Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Health Humanities: Scholars in Conversation

28 May 2024, Université Paris Cité, Olympe de Gouges Building, Room 830
 
2pm-2:15pm: Introduction: Thomas Constantinesco (Sorbonne Université) and Cécile Roudeau (Université Paris Cité)
 
2:15-2:40: Sari Altschuler (Northeastern University): “Deaf Culture and Black Testimony in Antebellum America”
 
2:40-3:05: Shari Goldberg (Franklin and Marshall College): “Figuration, Literalization, and Biopolitics”
 
3.05-3.25: Responses by Sari Altschuler & Shari Goldberg
 
3:25-3.45. Q&A
 
3:45-4:00: break
 
4:00-4:25: Cynthia Davis (University of South Carolina): “‘On Pain, Pleasure, and Private Feeling”
 

4:25-4:50: Justine Murison (University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign): “Reading and Reproduction in the Age of Comstock”

4:50-5:10: Responses Cynthia Davis & Justine Murison
 
5:10-5:30: Q&A
 
All welcome
 

Meeting ID: 862 2088 0543
PIN: 245266

 

 

Report // Paulin Ismard, Le Miroir d’Oedipe: Penser l’esclavage, 22 March 2024

Friday, March 22, 2-4 pm: Paulin Ismard nous parlera de son nouveau livre, Le Miroir d’Oedipe: Penser l’esclavage (The Mirror of Oedipus: Thinking About Slavery) (Seuil, 2023) (UPCité / Zoom)

A scholar of Ancient Greek history, Paulin Ismard gave a talk that illuminated the broader context of slavery—a subject that has rightfully commanded outmost attention in the field of American Studies over the past several decades—by rethinking its inception at the heart of Western civilisation’s earliest ancestors and first known slave societies. Tracing the presence of slavery in the works of such authors as Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner back to the very earliest roots of one of humanity’s most persistent and oppressive practices, Ismard’s talk revealed how the questions that animate our field are not unique to the national context of the United States of America and in fact have a long antecedence in ancient history.

Ismard began the talk by highlighting that there are very few extant texts that reflect on—let alone attempt to justify and legitimate—slavery in the Ancient Greek context, and, save for a few brief mentions, it is likewise absent from antique philosophy. Even in such politically-motivated meditations as Aristotle’s Politics and Plato’s Republic, works that acknowledge the unprecedented uniqueness of these thinkers’ socio-political world, the latter is the only of the two texts to mention slavery, which it does in a brief aside, despite the undeniable fact that Ancient Greece was one of the first human societies to rely on slave labour at such a massive scale. For Ismard, the preeminent question was this: how do we think and talk about the people who were omnipresent in this ancient world and yet had been entirely written out of this world’s narrative? It is this silence that motivated Ismard to turn to the very different socio-political and cultural context of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, recognising the potential of borrowing from the distinctly Americanist approach to literature, which often involves identifying and inspecting slavery’s many invisible traces by reading between the lines and reconstructing its momentous presence out of absence.

This deafening silence complicates the intimate relationship that the modern Western world claims to have with Ancient Greece and its legacy, Ismard argued, which includes, most importantly, the West’s inheritance of the Greeks’ democratic tradition. Ismard emphasised that political freedom, the trophy that the West of today reclaims from the Greco-Roman history and for which Ancient Greece is tirelessly commemorated, was conceived in the first-ever slave society, democracy and slavery walking in step since long before the founding of the United States of America, joined together from the very moment of their twin birth. Ismard was particularly interested in how slavery affects the country’s cultural imaginary, how such a vast chasm between a people’s lofty conception of themselves and their oppressive actuality is inscribed into that country’s legacy, a question that is pertinent to discussions of both the Ancient Greek society and that of the nineteenth-century United States.

Following Orlando Patterson’s central metaphor and line of thinking, around which his seminal work Slavery and Social Death (1982) is organised, Ismard remarked on the age-long association between slavery and death that transcends individual societies and cultures. The transcultural imaginary’s attribution of subhuman status to the enslaved and their placement on the threshold between life and death calls for a dismantling and fundamental re-conception of the opposition between these two terms, such as the one undertaken by Jacques Derrida in his seminar La vie la mort (1975-6). Hoping to shed light on the connection between enslavement and death in the Ancient Greek context, Ismard followed Toni Morrion’s analysis in Playing in the Dark (1992), turning his attention to the recurrent image of the undead that inhabit much of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, which is likewise deeply haunted by the spectre of slavery.

Ismard further remarked that the status of the body in Ancient Greek culture has not yet been thoroughly examined and interrogated by relevant scholarship, especially in light of the fact that one of the terms used to refer to slaves, “σῶμα” (“sôma”), was the same word as the one denoting the physical body. A host of telling examples suggesting the depth of the associative interconnection between these two terms can be found in contemporary books on dream interpretation, where enslavers are instructed to view dreams about their body parts malfunctioning as signs of their wavering rule over those they enslave. Conceived as both tools and organs, the age-old image of a slave as an integral part of the enslaver’s body presents an unsettling vision of slavery as an anxiety-ridden mutual interdependence, which is a nuanced metaphorical transformation that merits further analysis. Instead of disappearing with its world, Ismard noted that this unsettling vision came to haunt the literary imaginary centuries later within a vastly different context of the nineteenth-century United States. It appears in such texts as Poe’s short story “The Man Who Was Used Up,” where the tension between inalienable nature of flesh and the alienable of property is written into the body of the enslaved, which has been disturbingly co-opted into becoming the enslaver’s prosthesis.

Moreover, Ismard commented on Ancient Greece’s canonical textual productions and the too-often overlooked role of that the enslaved occupy therein. For example, Ismard discussed the role of the enslaved shepherd in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, who is the one to announce Oedipus’ incestuous transgression. Although the shepherd is a marginal character, foreign to the local community, his knowledge of the truth is absolute, making him akin to the gods. This revelation came as a result of Ismard’s examination of recurrent oedipal references in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, a novel that is similarly replete with enslaved figures placed into the position of absolute knowledge, thus offering an important insight into the ancient tragedy that it incessantly references.

The post-presentation discussion followed three main axes of inquiry. The audience challenged Ismard’s choice to compare these two very distinct societies and their cultural productions, remarking on the great multitude of slave societies throughout history that were not included in the inquiry. While acknowledging the formal constraints, such as the inevitability of having to limit the archive, Ismard proposed a unifying principle, making a distinction between slavery and temporary servitude, and commenting on the difference between societies that happen to contain slavery and slave societies, which, unlike the former, are entirely structured by this oppressive system, as is the case for both Ancient Greece and the nineteenth-century United States. The second axis concerned the question of race and its centrality to American slavery, a question that is entirely irrelevant when considering the Ancient Greek reality, which makes the comparison between these two contrasting contexts at once thought-provoking and productive. It opened up the conversation about the incidental nature of slavery and the arbitrariness of its justifications, designed to protect the powerful group from falling victim to enslavement, within any given society, as is the case, for example, of the alleged biological differences between European and African Americans. Finally, the third axis pertained to the conception of the enslaved as existing on the border between life and death, and the evolution of this notion and the practices associated with it (e.g. mesmerism, zombification, hypnosis, etc.) throughout the ages and across various slave societies.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2-4pm, Université Paris Cité, OdG Building, Room 830, ‘African American Letters’, with Erin Forbes and Bridget Bennett

This meeting will host two talks about new work in African American Literature. 

Erin Forbes (University of Bristol), “The Convict’s Corpus in the late 18th Century US”

This talk will be drawn from the second chapter of Criminal Genius in African American and
U.S. Literature (Johns Hopkins UP, 2024). After briefly outlining the contours of the larger
book, the talk will offer a close reading of the print culture surrounding one late eighteenth-
century executed convict: Abraham Johnstone, a falsely accused free Black man found guilty of murder in New Jersey. Johnstone used his criminal status to communicate his vision of collective Black thriving, exemplified by his relationship with and final letter to his wife.

Erin Forbes — University of Bristol

Bridget Bennett (University of Leeds), “Epistolarity in the Slave Narrative: Love Letters
Written in Extremity.”

This talk develops an essay titled “England/New England: A British Quaker and a Fugitive
from Slavery Encounter Each Other on a Train, 1850” in Crossings in Nineteenth-Century
American Culture ed. Edward Sugden (Edinburgh UP, 2022). It focuses on an epistolary
exchange between Rynar Jones, and her husband Thomas H. Jones, collected towards the end of his 1850 narrative. The correspondence, during a separation along lines of freedom and enslavement, articulates the most profound expression of love and longing in a period of precariousness and danger. At every point in their construction, reception and subsequent reproduction in print, their letters were subject to scrutiny. Thomas’ letters had to be read to Rynar, who was not literate, while she used an amanuensis to dictate her letters. Knowing that her letters might be seized and read by his enslaver, they crafted an elaborate form of double speak in order creating the possibility of freedom.

Professor Bridget Bennett — recent publications | School of English | University of Leeds

Join via Zoom:
https://u-paris.zoom.us/j/82599871846?pwd=OHlHRVNVRFlmQXIwcTFvL0s3UE41Zz09

Meeting ID: 825 9987 1846
PIN: 381796

Report // Emma Thiébaut (LARCA), “Beyond Genus and Genre: the (Nonsense) Politics of Animality in the Life and Works of M.E.W. Freeman,” 1 March 2024

Friday, March 1, 2-4 pm: One hour on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Emma Thiébaut (LARCA), “Beyond Genus and Genre: the (Nonsense) Politics of Animality in the Life and Works of M.E.W. Freeman,” joint seminar A19 / Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Society (Zoom only)

Emma Thiébault’s talk delved into Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s short stories and personal correspondence to uncover how her writing, whether fictional, semi-autobiographical or epistolary, repeatedly and deliberately queers the culture of pet-owning. A proud owner of several cats herself, Freeman revered the bonds that tie together pets and their owners, paying tribute to many of her beloved felines in her tales. Thiébault argued that, for Freeman, interspecies love becomes a creative space where queer affective identities are expressed and experimented with under the guise of a more innocent and childish attachment.

The first story Thiébault discussed was “An Object of Love” (1884), which centres on Ann, a celibate woman who loses her faith in God when her beloved cat Willy goes missing. Thiébault posited that Willy is himself the unmistakeable object of Ann’s devotion who acts as the nexus of Ann’s domestic spirituality and around whom her religious worship is structured, justifying how the disappearance of the cat results in the erosion of her faith. Noting the prevalence of the language of religious reverence in contemporary confessions of romantic love (notably, in personal correspondence), Thiébault demonstrated that Ann’s love for her cat is coded as not only spiritual but romantic, which is further reinforced by the story’s publication on Valentine’s day.

Despite the tale’s layered subtext, Thiébault noted that the word “love” only appears once and only in the story’s title, while being completely absent in the body of the text, much like Willy himself, who only returns at the end of the narrative. Willy’s disappearance makes it impossible for Ann to express her love for him, be it verbally or physically with the help of food and pets, all the more so because of the disapproval of her community. Consequently, all she can do is regret his absence, which, Thiébault showed, inscribes love in the negative space of the story. According to Thiébault, it is a love that will not acknowledge itself, will not “say its name,” drawing an obvious parallel with sapphic love and encoding queer affect into the inexpressible feelings that characterise the experience of pet ownership.

The second story that Thiébault read was “The Little Persian Princess” (1889), which is nestled deep within the context of Freeman’s private relationship with her editor, Mary Louise Booth. The women’s correspondence hints at Freeman’s romantic feelings for Booth, which she was careful to differentiate from a sisterly bond by filling her letters with romantic imagery borrowed from sentimental literature and adopting the epistolary persona of her addressee’s suitor. The exchange of letters and stories performed and deepened the affective proximity between the two women, culminating, as Thiébault demonstrated, in Freeman’s writing of “The Little Persian Princess,” a tribute to Booth, in which the latter secretly figures as a character.

