Reconstituting the American Renaissance

Emerson, Whitman, and the Politics of Representation

Reconstituting the American Renaissance

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 4 illus., 1 map Published: July 2003

Author: Jay Grossman

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Challenging the standard periodization of American literary history, Reconstituting the American Renaissance reinterprets the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman and the relationship of these two authors to each other. Jay Grossman argues that issues of political representation—involving vexed questions of who shall speak and for whom—lie at the heart of American political and literary discourse from the revolutionary era through the Civil War. By taking the mid-nineteenth-century period, traditionally understood as marking the advent of literary writing in the United States, and restoring to it the ways in which Emerson and Whitman engaged with eighteenth-century controversies, rhetorics, and languages about political representation, Grossman departs significantly from arguments that have traditionally separated American writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Reconstituting the American Renaissance describes how Emerson and Whitman came into the period of their greatest productivity with different conceptions of the functions and political efficacy of the word in the world. It challenges Emerson’s position as Whitman’s necessary precursor and offers a cultural history that emphasizes the two writers’ differences in social class, cultural experience, and political perspective. In their writings between 1830 and 1855, the book finds contrasting conceptions of the relations between the “representative man” and the constituencies to whom, and for whom, he speaks. Reconstituting the American Renaissance opens up the canonical relationship between Emerson and Whitman and multiplies the historical and discursive contexts for understanding their published and unpublished works.


“Grossman’s emphasis on the class differences between these two writers provides an important corrective to the traditional view of their relationship, which acknowledges their disagreement about the body but otherwise emphasizes their similarities, especially on poetics.” — Mark Maslan , Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

“The periodization of U. S. literary history is not only the focus of Jay Grossman’s ambitious study, but it forms the essential framing device through which his provocative readings of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson occur.” — Christina Zwarg , Modern Philology

"[E]ssential reading for any Emerson or Whitman scholar." — Clare Elliott , Journal of American Studies

"[This book's] contribution lies in its understanding of the ambiguity of constitutional rhetoric and its compelling reading of nontotalizing, yet pivotal, episodes in the careers of Emerson and Whitman." — Vivian R. Pollak , American Literature

"Grossman is not the first author to explore the political and literary nuances of the American Renaissance, but his study is among the most innovative and refreshing. . . . Highly recommended." — D. D. Knight , Choice

"Grossman's perspective is intriguing because it is firmly situated in the new historicism. . . . [He] has much to teach us about ways of thinking about cultural expression during this period, particularly when he homes in on Emerson and Whitman. . . . [A]n important book." — Mary Kupiec Cayton, Journal of American History

"In his rethinking of Whitman and his relation to Emerson, Grossman points the way to a major revision of Matthiessen. Later readings of the period and its underpinnings will surely build on Grossman's foundation to complete his reconstitution of an American Renaissance." — David Van Leer, New England Quarterly

“Jay Grossman powerfully demonstrates how the linguistic cohabits with the political in two of the nineteenth century’s most provocative writers. Reconstituting the American Renaissance thoroughly restructures our understanding of the Emerson/Whitman relationship. Some key, long-held assumptions about these two writers will now have to be completely reconsidered in light of Grossman’s original and compelling critiques of all the familiar encounters between these literary giants.” — Ed Folsom, editor, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

"Reconstituting the American Renaissance will dramatically change the way scholars view the relationship of Whitman to Emerson and the character of their literary enterprises."
  — Jay Fliegelman, author of Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language and the Culture of Performance


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jay Grossman is Assistant Professor of English at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xi

Introduction: Representative Strategies 1

1. The Rise of the Representational Arts in the United States 28

2. Rereading Emerson/Whitman 75

3. Class Actions 116

4. Representing Men 161

Notes 207

Works Consulted 239

Index 263
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3116-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3129-2
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