Within the past twenty years, many scholars have begun to “recover” nineteenth-century American women’s “sentimental” poetry that New Critics and their aesthetics have overlooked. Sarah Piatt’s poetry in particular has garnered contemporary critical attention as a result of the important “recovery” efforts of scholars such as Paula Bernat Bennett, who celebrate Piatt as a proto-modern feminist who is thus, according to Bennett, “indisputably a woman.” My article, however, brings Piatt’s “womanhood” and recent criticism’s affirmation of it into dispute. After charting out the ambivalent rather than coherent discourses surrounding literary “recovery,” sentimentality, modernism, and gender, the lenses usually used through which to read Piatt’s work, I offer a reading of Piatt’s most anthologized poem, “The Palace-Burner.” My reading aligns Piatt not with a completely legible proto-feminist politics, but with a politics of the ambiguity of identity itself. Ultimately, my study hopes to encourage a “recovery” method that reads a poet’s political and social identities as propitiously mysterious and open to conjecture rather than subsumes a writer into contemporary discursive allegiances.
At the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970, radical conceptual artist Robert Irwin was busy removing all of the contents of the museum’s fourth floor gallery spaces. The controversial installation which resulted—a room ostensibly devoid of “art” altogether—was just one in a long line of critical investigations into what Irwin called, “the pure subject of art.” The danger of misreading Irwin is high; he is a man containing multitudes. His artistic projects are at once intensely private, yet public, utterly personal, and yet universally relevant. In fact, the scope of Irwin’s aesthetic and intellectual inquiry resonates with that of the prototypical American theorist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Emerson’s philosophy can help to illuminate the conceptual underpinnings of Irwin’s art, we might also hope to learn something about the gentleman poet-philosopher from the life and art of a more contemporary Transcendentalist.
This paper traces the problematic role of racial mythologizing from the hierarchical stance of the romanticizing the Beats. In Jack Kerouac´s On the Road (1957) and Brenda Frazer´s For Love of Ray (1971),the story of her tragic relationship with Beat poet Ray Bremser, the narrators of both works are presented as ‘romantic racialists’ following the steps of Oswald Spengler´s controversial theories of the apocalypse of Western civilization. Living with the suppressed Mexican fellahin population, both authors completely deny the harsh reality of living a life of poverty and social degradation. Instead, the Native Mexican population is depicted as uncorrupted, truly happy, and authentic, while the U.S. represents failing humanity. By juxtaposing Frazer´s female experience of Mexican life against the experiences of Kerouac, this paper argues for a gendered reading of Beat literature as both an anti-American escape and the tendency of Western Orientalizing and fetishizing.
In the American imagination, the myth of the mainstream projects an ideal of English as the legal, official national language, a belief that conflates socio-historical attitudes about language with nationalistic ideology. A music video on YouTube, entitled “Press One for English,” debuts at a time of increasingly vocal protests about nationwide English-only laws. The video represents a piece of pop-propaganda dependent on both its lyrics and its visual icons to advance its ideological stance on language. Regarding English as an earned right identifies it as symbolic capital, a political symbol used to identify what it means to be American, as well as to control that identity. The social order expressed in the song suggests a collective ideal of an America in which today’s immigrants are expected to assimilate by learning English, just as was “always done” by immigrants in the past. The song uses entertainment as a vehicle for nationalism—and ultimately for a type of propagandist pedagogy to promote the American dream, a linguistic self-reliance that expresses national identity and becomes part of a civic story dependent on assimilation.
In the aftermath of the 1755 New England earthquake, preacher Thomas Prince and professor John Winthrop engaged in a four-month public dispute about the causes of earthquakes and the effectiveness of lightening rods. Historians have traditionally characterized their disagreement as battle between science and religion, but this paper traces the conflict instead to a fundamental difference in the two men’s personal theologies. Prince’s conception of a wrathful god and Winthrop’s belief in a more benevolent deity generated the contrasting visions for public welfare evident in their sermons, lectures, and newspaper submissions.
An excerpt from her longer thesis on the cultural meaning of home in the interwar United States, this paper explores the degree to which popular images of the American home were instrumental elements of the sociopolitical construction of the homeownership ideal from 1920 to 1935. Through examining articles written in the Delineator—a popular women’s magazine in the 1920s—and its well known “Better Homes in America Campaign,” the author deconstructs the language of social norms and problematizes their use. Tracking President Hoover’s interest in the project, the Delineator is revealed to have been a vehicle not only for maintaining a gendered and polarized social order, but also for disseminating government ideological concerns of race and consumerism. Moreover, these early attempt at broadening government influence through managing media representations and codifying American identities ultimately set the stage for the American federal government’s large-scale interventions in the postwar housing market.