Thursday, May 31, 2007

Taking Off the Training Wheels

What a crazy week! From a feverish day and night before I started teaching to almost losing my voice while teaching, I am sad to report that my health has been at its worst since January. The measles epidemic sweeping Japan has reached Fukuoka, which shouldn't affect my family, since we've all been vaccinated (even imoto, although hers may not kick in fully until next week), but since the strain here may be different than what onechan and I have been inoculated against, and since it is rampaging among the college-age population in Japan (most of whom never got vaccinated as children), I'm not going to be taking any chances. So that means more sleep and fewer late nights/early mornings. On top of that, I have four lectures to give in June and July, which is a lot for me, and I'm getting drawn deeper into the rhythm of the book manuscript's revision and addition process. Plus, the second week of June I'll be spending almost a week in the Tokyo/Chiba area with limited internet access and the week after that I'll be taking off a couple of days to meet up with friends visiting Japan in the Kyoto area. After that, I can foresee lots of meetings with students as they work on their final projects, grading, preparing my American classes, and getting ready to return to the States.

The upshot for CitizenSE is not that I'll be going on a leave or anything as drastic as that. But, from June through August, I will be ending the programming schedule that's sustained and structured my blogging here since December 2006. (Look for a new one in September, once I've figured out the rhythm of my semester back home.) For the next three months I won't be putting pressure on myself to maintain the 7 days/week schedule I've done a pretty decent job of sticking to, all things considered. And I won't be visiting my blogroll nearly as often as I've done this spring. I'll still be labelling posts that fit the old programming schedule's categories as appropriate, disregarding what day they happen to fall on. And I may be trying out some new labels/categories. But I'll be following a more organic flow from post to post, developing some ongoing series, and weaving the many loose ends I've left hanging for a while back into the mix.

Hope you like it!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Labor Theories of Blogging

Ah, I'm coming far too late to the left theory blogs' discussion of blogging and/as labor and I'm too feverish to even think about linking to any of the participants' posts or contributing somthing original, but I can point interested people in the direction of Teresa Goddu's essay on Hawthorne and class, an excellent linking of "Mr. Higginbotham's Catastrophe" and "Ethan Brand" that focuses on Hawthorne's representation and use of laborers in antebellum U.S. fiction. It's in What Democracy Looks Like, ed. Amy Shrager Lang and Cecelia Tichi, and I recommend the entire collection for reasons I will explain later. My basic idea for the connection is that blogging is a form of publishing as emergent as short stories were in the 1830s-1840s U.S. Goddu's analysis of what work Hawthorne's representations and narratives do--for himself, for the emergent middle class--is worth connecting to labor theories of blogging. More on that later--got to get well enough to teach tomorrow!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Would Hawthorne Say About YouTube?

Seeing as how he didn't put his older kids in school almost the entire time his family was in England, only intermittently hired someone to watch/teach them, and that he and Sophia's "home schooling" efforts were desultory by today's standards, I think he would have appreciated it as a way to broaden his kids' horizons. Onechan certainly does and it's fun to watch with her.

Friday, May 25, 2007

CitizenSE's Latest Really Really Crazy Idea

Doing three public lectures in my last month in Fukuoka on representing Japan in U.S. culture. True, it's "only" a matter of working up course lecture notes and ideas, but what am I thinking?

Well, I'm planning to focus on three decades--the '40s, '80s, and our own--with a bit of history in the first two to set up my examination of how images and interactions got to and went from historical lows. If anyone cares to point me to image archives, youtube files, and other sources I may have overlooked, feel free. I'll be posting on my progress over at Mostly Harmless, unless there's a literary angle I can emphasize here (and there will be). I have to get these things done quick so they can be translated!

My only consolation is that even three of these will be easier to write than the one I talk about here.

Perhaps Google Needs to Work on Its Ranking Algorithms

Don't get me wrong--I'm flattered that this "multicellular microorganism" in the vasty blogular ecosystem of TTLB shows up second on google searches for "gothic and Enlightenment" just because of yesterday's unfinished post. I'm rather fond of it, to tell you the truth, but does it really deserve to come before Douglass Thomson's review of A Companion to the Gothic (2000) or Ruth Bienstock Anolik's review of William Brown's The Gothic Text (2004) or the Robert Miles-edited "Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era" issue of the Romantic Circles Praxis Series (2005)? Even on google blog search, is it right that my almost-post is listed ahead of John Holbo's call for papers and Miriam Burstein's musings on historical ghosts? I think not.

Now, I'm not saying that google's web and blog searches should imitate google scholar completely. Just that some measure of the quality, depth, and interest of a site/post should be incorporated into google search and ranking algorithms. Since that seems pretty difficult for them to do, let me propose instead that all five people reading this go now and link to the above pages and posts to drive that particular CitizenSE post down to the bottom of the first page where it belongs!

That said, I am perversely pleased that my plug for my friend Mike Davis's Reading the Text That Isn't There: Paranoia in the Nineteenth-Century American Novel in a comment over at Hug the Shoggoth (where the race and decay blogging is doing quite well, thank you) is ranked third on this google search. (Little-known and less-cared-about fact: the Davis duo will be visiting Japan in June!)

This public service announcement brought to you by The Hey, It's in the Mid-70s on a Friday in May, for Crying Out Loud, Subcommittee of the Celebrate the Weekend Early Committee.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Colonial, Antebellum, Postbellum Hauntings

In my Haunting America course, we're starting off with a fast tour through landmarks in the history of literary hauntings and possessions in and near the U.S.: after a look at Dickinson the first two weeks of the semester, early narratives on the Salem Witch Trials and the Virgin of Guadalupe started off our historical survey, followed quickly by views of Young Goodman Brown, La Llorona, and La Malinche, visits to Irving's Sleepy Hollow and Poe's House of Usher, and considerations of the structures of Stowe's and Chesnutt's haunted rooms and narratives. Our aim has been to identify similarities and differences in the uses of ghosts and spirits in colonial, antebellum and postbellum American literature as much as it has been to test out different approaches to reading hauntings--and in the coming weeks we'll look at works by Ambrose Bierce and Lafcadio Hearn to refine our initial ideas and methods. Here I'll recap some of the results of this tour and mention some specific juxtapositions and divergences worth exploring further.

The basic idea I've been trying to get across to the students to this point in the course is the difference the Enlightenment makes in the ways in which hauntings are treated in American literatures. Before the Enlightenment, the narrators of the stories of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the specters tormenting Salem Village residents take great pains to establish the reality and truth of the hauntings they represent. Although they differ in associating the hauntings with God and the Devil, they coincide in acknowledging yet attempting to overcome skeptics and doubters who look for other than supernatural explanations for the events they represent. Juan Diego, the protagonist of the Virgin of Guadalupe narrative, has to convince the colonial authorities in Mexico City to build a shrine to the Virgin in the mountains and after three visits he finally does (with the help of some well-timed miracles). Cotton Mather, although acknowledging the argument that specter evidence could be faked by the Devil or his agents ("who's to say whether the images of Scott Eric Kaufman and Joseph Kugelmass doing those unspeakable things to those texts over there are really their specters, or that they really sent them over there to do that?"), works to justify the Salem Witch Trial verdicts--and executions. These kinds of colonial narrators show up as protagonists in Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," and Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," but now they are framed by Enlightenment-era narrators who cast Ichabod Crane's, Goodman Brown's, and Roderick Usher's susceptibility to belief in the reality of ghosts as irrationality (in the modes of humor, irony, and horror, respectively). Irving's anthropological emphasis, Hawthorne's historical allusions, and Poe's symbolic methods are used not to dismiss the irrational but instead to examine it, its effects, and its consequences. Antebellum literary hauntings, that is, stage the encounter between pre-Enlightenment and Enlightenment modes of dealing with ghosts.

This basic distinction allowed me to frame the various uses of the gothic in Dickinson and Stowe as well as in Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe--by linking the explained or rational gothic and the supernatural gothic to Enlightenment and pre-Enlightenment modes of thinking, I was able to help my students track the function of ghosts in their works and specify their related but distinctive fascinations with the shadows, blind spots, and nightmares of the Enlightenment. Before going into a few examples from Poe, Stowe, and Chesnutt, let me mention that these commonplaces in American literary history and Western intellectual history seemed to fascinate my students, who have interesting and complex relationships to the various religious traditions and beliefs about ghosts, spirits, and demons in Japan (I chose Hearn to end the "Postbellum Hauntings" unit precisely so we could revisit our earlier discussion of cultural assumptions in and about Western and Eastern hauntings).

What I think is so effective about Poe's use of the rationalistic narrator in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is not only the way that his narration leads the reader to expect the story to end one way, heightening the surprise and horror of the actual ending, but also the way in which his mistake about Roderick Usher at the end of the story raises the possibility that he might be mistaken in his earlier dismissals of Usher's beliefs. Without deviating from the explained Gothic at all--no ghosts, no spirits, no supernatural phenomena of any kind--Poe's story succeeds on aesthetic (his relation to Irving is kind of like Ringu's relation to Scream) and philosophical levels (he pushes Enlightenment-era ontologies and epistemologies to the point when you wonder if all our senses were as sensitive as Usher's whether we, too, would be overcome with horror and fear--wonder if his idea that an evil sentience pervades his ancestral grounds may well be entirely rational). The narrator's own reactions to the landscape and architecture of the House of Usher and to his repeated conversations with Usher point to the idea that a place can have an effect on your mind without any visible or sensible causes.

