The Body of Property

Antebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession

Author: Chad Luck

Publisher: Fordham Univ Press

ISBN: 0823263010

Category: Literary Criticism

Page: 312

View: 6709


What does it mean to own something? How does a thing become mine? Liberal philosophy since John Locke has championed the salutary effects of private property but has avoided the more difficult questions of property’s ontology. Chad Luck argues that antebellum American literature is obsessed with precisely these questions. Reading slave narratives, gothic romances, city-mystery novels, and a range of other property narratives, Luck unearths a wide-ranging literary effort to understand the nature of ownership, the phenomenology of possession. In these antebellum texts, ownership is not an abstract legal form but a lived relation, a dynamic of embodiment emerging within specific cultural spaces—a disputed frontier, a city agitated by class conflict. Luck challenges accounts that map property practice along a trajectory of abstraction and “virtualization.” The book also reorients recent Americanist work in emotion and affect by detailing a broader phenomenology of ownership, one extending beyond emotion to such sensory experiences as touch, taste, and vision. This productive blend of phenomenology and history uncovers deep-seated anxieties—and enthusiasms—about property across antebellum culture.

Novels in the Time of Democratic Writing

The American Example

Author: Nancy Armstrong,Leonard Tennenhouse

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press

ISBN: 0812294610

Category: Literary Criticism

Page: 264

View: 3368


During the thirty years following ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first American novelists carried on an argument with their British counterparts that pitted direct democracy against representative liberalism. Such writers as Hannah Foster, Isaac Mitchell, Royall Tyler, Leonore Sansay, and Charles Brockden Brown developed a set of formal tropes that countered, move for move, those gestures and conventions by which Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and others created their closed worlds of self, private property, and respectable society. The result was a distinctively American novel that generated a system of social relations resembling today's distributed network. Such a network operated counter to the formal protocols that later distinguished the great tradition of the American novel. In Novels in the Time of Democratic Writing, Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse show how these first U.S. novels developed multiple paths to connect an extremely diverse field of characters, redefining private property as fundamentally antisocial and setting their protagonists to the task of dispersing that property—its goods and people—throughout the field of characters. The populations so reorganized proved suddenly capable of thinking and acting as one. Despite the diverse local character of their subject matter and community of readers, the first U.S. novels delivered this argument in a vernacular style open and available to all. Although it differed markedly from the style we attribute to literary authors, Armstrong and Tennenhouse argue, such democratic writing lives on in the novels of Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, and James.

Haunted Property

Slavery and the Gothic

Author: Sarah Gilbreath Ford

Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

ISBN: 1496829735

Category: Literary Criticism

Page: 248

View: 9300


At the heart of America’s slave system was the legal definition of people as property. While property ownership is a cornerstone of the American dream, the status of enslaved people supplies a contrasting American nightmare. Sarah Gilbreath Ford considers how writers in works from nineteenth-century slave narratives to twenty-first-century poetry employ gothic tools, such as ghosts and haunted houses, to portray the horrors of this nightmare. Haunted Property: Slavery and the Gothic thus reimagines the southern gothic, which has too often been simply equated with the macabre or grotesque and then dismissed as regional. Although literary critics have argued that the American gothic is driven by the nation’s history of racial injustice, what is missing in this critical conversation is the key role of property. Ford argues that out of all of slavery’s perils, the definition of people as property is the central impetus for haunting because it allows the perpetration of all other terrors. Property becomes the engine for the white accumulation of wealth and power fueled by the destruction of black personhood. Specters often linger, however, to claim title, and Ford argues that haunting can be a bid for property ownership. Through examining works by Harriet Jacobs, Hannah Crafts, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Sherley Anne Williams, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, and Natasha Trethewey, Ford reveals how writers can use the gothic to combat legal possession with spectral possession.