Integrating an Intertextuality and Postcolonial Study of American Transcendentalist Literature

As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Authors, more than kings, exert influence on mankind” (73). When Thoreau published these words, he was not pontificating about his own prowess as a writer; instead, he was attempting to articulate the importance and impact of all writers, books, and written language.  Certainly, Thoreau, along with other American transcendental philosophers, had experienced the magnificent power of learning via literature; in fact, the knowledge he gained through reading must have kindled some of the ideas he would eventually publish for others to imbibe.  With this assertion in mind, and using the method of TEXTUAL ANALYSIS, I propose to perform an INTERTEXTUALITY study between American transcendental literature and philosophical literature from earlier time periods and varying cultures.  Although Emerson and Thoreau, the two authors who fashioned my paramount objects of study, gave the impression that they were speaking as individuals, intertextual analysis realizes that texts are created “out of the sea of former texts” (Bazerman 83).  While Bazerman’s overview of intertextuality focuses on the explicit and implicit relations that texts possess, the varying levels of intertextuality also come into play, many of which play into the roles of transcendental writing: drawing explicit social dramas, using statements as background, support, and contrast, and relying on preconceived beliefs and ideas (87).

Since societal problems, philosophies, and beliefs have been promulgated for centuries, I feel that there are myriad connections between transcendental works and literature published prior.  I have no doubts that many of the transcendentalists’ ideas were novel; however, it is also evident that writers like Emerson and Thoreau placed old ideas into a new context, thus exhibiting various forms of recontextualization.  Previous studies have been conducted regarding the foundation of American transcendental thought, yet most of these investigations link Emerson to English Renaissance writers, Wordsworth, or other romantic writings from Europe.  Meanwhile, Thoreau’s basis in transcendental thought resides with Emerson, his mentor.  These types of studies are factual and sometimes painstaking, but they also seem to posit significantly recognizable information, for there are plenty of journals and other published accounts where Emerson and Thoreau articulate the origins of some of their fundamental philosophies.  Nevertheless, my research will venture to uncover similar concepts in texts written in numerous time periods and places, texts that may or may not have been encountered by Thoreau or Emerson.  Instead of focusing on romantic or renaissance writings, the majority of my studies will reflect writings from the English Restoration, English Reformation, Age of Reason, and the Puritans.  While some scholars have made subtle connections between American transcendentalism and English Reformation/Puritan writings, I plan to enhance these studies by looking specifically at works by Samuel Johnson and Jonathan Edwards.  Moreover, I intend to link some of the ideas posed by the transcendentalists to the notions disseminated by Thomas Paine, a more unique study that will combine reason with romance. As Rebecca Gould writes, transcendentalists felt that knowledge should be divided between the concept of understanding through rational reflections and the process of reason, which transcendentalists feel is an inherent human gift that every person should nurture (1653).  This evidence promoting the importance of reason among transcendentalists should assist in connecting Paine’s writings with those of Emerson and Thoreau.

In attempting this enterprise, I already realize that I will encroach into areas that are already hazy, probably making them cloudier on occasion.  For example, one of the major debates among scholars of American transcendentalism and textual analysis concentrates on examining American transcendentalism’s identity.  This involves where the transcendentalists received their inspiration, but more importantly, the debates focus on reasons behind the movement and a proper labeling of the movement.  My loyalties lie with critics like Fulton and Osgood, scholars who adamantly oppose the view that American transcendentalism is just a Lockean revolt (Fulton 392).  Likewise, these scholars are apt to believe that the American movement was mostly conceived as a rebirth of the European Renaissance/Restoration (390).  Of course, this is one area where I will slightly disagree, since I plan to research origins also associated with the Age of Reason and Puritanism.  As for the other side of the debate spectrum, I will not accept Matthiessen’s sweeping notion that the American transcendental movement was its own innovative entity and not a rebirth from other climes (Fulton 384).

Although I disagree with Matthiessen’s claim regarding American transcendentalism, I do agree with his identification of the NEW CRITICISM as a mode of study that combines cultural and historical attributes (Graff 217).  On the surface, this might not seem pertinent to my intertextuality study; however, without the New Criticism, transcendental studies may not have experienced its rebirth among critics.  While many New Critics sought to separate history from literature, others, like Matthiessen, helped fashion the cultural and historical methods so predominant today.  Still, American transcendentalism’s place within the New Criticism is murky and contradictory.  Since there appears to be a drastic increase in transcendental studies in the 1930s, this seems to coincide with the spawning of the New Criticism (Paine 631).  Nevertheless, it must still be noted that the New Critics showed contempt for any writings that were academic and political, yet this same movement promoted writers like Melville and Thoreau (Graff 213).  Hashing out these apparent contradictions will be integral when I conduct my study, and in order to fulfill the final phase of my scholarly study it will be vital to identify Thoreau and Emerson as valid authors relevant to New Criticism’s scope, for this will promote my perspective that recognizes American transcendentalist literature as being worthy of postcolonial analysis.

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POSTCOLONIAL theory and American transcendental writings are rarely tied to one another, but I see great potential and merit to an examination that links the two.  Booker’s definition of postcolonial theory, which is referenced in English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s), is as follows: “Postcolonial theory arises in a cultural context informed by the attempt to build a new hybrid culture that transcends the past but still draws on the vestigial echoes of precolonial culture, the remnants of the colonial culture, and the continuing legacy of traditions of anticolonial resistance” (McComiskey 255). After all, as my intertextuality research will show, transcendentalist writers do indeed draw on past cultures while integrating a framework for a new culture.  Furthermore, Renu Jeneja describes postcolonial literatures as works that alter a person’s way of thinking about two different cultures (65).  Since this is the case, I see no viable argument against joining these two areas of study, for I agree with the majority of critics who articulate the fact that postcolonial studies should focus on domineered cultures and those individuals who are forced to succumb to society’s whims and colonialism’s influence.  Essentially, I see the transcendentalists as a minority, a small group of people who are trying to fight against colonialism’s impact while establishing their own unique hybrid culture.  Meanwhile, it must be noted that some connections between transcendentalist works and postcolonialism have been conducted, but these studies tend to reflect feminist theory based around the works of Margaret Fuller, the most prominent female transcendentalist who published feminist literature in The Dial, which was the Transcendentalist Club’s magazine (Miller 120).  Instead of this tactic, I will continue to examine Thoreau and Emerson through the postcolonial lens.  While performing this study, I will align myself with Marek Paryz, one of the few scholars to publish a study devoted to transcendentalism and postcolonialism.  Published in 2012, Paryz’s book analyzes postcolonial aspects found in Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman; in fact, Paryz clearly expresses Thoreau’s postcolonial position through his notions of living in an inescapable empire (100).