Decades later, at the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe attempts to politicize Poe's achievements. Critics have rightly focused on her adroit mixing of popular antebellum genres to account for the success of her novel--drawing everything from the novel of sentiment to the slave narrative, Stowe attempts to make her readers feel the evils and injustices of slavery, not just understand them conceptually. I haven't read enough Stowe criticism to see if scholars have been paying attention to her use of the gothic and the ghost story, but it is crucial to her novel's mediation of Enlightenment and Christian attacks on slavery--her linking of appeals to violations of rights to life, liberty, and property to the notions that slavery is a sin and that true Christians can neither hold slaves nor tolerate the existence of slavery. When Cassy and Emmeline conspire to manipulate Simon Legree into believing the garret in his mansion is haunted by the spirit of a slave woman he tortured, raped, and killed, they are participating in one of the classic conventions of the explained Gothic--but instead of the vulnerable protagonist being tormented by a conspiracy out to make her believe she is being haunted, here the vulnerable female slaves are the ones who are protecting themselves by making the garret the safest place for them to hide from the slave catchers trying to hunt them down after they are seen trying to escape the plantation. Stowe takes us behind the scenes to see how Cassy stages all the supposedly supernatural events that heighten Legree's guilt, horror, and fear--this is the explained Gothic with a vengeance--and asserts that it is Legree's atheism that makes him particularly susceptible to her manipulations. In so doing, she echoes Poe's language--and provides some imagery that Dickinson may well be responding to in her Civil War-era poem #670 (the revolver that is no protection against spirits, the locked door that is no protection against your own internal haunting)--in a way that mixes their philosophical and psychological emphases with her own social and political projects. Cassy's staging of an "authentic ghost story," as one late chapter title proclaims it to be, enables her and Emmeline to escape the fate of the tortured and murdered slave woman--and the martyrdom of Uncle Tom by Legree that is framed by the narrative of their escape--even as it shows the consequences on Legree of his own actions. Stowe's hauntings emphasize the horrors of slavery and install the metaphor of the slaveholder haunted by his sins and the nation haunted by the peculiar institution.

Oops, imoto just woke up. More on Chesnutt later!

Not-So-Random Questions

With "Roger Malvin's Burial," "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," "Legends of the Province House," and "Old News" to his credit, I'd say the critical commonplace that Hawthorne didn't know what to do with 18th-century New England history is wrong. So how did it become a commonplace in the first place, and why?

Where do we draw the line between identifying Hawthorne's intentions and positing our own readings of his novels and tales as his intentions? How do we tell the difference? Should we be focusing more on identifying the actual political and cultural work of his fiction in his times or their potential political and cultural work in our times?

Why did close attention to Hawthorne and race follow prior debates on Hawthorne's engagements with gender and class issues in his times? Why haven't we seen more attempts to link race, gender, and class in his fiction? Why is it still rare to see race considered in multiple dimensions--his images of and attitudes toward African Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, and immigrants considered together; his responses to racial sciences (ethnology, phrenology, physiognomy, etc.) and manifest destiny considered in light of his general skepticism toward the intellectual sensations of his times; his responses to abolition and anti-war/pro-war sentiments in the 1830s/1840s/1860s considered together; his immersion in party politics and American-English relations tied to issues of American expansionism, imperialism, and transatlantic and transpacific trade--in Hawthorne criticism? And why has there still been much more attention devoted to his longer works of the 1850s and 1860s (finished and unfinished) with respect to race than focused on his earlier works, particularly of the 1830s and 1840s? Is there someone out there doing this kind of synthetic work who's willing to share it with me, or do I have to do it myself in my book?

Monday, May 21, 2007

When Is a Close Reading Not Just a Close Reading?

After a weekend outdoors, I caught up on (hah!) my bloggy reading today. One line that stands out (as so many of his often do) is Joseph Kugelmass's analogy about blogging close readings feeling a bit like being a trained seal as his intro to his preface for his case for telling stories (which I suspect extends to, as The Little Professor is wont to do, making them up). This may help explain why none of my Close Reading Tuesday posts actually accomplish a close reading, but I suspect that there's a simpler explanation. I use those posts to jumpstart a train of thought that is intended to light a fuse to power my book manuscript (hey, this sentence is in accordance with the David Brooks Leave No Metaphor Unmixed Act of 2006--good for me!). As I'm in the midst of revising my "Old News" chapter (for John Holbo to look at, natch), I can say that even those terrible posts have really helped me think through the mounds of academic essays I've been reading this month. Seeing as how May may match February for bad blogging at CitizenSE, I'm glad to report that even the worst blogging has its rewards.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What Would Hawthorne Say to Aaron Barlow and Scott McLemee?

Aaron, sorry for what I said about your ancestor in "P's Correspondence"--I was trying to do a Poe send-up, and, well, it took on a life of its own. Actually, I was just trying to answer Scott's question about 9/11 novels by reference to the impossibility of treating the Mexican War in epic poetry. Things happened. No hard feelings?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Main-street" at the Hawthorne in Salem Site

As to be expected from such a fine site, Hawthorne in Salem provides several good starting-places for understanding what's at stake in Hawthorne's representation of American Indians in "Main-street," their introduction, related literature, critical commentary, and documents pages, in particular. I can't recommend this site highly enough for anyone looking to get up to speed on all matters Hawthornesque or to jump-start a Hawthorney research project.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Tale of Two Stories

Astute readers of the CitizenSE Categories will have noticed that I've done as much "Old News" blogging as on Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Morrison's Beloved and far more than many other better-known works on the list. Well, I'm on a mission to do the same eventually for another equally obscure Hawthorne tale: "Main-street." Published in 1849, it's one of the few pieces he composed while working in the Salem Custom-House. Despite its humorous frame--the narrator presents an elaborate puppet show, a shifting panorama of historical scenes tracing the history of the main street of Salem, while two members of the audience offer criticisms of both his artistry and his history, until a wire snaps and the march of time comes to a halt--the story is quite ambitious. Not only does it survey the early history of colonial New England, from the days of Squaw Sachem and Wappacowet and the arrival of Roger Conant, the first settler in Naumkeag, to the Great Snow of 1717--stopping along the way to mark the arrival of noted colonists, changes in colonial architecture, shifts in settler-Indian relations, and such major events as King Philip's War and the Salem Witch Trials--it offers serious commentary on the rise and fall of the Puritan errand into the wilderness.

