American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions

Edited by Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Columbia University Press

American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions

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Pub Date: July 2012

ISBN: 9780231156172

440 Pages

Format: Paperback

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Pub Date: July 2012

ISBN: 9780231156165

440 Pages

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Pub Date: July 2012

ISBN: 9780231520775

440 Pages

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American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions

Edited by Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Columbia University Press

Rethinking the category of aesthetics in light of recent developments in literary theory and social criticism, the contributors to this volume showcase the interpretive possibilities available to those who bring politics, culture, ideology, and conceptions of identity into their critiques. Essays combine close readings of individual works and authors with more theoretical discussions of aesthetic theory and its relation to American literature. In their introduction, Weinstein and Looby argue that aesthetics never left American literary critique. Instead, the essay casts the current "return to aesthetics" as the natural consequence of shortcomings in deconstruction and new historicism, which led to a reconfiguration of aesthetics.

Subsequent essays demonstrate the value and versatility of aesthetic considerations in literature, from eighteenth-century poetry to twentieth-century popular music. Organized into four groups—politics, form, gender, and theory—contributors revisit the canonical works of Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Stephen Crane, introduce the overlooked texts of Constance Fenimore Woolson and Earl Lind, and unpack the complexities of the music of The Carpenters. Deeply rooted in an American context, these essays explore literature's aesthetic dimensions in connection to American liberty and the formation of political selfhood.

Contributors include Edward Cahill, Ivy G. Wilson, June Ellison, Dorri Beam, Christopher Castiglia, Christopher Looby, Wendy Steiner, Cindy Weinstein, Trish Loughran, Jonathan Freedman, Elisa New, Dorothy Hale, Mary Esteve, Eric Lott, Sianne Ngai

American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions offers a vitally new and much-needed approach to the study of American literature. The contributors' models of argumentation in this post-theory moment lay new groundwork for American literary studies. More than a recovery and burnishing of a term relegated to past scholarly practice, this collection newly defines its signature term, with its contributors demonstrating how theoretical positions assimilated over the last quarter century can be foundational for synergistic engagement with aesthetics.

Cecelia Tichi, Vanderbilt University

This indispensable book recuperates questions of beauty, form, sensuousness, and taste after they have been largely discarded by the politically engaged criticism of the last two to three decades. Understandably wary about a renewal of the aesthetic as the absolute horizon of interpretation, Weinstein and Looby—and their contributors—make a compelling case for reintegrating formalism and historicism. I can think of no other collection with similar richness and revisionary scope; its appearance marks a watershed in the study of American literature.

Michael T. Gilmore, Brandeis University

This collection, superbly edited and introduced, is a major contribution to current debates about literature, politics, and aesthetics and to our understanding of the relationship between the critical past and present.

Samuel Otter, author of Philadelphia Stories: America's Literature of Race and Freedom

Containing work by some of the finest contemporary U.S. literary scholars, and by marshalling their insights toward a common goal—recuperating the aesthetic—this volume provokes an energetic critical conversation.

James Davis, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

This is a book that deserves to be read by all who are, like its contributors, 'disenchanted with disenchantment' and looking to formulate whatever might come next...

Jacob Brogan, College Literature

Ambitious... An invaluable read for students of American literature.

Wilson Kaiser, Edward Waters College, Journal of American Studies of Turkey
Introduction, by Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Part 1: Aesthetics and the Politics of Freedom

Liberty of the Imagination in Revolutionary America, by Edward Cahill
The Writing on the Wall: Revolutionary Aesthetics and Interior Spaces
Stephen Crane's Refrain, by Ivy G. Wilson
Lyric Citizenship in Post 9/11 Performance: Sekou Sundiata's the 51st (dream) state, by June Ellison

Part 2: Aesthetics and the Representation of Sexuality

Aesthetics Beyond the Actual: The Marble Faun and Romantic Sociability, Christopher Castiglia
Henry James, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and the Figure in the Carpet, by Dorri Beam
Sexuality's Aesthetic Dimension: Kant and the Autobiography of an Androgyne, by Christopher Looby
From Hawthorne to Hairspray: American Anxieties About Beauty, by Wendy Steiner

Part 3: Aesthetics and the Reading of Form

When is Now? Poe's Aesthetics of Temporality, by Cindy Weinstein
Reading in the Present Tense: Benito Cereno and the Time of Reading, by Trish Loughran
What Maggie Knew: Game Theory, The Golden Bowl, and the Critical Possibilities of Aesthetic Knowledge, by Jonathan Freedman with an addendum by Nan Zhang Da
Upon a Peak in Beinecke: The Beauty of the Book in the Poetry of Susan Howe, by Elisa New

Part 4: Aesthetics and the Question of Theory

Warped Conjunctions: Jacques Rancière and African American Twoness, by Nancy Bentley
Aesthetics and the New Ethics: Theorizing the Novel in the Twenty-First Century, by Dorothy Hale
Postwar Pastoral: The Art of Happiness in Philip Roth, by Mary Esteve
Perfect Is Dead: Karen Carpenter, Theodor Adorno, and the Radio; or, If Hooks Could Kill, by Eric Lott
Network Aesthetics: Juliana Spahr's The Transformation and Bruno Latour's Reassembling the Social, by Sianne Ngai


About the Author

Cindy Weinstein is professor of English at the California Institute of Technology and the author of The Literature of Labor and the Labors of Literature: Allegory in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction and Family, Kinship, and Sympathy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. She is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe and coeditor, with Peter Stoneley, of A Concise Companion to American Fiction, 1900–1950.

Christopher Looby is professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Voicing America: Language, Literary Form, and the Origins of the United States and editor of The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. With Christopher Castiglia, he is the coeditor of a special issue of ESQ on "New Approaches to Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century American Literature" and wrote the introduction to Robert Montgomery Bird's Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself.