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Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America [Unabridged]
 1443801631, 9781443801638

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Ideology and Rhetoric

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America

Edited by

BoĪenna ChyliĔska

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America, Edited by BoĪenna ChyliĔska This book first published 2009 Cambridge Scholars Publishing 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2009 by BoĪenna ChyliĔska and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-0163-1, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-0163-8

The Editor wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the University of Warsaw Foundation, Poland

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction BoĪenna ChyliĔska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PART I Poetry, Drama, and Prose:Femininity Revisited, Death Reconsidered . .


Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore: Two Types of “Feminine Masquerade” Paulina AmbroĪy-Lis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Marys and Magdalenes: Constructing the Idea of a “Good Daughter” in Early American Drama Kirk S. Palmer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence: The Case of Cosmopolis Justyna Kociatkiewicz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Against Simulation: ‘Zen’ Terrorism and the Ethics of Self-Annihilation in Don Delillo’s Players Julia Fiedorczuk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PART II African American Studies:The Rhetoric of Blackness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”:The First Biography of Ira Aldridge, the African American Tragedian (1807-1867) Krystyna KujawiĔska Courtney . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland Pi-hua Ni . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Discourses of Gender and Race in Contemporary African American Fiction Yuri Stulov . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Intervention into the Ideologies of Race,Poverty, and Masculinity:Claude Brown’s Success Story ofManchild in the Promised Land Aneta Dybska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The Ideology of America and Americanness in Harlem Renaissance Discourse Anna Pochmara . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Table of Contents

PART III Contexts for American Ethnic Writing and Minority Discourses . . . . . .


Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography:Autoethnographic Strategies in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Heads by Harry and Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe Dominika Ferens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Religion and Ethics in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart Marta Lysik . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family in the Writings of Polish American and Jewish American Women in the USA, 1900–1939 Danuta Romaniuk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Borderline Ideology: The Myth of Aztlán of the Mexicans versus the ”Manifest Destiny” of the Americans along the Spanish Borderlands Frontier Tamás Vraukó . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Violence against the Ethnically Other: The Ideology of the American West in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian Hanna Boguta-Marchel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PART IV Native Americans: Historical Perceptions, Modern Perspectives . . . . . . .


Constructing the Image of the “Casino”Indian in the Contemporary United States: The Case of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation ElĪbieta WilczyĔska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Between Truths and Lies: English and Native Languages in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Short Stories Joanna Ziarkowska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PART V Reassessments of American History, Reevaluations of American Modernity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries of Two Pre-Revolutionary Virginians: William Byrd II and John Harrower Irmina Wawrzyczek, Zbigniew Mazur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The Southern Gentleman in the Apologetic Rhetoric of George Fitzhugh and Daniel R. Hundley in the 1850s. Beata Kenig . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


America as It Ought to Be: The ConÀict Between Jewish Rhetoric and American Realities Jonathan D. Sarna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents BoĪenna ChyliĔska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PART VI Twentieth-Century American Political Rhetoric and Public Discourse . .


Twentieth-Century American Legal Literature in Perspective: Were the “Crits” Right? David A. Jones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


“There is a bear in the woods . . .”From the Cold War to the War on Terror:War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials Anna Bulanda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control: The Voluntary Parenthood Cause in the Interwar Period Sylwia KuĨma-Markowska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address Iwona ĝwiątczak-Wasilewska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The American State of the Union Address as a Rhetorical Genre Marta Rzepecka . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction in Late Nineteenth-Century American Discourse Bettina Kaiser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315 PART VII Cultural Politics and American Realities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology Katarzyna Kuczma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The Ideology of Environmentalism and the Rhetoric of Withdrawal in Raymond Mungo’s Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life Jacek Romaniuk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism from the Cold War Era to the Present-Day Justyna Wierzchowska . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Table of Contents

Constructing America: Theories of American Culture after the Transnational Turn Winfried Fluck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



The familiar modern understanding of the term „ideology” denotes the body of ideas, reÀecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class or culture. However, in old strict usage, it is also the study of the nature and origin of ideas as well as a system that derives ideas exclusively from sensation. If combined with rhetoric, which is perceived as the art or science of all literary uses of language in prose or verse, or the art of effective expression and the persuasive use of language, ideology can construct political and cultural reality. The discovery of America and its further development into a modern state and a nation are the clear instance of how ideology and rhetoric are entwined and how they can encompass widely disparate viewpoints. Since, in the postmodern era, images of various kinds have attained the power to construct reality, it seems that the concept of “ideology,” which, according to some critics, originates from myth, has outlived its usefulness. Today the term “ideology” usually refers to a systematically false consciousness. But if representation is the only reality, if truth is merely a rhetorical device, then how are we to distinguish between true and false modes of thought? The postmodernist position on truth and ideology maintains that truth is a sum of human relations which, after long use, seem ¿rm, canonical, and obligatory to a people, whereas ideology is de¿ned as un-dialectical thought that seeks to reduce a mutually de¿nitive binary opposition to one of its poles. It is impossible to distinguish between these categories because they both are reciprocally sustaining. However, both ideology and truth, combined with persuasive rhetoric, constructed American historical reality and they fundamentally changed the cultural substratum as well as the shape of the American nation. American Studies is presently distinguished by its growth and mutability; it is, above all else, heterogeneous. What characterizes the study of American literature, history, and culture through Europe is its multidisciplinary and multicultural nature. “American” in multidisciplinary sense signi¿es a multifaceted view of the object of study, and its corollary would be the potential for dialogue between



the (sub-) disciplinary approaches which construct it. “American” in multicultural sense assumes cultural relatedness, intercultural relationships (Anglo-American vs. non-Anglo-American cultures), the dialogue between the texts and contexts of Anglo-American and those of other American cultures with which it interacts across the various disciplines. Accordingly, the authors of the essays address the issue of the changing nature of American Studies—from a single disciplinary project to new texts and contexts, new approaches, new con¿gurations, and new interdisciplinarities; they thematize and problematize cultural difference and otherness; they attend to discourses of gender, race/ethnicity, class, power, domination or counter-domination, and they demonstrate the value of contextualist as well as particularist approaches. Their observations are accompanied by revision, reevaluation, and recon¿guration of canons and orthodoxies across the discipline and thus they harmonize with the expectations of the heterodox audience. *** A French feminist critic, Luce Irigaray, perceived femininity as a role, an image, and a value imposed upon women by the systems of male domination. The selected poems of three American modernist women poets: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mina Loy, and Marianne Moore, explored in this volume, consciously and subversively employ their feminine roles to break with the imposed models and to criticize the prevailing tradition which forced women either to renounce the speci¿city of their sex and to adopt the rhetoric alien to women, or to write from within the limiting “feminine” conventions of sentimental literature. Also the American stage has always served an important function as a mirror of many of the values of the burgeoning society. Close study of the frequently neglected early American dramas—considered as “literary archeology”—provides insight into the crystallizing notions of what constituted a “good daughter” or, in fact, a proper woman in post-colonial American society. Royall Tyler’s social comedy The Contrast would provide a model for much of the drama which followed. Analysis of the play’s female characters, two women whose respective passive and independent characters stand as one of the play’s “contrasts,” puts into sharp focus precisely what America expected—and until well into the 20th century ,continued to expect—of its women. Death is Don DeLillo’s constant preoccupation; he offers an ideology of passing away in both physical and spiritual aspect. His novels are chronicles of the death foretold; public and private agony in the contemporary world of rapid technological development where life becomes ¿ction, a rhetorical ¿gure; where death is commercialized and the languages of the characters undergo “mediaization;” where life becomes a game that costs casualties in the constantly changing universe of information and broadcasting, in the universe of contemporary America. Race has always been one of the key concerns of African American literature.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Captured within the framework of the question of identity, gender, and power relations between blacks and whites, race has become pivotal for generations of black authors from Phyllis Wheatley to Randall Kenan. The dynamics of the relationship between and within versatile social, national, ethnic and minority groups has been explored by such black writers as Melvyn Dixon, Charles Johnson, Kenan, Ishmael Reed, and Al Young. The division in the African American community also goes along the gender line. Gender as a cultural formation manifests itself in black female writing, represented by Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Maya Angelon, Ntozake Shange, Gloria Naylor, and other African American women authors. The process of self-identi¿cation is of primary value for a whole generation of black American women writers who claim that male domination, which imposes masculine standards on society, is responsible for a distorted image and perception of the world. Alice Walker’s novels reveal mainly racial exploitation and relations in the American South. Her The Third Life of Grange Copeland provides an investigation of the construction (or deconstruction rather) of gender ideology. It also traces masculinity and violence in the black community. The discourses in the novel derive from the tradition of black ¿ction that focuses on political and economic struggles; they, however, particularly address black female experience and demonstrate Walker’s concern for women of her own racial community. Black autobiographies and biographies are particular challenges, representing a history of a frequently fascinating, yet usually unknown or little known, individual. All black autobiographies, through numerous and often extended life stories of people in the immediate environment of the protagonist, are inevitably bound with the lives of other blacks living in the segregated African American community. Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land is an attempt to appropriate the mainstream culture’s narrative of individual success to the dominant narratives of gender and sexuality, and to the discourse on black masculinity in particular. Combining the autobiographical narrative of success with ethnographic content, Manchild appeals to a wide audience by an assimilationist, rather than politically radical treatment of sexuality. A biography of Ira Aldridge, the only African American actor memorialized by a plaque at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, naturally represents the complexity of black life, exploring the traumatic split in the fragmented racial self-consciousness and troubled identity. The rhetoric of blackness inevitably includes hybridity and cross-cultural processes with a particular emphasis on the interrelations between black and white cultures. The Harlem Renaissance movement, de¿ned by Alain Locke, W.E.B. DuBois and Jones Weldon Johnson, attempted to reclaim and reevaluate the ideology of American exceptionalism combined with cultural nationalism and pluralism. However, the Harlem Renaissance vision of cultural pluralism demanded a crosscultural idea of the “Americanness” of black culture and the blackness of American



culture, correlated with American nationalism, black liberation, and the ideology of hegemonic masculinity. The contemporary multiethnic and multi-religious American reality translates not only into landscape but also into literature which explores issues of personal religion, spirituality, and ethics. Theoretical insights borrowed from contemporary ethnography to examine American literature by and about people of color. Ethnic literature, de¿ned and evaluated through its ethnographic content opens into the ethics and aesthetics of the novels of the array of present-day women color authors: Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, Chitra Divakaruni, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Achy Obejas, and others. Particular ethnic groups have made an effort to formulate their own theologies and manifestoes. Native women writers have often been reluctant to call themselves feminists because they generally experience colonialism, rather than sexism, as their primary mode of oppression. The prose of Louise Erdrich, the Native American, addresses issues of conquest and colonization in order to provide survival models for ailing communities of American Indians. The African American religious experience also accomodates a variety of traditions, and Alice Walker is well known for her syncretic approach to religion and spirituality, interweaving religious, ecological, and political threads. Both the Japanese Hawaiian, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, and the Cuban American, Achy Obejas construct representations of islands off the American mainland, modifying and verifying the popular understanding of the notion of “Americanness.” They both are sophisticated, postmodern novelists, yet as they write about complex exotic island communities, they are perceived as auto-ethnographers. One of important ¿elds of examination of ¿ction written by Polish American and Jewish American authors who, in the ¿rst half of the 20th century, came to America with the Great Wave immigrants from partitioned Poland, are the rhetorical devices employed. Although social processes and practices can frequently be traced outside of language, it is language, and the signi¿cance of discourse in the construction of culture and subjectivity that give them meaning and discursive function. Although those immigrants from Poland, predominantly of Roman Catholic and Jewish backgrounds, were residentially and emotionally close, despite some traditional, deep-rooted prejudices, the rhetoric of their writings, especially those representing the private sphere of their lives, reveal crucial discrepancies which demonstrate the gap in cultural communication. The widely-read novels of the best-known women authors of their time within their respective ethnic groups, Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu (Salesgirl from Broadway) by the Polish American, Melania Nesterowicz, and Bread Givers by the Jewish American, Anzia Jezierska, each in its own, distinctive rhetoric, present the rebellion of the daughters against the Old Country values and lifestyles. American conquest ideology was a powerful feeling and a conviction of a mission to be ful¿lled, translated into and mythicized in the idea of Manifest Destiny,

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


born in the 19th century. Military superiority was also identi¿ed with cultural and civilizational superiority, explaining and justifying the American conquest of lands populated by other people. It was in Mexico, however, that the ideology of Manifest Destiny found its fullest expression. The Mexicans, proud of their mixed European and Indian racial and cultural hertage had continued to be the subjects of the negative stereotypes until the second half of the 20th century. Helen Hunt Jackson, the 19th century romantic author, in her romance Ramona attempted to draw public attention to the condition of the Indians of the frontier and of the Mexican population in the US-annexed territories. The negative stereotypes of “exotic” Mexicans began to considerably change in the 1960s, when the Chicano Movement made signi¿cant efforts to introduce Mexican culture to Anglo society and it demonstrated that images and symbols might be used to reinforce Mexican ethnic identity and to offer ideological support. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, a pseudo-historical, quasi-Western novel, set on the borderlands between Mexico and the United States after the Mexican-American War poses certain questions crucial for Western philosophy in general and for American ideology in particular. Rooted in the mid-nineteenth century history of the American South-Western frontier, it dismantles several signi¿cant concepts of American ideology: the myth of “regeneration through violence,” the idea of Manifest Destiny, and the traditional coming-of-age tale. In the 20th century, after three hundred years of contact with white civilization, many Native American tribes gained sovereignty and relative economic stability. The essential source of revenue for some of them has become gambling which has brought them afÀuence but it exposed them to negative public emotions over the sudden transformation of some small tribes into booming entrepreneurial communities. Over the centuries, the relations between the Native American tribes and the US federal and state governments were based on the rhetoric of separation or assimilation. The “policy of termination,” adopted by the House of Representatives in 1953, was to end federal ties to Indian communities and to withdraw federal support for tribal governments. The attractive rhetoric of the new policy convinced many to see it as a humanitarian move to improve the situation of Native Americans, motivating their initiative and freedom. Others, however, claimed that the policy of withdrawal aimed to simply push the Indians to the verge of extinction and ¿nal disappearance. Surprisingly, the Indians, relocated into mainstream society, searched for revenue-generating ventures and started operating casinos if those were legal in the states their reservations were located. The Mashantucket Pequot nation of Connecticut was particularly successful in the “gambling” trail it followed. Once defeated because of their inherent weaknesses, mostly technological backwardness and alcoholism, the Pequot Indians have taken revenge by capitalizing on the weaknesses of 20th century middle-class Americans: an addiction to gambling and alcoholic beverages. Although English is predominantly the only language of communication and



artistic expression for most of the Indian communities, in some areas, such as the American South-West and parts of Canada, Native languages are still in use, both in everyday speech and in literary texts. However, due to the politics of forced assimilation there has long been a marked gradual shift from a rich diversity of Native languages to English. Thus the notion of language loss has been felt as a loss of intimacy that the language constructs between all the members of the community. Leslie Marmon Silko, the Laguna Indian female author, in her short ¿ction Storyteller captures the moment when English as the language of dominance invades the tribal space, marginalizing Native languages. The forced coexistence of the white man’s language and culture with Native languages, cultures, and ways of life, as well as the instances of direct confrontations between the two groups are skillfully expressed in the language of Silko’s characters, their choice of words and effects they want to achieve. Silko uses her native language as a vehicle in which her culture can thrive, whereas English, spoken by the white man, serves as the language of lies and deceptions. Such a juxtaposition reÀects an unbalanced relation between the oppressed and the oppressors, which reduces chances for successful communication. An Atlanticist approach to early modern North America metaphorically situates colonial settlers in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The themes explored by the Atlanticist historians of British America in the colonial and early republican times most frequently revolve around economy and politics, however, social and cultural issues are also investigated. One of the signi¿cant cultural concepts is the territorial identity of individuals located somewhere between the British Isles, the North American east coast and the Caribbean. Although the historical debate on the construction of American national identity in the mid-seventeenth century British Atlantic world does not offer a clear de¿nition and an explicit and coherent interpretation of the condition of territorially de¿ned, colonial selfhood, the very concept seems broad enough to accommodate the elements of personal identity pertaining to the geopolitical area one felt af¿liated with. Colonial authobiographical writing, such as diaries, letters, memoirs and travel books contain a wealth of documentary evidence which records the changes in the Atlantic world, and map out the new constructions of self. Two contemporary diaries, by two genuine trans-Atlantic individuals, Secret Diary of William Byrd II, and The Journal of John Harrower, 1773-1776 are explicit, coherent personal reÀections on territorial and political af¿liation in British America, and speci¿cally on a broader sense of the social and cultural reality of the colony of Virginia on the eve of the American Revolution. The conservative ideology and rhetoric of the Antebellum American South, in the period by a few decades preceding the Civil War, extolled the Southern gentleman—the planter, the slaveholder, the benevolent and honorable man, an icon and a moral leader of the society. The vision of the mythologized Old South, portrayed by its apologists as a land of a perfect social order, was needed for the feverish de-

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


fense of the sacred values implemented by the gentleman of aristocratic parentage; it was essential in a society with a strong sense of separateness and otherness, constantly seeking to reaf¿rm its identity, and haunted by the sense of defeat and guilt which it tried to heal by the repeated attempts at justifying its way of life, its reluctance toward progress and change, and its holding other human beings in perpetual bondage. The apologetic rhetoric of the writings of George Fitzhugh and Daniel R. Hundley—the genuine gentlemen of the South—greatly contributed to the preservation of the somewhat utopian myth of the Old South, charged with a mission of retaining and propagating the idyllic way of life as opposed to antagonism, unrest and moral decay, typical for the North. If all nations are, to some extent, ideological and rhetorical constructs, sometimes called “imagined communities,” then this may particularly be true of the American Jewish community, itself diverse and fundamentally pluralistic, whose roots and traditions go back to Iberia, Germany, Persia, and the Arab States. Jews in America today are also religiously and culturally diverse, advocating all modes of Judaism from Orthodox through Reform to secular. There may be traced some particular recurrent rhetorical themes in American Jewish culture that have shaped the American Jewish community’s worldview within American realities. These themes reveal Jewish beliefs about America and reÀect their hopes and desires to de¿ne what made their community distinct and exceptional—different from Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East. American Jews have always idealized America, extolling the universalistic virtues of the American heritage and praising the fundamental principles of Americanism as subsumed in the Bill of Rights: free speech, free press, separation of Church and State, and the right to assembly. The compelling ideal of Jewish universalism shares with Americanism many basic assumptions and values, such as democracy and justice. American Jewish ideology and rhetoric are rightly grounded on the ¿nest American ethical foundations: exceptionalism and idealism. One of the greatest judges ever to sil on the American Supreme Court, and the ¿rst leader of American Zionism, Louis Dembitz Brandeis claimed that there was no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry; that the Jewish spirit, the product of both religious and non-religious experiences, was essentially modern and essentially American. The two fundamental currents of contemporary Jewish experience were the rise of the American Jewish community, and Zionism. Zionism resulted from the interplay of anti-Semitism, the national mood of the 19th century, and the traditional Jewish religious longing for a return to Zion. Political Zionism, formulated by Theodor Herzl, assumed the establishment of a geopolitical entity in which Jews could build an autonomous society, internationally recognized and supported by the European powers. Herzl’s attachment to the concepts and expectations of modern democratic nationalism, which developed in the atmosphere of materialism of the German Real Politik, paved the way toward his own solution of the Jewish



problem—Jewish statehood. The lack of the spiritual dimension in Herzlian Zionism provoked Ahad Ha-Am, the Russian thinker and essayist of Zionism to offer his own de¿nition of Zionism with a high regard for Jewish tradition, and to lay the foundations for “cultural Zionism.” In the ¿rst decade of the 20th century, a group of the outstanding American Zionists, considered to be adherents of Ahad Ha-Am, exposed Ahad Ha-Am’s ideas to the American public and formulated the fundamental principles of American cultural Zionism, adopting it to the different American milieu. Following Ahad Ha-Am’s Àexible position on the future of the Jewish Diaspora, they proposed the idea that America was a suitable place for Jews to gradually create a new center for Judaism. Today, that is in the early 21st century, the American legal system seems to be a legitimating ideology that reinforces the dominant institutions and mainstream culture of American society. Signi¿cantly, however, according to its critics, the American legal system, focusing on super¿cial equality, seems to hide the persistence of numerous invisible inequalities. Until the 1970s, American legal debate had largely followed two accepted pathways: legal formalism, akin to “a law of rules” and to “strict constitutionalism” as a constitutional doctrine, that would allow judges to interpret any constitutional provision or statute; and legal instrumentalism—the root of “the rule of law” and of “liberal constructionism” that would allocate to jurists the power to rede¿ne the law creatively and periodically to promote civil liberties, or to respond to social change and achieve substantive justice. What emerged in the decade of the 1970s was a legal literature movement, whose writers, known as “Crits,” claimed that American law was too widely open to political debate and, consequently, decisions made by courts of law were political, be they formalist or instrumental. The notion that legal discourse conceals relationships of domination and that the ideology of free speech is used to validate and legitimize existing social and power relations, hiding a lack of real participation and democracy is central to a wide range of critical scholarship. The “Crits” argue that the apparent neutrality of the law masks the bias of the law in favor of the interests of the ruling elite. Thus the objective of the Supreme Court is to pacify the conÀict through the mediation of a system of ideas and images about the world which serve today as the secular equivalent of religious ideology in previous historical periods. Although the framers of the American Constitutions often disclaimed that there had been any overt borrowing from British source in the origins of the State of the Union address in the United States, the idea to inform the Legislature on the condition of the state derives from the royal act of the annual communication with Parliament. The so-called Speech from the Throne, of¿cially known as the Royal Address, probably originated in medieval England and became the address that the Monarch made at the opening of each Parliament to explain why the House of Lords and the Commons had been summoned to the royal presence, and then to give a “state of the nation” address. However, the origins of the clause calling for information to

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Congress can be traced back to a typically American source—Article XIX of the New York Constitution of 1777, which imposed on the governor a constitutional duty to inform the legislature, at every sessions, of the condition of the state and to recommend to the consideration of the legislature such matters which “shall appear to him [governor] to concern its good government, welfare, and prosperity.” The State of the Union Address, or the Annual Message,” as it had been known until the 80th Congress in the years 1947-49, has evolved over time. The addresses today provide at least three important views from the White House: ¿rst, there is a view of the events as seen from the nation’s capital, which is summarized by the President; second, there is the view or judgment of the President represented in the message; third, there is the view of the presidency itself, through the manner and the content of the communication. Throughout the evolution of the presidential rhetoric, the prestige, content and mass impact of the State of the Union addresses considerably deceased. They became the lengthy documents, written and dedicated principally to Congress, of rather little public interest and rhetorical merits, with almost no public address words, which essentially distanced the presidents from their audiences. Modern modes of communication and practices of presidential speech-making were introduced by Woodrow Wilson who made the Annual Message much shorter, more practical and proper for public presentation. Wilson’s ¿rst State of the Union Address, delivered in 1913, was to clearly demonstrate that the public would be the primary target audience for his speech and that it would be spoken directly to the people, and only through them, to Congress. With the advent of television, and Harry S Truman’s address, televised in 1947, the audience addressed by the President became much larger and more heterogeneous. The newly employed medium required time, length and content readjustments to both the television format and the public’s expectations. The focus of the address shifted from the legislative to the ceremonial aspects of the presidency, limiting (if not eliminating) detailed presentations and formulations of policy programs. Today, because of the wide and highly diversi¿ed audience, the State of the Union Address has become one of the most open means offered to the American president to communicate with the public, and to reaf¿rm and reinforce his political leadership. Presidential campaign ads in a TV-transmitted American political marketing have become a signi¿cant strategy whose impact on voters’ preferences and their ¿nal decisions cannot be overestimated. A rhetorical analysis of any presidential campaign ad which deals with the war issue shows how key stylistic devices: metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche are employed as the chief organizing principles in a presidential candidate’s TV spot and how they become the necessary factors for a rhetorical situation to exist. Thus a campaign ad can be regarded as an example of a rhetorical situation in which both the candidate and the voters engage in a discourse which requires their response to the campaign issue, and which creates a speci¿c



rhetorical context. War has become the most important content of campaign ads as, rhetorically, war belongs to a broader concept of crisis situation which constitutes the best example of how rhetoric functions. Thus the topic of war can be used to demonstrate the imagery and discourse of crisis rhetoric to legitimize the ideas which embrace the core of the American system of values: the ideals of peace, freedom, and democracy, sanctifying total victory and leaving no room for defeat and compromise. Another important topic which can be constructed and analyzed in the rhetorical context of the 1930s are the rhetorical strategies of the leaders and spokespeople of the American birth control movement, employed in order to popularize and politicize the issue of birth control among the US public, and to transfer the problem from private to public sphere by methods of professionalization, bureaucratization, alliances with the American Medical Association and the eugenics movement. The rhetorical devices employed in the 1930s were intended to politicize the birth control issue by feminism, eugenics, and the theory of democracy and freedom, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by emphasizing the gender dimension of birth control, both in the context of the rhetoric of the dominant discourses of the time. Only quite recently has the signi¿cance of discursive skills and oratorical qualities of societies been acknowledged as a necessary feature for the democratic processes of American society. The rhetorical device of debate as a rational means of discourse, linked to the practice of argumentation, can be traced back to antiquity. Seen as a method of the process of deliberation necessary to settle any other kind of controversy over beliefs, debate developed into the act of rhetoric which set logical argumentative patterns to justify communicative strategies. At the end of the 19th century, marked by the spread of adult education, and of higher education in particular, American scholars of rhetoric did not perceive public speaking as the art of persuasion, but rather as the display of conviction. Debating was seen as transmuting particular statements into universal and reliable truths and convictions. The rise of debating societies in the 20th century made public speaking and rational contemplation central to the socially and politically successful lives of nations and individuals. Thus the fundamental principle of rhetorical education and debate is seen today as a humanistic and liberal ideal as well as a communicative strategy of spoken argumentation as a necessary feature of the democratic processes in American society and elsewhere. The ultimate expression of beauty, perceived as a perfect order of things that combines and harmonizes various and, not infrequently, contrasting elements is the quintessential spirit of any kind of art, from poetry, music and painting to literature. Literature, and especially American literature—a multilingual construct, both culturally and linguistically plural, in a state of transition and transformation— has the potential for a dialogical existence of contradictory voices, since harmony dwells in difference no less than in likeness. Consequently, literature establishes

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


an important space between the personal and the public, between any closed system of ideology and cultural complexities; it provides a sensible dialogical balance among differences; it harmonizes diversities. From Margaret Fuller’s literary criticism to the rhetoric of prominent art critics writing on the New York School of Abstract Expressionist Painting, in the decades of the 1940s through the 1960s, the textual territory, de¿ned by the form of the critique they embraced, harmonized private experience and public understanding, promoted the rhetoric of “Americanness” and “togetherness,” reconciling the seemingly impossible: immediate political goals with timeless aesthetic values, the American reality of the Cold War and the freedom of American art. The Cold War discourse on Abstract Expressionism, where the most powerful American symbols and myths were explored as a rhetorical battleground, clearly revealed the unavoidable connection between politics and culture. Similarly, the peace movement of the 1960s, a decade of rebellion, did not live up to the expectations of Raymond Mungo; it did not offer any alternative solutions to the already existing structure, becoming yet another repressive system. Thus the reader of Mungo’s autobiography is confronted, through a number of rhetorical devices, with environmentalism—a counter ideology to political activism, and as a way of life. As I noted at the beginning of this introduction, American studies today does no longer de¿ne American culture within the limits and limitations of the borders of the nation-state. A transnational interpretation of American culture, which assumes that there is no distinctly American culture, and which developed as a result of the cross-cultural transformation of European culture/cultures, moulded on American soil under speci¿c and genuine American conditions, has become a unique reformulation of the very idea of America itself. This new transnational perspective proves that the United States possesses a valuable genuine culture de¿ned as an expression of uniquely American identity and of resultant exceptional national virtues.



A French feminist critic, Luce Irigaray, wrote in her study This Sex Which Is Not One, that “[F]emininity is a role, an image, a value, imposed upon women by male systems of representation. In this masquerade of femininity, the woman loses herself, and loses herself by playing on her part.”1 The essay presents two forefront modernist women poets: Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore as two different types of Irigaray’s “feminine masquerade.” Their selected poems will be used to show that both consciously and subversively use their feminine roles, disguises and masks to break the imposed models and to criticize the dominant tradition which forced them either to renounce the speci¿city of their sex and adopt a discourse foreign to women or to write from within the limiting “feminine” conventions of sentimental literature. It will be also argued that rather than “losing themselves” in this masquerade, as Irigaray suggested, Millay and Moore ultimately gain more self-con¿dence as poets and work towards a de¿nition of poetry that is more Àuid, more inclusive, rooted in the female relationship to experience, and yet free of stereotypical gender constructs. “[W]e’ve always lived in Àight, stealing away, ¿nding, when desired, narrow passageways, hidden crossovers,”2 writes Hélène Cixous in her essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” and Millay’s sonnet from The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems beautifully testi¿es to “this art of Àight” as it makes visible the “masquerading” aspects of the poet’s life and work and her strategies of ¿nding the hidden passageways and crossovers in the dominant cultural text: Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word! Give back my book and take my kiss instead. Was it my enemy or my friend I heard, “What a big book for such a little head!” Come, I will show you now my newest hat, 1 2

Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One, 84. Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” 246.


Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink! Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that. I never again shall tell you what I think. I shall we sweet and crafty, soft and sly; You will not catch me reading any more: I shall be called a wife to pattern by; And some day when you knock and push the door, Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy, I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.3

The poem clearly entails and confronts the male projections of the Victorian ideal of womanhood and its oppressive veneer while simultaneously weaving them into a narrative of subversion, an ominous gathering of power and feminine emancipation. The opening image of a husband interrupting his wife’s reading by demanding a kiss, and all the subsequent references to fashion and appearance, point to the popular perception of the woman as a body and an adornment of her husband. The invitation “Come, I will show you now my newest hat,/ And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink!” de¿antly inscribe the woman’s body into the feminist subtext of her poem, while the promise “Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that” and “You will not catch me reading any more” point to Millay’s characteristic combination of theatricality, deceptive coyness and archness which hint at her complex relationship to the concept of “femininity” incorporating both the limiting conventions of representative Victorian womanhood and the New Woman’s bold and rebellious claims of sexual and intellectual independence. As the New Woman, Millay discloses woman’s necessity to “win back her body” and “write through [her] body”4 in a conscious and subversive way in order to strike through and dislocate the Victorian cultural paradigm which prevents women from self-possession and self-realization by reducing them to the role of lovable and desirable objects. Through her overdramatic gesturing towards this paradigm, Millay not only problematizes the complex life of woman in a culture that excludes her from the realm of the intellectual, requiring her obedient submergence in the social “pattern” of marriage and family, but she also shows her contemporaries how to confront and destabilize these restrictive expectations and social conventions. The wife’s confession: “I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly” and “I never again shall tell you what I think,” reveals the poet’s desire to put forward woman’s cleverness and inwardness through her conscious use of disguise, duplicity and masquerade. The misleadingly compliant and submissive tone of the poem additionally masks and foregrounds its de¿ant message, its rejection of the romantic ideals and clichés of “love and all of

3 4

Millay, Collected Poems, 591. Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” 244.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


that,” gradually revealing the poem’s powerful subtext of the plotted revenge with its displacement of male authority and the ¿nal threat of the speaker’s liberation. And yet Millay’s deceptiveness, sexual openness and boldness is curiously channeled into a highly conventional form of the sonnet—a form “laden with ¿gurations exclusive to a male poetic authority.”5 Although it seems to deepen the impression of the poet’s entrapment within the traditional, the sonnet, however, also seems to serve her subversive ends whose ultimate goal is poetic and sexual freedom. By adopting and mastering the sonnet form, the poet seems to suggest that, to separate herself from the limiting text of patriarchal culture, woman must learn how to work from “within,” how to embrace this text, internalize its structure in the form of tradition and, ¿nally, how to “explode it, turn it around, and seize it, to make it hers.”6 The sonnet becomes thus part of the poet’s disguise, as its rigid form demonstrates the ways in which women are locked into socially prescribed roles, texts and de¿nitions, at the same time offering them a chance to display their changing consciousness and their need for a new self-de¿nition. This peculiar doubleness and the disruptive power of Millay’s aesthetic extends also to her public image, in which her unconventional behavior was coupled with a deliberate and “Àamboyantly theatrical”7 display of the conventions of femininity. As her biographers point out, Millay was a natural-born actress. Epstein, for example, argues that “acting came as natural to her as breathing; she created several different roles for herself in the private world of her imagination before she ever began to play roles for her friends, her lovers, and the public.”8 Kennedy similarly notes that “giving readings in her maturity Millay would look the part of a poet, typically draped in a loose velvet gown with red-and-gold braid, girdle-free, Àicking a back velvet cape behind her as she strode. . . . Reciting from memory, she would act her poems with her whole body, winning thunderous applause.”9 In a letter to her family, Millay herself expressed a need to adorn her poetry readings with appropriate, “poetess-¿tting” gowns: “[F[amily, I discover that I have nothing Fried, “Andromeda Unbound,” 235. Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” 245.In her study of the social aspects of Millay’s “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver,” Agata Preis-Smith similarly calls her traditional form “a costume,” or “a guise” pointing to the poet’s self-conscious and masquerading use of the conventional forms to analyze and reÀect not only gender relations and the social structures shaping her experience as a woman, but also to examine the problems of social injustice. Using Millay’s ballad as an example, the critic unveils some of the women modernists’ subterfuges “for interweaving the social and political with poetic discourse, in opposition to the mainstream ban on any discursive heterogeneity.” Preis-Smith, “The Costume of Traditional Form and the Motif of Social Injustice,” 217, 221-222. 7 Kennedy, “Edna St. Vincent Millay’s doubly burning candles,” 96. 8 Epstein, What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, 48. 9 Kennedy, “Edna St. Vincent Millay’s doubly burning candles,” 97. 5 6


Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore

to give readings in, I must have long dresses, trailing ones. The short ones won’t do.”10 This carefully designed and staged image of a “medieval princess in a Àoating chiffon dress,”11 which Àaunted her physical and feminine beauty and enhanced her erotic aura, became an important gloss on her poetry and an integral part of her “feminine masquerade,” to borrow Luce Irigaray’s term again. One of her many admirers, Floyd Dell, thus described their effect on her audience: A sort of Celtic magic seemed to emanate from her like a perfume. She seemed a little aloof from ordinary concerns. . . . I thought of the Snow Princess, whose kiss left splinters of ice in the hearts of the mortal men who loved her.”12

By dramatizing her self-image in this way, Millay showed that she was deliberately using her body and fashion as discourse. Such an ostentatious employment of masquerading strategies allowed her, as Gilbert points out, “to work from the position of fetishized femininity and to question the conventions of culture in which critics had placed the woman poet.” 13 Through her conscious appropriation of the props and ideals of Victorian femininity, Millay invited scorn and criticism of those of her contemporaries who tended to overlook her original ideas concealed behind conventional forms. Her contemporary, Marianne Moore, who put her female subjectivity into more innovative and idiosyncratic forms, was often praised by her male peers and considered part of the recognized tradition of literary modernism. In his review of Marianne Moore’s poetry, T.S. Eliot wrote: “And there is one ¿nal, and ‘magni¿cent’ compliment: Miss Moore’s poetry is as ‘feminine’ as Christine Rossetti’s, one never thinks of this particularly as anything but a positive virtue.”14 Without explaining what this elusive compliment really meant, Eliot suggested, however, that Moore’s was the acceptable kind of femininity, while the ostentatiously feminine Millay was dismissed by his friends and contemporaries as a poet of “sensibility” of “the second order lacking the power of creation” and “”desperately middle-class poet”15 whose poems have “the intimacy of the actress and (off-stage) the femme fatale.”16 “[L]ess pliant, safer, as a biological organism,” wrote Ransom in his notorious essay “Woman as a Poet,” “she remains ¿xed in her famous attitudes, and is indifferent to intellectualMillay, Letter to Mrs. Cora B. Millay and Norma Millay, Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay, 76. 11 Gilbert, “Female Female Impersonator,”298. 12 Dell in Gurko, Restless Spirit, 89. 13 Gilbert, “Female Female Impersonator,” 298. 14 Eliot, “Marianne Moore,” review of Selected Poems by Marianne Moore in Thomlinson, 157. 15 Tate, “Miss Millay’s Sonnets,” in Thesing, 62. 16 Shapiro, review of Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Thesing, 103. 10

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ity. Miss Millay is rarely and barely very intellectual, and I think everybody knows it.”17 To both her contemporaries and critics, it was Moore’s poetry and not Millay’s that seemed closer to the emerging ideal of formal novelty, impersonality, abstractness and intellectual hardness. Pound found Moore free of “the stupidity beloved of the ‘lyric’ enthusiasts,”18 recognized her good ear, and praised her intellect and her guarded impersonality. Stevens called her “the poet that matters,”19 and Williams saw her as “a splendid poet in her own right.”20 Although singled out as a poet different from “the surrounding menagerie,” Moore was well aware of the strong male bias against woman as poet. Referring to the poetry of H.D., she scrutinized the polarities between the masculine and the feminine and openly expressed her unease with the traps of binary thinking: Women are regarded as belonging necessarily to either of two classes—that of intellectual freelance or that of the eternally sleeping beauty, effortless yet effective in the indestructible limestone keep of domesticity. Woman tends unconsciously to be the aesthetic norm of intellectual home life and preeminently in the case of H.D., we have the intellectual, social woman, non-public and “feminine.” There is, however, a connection between weapons and beauty. Cowardice and beauty are at swords’ points and in H.D.’s work, suggested by the absence of subterfuge, cowardice and the ambition to dominate by brute force, we have heroics which do not confuse transcendence with domination and which in their indestructibleness, are the core of tranquility and of intellectual equilibrium.21

To escape the danger of being trapped in the role of “the eternally sleeping beauty” or that of “intellectual freelance,” Marianne Moore proposed a different position and, as Gilbert suggests,22 created a different female persona, that of “antipoetess,”23 which allowed her to blur these distinctions, combine “weapons and beauty” and in this way voice her suspicion of the limitations imposed on women poets by the cultural standards of her time. Like Millay, by using this persona selfconsciously, she also established a vital link between her public image and her aesthetic practice in an attempt to subvert the literary conventions and gender-laden narratives of lyric poetry. In a letter to a friend, quoted after Gilbert, Moore came up with the following self-portrait: I’m good natured but hideous as an old hop toad. I look like a scarecrow . . . . I look Ransom, “The Woman as Poet,” in Thesing, 76. Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, 144. 19 Stevens, “A Poet that Matters,”244. 20 Williams, I Wanted to Write a Poem,80. 21 Moore, The Complete Prose, 82. 22 Gilbert, “Female Female Impersonator,” 298. 23 Ibid., 298. 17



Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore permanently alarmed, like a frog. I aspire to be neat, I try to do my hair with a lot of thought to avoid those explosive sunbursts, but when one hairpin goes in, another seems to come out… My physiognomy isn’t classic at all, it’s like a banana-nosed monkey.24

Moore’s playful rejection of the conventional markers of femininity in this humorous self-presentation as a “hideous” old maid reveals important qualities of her work and brings the power of her mind to the fore: her love of animal imagery which she frequently employs to shield, disguise, destabilize or engender the subject in her poems, her signatorial desire for perfection and “the neatness of ¿nish,” which is reÀected also in the expressed regret that her physiognomy is not “classic,” her attempt at challenging, downplaying and de-romanticizing the conventional ideal of feminine beauty and sexual desirability through the images of “an old hop toad” and “a scarecrow,” and the extreme self-consciousness of her aesthetics coupled with playfulness, intelligence and an unquestionable penchant for caricature. Like Millay, Moore also cultivated her public appearance as part of her poetic style, adorning her spinsterish and lady-like look, however, with an element of a male uniform: the cloak and the famous tricorn “battle-hat a la George Washington crossing the Delaware.”25 By this cross-dressing and battle camouÀage, as Silke aptly notes, Moore “appropriated male authority” and “wrap[ped] herself in an aura of distance,”26 making her body simultaneously gender-conscious and resistant to easy gender categorizations. Unlike the self-consciously feminine costume of Millay whose function was to seduce, defy and forge an intimate and immediate alliance between the poet and her readers, Moore’s belligerent and asexual selfimage signaled a desire to “daunt her male readers,”27 inviting them to treat her eccentric disguise both as a shield and weapon against the narrowing perceptions of femininity. The masquerading strategies are even more visible in Moore’s poetic practice and they affect both the content and form of her works. Sabine Silke quotes Moore’s letter to H.D. in which Moore calls her Poems “my Cretan twilight baby or ... veiled Mohammedan woman,”28 disclosing her own desire to keep her poems veiled, mysterious, elusive and “hidden from the viewer’s eye,”29 and thus, like the Muslim woman’s headdress, simultaneously protecting and revealing her identity as a woman. The Cretan twilight baby metaphor, observes Silke further, combines also maternal tenderness and identi¿cation with the ancient Cretan culture known Moore quoted after Gilbert, “Female Female Impersonator,” 299. Costello, Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions, 246. 26 Silke, Fashioning the Female Subject, 85, 82. 27 Ibid., 85. 28 Moore quoted after Silke, Fashioning the Female Subject, 88. 29 Silke, Fashioning the Female Subject, 88. 24 25

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


for its worship of women and motherhood, which subtly discloses the gender-laden consciousness in Moore’s poetic practice. And indeed, Moore frequently employs metaphors of veiling such as those of “battle-dressed” animals and creatures capable of self-defense and camouÀage. Hadas con¿rms that the poet’s masquerading animals often become artists and critics of art, both disclosing and shielding the operations of Moore’s aesthetics and her critical stance.30 One of her favorites is the chameleon, representing an idea of “life as metamorphosis” and remaining in shifting and Àexible relations to its environment. Chameleon, argues Moore in “People’s Surroundings,” capable of “disappear[ing] in ¿fty shades of mauve and amethyst,” stands for the ideal of the “noncommittal, personal-impersonal expressions of appearance,” 31 for a perfect blend of surface and depth, visibility and self-removal, which, like her “veiled Mahommetan woman, ” can protect and display its Àuid, fathomless and elusive identity. Similarly Moore’s “passion for armor,” as Hadas points out, gestures towards a Àexible approach to gender categorizations, as it is “a passion to be both femininely withdrawn and protected and masculinely explorative and aggressive, to be equipped for all exigencies of mind and body.”32 The hedgehog, porcupine, rhino, snake, chameleon, salamander, katydid, pangolin, plumet basilisk, jerboa—to name only a few, function quite often as protective metaphors masking and unmasking her aesthetic, combining both masculine hardness and feminine vulnerability. These metaphors craftily help to veil Moore’s “efforts of affection” by muting or diminishing the sentimental element in her poetry. In “He ‘Digesteth Harde Yron,’” for instance, Moore uses the camel-sparrow to express maternal love: This bird watches his chicks with a maternal concentration—and he’s been mothering the eggs at night six weeks—his legs their only weapon of defense. He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard as a hoof; the leopard is not more suspicious.33

Characteristically, Moore’s affectionate attitude is not expressed openly but shines through the poet’s reverence for the “maternal concentration,” vigilance, tenderness and swiftness of this, to use the poet’s own words, “alert gargantuan/little-winged,

Hadas, Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection, 117. Moore, Complete Poems, 56, 57 32 Hadas, Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection, 124-125. 33 Moore, Complete Poems, 99. 30 31


Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore

magni¿cently speedy-running bird.”34 The tongue-twisting accumulation of modi¿ers in the quoted sequence both covers up and discloses the poets affectionateness and the maternally fussy “fastidiousness” with which she observes and describes the animals in her poems. The following passages from “The Pangolin” and “His Shield” can serve as other examples of Moore’s veiling strategy: “Pangolin” Another armored animal—scale lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they form the uninterrupted central tail-row! This near artichoke with head and legs and grit-equipped gizzard, the night miniature artist engineer is, yes, Leonardo da Vinci’s replica— impressive animal and toiler of whom we seldom hear. Armor seems extra. But for him, the closing ear-ridge— or bare ear lacking even this small eminence and similarly safe contracting nose and eye apertures impenetrably closable, are not; a true ant-eater, not cockroach eater, who endures exhausting solitary trips through unfamiliar ground at night, returning before sunrise; stepping in the moonlight, on the moonlight peculiarly, that the outside edges of his hands may bear the weight and save the claws for digging.35 “His Shield” The pin-swin or spine-swine (the edgehog miscalled hedgehog) with all his edges out, echidna and echinoderm in distressedpin-cushion thorn-fur coats, the spiny pig or porcupine, the rhino with horned snout— everything is battle-dressed.36

Arguing in another poem (“Roses Only”) that thorns are the best part of roses, Ibid., 100. Ibid., 117. 36 Moore, Complete Poems, 144. 34 35

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Moore creates her own form of gender resistance as she mimics the natural armor, impenetrability and endurance of the pangolin and the prickliness of her hedgehog with all the verbal armor and stylistic thorns available: the alliterative sequences in “another armored animal,” “grit-equipped gizzard,” and “the pin-swin or spine swine”; the harsh musicality and staccato prickly-ness of the monosyllabic combinations; the repetitive echoing of words, as in “scale lapping scale,” “stepping in the moonlight/on the moonlight peculiarly,” and “the edgehog miscalled hedgehog with all his edges out”; and the awkward line breaks which almost perfectly mask exact rhymes (swine-porcupine, out-snout, battle-dressed-distressed). All these devices help to remove signs of conventional lyricism and turn our attention away from the clichéd representations of beauty and sentiment. However protective, coldly scienti¿c and apparently distancing her strategies may seem, the particularity and technical gorgeousness of her descriptions (un)conceal Moore’s joy of naming and her tender attentiveness and alertness to the subtleties and beauties of the natural world. The choice of the animals both strong and vulnerable, soft and hard and impermeable, caring and dangerous, free and awkward under their armor, further testi¿es to the poet’s need to retain the balance between aggressive and protective qualities and gain “the transcendent equilibrium,” “the twilight in-betweenness,” which she ¿nds so admirable in the poems of H.D. “The female is chaos,”37 writes Pound in a poem-letter to Marianne Moore, allying her with the controlled and gender-neutral logopoeia, the most sophisticated kind of poetry writing, which he explains as “the dance of the intellect among words.”38 Millay, in one of her sonnets, offers an ironic and playful response to that statement, arguing that the goal of her poetry is to “put Chaos into fourteen lines/ And keep him there.”39 As Debra Fried points out,40 the quoted lines beautifully display the intricacy of Millay’s formal subversiveness. The poet employs one of the most orderly and restrictive of all literary forms—the sonnet—whose function in Romanticism, reminds Fried,41 was to overcome the chaos and excess of emotions, as in Wordsworth, for whom it was “a relief from too much liberty.” Millay adamantly refuses to tame this chaos, preferring rather to “keep him there,” and what is more—to “make him good”: I will put Chaos into fourteen lines And keep him there; and let him thence escape If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape Flood, ¿re; and demon—his adroit designs Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, 146-147. Pound, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, 25. 39 Millay, Collected Poems, 728. 40 Fried, “Andromeda Unbound,” 229-247. 41 Ibid., 237. 37



Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore Will strain to nothing in the strict con¿nes Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape, I hold his essence and amorphous shape, Till he with Order mingles and combines Past are the hours, the years, of our duress, His arrogance, our awful servitude: I have him. He is nothing more or less Than something simple not yet understood: I shall not even force him to confess; Or answer. I will only make him good.42

Millay’s sonnet, as Fried suggests, is not a retreat from freedom, but serves to revise the male-centered tradition of the form and to “provide the formula whereby [the disheveled] female impulses can play themselves out to the full.”43 The form seems to conform quite admirably to the bipolarity of Millay’s goal, as it replicates the portrayal of the feminine as an unruly mixture of “Àood, ¿re, and demon” which threatens to make chaos of patriarchal order, and, at the same time, underwrites it by displaying a technical virtuosity of the poet’s careful “design.” Writing with high care about excess and chaos, the poet seems to be toying with the idea of “conscientious inconsistency,”44 phrased by Marianne Moore in “The Mind is an Enchanting Thing,” which, not unlike Keatsian “negative capability,” respects the simultaneous coexistence of opposites: demonic chaos and sweet order, strict con¿nes and uncontrollable amorphousness, violence and submissiveness, oppression and freedom, simplicity and complexity. The empowering assertion “I have him,” coupled with the de¿ant ending and a perfect metrical regularity of the whole poem, signal both a passionate conquest and a certain held-in, and yet powerful, energy, af¿rming Millay’s con¿dence as a poet, her control of the poetic form and her awareness that its “neatness” and ¿nery can be turned into her own weapon against the restrictive de¿nitions of femininity. Referring to Millay’s beautifully crafted sonnets, Gilbert aptly notes that “the genre itself became a kind of archaic costume in which this rebellious poet almost parodically attired herself so as to call attention to the antiquated garb of “femininity.”45 The sonnet in Millay’s skilful hands proves that, by consciously stepping into the restrictive conventions provided for her by tradition, the poet attempts to erode them from within, and similarly to Marianne Moore, strives to create “a sense of self [and poetry] that is Àuid,”46 trans-categorical and more inclusive. Millay, Collected Poems,728. Fried, “Andromeda Unbound,” 236. 44 Moore, Complete Poems, 134. 45 Gilbert, “Female Female Impersonator,” 305. 46 Miller, Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority, 97. 42 43

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Marianne Moore and Edna St. Vincent Millay self-consciously adopt masks and disguises and use the strategies of masquerade to ¿nd “a room of one’s own.” Millay cushions the intense sexuality and feminine revolt with the technical virtuosity of her sonnet, proving that “amorphous is the mind; its quality/Is in its ¿bre, not its form,”47 while Moore’s intellectual distance and the poet’s protectively impersonal disguises in her animal poems un(veil) her active engagement in rede¿ning the position of the feminine self. Rather than obliterate or entirely reject their femininity, they wallow in their complex identities, displaying the poet’s multiple consciousness, and its capacity for “twilight in-betweenness.”48 Their combination of weakness and strength, and their affectionate but at the same critical stance towards the world, opens the poetic form and language to a greater mutability and creativity.

Works Cited Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa,” trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. In Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds., New French Feminisms: An Anthology, 126-130. New York: Schocken Books, 1981. Eliot. T.S. “Marianne Moore.” In Charles Tomlinson, ed., Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays. 34-36. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969. Epstein, Daniel, Mark. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Henry Holt and Company LLC, 2001. Fried, Debra. “Andromeda Unbound: Gender and Genre in Millay’s Sonnets.” In William B. Thesing, ed., Critical Essays on Edna St. Vincent Millay, 229-247. New York: G.K Hall and Co.; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan; New York, Oxford, Singapore and Sidney: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993. Gilbert, Sandra, M. “Female Female Impersonator: Millay and the Theatre of Personality.” In William B. Thesing, ed., Critical Essays on Edna St. Vincent Millay, 293-312. New York: G.K Hall and Co.; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan; New York, Oxford, Singapore and Sidney: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993. Gurko, Miriam. Restless Spirit: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Thomas Crowell Company, 1962. Hadas, Pamela, White. Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection. New York: Syracuse University, 1977. Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke. Cornell University Press. Ithaca: New York, 1985. 47 48

Millay, Collected Poems, 490. Silke, Fashioning the Female Subject, 88.


Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore

Kennedy, X. J. “Edna St. Vincent Millay’s doubly burning candles.” The New Criterion (September 2001): 96-101. Kristeva, Julia. “Woman Can Never be De¿ned,” trans. Marilyn A. August. In Elaine Marks and Isabelle. de Courtivron, eds., New French Feminisms: An Anthology, 131-142. New York: Schocken Books, 1981. Marks, Elaine and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. New French Feminisms: An Anthology. New York: Schocken Books. 1981. Millay, Edna, St. Vincent. Letters of Edna St. Vincent, ed. Alan Ross Macdougall, New York: Harper, 1952. _______. Collected Poems. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957. Miller, Cristanne. Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority. Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995. Moore, Marianne. A Marianne Moore Reader: Poems and Essays. New York: The Viking Press, 1961. ______. The Complete Poems. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967. ______. The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, edited by Patricia C. Willis, New York: Elisabeth Sifton Books, 1986. Preis-Smith, Agata. “The Costume of Traditional Form and the Motif of Social Injustice in Edna St Vincent Millay’s ‘The Ballad of the Harp Weaver”. In Mosaic of Words: Essays on the American and Canadian Literary Imagination in Memory of Professor Nancy Burke, 217-224. Warsaw: Institute of English Studies, 2006. Preis-Smith, Agata, Ewa àuczak, and Marek ParyĪ (eds.). Mosaic of Words: Essays on the American and Canadian Literary Imagination in Memory of Professor Nancy Burke. Warsaw: Institute of English Studies, 2006. Pound, Ezra. The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, edited by D.D. Page, New York: Hartcourt, Brace, 1950. ______. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. London: Faber & Faber, 1954, 2nd edition. Shapiro, Karl. Review of Collected Poems, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. In William B. Thesing, ed., Critical Essays on Edna St. Vincent Millay, 103. New York: G.K Hall and Co.; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan; New York, Oxford, Singapore and Sidney: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993. Sielke, Sabine. Fashioning the Female Subject: Fashioning the Female Sublime: The Intertextual Networking of Dickinson, Moore, and Rich. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997. Tate, Allen. “Miss Millay’s Sonnets.” Review of Fatal Interview: Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay. In William B. Thesing, ed. Critical Essays on Edna St. Vincent Millay, 61-64. New York: G.K Hall and Co.; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan;

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New York, Oxford, Singapore and Sidney: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993. Thesing, William, B., ed. Critical Essays on Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: G.K Hall and Co.; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan; New York, Oxford, Singapore and Sidney: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993. Tomlinson, Charles, ed. Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969. Williams, Carlos, Williams. I Wanted to Write a Poem: The Autobiography of the Works of a Poet. New York: New Directions, 1958.


For stage-heroes in ante-bellum America, the chivalric code of Preux—i.e. a governing blend of prowess and duty, the ultimate measure of a man’s honor—was a rigidly Àexible set of principles. What it actually meant to ful¿ll one’s duty varied widely, though duty always encompassed the broad ¿elds of protecting inferiors and family, maintaining honor and self-respect, serving society and homeland. Work within its strictures and one’s ‘worth’ and honor became ¿xed. Characters might stray from the code, perhaps, but if proper repentance and remorse were duly and truly shown, then fallen and villain alike could be readmitted, at least to the circle of the saved if not the upper reaches of the heavens. A man indeed might fall, but this could be viewed as part of his growing process. For stage-women who adhered to the far more inÀexible code governing their behavior, though, there could be neither fall nor growth. Just as stage heroes tended to share a number of stock traits and values—the widespread respect of others, a faultless reputation, concern for family, a tireless pursuit of justice, and, particularly in the earlier works, military or social rank to underscore their socially recognized capacity for leadership—stage women were also cut from a bolt of common cloth: The central ¿gure in the melodramatic pattern was usually a virtuous young lady of some lower or ambiguous status—village maiden, orphan, daughter of parents of ambiguous circumstances—who was pursued by a male character of higher status and dubious intentions, a ¿gure of aristocratic, erotic, ¿nancial, and social power.1

This ‘pursuit’ frequently resulted from ¿nancial dif¿culties her father had become entangled in, more often than not as a consequence of his own shady dealings. Much of the drama of the plot revolved around how successful the daughter would be in resisting the villain’s advances and thus proving herself equal in worth to the noble 1

Cavelti, Adventure, Mystery and Romance, 268.


Marys and Magdalenes: Constructing the Idea of a “Good Daughter”

innocent—‘man of the world’ though he might be—whom the author intended for her. Imprinted upon this rough cut, though, was an indelible pattern, mapping out the limited byways of duty she was expected to follow if she truly hoped to one day earn the right to wed a worthy man. As a rule, then, the dutiful daughter/future wife lived within highly restrictive con¿nes. This is not to say that on stage, at least, she necessarily rued her position. ‘Good’ female characters would give voice to ‘the rules’ as seriously and as cheerfully as their male counterparts, ultimately earning their due reward (i.e. their beloved’s hand in marriage); ‘bad’ females—when they appeared at all, most often as ¿xtures in social comedies—would generally get their come-uppance instead. “An American Virgin would never dare command,”2 Henry Adams would write: the paternalistic imperative demanded obedience. A woman might deplore folly in the men around her and occasionally dare to suggest an expected behavior, but resignation to the hard choices demanded by her father or husband, and support for whatever decisions he made for her, were de rigueur. The primary duty of a young woman lay in her ful¿llment of the will of the signi¿cant males around her. An even greater duty, largely unspoken, held, however: avoiding seduction and the dishonor which would follow whether the loss of her ‘virtue’ had been forced or no. Exposition of this idea presented no easy task to American authors, who faced a double dilemma. In the ¿rst place, the theater venue itself was widely perceived and condemned as immoral.3 In one attempt to counter this impression, Fashion’s author/actress Anna Cora Mowatt—famed for the on-stage and off-stage innocence she brought to the youthful roles she was most noted for—directly addresses the perception in her Autobiography of an Actress (1854): The woman who, on the stage, is in danger of losing the highest attribute of her womanhood,—her priceless, native dower of chastity,—would be in peril of that loss in any situation of life where she was in some degree of freedom, particularly one in which she was compelled by circumstances to earn her own livelihood. I make this assertion fearlessly, for I believe it ¿rmly. There is nothing in the profession necessarily demoralizing or degrading, not even to the poor ballet girl.4

Mowatt’s ‘fearless assertion’ suggests the second dilemma, for rarely would a girl’s “priceless, native dower of chastity” be so directly described on the stage. An imprudently bestowed (or worse, accepted) kiss; improper, unchaperoned ‘closeting’ 2 Adams, “The Education of Henry Adams,” Novels, Mont St. Michel, The Education, 1071. 3 To cite but one example, the alleged ‘casting couch’ in the of¿ces of Hollywood moguls and directors has always been, and still remains, a euphemism for the sexual favors expected in exchange for career advancement. 4 Mowatt, Autobiography of an Actress, 313-314.

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with a man; these were enough to compromise the virtue of any woman in the eyes of the audience. Fathers sighing “My daughter, lost!” spoke volumes as to the extent and horror of the tragedy. In real life, ‘ruin’ would follow, prostitution becoming the only plausible career choice for many an ‘unfortunate.’ “Some degree of freedom” for women almost inevitably implied “peril” if not a complete fall from grace, as Mowatt herself acknowledges. On stage, however, the heroine’s beauty reÀected both her pure heart and her untorn maidenhead—and in most cases guaranteed her restoration-after-tribulation to society’s good graces, as well as the hand of the worthy man whom she deserved. Only through conventions, devices, and euphemism could American authors confront this essential feature (i.e. virginity) of a good daughter’s character. And while the duty of a worthy man was to protect the women he served as a means of enhancing his own reputation, that of the daughters was to preserve their own spotless state in order to ful¿ll their duty to the men protecting them. The heroine of Royall Tyler’s The Contrast (1787) Maria5 tells us, in her ¿rst stage appearance, that woman “stand[s] in need of a protector,”6 her subsequent soliloquy de¿nes why: Formed of the more delicate materials of nature, endowed only with the softer passions, incapable, from our ignorance of the world, to guard against the wiles of mankind, our security for happiness often depends upon their [men’s] generosity and courage…

Here we have in essence the values and traits that would characterize on-stage young America’s good daughters. They were to be “delicate,” with “softer passions,” and perhaps above all passive—partly due to their own “ignorance,” partly because the paternalistic, chivalric code of Preux demanded their passivity, as both “happiness” and “security” derive from men’s “generosity and courage,” not from a woman’s self. All the same, “mankind” (with the emphasis here on “Man”) has its wiles, which of course women must be on their guard against because, unfortunately, there are many men who pay only lip-service to honor as a value, particularly when they are attempting to rob an innocent of her chastity: Alas! how little [generosity] do we ¿nd! How inconsistent! that man should be leagued to destroy that honor upon which rests solely his respect and esteem.7 Ten thousand temptations allure us, ten thousand passions betray us; yet the smallest One of Tyler’s many unsubtle names, ‘Mary,’ as she is referred to on-stage, certainly suggests a virgin Mary. 6 All of Maria’s speech cited here can be found in “The Contrast,” 453. 7 ‘Honor’ is symbiotic, for the chivalric code demands that a man protect a woman’s virtue in order to secure his own worth. 5


Marys and Magdalenes: Constructing the Idea of a “Good Daughter” deviation from the path of rectitude is followed by the contempt and insult of man, and the more remorseless pity of woman: years of penitence and tears cannot wash away the stain, nor a life of virtue obliterate its remembrance.

Over half a century later, Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne would ¿nd little in these words to disagree with. Clearly, the demand for a girl’s passivity tars the entire passage; the temptations that “allure” and the passions that “betray” seem to be almost beyond the powers of the weak one to resist. Society’s judgment will allow no subsequent positive deed to effect restoration. All decisions rest in other hands. There seems little room for a daughter to act independently; if she is strong at all, her strength must be used to ¿ght against that which would “obliterate” her, for as Maria goes on to tell us, “Reputation is the life of a woman.”8 Lose it and lose everything. This lack of control is made evident by one more reality marking Maria’s life as a good daughter: she is “indissolubly engaged, by every obligation of honor which my own consent and my father’s approbation can give”9 to a man she considers utterly unworthy. But she also knows that “a few days hence it will be criminal for me to disapprove—to disapprove! would to heaven that were all—to despise […]” the man chosen by her father to be her betrothed. Importantly, it is not merely her “softer passions” here that might be telling her the marriage seems ill-fated, for any good daughter also knows that she ill deserves to be matched with an unworthy man. “[C]an the most frivolous manners,” she moans, “actuated by the most depraved heart, meet, or merit, anything but contempt from every woman of delicacy and sentiment?”10 Nevertheless, lest she behave in a “criminal” manner, her larger duty is to obey and follow her father’s decision, made by him in full knowledge of what should most bene¿t her. Her father, Van Rough, lectures her as be¿ts a ‘wise’ patriarch: Solomon says that “there is a time to laugh, and a time to weep;” now, a time for a young woman to laugh is when she has made sure of a good rich husband. Now a time to cry, according to you, Mary, is when she is making choice of him: but, I should think that a young woman’s time to cry was when she despaired of getting one.

Having provided her with “a good rich husband,” he can only attribute her tears to two things: a woman’s inherent irrationality and, more threateningly, her reading. The ¿rst he illustrates with a relevant anecdote: Why there was your mother now: to be sure, when I popp’d the question to her, she “The Contrast,” 453. Ibid., 453. 10 Ibid., 453. 8 9

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did look a little silly; but when she had once looked down on her apron-strings, as all modest young women us’d to do, and drawled out ye-s, she was as brisk and merry as a bee.11

“Silly” she might have looked, but she still possessed an important quality Van Rough feels has disappeared from the modern age: she was “modest.” Thus her irrational hesitation is explicable. Maria responds somewhat immoderately by telling him that her mother’s situation differed because she married “the man of her choice,” which leads to his making the second point: The man of her choice! And pray, Mary, an’t you going to marry the man of your choice—what trumpery notion is this?—It is these vile books (throwing them away). I’d have you to know, Mary, if you won’t make young Van Dumpling the man of your choice, you shall marry him as the man of my choice!

When she responds, “Indeed, Sir, I am all submission. My will is yours,” and later, “I do not doubt your love, Sir; and it is my duty to obey you—I will endeavour to make my duty and inclination go hand in hand,” her father seems molli¿ed. “Well, well, Mary; do you be a good girl, mind the main chance, and never mind inclination.”12 To “never mind inclination” is really the crux of her dilemma, for Maria is a good daughter: How distressing for a daughter to ¿nd her heart militating with her ¿lial duty! I know my father loves me tenderly; why then do I reluctantly obey him? Heaven knows! with what reluctance I should oppose the will of a parent, or set an example of ¿lial disobedience; at a parent’s command I could wed awkwardness and deformity … At a father’s command, I could embrace poverty. Were the poor man my husband, I would learn resignation to my lot; I would enliven our frugal meal with good humour, and chase away misfortune from our cottage with a smile.13

As she makes quite clear here, also, the good daughter would necessarily be a good wife as well, to the proper man of worth. Another notable point about this speech, as with so many others in Tyler’s play—aside from the torturous stiltedness common to most of them—is the (for lack of a better word) shameless didacticism that inspirits it. Certainly, the play should not have disappointed those, like Thomas Jefferson, who believed that drama’s purpose was to edify: whether the subject is America, man’s worth, or woman’s duty, the characters rarely refrain from expressing ‘correct’ opinions intended to educate both the people on stage and the citizens For Van Rough’s speech, see ibid., 454. The full text of this conversation can be found in ibid., 455. 13 Ibid., 455-456. 11



Marys and Magdalenes: Constructing the Idea of a “Good Daughter”

off. Many of these lectures could have come from any sermon of the day, the characters serving as object lessons. Thus, even Colonel Manly’s sister Charlotte, nearly the most independent-minded woman we will encounter in an antebellum play, provides instruction as she moves along her path toward come-uppance. In contrast to Maria, whose ‘dangerous’ love of books nonetheless underscores her seriousness of character, Charlotte prefers the dangers of the social circuit. Risqué fashion, Àirting, and immodest outspokenness portray her as a party girl enjoying life in the eighteenth-century fast lane. She would be patriarchal Van Rough’s worst nightmare, representing all that is wrong with the women of the modern age. She opens the play with a speech Àaunting her depravity: [A pocket hoop] may be very becoming to saunter round the house of a rainy day; to visit my grand-mamma, or to go to a Quakers’ meeting: but to swim in a minuet, with the eyes of ¿fty well-dressed beaux upon me, to trip it in the Mall, or walk on the battery, give me the luxurious, jaunty, Àowing bell-hoop. It would have delighted you to have seen me the last evening, my charming girl! I was dangling o’er the battery with Billy Dimple; a knot of young fellows were upon the platform; as I passed them I faultered with one of the most bewitching false steps you ever saw, and then recovered myself with such a pretty confusion, Àirting my hoop to discover a jet black shoe and brilliant buckle. Gad! how my little heart thrilled to hear the confused raptures of—“Demme, Jack, what a delicate foot!” “Ha! General, what a well-turned”—14

Much more than a hint of vanity comes through (“It would have delighted you to see me,” she tells her friend); none of Maria’s modesty here. Her “dangling” along the battery suggests an unPuritanical aimlessness as well as an unseemly consciousness of her charms as a kind of bait. The word “bewitching” places her amongst the darker forces; she con¿rms this with her own oath “Gad!” as well as with the indecent pride she takes in recounting other oaths she has wrung from the many men drooling over her well-turned ankle. Perhaps worst of all is the willfulness shown by pretending to trip “with such a pretty confusion”: proof, in fact, of her independent-minded decision not to act the good daughter. Her friend Letitia, in shocked reaction to the speech, calls Charlotte a “libertine”; Charlotte responds by calling her a “prude.” Charlotte reveals her degrees of perception—and perhaps an anachronistically modern discontent with the stiÀing hypocrisy of the system that encages her—with her next comment, where she recognizes the motivating force of her behavior: Man!—my Letitia—Man! for whom we dress, walk, dance, talk, lisp, languish, and 14

Ibid., 447.

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smile. Does not the grave Spectator assure us that even our much bepraised dif¿dence, modesty, and blushes are all directed to make ourselves good wives and mothers as fast as we can? Why I’ll undertake with one Àirt of the hoop to bring more beaux to my feet in one week than the grave Maria, and her sentimental circle, can do, by sighing sentiment till their hairs are grey.15

In this one speech Charlotte manages to overturn most of the ideals her brother Colonel Manly and old Van Rough hold so dear and inviolable. Her scorn for Maria is not ameliorated by discovering that the betrothed Maria will be giving her hand “without her heart”: Though the giving of a heart is one of the last of all laughable considerations in the marriage of a girl of spirit, yet I should like to hear what antiquated notions the dear little piece of old-fashioned prudery has got into her head.16

Billy Dimple’s rakish and unmanly reputation hardly seems reason enough to her for Maria to have doubts about him; like others, she attributes any hesitation to the inÀuence of books, for Charlotte asks, “[I]f she is so apt at conjuring up these sentimental bugbears, why does she not discard him at once?” Letitia’s reply to this encapsulates Maria’s good character, while mystifying Charlotte. “Why, she thinks her word too sacred to be triÀed with,” Letitia explains, which earns a scornful “A mighty pretty story!” from the incredulous Charlotte who can’t believe any woman would give up the wealth, land, and title a triÀing man can offer: for the absurd, ridiculous reason [that] she despises and abhors him. Just as if a lady could not be privileged to spend a man’s fortune, ride in his carriage, be called after his name, and call him her nown dear lovee when she wants money, without loving and respecting the great he-creature.

Charlotte makes marriage sound like little more than prostitution, no more sacred than the non-existent concept of ‘honor’: [I]f she breaks, or wishes to break, with Mr. Dimple, depend upon it, she has some other man in her eye. A woman rarely discards one lover, until she is sure of another.17

No matter our modern appreciation for ¿nding a perspicacious “girl of spirit” capable of stating uncomfortable truths about the hypocritical Àora found choking the patriarchal garden, her scandalous ideas and utterances must have caused quite Their conversation can be found in ibid., 447-448 . Ibid., 448. 17 Charlotte and Letitia’s conversation can be found in ibid., 449-450. 15 16


Marys and Magdalenes: Constructing the Idea of a “Good Daughter”

a stir among contemporary audiences. In essence, she is the antithesis of a dutiful daughter. After some verbal sparring with her brother over fashion, Charlotte Manly is reminded by him of the ‘proper’ patriarchal viewpoint: But remember, my dear sister, and I wish all my fair countrywomen would recollect, that the only excuse a young lady can have for going extravagantly into a fashion is because it makes her look extravagantly handsome.18

By the colonel’s own admission, this speech is not uttered for Charlotte alone, but is addressed to his “fair countrywomen” as well. What Manly, relevantly, does not see is room for the frivolous use of fashion; it should function only as a purposeful means of furthering the proper hunt for a spouse. Maria, whom he is unaware of yet except in passing, is of course “extravagantly handsome,” but her good looks adhere to the trope of outer beauty reÀecting her inner—and maiden!—purity. Charlotte, despite Letitia’s comment on her being “the pink of Àirtation,”19 shows few such signs of purity. Her Àirting itself is, of course, indecorous, to say the least; her attitude toward securing a wealthy husband (in contrast with Maria’s desire for a worthy one), though pragmatic, indicates avariciousness; other scenes reveal her to be a vicious though fun-loving gossip: Though I cannot charge myself with ever having discredited a tea-party by my silence, yet I take care never to report any thing of my acquaintance, especially if it is to their credit,—discredit, I mean,—until I have searched to the bottom of it. It is true, there is in¿nite pleasure in this charitable pursuit.20

To cite but one instance of her hypocrisy—a trait that, in her defense, she sees as an essential tool for a woman’s material success—she proudly recounts, while describing to her brother a night at the theater, that: [T]he curtain rises, then our [women’s] sensibility is all awake, and then by the mere force of apprehension, we torture some harmless expression into a double meaning, which the poor author never dreamt of, and then we have recourse to our fans, and then we blush, and then the gentlemen jog one another, peep under the fan, and make the prettiest remarks; and then we giggle and simper, and they giggle and simper, and then the curtain drops… and then the curtain rises again, and then we blush and giggle and simper and bow all over again.21

Ibid., 463. Ibid., 463. 20 Ibid., 451. 21 Ibid., 462. 18


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Clothes, in Charlotte’s case, do not make the woman. Flirtatious, gossipy, avaricious, and hypocritical Charlotte is; thus, it comes as no shock to ¿nd Letitia worried that, by having laid out the facts of Maria’s discontent with Dimple, she has inadvertently set Charlotte on the course of trying to attract the selfsame rich young swain whom Letitia, too, has set her sights on. And in Act IV, Scene I, Charlotte does not hesitate to bring her hypocrisy to bear on the unwitting Maria, by trying to convince the innocent to break with the wealthy Dimple who, as Maria informs her, “behaves as if he meant to insult and disgust me”: CHARLOTTE: This works well: oh! the generous Dimple. I’ll endeavour to excite her to discharge him. [Aside.] But my dear friend, your happiness depends on yourself. Why don’t you discard him? Though the match has been of long standing, I would not be forced to make myself miserable: no parent in the world should oblige me to marry the man I did not like.

Charlotte, blind herself to the force of a good woman’s character, has more than met her match, for Maria ¿rmly-but-ingenuously tells her “you have never lived with your parents, and do not know what inÀuence a father’s frowns have upon a daughter’s heart.” Maria also reveals that, despite Charlotte’s earlier suspicions, “I never saw [a gentleman] that I thought I could give my hand to, until this morning.” The meeting with Manly had been accidental and off-stage; neither girl has any idea that Maria is praising Charlotte’s brother. Manly attracted the notice of Maria (who hopes “he did not think me indelicate”) because she immediately appreciated his ability to enter: readily into a conversation worthy a man of sense to speak, and a lady of delicacy to hear. He was not strictly handsome, but he spoke the language of sentiment, and his eyes looked tenderness and honor.

Charlotte, cynical and thus a bit too world-wise to be a worthy daughter, still hoping to dissuade Maria from her betrothal, mocks her, while commenting fulsomely: “Oh! [Eagerly.] you sentimental, grave girls, when your hearts are once touched, beat us rattles a bar’s length.”22 Is there, perhaps, some compunction in this “rattle”—an old colloquialism for one who chattered aimlessly and incessantly—as to her own callousness? Maria’s worth becomes fully evident in her ‘rejection of Manly’ scene; both she and the good Colonel accept that it is her role and duty to adhere to her father’s wishes regardless of the personal suffering engendered by the consequences of such a decision. Charlotte, on the other hand, must pay the piper for having danced off


For Charlotte and Maria’s entire scene, see ibid., 482-483.


Marys and Magdalenes: Constructing the Idea of a “Good Daughter”

the path of rectitude. She soon discovers to her dismay that Àirting can have far more serious consequences when Dimple manhandles her: DIMPLE: Come, then, my charming angel! why delay our bliss? The present moment is ours; the next is in the hands of fate. [Kissing her.] CHARLOTTE: Begone, Sir! By your delusions you had almost lulled my honor asleep. DIMPLE: Let me lull the demon to sleep again with kisses. [He struggles with her; she screams.]23

Colonel Manly fortuitously saves his sister and her besieged honor, revealing Dimple for the scoundrel he is and bringing about the happy resolution of the play. Van Rough covers his previous ignorance and ungrammatically gives paternal sanction to events by praising his daughter and her new ¿ancé the worthy Colonel Manly: I heard that little baggage say she loved her old father, and would die to make him happy! Oh!—how I loved the little baggage!—And you talked very prudently young man. I have inquired into your character, and ¿nd you to be a man of punctuality and mind the main chance. And so as you love Mary, and Mary loves you, you shall have my consent immediately.24

Maria’s behavior throughout the play has led to her reward. For the audience, no speech from her is necessary; her demure thanks will suf¿ce. And so it is up to the chastened Charlotte to spell out the lessons that have been learned: If repentance can entitle me to forgiveness, I have already much merit; for I despise the littleness of my past conduct. I now ¿nd that the heart of any worthy man cannot be gained by invidious attacks upon the rights and characters of others;—by countenancing the addresses of a thousand;—or that the ¿nest assemblage of features, the greatest taste in dress, the genteelest address, or the most brilliant wit, cannot eventually secure a coquette from contempt and ridicule.25

In Twenty-¿rst century terms, this speech concedes the defeat of a woman of spirit; for post-Colonial audiences, however, all is ¿nally as it should be. The dutiful daughter, properly willing to sacri¿ce even her personal happiness to ful¿ll the commands of a ‘loving’ father, ends up with the prize, while the dangerously independent thinker ¿nds herself, as a result of her disobedient folly, humiliated and humbled.

Ibid., 495. Ibid., 497. 25 Ibid., 498. 23


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Works Cited Adams, Henry. “The Education of Henry Adams,” Novels, Mont St. Michel, The Education, Library of America, Cambridge: Press Syndicate, 1983 Cavelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery and Romance, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1976 Mowatt, Anna Cora. Autobiography of an Actress, Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1854 Tyler, Royall. “The Contrast.” Ed. Montrose J. Moses, Representative Plays by American Dramatists (Volume 1), 1765 to 1819, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc. 1918.