As "Main-street" marks a period in Hawthorne's career--during the 1850s he would turn to novel-length romances--it has received some attention from Hawthorne specialists, but not as much as I would have expected for its significance in his career. When it has been read, it has been read for Hawthorne's attitudes toward Puritan New England and particularly for his take on Puritan constructions of otherness (from Quakers to witches to Indians), as well as for his representation of the artist-audience relationship. It has been read, that is, as a kind of key to his earlier, more important tales of 17th century New England and as a metacommentary on their reception. Perhaps it is best known for the showman's judgment of New England Puritanism: "Let us thank God for having given us such ancestors; and let each successive generation thank him, not less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages." But there is much more to the story than this.

The reason I give it so much attention in my manuscript is that its most perceptive readers have made a strong case that "Main-street" should not only be read for its construction of colonial Puritan history but also as a commentary on the politics as much as on the attitudes to art of Hawthorne's own times. Michael Colacurcio, for instance, has read the story as a sharp critique of popular notions of racial Anglo-Saxonism and American manifest destiny. I pair "Main-street" with "Old News," then, to raise questions about Hawthorne's racial politics in the 1830s and 1840s: how do his attitudes toward African Americans and American Indians relate? was he more "progressive" on Indian affairs than the peculiar institution--as willing to criticize Indian removals as he was abolitionism? what was his response to the ideology and mythology of the "vanishing American"? how does his fiction relate to his political Jacksonianism? In the course of answering such questions, I link "Main-street" to earlier tales and later novels, by Hawthorne and others.

Just as my pursuit of racial politics in "Old News" led me into considerations of racialized aesthetics, so, too, does my similar aim for "Main-street" lead me to examine Hawthorne's turn toward the panorama and the weather and its relation to similar moves by his contemporaries. In the manuscript, I'm trying to decide whether I have enough material and arguments for a stand-alone chapter or whether it belongs in the same chapter with "Old News." In my teaching, I'm curious as to whether my students see it as strengthening or weakening the case for considering Hawthorne as a postcolonial writer. So as the opportunity arises in the coming weeks, I'll share some of my new thinking and research on "Main-street."

The Problem of Narratorial Tone in Hawthorne's Early Short Fiction

In my Postcolonial Hawthorne course at Seinan Gakuin University, we've been wrestling with the problem of narratorial tone in such passages as these:

One of the few incidents of Indian warfare naturally susceptible of the moonlight of romance, was that expedition, undertaken, for the defence of the frontiers, in the year 1725, which resulted in the well-remembered 'Lovell's Fight.' Imagination, by casting certain circumstances judiciously into the shade, may see much to admire in the heroism of a little band, who gave battle to twice their number in the heart of the enemy's country. The open bravery displayed by both parties was in accordance with civilized ideas of valor, and chivalry itself might not blush to record the deeds of one or two individuals. The battle, though so fatal to those who fought, was not unfortunate in its consequences to the country; for it broke the strength of a tribe, and conduced to the peace which subsisted during several ensuing years. History and tradition are unusually minute in their memorials of this affair; and the captain of a scouting party of frontier-men has acquired as actual a military renown, as many a victorious leader of thousands. Some of the incidents contained in the following pages will be recognized, not withstanding the substitution of fictitious names, by such as have heard, from old men's lips, the fate of the few combatants who were in a condition to retreat, after 'Lovell's Fight.'

Then Reuben's heart was stricken, and the tears gushed out like water from a rock. The vow that the wounded youth had made, the blighted man had come to redeem. His sin was expiated, the curse was gone from him; and, in the hour, when he had shed blood dearer to him than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heaven from the lips of Reuben Bourne

With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose.

Thither came also the slender form of a veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who had received the devil's promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag was she!

There is an admirable foundation for a philosophic romance, in the curious history of the early settlement of Mount Wollaston, or Merry Mount. In the slight sketch here attempted, the facts, recorded on the grave pages of our New England annalists, have wrought themselves, almost spontaneously, into a sort of allegory. The masques, mummeries, and festive customs, described in the text, are in accordance with the manners of the age. Authority on these points may be found in Strutt's Book of English Sports and Pastimes.

Jollity and gloom were contending for an empire.... The future complexion of New England was involved in this important quarrel. Should the grisly saints establish their jurisdiction over the gay sinners, then would their spirits darken all the clime, and make it a land of clouded visages, of hard toil, of sermon and psalm, forever. But should the banner-staff of Merry Mount be fortunate, sunshine would break upon the hills, and flowers would beautify the forest, and late posterity do homage to the May-Pole!

