response does insist that reading is crucial to all these questions. And as it turns out, one of his protocols for reading Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, Thus Spake Zarathustra and especially On the Future of Our Educational Institutions is that “one must allow for the ‘genre’ whose code is constantly re-marked, for narrative and fictional form and the ‘indirect style.’ In short, one must allow for all the ways intent ironizes or demarcates itself, demarcating the text by leaving on it the mark of genre” (25). The risk of Derridean deconstruction, however, its wager, is a refusal to reduce “responsibility” to “intentionality” and a refusal to avoid reading for authorial intention nevertheless: “the category of intention will not disappear; it will have its place, but from that place it will no longer be able to govern the entire scene and system of utterance.”

Obviously, the example of Nietzsche and the Nazis has its own limits; there have been no state-sponsored mass extermination projects in the name of Nathaniel Hawthorne, to say the least. But the most successful defense of slavery this country has ever seen relied on precisely the same rhetoric and discourses that Hawthorne’s narrator deployed in “Old News.” This is a more significant finding than the question of Hawthorne’s racism, as urgent as that question is. However we determine the relation between author and narrator in “Old News,” the question of Hawthorne’s and our responsibilities remains.

Yes! More Chapter Two Blogging (Part IV)

The lazy blogging continues.



Or could it be that these readings are projections of our own attitudes and desires onto the gaps between Hawthorne, his narrator, and the old Tory? It is certainly true that Hawthorne effects a double displacement of racialist attitudes--putting them in the mouth of a figure who is only a figment of his narrator’s imagination--and that the narrator’s aestheticization of the old Tory’s racialism through the picturesque may not be approved of by Hawthorne. But in order to defend the claim that he is critical toward both the old Tory and his narrative, we would have to examine the range of Hawthorne’s writings on slavery, African Americans, the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, Anglo-American relations, and American nationality in order to discern what his actual views were on these matters, to determine how his views on each matter are related to each other. Only then could we determine his relation to his narrator in “Old News” with any degree of confidence. Given the difficulties of pursuing such a potentially infinite thematic endeavor, a more fruitful project might be to examine Hawthorne’s later deployments of the picturesque. Since the narrator’s racialism and his use of the picturesque are so related, if Hawthorne were to reveal that he had no problems with the picturesque--if, that is, Hawthorne were to consistently put the picturesque to a similar use as his narrator--then we would perhaps be justified in seeing a significant overlap between the narrator’s racialist views of American nationality and Hawthorne’s own. My hunch is that there are enough thematic and aesthetic parallels to suggest that an unambiguously “subversive” reading of Hawthorne’s intentions in “Old News” is difficult to sustain.

Consider, first, the implications of the narrator’s defense of slavery and its similarity to Hawthorne’s later writings. “Slave labor being but a small part of the industry of the country,” the narrator concludes, “it did not change the character of the people; the latter, on the contrary, modified and softened the institution, making it a patriarchal, and almost a beautiful, peculiarity of the times” (257). Just as the ambiguously-worded claim that the slaves “endured, comparatively, few hardships, under the domestic sway of our fathers” masks an implicit comparison to slavery in the South or in the Caribbean, so too does the narrator’s conclusion imply the superiority of the character of the eighteenth-century New Englanders, which was not changed by the presence of slave labor, but which instead “modified and softened the institution,” to the perhaps more corruptible nineteenth-century Southerners. But corruptible by what? The simple answer is “slave labor”––which is somewhat ambiguous, as it could refer to slavery as an institution or to the slaves doing the labor. But Hawthorne’s syntax and rhetoric implicitly place the blame on the slaves themselves for the modifications wrought on the Southern character and the concomitant harshness of slavery outside of New England. Traces of the same assumption can be seen in the parallelism in the following line from “Chiefly About War Matters”: “There is an historical circumstance, known to few, that connects the children of the Puritans with these Africans of Virginia, in a very singular way.”By contrasting New England and the South in terms of a Puritan/African dichotomy, Hawthorne implies a similar influence on the Southern character by African Americans as his narrator does in “Old News.” Similarly, the claim that “slavery, as it existed in New-England, was precisely the state most favorable to the humble enjoyments of an alien race, generally incapable of self-direction, and whose claims to kindness will never be acknowledged by the whites, while they are asserted on the ground of equality”--later excised in the 1851 reprint of the sketch in The Snow-Image--seems to be what is underlying the “what was to be done with the slaves?” dilemma over which we saw Hawthorne agonizing in the previous chapter.

Consider, also, the racialist narrative of Our Old Home that links England and America. In Our Old Home, Hawthorne had written of an “unspeakable yearning towards England” that remains even “[a]fter all these bloody wars and vindictive animosities.”But he quickly shifts from a rhetoric of sympathies and yearnings to one of hereditary connection. He moves from emphasizing an ideological “amalgamation,” speaking of his “becoming sensible of the broader and more generous patriotism which might almost amalgamate with that of England, without losing an atom of its native force and flavor” (37), to acknowledging that he “was often conscious of a fervent hereditary attachment to the native soil of our forefathers, and felt it to be our own Old Home” (40). As Lawrence Sargent Hall has shown, “The history of [Hawthorne’s] social thought during the years he spent in England, as it is written in his journals, in Our Old Home, and especially in the unfinished English romance, is the story of his theoretical attempt to amalgamate on the basis of blood relationship the best elements to be found in these two widely separate societies.”

In light of these thematic continuities between the beginning and end of his career, the aesthetic evidence that Hawthorne shares the “Old News” narrator’s views on slavery and American nationality is even more compelling. When we consider the extent to which Hawthorne was committed to picturesque aesthetics throughout his career, the idea that he was pointing out the politics and ideological investments of this genre in “Old News” without also, at some fundamental level, endorsing them becomes difficult to believe. Consider the implicit colloquy on race and the picturesque between Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James that we can trace in Melville’s “Hawthorne and His Mosses” (1850) and “Benito Cereno” (1855), Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860) and “Chiefly About War Matters” (1862), and James’s Hawthorne (1879).

Twenty years after “Old News” was first published, and four years after it was republished in The Snow-Image, Herman Melville, in “Benito Cereno,” showed the limits of the conception of slavery, the enslaved, and the picturesque in Hawthorne’s sketch. Melville’s protagonist is the good-hearted Northerner, Captain Delano, a man of “a singularly undistrustful good nature, not liable, except on extraordinary and repeated incentives, and hardly then, to indulge in personal alarms, any way involving the imputation of malign evil in man,” a man who, furthermore, “like most men of a good, blithe heart, . . . took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs.” In “Benito Cereno,” Melville shows how Delano’s romantic racialism leads him to exclude Africans from the realm of humanity, which in turn leads to his failure to suspect the slave rebellion that has occurred on board the Spanish ship he encounters at sea, the San Dominick. Instead, whatever suspicions arise in the course of his stay on the slave ship center on the possibility that its captain, Don Benito Cereno, is a pirate.

Melville’s narrator takes great pleasure in showing the mental processes by which Delano talks himself out of his suspicions and makes himself comfortable in the midst of a slave revolt. As it turns out, the picturesque is crucial to Delano’s domestication and aestheticization of the Spanish slave ship. In the course of first meeting Cereno and hearing his far-fetched story that purports to explain the paucity of Spanish crew-members and the fact that the Africans are unchained, Delano is charmed by the sight of Babo supporting Cereno and “the beauty of that relationship which could present such a spectacle of fidelity on the one hand and confidence on the other” (176). But even though Delano also appreciates Cereno’s “provincial costume, picturesque as any in the world,” the narrator notes, perhaps in free indirect discourse, the association that Cereno’s picturesque appearance conjures in Delano’s mind: it gave Cereno the “incongruous” appearance of “an invalid courtier tottering about London streets in the time of the plague” (177). This is part of a pattern in which Delano attempts to domesticate that which is foreign and puzzling to him (as, for example, when he compares the Ashanti oakum-pickers to “so many gray-headed bag-pipers playing a funeral march” [166]), yet the very attempt to do so brings up images of death, which are just as immediately explained away, until the next strange and troubling event occurs.

As many critics have pointed out, the shaving scene is emblematic of this process. But few have taken note of the means by which Delano is charmed by the appearance of the ship’s cuddy:

The place called the cuddy was a light deck-cabin formed by the poop, a sort of attic to the large cabin below. Part of it had formerly been the quarters of the officers; but since their death all the partitionings had been thrown down, and the whole interior converted into one spacious and airy marine hall; for absence of fine furniture and picturesque display of odd appurtenances, somewhat answering to the wide, cluttered hall of some eccentic bachelor-squire in the country, who hangs his shooting-jacket and tobacco-pouch on deer antlers, and keeps his fishing-rod, tongs, and walking-stick in the same corner. (210-211)

Here, Delano calms himself by superimposing the grounds of a picturesque country estate upon a Spanish slave ship, telling himself over and over that Cereno isn’t piratical, just eccentric. Melville’s goal here is to demonstrate that the same world-view that needed the picturesque to gentrify and Anglicize an enigmatic Spaniard slaver also generated a pro-slavery romantic racialism with respect to non-Europeans. By showing the limits of this benevolent Northern view of slavery, Melville demonstrates Northern complicity with the slave system, for the moment Delano realizes how Babo has deceived him, he orders his men to put down the slave rebellion.