Click on Paryz's book to view the table of contents and full-text Ebook version. *ODU login will be required.
Click on Paryz’s book to view the table of contents and full-text Ebook version. *ODU login will be required.

While I realize the magnitude of my entire study is immense and challenging, I also realize that it may be even more demanding to package everything together in a cohesive manner.  In order to even attempt this rigorous endeavor it will be essential to understand all of my potential objects of study, whether they are works by Emerson, Thoreau, Edwards, Paine, Johnson, or even Paryz.  Along with understanding these works, comprehending the theories prevalent during these publications’ time periods and the historical influences associated with the philosophies contained within will need to take precedence.  No doubt, this will not be easy, for there will be myriad genres covered in the study: philosophical fiction, classic fiction, memoirs, essays, autobiographies, and narrative nonfiction.  Aside from the various theories associated with each genre, accruing professional knowledge through associations will be imperative. For example, joining groups such as the Thoreau Society, the American Philosophical Association, and the Thomas Paine National Historical Association could all prove beneficial, for each of these organizations promote publications and offer valuable professional conferences that are worth attending.  Even though I am aware of the prospective challenges this study holds, perhaps my biggest concern involves potential biases that I possess.  Overall, I place great credence in the philosophies implemented by the American transcendentalists, but I need to make sure that my biases do not affect the true nature of my study.  Most importantly, while researching, I need to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if the ideas articulated by the American transcendentalists were original or not.  I don’t need to place Emerson and Thoreau upon a pedestal; instead, I need to find out where their brilliant ideas originated, for the philosophies are most significant, not the men or cultures from where they came.

Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles, and Paul Prior, eds. What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction   to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,   2004. Print.

Fulton, Joe B. “Reason for Renaissance: The Rhetoric of Reformation and Rebirth in the Age of     Transcendentalism.” The New England Quarterly 80.3 (2007): 383-407. JSTOR. Web. 21 October 2016.

Gould, Rebecca Kneale. “Transcendentalism.” Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. ed. Bron Taylor. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2010, Print.

Graff, Gerald.  “The Promise of American Literature Studies.”   Professing Literature: An Institutional History.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, pp. 209-25.  Print.

Juneja, Renu. “Pedagogy of Difference.” College Teaching 41.2 (1993): 64-70. EBSCOhost: Education Research Complete. Web. 18 October 2016.

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. Print.

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the             Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

Paine, Gregory. “Trends in American Literary Scholarship with Reviews of Some Recent Books.” Studies in Philology 29.4 (1932): 630-43. JSTOR. Web. 28 October 2016.

Paryz, Marek. The Postcolonial and Imperial Experience in American Transcendentalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Ebook Library. Web. 24 October 2016.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Other Writings. ed. William Rossi. New York: Norton, 2008. Print.

Analyzing Emerson and Thoreau’s Writings to Answer Major Questions in Transcendental Studies

Since my research in the field of AMERICAN LITERATURE focuses distinctly on writing from the AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISTS, the objects of study are condensed to writings created during a span of only a few years.  While this may seem like a relatively small body of time and work, there are still immense literary annals devoted to writers from this period of time who dabbled with transcendental philosophies.  Writers such as Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Theodore Parker, and even Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman, all published works of transcendental literature; however, my explicit study focuses on RALPH WALDO EMERSON and HENRY DAVID THOREAU’S contributions.  Historically, these two men produced the most essential works of transcendental literature, so their writings represent the most widely accepted objects of study in relation to American transcendental studies.  Even more specifically, my study looks at Emerson and Thoreau’s political works, and many of these works can be found in the Transcendentalist Club’s distinct publication, THE DIAL, where the transcendentalists were able to “communicate and exert their influence” from 1840-1844 (Gould 1652).

Click on the image of Thoreau and Emerson to learn more about the Association for Global New Thought.
Click on the image of Thoreau and Emerson to learn more about the Association for Global New Thought.

When scholars analyze Emerson and Thoreau’s political essays and other literary contributions, there are myriad studies performed.  Many scholars choose to analyze specific essays in order to identify contradictions, paradoxes, and incongruities among Emerson or Thoreau’s ideas.  For example, Shawn St. Jean examined Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government,” “Slavery in Massachusetts,” and the John Brown essays in order to deviate from normal perceptions and show that Thoreau actually shows consistency in his beliefs, even if those beliefs are altered by political and social upheavals (354).  Meanwhile, although analyzing each writer’s potential inconsistencies is a common mode of study, there are plenty of other critics who analyze the writings of the time period in order to show how transcendental literature relates to other historic movements in the United States and the rest of the world.  Myriad critics link America’s period of transcendentalism to the European Renaissance, England’s Restoration, America’s Southern Renaissance, or the Puritan influence, yet others see America’s renaissance as its own unique entity, one that is a revolt or completely groundbreaking in its approach.  Nevertheless, after reviewing a majority of the objects of study, the more collective opinion is that the transcendentalist age was not a birth; instead, it was a renaissance that gathered inspiration from numerous previous ages while generating some of its own novel nuances (Fulton 407).

While some of these areas may be touched upon in my own research, my primary goal is to analyze Emerson and Thoreau’s works from a POSTCOLONIAL standpoint. While performing this research, looking at transcendental literature through a CULTURAL STUDIES lens is required.  Since cultural/postcolonial studies are tied to the inception of the NEW CRITICISM in America, analyzing the transcendental works to identify how they fit into the New Criticism approach is necessary.  Furthermore, in order to accomplish these tasks, the importance of the history of American literature studies also needs to be addressed to show how transcendental studies can help answer some of the major questions posed by scholars of both postcolonial and New Criticism studies.  One of the major questions related to the New Criticism focuses on what works of literature were revived after WWI.  As Gregory Paine notes, Emerson and Thoreau were two of the authors whose works rose in the “literary firmament” during the 1930s (631).  This augmentation fits well with the New Criticism’s objectives to become a cultural and historical method where continuity could be charted in literary traditions in writings from the Puritans, Transcendentalists, and Romantics (Graff 217).

