Sunday, April 29, 2007

Kugelmass Episodes Re-upped

There may or may not be a god or gods, but over at The Kugelmass Episodes is evidence that bloggy miracles happen, good things sometimes happen to good bloggers, and so on. After a short experiment in Coffee and Critique, Joseph Kugelmass is back blogging under his real name (if that is his real name--it's a pretty suspiciously postmodern Woody Allen-esque name, if you ask me)--which makes me pretty happy, as I tagged it as one of my five favorite thoughtful blogs over at the thread Chris Clarke started at Pandagon. If you're curious, you'll have to scan through everyone else's recs to find mine!

And isn't that a good reason to blog? To send the random google searchers who come here to the obscurest corner of Blogoramaville and happen to stay to read a CitizenSE post or three over to the best writers in the neighborhood....

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hawthorne Would Approve

No time for serious posting, but I did want to encourage you to point your browsers toward The Joy of Text, Part I, in which the Hobgoblin has cast Hawthorne in a leading role in a smashing romantic comedy. Looks like the start of a series--next episode may star Melville. Stay tuned!

It's a particularly pleasant counterpoint to this Hawthorne/Melville pairing from Robert Farley that I can't bear not to link to again. Hawthorne would encourage his more paranoid wingnut readers to check out "The Devil in Manuscript" and his second preface to The Scarlet Letter if they really want to get scared about the power of words and texts.

He'd also approve of student blogs, like "the air of ideas is the only air worth breathing", Dave Lester's Finding America, and Katie Rice's post on "The Birth-mark."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Happy Birthday to You

Over at Mostly Harmless I have a Radiohead City Music Hall flavored tribute to imoto, who turns 1 today. Tanjobi omedeto, imoto!

Got a post cooking on Twain, Arac, Hawthorne, and Melville (hopefully for Saturday), but while you're waiting with bated breath for it, I thought I'd ask a certain exasperated London scholar what he thinks of The Iron Heel and what he recommends I read to make sense of its representations of Japan besides Colleen Lye's work....

Oh, and you need to read Robert Farley on the dangerality of Melville and Hawthorne. Heh! Indeed.

[Update 4/29/07: d celebrates his daughter's first birthday at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Which just goes to show that for some who Blog While Academic, April can't possibly be the cruelest month.]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On Twain, Hawthorne, and the Novel of Purpose

I owe Scott Eric Kaufman and Amanda Claybaugh a follow-up to my earlier Twain post, but I'm also teaching "Roger Malvin's Burial" and "Wakefield" a little later today, so I'm going to try to keep a few balls in the air here today while the girls are still were sleeping (and before [and after] I have to take took onechan to her first full-day yochien since March)--among them, the relevance of my reading of Twain to The Valve's book event on The Novel of Purpose, readings of Hawthorne's representations of colonial spaces, and the possibilities and pitfalls of pedagogy. We'll see how that goes.

So last Twain post I suggested that the coat of arms that Tom gives Jim in the midst of the "evasion" sequence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is something of a practical joke at Hawthorne's expense. The point of the joke, though, is aimed directly at the end of Reconstruction: Jim's coat of arms signifies and dramatizes the limitations of liberal reformers, the triumph of racist reactionaries, and their collusion in imposing precisely the "badge of servitude" that the Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional. So I agree with Scott that Twain did have a moral purpose in representing Huck's failure to stand up to Tom, but, Colacurcio-like, my reading emphasizes that Twain is historicizing this failure and making it a figure for the larger society's moral and political failings. The sense of betrayal most readers feel at Huck's actions (and lack thereof) in the last third of the novel, then, is a pale shadow of the betrayal of African Americans by the United States in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

I make this argument not to participate in what Jonathan Arac has called the hypercanonization and idolization of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, nor to excuse or condone liberal racism, but to suggest that Arac's dismissal of critics such as Fishkin, Doyno, and Jehlen (as well as David Lionel Smith, an Americanist and African Americanist at Williams College, who so far as I can tell is never directly engaged in Arac's study), who support the "novel as criticism of the end of Reconstruction" argument I have been advancing--although IMHO not quite as convincingly as I lay it out ;)--as continuing rather than contesting this Cold War tradition is a little hasty. I want to return to Louis Budd's 1962 argument that Clemens should be read as a contemporary of Page, Cable, and Tourgee (and also, I would add, John Edward Bruce, Charles Chesnutt, Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Ida B. Wells) and in the context of Southern debates over the meaning of Reconstruction--and try to set it on firmer intra- and intertextual ground. Arac's objection that the novel failed to make its mark is on target--he correctly points out that no contemporary reviews remarked on its racial politics--but this doesn't vitiate the attempt.

The upshot for any understanding of Hawthorne's relevance to the Claybaugh book event at the Valve is to emphasize that critiques of realism and sentimentalism in reform movements and literature may have regressive as well as progressive components. Unlike most of his literary contemporaries, Hawthorne was an anti-abolitionist; this fact has been acknowledged by most Hawthornists and Americanists--what is debated is its context, meaning, and significance. As I have already covered these matters at some length here at CitizenSE in my discusions of Hawthorne's racial politics with respect to slavery, abolition, and racial science, I want to illustrate this point with examples taken from a debate that seems much more "live" among Hawthornists: how to read his infamous "I do abhor an Indian story" line and the larger question it raises of his take on the colonization of the Americas and of the Indian Removals of the 1830s.

On the one hand, a strong case for a deep continuity between Hawthorne's attitudes toward American Indians and African Americans can be made. Hawthorne was an ardent supporter of Andrew Jackson (I read somewhere he thought him to be the best American president), the architect of the Indian Removal policy. Few American Indians appear in his fiction; those that do are often as stereotyped as the equally small number of African-American figures. Although he wrote about Indians romantically and sometimes favorably in his autobiographical writings, it seems he participated in the "Vanishing American" tradition. Perhaps his abhorrence for Indian stories stems from an aversion to actual Indians.

Yet just as many feminists argue that despite his "damned mob of scribbling women" gibe and unfavorable portrayal of Anne Hutchinson he could be considered a proto-feminist or even a feminist author, a surprisingly large number of Hawthornists argue that his abhorrence for Indian stories stems from their conventional and cliched nature. These critics see him critiquing the James Fenimore Cooper style of romanticizing American Indians and launching a critique of manifest destiny. For them, a late sketch like "Main-Street" and the early tale "Roger Malvin's Burial" provide the best evidence for their perspective on Hawthorne as a critic of historical colonialism and contemporary American expansionism.

Renee Bergland, in The National Uncanny, offers the best survey of these debates that I have seen; she ultimately argues that a reading of Hawthorne's ghosts suggests the former group has the argumentative advantage. I'll return to her readings in a later post and in the process pick up the thread on Hawthorne's use of haunting in his fiction that I dropped awhile back. But in the few minutes I have before class starts, I want to suggest that the way critics have read "Roger Malvin's Burial" reveals a lot about the terms and assumptions of this debate over Hawthorne's take on Indian Affairs. How they read his relation to the "short story of purpose" of the early 19th C--those stories responding to the calls for a nationalistic American literature to be produced (ironically, on the model of Sir Walter Scott's historical novels--how, that is, they read the politics of dissenting from the conventions of this early national literary tradition, says as much about our own critical assumptions as it does about Hawthorne's time. So soon I'll over some excerpts from my manuscript's first chapter, in which I compare and contrast David Levin's, Michael Colacurcio's, and Manfred Mackenzie's readings of "Roger Malvin's Burial," to flesh out what I'm getting at with these telegraphed comments. And I'll also look at the analysis of "colonial spaces" in "Wakefield" and other stories that deal with the wilderness/desert metaphors underlying so many of his narratives. This will help me circle back to my arguments about Hawthorne's engagement with the picturesque in particular and American landscapes in general from my second chapter and to my long-promised but not-yet-delivered readings of Lauren Berlant on Hawthorne, utopianism, and his "citizen of somewhere else" proclamation in "The Custom-House."