As we shall see in more detail next chapter, Melville’s “Hawthorne and His Mosses” is crucial to understanding Hawthorne’s racial politics. Here, let me simply point out that Melville’s Virginian narrator in the 1850 essay claims that Hawthorne himself has deep insight into precisely the “imputation of malign evil in man” that Delano lacks and that the narrator of “Benito Cereno” claims to have. Delano thus corresponds more closely to those Americans in “Hawthorne and His Mosses” who are unable to recognize Hawthorne’s genius, even as his racialist deployment of the picturesque is uncannily similar to Hawthorne’s narrator in the first section of “Old News.” Perhaps, then, “Benito Cereno” constitutes at most a critique of Hawthorne’s narrator in “Old News.” But if my hunch that the narrator of “Benito Cereno” is a pro-slavery Southerner is warranted, this will have been the second time that Melville has Southerners lay claim to the living legacy of Puritanic Calvinism. We shall see in the next chapter how praise from a Puritanic Cavalier can be double-edged; here, we begin to see why the narrator of “Benito Cereno” might want his readers to see a slave rebellion through the lens of Calvinist doctrine. Thus, even if Hawthorne is not reducible to his narrator in “Old News” or to Delano (whose commitment to “a national mission in which political regulation and racial hierarchy were raised to such a pitch that calculated manipulation cannot be divorced from naiveté”), it is not necessarily a compliment to his racial politics to link him with the narrator of “Benito Cereno,” as Melville has done.

Hawthorne, however, appears to have blithely ignored “Benito Cereno,” for in his preface to The Marble Faun, the picturesque again reappears in a particularly charged context--in the list of what makes writing romances in America so difficult--“no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong.”Indeed, Henry James would focus on precisely this moment in Hawthorne (1879). Even as he famously amplified on Hawthorne’s complaint about the paucity of American resources for the literary artist, James would criticize Nathaniel Hawthorne’s interest in the picturesque as the mark of a merely provincial writer:

Americans have as a general thing a hungry passion for the picturesque, and they are so fond of local color that they contrive to perceive it in localities in which the amateurs of other countries would detect only the most neutral tints . . . . Hungry for the picturesque as he always was, and not finding any very copious provision of it around him, he turned back into the two preceding centuries, with the earnest determination that the primitive annals of Massachusetts should at least appear picturesque.

In effect, James’s comment functions as a reading of “Old News.” The racial politics of such a search for the picturesque in American history and society can be read between the lines, as it were, of James’s own evocation of the mind-set of Hawthorne’s generation, with its “superstitious faith in the grandeur of the country, its duration, its immunity from the usual trouble of earthly empires” (133):

This faith was a simple and uncritical one, enlivened with an element of genial optimism, in the light of which it appeared that the great American state was not as other human institutions are, that a special Providence watched over it, that it would go on joyously for ever. . . . From this conception of the American future the sense of its having problems to solve was blissfully absent; there were no difficulties in the programme, no looming complications, no rocks ahead. . . . There was indeed a faint shadow in the picture—the shadow projected by the ‘peculiar institution’ of the Southern States; but it was far from sufficient to darken the rosy vision of most good Americans, and above all, of most good Democrats. (133)

James’s use of “picture” and “shadow” imagery to describe slavery implies his own judgment of the racial politics of the picturesque, which functions precisely to promote the “rosy vision” that James identified with Hawthorne’s sense of the American national character and its future.

Ignoring Melville’s warning and demonstrating the accuracy of James’s implicit characterization, Hawthorne, in an 1862 travel essay entitled “Chiefly About War Matters,” would replay Delano’s picturesquing of Cereno and Babo in “Benito Cereno.” Consider the way in which Hawthorne he reports an encounter with a band of escaped slaves in the course of his tour to Manassas in the midst of the Civil War:

One very pregnant token of a social system thoroughly disturbed was presented by a party of Contrabands, escaping out of the mysterious depths of Secessia; and its strangeness consisted in the leisurely delay with which they trudged forward, as dreading no pursuer, and encountering nobody to turn them back.

They were unlike the specimens of their race whom we are accustomed to see at the North, and, in my judgment, were far more agreeable. So rudely were they attired--as if their garb had grown upon them spontaneously,--so picturesquely natural in manners, and wearing such a crust of primeval simplicity, (which is quite polished away from the northern black man,) that they seemed a kind of creature by themselves, not altogether human, but perhaps quite as good, and akin to the fauns and rustic deities of olden times. I wonder whether I shall excite anybody’s wrath by saying this? It is no great matter. At all events, I felt most kindly towards these poor fugitives, but knew not precisely what to wish in their behalf, nor in the least how to help them. For the sake of the manhood which is latent in them, I would not have turned them back, but I should have felt almost as reluctant, on their own account, to hasten them forward to the stranger’s land; and, I think, my prevalent idea was, that, whoever may be benefitted by the results of this war, it will not be the present generation of negroes, the childhood of whose race is now gone forever, and who must henceforth fight a hard battle with the world, on very unequal terms. On behalf of my own race, I am glad, and can only hope that an inscrutable Providence means good to both parties.

The picturesque is what makes the encounter, despite the ethical dilemma in which it places Hawthorne, “agreeable,” what enables him to link the escaped slaves to his characterization of Donatello in The Marble Faun. In this, Hawthorne is not so far from Englishman Edward Dicey, who accompanied Hawthorne on his tour of Manassas and whom we met in the previous chapter issuing a racialized defense of Hawthorne’s politics. In his Six Months in the Federal States, Dicey has confessed that, in contrast to the “dull barren fields of Maryland,” he was travelling through, he

could not help watching the colored folk in the cars with more than usual interest. I had not been long enough in the country to lose the sense of novelty with which the black people impress a stranger. To me they are the one picturesque element in the dull monotony of outward life in America. With their dark swarthy skins varying from the deepest ebony to the rich yellow hue—with their strange love for bright colors in their dress, no matter how stained and faded, and yet, gaudy as they are, arranged with a sort of artistic instinct—with their bright laughing smiles and their deep wistful eyes, they form a race apart, a strange people in a strange land.

Although Dicey’s rhetoric here echoes the liberal strain of the romantic racialism that was so prevalent among abolitionists, we have seen in the previous chapter how his pro-abolition attitudes could coincide quite comfortably with a virulent anti-black racism. In short, the picturesque was not racially innocent; even when it seemed to carry romantic connotations. Dicey’s example and the implicit argument of Melville’s “Benito Cereno” showed it to be a crucial element in the sensibility of dominance.

What this means is that those who want to make a case for Hawthorne’s subversion of his narrator’s perspective in “Old News” must contend with the way at least minimally stylized public personae of Hawthorne’s appear to endorse this very vision and style throughout his career. In fact, one might make the argument, following Lawrence Sargent Hall, that Hawthorne saw politics through the picturesque:

Hawthorne believed in letting things go their own way until it was quite certain they were going badly. . . . Since he by no means sanctioned too strict an intervention, the efforts of government and community to improve social conditions had to be, in his allegorical way of thinking, like a gardener’s attempts to enhance landscape. Wherever the art of man has “conspired with Nature, as if he and the great mother had taken counsel together how to make a pleasant scene,” the outcome proves fortunate. It is not so where nature has been contraverted, or ignored, or too hard pressed. . . . (29-30)

Although Hall later concludes that “Of all social and political philosophies the equalitarian ideal seemed most in accord with natural distinctions” to Hawthorne (131), this apparent commitment to equalitarianism that accords with “natural distinctions” does not let Hawthorne off the hook, either. As Larry Tise has shown, Joseph Tracy’s 1833 book Natural Equality, based on his address in favor of colonization, was “one of the first attacks on abolition” in the United States. Tise gives Tracy’s work pride of place in focusing on three crucial themes that would reappear in proslavery writings over the next three decades--“denying the theory and practice of equalitarianism”; “scoring abolitionism as a revolutionary movement against American republicanism”; and “proposing the transformation of slavery into a school of moral training” (271-272). All three of these themes can be detected in “Old News.” The narrator’s racist defense of slavery and racialist invocation of the links between America and England implicitly suggest that abolitionist immediatism and rivalry with England are cases in which “nature has been contraverted, or ignored, or too hard pressed.” Hall’s contention that “the efforts of government and community to improve social conditions had to be, in his allegorical way of thinking, like a gardener’s attempts to enhance landscape” suggests that his anti-abolitionism--for which his contemporaries tried to account using rhetoric of “taste” and “fastidiousness”--might more properly be said to have an aesthetic basis. Hawthorne’s linking of politics with picturesque landscape gardening could well be the source of his anti-abolitionism.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Table Talk

Sometimes a Hawthorne blog just needs to relax and revel in the cuteness at the end of a nice spring day. Perhaps onechan is a little Pearl-like in what follows, interjecting herself into an adult conversation and all, perhaps not.