While this connection between the New Criticism, the Transcendentalists, and cultural studies may seem obvious, the inclusion of transcendental studies is often debated.  Graff continues by noting that New Criticism’s emergence created a revival in unpopular writers like Melville and Thoreau, for the critics were attempting to scorn everything academic (213).  The main hurdle here is that Emerson and Thoreau’s political works were often viewed by many scholars as primarily academic, and a major question as to transcendentalism’s place as a conservative or liberal movement must be posed.  Obviously, most critics refer to the movement as liberal; however, certain elements of Emerson’s writings in particular display more conservative approaches that are unique but not radical.  As Thomas P. Miller writes, “The New Criticism was instrumental in distancing literary studies from the more politically engaged schools of criticism that were popular in the Progressive era—those of “Leftists, or Proletarians…” (162). Miller’s statement muddies the water further, for it seems nearly impossible that the New Criticism can praise Thoreau while having contempt for academic and political literature.

The connections between the New Criticism and American transcendentalism are quite hazy, but most scholars find or consider major connections between transcendentalism and postcolonial studies.  According to Kropf, “American literature, in contrast and uniquely among national literatures, defines itself according to geographical and political criteria” (21).  This is precisely what transcendentalist writings do, and postcolonial studies remain part of this realm too.  Perhaps Renu Juneja sums up postcolonial studies best when she says, “This is a literature that veritably forces on our consciousness, and at all various levels, the fact that ways of thinking are altered by this contact between two different cultures” (65). While this summation clearly articulates the value of postcolonial studies, it can simultaneously be used to define exactly what transcendental writers like Emerson and Thoreau endeavored to accomplish.

Works Cited

Fulton, Joe B. “Reason for Renaissance: The Rhetoric of Reformation and Rebirth in the Age of     Transcendentalism.” The New England Quarterly 80.3 (2007): 383-407. JSTOR. Web. 21 October 2016.

Gould, Rebecca Kneale. “Transcendentalism.” Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. ed. Bron      Taylor. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2010, Print.

Graff, Gerald.  “The Promise of American Literature Studies.”   Professing Literature: An Institutional History.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, pp. 209-25.  Print.

Juneja, Renu. “Pedagogy of Difference.” College Teaching 41.2 (1993): 64-70. EBSCOhost: Education Research Complete. Web. 18 October 2016.

Kropf, Carl R. “The Nationalistic Criticism of Early American Literature.” Early American Literature 18.1 (1983): 17-30. JSTOR. Web. 13 September 2016.

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the             Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

Paine, Gregory. “Trends in American Literary Scholarship with Reviews of Some Recent Books.” Studies in Philology 29.4 (1932): 630-43. JSTOR. Web. 28 October 2016.

St. Jean, Shawn. “Thoreau’s Radical Consistency.” Massachusetts Review 39.3 (1998): 341-57. JSTOR. Web. 24 October 2016.

Transcendental Theories Pervading the Field of Study

Although there are myriad theories associated with the study of AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISM, two of the most prevalent theories used to generate knowledge in the field focus on apparent contradictions found in transcendental writings and the transcendental period’s existence as it relates to the past, present, and future.  Typically, both of these studies center on the two most illustrious writers of the time, RALPH WALDO EMERSON and HENRY DAVID THOREAU.  Using the political and philosophical writings of these two men, along with records of their political oratories, these objects of study are paramount in order to emphasize and extend theoretical frameworks.   While using these objects of study to generate knowledge, various stances have been established among critics, trends have been identified, and connections to American literature’s history have become evident.

Studies of the transcendental period ebb and flow, for there have been times in history where transcendental criticism has been conspicuously absent and other moments where numerous studies have been conducted.  Joe B. Fulton notes that there have always been informed discussions about transcendentalism’s influence ever since the TRANSCENDENTAL CLUB’S first meeting in 1836 (383).  However, as Gregory Paine indicates, the magnitude of transcendental studies is not always abundant, and the area of study begins to excel after WWI (631).  Of course, this is not surprising, considering that all studies in American literature also exploded after the war.  One valuable study, conducted by F.O. Matthiessen in 1941, helped shape the theoretical framework of transcendental criticism.  When researching Thoreau’s writings, which became a source of “critical bemusement and controversy in America since interest in them revived” early in the twentieth century, Matthiessen reflected on the writings’ contradictions and causal relationship to the past (St. Jean 341).  In his work, Matthiessen mentioned, but blatantly avoided, in-depth analysis of Thoreau’s paradoxes of social thought; however, this avoidance instigated a range of responses and studies.  “Later critics have been less gun-shy, but Matthiessen’s crisp assessment of Thoreau’s incongruity has defined a central point of contention among their analysis of the work that comprises Thoreau’s political canon” (St. Jean 341).

Click on the image of Thoreau's works of literature and navigate the Thoreau Society's website.
Click on the image of Thoreau’s works of literature and navigate through the Thoreau Society’s website.

While studying Thoreau’s works, a majority of scholars have accepted and advanced a theory articulating Thoreau’s contradictions; for example, even his individual works have been labeled as a “tissue of self-contradiction” (St. Jean).  This more authoritative view seems to make sense, for as Gregory Paine concedes, ignorance abounds because there are so many fascinating paradoxes about Thoreau, not just in his writings, but the man, too (632).  Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, critics like St. Jean feel like a majority of scholars prefer to call Thoreau inconsistent rather than focusing on how he maintains his overall philosophies while adjusting to certain scenarios (350).  Nevertheless, Thoreau is not the only writer of the time period whose work is analyzed to identify apparent contradictions, for Emerson can often be evaluated in the same manner, and even the whole concept of transcendentalism can be hazy at times.  For instance, one critic, Professor Gohdes, presented his analyses of transcendental principles, but he was confused by the numerous definitions of the movement; therefore, he articulated that transcendentalism was not primarily a philosophy or a reform, just a spiritual attitude and new school of thought that emphasized leaders and activities (Paine 639-40).  Gohdes, like numerous other scholars, contemplates the transcendental period’s existence as it relates to the past, present, and future.

Attempting to define transcendentalism and its philosophies is the other paramount focus of study worth noting; the theories associated with whether transcendentalism mimics the past or whether it is its own novel entity help contribute to the field of study as a whole.  Looking back at Matthiessen, he theorized that the New England philosophical movement produced its own renaissance (Fulton 384).  However, this theory is the antithesis of what a majority of critics endorse; in fact, the more authoritative approach is that transcendentalism sparked a rebirth of the European Reformation and Renaissance (Fulton 390).  Even though this stance takes precedence among critics, other scholars identify the transcendental movement as a revolt against Lockean Philosophy, a revolution against American values, or a mystical evolution (Pendery 53).