DON DELILLO’S RHETORIC OF EXHAUSTION AND IDEOLOGY OF OBSOLESCENCE: THE CASE OF COSMOPOLIS JUSTYNA KOCIATKIEWICZ Don DeLillo’s latest novel, Cosmopolis, is an evident continuation of his lasting concern with the rendition of the contemporary human experience, whose personal dimension is inextricably linked with the public one. The most striking feature of Cosmopolis is the obvious discrepancy between the contemporary world of rapidly developing technology and language which fails to keep up with these new developments. Agreeing on the signi¿cance of this feature, critics either hail the novel as a ¿ctionalized statement of DeLillo’s anti-globalist sentiments and as his denouncement of rogue capitalism,1 or treat it as his anti-ideological statement concerning the human condition, in which the author “never doubts the ultimate ability of language to humanize (and survive) technology.”2 As a part of DeLillo’s oeuvre, Cosmopolis “trace[s] the shifts in the balance of power, and the economic, political and cultural developmets” shaping the contemporary world3; it “con¿rms the possibility of nothing less than the transcendence and authenticity for which DeLillo’s characters have searched,” 4 the possibility of “a historical counterfunction” through which “endedness” or “stasis” of contemporary culture may be overcome.5 More importantly, the novel continues DeLillo’s obsession with omnipresence of death, technological development, and warping of time — the interrelated themes that make the text primarily another illustration, together with all its predecessors, of what may be called DeLillo’s rhetoric of exhaustion and ideology of obsolescence. John Dewey begins his discussion of Cosmopolis with the assessment of its generic af¿liation. He notes that the novel “Àirts but ¿nally frustrates” the genre of high-tech ¿nancial thriller, “a Bon¿re of Vanities/Less Than Zero social satire,” and Varsova, “The ‘Saturated Self’: Don DeLillo on the Problem of Rogue Capitalism,” 78-107. 2 Cowart, Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language, 211. 3 Boxall, Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction, 6. 4 Dewey, Beyond Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo, 138. 5 Boxall, 5,9. 1


Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence

a psychological case study. Unsuccessful in the areas suggested by these genres, Cosmopolis works perfectly, Dewey claims, as “an uncompromising parable-narrative of unearned redemption,” in which the protagonist, his interactions with other characters, the incidents, the setting and the narrative plot are designed to offer the reader “the dif¿cult gift of living henceforth on the edge of expectation, sustained by possibility, compelled by a compassionate love of living, despite the culture’s glaring ugliness, inexplicable perversions, and casual cruelties.”6 In a similar vein, David Cowart traces numerous literary allusions in the novel, beginning with Homer, through Xenophon, Hawthorne and Nabokov, to Herbert.7 Yet one more pertinent parallel may be suggested: DeLillo’s work is very much like Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Both novels deal with the same sense of inevitable disaster, a small private apocalypse which may indicate a larger collapse; in Cosmopolis, just as in Chronicle, the death of the protagonist is announced early in the novel as an unavoidable incident; in both cases the death is cruel, the agony of the protagonist noted in a balanced, neutralized way; in both novels the death is devised as a form of vengeance—the protagonist is imaged by his assassin as the embodiment of the latter’s failure; in both cases the vengeance brings no redemption or satisfaction— the death turns out to be a disappointment, an unnecessary, meaningless act, suggesting an exhaustion of a certain kind of cultural paradigm; in both cases this exhaustion is emphasized by the narration itsef: in Chronicle the narration circles frustratingly around Santiago Nasar’s death, in Cosmopolis the apparent linearity of narration is quali¿ed by the intrusion of Benno Levin’s self-styled confessions and by the constant questioning of the nature of time. Commenting upon “the temporal condition” of Cosmopolis, Boxall observes that the novel takes its “temporal coordinates from the evolution of technologies which are transforming the social production of space and time in the twenty-¿rst century.”8 As a result, “[i]n the evacuated now of Cosmopolis . . . the present disappears continually into the past or into the future”9: no present action is new or genuine as it has been preceded by similar actions, the present becoming a replica of the past, while simultaneously the future precedes the present as when the protagonist watches himself “recoil in shock” from an assault on his limousine even before the limousine is attacked making him truly recoil in shock.10 Similarly, the incidents of the novel for which the reader and the protagonist are prepared even before they take place become their own replicas: although the protagonist moves forward in space, the narration remains strangely static, which is underlined by the Dewey, 139-140. Ibid., 219-221. 8 Boxall, 221. 9 Ibid., 224. 10 DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 108. 6 7

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


switch of tenses in the very last paragraph of the novel that freezes the protagonist and his adversary, a moment before the former is shot, in present tense, announcing that “[t]his is not the end.”11 The protagonist’s awareness of impending death is what differentiates Cosmopolis from Chronicle: unlike Marquez’s character, Eric Packer expects his own death not as a far-removed possibility but as an imminent event for which he is prepared by his insomnia as much as by the fact that “[t]his was the day . . . for inÀuential men to come to sudden messy ends.”12 Throughout the day Eric receives numerous warnings concerning the safety of various public ¿gures, watches the broadcasts of violent deaths of two leaders of the ¿nancial world, and receives alerts of breached security system which develop into warnings of a serious threat to his life. This sense of danger is intensi¿ed when Packer, a cyber-capital tycoon, ¿nds himself in the middle of an anti-globalist riot, and reaches its climax when he is actually attacked. The anticlimax is that the attack is in fact harmless, a celebrity pie-attack designed both as a comic subversion of the political world (“This is my mission worldwide, “ the attacker claims, “to sabotage power and wealth”13 by throwing crème pies and quiches in the faces of world leaders and celebrities) and as selfpromotion of the attacker rather than an attempt on Packer’s life. Invigorated by the incident, Packer is reminded of the actual threat and continues to pursue death till at the end of the day he ¿nds it at the hands of his ex-employee, Richard Sheets, who renames himself Benno Levin. If Chronicle is a story delivered through one narrative voice, then Cosmopolis is a double account: that of Packer spending the last day of his life tortuously moving down the jammed streets of New York and that of Benno trying to make sense to the reader and to himself of the act that he has undertaken. Both accounts are marked with the rhetoric of exhaustion: throughout the novel Packer’s progress toward his own death is described in a linear fashion, with retrospections no longer than a line, but when no intruding third person narrator is used, Packer’s own voice becomes incoherent; delivered in front of the door behind which his assassin may be hiding, Packer’s monologue is a wild mixture of confessions and memories failing to establish him in the position of dominance he is used to, perhaps because, as he says, “Power works best when there’s no memory attached.” At that point he is dealing primarily with memory of the past, his childhood experience and his recent deeds.14 Like Packer’s monologue, Benno’s account is incoherent as he tries simultaneously to present his current condition, his history, his reasons for killing Packer Ibid., 240. Ibid., 151. 13 Ibid., 163. 14 Ibid., 209-211. 11



Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence

and his emotions at the very moment of killing him. Characteristically, what he promises to be “ten thousand pages, and then you would have the record, the literature of a life,” a “spiritual autobiography . . . in pencil,”15 is in fact a collection of random memories which merely reÀect Benno’s own confusion and frustration, a part of which stems from Benno’s inability to use language for meaningful communication: “But how can you make words out of sounds?”16 Benno asks indicating the incompatibility of his linguistic abilities with his grand design. While Benno concentrates on the emptiness and pitiful character of all his enterprises, be they his threats, his account, or his life, while he centers on his own inadequacy and helplessness, Packer emphasizes the failure of language to render his experience. He does that by insisting on exact de¿nitions of the terms he uses (a sneeze is “a protective reÀex of the nasal mucous membranes, to expel invasive materials”17), or by using terms that do not quite ¿t the situation but still roughly address it (when Eric shoots himself in the hand, Benno applies a dressing to the wound, which “wasn’t a compress and it wasn’t cold but they agreed unspokenly to use this term for whatever palliative effect it might have”18), or simply by pointing to the fact that “words [are] subject to time’s erosions” and by using “vestigial vocabulary”19 and “dated lexical markers [of antiquated technologies].”20 Interestingly, it is precisely the sphere of technological advancement where Benno situates himself with respect to Packer: while still in Packer’s employment he chooses to become one of many instruments surrounding his boss: “His bathroom mirror had a readout telling him his temperature and blood pressure at that moment, his height, weight, heart rate, pulse, pending medication, whole health history from looking at his face, and I was his human sensor, reading his thoughts, knowing the man in his mind.”21 However, if other instruments surrounding Packer—hand organizers, ear buds, stethoscopes, ATMs, phones, walkie-talkies, computers—become so quickly outmoded, Benno as an instrument becomes obsolete, too. His obsolescence is emphasized by the fact that he loses his job, family and social status, turning into a hobo. This may be because what Benno as a tool is supposed to analyze—Packer’s mind—seems to be exhausted. Packer spends his day eating, having occasional sex, undergoing a daily medical check-up, trying to get himself to the other side of the town in order to get a haircut, and waging a war against ¿nancial probabilities “betting against the yen” and losing everything in the process. The slow progress Ibid., 70,171. Ibid., 63. 17 Ibid., 161. 18 Ibid., 225-6. 19 Cowart, 212. 20 Varsova, 86. 21 DeLillo, 175. 15 16

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


downtown, interrupted by unplanned incidents, seems to be a metaphor for Packer’s present life which offers him no excitement or promise save moments of temporary satisfaction of his hunger or lust. It is also a regress in that he returns to the district of his childhood, tainted by the memory of his father’s sudden death and by Packer’s awareness of its present-day moribund character. As he enters Hell’s Kitchen late at night, he perceives his surroundings in terms of violence, waste and death: “The river was only two blocks away, bearing its daily inventory of chemicals and incidental trash, Àoatable household objects, the odd body bludgeoned or shot, all ghosting prosaically south.”22 The movie set ¿lled with hundreds of naked bodies simulating an after effect of some unnamed catastrophe again suggests death; the old barbershop where he looks for comfort and reassurance offers further evidence of omnipresent decrepitude; eventually, the abandoned house where Packer will ¿nd Benno and as a result his own demise, all foreshadow the tragic end of Packer’s fall initiated by his business failure. However, this end is not a surprise for Packer, who realizes that by reaching the peak of his potential he has reached a dead end: at the age of 28 he is already burnt out. The opening image of the novel is that of Packer alone in his huge apartment, suffering from lack of sleep and business anxiety. Even before he reaches Hell’s Kitchen, he is preoccupied with the notions of exhaustion and death, which is evident in the conversations he holds with his co-workers. Riding in his limousine-turned-of¿ce, constantly surveying the market, Packer seems to question his own determination as he seeks the con¿rmation of his specialists’ devotion to their business schemes: “I want you to tell me that you still have the stamina to do this job. The singlemindedness . . . The relentless will.”23 Although no direct answer is given, the ensuing question—“Do you get the feeling sometimes that you don’t know what’s going on?”24 —leads directly to another associate’s conclusion: “I think I’m ready to quit, basically, the business.”25 Eric does not voice his readiness to do the same, but he allows his lover Didi Fencher to sum up his career: “All this talent and drive. Utilized. Consistently put to good use... . But that’s not true anymore.”26 Packer’s reluctance to avoid the ¿nancial disaster, his unwillingness to save his company and the remnants of his wealth, his implication of his wife’s assets in his ruin, and the failure of his brief marriage point to his sense of things coming to an end. Similarly, what is to become the last day of Eric’s life is a series of cases of decay, deconstruction, and death. Packer witnesses several instances of death: two outIbid., 180. Ibid., 13-14. 24 Ibid., 15. 25 Ibid., 26. 26 Ibid., 35. 22 23


Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence

standing ¿gures of the ¿nancial world are assassinated, their deaths broadcast and replayed; the funeral of Brutha Fez, the Su¿ rap star, brings thousands of mourners into the streets of New York in homage; the self-immolation of a rioter is the peak of the turmoil that Packer looks at from his limousine window and simultaneously watches on television. Packer himself inÀicts death when he gratuitously kills his own chief of security, and he suffers death when he in turn is shot. Quite signi¿cantly, Packer’s own death is a quiet affair, neither broadcast nor drawing weeping thousands to his corpse. Recorded by a miniature camera in his watch, his death is available to an audience limited to himself. The promise of a technological afterlife, “the practical mapping of the nervous system onto digital memory... to extend the human experience toward in¿nity,”27 is checked by the physical, not virtual, pain reminding him of the true substance of humanity: the body “that’s not convertible to some high sublime, the technology of mind-without-end.”28 This body, shot, becomes an object of a lunatic’s deviant interest, and later—as Packer expects before the shot is ¿red—an unidenti¿ed corpse in the city morgue. Packer understands, as does the text of which he is the protagonist, that his death is a mark of a larger collapse; the novel opens with his conclusion concerning his possible demise: “When he died he would not end. The world would end.”29 This larger collapse is suggested by Packer’s business failure that also involves the ¿nancial ruin of his wife and thus the ruin of both cyber-capital and old wealth that they respectively stand for. The collapse is also symbolized by the rat that is used as an emblem of the anti-globalist revolt, suggesting the rapaciousness and repugnance of the modern form of capitalism. In his callous indifference to others and ruthless entrepreneurship Packer may be seen as an embodiment of the latter, of the forces that shape and govern the contemporary world. Thus, his story may indeed be considered a parable, but the one whose moral seems to be even more complex than the re-discovery of the spiritual nature of man, the “authentic ascent of a soul” that Dewey ¿nds in Cosmopolis.30 David Cowart claims that DeLillo is uniquely resistant to ideology. The question whether resistance to any ideology is not an ideology in itself aside, many critics tend to see DeLillo’s work within an ideological context of postmodern theories including Lyotard’s postmodern sublime and Baudrillard’s simulacrum, or the search for the transcendence of the material and materialist aspect of human condition, or Marxist preservation of “a radical revolutionary spirit” against the dead-end of history,31 or even conspiracy theories, the “unconscious, collective effort at trying Ibid., 236-7. Ibid., 237-8. 29 Ibid., 6. 30 Dewey, 142. 31 Boxall, 5. 27


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


to ¿gure out where we are and what landscapes and forces confront us in a late twentieth century whose abominations are heightened by their concealment and their bureaucratic impersonality,” as Frederic Jameson puts it,32 that refer us to attempts at understanding “the total logic of late capital.”33 Undoubtedly, conspiracy plays an important role in DeLillo’s ¿ction, with its de¿ance of reason and intuition, its characters “tunneling deeper and deeper toward some unreachable solution or explanation” only to learn that they are merely “players in a game manipulated by unknowable forces.”34 Commenting on Libra, Frank Lentricchia observes that the plots around which DeLillo arranges his narratives “tend deathward,”35 and it may be suggested that DeLillo offers his own ideology of obsolescence. If we understand ideology as a lived relationship to the real, then DeLillo’s novels suggest through the cast of characters and choice of plots and concerns, a constant focus on decay, collapse, yielding to enormous powers beyond individual control, and eventually death. DeLillo’s ¿ctitious universe is propelled by acts of passing away and giving up. In Cosmopolis this process of gradual deconstruction is rendered through the rhetoric of exhaustion referred to above: DeLillo’s characters and his narrator move downward and deathward, literally and symbolically, and use language and rhetoric suggesting disconnectedness and decline. The three obvious concerns intertwined in the narrative—the problems of time, image and mortality—point in the same direction. “We need a new theory of time,” Packer’s chief of theory Vija Kinsky announces. In her opinion, computer technology and the dependence on the virtual reality created by the stream of information have introduced a profound change in the modern conception of time: “We used to know the past but not the future. This is changing,” she claims, because “[t]he future becomes insistent,” replacing both past and present.36 Packer seems to subscribe to this view wholeheartedly as he imagines himself as a man of the future, connected with what is yet to come through his involvement with the world of technology whose rapid changes he follows and controls. More than that, if Kinsky theorizes about the human projection from dismissable past and hollowed out present into the future, he actually sees the world in such terms. In Packer’s eyes the twin towers of World Trade Centre are “in the future, a time beyond geography and touchable money and the people who stack and count it,” they belong in the future of virtual reality, limited neither by space nor by the tangible. Even without Kinski’s ideological interference, Packer considers his own body Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the Word System, 3. Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping,” 356. 34 Aaron, “How to Read Don DeLillo,” 70. 35 Lentricchia, “Libra as Postmodern Critique,” 201. 36 DeLillo, 100, 92. 32 33


Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence

an inessential aspect of the equally inessential present moment: his body becomes “the structure he wanted to dismiss in theory . . . . He wanted to judge it redundant and transferable. It was convertible to wave arrays of information. It was the thing he watched on the oval screen.”37 Thus the body becomes an object hindering the potentially glorious future when “[p]eople will not die. . . . People will be absorbed in streams of information.”38 This future is pre¿gured by the way the image—the image of Packer’s body in its daily functions available on the Internet, the image of his heart on the electrocardiograph screen, the image of Arthur Rapp’s body stabbed by an assassin, the image of Kaganovich’s body shot in front of his dacha, the image of a protester immolating himself—allows the viewer to dissociate the bodily from the actual and the tangible. The televised image, endlessly replayable, arrests the living body in a time that is neither past nor present nor future, but the divine eternity, perfect and changeless. The virtual nature of such an eternity is suggested by the billboard advertisements for underwear, in which “underwear gods” are “¿gures beyond gender and procreation . . . beyond commerce, even, . . . immortal in their muscle tone, in the clustered bulge at the crotchline,”39 divorced from the push and pull of everyday life dehumanized objects of admiration, ideal and changeless. The reality in which neither time nor space is an obstacle to human mind, the reality of ultimate perfection seems accessible through the rapid technological progress, and Packer is a man capable of bene¿ting from this progress: the condition of his body is continuously supervised by sophisticated medical equipment as well as daily medical checkup; his career and his fortune depend on his mastery in the sphere of virtual transactions on the ¿nancial market which never goes to sleep, demanding Eric’s constant attention facilitated by computers surrounding him at all times; he evidently controls the devices around him (“He could talk most systems into operation or wave a hand at a screen and make it go blank”40); last but not least, he imagines an afterlife which would be the digital, virtual projection of himself. Yet before he reaches this afterlife, before he makes a transition to the immortal future, Packer must grapple with another idea Kinsky poses before him: that such a move must be violent, that creation originates in destruction, that for the future to be made, the past must be annihilated.41 It is in the shadow of havoc and wreckage, “the threat of death at the brink of night”, that Eric prepares to make his passage: “Now he could begin the business of living.” 42 However, from the beginning this “business of living” takes the form of shedIbid., 55. Ibid., 120. 39 Ibid., 96. 40 Ibid., 15. 41 Ibid., 107. 42 Ibid., 124. 37


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ding all that separates Packer from the future: he accepts his wife’s decision to terminate their marriage as a result of his Àagrant in¿delities; he loses all of his and his wife’s money on “rumbling markets” 43; he witnesses two pop-culture versions of apocalypse (“the last techno-rave, the end of whatever it was the end of” 44) and death (the funeral of Brutha Fez); he loses his pocket money and documents in addition to all the pieces of attire he has already left with his lovers; and ¿nally shoots his bodyguard in an act of “clear[ing] the night for deeper confrontation.” 45 In search of the confrontation he wanders to Hell’s Kitchen only to ¿nd himself alone on a deserted street. If Packer’s story begins with the statement that “[h]e didn’t know what he wanted,” 46 at this point the ignorance of purpose turns into a moment of pure stasis: “There was nothing to do. . . . The moment was empty of urgency and purpose. . . . There was nowhere he wanted to go, nothing to think about, no one waiting. How could he take a step in any direction if all directions were the same?” 47 The shot ¿red at him gives Packer a direction and a purpose, but this instant immediately pre¿gures the moment of Packers death thirty pages and several minutes later: the confrontation that Packer ¿nds is the one with his wouldbe assassin, Benno. Dewey wants to see in the ending of Cosmopolis the “shattering con¿rmation of a soul,” a “reclaiming,” “an unanticipated, unearned spiritual recovery of the protagonist, in which weakness becomes strength; submission, triumph; confusion, wisdom; and death, ultimately, a passage.” 48 The ¿nal movement of the novel, Boxall claims, ¿nds Packer in “a transitional space . . . of pure potential, a space of possibility.” 49 These readings seem to underestimate the presence of Packer’s assassin in the text, and the role his confessions play in it. Benno is Packer’s opposite, destitute, inarticulate, unmotivated, weak, absurd. Unlike Eric, he preserves a childish fascination with the technological universe—“cash machines have a charisma that still speaks to me.”50 He minutely describes the vestiges of the technological to which he as a homeless person has access: the iron desk and the exercise bike with only one pedal. He is Eric’s parody when he keeps transferring his limited ¿nancial assets from one account to another just for the fun of it. Yet he too doubles Eric’s lack of ultimate purpose when Packer’s loss of direction quoted above is reÀected in Benno’s claim that “the core of the work will be either I track him down and shoot

Ibid., 146. Ibid., 146. 45 Ibid., 169. 46 Ibid., 6-7. 47 Ibid., 205-6. 48 Dewey, 148, 149. 49 Boxall, 232. 50 DeLillo, 69. 43



Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence

him or do not.”51 However, Benno’s indecision is not a mark of the exhaustion of his talents as much as it is sense of his own inadequacy, his own insigni¿cance. Benno believes that to assassinate Packer would help him salvage some sense of importance: “I want to kill you in order to count for something in my own life,”52 he says. However, at this point Packer realizes his death will not offer Benno the satisfaction he requires because his act is only “cheap imitation,” deprived of “history” or “conscience” or an ideological purpose.53 Moreover, the futility of Benno’s act is already known to the reader: the part of Benno’s confessions dealing with his inability to describe his reaction to Packer’s death or to evaluate his act comes long before the act is committed, between sections 1 and 2 of the text. Thus the meaninglessness of Packer’s death is announced before it takes place, and the potential and possibility apparently present in the very last moment as Eric awaits the shot that will kill him is necessarily quali¿ed as the reader knows that Packer’s demise will bring no clari¿cation or catharsis, only more confusion. DeLillo’s previous novel, Underworld, has been described as a text which “takes to a new level DeLillo’s struggle to ¿nd a form of representation commensurate to the impossibly complex interactions in the age of globalization between individuals and the larger determining forces,” and which “elegantly represents the unrepresentable concatenations of the personal and the global, but without subsuming them into a totalized plot.”54 Cosmopolis in turn uses a uni¿ed, totalized plot to suggest the destructive inÀuence of the global upon the individual. John McClure is right to claim that DeLillo’s characters’ “recourse to silence and confession of powerlessness” in response to the technological speed-up is more than giving up to the external power: it is a means of “¿nd[ing] refuge and replenishment in another spatial and temporal zone.”55 But in Cosmopolis this spatial and temporal zone must evidently be linked with death—the characters’ refuge is in death. Packer escapes from the world of technological speed-up into the rediscovery of the bodily, the physical, which is ultimately recognizable only in death; he moves literally from the elevated position of the mastermind of cyber-capital living in the tallest apartment building in the world to the Àoor in a house marked for demolition where his corpse may be found. Before he reaches this destination he does away with everything that could link him back to the reality he has abandoned, but the destiny he ful¿lls is that of irrevocable dying; it is the ultimate end with no return and no hope of a comprehensible afterlife. Unlike Packer, Benno goes neither forward nor backward: he is forever caught Ibid., 171. Ibid., 213. 53 Ibid., 220, 223. 54 McClure, “Forget Conspiracy: Pynchon, DeLillo, and the Conventional Counterconspiracy Narrative,” 239-40. 55 Ibid., 263-4. 51


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in the chaos of his ideas and memories, whose incoherence makes it impossible for him to make any sense of his life. If Packer runs away from technology, Benno sticks to the vestiges of it—his pencils, his paring knife, and his iron desk—but even those fail to lend any meaning to his experience. Benno’s last paragraph questions the universal purpose of Benno’s life or any life that is simply a prison from which there is no escape except death: “There are dead stars that still shine because their light is trapped in time. Where do I stand in this light, which does not strictly exist?”56 Interestingly, commenting upon his own place in the universe, Benno turns to what is discovered thanks to science assisted by technology. David Cowart asserts that in Cosmopolis language has a humanizing function; unlike the characters, it is language that survives technology.57 One might doubt whether DeLillo ever lets his readers entertain such a conviction without serious quali¿cations. If anything, DeLillo seems to ask to what extent language may be used to render human experience. This is the issue that The Names contends with; this is what the memorable exchange between Jack Gladney and his son Heinrich in White Noise indicates. In Cosmopolis Packer’s awareness of the vocabulary that fails to meet the standards of reality serves the same purpose, and so does Benno’s unordered Àow of words. Yet what remains in the end is not language but silence: the silence of the corpse prostrate on the Àoor and the silence of Benno musing over it and over his life that he himself reduces to the table and the pencil in the moribund universe knowable only—like the stars he speaks of—through technology.

Works Cited Primary Sources DeLillo, Don. Cosmopolis. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Scribner, 2003.

Secondary Sources Aaron, Daniel. “How to Read Don DeLillo.” In Introducing Don DeLillo, edited by Frank Lentricchia, 67-82. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991. Boxall, Peter. Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction. London: Routledge, 2006. Cowart, David. Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language. Revised ed. Athens and London: Univeristy of Georgia Press, 2003. Dewey, John. Beyond Grief and Nothing: A Reading of Don DeLillo. Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2006. Jameson, Frederic. The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. 56 57

DeLillo, 178. Cowart, 211.


Don DeLillo’s Rhetoric of Exhaustion and Ideology of Obsolescence

Jameson, Frederic. “Cognitive Mapping.” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 347-357. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Lentricchia, Frank. “Libra as Postmodern Critique.” In : Introducing Don DeLillo, edited by Frank Lentricchia, 193-215. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991. McClure, John A. “Forget Conspiracy: Pynchon, DeLillo, and the Conventional Counterconspiracy Narrative.” In Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America edited by Peter Knight, 254-273. New York and London: New York University Press, 2002. Varsova, Jerry A. “The ‘Saturated Self’: Don DeLillo on the Problem of Rogue Capitalism.” Contemporary Literature 46.1 (2005): 78-107.

AGAINST SIMULATION: ‘ZEN’ TERRORISM AND THE ETHICS OF SELF-ANNIHILATION IN DON DELILLO’S PLAYERS JULIA FIEDORCZUK According to the notorious claim made by Jean Baudrillard, what effectively shapes human consciousness in contemporary world is no longer ideology but simulation. The very notion of ideology, this philosopher maintains, relies on the naïve metaphysical assumptions of times gone by: understood as false consciousness, the term ideology seems to suggest the possibility of its opposite—of truth. Simulation, on the other hand, stands for “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”1 Simulation obliterates the very opposition between truth and falsehood. It is opposed to representation insofar as it uses the “murderous capacity of images.”2 In the realm of politics, simulation has effected a fundamental dissemination of power. “Genuine power,” in Baudrillard’s view, no longer exists. It has become its own simulacrum. Thus, capitalism cannot be considered as a system relying on a speci¿c distribution of power, but rather as “a monstrous unprincipled undertaking.”3 As such, it cannot be contested. One cannot oppose simulation (opposition belonging to the same outdated model as ideology), only participate, willynilly, in the vertiginous proliferation of simulacra. Subversion actually consolidates the system and encourages the “production and reproduction of the real.” 4 The process resembles the paradoxical shape of the Moëbius strip—a three-dimensional ¿gure that has only one surface and retains its spiraling qualities when split in two. The real has been lost, or rather, exposed as never having been there in the ¿rst place; what remains is a simulacrum of reality which constantly reproduces itself by means of simulation. It has been argued that Don DeLillo’s best known novels (Players, Names, White Noise, Libra) constitute a ¿ctional rendition of what it feels like to live in “a hyperreal.” Leonard Wilcox has convincingly demonstrated that White Noise and Libra Baudrillard, Selected Writings, 166. Ibid., 170. 3 Ibid., 173. 4 Ibid., 180. 1 2


Against Simulation: ‘Zen’ Terrorism and The Ethics of Self-Annihilation

present “a view of life in contemporary America that is uncannily similar to that depicted by Jean Baudrillard.”5 White Noise especially explores the impact of mediaspeech on American identity and the consequences of the excess of information that plagues contemporary world. It is a world whose reality is lost “in a black hole of simulation and the play and exchange of signs.”6 The “white noise” of the title is precisely this excess of the sign which makes reference impossible. America is a society saturated by the media, a schizophrenic nation whose (non)ideneity is founded on a breakdown of meaning. It represents nothing besides its own ¿ctional representation. A similar interpretation is proposed by Mark Osteen who claims that most of DeLillo’s work (including his early and seldom read short stories) depicts a postmodern culture characterized by “the effacement of historical consciousness; dehumanization by institutions and technology; the ‘power of the image’ to shape human subjectivity and to blur the differences between reality and representations.” Osteen further maintains that DeLillo presents in his prose “the totalizing effects of consumer capitalism.”7 The consequences of mediaization and “the murderous capacity of images” are certainly among the central themes of DeLillo’s early novel Players (1977). However, this text achieves more than simply a presentation of the effects of simulation. While putting forward a view of life in which human beings are subject to a mindless compulsion to repeat resulting from the loss of the real and the consequent excess of the signi¿er (what Žižek describes as “the blind, contingent automatism, the constitutive stupidity of the symbolic order”8), the book also hints at a possibility of insubordination, of an ethics of the real linked with death and self-annihilation. Players is “framed” by two chapters, the introductory one titled “The Movie” and the concluding one “The Motel” (the remaining chapters are not titled). Both might be described as miniature synopses of the whole book, though each presents the reader with a different perspective. The action of “The Movie” takes place on a plane. We witness a group of people whose names are not revealed (but whom we can later recognize as the characters of the novel proper) watching a movie scene in which terrorists slaughter a band of golf-players. The movie is silent, but there is a pianist on board who improvises music for it. The passengers are deeply amused by the scene. The violence, as the narrator tells us, “is expert and intense.”9 It is violence for the sake of violence, entirely inconsequential, which is hardly surprising if one considers the fact that the viewers themselves resemble cartoon characters Wilcox, “Baudrillard, DeLillo’s White Noise, and the End of Heroic Narrative,” 346. Ibid., 346. 7 Osteen, “Children of Godard and Coca-Cola: Cinema and Consumerism in Don DeLillo’s Early Fiction,” 440. 8 Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Lacan Through Popular Culture, 18. 9 DeLillo, Players, 9. 5 6

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


rather than real people. In the following description the central protagonists of the story, Pam and Lyle, are introduced: As light returns, the man seated at the piano begins to play a tune. Standing nearby is a woman, shy of thirty, light-haired and unhappy about Àying. There’s a man to her left, holding the rim of his drinking glass against his lower lip. They are clearly together, a couple, wearing each other.10

We watch them, as if on a screen, as they are watching senseless bloodshed. Rather than being individuals, they seem somewhat generic. A man and a woman, “unhappy about Àying,” “wearing each other,” a perfectly average upper middle-class heterosexual couple. Perhaps for the sake of compositional balance, there is also a gay couple on the plane. These two characters can be identi¿ed as Ethan and Jack. Though Jack will later turn out to be perhaps the only true individual in the whole novel, in this initial description the men are no more solid than Pam or Lyle: Near the entrance to the piano bar, about a dozen feet from the piano itself, are two chairs separated by an ashtray stand. Another obvious couple sits here, men in this case. Both look at the piano player, anticipating their own delight at whatever pointed comment his choice of tunes is meant to suggest.11

The unreality of the characters is underscored by the setting, a “frame of arrested motion,” that is, the inside of a plane. Air travel is an important aspect of consumer culture, and it also represents the distortion of time and space characteristic of postmodernity. There is a transience to the scene, and a certain spectral quality. Classic postmodernist gestures of this introduction (such as the emphasis laid on the autotelic dimension of the text) leave us no illusions: it is a book we are dealing with, a work of ¿ction, an arti¿ce. The setting of the last chapter is also marked by transience. This time it is a perfectly nondescript motel-room. Like planes, motels are emblematic of the fastmoving world of late capitalism. Both of these “places” signal a lack of rootedness—a disturbance of temporal and spatial stability. They are also a crucial part of consumer lifestyle. As an unidenti¿ed “someone” declares at the beginning of the book, “‘Motels. I like motels. I wish I owned a chain, worldwide. I’d like to go from one to another to another. There’s something self-realizing about that.’”12 The idea of traveling between a number of identical-looking venues around the world presents a multi-layered paradox in which the borderline between movement and repose is made null. In fact, a motel room is not a place at all but rather a simulacrum of Ibid., 4. Ibid., 4. 12 Ibid., 3. 10 11


Against Simulation: ‘Zen’ Terrorism and The Ethics of Self-Annihilation

a place—any room in a motel looks just like another room in a motel, all of them copying the same nonexistent model. Pam and Lyle, as well as their gay friends Ethan and Jack, live in Manhattan and work in the World Trade Center (another construction of motion and repose that simulates a place). Their existence is infected with boredom and alienation: Pam and Lyle didn’t go out much anymore (…) They had sandwiches for dinner, envelopes of soup, or went around the corner to a coffee shop, eating quickly while a man mopped the Àoor near their table, growling like a jazz bassist. There was a Chinese place three blocks away. This was as far as they traveled, for nonutilitarian purposes. Pammy was skilled at distinguishing among the waiters here. A source of quiet pride.13

Their lives are ¿lled with meaningless gestures, trivial motions repeated daily out of habit. Pam, for instance, has a particular weakness: she buys fruit at a sidewalk stand because it makes her feel good. As the narrator further explains, “buying fresh fruit […] was an act of moral excellence.”14 But nobody ever eats the fruit she buys—it is left in the fruit bowl to shrivel up and rot. The isolation in which the protagonists live is underscored by the fact that they constantly watch television. It can legitimately be stated that TV is one of the characters in the novel. It is not really a source of entertainment. It is a popular topic of conversation and a medium of communication; it provides people with an outlet for their emotions. When Jack, one of the gay men, commits suicide in what could be understood as an ethical act of protest against simulation, Pam feels nothing. It is not until she gets home and switches on the TV (a silly romance is on) that she can actually experience grief. If for Pam watching TV provides an opportunity to sort out her feelings, for Lyle it is a spiritual exercise, almost like meditation or prayer: Sitting in near darkness about eighteen inches from the screen, he turned the channel selector every half minute or so, sometimes much more frequently. He wasn’t looking for something that might sustain his interest. Hardly that. He simply enjoyed jerking the dial into fresh image-burns. He explored content to a point. The tactilevisual delight of switching channels took precedence, however, transforming even random moments of content into pleasing territorial abstractions. Watching television was for Lyle a discipline like mathematics or Zen. Commercials, station breaks, Spanish-language dramas had more to offer as a rule than standard programming. The repetitive aspects of commercials interested him.15

Ibid., 16. Ibid., 32. 15 Ibid., 16. 13 14

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


“Content” is not really that important, what matters is the very act of watching— in this sense, the trivial activity can be ironically compared to Zen. What is most hypnotizing about television is not what it communicates in direct ways but rather all the noise that is created in the margins of communication, the by-product of signi¿cation, the linguistic garbage. Pam and Lyle have two TV sets in their apartment, and they often do their watching separately. Sometimes television becomes the medium through which they communicate with each other, as in the following scene in which Pam is in the living room and Lyle in the bedroom: “Are you watching this?” she called out. “What, no.” “The beauty technician.” “No.” “Put it on, quick.” “Gaw damn, Miss Molly, a man can’t watch but one thing at a time.” “Put it on, seven.” “Later, I’m watching.” “Now,” she said. “Hurry. Hurry up. Quick, seven, you dumb.”16

This quotation shows not only the domineering presence of the television in Pam and Lyle’s household but also the disintegration of language that it exempli¿es. The breakdown of communication and the crisis of meaning are among the central themes in the novel. This problem is epitomized by one of the minor characters—a man repeatedly described as standing outside the Federal Hall building holding a hand-made sign above his head. What the readers are initially told about the sign is that it is “hand-lettered on both sides” and “political in nature.”17 That is about as much as Lyle and other passers-by are able to understand of the man’s message. In a world afÀicted with an overaboundance of information, all language turns into noise and it is extremely dif¿cult to get any message across. The contents of the sign are not disclosed until well into the second half of the book. It is only then that Lyle pays enough attention to actually read it. The text on the sign is titled “recent history of the workers of the world” and it contains some shocking facts related to the exploitation of the working class. For example: “Circa 1850-1920 Workers hands cut off on Congo rubber plantations, not meeting work quotas. Photos in vault Bank of England. Rise of capitalism.”18 The man has been holding the sign for 18 years. But the violence described in it is as incapable of penetrating the onlookers’ psyche as the cinematic gore watched by the passengers on the plane in Ibid., 53. Ibid., 13. 18 Ibid., 151. 16 17


Against Simulation: ‘Zen’ Terrorism and The Ethics of Self-Annihilation

the introductory chapter. There is no psychological response to it on the part of the characters of the novel who repeatedly wonder if they have become “too complex” to empathize with others for no particular reason. The simulated lives of Players are subject to a strict compartmentalization. For every kind of experience a specialized service is available. Pam, for instance, works for a “Grief Management Council” which offers professional help in dealing with situations of loss: “She worked for a ¿rm called the Grief Management Council. Grief was not the founder’s name; it referred to intense mental suffering, deep remorse, extreme anguish, acute sorrow and the like.”19 A commercial enterprise offering assistance in such personal matters as mourning is an example of a commodi¿cation of even the most private spheres of life. The way in which the description of Pam’s job is phrased also merits attention. Grief is de¿ned as “intense mental suffering, deep remorse, extreme anguish, acute sorrow,” all of these formulations standing, in fact, for the same condition. The redundancy of this de¿nition obliterates its referent. If “grief” means all of these things, in fact it means nothing. What is more, the de¿nition is inconclusive: “and the like” with which it ends suggests that one could come up with more of similar formulations, perhaps an in¿nite number of them. Pam and Lyle seek to escape the tedium and insubstantiality of their lives by turning to dangerous games. Seeking excitement, Pam engages in an affair with Jack. It is a transgression that destroys her friendship with Jack and Ethan and perhaps even indirectly leads to Jack’s suicide. Before having sex with Jack, Pam wards off any possible qualms by repeating to herself a set of clichés: For years she’d heard people saying, all sorts, really, here and there: “Do whatever you want as long as nobody gets hurt.” They said: “As long as both parties agree, do it, whatever.” They said: “Whatever feels right, as long as you both want to do it and nobody gets hurt, there’s no reason not to.” They said: “As long as there’s mutual agreement and the right feeling, no matter who or what.” “Whatever feels right,” they said. They said: “Follow your instincts, be yourself, act out your fantasies.”20

A single thought is repeated multiple times, in different wordings, as if the repetition could guarantee its veracity. Lyle’s “game” is even more brutal. He engages in an obscure terrorist organization whose ambition seems to be to blow up the New York stock exchange. But the aim is not that important. What matters is danger, violence, and conspiracy. In fact, Lyle is prepared to betray the organization and work for a government agency that wishes to in¿ltrate it. If one were to analyze the libidinal economy of Lyle’s actions, one would ¿nd in them a perfect illustration of the Lacanian notion of the drive. 19 20

Ibid., 18. Ibid., 143.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Lyle’s frantic activity is not directed at a particular aim, it is rather a consequence of a destructive compulsion to repeat, or the death drive.21 As conspiracies proliferate, he encounters a number of characters curiously similar to one another. These people are not individuals. They are repeatable—interchangeable and expendable, like products. And so is Lyle. The terrorist organization Lyle befriends is not radical in any signi¿cant sense. Though their target is the stock exchange, it would be wrong to assume that they are ¿ghting against the injustice of the capitalist system or that they want to oppose American imperialism. In fact, there is a kind of symbiosis between the terrorists and the system they attack: one sustains the other. Baudrillard’s formulation whereby it is impossible to oppose the simulation of power seems to ¿nd its con¿rmation in DeLillo’s text. In the following quotation, which illustrates the approach of the terrorists, Lyle is talking to Marina, one of the conspirators: Five bottles, thrown from a roof, hit the pavement at ten-second intervals. Marina’s eyes revealed the faintest clue of amusement. “A little gasoline, you have a political act.” “As it is, what?” “Public nuisance,” she said. “Who’s the target, I wonder.” “The bottle is the target. They’re breaking the bottle/” “That’s Zen, he said.” “Whatever works, we try.” “The bottle is the target, master.” “So, Zen, why not?”22

Once again, there is an ironic reference to Zen. Lyle calls Marina “master,” as if she was to lead him towards some kind of spiritual revelation. In fact, it is a sort of enlightenment that Lyle is seeking. He wants to experience something that will penetrate the layers of habit and boredom, however destructive the experience may turn out to be. Indeed, violence seems to be the only way, not only out of life, but primarily out of simulation. That is the reason why Lyle is attracted to the terrorist conspiracy regardless of its objectives. His recruitment for the organization begins with him being shown a collection of weapons. The sight of the arsenal has an almost mystical effect on Lyle. A fellow conspirator referred to as “J” tells him that “Being killed, or betrayed, sometimes seems the point of it all.”23 But this “Zen” approach to violence 21 According to Lacan’s later theory, the death drive (pulsion de mort) is a necessary component of every drive insofar as every drive involves the subject in repetition. 22 DeLillo, White Noise, 143-144. 23 Ibid., 102.


Against Simulation: ‘Zen’ Terrorism and The Ethics of Self-Annihilation

does not make authentic experience possible for Lyle. He exits one game merely to enter another, the rules are slightly different, but it is still only a game, and Lyle is but a player with very little agency. The concluding chapter of the novel shows him in a motel room with a woman whom we can identify as Marina, Lyle’s collaborator and lover. The names of the characters are dropped again here. They are referred to, generically, as “he” and “she” and presented as if they were characters in a movie. The narrator uses the plural pronoun “we” now, which includes the readers among the viewers of the movie and creates a panoptical effect. In the last paragraph of the novel Lyle’s identity dissolves almost completely in the changing light: The propped ¿gure, for instance, is barely recognizable as male. Shedding capabilities and traits by the second, he can still be described (but quickly) as well-formed, sentient and fair. We know nothing else about him.24

Lyle’s transformation into a tiny cog in the system is now complete. Lyle’s resorting to aggression can be contrasted with Jack’s choice of the selfannihilating encounter with the real. Towards the end of a disastrous holiday stay in Maine with Ethan and Pam, Jack sets himself on ¿re. His decision is in no way foreshadowed—it comes as a complete surprise. His body is found next to a dumpsite, seated cross-legged, which makes the suicide seem ceremonial. But the meaning of Jack’s self-erasure (the burned body is very dif¿cult to identify) cannot be easily grasped. The act effects a breach in the order of signi¿cation, a trauma, an intervention of the real. Pam and Ethan are left with no words, no ready clichés at their disposal. “Nothing had a name”25—Pam thought. And yet, she and Ethan are able to talk more openly than ever after Jack’s death, allowing fear to permeate their conversation. Jack’s self-immolation alludes to a series of similar acts of protest that took place in the 1960’s and 1970’s, beginning perhaps with the sacri¿ce of Thich Quang Duc who set himself on ¿re in the streets of Saigon in protest against the oppression of the Buddhist religion in Vietnam. Before the war in Vietnam ended, four people had burned themselves in America, and in other countries such acts were performed in protest against oppressive governments. But, in contrast with these real life examples, Jack’s suicide is not political in nature. What he rebels against is simulation, the loss of the real.26 His act is not staged in public but performed in Ibid., 212. Ibid., 199. 26 Throughout the novel Jack is presented as a mis¿t—“adorable, useless Jack” as Pam habitually refers to him. A belated mystic, he is always searching for an exit from the life he ¿nds to be unbearable. It is Jack who suggests Maine as a holiday destination, something about the name “Maine” convincing him of a special nature of the place. Once there, he believes to have seen the UFO, a conviction which becomes the butt of cruel jokes authored 24 25

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


secrecy. Even his closest friends (Pam and Ethan) are not aware of his intentions until everything is over. The act itself is not described in the book. There are no images of Jack committing suicide, which makes it impossible for his self-sacri¿ce to be turned into a picture postcard in the mind of the reader (like the well-known photograph of Thich Quang Duc on ¿re). Instead of an image, or a signi¿er, what is left is a gap, a hole in the symbolic order. The text of the novel closes in upon the trauma but must ultimately leave it unspoken. Thus, the most dramatic chapter of the novel begins with a lengthy description of a dump-site perceived through Pam’s eyes. A police dog is searching the site before Jack’s body is even mentioned: The dog’s circles became smaller, more urgent. It was zeroing in, snout down, a little crazy with anticipation. She’d stationed herself at a point where Jack’s body was hidden from view by the bulldozer that customarily leveled out the mounts. Smoke rose from charred areas, ¿tfully. That acrid, acrid smell. She’d stationed herself. She’d chosen carefully. The dog walked off, long gray animal, a corn cob in its mouth.27

It is at this moment that the reader begins to put together bits and pieces of information in order to be able to partly reconstruct what happened. But trauma does not lend itself to symbolization. Jack’s unspeakable suicide introduces an anomaly into the otherwise impenetrable world of simulation. It puts an end to the reproduction of the drive. While other characters are subject to necessity, Jack is momentarily in the grips of tyche, or chance that befalls the individual, an Aristotelian term translated by Lacan as “the incursion of the real into the symbolic order.”28 The Lacanian real is no alternative for simulation. In the psychoanalytical use the term has a different meaning from the one it is given in Baudrillard’s text, where it stands for the reality one might hope to ¿nd beneath or beyond simulation (and which simulation exposes as non-existent). The Lacanian real stands for that which resists symbolization. It is the impossible, that which cannot be imagined, and it is linked with the crudely material aspect of the body. Stepping into the real, or selfannihilation, is not opposed to simulation in the binary system of logic. Rather, it involves exiting the system altogether and entering the impossible domain of matter. Doubtless, in so far as Jack’s suicide is interpretable, it can be reincorporated into the order of the simulacrum. But the ethical moment of the encounter with the by Pam and Ethan. In a conversation with Pam, the only moment in the novel which might be read as a foreshadowing of his suicide, he speaks of a wish to depart with the aliens: “I’m going this time. I should have done it years ago. This is no life” (177). 27 DeLillo, Players, 197. 28 Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, 24. The notions of the automaton and tyche are discussed in book XI of Lacan’s Seminar (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis).


Against Simulation: ‘Zen’ Terrorism and The Ethics of Self-Annihilation

real brought about by his action remains irreducible.29 The position in which his body is found—more or less the za-zen posture—testi¿es to an unimaginable composure on his part. It is almost impossible to resist a nostalgic feeling that Jack was able, if only momentarily, to know the taste of freedom. Which certainly cannot be said about any of the other players.

Works Cited Primary sources: DeLillo, Don. Players. London: Vintage, 1991.

Secondary sources: Baudrillard, Jean. S elected Writings, ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988:166-184. DeLillo, Don. Players. London: Vintage, 1991. Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London: Routlage, 1996. Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Liveright, 1961. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. Osteen, Mark. “Children of Godard and Coca-Cola: Cinema and Consumerism in Don DeLillo’s Early Fiction.” Contemporary Literature 37: 3 (Autumn 1996): 439-470. Wilcox, Leonard. “Baudrillard, DeLillo’s White Noise, and the End of Heroic Narrative.” Contemporary Literature 32: 3 (Autumn 1991): 345-365. Zupanþiþ, Alenka, Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan. London, New York: Verso, 2000. Žižek, Slavoy. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Lacan Through Popular Culture. MIT, 1991.

29 According to Lacan, it was Kant who ¿rst understood that the domain of the ethical verged on the real. As Alenka Zupanþiþ noted in Ethics of the Real, Kant’s morality was “a demand for the impossible” (3). Ethics, as rede¿ned by Kant and Lacan, “always appears as something excessive, an ‘interruption’” (5).


“MISLIKE ME NOT FOR MY COMPLEXION”: THE FIRST BIOGRAPHY OF IRA ALDRIDGE, THE AFRICAN AMERICAN TRAGEDIAN (1807-1867) KRYSTYNA KUJAWIēSKA COURTNEY A biography of an African American represents special kind of challenges. One of them is fact that the object of its research was born and lived in a special relationship with politics and history. The biographers must frequently struggle with ignorance, resistance and disbelief of their potential readers, black or white, to a nearly unknown history and individuals, who have many times been relegated to footnotes or completely excluded from the “of¿cial,” recognized history. This intersection of the unknown or little known/marginalized history and the forgotten and/ or regularly misrepresented people constitutes an insurmountable obstacle. Further, as Dominic LaCapra says “It is virtually impossible to write or say anything on the topic of race that is not in some way objectionable or embarrassing.”1 Since African Americans are always recognized ¿rst as members of a race and only second as individuals, the biographers always involve themselves (intentionally or unintentionally) with various aspects of race. And even if they purposefully wish, they cannot escape the issues of politics, since after all biography is probably the most political of all major literary genres. It is the one that most likely may inÀuence how a nation, an ethnic or a religious group and its history are de¿ned and how this de¿nition can be forced into serving or subverting the dominant status quo and coining a given identity. In addition, any biography of a black more than any biography of a white individual, is committed to representing simultaneously the complexity of African American life, the immediacy of history, and individual, personal identity formation over time2. Though Ira Aldridge (1807-1867) is one of the only thirty-three distinguished actors of the British stage—and the only actor of African-American descent—who is memorialized by a bronze plaque at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, and who has a theatre (the HowLaCapra, The Bounds of Race, 2. Though the space of my work does not allow for a more profound analysis of the subject, it is crucial to state that the narrative voice is usually of special interest in any biographical study: it reveals a special relationship between the biographer and the subject. 1 2


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

ard University Washington, D. C.) named after him (1979), even nowadays he is not given his deserved due in the British Isles, where he established his magnitude as an actor of world stature, nor in the USA, where he was born. According to Owen Mortimer, Aldridge’s omission from reputable English sources is not coincidental, since it is closely connected with racial prejudice.3 Who was this Ira Aldridge? Born in New York City on July 24 in 1807, educated for a few years at the Second African Free School, Aldridge was employed in his youth in various odd jobs in the city, including probably a period as a costume carrier for a visiting British actor. He was involved in several small dramatic productions staged by black acting companies at a short-lived establishment known as the African Grove Theatre of Manhattan, where he fell in love with the stage and aspired to become a professional actor. Since Aldridge was unable to ful¿ll his ambition in the United States because white authorities closed the theatre in 1824, he immigrated to Britain where he was lucky to receive his engagement at London’s Royal Coburg Theatre (now the Old Vic) in October 1825. During his almost twenty-¿ve year career in Britain he did not have a long London run in the legitimate/major theatres (Covent Garden and Drury Lane), which to many British actors would have been at that time the surest sign of respect and stature in their profession. His attempt to achieve that recognition in the Covent Garden (1833) brought him a devastating rejection, which resulted from racial prejudice.4 For the rest of his career in Britain the tragedian’s professional life depended mainly on provincial tours and work in London illegitimate/suburban theatres, ¿nding acceptance and fame. In 1852-1867 Aldridge toured many European countries where he was received with due recognition and greeted as an outstanding Shakespeare tragedian. He died in the middle of rehearsing Othello in Lodz in 1867. In short, his career separates into three distinctive parts. In the USA Aldridge started his fascination with theatre and Shakespeare and experienced the ¿rst encounters with racial prejudice and hatred.5 In Britain he was treated as a star that Mortimer, “Speak of Me As I Am,” 4. Another reason for this relative neglect by British and American historians may be that non-Anglo-American cultures have always tended to be marginalized by the hegemony of groups of “sameness” in the English-speaking world. From their point of view Aldridge was and still is a perfect example of the Strange, the Unknown, the Other. 4 See for example: Walters, “Aldridge and the Battle of Race” 2003, 1-30. 5 In his valuable monograph A Documentary History of the African Theatre, 1998, George A. Thompson presents many documents that point out not only various forms of racial discrimination directed against the African Theatre, also known in history as the African Grove, but also many forms of its subversion on the part of the theatre owners, its performers and the black New York community. See also Marvin McAllister, “White People Do Not Know How to Behave At Entertainments Designed For Ladies and Gentlemen of Colour” William Brown’s African and American Theatre, 2003. 3

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glowed from a distance, since he was not recognized by the establishment of the capital. His Continental triumphs were remarkable, since his acting tours evoked an unprecedented interest in Shakespeare.6 In the end like many of the characters whose adventures he brought to life in his performances, Aldridge did overcome adversity and win international recognition for his brave deeds. Yet he was and he still is referred to as a marginal ¿gure in the nineteenth century world theatrical history and Shakespeare studies.7 Majority of works that present Aldridge’s life are selective and biased and/or fragmented. Out of many biographical works devoted to Aldridge’s life, two are of special signi¿cance. It is Herbert Marshall and Mildred Stock’s Ira Aldridge: the Negro Tragedian, which is generally regarded as the tragedian’s most comprehensive biography written in English. Since the monograph appeared only in 1958, almost a century had to pass after Aldridge’s death before his story became more widely researched and known in his native land, the USA, and the world.8 In 1995 “Speak of Me As I Am”: The Story of Ira Aldridge written by Owen Mortimer, MilIt was Aldridge, who, for the ¿rst time ever, brought Shakespeare to Serbia (1858), where he played Richard III, Othello and Macbeth at Novi Sad, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His visit also hastened the foundation of the National Theatre in Belgrade. During his visit in Cracow in 1858 Aldridge staged for the ¿rst time in Poland Richard II and his visits inspired the ¿rst translation of Othello in which he performed in Warsaw, 1862. Aldridge was also the ¿rst actor who performed Shakespeare in Constantinople (1866). 7 Indeed, in Aldridge’s case the theatrical records and criticism that praised and venerated him during his life came mostly from the non-English speaking countries that Aldridge visited on his tours. Named by Gazeta Wielkiego Ksiestwa Poznanskiego, January 23, 1853, “a star of the ¿rst magnitude,” he was, according to The Kurier Warszawski, August 3, 1866, “greeted by crowded houses everywhere, and princes and people were eager to see him, while honours, orders and medals were showered upon him.” The composer Richard Wagner noted the clamour to watch Aldridge’s play in the theatre, the writer Theophile Gautier wrote about his enchantment with his performances in his famous Voyage en Russie,1895, and Taras Shevchenko drew his portrait as a token of their friendship, The list is long of those who from different lands and cultures knew him and whose lives he touched. It includes, among others, not only his professional colleagues e. g. Ellen Tree, Edmund Kean, Charles Kean, J. Philip Kemble, Madge Kendal (a.k.a. Robertson), but also eminent personalities from various walks of life: Sir Walter Scott, Tyrone Powers, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Hans Christian Andersen, Franz Liszt, Charles Dickens, Jenny Lind and Leo Tolstoy, After Aldridge’s tours on continental Europe his photograph albums were ¿lled with photos of eminent Russian, Ukrainian and Mongolian women and men, who usually expressed on them their appreciation of his acting. See: Charles Deering Mcormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University, Evanston, Box 2, Folder 1. 8 Their book was followed by Marshall’s Further Research on Ira Aldridge, The Negro Tragedian (1973) which revealed some additional archival materials. The other general monographs published on Aldridge’s achievements present the actor’s life on the basis of Marshall and Stock’s book and they are of a semi-¿ctional character. 6


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

dred Stock’s volunteer research assistant, appeared in print. Though the research of Marshall and Stock was thorough and painstaking, they were well aware that they had not been able to tell the whole story. In a “Prologue” to their bibliography, they admitted that “there still remained some missing links,” that the tale was “not complete in all its aspects.”9 No wonder that over the last almost ¿fty years there has been an ongoing work on the reconstruction of Aldridge’s life, since it is still a subject of controversy among specialists.10 He is very seldom, if ever, the subject of Shakespeare critics’ concerns, and one looks in vain for any information on his signi¿cance in many British and American records of nineteenth-century histories of the theatre, or in scholarly works and encyclopaedias. Interesting is the relation to Aldridge by the African American theatre historians. They usually include his name in passing among other numerous episodes and incidents from the early nineteenth century, stating that like so much of the story of African American culture, the development of the black dramatic arts lacks continuity.11 9 For example Marshall and Stock, Ira Aldridge: the Negro Tragedian, 8 register in their work that over the period of 1853-1867, Aldridge visited Poland ¿ve times. The archival research demonstrates, however, that he was in Poland eight times. He visited Szczecin, Poznan and Wroclaw (1853), Gdansk, Elblag, Krolewiec, Cracow (1854), Szczecin and Swinoujscie (1857), Krakow and Poznan (1858), Poznan (1861), Warsaw (1862), Lublin (1866) and Radom, Piotrkow Trybunalski and Lodz (1867). In addition, these two eminent scholars are not aware that some of the towns they refer to as German (e.g. Stetin, Posen, Breslau) are Polish. The same concerns are present in Mortimer’s work, “Speak of Me As I Am”: The Story of Ira Aldridge, 1995. 10 E.g. Lindfors, “Nothing Extenuate, Nor Set Down Aught in Malice”, 457-472 and “The Perils of Playing the Provinces,” 131-138. 11 Most chroniclers of the black experience in American theatre begin their accounts with Aldridge and the African Grove Company in New York in the 1820s, but they excuse any further explication of the actor’s career by the fact that this “celebrated tragedian best known for his portrayal of Othello and Oroonoko, actually performed very little on the American stage, making a name for himself instead in Britain and Continental Europe”, Curtis, The First Black Actors on the Great White Way, 27. No references to Aldridge are, however, made, for example, in George C. Odell’s two-volume stage history classic Shakespeare From Betterton to Irving, 1966, which is often praised for its thoroughness of research, accuracy and love of the theatre. There are no entries devoted to him in The Columbia Encyclopaedia,1963; The Encyclopaedia of the Arts, 1966; The Encyclopaedia of World Drama, 1972; The Encyclopaedia of World Biography, 1973; Collier’s Encyclopaedia, [1975] 1995; Famous Actors and Actresses on the American Stage, 1975; Notable Names in the American Theatre, 1976; The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of World Theatre, 1977; The Reader’s Digest Book of Facts, 1986; Bloomsbury Theatre Guide, 1988. Some publications do include information on Aldridge, but with mistakes, cf.: The Great Stage Stars, Distinguished Theatrical Careers of the Past and Present, 1986; David Pickering, Dictionary of Theatre,1988; Edward Mapp, Dictionary of Blacks in the Performing Arts,1990; Phyllis Hartnoll and Peter

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Aldridge’s work in Britain was dominated by two signi¿cant dimensions. One of them was the British attitude to slavery, and by implication to the issues of race, while the other referred to the situation of theatres and drama, playwrights and performers. When Aldridge left New York City as a free man, in America slavery was still legal in all Southern and some Northern states where not all slaves had become free under the ¿rst Emancipation Law in 1807. Though neither the actor’s liberty nor life were then under any immediate threat, he emigrated because he could not live in the country where “[n]o qualities of mind could compensate [...] for the dark hue of his skin.”12 Yet, when he arrived in Britain, he did not escape the issues of slavery, but even more implicated himself in the questions of blackness and racial prejudice.13 Though Aldridge was never directly involved in the complex issues of the American anti-slavery struggle, in Britain his phenomenon as an actor was contextualized by the situation of black population in that country and its Empire. In 1807 British parliament outlawed British involvement in the slave trade in all its colonies, where slavery existed for the next 27 years.14 London, one of the important ports through which African slaves entered the British Isles and were shipped to the New World, became the most signi¿cant arena for the activities of both the pro- and anti-slavery movements.15 The political, economic and cultural aftermath of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and the anxiety over the Emancipation Act of 1834, played a signi¿cant role in the way that the British received Aldridge as a black actor. Throughout his career in Britain all anti-Aldridge campaigns, reÀected in the daily press, were full of hatred and malice towards his racial origin. They usually evoked derogatory images that were generally used for the justi¿cation of white race’s supremacy, and had nothing to do with a just evaluation of his acting. Since his life coincided also with new developments in British overseas policy: the emancipation and violence (a major slave rebellion in Jamaica at Christmas, 1831), the re-

Found, The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre 1992. The entry “Aldridge” in Law’s Cassell Companion to the Theatre [1994] 1997, directs its readers to the entry “Roscius,” unfortunately also ¿lled with errors. 12 Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 1849, 8. 13 Green MacDonald, “Acting Black….”, 234. 14 The introduction of the anti-slavery laws also took about twenty years. As early as 1787 Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp formed a society for suppression the traf¿c in slaves. A year later their activities assumed a political dimension: William Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay and the Quakers petitioned the House of Commons on the subject, and the Privy Council was ordered to inquire into the slave trade, regarded at that time as “a necessary branch of commercial interest,” Walvin, England, Slaves, and Freedom, 1776-1838, 120. 15 Anstey and Hai, Liverpool, The African Slave Trade, and Abolition. 1989


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

sponse to Aldridge’s professional achievements frequently revealed British anxiety over the stability and endurance of its leading position in the world economy.16 In addition, during his professionally active years in Britain, Aldridge witnessed the struggle for the repeal of the Licensing Acts of 1737 and 1752 under which the theatres were implicitly de¿ned as special and potentially subversive institutions and the performers were classi¿ed as vagrants. Only the London patent theatres could stage drama, while the unlicensed/suburban playhouses were restricted to the presentations of non-dramatic performances and they were treated as places of plebeian immorality as well as a serious threat to property and social order.17 In 1830s the representatives of the unlicensed theatres and their dramatists united their efforts to change the system. Sir Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, a Member of Parliament, was the main force behind the activities of the Select Committee on Dramatic Literature. Due to the Committee’s efforts the Act of 1843 abolished the Licensing Act, yet it did not diametrically change the situation in the theatres, and it did not better the working conditions and social status of performers and dramatists. The situation was surely even more dif¿cult to Aldridge—a black performer! Some of the dif¿culties connected with the reconstruction of Aldridge’s private life and professional successes result from the text of his ¿rst full biography Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge: The African Roscius, which appeared in 1849. The twenty-eight page Memoir was published in London by “Onwhyn, Catharine Street, Strand” and was “printed by Frederic Ledger” under the same address. Its Àyleaf has a quotation from The Merchant of Venice, when the Prince of Morocco introduces himself :”Mislike me not for my complexion/The shadowed livery of the burnished sun” (2.1). The front page gives the price of the publication, which amounted to “sixpence.”18 The title of this biography is signi¿cant. Though it promises to present only two aspects of the actor’s life: “his memoir” and the story of his “theatrical career,” by implication it also informs its potential readers about the grandeur of Aldridge’s professional successes. At that time the title “Roscius” designated extremely talented performers. To be a Roscius on the stage was a traditional compliment in the 16 Huttenback, Racism and Empire: White Settlers and Coloured Emigrants in the British Self-Governing Colonies 1830-1910, 26-58. 17 Under the monopoly the playwrights involved with the suburban theatre activities could not copyright their texts, which meant that they did not receive reasonable salaries for their work. 18 At the time when a working-class man was apt to earn a pound a week, half a shilling amounted to 1/40th of his wages. Unless he was unusual, he was unlikely to spend more on reading material than his penny newspaper. It means that the price of the publication limited its readership, since it was practically inaccessible to the representatives of that class who constituted the audience of the unlicensed London theatres where Aldridge always received his due recognition.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


English-speaking theatre, a reference to the legendary glory of the slave of antiquity, the great Quintus Roscius Gallus (c. 256-62 B.C.E.) from an era when actors were drawn from the ranks of slaves. In other words, the very term “Roscius” used in the title of the Memoir bestowed on Aldridge supreme distinction.19 The Memoir’s back cover page presents a picture of “Mr. Ira Aldridge as Othello.” The introductory page bears a dedication addressed “To Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer Lytton, Bart., M. P. Distinguished Philanthropist, Author and Friend of the Drama” signed “With the Loveliest Feeling of Respect and Admiration, the Author.” Dedicating the Memoir to Lytton Bulwer was a tribute to the man, who was the leader of the anti-Licensing fraction, a great individuality in the dramatic and theatrical circles and a playwright in his own right. The most unsettling aspect of the Memoir introductory pages is the anonymity of its author. The name “Onwhyn,” Welsh in origin, referred to Joseph Onwhyn, a bookseller and newsagent at 3 Catharine Street, Strand, London, who published a number of guides for tourists.20 Instead of clarifying the information on Aldridge’s life, the 1849 biography/autobiography (?) has been for many years the object of controversy. As it presented an “fairy-like tale” version of the tragedian’s origin, serious scholars currently disregard its value. The Memoir stated that the tragedian was born in South Africa as a son of the chief of one of the Senegabia tribes, who was taken by a protestant missionary to New York, and brought up there in Christianity. When after returning to his motherland, his father attempted to regain his land, he was forced to Àee because of some political problems and he reached the plateau of southern Africa, where in an indigent wandering life his wife gave birth

19 Shakespeare makes reference to this name in his Henry IV part 3: “What scene of death has/Roscius now to play”(5.6). The ¿rst English actor ever described as “Roscius” was apparently Richard Burbage. In the Restoration period Thomas Betterton was called “The British Roscius,” later that name was applied to David Garrick. 20 For some time I presumed that the publisher’s name could help in solving this e mystery, but the research has not brought expected results. Onwhyn chieÀy compiled the information for his tourist guides from his own notes and observations, among others to Highlands (1829), Killarney (1838) and Wales (1840). Drama was among his interests, since in 1850 another anonymous work devoted to that subject appeared from his publishing house. Desultory Thoughts on the National Drama, Past and Present, whose anonymous author called him/herself “An Old Playgoer”, 1850, did not, however, mention Aldridge, though it did pay tribute to many other famous players of the time. It must be mentioned in this context that it is also possible, as Marshall and Stock presume, that Aldridge did indeed write the Memoir himself. After all, his playbill of 1838 announced the tragedian’s “Grand Classic and Dramatic Entertainment,” which included his lecture “Defence of the Drama,” excerpts from various plays and the presentation of “a Memoir of the African (written by himself and delivered by him on his recent engagement in the Theatre Royal, Dublin),” Marshall and Stock, Ira Aldridge: The Negro Tragedian, 148.


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

to Ira. Two years later he found himself on the coast, and was luckily taken on board a ship sailing to America, where he became pastor in a Negro parish. It is impossible to say who was responsible for this romantic rendition of Aldridge’s provenience. It might have been “invented” by the Memoir‘s author, or as Marshall and Stock believe, it might have been written at the tragedian’s suggestion or/and with his close cooperation. The biographers substantiate their assumption by that fact that the actor was much aware of the value of publicity and later in his career he treated the “story of Aldridge’s life” as a signi¿cant part of his European tours. At his inspiration the English original became worldwide known: it was translated into German, Russian and French.21 Though this narrative on the tragedian’s earliest life, modelled probably on a Victorian sentimental melodrama, constitutes only one fourth of the whole text, the Memoir is generally dismissed as an unreliable biographical document. The main aim of this biography is, however, diametrically different. It is to present Aldridge as an Ethiopian—“‘a black”—who, notwithstanding the abject state in which most of his kind “Live, move, and have their being,” has obtained, and maintains among us Europeans—“the whites”—who deem ourselves to be the most civilised people upon God’s earth, a reputation whose acquisition demands the highest qualities of the mind and the noblest endowments of the person.22

Aldridge’s career is shown here as a complete negation of the ideology of white racial supremacy. The text is effective, because unlike “the slave narratives,” which “encouraged formulaic expressions of stereotypical persons who often did not corMarshall and Stock, Ira Aldridge: The Negro Tragedian, 11. See also: Anon. Leben und Kunstler-Laufbahn des Negers Ira Aldridge,1853, Anon., Ira Aldridge: Biographicheski Ocherk, 1858; Anon., Vie du Negre Ira Aldridge, 1866. Stanislaw Orgelbrand, the editorin-chief of the Polish nineteenth century encyclopaedia Encyklopedia powszechna, [1859] 1991, 366, used some information from this text in his entry “ALDRIDGE (IRA)”. We can ¿nd echoes of the Memoir in Fountain Peyton’s book A Glance at the Life of Ira Frederick Aldridge,1917, in Marie Trommer’s Ira Aldridge, American Negro Tragedian and Taras Shevchenko, Poet of the Ukraine. Story of a Friendship,1939, which was the ¿rst attempt to present the document on Aldridge’s impact on Russian culture and in Sergei Durylin’s publication Ira Aldridge,1940, which constitutes a thoroughly researched and highly documented work (in Russian) with detailed information about Aldridge’s performances in Russia, culled mainly from contemporary newspapers and periodicals. One can also trace the Memoir’s impact in an unpublished manuscript: Black Ebony—The Diaries, Letters and Criticism: The Story of Ira Aldridge (Known as the African Roscius) written before World War II by Cyril B. Andrews. The publicity of this romantic story was so successful that in many countries even nowadays the facts reported by the Memoir are frequently accepted as genuine. 22 Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 5. 21

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


respond to what the narrator felt himself,”23 the narrator presents a well-documented study of a successful individual, whose high professional standards have been recognized in poems, letters and theatrical reviews quoted in the Memoir. The biography is to be “a moral lesson” for its readers, who should acknowledge “that the swarthy native of Africa is as capable of cultivation as the fairest son of Albion.” 24 The use of the ¿rst person plural is a rhetorical move: “we” designates the author as a member of an educated and knowledgeable community of white men. Frequent quotations of authorities in Latin prove his education. The text begins with the narrator’s careful selection of his ideal audience. The ¿rst sentence of the pamphlet makes it clear that it is addressed: To the philosopher, the philanthropist, the physiologist—to the man interested in the whole human family, and capable of drawing liberal conclusions from the various characteristics which under different aspects, it exhibits, this brief memoir of the one who stands forth a conspicuous specimen of a “distinct” and “marked” race, and a living illustration of their intellectual capabilities, will be peculiarly acceptable.25

Throughout the Memoir, its narrative voice foregrounds intellect, morality, religion and education of his intended readers: “well-informed people” can understand “that a great amount of the highest order of human intelligence is to be meet with in people of colour.”26 In its erudite text seasoned with philosophical Àavor, Aldridge’s theatrical career is used both to divulge the defective logic of the pro-slavery arguments and to prove the equality of the black race. The Memoir juxtaposes Aldridge’s sufferings in the past with his current professional successes. It remembers his previous disadvantages, but it always stresses dignity and celebrates the actor’s accomplishments. The text repudiates inferiority and thrives in the cultural, social and political challenges that the actor has triumphantly conquered, positioning himself among the best actors of his time. The reviews of his theatrical presentations of various characters, both black and white, which are included in the text, con¿rm that Aldridge always found a means to draw the audience’s attention to the sorrows of slavery and atrocities of racial prejudice. The Memoir’s author is aware of the value of his own work, positioning it among the tracts published by the British Anti-Slavery Society, Foster, F. S., Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-Bellum Slave Narratives. 1979, 60. 24 Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 5. 25 Ibid., 50. 26 Ibid, 6. And indeed the “well-informed” readers were moved. After the publication of the Memoir, they sent Aldridge letters, in which they expressed their admiration for his professional successes and their sharp criticism of racial prejudice. See: Charles Deering Mcormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University, Evanston, Box 3, Folder 3. 23


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

though, as he says, his work is more signi¿cant because it contains “more incontrovertible evidence of the African’s natural claims” of racial equality.27 Instead of parading the image of a pitiful black on the rhetorical stage in order to defend against racial prejudice, its narrator demonstrates that the black race has already achieved “eminence in the arts and sciences [...] in the Church, the Law, and in Medicine—in all our professions and trades.” The career of these men proved that “the hue of the skin is known to be no natural impediment to the acquirement of learning, the cultivation of ingenuity, and the practice of virtue.” In other words, Aldridge, like the other eminent representatives of his race, learnt the ability, which Arthur Ashe insists in a different context as necessary if African Americans are to “preserve their sanity.” He says that they must learn to “live with reasonable freedom and dignity and yet also avoid insult, disappointment, and conÀict rooted in racism” that Ashe calls “not so much to turn the other cheek as to present [...] no cheek at all.”28 The authority of Shakespeare and his nineteenth century reputation as the quintessential cultural capital of the white British superiority reinforces the respect that the narrative voice reveals towards Aldridge’s professional triumphs: It is impossible to regard one man of colour as a being of extraordinary faculties, possessing a soul capable of appreciating, and endowments equal to the representation of immortal Shakespeare’s great creations, and not sigh in serious contemplation of the wrongs of thousands of his countrymen treated by their paler brethren as mindless, soulless, feelingless clay, bearing the corporeal impress of humanity, but cruelly or thoughtlessly denied its spiritual attributes.

Aldridge is, after all, “the ¿rst negro” who has earned for himself an unparalleled success in a very dif¿cult profession, in the profession which demands: “[t]he acquirements of a scholar, the conception of a poet, and the accomplishments of a gentleman [...] united in one individual before he can become eminent as an actor.”29 The racial difference is treated as given, but the stereotyping prejudices are questioned: We cannot pay to the inky-visaged children of the Sun those personal compliments, which are often lavished upon fairer faces. There is black marble as well as white: but those varied tints which captivate the eye—the beauties of colour—they are not even “skin deep,” and such as the rose, the lily, the violet, and other Àowers display, are peculiar to European countenances. The “pure red and white,” however, even in contrast to the blackness with which the Devil is painted, what are they in reality to

Ibid., 6. Ashe and Rampersad, Days of Grace: A Memoir, 138. 29 Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 7. 27


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the scienti¿c and philosophic observer?—what are they in the eyes of our common Creator?

Close association with Aldridge allows the author of the Memoir to include various anecdotes from the actor’s life both in the USA and in Britain. Narrating the romantic story of Aldridge’s ¿rst meeting with his future [white] wife, the author fashions it in the terms of Shakespeare’s Othello, but with a happy ending. There is also a description of a hoax played on the actor by one of the English newspapers, according to which during an accident “Mr. Aldridge, the postilion, and the horses were killed on the spot—the carriage being dashed to atoms.” Though Marshall and Stock see this incident in terms of racial hatred,30 the author of the Memoir was of a different opinion. The story “made his [Aldridge’s] name the more known, increased the interest which those who knew him took in his welfare, and served as a strong advertisement in widely circulating his fame.”31 Since the biographer seems to have ¿rst hand knowledge of Aldridge’s life, he is not afraid of of¿cially naming both the people whose appreciation and friendship helped the actor to achieve success and the people whose racial hatred and, sometimes, professional jealousy impeded the player’s career. There is a long list of various high society individuals who expressed their appreciation of Aldridge’s acting, and who wrote him laudatory letters, sent him Àowers and gift, and were honoured to receive him as their home guest. The readers also receive a short history of the New York African Theatre and the story of Charles Mathews’s parodic impersonation of Aldridge.32 Though his “re-enactment” of an incident which Mathews claimed to have witnessed in the African Grove Theatre during his 1822-1823 tour in the USA, Aldridge’s name was never mentioned, it was a common knowledge in Britain that the skit referred to the tragedian. During his visit there, in the midst of delivering Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, Aldridge, Mathew asserted, was ridiculously interrupted by a rowdy black audience and persuaded to sing a “negro ballad” entitled “Opossum Up a Gum Tree.” In Mathews’s caricature, Aldridge spoke in a stereotyped “negro” dialect and displayed the type of ostentatious behaviour, which later was employed in the minstrel acts.33 The apparent aim of Mathews’s skit was to show the incongruity between Shakespeare and Afro-American culture, as embodied by the “Opossum” song and to underscore the absurdity of combining such a song with Hamlet. Since this performance was to undermined Aldridge’s position as a renowned Shakespeare trageMarshall and Stock, Ira Aldridge: 1958: 67. Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 22. 32 Mathews, The London Mathews: 11. 33 Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 11. 30 31


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

dian in some British cultural circles, the Memoir’s narrative defends his hero, and allows him to speak in his own defence. The tragedian assured that he had “never attempted the character of Hamlet in [his] life” and that “the whole of the ludicrous scene so well and humorously described by Mr. Mathews, never occurred at all.”34 In addition, examples of “Yankeeism” that some American performers visiting Britain tried to use in their contacts with Aldridge are comprehensively described. This kind of behaviour gives the narrator an opportunity to voice his own attitude to their manners: American actors, and some actors, who have been in America, to this very day, scoff at the African “because he be black,” while they themselves are but little admired for all their whiteness. We can easily understand the latent animosity and open hostility that one performer feels for and shows to another, according to the circumstances which call forth such sentiments: but we have more dif¿culty in accounting for the unprovoked, uncharitable, unreasonable and unjusti¿able attacks made upon an individual by educated men whose interests can never clash with his, whose profession teaches liberality, and whose principal boast is strict impartiality.

Assessing the methods used in the British press to denigrate Aldridge’s appearance in Covent Garden theatre in 1833, the narrator soberly comments: “But there are many mysteries as to theatrical criticism that puzzle the uninitiated.”35 Since the Memoir is full of material taken from “old playbills, newspaper notices and some memoranda,”36 which lionized Aldridge, its author realizes that his readers might react with suspicion to his eulogy of the actor’s achievements. He apologizes for “remarks too partial, and conclusions one-sided,” but as he says he hopes that “some allowance will [ . . ].be made for the bias, which the mind naturally receives when engaged upon an undertaking in which its sympathies are excited, and when its approval is justi¿ed by the evidence it elicits.”37 In the conclusion of the Memoir, its readers are told that Aldridge authorized the text, which means that he also auhorized its anti-slavery and racial equality ideology. If Aldridge, as some critics maintain, wrote the Memoir himself, his deception is subtly intensi¿ed by the last sentences. The author seeks approval for the inadequacy of his biographical endeavour, believing that “Mr. Aldridge, the African Roscius, will, in no respect, be a loser by the interesting truths that remain.” And he suddenly enlarges the initially intended audience of educated whites with the

Ibid. Ibid., 18. 36 Ibid., 28. 37 Ibid., 28. 34 35

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


audience of the “people of his [Aldridge’s] colour” who reading this text “may see occasion to rejoice in [. . .] publicity” of the actor’s fame.38 Though Aldridge is sometimes labeled as a person who was actively engaged in emancipation issues, so far, however, no documents have been found to con¿rm his overt and direct opposition to political institutions or centres of power. During his life in Britain almost every major American black Abolitionist leader visited Britain, and many of them performed and sustained lectures tours across the whole country,39 yet nothing indicates that Aldridge participated in these lectures, political meetings or debates. There is, however, no doubt that Aldridge was a devout abolitionist in his heart.40 If the tragedian did indeed write the Memoir, we deal here with his elaborate treatise on his political, social and cultural attitude towards the issues of race. As the documents show Aldridge was not involved directly in the debates, parliamentary canvassing and other activities, which brought about the legal change in the British theatrical life. The text of the Memoir proves, however, that he did know and respect the activists and that he joined their struggle by educating his audiences in the moral signi¿cance of theatre and drama. The Memoir quotes an excerpt from Aldridge’s ”Lecture in Defence of Drama,” in which Aldridge explained the special role of drama among the other arts. Though “sculpture, painting, and music,” which “are. . .cherished, and have also been appreciated and esteemed commendable by all,” he, as a man of theatre, reminded his audience that a dramatic performance is a blend of all arts. “The Drama,” he said, “when viewed in its proper light will stand as high as the loftiest of the arts and sciences.” To support his argument Aldridge resorted to an appropriate quotation from Hamlet, and in this way he resorted to the authority of Shakespeare.41 Martin Luther was the other authority, whose convictions Aldridge used to defend drama. The tragedian reminded his audience that “Luther, upon most subjects, would be attended to with respect, if not conviction, and one would imagine that his view of the Stage alone would induce the serious part of the community to attend to the directions of the Stage, not to its destruction’. As a seasoned performer he manipulated his listeners by talking about the issues close to their daily concerns. For example, he stated, after Luther, that drama constitutes a perfect place to educate children and to give “correct codes of behaviour for young men towards both immoral and virtuous women.” His lecture climaxed in a patriotic note: Aldridge Ibid., 28. Rice and Crawford, Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform, 1999. 40 It is known that Aldridge gave ¿nancial assistance to the American abolitionist movement. See Czas, a Polish periodical from Cracow, November 8, 1855. 41 Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 19. 38 39


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

implied that that drama indirectly guards the status quo of the national and political stability.42 Delivered at the time when the moral values constituted one of the crucial subjects of the ongoing debate, also at the parliamentary level, Aldridge’s “Lecture in the Defence of Drama” located the signi¿cance of drama in the heritage of the protestant teaching. At the same time, the text presents Aldridge as a shrewd reader of Luther’s works. But after all he had been exposed to theological teaching at home, which the actor skilfully employed to defend not only drama, but also the choice of his theatrical profession.43 Though the critics usually disregard the biographical value of the Memoir, my research tells me that both the ideological and the “fairy-like” dimension of the biography are of equal signi¿cance. The invented story of his origin may be interpreted as the actor’s attempt to ¿ght back the societal pressures of racial discrimination. Kevin K. Gaines explains and justi¿es dissemblance (silence, evasion and distortion) in the presentations of families’ histories, which is traced in many African American stories since the nineteenth century: In short, African American men and women dissemble to survive in a racialized world not of their own making . . .For educated blacks, the family, divisive memories of the violence and humiliation of slavery and segregation were and remain at the heart of the uplift ideology’s romance of the patriarchal family, expressed by black men and women’s too-often-frustrated aspirations to protect and be protected.44

In American and British societies strictly regulated by class and race identity, Aldridge had one way to follow to af¿rm his ¿tness for approval, and maybe even total assimilation. His “invented” social mobility was to take him to the top of the British society—its royalty. After all, much of the appeal, which the issues of slavery had for the “humane broadening of the public conscience,” was based “on the victim’s right, like Oroonoko, to riches through his noble birth.”45 The life of Oroonoko, the ¿rst character Aldridge played, might have become then a model for his family lore: the actor “abandoned” his American origin and beAnon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, 20. As the Memoir maintains Daniel Aldridge, his father, attempted to draw Aldridge from theatre, and he “made him stay by his side in the Church he served, with the intention of sending him to a theological school,” 21. Since his father was “minister or a reverend” or “a member of high standing in ‘Old Zion,’” Marshall and Stock, Ira Aldridge: The Black Tragedian, 20, it is also feasible that in this part of his biography the actor pays tribute to his father’s teaching. 44 Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century, 5. 45 Disher, Blood and Thunder: Mid-Victorian Melodrama and Its Origins, 108. 42 43

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


came an African, a descendent of a Senegalese king.46 His newly assumed identity was not only a simple promotional act, though it did help to attract the audience, but also a complex act of performativity. John Coleman described Aldridge’s arrival in Derby in 1848, where he was to play Othello and was billed as the son of an African prince: As I reached the market place I saw the prince [Aldridge] driving the High Street in his carriage, and a very princely affair it was. The coachman on the box, the Àunkeys behind, and the distinguished looking coloured gentleman inside attracted crowds as it leisurely rolled along [. . .] He, or the carriage, or both drew a crowded house.

Only later when Coleman came to know Aldridge better, the actor told him that ”the gorgeous equipage had been in pawn at the railway station,” and it was only through the kindness of the of¿cials that Aldridge was permitted to borrow it “to parade through the town, for the purpose of attracting the audience. By accepting or maybe “inventing” in the Memoir his family lore on a number of sensitive matters of slavery trade and racial prejudice, Aldridge “uplifted his race,” which in the realm of theatre, art and societal value questioned and challenged many of the British traditional cultural and moral tenets. The publication of the Memoir coincided with the publication of Thomas Carlyle’s six lectures “On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History,” 1841. Maintaining that the history of the world was, at bottom, the history of great men, Carlyle also stated that the study of the lives of heroes would inspire lesser mortals, and that that inspiration could be evoked by biographies.47 Though in our contemporary mass (global) culture, the concept of a hero has almost completely disappeared, we have, however, a cult of celebrities, mainly actors, actresses and politicians.48 The Memoir, as one of the tools of the nineteenth century communication and media systems, attempted to fashion Aldridge as both a hero and a celebrity. Though over centuries his race and Otherness have prevented him from maintaining the celebrity status that the last part of his career—his Con46 Oroonoko was the main character in a stage adaptation of Aphra Behn’s eponymous novel about a tragic black prince, who was turned into a slave. 47 Carlyle in MacMechan, Carlyle on Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, 14. It was argued was argued at that time, and it is often argued now that as a rule an actor could not be classi¿ed as a hero, though some of them have become fashioned as the ¿rst “modern” celebrities. 48 Making a distinction heroes and celebrities. Daniel J. Boorstin maintains that “the hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself; the media creates the celebrity. The hero was a big man; the celebrity is a big name.” And he adds an acerbic comment: “Two centuries ago when a great man appeared, people looked for God’s purpose in him: today we look for his press agent”, The Image of What Happened to the American Dream, 70 and 55).


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

tinental tours—established, his ¿rst biography has inspired African Americans to classify him as one of the few heroes who “by their own genius, capacity, and intellectual development have surmounted the many obstacles which slavery and prejudice have thrown in their way and raised themselves to positions of honour and inÀuence.”49 His “fairy-like” tale and his professional achievements are present in books for African American children, in history quizzes and in various other publications. Though the Memoir is not an academically reliable biographical source of Aldridge’s life, it serves as an inspiration for the African Americans, who see the tragedian as their hero, their role model and their inspiration to ¿nd their identity and advance their careers despite political and cultural oppression and social and economic handicaps.50 And this is the special dimension of the Memoir, Aldridge’s ¿rst biography, that only a few biographies in history have ever achieved.

Works Cited Andrews, C. B., Black Ebony—The Diaries, Letters and Criticism: The Story of Ira Aldridge (Known as the African Roscius). Unpublished manuscript in: Charles Deering Mcormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University, Evanston, Box 2, Folder 1. Anon., The Memoir and Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge: The African Roscius. London: Onwhyn, 1849. Anon., Desultory Thoughts of the National Drama, Past and Present. London: Onwhyn, 1850. Anon., Leben und Kunstler-Laufbahn des Negers Ira Aldridge. Berlin: Allgemeine Deutsche Verlage-Anstalt, 1853. Anon., Ira Aldridge: Biographicheski Ocherk. St. Petersburg: K. Zvantsev 1858. Anon., Vie du Negre Ira Aldridge. Paris: Agence Kuschnik 1866. Anstey, R. and Hair, P. E., Eds. Liverpool, The African Slave Trade, and Abolition. Chippenham: Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1989. Ashe, A. and Rampersad., A., Days of Grace: A Memoir. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1993. Blake, N. and Martin, D. F., Quiz Book on Black America. Boston: Houghton MifÀin, 1976.

Brown, The Travels of William Well Brown Including Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave and the American Fugitive in Europe. Sketches of Places and People, 68. 50 See for example: Prichard and White Ovington, The Upward Path: A Reader for Colored Children, 1920; Fleming and Pryde, Distinguished Negroes Abroad,[1946] 1988; Harbison, Reaching for Freedom,1972 and Blake and Martin, Quiz Book on Black America ,1976. 49

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Boorstin, D. J., The Image or What Happened to the American Dream. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962. Brown, W. W., The Travels of William Well Brown Including Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave and the American Fugitive in Europe. Sketches of Places and People. Paul Jefferson, ed. New York Markus Weiner Publishing, Inc., [1863] 1991. Coleman, J., Fifty Years of An Actor’s Life. New York: James Pott and Co., 1904. Vol. 1 Curtis, Susan, The First Black Actors on the Great White Way. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1998. Czas, November 8, 1855. Disher, M. W., Blood and Thunder: Mid-Victorian Melodrama and Its Origins. London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1949. Durylin, S. N., Aira Oldridzh. Moskva and Leningrad: Gosudardastvennoe izdaltel’stvo “Iskusstvo”, 1940. Fleming, B. J. and Pryde, M. J., Distinguished Negroes Abroad. Washington, D. C.: Associated Publishers, [1946] 1988. Foster, F. S., Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-Bellum Slave Narratives. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979. Gaines, K. K., Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: University of North California Press, 1996. Gazeta Wielkiego Xiestwa Poznanskiego, January 23, 1853. Green MacDonald, J., “ Acting Black: Othello, Othello Burlesques, and the Performance of Blackness.” Theatre Journal 46 (1994): 231-249. Harbison, D., Reaching for Freedom. New York: Scholastic Book Series, 1972. Hartnoll, P. and P. Found, The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre. Oxford: OUP, 1992. Huttenback, R. A., Racism and Empire: White Settlers and Coloured Emigrants in the British Self-Governing Colonies 1830-1910. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1976. Kurier Warszawski, August 3, 1866. LaCapra, D., ed., The Bounds of Race: Perspectives on Hegemony and Resistance. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Law, J., et. al., eds., Cassell Companion to Theatre (1994). London: Market House Books Limited, 1997. MacMechan, ed., Carlyle on Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Boston: Ginn, 1901. Malone, M., Actor in Exile: The Life of Ira Aldridge. Ilustrations. Eros Keith. London: Collier-Macmillan, Ltd., 1969. Mapp, R., Dictionary of Blacks in Performing Arts. Methuen, New York and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1990.


“Mislike Me Not For My Complexion”: The First Biography of Ira Aldridge

Mathews, C., The London Mathews; Containing an Account of this Celebrated Comedian’s Trip to America, Being an annual Lecture on Pecularities, Characters and manners, found on His Own Observations and Adventures, to Which Are Pre¿ xed Several Original Comic Songs. Philadelphia: McCarty and Davis, 1821. Marshall, H., and Stock, M., Ira Aldridge: The Negro Tragedian. London: Rockcliff, 1958. Marshall, H., Further Research on Ira Aldridge, the Negro Tragedian. Carbondale, III.: Center for Soviet and East European Studies, College of Communication and Fine Arts, 1973. McAllister, M., “White People Do Not Know How to Bewhave At Entertianments Designed For Ladies and Gentlemenof Colour”: William Brown’s African and American Theatre. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Mortimer, O., “Speak of Me As I Am”: The Story of Ira Aldridge. Wangaratta (privately published), 1995. Odell, G.C.D., Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966, vol. 1-2. Orgelbrand, S., ed. Encyklopedia powszechna [1859], Warszawa,: Wydawnictwo S. Orgelbrand, 1991, vol. 1. Peyton, F., A Glance at the Life of Ira Frederick Aldridge. Washington, D.C.,: R. L. Pendleton, 1917. Pickering, D., Dictionary of the Theatre. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: The Penguin Group, 1988. Prichard, M. T. and White M., The Upward Path: A Reader for Colored Children. New York: Harcourt Brace and Howe, 1920. Rice, J. A. and Crawford, M., eds., Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1999. Thompson, G. A., A Documentary History of the African Theatre. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998. Trommer, M., Ira Aldridge, American Negro Tragedian and Taras Shevchenko, Poet of the Ukraine: A. Story of a Friendship, New York: 62 Brooklyn, 1939 Walvin, J., England, Slaves, and Freedom, 1776-1838, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986. Walters, H., Aldridge and the Battle¿eld of Race” Race and Class 45 (2003)): 1-30.

(DE)CONSTRUCTING GENDER IDEOLOGY IN ALICE WALKER’S THE THIRD LIFE OF GRANGE COPELAND PI-HUA NI I. The scholarship on Alice Walker’s ¿rst novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland has mainly focused on racial exploitation and relations in the American South and on domestic violence in the black community. This study has explored in terms of anti-racism how the black sharecroppers and their families suffer from the white’s labor and economic exploitation and how, consequently, the disempowered black families, betokened by the Copelands, break down to ruins. Whereas this critical approach provides inspiring and insightful interpretations apropos the theme and structure of the novel proper, it creates some misleading remarks that need re-evaluation and clari¿cation. For instance, Elliott Butler-Evans observes in Race, Gender, and Desire that The Third Life of Grange Copeland is framed by two historical narratives. One addresses the general racial experiences of American blacks; the other focuses speci¿cally on black women’s experiences.1 The ¿rst discourse derives from the tradition of Black ¿ction that focuses on political and economic struggles and prevails in black writers’ works; therefore, it does not divert from the heritage of male-centered Eurocentric ¿ction, remarks Butler-Evans. The second discourse addressing particularly black women’s experience demonstrates Walker’s concern for women of her own racial community and consequently establishes the uniqueness and signi¿cance of Walker’s novel. Butler-Evans’ insightful observation foregrounds anti-racism and womanism as the philosophies that nourish the story of The Third Life of Grange Copeland.2 Nevertheless, Butler-Evans’ remark limits whereas delimits interpretative options for the novel proper. Arguable and categorical is the critic’s statement that “[t]he novel’s dominant theme—dehumanButler-Evans, Race, Gender, and Desire, 124. Alice Walker de¿nes womanist as a black feminist or feminist of color who commits herself to the “survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden, xi-xii. 1 2


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

ization and the ‘correct’ responses to that dehumanization—totally structures the narrative and strategies of representation in the text.”3 The novel in question might have addressed more than what Bulter-Evans claims for it the moral failures, as a consequence of racist exploitation, of the men characters in The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Probing into the cultural factors that sustain male domination and violence and bring about the subsequent tragedies of the Copelands could be a rewarding task. In “Alice Walker’s Vision of the South in The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” Robert James Butler asserts that the novel proper bespeaks Walker’s powerful ambivalence toward the Southern life—an ambivalence that “prevents her from either naively romanticizing the South or reducing it to an oversimpli¿ed vision of despair and resentment.”4 Walker’s development of the three main characters—Ruth, Brown¿eld and Grange Copeland—gives full expression to this speci¿c vision, argues Butler. At this juncture, Butler seems to have eschewed the anti-racist framework within which some critics have made their reviews of Walker’s novel. A further reading of Butler’s argument proves the opposite, however. According to Butler’s analysis, Ruth symbolizes hope for the black South whereas Brown¿eld embodies the victimization of the enslaving and destroying racism in the South. “Brown¿eld murders Mem because a social environment that strips him of manhood cancels out his love for her;” moreover, “Mem is murdered—literally by Brown¿eld and symbolically by the Southern society he comes to love and represent,” as Butler maintains.5 Provided that Butler’s illustrations hereby attribute reductively to racism Brown¿eld’s maltreatment and murder of his wife Mem, it can be argued that Butler’s critical assessment contradicts with his own thesis asserting Walker’s ambivalent vision toward the South. The racist sharecropping system indeed exploits both economically and spiritually the black people in the South; nevertheless, it cannot justify the violence of the black men, Grange and Brown¿eld, against their female counterparts, Margaret and Mem. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins cautions us of this pitfall: “An Afrocentric feminist analysis of abuse generally, and domestic violence in particular, must avoid excusing abuse as an inevitable consequence of the racism Black men experience.”6 In a similar vein, Harold Hellenbrand grounds his analysis of the novel on the Butler-Evans, Race, Gender, and Desire, 138-139. Italics added. Butler, “Alice Walker’s Vision of the South in The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” 195. For Walker’s ambivalent vision toward the South, the readers may also see Robert James Butler’s comparative study in “Vision of Southern Life and Religion in O’Connor’s Wise Blood and Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” College Language Association Journal 36.4 (1993): 349-370. 5 Butler, “Alice Walker’s Vision of the South in The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” 197, 198. 6 Collins, Black Feminist Thought, 188. 3 4

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


bedrock of anti-racism. Commenting on the impact and damage of racism, Hellenbrand suggests in “Speech, After Silence: Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland” that white hegemony and power have created a too painful past for Grange to escape from and that the inexorable pressure of white power has distorted Grange’s life with his granddaughter Ruth.7 That is, Hellenbrand believes that Walker’s portrait of the Copelands represents her critique of racism that completely dooms the black people to ruins. Therefore, Hellenbrand argues against Walker’s own avow in her 1973 interview with John O’Brien that her primary concern in her ¿ction is “with relationships between members of a black family,” and contends instead that The Third Life of Grange Copeland centers on the oppressive circumstances of the Southern community with white power and, in relation, the main characters’ (Grange’s and Brown¿eld’s) silence and their struggles to make their articulations in the racial conÀicts.8 But a close reading of Walker’s interview about the novel proper shall refute Hellenbrand’s assertion as reductive and restricted albeit some of Hellenbrand’s interpretations have merits.9 Talking about her design of the novel’s theme, Walker expounds in the interview: I wanted to explore the relationship between men and women, and why women are always condemned for doing what men do as an expression of their masculinity. Why are women so easily ‘tramps’ and ‘traitors’ when men are heroes for engaging in the same activity? Why do women stand for this?10

And earlier in the interview, Walker states that “[i]n The Third Life of Grange Copeland, ostensibly about a man and his son, it is the women and how they are treated that colors everything.”11 What Walker suggests here is: how women in the novel are treated shall manifest what men deem of their masculine identities. Therefore, Walker brings to the fore with the foregoing proclamations the issues of autonomy and male domination in gender relationship. Brown¿eld, for instance, has suffered from his manhood crisis in that he believes the racist sharecropping system and the Southern society have deprived him of autonomy and subsequently emasculated him. The problem underlying Brown¿eld’s relationship with Mem is that Brown¿eld demands autonomy for himself whereas he denies Mem any autonomy and “revenges” on Mem for her assertion of autonomy. Domination in lieu of autonomy Hellenbrand, “Speech, After Silence: Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland.” 8 Ibid., 113. 9 Walker’s 1973 interview with John O’Brien is collected then in her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden (San Diego, New York & London: Harvest/HBJ Book, 1983), 244-72. Citations of this interview are from this edition. 10 Ibid., 256. 11 Ibid., 250-251. 7


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

characterizes the gender relationship between Brown¿eld and Mem. Given this fact, the novel proper merits a critical undertaking to illustrate what has sustained this (mis)identi¿cation of masculinity with domination and to appreciate the signi¿cance conveyed by Walker’s critique of this mainstream gender ideology. Arguable too is Hellenbrand’s assertion that white hegemony has distorted Grange’s life with his grand daughter Ruth. Grange’s third life depicted by Walker foregrounds de facto the change that occurs to Grange after he has lived with Ruth for some years. Initially, Grange imbues Ruth with his hate of the white and instructs Ruth to attribute to racism her family tragedy—the tragedy that Brown¿eld murders Mem. Ruth’s love and Grange’s self-reÀection help him recognize that Brown¿eld and Grange themselves have to bear respectively some responsibilities for their family tragedies. Racism is not to blame completely for the destruction of the Copelands. Trudier Harris’s “Violence in The Third Life of Grange Copeland” provides an alternative critical perspective in that she addresses black domestic violence in the novel. Harris observes that the novel’s uniqueness lies in Walker’s illustration of the black male violence against each other and themselves rather than against the white oppressor—a theme that is usually foregrounded and developed by black writers dealing with the object of violence on the part of blacks. According to Harris’ analysis, Grange’s and Brown¿eld’s respective violent acts and tragedies are attributed more to their personalities than to the exploitative and destructive sharecropping system in the South.12 Harris is also insightful in pointing out the different social circumstances and, in relation, the different options and openings for Grange and Brown¿eld. Grange’s time is in the 1920s and 1930s and chances are few for the black sharecropper striving to escape from the state predetermined for him by the white, analyzes Harris.13 Grange’s life seems doomed in the new system of slavery euphemistically called “sharecropping.” But the situation is not completely despairing in Brown¿eld’s case. There were once chances for Brown¿eld to make a new start and to lead a free life—for him and his family—but Brown¿eld let go of them. Therefore, Harris comments that [w]e as readers are not led to understand, condone, or in any way tolerate Brown¿eld’s actions. They are inexcusable considering the time period in which they occur and the various choices he has if he would but exercise them.14

With a juxtaposition of Grange’s ability to repent versus Brown¿eld’s resistance against self-examination, Harris concludes that Walker conveys with the novel proper a moral lesson: Harris, “Violence in The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” 238. Ibid., 239. 14 Ibid., 239. 12 13

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


What is important for Walker is that, where the body is con¿ned, the mind or soul or spirit does not necessarily have to deteriorate along parallel lines. The soul can soar above that which would destroy the body, as Frederick Douglass so long ago discovered in his bondage. Such an idea is not presented as a religious concept (in fact Grange can be said to be blasphemous); it is simply a practical expedient for survival.15

Harris’ essay contributes, in a sense, to the scholarship on The Third Life of Grange Copeland; nevertheless, her contention that the male characters’ personalities rather than racism are to blame for the domestic violence and the tragedies within the Copeland family remains half-developed and deserves further inquiry. What lies implicated in shaping Grange’s and Brown¿eld’s personalities and gender ideology? With her analysis of the novel’s women characters in “Women in the Life of Grange Copeland,” Karen C. Gaston presents, as Harris does, an alternative perspective for assessing Walker’s novel. Noticing a general critical neglect of the main women characters—namely Margaret, Mem, Josie and Ruth, Gaston contends that the aforesaid female characters functions de facto in three signi¿cant ways: 1) they represent graphic pictures of real women rather than the stereotypical woman image as either saint or sinner; 2) through love, these women characters subvert the remarkable strength of the complex and contradictory forces at work in their lives; 3) acting as both counterpoise and impetus to Grange and Brown¿eld, Margaret and Mem inspire Grange to direct Ruth toward racial and sexual liberation.16 In other words, women characters are more than “background ¿gures” and “foil.” An instance Gaston provides to make her case is Margaret’s suicide. According to Gaston, Margaret’s suicide is an act of protest and rebellion against Grange’s maltreatment and recurrent in¿delity—the outlets for Grange to vent his oppressed feelings, despair and anger derived from racist exploitation. Her death eventually stirs Grange’s guilty sense, asserts Gaston. The foregoing remarks seem to convey that these women characters who have been submissive to their men turn rebellious as they get fed up with sexist victimization by their husbands who are in turn victimized in a destroying racist society. Nevertheless, the logic that racism entails sexism and subsequently Margaret’s death-protest downplays the profound vision and philosophy that Walker has presented with The Third Life of Grange Copeland. An investigation of (de)construction of gender ideology in the novel proper shall explain how Grange’s and Brown¿eld’s assimilation of the Eurocentric and hegemonic form of masculinity has brought about tragedies to their family and how Grange’s deconstruction in his third life of the straight white masculinity and reconstruction of a new form of masculinity have redeemed his ¿rst two lives and 15 16

Ibid., 247. Gaston, “Women in the Life of Grange Copeland,” 276.