So it's going to get a little involved in the next few months here at CitizenSE. Hawthorne's engagements with narratives of plantation and colonization, his critiques of the emergent literary nationalism of his times, and his ruminations on landscapes, aesthetics, and manifest destiny will be my focus as my Postcolonial Hawthorne course gets into gear.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why, Oh Why?

No chance for serious blogging the last few days--imoto had a high fever last night after running her nose since Friday and I stayed home from work today because the tsuma wasn't feeling any too hot in the morning, either. The day turned out just fine, though. Imoto's fever broke in the early morning (not that I knew, I was sound asleep--now you understand the tsuma's condition when I woke up!) and after a long late morning/early afternoon nap with mama she was feeling fine. Meanwhile I got to take onechan to her yochien and play with her and a couple of her tomodachi when I picked her up to allow said nap to go on for as long as possible. Found out onechan can climb to the top of the jungle gym and that most of the girls at the yochien have some kind of Pretty Cure gear or other. By the early afternoon imoto was trying to kick a soft little ball and a half-deflated balloon around the play room and onechan was practicing her golf swing with a rolled-up plastic poster-sized mat and whatever imoto wasn't kicking. Too bad the video camera was out of juice.

All of which means part 2 of my Adventures of Huckleberry Finn response to Scott's recent post at The Valve will just have to wait a while longer. Somehow a day like today takes the urgency out of blogging. In a good way.

Quite unlike what's been leading Joseph Kugelmass to cancel the rest of The Kugelmass Episodes. I find it interesting that he's planning to head (back) into the groves of pseudonymity the same month that Tenured Radical outed herself, and, as noted a few days ago, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds took up his mask again.

Ah, but it's time for onechan to join imoto in dreamland, so this line of thought will have to be--

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mark Twain: The Badge of Servitude

Scott Eric Kaufman has been organizing and participating in The Valve's ongoing book event on Amanda Claybaugh's The Novel of Purpose. His recent contribution is worth a close read. I'm going to take the opening his reading of the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn offers me to follow up on an invitation from Claybaugh herself and say a little bit more about my views on Hawthorne and 19th C reform movements.

In "The Power of Blackness and the Device of Race: On the Compromises of 1850 and 1877," the third chapter of my manuscript, American Studies and the Race for Hawthorne,

I turn to three major nineteenth-century writers who have offered assessments of Hawthorne’s racial politics as rigorous as any professional reviewer or scholar. Specifically, I examine how Herman Melville, in “Hawthorne and His Mosses” (1850), Henry James, in Hawthorne (1879), and Mark Twain, in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), offer implicit readings of Hawthorne’s racial politics, and, in the process, comment on the racial politics of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Instead of studying Hawthorne’s relation to other major nineteenth-century writers in terms of source, influence, or intertextuality, that is, I examine what certain major responses to and revisions of Hawthorne’s texts reveal about the historical moments in which they were written. After considering how James’s and Melville’s criticism helps specify the race and Hawthorne problem that I identified in the previous two chapters, I turn to the controversial ending of Mark Twain’s novel and its puzzling allusion to the ending of The Scarlet Letter. As we shall see, Herman Melville, Henry James, and Mark Twain together tell a remarkably consistent story--a story that links the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act with the 1877 Tilden-Hayes Agreement.

This is one of my longest and most-involved chapters and I'm considering sending off parts of it to journals this fall, so I won't give it the Chapter 2 treatment (see the "Old News" category for what I'm talking about). But I will give the set-up and the conclusion to my Twain argument. Here are the two passages that begin the Twain section of the chapter, the first from The Scarlet Letter and the second from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

All around there were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple slab of slate--as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport--there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald’s wording of which might serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so sombre it is, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow:--

On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.

“On the scutcheon we’ll have a bend or in the dexter base, a saltire murrey in the fess, with a dog, couchant, for common charge, and under his foot a chain embattled, for slavery, with a chevron vert in a chief engrailed, and three invected lines on a field azure, with the nombril points rampant on a dancette indented; crest, a runaway nigger, sable, with his bundle over his shoulder on a bar sinister; and a couple of gules for supporters, which is you and me; motto, Maggiore fretta, minore atto. Got it out of a book--means, the more haste, the less speed.”

“Geewhillikins,” I says, “but what does the rest of it mean?”

And here's the intro to the Twain section:

Huck Finn is as perplexed by Tom Sawyer’s insistence that Jim inscribe his coat of arms on the wall of his cell at Phelps Farm as he is unsure of that armorial device’s meaning. And he remains as dissatisfied with Tom’s evasion of his questions about the meaning of Jim’s coat of arms--“We ain’t got no time to bother over that”--as he is with Tom’s eventual admission of ignorance--“Oh, I don’t know. But he’s got to have it. All the nobility does” (322). Still, Huck decides to trust Tom and goes along with his efforts to devise a plan “romantical enough” to “set a free nigger free” (294, 358). “Tom said we’d got to,” he reports: “there warn’t no case of a state prisoner not scrabbling his inscription to leave behind, and his coat of arms” (321).

Tom Sawyer’s romantical plan, in which Jim is figured both as nobility and as state prisoner, has been the subject of much critical controversy. But given Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s point that critics of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have “built an increasingly solid case that the last portion of the novel may be read as a commentary on American race relations in the post-Reconstruction era,” the more productive question now is, what kind of commentary? There is no better way to answer this question, I propose, than to consider the meaning and significance of Jim’s coat of arms. For where it is fairly clear that Tom Sawyer’s motto (“the more haste, the less speed”) could well have been a slogan for the nation’s recent repudiation of Reconstruction, the significance of Huck’s question (“What does the rest of it mean?”) is less clear. As we shall see, answering Huck’s question can help us determine what kind of commentary Mark Twain was making, not only on the racial politics of his own times but also on the author the entire episode seems designed to confront--Nathaniel Hawthorne.

It may seem that Clemens’s transformation of The Scarlet Letter’s heraldic motto, “On a field, sable, the letter A, gules,” into Tom Sawyer’s description of Jim’s coat of arms--“crest, a runaway nigger, sable, with his bundle over his shoulder on a bar sinister; and a couple of gules for supporters, which is you and me”--is simply a joke at Hawthorne’s expense, a parody of the romance in the name of American realism, a rejection of Hawthorne’s gloom in the name of American humor. But if it is a joke, it is an eminently practical one.

And here's how I conclude the section:

In the end, then, Jim’s coat of arms suggests the source of Mark Twain’s critique of America in 1885. Whatever racist hatreds and pleasures the coat of arms encodes, it is also a critique of the nation’s turn against Reconstruction and turn toward race as a mark of distinction and badge of servitude. By making Jim’s coat of arms harken back to Hester’s ambiguous position between enslavement and freedom, Clemens points to the bitter resentments, frivolous emancipationist impulses, and uncomprehending perplexity that went into the construction of race. But even as he draws on Hawthorne’s imagery, Clemens also criticizes his politics, for the final implication of the allusions to The Scarlet Letter is to link the Fugitive Slave Act with the Tilden-Hayes Agreement. Mark Twain implies that a similar political coalition to the one that produced the Compromise of 1850 resulted in the Compromise of 1877; he quite consciously superimposes antebellum and post-Reconstruction ideologies of race in order to suggest that a new form of racial oppression as insidious in its own way as slavery was taking shape in the wake of Reconstruction. To borrow a figure Clemens might have appreciated, then, a major message of the evasion scene in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that the same horses that Hawthorne backed in 1850 were pulling ahead again in 1877.