In the story, two royals are transformed into cats and are subsequently adopted into the household of two ladies. Thiébault pointed out that the secret to these fictionalised women’s identities lies in the names they give to their new pets—“Vashti” and “Muff,” after Booth’s own two cats. Thiébault described the tale as one of “transformation and secret recognition” in that the felines’ names act as a key to accessing not only the women’s identities but also to revealing the queer nature of the ladies’ cohabitation, discretely unveiling the sapphic household. Thiébault argued that “The Little Persian Princess” is itself a kind of love-letter from Freeman to her beloved editor, one that perfectly embodies their relationship at the intersection between the intimately personal and the commercial.

In the final section of her talk, Thiébault explored yet another queer dimension of felinity, namely its haptic output. Petting or caressing, the central practice used to deepen the affective bonds between cat and owner in “The Object of Love” and “The Persian Princess,” is a non-penetrative gesture used to distribute mutual pleasure, evoking sapphic eroticism. This covert sensual practice is likewise extended to the reader, similarly implicating her in the clandestine sapphic bonds on the page, Thiébault noted, as holding the text is itself a form of a subtle caress. The childlike innocence of Freeman’s feline vocabulary (“Kitten,” “Pussy”) as well as of all the aforementioned tactile practices—stroking a cat’s fur, handling letters, holding a book—protects sapphic sexuality from unambiguous discovery by shrouding it in uncertainty. In Freeman’s creative tributes to pet ownership and interspecies love, queerness figures as a perpetual possibility: always there, yet never confirmed.

The subsequent discussion became a collaborative effort aimed at placing Thiébault’s discoveries in the larger context of pet-ownership in the nineteenth-century United States. Most notably, the conversation focused on urban middle-class practices of pet-keeping, in which cats were transformed into treasured companions, which contrasts sharply with their functional utility in more rural settings. The history of association between felinity and sapphic sexuality was likewise touched on by Thiébault and her audience.

Report // Julien Nègre, “Cute Berries and Dead Indians: Thoreau’s Environment,” 2 February 2024

Friday, Feb. 2, 2pm (B20, Institut Catholique de Paris, 74, rue de Vaugirard, 75006 / Zoom). Julien Nègre (ENS de Lyon) : « Petites baies et Indiens morts : l’environnement de Thoreau » (joint seminar A19 / Environmental Humanities @LARCA, « humanités et questions environnementales » @ICP)

Excursions are known to be Henry David Thoreau’s privileged mode of travelling and writing. In “Cute Berries and Dead Indians,” Julien Nègre (ENS de Lyon) followed this concept across Thoreau’s unpublished manuscripts, more commonly known as the Indian Notebooks, paying particular attention to the parallels between Thoreau’s explorations of the plant world and his encounters with the last representatives of decimated Indian tribes. The heterogeneous information amassed in the Indian Notebooks, such as references to Thoreau’s journal entries, original and copied maps, transcribed passages from colonial-era historical accounts, makes it an unstable, yet compelling text, all the more so as Thoreau’s intended use of it remains uncertain to this day.

Thoreau’s excursions are spurred on by the desire to learn more about his “neighbors” (“neighborliness” is yet another important concept in Thoreau’s work). Nègre argued that for Thoreau, “neighboring” is not simply a question of shared space but also of interactions between species across time. Nègre thereby shifted the focus away from the human towards plant and animal life. In Thoreau’s writing, he showed, excursions that take for their goal engagement with plants are imbued with purpose, all the more so as they are retrospectively aggrandised, politicised and historicised, as is the case in the European cranberry passage. Thus excerpt describes his excursion in search of the “European” cranberry (which, unbeknownst to Thoreau, is actually native to the Americas) that grows in the vicinity of his Concord home. The passage, Nègre showed, evokes colonial practices, namely land occupation, with its use of military vocabulary and an explicit allusion to the violent civil confrontations collectively known as Bleeding Kansas.

History is indeed not absent from Thoreau’s excursions. Thoreau’s mapping practices, Nègre showed, were largely inspired by a combination of his plant-centric excursions and his engagements with Native American history. For example, Thoreau diligently marks Native American heritage sites that are not present on the source maps from which he copied. In his talk, Nègre compared the language Thoreau uses to document his encounters with members of indigenous communities with the terms and epithets that appear in the accounts of his botanical excursions. Nègre particularly focused on two journal entries: those of October 1855 and June 1856. Encounters with Native Americans are characterised by a greater amount of verbal violence, he showed. Information is forcefully extracted rather than volunteered. Nègre argued, however, that Thoreau distanced himself from this violence by removing his characteristic heroic “I” from these passages and representing himself as the silent witness to his friend’s, Daniel Ricketson’s, aggressive interrogations of the surviving members of the local tribes. At the same time, as in the European cranberry passage, Thoreau often defers to a fixed lexical corpus of conventional images to describe the indigenous individuals he encounters. For instance, he reuses the same epithet–“half an acre of face”—to describe both the strangers he meets out on the lake, who self-identify as Native Americans, and later Martha Simons, a woman belonging to the dying Narragansett tribe.

While Thoreau’s portraits of Native Americans may be formulaic, Nègre also showed that Thoreau’s writing forges a strong connection between indigenous people and animality. Thoreau treats the former both as repositories of knowledge on the local flora and fauna and as themselves akin to animals. While discussions on the topic of the natural world—such as when Thoreau and Ricketson converse with the strangers about fish, or with Martha Simons about huskroot—create opportunities for cultural exchange, these moments of sincere communication are often undercut by Thoreau’s demotion of his interlocutors, such as when he makes a note of Simons’ reticence to talk to white men and describes her “vacant stare.”

Nègre concluded by commenting on the widespread fascination among the white middle-class men in Thoreau’s milieu with representing the last members of indigenous communities. These last Native American survivors of settler colonialist violence posed a particular representational challenge to the white artists wishing to portray them, Nègre remarked, as these individuals came to involuntarily signify the totality of their tribes. As these tribes’ only living members, their individuality was at once emphasised and undermined, lost in the collective identity of the group to which they formerly belonged. This fascination, manifested in Thoreau’s own journals through constant references to “dead Indians” or “last Indians,” naturalised the view of Native Americans as figures firmly rooted in the nation’s past, always already gone, explaining the communicational breakdown that characterises white men’s exchanges with living members of indigenous tribes, such as the ones documented in Thoreau’s journals. Thoreau’s maps, which register the locales that were significant to the local Native American communities, such as the Indian graveyard and “Betty’s Neck,” likewise contribute to this white supremacist worldview, Nègre suggested: these place names and the territories which they denote become ancient monuments, relics of bygone history rather than signs of America’s persisting indigenous presence.

Led by Nègre’s respondent, Michael Jonik (University of Sussex), the audience discussion primarily focused on the ethical questions surrounding the cultural work that Thoreau’s Indian Notebooks performed during his lifetime and continue to perform today. Although they are inevitably implicated in the appropriation of indigenous cultures, the Notebooks also memorialise instances of Native American resistance to white people’s violence by verbal extraction. They have likewise helped unearth previously lost indigenous topologies, which have since been put back on contemporary maps, emphasising today the very presence that they once used to deny.

Report // Stephen Rachman, “Pathoregimes: Poe, Pestilence, Space and Time,” 8 December 2023

Friday, 8 December, 2pm, Bibliothèque d’anglais, Sorbonne Université / Zoom: Stephen Rachman (Michigan State), “Pathoregimes: Poe, Pestilence, Space and Time.”

Focusing on the four tales by Edgar Allan Poe that are set during epidemics, Stephen Rachman (Michigan University) foregrounded the process by which infectious disease usurps human authority, redraws urban geographies and alters normal temporalities, thereby establishing what Rachman terms a “pathoregime.” The name is inspired by the parallels between autocratic political regimes and the reign of disease. Both of these possess unclear beginnings and ends and their historical provenance is often obfuscated in favour of tracing them back to Biblical origins.

Recalling how the Red Death reorganises space into zones of safety and danger in “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842), Rachman demonstrated that the pandemic world of pathoregimes is intensely spatialised. This redrawing of borders is motivated by fear, the individual and collective psychologies of which are thoroughly tested and ruthlessly exposed by pandemics. The permanent state of fear is a characteristic feature of pathoregimes, Rachman argued, which is what endows these latter with the power to interfere with the normal passage and human perception of time; for instance, Rachman remarked that “Shadow—A Parable” (1835) unfolds during “a year of terror.” Rachman posited that such drastic alterations of spatio-temporal conditions on a massive scale likewise serve as a source of meteorological changes, as ambient weather conditions begin to mirror those of the disease sufferer, making a confrontation with epidemics’ at once internal and external threat of death inevitable for all unfortunate subjects of a pathoregime.

Rachman connected pathoregimes’ spatial regimentation of urban landscapes that is at work both in “The Masque of the Red Death” and “King Pest” (1835) with the salient realities of the global COVID-19 pandemic, recalling the overflowing hospital wards and funeral homes of our very recent past. Furthermore, Rachman argued that attempts to assign meaning to the different tints present in the seven chambers of Prospero’s castle in “The Masque of the Red Death” impede the recognition that such a division of space into colour-marked zones is subservient to the pandemic logic of spatialisation that dominates the disease-wracked world outside the Prince’s abode. Mirroring the Red Death’s infectiousness, the virality of fear enabled by the powers of human imagination ceaselessly conjures up the very thing it hopes to banish, Rachman posited, leading to the disease’s penetration of the “safe space” within the castle walls and thus reaffirming the undeniable authority of disease over humanity.

Rachman moreover recognised the potential of “The Masque of the Red Death” to be understood as a double allegory, commenting on the ability of pandemics to expose political and social infrastructures, most notably the class hierarchy. Deploying Michel Foucault’s idea of heterotopias, Rachman framed the aristocratic revellers inside Prospero’s castle as at once staging a consumerist utopia and performing the fantasy of immunity, as they attempt to maintain the illusion of separateness from the pathogen-bearing working classes. According to Rachman, Poe stages the revellers’ encounter with the Red Death as a moment of a double revelation, as they are faced with the dual discovery of mutual interconnectedness between the different strata of society and, as a result, of their own susceptibility to the threat of exposure and death by illness.

Through his subsequent analysis of “King Pest,” Rachman brought to light other infrastructural changes caused by pandemics, namely socio-economic and environmental. As one dynasty comes to an end with the usurpation of the throne by the new monarch, King Pest I, whole neighbourhoods—including the businesses contained therewith—are abandoned due to the collective fear of miasmatic emanations. For Rachman, such societal disruptions result in profound changes in the way that urban communities relate to disease and crime, as rates of criminality soar in areas made unsafe by pestilence. Additionally, Rachman pointed out that the socio-political impacts of pathoregimes are allegorised on the distorted bodily parts of the members of the Pest royalty. Rachman concluded that pandemics’ grotesque conditions both demand and easily lend themselves to allegorisation, on which propensity Poe clearly capitalises in his pestilential tales.

Prompted by questions from Sari Altschuler (Northeastern University), Rachman commented on the differences in the psychologies, temporalities, spatialities, as well as visibilities of the different diseases to which he referred throughout the talk, namely cholera, bubonic plague and COVID-19. Altschuler likewise remarked that Poe’s literary theorisation of pandemics through autocracy is borrowed from contemporary figurations of cholera, which used to be widely known by the name “King of Terrors,” sparking a conversation on Poe’s effective use of clichés with the purpose of eliciting fear in the reader, with Rachman bringing up the classic perspective shift in “The Sphinx” (1846) as an example. Likewise pertinent were Altschuler and Rachman’s collective meditations on the factors that determine which pandemics end up being recognised as such (and which do not), and whether pathoregimes can ever act as sources of democratic action, recalling Harriet Beecher Stowe’s deployment of cholera as an agent that disrupts the politics of slavery in Dred; a Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856). The audience discussion also touched on a number of aspects of Poe’s pandemic writing, including the literary figures that support, interact with and complicate his tales’ central allegories, the “healthfulness” of reading gothic texts that describe the disruptive work of pathoregimes by which they are produced, and the influence that specific historical conditions had on Poe’s works.

Report // Laird Hunt, 18 January 2024

Thursday, 18 January, 4 pm – 6 pm, UP Cité, OdG 164 / Zoom. A conversation with U.S. writer Laird Hunt (co-organized with IMAGER, UPEC)

This session was chaired by Anne-Laure Tissut and Anne-Julie Debare.