For further information regarding John Locke's philosophies and literary contributions, click his image.
For further information regarding John Locke’s philosophies and literary contributions, click his image.

Essentially, some scholars look deeper into other cultures of the past in order to theorize about American transcendentalism, some look at solely American influences, such as the Puritans, some focus specifically on the time period when the transcendentalist thinkers thrived, and others examine and compare future resurgences that took place after transcendental principles dissipated. Identifying how the New England movement impacted future renaissances has been most commonly studied in the last decade; for example, some critics value MARGARET FULLER’S contributions to the transcendental movement as essential precursors to the Feminist movement (Miller 102).  Meanwhile, David Pendery has analyzed the connections between the transcendentalism’s initial “American Renaissance” and the twentieth-century “Nashville Agrarian Southern Renaissance” (41).  As indicated, the theories and methods utilized to generate knowledge in the field of American transcendental studies may vary; however, they have generated authoritative trends, reflected on a variety of histories, and have continuously scoped Emerson and Thoreau’s works as the primary objects of study.

Works Cited

Fulton, Joe B. “Reason for Renaissance: The Rhetoric of Reformation and Rebirth in the Age of     Transcendentalism.” The New England Quarterly 80.3 (2007): 383-407. JSTOR. Web. 21 October 2016.

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the             Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

Paine, Gregory. “Trends in American Literary Scholarship with Reviews of Some Recent Books.” Studies in Philology 29.4 (1932): 630-43. JSTOR. Web. 28 October 2016.

Pendery, David. “A Comparative Study of Two American Cultural Renaissances.” Fu Jen            Studies: Literature & Linguistics 47 (2014): 39-60. Gale: Literature Resource Center.  Web. 28 October 2016.

St. Jean, Shawn. “Thoreau’s Radical Consistency.” Massachusetts Review 39.3 (1998): 341-57. JSTOR. Web. 24 October 2016.

PAB Entry #8: “Thoreau’s Radical Consistency”

St. Jean, Shawn. “Thoreau’s Radical Consistency.” Massachusetts Review 39.3 (1998): 341-57.  JSTOR. Web. 24 October 2016.

For more than a century, critics of the AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISTS have debated and scrutinized the consistency of the writers’ philosophies and arguments.  While some scholars often portray writers such as EMERSON and THOREAU as hypocritical, others venture to examine their seemingly hypocritical statements and connect these ideas with each Transcendentalist’s methodology in order to create consonance between one statement and another.  Shawn St. Jean represents the later, and his essay seeks to articulate the consistency of Thoreau’s political stances, even if these stances seem contradictory on the surface.  The methods St. Jean uses in order to advance his study include a meticulous scoping of three of Thoreau’s key political writings, a firm commitment to establishing and maintaining Thoreau’s ideals, and an emphasis on some opposing critics’ theories regarding Thoreau’s probable intentions.

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St. Jean begins his essay by pointing out how critics in the early part of the twentieth century tended to avoid the topic of potential contradiction and paradox found in Thoreau’s philosophical/polotical work; however, critics in the later part of the century have been apt to denote Thoreau’s incongruities (341).  According to St. Jean, critics often fail in their assessments of Thoreau’s inconsistencies; he feels that these perceived contradictions do not exist when the debate is redirected through the understanding of Thoreau’s own transcendental point of view (342).  Using Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government,” “Slavery in Massachusetts,” and three essays about John Brown, St. Jean identifies how Thoreau never fundamentally deviates from his agenda to avoid violence while seeking to establish reform and political radicalism.  Overall, St. Jean notes, “Critics have, I believe, preferred to call Thoreau inconsistent rather than deal with the (to them, painful and embarrassing) fact that Thoreau himself never acted on his own endorsement of violence” (350).  St. Jean consistently reports that Thoreau always maintained his philosophical framework, which reflected personal principles that people may enact, not endorsements for violence.  This is the case even when Thoreau may have subtly declared that violence might be the only answer to solve America’s problems.

This collection of Thoreau's essays contains each of the political works referenced in St. Jean's essay.
This collection of Thoreau’s essays contains each of the political works referenced in St. Jean’s essay.

As far as America’s problems are concerned, the paramount concern for Thoreau involved slavery.  Like the other transcendental writers, Thoreau felt that “all avenues to protect the rights of blacks, short of civil war, should be exhausted before that final [violent] option is adopted” (353).  Emerson and Thoreau always attempted to make this priority known through their lectures and political writings.  Emerson, in particular, endeavored to speak from the “heartfelt experience of a common person,” successfully articulating his points to “every dimension of American culture” (Miller 96).  Likewise, Thoreau was able to express his thoughts and agenda toward the common man and the common good, and these political ideals, according to St. Jean, did not waver from his philosophies. For example, as St. Jean writes, “His [Thoreau’s] own ‘civil disobedience’ in not paying the poll tax and John Brown’s raids, in Thoreau’s mind, were only the extreme ends of a continuum defined by respect for individual human rights above all” (353).  Taken from this key perspective, Thoreau’s continuity and authenticity do not deserve to be questioned.

Additional Sources:

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the             Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

*To view the full text version of St. Jean’s essay, click the link below (ODU login will be necessary):

http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/stable/pdf/25091451.pdf

PAB Entry #7: “Reason for a Renaissance: The Rhetoric of Reformation and Rebirth in the Age of Transcendentalism”

Fulton, Joe B. “Reason for Renaissance: The Rhetoric of Reformation and Rebirth in the Age of     Transcendentalism.” The New England Quarterly 80.3 (2007): 383-407. JSTOR. Web. 21 October 2016.

Although recent essays from class have warned against the dangers of applying specific definitions to fields of study like technical writing and technical communication, there are many areas in literary studies where seemingly insignificant definitions are vital.  Fulton’s essay thoroughly examines the term RENAISSANCE, focusing on how the word and its definition have been applied to AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISM since and during the New England movement that arose in the 1830s. According to Fulton, many critics attribute the coining of the idiom American renaissance to F.O. Matthiessen, and while Matthiessen actually only adopted the transcendentalists’ term, he ended up redefining it, thus “distorting its original meaning” (383-84).  Essentially, Matthiessen described the transcendental era, “Not as a re-birth of values that had existed previously in America, but as America’s way of producing a renaissance, by coming to its first maturity and affirming its rightful heritage in the whole expanse of art and culture” (Fulton 384).  Matthiessen’s wording ended up sparking a debate about whether the transcendentalists’ renaissance was original, borrowed from other cultures and countries, or borrowed from colonial America.