SCENE: Last night, at spaghetti place in YouMe [Dream] Town Plaza (a mall). CONSTRUCTIVIST, TSUMA, and ONECHAN waiting for food to arrive. IMOTO happily chomping on spoon. Somehow the conversation has turned to the concept of kawaii [cuteness].

TSUMA: A Japanese celebrity was saying on tv that the meaning of "kawaii" has changed over the years. It used to mean "kawauso"--pitiful--but lately it's become a word that Japanese teenage girls use to bond over. It's like showing you're part of the group.

CONSTRUCTIVIST: So is it possible to disagree over whether something is cute? Like, would you ever say, "kawakunai" [not cute]?

TSUMA: Kawaikunai.

CONSTRUCTIVIST: [realizing once again he has a lot of studying to do before taking the placement test in April] Yes.

ONECHAN: It's like gucha-gucha skaato. [TSUMA laughs.]

CONSTRUCTIVIST: What? What does that mean?

ONECHAN: Gu-cha...gu-cha. [CONSTRUCTIVIST looks at TSUMA.]

TSUMA: Wrinkled.

ONECHAN: Gucha-gucha skaato. Kawaikunai.

CONSTRUCTIVIST: [Pause, then gets it.] Ah, a wrinkled skirt isn't cute!

TSUMA: I wonder if that's what the older girls at the yochien have been telling her?


Would have staged this scene at Mostly Harmless, but have been doing so much daddy blogging there lately it was starting to read like a diary. Plus it would have completely overshadowed my not-quite-live-blogging the PGA and LPGA tournaments that are coming to a close today at Doral and Superstition Mountain, respectively.

Certainly Hawthorne appreciated the power of little kids to steal scenes--after The Scarlet Letter, did he ever give one a prominent and repeating role in any of his later novels? I'm too frustrated over the state of my internet access tonight and eager to check the golf results to answer that myself!

What Would Hawthorne Say About This?

Pandagon Weekend Blogging: sweetness and light from Berube.
WAAGNFNP Weekend Blogging: defeat and despair from JP Stormcrow.

Just wondering.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

From Narratorial Racial Aesthetics to Authorial Racial Politics (Part III)

For earlier posts in this series, click the "Old News" label. We're jumping right in today at the end of Chapter 2!


So where has this exploration of the narrator’s explicit racism and implicit racialism gotten us? Has it helped us answer the question of Hawthorne’s racism, or only raised its stakes? Assuming for the moment that Hawthorne shares his narrator’s views, is our only response that in matters of race as opposed to aesthetics, Hawthorne consistently “reinforc[ed] wrong by a blindness which seems the very counterpart of his clear vision in his own realm”? Or has the strict separation between politics and aesthetics implicit in this answer been rendered untenable, given the intimate interrelation between the picturesque and racialism we have just witnessed in “Old News”? But is the assumption that Hawthorne shares all his narrator’s views warranted? Might he only share some of them--or perhaps even none? If Hawthorne is neither as racist nor as obtuse as his narrator, could he actually be seeking to undercut his views? If so, which ones?

We may begin to answer these questions by emphasizing the author/narrator distinction and assuming that Hawthorne was not simply expressing his own views in “Old News.” Indeed, recent trends in Hawthorne scholarship encourage us to believe that this may not be an arbitrary assumption. As Allison Easton has characterized the tales and sketches comprising Hawthorne's early unpublished collection, The Story Teller,

The artist figures of the early 1830s are . . . critically presented[;] their views are tested and their poses not necessarily validated. These narrative figures are personae adopted as deliberate exercises in point of view, much as the narrator in ‘Old News’ opts to tell the last part of the sketch through the eyes and voice of an old Tory. This strategy is further developed in the sketches in particular, which set out to explore how the scenes would look through different people’s eyes.

Easton’s survey of Hawthorne’s earliest fiction suggests that at the very least he was exploring different narrative personae for purposes of artistic exploration and that at most he was creating different narrative persona for particular historiographical or political ends.

A rapid survey of early historical sketches not connected with the Story Teller project that nevertheless engage colonial American history in a manner similar to “Old News” illustrates the degree to which the attitudes of Hawthorne’s narrators determine the way the same events are reported. The Puritanic narrator of “Dr. Bullivant” (1831), like the anti-Puritan narrator of “Old News,” focuses on transformations in the American colonies, but this time in the 1670s, which he describes in terms of the traditional narrative of declension, blaming the escalating “degeneracy” of the times on the “increasing commercial importance of the colonies, whither a new set of emigrants followed unworthily in the track of the pure-hearted Puritans” (36-37). By contrast, the anti-aristocratic narrator of “Sir William Pepperell” (1833) attributes the corruption of the Puritan errand not to the 1670s but to the period of the French and Indian Wars, describing the effects of the war in precisely the same terms that the pro-aristocratic narrator of “Old News” would describe the Revolutionary War (170-171). Similarly, Hawthorne would return to the period of the French and Indian Wars in “Old Ticonderoga” (1836) and “A Bell’s Biography” (1837), treating the landscape in much the same way as he treated the colonial newspapers in “Old News” in the former travel narrative (385-389) and utilizing a vigorously pro-democracy narrator in the latter who emphasizes the equality of man (480-486). And all the events in “Old News” are reported in Grandfather’s Chair (1841)--including a similar description of New England slavery--except that here it is the 1730s rather than the 1750s that are characterized as Anglophilic and luxurious, and in no complimentary terms: “the simplicity of the good old Puritan times was fast disappearing” in the face of “a pompous and artificial mode of life, among those who could afford it.”

If this brief survey warrants the claim that Hawthorne’s views do not completely coincide with the narrator’s in “Old News,” then a range of possibilities emerges. Perhaps, like the narrator in the third section, Hawthorne is trying in the first section to “exemplify, without softening a single prejudice proper to the character which we assumed,” that those who held to the racial attitudes of eighteenth-century New England “were men greatly to be pitied, and often worthy of our sympathy” (274). Perhaps Hawthorne is attempting to unsettle his anti-slavery readers with the same kind of temporal leaps that the narrator describes at the opening of the third section, when he moved from immersing himself in the “monarchical and aristocratic sentiments” of the 1750s to examining newspapers from the 1770s, in which “such sentiments had long been deemed a sin and shame” (269). Perhaps, that is, Hawthorne is trying to immerse his readers in the racist and pro-slavery sentiments of the 1730s, so that they, too, feel “as if the leap were more than figurative” and come away temporarily “tinctured . . . with antique prejudices”––in other words, so that they better understand the force and appeal of such sentiments (269). Perhaps, then, just as the narrator is trying to exonerate loyalists in the late 1770s, Hawthorne is also trying to make his readers experience how “pardonable” it was for Puritans to have been slave-holders in the late 1730s (274). In this view, Hawthorne would see his role as akin to the narrator’s--to defend unpopular past views from uncharitable presentist readings.

Or perhaps what he is trying to do is more subtle and less supportive of the narrator’s views. Perhaps, that is, Hawthorne is dramatizing the way in which the narrator moves from trying to gain an understanding of a position that was scoffed at in nineteenth-century New England, to sympathizing with it, and finally to advocating it. Perhaps, then, what happens in the first section of “Old News” is a similar, but implicit, version of the process the narrator explicitly glosses at the opening of the third section: “Our late course of reading has tinctured us, for the moment, with antique prejudices” (269). According to this view, Hawthorne sees his role as demonstrating the power of reading to contaminate temporarily the narrator’s--and by extension, any reader’s--thinking. Rather than sharing his narrator’s sympathies for and clumsy advocacy of eighteenth-century New England slavery, he is simply attempting to show how the narrator came to hold such views.