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

eventually Ruth’s life.17 Of more importance, the following exploration shall illustrate that Walker has reached beyond the framework of ¿xed race and gender binarism, inverted with her portrayal of the three lives of Grange Copeland the Eurocentric gender ideology about masculinity and eventually presented a complex (de)construction of multiple masculinities.

II. In her study of the domestic violence in the black community, Collins comments in Black Feminist Thought that [s]ome African-American men feel they cannot be men unless they dominate a Black woman. . . . Those Black men who wish to become ‘master’ by ful¿lling traditional de¿nitions of masculinity—both Eurocentric and white-de¿ned for African-Americans—and who are blocked from doing so can become dangerous to those closest to them.18

That is, some black men also uphold the ideology that manhood equates domination. But what is masculinity? And what sustains the equivalence of masculinity with the subjugation of woman? Claire Colebrook’s book Gender undertakes a comprehensive exploration of the cognitive evolution of masculinity and of the androcentric gender relationship in the West and foregrounds rationalism as the discourse that de¿nes masculinity and sustains androcentricism and masculine domination. By the same token, Victor J. Seidler makes a similar observation in Rediscovering Masculinity.19 Therefore, it is worthwhile to make an overview of the

That Grange and Brown¿eld assimilate the Eurocentric masculinity denotes the power of the mainstream gender ideology rather than the inÀuence of the antiblack racism. That is to say, Grange and Brown¿eld unconsciously accept the gender norm in their society rather than consciously identify with the notion of white supremacy and practice the Eurocentric form of masculinity. As Pierre Bourdieu suggests with his ethnographic analysis of gender divisions and the androcentric worldview in Kabyle society as a living reservoir of the Mediterranean cultural tradition, the whole European cultural domain, America included, shares in this tradition of masculine domination. Bourdieu’s research result may justify black feminists’ critique of black masculinity and male domination in the black community both in and after the slavery period. Bourdieu, Masculine Domination, 6. 18 Collins, Black Feminist Thought, 186. 19 Of the scholarship on Eurocentric masculinity and male domination, Colebrook’s Gender and Seidler’s Rediscovering Masculinity merit credentials and reference not only for their lucid accounts of the evolution of masculinity but also for their illuminative exposure of rationalism as the discourse that sustains masculine domination. 17

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


evolution of the concept on masculinity and of the connection between masculinity and male domination. In Gender, Colebrook remarks that the pre-modern notion about gender mainly follows the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. With the belief that the cosmos as a whole is consisted of the dichotomous oppositions of maleness/femaleness in accordance with Soul/Body, man is presumed to possess the rational power, for Plato, to strive for Form or Idea or, for Aristotle, to maintain the cosmic balance and harmony.20 In the course of time, Christian theologians adapt Platonic binarism of sexuality into their designation of gender relationship and assert that woman signi¿es the corrupted body and the evil whereas man the soul, the good and reason, as Colebrook analyzes it.21 But some other Christian theologians, such as St. Augustine, reject the aforementioned Christian gender ideology and argue that women’s weak will is the obstacle to practice reason: If women were to be subordinate to men in a divine cosmology this would be because their will, or their capacity to arrive at their true rational and spiritual nature, was less capable than that of men. Only through the guidance of the right reason of men—those whose wills were less drawn to the body—could women also realize their reason.22

Therefore, woman counts on man to realize a rational and spiritual life. Man accordingly assumes the dominant role in gender relationship. The gender ideology of the sixteenth century inherits the Christian notion that reason is an innate capacity to be possessed—by man only. Therefore, body is gendered: “Gendered bodies were, in particular, crucial to the de¿nition and ‘mapping’ of reason,” and “a body’s realization of its gender was also an expression of divine reason.”23 In the Enlightenment and from then on, the conception of reason takes on a change albeit it remains the same concerning the biased and imbalanced gender and power relationship. “Modern” man in the Enlightenment does not take reason as a power endowed by the divine and residing within man. Instead, “[r]eason, for the writers of the Enlightenment, was no longer the recognition of an inner law that reÀected a transcendent order, reason was the capacity to give a law to oneself,” distinguishes Colebrook.24 Victor J. Seidler takes a step further and argues in Rediscovering Masculinity that the Enlightenment belief in the achievement of “progress” with man’s will to master nature and himself through rational force drives man to prove his manhood by securing and maintaining a dominant role and downplayColebrook, Gender, 8. Ibid., 22. 22 Ibid., 23. 23 Ibid., 61, 62. 24 Ibid., 74. 20 21


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

ing emotions.25 Woman or the so-called “other” who is close to nature and thus an avatar of emotions needs to be controlled: “As men were to take control of nature, measuring their ‘progress’ through the domination of nature—through bringing nature to her knees—so too were they to reassert their control of women.”26 This heritage has prevailed throughout history and remains prevalent even nowadays, remarks Seidler. Another problem pertained to the gendered Western metaphysics and androcentric gender relationship is that sex is deemed as individual achievement, power and conquest. Seidler diagnoses it as follows: The notions of will and performance have long been central within male sexuality. Sex is learnt in early boyhood, not as a matter of pleasuring and nourishing the body, but as an individual achievement that reÀects upon the position of a man within the pecking order of masculinity. We learn to see sexuality in terms of power and conquest.27

Paradoxically, sexuality along with reason becomes one of the ways to prove manhood. Given the foregoing account of the studies on masculinity and dominance and their relation to rationalism, we can infer that: 1) nourished by rationalism, androcentricism of Eurocentric masculinity ¿nds its full expression in male domination; 2) to embody rational power and thus to assume mastery, men are brought to oppress emotions, deny their own emotional self and treat women and children as possessions; and 3) male sexuality betokens a form of masculinity. An analysis hereby of The Third Life of Grange Copeland shall illustrate that Walker has mapped out in the novel proper the damaging impact—as Seilder has explored—of the mainstream gender ideology on Grange’s and Brown¿eld’s marital and parental relationships and that Walker has then subverted the dominant notion of masculinity with a (de)construction of masculinities.

In Seidler’s analysis, the Enlightenment identi¿cation of masculinity with reason ¿nds its expression not only in giving law to oneself but also in mastering nature and “the other. “It is as if our tasks as men are ‘higher,’ so that if sexuality is to be recognized as a ‘natural need,’ it is only through its suppression and control that we can set ‘our minds to work’ on higher tasks that are more worthwhile because they are more enduring. It is in this tradition that women become ‘the other.’” Seidler, Rediscovering Masculinity, 47-48. 26 Ibid., 25. 27 Ibid., 39. 25

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


III. Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland represents the assimilation of gender norm in the lives of the black sharecroppers Grange and Brown¿eld and in the cyclic tragedies entailed from their dominant relationship with their wives and children. The cyclic tragedies in the Copeland family takes the forms of 1) deep debt, 2) turning their children into child laborers, 3) male alcoholic as a consequence of the sense of disempowerment, 4) false accusations of unfaithfulness of their wives and jeopardized marital relationships, 5) wife-battering and 6) taking more women to assert a dominant status and accordingly to construct masculinity. In his povertyridden ¿rst life in Green County, Georgia, Grange estranges himself from his wife Margaret and his son Brown¿eld as he deliberately takes a series of women in order to verify his masculinity. Margaret has been submissive and docile to Grange to the extent that Brown¿eld believes that his mother behaves like a subservient dog to his father. “He thought his mother was like their dog in some ways. She didn’t have a thing to say that did not in some way show her submission to his father.”28 Unfortunately, Margaret’s servility fails to meet Grange’s demand of mastery albeit he has assumed domination in their marital relationship. Grange professes to Margaret that he keeps seeing Josie and other women because, in so doing, he can gain self-respect and manliness. “If I can never own nothing,” says Grange, “I will have women.”29 For Grange, women are objects for possession; therefore, sexual conquest bears witness to his control over his life. Grange’s belief and act bespeak his internalization of the Eurocentric gender ideology—one that emphasizes the notion of control and masculine domination. A cycle of quarrels and ¿ghts with Grange drives Margaret to seek transient embraces of other men and eventually to bed with Shipley—the white owner of the cotton ¿eld on which Grange and Margaret work as sharecroppers—and, unfortunately, to conceive with Shipley and give birth to an illegitimate son Star. Grange and Margaret’s “sex war” waged to assert respectively their manhood and womanhood “ends” with Grange’s abandonment of Margaret and their son Brown¿eld, his Àight to the North and Margaret‘s murder of Star and her suicide. Besides, Grange’s ostensible lack of fatherly love for Brown¿eld betokens de facto his oppression of his emotions in his effort to demonstrate mastery and construct manliness. This deliberate denial of love and emotional self is overtly manifested when Grange is to abandon his family and leave for the North. At the moment Grange is leaving, he gets into the chilly kitchen where Brown¿eld feigns asleep and waits with eagerness for Grange’s ¿rst and last expression of fatherly love for him. Bending over Brown¿eld and inspecting his head and face, Grange is reaching 28 29

Walker, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, 6. Ibid., 248.


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

down to touch Brown¿eld and accordingly to express his love for him. Nevertheless, Grange withdraws his outstretched hand, refrains himself from touching Brown¿eld and consequently deprives Brown¿eld and Grange himself of love. Grange’s oppression of love and denial of emotions bring about Brown¿eld’s hate of him: He saw him reach down to touch him. He saw his hand stop, just before it reached his cheek. Brown¿eld was crying silently and wanted his father to touch the tears. He moved toward his father’s hand, as if moving unconsciously in his sleep. He saw his father’s hand draw back, without touching him. He saw him turn sharply and leave the room. He heard him leave the house. And he knew, even before he realized his father would never be back, that he hated him for everything and always would. And he most hated him because even in private and in the dark and with Brown¿eld presumably asleep, Grange could not bear to touch his son with his hand.30

On this ground, Brown¿eld begrudges Grange throughout his life and even to his violent death at the courthouse. In Harlem New York, Grange lives his second life, ¿rst of all, in poverty and complete isolation and then with his preaching of black violence against the white. One day in Central Park, Grange experiences blunt racism with a young white pregnant woman. Being abandoned by her lover, the white woman thrusts to the ground the money and the ring given by her lover as compensation for his betrayal. The penniless and starving Grange picks up the money and believes innocently that, with his help of collecting the scattered bills from the ground, he can split the money with the jilted woman. Abandoned by her lover, the outraged pregnant woman takes Grange for an outlet of her anger at and revenge on her lover. She refuses to give Grange any money, dumps the bills again to the ground and shouts at Grange with racist insults. In her hysterical ¿t of anger, the woman accidentally falls into the pond and is drowning. Grange rushes to rescue her, but the woman refuses his black hand and calls Grange “nigger” with her last breath. This humiliating event as well as his experience of an oppressed life in Southern Georgia evokes Grange’s hate of the white. Though Grange feels guilty for the white woman’s death, he somehow believes that the white’s exploitation has generated his miserable life and is now repaid by the death of that particular white woman. The taking of that racist woman’s life is for Grange a symbolic act of killing the black’s oppressor and, accordingly, of establishing his manhood. At this stage of his life, Grange still upholds the traditional notion about masculinity and deems killing, aggression, violence and dominance as a manifestation of masculine attributes: The death of the woman was simple murder, he thought, and soul condemning; but in a strange way, a bizarre way, it liberated him. He felt in some way repaid for his 30

Ibid., 28.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


own unfortunate life. It was the taking of that white woman’s life—and the denying of the life of her child—the taking of her life, not the taking of her money, that forced him to want to try to live again. He believed that, against his will, he had stumbled on the necessary act that black men must commit to regain, or to manufacture their manhood, their self-respect. They must kill their oppressors.31

On the streets in Harlem, Grange then starts preaching black violence against the white. Realizing eventually that he cannot kill all the white he meets, Grange decides to return to and settle down with withdrawal in Georgia. Feeling guilty for Margaret’s suicide, Grange strives to make compensation by giving money, food and love to Brown¿eld and his family in Georgia. Brown¿eld does not appreciate Grange’s effort, however. Brown¿eld persistently bears grudge against Grange because Grange has denied him fatherly love since his childhood. After Brown¿eld has murdered Mem and is castigated with imprisonment, Grange moves Ruth to live with him and takes good care of her. Grange and Ruth develop a great grandfather-daughter relationship. On the one hand, Grange teaches Ruth about the harsh realities in the world, endeavors to protect Ruth from any harm— especially that inÀicted by the white, and prepares Ruth to pursue an independent life and a better future. That is, Grange assumes the roles of protector and mentor. On the other hand, Grange is a tender nurturer and caretaker. In daily life, Grange tells Ruth stories, sings songs for her and dances with her. For Ruth, Grange would make ambrosia to celebrate Christmas Eve. At this juncture, Grange seems to have subverted the gender norm about masculinity and crossed the borderline between masculine/feminine gender roles. Yet, Grange’s deconstruction of mainstream masculinity and reconstruction of a new form of masculinity remain incomplete until he gets initiated vice versa by Ruth into his third life. Back in the South, Grange still holds the belief that white racism is to blame for his family tragedies. Grange tells Ruth that the white ruins her father Brown¿eld and kills her mother Mem. Ruth does not believe in Grange’s “preaching” because she has witnessed Brown¿eld murder Mem. With Ruth’s innocence and their love for each other, Grange learns eventually that there is no need to kill anyone in order to assert anything. “It ought never to be necessary to kill nobody to assert nothing.”32 Grange recognizes that love rather than domination and violence maintains one’s dignity, self-respect and pride. Now, Grange is a re-born man and begins his third life reviewing what wrongs he has done in his ¿rst two lives. Whereas Grange is undergoing spiritual metamorphosis, Brown¿eld repeats Grange’s wrong-directed life in that he equates masculinity with mastery and is obsessed to prove his manliness. That Brown¿eld enjoys the ¿ghts between Josie and her daughter Lorene for him and thus forsakes his search for Grange illustrates his 31 32

Ibid., 218. Ibid., 222.


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

illusions about sexual conquest, domination and masculinity. By the same token, the way Brown¿eld mal/treats his wife Mem and children denotes his (mis)conception on masculinity. For Brown¿eld, Mem does not exist as a human being save as an object. Mem with her plumpness is to Brown¿eld a piece of good blackberry pie or good whiskey. Presumed to be an object, Mem is not supposed to possess autonomy and selfhood but to function as a magic looking-glass, to borrow Virginia Woolf’s words, to provide Brown¿eld an enlarged masculine image and accordingly to meet his desire to construct and assert his manhood.33 Once Mem got fed up with Brown¿eld’s fatuous idea about masculinity, she turns tough, assertive and af¿rmative in her attempt to save their family from falling further into complete desolation and destitution. Mem forces Brown¿eld at gun point to consent to move their family to a descent house that she rents and to work at a factory. Mem’s assertion of autonomy makes her lose the magic power of a magnifying mirror and “diminishes” Brown¿eld. Brown¿eld therefore schemes to destroy Mem albeit he understands well that Mem’s income and his wage upgrade their family and provide their three daughters a better life. By constantly impregnating Mem, Brown¿eld succeeds in not only ruining Mem’s health but also disabling her to keep her job, independence and autonomy. After Mem loses her plumpness and beauty and becomes a precocious hag because of illness, Brown¿eld shoots her to death as if he discards a piece of outworn property. Brown¿eld’s obsession for domination and manhood is expressly manifested in his self-diagnosis of the incentive for him to murder Mem and to kill his own albino baby-boy. Imprisoned in jail, Brown¿eld tells his inmate The Hatchet Murderer that he abuses and murders Mem because he yearns for mastery and manliness. “The motive that got him into prison was a keen desire to see if he had any control over himself,” con¿des Brown¿eld to The Hatchet Murderer.34 Brown¿eld’s maniac preoccupation for manhood is demonstrated particularly in his outcry to The Hatchet Murderer that “how come we the only ones that knowed we was men” and in his desperate gesture of writing down on paper the word “m-e-n.”35 Besides, Brown¿eld discloses to Josie that he deliberately makes false accusations of Mem’s adultery with her white boss after Mem gives birth to an albino. Brown¿eld has checked with the doctor and is con¿rmed of the albino baby’s blood and of Mem’s innocence. Nevertheless, he batters Mem and puts his three-month-old albino baby outdoors to be frozen to death because he does not want to have any of his children to grow up with no hope in a racist world. In so doing, Brown¿eld believes that he makes claim to mastery over his life and his family. The foregoing acknowledgements, nevertheless, do not express Brown¿eld’s regret for his sin—the infanticide Woolf, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, 45. Walker, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, 233. 35 Ibid., 235. 33


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


of his own son and Mem’s death. Instead, Brown¿eld blames the white outright for deprivation of his manhood, the misery of his family and his murder of Mem. He resents that the white folks “poke” themselves into his life and that he is like a mule in his relationship as a sharecropper with the white. Given this fact, it is evident that Brown¿eld blinds himself from seeing his own idée ¿ xe for dominance and manliness as the maniac impetus that ruins him and brings about his family tragedies. Brown¿eld’s mal/treatment of his daughter Ruth mirrors once again his blind pursuit of masculine domination. Released from jail, Brown¿eld wants to take Ruth from Grange not because he loves Ruth but because he believes possessing Ruth helps him assert his mastery and thus constructs masculinity. Josie recognizes this fact as she tells herself: “He did not want them out of love; he wanted them (or at least one of them) because having his family with him was a man’s prerogative.”36 Brown¿eld himself also declares this truth to Ruth when he waylays Ruth on her way to school and makes claim to her custody. “You belong to me, just like my chickens or my hogs,” shouts Brown¿eld to Ruth, “I’m a man. And a man’s got to have something of his own!”37 Brown¿eld’s belief echoes Grange’s misconception in that both the father and son treat women and children as possessions and take domination for masculinity. Being aware that Brown¿eld would ruin Ruth, the transformed Grange tries to talk Brown¿eld into giving up Ruth’s custody. Grange confesses to Brown¿eld that he should not have abandoned Margaret and Brown¿eld and that he has tried to redress his wrongdoings. But Brown¿eld would not accept Grange’s apology nor would he appreciate Grange’s effort to compensate for the past. To Brown¿eld, Grange is consequently forced to acknowledge with agony his painful review of his and Brown¿eld’s lives. Grange tells Brown¿eld that both of them fall prey to two misconceptions. First of all, they always have the white to blame for their family tragedies; secondly, they take domination for masculinity. Grange recognizes in retrospect that they should not have blamed racism for all the misery and suffering of their lives. Right in front of Brown¿eld and Josie, Grange declares to Ruth that the person really to blame for Brown¿eld’s misfortunes is Brown¿eld himself because he once has the chance to make change for his family and himself but he has not seized the chance to effect any change. Instead, Brown¿eld brings destruction to his own family. Grange then admonishes Brown¿eld that they themselves should shoulder some responsibilities for the miseries and sufferings of their families. “By George, I know the danger of putting all the blame on somebody else for the mess you make out of your life,” acknowledges Grange to Brown¿eld, “I fell into the trap myself!”38 Ibid., 304. Ibid., 306. Italics original. 38 Ibid., 288. Italics original. 36 37


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

It is their notion about masculinity, Grange also professes, that has ruined the Copelands. Grange used to believe that “fucking a hundred strumpets was a sign of [his] manhood.”39 Nevertheless, Grange doubts now what masculinity is: [T]he crackers could make me run away from my wife, but where was the man in me that let me sneak off, never telling her nothing about where I was going, never telling her I forgave her, never telling her how wrong I was myself.40

Grange’s self-reÀection reveals that his domination in his marital relationship with Margaret and his mastery in his sexual relationship with other women do not and could not really attest to his masculinity. With this recognition, Grange makes a thorough subversion of the mainstream gender ideology about manhood and gets vision to see Brown¿eld’s blindness as well. Grange challenges Brown¿eld where the man is in Brown¿eld that makes him kill Mem and accordingly exposes Brown¿eld’s illusion about andorcentric gender norm. With effort, Grange tries to enlighten Brown¿eld to see his own wrongdoings, to initiate him to learn the lesson and then to start a new life: “We guilty, Brown¿eld, and neither of us is going to move a step in the right direction until we admit it.”41 Grange’s grievous retrospection of his and Brown¿eld’s lives unfortunately fails to illuminate Brown¿eld despite that it conveys insight. Brown¿eld resorts to the court to claim for his daughter and succeeds in getting Ruth’s custody. In order to prevent Ruth from being ruined by Brown¿eld, Grange kills Brown¿eld and is in turn shot to death by the police. Grange dies with a new recognition and interpretation of masculinity whereas Brown¿eld without any new enlightenment toward manhood.

IV. In her 1988 Afterword to The Third Life of Grange Copeland published in 1970, Walker writes that I believe in the soul. Furthermore, I believe it is prompt accountability for one’s choices, a willing acceptance of responsibility for one’s thoughts, behavior and actions, that makes it powerful. The white man’s oppression of me will never excuse my oppression of you, whether you are man, woman, child, animal or tree, because the self that I prize refuses to be owned by him. Or by anyone.42

Ibid., 289. Ibid., 288. Italics original. 41 Ibid., 290. 42 Ibid., 345. 39


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


This statement could be interpreted, ¿rst of all, as Walker’s response to the majority of the scholarship that analyzes the novel proper on the basis of anti-racism and, secondly, as her concern for the domestic violence in the black community. If black/ male violence cannot and should not be justi¿ed by racist exploitation, an investigation needs to be done to expound this phenomenon. With her portrait of Grange’s ¿rst two lives and Brown¿eld’s life, Walker demonstrates the destructive nature of the mainstream gender ideology that equates masculinity with domination. Both Grange and Brown¿eld uphold and play out this belief without being aware that they, in their attempt to construct their masculinity, perform de facto “a stylized repetition of acts”—a gender identity designated by the Eurocentric and hegemonic gender ideology.43 On the other hand, Walker demonstrates with Grange’s third life a construction of a different form of masculinity and the coexistence of masculinities and femininities within an individual. Grange’s retrospect of his ¿rst two lives and his ultimate recognition in his third life that racism is not to blame completely for the misfortunes of his family and that Brown¿eld’s and his identi¿cation with and performance of the androcentric Eurocentric masculinity are the primary etiology of the Copeland tragedies bring to the fore that The Third Life of Grange Copeland as a whole reaches beyond the framework of ¿xed race and gender binarism and illustrate Walker’s critique and eventual deconstruction of the monolithic form of Eurocentric masculinity.

Works Cited Primary Source Walker, Alice. The Third Life of Grange Copeland. New York: Washington Square P, 2000.

Secondary Sources Bourdieu, Pierre. Masculine Domination. Cambridge: Polity P, 2001. Butler-Evans, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York & London: Routledge, 1990. Butler, Robert James. “Alice Walker’s Vision of the South in The Third Life of Grange Copeland. African American Review 27.2 (1993): 195-204. Colebrook, Claire. Gender. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York & London: Routledge, 1991. Gaston, Karen C. “Women in the Life of Grange Copeland.” College Language Association Journal 24.3 (1981): 276-286. 43

Butler, Gender Trouble, 140.


(De)Constructing Gender Ideology in Alice Walker’s

Harris, Trudier. “Violence in The Third Life of Grange Copeland.” Collage Language Association Journal 19 (1975): 238-247. Hellenbrand, Harold. “Speech, After Silence: Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland.” Black American Literature Forum 20.2-1 (1986): 113-128. Seidler, Victor J. Rediscovering Masculinity. New York & London: Routledge, 1989. Walker, Alice. “Afterword,” 341-46. The Third Life of Grange Copeland. New York: Washington Square P, 2000. ———. In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden. San Diego, New York & London: Harvest/HBJ Book, 1983. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.


Over the recent decades there has hardly been another branch of US literature that has developed as dramatically as African American writing. One can observe some really fascinating processes taking place within the canon. They are of particular signi¿cance in the context of inter-, infra- and cross-cultural interaction of various fragments of US literature, which are in their own way a reÀection of noteworthy changes and re-de¿nitions caused by new societal attitudes and the position of socially marked groups—people of color, female, and gay and lesbian—that have moved center-stage to challenge the established role of white males in the canon formation. Race has always been one of the key concerns of African American literature. It has been explored within the framework of power relations in U.S. society reÀecting the subjugation of African Americans by the dominant group. Focusing on the relationship between power and knowledge, discourse of race helps to understand why the question of identity became pivotal for generations of black authors—from Phillis Wheatley and Frederic Douglass to Terry McMillan and Randall Kenan. Self-identi¿cation has been an excruciating experience for the heroes of African American novels who insist on being America’s “native sons.” However, “the new, godless world wrought by industrial man,” as a Richard Wright character put it,1 threatens the integrity of a black person whose search for identity is associated with psychological and physical traumas. It is assumed that the industrial man is white, and therefore has the position of power. Numerous novels by black U.S. authors emphasize that the attempts of an African American to acquire personal integrity require great courage and enormous efforts to battle with stereotypes, which have been embedded in the American mind since the time the ¿rst black slaves landed on American soil. Power relations, which, according to Foucault, are immanent to discourses, determine the anxieties and frustrations of black Americans who ¿nd


Wright, The Outsider, 485.


Discourses of Gender and Race

it dif¿cult to come to terms with themselves as blackness has been associated with suppression and defeat. One cannot deny the great changes that took place in societal attitudes and practices in the U.S.A. in the recent decades. Active participation of black men and women and people representing minorities in the civil rights movement had far-reaching consequences. Af¿rmative Action, Political Correctness, and the effects of Multiculturalism have greatly affected the social and political climate in the country. Taking into consideration that contemporary U.S. society is “very balkanized along racial, social, ethnic, religious, class and gender lines,”2 it is clear that without learning to live together it would be impossible to achieve equality and civility in a multi-ethnic, multiracial society. This explains the need for different social, ethnic, religious and other communities and groups to formulate their own agendas in order to contribute to the transformation of social mores. Literature of African Americans, which managed to catch the spirit of these changes, has turned into one of the most dynamic branches of U.S. literature and its “export” product. It found adequate artistic forms for the exploration of volatile issues of slavery, racism, misogyny, and black and white myths. It emphatically stresses that freedom has ceased to be an adventure of one’s own choice and has become a conscious state of mind. Contemporary African American authors celebrate human efforts aimed at achieving genuine equality of every nation, group, and person. There has been an obvious change of focus concerning the issues addressed and variability of “racial,” ethnic, and other distinctions, which continue to exert their inÀuence on both the community and the individual. The dynamics of the relationship between and within different social, ethnic, and other minority groups has become one of the primary concerns of contemporary black authors. African American ¿ction since 1980 has been problematized by the divide between men and women, patriarchal and libertarian attitudes, essentialism and the awareness of the need to alter the existing systems of inequality. The novels that have been published over the last thirty years, especially those dealing with representation of “minorities-within-minority,” show that there is still a great deal of bias, fear, and prejudice in the relations between people belonging to different races, classes, social groups, and gender. This is, largely, the legacy of the patriarchal past reÀecting age-old tensions between blacks and whites, men and women, the centre and the margins, and, as far as literature goes, between the mainstream and minority literatures. The key problem demonstrating the complexity of the issue is that of identity. Surprisingly, it may be not only a unifying but also a conÀict-ridden factor. Identity implies “all the qualities, beliefs, and ideas which make you feel that you are different from everyone else or that you belong to a particular group.”3 Recent develop2 3

From the letter of Charles Johnson to the author, Nov. 8, 2005. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, 718.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ments show that though race unites African Americans, political and ideological issues have become a bone of contention in the African American community, which is no longer homogeneous and monolithic. Unlike the 19th century when all the black authors were united in their struggle against slavery and racism, 20th-century African American writers representing different social and gender groups came to realize that they have dissimilar agendas. This was powerfully revealed in Charles Johnson’s philosophical novel Dreamer (1998)—the ¿rst work of ¿ction exploring the complex nature of Martin Luther King, Jr. who is trying to formulate and offer the divided nation a policy of solving the racial problem and ensuring social transcendence. Unlike the numerous authors who focus on King as a great 20th-century US political icon, Johnson turns his attention to the less known aspects of King’s life. The preacher and political activist, who in a number of ways changed the course of American history, is shown in his private life as a man, who loves, doubts and hesitates. He is convinced that the future of the country depends on how America is going to deal with the racial problem. Time has come to act, and he uses all his energy, eloquence, and courage to effect change that will help Americans implement the most important clauses of the American Constitution. However, in spite of King’s efforts and dedication, his agenda and his vision are not shared by the whole community. The writer introduces King’s double, a certain Chaym Smith, who serves as a mirror image of the great visionary and tests the validity of King’s ideas. The confrontation between King and his double has a special meaning: Smith is not King’s opposite but a covetous man lost in the world which he cannot “read”. Therefore, he cannot understand the true signi¿cance of King who falls prey to hatred and inability of different social and ethnic groups to negotiate. “We’d killed him—all of us, black and white—because we didn’t listen when he was alive, though this was, of course, the way of things: no prophet was accepted in his own country,”4 acknowledges one of his aids. King’s agenda is not readily appreciated, but, nevertheless, his vision begins to take effect. His message is ultimately heard; the country understands the need for change, and it is a change informed by love—just as King wanted: “Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being ¿rst. But I want you to be ¿rst in love. I want you to be ¿rst in moral excellence. I want you to be ¿rst in generosity. That’s what I want you to do…”5 Johnson, a philosopher and thinker who tries to combine Western thinking with Buddhadharma and African religion refuses to recognize binary oppositions, racial difference being one of them, and believes in the “universal fact of impertinence.”6 Johnson, Dreamer, 235. Ibid., 234. 6 From the letter of Charles Johnson to the author, Nov. 8, 2005. 4 5


Discourses of Gender and Race

For him the transformation that Smith goes through at the end of the novel is of vital importance as it emphasizes the process of change—“how all conditioned things change, arise and pass away.”7 The division in the African American community also goes along the gender line, which manifested itself in the phenomenon of African American female writing. It has been in the focus of public attention and scholarly research and dominated in American literary studies in the last decades. The contribution of Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Ntozake Shange, Gloria Naylor and other outstanding African American female writers has already been recognized in the form of various literary prizes, book awards, and the Nobel Prize. After a long history of male domination, black women writers began to reveal the painful “her-story” of the subjugated black woman and to illuminate the traumatic split in the fragmented self-consciousness of black gays and lesbians. Their younger colleagues, like Terry McMillan, continue exploring the issue of identity, but the problem is dealt with from a different perspective. Their works emphasize that in spite of the success of the struggle of black women for recognition, equality remains a contentious social issue as colored, ethnic, female, and same-sex groups are still socially marked. Black women authors concentrate on the centrality of difference within human identity while society is not yet ready to develop a positive appreciation of difference. In their protest against patriarchal norms and male domination, they call for the re-evaluation of the physical self and the need for self-love and self-construction. As a cultural formation gender reÀects the problems U.S. society was called upon to tackle in the second half of the 20th century. African American literature’s concern proved to be those aspects of the self, which, in M. Foucault’s words, permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.8

Black women who have been subjugated for so long delve into the causes of their current position, and at the time when each group prioritizes its own agenda, they underline that black female identity is distinct and different from other identities. The process of self-identi¿cation is of primary value for a whole generation of African American women. The male canon had always treated the black woman as a voiceless object of desire with no will of its own. Her body had never belonged to her, and the canon had ¿xed the roles she was expected to play: the nanny, the mother, the matriarch, and the black whore, which could in no way express the 7 8

Ibid. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, 18.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


complexity of the black woman’s predicament. Therefore, black women authors feel it their major task to present the black woman’s view of the world. The womencentered novels of African American women writers emphasize the centrality of the politics of “womanism” (A. Walker’s term for black feminism) and gender for black female audiences. Their books show how much whites and blacks, men and women are imbued with internalized sexist and racist stereotypes. Their chief aim is to undo the authority of both the white and the black men who have been keeping them in subjugation for centuries and to destroy stereotypes. They insist that a work of art “must be political. It must have that as its thrust.”9 Consequently, they prioritize self-determination, diversity of life choices, and ful¿llment. According to black women writers, male dominance, which imposes masculine values on society, ignoring other values, is responsible for human trauma and a distorted perception of the world. In their works they show that the set of values imposed on black women is not conducive to personality growth and is, in fact, reductionist. They make it clear that there is no single blackness, and, therefore, they have their own agenda, which can or can not intersect with that of male writers. Ntozake Shange, one of the most radical black women writers, underlines, “I’m a consciously feminist person. I use tools that are available to me as a feminist reconstructing history. […] Everything I write and have written comes from being a woman-centered person.”10 For her as well as for her numerous literary “sisters” literature is a major means with the help of which black women can learn to understand more about themselves and their condition. They will never again play the degrading role determined by the ideology of machismo—both white and black. The writers’ major goal is to raise black women’s consciousness concerning questions of race, gender, and class. As Ntozake Shange puts it, her task is to show a black woman’s struggle “to become all that is forbidden, all that is forfeited by our gender, all that we have forgotten.”11 In her ¿rst novel Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982) Ntozake Shange deals with a variety of experiences the black woman is called upon to go through and makes the three young women come to terms with life. From the ¿rst page, Shange celebrates womanhood as the greatest wonder, and wonders cannot be explained, which is seen in the chapters dealing with Indigo, the youngest daughter. The writer poeticizes the woman insisting on her unique gift of empowerment that she can give the world: Where there is a woman there is magic. If there is a moon falling from her mouth she is a woman who knows her magic, who can share or not share her powers. A woman

Morrison, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation, 332. Lester, At the Heart of Shange’s Feminism: An Interview, 726. 11 The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2519. 9



Discourses of Gender and Race with a moon falling from her mouth, roses between her legs and tiaras of Spanish moss, this woman is a consort of the spirits.12

Her women are an integral part of the natural world with all its beauty and wonders while the man-made world of big cities and huge enterprises is a constant threat not only to a person’s integrity but also to life itself. The writer is primarily concerned with women’s emotional response to the patriarchal world and its norms, which they dare to question as girls and to reject as adults. For Shange as well as other African American female writers a black woman is a sexual speaking subject. Her heroines’ construction of identity is possible through interaction of race, gender and sexuality, and the result is the transformed self, which the writer celebrates. Sexuality to her is an important channel of power over others, and showing the abuse of power by men (Sassafrass’s husband Mitch acts as a sexist) the writer points out that sexuality has become a major battleground in the struggle against gender inequality. When Sassafrass hears the poem which Mitch dedicates to “all y’all black women all over the world”, she cannot contain her anger and says things that are very painful to her as she speaks to the man she loves. The poem reminds her of the black women’s terrible history, rape and vulnerability, and the saddest thing is that the poem is a “lyric” by a black man: I don’t like it. I am not about to sit heah and listen to a bunch of no account niggahs talk about black women; me and my sisters; like we was the same bought and sold at slave auction… breeding heifers the white man created ‘cause y’all was fascinated by some god damn beads he brought you on the continent… muthafuckahs. Yeah, that’s right; muthafuckahs, don’t you ever sit in my house and ask me to celebrate my inherited right to be raped.13

She challenges Mitch’s attitudes, walks out on him and tries to start a new life where understanding between a man and a woman is possible. Exploring the harm to the Self wrought by racism and sexism, Shange shows the emergence of a new spirit in her heroines, which is the result of their self-de¿nition. The girls come to learn that the normative female script reduces their chances for self-identi¿cation, and they bravely step on the road of self-exploration discovering their true identity, which is not something set and stable but is constantly in the process of transformation as they continue to learn about the world, life and themselves. They gain the knowledge that allows them to accept life with its joys and sorrows and discover the possibility of surviving and developing self-esteem with the support of other women. They begin to understand that contradictions do not necessarily have to be resolved but can be negotiated. 12 13

Shange, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, 3. Ibid., 89.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Often identity construction is produced in a polemic with African American male writers who approach this problem from a different angle. The public controversy between Alice Walker and Ishmael Reed manifested a signi¿cant tension among black American writers along the gender line but was productive in its own way, and its effects were far-reaching. Largely the conÀict around the problem of misogyny helped to bring forth other related issues and signalled new developments both in the problematics and the artistic expression. The problem of the “color line” has always been a delicate and painful issue in the relations between whites and blacks in the U.S.A. Social phobias have turned it into a tight knot of tensions, anxieties, frustrations, and taboos. In no other sphere was racism more powerful than in people’s private life. The concern with its maiming effects threatening personal integrity became pronounced in the works of such diverse African American writers as Melvyn Dixon, Charles Johnson, Randall Kenan, Alexs D. Pate, Ishmael Reed, Al Young and many others. Their male protagonist is, as a rule, a marginal ¿gure who has to sustain his masculinity in the face of dramatic conÀicts that often result in suicide, death or loss of integrity. Focusing on the marginal, the authors look at the problem of Otherness from an ambiguous perspective by examining its historical and cultural speci¿city in human, interpersonal and communal relations. Marginalized groups serve to decentralize, deideologize and destabilize the dominant groups and produce an ambivalence, which leads to a shift in the power relations in society. The writers challenge the established attitudes and values and resist societal and intercommunal “normalization” and the norm itself showing that it is no longer steady but Àuctuates under the inÀuences from the outside. The writers oppose stigmata by an acceptance of Otherness which, in the long run, proves to be personally empowering and artistically creative. Their works stress the importance of cross- and intercultural references, which prove to be fruitful in the post-postmodernist period. Their special emphasis on imagination may be accounted for by the subversive role it plays in ¿ction by presenting an alternative model to the repressive power-dominated world where social and interpersonal practices could be reinvented. The system of oppression has been oriented towards never allowing the black man to reach manhood. The macho stereotype, which has been aggressively cultivated, proves to have had a denigrating effect on the black man’s psyche, and, therefore, African American writers re-examine it focusing on the mores and attitudes of a changing community and the role men play in it. Their heroes have to overcome self-hatred, alienation, and self-destructive impulses. Problems of the self and selfacceptance become major themes in the majority of contemporary African American novels. Self construed as a unique personal essence is in conÀict with outer and inner forces tearing it apart. A number of recent novels try to get an insight into the psyche of the disoriented macho and the victims of their frustration and despair. In


Discourses of Gender and Race

this respect, of special interest are the novels Vanishing Rooms by Melvin Dixon and Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan. Vanishing Rooms is by far Dixon’s greatest literary achievement. In this novel he deals with self-loathing, self-acceptance and self-af¿rmation as the necessary stages in one’s personal growth but shows how dif¿cult it is for a young person to develop self-respect and self-love in an oppressive society obsessed with various phobias. In this novel invisibility is dealt with not only from the traditional perspective of color. The book is often compared with James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room because in it Dixon explores the fears and dangers of growing up black and gay in today’s America. As in other contemporary novels, the protagonist is a marginal ¿gure who de¿es the norm by the very fact of his love for a person of a different race. Personal inner change becomes indicative of changes in social attitudes and values. Marginality turns out to be an effective tool for questioning the validity of the norm and the power of stereotypes and cultural myths. The author deals with the relationship between the dominant and the minority culture, primacy of race over sexuality/sexuality over race, male domination/female oppression, normativity vs. “deviance,” making his protagonist move away from the stereotypes, which have been cultivated by both the dominant and the minority culture. Problematization of identity and interaction of the personal and the cultural help to understand marginal sensibilities as representative of the new tendencies in dealing with the modern condition. Melvin Dixon has a political agenda in mind when he emphasizes that sexism is a social disease, which affects private life and is no less dangerous than classism or racism. The hierarchy of power is just as strong in the private sphere as it is in social relations. Melvin Dixon’s protagonists achieve self-awareness through inner struggle, confusion, and moral chaos. In Vanishing Rooms the problem of “power structure” is explored through the relationship between a man and a woman of the same race and between a black man and a white man. M. Foucault claimed that In effect, what de¿nes a relationship of power is that it is a mode of action which does not act directly and immediately on others. Instead it acts upon their actions: an action upon an action, on existing actions or on those which may arise in the present or the future… A power relationship can only be articulated on the basis of two elements which are each indispensable if it is really to be a power relationship: that “the other” (the one over whom power is exercised) be thoroughly recognized and maintained to the very end as a person who acts; and that, faced with a relationship of power, a whole ¿eld of responses, reactions, results, and possible inventions may open up. 14

It is important that in Dixon’s novel relationships are based on binary oppositions 14

Foucault, The Subject and Power, 220.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


that reÀect the conÀict of strength—weakness, activity—passivity, etc., and it is this binary nature of opposition that accounts for the drama of the novel’s characters. They are not on equal terms, and this leads to traumatic experiences. Empowerment which love could give is, therefore, dif¿cult. The climax in the relationship between Jesse and Metro is the love scene when in a moment of ecstasy the white man utters the very taboo N-word that not only hurts the black lover but shatters his belief in the power of love and human affection. He feels humiliated because he has been objecti¿ed and turned into a fancy love toy. The roots of the drama lie in the sexual myths of the whites and the blacks when it is assumed that the whites fetish the black phallus (in Baldwin’s words, the black man is “a kind of walking phallic symbol”15) and the blacks are drawn by the innocence of whiteness. Being unable to deal with racist myths in themselves, they fall prey to stereotypes and are destroyed by them. In spite of all the efforts to change the situation, the black man still remains an object because the white man tries to construct his identity seeing in him a reÀection of his fantasies and dreams. According to J. Derrida, The other is indeed what is not inventable, and it is then the only invention in the world, the only invention of the world, our invention, the invention that invents us. For the other is always another origin of the world and we are (always) (still) to be invented.16

It is all the more painful because Jesse knows he is his own subject. The word “Nigger,” which for Metro means rejection of his own complex of whiteness, signi¿es stigmatization, victimization, and fatal condemnation for the black hero. Jesse feels betrayed, and subjugated. He refuses to be reduced to the mythical image of a superstud. Dixon problematizes the construction of blackness by a white man, and sexuality is shown as one of the avenues of essentialist patriarchy and race hegemony. By projecting his sexual fantasies onto his black lover Metro commodi¿es him, but Jesse cannot accept it. It is possible to get out of this vicious circle only through death that goes beyond race. The conÀicts the novel’s protagonists are faced with are the result of social phobias: an African American in a predominantly white society and a homosexual in a predominantly heterosexual world. Suppression and rejection are at play. The racist sexual myths tend to have their grip on both, and the color line is impossible to cross. The racial barrier cannot be eradicated, and both men share responsibility for this. Jesse’s problem is that the person he loves is of a different race, and this fact alone pushes both of them to the margins of communities, both white and black. 15 16

Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket, 290. Derrida, Acts of Literature, 342.


Discourses of Gender and Race

To have order re-established the outcast are to be removed from the boundary. This happens only with Metro’s death. Kenan’s novel speaks against different forms of oppression—familial, communal, racial, and sexual—and deals with the dynamics of power in the family, in the community, between whites and blacks, between seniors and juniors, men and women and within those groups. His protagonist is a dramatic ¿gure whose problems are social, racial, religious and sexual. He has dif¿culty in articulating them because he is only a frightened adolescent destined to be locked in his own self. At the core of his being is deep depression caused by his inability to come to terms with himself resulting in the fragmentation of his consciousness and consequent loss of identity. Repression of his nature and inability to establish a link with his environment are internalized by Horace into self-hatred, and shooting at his doppelgaenger he shoots at his fragmented self cutting the thin thread of life. As may be seen, problematization of identity and interaction of the personal and the cultural helps to understand marginal sensibilities as representative of the new tendencies in dealing with the modern condition. Addressing the major concepts of today’s world African American authors have considerably broadened the ¿ctional universe. Culture creates texts, which “mystify” life. It is a central element in ideology, to which cultures transmit their values and beliefs. African American ¿ction manifests a variety of approaches to the question of values.

Works Cited Baldwin, James. The Price of the Ticket. N.Y.: St. Martin Press, 1985. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1988. Derrida, Jacques. Acts of Literature, ed. by Derek Attridge. N.Y.—L.—Routledge, 1992. Foucault, Michel. “The Subject and Power.” In Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, edited by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. Johnson, Charles. Dreamer. New York: Scribner, 1998. Lester, Neal A. “At the Heart of Shange’s Feminism: An Interview.” Black American Literature Forum. Vol. 24. # 4. Winter 1990. Morrison, Toni. “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.” In Literature in the Modern World, ed. By Dennis Walder. Oxford—New York: OUP, 1990. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, general editors Henry Louis Gates Jr., Nellie Y. McKay. New York—London: W. W. Norton & Co, 1997. Shange, Ntozake. Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982.

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Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: the University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. Wright, Richard. The Outsider. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

INTERVENTION INTO THE IDEOLOGIES OF R ACE, POVERTY, AND MASCULINITY: CLAUDE BROWN’S SUCCESS STORY OF MANCHILD IN THE PROMISED LAND ANETA DYBSKA The American ideal, then, of sexuality appears to be rooted in the American ideal of masculinity. The ideal has created cowboys and Indians, good guys and bad guys, punks and studs, tough guys and softies, butch and faggot, black and white. It is an ideal so paralytically infantile that it is virtually forbidden – as an unpatriotic act – that the American boy evolve into the complexity of manhood. /James Baldwin/1

Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land became one of the best-sellers of the mid-1960s, with total sales reaching four million copies.2 Produced for a largely white audience by an insider to Harlem’s black ghetto, Manchild received its ¿rst reviews in August 1965, the month of the Watts riots in Los Angeles and of the unwinding controversy surrounding the release of the Moynihan Report3 – an internal government document on the Black family. The report shifted the blame for the ills of poor Black families onto “Black matriarchs,” ignoring the importance of racist oppression. Arguing that the poor Black family was “a tangle of pathology,” 4 the Moynihan Report came to be identi¿ed with the government’s stance on the riots and, by extension, on the Black family.5 Ironically, the controversy that ensued gave the report further credibility and national publicity. Its focus was similar Baldwin, 815. See African American Registry, “Claude Brown, another Harlem success!” 3 See Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” 4 Moynihan, 75. 5 Rainwater and Yancey, 192. 1 2


Intervention into the Ideologies of Race, Poverty, and Masculinity

to that of the almost simultaneously published work of African-American sociologist Kenneth B. Clark titled Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. This by now classic ethnography of the Black urban community, depicted “the dark ghetto. . . [as] chronic, self-perpetuating pathology.”6 What was missing from the Moynihan Report as well as from the press coverage of the burning and looting in Watts were Clark’s perceptive insights into the workings of economic oppression and institutionalized racism as root causes of the very “pathology.” Where, then, does the social context situate Manchild? Indisputably, if we position the book against the backdrop of the nationwide Moynihan Report controversy, it becomes evident that Manchild appeared at a time when the demand for a “native voice” of the ghetto was more urgent than ever. While the timing of the publication may be a coincidence, Brown did rely on his insider status to address the issue of representation in the book’s “Foreword,” I want to talk about the ¿rst urban generation of Negroes. . . of a misplaced people in an extremely complex, confused society. This is a story of their searching, their dreams, their sorrows, their small and futile rebellions, and their endless battle to establish their own place in America’s greatest metropolis – and in America itself. 7

It follows, therefore, that by claiming that his story of growing up in Harlem was representative of a whole generation of post-World War II urban Blacks, Brown must have responded to the mainstream public’s need created by the Watts riots for an “authentic” and a “real” account of ghetto life. Also, the fact that Manchild was an autobiography automatically authorized Brown’s portrayal of the Black community as “true” and “relevant,” not requiring the validation of social scientists. What may have accounted for Manchild’s popularity were not only the sociohistorical circumstances but also the fact that the autobiography followed the generic conventions of the narrative of success, and openly subscribed to the American Dream tradition established by The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Horatio Alger’s stories of upward mobility.8 This essay, however, looks at Manchild as an autoethnography9 in which the autobiographical merges with the ethnographic, the personal with the communal, and is an exploration of the book’s counterhegemonic potential. This analysis makes use of Mary Louise Pratt’s de¿nition of autoethnography, which was originally developed to describe the relationship

Clark, Dark Ghetto, 81 Brown, Manchild, vii. 8 See for example Horatio Alger’s 1868 Ragged Dick. 9 I adopt Deborah E. Reed-Danahay’s understanding of the term as “referring either to the ethnography of one’s own group or to autobiographical writing that has ethnographic interest” (2). See Deborah E. Reed-Danahay’s Introduction to Auto/Ethnography. 6 7

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


between the cultural texts of the indigenous population and the colonizer. For Pratt, autoethnography is a text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them. . . . Autoethnographic texts are not, then, what are usually thought of as autochthonous or ‘authentic’ forms of self-representation. . . . Rather they involve a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis or conqueror. These are merged or in¿ltrated to varying degrees with indigenous idioms to create representations intended to intervene in metropolitan modes of understanding.10

Although Pratt’s formulation refers to the relationship between the indigenous population of the Andes and white Europeans, the colonial analogy has been used for decades now as an alternative to the consensus paradigm.11 Unlike the consensus paradigm, it underscores the conÀictual nature of power relations between urban Blacks and the American state. In the 1960s, the metaphor of the Black ghetto as a colony started gaining currency not only among Black “revolutionary” nationalists (such as the Black Panther Party) but also among radical sociologists.12 While Clark used the analogy in Dark Ghetto as early as 1965, it was Robert Blauner’s seminal essay “Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolt” (1969) that introduced the term “internal colonialism” with reference to enclaves of Black Americans who were forced by the capitalist state into a colonial situation characterized by racist oppression, economic exploitation, cultural domination and administrative control by the white power from the outside. With Pratt’s de¿nition of autoethnography as a theoretical frame, this essay examines Manchild in the Promised Land as a counter-hegemonic intervention into the mainstream representations of poor Black communities in the 1960s urban America. It focuses speci¿cally on how Brown’s appropriation of the larger culture’s narrative of individual success works as a corrective to the dominant narratives of gender and sexuality, and to the social scienti¿c discourse on Black masculinity in particular. All autobiographies are to some extent relational. Brown’s narrator Sonny tells his life through numerous and often extended life stories of people in his immediate environment: relatives, gang peers and street friends, as wells as other members of Mary Louise Pratt “Transculturation and Autoethnography: Peru 1615/1980,” qtd. in Reed-Danahay, 7-8. 11 The so-called “consensus” paradigm postulated that over time all members of the American society, regardless of inherent differences, assimilated the mainstream American culture’s goals, values and ideals. 12 See Carmichael and Hamilton’s Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. Also The Death of White Sociology, edited by Ladner. 10


Intervention into the Ideologies of Race, Poverty, and Masculinity

the community. His life story is inevitably bound up with the lives of other Blacks living in the segregated Harlem community of the 1940s and ‘50s. In this respect, Manchild exempli¿es Alice A. Deck’s de¿nition of autoethnography as “written by individuals indigenous to the culture under scrutiny, who are as concerned with examining themselves as ‘natives’ as they are with interpreting their cultures for a non-native audience.”13 Although Manchild is more of an ethnography with autobiographical content, the blurb on the bestseller’s cover advertises the book as a narrative of success, a story of a Black man who “made it out of the ghetto,” cutting off his ties with juvenile delinquency, crime, and drugs to become a law student at a major American university. It seems that if Manchild had not appealed to the core American values of individualism, self-reliance, and upward mobility, the public would not have been interested in reading about Black poverty and oppression in its own right. Manchild creates a narrative distance between Sonny’s “native” community and himself as “outsider.” Not only does the distance stand for his alienation from his “native” culture of Harlem, but most importantly, it is a measure of his individual success gauged according to the degree of assimilation into the dominant culture. It is the same ethnographic distance that is a mark of Sonny’s success measured against the failure of other men who, unlike Sonny, never left Harlem; by the end of the story most are either dead or in jail. Only a handful have been successful. Although they represent different models of masculinity from his own, Manchild’s narrator respects the men for who they turned out to be. Danny has become a family man, a responsible churchgoing father; Turk is the community’s pride as a heavyweight boxing champion, and Reno continues his career as a petty street criminal, which frequently lands him in jail. Sonny sees him as a man of the street who had “just made his choice, and I’d made mine.”14 Abstaining from passing value judgments, the narrator places his own brand of masculinity on a par with other Black masculinities. I would like to argue that it is this understanding of masculine identity as plural and contingent that underlies Sonny’s articulation of otherwise invisible and silenced nonnormative Black sexualities and his subsequent attempts at normalizing them. The way Manchild constructs masculinities with reference to homosexuality and prostitution deserves special attention because it forces us to reevaluate the “outsider” accounts of lower-class black gender and sexual performance. It is only within the context of Clark’s and Moynihan’s normative vision of Black sexuality that we can fully appreciate the audacity of Brown’s treatment of sexuality. Whereas Moynihan applied the white middle-class nuclear family model to evaluDeck, “Autoethnography: Zora Neale Hurston, Noni Jabavu, and Cross Disciplinary Discourse,” 246. 14 Brown, 426. 13

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ate sexual relations among Blacks and ignored homosexuality altogether, Clark did suggest that homosexuality found expression in the Black community. Saying on the one hand that “among most lower-class Negroes, competition in sex is predominantly heterosexual and free” and, on the other, that some middle-class Black men, among other things, exclude homosexual relationships from a range of sexual options, Clark seemed to be implying that there are intentional omissions in his ethnography.15 I would like to suggest that Manchild picks up where Clark left off. Brown shares neither the ethnographers’ normative view of male and female sexuality nor Clark’s strategy of intentional erasure of such practices as prostitution and homosexuality. Instead, Brown’s narrative articulates those nonnormative Black sexualities, challenging the sociologists’ conÀation of poverty and blackness with immoral sexual behavior seen only in the context of the family and measured in terms of high illegitimacy rates, numbers of broken families and welfare mothers. Sexuality is an integral part of Sonny’s “coming up,” next to gang ¿ghting, stealing, smoking marihuana, and drug dealing. For Sonny, sex with girls his age is a way of spending time, a means of gaining recognition from male peers and a masculinity-validating activity. In the street, Manchild’s protagonist learns that women are “bitches” and should be treated as objects. Girls are always available and interested in sex. His sexual experiences are diverse and involve regular sex with female friends, occasional sex on drugs, one gang rape on a white prostitute, a short affair with a black married woman, an interracial relationship with a Jewish girl, and an infatuation with a much older Jewish female teacher. As regards the community, Sonny witnesses a range of nonnormative sexual engagements, ranging from his father’s extramarital affairs with women to homosexuality, female prostitution caused by poverty or a drug habit, true love between a pimp and one of his “women,” and a case of pedophilia. By writing about these practices in a matter-of-fact way as inherent in the Black community, Brown normalizes a range of sexual practices which would otherwise be called “pathological” or “deviant.” He produces representations of Black sexualities as seen through the eyes of the young participant narrator, where the adult observer-narrator, “temporarily removed from the past,” becomes “the detached witness to the experience through memory.”16 Further, the author rationalizes nonnormative sexual behaviors by recourse to the liberal discourse of sexuality. Sonny makes generalizing statements and thus conveys certain “truths” about his community. One of them is the acceptance of homosexuality. He insists: “nobody thought anything was wrong with faggots. Faggots were an accepted part of life,” or “nobody could be shocked at people being faggots. Nobody thought there 15 16

Clark, 73. Emphasis mine. Deck, 247-248.


Intervention into the Ideologies of Race, Poverty, and Masculinity

was anything crazy about it.”17 Such statements perform the function of normalizing homosexuality, in contrast to “outsider” accounts by David A. Schulz and Ulf Hannerz,18 and Clark who mention the existence of such sexual practices only to drop the subject altogether. Despite Brown’s effort, however, one cannot help noticing that Sonny’s account is ¿lled with inconsistencies. Ostensibly, the Harlem community accepts homosexuality. This is exempli¿ed by Danny’s remark about homosexual sex in prison: “I think, man, with most cats, the stuff is all right in the joint . . . you know. Taking other outlets, deviating from normalcy. As a matter of fact, that is a normal way of life in there.”19 Also Sonny makes it clear that Black people overcome their initial homophobic reactions to a family member’s homosexuality: A lot of people, if their sons became faggots or their daughters became studs, were disappointed and hurt. At ¿rst you’d hear about people putting their sons out because they became faggots, and putting their daughters out because they started liking girls. But after a while they always came back home. The family accepted it, the community accepted it, and everybody else accepted it.20

Yet Sonny underscores his unreliability as the narrator in the production of ethnographic knowledge when he gives a parallel account of homophobia among the Harlem population. This is exempli¿ed by references to his mother’s preoccupation with her son’s becoming homosexual because he has spent a lot of time in all-male correctional institutions from an early age.21 When he got out of reform school at thirteen and showed no interest in girls, “Mama used to worry about me. I guess she was scared – she ¿gured out I had been with boys for a long time, maybe too long.”22 A few years later she would also worry about Sonny’s younger brother, Pimp, who had gone to jail for armed robbery. Sonny seems to share his mother’s fears when he reports her words indirectly: “Mama says he’ll be a real ¿ne young man when he comes out, provided he doesn’t become a faggot.”23 Further, on a few other occasions Sonny gives expression to his own fear of homosexuality understood as lack of masculinity. Speaking about the prejudice against gay men that he already held as a young boy he says: “Before I went to Warwick [a reform school], I used to look down on faggots like they were something dirty... . Brown, 204-205. Emphasis mine. See Schulz’s Coming Up Black: Patterns of Ghetto Socialization. Also Hannerz’s Soulside: Inquiries into Ghetto Culture and Community. 19 Brown, 420. 20 Ibid., 205. 21 Ibid., 64. 22 Ibid., 124. 23 Ibid., 420. 17


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


It was the ¿rst time I’d been around guys who were not afraid of being faggots.”24 He says this to show how he has changed and how tolerant he has become of sexual difference. Yet when after a long break he meets Knoxie, a friend who has assumed a homosexual identity, he admits, “I felt a little uncomfortable [in his company in a bar]. . . . I didn’t want anybody to think I was his man.”25 Although Sonny uses the narrative to validate his own heterosexuality, he nonetheless attempts to overcome his homophobia by recourse to the liberal discourse of individualism. This reveals itself in Sonny’s reaction to Knoxie’s homosexuality: “that’s your life, you know, anything you want to do with your life is all right with me.”26 He speaks in a similar manner about gay boys at the reform school: “They were faggots because they wanted to be.”27 Thus, he opens up discursive space for the social acceptance of nonnormative sexual practices as one’s personal choice rather than “deviance” or a genetic Àaw. Brown’s explanations underscore the performative aspect of masculinity, whereby one’s sexual practices are social practices divorced from biological essence. The stress on the Àuid nature of sexuality is most apparent in Knoxie’s attempt to grasp the brand-new male identity that he has come to embrace: “I think I was cut out to walk queer street all my life, and I just found out recently, so I’m doin’ it.”28 Besides speaking about a plurality of Black masculinities with sexual orientation as the division, Sonny intervenes in the sexual power hierarchies among Black men which subordinate homosexual male identities. He attempts to present them as alternatives by drawing on the liberal discourse of sexuality. However, he tries not only to eradicate sexual hierarchies which privilege heterosexuality as the norm but also to depict Black masculinities as multiple relational subject positions that one occupies over a lifetime. The complex and Àuid character of masculinity is most apparent in the narrator’s class-speci¿c treatment of female prostitution. Sonny, the young protagonist of Manchild, is a representative adolescent Black man whom we get to know through the eye-witness account of the adult Sonny. He reminisces: “You had to get into this thing with the whores, and sooner or later you had to use drugs, and sooner or later you had to shoot somebody.”29 He invokes his ¿rst-hand sexual experience as an adolescent. For example, Sonny recalls his initial reaction to his older friend Reno’s invitation to a drugs-with-sex party: “he knew I didn’t want to screw any bitch who was high off drugs. It was all right, but it took them too long, they never came.”30 The adolescent “participant” account, Ibid., 146. Ibid., 202. 26 Ibid., 203. 27 Ibid., 147. 28 Ibid., 202. 29 Ibid., 127. 30 Ibid., 164. 24 25


Intervention into the Ideologies of Race, Poverty, and Masculinity

then, prepares the ground for the adult “observer’s” one, where the autobiographical authorizes the ethnographic: “after a while, nobody wanted to screw a junkie bitch. . . . And if she was strung out on shit [heroin], there just wasn’t much she could do in bed for anybody.”31 Thus, the “outsider” perspective of ethnography allows Sonny to assume an unreÀecting, non-judgmental stance on his past sexist treatment of women. He avoids taking responsibility for his own complicity in the objecti¿cation of women’s bodies within the sexual economy of the ghetto, where the use of prostitutes’ services is a major resource enabling Black lower-class masculinity. When the adult Sonny comes back to Harlem on short visits, he adopts an “outsider’s” gaze, a middle-class perspective on the ghetto street culture, which reveals itself in his attitude towards prostitution, especially among adolescent girls. He does not approve of thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girls selling their bodies in the streets, yet his direct “outsider” arguments against prostitution, evoking the middle-class morality, seem to be outweighed by the pragmatism of the girls’ attitude to their work. Still, regardless of how much the adult Sonny disapproves of prostitution (and it seems he does it out of sheer concern for the girls’ future: “The average nigger isn’t gonna want to be seen with you in a year or so’”32), he justi¿es the sex workers by using the discourse of economic deprivation. The passage below offers a poignant example: Dixie started tricking when she was thirteen. She was big for her age, and ‘nice’ ladies used to point at her and say, ‘Oh, ain’t that a shame.’ But it wasn’t. The shame of if was that she had to do it or starve. When she got hip and started turning tricks, she started eating and she stopped starving. And I thought, Shit, it ain’t no shame to stop starvin’. Hell, no.33

Not all girls Sonny knows enter prostitution to survive extreme poverty: some do it to earn spending money, others to support their drug habit. As for the direct relationship between prostitution and drugs, the narrator speaks disapprovingly about his peers who, unlike himself, did stay in Harlem, and have developed a new kind of heterosexual relationship within the growing drug-based sexual ghetto economy: “if a cat was strung out, if there was a young girl he knew who had eyes for him, he would cut her into some drugs to try to get her strung out too. Then he could get the chick to sell cunt for him and get enough money to keep them both high.”34 Using drug addiction as a bind, the young men “pimp” women taking advantage of the women’s personal engagement with them to turn their bodies into a source of

Ibid., 193-4. Emphasis mine. Ibid.,190. 33 Ibid.,169. 34 Ibid.,192. 31


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


income. Thus the adult Sonny disengages from a Black masculinity that objecti¿es women. However, he recognizes that not all female prostitutes are the victims of the overpowering economic forces or young black men’s manipulative practices. As he explains, some girls “wanted to become prostitutes. . . . Some girls just liked selling cunt.”35 Whereas in this particular instance Sonny overlooks the economic aspect of prostitution, his application of the liberal discourse of sexuality is in line with contemporary feminist/queer perspectives36 which treat the prostitute as an agent making a career choice rather than a powerless object. Sonny’s changing approach to the issue of prostitution, ¿rst as a lower-class “insider” and as a middle-class “outsider,” demonstrates the Àuid character of masculinity where class becomes a major social division determining all other male subject positionings – in this case, the changing power dynamics between Black men and women. As a result, the middle-class “outsider” position makes the narrator sensitive to and critical of a brand of Black lower-class male subjectivity that thrives on and reproduces the sexually exploitative hierarchies of gender. Also, he acknowledges women as agents who control their own bodies. To conclude, Claude Brown’s autoethnography Manchild in the Promised Land intervenes in the hegemonic “outsider” representations of Black masculine and feminine sexual identities. Combining the autobiographical narrative of success with ethnographic content, this work appeals to a wide audience by af¿rming a cultural consensus through the protagonists’ achievement of normative masculinity. Because it is assimilationist rather than politically radical in content, Manchild gets away with its startlingly radical treatment of sexuality. Brown’s autoethnography effectively breaks the “outsider” accounts’ silence surrounding the sexual life of Black people, especially the taboo on nonnormative sexuality. Drawing on the liberal discourse of sexuality, Manchild normalizes homosexuality as an alternative to the heterosexual Black masculinity, and female prostitution as a survival strategy or an individual career choice rather than a “deviant” behavior. Simultaneously, Brown’s narrator disapproves of Black men’s manipulative treatment of their girlfriends as sexual workers. There is an implicit irony in the fact that it may well have been Manchild’s production of nonnormative sexuality that made the book attractive to mainstream audiences who, like the listeners of Ralph Ellison’s character Trueblood in Invisible Man, saw Black people in terms of sexual difference.

Ibid., 207. For an account of contemporary debates on prostitution, see Carpenter’s Re-Thinking Prostitution. 35



Intervention into the Ideologies of Race, Poverty, and Masculinity

Works Cited Primary Sources Brown, Claude. Manchild in the Promised Land. New York: Signet Book, 1965. Clark, Kenneth B. Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965. Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” 1965. In The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey. 39-102. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1967.

Secondary Sources African American Registry. “Claude Brown, another Harlem success!”, http://www. (accessed April 8, 2005). Alger, Horatio, Jr. Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks. New York: Signet Classic, 1990. Baldwin, James. “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood.” In James Baldwin: Collected Essays. 814-829. New York: The Library of America, 1998. Blauner, Robert. “Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolt.” Social Problems 16 (Spring 1969). Reprinted in The Ghetto: Readings with Interpretation, edited by Joe T. Darden.111-127. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1981. Carmichael, Stokeley and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Vintage Books, 1967. Carpenter, Belinda J. Re-Thinking Prostitution: Feminism, Sex and the Self. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Davis, Nanette J., ed. Prostitution: An International Handbook on Trends, Problems, and Policies. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993. Deck, Alice A. “Autoethnography: Zora Neale Hurston, Noni Jabavu, and CrossDisciplinary Discourse.” Black American Literature Forum 24.2 (Summer 1990): 237-256. Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Macmillan, 1914. (accessed April 12,2005). Hannerz, Ulf. Soulside: Inquiries into Ghetto Culture and Community. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. Ladner, Joyce A., ed. The Death of White Sociology. New York : Vintage Books, 1973. Rainwater, Lee and William L Yancey. The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967. Reed-Danahay, Deborah E. Introduction. In Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social, edited by Deborah Reed-Danahay. 1-17. Oxford: Berg, 1997.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Schulz, David A. Coming Up Black: Patterns of Ghetto Socialization. New York: Prentice Hall, 1969.


As the renowned cultural critic Shelley Fisher Fishkin claims, the bulk of recent American studies scholarship is devoted to hybridity and cross-cultural processes with a particular emphasis on interrelations between black and white culture.1 This essay intends to show that parallel claims about American culture were made almost a hundred years ago as one of the counter-hegemonic strategies of the Harlem Renaissance. It will focus on the ways in which the founding texts of the movement attempt to reconcile the distinctiveness of black culture with its American character. The Harlem Renaissance is most commonly seen as an attempt at self-de¿nition and self-expression conceived by the black intelligentsia in order to foster a racial uplift. Classical studies of the movement focused on issues of primitivism and art versus propaganda, thus representing it in opposition to mainstream American culture.2 This paper will elaborate on a theme that runs against these traditional interpretations. It will focus instead on the signi¿cance to the movement of the ideology and mythology of American exceptionalism. The concept of Americanness will be discussed with reference to a selection of the most signi¿cant texts that foreshadowed and shaped the movement. The ¿rst text chosen for analysis, W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903), is not a text belonging to the movement per se, but it was instrumental in shaping the renaissance. The analysis of the Souls will be accompanied by an examination of two texts regarded as manifestoes of the movement: Alain Locke’s “The New Negro” (1925) and James Weldon Johnson’s “Preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry” (1922). It may be fruitful to begin the analysis with a brief focus on the very terminology of the movement in relation to American myths. The Harlem or Negro Renaissance Fishkin, “Interrogating ‘Whiteness,’ Complicating ‘Blackness’: Remapping American Culture,” 428. 2 The most inÀuential of the studies referred to are: David Levering Lewis’s When Harlem Was in Vogue and Nathan Huggins’s Harlem Renaissance. 1

112 The Ideology of America and Americanness in Harlem Renaissance Discourse

and the New Negro are constructs which refer to rejuvenation and a new beginning. The centrality of the concept of rebirth in American imagination was pointed out by R. W. B. Lewis in his inÀuential study The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1955) as a trait of 19th century literature. A parallel claim was made by D. H. Lawrence in reference to the Leatherstocking Tales in his Studies in Classic American Literature (1923).3 Yet, the ideas of renaissance have recurred in American mythology since the very beginnings of America in such constructs as a New Jerusalem, New England, or New York. Another signi¿cant element of revival in American culture comes from the Puritan ideology of regeneration and conversion as rebirth, powerfully revoked in consecutive religious awakenings. Characteristically, the term American Renaissance was used to de¿ne the ¿rst attempts to forge a new national and cultural identity at the beginning of the 19th century. Thus, the Harlem Renaissance has to be approached as a phenomenon drawing on the most central American myth of rebirth. In all the three texts chosen for analysis one can ¿nd a strong emphasis on the American character of the Negro. In his seminal text, Du Bois argues: “there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave.”4 Johnson, in his text, voices explicit admiration for the message of Du Bois’s work.5 He also echoes the above-quoted notion, stating that black Americans are the creators of “the only things artistic that have yet sprung from American soil and been universally acknowledged as distinctive American products.”6 Likewise Alain Locke, in his introduction to The New Negro, claims that “Separate as it may be in color and substance, the culture of the Negro is of a pattern integral with the times and with its [American] cultural setting.”7 The emancipating message of these texts is stronger than simply stating that Negroes are American citizens and their culture is a part of American culture. The authors claim that black people are the truest adherents to the American creed of freedom. In order to buttress the struggle for emancipation, Du Bois evokes the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Analogously, Locke uses the American ideology of freedom, equality and democracy to claim that “the choice is not between one way for the Negro and another way for the rest, but between American institutions frustrated on the one hand and American ideals progressively ful¿lled and realized on the other.”8 The above-quoted statements deconstruct the assumed discrepancy between “two warring ideals,” the Negro and the American, by constructing black Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 60. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 14. 5 Johnson, “Preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry,” 289. 6 Ibid., 281. Emphasis added. 7 Locke, “Foreword,” xxvi. 8 Locke, “The New Negro,” 12. 3 4

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


people as championing the essence of American ideology. Thus, this political claim positions black people as the most genuine of Americans. Du Bois, Locke, and Johnson voice an even more radical claim when they move from the political to the cultural and spiritual. They draw a vision of white America as lacking cultural and spiritual depth. It is “a dusty desert of dollars and smartness,” whereas the Negro is “the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence,” as Du Bois puts it.9 This image is echoed in Johnson’s text. The previous quote from his text introduced the Negro as the only genuinely American artist. Later, he puts it even more explicitly: “And there will yet come great Negro composers who will take this music [rag time] and voice through it not only the soul of their race, but the soul of America.”10 Thus, according to Du Bois and Johnson, it is black Americans who dominate the cultural and spiritual spheres. To put it simply, the soul of America is black. These claims may have at least two sources. First is the representation of the American character at the time. The true Anglo-Saxon American character, in its most prominent depiction by Frederick Jackson Turner in “The Signi¿cance of the Frontier in American History,” was “coarse,” “strong,” “practical,” “materialistic” but “lacking in the artistic.”11 This vision deemphasizes the sphere of artistic production to the American character. Also, as Jane Tompkins puts it, in her study West of Everything. The Inner Life of Westerns (1992), turn-of-the-century white American culture reacted against sentimentality with a rejection of the religious sphere.12 Thus, mainstream American culture at the turn of the century is characterized neither by artistic nor spiritual focus. According to the New Negro intelligentsia, this vacuum is supposed to be ¿lled by African Americans. Du Bois claims that the two races complement each other and that one day “on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack.”13 This corollary claim is more problematic, as it focuses on the American Negro’s distinctiveness from contemporary white America. Yet, this difference is positioned as an advantage both to the Negro and to America, which together form a harmonious whole. The claims about black culture being the source of the only genuinely American artistic productions can be attributed to a theory whereby all ethnic groups apart from African Americans brought their cultural heritage to America. George Hutchinson, in his monumental study Harlem Renaissance in Black and White (1995), claims that “More important than the idea of the traditional Africanness of African American culture to the Harlem Renaissance was the idea that black Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 14. Johnson, “Preface,” 288. 11 Turner, “The Signi¿cance of the Frontier in American History,” 85. 12 Tompkins, West of Everything. The Inner Life of Westerns, 39. 13 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 14. 9


114 The Ideology of America and Americanness in Harlem Renaissance Discourse

Americans, unlike any other group, had been almost completely stripped of their ancestral cultural identity.”14 The Negro, cut off from his cultural roots in a violent and unprecedented way, was the only American enabled and forced to create the most original expression of American experience. This emphasis on a racially distinctive and original cultural self-expression, which was the main element of the movement’s ideology, can be interpreted as endorsing the powerful mythology of American self-reliance as represented by the tradition of transcendentalism. William Ellery Channing, in his “Remarks on National Literature” (1830), wrote that “Literature . . . is plainly among the most powerful methods of exalting the character of a nation, of forming a better race of men. . . . A foreign literature will always be foreign. It has sprung from the soul of another people.”15 In a more universal manner, Emerson states in “The Poet” that “The Poets . . . are liberating gods.”16 Other transcendentalist philosophical texts such as “Self-Reliance” or “The American Scholar” were also interpreted as a search for a distinctive American literary and scholarly voice. They constituted an “intellectual Declaration of Independence,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it.17 The Harlem Renaissance, to a large extent, echoes the gestures of the American Renaissance. For Emerson, the poets were liberating people’s world perception from the chains of convention; for the New Negro intelligentsia, the poets were supposed to liberate people’s perception from the chains of racial prejudice. Johnson, echoing Channing’s remarks, openly states this logic in his text: “The world does not know that a people is great until that people produces great literature and art.” Thus America will acknowledge the Negro’s “intellectual parity . . . through the production of literature and art.”18 Both American Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance politics linked intellectual and artistic self-expression with freedom from prejudice and internalized inferiority, towards European and white (American) culture respectively. Just as Emerson and Channing urged the emergence of a new American voice, the leaders of the movement encouraged black artists to seek a distinctive manner of self-expression. In his “Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” Locke claims that “A younger group of Negro artists is beginning to move in the direction of a racial school of art” and calls on the new generation to seek “a new style,” “a distinctive fresh technique,” and “some sort of characteristic idiom.”19 A debate over the new black artistic voice, “The Negro in Art: How Shall He Be Portrayed,” was also held Hutchinson, The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White, 76. Quoted in: Budick, Nineteenth-Century American Romance: Genre and the Construction of Democratic Culture, 17. 16 Emerson, “The Poet,” 1084. 17 Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 40. 18 Johnson, “Preface,” 281. 19 Locke, “Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” 266. 14


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


in The Crisis. Du Bois, in his “Criteria of Negro Art,” argues that “it is the bounden duty of black America to begin this great work of the creation of beauty, of the preservation of beauty, of the realization of beauty.”20 Even though the aesthetic approaches of Du Bois and Locke differed signi¿cantly, both agreed that original black aesthetic self-expression was indispensable for racial liberation. This strategy of emancipating oneself through focusing on one’s own experience rather than established knowledge is visible on a lexical level in texts produced both by Emerson and the Harlemites. Emerson abundantly uses the pre¿x “self” in phrases such as “self-reliance,” “self-trust,” “self-dependent,” “self-derived,” “selfsuf¿cient,” “self-culture,” “self-knowledge,” or “self-directing.”21 These compound nouns are matched by strikingly similar counterparts in Locke’s “The New Negro,” where one repeatedly reads about the signi¿cance of: “self-understanding,” “selfrespect,” “self-dependence,” “self-expression,” and “self-reliance” itself.22 Yet, this focus on oneself was, neither for Emerson nor the New Negroes, a proclamation of self-centeredness or isolation. Quite the contrary, according to Emerson, “The union is only perfect when all the uniters are isolated.” Hence, this self-knowledge and self-expression was a way to a better coexistence between individuals and races. Such a policy—unity through segregation—may seem a reactive rather than radical political strategy of racial emancipation. It brings to mind Booker T. Washington’s well-known metaphor of a hand and ¿ngers, which in the discourse of racial liberation signi¿es an acknowledgement of black inferiority of within the system of segregation. Yet, this interpretation is questioned by Hutchinson, who points out the inÀuence of the cultural pluralism ideology on the Harlem movement. The key proponents of the approach, Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne, rejected assimilationism as un-American and undemocratic. According to them, in connection with the processes of mass culture, imitation and standardization, assimilation constitutes a considerable danger to the “genuine” ethnic identity. Hutchinson claims that: “Cultural pluralism, for Kallen and Locke, ... was the true mode of American cultural nationalism, whereas Anglo-conformity was fundamentally ‘un-American.’”23 Owing to the appropriation of cultural pluralism, a philosophy that championed American exceptionalism within a national identity construction, the Harlem Renaissance managed to combine an emphasis on group distinctiveness and self-expression with the claim that this is precisely what makes them essentially American. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art,” 327. Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” 1045-1062; “The American Scholar,” 1021-1033. 22 Locke, “The New Negro,” 3-15. 23 Hutchinson, The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White, 86. Hutchinson’s interpretation reveals cultural pluralism’s debt to transcendentalism, e.g. there is a clear correspondence between Emerson’s vision of a perfect union and cultural pluralist project of national integration of cultures. 20 21

116 The Ideology of America and Americanness in Harlem Renaissance Discourse

Thus, Harlem Renaissance rhetoric strategically referred to different ideologies of Americanness to endow the movement with a national signi¿cance. The Harlem Renaissance was constructed with strong references to the central myths of American ideology such as independence, self-reliance, and rebirth. The Harlemites, drawing on liberal democratic discourse, claimed that the Negro struggle for liberation is exemplary of the American creed and the American spirit. The philosophy of cultural pluralism enabled thinkers such as Alain Locke to position black selfexpression and distinctiveness as essential elements of American exceptionalism and ethnic diversity. Yet the Harlem Renaissance leaders did not rest on the claim about the Americanness of the Negro. They argued that not only is black cultural struggle fundamentally American, but the fundaments of genuinely American culture are essentially black with their spirituals and folk culture as prime examples of this thesis. The ef¿ciency of the Harlem Renaissance strategy has been evaluated by cultural criticism in different ways; depending on the approach, it has been rendered as an unprecedented success, missed opportunity, or tragic failure. Analogously, one could evaluate the movement’s references to American myths in terms of strategic success or failure. Yet, in the context of the abundant contradictory evaluations, it seems more productive to focus on a different aspect of this rhetorical strategy. An issue that is not traditionally explored in the analyses of the Harlem Renaissance is the intersection of race and gender; hence, it may be worth-while to end this paper with a brief focus on gender implications of the ideologies of Americanness employed in the examined texts. The mythology appropriated by the Harlem Renaissance leaders comes not without its gender politics, which are necessarily echoed in the politics of the movement. As Michael Kimmel shows in his analysis of the construction of modern American citizenship, the subject of the discourse is in fact not universal but particularly masculine.24 The ideologies of nationalism, citizenship, and capitalism are inescapably linked to the ideology of hegemonic masculinity. Documents such as the Declaration of Independence were produced by the Founding Fathers with a vision of humanity and citizenship as essentially restricted to men. Even transcendentalist “Self-Reliance” reveals Emerson’s investment in a masculine vision of American “brave and manly” individualism and “manhood,” which are contrasted with “feminine” “cultivated classes” and “conspiring society.” The Harlem Renaissance emerged eighty years after the publication of “SelfReliance.” That period witnessed both the ¿rst wave of feminist struggle and activism of abolitionist and black liberation movement. The battle for female and black suffrage was fought at the same time and often by the same leaders—Frederick Kimmel, “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity,” 267-69. 24

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Sojourner Truth, to mention just a few. Yet, despite its historical connections to the women’s cause, Harlem Renaissance rhetoric eclipses the victories of the suffragists and their challenges to the identi¿cation of masculinity with citizenship. It does not question but rather silently embraces the masculinist implications of American ideology. Hazel V. Carby, in Race Men (1998), argues that Du Bois “uses gender to mediate the relation between his concept of race and his concept of nation” and his central dilemma is “the formation of black manhood.”25 This conclusion is equally applicable to Alain Locke’s and James Weldon Johnson’s texts. It points to the dynamic on which the movement was founded—an attempt at racial emancipation which remains blind to other emancipatory struggles. The New Negro in the imagination of the movement was not compatible with the New Woman and, hence, provided no space for the New Negro Woman.

Works Cited Budick, Emily Miller. Nineteenth-Century American Romance: Genre and the Construction of Democratic Culture. New York: Twayne, 1996. Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. London: Harvard University Press, 1998. Du Bois, W. E. B. “Criteria of Negro Art.” In The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois Reader, edited by Eric Sundquist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. ––––––. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym. New York: Norton&Company, 1994. ––––––. “The American Scholar.” In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym. New York: Norton&Company, 1994. ––––––. “The Poet.” In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym. New York: Norton&Company, 1994. Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Interrogating ‘Whiteness,’ Complicating ‘Blackness’: Remapping American Culture.” American Quarterly 47 (1995): 428-66. Holmes, Oliver Wendell. Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Gutenberg Project. http://, 2004. (December 18, 2006) Huggins, Nathan. Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Hutchinson, George. The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995. Johnson, James Weldon. “Preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry.” In Voices from the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Nathan Irvin Huggins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. 25

Carby, Race Men, 30.

118 The Ideology of America and Americanness in Harlem Renaissance Discourse

Kimmel, Michael. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” In The Masculinities Reader, edited by Stephen Whitehead. New York: Polity Press, 2001. Lawrence, D. H. Studies in Classic American Literature. London: Penguin Books, 1978. Lewis, David Levering. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. Lewis, R. W. B. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955. Locke, Alain. “Foreword.” In The New Negro. Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Alain Locke. New York: Touchstone, 1997. ––––––. “Legacy of the Ancestral Arts.” In The New Negro. Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Alain Locke. New York: Touchstone, 1997. ––––––. “The New Negro.” In The New Negro. Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Alain Locke. New York: Touchstone, 1997. Tompkins, Jane. West of Everything. The Inner Life of Westerns. New York, Oxford University Press, 1992. Turner, Frederick Jackson. “The Signi¿cance of the Frontier in American History.” In An American Nineteenth Century Reader, edited by Thomas Milton Inge. Washington D. C.: United States Information Agency, 1987.


NEGOTIATING THE LEGACY OF ETHNOGRAPHY: AUTOETHNOGRAPHIC STRATEGIES IN LOIS-ANN YAMANAKA’S HEADS BY HARRY AND ACHY OBEJAS’S DAYS OF AWE DOMINIKA FERENS When American ethnography came of age as a discipline a little over a century ago, white academically trained men (and some women, for anthropology was one of the ¿rst disciplines to admit women) went out “into the ¿eld” to observe nonwestern peoples. Because they believed anthropology had the most to learn from pre-modern cultures, many chose tropical islands as relatively uncontaminated by modernity. In keeping a record of “vanishing cultures,” anthropology was often represented as the conscience of western imperialism. Within the U.S., in turn, ethnographic ¿eldwork focused on racial and ethnic enclaves—islands within the white mainstream—de¿ned as a “problem” because they were slow to assimilate to white middle-class culture.1 People of color were sometimes encouraged to do autoethnography2 by writing about themselves and their communities. As far back as the 1940s, anthropologists from the Chicago School of Sociology incorporated ethnic ¿ction into their syllabi, arguing that the authentic insider perspective enhanced the trained outsider perspective.3 By the 1960s, the racial hierarchy underlying the white ethnographers’ worldview, as well as their ostensibly innocuous

In Thinking Orientals Henry Yu has written extensively on the way anthropologists at the Chicago School of Sociology formulated study “problems” and conducted ¿eldwork within urban enclaves. 2 I follow Deborah E. Reed-Danahay’s broad de¿nition of autoethnography in Auto/Ethnography, which includes “native anthropology,” “ethnic autobiography,” and “autobiographical ethnography,” both in the form of the traditional ethnographic monograph and in a wide range of autobiographical and ¿ctional forms. A somewhat different de¿nition of autoethnography is provided by Mary Louis Pratt, for whom autoethnography is a genre grounded in the imperial context. An indigenous subject would write about his or her culture in reaction to negative representations by the colonizer, wresting the power of representation from whites, but working within the constraints of colonial discourse. See Pratt, Imperial Eyes. 3 Capetti, Writing Chicago, 1-21. 1


Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography: Autoethnographic Strategies

“denial of coevalness”4 to non-western cultures, came under attack. In the wake of decolonization and the Civil Rights movement, people of color gradually began to enter American ethnography and the literary marketplace to claim the right to selfrepresentation. Simultaneously, the epistemology of social science was challenged, as was the capacity of ethnographic texts to render the complexity of the ¿eldwork experience, let alone adequately represent non-mainstream cultures.5 Increasingly, ethnographers of all racial backgrounds began to experiment with non-academic genres. Out of this ferment came many texts straddling literature and ethnography. This essay is an attempt at a comparative analysis of two recent ethnic American novels which can provisionally be de¿ned as auto- or anti-ethnographic: Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Heads by Harry (1999) and Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe (2001). Although, as demonstrated below, these categories are not unproblematic, reading the two novels in the context of ethnography allows us to see thematic and formal elements that would not otherwise draw attention to themselves. For the past twenty years, American theorists and historians of anthropology have been systematically rereading classic ethnographic texts and asking “literary” questions—about voice, authorial stance, narrative strategies, ruptures, elisions, overarching tropes, and underlying assumptions—as well as more overtly political questions about stakes.6 Meanwhile, only a handful of ethnic literature scholars have used theoretical insights borrowed from contemporary ethnographic theory to examine American literature by and about people of color. There are good reasons for this asymmetry in the willingness to borrow tools from other disciplines. In recent years, literary scholars have studiously avoided talking about any af¿nity between ethnic literature and ethnography because it has taken decades to sever that connection. Ethnic writers have historically been expected to produce autobiographical “insider” accounts of their communities for the mainstream and the publishing industry has made it very dif¿cult for them to publish anything else. Ethnic communities themselves have sometimes attempted to control the way they are represented in literature. Finally, the academic community occasionally exacts certain kinds of ethnic representation and penalizes wayward writers, as in the case of the Yamanaka controversy.7 Fabian, Time and the Other, x. One of the most powerful critiques of anthropology to emerge from this period is Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. 6 See for example James Clifford’s Predicament of Culture and Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge, edited by George W. Stocking. 7 Because Yamanaka writes mostly in pidgin English about marginalized communities, her novels and poetry are read by many as authentically Hawaiian. In 1998, the Filipino caucus within the Association for Asian American Studies charged her with social irresponsibility on account of her persistent portrayals of Filipino men as sexual predators. Racial stereotyping by an author with such a strong position in the American literary marketplace was felt 4 5

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


The Chinese American playwright and novelist Frank Chin shows how an ethnic writer was positioned within the ¿eld of American literature in the 1970s—in this case a ¿eld de¿ned by the writing instructors at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop: The sessions would go, ‘Well, this is a ¿ne story, but we’ve all read Joyce Cary,’ you know. ‘This theme is already pretty hackneyed,’ and so on ... . Most of the stuff I got was the point of view trip. ‘You haven’t used enough of the local color of Chinatown.’ I would say, ‘But it isn’t about local color. I don’t want to talk about neon lights and chop suey and funny music.’ R.V. Cassill was one of my teachers. He told me, ‘You know, you’re writing about the Chinese in a way that I don’t think American people would be interested in.’ Because they were just like people, right? My people. I mean they’re common to me. ‘But don’t you think you should make them interesting to the audience?’ And this kind of stunned me because I thought I was just writing. But now I was being told in a backhanded way that I had a point of view and my point of view wasn’t white.8

The imperative to dwell on cultural differences to satisfy reader expectations has meant the rei¿cation of ethnic communities’ foreignness, which, in turn, justi¿ed discrimination. Furthermore, because ethnic literature is commonly perceived as documentation rather than art, writers of color ¿nd themselves permanently stuck in the “apprentice” category (a label the Chinese American writer Russell Leong particularly resents9). If they are commended it is on the authenticity and accuracy of their writing rather than on their artistry. Expanding on this issue, critic Rocío Davis argues that treating minority literatures as either transparent ethnography or as raw material to be processed through Euro-American theoretical models can become strategies of colonization that re-relegate the literature to places of inferiority.10 Clearly, any effort to read ethnic ¿ction as ethnography raises problems. The intention of this essay is not to reduce ethnic literature to its ethnographic interest but to engage in the ongoing discussion about the ethics and aesthetics of representation in the U.S., where some groups have traditionally been the subjects and others the objects of the ethnographic gaze. For outside academia ethnic literature is still read to be particularly harmful and was used to justify the retraction of a book prize awarded to Yamanaka by the AAAS. A heated academic debate ensued about authorial license vs. accountability to minority communities, with dozens of ¿ction writers coming to Yamanaka’s defense. Yet their appeals to the freedoms afforded white majority writers in the modernist era sound unconvincing when confronted with the politics of representation in contemporary U.S. See Valerie Takahama, “Controversial Adventures in ‘Paradise’: Bully Burgers and Pidgin,” E01. 8 Victor G. and Brett de Bary Nee, Longtime Californ’, 375. 9 Interview with Russell Leong, in Cheung, Words Matter, 233-253. 10 Davis, Transcultural Reinventions, 5.


Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography: Autoethnographic Strategies

largely for its ethnographic content and evaluated on its authenticity. This is clear when we look at the reader responses posted on internet forums and booksellers’ websites. Below is a selection of typical amateur reviews of Yamanaka’s and Obejas’s novels.11 Readers of Yamanaka’s Heads by Harry tended to praise the novel for its authenticity and the cultural knowledge it provides: “This book is as close as most tourists will ever get to the elusive ‘real’ Hawaii promised by their vacation brochures” wrote one. “I read this book last summer while vacationing on Maui, the almost-perfect place to read a book that takes place in Hawaii... . Heads by Harry... takes the reader into the life of the Japanese Americans living on the Hawaiian Islands. The culture in itself is fascinating to read about.” These reading patterns hold true for Obejas’s Days of Awe as well. The reader who wrote, “this book is lyrically written, emotionally wrenching, and an excellent guide into the mysterious ways of both the Cuban Jewish community and its history as well as the Cuban Revolution” clearly read the novel for its exotic cultural details, trusting Obejas as an authority on Cuba despite the writer’s deliberate effort to thematize epistemology. Another reader is disappointed with Days of Awe as ¿ction but appreciates it as a source of information about Cuban culture: “An enormous amount of research had to have gone into this novel, and it shows... . So this is a book that comes close to greatness. The main characters never succeed in engaging the reader, however. And, ultimately, the story arc itself seems pointless. Still, the virtue of Days of Awe is in the details.” Aware of the mainlanders’ tendency to read ethnographically, the islanders themselves hold island ¿ction writers to standards of accuracy rarely applied to white mainstream writers. Thus a local reader worries that Heads by Harry misrepresents Hawaii: “Certain aspects in her book might be a little misleading to someone who hasn’t grown up in Hawai’i (or lived here a long time). This can create stereotypes about the island culture.” Few Cuban readers have access to Obejas’s novel, which was published in English in the U.S., but Cuban emigrants are aware of the fact that it represents them in their new homeland. As one reader observes, “there are close to 40 million Hispanics in the United States and just a handful of books written by Latinos about the Latino experience; it is as if we did not exist. I am grateful to have found Achy Obejas. She brilliantly weaves history and ¿ction in such a way that Days of Awe becomes hard to put down.” Once again, the historical and cultural component is emphasized, with ¿ction as vehicle. How do writers respond to readers’ desires and demands? Yamanaka and Obejas have both published several works of ¿ction as well as volumes of poetry in which they construct islands off the American mainland. By close-reading two of their All the customer reviews come from reviews/ and (September 2, 2006).


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


novels we can see how differently they approach the ethnographic legacy. There are numerous parallels between the two island novels that justify reading them together. Both Heads by Harry and Days of Awe have ¿rst-person female narrators. Both are the stories of daughters who insist on claiming their patrimony—the right to step into their fathers’ shoes. Yamanaka’s Toni becomes an apprentice to her father, a hunter and taxidermist, and she eventually inherits his business, Heads by Harry. Obejas’s narrator Ale, who earns a living as a court interpreter, eventually adopts her father’s vocation of literary translator. Both the narrators belong to minorities within their already marginalized island communities. Yamanaka’s Toni is a Japanese Hawaiian who has never left the Big Island; she has experimented with and rejected a western-style urban college education in Honolulu to return to the small town of Hilo. It is the multiethnic community of small-business owners and their families who live and work on Mamo Street, Hilo, that de¿nes Toni’s identity. Obejas’s Ale, in turn, is a descendant of Cuban Jews who now from part of the Cuban diaspora in the U.S. She rediscovers Cuba as an adult, when she travels to the island as translator for an American delegation. What prompts her storytelling is the compulsion to explore her family’s Jewish Cuban history dating back to the Spanish inquisition.12 Her gaze moves back and forth between two communities: present-day Cuban Americans and the crypto-Jews of Cuba. Though both authors address a cross-over audience that includes members of their own minorities, they have published with large mainland presses (HarperCollins, Ballantine) and received considerable mainstream acclaim, which suggests that they consciously engage white readers. In both novels, the narrating self is at the same time observer and observed, ethnographic subject and object. Yet despite these structural and thematic similarities there are fundamental differences between the novels which ensue from the ways the authors approach questions of narrative authority and the narrators’ self-positioning in relation to the island communities on the on hand and the readers on the other. These questions are intimately bound up with two additional ones: that of the ethnographic gaze—the western observer’s assumption of the right to look in on normally inaccessible cultural practices without being seen—and ethnography’s tendency to privilege the exotic and strange over the ordinary. The remaining section of this essay will deal with the these interlocking issues. In the face of the postmodern crisis of representation, the ethnic author’s authority to represent his or her community is questionable, as is the very de¿nition Few critical analyses of Obejas’s Days of Awe have been published to date, but the phenomenon of crypto-Judaism has drawn the attention of several critics. Maya Socolovsky offers the fullest interpretation in “Deconstructing a Secret History: Trace, Translation, and Crypto-Judaism in Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe,” 225-249.



Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography: Autoethnographic Strategies

of “community,” now viewed as a homogenizing and exclusive entity as much as an inclusive and nurturing one. As a representative Hawaiian author,13 Yamanaka relies heavily on her Hawaiian insider status, emphasized by the use of pidgin English in the dialogues. (Together with Milton Murayama, she is credited with having reclaimed the Hawaiian vernacular, which had been displaced in schools and in literature by standard English). Most of her ¿ction is autobiographical, and she has repeatedly used adolescent narrators. According to James Clifford’s classi¿cation of narrative conventions in ethnography, Yamanaka might be classi¿ed as a “realist” who plants her narrator ¿rmly in the middle of her community, where she functions like a camcorder registering the daily life of the unsuspecting Hawaiians. Obejas’s Days of Awe comes closer to what Clifford de¿nes as surrealist ethnography,14 which employs the aesthetics of the collage: it constantly moves from ¿ctional autobiography, to philosophical meditation, to history. In the opening, the narrator Ale claims her Cuban heritage by recounting the scene of her birth in Havana in 1959, on the day Castro launched the communist revolution. However, her right to represent Cuba is weakened by the fact that she is taken away from the island just two years later and returns there in 1987 feeling culturally aloof—curious but disconnected. Obejas further undercuts her narrator’s authority by dwelling on moments of epistemological confusion. On the one hand, Ale claims to take the reader on a privileged tour of places tourists never go: “These are the neighborhoods to the sides, away from the main avenues, the lights and the hustle. These are the places that never appear on postcards and tourist brochures.”15 On the other, there is her mother’s warning: “Don’t think you’ll see anything real... . You’ll only be allowed to go where they want you to go. You won’t get to see or hear anything they don’t want you to see or hear.”16 Almost everything Ale knows of Cuba before her return is second-hand: learned from family stories and a street-map of Havana, tinged with the nostalgia cultivated by all exile communities. Her response to Cuba is preconditioned by stories told by other exiles: I knew—from the stories of Cuban acquaintances—that there were certain similarities to all ¿rst return trips to Cuba. I knew, for example, that at some point I would go looking for our home in Havana, that I would break down and cry at an unexpected

13 Yamanaka’s representative status has frequently been challenged, particularly by Filipinos in Hawaii. Next to Lawrnece Yep, she does, however, remain one of the most popular ¿ction writers based in Hawaii. 14 Clifford, Predicament of Culture, 129. 15 Obejas, Days of Awe, 240. 16 Ibid., 53.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


moment, that it was assumed I would call the relatives who’d stayed on the island, buy them presents, have an emotional reunion, and promise to stay in touch.17

That is exactly what happens in the novel. And though her reconstructions of scenes from the life of crypto-Jews in Cuba are detailed and dramatic, Ale reminds us that they are all based on hearsay: “Moises Menach tells me ...”18; “According to Moises Menach…”19; “What actually happened between them, whether in fact they ever became lovers, is a mystery. I heard the story from Moises. My father refused to discuss it.”20 Some of the stories have the distinctive ring of apocrypha: “In truth, my father was masterful in the garden, but it was not a talent that could be cultivated ... . He could spit on the ground, out of spite even, and in days, huge white tubulars would sprout, thick tentacles pushing anxiously out of the dirt. He’d pat a hen on the head and she’d deliver egg after egg, each one with a perfect yolk and plenty of white for meringue.”21 Just as her mother foresaw, the meaning of what Ale gets to see in Cuba continues to change, as does her understanding of the people who befriend her. She thus constantly undermines her own authority to represent Cuban culture. If we as readers choose to trust her voice, it is only on the strength of her storytelling. Positioning one’s narrator is never straightforward for ethnic American authors. Yamanaka performs a complex maneuver using two voices and two personas: that of the adult narrator who writes sophisticated, poetic prose in standard English, and that of an adolescent who communicates in short, rough pidgin English sentences, but who is mostly a listener—a passive object of other characters’ comments, commands, and verbal abuse, also rendered in pidgin.22 Looking at this narrative pattern in ethnographic terms, we may read the adult voice as that of the university-trained (auto)ethnographer and the adolescent voice as that of a native informant, one who has access to authentic, unmediated cultural knowledge. The realist convention of Yamanaka’s ¿ction keeps both lay and academic readers from reÀecting on this ventriloquism, so that most claim in their responses and reviews that “Yamanaka writes in pidgin” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Take, for instance, the opening lines of Heads by Harry: A roseate sky envelops Maune Ke’a on the Big Island of Hawai’i, the youngest in the Ibid., 66. Ibid., 117. 19 Ibid., 125. 20 Ibid., 152. 21 Ibid., 142. 22 In her collection of poems Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater Yamanaka experimented with a series of dialogues in which one of the participants, an adolescent girl, is silent. Apparently unable to talk back, she absorbs a steady stream of abuse and indoctrination from her peers and adults. 17



Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography: Autoethnographic Strategies

chain of Hawaiian Islands, and the only home I have known. Through the Saddle road to Waiki’i we take the lonely drive between two mountains, sleeping volcanoes, the tallest mountains in the world from the sea Àoor up... .23

On the same page, next to “roseate” the narrator uses such words as “cobalt-iridescent,” “vermilion,” “glossy sheen” and “sated.” We learn elsewhere in the novel that most of the working-class, pidgin-speaking characters are, in fact, bilingual and bicultural, switching to standard English in the company of whites or when they want to level the class distance between themselves and more upwardly mobile members of the extended family. Nonetheless, it should be emphasized that the mainland readers who enthuse over Yamanaka’s authentic use of pidgin enjoy it because it is couched in expository prose written in standard English. (Pidginspeaking Hawaiians are more likely to appreciate the fact that their ¿rst language is used on par with standard English.) The adult narrator selects, juxtaposes, and thus makes meaningful scenes and dialogues that her adolescent self barely intuits. It is through this complex relationship between the educated adult and her younger self (or between the ethnographer and her native informant) that both Hawaiian and mainstream are allowed access to what most perceive as authentic Hawaiian culture. Within this dyad, the voices validate each other. No such ventriloquism is present in Obejas’s Days of Awe, one of the reasons being that we know Ale to be constantly translating from Spanish into English: the “authentic” is always already mediated. Ale consciously addresses mainstream Americans, trying to de¿ne for them what it means to be an exile. It is when generalizing about this collective predicament that she uses the pronoun “we” most readily: “Anytime a Cuban returns to the island, we become couriers for those who do not . . . . Our most precious cargo wasn’t money or meat but letters. Because there is no direct mail service between Cuba and the United States.”24 For mainstream American readers, Ale functions as an emissary, almost a spy, who blends in perfectly on account of her Cuban-inÀected Spanish and the looks she has inherited from her mother. Within the context of mainstream American ¿ction, the function of both the spy (Ale) and of the native informant (Toni) is to give readers access to relatively inaccessible cultures. Hawaii, of course, has been the subject of numerous ethnographic studies by missionaries, colonial administrators, and, more recently, academics. Thus for Yamanaka there arises the problem of wresting the gaze from “outsiders” and laying claim to ethnic self-representation, which she does more self-consciously than most ethnic writers. In Heads by Harry there is emphatically no ethnographic gaze, no arrival scene featuring the ethnographer on shipboard in a sea of 23 24

Yamanaka, Heads by Harry, 3. Obejas, 63.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


natives with upturned faces (a standard scene in classic ethnographies). Here all the faces are those of old familiars and the gaze is usually exchanged between family members. On a hunting trip with her father the girl narrator says, “I see through my father’s eyes . . . I follow his eyes.” Rather than being the objects of the ethnographer’s camera Yamanaka’s “natives” take the camera into their own hands: like all American families, they make home movies. The narrator Toni says wistfully: “I wanted to be the girl . . . [father] lifted into the Big Island sky in the 8 mm ¿lm starring me. And in this ¿lm I see my father looking at me with his face full of calm affection . . . in the crackling of celluloid through an old projector, and the Àickering light.”25 Just as home movies are made for home consumption, Yamanaka’s ¿ction is, ¿rst and foremost, addressed to Hawaiians living in communities like the ones she describes. Obejas, too, demonstrates her skill in negotiating the ethnographic legacy when she deÀects and reverses the curious gaze of outsiders. In a symmetrical pair of scenes she subtly signals the fact that the gaze is never neutral, that the native does look back, and that ethnographic interest can be mutual. Ale starts out on her “fact¿nding mission”26 like a traditional ethnographer, mistakenly assuming that she can pass unnoticed—that her participant observation does not affect the observed: “I was invisible, I had no opinion or judgment, I was there simply to convert one language into another,” she thinks on arrival.27 Soon afterwards, in a mesmerizing voyeuristic episode Ale witnesses a steamy sex scene from a toilet window: I scrambled up, balancing myself on the lid of the toilet tank, and poised myself at the window ... there below me, amid the thick bushes and dozens of tub-sized Àower pots from which large yellow leaf papaya trees waved, Orlando poured the milk from his glass into a small puddle on the seat of an old metal patio chair... . Then the girl—the same stunning girl who’d left so bored hours ago—parted the greenery and stepped in beside him. Her dark curls Àoated in the air. She lifted her white dress. Her underwear was missing and a plush patch of black appeared between her legs... . Once, the girl looked up, as if to the star-¿lled sky, and found my blue-gray eyes instead, glistening, no doubt, like a wild animal’s. She smiled with quiet surprise but did nothing more than stroke Orlando’s hair with her hand.28

Both the characters are black, and the passionate scene seems to con¿rm the stereotype of Cuban culture as energized by an unrestrained eroticism. Yet a mirrorreversal of this scene takes place in Ale’s Chicago home several years later, when

Yamanaka, Heads by Harry, 7. Obejas, 57. 27 Obejas, 76. 28 Obejas, 85-86. 25



Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography: Autoethnographic Strategies

Felix, the brother of the stunning girl Celina whom Ale saw in the patio, stays overnight with Ale and her white boyfriend Seth. Seth ... was splayed on the bed, his arms and legs wide apart, waiting to be taken... . I kissed his chest, his ribs, his hips, then slowly turned him on his tummy and pushed him down, my hand still on his member ... . I was imagining the exquisite pleasure of his hardness inside me when Seth and I both saw Felix: a snide ghoul watching and enjoying the show, his pose relaxed against our bedroom door.29

The discomfort of being gazed at in a moment of intimacy is acute for the lovers. They both explode at Felix and send him running into the winter night. Having played the role of Bronisáaw Malinowski, who peeped and pried in order to write The Sexual Life of Savages, Ale projects herself into the position of the savage. She becomes the lover of the black Orlando, has erotic fantasies about the adolescent Celina, and experiences the feeling of being the object of the other’s gaze. The ethnographic gaze is, by de¿nition, selective: it focuses on supposedly essential cultural differences to the exclusion of the ordinary or universal. Malinowski’s investigation into the “sexual life of savages” was predicated on the idea that the “savages” behind the walls of their huts did things differently than Europeans, or at the very least that they understood their sexual practices in a radically different way. Such emphasis on cultural difference may produce others who are fundamentally alien and thus deserve to be relegated to a parallel or an archaic world that, however interesting, has nothing to do with the west or with the global economy. Given this legacy, Obejas and Yamanaka must consider how to make their island communities interesting to a broad readership and recognizable to themselves without exoticizing them on the one hand and erasing cultural difference on the other. Yamanaka attacks the practice of exoticization head on. In a deliberately antiethnographic move she exposes the seedy underside of the industry that manufactures Hawaiian culture for visitors. After Àunking out of college, the narrator gets a minimum-wage job as a lei hostess. Cast in the role of the sensuous native, she is required to put a lei around each tourist’s neck and “smile, smile, smile if they lean towards you for a nice peck on the lips.” She is also in charge of a tape recorder that plays the song: “I’m a little brown gal, in a little grass skirt, in a little grass shack in Hawaii.”30 In clear contrast to such exotica that have nothing to do with present-day life on the island, Yamanaka describes in disturbingly naturalistic language a series of hunting trips and the work of disemboweling and reconstructing animals at her father’s taxidermy workshop. Readers are not permitted to simply contemplate the ¿nished product, the mounted pheasant or wild pig, made to order for both locals and tourists. 29 30

Obejas, 160. Yamanaka, Heads by Harry, 146.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Signi¿cantly, Yamanaka uses taxidermy not just as a pretext to introduce disturbing, anti-touristy imagery but as a metaphor for ethnic representation. The entire process is laid out for readers to contemplate stage by stage, from the shooting of wild animals, through making surgical incisions, skinning, disemboweling, cleaning and reconstructing the skeleton with wire, stitching the skin back together, inserting glass eyes and painting mouths, to choosing a pose. The ¿nal product is like the real thing though it is undeniably arti¿cial and frozen in time—not unlike any effort to photograph, ¿lm, or write about cultural others.31 Yamanaka thus indirectly criticizes the tradition of “salvage ethnography” which produced a record of “vanishing cultures” for the use of the modern western societies that had initiated the process of globalization. Ironically, though, Yamanaka herself falls into the trap of “salvage ethnography” when she constructs for her readers an almost idyllic close-knit small-town community in the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Eatonville. While not entirely free of sexism and small cruelties, it is a democratic community based on face-to-face relationships, one that is capable of self-regulation and that takes care of its own. Its members, like the residents of Hurston’s Eatonville, spend their leisure hours sitting on porches, drinking beer, talking story, and resolving community problems. They do business with each other, intermarry, and party. Thoroughly American—they allude to popular TV programs and celebrities, eat Vienna sausage, and go to Las Vegas for the annual American Association of Taxidermists Convention—they engage in consumerism on their own terms, by recycling, scavenging, and upholding neighborly solidarity. It is this community spirit that Yamanaka’s mainland readers respond to warmly. In the words of one lay reader, “Such a lovely sentiment [is possible] only on Mamo Street.”32 If Yamanaka ¿nds in taxidermy her overarching metaphor for ethnic representation, Obejas ¿nds it in translation. The very subject of Obejas’s novel—the clandestine history of Jews in Cuba—is exotic and mysterious. But Obejas constantly frustrates her characters’ (and readers’) desire to reify difference. She shows how the supposedly “cultural” things Cubans do are inÀected by history: the Spanish inquisition, colonial rule, the spread of Nazi ideology to Havana, the Holocaust, communism, the Bay of Pigs, the exodus of balseros, and other events. Ale ¿rst visits Cuba in 1987 and then revisits it ten years later. The cultural practices she initially associates with being crypto-Jewish in Cuba change drastically over time and turn out to reÀect the Menach family’s economic and political status as much as The connection between ethnography and taxidermy is made in The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle by Fatimah Tobing Rony, who uses the term taxidermy to characterize late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century documentaries about “vanishing peoples” like Nanook of the North. 32 Amateur review, (September 2, 2006). 31


Negotiating the Legacy of Ethnography: Autoethnographic Strategies

their faith. During the ¿rst encounter, for instance, Ale registers an idyllic picture of a multigenerational family centered around a “warmly cushioned” Jewish mama presiding over her steaming pots. Ten years later Ale’s arrival scene also opens with the mother stirring pots on the stove but their contents are meage. The family is ideologically divided: Moises has wrapped himself in a fanatical communism, one of his granddaughters has converted to Christianity, while most of the family’s income in these hard times comes from pimping and prostitution (barely disguised as driving and entertaining western tourists). In this case, history has more explanatory power than does cultural anthropology. Unlike academic ethnographers who sought out homogenous “pure” island cultures, Yamanaka and Obejas delight in cultural impurities and syncretisms. They attempt to render the speci¿city of their own minority cultures with the rigor of (auto)ethnographers but they prefer diachronic historical explanations of “the ways people do things” to synchronic cultural explanations. Both authors work hard to confront the ethnographic legacy by problematizing ethnographic interest and exploring the contradictory ways of being Hawaiian or Cuban, hence the label “antiethnography.” Yamanaka does not thematize the issue of epistemology: her authority comes from being a cultural insider and from the fact that her work has been given the stamp of approval by other Hawaiians. Obejas, writing in English for mainland readers about an island that is still relatively inaccessible, is in a position not unlike that of the traditional ethnographer, whose observations were virtually unveri¿able. Yet she steers clear of realistic representation, and makes the unreliability of her narrator’s gaze one of the main themes of Days of Awe. While the framework used in this essay has its limitations, if we did not approach such novels as Heads by Harry and Days of Awe thinking about the way the writers strategically respond to the predicament of being read ethnographically, we would miss some of the more productive tensions in those narratives.

Works Cited Primary Sources Obejas, Achy. Days of Awe. New York: Ballantine, 2001. Yamanaka, Lois-Ann. Heads by Harry. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. –––––. Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1993.

Secondary Sources Capetti, Carla. Writing Chicago: Modernism, Ethnography, and the Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Cheung, King-Kok, ed. Words Matter: Conversations With Asian American Writers. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000. Clifford, James. Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988. Davis, Rocío. Transcultural Reinventions: Asian American and Asian Canadian Short-story Cycles. Toronto: TSAR, 2001. Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. G. Victor and Brett de Bary Nee. Longtime Californ’: A Documentary Study of an American Chinatown. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Malinowski, Bronislaw. The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia. London: Georege Routledge, 1929. Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London and New York: Routledge, 1992. Reed-Danahay, Deborah. Introduction. In Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social, edited by Deborah Reed-Danahay. 1-17. Oxford: Berg, 1997. Rony, Fatimah Tobing. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle: Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1996. Socolovsky, Maya. “Deconstructing a Secret History: Trace, Translation, and Crypto-Judaism in Achy Obejas’s Days of Awe.” Contemporary Literature 44 (2003): 225-249. Stocking, George W., ed. Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison, 1991. Takahama, Valerie. “Controversial Adventures in ‘Paradise’: Bully Burgers and Pidgin.” Orange County Register (February 15, 1996): E01. Yu, Henry. Thinking Orientals: Contact and Exoticism in Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

RELIGION AND ETHICS IN LOUISE ERDRICH’S THE PAINTED DRUM AND ALICE WALKER’S NOW IS THE TIME TO OPEN YOUR HEART MARTA LYSIK The contemporary multireligious American reality manifests not only into a dynamic religious landscape discussed in public life, but into literature as well. While literature constitutes a crossroads where many forms of knowledge, i.e. religion, intersect and interact, there is a need to bring to the foreground theoretical paradigms concerning religion, spirituality, and ethics, and apply them to the analysis of literary works. To procure an atmosphere of tolerance, religious diversity and religious freedom in America are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These lines, initially not intended for the present state of profuse religious diversity, help the American nation to “claim and af¿rm what the framers of the Constitution did not imagine but equipped us to embrace.”1 America has always been a land of multiple religious traditions: “[a] vast, textured pluralism was already present in the lifeways of the Native peoples— even before the European settlers came to these shores.”2 In accordance with the American ideal and dilemma of E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One), “civic and religious bridge building is our greatest challenge today”3 in an attempt to guarantee the democratic value of institutional and individual religious freedom. Therein lies a potential tension in terminology that requires further clari¿cation. This essay deals primarily with personal religion, i.e. foregrounding the individual,4 and touching only slightly on institutional aspects such as theology. For the purpose of this essay, religion can be de¿ned tentatively and arbitrarily as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend

Eck, A New Religious America: How a ‘Christian Country’ Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, 7. 2 Ibid., 3. 3 Ibid., 335. 4 James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, 30. 1

136 Religion and Ethics in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s

themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”5 The term “spirituality” is understood as a particular inwardness, a sensitivity to religious values, and a concern for ethical or ideological values pertaining to human inner nature. Ethics is linked with both of these as a philosophy endorsing moral choices and decisions made by an individual who follows a certain code of conduct. This essay explores issues of personal religion, spirituality, and ethics in two contemporary texts through the prism of the concept of kairos. Kairos, a seminal concept in ancient Greek rhetoric, literature, and philosophy denoting right timing, a turning point, an opportunity, or, in the words of James Kinneavy: “the right or opportune time to do something, or right measure in doing something,”6 is applicable to contemporary American literature, for example Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart. Protagonists from these novels experience kairic moments, e.g. under the guise of religious conversion or a personal transformation brought about by a crisis. The titles of both books evoke the kairic as well: The Painted Drum alludes to the sacred drum and its discovery that changes the life and attitude of the protagonist, whilst Now is the Time To Open Your Heart expresses urgency for the enactment of change. Thompson, in accordance with Kinneavy’s de¿nition and Paul Tillich’s usage of kairos in theology, analyzes “how timing, propriety, and appeals to spiritual power become inextricably intermixed in nineteenth-century American literary culture.”7 He applies the term kairos, understood as “the idea of spiritual timing and due measure,”8 to works by Ralph Waldo Emerson. This American kairos, de¿ned as the “feeling of the right time and moral entitlement for a new literature,” is a plea for spiritually profound American literature capable of engendering social change.9 Emerson, according to Thompson, was convinced that the American nation was kairos incarnate, that its people were chosen, and that they had a religious mission to ful¿ll.10 The de¿nition of kairos, as applied by Thompson to nineteenth-century American literature, is “a moment of spiritual insight and propriety,” 11 The author of this essay, however, applies this concept to contemporary American literature to denote a religious or spiritual breakthrough in the life of a modern individual. In The Painted Drum Erdrich introduces the practice of the Drum religion, which epitomizes but a particle of American Indian religious experience, for “[t] he wide diversity of Native religious practices continues today, from the Piscat-

Ibid., 31-32. Kinneavy, “Kairos in Classical and Modern Rhetorical Theory,” 58. 7 Thompson, “Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Kairos,” 189. 8 Ibid., 187. 9 Ibid., 187. 10 Ibid., 187. 11 Ibid., 187. 5 6

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


away of Maryland to the Blackfeet of Montana.”12 The practice of the Drum religion, also called Dream Dance, has been performed by, among others, the Ojibwe and Winnebago tribal groups since the second half of the nineteenth century and includes seasonal ceremonies, sacred rituals, and songs.13 The novel’s protagonist Faye Travers’ work, appraising the contents of deceased people’s homes, one day leads her to a former Indian agent’s house, where she ¿nds a sacred painted drum and, against her work ethic but in accordance with an incipient new personal ethic and identity, steals it. Faye soon learns how to care for the drum, this sacred living being, by “protecting it from touching the bare ground, maintaining a light next to it at night, keeping it properly closed or covered when not in use and maintaining appropriate behavior in its presence.”14 The ritual care helps her act out and reinforce her spirituality and emerging religiosity. When Faye steals the drum, her action is kairic. The discovery and theft, as well as an impasse in her relationship caused by the death of her partner’s daughter, stir her to reexamine her life: to learn about her troubling family history, make amends with the mother she lives with, open her heart to her relationships, and to make peace with herself. Benedikt argues that kairos, predominantly concerned with an individual and his or her subjectivity, is “capable of informing a system of ethics.”15 According to her, kairic moments, “moments that require decision,” can denote “the right person doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons.”16 Thus, the kairic actions of one person can effect the kairic actions of another,17 and one must recognize the resonance a particular action could induce. Faye plans to return the drum to its rightful owner, the descendants of a Native American man who had sold it to Tatro the Indian agent in order to quench his drinking habit. But Faye is in no hurry. She grows attached to the drum and keeps it in her bedroom. “I touch or gaze upon it every time I enter. The drum exerts the most connective hold upon me, and it even starts to inÀuence my dreams,” she says.18 Its presence triggers numinous moments in Faye’s life, helping her to unleash new territories of religiosity and spirituality. In addition, she is reluctant to part with the drum, whose presence guides her in coming to terms with childhood traumas. Eventually, Faye and her mother return the drum to the grandson of the maker, Bernard. Bernard narrates its troubling origins, in which a daughter is sacri¿ced for the mother Anaquot and her baby Fleur to live. The father ¿nds his daughter’s Eck, A New Religious America, 3. Hirschfelder and Molin, The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions: An Introduction, 71. 14 Ibid., 71. 15 Benedikt, “On Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time,” 226. 16 Ibid., 233. 17 Ibid., 230. 18 Ibid., 76. 12 13

138 Religion and Ethics in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s

bones, who visits him as a ghost and tells him to make a drum that will help individuals and the surrounding community. People gather around the drum, chant songs, and create a supportive religious community, for The Drum religion includes seasonal ceremonies as well as many other sacred rituals and songs […] Drum groups or societies, generally named after the drum owners, maintain the Dance Drum and its rituals. Each of¿cial, including owners, warriors, singers, drum heaters and pipe lighters, must meet the necessary quali¿cations to carry out the sacred responsibilities. 19

However, when Simon Jack Pillager, a man too greedy in life, abuses the drum and dies, the drum is stored away. Here Bernard’s story ends and another narrative unravels in which the presence of the drum turns out to be even more kairic. Ira, a single Native American mother of three and a June Kashpaw-like character, goes to town to look for money for heating and food for her three starving children. She is prepared to go to great lengths to save her family and willing even to sell her own body. When she returns, the house is burned down, but the children are safe. The oldest daughter rescues her siblings by taking them from the house and walking through woods so as not to freeze; the sound of a drum keeps her going whenever she is tempted to fall asleep. The children are taken to a hospital and the drum is invoked again to cure Ira’s son who has caught pneumonia. Ira then meets Morris, another Native American and an injured war veteran, who wants to help her raise her children and provide for them. Faye’s decision to purloin the drum and later to return it to its original community proves kairic for her, her children and Morris, as it effects the lives of others. The original crime or unethical act of stealing the drum is redeemed by the miracle of multiple lives saved and of people being brought together. Before encountering the drum and experiencing her kairos, Faye mocks other people’s religions and describes herself as a non-believer. Although she is spiritual in the way she broods over life, people, and animals, she lives her life in a Zwischenraum, or limbo, devoid of passions and dependencies. In addition to reÀecting on mortality and resurrection, Faye ponders the nature of religious retention, revival, and conversion. She decides to become a part of the Drum religion: “we will travel back home to be part of what Bernard calls feasting the drum, and we also will learn the songs that belong to it.”20 The drum, kairos incarnated, helps her as an individual, but it also bene¿ts the North Dakota Native American community in helping to reunify it and in prolonging the religious and spiritual tradition. For many years, Faye had shunned emotions and sensed only her own sadness 19 Hirschfelder and Molin, The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions: An Introduction, 71. 20 Erdrich, The Painted Drum, 269.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


lurking everywhere. After stealing the drum, learning her family history, and joining a religious community, she reexamines her decisions and recasts the spiritual message and ethics for herself: Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.21

When quizzed whether she sees herself as a religious writer, Erdrich answered enigmatically: “[i]t depends upon how that is de¿ned. If I take it to mean a person whose characters ask questions about their origins in space and time, well, yes, and of course someone is often bumping up against crucial church dogma. Life is religious, I think, and that includes writing.”22

In her life and writing Erdrich does not side explicitly with any organized form of religion, but I would like to argue that elements of theology are discernible in her works. Feminist theology has been accused of not including the concerns of women of color. Therefore particular ethnic groups have made an effort to formulate their own theologies and manifestoes. Andrea Smith, an American Indian scholar, delineates Native American women’s theology based on her personal experience, e.g. her work with Women of All Red Nations (WARN), a grassroots organization promoting a spirituality/liberation praxis.23 The need for a separate designation stems from the fact that, as Smith writes, “Native women activists have often been reluctant to call themselves feminists because they generally experience colonialism, rather than sexism, as their primary mode of oppression.”24 The oppression initially derived from colonialism and land deprivation has escalated into a state where one must “heal from the psychological effects of colonialization, sexual abuse, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and teen suicide.”25 These women grapple with “issues of change and transformation within their traditions. In times of genocidal danger, the idea of transforming traditions to meet current needs can Ibid., 274. Chavkin and Chavkin, “An Interview with Louise Erdrich,” 228. 23 Smith, “Walking in Balance,” 54-55. 24 Ibid., 63. 25 Ibid., 66. 21


140 Religion and Ethics in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s

seem particularly threatening.”26 Contemporary “spiritual/cultural appropriation,” such as non-American Indians selling Indian American artifacts and pro¿ting from them or the annexations of American Indian shamanism and healing practices by the New Agers, at once recalls the centuries-old scenario of land thievery and alerts one to the prospect of repeated acts of colonialization. The Painted Drum in particular, and Erdrich’s prose in general, address issues of conquest and colonialization in order to provide survival manuals for ailing communities of American Indians. The African American religious experience also encompasses a variety of traditions, and Alice Walker is renowned for her syncretistic approach to religion and spirituality. She weaves her 2004 novel Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart with religious, ecological, womanist, and political threads. The protagonists of Walker’s novel venture on spiritual journeys during which they are healed and attain knowledge. These retreats are like a baptism, heralding a rebirth and a new life. The protagonists’ religious and spiritual practices consist of elements of Buddhism, Feng Shui, Shamanism, yoga and meditation, and natural/herbal and ancient medicine. Traces of humanism, compatible but not necessarily allied with organized religion, are also found in Walker’s novels The Color Purple and The Third Life of Grange Copeland: Alice Walker’s humanism is deeply contemplative. It is, in essence, a worshipful appreciation for humanity and for the earth in general. This type of reverence for life gives it god-like status in that it must remain at the forefront of our thoughts and actions, centering our every move within a profound sense of awe. What is called for, according to Walker, is a recognition of life as beautiful and beautifully connected to all things. 27

In The Color Purple, Walker’s idea of God has been aptly mediated through the person of Shug, who says: “I believe God is everything […] Everything that is, ever was or ever will be.”28 The concept of the divine is broad and inclusive, as expressed by Celie in one of her letters: “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.”29 Such a personalized vision of religion is characteristic of New Age and Neopagan movements, whose practitioners “express their generation’s disenchantment with traditional religious options.”30 Neopaganism, however, focuses on the relationship with nature and recasts religions of the past, whilst New Age is concerned with shaping individual consciousness and thus

Ibid., 60. Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience, 166. 28 Walker, The Color Purple, 202-203. 29 Ibid., 292. 30 Pike, New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, 14. 26 27

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


impacting the future.31 Yet, spiritual searches in both these movements generates an individualized spiritual formula that embraces manifold beliefs, as well as medicinal and healing practices aimed at the integration of the mind, body, and spirit. Similarly, New Age and Neopagan religious movements provide purpose. As Sarah Pike writes, “[t]hrough the ritual structures and symbolic sources provided in various religions, humans give their thought and actions meaning. Therefore, religion at its core is a process of meaning-making.”32 Kate, the novel’s protagonist, feels she has “reached an impasse on the Buddhist road.”33 Her mind is no longer lucid and she is troubled by many thoughts, she cannot meditate. She begins dreaming unusual images. This act of reÀection and awareness is kairic in that it constitutes a decisive turning point in her life: the right time has come to undertake and important transformation to disentangle the knot of a stiÀed mind, body, and soul. Kate ¿rst decides to leave her younger lover Yolo. When she departs, he has a dream in which he is lost and asks a spirit: “Which way to the river?”34 – thereby realizing that he, too, must embark upon his own journey. Prior to the trip, when her therapist asks her about her reason for going, Kate responds in a kairic mode: “I cannot believe my dry river, that we have been discussing for months, and that is inside me, is unconnected to a wet one somewhere on the earth. I am being called.”35 As she begins to let go of memories of her multiple marriages and abusive partners, she feels ready for the journey and prepared to face her age, her graying hair. She embarks on another trip to South America, down the Amazon River, where she meets a shaman. When Kate takes a hallucinogenic medicine known as Ayahuasca, or yagé, she asks “for help for the humans of the planet and for the coming generations and for the animals and plants and rocks. She asks that she be guided to knowledge of how to act in the world for the highest good of all.”36 Kate’s is a deeply ethical attitude, embracing not only the self, but the surroundings as well. The novel is replete with American Indian inÀuences, such as shamanistic healing practices and the worship of nature, which, for the New Age and Neopagan environmental ethic, is concerned with work to undo the damage that society has inÀicted on the planet.37 New Agers and Neopagans organize retreats to facilitate spiritual growth and a sense of supportive community through cleansing rituals and the sharing of personal tales of trials and tribulations. When Kate returns from her retreat and meets with Yolo, they are both changed, but still in love with one Ibid., 18. Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience, 3. 33 Walker, Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart, 5. 34 Ibid., 18. 35 Ibid., 21-22. 36 Ibid., 62. 37 Albanese, America: Religions and Religion, 364. 31


142 Religion and Ethics in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s

another. Their separation and spiritual quest is kairic, for it helps them realize and appreciate the feelings they have for one another and to continue being together. Yolo has stopped smoking and Kate has abandoned her concerns of aging. Yet the world has changed as well: “they bombed eight different places in the world while we were gone”38 and “the world has never been in worse shape: global warming, animal extinctions, people fucked up and crazy, war.”39 Amidst this havoc, they live their lives in a blue house, blue being “the color of water and space and eternity […] Among Buddhists, blue is the color of healing.”40 Kate learns anew how to sense and experience the numinous and the sacred around her, for “[a]n important element of Neopagan theology that also characterizes some New Age views is the belief in immanence, the idea that divinity permeates the world around us and runs through other humans, the earth, and all living beings.”41 Through the agency of shamans, kahunas and healing rituals, Kate and Yolo feel spiritually regenerated. Walker’s narratives of personal and political activism, realized in her own life and engagements, illustrate the theory and praxis of womanist theology and spotlight the nexus of self-discovery, healing, and subsequent activism on behalf of local and global justice. This empowering potential of religion and spirituality is made visible not only to women, but also to men, for the liberation and empowerment of women is not possible without the liberation and empowerment of men, a stance Erdrich also ascribes to in honoring male characters and their struggle for wholeness. Walker’s engagement in transnational and transcultural dialogue on marginalization and injustice has earned her numerous supporters as well as opponents. Richards traces a concept of transnational feminist/womanist practice in Walker’s oeuvre, which “views the experience of women more broadly than do local feminisms and at the same time recognizes the limitations of a global perspective that homogenizes difference.”42 Walker, without engaging in comparative martyrology, explores traumas beyond the categories of nation and culture, thereby bringing to voice otherwise dispossessed and marginalized women. Kairos, as applied to literature of twenty-¿rst-century America, denotes an opportune moment for changes in a protagonist’s life. In The Painted Drum and Now is the Time to Open Your Heart, kairos occurs in the form of either the numinous, i.e. spiritual or religious awareness, or religious conversion and enlightenment, leading to agency and actions toward the individual pursuit of happiness as well as communal struggle for social justice. The ethical dilemmas and choices effecting individual and community life are represented through the prism of the personal: Walker, Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart, 182. Ibid., 185. 40 Ibid., 207. 41 Pike, New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, 31-32. 42 Richards, On the Winds and Waves of Imagination: Transnational Feminism and Literature, x. 38 39

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


troubling parents, children, and/or romantic relationships, as well as the political: issues of colonization and its psychological effects, cultural appropriation, and reclamation. These two novels portray the signi¿cance of religion and spirituality in research on gender roles, as they designate leadership positions to both genders (as well as the third gender, in the case of Walker’s narrative) without condoning gender-speci¿c distinctions within the religious ceremonies and rituals. In these novels woman shamans and medicine women exist on equal terms with men, shamans, and medicine men. Religion empowers and binds, as it positions an individual within a community of support and provides him or her with a purpose in the context of chaotic postmodernity of Àuid loyalties and ambiguous ethical systems.

Works Cited Primary Sources Erdrich, Louise. The Painted Drum. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. Walker, Alice. Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart. New York: Random House, 2004.

Secondary Sources Albanese, Catherine L. America: Religions and Religion. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999. Benedikt, Amélie Frost. “On Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time: Toward an Ethics of Kairos.” In Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis, edited by Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin, 226-235. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. Chavkin, Nancy Feyl and Allan Chavkin. “An Interview with Louise Erdrich.” In Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin, 220-253. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1994. Eck, Diana L. A New Religious America: How a ‘Christian Country’ Has Now Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. San Francisco: Harper, 2001. Hirschfelder, Arlene and Paulette Molin. The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions: An Introduction. New York, Oxford: Facts on File, 1992. James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: The Modern Library New York, 1902. Kinneavy, James L. “Kairos in Classical and Modern Rhetorical Theory.” In Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis, edited by Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin, 58-76. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

144 Religion and Ethics in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum and Alice Walker’s

Pike, Sarah M. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Pinn, Anthony B. Varieties of African American Religious Experience. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998. Richards, Constance S. On the Winds and Waves of Imagination: Transnational Feminism and Literature. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000. Smith, Andrea. “Walking in Balance: The Spirituality/Liberation Praxis of Native Women.” In Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel, 53-68. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998. Thompson, Roger. “Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Kairos.” In Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis, edited by Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin, 187-198. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Pocket Books/Washington Square Press, 1982.

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT: THE RHETORICAL REPRESENTATION OF THE HOME AND FAMILY IN THE WRITINGS OF POLISH AMERICAN AND JEWISH AMERICAN WOMEN IN THE USA, 1900–1939 DANUTA ROMANIUK With the Old Country left behind, the paths of Poles and Jews crossed again in the USA. We read in Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, “We had sprung from one soil. [...]. [...] we are of one blood.”1 Sara Smolinsky’s beloved cements their relationship by saying: we found that our beginnings were the same. We came from the same government in Poland, from villages only a few miles apart. Our families had uprooted themselves from the same land and adventured to the New World.2

This can also apply to the situation of the Great Wave immigrants from the territories of partitioned Poland. Predominantly of Roman Catholic and Jewish backgrounds, the newcomers were both residentially and emotionally close, despite their long-standing rivalry and certain deep-seated prejudices. No wonder Catholic housewives liked to bargain in Jewish stores, and Jews were happy to do business again with their Old-Country neighbors. Their existence in the USA was characterized by “a new feeling of familiarity,”3 to use again Yezierska’s character’s words. On the literary scene, however, the familiarity did not manifest itself. The immigrants from Poland constituted two separate reading publics, with their own sets of writers and journalists, and their own presses circulating dissimilar cultural values. Literary communication in the pre-World-War-II period, with respect to the ¿rst generation, was conducted in the natively acquired languages. Practically never did writers make a crossing to address “the other” audience of Polish roots (with the Yezierska, Bread Givers, 278. Ibid., 277. 3 Ibid., 278. 1 2


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family

exception of one evidently Jewish novelist, Piotr Yolles, writing in Polish and serializing his ¿ction in Polish-language titles4). Thus the countrymen grew ignorant and distrustful of each other. Also, their communities developed in different ways, at a different pace, and with a varied degree of success in the new country. Yet, the writings of the two groups, in their communities’ formative period in America, abound in correspondence. Of course, they also reveal crucial discrepancies. Interestingly, they have never been put together by critics or scholars, neither in Poland nor in the USA. Thus, to a certain extent, the break in cultural communication persists. One of important ¿elds of examination in this respect is the rhetoric employed in ¿ction written by Polish American and Jewish American authors. This is due to the signi¿cance of discourse in the construction of culture and subjectivity. In the Foucaultian sense, although social practices can be found outside of language, it is language that gives them meaning and thus forms them discursively.5 The current essay provides a glimpse at how the private sphere of the Landsleute was represented rhetorically. To strive at a degree of insight and also representativeness, it closely examines two widely-read novels of perhaps the best-known authors of their time within their ethnic groups: Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu [Salesgirl from Broadway] by Melania Nesterowicz6 and Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska. The analysis employs the methodology of Critical Discourse Analysis to decipher the messages of the texts. To begin, it is worth casting at least a cursory glance at the women writers’ life stories. Both born in Russian Poland, about ten years apart, reached the height of their careers in the turbulent 1920s and 30s. Nesterowicz, obviously, never achieved the degree of nationwide prominence that was Yezierska did. The former did not use English, while the latter still delights readers with her slight vernacular, although she did master English and was zealous about education. They catered to vastly different publics, with Nesterowicz writing to be read by her fellow countrymen, and Yezierska appreciated by Anglo-Saxons. In their last years both suffered obscurity and hardship after lives devoted to their careers, with practically non-existent family life. Only one of them, however, was rediscovered and became a star in the ¿rmament of American ethnic writing. The works of Nesterowicz and Yezierska, Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu and Bread Givers, exhibit a correspondence of the leading themes. Firstly, they portray daughters’ rebellions against the Old-Country values and lifestyle. However, in Sara’s case, it is a struggle against the virtual tyranny and abuse of the children on the part of an Orthodox father. Irena’s causes for breaking free are not as Majewski, Traitors and True Poles: Narrating a Polish-American Identity, 1880–1939, 25. 5 Cf. Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge. 6 Nesterowicz, Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu [Salesgirl from Broadway]. 4

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


grave, since she is pampered by her hard-working parents and only yearns for a life in luxury away from things Polish. Secondly, both girls are mesmerized by what America offers. Yet, they have different ambitions. Irena dreams of marrying a millionaire to live effortlessly like an American lady, and when this does not quite come her way, her alternative strategy is a career as a Hollywood movie star. Sara, on the other hand, is no man’s ivy and independently struggles to become “a ¿nished teacherin.”7 What is more, the heroines pursue a common dream: to ¿nd love and romance outside their own backyard. And yet again, they have different priorities. Irena seeks erotic ful¿llment as well as satisfaction of her Hollywood-blown delusions whereas Sara is out for a spiritual union of soul mates. Finally, having ful¿lled their romantic and professional pursuits, both young women reconcile with their heritages and with a new conscience embrace things Polish and Jewish. In brief, they leave their homes, families, and people in order to love them in the end. “America” both for Irena and Sara stands for a promise of a more afÀuent and happier existence, in contrast to the dreary experience of the Polish American community of Buffalo or Hester Street in New York’s Lower East Side. Both novels employ the notion of “America” as a banner-word, which is Àashed to the readers on numerous occasions and has the function of a cognitive trigger with the most highly compressed meaning. Another rhetorical device is the word Americanerin sneeringly used by Reb Smolinsky to talk of his disobedient daughter. When uttered by Sara, the statement “I am American”8 compresses a totally different set of ideas and explains her whole rebellion in the briefest way. Also Irena’s disillusioned father bitterly cuts his argument short, “Nie chcĊ Ameryki znaü.”9 The same strategy is used in Sara’s statement: “He was the Old World. I was the New.”10 This conÀict is further suggested by the use of similes, which also carry a compressed meaning: the father is called “a tyrant more terrible than the Tsar from Russia,”11 while Sara, setting of to college, compares herself to Columbus “starting out for the end of the earth.” 12 Banner words and similes are a form of argument by enthymeme, where a part of the message is left unstated. Enthymemic agruments have a strong inÀuence on the readers because mass audiences do not like to examine things thoroughly. What is more, banner-words are used for their emotional appeal, as they are frequently responsible for prompting strong feelings such as horror, desire or bliss in the public.13 Yezierska and Nesterowicz employ banner-words methodically Yezierska, Bread Givers, 245. Ibid., 138. 9 “I don’t want to know America.” Nesterowicz, Sprzedawaczka, 273. All translations mine. 10 Yezierska, Bread Givers, 207. 11 Ibid., 65. 12 Ibid., 209. 13 Paine, “When Saying Is Doing,” 14–16. 7 8


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family

to emphasize the rift between the Americanized daughters and their traditionalist parents. Anther rhetorical strategy used by the writers to underscore the split in the families is the reversal of the American Dream. The Americanized daughters eventually experience comfort and afÀuence, while the parents live the lives of want and destitution. Nesterowicz emphasizes the break by portraying the Karp family’s struggles during the Great Depression, when the sons and both parents lose their jobs and the mortgage is in danger. Yezierska eventually sends the rabbi character onto the street peddling for pennies. The American Dream de¿nitely does not materialize for the two mothers as both die prematurely of physical exhaustion and worry. Sara’s mother experienced only loss upon her arrival. Ironically, she claims to have been much better off back in Russia, “Who’d believe me, here in America, where I have to bargain by the pushcarts over a penny that I once had it so plenty in my father’s house?”14 She concludes on the sentimental note, “There ain’t in America such beautiful things like we had at home.”15 Both writers ¿guratively reverse the American Dream by equating the Old Country life in harmony with nature with goodness and wellbeing, and their American episodes, with moral degradation and poverty. Sara’s mother compares her youthful looks to those of the prettiest of her daughters by saying, “That’s the picture of me how I was. Only I was a hundred times healthier. In my face was all the sunshine and fresh air of the open ¿elds.”16 What now Sara can see in her mother is a “face back and yellow with all the worries from the world.”17 Nesterowicz, in turn, dispatches what is left of the Karp family back to Poland, where they hope to recover from their misfortune in America. Father Karp says, “Mam w kraju dom, zabudowania i 20 morgów ziemi. [...]. [...] dziĞ postanowiáem jechaü sam i dokupiü ziemi, aby obaj moi cháopcy wykierowali siĊ na rolników.”18 Moreover, Irena is transformed as a result of contact with nature outside the city, “Staáa siĊ naturalniejszą i lepszą. ZarozumiaáoĞü jej zmalaáa. Wobec ogromu i potĊgi natury czuáa siĊ drobnym pyákiem. Przestaáa uwaĪaü siĊ za sáoĔce, okoáo którego caáy Ğwiat krąĪyü powinien.”19 In this way, Yezierska and Nestrowicz rhetorically undermine the long-standing myth of America as a Garden of Eden on

Yezierska, Bread Givers, 30. Ibid., 33. 16 Ibid., 30. 17 Ibid., 30. 18 “In the old country I have a farm and a house with outbuildings [...]. [...] I have just resolved to go back there and buy some more land so that my boys could become farmers.” Nesterowicz, Sprzedawaczka, 273. 19 “[Irena] became more natural and better. She became less conceited. In the face of the overwhelming power of nature she felt like a grain of sand. She no longer considered herself the sun around which the whole world revolves.” Nestorowicz, Sprzedawaczka, 212. 14


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earth, a farmer’s paradise offering all virtues and wealth to its inhabitants, in opposition to Europe and its allegedly corrupt environment. The chasm between the generations is also suggested by the strategy of differentiation into “us” and “them.” This potent rhetorical tool, just as the banner-word, is symbolically irrefutable because it rests on the relationship of familiarity, it is indeterminate, and it limits the audience’s awareness of choices.20 Irena tears herself apart from the previous generations by saying, “DziĞ są inne czasy. Dawniej kobiety nie miaáy nic innego do roboty, tylko gotowaü, sprzątaü i piastowaü dzieci. DziĞ jest wiek dwudziesty. My jesteĞmy ‘modern.’”21 Sara differentiates herself not only from her parents but also from her less willful sisters. She cries, “Thank God I’m living in America! You made the lives of the other children! I’m going to make my own life!”22 Also by the juxtaposition of social actors, Yezierska achieves the effect of differentiation. We read: “I began to feel I was different from my sisters,”23 and throughout the story the author builds a virtual wall separating the experiences and personalities of the girls. In the end, Sara reÀects, “Sitting side by side with them [...] I felt stranger to them than if I had passed them in Hester Street.”24 Similarly, Nesterowicz juxtaposes Irena with her friends Marta and Luiza, who live the humble lives of dutiful wives and mothers compliant with the traditional mores. The strategy of differentiation is also used by Yezierska to emphasize the distance between America’s newcomers and her native citizens. Sara’s sister says, “They say work can’t start till they got a new president,”25 and repeatedly uses the pronoun to refer to “the other half.” The passivation, nomination and impersonalization of social actors are other techniques transpiring through Yezierska’s and Nesterowicz’s texts. These ways of allocating roles to social actors shed light on social relationships between the participants, with some becoming agents and others serving as patients in the narrative. They constitute a form of rhetorical exclusion.26 The oldest, the hard-working and obedient Bessie, treated by the rabbi-father as the family’s main breadwinner, is called by him a “burden bearer.” In the same vein, even her suitor uses nomination when referring to her, “That’s what you are, a ‘burden bearer.’”27 The very prospect of Bessie married off without receiving an exaggerated bride price is for the father Paine, 17; Van Leeuwen, “The Representation of Social Actors,” 52. “We live in different times. Earlier, women had nothing else to do but cook, clean the house and take care of the kids. Now it’s 20th century. We are modern.” Nesterowicz, Sprzedawaczka, 10–11. 22 Yezierska, 138. 23 Ibid., 65. 24 Ibid., 214. 25 Ibid., 2. 26 Cf. Van Leeuwen, 42–43; Johnstone, Discourse Analysis, 46. 27 Yezierska, Bread Givers, 50. 20 21


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family

“tearing the bread from his mouth.”28 As to the passivation and impersonalization of the other sisters, suf¿ce it to say that Reb Smolinsky boasts of marrying two of his daughters in one day, of course the traditional way, without taking their opinion into account. And this is what Sara rebels against and chooses an active approach. She resolves “to marry myself to a man that’s a person, I must ¿rst make myself for a person.”29 To personalize the heroine, and thus differentiate her from her sisters, Yezierska consistently uses the active voice as well as the words make and person when referring to her. Nesterowicz also activates her heroine in order to set her off from her parents and the traditional folk. Irena is blunt about her preferences to her passivized husband and parents. She shouts: Zaraz po Ğlubie juĪ mówisz o dzieciach. [...]. Wierna maáĪonka czeka caáy dzieĔ na mĊĪa pana! [...]. A w niedzielĊ familijne obiadki! No mój kochany, to wĞciec by siĊ moĪna. Widzisz, ja jestem máoda, podobno nie brzydka i pragnĊ Īycia, zabawy. Ja chcĊ chodziü na bale, do teatrów. Ja chcĊ swobody [...].30

The exaggerated use of the pronoun I and the verb want has a strong rhetorical effect. In the end, strikingly, the heroines arrive at the same understanding of their position in the family although the nature of Sara’s and Irena’s rebellions is different. After lonely pursuits of their dreams, they are ¿nally tamed by their husbands and become reconciled with their fathers. They seem to be able to ¿nally enjoy the best of both worlds, living as hyphenated Americans. The endings of both Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu and Bread Givers are clichéd,31 and both Nesterowicz and Yezierska became known to their readers for their trademark happy endings. In both cases such endings were products of two different cultural markets in the USA and dissimilar ideologies.32 Nesterowicz’s rhetoric was aimed at propagating traditional Old Country values with a more attractive modern American veneer to appeal to the younger generation of Polish Americans. Yezierska, in turn, was obliged to satisfy her Anglo public by presenting a manageable foreign element. However, it is intriguing to realize that both the host public and the widely feared “huddled masses” after all had the same visions of the newcomers’ place in American society. Ibid., 46. Ibid., 172. 30 “We hardly got married and you are already talking about kids? [...] A faithful wife awaits her Lord and Master the whole day! [...]. And family dinners on Sunday! Come on, my dear, one would go crazy. You see, I am young, and people say I’m pretty, and I desire life, fun. I want to go to parties, theaters. I want freedom [...].” Nesterowicz, Sprzedawaczka, 25. 31 Cf. Zaborowska, How We Found America: Reading Gender through East European Immigrant Narratives, 129–131. 32 Ibid., 131. 28 29

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Concluding, although the novels are dissimilar in many aspects as they emerged from two separate cultural systems and were addressed to different audiences, the rhetoric of Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu and Bread Givers reveals that the Polish compatriots were indeed culturally related. This adds yet more weight to Yezierska’s statement, “We had sprung from one soil. [...]. [...] we are of one blood.” The analysis of the rhetorical devices employed by Nesterowicz and Yezierska, the leading women writers on their ethnic scenes, reveals the social and cultural mechanisms organizing life in the Polish American and Jewish American communities in the USA prior to World War II. This allows us to endeavor further-reaching reÀections on the situation of Polish and Jewish immigrant families in the New World as well as ponder the position of women within America’s ethnic enclaves. For the Polish immigrants of Jewish and Christian roots who arrived in the USA in the period of the Great Wave Migration, and for representatives of other nationalities equally, the family was the most important of all institutions they had brought from the Old Country. This view is con¿rmed by the seminal study of William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, the Polish Peasant in Europe and America. And the institution of the family stimulated and facilitated the development of other new-world institutions and cultural practices. The maintenance of national, later ethnic, identi¿cation and solidarity was in those speci¿c historical conditions of paramount importance to Polish American and Jewish Americans. Logically, the family played a special role in those conditions, as ethnic identi¿cation is based on the ability of the family to socialize its members into the ethnic culture, and thus impact future practices of the group.33 Researchers point out that the family is uniquely well-suited to preserve ethnic culture, since it is through activities associated with the family, that this culture is expressed in signi¿cant ways in the ¿rst place.34 Secondly, the family per se is a conservative institution which tends to recycle certain cultural elements generation after generation. The urge to perpetuate the old-country social and familial practices was especially directed at immigrant women, who were viewed as the keepers of the group’s distinct cultural, religious and political features. The case of Poles in the USA clearly illustrates this point, with their press and book publications supporting a sustained campaign to persuade parents to shape their families in the old Polish fashion, despite the circumstances. Equally close attention was bestowed upon Polish children, with the hope of molding them into impeccable perpetuators of national ways. The effort on the part of the cultural media went hand in hand with the clergy’s teachings. Moreover, the young, especially girls and married women, were all encouraged to be active in countless parish organizations. All this, however, 33 Cf. Mindel, Habenstein and Wright, Jr., eds. Ethnic Families in America: Patterns and Variations, 8. 34 Ibid., 9.


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family

proved true for Polish Americans only in the ¿rst part of the period: between the 1880s and until the onset of the 1920s. American Jewry was equally determined to perpetuate the old-country ways on American soil, addressing the young through the press, literature, theater as well as religious instruction. It must be remembered that it was families that the print media were addressed to. At the same time, publications offered the most potent point of reference, source of reÀection and role models for their readers. What is important, it was not a oneway relationship but active interaction: actual families exerted their own inÀuence on those living on the pages of literary works as well, and the problems of the immigrant community quickly entered the creations of authors so deeply immersed in it. Thus families existing on the two planes—the social and the literary—were mutually connected, inÀuenced and helped to perpetuate one another. As to the Polish American religious and educational scenes, just like the question of social roles of family members, real-life families provided authors with current problems worth discussing on a greater platform, while their literary counterparts offered guidance, inspiration and strength on the unknown terrain of immigration. Although at times the reality transpiring though the pages of newspapers and books proved nearly as complicated as the outside world, it was processed for the readers so that they could accept it more easily. What is more, the literary digests of the reality of immigration helped the confused individuals ¿nd their bearings in their new situation by providing models, values and rhetoric that they were familiar with. The immigrant public found consolation, consolidation and contentment with the possibilities of perpetuating their identity pointed out by authors. The 1920s in America were a period of revolutionary and unprecedented transitions in social norms, lifestyle, behavior, as well as standard of living. Now social taboos were broken, women were free to seek independent professional and private living, which found its most visible expression in new, bold fashions and behaviors on their part. A sharp climb in the frequency of divorces, extra-marital sexual relationships and children born out of wedlock were the deeper and more far-reaching signs of the brave new world. Men, alongside women, also found themselves challenging the existing social norms, a manifestation of which was the practice of openly breaking the law by buying, selling or consuming illegal liquor during Prohibition. This practice often coincided with gang activities or other criminal acts on the part of men in urban centers. Moreover, changes in the social sphere were accompanied by changes in the economy: the ranks of the American middle class were greater than ever before, and its members lived in greater comfort and afÀuence than in preceding decades. However, it must be remembered that behind the glossy image of the 20s success lay the growing destitution of the country’s farmers and unskilled laborers, who did not have a single car in their garages or any chickens in their pots, as president Herbert Hoover had envisioned. These transitions could be clearly seen in the Anglo-Saxon milieu, and their

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


reverberations also reached America’s immigrant communities. Attractive stereotypes convincingly and enticingly projected by the media could not have gone unnoticed by the sons and daughters of Polish and Jewish immigrants. This process surfaced in the youth’s fascination with worldly matters—Hollywood movies, popular music, extravagant clothes, hairstyles and makeup, smoking cigarettes, chewing gum, drinking, partying, exhibiting provocative behavior, or Àirting with individuals beyond their own ethnic sphere. What inevitably followed was a demise of the Polish language spoken in the US, and a shift in the morals and values of the younger generation. As noted by Adam Walaszek, immigrant children both shaped and were shaped by the social context they lived in.35 The ensuing reaction on the part of Polish American cultural media was the moderation of the message transmitted to the youth in order to accommodate modern American values. What could no longer be repressed was the inevitable urge to change. As a result, the media, rather than the Catholic Church, led the effort to come to terms with the inevitable and to create a strategy of framing the new attractive trends not that far from the dialectic of bygone days. This was aimed at preventing a further alienation of younger readers from initially the Polish-language, later English-language, ethnic cultural arena. “ĝwiat po wojnie ulegá zmianie,” heralded the narrator of a novel by Melania Nesterowicz. “Przestano dziĞ kamienowaü nieĞlubne matki, ale Ğwiat chce zabezpieczenia dziecka.”36 With the help of the cultural media, new values and practices boldly entered the collective consciousness of Polish Americans. Similarly, from the Jewish community there came numerous autobiographical or ¿ctionalized voices signaling social and cultural concessions towards Americanization. Apart from Yezierska, suf¿ce it to mention Mary Antin, Rose Cohen, Elizabeth Stern, and Miriam Shomer Zunser. However, it was the Jewish American rather than Polish American authors who were more ready to address wider audiences by embracing English and publishing through mainstream channels. After all, the Jewish American community proved to be less socially insular than the Polish American one, despite its sacred traditions of religion and the family. Thanks to that, they claimed positions and participation in American life more quickly and effectively, even in the face of the widespread practice of excluding individuals of Jewish extraction from many spheres of public life in the USA. The situation of immigrant children suspended between two worlds of experience is one the main motifs of Nesterowicz’s and Yezierska’s novels. The young Walaszek, “Dzieci, dzieciĔstwo i etnicznoĞü w Stanach Zjednoczonych lat trzydziestych XX wieku” [Children, childhood and ethnicity in the United States of the 1930s], 59. 36 “After the war the world has changed. Unmarried mothers are no longer stoned to death.” Melania Nesterowicz, “Stella z Buffalo” [Stella from Buffalo], Dziennik dla Wszystkich, 8 Dec. 1926–21 May 1927. 35


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family

are torn between the remnants of loyalty they owe their parents and the magnetic attraction towards the new. The are tempted by the modern urban lifestyle, the cult of materialism, success, individualism, the premium put on the aesthetic and sensual realization and, logically, the determination to pursue personal happiness. As observed by Majewski: Through these novels of manner Nesterowicz fashioned a dynamic model of American Polishness in which the threats of modernization and Americanization were rechanneled in order to empower the local community and reinforce ethnic loyalties.37

The novels of Nesterowicz and Yezierska are populated by various characters from all the worlds of experience of Poles and Jews in America: Americanized fellow countrymen, Anglo-Saxons, and “greenhorns.” However, in keeping with the community’s concern about the changing position of its women, the authors bestow their attention on the female characters. It is young second-generation immigrant women maturing in Buffalo’s Polish neighborhood and on New York’s Lower East Side that are shown when entering adulthood and confronting the moral and social questions of the turbulent and troubled Polish and Jewish ghettos of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. The young female characters are granted a chance to mingle with American millionaires, or men passing for such, promising American businessmen, professionals, emancipated American women working for wages, as well as with those closer to their own kind. To transmit the message crystallizing their identity, Polish American and Jewish American writers freehandedly used the medium of the family. Polish Americans’ own “home-grown literature,”38 as dubbed by Majewski, addressed the issue of ethnic identity and, at the same time, it tried to improve the increasingly troublesome situation in Polish homes and communities. The readers, when presented constructive ways of embracing what America offered and demanded without abandoning the old-country system of values completely, were exposed to countless literary accounts of the social roles of mothers and wives, fathers and husbands, or sons and daughters. For immigrant readers, more often than not deprived of guidance and the advice of family members or relatives, and also of social control mechanisms typical of the social world back in the Old Country, their readings partially substituted these missing elements. Observing the family fortunes and the quest for the new identity of literary characters living their immigrant lives in similar conditions to those encountered by the reading public, provided a glance at a whole spectrum of Majewski, “Wayward Wives and Delinquent Daughters: Polonia’s Second Generation Flappers in the Novels of Melania Nesterowicz, 5. 38 Majewski, “A Family Reunion: Love, Sex, and the State of Marriage in Polish -American Literature,” 10. 37

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social exchanges not far different from those already experienced or prospectively experienced in real life. Knowing that competition for status among Polish Americans was as important as among the Jews, readers could not ignore the patterns and models epitomizing success and calling for respect that were present in literature. This coincided with the efforts of the personas of the novels, tales or short stories, who wasted no opportunity to teach, preach, encourage and admonish their implied readers leading the immigrant masses towards a new collective identity and socially bene¿cial behaviors and values. All in all, the images of the Polish immigrant family still conspicuously present in 20s and 30s ¿ction, in their newly-tailored appearances, played a vital role in shaping Polishness in America and, at the same time, in promoting standards of familial interactions and social roles best suited for the American environment. The same can be safely said of the images of its Jewish counterpart: however changed by progressive attitudes, the Jewish family remained a point of reference and a reservoir of tradition for individuals at large in America. The period preceding World War II foreshadowed the social and cultural transitions that fully materialized in the 50s and 60s. It was when Polish American and Jewish American communities grew to comprise several generations but also became more scattered across the country due to either social processes or administrative decisions. At that time newer waves of immigrants, émigrés or refugees from Poland and Eastern Europe were absorbed, and being sociologically distinct, they eventually moved to more afÀuent suburban locations. Yet, despite all the modern-day advancements and changes—a new, more comfortable setting, more humane conditions, and perhaps a more uplifting atmosphere—the problems presented by Melania Nesterowicz and Anzia Yezierska bear a striking relevance to many aspects of contemporary immigrant family life in America. This testi¿es to their universality with regard to reÀection on the immigrant condition and also their keen understanding of the dynamics within immigrant communities.

Works Cited Primary sources Nesterowicz, Melania. Sprzedawaczka z Broadwayu [Salesgirl from Broadway]. Detroit: Unity Press, 1937. –––––. “Stella z Buffalo” [Stella from Buffalo]. Dziennik dla Wszystkich, 8 Dec. 1926 – 21 May 1927. Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers, 16th ed. New York: Persea Books, 1975.

Secondary sources Foucault, Michel. The Archeology of Knowledge. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972.


Love It or Leave It: The Rhetorical Representation of the Home and Family

Johnstone, Barbara. Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002. Leeuwen, Theo van. “The Representation of Social Actors.” In Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis, eds. Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard and Malcolm Coulthard, 32–70. London: Routledge, 1996. Majewski, Karen. “A Family Reunion: Love, Sex, and the State of Marriage in Polish -American Literature.” Published Fiedorczyk Lecture in Polish American Studies. Central Connecticut State University, April 7, 1997. –––––. Traitors and True Poles: Narrating a Polish-American Identity, 1880–1939. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003. –––––. “Wayward Wives and Delinquent Daughters: Polonia’s Second Generation Flappers in the Novels of Melania Nesterowicz.” Polish American Studies LIII, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 5–16. Mindel, Charles H., Robert W. Habenstein, and Roosevelt Wright, Jr., eds. Ethnic Families in America: Patterns and Variations. New York: Elsevier, 1988. Paine, Robert. “When Saying Is Doing.” In Politically Speaking: Cross-Cultural Studies of Rhetoric Social and Economic Papers No. 10, ed. Paine, 9–23. Philadelphia: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1981. Walaszek, Adam. “Dzieci, dzieciĔstwo i etnicznoĞü w Stanach Zjednoczonych lat trzydziestych XX wieku” [Children, childhood and ethnicity in the United States of the 1930s]. Przegląd Polonijny 19, no. 2 (1993): 43–59. Zaborowska, Magdalena. How We Found America: Reading Gender through East European Immigrant Narratives. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

BORDERLINE IDEOLOGY: THE MYTH OF AZTLÁN OF THE MEXICANS VERSUS THE ”MANIFEST DESTINY” OF THE AMERICANS ALONG THE SPANISH BORDERLANDS FRONTIER1 TAMÁS VRAUKÓ In the ¿rst half of the 19th century, the United States and Mexico shared the southern half of the North American continent. The dynamically growing and developing new country, the United States, rapidly increased its territory, and soon reached the borders of Mexico, which had recently acquired its independence from the crumbling Spanish Empire. As early as the end of the 18th century, travellers from the United States painted a beautiful picture of the lands possessed by Mexico in what is today the Southwest of the U.S. Merchants brought goods from those lands that were desirable for customers in the Eastern parts of the continent. More and more people came to know about the vast area that offered the potential of further Westward expansion. It is not surprising that the United States, whose economic growth had been up to that time based upon expansion and the acquisition of new territories, ¿rst intended to use the method that had worked with France (and later with Russia): obtain the lands from Mexico in exchange for cash. The attempt, however, failed and the two countries were soon at war against each other. War boosts existing prejudices and generates new ones, and also requires ideological ammunition. It would be rather inconvenient to openly declare that one ¿ghts for booty, such as land, power, commodities and resources. An ideology is needed in order to underpin the claim to the lands to be conquered. The ideology for conquest is rarely published in the form of a formal political proclamation or other of¿cial document. Nevertheless, fuelled by stereotypes, simpli¿ed clichés and distorted images about the opposing party, the ideology spreads rapidly across the entire community, in¿ltrating into all layers of historiography, literature and popular culture. If it does not, it fails to become an effective ideology at all. Naturally, ideology is only effective when large crowds of people long for the same things as their political leaders—more land, richer and easily exploitable resources, wealth etc.—and The expression the ”Spanish Borderlands Frontier” was used by John Francis Bannon in the title of one of his books. 1


Borderline Ideology

seek justi¿cation for their endeavors. In this case they readily accept the ideology, beginning to believe in their own mission and superiority and the inferiority of the opposing party. As Rupert Brown in his Prejudice. Its Social Psychology asserts, Prejudice can usefully be regarded as the outcome of conÀicting group goals. [...] Groups competing for scarce resources typically display more biased attitudes and greater mutual animosity than groups which are cooperating to achieve jointly desired objectives.2

Competition of the rival groups is not limited to political or military operations. The ideology, originally created for political and military purposes, in¿ltrates into all forms of communication and culture. History is often used as an ideological support for political endeavours. Similarly, literature and other forms of art are not free from the prejudice and stereotyping which are rooted in competition and conÀicting interests, either. Virágos describes the process and risks of stereotyping in the following way: “What actually occurs in artistic stereotypy [...] is the distortion of the organic set of human features for manipulative functions. Perhaps the main functional risks of restrictive stereotypy is that it cuts off an essential criterion of realism, the dimension of perspective.”3 Virágos refers to stereotypy in arts, primarily literature, but his analysis of the phenomenon aptly describes the process of stereotypy in forging an ideology in general. The Americans and the Mexicans competed for territories north of the Rio Grande. The areas ¿nally obtained by the United States from Mexico after 1848 are more than “scarce resources,” and the vastness and wealth of the land further increased the “mutual animosity” of the competing groups. In the ¿ght for new territories and resources the parties involved sought for some ideology which explained their longing for new parts of the continent. For the Mexicans, the ideology included the myth of Aztlán, the mysterious cradle of the Aztec civilization somewhere in the north, and their rich cultural heritage rooted in two continents. First this rich and ancient cultural heritage of two continents, and later Aztlán, the mysterious homeland of Aztec civilization, provided them grounds on which they claimed the lands they had lost in the war. The geographical location of Aztlán was never really identi¿ed with any scienti¿c precision, but it was believed to be de¿nitely north of the new U.S.—Mexican border. This ideology had a dual purpose: on the one hand, it indicated that Mexicans had never given up their claim for the territories North of the border. On the other, it provided a justi¿cation for Mexicans living in the territories annexed by the U.S. It may appear strange that they needed any such justi¿cation, as they had not im2 3

Brown. Prejudice. Its Social Psychology, 203. Virágos. “James Baldwin: Stereotype versus Counterstereotype,” 131-141.

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migrated to the U.S.; they did not cross the border—the border crossed them. It is certainly the case with those who lived there at the time of the war, but they were still in need of some justi¿cation, as the conquerors often looked at them as strangers, foreigners. In the second half of the 19th century, people of Mexican origin in California, although had lived there before the change of empire, were supposed to pay the same mining tax as foreign citizens did. This treatment encourage the Mexicans to develop a defensive ideology to counter the beliefs and attitudes of the conquerors. For the U.S., the ideology for conquest was a powerful feeling and conviction of a mission to be ful¿lled. Technical superiority was identi¿ed with cultural-civilizational superiority, and it was found suf¿cient for conquering lands populated by other people. This strong belief in a Manifest Destiny—a phrase originally coined by E. Sullivan—evolved in Victorian England and the U.S.A. in approximately the same historical period. It is not surprising: the second half of the 19th century was the time when the British Empire reached its largest extent, and the United States doubled its territory. As Reginald Horsman observes, “In western Europe and America the Caucasian race became generally recognized as the race clearly superior to all others; the Germanic was recognized as the most talented branch of the Caucasians; and the Anglo-Saxons, in England and the United States, [...] were recognized as the most gifted descendants of the Germans.”4 In this way, as Virágos and Varró put it in the title of one of their chapters, stereotype behaves like “an investment in politics.”5 Manifest Destiny, as a mythicized expression of an ideology explaining and justifying American conquest, was used in connection with other countries, for instance the Philippines and Cuba. It was in Mexico, however, that it played the most important role. As Gerster and Cords point out: “Perhaps nowhere are the illusions, distortions, and myths that supported the notion of Manifest Destiny more evident than in the events surrounding Texas independence, its annexation to the United States, and the Mexican War which followed.”6 The process of stereotyping works in this way, as Virágos says, “shaped, fed and reinforced by [...] socially motivated systems of fallacious assumptions or false propaganda.”7 The purpose of ”false propaganda,” a manifestation of false ideology, serves as a means of assuring crowds of people about the righteousness of political and/or military actions against the rival group. But when such propaganda ¿nds its way into historiography and literature, it undermines the reality and, through it, the credibility of history writing and literary works. Horsman. Race and Manifest Destiny. The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism, 43-44. 5 Virágos and Varró. Jim Crow örökösei. [Jim Crow’s Descendants]. 6 Gerster and Cords. Myth in American History, 105. 7 Virágos ”James Baldwin…,” 133. 4


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What the Mexicans cherished as one of their most important values, their mixed European and Indian racial and cultural heritage, was the subject of some of the most vicious attacks by American propaganda. The word mongrel often appears, expressing the idea that Mexicans are not “pure-blood” people. Horsman’s following example is taken from Robert J. Walker, senator from Mississippi in the 19th century, who wished to ensure the domination of “our kindred race, predominated over that fair country, instead of the colored mongrel race, and barbarous tyranny, and superstitions of Mexico.”8 The senator’s sentence is a ¿ne example of how a sense of mission and ideology produces positive (us) and negative (them) stereotypes. Such messages found their way to many people, who all agreed that new lands were needed for the country. Very few people raised their voices against the conquest of northern Mexico, and their voice was lost in the triumphant chorus of the Anglo-Saxon Manifest Destiny. The negative stereotypes regarding the Mexicans did not seem to improve much before the second half of the 20th century: At the end of 1940, the Of¿ce of Public Opinon conducted a poll which listed nineteen adjectives that might be used to describe Central and South Americans. Eighty percent chose “dark-skinned,” a description very disturbing to the elite of Latin America through the centuries. Between 40 and 50 percent of the respondents chose “quick tempered,” “emotional,” “superstitious,” “backward,” “lazy,” “ignorant,” and “suspicious.” Sixteen percent chose “progressive,” “generous,” “brave,” “honest,” “intelligent,” and “shrewd.” Five percent chose “ef¿cient.”9

Naturally, it is possible to argue for or against any of the adjectives on the list, or question this particular composition, but if we regard “quick tempered” and “shrewd” as approximately neutral, the number of positive and negative adjectives is balanced. It is not the fault of the makers of the list that a mere 5 per cent of the respondents chose “ef¿cient” to describe Hispanics. The fact that “dark-skinned” was involved, however, indicates that the makers were not without any bias themselves. It was, however, not the Anglo-Saxons who ¿rst came to the New World with a conviction of a civilizational mission and “a Manifest Destiny”—the Spaniards, the ancestors of the Mexicans, were equally preoccupied with it when they started to colonize America. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda’s ideas are quoted by Tadeusz Rachwal as follows:

Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, 215. World War II and The Zoot Suit Riots. Internet: Versions of this text, abbreviated and modi¿ed in different ways, are also found at other websites. 8 9

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


How can we doubt that these people [that is, the Indians] so uncivilized, so barbaric, so contaminated with so many sins and obscenities [...] have been justly conquered by such an excellent, and most just king as was Ferdinand the Catholic and is now Emperor Charles, and by such a humane nation which is excellent in every kind of virtue.10

Sepúlveda was a prominent theologist in the Spanish court, and fabricating an idology for the conquest of America was lot more important a task for him than reporting historical events with the faith of a committed historian. Sepúlveda’s ideas on the alleged inferiority of the Indians are also quoted by Saad in an article posted on the World Wide Web: [Sepúlveda] maintained that Indians ‘are inferior to Spaniards just as children are to adults, women to men, and, indeed, one might say, as apes are to men.’ According to Sepúlveda, there were four reasons to justify war against the Indians in order to convert them. Sepúlveda based his ideas on the Aristotelian concept that war becomes justi¿ed when the natural condition of a group of people is such that they ought to obey others who are superior to them.”11

The Spaniards fell the victim of another Manifest Destiny, similar to their own, soon after bringing civilization to a “contaminated” people. In fact, Sepúlveda’s powerful and inÀuential ideas, widespread in the American colonies as a result of his debates with Las Casas, contributed not only to the Spanish Manifest Destiny, but also to the Anglo-Saxon, as explained by Saad: Las Casas makes his readers feel profound pity and compassions for the defenseless Indians who are subjected to bloody and painful tortures by the ruthless and brutal Spaniards. At the same time, a feeling of hatred and repulsion for the cruel Spaniards is awoken in the reader. This created lasting images in the minds of Europeans, and the view of Spaniards as exterminators and exploiters had been established. […] It is common today to ¿nd Americans who have the misconception that the English came to settle America while the Spaniards only came to exploit the land and its inhabitants in order to search for gold.12

In this way the circle of racism and prejudice closed down on the Spaniards. As stereotype is a good “investment in politics,” and the land of the Indians was wanted by the Spaniards and all other conquerors of the continent, the ideas of Sepúlveda

Rachwal. “Tropes of the Erotic: Amerigo’s America and the Question of (Postmodern) History,” 93. 11 Saad. “Bartolomé de Las Casas: The Eternal Guardian of the Indians.” 12 Ibid. Emphasis added. 10


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on the Indians as an unimprovable breed remained more lasting and inÀuential than Las Casas’s theories on the civilized and kind nature of America’s natives. The alleged cruelty of the Spaniards, as well as their lack of ability to properly settle and cultivate the conquered lands, appears to back up Marcienne Rocard’s arguments about the deep roots and long history of the anti-Hispanic sentiments of Anglo-America. Argues Rocard: “Negative stereotypes of Mexicans prevailed even before the United States waged war against Mexico; the accounts of travelers during this period are ¿lled with them.”13 David J. Weber, in his Foreigners in their Native Land asserts that the meeting of Anglo Americans and Mexicans on the Mexican frontier during these years contributed to shaping stereotypes in Mexico and in the United States which made war between the two nations nearly unavoidable by 1846. The barbarities of war, in turn, reinforced negative stereotypes so strongly that some remain with us today.14

Horsman provides the following example: “Travelers delighted in depicting the Mexicans as an unimprovable breed and were particularly scathing about the inhabitants of Mexico’s northern provinces. T. J. Farnham in 1840 wrote of the Californians as ‘”an imbecile, pusillanimous race of man, and un¿t to control the destinies of the beautiful country.”15 After such preliminaries followed the Mexican War. After the war, the U.S. annexed extensive territories from Mexico, and prejudice and stereotypes were well exploited as ammunition for the ideological ¿ght. Not only Mexicans, but other Hispanic peoples in general, and also blacks, were depicted in newspaper cartoons as children, inferior people or criminals. Their countries, on the other hand, were presented in an entirely different way. As the land was the prize for a successful war, it was always described as a real paradise, rich in all conceivable resources. One of the most common allegoric symbols used to describe these lands were those of fragile young ladies from classical mythology, who were beautiful, desirable and in need of the protection of a strong partner—in this case the U.S.A.16 Many such cartoons are reprinted in Michael H. Hunt’s Ideology and U. S. Foreign Policy. 13 Rocard. The Children of the Sun: Mexican Americans in the Literature of the United States, 9. 14 Weber. Foreigners in Their Native Land-Historical Sources of the Mexican Americans, 52. 15 Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, 210. 16 Striking—and most probably not purely accidental—is the resemblence to the way the British treated the Irish and Ireland in the same days. Ireland was Hybernia, a beautiful but fragile young lady, in need of protection. A powerful and triumphant other lady, by the name of Britannia, was there to offer protection against Paddy, the Irishman. Paddy was

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Helen Hunt Jackson, romantic author from the second half of the 19th century, is often remembered for drawing the public’s attention to the sad state of Indians on the frontier. She in fact did more than that: Jackson drew the attention of the public to the often unfair treatment of the Mexican population in the annexed territories as well. In Jackson’s description California is a paradise: Between the veranda and the river meadows [...] all was garden, orange grove, and almond orchard; the orange grove always green, never without snowy bloom or golden fruit; the garden never without Àowers, summer or winter; and the almond orchard, in early spring, a Àuttering canopy of pink and white petals, which [...] looked as rosy sunrise clouds had fallen, and become tangled in the tree-tops. On either hand stretched away other orchards, peach, apricot, pear, apple, pomegranate; and beyond these, vineyards. Nothing was to be seen but verdure or bloom or fruit, at whatever time of the year.17

Not only the natural beauty is enchanting here, but also the harmonic order which is clearly the result of civilized human activity—these orchards are certainly not cultivated by ”imbecile, pusillanimous” people. And indeed, Jackson’s description of the Californios is radically different from the images we ¿nd in contemporary literature and popular ¿ction: “Felipe [...] put on the gold-wrought velvet mantle, gayly embroidered short breeches fastened at the knee with red ribbons, and goldand-silver-trimmed sombrero.”18 Thus he was able to “let the American hounds see what a Mexican of¿cer and gentleman looked like before they set their base, usurping feet on our necks.”19 A positive description like the one above may well be regarded as exceptional from the second half of the nineteenth century, and in fact from a long period afterwards. Virágos pointed out the distortive function of ideologically motivated restrictive stereotypy. The commonplace images that automatically conjured up a Chicano in a reader’s—or viewer’s—mind from the period of the early 19th century to the years following World War II are largely similar in literature, movies, and even advertising. The Chicano male is dark-skinned, often overweight, not very clean shaven, has black or tawny eyes and oily skin. His behavior is not much more attractive. He is cowardly, unreliable and a “back-stabber.” Sexual conquest is an important usually depicted in Victorian cartoons as a subhuman brute, more like an ape than a human being, always drunk, carrying a bomb with a burning fuse in one of his pockets and a bottle of cheap whiskey in the other—a set of external icons that identi¿ed an Irishman for the British. 17 Jackson. Ramona, 19. Jackson’s romance continued to be popular at the turn of the century, and was converted into a television series in the 1990s. 18 Ibid., 12. 19 Ibid., 12.


Borderline Ideology

measure of success in the community of Chicano men. Although Chicanos in general value family very much, and ¿nd family ties important, it does not prevent Chicano men from entering into new relationships and increasing the number of their sexual trophies. Chicanas—Mexican women—are often described in a more favorable way: they are the ”sensuous señoritas,” the embodiment of romantic images of exotic, beautiful, mysterious women of a different race. As Horsman points out, “The stereotype of exotic, receptive Mexican women and lazy, inept Mexican men was to sink deep into American racial mythology.”20 This image—and the attitude dictating this image—began to change considerably in the 1960s, when the Chicano Movement started in the form of agricultural organizations. The Movement made signi¿cant efforts to introduce their culture to mainstream society. For the Anglos, the war was over, former enemies were allies, citizens of a different cultural background were no longer regarded as suspicious aliens, and there was no longer a need for an ideology to justify the occupation and annexation of somebody else’s land. The Chicano Movement demonstrated that images and symbols may be used in ways that were not distortive and restrictive. Mexicans amalgamated the symbols of their dual cultural heritage into a system that served as a means of reinforcing their ethnic identity and offering them ideological support in their rivalry with other groups. During the agricultural marches of the 1960s, they often used the eagle as a symbol—one not unfamiliar to the Anglo-Saxons—and they also took pride in their colorful Catholic traditions, which were often looked upon by the Protestants as a hypocritical, outdated belief. The ideology has lost a lot of its radicalism on both sides in the period following World War II. A lot of the prejudice and the negative images have been dispelled. It is not only the result of some new political correctness. Nowadays, the proportion of Spanish-speaking population is increasing, partly because of massive immigration—legal and illegal—and partly because of a reproduction rate higher than that of the Anglos. This fact gives con¿dence to the members of the Chicano community. As politicians seek the attention, favor and votes of a growing demographic group, they no longer risk appearing as hostile, unfriendly or prejudiced towards Hispanics. Still, many of the clichés and adverse images linger on, and it is likely that despite all of the current benevolance, patience and effort from both sides they will continue to haunt the thinking of the peoples whose ancestors once fought a war for the possession of the continent for several more years to come.


Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny, 234.

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Works Cited Bannon, John Francis. The Spanish Borderlands Frontier 1513-1821. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1974. Brown, Rupert. Prejudice. Its Social Psychology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. Gerster, Patrick and Nicholas Cords. Myth in American History. Encino: Glencoe Press, 1997 Horsman, Reginald. Race and Manifest Destiny. The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981 Jackson, Helen Hunt. Ramona. New York: Avon Books, 1970. Rachwal, Tadeusz. “Tropes of the Erotic: Amerigo’s America and the Question of (Postmodern) History.” Representations of the Erotic. Eds. T. Rachwal and T. Slawek. Katowice: University of Silesia Press, 1996:90-98. Rocard, Marcienne. The Children of the Sun: Mexican Americans in the Literature of the United States. Translated from French Edward G. Brown, Jr. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989. Saad, Fernando Alberto Rivera. “Bartolomé de Las Casas: The Eternal Guardian of the Indians.” (2001) Internet: Virágos, Zsolt K. “James Baldwin: Stereotype versus Counterstereotype.” Hungarian Studies in English. Vol. 11. (1977):131-141. Virágos, Zsolt and Gabriella Varró. Jim Crow örökösei. [Jim Crow’s Descendants]. Budapest: Eötvös, 2002. Weber, David J. Foreigners in Their Native Land-Historical Sources of the Mexican Americans. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1990. World War II and The Zoot Suit Riots. Internet:

VIOLENCE AGAINST THE ETHNICALLY OTHER: THE IDEOLOGY OF THE AMERICAN WEST IN CORMAC MCCARTHY’S BLOOD MERIDIAN HANNA BOGUTA-MARCHEL Blood Meridian, a novel that can be provisionally designated as a quasi-Western, was published in 1992. Its author, Cormac McCarthy, is presently considered to be one of the most renown American novelists, though probably still more appreciated by literary critics than by the broader reading public. There is an ongoing dispute, which has roughly divided his critics into two camps, about whether McCarthy’s writing is closer to the darkly metaphysical yet altogether af¿rmative and redemptive tradition of the American South (associated with such ¿gures as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor) or to the philosophically broader and more open but at the same time more bitter and “disillusioned” tradition of the West with antecedents from world literature and philosophy (such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Dostoevsky, or Conrad).1 Some, therefore, are inclined towards referring to him as a South-Western writer,2 and Blood Meridian is certainly one of McCarthy’s most “South-Western” books. The novel is set on the borderlands between Mexico and the United States, its action beginning directly after the end of the Mexican-American war. It recounts the bloody passage of the—historically factual—Glanton gang of grimly brutish and inhumanly violent outlaws and scalp-hunters who have a contract with local governors to provide Mexicans with the scalps of the daunting Apache who terrorize isolated borderland villages and towns. They therefore simply butcher, in a most forbiddingly cold-blooded and merciless manner, all Apaches they encounter See Phillips, “History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian,” 433-460. 2 See for instance Eaton, “Dis(re)membered Bodies: Cormac McCarthy’s Border Fiction,” 155-180, where he argues that “the criticism on Cormac McCarthy has almost obsessively tried to identify his predecessors among canonical American writers-round up the usual suspects-and thereby position him in the Southern or Western camps,” and that instead he should be viewed “in a different light as part of a new American Studies attentive to the diverse cultural, historical, and literary discourses of the Southwest borderlands” which would reposition his work “within the emergent ¿eld of ‘postnationalist’ American studies.” 1


Violence against the Ethnically Other

on their way, with time actually developing the habit of killing all, peaceful Indians and Mexicans included, whose scalps they can exchange for pesos. And so the general impression that we get after a ¿rst reading of the novel is a quite overwhelming repugnance and irrepressible nausea caused by the excess of surging blood, sizzling brains, pulsating viscera, and the reeking odor of dismembered and rotting bodies. As one critic put it, “One gluts upon a baroque of thieving, raping, shooting, slashing, hanging, scalping, burning, bashing, hacking, stabbing...”3

Blood Meridian’s use of American history and mythology One of the signi¿cant attributes of McCarthy’s novel is its rooting in the mid-nineteenth century history of the American South-Western frontier. Critics have taken pains to retrace the numerous historical sources McCarthy most probably used to authenticate the episodes depicted in Blood Meridian.4 The most notable of them is Samuel Chamberlain’s personal narrative My Confession, from which McCarthy seems to have appropriated two authentic historical ¿gures, John Joel Glanton, who is the leader of both the gang Chamberlain has joined and the one which is depicted in Blood Meridian, and Judge Holden, a major ¿gure in the novel, whose characterization bears striking resemblances in both texts. And yet, we clearly sense that McCarthy is not interested in historical accuracy, in dates and factual details. The events he describes and their chronology are only loosely connected with what has actually been chronicled, and he seems to have made no attempts to familiarize the social, cultural, or political context, the whole milieu in which the events take place. In fact, McCarthy apparently takes us back not into the nineteenth century but to much older times, times before any kind of society, culture, or politics were shaped. The protagonists of Blood Meridian are not so much historical ¿gures as “beings from an older age.”5 What is also extremely important in the discussion of Blood Meridian as a novel that refers to a speci¿c moment in the American past is the fact that the history that McCarthy uses is rather unfamiliar to his average reader. He therefore cannot “allude” to it in a typically intertextual modernist manner, but he also does not seem interested in parodying his historical sources by pointing to the gaps and holes in their fabric and by exposing their ethnic bias or their cultural and political entanglement, as a paradigm postmodern novelist might be expected to. Peter Josyph, “Blood Music: Reading Blood Meridian,” 170. The most extensive record of McCarthy’s sources is provided by John Emil Sepich in “’What kind of indians was them?’ Some Historical Sources in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian,” 93-110. 5 McCarthy, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, 176. 3 4

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Some critics tend to view the book as part of the revisionist trend in American historical writing, ¿lmmaking, and ¿ction of the last three decades of the twentieth century.6 McCarthy certainly does question the western myth of progress, the trust in frontier heroes who ¿ght for the expansion of civilization, freedom, and democracy into the remotest corners of the continent. We witness the violence but not the “regeneration” towards which it was believed to lead. The binary collision of savagery and civilization which Frederick Jackson Turner adopted as the grand hallmark of frontier space is altogether nulli¿ed. McCarthy’s West is not the restorative and regenerative land Turner aggrandized but an “evil terrain,” “ancient and naked,” barren and hostile, where even the sun “burn[s] like a white hole” only to set on the bloody western sky behind “crumpled butcherpaper mountains,” granting the landscape an even more gory make-up: “in the long red sunset the sheets of water on the plain below them lay like tidepools of primal blood.”7 On this inimical terra damnata human senses are not to be trusted since nature constantly plays wry tricks on man, deceiving him with visions of things inexistent: They ate and moved on, leaving the ¿re on the ground behind them, and as they rode up into the mountains this ¿re seemed to become altered of its location, now here, now there, drawing away, or shifting unaccountably along the Àank of their movement. Like some ignis fatuus belated upon the road behind them which all could see and of which none spoke.8

Similarly, when the kid, the main “protagonist” of Blood Meridian, watches the Western landscape with his early companion, Sproule, he sees “an immense lake,” trees that shimmer in the heat,” and a “distant city very white against the blue and shaded hills.” Yet when they wake up on the same spot after sleeping “among the rocks face up like dead men,” they rise to see that in truth there is “no city and no See for instance Robert Rebein, Hicks, Tribes, and Dirty Realists: American Fiction After Postmodernism (Lexington, Kentucky: The UP of Kentucky, 2001), especially the chapter entitled “New West, or, the Borderlands”; Christopher Douglas, “The Flawed Design: American Imperialism in N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 45:1 (2003): 3-24; Neil Campbell, “Beyond reckoning: Cormac McCarthy’s version of the west in Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 39:1 (1997): 55-65; Neil Campbell, “Liberty Beyond its Proper Bounds: Cormac McCarthy’s History of the West in Blood Meridian,” in Myth, Legend, Dust: Critical Responses to Cormac McCarthy, ed. Rick Wallach (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000), 217-26; Jason P. Mitchell, “Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and the (De)Mythologizing of the American West,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 41:3 (2000): 290-304. 7 McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 89, 138, 152, 105, 187. 8 Ibid., 120. 6


Violence against the Ethnically Other

trees and no lake only a barren dusty plain.” McCarthy’s West is also the arena of even stranger natural spectacles, where one can hear “the dull boom of rock falling somewhere far below [...] in the awful darkness inside the world,” where the raiders are unexpectedly “visited with a plague of hail out of a faultless sky” or are blinded by the sun reÀected in “a lake of gypsum so ¿ne the ponies [leave] no track upon it” where the “shadow of horse and rider alike [are] painted upon the ¿ne white powder in purest indigo.” It is a ground on which man not only must strain to save himself from the numerous hostile marauders and wild animals, form tornados, falling rocks, from the heat and the cold, but also has to struggle against the destructive power of the land itself—the land which leaves men “silent and speculative” or devoid of “wits” altogether.9 The West in Blood Meridian is not the key to American development, as Frederick Jackson Turner had it, it is not the melting pot in which the unique American character is forged, but a place where man is denigrated to the point of total insigni¿cance: They diminished upon the plain to the west ¿rst the sound and then the shape of them dissolving in the heat rising off the sand until they were no more than a mote struggling in that hallucinatory void and then nothing at all.10

McCarthy’s novel therefore stands in obvious opposition to the “connectedness,” “wholeness,” and “unity”11 so forcefully advocated by Turner and so eagerly endorsed by most Americans who continued to wave “the brave Àags of consensus ideology”12 well into the twentieth century. And yet, Blood Meridian lacks the moral overtones typical for revisionist novels; in fact, a number of critics are deeply disturbed by its patent amoralism and grieve that such a “highly charged, richly textured novel driven by some of the most impressive American prose of this century features no major ¿gure who is not, quite literally, a slaughterer, and offers scarcely a single act to inspire hope for the race…”13 McCarthy’s Indians are not noble savages who are in the end appreciated for their intimacy with nature and for their ¿delity to certain tribal principles. They are instead “a legion of horribles” and “a horde from hell,” equally violent and barbarous as the Americans. They do not function as the Other whose habits, beliefs, customs, or even appearance could be contrasted with that of the Saxons; on the contrary, the Americans employ the same brutal modes of dealing with their enemy (like collecting scalps) and are described more like savages than representatives of civilization or progress: “... they appeared in the streets tattered, stinkIbid., 62, 152, 111, 248, 306. Ibid., 113. 11 Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America, 13. 12 Owens, Cormac McCarthy’s Western Novels, 19. 13 Josyph, “Blood Music…,” 170. 9


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ing, ornamented with human parts like cannibals,” blackened by the sun, the ¿lth and the dust as well as the “caked blood” of their adversaries.14 The Indians and the Americans are typically antagonists who, while ¿ercely opposing one another, in the course of that very de¿ance become increasingly identical.15 Blood Meridian therefore resists comfortable classi¿cation into the revisionist Western history camp since, as Timothy Parrish and Elizabeth Spiller phrased it, his novels recycle the violent history of the Southwest “not to indulge in the compensatory pleasures of self-accusation but to remind us of how particularizing versions of history necessarily deny how we have become to be who we are.”16 The myth that McCarthy revises is much older and more basic than that of the American West; we sense that it touches upon the very “bones of things.”17 The notion that is most strongly challenged early on and consistently through the whole novel is the Rousseauian (and Transcendentalist, so very much American) belief in man’s innate goodness and innocence. At the outset of Blood Meridian we face the fourteen-year-old kid, “pale and unwashed,” who “can neither read nor write,” as he “crouches by the ¿re” and watches his father who “lies in drink” and “quotes from poets whose names are now lost”. His mother died while giving birth to him, and the kid does not even know her name. He soon runs away, ¿rst wandering west, then south into New Orleans. There he manages to survive a truly Darwinian selection deliberately ¿ghting with sailors—men of “all races, all breeds,” men “whose speech sounds like the grunting of apes.” “They ¿ght with ¿sts, with feet, with bottles or knives.” And yet, “the child’s face is curiously untouched behind the scars, the eyes oddly innocent.” The “taste for mindless violence” that “broods” in him is only triggered by the extreme neglect and lack of love he had experienced, but its roots are deeper and more primordial.18

The nature and mechanisms of evil in Blood Meridian The fact that evil is innate to our species and that in given circumstances each one of us will most probably act in contradiction to the most elemental moral principles we have allegedly appropriated is quite a commonplace truth recycled to the point

McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 52, 53, 189, 165. See Girard, Widziaáem Szatana, 34, where he describes this antagonism, referring to it as the “contest of alter egos.” 16 Parrish and Spiller, “A Flute Made of Human Bone: Blood Meridian and the Survivors of American History, 461. 17 McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 116. 18 Ibid., 3, 4. 14



Violence against the Ethnically Other

of exhaustion by modern biology and social psychology.19 Yet this is not the only message concerning evil that Blood Meridian has to convey. Most critics claim that evil in McCarthy’s novel exists purely for its own sake, that in the end it is wholly meaningless and devoid of both a tangible purpose and substantial consequences. As Dana Phillips forcefully argues, “violence” in Blood Meridian is just a “reiterated fact,” a “more or less objective truth of all human experiences.”20 These commentators typically restrain from using the term “evil” and prefer to talk about “violence” as a more palpable category lacking any pretences to the universal or the metaphysical and free from all such uncomfortable passé associations. Yet I would argue that it is precisely the distinction between violence and evil, between destruction of a physical and a meta-physical nature that constitutes one of the major themes of the novel. Alan Badiou, in his characteristically mystifying idiom, insists on the existence of evil as “a form of multiple-being,” and “a possible dimension of truths” which must be recognized as radically different than “the violence that the human animal employs to preserve in its being, to pursue its interests—a violence that is beneath Good and Evil.” The former may be apprehended “only to the extent that man is capable of becoming the Immortal he is,” while the latter is a category merely of the “human animal” pure and simple.21 Judge Holden, the one character in Blood Meridian who distinctly diverges from the rest in terms of not only intelligence and eloquence but also the level of self-awareness and consciousness of aim and purpose, may be said to represent Badiou’s “Evil” perpetrated by the human subject. Among his speeches on legal matters, archeology, botanics, paleontology, and astronomy, the judge repeatedly talks of “agency,” “order,” and “destiny.” These talks present quite a startling contrast with the apish grunts and mumbles of the rest of the gang, including the kid, who, paradoxically, speaks the least of all, typically limiting his utterances to negative statements implying refusal to enter into any kind of verbal exchange (“I aint heard no voice.”; “I aint studyin no dance.”; “I aint with you.”). Members of the Glanton gang are usually compelled to listen to the judge’s obscurely powerful discourse, but they are hardly able to follow, the more to comprehend its import, half regarding the man insane, half fearing to “waken [in him] something that had better been left sleeping.”22 While their violence is mostly “mindless,” resembling the violence Badiou positions “beneath Good and Evil”— they initially kill for money but with time begin to violate and vanquish their own contractors as well, ravaging “the very order upon which they parasitically feed,”23 19 See for instance the comprehensive and very well documented study tellingly entitled The Social Psychology of Good and Evil, edited by Arthur G. Miller. 20 Phillips, “History and the Ugly Facts…,” 438, 439. 21 Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, 60, 61, 66, 67. 22 McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 124, 327, 328, 147. 23 Shaviro, “’The very life of darkness’: A Reading of Blood Meridian,” 119.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the evil of the judge is minutely pre-planned and coldly calculated. He most of all wants to know; he therefore studies plants, rocks, ancient paintings, and people— both dead and alive with equal attentiveness, scrutiny, and care for detail, as when he examines a local “idiot” shown to the public for money: The judge reached and took hold of the man’s head in his hands and began to explore its contours. The man’s eyes darted about and he held on to the judge’s wrists. The judge had his entire head in his grip like an immense and dangerous faith healer. The man was standing tiptoe as if to better accommodate him in his investigations and when the judge let go of him he took a step back and looked at Glanton with eyes that were white in the gloom.24

“Only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before [man],” Holden explains, “will he be properly suzerain of the earth.”25 Yet the “idiot’s” instinctive fear is wholly justi¿ed, since after analyzing the artifacts he collects, the judge drafts their exact copies into his ever-present “ledgerbook” and subsequently exterminates the originals, scratching off the paintings, burning the bones, and scalping the children he has such a macabre interest in. He is the artist-annihilator, the master of creation and destruction, the lord of life and death. Each of his acts of transgression and destruction is connected with unconcealed contentment and self-af¿rmation, at times approaching delight or even exhilaration. He clearly derives pleasure from killing—his murderous acts are invariably accompanied by his hideous Cheshire cat smile; which, in the case of the children he repeatedly abducts and slays, is often pleasure of an erotic kind. The judge’s gruesome association of death and erotic exaltation very much resembles George Bataille’s ideas in that matter. Bataille, perceiving “sexual effusion” as “the negation of the isolation of the ego,” argued that its “intensity increases to the point where destruction, the death of the being, becomes apparent.” He considered such “Evil” to be of the purest, that is the most disinterested nature, performed solely for the delight it grants and not for any kind of material bene¿t one could gain by its means. Referring to Andre Breton, Bataille praised “violent literature” which reaches the “only point that matters,” that is the point “where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communable and the incommunable, are no longer perceived in contradiction to one another.”26 To Breton’s list Bataille adds “Good and Evil” and “pain and joy.” I suppose that it is precisely this extreme point that McCarthy indicates in the ¿gure of Judge Holden. Holden can be very well conceptualized as an amalgam of clashing opposites. He is both the most violent and cold-blooded character in the novel, yet at the same McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 238-239. Ibid., 198. 26 Bataille, Literature and Evil, 4-5, 15. 24 25


Violence against the Ethnically Other

time, with his “pale and hairless” skin, his “serene and strangely childlike face” he paradoxically resembles a newly born infant.27 The judge’s brutality is also contrasted with his ability to gently soothe those who can no longer cope with their inner rage, as when he appeases Glanton’s drunken ¿t of fury: By noon the day following Glanton in his drunkenness was taken with a kind of ¿t and he lurched crazed and disheveled into the little courtyard and began to open ¿re with his pistols. In the afternoon he lay bound to his bed like a madman while the judge sat with him and cooled his brow with rags of water and spoke to him in a low voice. [...] After a while Glanton was sleeping and the judge rose and went out.28 Holden is both a smooth-tongued sophisticate, a “mystery” as the expriest Tobin calls him, and at the same time “a simple man” as he repeatedly refers to himself; he is also the creator and the destroyer in one.29 Most importantly, Judge Holden is both godlike and satanic, both the one who saves and the one who brings damnation. He seems superhuman in his ability to show up in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected moments, as when Glanton and his companions ¿rst encounter him in the middle of the desert, perched on a rock, without either food, water, or a horse. In Tobin’s account, ...there he set. No horse, Just him and his legs crossed, smilin as we rode up. Like he’d been expectin us. He’d an old canvas kitbag and an old woolen benjamin over the one shoulder. In the bag was a brace of pistols and a good assortment of specie, gold and silver. He didn’t even have a canteen. It was like... You couldnt tell where he’d come from.30

“He saved us all, I have to give him that,” Tobin admits. Holden is repeatedly granted various designations which allude to his “otherworldliness,” such as “some great pale deity,” “a great ponderous djinn” “native” to the ¿re element, and “some other sort of man entire,” untouched by the passing of time, while his companions are referred to as “the disciples of a new faith” and “wardens of some dim sect.” Although he does indeed save the gang more than once, thanks to his extraordinary instinct, his soothing ability, and his willingness to act as their representative in “all legal matters,” he is also someone who seems to have been “sent” among them “for a

McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 335, 336. Ibid., 191. 29 Ibid., 284. 30 Ibid., 125. 27


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


curse,” entering a “terrible covenant” with them on the rim of the hellish volcano; a “scrurrilous king,” whom others instinctively fear.31 Using René Girard’s terminology, we may say that Holden is the Satan who imitates God, his imitation being “jealous, grotesque, and perverse.” According to Girard, Satan’s major strategy is the transition from the mimetic stance of all-againstall, an attitude that leads to chaos and dissent, to the mimesis of all-against-one, which leads to the sacri¿ce of a scapegoat, an enemy common to the whole community. This sacri¿cial mechanism enables Satan to restore order and unity, but only to an extent which would preclude the total annihilation of his property and in the end reinforce his power over humans. After a short time he will again be apt to sow disorder, violence, and disaster, which, as Girard puts it, is his “favorite pursuit.”32 Satan’s sacri¿cial mechanism is a subversive imitation since the sacri¿ced victim is never exonerated, acclaimed, or glori¿ed, as it is in the case of godly sacri¿ce, but it is always—and usually deceptively—identi¿ed as the source and focus of all evil, iniquity, and misfortune. Interestingly, this scheme of fraudulent scapegoating is used by Judge Holden at least twice in the novel: in the initial and the last scene in which we encounter him. When Holden is introduced for the ¿rst time, he disrupts a religious congregation by deceitfully disclaiming their preacher as an “imposter” who “is not only totally illiterate but is also wanted by the law in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas. [...] On a variety of charges the most recent of which involved a girl of eleven years [...] whom he was surprised in the act of violating” and a “goat” which he had “congress with.” Holden’s appalling accusations obviously wreak total havoc among the congregation: “Already gun¿re was general within the tent and a dozen exits had been hacked through the canvas walls and people were pouring out, women screaming, folk stumbling, folk trampled underfoot in the mud.” Yet this chaos is soon overcome, order and contentment restored, and the authority of the judge forti¿ed: “Soon they were all laughing together. Someone bought the judge a drink.” The aim of the satanic sacri¿cial mechanism is successfully achieved. A similar situation takes place in the ¿nal scene of Blood Meridian when it is the kid (now the “man”) whom the judge identi¿es as the singular gang member responsible for its ultimate ruin: “ was you and none other who shaped events along such a calamitous course.”33 Again, despite the fact that the charges are groundless and counterfeit, the man is exterminated by the judge whose eventual triumph is de¿nite and indisputable:

Ibid., 124, 92, 96, 325, 130, 187, 122-35, 96, 191, 237, 126-30, 282, 147, 192, 238-39, 272, 285. 32 Girard, Widziaáem Szatana, 34-49. 33 McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 6-7, 8, 306. 31


Violence against the Ethnically Other His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.34

In this case, the association of the man’s death with the sacri¿cial mechanism is underscored by Holden’s preceding elaborate talk on ceremony and ritual—ritual which “includes the letting of blood.”35 It therefore seems quite legitimate to conclude that in the ¿gure of the judge McCarthy portrays something more than just purely physical and ultimately pointless violence. Holden’s cunning deceptiveness and cynical eloquence, his exceptionally crafty use of the sacri¿cial mechanism as well as his desire to imitate the all-knowing and all-powerful God—the Creator and Executor of order, makes him a very much devilish character. For all the novel’s deconstructionist undoing of binary oppositions (savagery—civilization, nature— culture) and for all the textual jouissance of its “optical democracy,” Blood Meridian de¿nitely cannot be classi¿ed as devoid of metaphysics altogether.

Works Cited Primary Sources McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Secondary Sources Badiou, Alan. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, translated by Peter Hallward. London, New York: Verso, 2002. Bataille, Georges. Literature and Evil, translated by Alastair Hamilton. London: Calder & Boyars, 1973. Girard, René. Widziaáem Szatana, translated by Ewa Burska. Warsaw: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX, 2002. Joseph, Peter. “Blood Music: Reading Blood Meridian.” In Sacred Violence: A Reader’s Companion to Cormac McCarthy, edited by Wade Hall and Rick Wallach, 15-36. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1995. Owens, Barceley. Cormac McCarthy’s Western Novels. Tuscon: U of Arizona Press, 2000. Parrish, Timothy L. and Elizabeth A. Spiller. “A Flute Made of Human Bone: Blood Meridian and the Survivors of American History.” Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 23 (1998): 461-81. 34 35

Ibid., 335. Ibid., 329.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Phillips, Dana. “History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.” American Literature 68.2 (1996): 433-60. Sepich, John Emil. “’What kind of indians was them?’ Some Historical Sources in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.” The Southern Quarterly 30.4 (1992): 93-110. Shaviro, Steven. “‘The very life of darkness’: A Reading of Blood Meridian.” The Southern Quarterly 30.4 (1992): 111-21. Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America. New York: Hill & Wang, 1982.


CONSTRUCTING THE IMAGE OF THE “CASINO” INDIAN IN THE CONTEMPORARY UNITED STATES: THE CASE OF THE MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT NATION ELĩBIETA WILCZYēSKA The 20th century witnessed an unprecedented development: many Native American tribes achieved not only sovereignty after cancellation of the termination policy of the 1950s, but also economic self-suf¿ciency, which had been almost lost after 300 tumultuous years of contact with white civilization. Nowadays, many tribes operate different ventures, but the most important source of revenue for some of them is gambling. Charles Wilkins in Blood Struggle points out that out of 562 federally recognized tribes, over 200 run a bingo hall or a casino, grossing over 16.7 billion dollars for the Indian nations.1 Naturally, not all of the gambling operations are very pro¿table. Some tribes make just enough to make ends meet. Other tribes, on the other hand, had become very afÀuent by the 1990s, thus attracting a lot of public attention and often stirring negative emotions. The public opinion was puzzled over the sudden transformation of often down-trodden and small tribes into booming entrepreneurial communities. Yet this negative publicity is rather odd because Indian nations have not monopolized the area of gambling; there are many non-Indian casinos that generate more money than all the Indian casinos taken together. So what is it about Indian-run casinos that makes blood boil? What actually has happened to the Indians that they were able to rise from dire poverty, in which they were mired almost without exception until the 1950s, and to create signi¿cant changes in the modern Indian country? A good example of a tribe that underwent such a transformation is the Mashantucket Pequot Nation of Connecticut, which today earns over one billion dollars a year from a casino called Foxwoods. Their story reveals the great variety of complex issues connected with the emergence of Casino Indians: a clash within the dominant ideology underlying American policy towards the Native Americans, the rhetoric of an Indian story created by the white man and perpetuated by both the white and Indian populations alike,2 and the issues of social transformation, as well 1 2

Wilkinson, Blood Struggle. The Rise of Modern Indian Nations, 336. The concept of the image of Native Americans as a White invention was well presented in:


Constructing the Image of the “Casino” Indian

as of sovereignty, of self-determination, of cultural continuity and identity among the Native American tribes. Their story encapsulates the problems of those today’s Native Americans who want to achieve self-suf¿ciency through gambling. Over the centuries, the relations between the Native American tribes and the US federal and state governments were based on policies of separation or assimilation. The of¿cial policy of termination was adopted in 1953—as the House Resolution no. 108 stipulated—in order to “terminate federal ties to Indian communities and withdraw federal support for tribal governments.”3 The policy, clad in the attractive rhetoric of freeing the Indian from federal ties, was seen by many as a humanitarian move to improve the situation of the Native Americans in such areas as education, health care, and economic opportunities. Up to this time, as wards of the federal government, Native Americans did not pro¿t much from the general welfare of the country and from the protection of either the state or federal government; instead their initiative and freedom were suppressed. Others claim that the sole reason for freeing them from governmental dependence was the desire to procure the lands demarcated as Indian reservations. Viewed in the latter context, termination seemed like a natural course of events; the political and cultural minority, pushed to the verge of extinction, would ¿nally disappear, ceasing to be a problem and yielding to historical necessity, which was civilization progress.4 Although the very idea underlying the establishment of reservation in the 19th century was to protect the Indians, in effect, the federal policy in the 1950s led to such fear and hopelessness on the reservations that the concept of the “Vanishing Indian’ was closer the truth than ever, not only in the biological sense but, even more importantly, in the cultural sense. Surprisingly, the Indians relocated into the mainstream society often showed typical symptoms of maladjustment: alcoholism, alienation, and prejudice; the most serious maladies caused worry among both the supporters and opponents of termination. As a result, steps were taken to improve the situation on the reservations in order to ensure self-determination and self-suf¿ciency. This time the development programs on the reservations were to be carried out in cooperation with and—what was more signi¿cant—under the leadership of Indians themselves. Indian leaders responded quickly to the challenge and they convened the ¿rst pan-Indian meeting, calling for the abandonment of the termination policy, educational progress for Indians and reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The demands of the leaders echoed widely around the United States, which in the 1960 became the breeding ground of signi¿cant social change. Thus demands of the Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr. The White Man’s Indians (New York: Alfred A. Knopff, 1978). 3 Encyclopedia of North American Indians, s.v. “termination,” 625. 4 This issue is widely discussed in a classical study by Roy Harvey Pearce. Savagism and Indian Civilization (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988).

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Indians were ful¿lled to show a sign of appreciation of the cultural diversity, which was inspired by the rhetoric of cultural pluralism. Throughout the sixties, African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement had begun energizing American society and fostering an appetite for political, social and cultural change. Through media, American society learned about the impoverished condition of racial and ethnic minorities, which suffered not only economically but also culturally. In response to the glaring iniquities, new laws were introduced and Indians were put in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs of¿ce. This time, however, it was not the case that the government devised a policy favorable to the Indians, but as Wilkinson in Blood Struggle suggests, “Indian leaders learnt how to use the political and legal system to create a framework within which a progress can be made.”5 In effect, numerous tribes were resuscitated both economically and culturally by Indian leaders, who, suddenly, seized the favorable circumstances (where being an Indian no longer put one at a disadvantage and being called an Indian was no longer a slur) and exploited the new opportunities. In their search for revenue-producing ventures, the Native American tribes opened up resorts, started recreational and ¿shing programs, or sold arts and crafts. To be more competitive on the market, they took advantage of the tax exemptions on the reservations and opened up tax-free cigarette, liquor and ¿reworks shops. Soon, however, this ¿nancial advantage was nulli¿ed, for state courts ruled that though the Indians did not have to pay a state-tax, their non-Indian customers should. Thus, the tax was reinstalled. The Supreme Court upheld this decision, claiming that the exemption could not be allowed, because “the Indians did not generate any value on the reservation” and their economic activity boiled down to “marketing their tax exemption”6 to draw customers. Under such circumstances, some tribal leaders thought that they might start operating casinos if it was legal in the states their reservations were in. To draw more customers, the Indians wanted to introduce bigger prizes or other games of chance that might bring more pro¿ts. This initiative met strong protests from governors, sheriffs and attorneys who warned darkly about the evils of gambling in general, and the danger that organized crime would in¿ltrate the reservation. Some non-Indian opponents also stated that gambling was not compatible with Indian values and ways of life, to which the Indians responded that games of chance were an inherent part of Indian traditions.7 Some politicians, however, claimed that what was at stake was the ¿nancial advantage the Indian-run casinos might have over church-run bingo rooms, private casinos authorized by the states, lotteries, and other games of Wilkinson, Blood Struggle, xv-xvi. Ibid., 331. 7 Gerard Visenor writes about games of chance played by the Anishinaabe singers. Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 213. 5 6


Constructing the Image of the “Casino” Indian

chance that brought revenue to the states.8 What really mattered then was economics and state inÀuence over the Indian casinos, which in fact were legally dependent on the federal government. The ¿rst to test the balance of power between the state and federal government was the Seminole tribe of Florida, which wished to open a high-stakes bingo room on their reservation. State of¿cials threatened that once they opened the room, it would be raided by the state troops. So the tribe sought the protection of a federal court, which gave an unprecedented verdict in 1980, stating that “The Indian nations have always been dealt exclusively by the Federal government...which has long permitted Indian nations to govern themselves, free from state intervention.”9 Since the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court declined to review the case, this verdict was binding and encouraged other Indian tribes to follow in their footsteps. The next Indian Nation to venture into the unknown legal territory of Indian gambling was the Cabazon Band, an Indian tribe in California, which opened a casino in a county that forbade gaming. Here state troops were authorized to shut down the gambling operations and arrest the employees and customers. In the wake of one such raid, the Cabazon Band ¿led a suit in a federal court. The case was eventually heard in 1987 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the casinos could operate under the tribal laws because, “Tribal sovereignty is dependent on, and subordinate to, only the Federal Government, not the States.”10 That decision marked a great victory for the Indians, even the more so that the Supreme Court decision stressed that the casino was the only legitimate way for some tribes to exercise their sovereignty as the only accessible source of income. Besides, the verdict also ruled out the previous decision of the Supreme Court, which was made in connection with the sale of tax-free cigarettes and liquor on the grounds that these products were not manufactured on the reservation. Casinos, in contrast, were proven large income generators, and in many cases they were the major, if not the main, employers in the nearby area, to both Native Americans and non-Indians. The court decision read as follows: The Tribes are not merely importing a product onto the reservation for immediate resale to non-Indians. They have built modern facilities which provide recreational opportunities and ancillary services to their patrons, who do not simply drive onto the reservations, make purchases and depart, but spend extended periods of times enjoying the services the tribes provide.11

As reasonable as this explanation was, it did not suppress the opposition of the states, Wilkinson, Blood Struggle, 331. Ibid., 332. 10 Ibid., 333. 11 Ibid., 334. 8 9

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


of many individual citizens, and even of some Native Americans who claimed that the idea of gaming could not be squared with Indian values, as it distorted the image of an Indian, portraying him as greedy and unscrupulous. The states demanded that the tribes and casinos be taxed the same way as other similar businesses and operations were. Basing their opposition on the ideology of equal rights, opponents of gambling on reservations claimed that, “The unique position in the federal system ... has made the Indians a separate, unaccountable segment of society who claim many rights but deny accountability for commensurate responsibilities.”12 To appease the criticism, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, which de¿ned conditions under which Indian tribes could run casinos. Among the tribes that followed the “gambling” trail paved by the California and Florida tribes was the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut. This tribe is special in the sense that it is one of the smallest Indian tribes, but at the same time as an owner of a casino, one of the most afÀuent. The very way it attained such a position stirred up interest and controversy to such an extent that for a while it was not only widely discussed in the media, both locally and nationally, but it also became a subject of three non-¿ction books which appeared between 2000 to 2003: Jeff Benedict’s Without Reservation, published in 2000, closely followed by Kim Isaac Eisler’s Revenge of the Pequots in 2001, and Hitting the Jackpot by David Fromson in 2003. The story of the Indian tribe was so inspiring to the three journalists, all specialists in economic affairs, because their case illustrated very well, as Eisler admitted in The Revenge of the Pequots, how Indians and lawyers in cooperation with politicians, contributed to the creation of a “new modern-day paradigm that changed the face of the country – not Native Americans, but Casino Americans.”13 The three books do not just offer bare facts, but delve into the thinking behind them, the political ideas, ideologies, or inspirations of the agents of the process. They all, each in its own way, corroborate well the assertion that Indians skillfully learned how to “use the political and legal system to create a framework within which a progress can be made.”14 The story of the tribe, summarized in all the three non-¿ction books, starts in 1973 with the death of Elizabeth George, a Pequot, who lived alone on a Pequot reservation recognized by the state of Connecticut. After her death, with no Pequots resident left on the reservation, the state planned to turn it into a state park. Close descendents of Elizabeth George, who are said to have been 1/16 Pequot by blood quantum, decided to move into the reservation to thwart the state’s plan. They claimed they wished to ful¿ll the desire of the “old lady” to hang on to the sacred Ibid., 335. Eisler, Revenge of the Pequots. How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World’s Largest Most Pro¿table Casino, 244. 14 Wilkinson, Blood Struggle, xv-xvi. 12 13


Constructing the Image of the “Casino” Indian

historical land, but each author, i.e. Benedict, Eisler and Fromson, claims that all the descendents of Gorge decided to take the step because, up to that point, they all had not been successful in their lives. None of them had ever lived on the reservation on a regular basis before, and had not experienced tribal life. Therefore, when they moved onto the reservation, many of them had to learn what it meant to live like a reservation Indian in a tribal community with a tribal council and a chairman. In fact, many of the Pequots had to learn what it meant to an Indian in general, because so far they were registered either as Caucasian or Black, living lives of average Americans in mainstream American communities, usually on a lower social rung. Prior to joining the tribe, a few of them either did not know that they were Indians at all, or they suppressed their Indian heritage for fear of “being slurred” and carrying the “stigma”15 of being an Indian. Besides, they also had to be informed about the laws and procedures necessary to establish a tribe, as well as about their rights, so as to take advantage of their status as Native Americans. Importantly and ironically, with their near total lack of any knowledge of their Indian heritage, they had to rely on white Americans to tell them about their history, their rights, and most importantly, how to exploit the two to their advantage. According to all three books, the main group that offered help consisted of lawyers, most notably, Tom Tureen, who was instrumental in winning federal recognition for many New England Tribes, including the Pequots. He believed that that lawyers were social agents and “lawsuits [were] powerful devices for shaking up the status quo and forcing changes in social policy.”16 In his case it was not the prospect of making money that motivated him, but sympathy for the Indians whose plight and impoverished conditions he saw at ¿rst hand when at a summer camp in South Dakota in the early 1960s. In the actions he undertook for the Indians he assumed the position that the eastern Indian tribes would have been successful if the laws had been obeyed and the Indians had been treated fairly all along. “If that had happened,” Tom Tureen believed,” almost all of the Indians would be rich and powerful.”17 Starting from this premise, he waged a war against the federal government and claimed that it should bear the responsibility for not implementing the Non-Intercourse Act, signed by George Washington in 1790, which obliged the federal government to approve any transaction made by the Native Americans with the states. The federal government failed to approve any land transactions and treaties signed by the New England Tribes and state governments, thus contributing to their physical, cultural and geographical decline, for which it should be accountable now. To the surprise of many, in 1976, Judge Bloom¿eld of the Federal District Court 15 Benedict, Without Reservation. The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino, 62. 16 Ibid., 14. 17 Ibid., 52.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


con¿rmed that the federal Non-Intercourse Act remained valid, “trumping all the long-established state property laws,”18 which implied that any land transactions made after 1790 were not valid, and therefore, the territories should be returned to the tribes. The Non-Intercourse Act was applied to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which sued the state of Connecticut for the return of its lands, and as in the case of the Maine Indians,19 some of the land was allotted to them, while some of it was reimbursed by federal money, which had to be used to pay the current owners of their ancestral lands and invest in money-generating businesses. This decision struck at the core of the canon of American values: property was no longer as sacred as people had thought. The people who lived there for decades, because either they or their ancestors had bought the land legally from the state, had to move out. The ¿rst of the books Without Reservation by Benedict seems to have been written in defense of these traditional American values and the previous land owners, with a desire to reverse the whole process of federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. For the process of federal recognition—completed in 1983 via the signature of President Ronald Reagan—to be implemented, another group had to be involved, namely the politicians, who also proved to be sensitive to the general spirit of sympathy towards the Indians. As we learn from the three books, the politicians were often in a quandary about whether to follow the rule of law, their own or their constituents’ sympathies, or to wholly forget about their sympathies and only count the cost any transactions with the Indians might involve. A good example how politician were helpful was the recognition process of the Mashantucket Pequots. In the House Committee, their case was pushed by many Democrats, who were eager to help the Indians who, as many felt, “were dumped on for too long.”20 Therefore, some of them were ready to bypass the procedural requirements. The Congressmen accepted a hastily drawn map as a document determining the size of the Pequot reservation and did not insist on the BIA procedure that stipulated that for proprietary recognition, a tribe had to prove a continuity of tribal government, traditional life style, and culture. Though the Mashantucket Pequots failed to submit any documents to the BIA necessary to obtain recognition, the Congressmen accepted in good faith the fact of recognition of the tribe by the Connecticut government. Perhaps they did not know that for many years only two people had resided on the reservation. The documentation was never ¿led, for the Pequots and their lawyers—as Ibid., 92. The Passamaquoddy and Penosbcot Indians were the ¿rst to be awarded in 1976 the compensation for the lands taken from them in the 19th century. Eisler, The Revenge of the Pequots, 73-76. 20 Fromson, Hitting the Jackpot. The Inside Story of the Richest Indian Tribe in History, 60. 18



Constructing the Image of the “Casino” Indian

implied by Benedict’s Without Reservation---feared they might not pass the recognition procedure successfully,21 and though President Reagan initially vetoed the bill, the tribe received federal recognition. Benedict, the author of Without Reservation, sees in this a great manipulation instigated by the lawyers and politicians so that the tribe, in the name of wrongs committed 200 years ago, could open a casino. As proof he says that prior to their recognition, the tribe’s chairman already had contacted the Seminoles and the Cabazon Band, which were the ¿rst to shoulder the legislative battle to open casinos on a reservation. In the same vein, Eisler, the author of The Revenge of the Pequots, also claims that “the Pequots may be just opportunists who had manipulated American laws to create their own nation and then casino,”22 which could be the “grandest, richest and most successful scum of all time.”23 The ‘game’ over the casino was won in spite of a strong opposition of the governor of Connecticut. Members of the Connecticut state legislature who voted in favor of the Indians were inÀuenced by sympathy and a sense of guilt for what had happened to the Indians in the United States. The Connecticut assembly often heard emotional appeals for state legislators to vote in favor of the Indians. “It’s an issue of justice,” one of them said, “The Pequot went through the process of recognition. They did it right. They won. The Congressmen cannot continue the trail of broken treaties.” Even more emotional was the appeal of another legislator who declared that “In the 19th century, which may seem like a long time ago, the trail of tears for American Indians led to Oklahoma and its reservations, but here in Connecticut it runs from the Senate to the House of Representatives staining this building. Let it end here,”24 by which he helped sway the votes to the advantage of the tribe to give them the right to open a casino. Sometimes, however, the sole reason why politicians backed the Mashanctucket tribe in its battle for a casino was the prospect of potential revenue. In order to obtain a third class gaming license regulated by the Indian Regulatory Act, the Pequots had to promise the state a minimum $250,000 or ¼ of yearly revenue, whichever was higher. Even Connecticut governor Weicker, who so adamantly had opposed the casino in the beginning, ¿nally agreed to negotiate the compact to save the failing economy of Connecticut. Likewise, President Clinton often invited the chairman of the Pequot Tribe Richard “Skip” Hayward to the White House, as if he were meeting the leader of sovereign nation, but also counting on generous donations for the Democratic Party. The victory of recognition and the opening of the Foxwoods casino should be A well known example of a tribe which in 1976 lost its case for the return of 16,000 acres of its ancestral land because it failed to prove in court its tribal continuity was the Mashpee Tribe. Clifford. The Predicament of Culture, 277-348. 22 Eisler, The Revenge of the Pequots, 20. 23 Ibid., 37. 24 Fromson, Hitting the Jackpot, 120. 21

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


attributed, however, less to the lawyers and politicians, and primarily to the Pequot Indians themselves, especially to their chief and chairman, Richard Hayward. He features as a positive character in all the three works, though, as the authors claim, he was listed on all documents as Caucasian before the reinvention of the tribe, and might even trace his ancestry to the Haywards who came on The MayÀower. At a certain advantageous moment he decided to “become an Indian,” and as the authors say, only and mainly for the sake of economic gain. At the beginning of the reinvention of his tribe, his plans and ambitions were modest: to secure good housing on the reservation for the handful of Pequots. Once new opportunities presented themselves rich, the political scene and lawyers were helpful in exploiting them, he was ready to seize them. However, to secure the economic gains, he had to learn his role as an Indian. In all the books dedicated to the reinvention of the Pequot Tribe, what all the authors agree about is that Hayward did not want to be an Indian when his grandma was alive, and he did not pay much attention to the stories she was telling. Therefore, he and his family members had to be taught the tribe’s history. The ¿rst to teach him were enthusiasts of the Indian cause, but when his tribe ¿nally hit the ¿nancial jackpot, he could hire many specialists who did professional research for the Pequots, unveiling their heritage and history, further legitimizing the riches the tribe came to possess. Benedict, Eisler and Fromson all agree that Hayward was instrumental in passing the story of his people to larger audiences. The stories Hayward was saying or even “performing” in Congressional committees resembled closely the generic historical narrative by James Clifton presented in The Invented Indian, which “tells us a traumatic experience of a righteous Indian in North American history,” with recurring themes of the division between victim and victimizer, between the innocent and the guilty, where the roles are clearly allocated. The story of the Pequots, as rendered in all the three books, is thus a story—to borrow Robert Berkhofer’s title–told by “the White Man’s Indian,” which provides a pattern of behavior for both Native Americans and the white. The former—in this case the Pequots—often exploited the old and worn-out themes and the rhetoric of the stereotypical narrative, emphasizing their role of victim (with particular references to the Pequot War of 163725) and of white people as oppressors, who are however, haunted by a guilt dif¿cult to erase even after 300 years. The story therefore “predicates and rati¿es a special place for the Indian in the modern American moral orders and political 25 This was the ¿rst military conÀict in New England Colonial history (1636-1637) between the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies, which thanks to the help of the Narragansetts and Mohegan Indians, conquered the Pequot Tribe in a war, after which most of the Pequots were killed, others sent to Bermuda, and the rest divided between the Indian allies. The name of the Pequot was never to be used again according to the Hartford Treaty of 1638. Cave. The Pequot War.


Constructing the Image of the “Casino” Indian

systems,”26 reserving for him the role of the underdog to be helped. In this way the two factions, white people and the Indians, are locked in a system of mutual expectations and designated roles. It is dif¿cult not to notice, however, that the three authors also write the story of the Pequot Tribe using the white person’s perspective and rhetoric. In this way they perpetuate the story described by Berkhofer. Though these works reveal some admiration and respect towards the modern chief, it is not comparable to the warmth that Wilkinson writes about Hayward, “If you spend time with Skip Hayward, it is hard to doubt his sincerity and burning determination to save what is left of his people and their blood.”27 It must be emphasized that when Hayward set out to reinvent the tribe (in the 1970s and 80s), there was wide sympathy towards the Indians generated by the American Indian Movement. It effectively exposed those economic ills of the reservation life (impoverishment of reservation Indians came into focus during the siege of the Wounded Knee in 1973). The policies of Jimmy Carter and liberal Congress, which promised grants and support for the reservation Indians, along with a popular and timely movie, Dances with the Wolves, reminded the general public of the wrongs done to the Indians and revived and perpetuated ‘the Indian narrative,’ where Indians were featured as victims of the cruel white man’s policy. Moreover, Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee published at the time added to the general atmosphere of sympathy, but now, unlike in the 19th century, the sympathy was not followed by ‘censure,’ as Roy Harvey Pearce claims in Civilization and Savagism,28 but instead by actions instigated to the advantage of the Native Americans. Even the patrons of many Indian-run casinos—as Eisler claims—chose to come to an Indian reservation so as to help the impoverished Indian and to exonerate an inherited guilt as a result of their identi¿cation with the founders of the country. In the process of the evolution of the Casino Indians we can notice that while the Native Americans were often alluding to history and to the rhetoric of the typical Indian narrative to evoke the sentimental picture of a victimized people to achieve the desired goal, they themselves often no longer ¿tted the picture. As Wilkinson states in Blood Struggle, Hayward and the Pequots, as the owners of a multi-million dollar casino, gave “the American hustling national economy system a halfembrace,” and pursued economic prosperity, which rather resembled the old white myth of the American Dream and the myth of the less-than-rags to more-thanClifton, “The Indian Story: A Cultural Fiction,” 32. Wilkinson, Blood Struggle, 345. 28 Pearce writes, “ Pity, censure, and their justi¿cation are the qualities we must distinguish in American thinking about the Indian between Revolution and the period of Removal.” Pearce, Savagism and Indian Civilization, 73-74. 26 27

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


riches story. Eisler gave his book a title The Revenge of the Pequots, as he interpreted such a transformation as an acute act of revenge by a small tribe doomed to extinction in the early 17th century. The Pequot nation, once defeated because of its inherent weaknesses—technological backwardness, instability of its alliances with other Indians, and alcoholism, as well as other social plagues—has taken revenge by capitalizing on the weaknesses of twentieth century middle-class Americans: an addiction to gambling and its own myth of the Indian as the weak victim and often underrated partner in business and legal dealings. In this new battle, the Pequots applied the lesson they learnt 400 hundred years earlier: they chose better allies, who were more reliable and professional, and could count on politicians and lawyers more dedicated to their cause. The Pequot Indians as the Casino Indians brought to the spotlight two important questions: Who are the temporary Indians and should the new type of Indians, the Casino Indians, take advantage of the economic exemptions and privileges if they no longer conform to the old image of the Indian, the underdog? The ¿rst question is one that is currently widely discussed by Native Americans themselves, and as Duane Champagne in Contemporary Native American Cultural Issues claims: Native identity is neither homogenous nor taken for granted. Historical and contemporary realities of cultural tradition and colonial domination have made identity a complex and fundamental question for Native people as they work to recreate cultural, economic and political futures for themselves and their communities.29

The situation of the Pequots well illustrates the complexity of the issue. It is the more complicated that many “Indians” came to the reservations lured by the possibility of having a share in the riches, but before joining the tribe they shared no common language, traditions, tribal community life, and, what is more, they often did not look Indian. Many were mixed-bloods tracing their roots to mixed marriages between Indians and African Americans or impoverished whites. The three books show how the new members, whatever their provenance, tried to reestablish themselves as a tribe, learn about their traditions, their history, and to establish a link with the past by borrowing some traditions. Though some may claim it is not genuine, if we accept the view expressed by Hobsbawm in his classical book The Invention of Tradition we can see that such a phenomenon was not rare in history and that it is quite legitimate to “to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.”30 It is also possible to look at the issue of reinvention from the point of view of Baudrillardian simulacra, where what the Pequot Indians reinvented to legitimize their economic venture is nothing but a simulacrum, a representation of reality that 29 30

Champagne, Contemporary Native American Cultural Issues, 12. Hobsbawm, “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” 1.


Constructing the Image of the “Casino” Indian

“never conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”31 In line with the last interpretation, the whole reinvention of the tribe, the reconstruction of their language, the revival of a long-forgotten Algonquin holiday of Schemitzun, or opening of the greatest Indian Museum and Research Center would not be considered as anything else, but, “a copy of a copy which has been so dissipated in its relation to the original that it can no longer be said to be a copy. The simulacrum, therefore, stands on its own as a copy without a model.”32 The model—the ancestral harvest holiday or language—no longer exists. It is too distant from the reality not to raise any questions of authenticity. The lack of a clear correspondence between the “real” picture of the contemporary Casino American, in this case the Pequots, and the “expected” one is the main reason why many people in the United States are against the casinos run by Indians with special economic priviledges: they say that the Indians that run them are not Indians, but copies of Indians. Defenders of the Casino Americans claim that the present day mixed-blood or low-blood Indians are legitimate descendents of the past “full-blood” Indians, and that the injustices their ancestors suffered greatly inhibited their start in the American economic system. Academics dealing with post-colonial studies, like Devon A. Mihuesuah, assert that because of “assimilation, acculturation and intermarriage with non-Indians American Indians have a variety of references to describe themselves,”33 and they are all adequate from the point of view of the individuals, but are not always perceived this way by nonIndians. So they have a right to call themselves Native Americans, and thus take advantage of the newely devised laws and policies and freely act on the economic market as owners of gambling enterprises. The have the right to free themselves from the rhetoric of the Native American story told from the point of view of white mainstream society and show their own story, nowadays often presented from a post-colonial perspective.34 Specialists in Native American studies emphasize that the social, economic and cultural transformations that the Pequots underwent are not unique to this particular tribe, which is, however, what Benedict, Eilser and Fromon are trying to imply. They claim that the present day law makes it possible for almost moribund or very small tribes to work the federal law and the economic system for the money. And they are againts it. Undoubtedly, it is true, as many New England tribes, i.e the Narragansetts and the Eastern Pequots, are trying to get federal recognition, among others, in order to start a casino on the reservation, because so far it seems the best and most reliable way of getting some money; the money that Baudrillard, Selected Writings, 166. - 28k. 33 Mihensuah, “American Indian Identities. Issues of Individual Choice and Development,” 13. 34 Champagne, Social Change and Cultural Continuity among Native Nations, 45-63. 31


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


can be invested in some other ventures. But it seems that in the face of the growing oppostion, they have an obligation to comply with the rules of economic play set up by white mainstream society which made their economic progress possible.

Works Cited Baudrillard, Jean. Selected Writings. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Benedict, Jeff. Without Reservation. The Making of America’s Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World’s Largest Casino. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000. Berkhofer, Robert F. Jr. The White Man’s Indian. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. Cave, Alfred A. The Pequot War. Amherst: The Massachusetts Press. 1999. Champagne, Duane. Social Change and Cultural Continuity among Native Nations. New York: Altamira Press, 2007. Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture. Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1988. Clifton, James. “The Indian Story: A Cultural Fiction.” In The Invented Indian. Ed. Clifton, J. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1996. Eisler, Kim Isaac. Revenge of the Pequots. How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World’s Largest Most Pro¿table Casino. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Ed. Frederic E. Hoaxies. Boston, New York: Houghton MifÀin Company, 1996. Fromson, Brett D. Hitting the Jackpot. The Inside Story of the Richest Indian Tribe in History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003. Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition. New York: CUP, 1983. Mihensuah, Devon A. “American Indian Identities. Issues of Individual Choice and Development.” In Contemporary Native American Issues. Ed. Champagne, Duane. Wallnut Creek: Altamira Press, 1999. Pearce, Roy Harvey. Savagism and Civilization. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988. Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1976. Wilkinson, Charles, Blood Struggle. The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. – 28k.


“We are being told – by linguists, community activists, elders, spiritual leaders, writers and critics – that we stand to lose our Native languages in the very near future,”1 writes David Treuer, an Ojibwe writer, in the Introduction to the 2006 issue of American Indian Quarterly, entirely devoted to the subject of Indian languages in the contemporary world. However, one cannot be more wrong in thinking that Treuer is joining the voices lamenting the predicted loss of Native languages. While it is true that English is the ¿rst, and often the only, language of communication, business and artistic expression for most of the Indian communities, there are places, such as the Southwest and some parts of Canada, where Native languages are doing well and thriving rather than facing the danger of imminent extinction. That Indian languages, contrary to many dire predictions, have not died out is reÀected in the fact that Treuer’s Introduction is printed in two versions: the ¿rst one in his Native language and the second in English, which provides the best illustration of Indian languages’ strong presence and potency in the contemporary world. The serious threat of language loss is a subject examined in various ¿elds by Indian as well as non-Indian scholars, critics, writers and poets. Indeed, the issue of “disappearing” Native languages has received considerable attention in Native American literary texts. Frederick H. White, in his analysis of language lamentation as a literary motif, distinguishes three phases in its development: 1) a precontact phase with a diversity of ancestral languages, 2) a transitional phase in which learning English was often an individual’s conscious choice, and 3) a modern phase characterized by a marked shift to English, in which the aspect of volition becomes marginalized due to the politics of forced assimilation.2 The gradual shift from a rich diversity of Indian languages to English initiated in the second phase is completed in the third one, in which the issue of language loss becomes entangled with

1 2

Treuer, Introduction, 6. White, “Language ReÀection and Lamentation,” 83.


Between Truths and Lies: English and Native Languages

a loss of intimacy “that knowing the language creates between all the members of the community.”3 In her short ¿ction, published in a collection of stories and poems entitled Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko, a Laguna writer, grasps the nature of the very moment when Native languages are being crowded out of tribal life. According to White’s analysis, Silko’s interest lies in the modern phase in which English has secured its position as the language of dominance. The space inhabited by Silko’s protagonists can be compared to Mary Louise Pratt’s “contact zone” where cultures “meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths.”4 The world has been irrevocably contaminated by changes introduced by the white man, and the preservation of Native languages, cultures and the way of life has become dif¿cult, if not impossible. Silko’s presentation of English and Indian languages is based on the emphasis of the sacredness of words in the Native tradition and an apparent lack of such an approach in the Western world. In “Storyteller,” “Lullaby,” “Tony’s Story” and “A Geronimo’s Story,” Native languages are not only systems of communication but vital parts in an intricate cultural and historical web. English, on the other hand, is devoid of such cultural meaning and, as Martha Cutter observes, it “is equated with duplicity, delusion, and lack of identity.”5 In “Storyteller,” set in the upper Yukon delta, the nature of the white man’s presence is summarized in the words of the old man, one of the storytellers in the story, who states that “They only come when there is something to steal. The fur animals are too dif¿cult for them to get now, and the seals and ¿sh are hard to ¿nd. Now they come for oil deep in the earth.”6 As Helen Jaskoski puts it: “Compressed within these ominous words are 400 years of colonization through trade, religious conversion, and resource extraction.”7 The intention to exploit the land, mixed with a complete disregard for native people, becomes the white man’s de¿ning characteristic in “Storyteller.” The main protagonist of the story, a young Yupik woman, is confronted with the white world when she is taken to a boarding school. According to the white standards, the school is an intermediate stage before “savages” become civilized and integrated citizens. English is the only language allowed in the school and the inability, or worse, a refusal to speak it brings about punishment, a rule which the girl learns shortly after her arrival: “The dormitory matron pulled down her underpants and whipped her with a leather belt because she refused to speak English.”8 Ibid., 94. Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zones,” 34. 5 Cutter, Lost and Found in Translation, 107. 6 Silko, Storyteller, 22. 7 Jaskoski, Leslie Marmon Silko, 15. 8 Silko, Storyteller, 19. 3 4

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


The girl knows enough English to get by so her not speaking it is not evidence of her inability to use the colonizer’s language but a deliberate choice, a conscious decision to manifest her identity. Indeed, the connection between language and identity is strongly emphasized in “Storyteller.” After years of colonization and forced assimilation, the Yupik language is no longer spoken in the girl’s village: “After all those years away at school, they [the Native inhabitants] had forgotten how to set nets in the river and where to hunt seals in the fall. . . . They said the village was too quiet. They were used to the town where the boarding school was located, with the electric lights and running water.”9 Thus, the loss of language brings about the loss of Indian identity which is inextricably linked to traditional life, now given up because of white man’s intervention. If the Yupik language relates to traditional values and customs, then English is the language of overwhelming political, social and territorial dominance. The two languages are juxtaposed as representing different values and world views, which is illustrated by the kind of sounds their speakers produce. When the old man tells his story, he talks “softly and incessantly,”10 “in a soft singing voice” he “carress[es] the story, repeating the words again and again like gentle strokes,”11 which is a sign of an intimate relationship between the language and the speaker. English, on the other hand, is perceived as an endless, loud and meaningless talk: the men “keep talking,”12 and the “words are only noises coming from . . . pale mouth.”13 The old man tells a story of a “giant polar bear stalking a lone hunter across Bearing Sea ice.”14 It is a long story, it takes the old man the whole winter to tell it, and it seems that, gradually, he is almost consumed by it, no longer registering what is happening around him. The other story is the grandmother’s story about the girl’s parents, who were killed by drinking bad alcohol sold to them by a local storekeeper. The grandmother tries to convince the white authorities that the storekeeper is guilty of murder, but her story is dismissed as improbable. The girl feels that the story is un¿nished but the grandmother cannot offer an ending since, as she explains, “[t]he Gussack storeman left the village after that. . . . [O]therwise I could tell you more.”15 What the grandmother does offer to the girl is the conviction that the storeman did poison her parents and that the authorities did nothing to ¿nd out the truth. The girl remembers her grandmother’s last words that

Ibid., 22. Ibid., 26. 11 Ibid., 27. 12 Ibid., 23. 13 Ibid., 29. 14 Ibid., 26. 15 Ibid., 25. 9



Between Truths and Lies: English and Native Languages

“It will take a long time but the story must be told. There must not be any lies.”16 Initially, the girl thinks that the words were addressed to the old man, who tells his bear story, but gradually she realizes that the words were meant for her. Growing up with storytellers, the girl believes in the power of stories and the truth that they communicate to the world. Even though there may be two possible explanations of her parents’ death – a murder or an accident – the girl believes in the truth conveyed in the grandmother’s story and does not acknowledge the possibility of a different explanation. Helen Jaskoski reads “Storyteller” not as the opposition of lying and telling the truth, but of lying and telling a story.17 However, it can be argued that in the girl’s understanding of stories and the truths that they communicate, the conÀict is about a fundamental opposition of the truth and lies. If, according to the girl, stories are about the truth, then English, which the white authorities use to deny the truth, becomes the language of lies. This idea is best illustrated in the closing scene in prison. The girl ¿nishes the story by luring the storekeeper onto weak ice, which he falls through and drowns. When the white lawyer tries to convince her that the storekeeper’s death was an accident and that she could not have killed him, the girl responds: “I will not change the story, not even to escape this place and go home. I intended that he die.”18 What the lawyer offers is another lie, a manipulation and distortion of the story. In the girl’s story, there is no place for ambiguity; there is only the truth that maintains her identity and integrity. In the last scene, the girl begins to tell her story with a full understanding of the old man’s words that “Lies could not stop what was coming.”19 The girl from “Storyteller” ¿rmly rejects English, which in her view is the language of lies and manipulation. In Silko’s works, there are also protagonists who adopt a less radical approach to speaking the colonizers’ language and try to use it for their own bene¿t. For example, in “Lullaby” there unfolds the story of Ayah, whose life is dramatically changed by a dominant position of English. Chato, Ayah’s husband, “spoke English like a white man and he spoke Spanish too.”20 At ¿rst, Ayah takes pride in her husband’s skill as well as in her ability to sign her name – a feat that Chato taught her. Knowing English creates an illusion of partnership in Indian-white relationships. The white doctors from the town claim that Ayah’s children have been infected with pneumonia and therefore should be taken to an Indian clinic in Colorado. When they come to obtain Ayah’s signature on the authorization of the removal of her children, Ayah, with her rudimentary knowledge of English, signs the documents. The moment she learns about the conIbid., 26. Jaskoski, Leslie Marmon Silko, 20. 18 Silko, Storyteller, 31. 19 Ibid., 32. 20 Ibid., 44. 16 17

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


sequences of her act, she tries to counterbalance the force of her signature with her spoken assurance about the children’s health. Her words in her Native language are confronted with her signature in English and as the latter is the currency of truth in the white world, the children are taken away. This event rede¿nes her relationship with her husband: Ayah “hate[s] Chato not because he let the policeman and doctors put the screaming children in the government car, but because he had taught her to sign her name.”21 The children are occasionally brought home for short visits, but during the last one Ella stared at her the way the men in the bar were now staring. Ayah did not try to pick her up; smiled at her instead and spoke cheerfully to Danny. When he tried to answer her, he could not seem to remember and he spoke English with the Navajo.22

Ayah’s tragedy is not only the loss of her children but also the loss of language and, as a consequence, culture: as there will be no one to pass stories to, Ayah is the last generation to remember traditional customs. The politics of language domination does not allow for the coexistence of different languages in the same area, and therefore Navajo has to make room for English. Pro¿ciency in English does not guarantee survival in the colonial world. After many years of loyal work for a white employer, trilingual Chato is unfairly dismissed from his job, to which Ayah provides a bitter commentary: “All of Chato’s ¿ne-sounding English talk didn’t change things.”23 Chato’s voluntary interaction and cooperation with the white people does not guarantee preferential treatment since Chato’s social, political and racial position excludes him from equal participation in the discourse of power. Chato may speak the language Àuently but he can never master it, and therefore people like the protagonists of “Lullaby” will always remain outside the dominant discourse. The world that Ayah inhabits has been contaminated by alien elements and she herself has become entrapped in white man’s discursive system24 which turned out to be destructive for her and her family, as well as the whole community and culture. Of all Silko’s short stories, “Lullaby” most conspicuously points to one of the fundamental differences between English and Native languages, namely the written/oral opposition. As N. Scott Momaday writes: “. . . the written tradition tends to encourage an indifference to language. That is to say, writing produces a false security where our attitudes toward language are concerned. We take liberties with words; we become blind to their sacred aspect.”25 Ayah’s tragedy originates in her signature and the way in which the written word constitutes the law in the white Ibid., 47. Ibid., 49. 23 Ibid., 47. 24 Krumholz, “Native Design,” 67. 25 Momaday, “Personal ReÀections,” 160. 21



Between Truths and Lies: English and Native Languages

world. The idea of a written word’s superiority over a spoken one is a concept invariably foreign to Native cultures and, as Ayah does not link her signature with sanctioning the removal of her children, she does not hesitate to sign the papers. The motif of mediation between oral and written traditions and the limits of such mediation permeates Silko’s work. It is no accident that in “Storyteller” we never read the bear story – the written reproduction would be a kind of lie. As Jaskoski asserts “The old man’s story can never be truly told in “Storyteller,” because the pages of a book are pages of a book and not the presence of the old man, his voice, his language, and his performance.”26 “Tony’s Story” features another character who believes that an excellent command of English and willing participation in white culture eliminates the inequalities ingrained in the dominant system. The story begins on August 11th, the feast of San Lorenzo. The opening scene is an excellent example of Pratt’s “contact zone,” where elements from different cultures and religions converge in one Indian village. The narrator of the story, Tony, meets Leon, his childhood friend, who has just come back from the army. The peaceful scene is interrupted when suddenly, and without any reason, a white policeman physically attacks Leon. When asked to provide an explanation for this unexpected assault, the policeman remains silent thus demonstrating his contempt for Leon and the Indian people gathered around him. The way the policeman is described, and the violent manner in which he inhabits the space, “links this character with other literary and cinematic types of pure evil.”27 His extreme violence is matched with the way he uses his language: to offend, abuse and demonstrate his absolute power: “I don’t like smart guys, Indian. It’s because of you bastards that I’m here. They transferred me here because of Indians . . . You made your mistake, Indian. I’m going to beat the shit out of you.” He raised the billy club slowly. “I like to beat Indians with this.”28

When faced with a crisis, Leon and Tony represent two contrasting approaches to dealing with the overwhelming dominance of the colonizers and their language which the policeman exempli¿es. Leon has served in the US Army and is ¿rmly convinced that, as the policeman’s behaviour is irrational and unjust, help should be sought within colonial institutions. After another assault, Leon turns for help to the Governor, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the State Police Chief – all representatives of mainstream institutions – and he sincerely believes in the promises of help that he receives. Another tool that Leon employs in his confrontation with the policeman is his pro¿ciency in English. Leon, unlike Tony, speaks English and beJaskoski, Leslie Marmon Silko, 17. Ibid., 41. 28 Ibid., 126, 128. 26 27

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


lieves he understands the mechanisms of the world where it is an of¿cial language. When the policeman stops them on the highway and interrogates them, Leon says about Tony: “He doesn’t understand English so good.”29 As Jaskoski observes, “The response is well suited to appease a powerful adversary in a colonial context: it reduces the individual characterized as language-impoverished to a condition of immaturity . . . and implicitly plays into the paternalistic colonial paradigm.”30 Leon’s response demonstrates that even though he disagrees with the way he is treated by the policeman, he understands the mechanisms of survival in the colonial world where illiterate Indians, like Tony, have to remain silent. Ironically, Leon does not envisage the fact that the policeman does not treat him as a partner but as another illiterate Indian who is “good only when dead.” Tony, who is skilled neither in English nor in understanding the mechanisms of the white man’s institutions, sees the policeman as the embodiment of evil or witchery that can take on different forms and whose presence dates back to ancient times. In his dream, he sees the policeman in a black ceremonial mask with a long bone pointing at him. The difference in perspective between Leon and Tony is enormous and it severely disrupts communication between two friends. Leon wants to deal with the policeman in an “English” way whereas Tony resorts to traditional solutions and brings two arrowheads as talismans. In the ¿nal scene, Tony shoots the policeman and reassures shocked Leon: “Don’t worry, everything is O.K. now. . . .It’s killed.”31 The ending line of the short story, “[i]n the west, rain clouds were gathering,”32 announces the end of the drought and victory over witchery. Such an interesting ending demonstrates the failure of Leon’s method of dealing with the colonial system and its manifestations. Power inequality is inherent in the dominant structure and its institutions, and the ability to speak English does not help to ameliorate the situation. Leon cannot solve the problem with the policeman according to English rules: he speaks the language but can never master it, and will always remain outside the system that creates the institutions where he seeks help. With “A Geronimo’s Story” Silko returns to the motif of language as a way of protecting identity and assisting survival, this time, however, in a more humorous context. The story is concerned with Andy, who as a young man rode with his uncle Siteye and other Laguna Regulars to help the US Army track down Geronimo. However, the mythical warrior appears to be impossible to capture, a fact which only the Indians seem to understand; the American soldiers insist on a futile search. For Siteye and other Laguna men, the trip becomes a deer hunt whereas for Andy an initiatory journey, a passage into manhood and a lesson in the beauty of landscape Ibid., 126. Ibid., 46. 31 Silko, Storyteller, 129. 32 Ibid., 129. 29



Between Truths and Lies: English and Native Languages

and language. In this Geronimo hunt, the Laguna Regulars accompany Captain Pratt and Major Littlecock, who become central to the story’s resolution. The choice of names is a brilliant example of Silko’s subversive play with the colonial discourse. Let us begin with Captain Pratt’s name, which immediately evokes Captain Richard Pratt, who is known in American history as the founder and headmaster of the Carlisle boarding school. Pratt advocated a complete elimination of Native languages and coined the motto “Kill the Indian and Save the Man” – his educational goals in a nutshell. In Silko’s story, Pratt is bilingual, speaks Laguna as well as he speaks English, is married to a Laguna woman and as Siteye observes, he is “not like a white man at all.”33 The other man’s name, when read literally, is nothing more than a sexual slur. The comic effect that Major Littlecock’s name creates is further enhanced by his exaggerated stiffness and formality. In the scene in the kitchen, Captain Pratt and the Laguna men are resting after a long and futile search for Geronimo. When Major Littlecock enters, his of¿cial tone and seriousness is contrasted with the friendly atmosphere of the room. Captain Pratt suggests that all men should sleep in the kitchen which is more comfortable than a barn. Littlecock turns pale, gives some poor excuse and tries to get rid of the Laguna men: “You boys won’t mind sleeping with the horses, will you?”34 Andy recalls that “Siteye looked intently at Major’s face and spoke to him in Laguna: ‘You are the one who has a desire for horses at night, Major, you sleep with them.’ ”35 This is the moment when Pratt has to take sides and by denying the knowledge of the Laguna language and refusing to translate, Pratt chooses to position himself on the side of the Lagunas. Littlecock knows that Pratt is lying but he is determined to save face. He lectures Pratt on the usability of knowing Native languages: “It is very useful to speak the Indian languages Àuently, Mr. Pratt. I have mastered Crow and Arapaho, and I was Àuent in Sioux dialects before I was transferred here.”36 Littlecock’s approach to language manifested in his choice of words – “to master a language” – is purely practical. He does not see beyond grammar and lexicon. Even when he speaks English, it seems that he uses it merely to give orders or interrogate his inferiors. Jaskoski compares Littlecock to ethnographers who approached native cultures with the same instrumentality in order to preserve languages which “were being deliberately wiped out”37 through the institution of boarding schools. The opposite attitude to language is represented by Siteye, who takes advantage of his nephew’s participation in the Geronimo hunt and, by establishing a connection between physical locations and the stories that are evoked by them, teaches Ibid., 215. Ibid., 221. 35 Ibid., 221. 36 Ibid., 221. 37 Jaskoski, Leslie Marmon Silko, 59. 33


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Andy a lesson in culture as well as in the aesthetic beauty of language. The scene in the kitchen, on the other hand, teaches Andy that “[a]nybody can act violently – there is nothing to it; but not every person is able to destroy his enemy with words”38 and how language can become “a strategic instrument in power negotiations.”39 In “A Geronimo’s Story” it is the Indians who use language as a powerful and ef¿cient weapon in an English-dominated world. As Sarah E. Turner observes, Siteye’s lesson illustrates “how language shapes the world, not merely reÀects it, and how it represents an alternative discourse to the white man’s stories of Indians.”40 “A Geronimo’s Story,” like “Storyteller,” links perseverance of language with the integrity of one’s identity; however, the ¿nal view on language that it offers is strikingly different. The protagonist of “Storyteller” insists on telling one truth, one story and she does not leave room for ambiguity. “A Geronimo’s Story,” on the other hand, indulges in ambiguities that are also part of language. What governs Siteye is not the telling of one truth but the beauty of language whose sustaining capacity ensures cultural survival. N. Scott Momaday describes the uniqueness of the relationship between the Native people and their languages as “a deep and unconditional belief in the ef¿cacy of language.” “Words are intrinsically powerful,” Momaday writes, “They are magical.”41 In Silko’s short stories, the magic of language is understood as its unique ability to keep tradition alive in the face of a deliberate attempt at obliterating Indian cultures. English, on the other hand, has no such rejuvenating feature. The fact that Silko employs English as an instrument of abuse and a marker of dominance results in a conspicuous lack of any intimate connection between the dominant language and its users. In Silko’s literary world, English is a “hollow” language regardless of who speaks it: when spoken by white protagonists (the policeman in “Tony’s Story,” Major Littlecock in “A Geronimo’s Story”), it is used to oppress and humiliate; when used by Indians (Chato in “Lullaby,” Leon in “Tony’s Story”), it turns out to be incapable of saving them from the traps of the dominant structures. It seems that Silko’s strategy for survival is to remain faithful to Native languages: in her short stories, there are protagonists who, more or less successfully, appropriate English to serve their own goals, but there is no one who fully disowns his or her language. Indeed, in Silko’s works, it seems that the most serious crime one can commit is to disown one’s own culture and language.

Silko, Storyteller, 222. Jaskoski, Leslie Marmon Silko, 66. 40 Turner, “Spider Woman’s Granddaughter,” 126. 41 Momaday, The Man Made of Words, 15. 38 39


Between Truths and Lies: English and Native Languages

Works Cited Cutter, Martha J. Lost and Found in Translation: Contemporary Ethnic American Writing and the Politics of Language Diversity. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005. Jaskoski, Helen. Leslie Marmon Silko: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. Krumholz, Linda. “Native Designs: Silko’s Storyteller and the Reader’s Initiation.” In Leslie Marmon Silko: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Louise K. Barnett and James L. Thorson, 63-86. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999. Momaday, N. Scott. “Personal ReÀections.” In The American Indian and the Problem of History, edited by Calvin Martin, 156-161. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. –––––. The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages. New York: St. Martin’s Grif¿n, 1998. Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zones.” Profession 91 (1991): 33-40. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Storyteller. New York: Seaver Books, 1981. Treuer, David. Introduction. American Indian Quarterly 30 (2006): 3-10. Turner, Sarah E. “Spider Woman’s Granddaughter: Autobiographical Writings by Native American Women.” MELUS 22 (1997): 109-132. White, Frederick H. “Language ReÀection and Lamentation in Native American Literature.” SAIL 18 (2006): 83-98.


ARTICULATIONS OF TRANS-ATLANTIC IDENTITY IN THE DIARIES OF TWO PRE-REVOLUTIONARY VIRGINIANS: WILLIAM BYRD II AND JOHN HARROWER1 IRMINA WAWRZYCZEK, ZBIGNIEW MAZUR The creative ferment in the study of British America observed in American historiography since the nineteen-sixties has been additionally energized in the past decade by the Atlantic perspective. The new Atlantic history “…situates colonialists neither in Europe looking west nor in America looking east. It puts them metaphorically in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean observing the passage of people and goods all around.”2 An Atlanticist approach to early modern North America, western Europe and western Africa has produced excellent new scholarship, a substantial portion of it dealing speci¿cally with the British Atlantic world in colonial and early republican times.3 Although the themes favoured by the Atlanticist historians of early America revolve around economy and politics – mechanisms of the empire, patterns of trade and consumption, circulation of capital, migration of labour – social and cultural inquiry has also bene¿ted from the new interpretation. One such cultural concept is the territorial identity of individuals whose lives and fortunes straddled the Atlantic somewhere between the British Isles and a location on the North American east coast or the Caribbean. Exploring this type of identity in 17th- and 18th-century Euro-Americans means probing into their sense of national belonging, their self-perceptions as people attached to particular spaces and particular polities, and – most importantly – the inevitable transformation of these perceptions by the experience of trans-Atlantic migration, travel, business links, family connections and educational pursuits. Historians are still in a dilemma about the nature and growth of American naThe essay is based upon a paper presented at the conference “From Colonies to a Republic in the Atlantic World: The North Atlantic and the Caribbean in the Revolutionary Age,” Paris, 8 December 2006. The authors want to thank Michaá Rozbicki and James Jensen, who – in different ways – helped to improve this essay. 2 Zuckerman, “Introduction: Studying the Colonial Era,” xxxvii. 3 McCusker and Morgan, eds., The Early Modern Atlantic Economy; Armitage and J. Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800; Coclanis, ed., The Atlantic Economy during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. 1


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries

tional identity. Even such a dramatic and catalytic moment for its ¿nal emergence as the American Revolution generated different interpretations of the condition of national and political identity in the British colonies. John Murrin claims, for instance, that there was no broad sense of separate national identity among the settlers of North America on the eve of the Revolution and that it was only “an unexpected, impromptu, arti¿cial, and therefore extremely fragile creation of the Revolution” itself.4 Alison Games, working with different evidence, argues that the movements of people within the Britain-controlled Atlantic world in fact helped create a British identity.5 The present essay contributes to this debate by exploring the condition of territorially de¿ned identity in colonial Virginia in a few decades of the 18th century preceding the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Two contemporary diaries constitute the documentary evidence re-read for textual glimpses of their authors’ individual selfhood. One is the well-known Secret Diary of William Byrd II,6 and the other The Journal of John Harrower, 1773-1776.7 William Byrd II and John Harrower differed in several important respects: they were almost two generations apart; one a wealthy slave-holding planter and the other an indentured servant; one was born in Virginia but always looked up to England, the other – born in Scotland – was disappointed with the economic opportunities in Britain and sought them in Virginia; Byrd kept his diary for about 30 years, while Harrower for only 3 years. Yet both were truly trans-Atlantic individuals; both were white males; both died in Virginia; both were educated enough to express themselves coherently in written English; both never intended their diaries for anyone’s eyes and thus did not need to exercise self-censorship. Their diaries, like their biographies, complement each other at the temporal and social levels. By reading them together through the lens of territorial identity, an attempt is made at reconstructing a broader sense of the social, political, and cultural space of Anglo-Virginians in the pre-revolutionary decades. Although the ultimate goal here is to contribute to the historiographic debate on the formation of American national identity, a broader concept of territorial identity is used instead throughout the essay. It was chosen to avoid an implication that the operators in the mid-seventeenth century Atlantic world ruled from London had a clear sense of their national identity. Greg Dening observes that scholars investiMurrin, “A Roof Without Walls,” 344. Games, “Migration,” 31-50. 6 The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712, hereafter cited as Secret Diary; Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1739-1741, With Letters & Literary Exercises, 1696-1726, hereafter Another Secret Diary; William Byrd of Virginia: The London Diary (1717-1721) and Other Writings, hereafter London Diary. 7 John Harrower, The Journal of John Harrower: An Indentured Servant in the Colony of Virginia, 1773-1776, hereafter cited as Journal of John Harrower. 4 5

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


gating the processes of identity formation in early America agree on one common characteristic that can be attributed to them, namely liminality or edginess. Early British America was the place of “thresholds, margins, boundaries,” so the search for individual identity in these conditions must have been an unceasing, multifarious task. Social life in colonial America is best viewed as a “sequence of de¿nitions and rede¿nitions,” not as an ordered, continuous Àow. It is the renewed efforts of individuals to de¿ne themselves in the changing circumstances of their new American life that characterize these colonial attempts at self-creation.8 Territorial identity seems broad enough a concept to accommodate the elements of personal identity pertaining to the geo-political zone one felt af¿liated with in terms of sovereign power, central and local political institutions, and the con¿guration of loyalties. The diary as an autobiographical narrative genre has a special signi¿cance in the cultural history of both Europe and America in the 18th century. Hundreds of diaries were written at that time, the time of profound transformations of the established hierarchies and the world order, many of which originated in the trans-Atlantic activities of the authors: travel, migration, re-settlement. Personal narratives recorded the changes; they were also instruments of change in themselves, helping individuals to map out the new structures of self. Rhys Isaac emphasizes the fact that elite white males had an almost complete monopoly over the written medium; they “dominated the traditions from which writing-sustained Western constructions of the self at ¿rst emerged.”9 Meantime Mechal Sobel observes that although most of the 18th- and 19th-century autobiographical texts were written by middleclass people, many poorer individuals also wrote stories of their lives.10 The diaries of Byrd and Harrower support her claim. Hence, diaries are important as historical evidence for the study of identity constructions, no matter how self-conscious of these processes their authors were. Robert Fothergill calls the diary ‘the book of the self’, because of the frequently close identi¿cation between the diarist and the diary.11 The diaries may be also interpreted as ‘life stories’, continuous assessments of the self, which either tell about the repetition and re-occurrence of the same events in a revised from, or which register changing perspectives within the new phases of life.12 Explicit coherent personal reÀections on territorial and political af¿liation in British America being rare, historians have no choice but to approach other available sources in a roundabout manner in search for oblique evidence about the contemporary state of national and territorial consciousness. Colonial autobiographical Dening, “Introduction: In Search of a Metaphor,” 2. Isaac, “Stories and Constructions of Identity in Revolutionary Virginia,” 216. 10 Sobel, “The Revolution in Selves,” 166-167. 11 Fothergill, Private Chronicles, 43. 12 Isaac, “Stories and Constructions of Identity,” 218. 8 9


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries

writing, such as diaries, letters, memoirs and travel books, contains a wealth of such documentary evidence encoded in personal life-writing seemingly unrelated to the dilemmas of either an individual or shared sense of belonging. When analyzed by means of appropriate tools, they yield valuable insights into their authors’ mental picture of the Atlantic world and their place in it. With the help of methods borrowed from literary and critical language studies, an attempt is made here at reading the diaries of Byrd and Harrower as discourses in the hope of retrieving the manifestations of their authors’ territorial identity. In practice it means not only identifying and interpreting more or less explicit fragments relevant to the topic, but also listening to and interpreting the inarticulate. William Byrd II was born in 1674 and died in 1744. For the most part of his adult life he kept a diary in shorthand, although it is not known when exactly he started it. Most of the diary books have been lost, and the surviving ones cover the years 1709-1712, 1717-1721, and 1739-1741, altogether 12 years. They were transcribed into English letters and subsequently edited and published in the 1940s and 50s, and have since been known as: The Secret Diary, The London Diary and Other Writings, and Another Secret Diary.13 Byrd himself transcribed three portions of his diary from the original shorthand and shaped them as separate, more impersonal texts, though still in the journal form. These are, in chronological order: History of the Dividing Line, A Progress to the Mines, and A Journey to the Land of Eden. The History is an account of the of¿cial expedition in 1728 to run the borderline between Virginia and North Carolina, with Byrd having been appointed a commissioner for Virginia. The remaining two are merely records of Byrd’s overseeing and surveying trips to his distant plantations and newly acquired tracts of land. These texts – the parts of the diary proper and its isolated parts – constitute the sources for the present study. The diary has been studied extensively by many scholars for many purposes: Byrd’s literary style, information about a planter’s household, diet, leisure, community networks, patterns of socializing, local politics, public functions, and the psycho-cultural formation of his personality.14 A slightly different perspective on the diary proposed here is based on reading it as a document of Byrd’s conception of the physical and cultural space he inhabited, his geo-political identity, his selfidenti¿cation in terms of who he was, and where he belonged. Evidence of this kind is not readily available in the text. As Kenneth Lockridge observed, ... the diary is triply encoded. Once in a literal code, a rare shorthand. Once in that See n. 4 supra. Marambaud, William Byrd of Westover; Zuckerman, “William Byrd’s Family;” Lockridge, The Diary and Life.

13 14

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


it describes chieÀy the expected behaviors of an eighteenth-century gentleman ... Once again in that all entries are rendered in terms of that emotional moderation, balance, and acceptance which ... de¿ned that era’s gentleman.15

The secrecy, routine and restraint require close and deconstructive reading of the diary: looking at not only what is there but also for what is signi¿cantly missing; looking for meaningful oppositions that emerge from it; analyzing Byrd’s discourses of the Anglo-American in the hope of formulating oblique conclusions about what place he identi¿ed himself with as the core of his economic, social and political existence. Byrd’s biography explains why he felt confused about his territorial identity. He was born at the plantation of his father as a second-generation Virginian. Yet at the age of seven he was sent to England in order to get a good education. After ¿fteen years in England he returned to Virginia for one year and went back to London for another seven years. From the moment of inheriting the estate of his deceased father in 1705 till his death, he made his permanent home in Virginia, but resided in London again twice, altogether for another nine years. So, he spent roughly 1/3 of his life in England, notably the formative years of his childhood and youth. Firmly convinced that Virginia did not offer opportunities suitable for his education and ambitions, he aspired to live in England as an English gentleman, to marry an English heiress, and to win favor in the high places of the metropolis. No wonder he “was unable to identify himself conclusively” as a colonial or as an Englishman “until towards the end of his life.”16 That he was always looking towards England is best proved by his abundant and systematic social correspondence with his friends and acquaintances in England. In the diary he records with monotonous regularity: “I wrote a letter to England,” I wrote another letter to England,” I wrote a letter to the Duke of Argyle,” “I wrote more letters to England,” I had several letters from England, among which was one from Sir Charles Wager,” “I heard guns from Swineyard’s and sent my boat for my letters,” “... we rose and walked to Colonel Ludwell’s where he gave me abundance of English letters, and among the rest one from my Lord Orrery.”17 The wish to be read and admired in England did not leave him till old age. In contrast, the diary contains no reference to his correspondence with people in Virginia (except for regular letters to his overseers at other plantations), nor with people in other colonies. It might be that the local connections could be maintained directly, or perhaps that the locals were not considered by Byrd as suf¿ciently appreciative of his elaborate exercises in rhetoric and wit. Lockridge, The Diary and Life, 7-8. Ibid., 30. 17 Secret Diary, London Diary, passim. 15 16


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries

Byrd hardly ever uses the word “America” in his writings, and in the rare instances he does, it is in a purely geographical sense. For instance, when he describes the Chinese ginseng plant, he observes that “[I]t grows also on the northern continent of America.”18 Elsewhere in History he comments on the cruel custom of scalping “practised by all the savages in America.”19 In A Progress to the Mines he reports the claim of Colonel Spotswood that he was “the ¿rst in North America, who had erected a regular [iron] furnace.”20 Whenever he refers to his place of residence in America, he invariably uses the word “Virginia,” or more narrowly, the plantation. There is no sense conveyed of Virginia being only a small part of a much larger American continent. However, Byrd is very well aware of the existence of other colonies on the Atlantic Coast. He mentions them occasionally, often with a note of contempt, convicted of Virginia’s superiority. The neighboring North Carolina is the target of his strongest criticism. Its inhabitants “devour so much swine’s Àesh that it ¿lls them full of gross humors.”21 North Carolinians “live in a climate where no clergyman can breathe any more than spiders in Ireland”22, and “they are not troubled with any religious fumes.”23 Virginia imposes on the settlers “some sort of order and government,” whereas in North Carolina “every one does what seems best in his own eyes”24 Elsewhere one ¿nds a sarcastic comment about New England traders operating along North Carolina’s coast. “The trade hither is engrossed by the saints of New England, who carry off a great deal of tobacco without troubling themselves with paying that impertinent duty of a penny a pound.”25 Although Byrd calls his American country “Virginia,” he never refers to himself as a Virginian. On the rare instances he uses a descriptive term to de¿ne his national identity, he goes for the adjective “English.” In History he writes about the “English stomachs of the boundary commissioners,”26 of whom he was one. He also employs the word “English” to express the collective identity of the colonists when juxtaposing them with the Indians: “...these Indians dwell among the English,”27 and further “[the Indians] have made the worst use of the knowledge they acquired from the English... .”28 Although this is Àimsy evidence, it seems it did not occur to Byrd, “History of the Dividing Line,” 584. Ibid., 590. 20 Byrd, “A Progress to the Mines,” 629. 21 Byrd, “History of the Dividing Line,” 548. 22 Ibid., 557. 23 Ibid., 557. 24 Ibid., 559. 25 Ibid., 540. 26 Ibid., 560. 27 Ibid., 572. 28 Ibid., 573. 18


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Byrd to derive his identity from the fact that he resided, worked and prospered in Virginia. He was often involved in the opposition to the English governors acting in the interest of the metropolis to the disadvantage of the colonists, yet in his own eyes he remained English, and so did other white inhabitants of the colony. The only signi¿cant factor that emerges from Byrd’s autobiographical writing as conducive to his formation of a proto-American identity, distinct from his tenacious Englishness, was the natural environment in Virginia. The diary demonstrates his sense of helplessness and distress in coping with the forces of Nature beyond his control. Each single entry made in Virginia contains a comment on the weather. Most often it is a brief observation that “[T]he weather was cold and cloudy, the wind northeast,” that “[I]t rained very much this afternoon,” that [T]he weather was extremely hot,” or that [I]t snowed and grew very cold.”29 Every so often more dramatic weather reports appear that justify Byrd’s weather obsession. “After dinner there came a violent storm of hail and broke all the windows, which it might easy do because the hailstones were as big as hen’s eggs.”30 “... about three o’clock ...there came a terrible clap of thunder and damaged the pigeonhouse and killed 16 sheep that lay under it for shelter.”31 Signi¿cantly, weather observations disappear completely from the pages of the diary written in London. That is because only in the plantation world of Virginia did Byrd experience direct dependence on Nature, unpredictable but vitally important for his fortune as a planter. A glimpse of this awareness is found in the entry on 7 July 1720: “It rained abundantly this afternoon and this evening, thank God, according to my prayers.”32 Byrd did not perceive American nature in negative terms only. In his writing he painted the beauty of American landscape and the richness of fauna and Àora mixing the discourses of a natural scientist and that of a land-hungry colonizer and planter. Thus, one ¿nds fragments like this one: It was really a delightful sight, all the way, to see the bank of the river adorned with myrtle, laurel and bay trees, which preserve their verdure the year around, though it must be owned that these beautiful plants, sacred to Venus and Apollo, grow commonly in very dirty soil.33

Another fragment, devoted to the pines in North Carolina, starts in a similar botanical vein, only to shift to a utilitarian discourse stressing their usefulness to future settlers.