The methodology deployed by most scholars to investigate and articulate the true meaning of renaissance, as it relates to American Transcendentalism, blatantly disregards Matthiessen’s definition and perspective.  Some critics, such as Barrett Wendell, are apt to say that the philosophical thinkers from New England clearly descended from the Puritans, people who also wished to integrate new religious principles (Fulton 386).  Likewise, Osgood notes that transcendentalism sparked a “Renaissance,” a “new Puritan life,” and “a revival of culture in New England” that stirred the old theocracy into new life (Fulton 392).  On the surface, it may seem like the American Puritan and American Transcendentalist connection is minimal; after all, as Miller articulates, “Puritans were Dissenters who could not tolerate dissent,” and they felt that it was sinful to “engage in debates with the unorthodox because the truth is not open to question (28-29).  Whereas the Puritans were relatively closed-minded religious individuals, the American Transcendentalists engaged in the unorthodox in an attempt to evaluate and identify a possible truth.

Some literary critics have identified a variety of connections between the Puritans and the Transcendentalists. This book, found on Amazon.com, identifies similar rhetorical and literary aspects between the two time periods of American literary history.
Some literary critics have identified a variety of connections between the Puritans and the Transcendentalists. This book, found on Amazon.com, identifies similar rhetorical and literary aspects between the two time periods of American literary history.

However, despite the different philosophies, Puritans and American Transcendentalists did share initial concepts of breaking away from the past.  While this American renaissance version is promoted by some scholars, others look toward earlier periods of rebirth such as the English Renaissance and Reformation.  As Fulton notes, “American transcendentalists hearkened back to a time in which the conceptual pair Reformation—Renaissance imagined a ‘new age’ in the past.  In this sense, then, the American renaissance might more accurately be termed the re-Renaissance or the American re-Reformation” (391).  No matter what definition is attached to America’s renaissance from the 1830s-1860s, the basis for Fulton’s argument is that Matthiessen’s use of the term was inaccurate.  Most scholars agree that a renaissance was not produced in America, for a renaissance is a rebirth; therefore, is must reflect some level of replication.  As Fulton concludes, “For the transcendentalists, however, their age was not a birth, not a naissance, but a rebirth—a renaissance… Looking toward that previous age, they took inspiration from it, set their mission by it, and used its rhetoric to publish their beliefs to the wider world” (407.

Additional Sources:

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the             Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

*To view the full text version of Fulton’s essay, click the link below (ODU login will be necessary):

http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/stable/pdf/20474554.pdf

 

 

Personal and Professional Epistemological Alignments

Although I have yet to encounter a specific epistemology that completely defines my theoretic stance, there are fragments from other epistemologies that I can weave together in order to create my own unique framework.  As a proponent of the AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISTS from the mid-nineteenth century, I align with their basic philosophies promoting individualism and resistance to norms.  Essentially, the Transcendentalists focused on “shaping life according to individually discerned aesthetic and spiritual priorities, rather than those of social convention or the marketplace” (Gould 1652-53).  While there are myriad facets to the philosophies of the American Transcendentalists, three aspects are more important to my theoretical stance than others: reason, religion, and the self.

Click on the image of the Transcendentalists to read more about their philosophies at VCU's Web of American Transcendentalism.
Click on the image of the Transcendentalists to read more about their philosophies at VCU’s Web of American Transcendentalism.

As Gould denotes, “In terms of epistemology, the Transcendentalists resisted Locke’s empiricist approach, which proposed that knowledge comes from sense experiences which are impressed on the waiting mind just as words are written on a blank slate” (1653).  Instead of aligning with Locke’s theories, the Transcendentalists felt that knowledge should be divided between the concept of understanding through rational reflections and the process of reason, which Transcendentalists feel is an inherent human gift that every person should nurture (Gould 1653).  Meanwhile, regarding spiritual beliefs, the Transcendentalists were apt to reject all orthodox religions; however, they believed in a divine Creator while discarding the notion of the possibility of divine miracles (Gould 1653). Overall, Transcendentalists make decisions and exist through the impact of the spiritual world emanating around them, not through preconceived norms established by society.

The Transcendentalists’ lack of conformity attempted to unseat norms that had been traditional in the past, especially during America’s colonial period.  This is particularly true regarding the perception of religion in America, a tradition firmly established by the Puritans.  Thomas P. Miller is quick to point out that the most valued forms of literacy in American during the last three centuries have evolved from religious literature (15). Examining the previous perceptions of religion in America is one of the best ways to identify how Transcendentalists sought to avoid conformity.  While the Transcendentalists rejected orthodox religion and dismissed divine miracles, the Puritans endeavored to satiate God’s will and were apt to look at all historical events and daily occurrences as providential signs (Hagenbuchle 127).  I offer this example, which is one of many possibilities, in order to make a case for combining the Transcendentalists’ epistemology with a more prominent theory of criticism: POSTCOLONIALISM.

Postcolonial studies tend to assess colonialism’s influence on dominated cultures and groups in society, and this is most clearly evident in African American, Feminist, and Native studies.  One scholar of Native American studies, Dr. Drew Lopenzina, looks to examine major questions in his field by focusing on how the colonial period expressed individual and cultural agency through Western notions of writing; furthermore, in order to help accomplish this mission, he doesn’t look at colonial literature that describes Native Americans.  Instead, his task is to look at what Natives themselves said about the colonial time period in order to truly “investigate Native communities and how their accounts contradict white men, thus establishing a new coherence about the true native agenda” (Lopenzina).  Dr. Lopenzina’s epistemology aligns with established researchers like Robert Warrior.  Shari Huhndorf articulates Warrior’s perspective by documenting his perseverance in developing a Native school of thought where Native Americans “stand at the helm of their own intellectual and academic destiny” (1618).  These types of perspectives may not seem to contribute to a merging of transcendental and postcolonial studies, but my proposal does possess merit.