Or perhaps Hawthorne is more subversive than analytical toward his narrator’s perspective. Perhaps he is suggesting that the racism of the first section is precisely one of those “antique prejudices” to which the narrator’s problematic historicist proclivities make him particularly susceptible. Perhaps, that is, “Old News” is a critique of the narrator’s style of and attitude toward historicization. In his effort to find instances of merriment and beauty to brighten his view of what he imagines as a Puritan-dominated 1730s, he is willing to excuse, and indeed aestheticize, the slavery in which “the merriest part of the population” is held, seeing it as “a patriarchal, and almost a beautiful, peculiarity of the times” (256, 257). According to this view, Hawthorne would be emphasizing the contrast between the narrator’s sarcastic invocation of beauty in the third section (“It is the beauty of war, for men to commit mutual havoc with undisturbed good humor” [274]) with his earlier willingness to see New England slavery as beautiful--in order to imply that the narrator himself is committing “havoc with undisturbed good humor.” Perhaps, then, the joke is really on the narrator, for, like the “specimens of New-England humor” he dismisses as “wearisome” (252), his own attempts at ethnic humor are also “laboriously light and lamentably mirthful; as if some very sober person, in his zeal to be merry, were dancing a jig to the tune of a funeral-psalm” (252). Perhaps, that is, Hawthorne is framing the narrator’s own “zeal to be merry” in the first section of “Old News” as something akin to dancing a jig to the tune of the funeral-psalm of racist enslavement and supplantation.



To be continued....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Liverpool, the Slave Trade, and Hawthorne

More lazy blogging and blegging today! This time it's inspired by a short article in the 21 March 2007 Japan Times that gives a brief history of Liverpool and the slave trade; an online version isn't available, but you can check the history out for yourself here, here, here, and here (for starters). What does this have to do with Hawthorne? Let me quote from the end of the first chapter of my manuscript:

Hawthorne’s comments in a letter of June 14, 1854, to George Sanders, an opponent of abolition, neatly encapsulate many of the issues we have been tracking in this chapter. In one sense, Hawthorne’s remarks seem uncannily applicable to his own career. Sanders, who had rebuked the exiled Italian revolutionary leader Giuseppi Mazzini for implicitly criticizing U.S. slavery in a public letter to an English abolitionist society, asked Louis Kossuth (who had taken a neutral position on slavery in his celebrated tour of the United States) for his response to Mazzini’s remarks, and then sent all the relevant materials to Hawthorne, requesting his opinion of them. After praising Sanders’s own response in his letter to Mazzini, Hawthorne continued:

Now, as to Kossuth’s reply, I do not know but that I ought likewise to be satisfied with that. . . . I do not like it well enough to be glad that he has written it. Is it quite worthy of him? Does he not trim and truckle a little? Will not both parties in America see that he does so?--or suspect it and accuse him of it, whether justly or not? Doubtless, he says nothing but what is perfectly true; but yet it has not the effect of frank and outspoken truth. I wish he had commenced his reply with a sturdier condemnation of slavery; it would have operated as a stronger sanction to what follows.

Of what sort of consequence is my opinion? But there it is.

Perhaps Hawthorne’s own position on slavery could be seen as analogous to Kossuth’s; as a Northerner, practically a foreigner to Southern society, Hawthorne simply kept his abhorrence of slavery to himself, maintaining neutrality for the sake of maintaining the Union. Perhaps he even was offering a subtle critique of his own writings on slavery in his response to Kossuth’s letter, wishing that he himself had offered “a sturdier condemnation of slavery” so that his position for neutrality would not be mistaken as anti-black or pro-slavery. Certainly, this is a sentiment many of Hawthorne’s readers would endorse; like Hawthorne on Kossuth, they, too, often seem to be wishing that Hawthorne had “trim[med] and truckle[d]” less, so that his own positions would have the “effect of frank and outspoken truth.”

In addition to reading Hawthorne’s letter as a subtle admission of regret or an allegory for our own dilemmas as critics who want to see in Hawthorne a ratification of our own values and beliefs, we might also treat the letter as a clue to the social circles in which Hawthorne traveled as consul to Liverpool during the Pierce administration. We know, for instance, that London consul Robert Campbell was suspected of Confederate sympathies, and that Hawthorne’s successor at Liverpool, Nathaniel Beverly Tucker, was a Confederate agent. Hawthorne’s question to Sanders, “Of what sort of consequence is my opinion?” not only may be another version of his characteristic self-deprecating humor, but may also have been implying a set of genuine and pointed questions: Who wants to know? Why did you ask my opinion? How will you make use of this letter? To my knowledge, no study of Hawthorne carefully considers the full range of his activities in Liverpool, the former slavery capital of the world, and one of the last bastions of pro-slave-trade politics in early nineteenth-century England. By the time Hawthorne arrived, of course, times had changed. But it would be an interesting project to consider which Liverpool Hawthorne saw. What I am trying to suggest is that treating the question of Hawthorne’s racial politics in the most pedestrian, practically empiricist manner--in terms of the people and projects with which he aligned himself at different times and in different places--may be the best way of investigating them.

One of the things I have to do is find out if anyone has addressed this issue since I last researched it. Besides the resources I have at the three universities in Fukuoka I'll be teaching at in a few weeks, there's also Google Scholar. So I have some fun detective work ahead of me the next few weeks! Anyone want to help me out by pointing me to the best sources? Do I need to schedule a research trip to Liverpool?

New Worlds for All: Encounters and Plantation (1492-1776)

Picking up from my latest latest crazy idea post, I want to spend a little more time discussing the understanding of American literature I was trying to convey at the end of my Sendai talk. I plan to go through each of the periods I identified there in separate posts over the next few weeks, starting with the first today. But before that a bit from early in the talk where I explained why I like "The American Century" rather than "postmodern culture" or "Cold War culture" as the name for the period comprising mid-to-late (or later) twentieth-century U.S. literatures. It sets up rather concisely and specifically the way I'm thinking about periodization in general:

The standard way of dating the origins of the “American Century” is to go back to Henry Luce’s pre-Pearl Harbor 1941 essay of that title, in which he argued that America needed to take up its responsibility to advance freedom and prosperity throughout the world. Proponents of this view thus hold it to be an anti-totalitarian concept, tied both to America’s subsequent fights in World War II against fascist regimes and in the Cold War against communist ones. Radical historians tend to date its origins earlier, to the 1898 liberation of the Philippines from Spanish rule and subsequent multi-year occupation to put down a Filipino independence movement. Hence, they consider the American Century to be a much more ambiguous if not imperialist concept. For now, I’m less interested in the “American Century” as a contested concept and more in the way it provides us with a useful name for a period that has posed major problems for U.S. literary historians. Most agree that modernism was the defining literary movement of the early twentieth century in the U.S. and Europe, but when did that period end and what name should the new period following it be given? The two most popular alternatives, postmodern culture and Cold War culture, both have and raise problems.

Postmodernism is a vague and baggy term that meant different things in post-W.W. II literature than it did in architecture, literary criticism, theory, or the dozens of other specialized discourse communities in which it was first used. Moreover, using it to name a period commits you to a movement-centered approach to literary history--say, from neoclassicism and gothicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to romanticism and transcendentalism in the mid-19th century, to realism and naturalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to modernism and postmodernism in the rest of the 20th century. This can hide the existence of or distort the features of other literary movements in each period, misleadingly imply that older movements don’t continue into later periods, and present literary history as if it were completely separate or autonomous from other histories.

Using the Cold War to name a period avoids these problems, but commits you to a larger periodization scheme based on wars--say, from the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812 (1776-1815), then to the Civil War (1815-1865), then to World War I (1865-1918), then to World War II (1918-1945), then to the Cold War (1945-1989). This not only downplays the significance of major wars like the Mexican and Spanish-American wars, but also forces you to shoehorn literary history into the confines of military history. Including wars you think are important runs as much of a risk of putting writers who were responding to common events and issues in separate periods as excluding seemingly less important wars risks lumping very different writers together.

I don’t want to imply that my alternative term, “the American Century,” is without its own problems, but it does enable you to develop a periodization scheme that connects literary and other histories without privileging one and making the others conform to it. Moreover, it allows me to put forward the idea that literary periods overlap. If we date the American Century’s origin to 1944, when it was clear that the U.S. was winning the Pacific War and would play a major role in defeating Nazi Germany, this suggests that its early years overlap with an earlier period whose name I will unveil at the end of this talk. Moreover, we don’t know yet if the American Century has already ended or, if it has not, when it will. Some think that the Vietnam War and the oil crisis in the early 1970s marked the end of the American Century, but the Bush administration seems even more committed to military escalation than Johnson’s or Nixon’s. Others argue that the recovery of Germany’s and Japan’s economies in the 1980s signalled the end of the American Century, but American capitalism made a comeback in the 1990s and seems to have weathered 9/11 reasonably well. Still others suggest that the twenty-first century may be a globalizing century, a Chinese century, a century of resource wars or climate change or technological revolution.

