Estranged affections: Literary writing and the public sphere in Poe, Emerson, and Melville
Norberg, Peter C.
Minter, David L.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the influence of romantic aesthetics on the development of literary writing as a profession in America during the 1840s and 1850s. In opposition to the new historical claim that literary texts are purely reflective of the ideological presuppositions of the culture in which they were written, my analysis demonstrates how literary writing can function as an effective means of cultural transformation. By examining how Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Herman Melville, respectively, take up romantic aesthetics in their work, I advance a materialist theory of history that is better suited to the study of culture in a democracy. Unlike the new historical approach to cultural analysis, which interprets historical change with reference to market forces that are thought to be rationally determinate, the materialist approach to cultural analysis I develop understands historical change to proceed via the pragmatic construction of overdetermined social identities that are written in response to changing cultural circumstances. Although this materialist approach requires critics to abandon the project of writing a total and complete history of American cultural life, it is better suited for cultural analysis in a democracy because it insists that we--not some transhistorical force like the market--bear the responsibility for determining our relation to our culture.
American studies; American literature