Even though most scholars define postcolonial theory as the study of the power relations between Western nations and the territories they colonize, Booker’s definition, which is referenced in English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s), takes on a slightly different scope.  According to Booker, “Postcolonial theory arises in a cultural context informed by the attempt to build a new hybrid culture that transcends the past but still draws on the vestigial echoes of precolonial culture, the remnants of the colonial culture, and the continuing legacy of traditions of anticolonial resistance” (McComiskey 255).  With this description in place, parallels can be drawn, for the Transcendentalists worked to build a new culture, one that merged colonial traditions with novel modes of existence and philosophy.  Once again, proof of this can be reflected in the relationship between the religious attitudes of the Transcendentalists and the Puritans.  As Gould writes, “While theologically departing firmly from their Puritan heritage, the Transcendentalists continued, while altering, the Puritan view of nature as a ‘book’ to be read for spiritual lessons” (1653).  Connections such as these are riddled throughout Transcendentalist literature, and to a lesser degree, the Transcendentalists were also domineered, despite their immense efforts, by the prevailing culture of the time period.

Although it has already been implied, my objects of study include American Transcendentalist works from Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and others; in fact, works like these from the postcolonial period firmly represent what postcolonial scholars attempt to explore.  As Renu Juneja writes, “This [postcolonial literature] is a literature that veritably forces on our consciousness, and at various levels, the fact that ways of thinking are altered by this contact between two different cultures” (65).  The study of the contact between the conforming culture and the nonconformists has substantial potential, and while I have no personal agenda, unlike Dr. Lopenzina, who undertakes a study that can contribute to ethical and social justice, there can and will be other avenues to study in relation to this research.  For example, when examining key works of the Transcendentalists, Margaret Fuller’s work can be simultaneously applied through a Feminist scope.  However, from my initial standpoint, I wish to advance my own interest in the nonconformist philosophies associated with the Transcendentalists; eventually, on a more professional level, my objective will be to connect the American Transcendentalists’ philosophies to other philosophies promulgated by thinkers from other cultures, countries, and time periods.

While visiting Walden Pond, I had the opportunity to discuss the nature of conformity with Henry David Thoreau's statue.
While visiting Walden Pond, I had the opportunity to discuss the nature of conformity with Henry David Thoreau’s statue.

Works Cited

Gould, Rebecca Kneale. “Transcendentalism.” Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. ed. Bron Taylor. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2010, Print.

Hagenbuchle, Roland. “American Literature and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis in Epistemology: The Example of Charles Brockden Brown.” Early American Literature 23.2 (1988): 121- 151. EBSCOhost Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 4 October 2016.

Huhndorf, Shari. “Literature and the Politics of Native American Studies.” PMLA 120.5 (2005): 1618-1627. JSTOR. Web. 4 October 2016.

Juneja, Renu. “Pedagogy of Difference.” College Teaching 41.2 (1993): 64-70. EBSCOhost: Education Research Complete. Web. 18 October 2016.

Lopenzina, Drew, Dr. Personal Telephone Interview. 13 September 2016.

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. Print.

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

*Click on the link below to learn more about the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.  This site also provides a link to information about Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.

http://www.religionandnature.com/index.htm

PAB Entry #6: “American Literature and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis in Epistemology: The Example of Charles Brockden Brown”

Hagenbuchle, Roland. “American Literature and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis in Epistemology: The Example of Charles Brockden Brown.” Early American Literature 23.2 (1988): 121- 151. EBSCOhost Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 4 October 2016.

Hagenbuchle begins his article by noting how American literary criticism has focused on the native qualities evident in the works of NINETEENTH-CENTURY writers.  These native qualities of American literature tend to emphasize a writer’s need to understand the world symbolically while finding significance in the phenomenal world (Hagenbuchle 121).  Since most critics concur that interpretation is a paramount quality in studying American literature, an author’s desire to comprehend the world in symbolic terms can be traced all the way back to the Puritans’ “preoccupation with the meaning of self and world” and their desire to “interpret personal and historical events as signs that point to God’s providential plan for the new continent and its people” (121).  This perception of Puritan literature is commonplace in critical studies; in fact, in The Evolution of College English, the author writes, “The religious literature of the time provided a template for interpreting the smallest details of daily life as signs of Providence.  Puritan literature had ‘a palimpsest quality’ that documents the rich interpretive frameworks of the literary mentality of the time” (Miller 29). Proponents of the PALIMPSEST epistemology, where the literature/ideas are reused or altered while still maintaining traces of their previous form, continue to see the connectivity between works of Puritanism and Romanticism in America. As Thomas P. Miller asserts, “Over the last three centuries, the most valued forms of literacy have evolved from religious literature through an oratorical concern for style and delivery to a modern sense of literature as nonfactual works of the imagination” (15).

Click on the picture of Charles Brockden Brown's novel to find a summary of the book and further information.
Click on the picture of Charles Brockden Brown’s novel to find a summary of the book and further information.

While Hagenbuchle recognizes this epistemology, he extends the symbolic study to include the “elements of AMBIVALENCE and self-reflexivity that attend the tenuous relationship between self, world, and word” (121).  Essentially, what Hagenbuchle adds to the study is the uncertainty present in the world; however, this uncertainty continues to be symbolic because the future of America, along with the writers who populate the country, present ambivalence.  Before using CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN as his main American author of reference, Hagenbuchle discusses the differences between nineteenth-century British and American writings, focusing primarily on the plausibility associated with British narratives and the pessimistic and unconventional styles of American writers (122).  According to Hagenbuchle, what is most unusual about Brown’s literature is that there is no valid cause and effect relationship at all.  This tactic is devoid of continuity, and like Hume, who attacked causality and substance while arguing that facts are singular events and correlation between cause and effective is only subjective, Brown endeavors to show in his literature that cause and effect relationships aren’t even plausible (Hagenbuchle 124).  Chronicling Brown’s erratic characters, the lack of connection in Wieland, the lack of motives present in the novel, and an unreliable narrator, Hagenbuchle shows how Brown ignores causality, identity, and stable meaning; therefore, “Self, world, and word, all lose their defining contours” (142).  Although Hagenbuchle chiefly presents Brown’s work at the foundation of his argument, he also references other American authors of the century who exhibit some of the same characteristics of ambivalence in their literature: Dickenson, Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, and James.  As the author notes, “Jamesian use of ambivalence appears as the culmination of a century-long American tradition.  Indeed, the inferential method must be regarded as one of the hallmarks of nineteenth-century American literature” (140).

Additional Sources:

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the             Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

*To view the full text version of Hagenbuchle’s essay, click the link below (ODU login will be necessary):

http://proxy.lib.odu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=5412248&site=ehost-live&scope=sit

PAB Entry #5: “Literature and the Politics of Native American Studies”

Huhndorf, Shari. “Literature and the Politics of Native American Studies.” PMLA 120.5 (2005): 1618-1627. JSTOR. Web. 4 October 2016.