By the time I returned to these issues at the end of the talk, all I had time to mention about the first period--"New Worlds for All: Encounters and Plantation (1492-1776)"--was: "As Anzaldua, Conde, Silko, and Yamashita show, encounters between European explorers, traders, and settlers with indigenous Americans and with enslaved Africans took place across the hemisphere, and different kinds of plantation complexes emerged."

Today I would add "creole cultures and" before "plantation complexes" and would have made it clearer that my name for the period was borrowed from the title of a Colin Calloway book. And if I hadn't been so pressed for time, I would have noted that in this sentence, I was condensing several courses' worth of material and engaging new scholarship on early America (particularly Thomas Bender's A Nation Among Nations, Tony Hall's The American Empire and the Fourth World, and Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra). In fact, if I had been speaking in the talk to specialists rather than members of the public who happened to be involved in Tohoku University's Open University program that semester, I would have divided this huge colonial Americas (Columbus to Declaration of Independence) period into several and been more specific about my acknowledgement that the closing date for each set of national literatures would change depending on when each American nation's independence movement formally began. And I would have discussed the larger curricular context in which I believe this literary focus should be embedded: an approach to the history of the Americas that does for students something like what Charles Mann's 1491 (and the new scholarship it attempts to survey and popularize) does for its readers, namely, try to offer a non-Eurocentric history of the Americas before the Europeans' arrival.

This is because in order to identify what made Columbus's arrival the beginning of "new worlds for all," one must compare pre- and post-1492. What was it about the initial and ongoing encounters among European explorers, traders, settlers, and indigenous Americans that lead to so many changes around the world and in the hemisphere? What creole cultures and plantation complexes emerged as Europeans, Africans, and Americans (each grouping characterized by relatively equal--and quite large--spans of cultural, social, and political diversity) continued to interact with each other (in all kinds of ways)?

So that's a precis of the way I'm conceptualizing the "first" period in American literary history. Please see my courses for more details on how I've taught these issues in the past. If anyone wants access to the ANGEL space of my Introduction to American Studies course from the fall, where I pulled a lot of my ideas for the talk together--particularly in the recommended readings not mentioned on the syllabi--feel free to contact me. I also have a brief bibliography of new work on the colonial Americas period that I can email to anyone who's interested. Some of the most interesting and influential work in American Studies has been going on in this period over the past couple of decades, so I'll be returning to it after a tour through the later ones.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hawthorne on the WAAGNFNP

It's hard to say what Hawthorne would say about the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party. I suspect part of him would have enjoyed it and part of him would have condemned it. As the author of "Earth's Holocaust" and "Chiefly About War Matters," he may well have earned himself a proleptically posthumous membership, though.

Racial Aesthetics and Narratorial/Authorial Intention, Part II

Picking up where we left off last week, I focus today on the narrator's use of the picturesque as an index of his stated intentions and unstated assumptions, particularly with respect to the racialized aesthetics it reveals. Next week, I'll get into some of the issues involved with trying to locate Hawthorne's intentions for creating such a narrator.


The picturesque is crucial to “Old News” in various ways. But chief among its effects is its “partial concealment of [the] possible implications” of the narrator’s endorsement of the old Tory’s racialism, the way it sets the narrator “free either to imagine a usable past or to make an unusable past disappear.” Dennis Berthold has written that the picturesque

provided Americans with a congenial, respectable, eminently civilized standpoint from which to study and enjoy the wilderness. To the strong national ego already evident in political Independence--the wilderness-subduing, westward-moving “I”--the picturesque added a controlling aesthetic vision--a wilderness-subduing “eye”--to help organize, shape, and even half-create a native landscape compatible with the civilization that was encroaching on the rugged forests and mountains of the western borders.

Together with canny observations by Jean Fagan Yellin and Lauren Berlant, Berthold’s linking of the picturesque and nationalism can help us pin down the combination of racialism and aestheticism that unites the three sections of “Old News.” Yellin puts her finger on the pictorial, panoramic quality of “Old News” and its nationalist connotations when she notes that “To [Hawthorne’s] readers, the[ slaves] perhaps served to identify the scene as American in much the same way that the inclusion within a single canvas of representatives of the three races--red, black, and white--identified as American the paintings of Hawthorne’s contemporaries.” Similarly, and even more provocatively, Berlant’s analysis of the rhetoric of “Chiefly About War Matters” leads her to conclude that, for Hawthorne, “slavery makes America intelligible. . . . Slaves, in short, are not persons, not potential citizens, but are part of the national landscape and of the deep memories that sanctify it as politically a ‘country.’” Together, Yellin and Berlant’s emphasis on the function of slaves in the picturesque mode of nationalist landscape painting helps us understand that Berthold’s contrast between “civilization” and “wilderness” is as implicitly racialized as McWilliams and Newberry’s narrative of “civilization” to “fratricide.” And, more important, they help us understand what Hawthorne’s sketch is really about and what his narrator is really after.


Now jump back, if you will, to the concluding quote from the manuscript in last week's post. For it sets up my next points:


[E]ven more significant than the narrator’s explicit defense of New England slavery and the appeal to racism that underlies it is the implicit racialism of his conception of American national identity. When we consider that the publication of Hawthorne’s sketch coincided with what historian Larry Tise has called “an ideological revolution whose influence was decisive for the shape of proslavery thought in the antebellum period,” however, we can begin to get a better sense of the stakes of the racial aesthetics of “Old News.” The link that the picturesque formed between a racist defense of slavery and a racialist conception of American nationality gains added significance in light of two of Tise’s key moves. First is his summary of early nineteenth-century debates over slavery: “Although much of the debate centered on the morality of holding Negroes in bondage, the future of slavery and the disposition of the Negro was linked irresistibly to the shape and destiny of America.” Second is his argument that by the end of the 1830s, American social thinkers “were far less concerned with the lessons of the American Revolution than with those of the French Revolution. They spoke more frequently of the warnings of Edmund Burke than of the ideals of Jefferson.” Taking these two points together, the fact that Hawthorne’s narrator in “Old News” implicitly endorses the old Tory's denunciation of the Revolution, when considered with the Burkean ring of his politics and aesthetics, suggests that “Old News” must be understood in relation to the discourses that Tise identifies as crucial to 1830s racial politics in America. For Hawthorne to choose to write about slavery and to feature denunciations of the Revolution was itself a significant act, no matter that his sketch focused on eighteenth-century New England and regardless of his precise relation to his narrator....

[W]hen Hawthorne decided to write on slavery in January 1835, he was quite aware that he was entering into dangerous and contested territory. The signals that he sent in “Old News” were interestingly mixed. At a time when “foreign interference” in American institutions was denounced with an intensity often approaching paranoia, Hawthorne features a narrator who ventriloquizes an old Tory’s diatribe against French influences and who regrets the Revolution’s separation of the Americans from the English. His narrator’s emphasis on shared racial ties among Anglo-Americans irrespective of national boundaries could well have been an implicit critique of the North’s tendency to denounce an “English plot” against slavery and the United States; many in the North saw the English abolitionist George Thompson as a “symbol of a well-planned British plot to destroy the American way of life” by sowing “seeds of war, rape, and carnage through the United States.” By emphasizing the racial otherness of the French, Indians, and Negroes, in other words, Hawthorne’s narrator could well have been seeking to create a mutual enemy that would consolidate English and American ties.

Indeed, the links between Burkean aesthetics, tolerance toward slavery, misgivings about the Revolutionary War, and a racialist conception of American nationality in “Old News” suggests that Hawthorne’s narrator, if not Hawthorne himself, was pursuing a particularly virulent racial project that historian Larry Tise has identified as “proslavery republicanism”....

Hawthorne’s narrator, then, was somewhere in the vanguard of a new racism in January 1835. Rather than being a Northern echo of what was a predominantly Southern ideology, the views expressed in “Old News” were part of a new anti-abolitionist ideology that provided the intellectual framework for later “positive good” defenses of slavery. The turn to Burke that Tise identifies is crucial to “Old News.” Although Burke has been celebrated in one recent intellectual history of the concept of race for his “attempt to reassert the political ideas of Aristotle” against the beginnings of a turn to ideas of blood, Kultur, and Volk that would eventuate after 1815 in a full-blown ideology of race, “Old News” suggests that Burke’s anti-racialism was easily jettisoned by those in America who would take up his critiques of the French Revolution. In fact, the narrator’s racial Anglo-Saxonism suggests instead that Hannah Arendt’s claim that “Burke contributed to an essentially English view of race by emphasizing entailed inheritance as the basis for English liberty” was more relevant to the American context; Hawthorne’s narrator echoes Burke’s emphasis that “ties of inheritance” are “as strong as links of iron” in “Old News.”Indeed, one could argue that the narrator’s project in “Old News” is precisely to engender an anti-abolitionist white nationalism in his readers, to use Burke’s own aesthetics to racialize his politics.