London Diary, 413, 441, 442, 481. Ibid., 412. 31 Ibid., 417. 32 Ibid., 426. 33 Byrd, “History of the Dividing Line,” 540. 29



Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries The pines in this part of the country are of a different species than those that grow in Virginia: their bearded leaves are much longer and their cones much larger. Each cell contains a seed of the size and ¿gure of a black-eyed pea, which, shedding in November, is very good mast for hogs, and fattens them in short time... The trees also abound more with turpentine and consequently yield more tar than either the yellow or the white pines.34

His sober observations about fertile soil, land bare of timber, stones promising abundance of metal and barren grounds alternate with a purely aesthetic admiration for places of outstanding beauty. The river is about eighty yards wide, always con¿ned within its lofty banks, and rolling down its waters, as sweet as milk, and as clean as crystal. ... This sweet place is bounded to the east by a ¿ne stream, called Sauro Creek....I could not quit this pleasant situation without regret... .35

John Harrower (1734?-1777) was a native of Lerwick, a village in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. A merchant, hit by the 1770s depression, he was “so straitned that nothing but money upon Interest for some Considerable time” could have helped him to avoid being “personally exposed”36. He decided to look for work in Scotland or England, at the worst perhaps to go to Holland. In December 1773 Harrower left his wife and three children and sailed to mainland Scotland. From Dundee he took a ship to Newcastle, then sailed to Portsmouth but was unable to ¿nd employment in any of the places he visited. Harrower walked the 80 miles from Portsmouth to London, where, after exhausting all the resources taken from home, he had no choice but to sign an indenture and “engage to go to Virginia for four years as a schoolmaster for Bedd, Board, washing and ¿ve pound during the whole time.”37 In Virginia Harrower’s indenture was sold to Col. William Dainger¿eld, the owner of the Belvidera plantation near Fredericksburg. Until his death Harrower remained the tutor of the Colonel’s children, but was also allowed to take additional pupils from nearby plantations. Having won his master’s trust, he was also asked to accept additional duties at the plantation. By the time he died of some unspeci¿ed disease in 1777, he had saved at least 70 pounds, but had failed to realize his dream of bringing the family to Virginia. Within a short period of time, between December 1773 and May 1774, Harrower traveled great distances within the British Atlantic world on both sides of the ocean. Judging by the diary, his trans-Atlantic relocation from Britain to a very different Ibid., 564. Byrd, “A Journey to the Land of Eden,” 607. 36 Journal of John Harrower, 110. 37 Ibid., 17. 34 35

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


community in Virginia was surprisingly smooth, and he settled down to his new life in the colony with apparent ease. This was possible due to the dominance of British/English culture in the whole Empire which, through the use of the English language, the transplantation of English institutions to the colonies and the imitating of English lifestyles (for example the diet38), provided a familiar framework into which Harrower could ¿t. More signi¿cantly, Harrower’s human networking may have eased the effects of the geographical and cultural leap across the Atlantic by creating a sense of extended locality: both in Scotland and England he turned to his acquaintances, he used his contacts with ship captains and, in Virginia, he kept in touch with the Scottish community there.39 In stark contrast to Byrd before him, Harrower did not see his life in Virginia as cultural exile. On the contrary, he perceived the colony as a land of opportunity, as evidenced by a letter to his wife copied to the journal: I yet hope (please God) if I am spared, some time to make you a Virginian Lady among the woods of America which is by far more pleasant than the roaring of the raging seas around abo’t Zetland, And yet to make you eat more white Bread in your old age than what you have done in your Youth .40

His standard of life as an indentured servant at a Virginia plantation must have compared favourably to his experience back at home, as suggested by the following entry of 7 August 1774: “I can really say with great truth that I have never lived a genteel regular life until now.”41 Harrower was impressed with the natural world of Virginia not because of its beauty but because of the opportunities that it presented for agricultural exploitation and for the healthy living conditions that the land and the climate offered to the colonists. His vision of Virginia as a land is linked with images of abundance: On casting my Eye out of the window I cannot most heartily wishing you hade some of the most Charming Watermellons I have now growing and some of them ripe within less than 3 Yds of where I sitt. Some of which will weigh from 20 to 30 lb. My Plantation for my Amusement consists of the following Articles Vizt. Water melons, Mush-melons, Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Gourds Spanish Pitatoes and Cotton.42 … I was surprised to see the Indian Corn so tawle, some of it being 12 foot high, and having ¿ve Ears of Corn on.43

Ibid., 56. Ibid., 147. 40 Ibid, 76. 41 Ibid., 58. 42 Ibid., 112. 43 Ibid., 52-53. 38 39


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries

The diary-based conclusion about easy cultural adaptation to a distant place across the Atlantic and about new identity formation may require correction, as another entry in the same diary suggests. At Christmas 1775 Harrower suffered an emotional breakdown and drank himself sick for two consecutive nights. He then wrote a short poem which was artistically mediocre but revealed the author’s innermost sense of social and territorial belonging: … Plac’d by myself, without the camp As if I were unclean; No freendly soul, does my Àoor tramp, My grief to ease, or hear my moan. For in a prison at large I’m plac’t Boun’d to it, day and night: O, grant me patience, God of grace, And in thy paths make me walk right. … 44

In those two middle stanzas Harrower effectively expressed a sense of loneliness, of not really belonging anywhere, of not belonging with anyone in the new place and of being limited in his freedom by the status of an indentured servant. Harrower evidently links his own territorial and cultural identity, as well as the identity of the persons he encountered in Virginia, to British origin rather than the current place of residence and work in America. When commenting on his master’s household, he is favourably impressed by its English style: I am obliged to teach in the English method … I am also obliged to talk english the best I can, as for Lady Dainger¿eld speacks nothing but high english, and the colonel hade his education in England and is a verry smart Man.45

He also records that their “witualls are all Dressed in the english taste.” 46 Elsewhere he characterizes the parents of some of his pupils as “an English man himself and his lady from Edinburgh.” 47 Although Harrower never de¿nes his territorial and national status directly, the diary provides occasional discursive evidence of his feeling primarily Scottish. “The country” to him was Scotland (possibly the Shetlands), as seen in the letter to his wife of August 7, 1774 urging her to write to him about “any thing that

Ibid., 130. Ibid., 54. Emphasis added. 46 Ibid., 56. 47 Ibid., 109. Emphasis added. 44 45

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


is remarcable in the Country”48, or in another letter to the Shetland captain James Craigie explaining why he left “the Country” without his family.49 Similarly, the “Countrymen” who were supposed to visit him at the Belvidera plantation in April 1776 were two local Scots.50 That Scottishness was a signi¿cant identity marker to Harrower can also be seen in an otherwise superÀuous bit of information on Anthony Fraser, the plantation overseer, pointing out that “[H]is Grandfather came from Scotland.”51 ‘The country’ being the name reserved for Scotland, Harrower consistently refers to Virginia as “this Country”52 or “this Collony,”53 and the part of the Atlantic rim where the colony was situated was to him the “Western World”. “I now … for your Amusement and information, shall write you some of the news of this Western World,” he promises his wife;54 and elsewhere he remembers how he was determined to see what he could do “in this Western World.”55 Harrower’s place-naming pattern bespeaks his British/Scottish identity, not surprising in a fresh emigrant from Scotland who left his homeland as a mature head of family and businessman. His networking with the colonials of Scottish origin in Virginia shows the emotional need for the company of people sharing similar territorial and cultural identity when the proper environment nurturing such identity was suddenly beyond reach. At the same time, Harrower seems to recognize the otherness of Virginia, which, although British/English without doubt, is nevertheless a different country to him. The attractions of this country are appealing enough for Harrower to make him contemplate permanent residence in Virginia when his indenture expires. This naming pattern becomes radically transformed in the summer of 1775, when a completely new discourse pertaining to the parts of the British Atlantic world enters Harrower’s diary, presumably as a reÀection of the contemporary revolutionary rhetoric he overheard rather than as an effect of his own critical insight into the situation. Suddenly new territorial identity labels appear in the diary: Great Britain, North America, North Americans, American forces, the “Provincialls,” and the “Colonys”. Reporting the cross-Atlantic political and military conÀict, Harrower fails to reveal which side he supports. Though affected by the hostilities which make his contact with the family in the Shetlands increasingly dif¿cult, the tutor assumes the Ibid., 57. Ibid., 110. 50 Ibid., 147. 51 Ibid., 85. 52 Ibid., 72, 109. 53 Ibid., 110, 111, 115. 54 Ibid., 73. 55 Ibid., 111. 48 49


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries

position of a neutral observer, personally not involved in what to him appears to be a national controversy. Not a single sentence in the diary discusses the causes of the conÀict, described as “disagreement,”56 “difference,”57 “disturbs,”58 or “disputes.”59 In his initial account, the Revolution is presented as a quarrel within the British empire, a disagreement between British institutions at home (“Great Britain,”60 “the Ministry,”61 “the Parliament of great Brittan,”62 “Government”63) on the one side, and British institutions abroad on the other (“her [i.e. Britain’s] Colonies in North America,”64 “Collonys in N. America,”65 “Collonies”66). As the hostilities escalate, the tutor realizes that the struggle involves the colonists as a political group, writing about “an engagement betwixt the British troops and the Bostonians,”67 or “[e]ngagements already fought betwixt the British troops and the provincials.”68 The revolutionary events inÀuence his daily life, as for example when a regiment of the colonial militia is stationed at Dainger¿eld’s plantation. Nevertheless, Harrower does not ally himself with the revolutionaries. When he writes in his diary that “the Americans are determined to stand by one another to the last man,”69 he de¿nitely positions himself outside the collective political body of the colonists. In terms of his national or geo-political identity, Harrower may have associated Britain with somewhat alien political institutions, which had little relevance in his life. His stay in Virginia, however, did not give him a new sense of political belonging. The colony was and remained just a new geographical space into which he was re-located, his trans-Atlantic transfer producing few changes in the sense of personal identity. The popular assumption that 18th-century Virginia, the motherland of Patrick Henry and the most prominent Founding Fathers, was an early incubator of a distinct American identity is largely disproved in the course of a close reading of the two diaries. What emerges instead is the truly trans-Atlantic and Britain-centered world views and af¿liations of their authors, members of pre-Revolutionary VirginIbid., 44. Ibid., 56. 58 Ibid., 74. 59 Ibid., 112, 115. 60 Ibid., 44, 74, 75. 61 Ibid., 112. 62 Ibid., 56. 63 Ibid., 115. 64 Ibid., 44. 65 Ibid., 74. 66 Ibid., 109, 112. 67 Ibid., 94. 68 Ibid., 111. 69 Ibid., 111. 56 57

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ia society. William Byrd II was only one generation removed from Washington (he was 12 years old when Byrd died), Jefferson (born a year before Byrd’s death), and Madison (born 7 years after Byrd’s death). When he stayed at John Henry’s house in March 1740, Patrick Henry was a boy of four. In his lifetime he held important colonial posts: member of the Council of State, colonial agent for Virginia in London, colonel of militia, and His Majesty’s receiver general for Virginia. It is from such educated, experienced, well-traveled and well-connected individuals that one could expect the anticipation of a new American world as separate and distinct from Britain. Yet Byrd’s diary shows no traces of such visionary thinking concerning the future of Virginia and the American colonies in general. John Harrower lacked many advantages of William Byrd: was not a native-born second-generation Virginian, lived in the colony for only four years, his social horizons and mobility in Virginia were severely limited by his indenture, and his diary was a very modest attempt at making sense of life in a British-American colony. However, he had an opportunity to observe the American Revolution in the making, including the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Yet even this experience did not affect his perception of the British Atlantic world in any signi¿cant way. Both men show “the intensity with which settlers revered either their smaller provinces or the larger empire.”70 Greg Dening argues that scholars investigating the processes of identity formation in early America discover one common characteristic that can be attributed to them, namely liminality or edginess. Early British America was the place of ‘thresholds, margins, boundaries’, so the search for individual identity in these conditions must have been an unceasing, multifarious task.71 It seems also to hold for territorial, political and/or national identities, all of them constitutive parts of individual identity in the British Atlantic world. Inasmuch as the planter-diarist and the servant-diarist were representative of their classes and times, one marvels at the magnitude of the transformations which colonial identities must have undergone during the War of Independence and the following decades before a distinctly American geo-political identity emerged for the citizens of the newly created United States.

Works cited Primary Sources Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover 1739-1741, With Letters & Literary Exercises, 1696-1726, edited by Maude H. Wood¿n. Richmond, Virginia: The Dietz Press, 1942. 70 71

Murrin, “A Roof Without Walls,” 339. Dening, “Introduction: In Search of a Metaphor,” 2.


Articulations of Trans-Atlantic Identity in the Diaries

Byrd, William, “History of the Dividing Line Run in the Year 1728.” In William Byrd of Virginia: The London Diary, 1717-1721, and Other Writings, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, 533-597. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. Byrd, William. “A Journey to the Land of Eden in the Year 1733.” In William Byrd of Virginia: The London Diary, 1717-172,1 and Other Writings, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, 601-617. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. Byrd, William. “A Progress to the Mines in the Year 1732.” In William Byrd of Virginia: The London Diary, 1717-1721, and Other Writings, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, 621-631. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. The Journal of John Harrower: An Indentured Servant In the Colony of Virginia, 1773-1776, edited by Edward Miles Riley. Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg, 1963. The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling. Richmond, Virginia: The Dietz Press, 1941. William Byrd of Virginia: The London Diary, 1717-1721, and Other Writings, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Secondary Sources Appelbaum, Robert and John Wood Sweet, eds. Envisioning an English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Armitage, David and Michael J. Braddick, eds. The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Coclanis, Peter A. ed. The Atlantic Economy during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Organization, Operation, Practice, and Personnel. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Dening, Greg. “Introduction: In Search of a Metaphor.” In Through a Glass Darkly: ReÀections on Personal Identity in Early America, edited by Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Turner, 1-8. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Fothergill, Robert A. Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries. London: Oxford University Press, 1974. Games, Alison. “Migration.” In The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800, editd by David Armitage and Michael J. Braddick. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, 31-50. Isaac, Rhys. “Stories and Constructions of Identity in Revolutionary Virginia.” In Through a Glass Darkly: ReÀections on Personal Identity in Early America, ed-

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ited by Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Turner, 206-237. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Lockridge, Kenneth A. The Diary and Life of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674-1744. New York and London: Norton, 1987. Marambaud, Pierre. William Byrd of Westover, 1674-1744. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1971. McCusker, John and Kenneth Morgan, eds. The Early Modern Atlantic Economy. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Murrin, John M. “A Roof Without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity.” In Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity, edited by Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II, 333-348. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Sobel, Mechal. “The Revolution in Selves: Black and White Inner Aliens.” In Through a Glass Darkly: ReÀections on Personal Identity in Early America, edited by Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Turner, 163-205. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Michael Zuckerman, “Introduction: Studying the Colonial Era.” In Colonial America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political Cultural, and Economic History, edited by James Ciment, xxxiii-xxxviii. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2006, vol. 1. Zuckerman, Michael. “William Byrd’s Family.” Perspectives in American History, XII (1979): 253-311.

THE SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN IN THE APOLOGETIC RHETORIC OF GEORGE FITZHUGH AND DANIEL R. HUNDLEY IN THE 1850S. BEATA KENIG The four decades before the Civil War was an extremely turbulent time for the United States. The country’s rapid territorial expansion gave rise to political turmoil which had economic, social, and psychological dimensions. The differences between the North and the South became evident. The two regions differed from each other not only geographically; they were actually two distinct entities, with divergent economic interests and social structures. And while the North was a region of rapidly developing commerce and industry, the Southern society professed its rural and agricultural destiny and its attachment to a social system in which slavery played a crucial role. Slaves were not only a cheap labor force necessary on the rice, tobacco and cotton plantations. The liberty, honor and pride of the white man and woman in the Old South, whether a slave owner or not, were built on the enslavement and debasement of the black man and woman. During the time of feverish political debates about the future of the new territories which the United States acquired as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and the War with Mexico, the “peculiar institution” became the core issue. That involved the question whether the introduction of slavery should accompany the westward expansion. The controversy that ensued had several dimensions. The Northern politicians’ opposition to the bringing of slaves into the new territories and the Southern leaders’ insistence on the slaveholders’ right to carry their slaves wherever they saw ¿t were based on political, ideological and moral grounds. The political aspect concerned the balance of power in Congress, that is whether the slave states or the free states would hold more seats in both chambers of the national legislature. And the importance of national representation arose out of the ideological context that pertained to the fundamentally divergent views of the economy, politics and society that prevailed on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Those growing differences between the commercialized, industrialized and individualistic North and the rural, conservative South were coupled by each region’s mutual fear of being politically and economically dominated by the other. Finally, the question of slavery assumed a moral dimension with the increased activity by abolitionist groups and


The Southern Gentleman in the Apologetic Rhetoric

through animated debates between those who regarded slavery as a moral evil and the apologists of the “peculiar institution”. In the numerous disputes over the issue of bondage in the United States, the Southern apologists made efforts to justify and defend that institution by voicing arguments that ranged from constitutional rights to moral considerations. When the bill to admit Missouri into statehood came before Congress in February 1819 and after Congressman James Tallmadge of New York offered an amendment prohibiting the further spread of slavery in the territory, the South rose in fervent protest. A columnist writing for a Richmond newspaper asked: Shall [Virginia] be silent when the great principles of the Constitution are assailed, when the rights of her sons, now peopling a western clime, are invaded […]?1

When the future of the vast territory gained by the United States after the War with Mexico was debated, it was the so-called “Wilmot Proviso,” an amendment prohibiting slavery in the new territory proposed by Congressman David Wilmot in 1846, which sparked similar sentiments on the part of the Southern leaders. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina asserted an equal right of the South in the acquired territory and accused the North of attempts to oppress the South.2 The disputes concerning the possible existence of slavery in the new territories gave rise to numerous arguments about the economic, social and moral grounds of the “peculiar institution.” Southern apologists claimed that slaves were, for the South, an economic necessity and an integral part of the region’s social structure. They analyzed the relations between the whites and the blacks, the masters and slaves, and asserted that the Southern society enjoyed peace and harmony. In 1832, Thomas Roderick Dew, a prominent Southern scholar, wrote that many masters in the South were noble and virtuous men and their slaves were their “warmest, most constant and most devoted friends.”3 Dew, like many other Southern writers, referred to the Bible and claimed that bondage was sanctioned in both the Old and New Testament. He wrote: We deny that there is any thing in the Old and New Testament, which would go to show that slavery, when once introduced, ought at all events to be abrogated […]. The children of Israel themselves were slave holders, and were not condemned for it. When we turn to the New Testament, we ¿nd not one single passage at all calculated to disturb the conscience of an honest slave holder.4

The apologist writings were, naturally, full of race-based arguments for the exis“A Southron Denounces Restriction (1819),” 325. Calhoun, “A Danger of Disunion (1850),” 51. 3 Dew, “The Proslavery Argument (1832),” 600. 4 Ibid., 599. 1 2

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


tence of slavery, as was the pamphlet by a Missouri lawyer and militiaman, Benjamin Stringfellow. As an ardent pro-slavery activist, Stringfellow claimed that black bondage elevated and ennobled the white man and woman, and that “black is the badge of slavery, white the color of the freeman: and the white man, however poor, whatever be his occupation, feels himself a sovereign.”5 In the last decade before the Civil War such a wide range of arguments justifying black bondage were expounded by two passionate spokesmen of the South – Daniel Robinson Hundley and George Fitzhugh. What was initially the defense of the Southern slaveholders’ basic freedom, as US citizens, to settle with their slaves wherever they desired turned into an ardent defense and justi¿cation of the South’s sacred, inviolable social order. A Southern ideology was born. The Old South’s past was mythologized, the challenges of the present were feared, progress and change were resisted. According to American historian W.J. Cash, the author of The Mind of the South, the Old South was a society tormented by the sense of defeat and guilt, a society “driven by the need to bolster its morale, to nerve its arm against waxing odds, to justify itself in its own eyes and in those of the world.”6 That sense of guilt, undoubtedly generated by the “peculiar institution,” was to be soothed by the Southern apologetic rhetoric, which justi¿ed the way of life of the Southern society and denounced the moral decay of the North. The Southern apologists portrayed the Antebellum South as a land of a perfect social order, an Arcadia indeed. The Southern gentleman - the planter, the slaveholder, the benevolent and honorable man – was the guardian of the Southern Arcadia. However, “the genuine Southern Gentlemen are not quite so plentiful as blackberries in summer time,”7 as Daniel R. Hundley, an Alabama lawyer, wrote in The Social Relations of Our Southern States in 1860. The genuine Gentleman of the South, according to Hundley, came usually from aristocratic parentage. The ancestors of the Virginia gentleman were English Cavaliers, after whom succeeded French Huguenots and Scotch Jacobites. In Maryland they were Irish Catholics who sought religious tolerance and political freedom in the New World. In South Carolina they were Huguenots, “those dauntless chevaliers,” who, Àeeing from the massacre of St. Barthomew and the bloody religious persecutions, settled in North America. In Florida, Louisiana, Texas and other parts of the far South it was primarily the Spanish Dons and French Catholics from whom the Southern Gentleman descended.8 Besides being of faultless pedigree, the Southern Gentleman represented faultless physical development. His average height was, according to Hundley, about six feet, Stringfellow, “Slavery a Positive Good (1854),” 69. Cash, The Mind of the South, 61. 7 Hundley, The Social Relations in Our Southern States, 23. 8 Ibid., 27. 5 6


The Southern Gentleman in the Apologetic Rhetoric

and his “entire physique conveys to the mind an impression of ¿rmness united to Àexibility.”9 Therefore, the Southern Gentleman represented an excellent physical development, owing to his numerous outdoor activities. He was also characterized by plain and unostentatious mode of life. He turned from “the bustle of the cities, the hollow ceremonies of courts, […] to the quiet and peaceful scenes of country life.”10 But, above all, he loved his country and the country’s tradition, and frequently engaged in political endeavors. And it was in politics and military activity that the Southern Gentleman’s unsurpassed potential could be exploited for the common good. The South was the home of great generals and outstanding statesmen. While the Northern people were chieÀy interested in commerce and manufacturing, the South, according to Hundley, “has interested herself in agriculture mainly, political economy, and the nurture of an adventurous and military race.”11 The long list of presidents, generals and statesmen that the South had produced was to Hundley the evidence of the Southern society’s exceptionality. In his reÀections on the virtues of the Southern Gentleman, Hundley devoted attention to the relations between the Southern Gentleman and his slaves. And, in his view, the genuine Gentleman loved his slaves and felt responsible for them. Hundley referred to that unique relationship in the following fragment: It is impossible for a citizen of the North to realize the strong ties which bind the Southern Gentleman to his bond – servants, and vice-versa. The slaves, in most instances, are family Negroes, who have been in their masters’ family for several generations, and their family pride is equal, if not superior, to that of the master himself.12

Hundley admitted that at some estates black slaves were badly treated. But that happened only on the plantations of parvenus, rich people who did not belong to the noble class. Still, the blacks in the South were much better-off and happier than the people of the North wanted to believe. The close intercourse between the two races that existed under the patriarchal institutions of the South could never be obtained under any other system of society: Nowhere else will the white lend his efforts to teach the black, no where else will the black unite his physical labor with the intellectual effort of the white for their common bene¿t, no where else will the superior admit the inferior race to the advantage of close family contact […]. No where else will the white labor side by side with the

Ibid., 28. Ibid., 55. 11 Ibid., 50. 12 Ibid., 64. 9


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


negro in the open ¿eld, guiding his ignorance, bearing with his incapacity and rectifying his errors and neglect.13

In his work, Hundley contrasted the virtues of the genuine Southern Gentleman with the Àaws and shortcomings of other representatives of the Antebellum South’s upper class—the “ill-educated cotton snobs,” who only loved money which supplied them with cigars, brandy and ¿ne clothes;14 the “Southern Yankee,” concerned only with accumulation of money and riches, a man with no conscience, a ruthless trader, a speculator and a cruel slave owner.15 The lower classes of whites were also analyzed—the “Southern Yeoman,” who let his slaves become spoiled and useless;16 middle class people, who were provincial in manners and speech;17 and, ¿nally, the indolent poor whites. The black man was only ¿t for bondage but that did not deprive him of the right to be respected. Despite the Southern society’s shortcomings, the majority of the Southern people did not, according to Hundley, desire to oppress the blacks to any greater extent than it was necessary and demanded by a proper regard for their safety and well-being. Bondage civilized the black man, and the Southern Gentleman’s primary responsibility was, following the biblical precepts, to take proper care of his slaves and treat them in a benevolent manner.18 To Hundley, the Southern Gentleman was an icon, a moral leader of the society which, though full of imperfections, was happy and prosperous, where the inferior ones were extricated from the state of barbarity, dominated, guided and educated by the superior elite. Another Southern apologist, George Fitzhugh, understood a perfect social structure in a similar way. The descendant of an old southern family from Virginia, he devoted much of his time and energy to writing pro-slavery pamphlets and newspaper articles. He also presented his views of the Southern society in two well-known books: Sociology for the South Or the Failure of Free Society of 1854 and Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters of 1857. And, like Hundley, he believed that the black man’s destiny was bondage, a condition which tamed and domesticated the African and made him civilized. However, Fitzhugh condemned cruel treatment of slaves. He claimed that in Virginia there should be laws which would make the master liable to punishment for inhuman treatment or neglect of his slave. That argument was followed by a statement in which Fitzhugh declared: We abhor the doctrine of the “Types of Mankind,” ¿rst, because it is at war with scripture, which teaches us that the whole human race is descended from a common Ibid., 67. Ibid., 175-176. 15 Ibid., 140-141. 16 Ibid., 193-194. 17 Ibid., 96. 18 Ibid., 63-64. 13 14


The Southern Gentleman in the Apologetic Rhetoric

parentage; and, second, because it encourages and incites brutal masters to treat Negroes not as weak , ignorant and dependent brethren, but as wicked beasts, without the pale of humanity.19

Fitzhugh emphasized the protective inÀuence of slavery. In his view, the Southern master was the black man’s only friend, having true affection for his slaves. He was the parent and the guardian to the black man, who needed to be governed as a child. The infants, the sick and the aged blacks on a plantation were not the master’s property in the common sense of the term. The master had a duty to support them and to see that all their needs were satis¿ed. “What a glorious thing to man is slavery,” wrote Fitzhugh, “when want, misfortune, old age, debility and sickness overtake him.”20 In both his works, Fitzhugh analyzed and extolled the slave society in the Old South by making comparisons with the free society. He de¿ned the latter as one in which “none but the sel¿sh virtues are in repute […]”, where “sel¿shness is almost the only motive of human conduct […].”21 The competitive system of the free society was for Fitzhugh the system of antagonism and war, whereas the slave society was the one of peace and fraternity. The slave was happy, well-fed and properly cared for. The free laborer, by contrast, rarely had a home of his own, he was insecure of employment, and if sickness came, he could be deprived of all means of support. Slavery was a form of protection then, and it amounted to security, the necessary means of support, freedom from competition and struggle, deception, jealousy and immoral conduct.22 In the Southern States, according to the Virginian apologist, “the slaves have advanced much in morality, religion, and intelligence, and their masters and mistresses, living on the farm with them, naturally become attached to them.”23 That emotional attachment, the sense of responsibility and self-interest, in Fitzhugh’s view, secured humane treatment of slaves by the Southern masters, for when treated well, slaves increased in value and numbers. The plantation life was, for Fitzhugh, the “association of labor properly carried out under a common head or ruler,”24 a condition which protected the laborer and provided for him all necessary means needed for the support of himself and his family. Fitzhugh saw the black slave as a dependent creature who needed the protection of the benevolent master. Bondage was a form of custody and, at the same time, power of the stronger individuals over the weaker ones. Subjugation and authority were natural human conditions, arising out of inequality of men. And Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South or the Failure of Free Society, 95. Ibid., 68. 21 Ibid., 24-25. 22 Ibid., 38-39. 23 Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters, 118-119. 24 Fitzhugh, Sociology, 28. 19


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the existence of slavery was justi¿ed as an integral part of a well-organized social structure through numerous references to the history of mankind and to the Bible. The Virginian apologist claimed that throughout history slave societies were highly developed, both politically and economically. He emphasized the responsibility of the enlightened master over his slaves and the slave’s duty to obey the master as prescribed in the Old and the New Testament. Moreover, he reÀected upon the peculiar institution by analyzing the meaning and essence of liberty. Freedom, in his opinion, was “unattainable; and if attainable, not desirable.”25 He referred to the philosophical proposition that man gave up part of his natural liberty upon entering into society and that natural freedom ought to be restrained by human laws as was necessary for the well-being of the public. And he went further by stating that “there can be no liberty where there is government; but there may be security for good government.”26 The blacks were slaves because both the general good and their own good intended them for bondage. They were well-governed and protected, and their interests and needs, as well as those of the society at large, were then best served through the “peculiar institution.” The apologetic rhetoric, as exempli¿ed by the writings of Daniel Hundley and George Fitzhugh, was full of justi¿cations of a social and economic institution that was so deeply rooted in the Old South’s social fabric that it seemed impossible to eradicate. But when all those justi¿cations are closely analyzed, it becomes evident that for the orthodox Southerners themselves the “peculiar institution” was the source of moral doubts and dilemmas. That contributed to the creation of myths about the heroic gentlemen, the happy slaves, and social relations better than anywhere else. Defending the South arose out of the fear of possible change that could shatter the way of life and the Southerner’s sense of pride. The apologist would claim that a genuine gentleman loved his bondmen. The slave was described either as a savage, inferior, contemptible creature that needed to be civilized or as a weak, unfortunate brother who deserved compassion. The black man’s humanity was not denied. But he could not be free. Firstly, because he posed a threat to the white citizens, secondly, because he needed the benevolent protection of the white master. Both Hundley and Fitzhugh claimed that the Southern gentleman did not really own his slaves but he took care of them. And in so doing, he realized a mission for the whole society of the South, not tormented with antagonism and unrest, so typical of a free society. The less well-off or poor whites of the South were despised by the upper class and, at the same time, they were led to elevate their self-pride by the fact that it was the slave who was truly inferior. Individualism was discredited, virtue and wisdom were reserved only to the few. Any student of the Old South and the views of its most prominent spokesmen is confronted with questions about the 25 26

Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, 117. Ibid., 116.


The Southern Gentleman in the Apologetic Rhetoric

Southern society’s nature. Was slavery perceived, by the majority of Southerners, as necessary evil or positive good? Was holding slaves regarded as an af¿rmation of the ego or a kind of misfortune and a burden that the white master had to bear? Did writers like Hundley or Fitzhugh sincerely believe that black people were solely ¿t for bondage and that black slavery ennobled the white man and woman? There is no doubt that Southern conservatism was fraught with prejudice. But, perhaps, that prejudice was not a feature inherent in the Southern man’s nature. Perhaps it arose out the Southern man’s fears, dilemmas and the more or less subconscious feeling that enslaving other human beings was morally wrong. The numerous contradictions in the Southern apologetic rhetoric are a telling proof of that proposition.

Works Cited Primary Sources Calhoun, John C., “A Danger of Disunion (1850),” in American History Told by Contemporaries Vol. 4, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, 48-51. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932. Dew, Thomas Roderick, “The Proslavery Argument (1832),” in American History Told by Contemporaries Vol. 3, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, 597-602. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931. Fitzhugh, George, Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters. Richmond VA: A. Morris, Publisher, 1857.¿tzhughcan/¿tzcan. html (accessed in 1998) Fitzhugh, George, Sociology for the South or the Failure of Free Society. Richmond VA: A. Morris, Publisher, 1854.¿tzhughsoc/¿tzhugh.html (accessed in 1998) Hundley, Daniel R., The Social Relations in Our Southern States. New York: Henry B. Price, 1860. “A Southron Denounces Restriction (1819),” in Major Crises in American History Vol. 1, edited by Leonard Levy, 324-325. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1962. Stringfellow, Benjamin, “Slavery a Positive Good (1854),” in American History Told by Contemporaries Vol. 4, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, 68-71. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932.

Secondary Sources Cash, W.J., The Mind of the South. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1975.


It is a great honor for me to be here in Warsaw. My grandfather, Jacob Sarna, as well as my great-grandfather, Simha Sarna, and my great-great- grandfather, Binyamin Sarna, were born not too many kilometers from here in Lubraniec. Great Grandpa Simha moved to my great-grandmother’s hometown of Konin about 1892, where my grandfather grew up. The Sarnas left Konin for London in 1913, which was enormously fortunate for me. On July 13, 1942, the last remaining Jews of Konin were murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators.2 I am the ¿rst of my immediate family ever to return to Poland. I am most grateful to the Polish Association for American Studies and particularly to Prof. BoĪenna ChyliĔska for making my trip possible. Your conference this year focuses on “Ideology and Rhetoric in the Construction of America.” All nations, Benedict Anderson reminds us, are, to some extent, ideological and rhetorical constructs (Anderson calls them “imagined communities”).3 This is particularly true of a diverse and pluralistic nation like the United States which is continually absorbing new immigrants. Generation after generation, America transforms immigrants, and immigrants, in turn, transform America. That, in a nutshell, is what makes America at once dynamic and contentious. My topic this afternoon, however, is not America as a whole, but rather its Jewish community—itself something of an imagined community. Jews in America today number 5-6 million (less than 2% of the American population).4 Some of these Jews have deep roots in the country dating all the way back to the colonial era. Others are themselves recent immigrants from the Former Soviet Union or elsewhere. 1 This essay is based on a keynote lecture which Professor Sarna delivered at the convention of the Polish Association for American Studies, organized by Prof. BoĪenna ChyliĔska from the University of Warsaw, and held in Warsaw, Poland, in October 2006. 2 On the Jews of Konin, see Richmond, Konin: A Quest; for the Sarnas, see Sarna Araten, Jacob Sarna Here and There, 5-13. 3 Anderson, Imagined Communities. 4 For recent estimates, see American Jewish Year Book 105 (2005), 101-104.


America as It Ought to Be

The vast majority fall somewhere in the middle; more often than not, their ancestors arrived on America’s shores during the ¿rst quarter of the twentieth century (an era of large-scale Jewish immigration). The American Jewish community today is fundamentally pluralistic: it embraces Sephardic Jews whose traditions go back to Iberia; Ashkenazic Jews who trace their traditions to medieval Germany; and Mizrachi (Eastern) Jews who traces their roots to Persia and the Arab states. The American Jewish commuity is also religiously and culturally diverse, embracing a wide spectrum from fervently Orthodox Judaism to militantly secular Judaism and all points in between. It may seem foolhardy to generalize about such a diverse group. Nevertheless, one can discern particular rhetorical themes that recur in American Jewish culture over a long period of time. These themes, I argue, have shaped the community’s worldview, notwithstanding the fact that rhetoric and reality have diverged more than most people are willing to admit. Jewish beliefs about America, even if not quite borne out by evidence, reÀect American Jews’ most ardent hopes and desires. They reveal much about the America that Jews would like to construct. I am going to focus here on three such themes, all of them characterized by the following: (1) they began prior to the Civil War and continued past World War II; (2) they were not con¿ned to any one group of Jews (Reform, Orthodox etc.) but spanned the religious and political spectrum; (3) they helped Jews to de¿ne for themselves and for others what made the American Jewish community distinct or exceptional—different, at least in its own eyes, from Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East; and (4) they idealized America, revealing far more about Jewish aspirations and dreams than about the realities of American life. The ¿rst rhetorical theme is the boast that in America even a Jew can be President of the United States—this is what I like to call “the myth of the Jewish President.5 Like many myths, its roots are ¿rmly grounded in a great truth: the fact that the United States Constitution in Article VI declares that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Quali¿cation to any Of¿ce or public Trust under the United States.” This was a landmark in religious liberty. Every major country in the world, when the Constitution came into effect, including England, did require of¿ceholders to take some kind of religious oath (“on the faith of a Christian”), thereby effectively barring Jews from public of¿ce.6 Even as they granted Jews legal equality, however, America’s founders considered the idea of a Jewish President to be as unlikely as the idea of a Muslim President—indeed, in the public mind, the two were frequently linked.7 In 1788, when the Constitution was being debated in North Carolina, its governor, Samuel See Sarna, “The Myth of the Jewish President,” 143-144. The Founders’ Constitution, 633-647, esp. 639. 7 See Spellberg, “Could A Muslim Be President,” 485-506. 5 6

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Johnston, discussed and largely dismissed the possibility that “Jews, Mahometans, pagans, &c.” might ever be elected to “the of¿ce of President or other high of¿ce.”8 Most Americans apparently agreed, which is why the very few Jews who actually ran for public of¿ce during America’s ¿rst century experienced quite substantial prejudice. Nevertheless, Jews exalted in the hope that in America a Jew could be President—the theory was far more important than the practice. In 1807, for example, Myer Moses assured an audience at the Charleston Hebrew Orphan asylum that “any among us may rise to the ¿rst of¿ces in our country should we have talents and popularity to lead us to those places of honor and emolument.” He even cherished the fond hope that from among the young Jewish orphans there might spring a George Washington or a Thomas Jefferson!9 In 1823, Mordecai Noah, the New York Jewish editor and politician, humorously offered himself as the ¿rst Jewish President. “It would be an unanswerable proof of the perfect freedom of our political institutions, “ he wrote. It would mark “the arrival of that very millennium for which we have been many years praying and paying.”10 In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Protestant novelists Joseph Holt Ingraham, impressed by Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, ruminated about a Jewish President (“Would any man refuse to vote for him because he is a Jew?”).11 A Jewish President became the subject of American novels in 1913 and 1978.12 In 1964, Barry Goldwater, who was of Jewish descent, actually did run for president on the Republican ticket (prompting the humorist Harry Golden to quip that he always knew the ¿rst Jewish president would be an Episcopalian).13 By the late 20th century, identifying Jews talked seriously of actually becoming America’s ¿rst Jewish president.14 And in the famous 2000 election, an Orthodox Jew, Senator Joseph Lieberman, almost did become vice-president.15 But for all of the speculations and jokes concerning the ¿rst Jewish president, no Jew has ever risen to that position. Time and again, rhetoric and reality diverged. The myth—or hope—that a Jew could become President of the United States nevertheless remains important. “America is different,” the myth cries out; in Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions, 198-200; Sarna and Dalin, Religion and State, 75-77. 9 Moses, An Oration Delivered Before the Hebrew Orphan Society, 7. Italics added. 10 National Advocate, Oct 10, 1823, 2 c.2; see Sarna, Jacksonian Jew, 43-44. 11 Harap, The Image of the Jew in American Literature, 58; see Ingraham, The Sunny South, 307-308. 12 Copley, The Impeachment of President Israels; Halberstam, The Wanting of Levine. 13 As quoted in Will, “The Thinking Person’s Choice.” 14 See, for example, New York borough president Andrew Stein as quoted in New York Times Magazine, 6 November 1977, 47. 15 See my comments in Forward, August 11, 2000, 3. 8


America as It Ought to Be

America the highest of¿ce in the land—the seat of power—is open to Jews. This symbolizes to American Jews their equality and unlimited potential. It helps Jews and Christians coexist in a nation where both assume that anything and everything is possible. It reinforces deeply held beliefs concerning American exceptionalism. “Only in America,” Senator Lieberman declared when he was nominated.16 While something of an exaggeration—Jews have also attained high of¿ce in countries stretching from Austria to Singapore—his comment reÀects a widely-felt sense that the history of Judaism in America is both special and distinct.. By repeating that a Jew “can” be president of the United States, Jews suppress the question as to why, after so many years, that still has not happened. A second theme that recurs in Jewish writing about America is separationism: the belief that in America—more than anywhere else where Jews have settled, more, indeed, than in contemporary Israel—a high wall separates religion from the state. This belief too is rooted in a great truth: the First Amendment to the United States Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The phrase “wall of separation” does not appear in the Constitution—contrary to what many Jews believe—but it is found in an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association, and has subsequently been invoked by the U.S. Supreme Court.17 Jews have regularly touted First Amendment guarantees as proof that America is different. As early as 1825, a Jewish immigrant named Aaron Phillips wrote back to his relatives in Bavaria that “Here we are all the same, all the religions are honored and respected and have the same rights.”18 More recently, Charles Liebman and Jonathan Woocher have described belief in the separation of church and state as part of the “civil religion” of American Jews, arousing their “deepest loyalties and passions.”19 Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all of this rhetoric, Jews have long understood that American society is a heavily Christian society, and as a result many of its norms are Christian as well. To this day, for example, numerous states restrict commercial activities on Sunday in deference to the culture of the majority. These so-called blue laws date back to the colonial Puritans who, as part of their religious A ¿lm about Lieberman’s candidacy carried this same title; for information see http:// (accessed November 27, 2006). 17 Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (January 1, 1802) is reprinted in Wilson and Drakeman, Church and State in American History, 78-79; and was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township 330 U.S. 1 (1947) at 16. 18 Quoted in Sarna, American Judaism, 65. 19 Liebman, “Reconstructionism in American Jewish Life,” American, 68; Woocher, Sacred Survival, 94-95. 16

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


teachings greatly strengthened observance of the Sunday Sabbath prohibiting both work and recreation on that day. Religious motivations underlay these regulation— many of which explicitly referred to Sunday as “Lord’s Day”—but they also came to be defended on the basis of social justice: they guaranteed all workers a day of rest and the freedom to attend church. Still, Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, and others who observe Saturday as the day of rest suffered harshly under these laws for well over a century. Where most Americans worked six days a week, they could work only ¿ve. On Saturday they rested to uphold the demands of the Lord, and on Sunday they rested to uphold the demands of the state. Immigrant and poor Jews faced a stark choice: they could either violate the tenets of their faith (by working on Saturday), or they could starve.20 In 1838, Philadelphia Jews in a memorial (that exists only in a draft) questioned “the right and propriety” of a “majority, in a republican country [like America], to impose religious obligations upon the minority.” They sought to “prohibit any future Legislature from imposing any ¿ne, or other penalties, upon Jews or other observers of the seventh day.”21 But to no avail. Over and over, Jewish efforts to overturn these laws, or to gain exemption from them, came to naught. State legislatures, state courts, and in 1961, the United States Supreme Court itself, upheld Sunday closing laws as legal. Only the advent of the ¿ve day week and pressure from large-scale merchants led to the repeal, in recent years, of many of these laws, but by no means all of them What I ¿nd so signi¿cant is that these age-old laws, for all of the hardship that they wrought upon observant Jews, made almost no dent in Jewish rhetoric concerning religious liberty. Steadfastly, the bulk of Jews committed themselves to separationist ideals. Realities, unpleasant as Jews may have found them, did not alter their perception of what America should be. They talked as if the “wall of separation” were a reality rather than a dream. One can witness this same curious behavior, to this day, with respect to the American national holiday of Christmas. Christmas, remember, is the only overtly Christian holiday that is a national holiday in the United States. It possesses special legal status: on Christmas, banks and commercial stores are closed and no mail is delivered. Non-Christians, like Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians who do not celebrate Christmas or celebrate it at another time—inevitably feel left out. However much Jews may imagine and argue that the Constitution separates religion and state by a high wall of separation, the annual celebration of Christmas in the United States seems to prove otherwise.22 20 Sarna and Dalin, Religion and State, 139-165; Finkelman, Religion and American Law, passim. 21 Sarna and Dalin, Religion and State, 141-142. 22 Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas; Sarna and Dalin, Religion and State, 216-223.


America as It Ought to Be

Through the years, Jews have responded to Christmas in diverse ways. Some celebrated Christmas as a national holiday, with gift-giving and a tree, but without ascribing any religious signi¿cance to the holiday. The great Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, celebrated Christmas this way. In 1900, he reassured his young daughters, who were away visiting relatives in New York, that “the Christmas tree and Santa Claus are very anxious to see you.”23 Others have ¿rmly rejected Christmas. “The observance of the day which marks the birth of the Savior,” the American Jewish Congress insisted in 1946, “is nothing and can be nothing but a Christian religious holiday.”24 Of course, this fails to explain how, in a country where church and state are supposedly separated, Christmas managed to become a national holiday in the ¿rst place. Still others magni¿ed the Jewish half-holiday of Chanukah into a kind of substitute for Christmas, with Chanukah candelabra standing opposite Christmas trees, even though Chanukah in America is not a national holiday nor does it always coincide with the Christmas season. Perhaps the most telling of all Jewish responses to Christmas is the well-known practice of escaping—to the movies, to a resort, anywhere where Christmas can be put out of mind. In so doing, Jews do not just hide from the widespread celebration of a holiday which is not theirs, they also, I believe, hide from the challenge that Christmas poses to their understanding of America itself. On all other days of the year, Jews may be able to make the case that church and state are utterly separate in America, but not on Christmas. On December 25th, more than on any other day, Jewish rhetoric and American realities diverge.25 This brings me to the third and ¿nal rhetorical theme that has shaped the American Jewish community’s worldview: the claim (I take this from an article on Jewish civil religion) that “There is nothing incompatible between being a good Jew and a good American, or between Jewish and American standards of behavior. In fact for a Jew, the better an American one is the better Jew one is.”26 I have elsewhere described this as the “cult of synthesis in American Jewish culture,” the belief that Judaism and Americanism reinforce one another, the two traditions converging in a common path.27 The roots of this idea are easily traced all the way back to the Puritans, who, for their own reasons and within a de¿nite supersessionist framework, linked their experiences with those of the Israelites of old, and over time helped to de¿ne America in terms drawn from the Hebrew Bible. The compatibility that they found between The Family Letters of Louis D. Brandeis, 85. Congress Weekly, December 20, 1946, 3-4, as quoted in Sarna, “Is Judaism Compatible with American Civil Religion?” in Religion and the Life of the Nation, 160. 25 Sarna, “Is Judaism Compatible With American Civil Religion,” 152-173. 26 Liebman, “Reconstructionism in American Jewish Life,” 68. 27 Sarna, “The Cult of Synthesis in American Jewish Culture,” 52-79; parts of what follows are drawn from this article. 23


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


themselves and the Jews (“New England they are like the Jews as like as like can be”28) was largely typological in nature with the Jews representing the past, and their conversion the promise of the future. Still the nexus between America and Jew had been established. American Jews began to draw on these themes for their own purposes in the nineteenth century. Mordecai Noah, the early 19th century American Jewish leader whom we have already quoted on the presidency, argued on several occasions, in speeches directed to Christians, that the American Indians were originally Jews— descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. He also linked the Puritans to the Jews. In a letter inviting Senator Daniel Webster to a Jewish charity dinner, for example, he reminded the Massachusetts senator that “your Puritan ancestors lived, a hundred years ago, under the Mosaic laws and Àourished under the same government to which David and Solomon added power, glory and splendor.”29 These writings provide early examples of the political use of synthesis to legitimate Jews’ place in America and to demonstrate their patriotism and sense of belonging. The American Jewish Historical Society, founded in 1892, privileged the goal of synthesis above all others, pointing to the role of Jews in the founding of America, in the colonial era, in the American Revolution and so forth. The Society put forward a “Jewish” reading of American history that strengthened the faithful in their belief that Americanism and Judaism walked happily hand-in-hand.30 Sermons reinforced this cult. One example among many I have collected is an 1891 address by Cincinnati’s Rabbi David Philipson, entitled “Judaism and the Republican Form of Government.” “Judaism,” it concludes, “is in perfect harmony with the law of the land; the two agree perfectly because they can never come into conÀict.”31 Later twentieth century American Jewish thinkers scarcely deviated from these ideas. Arnold Eisen shows that such diverse American Jewish religious leaders as Leo Jung, Samuel Belkin, Abba Hillel Silver, Jacob Rader Marcus, Nelson Glueck, Louis Finkelstein, Simon Greenberg and Robert Gordis all argued in various ways for the compatibility of Judaism and American democracy.32 The pre-eminent twentieth-century exemplar of American Jewish synthesis was the aforementioned U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Zionist leader Louis D. Brandeis. In the American Jewish imagination, he came to embody the pinnacle of Folger, A Looking Glass for the Times (1676) as quoted in Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad, 77. 29 Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society I11 (1903), 186-187; see Sarna, Jacksonian Jew, 135-137. 30 Sarna, “Cult of Synthesis,” 55; Gurock, “From Publications to American Jewish History, 165-172; Robinson, “The Invention of American Jewish History,” 309-320. 31 Philipson, “Judaism and the Republican Form of Government,” 53. 32 Eisen, The Chosen People in America, 36-40. 28


America as It Ought to Be

this ideal. Memorializing Brandeis in the American Jewish Year Book, the Zionist leader and jurist Louis E. Levinthal referred to synthesis over and over: “It was in his very being that these two—Americanism and Jewishness—were synthesized,” he wrote of Brandeis. “He was a synthesis of two worlds.”33 American Jewish naming patterns, holiday commemorations, and folk art have similarly reÀected the cult of synthesis. All paid rhetorical tribute to the proposition that the dual identities of the American Jew, simultaneously American and Jewish, were complementary and mutually enhancing. The rhetoric served as the medium through which Jews de¿ned both for themselves and for others “the promise of American life”—a projection of the world as they wished it to be.34 Reality, we have seen, was far more complicated. Christmas reminded Jews that they were a religious minority. So did the Jewish high holidays, in the fall, when a Jewish baseball player like Sandy Koufax famously had to decide whether to observe the sacred Jewish fast day of Yom Kippur or to pitch in the baseball world series scheduled for that day. (He picked Yom Kippur and his team lost the game.)35 So, too, perhaps, did the fact that no Jew has ever been elected President. So more broadly, do political issues and cultural issues, and even the question of whom to marry. All belie the easy synthesis that rhetoric forged. All highlight tensions between assimilation and identity, between being an American and being a Jew. Yet it would, I believe, be a mistake simply to dismiss these great rhetorical themes of American Jewish life as delusion and fantasy. They are too deeply rooted, too widespread, too sacred, too hegemonic (in Gramscian terms36) to be trivialized or brushed aside. At a deep level, they represent the exultant hopes of the American Jewish community: the conviction that in America, more than anywhere else in the diaspora, Jews can win acceptance as equals. The America that Jews describe is, in the ¿nal analysis, not America as it is, but America as Jews think it ought to be: an America where religion and state are separated, an America where Judaism is on a par with all other faiths, an America where the loyalty and patriotism of Jews are unquestioned, an America where Jews too can dream that their child will grow up to be President of the United States. Reality?—Not yet. But for America’s Jews, this does represent a noble, indeed a sustaining dream.

Levinthal, “Louis Dembitz Brandeis,” 49, 51; see Sarna, “The Greatest Jew in the World Since Jesus Christ, 346-364. 34 Sarna, “Cult of Synthesis,” 60-75. 35 Leavy, Sandy Koufax, 169-195. 36 Williams, Keywords, 117-118; Hall, “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,” 5-27. 33

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Works Cited American Jewish Year Book, 105(205):101-104. Anderson, Benedict, ImaginedCommunities: ReÀections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism(New York: Verson, 1991). Congress Weekly, December 20, 1946:3-4. Copley, Frank, The Impeachment of President Israels (New York, 1913). Eisen, Arnold M., The Chosen People in America: A Study in Jewish Religious Ideology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983). Elliot, J., ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitutions (Washington, D.C., 1888), 4:198-200. The Family Letters of Louis D. Brandeis, eds. Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002). Finkelman, Paul, Religion and American Law: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland, 2000). Fogler, Peter, A Looking Glass for the Times (1676), in Sacvan Berkovitch, The American Jeremiad (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978). The Founders’ Constitutions, eds. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1987), 4:633-647. Gurock, Jeffrey S., “From Publications to American Jewish History: The Journal of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Writing of American Jewish History,” American Jewish History 81 (Winter 1993-94): 165-172. Halberstam, Michael, The Wanting of Levine (New York: Lippincott, 1978). Hall, Stuart, “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,” Journal of Communication Inquiry 10.2 (1986):5-27. Harp, Louis, The Image of the Jew in American Literature From Early Republic to Mass Immigration (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1974). Ingraham, Joseph H., The Sunny South (Philadelphia, 1860). Leavy, Jane, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy( New York: HarperCollins, 2002). Levinthal, Louis E., “Louis Dembitz Brandeis,” American Jewish Year Book 44 (1942-43): 49-51. Liebman, Charles S., “Reconstructionism in American Jewish Life,” American Jewish Year Book 71(1978):68 Moses, Myer, An Oration Delivered Before the Hebrew Orphan Society on the 15th Day of October 1806 (Charleston, 1807). National Advocate, Oct. 10, 1923, 2c.2. New York Times Magazine, 6 November, 1977: 47. Nissenbaum, Stephen, The Battle for Christmas (New York: Vintage, 1997). Philipson, David, “Judaism and the Republican Form of Government,” Year Book of the Central Conference of American Rabbis 2 (1891-1892): 53. Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 111(1903):186-187.


America as It Ought to Be

Richmond, Theo, Konin: A Quest (New York: Pantheon, 1995). Robinson, Ira, “The Invention of American Jewish History,” American Jewish History 81 (Spring-Summer 1994): 309-320. Sarna, Jonathan D., American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004). –––––, “The Cult of Synthesis in American Jewish Culture,” Jewish Social Studies 5 (1998-99): 52-79. –––––, Forward, August 11, 2000:3. –––––, “The Greatest Jew in the World Since Jesus Christ: The Jewish Legacy of Louis D. Brandeis,” American Jewish History 81 (Spring-Summer 1984): 346-364. –––––, “Is Judaism Compatible with American Civil Religion? The Problem of Christmas and the ‘National Faith,’” in Religion and the Life of the Nation, ed. Rowland A. Sherrill (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1990). –––––, Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds of Mordecai Noah (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981). –––––, “The Myth of the Jewish President,” Sh’ma 10/198 (October3, 1980): 143-144 http://www, Sarna Araten, Rachel, Jacob Sarna Here and There (Jerusalem: Gefen). Sarna, Jonathan D. and David G. Dalin, Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997). Spellberg, Denise, “Could A Muslim Be President: An 18th Century Constitutional Debate ,” Eighteenth Century Studies 39: 4(2006): 485-506. Will, George, “The Thinking Person’s Choice” http://www.jewishworldreview. com/cols/ William, Raymond, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976). Wilson, John F. and Donald L. Drakeman, Church and State in American History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987). Woocher, Jonathan S., Sacred Survival: The Civil Religion of American Jews (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).


Any discussion of the development of the Zionist idea would be incomplete without a broader reference to Ahad Ha-Am and his concept of cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am (the penname of Asher Ginzburg , 1856-1927), the thinker and essayist of Zionism whose theory occupies a central position in Jewish national philosophy and education to this day, stands at the crossroads of modern Jewish thought. On the one hand, he was the product of traditional Jewish training, deeply Jewish in his consciousness, with a high regard for Jewish tradition. On the other hand, however, he was well educated in modern secular philosophy. By synthesizing these two systems of thought, Ahad Ha-Am laid the foundations for cultural Zionism, and anticipated two major movements in American Jewish life: Reconstructionism and modern American Jewish education.1 Ahad Ha-Am was born in the Ukraine.2 He belonged to the most prominent aristocracy of the Jewish ghetto and he early became a celebrated scholar of the Talmud and Talmudic literature. Also very early he began studying the works of the modern Hebrew Enlightenment as well as literature and philosophy in Russian and german. Soon he discovered the works of Dmitri I. Pisarev (1840-1868), one of the founders of Russian positivism, un under that inÀuence, while still in his youth, he de¿nitely lost his religious faith. His ¿rst article (“This Is Not the Way”), published in 1889, was signed “Ahad Ha-Am” which in Hebrew means one of the people, the pen name by which he was to be known henceforth. For six years (from 1896), he edited a Hebrew literary journal (Ha-Shiloah), intended as a platform for the discussion of the contemporary problems of Judaism. In 1921, he settled in Palestine. Holding to a position mid-way between the political Zionism of Theodor Herzl, Dushkin Gensler, Ahad Ha-Am. Prophet of Cultural Zionism, 1. Another spelling of his name “Ginzberg,” is also in use. 2 For biographical details, see Dushkin Gensler , Ahad Ha-Am. Prophet of Cultural Zionism; Hertzberg (ed.), The Zionist Idea, 249-251; Laqueur, A History of Zionism, 162-166. 1


Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents

who was his contemporary, and the Jewish nationalism of such non-Zionists as the historian, Simon Dubnow, Ahad Ha-Am offered his own dynamic philosophy of cultural, or spiritual Zionism—a philosophy which signi¿ocantly contributed to Jewish thinking during the ¿rst two decades of the twentieth century, when Zionism was ¿nding its practical expression. He inÀuenced two generations of East European Jewish leaders including Chaim Weizmann who was one of his disciples. It is through such men as Weizmann that modern Zionism has become a synthesis of the Herzlian and Ahad Ha-Amist points of view. The very title of his original volume of essays written in Hebrew, Al Parashat D’rachim (At the Parting of the Ways), pointed to a new path between traditional Judaism and the assimilationist tendencies of enlightened Jews, toward a successful Jewish national life in the Diaspora. His idea of cultural nationalism, and his belief in the continued creativity of the Jewish people everywhere, provided they have a “spiritual center” in Palestine, had a profound impact on the ¿rst generation of “new” Jewish educators in the United States. Ahad Ha-Am’s point of reference was not the crisis in the social and political situation of the Jews, which was the dominant assumption among Jewish intellectuals, but the spiritual crisis of the Jewish people in the Diaspora in view of the contacts of the Jews with alien culture after their emergence from their ghettos. Therefore, his main task and his greatest contribution to modern Jewish thought was to re-valuate the nature of “the Jewish problem.” It is not a problem of anti-Semitism, as Herzl believed, and it is not merely a matter of physical suffering; to Ahad Ha-Am, the fundamental problem of Jewish life was a spiritual one. The theme of Jewish spiritual disintegration appears in all his essays. His is, therefore, a theory subsuming the danger of the continued existence of Judaism. Accordingly, he considered the aim of Zionism not in terms of large-scale concentration in the State of Israel, in the foundation of which he had little faith, but in the creation of a spiritual center radiating its inÀuence to the Jews living in the Diaspora and strengthening in this way their national consciousness. Ahad Ha-Am did not regard the existence of a Jewish majority in Israel as an essential precondition for the creation of such a center. He argued that the heart of the matter was not the salvation of the Jews as individuals, but the rescue of Judaism as a spiritual entity. The social situation of the Jews would improve anyway as a result of the achievement of higher cultural standards and better conditions of living, while the Jewish culture needed a center of inÀuence. Ahad Ha-Am’s political thinking was a strong reÀection of the intellectual atmosphere prevailing at the end of the nineteenth century. His outlook and philosophy were guided by positivism and revealed traces of Darwin, Spencer, Mill and Renan. Darwin’s theory of the gradual evolution of all forms of organic life on earth greatly inÀuenced Ahad Ha-Am’s approach to the question of Jewish spiritual disintegration. He thought of the Jewish people as a living “biological” organism, with both physical and spiritual needs, and with the instinctive “will to live” of ev-

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ery living creature. The essays contain many instances of his tendency to treat the Jewish people as a single biological entity. The following passage demonstrates the most striking analogy: When all the scattered limbs of the national body feel the beating of the national heart […] they will once again draw hear to one another and welcome the incrush of living blood that Àows from the heart.3

From Darwin Ahad Ha-Am borrowed the idea of the will to survive. The crux of the will to survive, however, was not the individual but the national ego, a kind of psychological entity based on the memories of the past and hopes for the Messianic future. All those who reject this Messianic future negate and undermine the existence of this entity. The nation’s will to survive is archetypal and takes precedence over its concrete manifestations, such as religion, language, and territory. Following Spencer he believes that all nationalities are shaped and continue to exist by a quasi-biological will to live but according to him it makes an essential difference whether the dynamism of a nation manifests itself in the quest for power or in the service of the moral ideal. This idea is clearly expressed in the following lengthy quotation from one of essays, entitled “Flesh and Spirit”: The end of man’s life was now, no doubt, the uplifting of the spirit, and the bringing it near to “the God of Spirits.” […] The two elements in man, the physical and the spiritual, can and must live in perfect accord, not as enemies. […] The spiritual element is to penetrate into the very heart of the material life, to purify it and cleanse it, to make all its complex fullness a part of the spiritual life. Such union does not degrade the spirit but uplifts the Àesh. […] In the very earliest times there was in Israel a considerable party which adopted the materialistic view of the national life. The whole aim of this party was to make the body politic dominant above all other interests. […] They neither sought nor desired any other end for the national life. […] The spiritual aspect of the national life had no meaning for them. They were almost ready to desert the spiritual heritage of the nation. […] Against this political materialism the Prophets stood forward in all their spiritual grandeur. […] They did not forget that only the spirit can exalt life, whether individual or national, and give it a meaning and an aim. […] The Prophets, then, simply applied to the national life that principle which Judaism had established for the life of the individual: the unity of Àesh and spirit. […] The aim of life is the perfection of the spirit. […] Spiritually minded men [Jews] deny bodily life to their nation, […] regard its existence as purely spiritual.4 Ahad Ha-Am, “A Spiritual Center,” 204. For a broader discussion of Darwin’s theory in Ahad Ha-Am’s thought, see Kolatt, “Confrontation. Viewpoints on Zionism. Theories on Israel Zionism,” 23-25. 4 Ahad Ha-Am, “Flesh and Spirit,” 149, 150, 152, 153, 156. Emphasis added. 3


Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents

Ahad Ha-Am is thus offering a dual explanation of nationalism: nationalism of power which comprises the gentile world; and juxtaposed to it the nationalism of the spirit, a unique genus of which there is only one species, the Jewish, taught by the early Prophets to respect only the power of the spirit and not to worship material power. These remarks demonstrate Ahad Ha-Am’s conclusions about the unique spiritual vocation of the Jews, whose characteristics make them better ¿tted than the others for moral development and whose life is governed by a moral law superior to the common type of morality. Ahad Ha-Am’s assertion that the Jew is, by nature, alien to the political world made him question not only the possibility of attaining a normal Jewish political state; he also claimed that such a state would never achieve the level of “normality.” His declaration at the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 that even a total concentration of Jewry in Palestine would not solve the Jewish problem, evoked negative feelings. This view is strongly reÀected in his essay entitled “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem,” written shortly after the Congress: A political ideal which is not grounded in our national culture is apt to seduce us from loyalty to our own inner spirit and to beget in us a tendency to ¿nd the path of glory in the attainment of material power and political dominion, thus breaking the thread that unites us with the past and undermining our historical foundation. […] If the political ideal is not attained, it will have disastrous consequences, because we shall have lost the old basis without ¿nding a new one. But even if it is attained under present conditions, when we are a scattered people not only in the physical but also in the spiritual sense—even then, Judaism will be in great danger. Almost all our great men—those, that is, whose education and social position have prepared them to be at the head of a Jewish State—are spiritually far removed from Judaism and have no true conception of its nature and its value. Such men, however loyal to their State and devoted to its interests, will necessarily envisage those interests by the standards of the foreign culture which they themselves have imbibed; and they will endeavor, by moral persuasion or even force, to implant that culture in the Jewish State, so that in the end the Jewish State will be a State of Germans or Frenchmen of the Jewish race. We have even now a small example of this process in Palestine.5

Ahad Ha-Am’s strong attack on Herzl was rooted in an inherent dif¿culty in communication between these two positions, between these two political outlooks. According to Ahad Ha-Am Western political Zionism could be a good thing for the Western Jews who had forgotten all about their tradition. But in Eastern Europe, the political tendency could only be harmful to the moral ideal of spiritual Zionism which Ahad Ha-Am advocated throughout his life. Political Zionism only pretended to bring the Jewish people back to Judaism, however, it ignored all the principal questions of Jewish culture, of its language, literature, and education. Political 5

Ahad Ha-Am, “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem”, 268.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Zionism—Ahad Ha-Am contended—was destined to fail because the majority of Jews would not, for various reasons, emigrate to Palestine. Thus political Zionism would not put an end to the Jewish problem, nor could it help to liquidate or reduce anti-Semitism. The only achievement of Herzlian Zionism could be an increasing respect on the part of other nations and, perhaps, the creation of self-esteem on the part of the Jews themselves, which could help to revive the Jewish national spirit. Yet Ahad Ha-Am doubted whether Jewish national consciousness and self-esteem were strong enough for an assignment of this magnitude. Herzl’s attachment to the hopes of modern, i.e. Western, democratic nationalism paved the way toward his solution of the Jewish problem—Jewish statehood. Here his contribution practically ends. Living far from Jewish life, Herzl was alienated from the spiritual nature and potential of more traditional Jewish society. On the other hand, what was offered by Ahad Ha-Am was his own order of values accentuating the real national problem of Jewry, that is, the necessity of the survival of the Jewish spirit and culture in the modern world. In his view it is not the need of the Jews—the term Ahad Ha-Am uses to de¿ne the content of Herzlian concern— but the need of Judaism that is the only proper subject for the efforts of a Jewish national movement.6 Ahad Ha-Am regarded the unity of Jewish culture as the spiritual—and not merely bio-sociological—common denominator. This quality, in his view, had given Judaism a special status among the national cultures. His criticism of the Diaspora is not directed toward the political and cultural situation but against its spiritual aspects. This situation can be remedied only by the development of a Jewish spiritual center in Israel, which in its way of life will reÀect Jewish culture and will exercise its inÀuence over the Diaspora. Ahad Ha-Am’s sense of a Zionism different from Herzl’s is most clearly expressed in one of his longest essays entitled “The Spiritual Revival.” Originally an address on “the question of culture,” delivered before the general meeting of the Russian Zionists in the summer of 1902 in Minsk, and later published in HaShiloah, it was a plea for greater attention to “cultural work” on the part of the Zionist organization: It is not a mere accident that the question of Jewish culture has come to the front with the rise of “political” Zionism. Zionism […] existed before, but it knew nothing of any problem of culture. […] Every true lover of Zionism must realize the danger which it incurs through the diffusion of the idea that it has no concern with anything except diplomacy and ¿nancial transactions, and that all internal national work is a thing apart, which has no lot or position in Zionism itself. If this idea gains general acceptance, it will end by bringing Zionism very low indeed. It will make Zionism an empty, meaningless phrase. […] We demand a clear and explicit statement that On Ahad Ha-Am’s Citicism of Herzlian Zionism, see Hertzberg (ed.), The Zionist Idea, 51.



Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents

work for the revival of the national spirit and the development of its products is of the very essence of Zionism, and that Zionism is unconceivable without such work.7

He concluded that “to lay the foundations of a spiritual ‘refuge’ for our national culture demands perhaps preparations no less elaborate, and resources no less extensive, than to lay the foundations of a material refuge for persecuted Jews.”8 Since a single organization is not capable of coping with both political and cultural work, he argued, the latter should be entrusted to a new organization specially established for the purpose, which would be entirely independent of, but would work in close cooperation with, the Zionist Organization. This far-reaching proposal suggests that he, by that time, had abandoned all hope that the political Zionist leaders might be persuaded to take cultural work seriously.9 Ahad Ha-Am’s main concern was the need for Judaism and his major task was to reconcile the values of Judaism and secular culture. After all, his religious faith had been shaken by his secular studies, his intellectual guides, Darwin, Spencer, and the positivists, had become the secularist substitute for theology. From this philosophy, therefore, stems his attempt to formulate Jewish nationhood not in religious terms, but at the same time not to negate cultural tradition. From Jewish tradition he chose certain positive features, such as the Hebrew language, neglecting all others. All manifestations of Jewish creativity, in all periods, were to be cast into a national and not religious system. Yet his philosophy does not entail the total elimination of religion as one of the principal attributes of the Jewish people. He appeals for a new approach to Jewish religious tradition that would be as “positive” as the old doctrine had been in its day. He asks for a “new Maimonedes,” a Jewish religious thinker who would be able to re-codify Jewish tradition by interpreting Jewish history in the light of the changing needs of the Jewish people throughout the centuries. Therefore, his prescription for reviving the failing spirit of a nation “caught” between two opposing forces, emancipation and tradition, was to promote a “middle system,” which would incorporate both the old and the new in a single, positive form, the system which had as its focal point the ideal of Jewish national renaissance and free spiritual development.10 What is perhaps characteristic of the fate of Jewish nationalism as propagated by Ahad Ha-Am is that the conclusions coming from this philosophy—so radical in its theoretical concept of nationalism—are so minimal politically. This political minimalism as well as the distinction he drew between the fate of the Jewish individual and that of the general body of Jews were strongly rejected by many of Ahad Ha-Am, “The Spiritual Revival,” 253, 258. Ibid., 293. 9 Simon, Ahad Ha-Am. Asher Ginzberg. A Biography, 178. 10 On this point, see Dushkin Gensler, Ahad Ha-Am. Prophet of Cultural Zionism. 7 8

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


his contemporaries, Zionists and non-Zionists alike. Nationalism based on abstract will, separated from institutional forms, is characteristic of the theory of Jewish nationalism, seeking to interpret the existence of a nation lacking external attributes. All vicissitudes in the destiny and culture of the Jews were conceived by Ahad Ha-Am as manifestations of the Darwinian will to survive—be they monotheism, Messianism, and Zionism.11 Ahad Ha-Am was not concerned with the political crisis facing the Jews but with the cultural crisis of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. He openly admitted that he had no remedy for the salvation of the Jews as individuals, but was only preoccupied with the rescue of Jewish culture and Judaism. In 1902, he wrote: “We have in the ¿rst place to perfect the body of culture which the Jewish people has created in the past, and to stimulate its creative power to fresh expression; and in the second place to raise the cultural level of the people in general, and to make its objective culture the subjective possession of each of its individual members.”12 Thus a spiritual center in Palestine, a creative Hebraic culture and an evolutionary approach to the Jewish religion constituted Ahad Ha-Am’s formula for reviving Jewish life. Interestingly, Ahad Ha-Amism became for many the equivalent of what the Vatican represents for Roman Catholics, and was understood by some as an alternative to the idea of a Jewish state.13 He believed that a Jewish state in Palestine could not fully supply the “physical” needs of the Jewish people since it would not be able to absorb all Jews. However, the establishment of Palestine as a “spiritual center,” from which Jews living in the Diaspora could gain strength and inspiration, would supply their “psychological needs.” Ahad Ha-Am’s sole interest was the cultural center. Yet, while he was pointing to the spiritual poverty of Western Jews, his own concepts of nation and nationalism were not in the Jewish tradition, but shaped by Western political thought. He wrote about the future of Jewish culture in isolation from political, social, and economic factors as if it were possible to build or revive a culture in a vacuum. Much of Ahad Ha-Am’s early career was spent on arguing that Jewish colonization in Palestine should proceed in an orderly way (Herzl’s actions were much more spontaneous and based on much less carefully reasoned premises) with the maximum of legal safeguards for the settlers that could be obtained from disintegrating Turkey. As one of the close friends and most intimate advisors to Chaim Weizmann during the negotiations with the British Cabinet for the promulgation of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and throughout the later discussions at Versailles,

Kolatt, “Confrontation. Viewpoints on Zionism.Theories on Israel Zionism,” 24. Ahad Ha-Am, “The Spiritual Revival,” 261. 13 On this point, see Laqueur, A History of Zionism, 165. 11



Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents

he kept pressing for the broadest and most precise de¿nitions of the Jewish right to Palestine. That, too, was true of his distrust of the political world and power. Ahad Ha-Am’s main concern, however, was the inner scene of Jewry. Here, too, his outlook is marked by lack of trust. Jewish history, as he saw it, had not only been the struggle of the Jew to survive in a hostile gentile world; internally, too, Jewry had always lived in tension between the traditional Jewish values represented by its true elite, and the disintegrating forces represented by those desirous of Western culture. The ¿rst requirement for those Jews who were destroying their own culture would be to rediscover the past of their own people, to revivify the human elements in the Jewish tradition itself, to rehabilitate Judaism as a civilization.14 Ahad Ha-Am’s view of the apparent connection between the Jewish religious tradition and the survival of the Jewish people was based on his essentially metaphysical belief in “the spirit” as the permanent reality behind the phenomena of human history, and, in particular, of Jewish history. He saw the continuous working of the “national spirit” as the guarantee of the national existence. In an independent Jewish life, emancipated both from the limitations of the ghetto and from slavery in freedom,15 the equivalent of assimilation, religious reform would proceed along lines determined by the spirit and character of the Jewish people. Out of this philosophy came the doctrine of the “national spiritual center,” in which the secular and religious aspects of Jewish nationalism were blended. The concepts of a “spiritual center” and of a Jewish state are not incompatible in Ahad Ha-Am’s philosophy. He himself believed that only when the Jews of Palestine owned most of the land and became a majority of the population, would Palestine serve as a true spiritual center for the Diaspora. For only under a Jewish state could Jews control the institutions and shape the cultural life of the country: “ If, as we hope, the future holds for Israel yet a third national existence, we may believe that the fundamental principle of individual as of national life will be neither the sovereignty of the Àesh over the spirit, nor the annihilation of the Àesh for the spirit’s sake , but the uplifting of the Àesh by the spirit.”16 However, Ahad Ha-Am never lost sight of his conception of the Jewish State not as an end in itself, but as a “means” to the end of reviving Jewish life everywhere. The immediate root of Ahad Ha-Am’s philosophy was in his class position. His family belonged to the highest aristocracy within the vanishing Jewish ghetto. The more recent inner history of the ghetto had largely turned on the conÀict between the dominant minority which included the well-born as well as the scholars of the religious orientation (whom the rich generally respected and obeyed), and the maSimon, Ahad Ha-Am. Asher Ginzberg. A Biography, 162. Ahad Ha-Am’s Hebrew article, “Slavery in Freedom,” ranks among the best of his writings. It appeared in English translation in Selected Essays. 16 Ahad Ha-Am, “Flesh and Spilit,” 158. 14


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


jority, that is the masses. This class war was a signi¿cant factor that shaped much of modern Jewish history, and the resultant tensions have not yet disappeared. Accordingly, Ahad Ha-Am, an aristocrat, believed that Jewish history had always been and would remain the story of his class. Yet, this theory of Jewish spiritual nationalism is very often self-contradictory and ambivalent; he attempted to defend the preeminence of his class but, on the other hand, the greatness and signi¿cance of the Jewish past prevented him from abandoning the masses for the sake of an isolated, mysterious higher spirituality of the few. And when in his agnosticism “the man of the spirit” won over “the man of the spirit of God,” Ahad Ha-Am, a true aristocrat, remained to ¿ght with his own class for respect for, and obedience to his values. In this Ahad Ha-Am followed the nineteenth-century age of revolution which had ended the signi¿cance of the nobility and the clergy within European society. The Jewish equivalent of this event was a rebellion against the old elite led by the scholars of the synagogue. One of the effects of this rebellion was that the rabbis’ teaching was replaced by a more secular stance and the secular achievement. The other equally important result of this new standard was the rise of an intellectual class, highly regarded by Jewry because of its deep interest in the Jewish situation. The dominant philosophy of this new elite was to demonstrate that the Jewish past belonged to a Western , that is, modern civilization, like its Latin or Greek counterpart. Theodor Herzl , coming at the end of the century, is a signi¿cant part of this process. Both the newly enriched Jewish bourgeoisie and the new intelligentsia, were the most visible creations of the emancipation. For Ahad Ha-Am, however, both the bourgeoisie and those secular intellectuals regarded as dangerous radicals, were clearly the enemy of his class. Yet the second half of the nineteenth century produced a new enemy to the class for which Ahad Ha-Am spoke. Especially after the revolutions of 1848, the masses—the explosive product of the revolution—stepped onto the stage of history. In their protest they followed the phraseology of the French Revolution that society should be organized for the sake of the many, and from this assertion came the conviction that true leaders were not the well-born or intellectual but the men of the people. This political role was thus open to everybody, even to Jews. Ahad Ha-Am, “the agnostic rabbi,”17 was a humanist and a philosopher. His doctrine was essentially passive; it was not a call to reconstruct history, it was rather an attempt to interpret it. His philosophy was “an amalgam of fundamental Jewish beliefs and ideas with the theory of evolution, which he accepted unquestioningly as the key to the interpretation of the phenomenon of social and national life no less than those of the physical universe. […] His was an inherited voice with an acquired Darwinian inÀection.”18 17 18

See Simon, Ahad Ha-Am. Asher Ginzberg. A Biography, 303. Ibid., 280.


Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents

In the early period of American Zionism, that is in the ¿rst decade of the twentieth century, there was a group of the American Zionists considered to be adherents of Ahad Ha-Am. Among them were Solomon Schechter, Max L. Margolis, Max Schloessinger, Israel Friedlaender, and Judah Magnes—the outstanding names among contemporary American cultural Zionists. The most important American Zionist interpreter of Ahad Ha-Am, However, was Friedlaender (1876—1920). He was born in Poland, studied Semitic languages in Berlin, and settled in the United States as late as 1904. He was familiar with European Zionism. He had been the ¿rst to translate, in 1898, Ahad Ha-Am from Hebrew into German, thus introducing Western European readers to Ahad Ha-Am’s doctrine. In 1906, lecturing on Ahad Ha-Am in New York, Friedlaender said: “The views of Ahad Ha-Am on Jewish Culture as the fundamental problem and ultimate goal of our national life reperesent the broadest and deepest that has ever been expressed on this subject, perhaps the broadest and deepest that has been expressed by Ahad Ha-Am himself on any subject.”19 Even though Friedlaender’s exposition of Ahad Ha-Am’s ideas could have been tinged with his (Friedlaender’s) own interpretation and emphasis, and not always accorded with Ahad Ha-Am’s views, Friedlaender worked hard, consciously aiming at accommodating Ahad Ha-Am’s ideas to the new Jewish circumstances in the United States: If Judaism is to be preserved amidst the new conditions, if, lacking as it does, all outward support, it is still to withstand the pressure of the surrounding inÀuences, it must again break the narrow frame of a creed and resume its original function as a culture, as the expression of the Jewish spirit and the whole life of the Jews. It will not con¿ne itself to a few metaphysical doctrines, which affect the head and not the heart, and a few of¿cial ceremonies, which affect neither the head nor the heart, but will encircle the whole life of the Jew and give content and color to its highest functions and activities.20

American cultural Zionists were both spiritually and intellectually adapting to the different American milieu, altering their perception of major Zionist ideas. Accordingly, the views of the American cultural Zionists on the Diaspora—the central concept of European Zionism—differed. Following Ahad Ha-Am’s Àexible position on the future of the Diaspora, Friedlaender “contaminated” his American Zionist colleagues with the idea that America was a suitable place for Jews gradually to create a new center for Judaism: The dif¿culties of reaching the Zionist goal very soon proved far greater than had 19 20

Friedlaender, „Ahad Ha-Am,” 217. Ibid.,269-70.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


been anticipated. […] The Conviction […] gradually gained ground that, even under the most favorable of circumstances, Palestine could only harbor a fraction of the Jewish people, and that the vast bulk of the Jews would still remain in the lands of the Diaspora. […] As a result, a new formula asserted itself: Diaspora plus Palestine. It was the combination between the two extremes of Diaspora existence and Palestine existence. This synthesis, generally called Cultural and Spiritual Zionism, proclaimed that Palestine was indispensable for the continuation of Judaism, for it was the only spot where the spirit of Judaism, undisturbed by conÀicting inÀuences could develop normally and unfold all its hidden possibilities.21

Ahad Ha-Am, a product of Russian Jewry and an exponent of European Zionism, must have remained pessimistic about the Jewish future in the Diaspora. Yet his American adherents detected a “seed of hope” in their country, reading Friedlaender’s approach: “America is destined to become, in the near future, the leading Jewish center of the Diaspora, and […] it is the duty of American Jewry to live up to the obligation placed upon it by history.”22 This obligation became the most attainable goal of American Zionist activities. Friedlaender’s classic statement: “Zionism plus Diaspora, Palestine plus America”23 led him and his Zionist colleagues to America-centered Jewish endeavors, rather than to the Palestine-centered goals of Ahad Ha-Am. Different, too, were the views of the American cultural Zionists on the relationship between the two centers necessary for the development of American Jewry. However, Judah Magnes (1877-1948), an American Reform rabbi, the founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in his letter to Weizmann in 1914, wrote that even without Palestine the Jews as a nation would continue to exist and develop spiritually.24 Another major dissimilarity was in Ahad Ha-Am’s Jewish secular self-de¿nition. He spent his major energies on the needs of Judaism and cast himself in the role of a reconciler, in his own time, of the values of Judaism and secular culture. The agnostic de¿nition that he was proposing for a new Jewish spiritual culture, his attempt to raise the moral and cultural tone of the Jewish national revival, involved him in an ongoing debate with the Orthodox. Religion was for him only a certain form of culture; accordingly, a revived Judaism might, in the future, express itself in forms not necessarily religious. He, therefore, recognized historic Judaism as a national religion, but would not accept the description of Jewish nationalism as a religious nationalism.25 American cultural Zionists, on the other hand, were almost Friedlaender, “The Present Crisis in American Jewry,” 335-6. Friedlaender, Past and Present, IX. 23 Ibid., XI. 24 Friesel, “Ahad Ha-Am in American Zionist Thought,” 137. 25 Simon, Ahad Ha-Am. Asher Ginzberg. A Biography, 290. 21



Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents

all religious. Solomon Schechter (1847-1915), a Romanian Jew, distinguished professor of Hebrew, who came to America in 1902, was opposed to any interpretation of Judaism or Zionism other than the religious: Speaking for myself, Zionism was, and still is, the most cherished dream I was worthy of having. It was beautiful to behold the rise of this mighty bulwark against the incessantly assailing forces of assimilation. […] But this dream is not without its nightmares. For in their struggle to revive the National Sentiment, some of the Zionist spokesmen calling themselves by preference Nationalists, manifested such a strong tendency to detach the movement from all Cultural Zionism. Ahad Ha-Am and His American Adherents religion as can only end in spiritual disaster. […] However […] the aberrations will, let us hope, be swept away quickly enough as soon as their destructive nature is realized by the majority of the Zionists whose central ideas should and will remain, God and His people, Israel.26

There was still one more essential difference in general outlook between Ahad Ha-Am and American Zionists. Ahad Ha-Am, in his agnosticism, showed little concern with broad social progress, popular movements, and political declarations, his greatest interest being in the spiritual poverty of the Jews. On the other hand, however, his American disciples, Friedlaender, Margolis, and Schechter, saw a historic opportunity in creating a new American community. American cultural Zionists accepted the notion of a Jewish center in Palestine that was parallel—not superior to other Jewish centers; they continued to consider themselves as followers of Ahad Ha-Am, ignoring their differences with him. For beyond the differences, they found in Ahad Ha-Am’s theories the problems that were their common concern: the problem of Jewish assimilation, and the fear of the loss of Jewish identity. Most of the American cultural Zionists, while still in Europe, had been dedicated political or spiritual Zionists and remained Zionists when in the United States. Transplanted from their European environment to the new American context, however, their ideologies must have undergone a fundamental change which made them accommodate their new Jewish hopes to their old Zionist beliefs. Although the differences between Ahad Ha-Am and Zionism were clearly visible, his inÀuence—through his American adherents—on both American Zionism and American Judaism, cannot be ignored. Ha-Amism was gradually accepted by most American Jewry and in many ways became a life force of the American Jewish consciousness.


Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers, XII-XIII.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Works Cited Primary Sources Ahad Ha-Am. “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem.” In The Zionist Idea. A Historical Analysis and Reader, ed. Arthur Herzberg, 262-280. New York: Atheneum, 1986. –––––. “Flesh and Spirit.” In Selected Essays, 137-168. Philadelphia: The Zionist Essays Publication Committee, 1912. –––––. “Slavery in Freedom.” In Selected Essays, 90-109. –––––. “A Spiritual Center.” In Selected Essays, 201-219. –––––. “ The Spiritual Survival.” In Selected Essays, 251-293. Friedlaender, Israel. “Ahad Ha-Am.” Paper read at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, February 8, 1906. Reprinted in I. Friedlaender, Past and Present, 217-270. Cincinnati: The Zionist Essays Publication Committee, 1919. –––––. “The Present Crisis in American Jewry.” First published as an article in 1915. Reprinted in Past and Present, 333-349. Schechter, Solomon. Seminary Addresses and Other Papers. Cincinnati: The Zionist Essays Publication Committee, 1915.

Secondary Sources Dushkin Gensler, Kinnerth, Ahad Ha-Am. Prophet of Cultural Zionism. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1949. Friesel, Evyatar. “Ahad Ha-Amism in American Zionist Thought.” In At the Crossroads: Essays on Ahad Ha-Am, ed. Jacques Kornberg, 119-137. Albany: W.W.Norton & Company, 1983. Kolatt, Israel. “Confrontation. Viewpoints on Zionism. Theories on Israel Zionism.” Dispersion and Unity, No. 7/1967: 21-26. Laqueur, Walter. A History of Zionism. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. Simon, Leon. Ahad Ha-Am. Asher Ginzberg. A Biography. New York:Pantheon, 1960.



To quote from George Bernard Shaw’s famous statement made more famous by the late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not’?” This perspective, I suggest, ¿ts well into the critical synopsis of 20th century American legal literature and rhetoric. America’s legal establishment is a community of believers. Clearly, this is reÀected in its literature. More curiosity, even skepticism, seems to be needed. The “Crits” added skepticism. What is American “legal literature” anyway? It would have to include the United States Constitution and the 50 state constitutions. The one has not changed very much since the late 18th century. Some state constitutions have changed frequently and considerably, usually adding more pages periodically. Still, constitutions are not written every day or month or year. Many would include in legal literature Federal and state statutes together with a myriad of “bills” that have been introduced into various legislative bodies without passage. Typically these are ignored whether they pass or fail to be enacted. What counts is the “judicial review” of them in the courts, especially the United States Supreme Court. Arguably, the two primary examples of modern and especially post-modern American “legal” literature are appellate judicial decisions, known as “case law,” and the content of American “law reviews” that consists generally of articles (written by judges, law professors, and law practitioners) plus the reviews of legal literature and “notes” (written by law students). A major shortcoming of law review content is that, far more often than not, it is reactive to case law, very seldom proactive. This is consistent with the thesis that the American legal community accepts case law as believers, with only minor challenge. This is far different from American “social” literature, obviously, where from at least as far back as the 19th century’s “Naturalist” Period authors mocked aspects of their contemporary American society that they deemed to be degenerative or exploitive, if not directly than by means of dialogue, imagery and plot outcomes all intended to shock the collective consciences of the readership and, ultimately, to provoke social change and social justice.