A few days before this meeting, Joe Biden (or at least his comms team) felt moved to tweet about the Civil War:

This was, to use a phrase potentially beneath the office of President, a subtweet, calling out the then Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley (she suspended her campaign in March 2024). At a December 2023 town hall meeting in New Hampshire, Haley had been asked, in simple terms, what had been the cause of the Civil War. As The Guardian put it, Haley ‘reacted as if she were being physically threatened’. She seemed to have to gather herself before giving her brief answer: ‘I think the cause of the civil war was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.’ The questioner pressed her for more, but she continued to spiral around ideas of government overreach: ‘Government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life. They don’t need to tell you what you can and can’t do. They don’t need to be a part of your life.’ The news media was happy to report on this peculiar interaction, which gained enough memetic value that Biden’s team thought it worth taking to Twitter to put Haley right. And so another skirmish of the Civil War began, as the President’s replies devolved into a bizarre discussion thread on anti-bellum politics.

The Civil War didn’t end at Appomattox. That’s not news. But Biden’s tweet, while fundamentally uneducative in its actual content, proved by its form that there has been a shift in gears. The argument about the Civil War’s causes, real and Lost, has bubbled up from forum threads and onto a national (and therefore global) stage. The tweet was, essentially, bait, and the Twitter reply-bucket quickly filled up with a swirling mass of ‘um actuallys’, from both the website’s endemic right-wing reactionaries and its host of historical pundits, leaning on their undergraduate credentials to point out that President Biden didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

The fact is that people on both sides of this argument are equally unwilling to dig up America’s bones. Slavery was the cause of the Civil War, as it was the cause of so many other lasting structures which continue to plague the country, and which neither party are willing to face up to. The implications of Biden’s entirely correct statement are not bound out in his policy. Haley, meanwhile, when she was asked the cause of the Civil War, gave a meandering, slightly panicked answer about freedom from government interference, without a single mention of slavery, as the questioner was quick to point out. It was a meta-interrogation, a posturing by both parties. ‘What do you want me to say about slavery?’ Haley asked, which about sums it up. Historical debate under TV lighting comes in pre-packaged boxes, void of curiosity. As so often, The Simpsons cut to the core of this problem in the 1990s. When Apu (himself a battlefield of the culture war) is taking his citizenship test, the examiner asks him the cause of the Civil War. ‘Actually,’ he replies, ‘there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, economic factors, both domestic and international, played a significant role. Here the examiner cuts him off: ‘Hey, hey. Just say slavery’.

Search the clip on YouTube, and you’ll find the website’s right-wing house band playing the same tune they did under Biden’s tweet. The joke, they seem to think, is that you’re not allowed to think for yourself in America, that the ‘woke’ answer is the only one that’s allowed. I’d say the joke is more obviously that Apu has a more nuanced understanding of the country he has immigrated to than his natural-born neighbours. Knowing about America is, ironically, a good way to fail a citizenship test.

Some of these thoughts were with me at the start of Laird Hunt’s session, which was prefaced with a word of regret for its long postponement, the seminar having originally been planned to coincide with and celebrate the publication of Tissut’s French translation of Neverhome, Hunt’s 2014 Civil War novel. But nothing about it felt late, or stale. So it is with the Civil War: always timely, never done with. The session was a moderated Q&A interspersed with readings. Hunt, and his questioners, were wide-ranging, but the talk had a consistent undertone which pulled at the edge of elegy. Inevitable, perhaps, when war is the topic, but that tone came out in other, less expected places. One loss mourned was the library. Neverhome is the first-person account (the quasi-memoir, Hunt proposed) of Constance or Ash Thompson, an Indiana farmer who disguises herself as a man to go to war for the Union. It was written with the library stacks, Hunt recalled, and he offered a vignette of his bookish archaeologies, his happy accidents in the shelves. It’s true that the Civil War makes a lot of books. I remember at the start of my own Civil War PhD tracking the subject holdings of my university library across tens of meters of shelves, and wondering: a) how I was ever going to get myself up to speed, and b) what the worth would be in adding yet another brick to this already stalwart edifice. Hunt’s answers reminded me, though, that such an overbearing volume of material can in fact be creatively and academically freeing. When there’s that much to go on, each encounter will be a unique kind of alchemy.

This joy, though, was tinged with a sadness at libraries lost. Access to university libraries, while a privilege, often comes and goes at the mercy of contingent, short-term posts. The smaller public libraries Hunt grew up with are becoming scarcer, and increasingly asked to perform multiple social functions, often at the expense of the quality of their collections. I had been speaking to someone before the session about the (as of March 2024) ongoing disruption to the British Library, after the cyber attack of October last year. They had only just got a temporary catalogue running again, and the scope of the damage to their digital collections has not yet been divulged. Libraries are fragile repositories. They can’t protect themselves, or guarantee their own accessibility. But we need them if history isn’t going to be reduced to campaign speech dogwhistles and Twitter bait. The exchange at Haley’s town hall didn’t need footnoting. I think you could learn the manoeuvres, of both sides, in a short half hour.

This was the substance of the profounder elegy brimming from the talk: a rueful look at America’s feeble knowledge of its past. Feeble, despite the odds. As Hunt said, you don’t need to dig very deep to find America’s bones. But it still feels like an act of resistance, if not quite of protest, to hold them up to the light. Neverhome is part of what Hunt offers as his ‘dark America’ quartet: a set of novels which turn over the soil on the deep violences of slavery, war and witchcraft. They are insistent, haunting, and highly present. In talking of his undergraduate years, Hunt described himself as a history student who studied literature, and this two-sidedness has carried through the intervening years. His novels are superb research pieces, but in a different way, I think, to other kinds of historical fiction. While Hunt does more than his due diligence on the facts (he was distraught, he recalled, to be told that a heifer can’t be milked, as one of his novels had it), his books are voice and style-led, in the extreme. Style is what does the work in Neverhome, forcing a close encounter with the war by offering it in strange, divergent terms. The novel is difficult. But the difficulty is shared between author and reader, who both discover as they go the darker world on the reverse side of the American present. We would do well to push for this difficulty when we can.