So I'm interested in people's thoughts on Burke and race, 1830s anti-abolitionism, Tise on proslavery argument. What do I need to be rethinking and further developing in this attempt to historicize the racial aesthetics and politics of Hawthorne's narrator in "Old News"?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Hobgoblin Brought Down by Little Minds

If you go back to this post, you'll see that the links in it are dead. This is because BikeProf has decided to pull the plug on The Hobgoblin of Little Minds. My title gives you the "shorter" version of his explanation and conveys something of my regret that another person good at Blogging While Academic has left Blogoramaville U.

In addition to losing a fellow antebellum-era quotation dropper--and a book event we had planned for the summer on our blogs--BikeProf's absence also means I stand to lose my perspectives on the lit-blogging world that his posts, blogroll, and sitemeter stats all provided me access to (particularly if he decides to pull a Billmon by pulling his last and first posts). More important, I lose a colleague who combined his many passions in a single blog, someone who approached reading, teaching, writing, walking, and riding with equal and infectious enthusiasm, which earned him a diverse, active, and (by CitizenSE standards, at least) large readership.

CitizenSE, too, strives to straddle several worlds. The academic worlds of antebellum, 19th C, and contemporary American lit; the transregional literatures of the Black Atlantic and the Extended Caribbean; the global cultures of gender, race, ethnicity, colonialism, imperialism, and trade. The readerly worlds of the book-of-the-month-club, Oprah's Book Club, and lit-bloggers; the relatively focused searches of high school, undergraduate, graduate, and continuing ed students; the relatively random searches of those looking for parenting anecdotes, commentary on popular culture, or adventures in metablogging; those momentarily curious about a comment by The Constructivist on someone else's blog. Not to mention the professional/personal, work/life, America/Japan worlds....

How has it been working out so far? With the new semester starting in less than three weeks, it's too soon to tell. But I can report that I gave four talks in the past four months--a personal record I hope to extend--all of which were easier to write and better pitched to their audiences than anything I've ever delivered before. I have finished editing one chapter of my manuscript, made slow progress on the second, begun rewriting the last, and first-drafted parts of several new ones on and off CitizenSE. So blogging here has increased my overall professional productivity, and with a better teaching and commuting schedule in the spring than the fall, I expect and need this to continue, particularly since I return to a 4-3 load mere weeks after turning in my grades at the three Fukuoka universities I will be teaching at this coming semester.

I will admit to some frustration that sitemeter is showing about 1/3 the average daily visitors to CitizenSE than to the for-some-time-now-group-authored Mostly Harmless blog that I created "for fun" in January, mostly to avoid cluttering this one, give my other interests an outlet, and experiment with a wider variety of styles and moods. But it makes sense to me: before I began blogging again, after taking a sabbatical from what has now become Objectivist v. Constructivist v. Theist, I was mostly visiting the blogs I had the most fun reading and commenting on (mostly the killer Bs--Berube and Bitch). In fact, managing three quite different blogs--and blogrolls--has given me a chance to give some blogs I refused to link to on what was then O v. C a new chance and discover old and new ones I had never heard of or looked at. So even though I only read the newspapers here in Fukuoka when I can, get my multiple magazine subscriptions late or not at all, and can't understand kids' anime, much less the evening news, I feel relatively well-read and well-informed. And I don't even use RSS, which one of the Great Blogging Scotts recently informed me may be a way people are reading CitizenSE without showing up on the sitemeter stats. (If any RSSers would care to delurk, even if just to let em know how to track [and proudly display!] the "subscriptions" to the CitizenSE "feed" [sorry for the scare quotes; I'm still stuck in Web 1.969], it would be much appreciated.)

Perhaps the most gratifying moment in my short blogging career, though, came after the tsuma actually sat down and read a little bit of my blogs last week. She asked me if I'm saving what I'm writing. I told her that google is likely a safer place for my brainstorms than any drive, disk, or memory stick, but secretly I was pleased she thought there was something worth saving here and elsewhere. I'm giving myself until August to develop and incorporate CitizenSE's contribution to that total into a manuscript worth publishing in the ambitious form I envision for it. But more on that (hopefully) this Saturday....

So best wishes to BikeProf in his new endeavors. Here's hoping he makes a bloggy comeback before he gets tenure!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Just a New Way of Periodizing (and Conceptualizing) "American" Literature, That's All; or Adventures in Lazy Blogging, Part II: The Sequel

Remember those extravagant claims I alluded to making in my Sendai talk? Well, here's the most extravagant of all of them. With its implications.... Hey, end on a high note, right? (The talk, not the blog--don't get your hopes up!)


What, then, is the new understanding of U.S. literary history that the works of Anzaldua, Butler, Conde, Jones, Marshall, Morrison, Mukherjee, Silko, and Yamashita make possible? I identify six periods in U.S. and new world history from Columbus to the present: 1) New Worlds for All: Encounters and Plantation (1492-1776); 2) After the Great War: Revolution and Constitution (1763-1815); 3) Manifest Destiny: Expansion and Consolidation (1803-1896); 4) A New Nation: Modernization and Migration (1877-1952); 5) The American Century: Hegemony and Transformation (1944-?); 6) Contemporary U.S. Literatures: Transnationalism and Globalization (?-). While the specific dates and names of each period will vary for each nation in the new world, the processes identified in the subtitles will remain fairly consistent across the hemisphere.

As Anzaldua, Conde, Silko, and Yamashita show, encounters between European explorers, traders, and settlers with indigenous Americans and with enslaved Africans took place across the hemisphere, and different kinds of plantation complexes emerged. As Conde and Mukherjee hint, the aftershocks of England’s catastrophic victory over France in the great war of the eighteenth century paradoxically created the conditions for the age of revolutions across the hemisphere. As Butler, Jones, Morrison, Silko, and Yamashita suggest, newly independent nation-states across the Americas dealt with the conflicts that came with expansion and consolidation, including border wars, civil wars, and Indian wars. As Jones, Morrison, Silko, and Yamashita reveal, most nation-states in the region then embarked on a process of modernization, which included a strengthened central government, industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. As Anzaldua, Marshall, and Silko suggest, the U.S., as one of the most successful modernizers in the hemisphere, and rivalled only by England, Germany, Japan, and Russia in the world, established itself as a rising power during this period, which meant that its neighbors got a preview of the American Century well before the Middle East and Asia did.

Of course, these nine writers represent a fraction of the U.S. literatures that make possible this new understanding of national and hemispheric histories and that lead me to suggest that the key processes of our time are competing versions of transnationalism and globalization. Also, even all the U.S. literatures that could be linked to these processes are only a small fraction of the literatures of each nation-state in the hemisphere, many of which represented, responded to, and influenced past and present processes quite differently than U.S. literatures have.

With this in mind, the periodization scheme I have laid out here today points the way to a large-scale collective project for Americanists around the world: understanding the interrelations, interactions, and interweavings among the literatures of the new world; mapping the ways in which the intranational, international, and transnational network of U.S. literatures links up with those of other literatures of the Americas; making sense of the juxtapositions, parallels, and other patterns that such a mapping makes possible, in a way that forges new understandings of the relations between literary and other histories; and trying to settle the questions hovering about the end of the American Century and the emergence of something new from it. This is a huge project, but if we want to make sense of the past, present, and especially the future of literatures in and outside the U.S., if we truly believe that another world is possible than that of the American Century, this is what I believe scholars of my generation should be working on in coming decades.


So yes, read the nine novels listed in the labels below and get a new understanding of what constitutes American literature and how to organize its study, plus a new perspective on the history of the world since Columbus....

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Six-Word Spoilers

Think of this post as a mash-up of norbizness (happily ruining movies for the rest of us since 2004) and Scott Eric Kaufman (riffing on Wired's six-word stories by sf writers). Inspired by what has to be SEK's summary of "Roger Malvin's Burial"--"The hunter squeezes. His son falls."--I present the following spoilers of well-known Hawthorne novels and tales. Have fun IDing them in the comments.

Walk in woods: no good end.

He loved her? WTF?!

Don't touch the girl! She's poison!

She learned to love the letter.

Their marriage ends families' feud--hopefully.

Obsessed scientist purifies wife, killing her.

Hawthorne was such a hopeless romantic (that is, in the romance sense--and not the medieval one), wasn't he? Feel free to add your own in comments, including improvements on these!

Oh, and if you write them yourself, why not submit your best to SJ Rozan's Six Word Stories blog?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Adventures in Lazy Blogging: From the Sendai Talk

This was the set-up for the rest of the talk--it consists of a reading of my title, “The End of the American Century in Contemporary U.S. Literatures.” Should I have been invited to the speaker series that Tohoku University put together? Should they have withheld my honorarium? Inquiring authors want to know!