Unfortunately, there were men in the new world, of a sterner faith than these May-Pole worshippers. Not far from Merry Mount was a settlement of Puritans, most dismal wretches, who said their prayers before daylight, and then wrought in the forest or the cornfield, till evening made it prayer time again. Their weapons were always at hand, to shoot down the straggling savage. When they met in conclave, it was never to keep up the old English mirth, but to hear sermons three hours long, or to proclaim bounties on the heads of wolves and the scalps of Indians. Their festivals were fast-days, and their chief pastime the singing of psalms. Woe to the youth or maiden, who did but dream of a dance! The selectman nodded to the constable; and there sat the light-heeled reprobate in the stocks; or, if he danced, it was round the whipping-post, which might be termed the Puritan May-Pole.

Whether it's dry and heavily-qualified author's notes or stark narratorial descriptions and judgments, we've had a lot of trouble narrowing down the range of possible meanings of these and other passages. Depending on the tone of voice in which you read them, you can imply almost any shade of irony to almost any of the "claims" put forward by the narrator. Should our goal be to figure out the narrator's intentions and attitudes toward the characters and situations depicted in his storytelling? Or, rather than nailing them down, should we be seeking out more and more possibilities for meaning and polysemy?

I put these questions to the Blogging While Academic ghetto of Blogoramaville in particular, but really anyone can weigh in in comments with their own readings of any or all of the above passages or perspectives on the theoretical/pedagogical issues the questions raise. More of my own takes on them later.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What Would Hawthorne Say about the War on Newspaper Book Reviews?

I think Hawthorne would find the current campaign to save book reviewing (and book review sections in U.S. newspapers) at once inspiring and ironic. In his day, after all, before a national literary canon was established or instituted in high schools and higher education (particularly at the start of his career in the 1820s), critics' and reviewers' role was chiefly to call for a national literature, make suggestions as to subject matter (such Puritans, Indians, the Revolutionary War) and mode (especially Scott-inspired historical romances), and judge the latest entries. Even by 1850, however, Herman Melville could hyperbolically claim, in "Hawthorne and His Mosses," that "There are hardly five critics in America, and several of them are asleep." So the fact that there are so many courses devoted to American literature, so many awards for American authors, so many American book reviewers in print and on-line, and so many American books published each year would be of great satisfaction to the author who three times interrupted his literary career for government posts to better support his family. As an editor, reviewer, and contributor to the "little magazines" of his day (and some of the bigger ones, too), Hawthorne would understand well how all the nodes in the literary publishing network need to be working together for authors' efforts to be properly distributed, appreciated, evaluated, and analyzed. So he no doubt would have signed any petition put in front of him. But he would have marvelled at how far American literature, criticism, and book reviewing have come since the mid-19th C.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Literazis Are Retreating

Scott McLemee and the good people at Critical Mass are no doubt quite pleased by Steven Colbert's interview with Salman Rushdie on the great book review purge in the corporate media (apologies for the commercial), but I thought Colbert's slogan appropriate for many doings in blogoramaville of late, particularly for those Blogging While Academic. (For those w/o time to click or even pass your mouse over the links, that's Hobgoblin, Joseph Kugelmass, Scott Eric Kaufman, and Adam Kotsko I'm referring to there--I'm sure there are more I'm missing who have contemplated giving up on the BWA thang.)

So I'm going to take a drastic step here. I'm proclaiming Summer Vacation. If anyone on my blogroll (or off it) wants to take a BWA break, go for it. I'll be back when you're back and so will your legions of adoring fans. Remember, Hawthorne was getting paid for his creative writing and he still took three multi-year breaks from it!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


So, I've been wondering how the Cliopatricians would like my submission to their Jamestown 2007 symposium, given its unconventional format. Well, it appears Ralph Luker likes it just fine, even if he links to the group blog I'm on leave from rather than CitizenSE.

Oh, and 458. If you read the comments there, you'll get all the in-jokes in my title. Among other things.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This Is SO Not a Post

Just a link to Scott McLemee's link to Robert Pinsky emceeing The Colbert Report's tribute to National Poetry Month: Meta-Free-Phor-All. Close readings encouraged.

Oh, and 354.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

This, Too, Will Not Have Been a Post

It's really just an update on Scott Eric Kaufman's blogwide strike action and a link to my contribution to Cliopatria's Jamestown 2007 symposium, which, as it turns out, is comment #301 out of the 500 needed to bring Acephalous back. If this is somehow accepted into the symposium, I implore any new visitors to CitizenSE to reply to my ideas on Scott's comment thread, at least until we get him blogging again. Thanks!

[Update 5/8/07: Professor Ahmed has graciously given us all an extension. I pledge, however, that even if that Acephalous thread were to reach 500 approved comments before noon May 10 (my time), I will continue to insist that my submission is on that thread.]

Saturday, May 05, 2007

This Is Not a Post

It's just a number: 155. Or rather, more than 345 to go.

My latest crazy idea is that anyone reading this non-post click on the link above and get Scott Eric Kaufman blogging again. He's writing on Wharton and listening to Asia, people. We need to stage a blogoramawide intervention. Asia!