Twentieth-Century American Legal Literature in Perspective

Seldom is much of the body of legal literature made available even to lawyers. The late Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson lamented that literature reÀecting the legislative intent of the United States Congress is made available only to “the lawyers of the capital or the most prosperous of¿ces in the large cities” and that problems of its unavailability were not emphasised signi¿cantly in American legal literature of his era. In the 1980s, some apologists have written that technology has made an “anachronism” of Justice Jackson’s “Lament.”1 One problem with American legal literature is that, almost always, it is written by one exclusive group for another (slightly less) exclusive group. For example, case law is authored by jurists (usually written by their law clerks) for law faculty, lawyers and legislators (many legislators are lawyers). Most law review articles are written by law school faculty (law “professors” regardless of their rank) for members of the practising bar (lawyers) and law students. Seldom does the “lay” public read much of this literature, and almost never does it get to write any. Unlike professional literature published in the journals of other disciplines, American legal literature is not really “refereed” as such, not by “peers” and certainly not “blindly.” It is a club. It is dif¿cult, to say the least, and maybe even impossible for a normal person, even a normal academic, to publish an article in America’s conventional law journals, particularly the prestigious ones. Functionally, publication of an article in a modern American law review is by invitation. It follows, therefore, that the guest writes what the host wishes to read. This is exactly the opposite of what literary critics are expected to do in other genres, such as book reviews, and critiques of movies, music, and the theatre, and especially in the political commentary literature. Generally, law review articles and literature reviews are edited by law review students under the supervision of law faculty who have hand selected them to begin with from among the pool of second and third year law students holding the highest grades, and whose favour and largesse will be required to enable these chosen students to graduate, obtain judicial clerkships, and secure lucrative employment. In fact, the law clerks to appellate judges who will write most case law have been hand picked by senior law faculty teaching at elite law schools. Many will become America’s future the appellate jurists. Consider, as but one example, Chief Justice John G. Roberts’ clerkship for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist who in turn had clerked for Justice Robert H. Jackson. In many respects, this is professional incest. Where it leads is to an inferior judiciary. Where are the “great” and “near great” [SIC] justices or lower court judges of the 21st century or the last quarter of the 20th century? Who really has followed in the moral or innovative footsteps of Marshall, Storey, Holmes, Hughes, Cardozo, Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, Jackson Wald, „Some Observations on the Use of Legislative History in the 1981 Supreme Court,” 195, 200. 1

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


or Warren? No one at all. Weak authors produce light literature that fails to spawn dynamic innovation. This is not an argument for judicial “activism” at all. The literature of judicial “restraint” can be at least as dynamic, if not more so. Unfortunately, as a rule, it is not. Until the decade of the 1970s and the beginning of the post-modern period in American literature generally, American legal literature largely followed two accepted pathways: legal formalism and legal instrumentalism. The former, akin to “a law of rules” and to “strict constructionism” as a constitutional doctrine, frowned on judges making their own interpretation of any Constitutional provision or statute. The latter is the root of “the rule of law” and “liberal constructionism” that would allow jurists to “update” the law creatively and periodically, to promote civil liberties and achieve substantive justice, or to respond to social change. Some feel that today, apart from the rhetoric, there is about as much real difference between formalism and instrumentalism as there is between modern Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates! The cast will change, the outcomes are parallel and poor. Then, during the 1970s, a major alternative theme emerged in the legal literature, begining at least with Duncan Kennedy’s publication of “The Structure of Blackstone’s Commentaries.”2 This had almost as heavy an impact on American legal literature as had the act the English Commonwealth Parliament had passed on 22 November 1650, changing all British laws into English whereas, until then, Latin had been the language of public records, and French the language of court pleadings. What emerged in the 1970s was a legal literature movement that became known, alternatively, as “Critical Legal Studies” (“CLS”) or “Critical Legal Theory” (“CLT”). In time, these writers, known as “Crits,” were joined by a subset of CLT that became labeled “Critical Race Theory” (“CRT”) and, predictably, became perceived by the establishment as the “black sheep” among Crits. As quickly as CLT appeared, it vanished. The CLT literature, as a movement, faded away before the close of the 1980s, save for a few pieces here and there generally not published in traditional law reviews, such as Mark Tushnet, “Critical Legal Theory (without Modi¿ers) in the United States.”3 To the Crits, law is indeterminate, open to political debate, and consequently decisions made by courts of law are political decisions, be they ostensibly functional or instrumental. Not surprisingly, both conservative and liberal members of the legal “establishment” at least feigned being mysti¿ed at the Crits’ proposition that an experienced jurist could decide almost any controversy in favour of either litigant on the basis of stare decisis or precedent. It may not be surprising that most “Crits” are lawyers who went to law schools favoured by the establishment, or that several 2 3

Kennedy, “The Structure of Blackstone’s Commentaries.” Tushnet, “Critical Legal Theory,” 99.


Twentieth-Century American Legal Literature in Perspective

congregated at University of Buffalo School of Law at the time when its dean was Richard D. (“Red”) Schwartz, one of only a very few deans at major law schools who himself was not a lawyer! The original Crit, Duncan Kennedy, presently a Harvard Law School professor himself, recently published Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A Polemic Against the System: A Critical Edition,4 as a sort of update of his earlier work published in 1983. In fact, the CLT literature is dead or dying, maimed by its adversaries, the hierarchy. Let us review some aspects of “critical” American legal literature on its merits, quoting from Solum: The notion that legal discourse veils relationships of domination is central to a wide range of critical scholarship. Duncan Kennedy writes that Blackstone’s Commentaries are ‘an instrument of apology--an attempt to mystify both the dominators and the dominated by convincing them of the ‘naturalness,’ the ‘freedom’ and the ‘rationality’ of a condition of bondage.’ Similarly, Peter Gabel and Jay Feinman write of contract law, ‘The central point to understand . . . is that contract law today constitutes an elaborate attempt to conceal what is going on in the world.’ Richard Abel writes of the law of torts,’ Tort law’s focus on super¿cial equality hides the persistence of numerous invisible inequalities.’ Karl Klare writes of labor law, ‘The latent value system of labor law is, in short, a legitimating ideology that reinforces the dominant institutions and hegemonic culture of our society.’ David Kairys writes of the ¿rst amendment, ‘The ideology of free speech . . . is used to validate and legitimize existing social and power relations and to mask a lack of real participation and democracy.’ And on the role of the doctrine of stare decisis, Kairys writes that it has often ‘provided a falsely legitimizing justi¿cation for a decision that is ultimately social and political’ and ‘serves to disguise enormous discretion.’ ... As H.L.A. Hart has observed, the mysti¿cation thesis has been a prominent feature of Anglo-American writing about the law at least since the time of Jeremy Bentham.Indeed, the mysti¿cation thesis falls squarely within the tradition of critique of ideology associated with Marx and the Frankfurt School.5 Wythe Holt argues that the apparent neutrality of the law masks ‘tilt’--the bias of the law in favor of the interests of the ruling elite.’ In a similar vein, Gabel writes, ‘The objective of the Supreme Court is to pacify conÀict through the mediation of a false social-meaning system, a set of ideas and images about the world which serve today as the secular equivalent of religious ideology in previous historical periods.’6

Solum speci¿cally, and the American legal establishment generally, branded CLT as deriving from Karl Marx and Frankfurt School theorists of the far left wing. In

Kennedy, Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy. Solum, “On the Indeterminacy Crisis,” 467-468. 6 Ibid., 469. 4 5

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


other words, CLT became the legal Red Scare of the 1980s, with about as much justi¿cation as the political Red Scare had been in the 1950s. It is of interest that Professor Solum also has authored a more recent critique of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on the political Right. While Scalia argued the “rule of law” requires “a law of rules,” Solum disagrees, warning that “a law of rules does not guarantee the rule of law.”7 Thus, Solum appears to reject Scalia’s legal formalism much as he rejected CRT, in favour of legal instrumentalism. It should not be very surprising, therefore, to judge from Solum, that the deepest criticism of the “Crits” came from the centrists. Legal instrumentalism as a school of thought is the most likely to become political, but secretively, and its practitioners stand to lose the most from true legal reform. In the law undoubtedly, but perhaps in politics generally, the Left and the Right are closer to each other than either is to the Centre, forming as a paradigm a horseshoe rather than a straight line continuum. The criticism of American law reviews does not stem from the fact that they are edited, of course, which is normal for most books and journals. Some have argued, for example, that Maxwell Perkins edited the manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and a string of other famous Charles Scribner’s Sons’ writers to the extent that the result was his as much as, or more than, theirs. It’s that fresh ideas tend to be blocked by the editors of major law reviews, either by rejecting articles outright for publication, or by relegating what is published into what might be termed a “critic’s corner” in plain view for the readership to laugh at, similar to a “token” minority hired brieÀy by a law ¿rm for show as “window dressing” but in reality sneered at as the law ¿rm’s outsider or necessary evil, and referred to facetiously as its “toke.” This brings us to “Critical Race Theory” or “CRT” that was misnamed to begin with. It should be “Critical Demographic Theory” or “CDT” because no longer is the issue merely one of race, assuming without conceding that it ever was. Similar issues of de facto discrimination in both employment and law review publication, if not entirely identical, pertain at least also to disabled status, gender, religion, social class, and sexual preference. The leading CRT scholar, Richard Delgado, introduced the term “imperial scholar” in his provocative 1984 article that bore this title.8 To Delgado, imperial scholars were at least some 26 authors of leading theoretically-oriented law review articles published on civil rights issues subsequent to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark public school desegration decision, Brown v. Board of Education,9 as measured by their publication in a major American law review and the frequency of their citation

Solum, “A Law of Rules.” Delgado, “The Imperial Scholar,” 561. 9 U.S.483 (1954), 347. 7 8


Twentieth-Century American Legal Literature in Perspective

by courts and other commentators. (Traces of elitism and snobbishness are evident in Delgado’s selection method, too). Delgado and other CRT scholars were outraged for at least two reasons: (1) these law review articles were all written by white, non-Hispanic civil rights activists who were arguing the legal and moral rights of non-white people, and (2) the footnotes to these articles consisted almost entirely of citations from the works of other elite white lawyers, with virtually no citations of scholars from racial minorities except for occasional references to black historian W.E.B. DuBois. Delgado pointed out that, by 1984, there were close to 250 black, Hispanic, and Native American law faculty. It does seem incredulous, at least facially, that minority authors’ publications have not been cited proportionally to their population in elite law reviews. What is harder to swallow is the assumption implied by Delgado that in order to support civil rights or equal opportunity for blacks one cannot be white. Does this mean in order to support equal rights for women, one must be female? In order to support gay rights, one must be gay? Hopefully not. One would not want it to be so. Even the provocative legal literature has its shortcomings. As another example of CRT literature, Richard Nunan has quoted from Delgado’s “anonymous leaÀet counterstory,10 and observed: “[i]n the ‘anonymous leaflet counterstory’, we get not just an alternative reading, an interpretation which is equally, but not more valid than the stock story, but rather a sample of Delgado ‘telling it like it is’: How is it that the good law schools go about looking for new faculty members? Here is how it works. The appointments committee starts out the year with a model new faculty member in mind. This mythic creature went to a leading law school, graduated ¿rst or second in his or her class, clerked for the Supreme Court, and wrote the leading note in the law review on some topic....If they ¿nd such a mythic ¿gure who is black or Hispanic or gay or lesbian, they will hire this person in a Àash. They will of course do the same if the person is white. By February, however, the school has not hired many mythic ¿gures....Now it’s late in the year and they have to get someone to teach Trusts and Estates. Although there are none left on their list who are Supreme Court clerks, etc., they can easily ¿nd several who are a notch or two below that....Still, they know, to a degree verging on certainty, that this person is smart and can do the job. They know this from personal acquaintance with the individual, or they hear it from someone they know and trust. ... Persons hired in this fashion are almost always white, male, and straight. The reason: [they] rarely know blacks, Hispanics, women, and gays....The upshot is that whites have two chances of being hired by meeting the formal criteria we start out with in September (that is, by being

Delgado, Critical Race Theory, 65-66. See also Nunan, “Critical Race Theory: An Overview.”


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


mythic ¿gures), and also by meeting the second, informal, modi¿ed criteria we apply later....Minorities have just one chance of being hired the ¿rst.11

Nunan concluded that “for Delgado, and he obviously thinks for the rest of us [CRT advocates] as well, only the second story has the ring of truth. The stock story is just a ¿ction we tell ourselves to justify and sustain our behavior, both to ourselves and to others. Delgado does present these as two ‘viable’ candidate descriptions of what goes on: ‘there is a war between stories. They contend for, tug at, our minds.’ (Delgado [1989], 66) But this is not simply analogous to choosing sports team loyalties. For any CRT scholar, there is a right choice and a ‘false consciousness’ choice between these tales, and it’s perfectly obvious where you are supposed to line up.”12 It is only fair to point out, however, that the same CRT scholars such as Richard Delgado and Derrick Bell, who complain about the prejudice of traditional elite law reviews, tend to publish frequently in possibly less traditional but equally elite journals such as the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review that may well publish articles selectively on the basis of discrimination and reverse discrimination interchangeably. Delgado, Bell and other Crits may criticise these journals themselves, too.13 Whereas the civil law establishment of the 1980s decried and eschewed CLT, criminology embrased it, particularly in the form of Richard Quinney, in a school of thought that became known then and now as analytical or critical criminology. It survived, one reason possibly being that theoretical criminology (a part of American legal literature) tends to be published in books or in social journals that are peer refereed, rather than in law reviews that are not. As a result, ideas that reÀect social change get published instead of buried, receive wide public attention, and fail to fade away the way they would in traditional law reviews. Quinney has written that “law serves the powerful over the weak, it promotes the war of the powerful against the powerless,”14 and that the “ideology of the legal order” produces “control of domestic order.”15 He alleged continuously that crime is a product of the conditions of the social structure. According to Chiricos and Delone, “Quinney contended that criminal justice is the modern means of controlling surplus populations.”16 Boalt Hall Law School at the University of California, Berkeley, honoured its law librarian, Professor Robert C. Berring with a 2006 testimonial the not so modest advertisement to which said the following: Delgado, Critical Race Theory, 71. Ibid., 66. 13 Delgado and Bell, “Minority Law Professors’ Lives: The Bell-Delgado Survey,” 349. 14 Quinney, Critique of Legal Order, 24. 15 Ibid., 139. 16 Chiricos and Delone, “Labor, Surplus, and Punishment,” 11-16. 11



Twentieth-Century American Legal Literature in Perspective

Few will argue with the proposition that Bob Berring of the the University of California-Berkeley School of Law has been throughout his career the foremost thinker about the inÀuences of legal information--the literature of the law--on the development of the law and legal thought in the United States. His 1987 suggestion that “[f] rom the late nineteenth century, the development of the American legal system can be seen as a history of the development of forms of legal publication,” and his own explorations of “whether the forms of publication have been mere vehicles for the transmission of legal knowledge or important inÀuences in the development of that knowledge” have inspired the thinking of numerous other writers and provided a lens through which to view the dramatic changes that have taken place in the legal information environment over the past twenty-¿ve years.”17

This con¿rms that “the development of the American legal system can be seen as a history of the development of forms of legal publication.” Further, by reviewing Professor Berring’s own publications, one notes he does not include Duncan Kennedy but does include works by Holmes, Frankfurter, Prosser, Llewellyn, Warren and Brandeis, and even Robert Bork! This presents the opportunity to remark that, even in Berring’s anthology, Kennedy stands out as the “toke” from the Left who was omitted, Bork as the “toke” from the Right, who was included. So, the question continues, were the “Crits” right in the 1970s and 1980s? Are they right today? The honest answer must be yes to both questions. This seems to be even more evident in the early 21st century than it was a quarter century ago, as we witness the Military Commissions Act of 2006, virtually castrating the Constitution’s Separation of Powers principle and ignoring the plain language recited in the Fourteenth Amendment: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Federal government is not a state, of course, but until recently few responsible lawyers or jurists would have openly advocated the United States offering separate Bill of Rights protections for American citizens in contrast to others “within its jurisdiction.” Clearly, from now on until this trend can be reversed, the Federal government of the United States may allocate to itself powers expressly denied to the states and denied historically to the Federal Government itself by implication and practise pursuant to the Fifth Amendment’s due Process Clause. Henceforth, any foreign person suspected of “terrorism” stands to lose any or all of the Fundamental Freedoms, those basic safeguards against tyranny that have been protected by American law for more than 200 years. Now, the language of America’s statute abandons the “Blessings of Liberty” principle cherished by free English speaking persons since time immemorial, and recited within the Preamble to the United States Constitu-


Berring and Gunderson, eds., Great American Law Review.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


tion as being treasured by the Founders of America for themselves and for their posterity. One should not hesitate to enquire why this has happened? One argument is that over the past quarter century American legal literature has not been critical enough of the American legal system, substantively or procedurally. Too often, the American legal system seems to be functionally “a law of rules,” bad ones at that. During the 20th century, there was not too much criticism of the American Legal System and of the direction into which it was clearly headed; there was too little. The American legal establishment proved Duncan Kennedy and the Crits to be correct. This is why, early in the 21st Century, we witness an arrogant and insensitive America ignoring both its own legal traditions and respected principles of international law. A similar but even more urgent enquiry seems necessary now in the early 21st century concerning what must be done. There is the hope that a new generation of Crits may emerge soon to attack America’s legal system ferociously, dismantling it block by block, so that it can be rebuilt anew. American legal literature of the 21st century should be proactive, refuse to be silenced, and be both written and read by a population that is much larger than a clique of elite law school faculty, their current students, and a few of their former students whom they have hand picked to be judges and law clerks. There must come an end to American legal literature’s incest. The remedy is diversity: diversity of writers, diversity of readership, and diversity of viewpoints in the literature.

Works Cited Berring, Robert C. and Samuel Gunderson, eds., Great American Law Review (Birmingham: The Legal Classics Library, 1984-1990). Chiricos, Tom and Mark Delone, “Labor, Surplus, and Punishment: A Review and Assesment of Theory and Evidence,” Social Problems (1992): 11-92. Delgado, Richard, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge (Philadelphia:Temple University Press, 1995). –––––, “The Imperial Scholar: ReÀections on a Review of Civil Rights Literature,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review (13/1984): 538-562. Delgado, Richard and Derrick Bell, “Minority Law Professors’ Lives: The BellDelgado Survey,” Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review (24/1989): 340-361. Kennedy, Duncan, Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A Polemic Against the System. A Critical Edition (New York: New York University Press, 2004).


Twentieth-Century American Legal Literature in Perspective

–––––, “The Structure of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” University of Buffalo Law Review (28/1978): 205-382. Nunan, Richard, “Critical Race Theory: An Overview.” APA Newsletter, 2/98 (Spring/1999): 119-148. Quinney, Richard, Class, State, and Crime (New York: Longman, 1980). –––––, Critique of Legal Order: Crime Control in Capitalist Society (Boston: Transaction Publications, 2001). Solum, Lawrence, “A Law of Rules: A Critique and Reconstruction of Justice Scalia’s View of the Rule of Law,” APA Newsletter . Forthcoming. Available at http:?? –––––, “On the Indeterminacy Crisis: Critiquing Critical Dogma,” The University of Chicago Law Review (54/1987): 460-473. Tushnet, Mark, “Critical Legal Theory (without Modi¿ers) in the United States,” Journal of Political Philosophy (13/2005):91-107. U.S. 483(1954): 347. Wald, Patricia M., “Some Observations on the Use of Legislative History in the 1981 Supreme Court,” Iowa Law Review (68/1983): 190-205.

“THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS...” FROM THE COLD WAR TO THE WAR ON TERROR: WAR RHETORIC IN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN COMMERCIALS ANNA BULANDA With the rise of a TV culture, political marketing has become a dominant force in American presidential elections. During a campaign teams of specialists apply marketing principles to sell a candidate as effectively as possible. A substantial body of research on political advertising in the United States indicates the importance of this strategy and its impact on voter knowledge about candidates, campaign issues, and, ¿nally, on voters’ decisions. The aim of this essay is a rhetorical analysis of selected presidential campaign ads from the years 1964, 1980 and 2004 which deal with the issue of war. Firstly, the reasons for using the terms “rhetoric” and “war” as keys in ads analysis will be explained. Next, Kenneth Burke’s theory of master tropes will be brieÀy discussed to show how metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche function as the chief organizing principles in many presidential candidates’ TV spots. Finally, an analysis of six campaign ads created in the times of the Cold War and the War on Terror will be used to shed new light on the process of establishing the so-called “interpretive dominance” of one candidate’s discourse over that of the other(s) during the election campaign. The ¿rst, quite debatable issue is whether televised 30-second TV spots can be regarded as rhetorical situations. Rhetorical analysis suggests that many campaign commercials indeed possess vital characteristics of such situations. According to a classic de¿nition by Lloyd Bitzer, a “[r]hetorical situation may be de¿ned as a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence that can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced into the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the signi¿cant modi¿cation of the exigence.”1 BrieÀy, then, three factors are necessary for a rhetorical situation to exist: exigence, audience, and constraints. An exigence can be de¿ned as a problem or a situation which requires people’s 1

Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” quoted in Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric, 514.


War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials

attention. However, not all situations can be regarded as an exigence. As Bitzer explains, “[a]n exigence is rhetorical when it is capable of positive modi¿cation and when positive modi¿cation requires discourse or can be assisted by discourse.”2 Death, for instance, is not a rhetorical situation, since it cannot be modi¿ed by means of rhetorical discourse. A similar restriction applies to the second factor de¿ning the character of a rhetorical situation, namely, the audience. First of all, Bitzer contends, a rhetorical audience should consist “only of those persons who are capable of being inÀuenced by discourse and of being mediators of change.”3 Secondly, he continues, it “must demonstrate a certain minimum level of attention and a willingness to consider the advocate’s arguments and/or proposals.”4 If these two conditions are ful¿lled, then the audience can be said to possess the ability to become mediators of change. The last factor contributing to the existence of a rhetorical situation is constraint. It is understood as a circumstance which people must confront at a given moment, but neither the choice of the circumstance, nor the choice of its moment are made voluntarily. According to Bitzer’s de¿nition, a campaign ad can be regarded as an example of a rhetorical situation since both the advocates (candidates) and the audience (voters) engage in a discourse which requires their reaction to the problems (exigences) raised in a campaign. As Bitzer explains, “[a] course of action designed to remove an ill . . . creates a speci¿c rhetorical task; We must persuade people to adopt our course of action or proposed policy. Advocates need to persuade their audience that a certain course of action . . . should be adopted, while other advocates reject the policy (typically offering one of their own).”5 This description helps to explain the mechanisms behind the election process. Given that commercials constitute a key element of a presidential campaign, they may be de¿ned as micro-rhetorical situations that constitute elements of a larger rhetorical context. Another rhetorical category useful in analyzing campaign ads is style, which James Jasinski calls “that most allusive of all aspects of the speaking act.”6 Rhetorical theory proposes different approaches to style, ranging from the traditional content/style division, with style being merely a decorative device, to the most recent practice of attributing meaning and persuasive force to stylistic choices. As Jasinski points out, “[t]he challenge posed by recent developments in rhetorical, literary, and linguistic theory is to learn how to look at, rather than through, the style or texture of a text so as to discover how it works and what it might be doing.”7 In accordance with the latter approach to style, the analysis of campaign ads in this Ibid., 514. Ibid., 515. 4 Ibid., 515. 5 Ibid., 520. 6 Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric, 537. 7 Ibid., 537. 2 3

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


essay will focus on decoding the meaning of key stylistic devices employed in campaign ads—metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche. Thanks to their characteristic structure, such ads play a unique role as very effective 30-second agents that, by conveying in a most compact form an important message, can give a candidate an advantage over his opponent(s). Next to rhetorical devices, the rhetorical content of campaign ads is an important analyzable issue. The topic of war constitutes the best example of how rhetoric functions in such ads. Rhetorically, war belongs to a broader concept of crisis rhetoric, which regards every crisis as a rhetorical construct. In an essay included in The Modern Presidency and Crisis Rhetoric, Robert L. Ivie points out that at the root of crisis situations lie, what he calls, “national images.”8 In the present context, Ivie’s concept is particularly convenient because it can be used to demonstrate how the imagery and discourse of crisis rhetoric give legitimacy to ideas which constitute the core of the American system of values. When the United States faces a major danger, Americans immediately begin to see the world in terms of stark opposites, such as freedom vs. tyranny, rationality vs. irrationality, or aggression vs. defence. The function of the metaphors that repeatedly occur in American war rhetoric has always been to present the enemy as ruthless and savage-like. By contrast, as Amos Kiewe notes, America “[r]hetorically ... is more than a geographical term but is rather ‘the manifestation of Truth, Justice, and Freedom placed on this earth by a God whose purpose is to make of it an instrument of extending His spiritual and material blessings to the rest of humanity.’”9 Thus, Kiewe continues, war rhetoric has been employed to “sanctif[y] the ideals of peace, freedom, and democracy, legitimizing total victory as the preferred mode and leaving no room for compromise.”10 On this ground, an assumption has been made that, if a crisis is rhetorical construct, the nation’s leader must be its most important agent. On the one hand, he may choose to promote a certain development as a crisis situation. On the other hand, too, he may downplay or defuse a potentially critical situation. That is why American presidents are often described as “image makers” who “seek the opportunity to de¿ne situations and to construct the reality they wish the public to accept.”11 As Kiewe explains, “[c]risis situations offer a good barometer of rhetorical inventions, and an intriguing insight into the dynamics of human discourse. During crisis situations, with severe time constraints and exigency, discourse is likely to be more revealing of decision makers’ personae.”12 The rhetorical skills 8 Ivie, “Declaring a National Emergency,” quoted in Kiewe, ed., introduction to The Modern Presidency and Crisis Rhetoric, xix. 9 Kiewe, ed., introduction to The Modern Presidency and Crisis Rhetoric, xx. 10 Ibid., xx. 11 Ibid., xvi. 12 Ibid., xxv.


War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials

of a president thus play a decisive role in his attempts to gain national prestige and international credibility. Since the time of the ¿rst broadcast of a televised commercial promoting the candidacy of Dwight Eisenhower for the of¿ce of the president, visual political communication has played a major role in American politics. In the introduction to Pulp Politics: How Political Advertising Tells the Stories of American Politics, Glenn W. Richardson, Jr. observes that “[p]owerful campaign ads lie at the very core of modern political communication because they use audiovisuals to tell emotionally compelling stories about politics, and stories about politics help to de¿ne the political environment itself.”13 Visual communication uses its own language, which is “both detailed and wholistic. Forms provide the structure for interpretation, and in some cases, reconstruction or even generation of details. To neglect the audiovisual elements of campaigns and especially campaign advertising is to neglect a part of their essence.”14 However, any analysis of visual elements is unavoidably subjective as it is largely inÀuenced by individual perception. Moreover, it is practically impossible to arrive at one de¿nitive interpretation of a political TV ad, for, as Richardson asserts, “[v]isual communication lacks a de¿ning propositional syntax, or the grammar by which images can be related to one another in terms of analogy, contrast, causality, or other propositions.”15 In order to gain more understanding of the appeal of audiovisuals, it seems useful to consider the nature of human cognitive abilities. Every day our brain is exposed to an overwhelming array of various stimuli, which it tries to process as effectively as possible. Since quick information processing is crucial in a competitive political environment, political scientists often turn to cognitive theories of brain functioning to explain various phenomena that interest them. One example is the schema theory, which demonstrates that, instead of processing every new stimuli anew, our brain relies on already existing neuro-chemical patterns. In other words, the brain uses “shortcuts” to pre-existing memories of past experiences to conceptualize the incoming stimuli against the cognitive maps previously etched on our brains.16 Assuming that this kind of processing occurs while watching a 30-second political advertisement, two effects, both positive and negative, can be identi¿ed. On the one hand, by evoking a rich array of associations the ad’s sponsors and creators are able to convey a complex message while using relatively short and simple references to common knowledge. But, on the other hand, if the author of a political commercial can correctly predict the viewers’ response, then there is always the possibility that he will be tempted to manipulate them. Richardson, Jr., Pulp Politics, 3. Ibid., 122. 15 Ibid., 122. 16 See Richardson, 32. 13 14

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


American presidential campaigns seen through the political advertisements presented on television thus emerge as a communicative contest between candidates’ competing discourses. In their essay “The Battle of Issues and Images. Establishing Interpretive Dominance,” Mary E. Stuckey and Frederick J. Antczak write: “Every candidate adopts a discourse that carries within it certain claims to truth, claims about the nature of the politically relevant world.”17 If a candidate wins the election, he will establish his interpretive dominance for the next four years. The key to success, Stuckey and Antczak emphasize, is presenting a candidate’s image as “representative of all electorate,” for it creates the impression of identi¿cation with the voters.18 The process of building such identi¿cation has been studied and explained by Kenneth Burke, one of the most prominent scholars in the ¿eld of rhetoric, best known for his works on the ¿gurative nature of language. Aware of man’s propensity to misuse the symbols he makes, he points out that our use of language always involves making choices about how to de¿ne reality through the selection of appropriate tropes. A rhetorical ¿gure which functions as a play on words or images, it derives its name from the Greek word tropos, meaning a “turn.” Accordingly, a trope is a way of turning a word away from its normal meaning or turning it into something else. Burke, who was of the opinion that tropes let us see one reality in terms of another, developed a framework in which metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche constitute “master tropes.” This framework offers a useful tool for analyzing techniques used by politicians in the process of building what he calls “consubstantiality,” that is, a candidate’s identi¿cation with the electorate.19 Burke’s description of these three terms is based on the their classical rhetorical de¿nition as ¿gures of speech. Their double-layered meanings are presented in the following diagram. The ¿rst of the Burkean tropes is metaphor. As a rhetorical ¿gure, it functions as a juxtaposition of disparate things which share similar characteristics (for example: life as a voyage and home as a harbor of safety). Or, as Burke says, it means “seeing something in terms of something else ... the thisness of a that or the thatness of a this.”20 It thus represents a perspective. In the presidential race, each candidate wants to impose on the voters his perception of the opponent(s) in terms that he prefers. Referring to Burke’s theory, Stuckey and Antczak consider “establishing the authority of the candidate’s perspective, the foundation of interpretive dominance” to be “the key to understanding the most fundamental goal of campaign communication.”21 The next trope, metonymy, is based on the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity (for example, “the Crown” standing for Stuckey and Antczak, “The Battle of Issues and Images,” 118. Ibid., 118. 19 Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, quoted in Stuckey and Antczak, 119. 20 Burke, A Grammar of Motives, quoted in Stuckey and Antczak, 120. 21 Ibid., 120. 17



War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials

the British monarchy). Burke understood metonymy as reduction, a way to “render these big and complex truths more accessible.”22 In American politics, this is exempli¿ed by candidates using an eagle as the embodiment of their strength. Finally, synecdoche is a ¿gure of speech denoting a part by which we refer to the whole (for example, “wheels” may mean “a car”). It partly overlaps with metonymy, but for Burke only synecdoche truly stands for representation, and that is why he endows it with the most empathic function. As Stuckey and Antczak point out, “[o]ne of the main tasks of political candidates is to present themselves as the part that most accurately reÀects the whole, to encapsulate the polity in their being, and to represent the average American as identical to the possibilities for all of the people.”23 Accordingly, to win the voters’ trust, a candidate must convince them that his claim to representation is well grounded. One way to do so is to use images that are persuasive because they engage emotions. The function of the three master tropes in the political context can be demonstrated on the example of six television commercials from the American presidential campaigns of 1964, 1980 and 2004. In the 1960s, as Marisa Pauly writes, in 22 23

Ibid., 123. Ibid., 125.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


“See Spot Run: How the 30-Second Television Ad Works for The Contemporary Presidential Campaign,” television became Americans’ “most important source of ideas (apart from interpersonal contact),” and so “mastering the art of television advertising proved the best vehicle for campaigning votes.”24 Instantly, too, negative campaigning was born as an effective strategy when the Democrats decided to promote Lyndon Johnson by bolstering fear of the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. The most famous advertisement of that campaign was “Daisy.”25 Although aired only once, on September 7, the ad became a major factor in Johnson’s defeat of Goldwater and a turning point in the history of political advertising. The spot is based on a metonymy, using a symbolic entity to represent facts. It features a little girl standing on a meadow and counting the petals of a daisy. The sound of chirping birds can be heard in the background. The pastoral character of the scene and the girl’s innocence immediately captivate the viewer. However, when the girl reaches number nine, an ominous-sounding voice begins to count down a missile launch. It is then that the girl looks up to the sky and the camera zooms on and into her eye, until the screen blacks out. Suddenly, the blackness explodes with the powerful Àash of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast. Then, the viewer hears the voice of Johnson declaring: These are the stakes: To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the darkness. We must either love each other, or we must die.

With the use of metonymy, “Daisy’s” authors conceptualized the prospect of a nuclear war to imply that Goldwater might resort to this solution if he became the country’s president. The negative reaction to the ad was so strong that further broadcasts were cancelled. Yet, “Daisy” received a lot of coverage in the news, which was precisely what its authors had anticipated. Jack Valenti, the strategist of Johnson’s success, decided that the best way to discredit Goldwater was to present him “not as an equal who has credentials to be a president, but as a radical, a preposterous candidate who would ruin this country and our future.”26 The goal was to paint Goldwater as a person who advocated aggressive tactics to prevent the spread of communism in Asia. He was indeed known for his uncompromising rhetoric on communism and nuclear war, exempli¿ed by such comments as “ Let’s lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.”27 Goldwater’s obsessive fear of communism found its manifestation in his TV campaign commercial “We will bury you.”28 The ad is 24 Pauly, “See Spot Run: How the 30-Second Television Ad Works for The Contemporary Presidential Campaign.” 25 “Daisy” (1964). 26 Gould, “Political Activities of the Johnson White House, 1963-1969.” 27 Ibid. 28 “We will bury you” (1964).


War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials

based on the interplay of two scenes, which are shown interchangeably. The ¿rst one takes the viewer to a typical American classroom, where the children recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Suddenly, the scene is interrupted by the image of Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin, giving his notorious speech “My vas pokhoronim!” (“We will bury you!”), with which he addressed Western ambassadors in Moscow in 1956. The ad uses metonymy as its organizing principle to represent the evil nature of the USSR, personi¿ed by its leader threatening the West with this ominous prophecy: “Your children will be communists!” Such an unrelenting attitude, intensi¿ed by “Daisy’s” negative message, was regarded by many Americans as too radical to entrust Goldwater with the leadership of the nation. Another example of using a master trope in a campaign commercial is Ronald Reagan’s metaphorical ad “Peace,” which presented the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, in unfavorable light.29 In 1980, America was in a state of crisis, both ideologically and economically. After Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, the nation experienced another traumatic event when, on November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the American embassy in Tehran and held hostage ¿fty-three US citizens for 444 days. Reagan took advantage of the situation and led a very negative campaign against Carter, attacking him for his failure to deal effectively with the crisis. When the ad begins we see crying Vietnamese children while a male voice announces: Very slowly, one step at a time, the hope for world peace erodes. Slowly, we once slid into Korea—slowly, into Vietnam. And now, the Persian Gulf beckons.

Then the camera zooms on a portrait of Jimmy Carter as the announcer continues: Jimmy Carter’s weak, indecisive leadership has vacillated before events in Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter still doesn’t know that it takes strong leadership to keep the peace. Weak leadership will lose it.

From there the scene shifts to the Republican National Convention, where, on July 17, 1980, Ronald Reagan made the following statement: Of all the objectives we seek, ¿rst and foremost is the establishment of lasting world peace. We know only too well that war comes not [emphasis added] when the forces of freedom are strong. It is when they are weak that tyrants are tempted. Four times in my lifetime, America has gone to war . . . .

With these words, the image fades out, but the viewers are most likely left with the impression that Carter’s inability to deal with the situation has weakened U.S. defence capability, which, in turn,, might lead to another war. 29

“Peace” (1980).

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


The “Peace” advertisement not only reÀected the general tone of Reagan’s 1980 campaign, but also produced an interesting new phenomenon: the polls showed that people’s votes were more “anti-Carter” than “pro-Reagan.” In this way, the role of metaphor as Burke de¿nes it was truly ful¿lled, since, as Andrew Van Alstyne explains, “Reagan was elected primarily because he was not [emphasis added] Carter and made appeals to the American public based upon his image and the image of the nation, not upon the speci¿c issues.”30 Even though a quarter of a century later the historical context was quite different, the topic of war was again crucial in the campaign of 2004. As the election drew nearer, the issue of Iraq and global terrorism began to dominate public debates. This marked a signi¿cant departure from the previous presidential elections, of 1992, 1996 and 2000, which were almost entirely devoted to domestic issues, such as economy and jobs. Another distinctive feature of the 2004 campaign was the unprecedented cost of campaign commercials, which amounted to a billion dollars, proving the importance that both the candidates’ committee attached this form of appealing to the public.31 What is particularly worth emphasizing is that the ad strategies of the Republicans and of the Democrats drew on the same kind of candidate pro¿ling that had been practiced during heyday of the Cold War. President Bush was portrayed as a strong commander-in-chief during turbulent times, whereas Senator Kerry’s team emphasized his commitment to the daily needs of ordinary voters. In general, Bush ran a heavily negative campaign with the aim of presenting Kerry as a “Àip-Àopper” with no ¿rm stand on issues. His goal was to de¿ne, or create, a Kerry metaphor before Kerry did it himself. The senator’s early strategy had to be abandoned and a new one evolved in the course of his campaign. Throughout the ¿rst phase, from the primaries until the convention, Kerry’s ads had positive tone, focusing on his biography and his Vietnam war record and emphasizing domestic issues. However, responding to Bush’s negative campaign, Kerry radicalized his rhetoric and began to openly attack the President for his management the situation Iraq and the country’s economy. On October 22, which turned out to be the decisive moment in the presidential race, Bush’s campaign released “Wolves,” a spot that features a pack of wolves waiting for their pray on the edge of a dark forest.32 In his analysis of the ad, Joshua T. Kaminski writes: “In using the image of an overcast, densely foliaged area where only small amounts of lights can penetrate, the viewer gains the sense that the world is not unlike a cold, dark forest, where danger is ever-present.”33 According to Kenneth Burke’s theory of master tropes, “Wolves” is a metonymy-based Van Alstyne, “Media, Advertising, and the 1984 Presidential Election.” “2004 Bush vs. Kerry. Overview.” 32 “Wolves” (2004). 33 Kaminski, an analysis of “Wolves.” 30 31


War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials

construct because it reduces the complex issue of a terrorist threat to the unambiguous image of wild animals in a ¿erce environment. Kaminski develops this theme further by observing that “[t]he image of wolves as dangerous predators in an eerie and dangerous place, such as the woods, projects the idea that America is situated in a position in the world, where terrorists are seeking to prey upon any potential weakness, not unlike a wolf and its prey. Playing on the natural fear of such ferocious predators as wolves, the ad seeks to make the connection between this more guttural fear of a natural predator and the fear of terrorism, prevalent after the 9/11 attacks.34 Moreover, such stylistic reduction prompts the viewers to make a subconscious reference to Senator Kerry’s position on national security as the eerie voice of a female narrator reminds them how “John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America’s intelligence operations by six billion dollars.” As a result, this move “has weakened America’s defences.” “Wolves” is often compared to Reagan’s campaign ad from 1984 entitled “Bear in the Woods.”35 Designed as a parable of the Cold War, the ad features a bear symbolizing the Soviet Union and its unclear political intentions. A male announcer says: There is a bear in the woods. For some people the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear?

The ad’s assumption is that, regardless of the Soviets’ intentions, Reagan will handle the situation better than his opponent. Similarly, in “Wolves” Bush wanted to convince the electorate that, as Kaminski suggests, “a Kerry president invites the danger.”36 He made his point by referring to the senator’ past record on national security. Finally, there are two examples of campaign ads which show how synecdoche may function as a master trope. The ¿rst spot, “Ever Since,” released by Kerry’s campaign committee, features Kristen Breitweiser, the most recognizable and active widow after the September 11 attacks on New York. In the ad she makes a partisan statement that although she and her husband had voted for George W. Bush in the elections of 2000, in the past few years the president failed her trust.37 While she speaks, the viewer sees a vibrant, coloured photograph of her late husband holding their infant daughter. Then, another picture, this time black-and-white, shows Kristen hugging the girl, who is now four years old. Kristen’s contemplative facial Ibid. “Bear in the Woods” (1984). 36 Kaminski, an analysis of “Wolves.” 37 “Ever Since” (2004). 34 35

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


look has been described by Margaret A. Kane as “an expression borne of a woman who has known heartbreak, fear and loss ‘Ever Since’ her husband’s death on September 11.” 38 The second ad, “Ashley’s Story,” was the most widely seen and effective TV commercial of the 2004 Bush campaign.39 It is based on an unplanned encounter George W. Bush had with a sixteen-year-old girl named Ashley Faulkner during a campaign event in Lebanon, Ohio, in May 2004. When the President heard that Ashley had lost her mother in the World Trade Center, he turned around, approached the girl and embraced her, asking if she was all right. The Internet popularity of the picture taken at that moment by Ashley’s father prompted the author of the Bush campaign organizers to ask the Faulkners to appear in the most emotional of the President’s TV spots. It showed Bush as a compassionate father-¿gure and played directly on people’s memories of his high popular approval after the attacks of September 11. Using synecdoche as their principal structural element, both ads present narratives which place terrorism in a personal context. Both aim at and succeed in evoking a positive emotional response in the viewer. This strategy is often used by makers of political commercials. They assume that positive emotions will translate into a positive image of their candidate. As a result, acting on emotions, voters will be more willing on the election day to appoint this candidate as the best representative of their world view. The six political commercials presented in this essay seem to con¿rm the view that American presidential campaigns are essentially communicative processes whose goal is establishing interpretive dominance over the other candidate’s discourse. In order to identify with the voters, each candidate tries to prove that he is the most representative of the electorate. In this process presidential contenders prefer resorting to images and symbols, which are said to prompt a desired reaction faster than spoken words. The use of images of war in presidential campaign commercials in three different periods con¿rms the viability of Kenneth Burke’s theory of master tropes. Analysis of metaphor (perspective), metonymy (reduction) and synecdoche (representation) in these ads demonstrates that in their quest for representativeness candidates reduce complex issues to simple representations in order to evoke predictable responses from the voters. It may thus be concluded that this kind of approach to the study of election mechanisms provides an interesting alternative to those which interpret political campaigns merely in terms of the effectiveness of persuasion techniques.

38 39

Kane, PARC Analysis “Ever Since.” “Ashley’s Story” (2004).


War Rhetoric in Presidential Campaign Commercials

Works Cited Primary Sources “Ashley’s Story” (2004). Progress for America Voter Fund. (accessed 10 October 2006). “Bear in the Woods” (1984). The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. index.php?nav_action=election&nav_subaction=overview&campaign_id=173 (accessed October 10, 2006). “Daisy” (1964). The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. php?nav_action=election&nav_subaction=overview&campaign_id=168 (accessed October 10, 2006). “Ever Since” (2004). The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. (accessed October 10, 2006). “Peace” (1980). The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. php?nav_action=election&nav_subaction=overview&campaign_id=172 (accessed October 10, 2006). “We will bury you” (1964). The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. index.php?nav_action=election&nav_subaction=overview&campaign_id=168 (accessed October 10, 2006). “Wolves” (2004). The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. php?nav_action=election&nav_subaction =overview&campaign_id=178 (accessed October 10, 2006).

Secondary Sources “2004 Bush vs. Kerry. Overview.” The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2004. http://livingroomcandidate.movingimage. us/election/ index.php?nav_action=election&nav_subaction=overview&campaign_id=178 (accessed October 10, 2006). Bitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968): 1-14. Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1945. Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Gould, Louis L. “Political Activities of the Johnson White House, 1963-1969,”

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


LexisNexis, 1997. Quoted in John Logie, “A copyright cold war? The polarized rhetoric of the peer-to-peer debates.” First Monday, http://www.¿ issues/issue8_7/logie/index.html (accessed October 10, 2006). Ivie, Robert L. “Declaring a National Emergency: Truman’s Rhetorical Crisis and the Great Debate of 1951.” In The Modern Presidency and Crisis Rhetoric, edited by Amos Kiewe, 1-18. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994. Jasinski, James. Sourcebook on Rhetoric. London: Sage Publications Inc., 2001. Kaminski, Joshua T. An analysis of “Wolves.” Political Advertising Resource Center, University of Maryland. (accessed November 25, 2006). Kane, Margaret A. PARC Analysis “Ever Since.” Political Advertising Resource Center, University of Maryland. (October 10, 2006). Kiewe, Amos, ed. The Modern Presidency and Crisis Rhetoric. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994. Pauly, Marisa. “See Spot Run: How the 30-Second Television Ad Works for The Contemporary Presidential Campaign.” Political Advertising Resource Center. (accessed November 25, 2006). Richardson, Glenn W., Jr. Pulp Politics: How Political Advertising Tells the Stories of American Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Little¿eld Publishers, 2002. Stuckey, Mary E., and Frederick J. Antczak. “The Battle of Issues and Images. Establishing Interpretive Dominance.” In Presidential Campaign Discourse: Strategic Communication Problems, edited by Kathleen E. Kendall, 117-134. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995. Van Alstyne, Andrew. “Media, Advertising, and the 1984 Presidential Election: Manufacturing Ronald Reagan’s Image.” home.htm (accessed October 20, 2006).

MARGARET SANGER’S AND MARY WARE DENNETT’S RHETORIC OF BIRTH CONTROL: THE VOLUNTARY PARENTHOOD CAUSE IN THE INTERWAR PERIOD SYLWIA KUħMA-MARKOWSKA From 1873, with the passage of the Comstock Law, the dissemination of information about birth control and its methods was considered obscene and as such prohibited in the United States. It was two women—Margaret Higgins Sanger (1879-1966) and Mary Ware Dennett (1872-1947) who separately and in opposition for each other led the movement to decriminalize, politicize and popularize birth control among American public, representing its two distinctive strands. Sanger, “the most recognizable ¿gure in the American birth control movement”1 was the founder and president of the American Birth Control League. In 1916 she opened ¿rst birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn.2 Dennett—the leader of the Voluntary Parenthood League—engaged also in the suffrage, peace, sex education, and Arts and Crafts movements.3 This essay attempts to reconstruct the rhetorical strategies of Sanger and Dennett employed to popularize and politicize the issue of birth control among American public. Writings and publications (such as the periodical Woman Rebel, pamphlets, and books by Sanger and Dennett) are the main sources used in order to analyze their discourses. The argument is introduced within the framework of women’s studies and social history and takes such categories as class and gender into consideration.

Buerkle, The Discipline and Disciplining of Margaret Sanger, 306. There is a number of books on Margaret Sanger and American birth control movement. The ones worth enumerating are: Chesler, Woman of Valor; Fryer, The Birth Controllers (London: Secher and Warburg, 1966); David Kennedy, Birth Control in America; Douglas, Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future; McCann, Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945; Baskin, Margaret Sanger; Gray, Margaret Sanger: A Biography of the Champion of Birth Control. 3 Chen, “The Sex Side of Life.” 1 2


Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control

Sanger’s Feminist Rhetoric Woman Rebel is the source examined to present Sanger’s initial feminist rhetoric in her ¿ght for birth control. It was a monthly which seven consecutive numbers were published from March till November 1914, with articles written predominantly by Sanger, who was its editor. Although in the ¿rst number Sanger wrote: “This paper will not be the champion of any ‘ism,’”4 Woman Rebel in fact promoted feminism, socialism, individualism, and anarchism. Overlapped and interconnected feminist, socialist, anarchist, and individualist argument is presented in one of the ¿rst sentences from the editorial article “The Aim” published in March 1914: “The aim of this paper will be to stimulate working women to think for themselves and to build up a conscious ¿ghting character.”5 The monthly was then directed to working women (feminist socialism) who were to think for themselves (feminist individualism) and to develop a ¿ghting character (feminist anarchism). The choice of the title for her magazine by Sanger is also telling. Woman Rebel implies not only feminism (woman), but also anarchism (rebel). With the latter Sanger was infected while living in New York City. Anarchistic inclinations are visible at a ¿rst glance in the subtitle of the magazine: Woman Rebel: No Gods no Masters. The provocative banner of the militant labor union the International Workers of the World, written in bold on the ¿rst page of each number, was Sanger’s political and personal manifesto at the time.6 Sanger’s socialist leaning is also seen in her argument for the right to birth control for working class women. She sees birth control propaganda as “the necessary corollary and powerful co-ef¿cient of the revolutionary labor movement”7 and emphasizes that “at all times will Woman Rebel strenuously advocate economic emancipation.”8 Middle class women, she claims, possess the knowledge how to prevent the conception and they “do not produce children for that society of tomorrow.”9 The obligation to bear children for the nation’s needs is relegated to a working class woman, who is: “(…) for the glory of God and the love of her country, to supply industries with cheap material, so that pro¿ts may not be interrupted.”10 Proletarian women, as Sanger argues, are kept somehow intentionally in the state of slavery by the members of the middle class. The latter are aware that: “as long as “The Aim,” Woman Rebel, March 1914, 1; all articles not signed by a particular author by his/her name in Woman Rebel are assumed to be Sanger’s—the magazine’s editor and main writer. 5 Ibid. 6 Chesler, 13, 98. 7 “Indictment,” Woman Rebel, September-October 1914, 49. 8 “The Aim,” 1. 9 „Into the Valley of Death—for What?”, Woman Rebel, April 1914, 12. 10 “Indecency vs. Decency,” Woman Rebel, July, 1914, 34. 4

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the working class bear children, this fact alone will keep it in poverty and usually in ignorance as well.”11 Working class women, Sanger implies, serve their wombs to the country, supplying it with cheap and limitless labor force. Middle class women bene¿t from their proletarian “sisters” reproducing numerously, as this does not pose any threat to existing and binding social and economic relations among the society’s strata. In the picture presented by Sanger, well-off women are motivated not by solidarity with other women (from the working class) but by the attachment to capitalist class, of which they are members. Thus, birth control is not only a personal matter but also a political issue as it is intertwined with class and labor relations. The use of contraception by proletarian women would, according to Sanger, bring salient changes to American society and politics, as it would alter power relations between the groups of capitalist employers and the working class. The need for birth control is argued in Woman Rebel on the basis of the feminist prerogative of woman’s right to control her body. Sanger rejects the assumption that woman’s ful¿llment and destination may be reduced to children and family: “Women’s experiences must be many and varied, but above all she must assume the control over her own body that she alone shall decide her needs and if motherhood is among them—let her accept it, but if not—then let her reject it at any cost.”12 According to her, women were: “TO DESIRE THE BEST AND EXPERIENCE THE FULFILLMENT.”13 Sanger’s view on women’s self-realization differed from the predominant one, as it did not reduce women’s destination to motherhood and family. She was one of the ¿rst female activists who tried to reconcile women’s activities in two spheres— the private (having children and family), and the public (ful¿lling herself in professional work or any other kind of non-familial activism). So far, women who were publicly active (such as Jane Addams, Florence Kelly, Lillian Wald, Anna Howard Shaw)14 remained single and childless. However, the increasing number of working mothers, both in the middle as in the working class, made the reconciliation of family and professional life roles necessary. It was family limitation, according to Sanger, that would make it possible. Moreover, she acknowledged and raised on her banner women’s right for pleasure and experience in various ¿elds. Recapitulating, Sanger’s vision of women’s ful¿llment transcended the predominant society’s expectation of a woman devoting herself and her life to family and children. Because „Into the Valley of Death—for What?”, 12. “Motherhood—or Destruction,” Woman Rebel. May 1914, 22. 13 Woman Rebel, May 1914, 24. Emphasis original. 14 Addams, The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House; Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House; Davis, American Heroine; Elhstain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy; Kelly, The Autobiography of Florence Kelly; Shaw, The Story of a Pioneer. 11



Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control

of putting great emphasis on women’s personal self-realization, it was individualist, not collective one.15 The necessity of a woman to have control over her own body is argued by Sanger with evoking the Declaration of Independence: A woman’s body belongs to herself alone. It is her body. It does not belong to the Church. It does not belong to the United States of America or to any other Government on the face of the Earth. The ¿rst step toward getting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for any woman is her decision whether or not she shall become a mother.16

Denying “the Church’s” or “the Government’s” right to control a woman’s body, Sanger expresses her rejection of religious and federal laws (particularly the obscenity laws), which criminalized contraception. Women’s right to limit her reproduction is, according to her, the same “certain unalienable Right” as the ones enlisted in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Referring to American credo, individualism and the Declaration, Sanger aims to politicize birth control and to depict it as a public issue. She locates the right to family limitation in historical framework, attempting to endow it with respectability and seriousness. The initial rhetoric of Margaret Sanger was greatly inÀuenced by the prevalent social and political atmosphere in the United States. The decade of the 1910s was the heyday of emancipatory movements and ideologies such as socialism and feminism and the ¿nishing stage of the Progressive Era. Progressive ideas gained at the time considerable popularity among intellectuals and American society at large. Arguably, Sanger modeled her rhetoric for strategic reasons to bring the repeal of obscenity laws. Calling to mind socialism or anarchism, she politicized birth control, showing its inÀuence on labor and class relations. After the Great War, with a major shift in American politics and public opinion, Sanger changed her rhetoric, adopting eugenic and nativist argument as the main line of reasoning for birth control

Sanger’s Eugenic Rhetoric Eugenics (the study how heredity and other inÀuences improve or impair human race) was one of the most inÀuential philosophies and paradigms of thinking in the As Peter Engelman writes in the introduction to Sanger’s Pivot of Civilization: “Sager had been fascinated by the philosophy of individualism since the early 1910s, for a short time immersing herself in the work on self-reliance (…) and essays the relation of individualism and socialism. Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 27. 16 “Suppression,” Woman Rebel, June 1914, 25. 15

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


interwar America. It was ubiquitous especially among the middle-class WASPs, terri¿ed of race suicide and hordes of immigrants. Eugenic argument was used in introduction of immigrant quotas in 1921 and 1924 and justi¿ed the implementation of sterilization laws in a number of states17. In American historiography there is a debate whether or not Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist.18 Without rigid conclusions in this matter, it is worth emphasizing that Sanger never argued for so-called positive eugenics, (the advocacy of more proli¿c reproduction of women, especially from middle and upper class.19 Her strand of eugenics was a negative one. It was the supports for limiting the breeding of socalled “un¿t” or “feeble-minded” (the eugenic terms that will be explained later) who were, according to eugenicists, not able to raise and support their children in a proper way or might have transmitted their illnesses and inadequacies. In her writings, Sanger openly admitted that eugenic is chieÀy valuable in its negative aspects.20 The discussion on Sanger’s eugenic rhetoric is mostly based on her two most inÀuential book publications. The ¿rst one: Woman and the New Race (1920), constitutes an intermediary stage in Sanger’s argument for birth control. The second: The Pivot of Civilization (1922) is a clearly eugenic propaganda for the cause Sanger devoted her life to. The excerpts from the publications are to exemplify the Sanger’s usage of eugenic rhetoric in order to politicize the issue of birth control. The argument used by Sanger in Woman and the New Race may be best described as a eugenic expression in the service of a feminist cause. This strategy is employed when Sanger uses clearly eugenic terms is such phrases as: “a brood animal for the masculine civilization of the world,”21 or “a breeding machine and a drudge,”22 despising of women’s subordination due to the lack of contraceptive knowledge. Such descriptions or even de¿nitions of a woman draw readers’ attention to her animal-like treatment. She is not a subject but a breeding object, a female. In hard labor, she provides working force, indispensable for upholding of industrial and social system in the world ruled by men. Sanger’s argument is clearly Haller, Eugenics; Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics; Ordover, American Eugenics; Pernick, The Black Stork. 18 Franks, Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy, 10-13; Chesler, 195-196 and 216-217; McCann, 4, 19. 19 Sanger claimed that to encourage women from upper classes, who usually limited their families to few children, to give birth to a greater number of children (as eugenicists in fear of race suicide did) is to sentence them for the same fate as poor women. Middle class women, burdened with limitless number of children, would not be able to transfer culture, social value and high standard of health to their offspring. Sanger, Woman and the New Race, 67. 20 Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 185. 21 Sanger, Woman and the New Race, 2. 22 Ibid., 53. 17


Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control

feminist as she bases it on the assumption of a woman’s subordination to a man that is depended on her reproductive functions. Presenting such a gloomy depiction of women’s fate, Sanger appeals to “set motherhood free,”23 emphasizing individualism and self-decisiveness of women. Similarly as in Woman Rebel, she claims that women’s destination and ful¿llment do not have to be limited to children and family.24 Women may be “liberated” thank to birth control. All it sounds very compelling. But, is it possible to reconcile freedom with control (birth control)?25 In the real life circumstances of the 1920s and 1930s, reproductive decisions were frequently taken out from the hands of women, especially impoverished, colored, immigrant.26 Sanger’s eugenic argument for birth control contributed into the measures undertaken to control reproduction without the consent of women as in case of sterilization acts. The means of birth control were employed in order to regulate the reproduction of “un¿t” and ”feeble-minded” masses, which were, according to lawmakers, unable to control it by themselves. If in Woman and the New Race Sanger uses eugenic rhetoric for a feminist argument, her subsequent publication The Pivot of Civilization is a “more problematic, and controversial book.”27 In The Pivot… Sanger no longer speaks from the perspective of a woman. She espouses eugenics and distances herself from feminism and socialism. In the eyes of Margaret Sanger, birth control becomes the most necessary component of the nation’s eugenic program that aims at racial betterment and nation’s well being. Family limitation is to help to prevent reproduction of “feeble-minded” (eugenic term that implied mental illness, pauperism, low intelligence) and “un¿t” (another eugenic term that referred to people with a hereditary disease, especially venereal disease and tuberculosis, alcoholism, degeneracy, and all kinds of mental and physical defects).28 The implementation of birth control argument in the ideology of nation’s wellbeing and racial betterment is a dramatic departure from Sanger’s feminist rhetoric. The activist who rebelliously stated that a woman’s body did not belong to any church or government changes drastically her opinion on the relation between the state and the birth control. In 1914, during her feminist phase, Sanger wrote ironically: This great and glorious country needs children—to uphold its great and glorious inIbid., 45. Ibid., 10, 28. 25 Franks, 6-20. 26 Dorr, „Arm in Arm,” 143-166; Schoen, “Between Choice and Coercion 132-156; Noll, “The Sterilization of Willie Mallory,” 41-57. 27 Edelman, “Introduction” in Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 9. 28 Ibid, 20. 23


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


dustrial system, its great and glorious public schools, its great and glorious silk mills and mush factories, its magni¿cently equipped and effectively conducted asylums for the insane and feeble-minded, its reformatories and juvenile courts, its noble slums. Let us sing: ‘My Country, Tis of Thee.29

Only eight years later, she perceives and presents birth control as a means that may be used, with the participation of public of¿cials or government-sponsored social workers, to regulate the state’s racial composition, health and welfare. Family limitation is to be implemented in the state programs undertaken to limit the reproduction of possible future guests in asylums, reformatories, and juvenile courts. Children, who as Sanger wrote indignantly in 1914, are bred and used to uphold America’s industrial and social system, now should be limited to ensure nation’s betterment. The role of a woman in family limitation is, (next to the relation between the state and birth control), the issue that undergoes a complete transformation in Sanger’s argument. In contrast with her previous publications, in The Pivot of Civilization she perceives motherhood not as women’s issue but as a problem that “must undergo scienti¿c study.”30 The argument for birth control is no longer based on women’s right to control their bodies but on state’s obligation to have power over “the unceasing and unrestrained fertility of (…) defectives.”31 To prevent their reproduction, Sanger supports sterilization and sex segregation of “feeble-minded”, as “they are almost certain to bear imbecile children.”32 She openly admits that “eugenics seem to be most valuable if the control of fertility of feeble-minded and un¿t is at stake.”33 The use of the “feeble-minded” and “un¿t” label to discredit the reproduction of certain groups is a radically different approach to the issues of poverty and class inequalities than the one represented by Sanger in 1914. The passage from the article “The Un¿t” from Woman Rebel illustrates clearly this shift. [W]oman and men of the working class are so drained and exhausted in their health and energy by the work, poor food, and bad housing, that it is impossible for them to give birth to healthy offspring, thus making them un¿t. Can the workingwoman of this country be any thing but un¿t when at ten and twelve years they are sent into mills and factories to work in unhealthy and unsanitary dwellings? The most important epoch in a woman’s life—the age of the girl from twelve to eighteen—is spend in grinding out riches for the master class when she should be at leisure to develop into a healthy womanhood (…) It is foreign women who maintain and increase the “Humble Pie,” Woman Rebel, April 1914, 8. Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 84. 31 Ibid., 114. 32 Ibid., 122. 33 Ibid., 124. 29



Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control

population of America. The higher woman goes into social and intellectual life, the less is she inclined to become a childbearing machine for any Àag.34

In 1914 Sanger is sensitive and class-conscious enough to notice the causes of “feeble-mindedness” of the children born from working class parents. These are, according to her: exhaustive work, lack of nutritious food and proper housing, unsanitary working conditions. She underlines the fact that foreign women, not middle-class WASP females, maintain the American birth rate. All this changes only few years later, when Sanger’s main aim is to prevent the growth of working class “un¿t” children. She no longer takes into consideration the reasons of “feeblemindedness,” emphasizing only its impact on race degeneracy. Furthermore, Sanger rejects her earlier socialist argument, underlining “super¿cial, emotional and religious character of Marxism and its deleterious effect upon the life and reason.”35 Instead of referring to feminism or socialism, unpopular in the time of the Red Scare and the demise of radicalism, Sanger conforms her rhetoric to the demands of more dominant eugenic discourses.36 By presenting motherhood and birth control as scienti¿c issues that should be studied, she intends to endow them with the aura of science, and by such, to attach to them reasonability, respectability and professionalism. The same strategy is undertaken in her espousal of eugenics that was considered a scienti¿c discipline. Sanger is aware of the usefulness of “science” label as she names the tenth chapters of her book: Science the Ally. Science (in this case eugenics) is indeed an ally, in contrast with Marxism. The latter invokes ideology and religion-like emotionality and sentiments. By her alliances with “science” (in fact with eugenicists and physicians from the American Medical Association) Sanger succeeds in professionalizing and medicalizing birth control. Her decision to advocate the “doctor only” bill, which allows only physicians and nurses to provide contraceptive information, is an abandonment of her prior argument of women’s right to control their bodies. It has its costs but helps to dispose of the stigma of obscenity and illegality attached to birth control and to transfer the issue of contraception from private to public sphere.

Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric The rhetorical strategy of Mary Ware Dennett (who is a representative of another strand of activism in the American birth control movement) in her ¿ght to remove

“The Un¿t,” Woman Rebel, April 1914, 10. Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 170. 36 Buerkle, 302. 34 35

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the words “preventing contraception” from the federal obscenity laws37 did not undergo so many radical changes as Sanger’s. Generally, Dennett and her Voluntary Parenthood League based their discourse on rationality, First Amendment and civil liberties,38 the democratic theory of law that should reÀect wishes of people39 and the right of parents to decide about the number of their children. Dennett emphasized that American people want their “laws to represent common sense, justice and practicability, and that they want them to harmonize with our heritage of American ideals of freedom and self-government.” 40 She stressed individualism and the selfevident right of a human being to decide about his or her life. Her rhetoric was the continuation of the liberal demands embedded in the American credo and the tradition of progressive social movements. Similarly as Sanger’s, Dennett’s main strategy was the politicization of the birth control issue. Contraception was for her not a personal problem, but a matter with “a heavy public responsibility.” 41 She intended to transfer the problem of family limitation from the private sphere where “it has been said (…) in whispers for many, many years” claiming that “[w]e must do something on this subject besides attend to it as a personal problem in our own lives.” 42 According to her, the issue should have been discussed openly in political bodies as it had vital inÀuence on nation’s well-being and future. Characteristically, Dennett did not refer in her speeches and writings to mothers but to parents, what is visible in the name of her organization (Voluntary Parenthood League) and the use of such phrases as “self-determined parenthood” or “intelligent parenthood.” 43 She expressed her view as to a mother vs. parent alternative clearly during the convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, saying: “Friends, may we please resolve this occasion promptly into a mother’s meeting, than which nothing could be better unless it should be a parent’s meeting?”44 Thus, preferring parents’ option, she stressed their self-decisiveness45 in the contracep37 “The Voluntary Parenthood League Objects”, The Papers of Mary Ware Dennett and the Voluntary Parenthood League, Women’s Studies Manuscript Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliff College, Cambridge, MA (micro¿lm). The access to Denett’s and the VPL’s papers was possible due to the grant obtained from the John F. Kennedy Institute for American Studies, Free University in Berlin where I spent a month in September 2004. 38 Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism. 39 Dennett, Birth Control Laws, iii. 40 Ibid, iv. 41 „Mrs. Dennett’s Address to the Biennial Convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Des Moines, Iowa, June 1920,” The Papers of Mary Ware Dennett Papers, 1. 42 Ibid., 1. 43 “The Voluntary Parenthood League Objects,” 1. 44 “Mrs. Dennett’s Address,” 1. 45 Ibid., 3-4.


Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control

tive choices, opposing the “doctors’ only” bill proposed by Sanger’s organization,46 which was according to her a “partial release of contraceptive knowledge”47 or a “half-a-loaf measure.” 48 Another issue that distinguished Dennett from her rival was the attitude toward so-called “un¿t” and “feeble-minded”. Although Dennett used the rhetoric of “the betterment of the race” 49 and admitted that “[n]o defective can produce normal offspring,”50 she believed in education for “defective people”51 and was against compulsory use of contraception for “ignorant poor.”52 Thus, Dennett’s rhetoric in this case was maybe less drastic but surely not less condescending.

Conclusion Summing up, the rhetorical strategies of Margaret Sanger and Mary Ware Dennett were intended to politicize birth control issue by evoking feminism or eugenics and democratic theory of law or freedom respectively. Sanger, in contrast with Dennett, emphasized the gender dimension of birth control. She tended to conform her rhetoric to dominant discourses of the time. Sanger’s elitist and undemocratic eugenic rhetoric for birth control brought her greater success than feminist and socialist one. It prompted the 1936 court decision in the US vs. One Package of Japanese Pessaries that struck down the Comstock Act.

Works Cited Primary sources Addams, Jane. The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House. September 1909 to September 1929. With a Record of a Growing World Consciousness. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930. –––––. Twenty Years at Hull House. New York, 1923. Dennett, Mary Ware. Birth Control Laws. Shall We Keep Them, Change Them, or Abolish Them. New York City, 1926. Rosen, Reproductive Health, 78. Ibid., 6. 48 “Birth Control Means More People as Well as Better People. The Figures Prove It. National Birth Control League Pamphlet”, The Papers of Mary Ware Dennett. 49 “Birth Control Means More People as Well as Better People.” 50 Dennett, Yes, but..., 1919, 20. 51 Ibid., 20. 52 Ibid., 11. 46 47

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–––––. Yes, but.… 1919. Kelly, Florence. The Autobiography of Florence Kelly. Notes of Sixty Years. Edited and Introduced by Kathryn Kish Sklar. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986. Sanger, Margaret. The Pivot of Civilization. New York: Humanity Books, 2003; originally published: New York: Brentano’s, 1922. –––––. Woman and the New Race. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1920. Shaw, Anna Howard (with the collaboration of Elisabeth Jordan). The Story of a Pioneer. New York and London: Harper Brothers Publishers, 1915. The Papers of Mary Ware Dennett and the Voluntary Parenthood League, Women’s Studies Manuscript Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliff College, Cambridge, MA (micro¿lm). Woman Rebel, March—November 1914.

Secondary sources Baskin, Alex. Margaret Sanger, The Woman Rebel and the Rise of the Birth Control Movement in the United States. Stonybrook: New York, 1976. Buerkle, Wesley C. The Discipline and Disciplining of Margaret Sanger: US Birth Control Rhetoric in the Early Twentieth Century. Unpublished doctoral thesis: Louisiana State University, 2004. Chen, Constance M.“The Sex Side of Life”. Mary Ware Dennett’s Pioneering Battle for Birth Control and Sex Education. New York: The New Press, 1996. Chesler, Ellen. Woman of Valor. Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Cott, Nancy F. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987. Davis, Allen F. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York 1973. Dorr, Lisa Lindquist. „Arm in Arm: Gender, Eugenics, and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Acts of the 1920s.“ Journal of Women’s History 1 (1999): 143-166. Douglas, Emily Taft. Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970. Elhstain, Jean Bethke. Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy. A Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Franks, Angela. Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy. The Control of Female Fertility. McFarland and Company: Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2005. Fryer, Peter. The Birth Controllers. London: Secher and Warburg, 1966. Gray, Madeline. Margaret Sanger: A Biography of the Champion of Birth Control. New York: Richard Markers Publishers, 1979. Haller, Mark H. Eugenics. Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1963.


Margaret Sanger’s and Mary Ware Dennett’s Rhetoric of Birth Control

Kennedy, David. Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970. Kevles, Daniel J. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. New York, 1985 McCann, Carole M. Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. Noll, Steven. “The Sterilization of Willie Mallory,” in Molly Lodd-Taylor and Lauri Umansky, eds. “Bad” Mothers. The Politics of Blame in XX-th Century America. New York and London: New York University Press, 1998. Ordover, Nancy. American Eugenics. Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003 Pernick, Martin S. The Black Stork. Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures since 1915. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Rosen, Robyn L. Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights. Reformers and the Politics of Maternal Welfare, 1917-1940. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2003. Schoen, Johanna. “Between Choice and Coercion: Women and the Politics of Sterilization in North Carolina, 1929-1975.” Journal of Women’s History. 1 (2001): 132-156.

CONSTITUTIONAL ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS IWONA ĝWIĄTCZAK-WASILEWSKA 1. Introduction David I. Kertzer in his book Ritual, Politics, and Power, observed that the United States has “few rituals … with a legitimate historical base.”1 Unarguably, the State of the Union address is one of such few rituals. The beginning of the American tradition of an annual presidential address to the Legislature dates back to the 2nd session of the 1st Congress when on January 8, 1790, George Washington, the ¿rst president of the United States, delivered his precedent speech to the assembled Congress in the Senate Chamber of the New York’s Federal Hall. Since the Senate struggled with assembling the quorum necessary to proceed to business for two days after the second session of the Federal Congress began on January 4, 1790, George Washington wrote a letter to the Vice President and President of the Senate John Adams, in which he informed that “when there shall be a suf¿cient number of the two Houses of Congress assembled to proceed to business, he may be informed of it; and also at what time and place it will be convenient for Congress that he should meet them in order to make some oral communications at the commencement of their session ….”2 As soon as the quorum necessary to proceed to business assembled Wednesday, January 6, 1790, it was ordered that Mr. Strong, a representative from Massachusetts, and Mr. Izard, a representative from South Carolina, “be a Committee on the part of the Senate, with such Committee as the House of Representatives may appoint on their part, to inform the President of the United States, that a quorum of the two Houses is assembled, and will be ready in the Senate Chamber, at such time as the President may appoint, to receive any communications he may be pleased to make.”3 The House of Representatives having passed its own resolution for a joint committee to wait upon the President, and appointed Mr. Gilman, Mr. Ames and Kertzer, Ritual, Politics and Power, 182. Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 2nd sess., 1076. 3 Annals of Congress, Senate, 1st Cong. , 2nd sess., 967-968 1 2


Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address

Mr. Seney for that purpose, took the seats assigned to them in the Senate Chamber and together with the members of the Senate received the communication from the President at 11 o’clock. Having ¿nished his speech, the Senate appointed a committee (Mr. King, Mr. Izard and Mr. Peterson) “to prepare and report the draft of an Address to the President of the United States, in answer to his Speech.”4 On behalf of the committee, Mr. King then reported an address to the President January 11. It was agreed that the President would receive the address of the Senate, in answer to his speech, at his own House. On Thursday, January 14, 1790, “the Senate waited on the President of the United States, at his own house, where, the Vice President in their name, delivered to the President of the United States, the address agreed to on the 11th instant.”5 The President then “was pleased to make” a brief reply. Despite the Framers’ discontent with this comparison, the idea to inform the Legislature on the condition of the state derives, as some scholars have argued, from “the royal act of communicating with parliament.”6 The so-called Speech from the Throne, King’s or Queen’s Speech and of¿cially known as the Royal Address, probably originated in medieval England and became the address that the Sovereign made at the opening of each Parliament.7 The reason for giving the speech was to explain why the House of Lords and the Commons had been summoned to the royal presence and then to give a “state of the nation” address; thus in that sense the Royal Address would be the ancestor of that delivered by US Presidents.8 When, without debate, the Framers of the Constitution imposed on the President a constitutional duty “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” they succeeded, Seymour H. Fersh argues, “in having placed before the lawmakers and the nation a continuous series of yearly assessments from the Chief Executive.”9 And, as Fersh further points out, [n]o other governmental document has commanded the attention given to the annual message. It stands unchallenged, over the years, as front page copy. Newspapers have so treated it from the earliest days of the country and … full radio and television coverage has been given whenever the President delivered his report in person.10

Yet, the document which has been recognized as the “one great public document Senate Legislative Journal. Vol. 1, ed. Linda Grant de Pauw, 218. Senate Legislative Journal. Vol. 1, ed. Linda Grant de Pauw, 222. 6 Stevens, Sources of the Constitution of the United States, 158. 7 See also: BBC News, “Queen’s Speech.” 8 This has been suggested by Christine Riding, Curator at Tate Britain, London. See also: Weber, The Long-Term Dynamics of Societal Problem-Solving, 387–405. 9 Fersh, The View from the White House, v. 10 Ibid., v. 4 5

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of the United States which is widely read and discussed,” has not received enough scholarly attention.11 With the exception of only a few important contributions: Seymour H. Fersh’s The View from the White House. A Study of the Presidential State of he Union Messages, Arthur Schlesinger’s introduction to Fred Israel’s comprehensive collection of The State of the Union: Messages of the Presidents 1790–1966, and just recently (2006) published reference volume devoted to the president’s Annual Message to Congress—State of the Union: Presidential Rhetoric from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush—with an introduction by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, scholars have generally ignored to study both the origins and history of presidential annual communication to Congress. Several studies of selected aspects of the State of the Union exist, though. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, for example, studied the state of the union as a rhetorical genre. Lyn Ragsdale discussed the politics of presidential speechmaking, Jeffrey Cohen analyzed the impact of presidential rhetoric on the public agenda. Mary Stuckey and Vanessa Beasley carried out research on the concepts of American identity in the State of the Union addresses.12 This essay, in turn, aims to ¿ll the void in the study of the origins of the State of the Union address. By investigating documentary records of the Constitutional Convention gathered by Max Farrand in his Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, this work traces the evolution of Article II, section 3 of the United States Constitution. And speci¿cally, this paper seeks to explore the underlying political ideas that brought about the clause calling the President to inform Congress on the state of the union, and demonstrates how the Convention’s delegates, historical, social and political factors had affected the creation of that clause during the Federal Convention, and how the idea to inform the Legislature on the state of the union eventually worked its way to the Federal Constitution.13

2. British and American InÀuences Despite the allegedly British origins of the “Speech from the White House,” the presidential address has not become a mere American imitation of the monarch’s Speech from the Throne, neither it can claim the British model as its sole source.14 Beard, American Government and Politics, 185. Ragsdale, “The Politics of Presidential Speechmaking, 1949–1980.” The American Political Science Review 78 (1984): 971–84. Cohen “Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda.” American Journal of Political Science 39 (1995): 87–107. Campbell and Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words. Stuckey, De¿ning Americans. Beasley, You, the People. 13 This essay is a piece of the work in progress. 14 Fersh, The View from the White House, 78. 11



Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address

The ritual of opening the British Parliament with a Speech from the Throne, Schlesinger argues “did not escape the notice of the zealously Republican party of Jefferson and Madison.”15 Although the Constitution does not specify the manner in which the President should provide Congress with information on the state of the union, the ¿rst President, in fact, imposed on Congress the manner of communication; Washington made the execution of this constitutional duty dependent on the work of Congress and set the dynamic for future interactions between the legislative and the executive branches. George Washington interpreted the provision to the effect that the conveyance of “Information of the State of the Union” was to be in the form of an oral address, delivered personally by the President to the Congress assembled at the beginning of congressional session; the choice of time and place was, however, left to the convenience of Congress. John Adams followed in Washington’s footsteps and delivered the speech in person. But this short-lived practice ended with Adams’ last address. Once Thomas Jefferson was elected to the of¿ce of the President of the United States, he “resolved to suppress what he considered a quasi-monarchical ceremony.”16 Not only did Jefferson refuse to deliver the message in person, but he required no reply to it.17 As President Jefferson explained: “The sending a message, instead of making a speech to be answered, is acknowledged to have the best effects towards preserving harmony.”18 In commenting on the origins of the presidential address in the United States, Seymour H. Fersh admitted that, in fact, “Overt borrowing from British precedent was highly unpopular in the 1780s” and “the framers often speci¿cally disclaimed that there had been any derivation of the Constitution from non-American sources.”19 Admittedly, the origins of the clause calling for information to Congress can also be traced back to an American source, which is Article XIX of the New York Constitution of 1777, which provided that: it shall be the duty of the governor to inform the legislature, at every session, of the condition of the State, so far as may respect his department; to recommend such

Schlesinger, Jr., introduction to Israel, The State of the Union, xiv. Ibid., xiv. 17 President Jefferson discontinued the practice of personal delivery of the Annual Message, as it was called well until the 20th century, and the messages of all subsequent Presidents until President Wilson were read by the House clerks. 18 Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes. 1802 January 1. 19 Fersh, The View from the White House, 3. Evidence for their disclaimers can be found in Madison’s Journal from the Federal Convention. For example, Edmund Randolph—an important delegate to the Convention from Virginia—is quoted to have said: “we had no motive to be governed by the British Government as our prototype.” See also: Koenig, The Chief Executive, 22. 15 16

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


matters to their consideration as shall appear to him to concern its good government, welfare, and prosperity;20

Although several states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Georgia, preceded New York with the establishment of their state constitutions, it was the New York Constitution that provided an important model for the Founding Fathers who sought to create an effective executive. Precisely because it was established after the adoption of other state constitutions, the Constitution of New York, as Louis Koenig argued, “pro¿ted from their imperfections,” especially those regarding the executive power.21 The need for a strong executive was also enhanced by the chaos and turmoil of the American Revolution, and particularly, by the British invasion of the state of New York. Thus the draftsmen of its Constitution, Koenig suggests, were aware that “New York’s situation roughened by the onmarching British, made strong executive power imperative.”22 And as a consequence of the necessity to establish a strong national leader, the New York Constitution, Fersh elucidates, “became the source for many of the clauses in the federal Constitution dealing with presidential duties,” including the clause calling the President to inform Congress on the state of the union.23 Given the inÀuence of the New York Constitution on the Federal Constitution, one may also reÀect upon the role of Gouverneur Morris in channeling certain ideas from the New York constitution to the Federal Convention of 1787. Gouverneur Morris, a Founding Father who was to be the most inÀuential in creating the Presidency—he was a most important member of the Committee of Style and Revision which decided on the Constitution’s ¿nal wording during the Federal Convention— Morris too made signi¿cant contributions to the New York Constitution. Most importantly, however, Gouverneur Morris was the only member of the Federal Convention who can be credited with phrasing the ¿nal wording of the provision calling the President to inform Congress on the state of the union; his suggestion would, in fact, affect the scope of President’s duties. Thus Morris’s involvement in the drafting of both constitutions may provide an important point of reference with respect to how the idea of informing the Legislature on the condition of the state might have permeated the constitutional debate.24 Yet since the existing records from the Koenig, 22. In subsequent New York’s Constitutions the phrasing of this clause changed but the idea has anyway persisted. 21 Koenig, The Chief Executive, 15. 22 Ibid., 15. 23 Fersh, The View from the White House, 3. 24 Also other members of the Committee of Detail could have been familiar with the concept of the address because based on historical records, we know that to prepare themselves, the Committee ¿rst studied the Convention’s resolutions, state constitutions, the Articles of 20


Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address

Convention allow us to reconstruct the process of creating that clause with more care and certainty as to its authorship, let us go back now to the days of the Federal Convention to see how that idea found its way to the Federal Constitution.25

3. The Federal Convention BrieÀy, the Federal Convention opened in the Assembly Room at the Pennsylvania State House on May 25, 1787, to redress the de¿ciencies of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Throughout the Convention, delegates from the 12 colonies debated the new shape of government in several committees of which the work of the Committee of Detail and Committee of Style and Arrangement was instrumental in adapting the idea of the state-of-the-union to the Federal Constitution.26 The proceedings of these two Committees, however, are incomplete. And particularly with respect to the Committee of Detail, Farrand points out, there is “no historical account of the workings of the Committee during the ten-day adjournment of the Convention. Only documents, such as James Wilson’s drafts of the Constitution, have survived and they allow valuable insight into the operations of the Committee of Detail.”27 The documents revealing the work of the Committee of Detail in different stages of preparing the draft of the Constitution were found by Max Farrand among the Wilson Papers and Mason Papers deposited with the Library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Based on these Papers, and as Farrand claims, “a few additions from other sources, it is possible to present a nearly complete series of documents representing the various stages of the work of the Committee.”28 And since, in fact, the ¿rst trace of the idea of the President inform-

Confederation, and probably other applicable reports and documents. There is no recorded evidence of their contributions. 25 What today remains the best single source of the Convention proceedings is Max Farrand’s Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In Volume III, 651, of his Records, Farrand writes, “Everything embodied in the ¿nal draft of the Constitution is to be traced through the Index by the Clauses of the Constitution.” The evolution of Clause 1, Art. II, sec. 3 can be traced, as Farrand provides (Vol. III, 644), on the following pages in respectively volume I and II: Vol. I – 21, (63, 66), 67, (70, 226), 230, (236), 244, (247, 292) and Vol. II – 23, (32), 116, (121), 132, (134), 145, 146, 158, 171, 185, (398), 404, (411), 419, 420, 547, 553, 574, 600, 660. 26 Throughout his Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Farrand uses the term the Committee of Style and Revision. Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention. 27 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, 129. 28 Ibid., 129.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ing the Legislature on the state of the union can be found in these drafts, let us now move on to discuss the work of that Committee and my ¿ndings.

3.1 The Committee of Detail The Committee of Detail consisting of ¿ve members: Oliver Ellsworth (CT), Nathaniel Gorham (MA), Edmund Randolph (VA), John Rutledge (SC), James Wilson (PA), was established by the Convention on July 23 and Edmund Randolph was chosen to prepare the draft of the Constitution. Before the convention adjourned, on July 26, it was resolved that the proceedings of the Convention, including its 23 resolutions, the Pinckney and Paterson Plans, be referred to the Committee of Detail. The draft, Farrand argues, “was subject to extensive and occasionally to radical changes, some of which were made in the writing of Randolph, but others were by the hand of Rutledge.”29 Subsequently, Farrand continues, “the draft was submitted to the Committee, and after discussion and criticism, the modi¿cations agreed upon were were inserted by the chairman.”30 Yet it is quite likely that concurrent with Randolph’s work, also James Wilson had been working on his draft of the Constitution. Having found these documents in the Wilson Papers and Mason Papers, Farrand included them in the second volume of his Records and assigned them numbers from I to IX. The provision to inform Congress on the state of the union can be found in four of them. And thus, in document IV titled “a draught of the fundamental constitution” written by Edmund Randolph, which among other things enumerates the powers of the executive, there is a marginal note in the handwriting of John Rutledge, according to Farrand, which clearly is an early proposal of the provision calling the President to inform the Legislature on the state of the union.31 This provision, found in Art. II, section 4, clause 5, item 5, called “¢Governor of the united People and States of America²” that he “¢shall propose to the Legisle. from Time to Time by Speech or Messg such Meas as concern this Union².”32 Thus, it was not until Rutledge emended Randolph’s draft that this provision was included in it. Still, however, an emendation in a hand resembling John Rutledge’s would not answer the question of whether Rutledge himself had been the author of that idea or simply copied it from someone else. What is, nonetheless, evident about the document in question in Farrand’s judgment, is that it was “used in the preparation of subsequent Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution, 125. Ibid., 125. 31 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol. II, 145. 32 Ibid., 145. The document, as Farrand says (Records, Vol. II, 137), “was found among the Mason Papers in the possession of the late Mrs. St. George Tucker Campbell of Philadelphia, a great-granddaughter of George Mason … [and it] is in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph with emendations by John Rutledge,” enclosed in angle brackets. 29



Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address

drafts” as almost “each item is either checked off or crossed out.”33 Additional evidence that may support Farrand’s observation is that it’s the only provision in which the executive is referred to as Governor, and not President. And since, eventually, it was the latter name that was chosen for the executive, the former must have been copied from an earlier proposal, most likely from the Hamilton Plan. Still another and slightly different phrasing of that provision can be found in document VII of Farrand’s Records which was drafted by James Wilson and which incorporated extracts from the New Jersey Plan and the Pinckney Plan.34 The document provides that: “There shall be a President, in which the Ex. Authority of the U.S. shall be vested. It shall be his Duty to inform the Legislature of the condition of U.S. so far as may respect his Department—to recommend Matters to their Consideration ….”35 This excerpt was identi¿ed by Professor J. Franklin Jameson, as an extract from the original Pinckney Plan, of which virtually nothing has been heard from July 26, 1787, when it was referred to the Committee of Detail, down to the present time.36 The Pinckney Plan, as Seymour Fersh suggests, “drew heavily from New York’s charter” and the resemblance of the provision pertaining to the stateof-the-union found in New York’s Constitution to that found in the Pinckney Plan is unmistakable; clearly, Charles Pinckney made extensive use of the New York Constitution and of Art. XIX in particular.37 In convention, however, his individual efforts were surpassed by the proposals of the Virginia delegation and “owing to the lateness of the hour,” Farrand points out, Pinckney “could do nothing more than lay the documents before the house.”38 Yet despite the fact that his plan had never been debated in convention, Charles Pinckney—Farrand maintains—“evidently expected to deliver a speech in explanation of his ideas.” The draft of that undelivered speech came to light several decades after the ¿rst print of Farrand’s Records and was later included by him in a supplementary volume. It doesn’t explain, however, Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol II, 137. As Farrand explains (Records, 156), “Documents VI and VIII are on two sheets of four pages each. Between them is placed document VII, consisting of a smaller single sheet of two pages. It is in Wilson’s hand, but written with a ¿ner pen.” 35 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, 157. 36 Jameson, 509-11. Despite the fact that Pinckney’s original Plan presented to the Federal Convention on May 29th, 1787, has been lost, what has survived is the pamphlet containing Pinckney’s Observations on the Plan of Government Submitted to the Federal Convention, on the 29th of May, 1787. And soon after the Convention adjourned, the pamphlet, as Jameson suggested, was “printed, or at least distributed” (“Sketch of Pinckney’s Plan for a Constitution, 1787, The American Historical Review, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Jul., 1904), 735-47). And it is on the basis of those observations that we now know how Charles Pinckney contributed to the creation of the Constitution and this particular clause. 37 Fersh, The View from the White House, 5. 38 Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, 71. 33


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Charles Pinckney’s rationale for including the provision on the state-of-the-union in his plan.39 Another version of that clause, most probably taken from Pinckney and interpolated by Rutledge, can be found in the twelfth section of document IX—being in fact the preliminary outline of the Constitution. The outline reads: “He shall from Time to Time give information ¢to the Legislature² of the State of the (Nation to the Legislature) ¢Union²; (he) may recommend (Matters) ¢such measures as he shall judge nesy. & expedt² to their Consideration ….”40 Document IX, found among the Wilson Papers, was drafted by James Wilson and emended by John Rutledge. And as Farrand suggests, “Parts in parentheses were crossed out in the original … emendations by Rutledge are in angle brackets ¢ ².”41 The idea eventually worked its way to the Report of the Committee of Detail, which basically incorporated emendations made by Rutledge on Wilson’s ¿rst draft of the Constitution. In enumerating the proposed powers of the presidency, Art. X, sec. 2, clause 2 of the Report provided that the President: “… shall, from time to time, give information to the Legislature, of the state of the Union: he may recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary, and expedient.”42 On August 6, the Report was referred to the Convention where it was further debated and by its decision “the word information was transposed & inserted after ‘Legislature’.”43 And, as Michael Nelson points out, “The latter of these two provisions, both of which were uncontroversial, was modi¿ed slightly in response to Gouverneur Morris’s motion of August 24.”44 Following Madison’s account of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, “On motion of Mr. Govr. Morris, ‘he may’ was struck out, & ‘and’ inserted before ‘recommend’ in clause 2d. sect 2d. art: X.” The convention approved Morris’s speci¿c suggestion that the words “he may” be replaced by “and” and thereby made it the “duty of the President to recommend, & thence prevent umbrage or cavil at his doing it.”45

Hutson, Supplement to Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 112–118. 40 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol. II, 171. 41 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol. II, 163. 42 This provision can be found in Art. X, sec. 2, according to Madison’s transcript (copied to his Debates), or Art. IX according to Farrand. Farrand (1911, vol. I, footnote, 177) writes that “Several copies of the original printed report are in existence, and a number of facsimiles printed by Peter Force. The reprint is readily distinguished: the original report numbered the 6th and 7th articles both VI; the facsimile numbers the 7th and 8th articles both VII.” 43 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, 404. Art. X, sec. 2 was debated between August 24–27. 44 Nelson, Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to the Presidency, 33. 45 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, 405. 39


Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address

3.2 The Work of the Committee of Style The draft of the Federal Constitution was subsequently debated both in Convention and in the Committee of Eleven until September 8, when its proceedings were referred to a Committee of Five “to revise the stile of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the House.”46 The Committee of Style and Arrangement, or Revision as Farrand refers to it, consisted of Samuel Johnson (CT), Alexander Hamilton (NY), Gouverneur Morris (PA), James Madison (VA) and Rufus King (MA). The Chairman of the Committee of Style—Samuel Johnson—presented a digest of the Constitution on September 12, in which the clause found its way to Art. II, sec 3, and as ¿nally written reads: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”47 Although the change was not substantial, the Committee of Style replaced the word “Legislature” with the word “Congress.” The word “Congress” had, in fact, already been used by the Committee of Detail in earlier drafts of the Constitution, for instance in Art. IX.48

4. Conclusions The resolutions of the Convention had only provided that “a single Executive be instituted … with Power to carry into Execution the national Laws—to appoint to Of¿ces in Cases not otherwise provided for—and to be removable on Impeachment and Conviction of mal Practice or Neglect of Duty” and who “shall have a Right to negative any legislative act.”49 In elaborating theses resolutions, Farrand reminds, “the Committee of Detail had made it the duty of the president to give information to congress, and had authorized him to recommend to that body whatever measures he thought necessary or desirable.”50 But with an exception of Gouverneur Morris’s remark on August 24, the provision conferring the power but also imposing a duty on the President did not raise any recorded debate in the Convention, and, as also Schlesinger pointed out “struck the Constitutional Convention as entirely obvious and sensible.”51 Commenting on the powers of the executive in the 77th Federalist, several months after the signing of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton observed that, “No objection has been made to this class of authorities; nor could they posMadison, The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol. II, 600. 48 Farrand’s Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol. II, 163. 49 Farrand, Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Vol. II, 132. 50 Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution, 160, 161. 51 Schlesinger, Jr., introduction to Israel, The State of the Union, xiii. 46 47

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


sibly admit of any. It required, indeed, an insatiable avidity for censure to invent exceptions to the parts which have been excepted to.” Although “it is undoubtedly true,” Farrand argues that Charles Pinckney “suggested a great many things that were embodied in the constitution … they were minor points and details than large, constructive features.”52 Yet, as Schlesinger concluded, “these innocuous phrases conferred on the American President what has become … a basic tool in his management of Congress and a potent instrument of national leadership.”53 The State of the Union address, or the Annual Message, as it was known until the 80th Congress, has evolved over time.54 And as J. Cohen maintains (1995, p. 85) “[t]he State of the Union is now an institutionalized routine activity of the presidency, and the individual speeches are in some senses comparable.” The reasons for the sustained interest in the message are best set forth in the words of S.H. Fersh when he concludes that the addresses: have provided at least three important views from the White House: ¿rst, there is a view itself of unfolding events as seen from the nation’s capital which is summarized by the President; second, there is the view or judgment of the President which the message represents; and third, there is the view of the presidency itself which is sometimes explicit and more often implicit in the manner with which the communication is delivered and the content which it contains.55

Presidential philosophy concerning the function of the Annual Message was characteristically expressed by James Monroe in his 1821 Annual Message: In this annual communication … the whole scope of our political concerns naturally comes into view, that errors, if such have been committed, may be corrected; that defects which have become manifest may be remedied; and, on the other hand, that measures which were adopted on due deliberation, and which experience has shown are just in themselves … should be persevered in and supported.