Let’s start with the second part of my talk’s title, “in Contemporary U.S. Literatures,” which pointedly refuses to identify a core culture that would constitute the mainstream of American literature today. Due in part to the incredible and accelerating diversification of literary production, distribution, and reception in the United States over the course of the twentieth century--not just of region, class, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, but also of publishers, formats, genres, audiences, traditions, movements, and more--many Americanists agree with me that it is better to refer to “U.S. literatures” than “American literature.” For one thing, “U.S. literatures” acknowledges that the U.S. does not have a monopoly on the term “American,” which can refer as easily to a continent or hemisphere as to any of the many literary traditions in the Americas. For another, “U.S. literatures” troubles the link between “nation” and “literature” presumed in such concepts as “national literature,” suggesting instead that there can be many literatures within a single nation-state. So one of the things I will do in this talk is introduce you to the multiplicity of contemporary U.S. literatures--and particularly to their interrelations, interactions, and interweavings.

To do this, I will focus on African American writers Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, and Octavia Butler, Afro-Caribbean writers Paule Marshall and Maryse Conde, Asian American writers Bharati Mukherjee and Karen Tei Yamashita, Latino writer Gloria Anzaldua, and Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko. Each has participated in multiple U.S. literatures in her career. Butler, for instance, has made major contributions to both African American literature and science fiction. Mukherjee, Marshall, and Yamashita have all participated brilliantly in the literature of immigration but have also contributed to their different ethnic, racial, and diasporic U.S. literatures. Anzaldua, Yamashita, and Silko have all written literature of the U.S. West and of the borderlands, but could be grouped separately as Texas, California, and Arizona writers, respectively, not to mention in their respective pan-ethnicities as Latino, Asian American, and American Indian, or in their respective ethnicities as Chicano, Japanese-American, and Laguna Pueblo. As these few examples show, precisely because individual writers contribute to and have been influenced by multiple literatures inside and outside the U.S., it would be wrong to conclude that “U.S. literatures” means the dispersal of a unified national literature into several separate literatures with little in common. Rather, “U.S. literatures” constitute a complex and dynamic network that is at once intranational, international, and transnational.

So in part this talk tries to move us from the debates over canonization that have dominated public discussion of contemporary multicultural and multiethnic American literature to the debates over periodization implied by my title’s temporal focus: “The End of the American Century in Contemporary U.S. Literatures.” That is, rather than obsessively asking, “who counts as a major American author?” “which U.S. literatures make up the mainstream of American culture?” we ought to be asking other questions, like “what patterns or shapes have U.S. literatures formed in the past?” “what have been the relationships within, among, and between U.S. literatures?” “what might they reveal about the commonalities and differences in U.S. society?” Of course, there are any number of ways to identify literary periods in the U.S.--centuries, wars, and literary movements spring most readily to mind--which are all more or less arbitrary. Nevertheless, there’s a lot at stake in the process. To understand why, let’s look more closely at the first half of my title.

“The End of the American Century,” alludes to two of the most influential attempts by U.S. conservatives to shape the contours of a post-Cold War national consensus. One is “the end of history,” the idea Francis Fukuyama advanced in 1989 that history has reached its endpoint and achieved its purpose by revealing that the global extension of capitalist liberal democracy is humanity’s ultimate social destiny. The other is the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, which William Kristol convened in the spring of 1997 to advocate for “American global leadership,” advance “a strategic vision of America’s role in the world,” and stiffen the nation’s “resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests.” By combining the two phrases in the way I do, I aim to expose tensions within and between them--and put them to other ends than their authors intended. On the one hand, I want to suggest that Fukuyama’s vision of the end of history is circumscribed by the logic of the American Century; on the other hand, I want to suggest that Kristol’s American Century may well be in its last throes, so to speak. Unlike my talk last Saturday, when I explored the political and economic implications of the end of the American Century in Asia at the Japan-America Society of Fukuoka, today I look at the end of the American Century from a literary perspective. My core argument is that contemporary U.S. literatures, as exemplified by the writings of the nine women writers I feature in this talk, help us historicize the American Century, reexamine its logic and assumptions, and speculate about what may come after it.

Today, then, I’ll move from considering the origins and endpoint of the American Century to examining how Marshall, Jones, and Morrison have renavigated Atlantic slavery, how Anzaldua, Silko, and Yamashita have remapped North American borders, and how Butler, Conde, and Mukherjee have rewritten “American” history. I’ll close by using the insights their works provide us with to offer a new periodization scheme for U.S. literary history and to suggest what may be at stake in the reconceptualization of relations between U.S. and other literatures that it entails.


Want more later?

Monday, March 12, 2007

On Racial Aesthetics and Narratorial/Authorial Intention, Part I

From "Old News":

There is a good deal of amusement, and some profit, in the perusal of those little items, which characterize the manners and circumstances of the country. New-England was then in a state incomparably more picturesque than at present, or than it has been within the memory of man; there being, as yet, only a narrow strip of civilization along the edge of a vast forest, peopled with enough of its original race to contrast the savage life with the old customs of another world. The white population, also, was diversified by the influx of all sorts of expatriated vagabonds, and by the continuous importation of bond-servants from Ireland and elsewhere; so that there was a wild and unsettled multitude, forming a strong minority to the sober descendants of the Puritans. Then there were the slaves, contributing their dark shade to the picture of society. The consequence of all this was, a great variety and singularity of action and incident.

This is a passage I devote more than a few paragraphs to in the second chapter of my manuscript (although now that I think of it, the middle section of the first chapter may work better as a stand-alone intro, so this may well become the manuscript's third chapter). I'll give you my initial reading of it here:

To the narrator, contrast brings out the "manners and circumstances" "of “New-England"--"a narrow strip of civilization” somewhere between "the savage life" of "the original race" and "the old customs of another world." New England civilization, that is, is composed of "the sober descendants of the Puritans," and it is opposed to the "wild and unsettled multitude" of Indians, "expatriated vagabonds," Irish and other European "bond-servants," and, of course, "the slaves, contributing their dark shade to the picture of society." Here, the narrator distinguishes between Anglo-Puritan "civilization" and the greater "society" of the colony, which forms a "strong minority" to the Puritan majority. The picturesqueness of the scene, it seems, is a result of the "great variety and singularity of action and incident" brought about by the presence of a diversified white population surrounded by the savage life of Indians and the dark shade of the slaves. Indeed, even the arrangement of Native Americans, whites, and slaves into a foreground, middleground, and background--with the emphasis placed on the middleground--corresponds to Gilpin's rules for picturesque aesthetics. The picturesque intervenes to domesticate the double dangers of excessive difference and roughness and of excessive sameness and dullness. It not only allows the historical tourist to enjoy the aesthetics of the scene before him, it also gives him a structure through which he can unobtrusively emphasize the presence of the Puritans.

This is a small part of my set-up for one of my core claims in the chapter that "the narrator in 'Old News' presents a story not of 'civilization to fratricide'--this formulation misses the implicit racialization of both 'civilization' and 'fratricide' in the sketch--but instead one that moves from a period of increasing Anglo-American solidarity to a period of contention and separation." I elaborate on this claim as follows:

When the "Old News" narrator says that he loves to see a man "keep the characteristics of his country," he precisely does not mean to include that "alien race, generally incapable of self-direction," whose enslavement he tacitly defends, as even a potential member of that citizenry. On the contrary, no matter how "familiarly" "intermixed" with the Puritans "under the domestic sway of our fathers," the slaves' only function in his narrative is to contribute "their dark shade to the picture of society," to offset the virtues of the Anglo-Puritan civilization of colonial New England. Slavery can be viewed as "a patriarchal, and almost a beautiful, peculiarity of the times" because of the narrator's commitment to picturesque aesthetics. Ultimately, then, what "Old News" is about, what holds the three sections of the sketch together, is what makes the United States "America." And what apparently makes its citizens "Americans" is a combination of shared ("English") blood and commitment to picturesque aesthetics. Hawthorne's narrator implicitly defines America as a country composed of the descendants of the Puritans. The picturesque effect that he attempts to achieve is not simply antiquarian, then, not simply an attempt to leave an impression of the pastness of the past. Rather, it is the simultaneous racialization and aestheticization of the Anglo-Puritan origins of the American self.

Got a lot to do today, so I'll stop there before getting into the issue of the relation between Hawthorne's narratorial persona's intentions and his own intentions in the sketch, but as I'm revising this chapter over the next few weeks, I'll be posting from it when it fits the programming schedule. There's been a lot of new work on the picturesque, race, and colonialism that I have to examine to see where and how I need to revise the chapter still further.