Huhndorf’s essay chronicles the various epistemologies spanning the relatively short span of NATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES.  While some Native Americanists recognize that Native scholars have little impact at universities, they also realize that placing Native studies within American literature studies is not desired, for they feel that Native studies are an entity unto itself (Huhndorf 1618).  Nevertheless, it’s not only a concern at universities, for as Huhndorf explains, “If the marginalization of American Indian studies in academia, as these scholars suggested, reflects the place of Native peoples in United States society, so too does Native politics shape intellectual work in the field” (1618).  This element makes the field of Native studies so potentially dynamic, for it is not only about the critical approach to literature; moreover, it is about the perceptions of Native people historically and currently.  As Amy J. Elias writes in her chapter “Critical Theory and Cultural Studies,” theorists of cultural theory involving race, ethnicity, and nationhood “are concerned with the de facto and de jure rights accorded to people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds and with how people of different races, ethnicities, and/or nations are represented in written, spoken, and visual texts” (McComiskey 252).  Clearly, this political and social framework adds immense importance to the goals of Native American literary scholars.

Since the prime objective for critics of Native American literature is to provide Native peoples and works with a unique sovereignty, keeping distance from COLONIALISM is vital.  As Huhndorf writes, “For most critics in the field, ongoing colonization is an essential framework for understanding Native texts; not only have Native authors inevitably written under circumstances shaped by centuries of colonialism, they also engage this history and its consequences in their work” (1619).   Elias also reiterates this need with all MULTICULTURAL CRITICISM when she notes that analyzing the relationships between colonizing and colonized cultures should work in conjunction with exploring the actions and attitudes that promote national independence among subservient groups (McComiskey 255).  Even though the focus on colonization is paramount, Native scholars’ epistemologies differ in a variety of ways: “the connections between cultural production and anticolonial politics, the relation between Native American writing and other literatures, the contemporary significance of traditions, and the task of the critic” (Huhndorf 1619).  These are only a few of the methods of study in the field, and plenty of diverse opinions are associated with each epistemology.

Huhndorf devotes a majority of her essay to these numerous epistemologies, focusing principally on Larson, Lincoln, Krupat, and Warrior’s beliefs about the directions the field of Native studies should endeavor to take.  All of these critics agree with the need for Native American studies to diverge from colonialism’s influence and to reflect works created by Native Americans while directly participating in Indian politics and addressing community needs (1622).  Despite this consensus, one major conflict has recently arisen among Native American critics: deciding whether individual tribes should each have their own field of study.  Some scholars, like Craig Womack, feel that each tribe is unique and deserving of critical analysis; however, a majority of scholars believe Native civilizations and literatures share essential historical or cultural similarities that justify one categorization (1623).  For the last decade this scuffle among scholars has existed, but with the field of Native studies already facing obscurity, it is not likely that the idea of pinpointing individual Native civilizations will gain steam.

Craig Womack's book contends that "individual tribal traditions are an especially important dimension of Native literatures and should thus shape critical analyses of them" (Huhndorf 1623).
Craig Womack’s book contends that “individual tribal traditions are an especially important dimension of Native literatures and should thus shape critical analyses of them” (Huhndorf 1623).

Additional Sources:

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. Print.

*To view the full text version of Huhndorf’s essay, click the link below (ODU login will be necessary):

http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/stable/pdf/25486272.pdf

Major Questions and Trends in American Literary Criticism

Most scholars of American literary studies are likely to pinpoint the NEW CRITICISM as the most predominant postwar methodology associated with American literary criticism; however, questions and debates about the New Criticism’s objectives and scopes of study raged for decades, and varying perspectives led to alternate philosophies in regard to determining a consistent definition for what the New Criticism entailed.  Even as late as the 1950s, there was still a widespread agreement in America that literary criticism and history should merge (Graff 210).  This consensus was primarily due to the fact that American literature had been so deeply entwined with political, revolutionary, and religious writings since the inception of Colonial America.  However, as Thomas P. Miller writes, “The New Criticism was instrumental in distancing literary studies from the more politically engaged schools of criticism that were popular in the Progressive era” (162).

For a majority of scholars associated with the New Criticism, the separation of history and literature was essential, for many critics felt that the “study of literature means the study of literature, not of biography, not of literary history…or anything except the works themselves, viewed as their creators wrote them, viewed as art, as transcripts of humanity” (Miller 139).  Nevertheless, completely separating history from literature was not part of the process for all scholars of the New Criticism.  According to Graff, theorists like Winters, Maule, and Matthiessen applied the methods of the New Criticism to American literature, allowing the New Criticism to become a cultural and historical method” (217).  These critics sought to turn the New Criticism into a method of cultural analysis where they charted continuity found in literary traditions and allegorical meanings in writings from the Puritans, Transcendentalists, and Romantics (Graff 217).

Graff writes that Matthiessen's book "comprehensively fused cultural criticism and academic literary history with the New Criticism's method of explication and its themes of complexity, paradox, and tragic vision" (217). For more information about this book, click on the image.
Graff writes that Matthiessen’s book “comprehensively fused cultural criticism and academic literary history with the New Criticism’s method of explication and its themes of complexity, paradox, and tragic vision” (217). For more information about this book, click on the image.

However subtle, the connection to history still played a role in the study of literature, and this played a major role in making American literature exclusive from other literatures.  Eventually, other advocates of the New Criticism began to question this style of literary study.  Some critics argued that this mode of New Criticism purposely ignored American literary texts from the Revolutionary Era and non-symbolic texts that did not conform to its presuppositions (Graff 221).  Debates such as these inspired new methods of criticism, most importantly, the NEW HISTORICIST perspective that offered “a revisionary reinterpretation of American literary history” (Graff 221).  This change led to myriad other American literary modes of scholarship.  As Robert P. Yagelski writes in “English Education,” a chapter from English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s), objectivist principles associated with the New Criticism gradually shifted to principles associated with language and epistemological relativism of postmodernism, which opened up previously marginalized and ignored literatures that promoted cultural critique while challenging the literary canon (McComiskey 303).