What happens in the middle is a survey of the uses of heraldry in Hawthorne's fiction and in The Scarlet Letter (see my posts in the categories for The Scarlet Letter and Beloved for some arguments at CitizenSE that draw on this section of the chapter); a consideration of the similarities and differences between Hawthorne's and Clemens's characters that the quoted passages from both novels suggest; a close reading of the coat of arms itself and of Kemble's illustration of it for the three political narratives inscribed in it; a comparison of Tom's, Huck's, and Jim's responses to it and them; and soon, a consideration of John Edward Bruce's journalism and activism for the light it sheds on Clemens and Hawthorne.

So, how does this connect to Scott's post and Amanda's book? Come back tomorrow, fearless readers!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Hobgoblin Returns

No, this is not about Spider-Man 3 getting its world premiere in Tokyo. Much better news. You'll be as glad as I am that The Hobgoblin of Little Minds is back in blogoramaville. He just lost his father to cancer, so be sure to pay him a visit.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Welcome to Haunting America

A warm CitizenSE welcome to my Fukuoka University and Kyushu University students in my two sections of Haunting America this semester. Given that we've spent a good amount of class time the first two weeks of the semester doing close, contextual, and comparative readings of Emily Dickinson's Poem #670 ("One need not be a Chamber"), today is a great opportunity for me to recap my reasons for assigning it to kick off our course and to summarize some of my own readings of it.

As we discussed this week, the key question this course revolves around is, "What is haunting (about) America?" (If you think of the "(about)" in the previous question as a kind of ghost--sometimes there, sometimes not--it'll give you another way to think about the title of the course than the reading I gave it last week in class, where I emphasized that the "Haunting" in "Haunting America" could be read either as a gerund or an adjective.) I chose Dickinson's poem because it's short and rich and opens up so well to the various ways of reading ghosts, spirits, specters, apparitions, and hauntings in American literature from colonial times to the present that we'll be experimenting with and reflecting upon this semester.

Last week, I asked you to consider several questions:

(1) What seems to be the point the speaker is trying to make in this poem? How would you paraphrase it?

(2) What do you find interesting about the way the speaker goes about trying to make it? (Consider, for instance, the use of imagery, metaphor, allusion, rhythm, rhyme, voice, and so on--all that elements that work together to constitute the "form" of the poem.)

(3) What is your reaction to the speaker's point? What questions does the poem raise for you?

These questions, although they overlap a bit, move from imagining the poem as a kind of dramatic monologue to considering it as a formal structure to examining your own response as a reader to it. In class this week we continued discussing them, and I linked our discussions to the "how to do things with ghosts" idea of the course, which attempts to encompass literary, religious, psychological, anthropological, sociological, historical, philosophical, theoretical, and political ways of reading hauntings. I compared Dickinson's moves in her poem to two of the best-known ghost stories from English culture--Shakespeare's Hamlet and Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"--to see what light classic Renaissance and early Victorian hauntings shed on Dickinson's poem. And we all broadened the comparisons still further, exploring how Anglo-American assumptions about and traditions of representing ghosts and hauntings are similar and different from the assumptions and traditions of the cultures you're bringing into the classroom. In what ways are Japanese ghosts similar to or different from American ones? Is it worthwhile to generalize about European and Asian traditions of hauntings and spirit possessions? Where do they overlap? Where do they diverge?

Of course, what happened in each classroom was unique. So I want to use the remainder of this post to pull together what I said in both classes about Dickinson's poem and how it connects to the course.

Literary. One way of reading "One need not be a Chamber" is as a metacommentary on the tradition of the literary gothic. This intertextual mode of reading the poem emphasizes its genre, its allusions to other works of literature, its playing with specific conventions of writing and with the expectations and assumptions readers bring to it. Dickinson's speaker constructs a series of metaphors that are based upon allusions to classic scenes from the popular gothic novels and stories of England and America. To what end? I'll let you all ponder that question!

Religious: Why does Dickinson's speaker emphasize the startling, dangerous, even horrifying nature of unexpectedly encountering "one's a'self" and discovering "Ourself behind ourself, concealed"? Why not celebrate such encounters and discoveries, along with her contemporary Walt Whitman, who in "Song of Myself" proudly proclaimed, "I contain multitudes"? Many critics have argued that it's Dickinson's lifelong fascination with New England Puritanism that helps account for her speaker's tone. Whether the speaker is emphasizing that the American Puritan interpretation of the Christian notion of original sin--their doctrine of humanity's total or innate depravity, of our essential fallenness--is the source of the "Or More--" that closes the poem or is suggesting that Puritan theology itself is horrifying is for you to decide.

Psychological: Of course, with all the speaker's references to the Brain and the self and the interior, Dickinson's poem engages topics that have interested psychoanalysts and psychologists of all kinds since the late nineteenth century. From Freud's readings of dreams and slips of the tongue to the latest technological advances in brain scanning, scientists have entered into the terrain that Dickinson attempts to map through metaphor in her poem. Here at CitizenSE, I've done my share of writing on trauma, which has been described as haunting, but Dickinson's poem also engages the uncanny, identity, and other aspects of consciousness, the unconscious, and the affective that can be grouped under "the psychological." What do ghosts and hauntings--and our reactions to them--reveal about us, our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, hopes, fears, desires, aversions?

Anthropological: Several decades ago, Laura Bohannon wrote a now-famous essay called "Shakespeare in the Bush," in which she reported on the reactions of an African tribe she was doing field work on to her retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, in order to clarify their cultural assumptions about ghosts and how they differed from her own. This is a classic example of the connections between literature and anthropology, but there are more recent ones, as well. Over the past few decades, ethnographers have become increasingly aware that the way they write up their field work matters--and in so doing have looked to various kinds of literature and literary criticism for inspiration, models, and warnings. So although no anthropologist can go back in time to observe and interact with Dickinson, we can imagine severals ways in which they might find her poem interesting and useful.

Sociological: Last week one of the books I passed around was by a sociologist; in Ghostly Matters, Avery Gordon argues that reading hauntings--in literature and life--should be part of the contemporary sociologist's skill set. Just as anthropologists tend to analyze contemporary cultures, sociologists tend to analyze contemporary societies, but certainly in both fields there are comparativists and historicists who analyze evidence from the past as well as the present, from the written record as well as from everyday life. There are many different kinds of sociological approaches to literature--a quick search on google scholar or the databases available through the Kyudai and Fukudai libraries will turn up some on Dickinson. (I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these research tools throughout the semester.)

Historical: Traditional literary historians are interested in the life and times of the author, in the sources of and influences on the author's works, in the author's motivations and intentions, and in the reactions of the author's readers; more recently, a range of newer historicists have attempted to question and extend this range of concerns and interests. As my comments on anthropological and sociological approaches to literature and to hauntings suggest, people working in these fields need to be interested in history to even turn to Dickinson in the first place, rather than focusing solely on the present. Reading "One need not be a Chamber" historically raises questions like, "When did writers begin to focus on the ghosts in our heads rather than out in the world? What does Dickinson's poem reveal about antebellum American conceptions of haunting?"

Philosophical: Dickinson's poem also engages issues and concepts that have interested philosophers for millennia (in the West, at least): the relation between mind and body, materialism versus idealism, rationality and the irrational, and so on. Those working on the philosophy of mind, the problem of consciousness, metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology may well be interested in what the speaker has to say.

Theoretical: The speaker relies on a series of binary oppositions--inside/outside, presence/absence, life/death, literal/figurative, safety/danger, spiritual/material--but also emphasizes the ways in which ghosts and hauntings trouble them. It's possible to read Dickinson's poem deconstructively, as well as in relation to the many varieties of literary and political theory that have traversed the globe since the mid-twentieth century.