Dramatis Personae

It occurs to me that my use of Japanese and references to my family members here on CitizenSE may be confusing or off-putting to most of the people who come here accidentally through google or other web searches. And even my handful of semi-regular readers will no doubt appreciate a playbill. Plus, I don't have time to do any serious blogging today--or, apparently, if you look over the most recent third of my posts here, for the past month or so. In any case, one of the reasons to blog is to tell funny (and other) stories about your family. So without further ado, may I present...

CitizenSE Dramatis Personae

[note on pronouncing Japanese: the alphabet consists of variations on the vowels (spelled here phonetically) "ah" "ee" "ooh" "ay" (or "eh" if you're Canadian) and "oh" (such as kah-key-koo-kay-koh); all syllables end in vowels; double vowels means drag the vowel sound out for another beat, although often people in Japan represent the dragged out "oh" sound as "ou" instead of "oo," mistakenly thinking that's any clearer (there's no good solution--"ohhh" looks stupid and sounds kinda pornographic, for instance, but until Americans learn to read hiragana and katakana, we're stuck with romaji)]

The Tsuma, She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Mentioned-on-Blogs: just call her the International Women of Mystery I'm married to; also known as mama or okaasan to the musume futari.

Musume Futari: our two daughters, who have too many aliases to list here.

Onechan, Uh Oh Diva Girl: our older daughter, the sansai onnanoko (3-year-old girl), who goes to yochien (a Baptist pre-K day care/school arrangement for half the day, even though the only Christians in the family are the awesome Catholic family my brother married into), loves Pretty Cure, Dora, and PowerPuff Girls (even though we haven't yet let her see the original version), likes to wear skirts ("I want to be a girl!"), and responded to my joke that there ought to be a Cure Yada ("no way!") to go with Cure White, Black, Egret, Dream, Rouge, Mint, Lemonade, and the rest) with a pause for thought followed by the suggestion, "and a Cure Cough-y!" Yup, she's a comedian, too. (We've all been coughing off and on since January.)

Imoto, Happy Sporty Science Girl: our younger daughter, the juukagetsu akachan (10-month-old baby), who not only can do all the things I bragged about a couple of posts ago, but also is into opening and closing doors, standing up in her stroller, dropping things to see what happens, putting everything in her mouth, screeching with delight, giggling, expressing frustration in all kinds of hilariously cute non-verbal ways, and trying to learn to walk and imitate the words coming out of our mouths at roughly the same time (onechan would always swing from one to the other in that awesome 6-18-month transformation from barely-rolling-over baby to a toddler).

Baba, Gigi, Grandma, Grandpa: the Japanese and American grandparents, respectively.

Various tomodachi (friends) of the kazuko (family), to be named later. There--fun, easy, and quick. Maybe will be able to actually do a close reading tomorrow. We'll see.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

In Which My Self-Nomination for Father of the Year Is Not To Be Taken Literally

Following Bitch Ph.D., I have a story to tell y'all about the onechan and me. We were at the mall in Kashii--the place where last time we went, we all got seriously sick for the first time in Japan that I remember--and had quite the scare. I lost our sansai onechan for about 15 minutes in a large clothing store. No harm done--a nice lady working there saw her crying, calmed her down, took her to the bathroom (because she said she told her to go oshiko), got her name and age out of her (thank you, yochien, for helping us drill that into her!), and paged us. So here's what Hawthorne would say--exercising his usual artistic licence--in his nomination speech for my Father of the Year Award, describing the first words the tsuma said to me upon catching up with her and the onechan:

"Ethan, meet Wakefield."

Thank you, thank you. Next show at 9:30.

Seriously, it would have been the worst 15 minutes of my life, but during a crisis--like, say, last week when the juukagetsu imoto was choking on a slice of cabbage that onechan and I were grating for their mama that had fallen from the grater onto the floor and gone straight into her mouth when we weren't looking--I'm scarily calm, I've discovered to my relief (better than panicking, right?) and dismay (why so many crises?). Still, the one distracting thought that slipped through my crisis mode this afternoon was the mental image of onechan wandering off (to look at some of those skirts we had just gone to the changing room to tell her mama she liked, I thought, while I was fumbling with the mall stroller and our stroller and agreeing with the tsuma that imoto and I would chase onechan down--but no!) and the thought that that would be my last sight of her.

Phew. Thank god Japanese workers take service so damn seriously and that Fukuoka is so family-friendly. I am truly baka.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Few Crazy Ideas

My weekend posting is going to have to be shorter and crappier than usual in the foreseeable future, as I switch back to a regular work schedule on weekdays starting next Monday, which means both onechan and imoto will be needing more attention when I'm back home.

Have I mentioned here that in the last two months, imoto has started standing/cruising/walking (at least when you hold her hands or when she makes her way to a stroller and starts using it as a walker!), clapping, waving goodbye, babbling (from "emma" to "mama" and this kind of "dadadadadadadada" thing that may well be addressed to me, not to mention "upffffff" and screeches of delight, frustration, or outrage of all kinds--quite a step up from crying to be held when I come home from work, which was the first big development in her relationship with me), teethed her way to her (at last count) first 4 teeth coming in (two bottom middle ones first, then the corresponding two top one)? Or that onechan has been moving her ratio of "I'm a big girl"/"I'm a baybeeeeeee" closer to 4-1 over the same time period? (Could it be that the Uh Oh Diva Girl is figuring out that imitating her younger sister is not a winning strategy for a three-year-old? Could it be that going to the Baptist yochien and seeing how all the older kids act is good for her? Signs point to "yes.") She's also gotten really into drawing and is doing a lot of cool arts things in her yochien, plus making some new close frends. My point here is that we're right in the middle of our favorite baby phase (from rolling over to walking and talking) for imoto and witnessing a major transformation in onechan's life (the end of the terrible twos, which we thought happened last spring, but never underestimate the intelligence of a two-year-old--she was perfectly capable of figuring out what worked for the atarashii akachan and using it for herself [but for a year?!!!--yup]) in the CitizenSE household, and I want to be there for as much of it as I can.

So, a list today. Projects I'm considering for the post-Fulbright future:

1) EDITING: Reading Hawthorne in Showa Japan has a nice ring to it, eh? Here's the plan: I contact the NH societies of the U.S. and Japan before leaving Fukuoka with a proposal to edit a collection of essays that translates/collects representative work from the most influential Hawthornists of Japan during this period (asking the NH Society of Japan to do the selecting and share the bill for translating with the NH Society of the U.S.) and publishes short responses from the most influential Hawthornists of the U.S. (as selected by the NH Society of the U.S.). My contribution would be coordination and an introductory essay that compares/contrasts the developments of Hawthorne Studies in the two nations during this time period.

2) CONFERENCE: I want to organize an international conference on the cultural politics of U.S. literatures and literary criticism in Japan. Obviously, one of the big turns in U.S. literary studies of the past couple of generations has been toward historicizing the reception and cultural work of "classic American literature" and of tracking the politics of literary reputation and the formation of what's taken to be the "traditional" American literary canon. This has extended in the U.S. into studies that do the same kinds of analyses, not of American literature, but of Americanist literary criticism. To give a few examples of famous people doing both kinds of work, think Tompkins on gender, Lauter on Melville and modernism, Pease on the Cold War, Kaplan on U.S. imperialism...the list goes on and on. So what I envision is finding out who's doing that same kind of work in Japan and around the world by organizing an international conference on the subject. By casting my net wide--inviting work from the late Tokugawa period to the present, rather than focusing on a specific period--I get to highlight the best new work in and on Japan in the U.S. Obviously this would be of interest to postcolonial studies, as well, given Said, Spivak, Bhabha in general and specifically Gauri Viswanathan's trailblazing work on English Studies in India, Annika Hohenthal's work on English in India, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan's "Learning from Said" (in Politics and Culture 1 [2004]), and so on.

3) RESEARCH: I need to get my language abilities in Japanese to the point where I can read literary criticism in Japanese passably well to do this, but I want to eventually be able to contribute my own little pieces to the larger work that the conference would feature. Given my primary specialty, I would most likely focus on the cultural work of studies of antebellum U.S. literatures, but I would have to be flexible and see what the most revealing literary criticism turns out to be. What I'm particularly interested in is the range of responses by Japanese Americanists to the U.S. occupation of Japan and how the politics of American Studies in Japan relates to--and what it may reveal about--larger debates in Japanese society over American culture over the course of the Showa period.

So there you have it. I'm going back to a 4/3 teaching load in August, doing my best to avoid immersing myself in service as I consciously chose to do when I first got the job (on which more later), and still have three major and several minor projects to complete without a leave in the foreseeable future (having decided to use mine with the Fulbright, rather than save it for my return), but hey, a guy can dream, right? Or rather, a guy can get back to work for the next 5 months and see how close he can come to wrapping up the ongoing projects....