Interior States

Institutional Consciousness and the Inner Life of Democracy in the Antebellum United States

Interior States

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: Published: November 2008

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In Interior States Christopher Castiglia focuses on U.S. citizens’ democratic impulse: their ability to work with others to imagine genuinely democratic publics while taking divergent views into account. Castiglia contends that citizens of the early United States were encouraged to locate this social impulse not in associations with others but in the turbulent and conflicted interiors of their own bodies. He describes how the human interior—with its battles between appetite and restraint, desire and deferral—became a displacement of the divided sociality of nineteenth-century America’s public sphere and contributed to the vanishing of that sphere in the twentieth century and the twenty-first. Drawing insightful connections between political structures, social relations, and cultural forms, he explains that as the interior came to reflect the ideological conflicts of the social world, citizens were encouraged to (mis)understand vigilant self-scrutiny and self-management as effective democratic action.

In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth, as discourses of interiority gained prominence, so did powerful counter-narratives. Castiglia reveals the flamboyant pages of antebellum popular fiction to be an archive of unruly democratic aspirations. Through close readings of works by Maria Monk and George Lippard, Walt Whitman and Timothy Shay Arthur, Hannah Webster Foster and Hannah Crafts, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, Castiglia highlights a refusal to be reformed or self-contained. In antebellum authors’ representations of nervousness, desire, appetite, fantasy, and imagination, he finds democratic strivings that refused to disappear. Taking inspiration from those writers and turning to the present, Castiglia advocates a humanism-without-humans that, denied the adjudicative power of interiority, promises to release democracy from its inner life and to return it to the public sphere where U.S. citizens may yet create unprecedented possibilities for social action.


Interior States is a welcome reading of antebellum literature and politics. It challenges antebellum literary scholars to recalibrate key terms like ‘nation’ and ‘institution’ (and the relation between them), and to do so in light of a rejuvenated attention to literary form. Perhaps most importantly, Interior States insists on the need both to theorize the relation of psychology to politics and to historicize the emergence of this intertwining in the new nation.” — Justine S. Murison, Criticism

“[An] energetic study. . . . [T[he strength of the book ultimately resides in Castiglia’s literary analyses, which span from Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette (1797) to well-known midcentury Transcendentalists including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. . . .” — Michael J. Drexler, Journal of American History

“Above all, Interior States shows, with wonderful clarity and scope, how the locale of social contestation came to be shifted, in America, from a volatile associational world to what was imagined into being as an unstable, nervous, divided, melancholy interior, ever in need of reform and management.” — Peter Coviello, MLQ

“Castiglia’s cultural criticism is exciting, suggesting illuminating applications to a host of antebellum texts beyond those he selected, including long-canonizedworks; Poe’s tales and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass come to mind. Theoretical implications also resonate to topics beyond American literary studiesdfor instance, reality TV, corporate personhood, conflict transformation, and the global overproduction of NGOs as placeholders for civil society.” — Janet Gray, Emotion, Space and Society

“Castiglia’s hybrid work crosses boundaries between fields as diverse as literature, politics, democratic philosophy, and psychology (individual and national). . . . Recommended.” — B. M. McNeal, Choice

“Christopher Castiglia’s Interior States: Institutional Consciousness and the Inner Life of Democracy in the Antebellum United States is noteworthy for its use of a Foucauldian critique of interiority to illustrate how privateness merges with the nascent ideals of the nation-state. Castiglia’s work will probably stand as the highwater mark for literary and cultural studies in this regard, bringing together the questions of personality, politics and affect (dis)orders of depression.” — Stephen Shapiro, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

Interior States rethinks the relation of identity and democracy in a dazzling exercise of literary criticism, social history, and political theory. Christopher Castiglia shows how the federal practice of democracy, in combination with developing institutions, did not squash so much as misplace democracy, relocating its performance from the sociality of exchange between citizens into the personal, bodily interior. Our nervous management of our own discordant identities sidetracks us from a richer, more inventively dissensual democratic practice. Castiglia explores a rich, interdisciplinary nineteenth-century archive that imagines alternative democracies and challenges readers to unfetter their imaginations in the service of more pleasurable, ‘post-interior’ democratic association.” — Dana D. Nelson, co-editor of Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics

“This book combines scope and depth in a way that will remind readers of some of the classics—F. O. Matthiessen, Leo Marx, Ann Douglas, Jane Tompkins. In a book propelled by wonderful writing, Christopher Castiglia illuminates the extent to which the self-declared greatest democracy of world history has struggled to be democratic institutionally. His call for a ‘post-interior humanism’ gains real urgency from an account of a centuries-old impasse in American life that readers will remember long after they have finished the book.” — Christopher Newfield, author of The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christopher Castiglia is Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst and a co-editor of Walt Whitman’s temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Interiority and the Problem of Misplaced Democracy 1

1. "Matters of Internal Concern": Federal Affect and the Melancholy Citizen 17

2. Bad Associations: Sociality, Interiority, Institutionalism 60

3. Abolition's Racial Interiors and White Civic Depth 101

4. Ardent Spirits: Intemperate Sociality and the Inner Life of Capital 136

5. Anxiety, Desire, and the Nervous State 168

6. Between Consciousness and Revolution: Romanticism and Racial Interiority 216

7. "I Want My Happiness!": Alienated Affections, Queer Sociality, and the Marvelous Interiors of the American Romance 256

Epilogue. Humanism without Humans: The Possibilities of Post-Interior Democracy 294

Notes 305

References 351

Index 363
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4267-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4244-1
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