This is a crisis that makes CitizenSE's first troll being a white supremacist insignificant (check out the comments on yesterday's post if you wish--I pledged not to delete his there so long as he doesn't delete mine on his).

End non-post. Back to bloggy solidarity.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

One Hundredth Verse Not Unlike the First

Well, well, well, CitizenSE has reached the century mark (in posts). Consider this an open call to anyone out there who wants to guest post or regularly blog on the matter of Hawthorne. I want to finish CitizenSE's second century faster than it took to close out the first!

In fact, though, this post isn't about Hawthorne at all. It's about a book/daddy post reviewing Jon Clinch's first novel, Finn, which, as the title suggests, reimagines the life of Huck's "Pap." And it's about the opportunity it provides me with to give you a preview of my American Adam and whiteness chapter from my book manuscript! Here 'tis--I think you'll see why I desperately want to read Clinch's novel after you read the book/daddy review and this post--and get a better sense of where I disagree with Arac's reading of AHF as a literary narrative drafted into a Cold War liberal nationalist project.


The fact that both Tom and Huck assume that they are at fault for attempting to “steal” Jim out of slavery, the narrative of white resentment at black liberation, and the equation between African Americans’ emancipation and avoidance of work that are implicit in the evasion scene are all prominent features of Pap Finn’s infamous diatribe:

“Call this a govment! why, just look at it and see what it’s like. Here’s the law a-standing ready to take a man’s son away from him. . . . That ain’t all, nuther. The law backs Judge Thatcher up and helps him to keep me out o’ my property. . . .

“Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there, from Ohio, a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain’t a man in that town that’s got as fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane--the awfulest old gray-headed nabob in the State. And what do you think? they said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could vote, when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ’lection day, and I was just about to go and vote, myself, if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin. Them’s the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me--I’ll never vote again as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that nigger--why, he wouldn’t a give me the road if I hadn’t shoved him out o’ the way. I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold?--that’s what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why, they said he couldn’t be sold till he’d been in the State for six months, and he hadn’t been there that long yet. There now--that’s a specimen. They call that a govment that can’t sell a free nigger till he’s been in the State six months. Here’s a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet’s got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take ahold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger. . . .”

On the one hand, Pap sounds like a pro-slavery Southern secessionist: “Sometimes I’ve a mighty notion to just leave the country for good and all. . . . Says I, for two cents I’d leave the blamed country and never come anear it agin.” His complaint that, “A man can’t get his rights in a govment like this” is not only over his custody battles with Judge Thatcher and Huck’s six thousand dollars; it is also over his status as a white man. Because Pap assumes that the government’s role is to maintain white racial status and privilege through protection of the right to hold property in slaves, he sees any incidence of black freedom as a direct attack on white rights. Furthermore, his association of black freedom and black criminality--“a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger”--is itself an ironic confirmation of the anti-slavery notion that the only way out of slavery was to “steal away” even as it enacts the pro-slavery logic that to escape from slavery is to steal yourself (not to mention a foreshadowing of the novel’s end).

Yet there is a more specific context for Pap’s particular configuration of class and racial resentments than the antebellum South. As Eric Sundquist explains, “In the figure of Huck Finn’s father, [Clemens] had, in fact, already painted his darkest portrait of the crude, illiterate white racist authorized by the disfranchisement decisions to vote at the expense of qualified black (male) voters.” Indeed, Mark Twain’s staging of Pap’s diatribe is one of the first analyses of the way that the figure of the black “fop” was used to mobilize racial resentments in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, in order to constitute a segregated society. Where the figure of the black rapist signified the inherent savagery of freedmen no longer under the control of the plantation system, the black “fop” signified the inability of African Americans to fit into white civilization and implied that their striving for higher education was motivated by sheer laziness—a desire to shirk work. Pap’s diatribe, however, shows that it was not the failure of freedmen to “become civilized” that so enraged racists; rather, it was precisely African Americans’ success that led to resentment and calls for government protection of white rights.

It bears repeating that Clemens is not simply mocking “white trash” in this passage. That is to say, more is at stake in Pap’s diatribe than his individual ideas, beliefs, opinions, and prejudices--or even the fact of their prevalence among many of his peers. As James Cox reminds us, the point of reading this passage should not be to join in the “self-indulgent public emphasis on the negative character of Pap in order to expose his bigotry to the lash of criticism”--self-indulgent, that is, because after the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, most white readers have learned to dissociate themselves from this kind of public expression of overt racism. The idiosyncrasy of Cox’s warning to contemporary readers and critics should not obscure his point about the dangers of treating racism as something out there, as something we have gotten beyond, as somebody else’s problem, as the exclusive property, that is, of “white trash.” Yet Cox’s reading, in its effort to criticize Clemens’s liberal elitism and our contemporary “complacency,” underplays the violence of night riders and the Klan, the virulence of lynching and race riots, the force of mob rule, the extent to which Pap’s views were shared in the North as well as the South (and disseminated by a calculatedly racist media), and, most important, the consistent attack on African Americans’ rights by the Supreme Court, as well as federal and state governments, even before the 1877 Compromise that ended Reconstruction. In other words, as Mark Twain was composing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, calls like Pap’s for state protection of white privilege were being answered; or, more precisely, the state’s interventions were made in the name of people like Pap. In this climate, Clemens’s biting burlesque may well have been the most effective way of foregrounding the widespread investments in Pap’s racism.