Political: Ghosts often signal something hidden or forgotten or denied or disavowed, perhaps an injustice or a crime or a scandal. Throughout the semester, we'll be examining the political dimensions of literary hauntings, the ways in which writers use ghosts to comment on or reflect upon or otherwise respond to ethical and political issues in their own times and the ways in which we can use literary hauntings to illuminate similar issues in our own time. Certainly in a post-9/11 United States, Dickinson's poetic meditation on the relation between real and imagined threats is quite relevant; recent events in the world and on the campus of Virginia Tech have made all of us quite sensitive to the complexities and ambiguities of fear, horror, terror, and danger.

I hope you all find this post useful. If so, we should consider whether we want to start a class blog, in which we post our reactions to the short stories and novels we'll be reading in class for all the world (or that portion of it that finds its way to our site) to see. I'm open to it being a multiple-language blog, as well. Let's talk about it in class next week. See you then--and hopefully back here at CitizenSE!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Finally Getting Back to My Kyushu American Literature Society Talk that I Promised to Blog on Back in December

OK, so when I started CitizenSE, I never imagined that I'd be writing welcomes to my new students in Postcolonial Hawthorne on it. I conceived of it strictly as a scholarly blog and still do (despite the actual diversity of posts you'll encounter if you click on the Why CitizenSE tag on the sidebar or link in this sentence). I'm considering starting a Postcolonial Hawthorne blog that's for my students and me--and am interested in what "you all" think about it.

All of which bears only a tangential relationship to my aim in this post: to finally follow through on a promise I made at the very end of the very first CitizenSE post and share some parts of my rather autobiographical talk at the Kyushu American Literature Society annual meeting last December.

My basic goal for the talk was to puncture the image many in my audience might have had of the stereotyped Fulbright Visiting Lecturer. I didn't want to be the Distinguished Expert from the Heart of American Culture come to Lecture the Natives on the Proper Way of Reading American Literature. So how to avoid that role and demystify myself in such a way that some would want to get to know me and my work better after the talk and the meeting? (And that few would go away thinking, "What a Loser! He Doesn't Know the First Thing about Reading American Literature!") The approach that I took there is basically the same one that I've been taking in this blog: framing myself as someone in the middle of turning a dissertation into a book. So what I actually did in the talk was analyze how the project has changed from its first conception to its current incarnation. Or as I explained at the time,

My purpose is to convey my sense of the interrelationships between the fields of Hawthorne Studies, American Literary and Cultural Studies, Critical Race/Ethnicity Studies, and Postcolonial Studies in the past 15 years by delivering a kind of intellectual autobiography in which I analyze changes in the goals and methods of my approaches to what I have called “the race and Hawthorne problem.”

I identified three phases: conceptualizing the dissertation project; the research process and transformations of the dissertation; and teaching experiences and the transformations of the book manuscript. And I closed with some reflections on how Hawthornists have dealt with such problematics as gender, class, race, nation, region, and colony and predictions about the future of Hawthorne Studies.

So that'll be the "outline" for blogging this talk as time allows in the coming weeks. But as there's a thunderstorm rolling in to Fukuoka as I type and I need to do some copying, scanning, and uploading for my courses this semester, that'll have to do it for my first (or is it second?) CitizenSE two-a-day.

Manifest Destiny: Expansion and Consolidation (1803-1896); or; Welcome to Postcolonial Hawthorne Again

Welcome once again, Seinan Gakuin Postcolonial Hawthorne students, to CitizenSE. This is a continuation of my earlier introduction to the course and also of my even earlier attempt to offer a new periodization scheme for U.S. (and other new world) literatures. In it, I want to discuss the relationship between the "Manifest Destiny" period I identify in my title--which spans the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 that began the process of contintental expansionism that continued throughout the century to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 that marked the close of the post-Civil War consolidation of a new political consensus in the re-United States--and the periods that came before it. All three periods are relevant to the question of whether it makes sense to think of Hawthorne and early American literature as "postcolonial." What are those three periods?

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)

In my original talk where I first broached this scheme, I linked these periods as follows:

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 [creole cultures and] 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 [slave revolts,] border wars, civil wars, and Indian wars.

The [bracketed phrases] include ideas I would add to the talk were I to give it today.

So a short way of describing the Manifest Destiny period would be to say that a recently-colonized and newly-independent nation became a colonizing power over the course of the 19th C. What makes this period relevant to the question of what is postcolonial in postcolonial studies is how people who originated the field responded to it. Because the U.S. became a colonizing power, it shouldn't be analyzed under the rubric of postcolonialism, which is about the ambiguities of liberation from 19th and 20th C European colonialism in Asia and Africa. That is, the founders of postcolonial studies saw the U.S. as a partner in 19th C European colonialism and a competitor and eventual successor over the course of the 20th C. Colonizing nations can't be postcolonial.

But later generations of postcolonialists and Americanists began to question this consensus. I've put on the course ANGEL space an early effort by Lawrence Buell among the recommended readings for our class's introductory unit to give you one example of this line of thinking. And I can put more if you're interested.

Here let me just note that it might be useful to see the two 20th C world wars as roughly equivalent to the 18th C's world war among European powers, something that the second chapter of Thomas Bender's A Nation Among Nations (which will also be among our supplemental readings for the course) made me start wondering about. If we see what is called the French and Indian Wars in the United States or the Seven Years' War outside it in Bender's perspective--as a global war that lasted for much of the 18th C--then the costs of Britain's victory in the war and the consequences of France's attempts to undermine its colonial rule that it could no longer challenge directly fed directly into what historian Lester Langley calls the age of revolution in The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850. That is, Britain faced the dilemma of needing to raise money through taxes and tariffs on its overseas colonies to help finance its costly war, which, as with other colonizing nations at the time, led to unrest in the colonies and movements for independence. So Bender's and Langley's work raises the question of how different the first British Empire (in the Americas) was from the second (in Asia and Africa). And it suggests a parallel with the two World Wars of the 20th C: certainly in 1945 no European nation could afford to maintain its colonies and with the U.S. choosing to invest in Europe and Japan in the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. that soon emerged in the aftermath of W.W. II, the door was opened for decolonization and independence movements of all kinds in areas that had formerly been under the control of mid-20th C European and non-European empires. What we now call the Third World--the literally hundreds of new nations that formed in the decades after W.W. II, which tried to maintain their independence from the First (liberal capitalist) and Second (state socialist) worlds--may not be all that different from the non-U.S. independent nations of the Americas (some of which finally gained independence in this same post-W.W. II period).

But what about the U.S.? (And Canada, Australia, New Zealand, apartheid South Africa, and other white settler nations.) At most, critics of the Buell thesis argue, the excluded, oppressed, and marginalized groups in these nations could be considered postcolonial, in that there is no longer de jure colonial control of these populations as epitomized, say, in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence or the boarding school policy in the turn-into-the-20th-C-U.S. (and as the movie suggests, other places). So recent non-European immigrants, American Indians and First Nations/indigenous peoples of all kinds, African-Americans and descendants of those enslaved by plantation-era systems of all kinds might possibly count as postcolonial in the U.S., but certainly not the U.S. itself.

But why not the U.S. before the Civil War, Buell asks. I encourage you to read his and others' arguments on these issues, now that you have my scorecard, because they will help you develop and test your own views on the central questions animating this course:

1) Was Hawthorne postcolonial? Why or why not?
2) What is at stake in conceiving of him as postcolonial or not? Why does it matter? Why should we care? What follows from our answer, either way?

So we'll start simply next week with a single Hawthorne story, "Roger Malvin's Burial." I'll be posting on it between now and then if you want to check in CitizenSE again, but I'll also be putting discussion questions on our course ANGEL space. Enjoy! And feel free to post your answers--and questions of your own--before we meet in class next week. See you in class Wednesday.