Jamie Fenton

 
   

 

 

 

Friday, March 22, 2-4 pm: Paulin Ismard nous parlera de son nouveau livre, Le Miroir d’Oedipe: Penser l’esclavage (The Mirror of Oedipus: Thinking About Slavery) (Seuil, 2023) (UPCité / Zoom)

Report of the talk available here.

Le séminaire A19 (LARCA UMR 8225, Université Paris Cité/ VALE EA, Sorbonne Université) est très heureux de vous convier à une séance autour du livre de Paulin Ismard, Le Miroir d’Œdipe : Penser l’esclavage (Seuil, 2023) intitulée « L’insu. Penser l’esclavage depuis la Grèce ancienne.” Elle se tiendra le 22 mars à 14h en salle 830 (bâtiment Olympe de Gouges, Université Paris Cité) et en Zoom (lien disponible ci-dessous).

Paulin Ismard est Professeur d’histoire grecque à l’université Aix-Marseille.

En espérant vous y retrouver,

Bien cordialement,

Cécile et Thomas

Cécile Roudeau (Université Paris Cité, LARCA, UMR 8225)

Thomas Constantinesco (Sorbonne Université, VALE, UR 4085)

Sujet: A19- Paulin Ismard
Heure: 22 mars 2024 01:30 PM Paris

Rejoindre Zoom Réunion
https://u-paris.zoom.us/j/82897049417?pwd=YTBMNitRNGFyUjZUUDVyS1RnZ053UT09

ID de réunion: 828 9704 9417
Code secret: 869465

Wednesday, 27 March, 5:30-7pm: Michael Boyden (Radboud University), “Choleraic Communication in the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Invalidism” (Sorbonne Université, English Department Library, Salle Louis Bonnerot, Esc. G, 2nd floor / Zoom)

The bacteriological revolution of the late nineteenth-century gave rise to a “new language of immunity” (Anderson), substituting for the earlier discourses of acclimatization that had been dominant up until that point. Not only did this new language of immunity articulate new modes of being in the world and forms of governmentality, it also generated new narrative models and tropes, such as that of the “healthy carrier” and similar “gothic” figures as analyzed by, among others, Priscilla Wald and Neel Ahuja. As these scholars acknowledge, however, the bacteriological revolution did not so much reject as reconfigure earlier doctrines of environmental and climatic determinism, which continued to inform understandings of disease transmission even as the focus shifted away from sanitation toward discrete pathogens or microbes. In my talk, I aim to contribute to a more historically differentiated account of such “outbreak” narratives by focusing attention on the autoethnography of American tropical health travelers at the time of the second cholera epidemic of 1832. Since this epidemic reached the American mainland before it arrived in the Spanish islands, its trajectory challenged the moralized geography according to which such communicable diseases were perceived, just as the Caribbean was developing into a health resort for northern invalids seeking a climate cure for their illnesses. These tensions run through the memoirs of American invalids residing in the region, such as Sophia Peabody and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brother Edward. In my talk, I explore how these and other tropical health travelers – who might be regarded as the inverse type of the “healthy carrier” as theorized by Wald, while in some ways prefiguring current understandings of environmental illness – at once challenged and reconfirmed climate-based understandings of the world before the introduction of the germ theory of disease. My presentation, thus, is an attempt to rethink the ways in which we conventionally narrate and periodize the history of epidemic disease in terms of its causes (from demons, to miasmas, to germs).

Michael Boyden is a professor of English at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. His research is primarily in American literature, with a special interest in ecocriticism, Anthropocene studies, and critical sustainability studies. Boyden is the author, among other things, Climate and the Picturesque in the American Tropics (Oxford University Press, 2022), which tracks the genesis of the modern, future-oriented understanding of climate in travel writings coming out of the American tropics in the period 1770-1860. Boyden is also the editor of a collected volume titled Climate and American Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2021). This book brings together contributions by leading scholars in the fieldfocusing specifically on the ways in which the climate has left its mark on American literary culture from the colonial period up to the present. Boyden has also published on topics including environmental illness, climate fiction, futurism, and Indigeneity.

Zoom link:

https://zoom.us/j/95032612162?pwd=bWROU0ptMlN3ZmdTZU5vaFlkT21lUT09
ID de réunion: 950 3261 2162
Code secret: 277197

Friday, March 1, 2-4 pm: One hour on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Emma Thiébaut (LARCA), “Beyond Genus and Genre: the (Nonsense) Politics of Animality in the Life and Works of M.E.W. Freeman,” joint seminar A19 / Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Society (Zoom only)

Report of the talk available here.
 
For decades of her life, the then-very popular author of regionalist fiction Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) lived with a childhood friend, Mary Wales, and quite a few cats. In this paper, I wish to paint a very peculiar family portrait of a queer and interspecies mess. While little remains of what Freeman may have said about Mary Wales, or about her possible romantic affection for other women, the twenty-first century reader can read the love she expressed for cats, most notably in an interview she gave to Helen M. Winslow for the Saint Nicholas magazine in 1900, in her letters to editor Mary Louise Booth, and in two unexpected cat stories, “An Object of Love” (1885), and “The Little Persian Princess’ (1892). These texts, I argue, reveal queer affects by weaving together interspecies love and queer coupling or queer desire, and serving for Freeman as a space of experimentation for the expression and identification of feelings and affective identities. Because little evidence of Freeman’s feelings outside of fiction remains, I will be using what Pamela VanHaitsma has called “gossip methodology”, a tool of critical imagination that she uses in order to make up for the aching void that scholars are often confronted with when researching queer and feminist archives. And of course, this interplay between fiction and non-fiction, this semi-biographical interest, inspired by such studies as those of Melissa J. Homestead, will be furthered and yet also mitigated by an attempt to replace Freeman within late nineteenth-century romantic culture, which will allow me to demonstrate how Freeman’s texts espouse romantic discourse and, at the same time, queer it.
 
 
A19/Freeman Society
March 1 2024 2pm
 
 
Meeting ID: 852 6975 2972
Secret Code: 755713

Wed. Jan 24, 6pm (ONLINE): Fourth Edith Wharton Birthday Talk. Prof. Gary Totten (University of Nevada, Las Vegas): “Edith Wharton’s Geographical Imagination: Notesfrom the Travel Writing”

The Edith Wharton Society is thrilled to join forces with the Transatlantic Literary Women (TLW) to host the fourth Edith Wharton Birthday Talk. This year, Professor Gary Totten (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) will be the speaker.