To put this point more strongly, Mark Twain’s aim is precisely not to single Pap out unfairly; on the contrary, Clemens makes Pap a representative American man. Recall that Pap’s diatribe is introduced by an apparently off-handed joke by Huck and ends with an apparently inadvertent fall. Upon seeing Pap, Huck jokes to himself, “he had been drunk over in town, and laid in the gutter all night, and he was a sight to look at. A body would a thought he was Adam, he was just all mud.” Not only does Pap, before he begins speaking, remind Huck of Adam, he also reenacts the Fall in the midst of his tirade: “Pap was agoing on so, he never noticed where his old limber legs was taking him to, so he went head over heels over the tub of salt pork, and barked both shins.” Clemens here superimposes the issue of racism on what R.W.B. Lewis has identified as an “emergent American myth” in nineteenth-century U.S. culture. This myth of the American Adam

saw life and history as just beginning. It described the world as starting up again under fresh initiative, in a divinely granted second chance for the human race, after the first chance had been so disastrously fumbled in the darkening Old World. It introduced a new kind of hero, the heroic embodiment of a new set of ideal human attributes. . . .

The new habits to be engendered on the new American scene were suggested by the image of a radically new personality, the hero of a new adventure: an individual emancipated from history, happily bereft of ancestry, untouched and undefiled by the usual inheritances of family and race; an individual standing alone, self-reliant and self-propelling, ready to confront whatever awaited him with the aid of his own unique and inherent resources.

In effect, Mark Twain uses this myth of the American Adam to comment on what he correctly identified in the early 1880s as a major turning point in American history. Clemens ironically portrays Pap as “a new kind of hero” for post-Reconstruction America--yet he reverses the value of every attribute that the myth of the American Adam affirms. Pap is ignorant of history and jealously protective of the privileges of ancestry, family, and race he fears are being eroded; he portrays himself as self-reliantly standing alone, but is actually appealing to the state. Clemens aims to dramatize the racism and the state investments underlying rugged individualism, as well as to show his contemporaries that rolling back Reconstruction would not produce “a divinely granted second chance for the [white] race.” In short, by implying that Pap is an American Adam, Mark Twain places racism at the very heart of nineteenth-century America. His American Adam is a white supremacist.


Well, there you have it. 100 posts down. How many more to go before the manuscript is done? Before the book is out?

[Update: Well, having finished two posts in less than 45 minutes here at little 'ol CitizenSE, what do I find out when I visit one of my favorite large mammals (that is, if TTLB isn't screwing with his numbers as bad as it's been messing with mine!) has called for a blogwide strike. In solidarity with Scott Eric Kaufman, then, I will not post here until he gets his 500th comment and is forced to write a post on the topic of the commenter's choice. And my first post will be a response to his that somehow brings Hawthorne in while still adhering to my programming schedule. Oh, and I tried to start a pool on date/time and topic for his first post back. It's only a quarter stake, people, so hop to it. I've got May 12 @ 3:45 pm and "explanation of strike."]

On Twain, Arac, and Hypercanonization

Scott and Amanda's posts at The Valve's book event on The Novel of Purpose have inspired me to go back and read Jonathan Arac's Huckleberry Finn as Idol and Target from cover to cover. I was struck while reading it at its consistent good sense and effective argumentation, and particularly at how brilliantly Arac compares and contrasts Twain and Stowe in one chapter, Twain and Cooper in another, and Twain and Flaubert in yet another. Yet I must admit to being disappointed he didn't go to Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter or Melville's "Benito Cereno," two other works that were receiving a lot of critical attention from people working in race and American literature in the '90s--and two authors whom he refers to several times as writing literary rather than national narratives mid-century. So in this post I was going to try to fill in some of the gaps in Arac's comparativist approach to Twain. But I had to get caught up on teaching two of my four courses that weren't cancelled despite it being Golden Week here in Japan, dealing with tech gremlins in the office, and recovering from the short trip we took to one of the onsens about an hour outside Fukuoka on Monday. Today we took onechan and imoto to their first amusement park ever and my head is still spinning from the 6 or 8 rides we took on those spinning cups. So on the five minutes before this day is over, let me make just a few points, in bullets.