Note to my non-Seinan Gakuin students: I'm happy to enroll you in the course ANGEL space--just send me an email!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Conversations with Grandpa Jack, Part Two

Last Sunday, I closed a rambling piece by suggesting that Hawthorne would have problems with critics who excused his racial politics by reference to what Hug the Shoggoth scholar-blogger Daniel Gall criticized from a major Lovecraft scholar as "the temper of the times." Or, as I wish I would have told my grandfather--who raised similar concerns about my race and Hawthorne dissertation project--when I had the chance, "'Everybody was doing it' is no excuse, and, anyway, they weren't--and Hawthorne knew this better than anyone."

Well, as I read Gall's ongoing critiques of fan/scholarly attempts to canonize Lovecraft without adequately engaging his racism, I was reminded of the way I opened my manuscript's first chapter, "At Hawthorne's Tomb." For even though Hawthorne's canonization hasn't been in doubt for decades, the case for it was shakier for the first 50 years after his death than critics like Jane Tompkins and Richard Brodhead have argued. So first I'll give you all the first few paragraphs from that chapter and then come back around to other things I wish I could have told my grandfather on Hawthorne and race.

Not long after Nathaniel Hawthorne’s funeral on May 24, 1864, in Concord, Massachusetts, a trans-Atlantic discussion of the man, his works, and his legacy--a discussion, begun in the 1820s with the first review of Fanshawe, that has continued to this day--entered a new phase. In fact, there was an edge to this discussion that is not often recalled today. To be sure, eulogies and tributes from friends and colleagues that attested to Hawthorne’s genius poured out almost immediately. Arlin Turner reports in his biography of Hawthorne that, in addition to the printing of a letter by Hawthorne’s wife Sophia,

Holmes wrote for the July Atlantic a tribute, along with an account of his last interview with Hawthorne . . . saying in conclusion that in Hawthorne’s works he had “left enough to keep his name in remembrance as long as the language in which he shaped his deep imaginations is spoken by human lips.” Lowell declared afterward that Hawthorne’s was “the rarest creative imagination of the century, the rarest in some ideal respects since Shakespeare.” Longfellow sent Mrs. Hawthorne a poem, to be published in the Atlantic for August, with the title “Concord, May 23, 1864,” in which he echoes their forty years of mutually generous friendship. . . .

And in the nearly two decades before the 1883 Riverside Edition of Hawthorne’s collected works was to appear, a host of other tributes, reminiscences, retrospectives, and reviews appeared in the American and English intellectual press, many of which were occasioned by the posthumous publications of Hawthorne’s letters, notebooks, and unfinished romances. Perhaps it is the success of these early efforts to canonize and institutionalize Hawthorne that leads us to forget how contested his literary status was in the midst of the Civil War. Indeed, a mere day after his funeral, Hawthorne and his politics were attacked in obituaries in the Providence Journal and the Springfield Republican. Uppermost in many minds in the summer of 1864, that is, was the question of Hawthorne’s attitudes toward slavery and abolition. In fact, nothing threatened his literary reputation more at the time of his death than what Ralph Waldo Emerson in his notebooks referred to as Hawthorne’s “perverse politics and unfortunate friendship for that paltry Franklin Pierce.”

To understand the source of Emerson’s vehemence, we must turn to the publication of Hawthorne’s 1852 campaign biography Life of Franklin Pierce, which revealed to a national audience what his family, close friends, and careful readers of “Time’s Portraiture” (1837), “Jonathan Cilley” (1838), “The Sister Years” (1839), “The Hall of Fantasy” (1843), “Earth’s Holocaust” (1844), “The Snow-Image” (1850), and The Blithedale Romance (1852) already knew: not only was Hawthorne highly skeptical toward the myriad reform movements of his day, but he was also a staunch anti-abolitionist and supporter of the Compromise of 1850. Consider these passages from the Pierce campaign biography:

[I]t was impossible for [Pierce] not to take his stand as the unshaken advocate of Union, and of the mutual steps of compromise which that great object unquestionably demanded. The fiercest, the least scrupulous, and the most consistent of those who battle against slavery, recognize the same fact that he does. They see that merely human wisdom and human efforts cannot subvert it, except by tearing to pieces the Constitution, breaking the pledges which it sanctions, and severing into distracted fragments that common country, which Providence brought into one nation through a continued miracle of almost two hundred years, from the first settlement of the American wilderness until the Revolution. In the days when, a young member of Congress, he first raised his voice against agitation, Pierce saw these perils and their consequences. He considered, too, that the evil would be certain, while the good was, at best, a contingency, and (to the clear, practical foresight with which he looked into the future) scarcely so much as that;--attended as the movement was, and must be, during its progress, with the aggravated injury of those whose condition it aimed to ameliorate, and terminating, in its possible triumph—if such possibility there were--with the ruin of the two races which now dwelt together in greater peace and affection, than had ever elsewhere existed between the taskmaster and the serf.

Of course, there is another view of all these matters. The theorist may take that view in his closet; the philanthropist by profession may strive to act upon it, uncompromisingly, amid the tumult and warfare of his life. But the statesman of practical sagacity--who loves his country as it is, and evolves good from things as they exist, and who demands to feel his firm grasp upon a better reality before he quits the one already gained--will be likely here, with all the greatest statesmen of America, to stand in the attitude of a conservative. Such, at all events, will be the attitude of Franklin Pierce. . . .

Those Northern men, therefore, who deem the great cause of human welfare as represented and involved in this present hostility against southern institutions--and who conceive that the world stands still, except so far as that goes forward--these, it may be allowed, can scarcely give their sympathy or their confidence to the subject of this memoir. But there is still another view, and probably as wise a one. It looks upon Slavery as one of those evils, which Divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances, but which, in its own good time, by some means impossible to be anticipated, but of the simplest and easiest operation, when all its uses shall have been fulfilled, it causes to vanish like a dream. There is no instance, in all history, of the human will and intellect having perfected any great moral reform by methods which it adapted to that end; but the progress of the world, at every step, leaves some evil or wrong on the path behind it, which the wisest of mankind, of their own set purpose, could never have found a way to rectify.

Hawthorne himself was certainly aware of how controversial his views were in a New England that was becoming increasingly anti-slavery following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. In October 1852, in a letter to Horatio Bridge, he acknowledged that “the biography has cost me hundreds of friends, here at the north, who had a purer regard for me than Frank Pierce or any other politician ever gained, and who drop off from me like autumn leaves, in consequence of what I say on the slavery question. But they were my real sentiments, and I do not now regret that they are on record.” And in the following decade Hawthorne would not publicly acknowledge any significant change of heart or mind on “the slavery question,” as the 1853 publication of “The Pygmies,” the 1860 publication of The Marble Faun (particularly its controversial preface), the 1862 publication of his travel narrative “Chiefly About War Matters” in The Atlantic Monthly, and the 1863 dedication of Our Old to Franklin Pierce indicated. His composition of acerbic, purportedly “editorial” commentary in footnotes to the most controversial passages in “Chiefly About War Matters” dramatizes the extent to which he expected his views would be condemned as treasonous.

By the summer of 1864, then, to assess Hawthorne’s life and works was to assess his racial politics. As we shall see, this issue has resurfaced several times since then. In order to make sense of its most recent reappearance on the critical horizon since the 1960s, it is crucial that we familiarize ourselves with the terms of debate in the midst of the Civil War, for it is surprising how influential they have remained long after most people have forgotten them. Thus, in this chapter, after examining one key moment in the Civil War-era debates over Hawthorne’s racial politics and their relation to his literary status, I survey the ways that contemporary critics have approached similar questions and problems, and consider what happens when different protocols for reading Hawthorne’s racial politics collide in interpretations of “Roger Malvin’s Burial.” My aim in doing this is twofold. First, I wish to provide a preliminary map of the terrain on which different positions for understanding Hawthorne’s politics and poetics have contended. Second, I wish to focus our attention on what is at stake in such contentions over Hawthorne’s racial politics and broach something of the complexities that emerge when a given tale is read in relation to antebellum racial formations and projects.