One such cultural study that has grown extensively over the last two decades, thanks in part to the New Historicist perspective, has been the field of NATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES.  However, scholars in this field of study also debate about what constitutes Native American studies, the perspectives from which its texts are written, and are even embroiled in arguments about who should be allowed to publish scholarship in the field.  As most studies suggest, “The literatures that American Indian authors produce disrupt and resist the narrative strategies of colonial imaginings…” (Nelson 381).  Nevertheless, despite this credence among most scholars, a newer shift in the paradigm of Native American studies is occurring, leading to a variety of related questions.  Although NATIONALISM, where the focus centers on producing literary criticism that supports Native sovereignty, used to be the dominant critical form of study, a shift in critical focus to the “Native intellectual, cultural, political, historical, and tribal national contexts” is at the forefront of the new wave of study (Nelson 379).  One prime reason for this shift in study is that the nationalism approach promoted an expansively broad range of study, often crossing over into all Indigenous studies, ethnic studies, and race studies, instead of just Native American studies (Nelson 383).

If that doesn’t muddy the water enough, the Indigenous literatures present further problems regarding their study.  “No distinction is even attempted between migrant literatures and Indigenous literatures.  But this distinction is, in fact, the elephant in the room that no one wants to address in discussions of how Native American literature should be presented (Madsen 357).  As Madsen denotes, the haziness surrounding Native American literature and its subdisciplines continues to generate new questions that the field of study needs to address.  Overall, these research questions are more likely to be addressed in America, for as Madsen points out, there are no European departments or programs for Native American studies (355).  If these hurdles are not troublesome enough, another problem arises in terms of the act of publishing Native American studies.  Ethnic conflicts about which scholars ought to publish Native American criticisms take on multiple forms.  Some scholars feel that non-Indian critics should not write about Indian literature, some Indians critics claim that Indian critics should write only about Indian literature, and other critics support the notion that both Indians and non-Indians should write about Indian literature (Hove 203).

Works Cited

Graff, Gerald.  “The Promise of American Literature Studies.”   Professing Literature: An Institutional History.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, pp. 209-25.  Print.

Hove, Thomas, and John M. McKinn.  “A Relational Model for Native American Literary Criticism.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 19.4 (2007): 197-208. Project MUSE.  Web. 27 September 2016.

Madsen, Deborah. “Out of the Melting Pot, into the Nationalist Fires: Native American Literary   Studies in Europe.” The American Indian Quarterly 35.3 (2011): 353-71. Project MUSE.  Web. 3 October 2016.

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. Print.

Miller, Thomas P. The Evolution of College English: Literacy Studies from the Puritans to the Postmoderns.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

Nelson, Chris. “State(s) and Statements: Reflections on Native American Literary Criticism.”  Great Plains Quarterly 35.4 (2015): 377-89. Project MUSE. Web. 3 October 2016.

Additional Resources:  Click on the link below to visit the American Indian Workshop (AIW), Europe’s professional networking group for Native studies. As Madsen noted, no European departments or programs directed toward Native American studies exist; however, she highly touts the AIW.

http://www.american-indian-workshop.org/index.html

PAB Entry #4: “A Relational Model for Native American Literary Criticism”

Hove, Thomas, and John M. McKinn.  “A Relational Model for Native American Literary Criticism.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 19.4 (2007): 197-208. Project MUSE.  Web. 27 September 2016.

Click the above picture to learn more about the diversity and history of Native American literature.
Click the above picture to learn more about the diversity and history of Native American literature.

As the field of Native American criticism grows, new conflicts continue to arise between ethnic identification and literary judgment.  As with any specific English study, it can be conceived as a discipline unto itself, offering an exclusive scope and distinctive methods of analysis (McComiskey 29).  Therefore, in their article, Hove and McKinn attempt to promulgate a method that will contribute to a rethinking of critical treatments of Native American identity and authenticity.  Their main objective is to examine the concept of ethnic authenticity in terms of how social relations influence the field of Native American literary production.  This is primarily done by looking at how members of the field put decisions of authenticity to social use and how others perceive these decisions as legitimate or illegitimate (197). Hove and McKinn wish to avoid assessing authenticity from an epistemological standpoint, for they assert that the rhetorical and sociological dimensions are of greater importance; therefore, they desire to identify the institutional, cultural, and social nuances apparent in the field of Native study (197).  In order to achieve this end, the authors reference Bourdieu’s sociological studies regarding the struggles for domination.

Since Native criticism is a relatively autonomous social space, possessing its own rules and power dynamics, critics have a lot of leeway when offering political, cultural, and aesthetic judgments about authors or other critics (198).  According to Hove and McKinn, this creates major conflicts due to the “social positions from which critics or authors make authenticity judgments” (199). This needs to be taken into consideration when mapping the Native critical field’s social undercurrents, for social elements play an enormous role when critics take various positions for various reasons.  Since Native American literary criticism is a field of social struggle, Hove and McKinn note that there are three basic forms of capital that come into play when critics determine one another’s status in the field: institutional, cultural, and ethnic capital (201).  INSTITUTIONAL capital refers to rank status of the critic, CULTURAL capital refers to the styles and insights offered by critics, and ETHNIC capital refers to whether a critic is legitimately or illegitimately Native (202).  Out of these three forms of capital, the ethnic status may be deemed as most predominant and most complex.  The authors denote three ideal-typical practices that define critics’ positions in relation to ethnic conflicts: non-Indian critics should not write about Indian literature (solidaristic), Indians claim that Indian critics should write only about Indian literature (nationalistic), and both Indians and non-Indians should write about Indian literature (cosmopolitan) (203).

These practices create rifts among critics who are adamant about what should be written and by whom it should be written.  For example, some Indians are fixedly against non-Indians writing about the Native American culture because there is a concern that the published material will not preserve their beliefs; instead, the writing might promote European or colonial perceptions or deviate from the truth.  While there are certainly some non-Indian critics who might purposely or inadvertently write with a colonial agenda, others, like Dr. Drew Lopenzina at ODU, thoroughly attempt to follow critics such as Robert Warrior.  According to Lopenzina, Warrior was the first to champion the cause that if we want to understand and evaluate context of Native culture, it has to be done through Native space instead of colonial space (Lopenzina).  Nevertheless, as Hove and McKinn articulate, “The question of capital always returns us to the constantly shifting relations among institutional rank, cultural expertise, and ethnic identification.  These shifting relations are precisely what define the symbolic struggles in which critics compete for different kinds of dominance” (204).

Additional Sources:

Lopenzina, Drew, Dr. Personal Telephone Interview. 13 September 2016.

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s).  Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006. Print.

*To view the full text version of Hove and McKinn’s essay, click the link below (ODU login will be necessary):

https://muse-jhu-edu.proxy.lib.odu.edu/article/235982/pdf