  • I love the fact that a senior Americanist tried to write a book for a general audience--and particularly for the mainstream media It's really well written and well organized. Arac saves his most complex and ambitious arguments for his final three chapters, but even at his simplest and most direct, he's making important points about the limitations of AHF in its own time and in ours--and especially the weaknesses of the arguments of those who idolize the novel.
  • Still, as an attempt to introduce the debates in the then-relatively-new field of race and American literature to a wider audience, I find the book's limitations a bit annoying. Eric Sundquist's To Wake the Nations had come out years earlier and made a strong case for looking at Pudd'nhead Wilson as Twain's most interesting response to postbellum racial politics; plus his situating of Melville's "Benito Cereno" in the context of hemispheric abolitionist debates provided strong counter-evidence to Arac's characterization of Melville as a writer of literary narrative. Even though Arac gets into transnational contexts for Twain at the end by returning to De Voto's reading of AHF as the novel of the imperialist moment in America, he never gets into Twain's anti-imperial writings of the late-19th century. So there are annoying omissions and gaps.
  • Hawthorne presents more problems for Arac's anti-hypercanonization argument, for several reasons. For one, unlike Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter is still taught in high schools and colleges all over the country. Yet rather than fitting Arac's pattern of a literary narrative drafted into the service of Cold War liberal nationalism, Hawthorne's novel was the site of intense political debate since the 1940s--whether over religion, gender, sexuality, race, or nationalism depended on the decade--rather than idolization and defenses against attacks of racism. And Hawthorne's racial politics were a big deal in the last 14 years of his life, from the Compromise of 1850 to the midst of the Civil War. Plus, Eric Cheyfitz had already anticipated many of Arac's arguments in a brilliant essay critical of the two most influential readings of SL in the early 1990s, those by Sacvan Bercovitch and Lauren Berlant. Finally, as I've been arguing here and in my manuscript, Twain is not just messing with Sir Walter Scott in the evasion sequence of AHF; he's also contextualizing the compromise that ended Reconstruction and Hawthorne's literary and racial politics at the same time.

To be continued! (I hate backdating posts, but had to do it for the second time this week--you'll see why in a second!)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Colonial Spaces in Three Early Hawthorne Tales

If you're less interested in my readings of the wilderness and the desert in "Roger Malvin's Burial," "Wakefield," and "Young Goodman Brown," head on over to WAAGNFNP for my readings of figures for global capitalism in Subcomandante Marcos's "The Southeast in Two Winds: A Storm and a Prophecy" and William Greider's One World, Ready or Not. If not, check out these passages--bonus points to those who can identify the stories from which each comes before I do.

And the boy dashed one tear-drop from his eye, and thought of the adventurous pleasures of the untrodden forest. Oh! who, in the enthusiasm of a day-dream, has not wished that he were a wanderer in a world of summer wilderness, with one fair and gentle being hanging lightly on his arm? In youth, his free and exulting step would know no barrier but the rolling ocean or the snow-topt mountains; calmer manhood would choose a home, where Nature had strewn a double wealth, in the vale of some transparent stream; and when hoary age, after long, long years of that pure life, stole on and found him there, it would find him the father of a race, the patriarch of a people, the founder of a mighty nation yet to be. When death, like the sweet sleep which we welcome after a day of happiness, came over him, his far descendants would mourn over the venerated dust. Enveloped by tradition in mysterious attributes, the men of future generations would call him godlike; and remote posterity would see him standing, dimly glorious, far up the valley of a hundred centuries!

He had contrived, or rather he had happened, to dissever himself from the world--to vanish--to give up his place and privileges with living men, without being admitted among the dead.... It was [his] unprecedented fate, to retain his original share of human sympathies, and to still be involved in human interests, while he had lost his reciprocal influence on them. It would be a most curious speculation, to trace out the effect of such circumstances on his heart and intellect, separately, and in unison.... Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever.

He paused, in a lull of the tempest that had driven him onward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnly from a distance, with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; it was a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse died heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices, but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness, pealing in awful harmony together. [He] cried out; and his cry was lost to his own ear, by its unison with the cry of the desert.

If you guessed that I'd stick to alphabetical (and chronological) order--or if you recognized the passages as Cyrus's daydream not long before his father, Reuben Bourne, accidentally shoots him dead at the same place he left his father-in-law, Roger Malvin, to die decades earlier after a battle with Indians left them both wounded; the narrator's musings on Wakefield, a Londoner who decided one day not to return home to his wife, moved to new dwellings a few blocks away, and stayed there for twenty years before finally returning home; and Young Goodman Brown's arrival at what he takes to be the witches' coven that he had set out into the wilderness to avoid going to, until he was deceived by the devil's illusions into losing faith in his wife Faith--well, good for you.

The reason I collect them here is that they are key moments in Hawthorne's representation of colonial spaces. Later, I'll share my readings of how David Levin, Michael Colacurcio, and Manfred Mackenzie read "Roger Malvin's Burial," how Robert Martin reads "Wakefield," and how Renee Bergland reads "Young Goodman Brown," but for now I want to simply note that Hawthorne consistently represents the new world wilderness in terms colonial Puritans would have been quite familiar with. The narrator in RMB refers to "a region, of which savage beasts and savage men were as yet sole possessors" and calls each of the four main characters of the tale "pilgrims"; both Malvin and Bourne refer to the "howling wilderness." The narator in YGB describes Goodman Brown's journey into the woods as an "errand" and describes the wilderness as "heathen," "dark," "benighted," and "unconverted"; Goodman Brown himself worries that "There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," he describes himself as having "kept covenant by meeting thee here" when addressing a figure he believes to be the devil and claims, "My father never went into the woods on such a errand, nor his father before him." Even Wakefield's sojourn of a few blocks in London echoes the kind of identity-transforming experiences of Bourne, Brown, Chillingworth, and Hester. I'll pick up where this intro to a close reading leaves off next Tuesday--I've run out of time today!