This chapter, then, is more about how decades of criticism and scholarship have tried to make sense of Hawthorne’s racial politics than it is about what his politics actually were. The latter is a task I take up in the next chapter. Here, I consider what it is that readers do when they set out to analyze Hawthorne’s racial politics. What results is a chapter that falls somewhere between a polemical review of the literature and a historicized study of the racial politics of Hawthorne’s literary reputation as it has changed since the 1830s. At a time when we are still trying to ascertain the extent of Paul de Man’s collaboration with Nazi occupation forces in World-War-II-era Belgium and figure out what, if anything, his actions then have to do with his subsequent literary theorizing, it is particularly important that we reconsider the case of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Doing so just might provide a means of acknowledging the particularly American scandals of supplantation, enslavement, and conquest.

I'll avoid going all the way to lazy blogging Chapter 1 as I've been doing Chapter 2, but I do want to build on what I'm doing in both chapters here. For my original idea for this post was to argue that Hawthorne would have argued that certain historical figures' beliefs and actions are noteworthy in the present for what they reveal about their times--and that Lovecraft scholars who wish to see him treated alongside rather than beneath the modernist canons of early twentieth-century American literature would do well to analyze him in this way rather than defend the indefensible or seek to quarantine it off from the main body of his work (as the critics Gall criticizes seem to be doing).

But then I had a second thought--is this move possible only for authors who, like Hawthorne, have already been canonized? To say, as I argue throughout my intro and first two chapters, that Hawthorne is most interesting to me precisely for what his writings reveal about his times and the critics who attempt to analyze both, is, after all, not the strongest case that can be made for why others should be interested in Hawthorne in the first place. To some extent, I am depending on others already having an interest in Hawthorne--and those interests being institutionalized for long enough that I can count on them to persist.

And yet, I do think this move has a good chance of working for my manuscript's primary audience--people who have dismissed Hawthorne as a Dead White Male Author No Longer Worth Engaging and who have taken part in dismantling the idea of canonicity, constructing new canons, or were educated in either tradition--that is, a good portion of the academic book-buying public. If I'm right, then my original advice for aspiring Lovecraft scholars still holds.

And it turns out this is, after all, particularly Hawthornian advice. For when faced with critical injunctions to help construct a new American literature based on American history, models, and matters, he attempted to avoid writing patriotic pap or antiquarian trivia--he selected figures who, he felt, would illuminate their times and his. By focusing my manuscript's first half on an antebellum figure who is in some ways marginal to the key concerns of those working in Black Studies, multiethnic studies, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies--and who doesn't present nearly as many possibilities for inspiring examples as the overlooked writers who have been recovered or the canonized writers who have been reexamined by Americanists of the past two generations, I'm trying to focus our attention on what we still don't understand well about antebellum racial politics, and our own.

This is actually territory I mapped out in my Kyushu American Literature Society talk from last December and it takes me back to the reasons why I started this blog in the first place around the same time. There was so much I had to leave out of that talk that I wanted to explore further, I decided to put it in the blog, instead. So it might be time to unveil my plans for the manuscript and discuss how they have changed from the early '90s, when I first conceived this race and Hawthorne project whose incubation and delivery have been so, uh, long in coming. But as the second week of classes starts tomorrow and I have to do some blogging this week for my Postcolonial Hawthorne students, I will have to do some two-a-days or otherwise fiddle with my programming schedule to fit my teaching and research needs in the same virtual space. Seems unavoidable, as the timing is right for both.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Newish Book on the Peabody Sisters

Caleb Crain recently put up a long review of Megan Marshall's The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism (Houghton Mifflin, 2005) over at Steamboats Are Ruining Everything. Sounds like another book I've got to check out, particularly for what it might reveal about Hawthorne's racial politics in the 1830s and 1840s (the book stops at 1843, for reasons Crain doesn't think much of, and from what he writes neither do I). But the review copy of Jennifer Weber's Copperheads just arrived in the mail today, so I can pace myself on this one....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Welcome to Postcolonial Hawthorne

A big CitizenSE hello to my Seinan Gakuin University students taking (or thinking about taking) my Postcolonial Hawthorne course. In today's post, I want to follow of up on one of the issues that I discussed with you in class today, which we'll be expanding on next week in class--namely, the relation between postcolonial studies and American studies, or, more simply, "How is 'postcolonial Hawthorne' not an oxymoron?"

Because there's a tradition in postcolonial studies that argues for the value of distinguishing Europe's former colonies that gained their formal independence in the twentieth century from those that gained it in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, it's worth taking this question quite seriously. The term "postcolonial" is baggy and contested enough, some critics argue, that it's just not worth it to open the door to former white settler colonies like the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, places where the descendants of the European colonizers came to hold and largely still hold political power over those places' indigenous peoples and their descendants. More generally, the question of where to stop arises: if U.S. literature is postcolonial, or at least has a postcolonial period, then why not any formerly colonized nation, any nation that once was under the power of a foreign empire and has since gained its political independence? (For instance, England under the Roman Empire, Hungary under the Ottoman Empire, Poland under the Russian and Soviet empires, Korea under the Chinese and Japanese empires, and so on.) To which I ask, why not?

I've argued in a recent conference paper that there is much to be gained from this expanded definition of postcolonial studies. As preliminary evidence, look at some of the work I've highlighted in this blog: Jee Yoon Lee's on The Scarlet Letter as well as my own on Hawthorne and Maryse Conde, Mahasweta Devi, and Paule Marshall (for example). Throughout the semester, we'll consider other evidence for the value of considering Hawthorne as a postcolonial writer and antebellum U.S literature as a postcolonial literature.

Today in class, I listed several reasons why it might make sense to do this. The United States's political independence coupled with its cultural and economic dependence; the shaky state of its nationalism; the role literature was expected to play in shaping a sense of nationalism and patriotism among American citizens; the ways in which American writers relied on and revised English models--all these (and more) begin to make the case for considering Hawthorne to be a postcolonial writer.

Tomorrow Saturday Next Monday, I'll discuss my case for a new periodization scheme for U.S. literatures, which will not only provide some historical background for Hawthorne's career as a writer, but also will help me flesh out a connection I suggested in today's class between early American literature and the literature of newly independent African, Asian, and Caribbean nations following World War II.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"I Will Choose Free Will"

As it's going to be awhile before I "have to" start not-quite-live-blogging the final round of the Masters at Mostly Harmless, as my working Monday will be quite busy tying up loose ends before the start of my spring semester at Kyushu U, Seinan Gakuin U, and Fukuoka U (you know, like finally posting my course syllabi and copying my handouts for Tuesday's and Wednesday's classes), as I'm rather surprisingly on a bit of a Hawthorne roll tonight, and as Hug the Shoggoth is sending me down memory lane, I'll start today's post with a question and a story.

Gall writes, in response to a comment of mine,

“The Custom House” seems like a playful and suave (and quite humorous, at times) vindication of his own artistic freedom, re-publishing it into the face of the audience even though, as he finds in these first few paragraphs, there may be complaints. That, this self-determination, made me wonder about that “evil star”-thing, in the first place--does he, the artist, have the means to escape/disable that destiny which keeps the other custom officers in that mouldy custom shack?