Gary Totten is a renowned Wharton scholar, a Past President of the Edith Wharton Society and the Theodore Dreiser Society, and the current Editor-in-Chief of MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. His work has made a true mark not only on Wharton studies but also on studies of material culture, travel writing, ethnicity and race in American literature and culture. He is the author of African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow (2015), coeditor of Politics, Identity, and Mobility in Travel Writing (2015), and editor of Memorial Boxes and Guarded Interiors: Edith Wharton and Material Culture (2007). His most recent edited book Companion to the Multiethnic Literature of the United States (Wiley-Blackwell) is forthcoming in 2024. He is currently the volume editor for Volume 9: Travel Writings of the series The Complete Works of Edith Wharton, from Oxford UP. 

Gary’s talk, titled ‘Edith Wharton’s Geographical Imagination: Notes from the Travel Writing,’ will reflect on the synergies of natural and built environments, and the animating force of such settings for Wharton’s characters in the island biomes of the Aegean, the verdant hills and valleys of Italy and France, and the deserts and oases of Morocco. In his talk, Gary will reflect on Wharton’s travel narratives to unpack how the combination of her geographical sensibility and mobility as a traveler produces a cultural vision reflecting the privileges of her race and class while also offering insights into women’s travel experiences and compelling moments of engagement with and understanding of the natural world. 

Details and Zoom link:

https://transatlanticladies.wordpress.com/2023/11/21/january-tea-with-tlw-joint-birthday-event-with-the-edith-wharton-society-professor-gary-totten-on-edith-whartons-geographical-imagination-notes-from-the-travel-writing/

Friday, Feb. 2, 2pm (B20, Institut Catholique de Paris, 74, rue de Vaugirard, 75006 / Zoom). Julien Nègre (ENS de Lyon) : « Petites baies et Indiens morts : l’environnement de Thoreau » (joint seminar A19 / Environmental Humanities @LARCA, « humanités et questions environnementales » @ICP)

Report of the talk available here.

Julien Nègre (ENS-Lyon) will give a talk provisionally titled “Cute Berries and Dead Indians: Thoreau’s Environment.” Michael Jonik (University of Sussex) will be respondent. 

We will look at 3 excerpts in particular (attached): 

  • Wild Fruits, the “European Cranberry” section (3 pages) in which Thoreau formulates a theory of the excursion and of its epistemological, sensory and political value;
  • Two passages from Thoreau’s journal in which he visits his friend Daniel Ricketson in New Bedford and interacts with Native Americans: Oct, 1855 (page 5 of the PDF) and June, 1856 (pp. 16-17 of the PDF).

Wild Fruits illustrates Thoreau’s naturalist outlook in the 1850s, at the crossroads between environmental concerns and political redefinition of the occupation of space and time. This intervention will contrast a passage from Wild Fruits with Thoreau’s cartographic archives found recently and linked to his Indian notebooks. “

THOREAU-WildFruits-EuropeanCranberry

THOREAU-Journal-Oct1855

THOREAU-Journal-June1856

Rejoindre Zoom Réunion
 
ID de réunion: 821 2898 2544
Code secret: 999020
 

Thursday, 18 January, 4 pm – 6 pm, UP Cité, OdG 164 / Zoom. A conversation with U.S. writer Laird Hunt (co-organized with IMAGER, UPEC)

Report of the talk available here.

The session (co-organized by Anne-Laure Tissut [LARCA/ERIAC] and Anne-Julie Debare [UPEC, IMAGER]) will focus on Hunt’s novel Neverhome (Little, Brown, 2015), about a woman-soldier who dressed up as a man to go to fight in the Civil War. Hunt’s most recent novel, Zorrie (Bloomsbury, 2021), inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s « Un Cœur Simple », will also be part of the discussion, as well as the historical vein tapped in Hunt’s more recent work, which he calls « the Dark America Quartet ». Its specific form of realism blends with poetic invention and an elaborate play on structures which links it with Hunt’s earlier, more visibly experimental work. Moving back to the early times of the colonies and the hardships imposed on women especially by a strict Puritan doctrine (In the House in the Dark of the Woods, 2019), Hunt’s work also portrays slavery (Kind One, 2012), the Civil War (Neverhome 2014), and lynching (The Evening Road 2017). All those novels are first person narratives, staging women’s voices.

Questions may include Hunt’s fictional (re-)writing of history, writing and memory, genres and voices, the literary representations of trauma, the international influences, and the part played in his writing by the practice of translation.

Two excerpts of Neverhome (download below) will also give us the opportunity for some close reading.

The seminar will be followed by a reading at Atout Livre, 203 bis avenue Daumesnil, Paris, 12th arrondissement.

01 – Neverhome – First Chapters

02 – Neverhome – Greenhouses of memory

Friday, 8 December, 2pm, Bibliothèque d’anglais, Sorbonne Université / Zoom: Stephen Rachman (Michigan State), “Pathoregimes: Poe, Pestilence, Space and Time.”

Report of the talk available here.

Sari Altschuler (Northeastern) will be respondent.

This session will take place at Sorbonne Université, Bibliothèque de l’UFR d’études anglophones (esc. G, 2è étage; entrée par le 54 rue Saint Jacques ou le 17 rue de la Sorbonne, 75005 Paris).

A Zoom link will be posted here a few days prior to the event.

Abstract: This paper examines space and time in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe that deal with pandemic disease. Recent studies of Poe in relation to place (e.g. Philip Phillips and Kennedy and McGann) have concentrated on contextualizing Poe’s oeuvre in terms of its human geographies, how places and spaces are manifested in his works, and how those works can be, in turn, mapped and re-mapped on to fictive, historical, actual, and imaginative locations. The ongoing pandemic has sensitized us anew to the ways in which Poe used cultural geography under the spatio-temporal pressures of epidemic disease. This essay will focus on the London of Poe’s “King Pest” and how it functions as a plague-induced interzone, an epicenter of epidemic disease. Through this analysis, the essay will demonstrate how miasmatic theories of pestilence drive the human geography in this story, as Poe’s language fixates upon local concentrations of loathsome decaying organic matter believed to be producing deadly disease. The essay will conclude with an examination of what Poe’s pestilential spatial logic has to teach us about modern pandemics and the meanings that pandemics produce.

