Common Things: Romance and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Atlantic Modernity
What are the relationships between the books we read and the communities we share? Rooted in an innovative archive of transatlantic materials, Common Things explores how the romance revivals of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century influence - and were influenced by - emerging modern systems of community. While much recent and prominent work in political theory and U.S. and British literary studies has focused on one or two of these systems - the imagined communities of race or nation, for example - this book is the first to treat the relationship between literature and community as a question of universal aesthetic form as well as a problem of particular, imagined content. Instead of approaching romance as a mere repository for collective images or as a passive medium through which to convey mutual ideals, Common Things shows how it also promotes a distinctive aesthetics of belonging, a mode of being-in-common that is shared across a variety of modern systems of political, biological, temporal, and economic community. Drawing on the work of Washington Irving, Henry Mackenzie, Thomas Jefferson, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Charles Brockden Brown, this book traces the development of a powerful aesthetic regime that renders visible new qualities that inhere within the singular and secure its connection with the common. Each chapter focuses on one of these common things - the stain of race, the "property" of personhood, ruined feelings, the genre of a text, and the event of history - and examines how these elusive and interrelated qualities of the singular work to sustain the coherence of our modern common-places. And in the work of Horace Walpole and Edgar Allan Poe, the book uncovers an important - and never more timely - alternative aesthetic practice that re-imagines community as an open and fugitive process rather than as a collection of common things.
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