He's referring to this passage from "The Custom-House," by the way:

In the first place, my coadjutors were not invariably old; there were men among them in their strength and prime, of marked ability and energy, and altogether superior to the sluggish and dependent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast them.

So I didn't quite answer his question in the comment that is still awaiting moderation at the moment, and I'm not going to yet, because I have that story to tell. It's about my Mostly Harmless co-author whose book I recommended here (in comments). Back in the early '90s, he had discovered a copy of Melville's marginalia of Milton's Paradise Lost and was working on what I thought was a fantastic reading of Moby-Dick and other works in light of it, so of course we were talking about fate and free will a lot. He once shared lyrics of a response to a well-known Rush song (the key line of which supplies the title of this post) he wrote in his undergraduate days. Now, if I was a good storyteller, I'd share those lyrics with you, but you see I have this terrible memory (and I'm not talking about Sethe's). So you'll have to wait and see if "Sloucho" will visit the comments to this post to get to the climax of this little anecdote. Sorry.

In any case, my point in not-quite-telling the story is to explain my title, the irony (probably unintended on Rush's part, or at least I hope so because then it would be the same kind of irony that the only thing ironic about Alanis Morisette's "Ironic" is its title) of which I hope is clear by now. Which now allows me to get back to some kind of answer.

This is by way of Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize speech, "The Bird in Our Hand: Is It Living or Dead?" (1993), and her essay "Home" from The House That Race Built (1997)--two of her best pieces of writing, IMHO, and worth a read or reread right now. In these two meditations on language and stories (and everything they limn), Morrison suggests that the feelings of freedom a writer experiences while writing may be illusions masking a greater dependency--on the one hand, to oppressive conventions and structures, and on the other, to the reader's response. She counsels writers and critics to break with the former and embrace the latter. I think it's good advice, but I don't think Hawthorne took the first half of it. I think the declaration of independence from Salem that is "The Custom-House" is prey to all the problems with the U.S. Declaration of Independence. I think the pledge of allegiance to the republic of letters that is "The Custom-House" reproduces some of the same problems as the colonization of the Americas and the founding of the United States. So as much as he's trying to write himself into a different story-line in "The Custom-House" than the people he satirizes in it, I think he is as trapped by the national narrative as they are. In this, I differ from Lauren Berlant and others who try to find something hopeful in Hawthorne's "citizen of somewhere else".... And I'm leaning toward that being a choice of his rather than a destiny.

I'm purposely leaving all those "I think"s in the previous paragraph--something I always tell undergraduates to strike (either the "I think" or the entire sentence)--to mark my dissatisfaction with these summary statements. But I'm too tired to think straight now and too eager to see what's happening in the Masters to continue, so look for a late-day update to this start to a post--or later, if I'm inefficient at work today.

What Would Hawthorne Say About "The Temper of the Times"?

Back when I was still writing my dissertation--actually, even earlier, as I was formulating the project and beginning my research--my grandfather and I began a series of conversations on it. "It's on race and Hawthorne," I would say, and eventually we would get around to the questions of presentism and relativism, of blame and responsibility, of my goals and my methods. No matter how many ways I would try to argue the point, he would never quite move away from his position that it was unfair for us today to judge Hawthorne for his racism. I was reminded of these conversations as I was reading Hug the Shoggoth's first full-length race and Lovecraft post, in which Daniel Gall takes on the rhetorical evasions of a representative moment in Lovecraft scholarship. The critic he responds to sounds remarkably like my grandfather, so I was quite interested in the manner of the take-down. You should be, too--in case you haven't noticed, I've been linking to HtS often enough lately to probably have caused google page rank to start discounting my links--so go back and click on that first link if you must choose only one.

OK, now that you're back, let me first recap some of my standard responses to my grandfather. I didn't use these exact words, but I don't remember my exact words from the time, and as I have now for several years been forced to carry on these conversations on my own, I'll never be able to get him to remind me of them.

1) How far are you willing to take your historical relativism? To the point where it becomes a moral relativism? Because a lot of philosophers would have a problem with your doing that--including your son. (Yes, my dad is a philosopher. And I responded to my mom's "Whatever you choose to do, don't become a philosopher" [probably not an exact quotation, come to think of it] by getting as close as I could in college with an English and Math double major, and then getting into literary and political theory in a big way in grad school, and then by debating philosophers on my political blog, but, yes, mom, thankfully I am not a philosopher. Which reminds me of my dad's joke about the reactions he gets when he tells people he is a philosopher: long pause, then, "So what are some of your sayings?" His version of the "Well, I guess I'd better watch my language, then," that I tend to get when I come out as an English professor off-campus.)

2) Even by the standards of his time, Hawthorne's racism was being judged. It takes a very reductive view of a past age to posit unanimity on any major social issue--and what was more tense than racial politics in the antebellum era?

3) And speaking of "his time," is it really so different than ours that we can't attempt to evaluate it? Isn't such an attempt also an attempt to evaluate our own time, as well? It's not like I'm trying to let us off the hook by positing racism as a past problem--quite the opposite, in fact.

Did I mention that these conversations were taking place in the wake and shadow of my first long-term relationship, with an Afro-Caribbean immigrant whom my grandmother was vehemently opposed to my dating? Not to mention the nativism and anti-semitism my grandparents surely weathered since their arrival in the States before the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act shut down immigration from southern and eastern Europe and Asia, or the fact that they lived through what Matthew Frye Jacobson writes about in Whiteness of a Different Color....

Well, Sunday is almost over, so let me just quickly mention a tack I never took: Hawthorne himself never bought into using the times to excuse the individual for his beliefs and actions. At least I don't think I took it. I wish my grandfather were still around so I could be sure.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

After the Great War: Revolution and Constitution (1763-1815)

Continuing from here and here, I really need to expand on this sentence from my Sendai talk:

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.

Because it's not enough to be "no doubt the profoundest Hawthorne blogger for at least one millenium to come, or two," I have to colonize all of American (in the continental and hemispheric sense as well as the national one) literature in a grand new metanarrative of not-just-U.S. literary history, too.

But the problem is I have to go to a party with the new 21st Century Program students and my faculty associate's cigarette is only going to last so long.

So let me just give a hat tip to Thomas Bender's A Nation Among Nations and thank my students in my Intro to American Studies and Postcolonial Hawthorne classes from the fall semester for getting me thinking that what we call the French and Indian Wars and what others call the Seven Years' War might just be to the eighteenth century what WW II was for the twentieth. More on this later!

Friday, April 06, 2007

On Hawthorne and Copperheads

This is more a place-holder than a post, reminding me to check out H. Arthur Scott Trask's Was Hawthorne a Paleolibertarian? (12 April 2004) and A Northern Man of Southern Principles: President Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire on Politics and the Sectional Conflict, League of the South Institute Papers 10. When a noted neo-Confederate takes up Hawthorne's political writings, I need to be there. Probably would do me some good to get a hold of Jennifer Weber's Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North as I'm doing this. Suggestions, anyone?

[Update 4/7/07: New reader Rebecca Ford of OUP, my new favorite person in the world, just sent me a link to this interview with Weber. Thanks! Keep those suggestions coming!]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Unexpected Echoes of "Old News"... my own mix of seriousness and humor at my WAAGNFNP premiere? Did I handle the issues I chose to focus on there any better than those Hawthorne's narrator and he did in "Old News"?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Back to the Passages That Kicked Off the Lazy Blogging

Here they are, again, from "Old News" (which I neglected to mention earlier is narrated by a nameless figure who addresses his antebellum readers as he peruses volumes of colonial newspapers, focusing in separate sections on the late 1730s, the late 1750s, and the late 1770s, and attempting to identify “the characteristic traits” of eighteenth-century New England):

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.