Stephen Rachman is Director of the American Studies Program and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Laboratory at Michigan State University.

He is the editor of The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz-Hugh Ludlow (Rutgers University Press). He is a co-author of the award-winning Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow (Oxford University Press) and the co-editor of The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (Johns Hopkins University Press). He has written numerous articles on Poe, literature and medicine, cities, popular culture, and an award-winning Web site on Sunday school books for the Library of Congress American Memory Project. He is a past president of the Poe Studies Association and currently completing a study of Poe entitled The Jingle Man: Edgar Allan Poe and the Problems of Culture.

 

Cécile Roudeau vous invite à une réunion Zoom planifiée.

Sujet: A19 Rachman-Altschuler
Heure: 8 déc. 2023 01:30 PM Paris

Rejoindre Zoom Réunion
https://u-paris.zoom.us/j/84359173997?pwd=STVvWDBDcjFMNHVueEtGbzVacmlXZz09

ID de réunion: 843 5917 3997
Code secret: 419819

Une seule pression sur l’appareil mobile
+13092053325,,84359173997#,,,,*419819# États-Unis
+13126266799,,84359173997#,,,,*419819# États-Unis (Chicago)

Composez un numéro en fonction de votre emplacement
• +1 309 205 3325 États-Unis
• +1 312 626 6799 États-Unis (Chicago)
• +1 346 248 7799 États-Unis (Houston)
• +1 360 209 5623 États-Unis
• +1 386 347 5053 États-Unis
• +1 507 473 4847 États-Unis
• +1 564 217 2000 États-Unis
• +1 646 931 3860 États-Unis
• +1 669 444 9171 États-Unis
• +1 669 900 6833 États-Unis (San Jose)
• +1 689 278 1000 États-Unis
• +1 719 359 4580 États-Unis
• +1 929 205 6099 États-Unis (New York)
• +1 253 205 0468 États-Unis
• +1 253 215 8782 États-Unis (Tacoma)
• +1 301 715 8592 États-Unis (Washington DC)
• +1 305 224 1968 États-Unis

ID de réunion: 843 5917 3997
Code secret: 419819

Trouver votre numéro local : https://u-paris.zoom.us/u/kLjC3wEvS

Participez à l’aide d’un protocole SIP
• 84359173997@zoomcrc.com

Participer à l’aide d’un protocole H.323
• 162.255.37.11 (États-Unis (Ouest))
• 162.255.36.11 (États-Unis (Est))
• 213.19.144.110 (Amsterdam Pays-Bas)
• 213.244.140.110 (Allemagne)
• 103.122.166.55 (Australie Sydney)
• 103.122.167.55 (Australie Melbourne)
• 69.174.57.160 (Canada Toronto)
• 65.39.152.160 (Canada Vancouver)
• 207.226.132.110 (Japon Tokyo)
• 149.137.24.110 (Japon Osaka)

ID de réunion: 843 5917 3997
Code secret: 419819

 

 

Friday, November 10th, 2pm, ODG 829 / Zoom Matthew Redmond, “Between Worlds: Revolutionary Time in American Literature.”

On November 10th, at 2pm, we are inviting Matthew Redmond for a talk entitled “Between Worlds: Revolutionary Time in American Literature.”

Pauline Pilote (UBS) will be respondent.

Matthew Redmond is a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at Université de Lille. He holds a PhD from Stanford University (Living Too Long: The Politics of Lifespan in American Literature). His research explores the intersection of temporality, republican politics, and literary culture in America throughout the long nineteenth century. His work has appeared in English Literary History, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Textes et Contextes, among other sources.

 

Cécile Roudeau vous invite à une réunion Zoom planifiée.

Sujet: A19- Nov 10, 2pm -Matthew Redmond
Heure: 10 nov. 2023 02:00 PM Paris

Rejoindre Zoom Réunion
https://u-paris.zoom.us/j/84224436500?pwd=YjlzNys1OVVxWUZQUnJPYlpwZmJUQT09

ID de réunion: 842 2443 6500
Code secret: 525627

Une seule pression sur l’appareil mobile
+13462487799,,84224436500#,,,,*525627# États-Unis (Houston)
+13602095623,,84224436500#,,,,*525627# États-Unis

Composez un numéro en fonction de votre emplacement
• +1 346 248 7799 États-Unis (Houston)
• +1 360 209 5623 États-Unis
• +1 386 347 5053 États-Unis
• +1 507 473 4847 États-Unis
• +1 564 217 2000 États-Unis
• +1 646 931 3860 États-Unis
• +1 669 444 9171 États-Unis
• +1 669 900 6833 États-Unis (San Jose)
• +1 689 278 1000 États-Unis
• +1 719 359 4580 États-Unis
• +1 929 205 6099 États-Unis (New York)
• +1 253 205 0468 États-Unis
• +1 253 215 8782 États-Unis (Tacoma)
• +1 301 715 8592 États-Unis (Washington DC)
• +1 305 224 1968 États-Unis
• +1 309 205 3325 États-Unis
• +1 312 626 6799 États-Unis (Chicago)

ID de réunion: 842 2443 6500
Code secret: 525627

Trouver votre numéro local : https://u-paris.zoom.us/u/kdFNdQtOVc

Participez à l’aide d’un protocole SIP
• 84224436500@zoomcrc.com

Participer à l’aide d’un protocole H.323
• 162.255.37.11 (États-Unis (Ouest))
• 162.255.36.11 (États-Unis (Est))
• 213.19.144.110 (Amsterdam Pays-Bas)
• 213.244.140.110 (Allemagne)
• 103.122.166.55 (Australie Sydney)
• 103.122.167.55 (Australie Melbourne)
• 69.174.57.160 (Canada Toronto)
• 65.39.152.160 (Canada Vancouver)
• 207.226.132.110 (Japon Tokyo)
• 149.137.24.110 (Japon Osaka)

ID de réunion: 842 2443 6500
Code secret: 525627