But the slaves, we suspect, were the merriest part of the population--since it was their gift to be merry in the worst of circumstances; and they endured, comparatively, few hardships, under the domestic sway of our fathers. There seems to have been a great trade in these human commodities. No advertisements are more frequent than those of 'a negro fellow, fit for almost any household work;' 'a negro woman, honest, healthy, and capable;' 'a young negro wench, of many desirable qualities;' 'a negro man, very fit for a taylor.' We know not in what this natural fitness for a taylor consisted, unless it were some peculiarity of conformation that enabled him to sit cross-legged.

What I didn't cite earlier was the rest of the second passage:

When the slaves of a family were inconveniently prolific, it being not quite orthodox to drown the superfluous offspring, like a litter of kittens, notice was promulgated of ‘a negro child to be given away.’ Sometimes the slaves assumed the property of their own persons, and made their escape: among many such instances, the Governor raises a hue-and-cry after his negro Juba. But, without venturing a word in extenuation of the general system, we confess our opinion, that Caesar, Pompey, Scipio, and all such great Roman namesakes, would have been better advised had they staid at home, foddering the cattle, cleaning dishes—in fine, performing their moderate share of the labors of life without being harassed by its cares. The sable inmates of the mansion were not excluded from the domestic affections: in families of middling rank, they had their places at the board; and when the circle closed round the evening hearth, its blaze glowed on their dark shining faces, intermixed familiarly with their master’s children. It must have contributed to reconcile them to their lot, that they saw white men and women imported from Europe, as they had been from Africa, and sold, though only for a term of years, yet as actual slaves to the highest bidder. Setting fine sentiment aside, 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. Slave labor being but a small part of the industry of the country, 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. (my italics)

Now back to part of the manuscript I skipped:

The italicized sentence was deleted when “Old News” was collected in The Snow-Image (1851) in the midst of the continuing controversy over the Fugitive Slave Act, as was a footnote that originally appeared at the end of the longer passage: “Nevertheless, some time after this period, there is an advertisement of a run-away slave from Connecticut, who carried with him an iron collar riveted round his neck, with a chain attached. This must have been rather galling. Undoubtedly, there had been a previous attempt at escape.”

How are we to read these passages and the differences between the 1851 version and the 1835 version of “Old News”? How are we to reconcile the joke about genocide a few pages before this passage on slavery--"The first pages, of most of these old papers, are as soporific as a bed of poppies. . . . Here are President Wigglesworth and the Rev. Dr. Colman, endeavoring to raise a fund for the support of missionaries among the Indians of Massachusetts Bay. Easy would be the duties of such a mission, now!"--with the pious praise of John Eliot six years later in Grandfather’s Chair? How are we to reconcile the overt anti-black racism of the longer passage with Melville’s praise of Hawthorne’s “depth of tenderness” “boundless sympathy with all forms of life,” and “omnipresent love” fifteen years later in “Hawthorne and His Mosses”? Discerning Hawthorne’s intentions in “Old News”--particularly his relation to the narrator--is clearly of paramount importance for deciding the question of his racism.

I will return to the issue of ethnic humor shortly, but the central problem raised by “Old News” is clearly the issue of slavery and anti-black racism. We could read the longer passage above, with H. Bruce Franklin, as evidence that Hawthorne shared William Gilmore Simms’s racist views, or, with Jean Fagan Yellin, as Hawthorne’s New England version of “the classic plantation novel Swallow Barn (1832), in which the slavery apologist John Pendleton Kennedy had recently pictured the blacks as happy and their bondage as light.” Or we could attempt to build upon Yellin’s observation of the “peculiarly contradictory views” expressed in the passage by arguing that Hawthorne accentuates the narrator’s inability to interpret correctly the pages right under his nose (78). The narrator does not appear to notice that both the callous separation of families that he jokes about and the repeated escape attempts he reports on refute his assertions that the slaves endured “few hardships” or were “reconcile[d] . . . to their lot”; indeed, the passage might well be calculated to prompt readers to ask why the narrator is unable to carry his questioning of a slave’s “natural fitness for a taylor” over to a more general questioning of African Americans’ natural fitness for slavery.

These options come down to a simple question: is Hawthorne as racist and obtuse as his narrator? When Yellin points out that “he adopts a manner that fails both as satire and as whimsy,” is she too quick to attribute these views and this manner to Hawthorne himself? How we answer these questions is crucial to our understanding of Hawthorne’s later revisions the year before he would write the Life of Franklin Pierce. When Hawthorne deleted the particularly racist passage from the 1851 version of “Old News,” so as to emphasize that he was not “venturing a word in extenuation of the general system” of slavery (257), was he simply hiding his deepest convictions? Or was he worried that his subtle undercutting of the narrator’s views would be missed by his post-Compromise readers, and so sought to minimize the aid and comfort misreadings of his sketch would give the South by explicitly limiting his narrator’s comments to early eighteenth-century New England?


Those who have been following my "Old News" blogging know that I've offered some answers to these questions over the past few weeks. What I'm curious about are your own answers to these questions, your own questions prompted by my answers, and your own readings of these passages. Given that I'm suffering some slight gastrointestinal distress (translation: my fucking stomach is fucking killing me!), I don't have the energy or inclination to do more than that tonight (translation: typing while doubled over your keyboard sucks!).

Monday, April 02, 2007

So Why All This Lazy Blogging Lately?

OK, so there's a method to my madness in putting about half of my chapter two manuscript up on this blog over the past few weeks and today would be a perfect day to explain it, but I have too much to do. So here's a quick list:

1) I've been revising the chapter all last month and will continue to do so this month, so putting up the old version here gives me something to compare my new material to and remind myself what I thought the central point of the chapter was.

2) There's an off-chance that the scholars I'm in dialogue with in the actual manuscript will notice when I'm referring to their work without their name or works mentioned here and give me some feedback. Given that this is the obscurest blog in Blogoramaville, I doubt it, but a guy's gotta hope.

3) Perhaps a tiny bit more likely is that someone even now doing work that overlaps with mine will benefit from seeing parts of my manuscript and will want to return the favor. But see the last sentence in #2--I have to hope that "younger" folks are slightly more likely to be blog readers or at least google searchers than the "older" folks I'm not-quite-citing here at CitizenSE.

4) I'm using this lazy blogging as a set-up for doing some Leo Marx Machine in the Garden blogging in the near future, as well as more review posts on new articles/chapters/books on the picturesque.

5) Given how short the winter vacation actually is here on the Japanese academic calendar and how I'll be missing summer vacation back in the States because of it--not to mention how fantastic the weather has been here lately--I've been enjoying the family time and, to the extent I've been motivated to do so, concentrating on other work, like course planning, research, and reading rather than on Hawthorne blogging. All the loose threads I've left hanging in the previous months will eventually be worked with again, but for now it's easier to cut and paste--and somehow the March crappy blogging I've done has resulted in the best month in CitizenSE history (visit-wise), much better than the even worse February blogging I only sometimes brought myself to do.

6) So hopefully April won't be the cruelest month, blog-wise. I think that actually getting a full semester to teach Postcolonial Hawthorne (at Seinan Gakuin U, as opposed to the abbreviated version I taught at Kyushu U in the fall) will only be good for CitizenSE.

There's more to be written, but not now. Hopefully next week, if I'm not completely panicking about teaching the following day by then.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What Would Hawthorne Say About The Blogocalypse Carnival?

Why, "read it," of course!

[Update: Oh, and "You're an idiot for not linking to this gem in it." My only excuse is I'm behind on my bloggy visiting and too caught up in not-quite-live-blogging the LPGA's first major to take time to figure out how to fit it in my Douglas Adams meta-epic simile there.]

[Update 4/3/07: Plus, "You should just give up blogging and leave it to those who are incapable of writing a bad post."]