Thus, to conclude with the Campbell and Jamieson’s words: “[i]n charging presidents with reporting on the state of the Union, the Constitution gives them, in the

Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution, 199. Schlesinger, Jr., Introduction, xiii. 54 Today, the executive’s address functions at other levels of government in the United States. Although they are not constitutionally required in every state, majority of state governors deliver a state of the state speech. In addition, the idea of the address has also spread to an even lower level of government—there are also mayors who deliver state of the city reports. 55 Fersh, The View from the White House, V. 52 53


Constitutional Origins of the American State of the Union Address

role of national historian, the opportunity to reconstruct the past in order to forge the future.”56

Works Cited Primary Sources Annals of Congress, 1st Cong., 2nd sess., 1776. Farrand, Max. Records of the Federal Convention 1787. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. ———. The Framing of the Constitution of the United States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1913. Hamilton, Alexander. The Federalist 77. 1788. fed_77.html. Madison, James. The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Senate Legislative Journal, Vol. 1, ed. Linda Grant de Pauw. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1972. Thomas Jefferson, Washington, to John Wayles Eppes. 1802 January 1. 38–576. A Calendar of The Jefferson Papers of the University of Virginia.

Secondary Sources BBC News, “Queen’s Speech.” stm. Beard, Charles. A. American Government and Politics. New York: Macmillan, 1935. Campbell, K. K. and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Deeds Done in Words. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. Fersh, S.H., The View from the White House. A Study of the Presidental State of the Union Messages. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. Hutson, James H. Ed. Supplement to Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Israel, Fred. L. Ed. The State of the Union Messages of the Presidents 1790–1966 With an introduction by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. New York: Chelsea, 1967. Jameson, Franklin. “Portions of Charles Pinckney’s Plan for a Constitution, 1787.” The American Historical Review 8, no. 3. (1903): 509-11.¨ Kertzer, David. I. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.


Campbell and Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words, 52.

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Koenig, Louis. The Chief Executive. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic Inc., 1975. Nelson, Michael. ed. Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to the Presidency. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1996. Stevens, Charles. E. Sources of the Constitution of the United States. New York: Macmillan, 1927. Weber, Robert, P. “The Long-Term Dynamics of Societal Problem-Solving: A Content-Analysis of British Speeches from the Throne, 1689–1972.” European Journal of Political Research 10 (1982): 387–405.


Public speeches have always been an important tool of American presidents’ governance. As Jeffrey K. Tulis writes in The Rhetorical Presidency, in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, presidents made relatively few speeches limited to the issues of elections, the Constitution, patriotism or war.1 By contrast, in the twentieth century, presidential public statements became increasingly popular and concerned a broad spectrum of subjects deemed important and worthy of being addressed. Acknowledging the two modes of communication, this essay will present the evolution of the most ‘presidential’ genre, the Annual Message, which has been called the State of the Union Address since 1935. It will discuss the formats used and explore the rhetorical tools employed in it. Furthermore, it will identify the basic functions the message is designed to ful¿ll. The ¿rst Annual Message was delivered by George Washington to both Houses of Congress at its opening session in 1790. The President did not present any particular policy proposals: he merely brieÀy listed the subjects that he believed required congressional attention. In response to the message, each house sent its own formal reply to Washington, thus initiating discussions between the two branches and between the houses of Congress on the content of the speech and responses to it. This, however, changed with the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson - oral messages were replaced with written reports which were sent to the legislature to be read there, while the reply system was completely abandoned. Scholars maintain that, while no particular good reason existed for abandoning the reply system, there were some sound arguments for changing the message format. Personal delivery of the address was said to be reminiscent of pompous and ceremonial royal pronouncements typical of European monarchies. Moreover, it was felt that doing so was likely to have an effect on the discussion process. Jefferson, who claimed to have “principal regard for to the convenience of the legislature . . . to their relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers on subjects not yet fully before them, and to the bene¿ts thence 1

Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency, 5-6.


The American State of the Union Address as a Rhetorical Genre

resulting to the public affairs,”2 did not want to disturb it by appearing before Congress in person. Thus, the practice of submitting written reports was set and it remained the rule for over a hundred years. Throughout that time, the prestige and rhetorical merit of the State of the Union Address considerably decreased. The Annual Message became, as James Ceaser puts it in his article entitled The Rhetorical Presidency Revisited, “a lengthy document of little public interest and almost no mass rhetorical import.”3 Occasional efforts by Presidents James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln to make the report a signi¿cant political event proved futile. For a long time, the impact of the State of the Union Address was not greater than that of, as James Bryce wrote, “an article in a prominent party newspaper.”4 At the same time, as Ryan Teten observes, from a message which was short and modest in its use of rhetorical devices and which indicated the president’s identi¿cation with the public, the annual report gradually evolved into a message of extensive length and with few, if any, public address words. In the article Evolution of the Modern Rhetorical Presidency, Teten suggests that these changes might have resulted from the presidents’ eagerness, on the one hand, to be perceived as active through their addresses and, on the other, to become more distanced from their audiences.5 Modern practices of presidential speech-making did not develop until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who cut the length of the Annual Message short in order to make it, as Teten explains, “practical . . . and probable for presentation in a public address.”6 Also, new terminology expressing the President’s desire to be seen as a plain citizen began to appear. The tradition of talking above the crowd was broken as the President requested to be placed within the ranks of the addressed audiences.7 Finally, the oral format of the message was restored. Wilson’s ¿rst State of the Union Address (1913) clearly showed that the public was to be the primary audience for the speech and that Congress was to be approached through the public. This explains why the other pre-Jeffersonian practice - that of replies - was not revived: the President decided that it was suf¿cient to refer to Congress in his Annual Message rather than to directly turn to Congressmen and Senators. Thus, as Tulis notes, the address, “which had formerly been written and addressed principally to Congress, would now be spoken and addressed principally to the people at large.”8 Those developments followed primarily from the fact that Wilson tried to attract larger public interest. His aim was to use popular support to create a powerful leaderQuoted in Tulis, 56. Ceaser, “The Rhetorical Presidency Revisited,” 26. 4 Quoted in White, “Presidential Rhetoric: The State of the Union Address,” 75. 5 Teten, “Evolution of the Modern Rhetorical Presidency,” 341-342. 6 Ibid., 341. 7 Ibid., 342. 8 Tulis, 133. 2 3

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ship and thus achieve greater political success. Moreover, he preferred the oral form to the written one because it made his communication with Congress more accountable. In Wilson’s words, it is easy “to conceal the essential truth under the apparently candid and all-disclosing phrases of a voluminous and particularizing report,” but it is much more dif¿cult to hide the facts when “the Speaker is looking an assembly in the face.”9 Scholars agree that Wilson set an important precedent in presidential rhetoric standards by employing patterns and a style unknown during any previous presidency: these were later accepted by most of his successors. Among those who still preferred the pre-Wilsonian tradition were Warren G. Harding, who only presented two speeches in person (1921, 1922), Calvin Coolidge, who read only one (1923), and Herbert Hoover, who did not deliver any of his addresses personally (1929-1932). With Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, the message regained its Wilsonian status. As Teten says, the President “of¿cially made the speech a permanent ¿xture of the presidential duties and set the standard and a requirement for its yearly delivery.”10 What is more, following Coolidge’s practice of broadcasting the speech on radio, Roosevelt popularized the address by presenting it to Congress at noon and redelivering it again over the radio in the evening. The use of the new electronic medium, however, also posed a new rhetorical challenge for the President. As Robert E. Denton notes in Political Communication in America, “a spacious and all-encompassing speech” was appropriate for the members of Congress and for newspaper readers, but the President had to transform it into a message that brieÀy discussed the most important issues for “a nation of diverse constituents and accidental listeners.”11 An even larger and more heterogeneous audience appeared with the advent of television. Harry S. Truman’s 1947 address, the ¿rst one to be televised, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 message, the ¿rst one delivered during prime time, clearly demonstrated that the speakers were fully aware that they were addressing a much larger audience than any of their predecessors. The use of the new medium to capture millions of TV viewers, however, meant that the length and content of the address had to be adapted both to television’s formats and to the public’s expectations. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson estimate, by the 1980s, the Annual Message had to fall within the half an hour time frame in order to match the average American’s attention span. Moreover, the focus had shifted from the legislative to the ceremonial aspects of the presidency, which meant eliminating detailed presentations and justi¿cations of policy proposals.12 Whether these changes turned out to be bene¿cial or detrimental to the genre’s development is dif¿cult to assess, Quoted in Tulis, 134. Teten, 337-338. 11 Denton, Jr. and Woodward, Political Communication in America, 204. 12 Campbell and Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words, 70. 9



The American State of the Union Address as a Rhetorical Genre

but the fact that the publicity and popularity of the message increased is indisputable. Moreover, the twenty-¿rst century’s electronic advancements, which now make the speech accessible through live webcast on the Internet and high-de¿nition television broadcast, further reinforce the perception that today Congress is merely a backdrop for the State of the Union Address. The wide availability of the speech and the lack of a speci¿c target audience mean that the State of the Union Address, as Roderick P. Hart observes in Verbal Style and the Presidency, is now one of the most open means to address the public that is available to the president.13 Among the addresses delivered by American presidents, one can ¿nd speeches and reports that, as Campbell and Jamieson’s studies reveal, are composed of long lists of diverse topics, while others are limited to just a few particular issues. Some discuss major government policies, while others describe speci¿c proposals. Some raise issues for consideration and others recommend a particular course of action. Some constitute one logical whole, while others are a compilation of unrelated concerns. Some contain many public address words, while others are directed to the Congress or the international public. Some of them were presented orally and others were submitted to Congress in a written form.14 Yet, although that variety of patterns may suggest just the opposite, as Campbell and Jamieson pointed out, the State of the Union Address follows a very precisely de¿ned formula.15 That is because all Annual Messages share the same basic functions. These are identi¿ed by the authors of Deeds Done in Words: Presidential Rhetoric and the Genres of Governance as follows: (1) public meditation on values; (2) assessment of information and issues; (3) policy recommendations; (4) maintenance of the presidency as an institution.16 First and foremost, the State of the Union Address aims to celebrate national values. It marks the most symbolic moment when the head of the executive celebrates national ideals and principles that his or her audience can identify with as citizens of the same nation. By referring to a common past and shared experiences, the address uni¿es Americans and assures them that they will be able to overcome their problems as successfully in the future as they have done up until now. Next, because the message discusses and evaluates the country’s major concerns, presidents use it as a platform to talk about national issues and to assess them in the light of past and future conditions. Accordingly, the address often traces the previous administrations’ efforts to deal with enduring problems, thus highlighting the changing nature of the presidency. It also speculates on how future govern-

Hart, Verbal Style and the Presidency, 56. Campbell and Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words, 53. 15 Ibid., 54. 16 Ibid., 54. 13 14

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


ments will deal with similar issues, predicting the challenges they will be expected to meet. Since effective legislative solutions to contemporary problems are vital for the President to do his or her job, this may be clearly seen by looking at American history, most addresses include recommendations and justi¿cations of policy proposals. James Monroe’s 1823 speech announced the policy opposing European intervention in the Americas, Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 address expressed the President’s desire to end slavery and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 message spoke of the four freedoms. These remain the most memorable instances of presidential reactions to domestic and foreign policy needs. They also exemplify how the Presidents used the State of the Union Address to familiarize Congress and the public with new political circumstances and justify their moves by invoking convincing facts or widely shared beliefs. Most annual addresses also emphasize that the implementation of presidential legislative proposals requires congressional cooperation. This explains why presidents usually try to encourage a political dialogue between the legislative and the executive branches. Using a conciliatory and compromising tone, a typical message “presupposes, applauds or pleads for teamwork:”17 if the administration fails to enact congressional decisions, presidential legislative leadership may be weakened and become ineffective. Finally, the Annual Message aims to sustain the presidency as an institution. As Campbell and Jamieson write, every president wants to be recognized as “both symbolic and real head of state,” the prime guardian of national history, identity and values.18 Mandated by the Constitution, the address also af¿rms the President as a legislative leader who “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”19 Thus, the message’s function is not only to reassert the president’s leadership but also to reÀect the institution’s development through recording the successes and failures of each administration. Ceremonial and/or deliberative rhetoric is indispensable in the realization of these goals. The ceremonial character of the occasion calls for a positive tone, references to national values, appeals to widely shared moral standards, the presentation of problems in terms of challenges, the extolment of people and their achievements, quotations of former presidents’ words and recollections of events dear to everyone in the audience. Thus constructed, the address raises the morale of the public and gives it a strong sense of unity. If the President chooses to have a more deliberative message which focuses on assessment and policy recommendations, he sets politiIbid., 65. Ibid., 74. 19 The Constitution of the United States. 17



The American State of the Union Address as a Rhetorical Genre

cal goals, outlines the way to achieve them, justi¿es the planned course of action, asks Congress for its support, deliberates on the relationship between the legislative and the executive branches and recommends action that could improve that rapport. In this way, he or she ensures and strengthens presidential legislative leadership. Whether an Annual Message is more ceremonial than deliberative or the other way round depends on the president’s priorities. In most cases, presidents either focus on the ritualistic aspects of the presidency, giving little attention to its legislative role, or stress governmental issues, overlooking the inspirational character of the of¿ce. This one-sidedness seems to be largely caused by the fact that combining the ceremonial and the deliberative functions of the address is a rather complex rhetorical task. As Tulis observes, “it is dif¿cult in practice for a single speech to be inspirational and highly speci¿c at the same time.”20 In the case of the Annual Message, the task is even more complicated. Anthony Dolan, Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, explains: “you have all the competing claims of the nation’s business, and at the same time, the stylistic demands of coherence and grace.”21 Yet, despite the dif¿culty, some presidents have succeeded in presenting messages that were both rational and inspirational wholes. Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave speeches that are considered to be exemplary illustrations of presidential discourse. These speeches both highlighted the national ethos and reaf¿rmed the speaker’s political leadership. Summing up, the American presidency, as Denton puts it, “is a center of everaccumulating functions, roles, obligations and expectations.”22 One way to look at this diversity is through the State of the Union Address, in which the president raises issues of national concern, assesses them in relation to both past and future circumstances and puts new proposals forward. It not only evokes moments from the history of the nation, celebrates national identity and cherishes national values, but also (in rhetorical terms) exposes individual speakers’ communicative patterns and oratorial style. Signi¿cant as these functions are, critics point out that the Annual Message is more than a reÀection of the nation’s political, economic and social concerns or the presidents’ ways of handling them. In fact, the address is a unique record of the evolving character of the American presidency and American presidential rhetoric. Given every year without a break since Washington’s times, it reveals how the role of the First Citizen in the American system has changed and can change. The address also shows that rhetoric is one of the most indispensable elements of executing the of¿ce. Because of its signi¿cance, most experts on the presidency agree that the State of the Union Address is certain to remain one of the

Tulis, 136. Quoted in Campbell and Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words, 68. 22 Denton, Jr, and Woodward, Political Communication in America, 214. 20 21

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


key instruments available to American presidents through which they shape both their politics and relations with Congress and the nation at large.

Works Cited Primary Sources The Constitution of the United States.

Secondary Sources Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Deeds Done in Words: Presidential Rhetoric and the Genres of Governance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Ceaser, James W. The Rhetorical Presidency Revisited. In Modern Presidents and the Presidency, edited by Marc Landy. Lexington: Lexington Books, 1985. Denton, Robert E., Jr., and Gary C. Woodward. Political Communication in America. Westport: Praeger, 1998. Hart, Roderick P. Verbal Style and the Presidency: A Computer-Based Analysis. Orlando: Academic Press, 1984. Teten, Ryan L. “Evolution of the Modern Rhetorical Presidency: Presidential Presentation and Development of the State of the Union Address.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 2 (2003): 333-345. Tulis, Jeffrey. The Rhetorical Presidency. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. White, Eugene E. “Presidential Rhetoric: The State of the Union Address.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 1 (1968): 71-76.

DEBATING SOCIETIES: CONSTRUCTING CONVICTION IN LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN DISCOURSE BETTINA K AISER Introduction At the end of the nineteenth century, multiplying institutions of adult education permeated American society. The realm of education was further marked by innovations in and the spread of higher education. The rise and demise of debating societies coincided with the re-structuring of the educational sphere. Initially integrated in the college curriculum debating societies’ existence, later in the century depended on the willingness of students and teachers to invest their leisure time. Eventually, in 1902, H. Kittredge, a high-school teacher, described the role of debating societies in high-school education as follows: There never was a time when the man or woman who can talk was in such demand. His services are called into requisition upon all sorts of occasions. At the club, in his community, in the halls of legislation, whenever men congregate he is a power and a leader. The ready and convincing speaker is sure of a following, and his addresses are paving the way for his political and social preferment. However, the vast majority of people are afraid of the sound of their own voices.1

Kittredge made clear that he considers public speaking central to a promising social life of men and women alike. His “speaker” was as much a socially as a politically successful person. Kittredge further anticipated a certain level of literacy that would enable this “speaker” to seize opportunities of leadership. He makes explicit that the public practice of elocutionary expertise demands acknowledgement of one’s civic duties. The phrase “afraid of the sound of their own voices” not only insinuates a lack of linguistic con¿dence but also the neglect of one’s civic right to partake in political and social public discourse. Debating societies should remedy oratorical shortcomings in their members and equip them with discursive skills for public appearance and rational contemplation. Kittredge captured people as “speakers” 1

Kittredge, The School Review, 293.


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

who came from the middling, educated sphere of late nineteenth-century America and had one interest in common, the mastery of disputation and oratory that would eventually lead to and cement their public respectability. Kittredge’s article represents a major strand of critical perspective on the role of rhetorical education and debate in late nineteenth-century America. He aligns himself with a group of likeminded contemporaries who adhere to a humanistic, liberal ideal of rhetoric and education that ampli¿es the view of a liberal educator who acknowledges the signi¿cance of spoken argumentation as a necessary feature of the individual’s public signi¿cance for the democratic processes of American society. This position intertwines the appropriate use of language with a person’s social and political success in other words, language, applied ef¿ciently, is seen as conducive to an individual’s inÀuential future. Argumentation and hence debating were regarded as rational means of discourse that secured the unequivocal nature of a ¿nal and well-founded opinion. The rhetorical phenomenon of debate, by its historical origin, was intrinsically linked to the practice of argumentation. When the Sophists endeavoured to raise rhetoric to a discipline in its own right, they spread the suspicion that cultural “truths” were conventions without an infallible foundation. Disagreement on these “truths” became perfectly permissible and subsequently, oral disputation and logical argumentation appeared to be necessary to settle any kind of controversy over cultural beliefs. Debate emerged as a method of this process of deliberation and can be traced back to Protagoras of Abdera (c. 485 – c. 410 BCE), a Sophist, who taught his students to argue both sides of a state of affairs. Seen in this light, debate was created on the basis of fundamental doubt of cultural norms. Thus, it dovetailed into the art of rhetoric. Rhetoric emerged using logical argumentative patterns to make sense of communicative strategies whereas it also acknowledged the pattern’s explanatory limitations. Nineteenth-century scholars of elocution and rhetoric did not perceive public speaking as the art of “persuasion” but instead referred to it as the display of “conviction”. Debating was seen as transmuting particular statements into universal and reliable truths and conviction denoted the rational benchmark of the individual who, after assiduous public contemplation, was entitled to cast her opinion into the pool of collective knowledge, what Farrell termed “social knowledge.”2 To maintain the quality of this assemblage of common truths, Kittredge thus welcomed the increasing formalisation of language teaching because he perceived it as a departure from The term “public knowledge” adheres to the epistemological concept in rhetoric: “social knowledge.” In 1976 Farrell in particular argues that in the practical art of rhetoric commonly shared beliefs form a group’s stock of what he calls “social knowledge.” Farrell developed his account on the basis of Habermas’s theory of communicative action, and created a critical concept of social knowledge that draws heavily on theories of critical rationality. 2

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


a form of language corruption that lured the hearer into acceptance of irrational positions. He likewise espoused the relevance of extracurricular debating for his students because it remedied Àaws in their self-reliance and provided them with con¿dence and codes of discursive conduct that undercut the debater’s respectability as a member of the civic public. Kittredge formulates a predominant opinion on public speaking and its role in higher education as a regulator of deliberative discourse because it subscribes to consolidated and accepted rules. These regulations are acknowledged as advancing the individual’s security and con¿dence in public speaking. Eventually, the enforcement of formally guided deliberation is expected to facilitate the speaker’s ability to lucidly form and convey ideas, and convince her audience through the translucent demonstration of her opinion in form and content. This perspective on linguistic virtuosity unfolded in the conviction-persuasion dichotomy that marked teachings of rhetoric and argumentation at the time.3 Kittredge’s position also evolved in a period of liberal idealism that avowed equal access to knowledge and education to bring about a just order of society. Consequentially, this interplay of ideas created and subverted boundaries that determined the function of debating. The following discussion propounds the argument that the increasingly important notion of competition percolated through late nineteenth-century rhetorical perspectives on the function of conviction. Three contemporary authors, Ringwalt, Baker, and Baird relate their point of view on intercollegiate debating. In this they combine the idea of competition with the practice of deliberation. They advocate the valence of conviction in a speaker, however, each of them formulates facets of these basic claims. Ringwalt accepts competition as a means of improving the discursive qualities of an interlocutor; Baker and Baird do not readily acknowledge the recuperative effect that debating tournaments have on the quality of oral discourse. On the one hand, the three attempts to account for the unravelling competitive element in deliberation resonate with antagonisms of discursive, rule-governed deliberation or diligent pastime argumentation. On the other hand, all three articles appear to refer to a notion of discourse that establishes normative values outside the realm of bellicose verbal exchange. Clearly, a liberal humanistic thread informs the latter of these positions. Debating incorporated the hopes of all three authors that the rules and practice of rational discourse would rescue American oratorical culture from fragmentation.4 However, Ringwalt, Baker and Baird’s perspectives on debating Van Eemeren, et al., Fundamentals, 189. Clark and Halloran in Oratorical Culture coined the term and defend a concept of rhetoric that connects the public display of rhetorical forms such as speeches, debates and orations with culturally informed understanding of public discourse. By subscribing to a notion of rhetoric as a practical means of discourse that reÀects the spectrum of public rhetorical practice in an historical context, they align themselves with Zarefsky, Turner, and Vitanza, who have attempted to establish rhetoric as a legitimate means of historical inquiry. 3 4


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

do not attempt to mend late nineteenth-century fragmented rhetorical practice but instead they expose a spectrum of interpretations of forms of public deliberation.

The Debating Culture of Late Nineteenth-Century America Towards the turn of the twentieth century, American men and women had for decades enthusiastically participated in public and collegiate debating societies across the nation. The popularity of public and private debate owed much to the establishment of the Lyceum in the 1820s and its subsequent proliferation. Nineteenth-century academic and non-academic debating societies followed similar programmes that mirrored the broad public array of entertainment which included public lectures, debates, essay readings, recitals, musical evenings, and small drama productions. Recently, Angela G. Ray, Cally L. Waite and Elizabeth McHenry have conducted research into these societies. Their work corroborates the notion that debating as a pastime was sustained by what could be called “the educated stratum” of American society; a section of the American public that initially resonated with Protestant middle-class virtues but later substantially extended boundaries of accepted, that is, respectable behaviour and eventually extended the safety zone of social contact beyond established boundaries of gender, ethnic or social origin. Following the expansion into the Western territories in the second half of the nineteenth century, the “educated stratum” describes a group of literate people that endorsed the amelioration of their intellectual capacities and the broadening of their general knowledge. Their intentions derived from what has been identi¿ed as a typical middle-class phenomenon, that of the professionalisation and specialisation of the workforce.5 It further coincided with a nationwide trend towards urbanisation and subsequent rural migration. Bailey observes that the city was particularly conducive to the rede¿nition of the individual. In the city, segregation and the introduction of new work routine compartmentalised social classes and the basic activities of work, leisure, and home life to such a degree that man the social actor was obliged to play out his encounters in an ever greater numbers of discrete social settings. […] In an industrial city, however, conduct is segmentalised and justi¿ed according to various and more private vocabularies of motive; the diversi¿cation of social context allows for a greater variability in personal behaviour as role activities become insulated from the continuous observation of actual and potential role others.6

Bledstein, Culture of Professionalism, 178-202; Bender, Intellect, 6-9; Schlereth, Victorian America, 251-254. 6 Bailey, Popular Culture, 35. 5

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Further, the spread of literacy and the availability of leisure time resulting from changes in education and the American economy increased the popularity of debating societies. Improvements in printed public communication made information available to those who could read and central to those who wanted to speak and argue well. The Àourishing media market with its mainly printed produce supplemented the agglomeration and distribution of innovative ideas and as a consequence, took on a pivotal role in the demand for and success of debating societies. At the end of the nineteenth century, America became the largest newspaper market in the world. To be well-informed and well-educated became almost homologous terms among literate members of the American society. A concern for self-improvement was cultivated by those already in possession of the basic means for social achievement: literacy. Schlereth shows that the combination of self-improvement and the strive for voluntary association created an “impressive array of educational enterprises fairs, libraries, museums, college extension courses, social settlements, women’s clubs, night schools, unions […], and professional societies.”7 Cmiel in his study of manuals of verbal criticism and good usage observes that approximately hundred and sixty different titles were published between 1860 and 1900.8 Between 1870 and 1910 over one hundred different titles of success manuals (each with an average number of copies between 10,000 and 100,000) were published in the United States.9 Moreover, debating manuals were printed in numerous editions.10 The practice of spoken deliberation became inseparable from the ability to read. Since the establishment of the American colonies, debating had been part of the curriculum of rhetoric and law at colonial-chartered colleges. From the early days debating had been an indispensable part of higher education, which was run by a limited number of privileged individuals. On the college roll, for example, students were listed not alphabetically but by family rank; a practice that emphasised the social aspect of American early higher education. Thelin shows that colonial learning and oratorical expertise were devised by the well-to-do of the American population and that debating societies were inextricably linked to the hierarchical structures of the colleges. First, tuition charges were high, effectively restricting the college to the sons of the region’s wealthy families. Second, the formal curriculum emphasized a didactic method centred on the speci¿c philosophy of states’ rights and nulli¿cation theory. Third, literary societies reinforced those lessons and became coveted af¿liations Schlereth, Victorian America, 253. Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence, 265. 9 Hilkey, Character, 1. 10 In 1899, for example, Cushing’s Rules of Proceedings and Debate in Deliberative Assemblies was published in its ninth edition. 7 8


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

inviting students and alumni to debate their views and sharpen their rhetorical skills.11

The fact that debates were held in Latin and conducted according to a framework of strictly logical argumentation contributed to the exclusive reputation of these societies. As a consequence, collegiate disputation did not penetrate the general American society; instead it remained limited to a literate and well-educated minority. In the nineteenth century, changes in higher education policies affected the signi¿cance of debating outside the collegiate context. The number of colleges increased signi¿cantly, the creation of universities being facilitated by the Morrill Act of 1862 like the founding of Johns Hopkins in 1876, and educational reforms being ¿nally initiated by prominent public ¿gures like Charles E. Eliot, president of Harvard in 1869. As early as 1815, every college ran at least one debating society. After 1826, debating societies gained extensive cultural ground outside the academic sphere because mutual improvement was declared an object of general public interest. 12 The Lyceum movement aided this development by organising lyceum circles to promote debate and mutual education in cities and towns. These literary and debating circles commonly adopted college debating styles.13 By the mid-nineteenth century, lyceum, debating and literary societies could be found in almost every American town and village which could provide a suf¿cient number of potential members. Even though debating was still associated with a notion of college education, by the 1850s, it became synonymous with the general interest in mutual improvement. Public as well as college debating societies began to depart from earlier forms of Latin forensic disputation aided by the nationwide transformation of the liberal arts curriculum into more technically and economically oriented programmes. Academic and non-academic institutions increasingly developed similar structures of organisation. Kett ascertains that mutual improvement societies subscribed to a late-nineteenth-century tendency of certi¿ed and structured education. In the 1870s and 1880s, nearly all institutions of popular self-improvement started to become more similar to established institutions of formal education by introducing annual curricula, textbooks, courses of study, and even quizzes, examinations, and Thelin, History, 48. In 1826, Josiah Holbrook published his plan for mutual-education societies in the American Journal of Education. He writes: “The ¿rst object of this society is to produce for youths and economical and practical education, and to diffuse rational and useful information through the community generally. The second object is to apply the sciences and the various branches of education to the domestic and useful arts, and to all the common purposes of life.” 13 Potter, Colonial Chartered Colleges, 64-93; Potter, “Literary Society;” Potter, “Debate Tradition.” 11


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


certi¿cates. This convergence culminated in the 1890s, when university professors started to organize ‘university extension’ in direct competition with institutions of popular self-improvement.14

By the end of the nineteenth century, the sphere of higher education became structurally commensurable with that of mutual improvement. Literacy, leisure, and moderate ¿nancial means were obligatory for people who wanted to actively partake in debating societies. Beginning in 1870, America experienced a steady decrease of illiteracy from twenty to eleven percent in 1900, and to six percent in 1915. In turn the potential membership of debating societies rose due to the growing number of people who were able to read and write. Illiteracy among the African-American population fell from seventy percent in the 1870s to thirty in 1930. Elizabeth McHenry and Cally L. Waite have recently shown that the idea of debating fell upon fertile ground among African-American communities. McHenry points out that, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a number of societies dedicated to the promotion of African-American literacy had been founded and this later led to the creation of African-American literary and debating societies. Members ensured the development of their literary skills by supporting one another while also maintaining an environment where ideas could be openly discussed and honestly critiqued. In fostering the development of a literate population, literary societies furthered the evolution of a black public sphere and a politically conscious society.15

In other words, the steady decrease of illiteracy rates made possible the integration of marginalised individuals into the rhetorical culture of late nineteenth-century but more signi¿cantly, enabled members of these minorities to accept responsibility for their own voices. By the end of the nineteenth century, previously exclusively male debating societies increasingly accepted female membership and women’s active participation in deliberation. Theodora Penny Martin has shown that, throughout the nineteenth century, women’s study clubs grew in number. These clubs employed debates as a means to further their members’ education by cultivating their argumentative and literary skills. Women’s interest in further education parallels African-American debating and literary societies’ strive for improvement through reading and practice of elocution. Wiesepape in Lone Star Chapters demonstrates that the rapid creation of literary societies in Texas coincided with the nationwide movement for popular education. In 1901, Texas alone had 132 registered women’s study clubs16 which acKett, Pursuit, xiv. McHenry, Forgotten Readers, 3. 16 The Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs took charge of registration and Martin (1987) 14



Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

cepted debating as part of their syllabus. Ultimately, illiteracy among the AfricanAmerican and female population slowly dwindled away until by the beginning of the twentieth century an educated heterogeneous public emerged. By the mid-nineteenth century, economic changes and technical innovations began to ease the workload of those men who had acquired considerable ¿nancial security in trade or manufacturing professions. As the middling stratum of American society became more numerous and more prosperous, leisure time increased, new pastimes were sought. Contemporary opinion on this phenomenon was ambiguous in that leisure’s proper role was not clearly perceived and as a consequence the function of entertainment was similarly controversial.17 In the midst of the critical contemplation of the virtue and vices of leisure especially concerning one’s respectability among one’s fellow citizens, debating societies offered a morally safe solution to people interested in education. Some means were necessary to ful¿l one’s intellectual aspirations. Fees ranged from $0.25 to $1.00 for the season18 at a time when skilled workers had an average income of $ 400.00 or $ 500.00 per annum.19 Despite signi¿cant dif¿culties in determining the extent to which membership fees restrained people from joining, Ray argues, that for skilled workers, merchants, or the wealthy, fees were comparatively low.20 Enrolment at the Henry Institute in Camden, as early as 1840, illustrates the diversity of members’ professional backgrounds. It listed a carpenter, law student, tailor, saddler, cooper, surveyor, map engraver, stonemason, coach trimmer, and ¿nally a labourer.21 The fusion of leisure and economic status is neatly circumscribed in nineteenth-century understanding of society’s respectability of the individual. Bailey expounds that respectability “primarily enjoined moral rectitude, but in addition, it also demanded economic continence and self-suf¿ciency.”22 Members of debating and literary societies because they practiced a legitimate pastime activity, conformed to the social and moral demands of their immediate community. However, respectability’s “attainment was a matter of independent individual achievement through an ongoing process of self-discipline and self-improvement.”23 Thus, the late nineteenth-century American perception of education was characterised by a pragmatic orientation towards ¿nancial and social success as well as by a liberal idea of enlightenment emancipation through knowledge. Schlereth’s argument that identi¿es this urge for educational reform as self-improvement is sumsuggests that this number represents ten to ¿fteen percent of the actual number. 17 Bailey, Popular Culture, 13-14. 18 Ray, Lyceum, 22. 19 Brinkley, Un¿nished Nation, 477f. 20 Ray, Lyceum, 24. 21 Ray, “The Permeable Public,” 8. 22 Bailey, Popular Culture, 33. 23 Ibid., 33.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


marised by the term “mutual improvement.” Dakin employs this term to identify mutual improvement societies in New Zealand. He depicts mutual improvement as inseparable from the concept of self-help and the founding of mechanics’ institutes. Throughout the nineteenth century, these institutes successfully spread their inÀuence in the United States. In 1822, the president of the New York Mechanics’ Institute announced that the institute would help the workingmen among its members to “assume that respectability and that inÀuence which are due to their numbers, and to their wealth; the streams of knowledge and intelligence must be infused among them.”24 Stevenson emphasises that “in the antebellum years workingmen joined societies for self-improvement, and not because they wanted to enter a higher social class.” 25 Interest in mutual improvement reÀected people’s interest in seizing professional opportunities and extending their civic duties by participating in a public sphere of information and learning. The term mutual improvement, moreover, was later combined with “lyceum.” The merging of the two terms elucidates the tension between democratic rhetoric and arguments of inclusion and elite hierarchies. On the one hand, debating societies were designed particularly to reach out to groups of people for whom easy access to further education was denied. On the other, concepts for mutual improvement stemmed from a group of people that came from the traditional college-informed hierarchies that were originally established in the eighteenth century, and who later struggled to subvert these in an effort to make general knowledge accessible to a wider community. The concept of education as a means to self-improvement and betterment became endemic to American society because it stood for an endeavour to transcend traditional boundaries of higher education by re-inventing forms of educational instruction. In setting up a new society, founding members discussed a set of rules, which after thorough discussion was formally put down in the society’s constitution. Interlocutors further agreed upon detailed guidelines that rigidly structured their discourse. Debating manuals usually stipulated that two speakers addressed an issue and shared the task of instructing the audience. One member was appointed to the af¿rmative and another to the opposing position of the discussion. Tone, message and selection of evidence were entirely left to the individual. The two opening speeches were followed by reciprocating arguments that lasted between ¿fteen and thirty minutes. Eventually the audience cast its vote and generated a decision that was regulated by the democratic force of the majority. This system of deliberation provided the unspeci¿c but explicit purpose for self-improvement with a procedural framework that took on the wide variety of contemporary pressing issues. Debates structured everyday life and ritualised communal dispute resolution by enforcing 24 25

Bender, Intellect, 83. Stevens, Victorian Homefront, 53.


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

rules of conduct in a form that rendered unacceptable argumentative behaviour outside the norm, and consequently outside the bounds of respectability. At the beginning of each yearly session, members would scrutinise the ensemble of up-to-date news and put together the session’s programme. Commonly this tackled questions of politics, art, literature, and law. Issues of religion were either excluded or, in societies like the Y.M.C.A., which existed speci¿cally for the purpose of spreading the gospel among young people implicitly endorsed. Questions like “Ought foreign immigration to be encouraged?” (1847) or “Ought the right of suffrage to be extended to the ladies?” (1848) epitomised elements of the typical repertoire of debating societies. However, the programme was commonly expanded by discussions of philosophical questions or matters of international relations such as “Have the wrongs of Ireland been attributable to the English government?” (1840). Debaters settled on topics that incorporated a volatile mix of socially and politically controversial issues. The rational examination of these issues in an assembly of friends held promises of tentative agreements and unambiguous explanations of complex subjects that were validated by a simple majority. Debating societies hence contemplated possibilities of identi¿cation. On the one hand, they recon¿rmed the membrane of individual and community, which provided substantial grounds of opinion validation. On the other, they allowed debaters to emerge from the crowd with a clearer vision of nineteenth-century American social realities and thus, transcend predominant opinions. Harding’s research fosters this interpretation because it presents a diversity of debating topics that virtually escapes attempts of classi¿cation. The vast range of topics covered by these societies indicates that their members were not only striving for material security but fully subscribed to processes of intellectual clari¿cation to invoke the performance of individuality. By the 1870s, debating societies began to integrate the approved idea of selfimprovement into more entertaining forms of discourse. Changes which affected debating patterns, epitomised alterations that entered the rhetorical practice in general. Between the 1870s and 1900, the public lecture practice changed signi¿cantly. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, Robert Green Ingersoll, Bayard Taylor, Anna Dickinson and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in continuing the public lecture tradition adhered to an enlightened ideal of the individual’s betterment through education. By the end of the nineteenth century, this idea had successfully been transformed through emerging principles of good light entertainment. The lyceum movement lost its foothold; instead travelling Chautauqua circuses gained popularity. Lectures were increasingly replaced by spectacles under the pretence of education. Ray relates the case of the people of Stillwater, Minnesota, who, in 1897, began to establish what they called a lyceum. “[T]he Stillwater organization was designed to provide ‘high grade entertainment at the nominal cost of one dollar for six to nine attractions each season.’ The lyceum

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


had become a cooperative commercial institution for the promotion of inexpensive, ‘high grade’ fun.”26

Changes in public taste naturally affected the existence of debating societies. By the turn of the century, debating societies increasingly adopted recreational elements like small drama productions, mock trials, regular lecture programmes or debating tournaments. In 1893, debating contests, designed to attract public interest, were held for the ¿rst time. The societies’ subsequent maturing competitive character coincided with a fading interest in serious deliberation. Debating contests were often favourably compared to athletics. In 1902, H. Kittredge argues for the usefulness of debating societies by comparing them to young men’s “physical prowess” and to how they “are constantly vying with each other in feasts of strength.” Consequently, he asks “Why should they not show the same zeal in mental contests?”27 Because contests were commonly conducted in public, it made the societies’ activities more accessible to a broader audience. Introduction of inter-societal competitions also enhanced collaboration among clubs. Stevenson demonstrates that, as early as 1864, some sixty societies founded the Associated Western Literary Societies, and in 1890 the growing number of women’s study clubs enabled the creation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The purpose of these debates was still linked to the idea of self-improvement but with an increased orientation towards competition and success. However, the idea of respectability was furnished with an element of athletic deliberation. To demonstrate “the same zeal” as in athletic contests removed the rhetorically determined respect for the debater to the sphere of increasingly visually displayed effects of battle-like deliberation. The contestant commonly intended to “defeat” an opponent by arguing a case as best as she could and convincing the audience by displays of logic and ¿erceness. Moreover, the performance of individuality and individual achievement was subsumed under the category of the team. The introduction of competitive debating amalgamated the accepted view of the signi¿cance of conviction and elements of popular entertainment. Contemporary reporting reveals a varied treatment of respectable and non-respectable aspects of inter-collegiate debating that constantly exploits the liberal perspective on the interplay of education, self-betterment, reason and truth.

26 27

Ray, Lyceum, 45. Kittredge, The School Review, 295.


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

Exploring Three Perspectives on Conviction At the turn of the century, the new practice of debating contests caused a controversy among contemporary experts in rhetoric. Some of them favoured its publicly attractive features; others condemned its lack of sincerity and reliance on secondrate effects. Ringwalt defends the new practice: The merits of the debate itself – the give and take, the sharpening of wits, the demand for cool heads and keen minds – have long been appreciated. Intercollegiate debate, since it calls for these qualities in simply a greater degree, is only the more admirable.28

It is intriguing that Ringwalt compares debating contests to orations and that he concludes that practice in oration does not have the same wholesome educational value. Debating nurtures argumentative talent and conviction, whereas lecturing relies on simple techniques of persuasion. Especially for the education of students, Ringwalt regards debating as advantageous because “when a student has thus come to see the need of ¿nding reasons for his ideas […] it is not at all probable that in after life, when confronted with the same kind of questions, he will adopt different methods.”29 Despite Ringwalt’s religious insinuations that furnish his argument with a sense of fundamental authority, he also emphasises the persuasive nature of reasonable argumentation. Ringwalt’s attitude exempli¿es the predominant opinion in American speech communication at the end of the nineteenth century. Van Eemeren et al. explain that argumentation “was de¿ned by reference to the conviction-persuasion duality.”30 Applied to Ringwalt’s position conviction denoted debate, whereas persuasion was assigned to the realm of oration. Historical research indicates that Enlightenment interpretations of human processes of deliberation led to the creation of a faculty-based understanding of human psychology in which emotional processes were labelled irrational and reason described the realm of rationality. Thus, conviction delineated propositions acquired by logical reason. The linkage between rationality and reason, in this nineteenth-century context, likewise determined the reliability of a claim. In other words, debate led to reliable “truths” because it was based on the practice of conviction and necessarily excluded emotional means that might have otherwise persuaded the audience. Ringwalt, therefore, implicitly criticises the changes that undermine the reputation of oration. From his point of view, the argumentative force of communication is best retained in the form of debates because oratorical methods of appeal corrupt the reliability of what is said. The pattern of debate Ringwalt, Forum, 637. Ibid., 639. 30 Van Eemeren, et al., Fundamentals, 189. 28 29

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


preserves the educational function of reason and argumentation. It thus grounds people’s mutual improvement in the force of the better argument. Debating contests, according to Ringwalt, employ these methods with even greater force. He reasons that competition facilitates the discernment of truth and he accordingly welcomes the growing popularity of debating tournaments. For him, they emphasise the positive qualities of popular argumentation and public communication. Ringwalt thinks that the newly acquired competitive quality heightens the attractiveness of debate, instead of lowering it, because it increases the number of people it reaches. Eventually, the spread of debating assists the distribution and acceptance of commonly acknowledged truths. Because debating contributes to the accumulation of validated propositions that are then made available to a large audience, it constitutes a path to social knowledge. Ringwalt’s argument in terms of intercollegiate debating is remarkable clear: Contests only multiply the positive results of debate; they are the appropriate means to promote debating and, therefore, support the intellectual improvement of speakers and public. Ringwalt neglects the fact that what he identi¿es as an advantageous development might prove pernicious to the epistemic quality of debating. He does not appear to perceive elements of popular culture in the public that were likely to transmute the image of debating as a reliable source of knowledge. Accordingly, George P. Baker does not share Ringwalt’s point of view. Only four years later, in 1901, Baker does not go so far as to condemn debating contests but puts them on a par with intellectual sport. He regards these two as mutually exclusive terms, and essentially perceives intercollegiate deliberation as “simply a subdivision of a subdivision (oral discussion) of a large ¿eld (public discourse).”31 Baker makes it clear that debate does not hold a prominent place among the curriculum of rhetoric and consequently, intercollegiate debating should not be considered central to students’ higher education. Of course, we should not forget the stimulation which intercollegiate debating has given our work, nor, when it is well guarded, its bene¿ts for the students concerned, in that it wakens them to the thoro appreciation of the signi¿cance of the principles they have studied and gives them a very desirable opportunity to face real audiences, but in our gratitude and interest we should not be led to treat intercollegiate debating as the most important part of our college training in public discourse.32

Baker thus acknowledges that competition draws crowds that constitute “real” audiences rather than con¿ned groups of students who listen to one another. Baker and Ringwalt appear to agree on this aspect. Baker, however, is cautious of the supposedly advantageous effects this publicity might have on speech training as a whole. 31 32

Baker, Educational Review, 257. Ibid., 257.


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

Baker, it seems, identi¿es a potentially corruptive power in the crowd-pleasing aspect and the athletic quality of debating contests. In other words, he questions Ringwalt’s positive interpretation of the competitive aspect of debating and sees it rather as a component that needs to be “guarded.” Earlier in the century, other scholars pursued a similar path in rhetorical instruction. Mastrangelo in her study of rhetorical training and debating at Mount Holyoke College notices that at Mount Holyoke debating was thriving and female students were practising it alongside their male colleagues. Ada Snell, a long-time staff member at the college, relates that the English Programme under Mary Lyon, who taught between 1837 and 1849, “was a study rich in humanistic learning; this it gradually lost, and it was already in 1890 largely occupied with problems of usage.”33 Baker’s position on intercollegiate debating resonates with Mary Lyon’s way of structuring the rhetorical education at Mount Holyoke in the ¿rst half of the nineteenth century. This does not come entirely as a surprise since Holyoke took Harvard as an example for setting up its own English Programme. Later in the century, Baker became an inÀuential staff member at Harvard’s Modern Composition Programme. Thus, the two institutions initially subscribed to what Snell termed “humanistic learning” and later, with reforms taking place in rhetorical education34, had to abandon it for adopt procedures that focused on formal aspects of teaching and writing. The controversy on intercollegiate debating continued in the ensuing years. In 1923, Baird propounded the argument that the American system of debate was less didactically worthy than the British system. The latter aimed at enforcing principles of parliamentary discussion by coalescing free exchange of ideas and delivery of arguments. The American system was judged devoid of these qualities and Baird dismisses it as a “competitive sport,” a term he uses with an expressly negative connotation. The British, that is, the Oxford plan of debating invites positive criticism because of the procedure it follows once the two sides have been thoroughly established. The aim is to establish conviction rather than to gain a technical decision; to arrive at the truth rather than to play a game. An open forum, with perhaps ¿fteen or twenty speeches from the Àoor follows. Finally, not long before midnight, the three or four hundred members divide and vote on the merits of the question, usually a problem of

Mastrangelo, Rhetoric Review, 25. “Current-traditional rhetoric,” a term coined by John F. Genung in 1886, succeeded in dominating the academic and public realm of late nineteenth-century America, and represents the result of educational reforms taking place in rhetoric. It facilitated the reduction of rhetoric to studies of composition and, as Susan Crowley has shown in The Methodical Memory, became to disregard the role of invention for the rhetorical curriculum and its signi¿cance for the creation of well-grounded deliberation. 33


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


national or international policy. Thus the British system is a judgeless, open forum, parliamentary discussion rather than a competitive sport […].35

In his article, Baird revives the persuasion-conviction dichotomy of the late- nineteenth century and suggests that competitive, that is, athletic deliberation is less likely to generate truthful propositions on the basis of rationally balanced argumentation because the crowd’s interest lays in the entertaining aspect of the debating spectacle rather than in the serious contemplation of political opposing positions. Despite this opposition of scholarly views of debating contests, they continued to enjoy great popularity among students and the general public. At the end of the nineteenth century, their introduction to the programmes of debating societies was a success in so far as it slowed their rapid decline at the end of the nineteenth century. The controversy it caused in scholarly discourse points towards a development that became idiosyncratic for the changing face of instructions in rhetoric. Apparently, the controversy circled around a new emphasis on competitive and publicly accessible education. The notion revolved around the changing face of public entertainment in general and lyceum activities in particular. It represents a clash of the traditional normative perspective on rhetorical instruction that built on conviction and a formal, current-traditional rhetoric that embraced the increasing use of conviction as pretence to stage an argumentative battle which dazzled the audience by its formal arrangement and display of physical strength. A fundamental difference of opinions about the relation between language and truth lies at the root of the two different views on the value of debating contests. In 1901, in defending a rather conservative notion of debate, Baker advanced the opinion that language was a reliable means of communication and its mastery would lead to the speaker’s intellectual improvement. It is this unequivocal aspect of language that suits the debating purpose. Baker assumes that there is clear correlation between what is said and what is understood. In other words, he presupposes a clear-cut signi¿er-signi¿ed relationship that is capable of denoting the centre and structure of an argument in a form that makes it intelligible to the audience.36 In contrast to Baker’s position, Ringwalt seems to appreciate the playfulness of language structure that makes it open to effects of persuasion rather than conviction. Debating contests make possible the display of non-linguistic effects that complete the attractions of debate. Ringwalt does not regard the accumulation of facts as the dominant element of contests. He prefers discursive force in the form of persuasion, that is, the ability to move the judges and the audience in favour of one’s point of view. Hence, language as a means of furthering one’s education also becomes Baird, Quarterly, 216. Derrida and his followers have of course attacked the very concept of structure with the formulation of the challenging project of “deconstruction.” 35



Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

a means of amusing oneself during hours of leisure. It is important to realise that Ringwalt does not regard this as an adverse development. Instead, the entertaining aspect of a debate is regarded as bene¿cial because it appeals to the wider public and is part of a late nineteenth-century trend towards easily accessible public discourse. Baker’s and Ringwalt’s positions exemplify the reality that the emphasis on the normative nature of language was gradually displaced by a stress on non-linguistic characteristics that were important criteria for the individual’s public appearance. The increasing inÀuence of public entertainment turned debate into a performance. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the interest in new representations of images led to an altered practice of language where debaters did not simply explain their argument, but instead displayed it. Apart from the introduction of contests, debating societies also turned to drama productions and mock trials. Both forms were more appealing to the spectator’s eye. Traditional debates focused on the critical elaboration of a speci¿c topic. Staging a drama or a trial turned listener into spectator, asking her for a different kind of critical evaluation. Debating committees created new rules according to which the respective teams were only allowed ¿ve minutes for their rebuttals, which eventually rendered the competition more exciting. The dominating theme became “the faster, the better,” which increased the attractiveness of the contests as they resembled quick ¿ghts or sporting competitions where time was crucial and inevitably linked to loss. Most importantly, the ¿nal vote was not taken among the audience but among a committee of judges. Baird, for example, notes that previously debates had been evaluated on grounds of the merit of their question. Now the judgement contained an array of criteria like audibility of the speakers, expression, style, elocution, and soundness of argument. Baird then laments the fact that the chosen theme of the debate was degraded to a mere constituent among many and that the display of effects and technicalities triumphed over the demonstration of knowledge and conviction. Nevertheless, debating teams were trying to make sense of complex political issues and their success in defending their position was still taken into account when judging their performance. Thus, on the one hand, debating contests stand for an effort to embrace old values of argumentation that focus on the reliability of language in explaining a general truth. On the other hand, they represent new values of entertainment that alter common habits of critical analysis and language perception. Debating contests, therefore, stand for one form of structural symbiosis of public discourse that combined verbal deliberation with forms of discussion which were of public interest, in order to make sense of provocative representation of everyday American life.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Conclusion: Late-Nineteenth-Century American Debating Culture and a Change of Conviction The analysis of competitive debating displays transitional forces that hark back to determinant developments in nineteenth-century American education. At the root of the three analysed perspectives on inter-collegiate debating lies the fundamental idea “that there is some inherent conÀict between cultural advance and social advance.”37 In other words, the idea of progress and change had to be constantly reconciled to the guiding principles of truthfulness, justice, social belonging, and respectability. Out of this fuzzy paradigm of advance emerged a nineteenth-century practice of education that aimed at establishing a solid basis despite the contemporary upheaval. Debating societies aimed to improve their members’ intellectual faculties. Young identi¿es the late nineteenth-century notion of educational, social and ¿nancial betterment as carrying a distinctively competitive connotation. In a society in which a constantly increasing number of people became eligible through the acquisition of discretionary money and/or education to participate, a constant struggle ensued to establish a position, to protect it from others, and perhaps to advance it without opposition […]. The very nature of middle classness was to better, and further better, oneself.38

However, to embrace social, educational and ¿nancial advancement, and competition, the individual had to assess herself in a larger group of like-minded people. Applied to debating societies’ activities, self-improvement took place in an environment that formulated criteria of belonging as well as opposition. Debating societies were operating on a continuum that was determined by the ambivalence of ambition, competition and desires for communal and private existence. Late nineteenth-century debating societies successfully rescued deliberation from eventual demise. They extended their reach beyond the tradition educational elites and showed a growing educated public how to pro¿t from deliberation. A variegated literate stratum of the American population took it upon themselves to transform and mould debating patterns in a way that ¿t the new structures of public discourse. By gaining a competitive element, debating societies increasingly opened up to a general public and their criticism. In the course of re-conceptualising the function of conviction in argumentation, debating entered a heterogeneous public sphere that simultaneously altered the meaning of respectability. In early and mid-nineteenth century, debating societies 37 38

Bender, Intellect, x. Young, Middle-Class Culture, 14.


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

represented a safe refuge for those who wanted to ¿ll their leisure hours without arousing the scorn of their fellow citizens. By the end of the nineteenth-century, this element of their function had dwindled away, because entertainment had become less controversial and more wide-spread. In its turn, debating became more entertaining and specialised. Instead of promoting the cultivation of a wide variety of knowledge, debating subscribed to formally attractive displays of argumentation. Debating societies moulded the form of deliberation by integrating elements of competition while retaining a notion of conviction that enabled the speaker to maintain the serious component of discourse within this newly established form of discursive competition. Conviction in late nineteenth-century debating and rhetoric thus denotes a form of argumentation that transcends formally regulated deliberation and functions within a continuum of logic, seriousness, and persuasion. Associates of late nineteenth-century debating societies became absorbed in an era of American culture that eventually emerged with a lesser demand in serious argumentative instruction and a more creative way of communicative strategies. Even though debating societies sometimes restricted their membership on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender, Stevenson ascertains that “such restrictions did not fragment communities because these societies all had similar or overlapping purposes.”39 Late nineteenth-century American debating societies emphasised the signi¿cance of conviction for the process of deliberation. Because they connected conviction with popular modes of persuasion and thus acknowledged the increasing signi¿cance of popular culture for American public, they extended their sphere of inÀuence and ensured their survival well into the twentieth century.

Works Cited Primary Sources Baird, A. Craig. “Shall American Universities Adopt the British System of Debating?” The Quarterly Journal of Speech Education 9 (1923): 215-22. Baker, George Pierce. “Intercollegiate Debating.” Educational Review 21 (March 1901): 244-57. Genung, John Franklin. The Practical Elements of Rhetoric. Boston: Ginn, 1886. Holbrook, Josiah. “Associations of Adults for Mutual Education.” American Journal of Education 1, no. 10 (October 1826): 594-97. Kittredge, H. W. “The Function of the Debating Society or High-School Lyceum.” The School Review 10 (April 1902): 292-297. Ringwalt, Ralph Curtis. “Intercollegiate Debating.” Forum (January 1897): 633-40. 39

Stevenson, Victorian Homefront, 53.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Secondary Sources Bailey, Peter. Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Bender, Thomas. Intellect and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of Academic Intellectuals in the United States. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1993. Bledstein, Burton J. The Culture of Professionalism. The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America. New York: WW Norton & Co., 1976. Brinkley, Alan. The Un¿nished Nation: A Concise History of the American People. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993. Clark, Gregory, S. Michael Halloran, eds. Oratorial Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993. Cmiel, Kenneth. Democratic Eloquence: The Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: William Morrow, 1990. Crowley, Sharon. The Methodical Memory. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Dakin, James C. “Mutual Improvement - Adult Education between the Mechanics’ Institutes and the W.E.A. (1870-1915).” New Zealand Journal of Adult Learning 18 (1986): 37-52. –––––. “Mutual Improvement Societies - the Way They Worked.” New Zealand Journal of Adult Learning 19 (1987): 15-26. Farrell, Thomas B. „Knowledge, Consensus, and Rhetorical Theory.“ Quarterly Journal of Speech. 62.1 (1976): 1-14. Harding, Thomas S. College Literary Societies: Their Contribution to Higher Education in the United States 1815 - 1876. New York: Pageant Press, 1971. Hilkey, Judy. Character Is Capital: Success Manuals and Manhood in Gilded Age America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Kett, Joseph F. The Pursuit of Knowledge under Dif¿culties: From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America 1750-1990. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994. Martin, Theodora Penny. The Sound of Our Own Voices: Women’s Study Clubs 1860-1910. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987. Mastrangelo, Lisa S. “Learning from the Past: Rhetoric, Composition, and Debate at Mount Holyoke College.“ Rhetoric Review 18 (1999): 46-64. McHenry, Elizabeth. Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. Potter, David, ed. Debating in the Colonial Chartered Colleges: An Historical Survey, 1642 to 1900. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1944. –––––. “The Literary Society.” In History of Speech Education in America: Back-


Debating Societies: Constructing Conviction

ground Studies, edited by Karl R. Wallace, 238-58. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1954. –––––. “The Debate Tradition.” In Argumentation and Debate: Principles and Practices, edited by James H. McBath, 14-32. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963. Ray, Angela G. “The Permeable Public: Rituals of Citizenship in Antebellum Men’s Debating Clubs.” Argumentation and Advocacy 41 (Summer 2004): 1-16. –––––. The Lyceum and Public Culture in the Nineteenth-Century United States. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005. Schlereth, Thomas J. Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. Stevenson, Louise L. The Victorian Homefront: American Thought and Culture, 1860-1880. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1991. Thelin, John R. A History of American Higher Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Turner, Kathleen J., ed. Doing Rhetorical History: Concepts and Cases. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1998. van Eemeren, Frans H, Rob Grootendorst and Francisca Snoeck Henkemans, eds. Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory: A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contemporary Developments. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Publ., 1996. Vitanza, Victor J., ed. Writing Histories of Rhetoric. Carbondale: University of Southern Illinois Press, 1994. Waite, Cally L. Permission to Remain among Us: Education for Blacks in Oberlin, Ohio, 1880-1914. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. Wiesepape, Betty Holland. Lone Star Chapters: The Story of Texas Literary Clubs. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004. Young, Linda. Middle-Class Culture in the Nineteenth Century: America, Australia and Britain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Zarefsky, David. Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. –––––. President Johnson’s War on Poverty: Rhetoric and History. Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1986.



In “A Short Essay on Critics” Margaret Fuller differentiated among three types of critics and delineated the ideal to aim at. The ¿rst group is the subjective class. Never do these critics analyze the work nor characterize the artist, but rather use the text to draw self-portraits. Therefore, their judgments are unconvincing records of impressions, devoid of any reÀexive or historical thought. The second group consists of the apprehensive critics who “can go out of themselves and enter fully into a foreign existence,”1 reproducing the work of which they report, sometimes even evoking more pleasure than the original creation. The ideal position, however, is occupied by the comprehensive critics. The comprehensive critics possess the unique ability to approach a work of art from two levels simultaneously. First, they “must also be apprehensive”2 and thus start with an assessment on the work’s own terms to enter “into the nature of another being.”3 Next, bearing in mind the “absolute, invariable principle”4 that governs the universe, they judge the work against the wider spectrum of texts, allowing for interaction and mutual interpretation: ... having ascertained his design and the degree of his success in ful¿lling it, thus measuring his judgment, his energy, and skill, they do also know how to put that aim in its place, and how to estimate its relations. And this the critic can only do who perceives the analogies of the universe, and how they are regulated by an absolute, invariable principle. He can see how far that work expresses this principle, as well as how far it is excellent in its details. Sustained by a principle, such as can be girt within no rule, no formula, he can walk around the work, he can stand above it, he can uplift it, and try its weight. Finally, he is worthy to judge it.5

Fuller, Art, Literature, and the Drama, 15. Ibid., 15. 3 Ibid., 15. 4 Ibid., 15. 5 Ibid., 15. 1 2


Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

Therefore, the ideal critic is “not merely a poet, not merely a philosopher, not merely an observer, but tempered of all three.”6 Fuller was a comprehensive critic, herself, and she judged soundly. As Howe wrote, she ¿rst looked at the intention, next the method, and ¿nally she measured the work’s standard supporting her opinions with carefully weighted arguments.7 Her insightful – supernal – critical evaluations are based on the dialogical principle. Fuller believed that the critical premises should rest on the recognition and acknowledgement of differences as well as the harmonization of oppositions. Her creation of a critical “discordant concordance,”8 as Paul Ricoeur, after St. Augustine, would call the phenomenon while discussing the structure of the narrative, was not restricted to the ¿eld of literature. The word “supernal” demands explanation. Describing her comprehensive critic as an open-minded and emphatic poet, philosopher, and observer, who follows the “absolute, invariable principle” governing the universe, Fuller’s de¿nition enters by overlapping the conceptual ¿eld of Edgar Allan Poe’s “supernal Beauty.”9 Poe de¿ned supernal beauty as “a beauty which is not afforded the soul by any existing collocation of earth’s forms ...”10 but which may perhaps be attained in music, which is where the soul “most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles — the creation of supernal Beauty.”11 As Poe further suggested, supernal beauty might be achieved by inventing: novel combinations among those forms of beauty which already exist – or by novel combinations of those combinations which our predecessors, toiling in chase of the same phantom have already set in order,12

which is the essence of all poesy. This urge to transcend, to rise above the existing patterns and solutions was pervasive in the ¿rst half of nineteenth century New England. Interesting in this context is Emerson’s essay “Fate” that was published in The Conduct of Life. Among others, Emerson wrote that: “certain ideas are in the air,”13 and that “[t]he riddle of the age has for each a private solution,”14 a solution that should be written in new books by each generation. The idea in the air in the New England at that time was what underlies the solution to the riddles of Emerson, Fuller, and Poe. It is the search for the essential and “invariable principle,” Ibid., 16. Howe, Margaret Fuller, 168. 8 Ricoeur, Time and Narrative. Vol. 1, 42. 9 Poe, “Review of Longfellow’s Ballads.” 10 Ibid. 11 Poe, “The Poetic Principle.” 12 Poe, “Review of Longfellow’s Ballads.” 13 Emerson, The Conduct of Life. 14 Ibid. 6 7

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the avowal of the Oneness that is absolute and universal. And since the riddle has many private solutions, this Oneness is all the three: the Oneness pervading Poe’s “Eureka,” the Oneness of Emerson’s Over-soul and the Oneness of Fuller’s “original idea [that] must animate this nation.”15 Although absolutely different in their characters and temperaments – Emerson was a Transcendentalist, whereas both Poe and Fuller claimed they were not, though for different reasons – all the three literati believed in a higher (and thus transcendental) faculty and that the mind encloses the ¿nal, ultimate expression of beauty. This beauty may be understood as an achieved concordance (just as a melody from different sounds is attained in music), a perfect order of things that combines and harmonizes various and often contrasting elements. Fuller’s way of life, style of writing, participation in society, and critique of existing patterns, was an essentially poetic striving to arrive at such a concordant expression of beauty. Her critique is supernal, inasmuch as it is guided by the universal principle, the oneness of essence, as well as the sensitivity and openness to novel solutions to the riddles of her age. It is supernal, since relying on the inherited and using the existing forms, it endeavors to transcend them by extracting precious essentials to form new combinations. Nonetheless, Margaret Fuller rather put her technique in practice than explained it. Through the years 1840-1842 she was the ¿rst editor of The Dial (succeeded by Emerson for two further years until 1844, when the magazine stopped being issued). She organized the contents and executed the proceedings of this ¿rst genuinely and thoroughly American enterprise in the ¿eld of literature.16 The Dial was the “mouthpiece of the whole ‘storm and stress’ movement in American thought and literature,”17 as Braun put it. Although not a Transcendentalist herself, under Fuller’s leadership The Dial provided the textual space where the quintessential spirit, the common traits of the extremely versatile “Like-minded”18 Transcendentalists: Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Parker, Ripley, and others were provided with a collective outlet: what it was which united these diverse elements, what was their central spirit, what their collective strength or weakness, their maximum and minimum, their high and low water mark, this must be sought in the “Dial.”19

At the time when the American literati were eager, or even desperate, to forge a truly national idiom, she wanted with this magazine to comment on, offer a criHowe, Margaret Fuller, 159. Higginson, Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 130. 17 Braun, Margaret Fuller and Goethe, 4. 18 Emerson, et al., Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. II, 14. 19 Higginson, Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 130. 15 16


Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

tique of, establish the standards for (the consideration of which she began with the writings of Charles Brockden Brown), and project new demands on American literature, since as Fuller wrote: “... it does not follow because many books are written by persons born in America that there exists an American Literature.”20 Such an undertaking was of supreme value, as, according to McMaster, nothing is as important “to a nation’s art [as] its critical tradition.”21 Fuller was also the ¿rst American full-time book reviewer working from 1844 for Horace Greeley’s The New York Tribune, on the pages of which she published her own articles as well as translations from such papers as Deutsche Schnellpost, Review Française, or Courrier des Estats Unis. Among the numerous critical assessments, Fuller introduced Marx and Engels’s thoughts onto the American soil. She also enthusiastically reviewed the symphonies of Beethoven, and wrote articles on Poe, reviewed Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, as well as the (only) Transcendental novel Margaret, by Sylvester Judd. Fuller became the star of The New York Tribune partly due to her habit of signing her articles with an asterisk, but also because of their quality and aptness. Her articles would appear on the ¿rst pages of the magazine. Strict and uncompromising in dealing with herself, she at ¿rst dismissed Lowell’s pieces of writing, deeming them “absolutely wanting in the true spirit and tone of poesy,”22 and Longfellow’s as too exotic, arti¿cial, and imitative. Eventually, though, she reviewed both. For The New York Tribune she also wrote “Dispatches from Europe,” a series of thirty-six articles written during her stay in Europe in the years 1846-50, twenty-one of which came from Italy. In the “Dispatches” she described and commented on life in Europe in the tumultuous time of the Spring of Nations. Contrary to most Americans, Fuller saw the revolts in Europe as a “democratic promise, rather than a threat.”23 Drawing the situation and rendering the atmosphere to her fellow countrymen, she would frequently underline insightful parallels as well as stunning contrasts between the state of affairs and general condition of life in America and Europe, pointing out the issues that joined and separated the Old and the New World. Subsequently, she would provide ingenious respective solutions and answers that best suited a given situation. One of these, generally speaking, was to productively fuse American and Italian ideas.24 She also urged the Americans to actively support Italy in her ¿ght for democracy: “[i]t would make me proud to have my country show a religious faith in the progress

Fuller, Art, Literature, and the Drama, 298. McMaster, “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic,” 42. 22 Fuller, Art, Literature, and the Drama, 308. 23 Fleischmann, Margaret Fuller’s Cultural Critique. Her Age and Legacy, 36. 24 Steele, Trans¿guring America. Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller’s Writing, 272. 20 21

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


of ideas, and make some small sacri¿ce of its own great resources in aid of a sister cause, now.”25 Before she went to Europe in 1846, Fuller read voraciously. In her discriminate reading, her individual approach as a literary critic manifests itself in the fact that Fuller would never generalize but rather place each writer with their idiosyncrasies in their own class, remaining steadfast to keep the individual differences between the authors intact. She was particularly attracted to the German writers: Schiller, Novalis, Körner, and others. McMaster observes that: “[i]t is in her essays on foreign writers that one ¿nds her best writing, although her reviews of English and American authors show ability.”26 Nonetheless, the writer with whom she felt a truly emotional bond – a bond both liberating and strenuous – was Goethe. Goethe she read in the original,27 and it is due to her immersion in and dedication to his writings that she did not consider herself a fully Àedged Transcendentalist, but a Germanico. A Germanico in the sense of harboring a dislike of any philosophy that is speculative and which tries to address the needs of man while essentially neglecting or eliminating the material and the sensual sides of human life. In other words, she distrusted a philosophy that deals with what might be instead of what is, and consequently fails to select the most precious elements out of the present circumstances. Furthermore, the interest in what Goethe expressed as the “Unerkannteste und Unerkennbarste, und doch Gewisste in uns”28 is a distinctly crucial strain that made an indelible impression on Fuller and which connects her, Goethe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville – the writers of so diverse, if not polar views. The inner life, the preoccupation with the unrecognized and yet somehow perceived in us, was the direction into which American literature turned its attention in the nineteenth century: towards Poe’s “‘... all is Life, Life, Life within Life ...,’”29 and Melville’s claim that “[n]o American writer should write as an Englishman or a Frenchman; let him write like a man, for then he will be sure to write like an American,”30 and towards Fuller’s: “original idea [that] must animate this nation.”31 This is the direction towards the interior spaces with their universal vocabulary of a common soul, towards the emphasized by Fuller deep personal experience, which is drawn Fuller, At Home and Abroad. Things and Thoughts in America and Europe, 361. McMaster, “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic,” 48. 27 Fuller acquired a good command of German within a mere three months of diligent study on her own. Only sometimes would she discuss the matter with her close friend, James Freeman Clarke, and ¿nd assistance in Frederick Henry Hedge, an American scholar who obtained his PhD in Germany, and who would help her with pronunciation. 28 Braun, Margaret Fuller and Goethe, 61. 29 Mills, Poe, Fuller, and the Mesmeric Arts, 93. 30 Melville, Hawthorne and His Mosses, 1850. 31 Howe, Margaret Fuller, 159. 25



Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

from the human heart rather than extracted solely from the intellect. Interestingly, through this deep personal experience one would be able to enter and understand human experience in general, to approximate the Emersonian concept of the Oversoul “within which every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all other[s].”32 Apart from emphasizing the importance of the inner life, Goethe was an inspiration for Fuller in one more important aspect. He provided her with female models, the ideals of womanhood, which she could identify with and further develop on the American ground. Having acquired the knowledge of Latin, French, Italian, and German, Fuller possessed an education as thorough as any of her male friends. Together with her unique precocity and self-awareness, these abilities incessantly urged her to try and ¿nd her place in the “cookie-cutter” world of the nineteenth century New England. In Goethe’s novels, stories, and poems she found alternative modes of female behavior accompanied by ways of interpreting it. Her attention thus riveted, she translated Torquatto Tasso, Conversations with Goethe (by Eckermann), and Günderode (by Bettina von Arnim). In Fuller’s audience, was Emily Dickinson, who is said to have read Fuller’s translation of Arnim’s and to a certain extent based her mythology on it.33 Fuller’s declared intention was to write a comprehensive biography of Goethe, and she would have been the right person to do it, had she had the time and the conditions, since as Emerson wrote: “[n]owhere did Goethe ¿nd a braver, more intelligent, or more sympathetic reader,”34 and McMaster claims that Thomas Carlyle’s essays on Goethe “as criticism ... do not rank with the essays of Miss Fuller.”35 Besides Goethe, the French philosopher Charles Fourier also further furnished her with promising prospects for an active participation of the female element in society, since it was women he put at the fore of his phalanx plan. “What is done interests me more than what is thought and supposed”36 – Fuller was primarily an activist. Yet, she was a comprehensive activist. Literature provided her with models and acquainted her with a diversity of personalities and attitudes. It served as a textual, or rather a contextual background, against which she wanted to build up a harmonious character and develop a sense of beauty in life. Moreover, literature was supposed to exert a “‘living inÀuence,’” to be experienced as “‘a piece of life,’” and not a tale to be rummaged about in, in order to wring the meaning, a “formal moral for all,” out of 37. Therefore, to her literature meant not a Emerson, Essays, First Series, 1841. Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 96. 34 Emerson, et al., Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. I, 243. 35 McMaster, “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic,” 60. 36 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 148. 37 McMaster, “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic,” 59. 32 33

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


¿xed construct, but rather a great mutual system of interaction between all classes of humanity. Fuller tried to convince her contemporaries that: [l]iterature should not be left to the mere literati. … We want a more equal, more thorough, more harmonious development, and there is nothing to hinder from it the men of this country, except their own supineness, or sordid views.38

Literature had the potential for a dialogical existence of contradictory voices from the interaction of which she drew her models of social conduct, since according to her “harmony exists in difference no less than in likeness, if only the same key-note govern[sic!] both parts.”39 Literature, and especially American literature, Fuller deemed as a multilingual construct – both culturally and linguistically plural, and a literature in a state of transition, formation, and transformation at the same time. The reviews and translations she wrote for The Dial and The New York Tribune enabled Fuller to draft and establish an important space: a space in-between of the personal and the public, a space of mediation between the currents in the American and European cultures, thoughts, and languages. This textual territory was de¿ned by the form of the critique that she embraced. Yet, claiming that no old form suited her, she made her critique unique by letting it be gradually shaped according to the principles of the dialogue. The dialogue transpired in her writings under a variety of guises such as: translation, interpretation, fragmentation, shifting and mixing of genres, both on the pages of a magazine and within the space of a book, and last but not least, conversation. Translation played a formative part in Fuller’s life, offering a space for establishing both a personal and a national identity. Just as she understood personal identity as a “discursive movement between poles of communicable difference,”40 she thought of translation as giving the text a cultural identity from one language to another. And with her knowledge of languages, Fuller was a comprehensive translator, though she preferred and primarily translated from German, the only language she learned virtually untutored. While translating: [she] thr[e]w [her]self, as entirely as possible, into the mood of the writer. … The style thus formed [wa]s, at least, a transcript of the feelings excited by the original;41 … and is a likeness, if a caricature.42

Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 215. Ibid., 288. 40 Boggs, “Margaret Fuller’s American Translation,” 39. 41 Braun, Margaret Fuller and Goethe, 218. 42 Boggs, “Margaret Fuller’s American Translation,” 40. 38 39


Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

Of utmost importance was the exact rendering of feeling and thought. Thus, not only did she encounter a mind behind the text, but proffered to her readers the contemporary European thought, contributing to the dominant position of certain writings and subsequent canonization of their authors. Moreover, she rendered the “‘instruments of change within the literary system’ and hence within the larger cultural system of which she was a part.”43 While translating Fuller was actually rereading and simultaneously interpreting the foreign texts, placing them in a dialogical confrontation on the American ground. Translation was supposed to cater for an open dialogue, become a tool for relating to others, and with time it became interchangeable with interpretation. Zwarg supports this claim with the fact that Fuller relied on the technique of fragmentation, e.g. she used to end a review with pieces of her translations, or inserted fragments of them into her book. In so doing she drew a wider circumference around a given issue, a broader context for the reader, who in this way was enabled to participate in the textual dialogue devoted to different issues and involving various points of view. The principles of Fuller’s textual space were further extended beyond the textual realm, as she literally employed them in life. She was the organizer of the Conversations in Boston at Elizabeth Peabody’s Bookstore. The Conversations, organized for prominent women of the Boston area, she launched on November 6, 1839 and conducted for the next ¿ve years. Her ambition was to: pass in review the departments of thoughts and knowledge, and endeavor to place them in due relation to one another in our mind. To systematize thought and give a precision and clearness in which our sex are so de¿cient, chieÀy, I think, because they have so few inducements to test and classify what they receive. To ascertain what pursuits are best suited to us, in our time and state of society, and how we make the best use of our means for building up the life of thought upon the life of action.44

She wanted to convert the conversation, the “uncontested site already given to [women] by the culture,”45 into the sphere “where women best engage the text of history and literature as critics.”46 Here, literature was again the springboard for further discussion, it was meant to inspire an interactive exchange of views among the ladies, with Fuller acting as the moderator. The spontaneous interaction, hardly guided by a rigorous script, Fuller enjoyed, since in such a real time, impromptu (largely on the part of the participants) dialogue she “could experience thought as a

Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 62. Higginson, Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 113. 45 Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 257. 46 Ibid., 257. 43


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


passing into action,”47 even though she could hardly ¿nd an equal among the ladies who could match her learning and eloquence. So dynamic, elusive, and evanescent was the course of the meetings that there are few recordings, and these are barely accurate. Sometimes men were present at the Conversations, e.g. Emerson, Ripley, Alcott, and others. By inviting them to the chieÀy female discussion group Fuller did not intend it for women to adopt the masculine rhetoric but simply make the women become cognizant of both the male strategies and the feminine repertoire.48 Interesting is Fuller’s relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was chieÀy through the interaction with him that she learned the principles of dialogue. They frequently discussed their works together. Both rejected certain tropes: Emerson rejected the limited tropes of Christianity and Fuller of society.49 Not only did they talk and write in private, but also indirectly referred to and simultaneously interpreted one another in their public texts. Such practice was ¿rst and foremost inspired by certain issues they could not agree on. Thus, in Summer on the Lakes, Fuller creates a textual dialogue projecting Emerson’s point of view as the character “Self-Poise” against her own as “Free Hope.” She addresses Emerson in these words: [t]hou are greatly wise, my friend, and ever respected by me, yet I ¿nd not in your theory or your scope, room enough for the lyric inspirations, or the mysterious whispers of life. To me it seems that it is madder never to abandon oneself, than often to be infatuated; better to be wounded, a captive, and a slave, than always to walk in armor.50

Emerson is said to especially have written the already mentioned essay “Fate,” as well as his lecture “Woman” delivered at the Boston Woman’s Rights Convention in 1855, through the prism of his relationship with Fuller. Moreover, The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller that Emerson compiled together with James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing, after Fuller’s tragic death in 1850, are a textual space where Fuller’s life and thoughts are presented. Through these, as Zwarg claims, it is not only that Emerson “writes” Fuller, but also that Fuller “writes” Emerson.51 It may be added that not only does Emerson read Fuller but also Fuller reads Emerson. McMaster called the Memoirs: the book [that] without being so intended [is] an intimate history of Transcendentalism. No better account has ever been written. The part contributed by Emerson is

Fleischmann, Margaret Fuller’s Cultural Critique, 157. Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 165. 49 Ibid., 41. 50 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 148. 51 Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 245. 47



Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

valuable as a study in self-revelation, scarcely to be matched in his private Journals.52

Furthermore, Zwarg claims that their discussion is even uncannily present in the titles of their works: in The Representative Men by Emerson and in Woman in the 19th Century by Fuller. What is important, however, is that gender in their interaction was not a ¿xed but rather a Àuid notion. This very same principle governs Fuller’s books. The ¿rst, Summer on the Lakes, was published in 1843. This is the book that Frederick Duyckinck, while reprinting it, called the most American book he had yet published. Next, in 1844 was Woman in the 19th Century, Fuller’s magnum opus. This book actually evolved from the article “The Great Lawsuit: Man vs Men, Woman vs. Women” that was ¿rst published in 1843 in The New York Tribune. Both volumes are culminations not only of Fuller’s endeavors in developing her form – a remarkable eclectic dialogue containing elements of “sermon, conversation, aphorism, allusion, and catalog,”53 – but also her views on society and the role of woman in it. As a woman, Fuller occupies the sphere of transition, “living ... continually on the threshold.”54 Fuller’s views and writings are deeply rooted in and organically follow from the state of affairs in her time. She avidly participated in, recognized, and addressed the situation, since what she wanted was to “stand in [her] age with all its waters Àowing round [her]. If they sometimes subdue, they must ¿nally upbear [her], for [she] seek[s] the universal – and that must be the best.”55 Situating herself within the present condition of society and the current prospects of its reform, she subsequently “uplift [them] ... to try [their] weight.”56 Thus, as a comprehensive observer, social activist, and supernal critic she was not only an admirer of Goethe and Fourier, but also an insightful arbiter of their views. Contrasting their opinions: Fourier says, As the institutions, so the men! All follies are excusable and natural under bad institutions! Goethe thinks, As the man, so the institutions! There is no excuse for ignorance and folly. A man can grow in any place if he will,57

she went on to state that: … but Goethe, bad institutions are prison walls and impure air that make him stupid McMaster, “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic,” 40. Fleischmann, Margaret Fuller’s Cultural Critique, 35. 54 Mills, Poe, Fuller, and the Mesmeric, 124. 55 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 149. 56 Fuller, Art, Literature, and the Drama, 15. 57 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 315. 52 53

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so that he never does will … Fourier, do not expect to change mankind at once, or even “in three generations” … If these attempts are made by unready men, they will fail.58

This statement concurs with her adamant belief that: “[u]topia it is impossible to build up, at least, my hopes for our race on this planet are more limited than those of most of my friends.”59 Although she “acknowledge[d] no limit set up by man’s opinion, as to the capacity of man,”60 she did not want the search for the beautiful and true to transcend the limits of the social and personal realms: “I accept the limitations of human nature, and believe a wise acknowledgement of them one of the best conditions of progress.”61 A sharp minded advocate of realizing and bettering the actual conditions, she made it clear that “[m]an must know how to stand ¿rm on the ground, before he can Ày,”62 and did not endorse the Transcendentalist’s Fruitlands and Brook Farm projects. Fuller was also against any closed system of ideology believing that: [w]e are not merely springs and wheels, which, when put to certain places and kept oiled, will undoubtedly ... do their work and ful¿ll their destination. No! In each of us there is a separate principle of vitality, which must be fostered if we would be as trees in the public garden, rich in leaves, blossoms, and perfumed fruit, rather than as dry boards in the public ship-yard, ¿t only to be hewn, used, and when grown old left to return in rottenness to their native dust. 63

As Zwarg proved, Fuller seems to have understood what years later Mouffe articulated in an article about Gramsci. Namely, that: [t]he objective of ideological struggle is not to reject the system and all its elements but to rearticulate it, to break it down to its basic elements and then to sift through past conceptions to see which ones, with some changes of content, can serve to express the new situation.64

The reform that is needed Fuller de¿ned as: [n]ot a reform that rejects the institution of the past, or asserts that God and man have made mistakes till now. We believe that all past developments have taken place Ibid., 315. Emerson, et al., Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. II, 29. 60 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 147. 61 Emerson, et al., Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. II, 29. 62 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 30. 63 Mills, Poe, Fuller, and the Mesmeric Arts, 109. 64 Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 197. 58 59


Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

under natural and necessary laws, ... – We prize the Past; we recognize it as our parent, our nurse and our teacher, and we know that for a time the new wine required the old bottles to prevent its being spilled upon the ground ... Still we feel that the time is come which not only permits, but demands, a wider statement, and a nobler action.65

Wishing to act, Fuller followed one of Goethe’s pieces of advice to always do the closest thing, and she went on to ful¿ll her nearest duty. She thought the duty of hers was to attempt to translate among classes, across cultural differences – including the racial, ethnic, social, and religious minorities – as well as between genders. The aim was to free people, particularly – but not only – women, from their prescribed positions, and their ideologically as well as linguistically predetermined lives, by searching for and showing them the feasible alternatives. Moreover, she wanted people to develop feelings and prospects “entirely their own,”66 since only then may they experience happiness, just like the ¿rst visitors to the Niagara Falls, who were not told what and how to see and feel, neither by previous visitors nor their written records, a comment she made in The Summer on the Lakes after her ¿rst visit to the greatest waterfall of the U.S. Private experience and individual understanding she prized most, as: “[a] moment of action in one’s self ... is worth an age of apprehension through others.”67 Gender itself Fuller saw as depending “on a collision of languages.”68 Having learned the principles of linguistic translation, she tried to rely on them while instigating an interpretation and a “translation of women into democratic culture.”69 Having visited Sing Sing, as well as an Alms House and witnessed the life condition of the oppressed, she became an advocate for protective laws as well as equal legal rights for women in terms of childcare, inheritance, and property. At her time, these were also the prime issues of interest for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who were the leading organizers and activists of the suffragist movement in the United States of America. Herself a teacher, Fuller also spoke for an equal access to education. Meanwhile, she became aware of the fact that “the language we habitually use is so broken, and so hackneyed by conventional use ...,”70 as well as the need that “[e]very fact of mental existence ought to be capable of similar demonstration.”71 Situated both within and without the dominant forces of culture, declining to be either the same or the other of men, Fuller became the female voice Ibid., 197. Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 77. 67 Emerson, et al., Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. I, 31. 68 Zwarg, Feminist Conversations, 60. 69 Ibid., 60. 70 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 162. 71 Ibid., 163. 65


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written, which attempted to ¿nd her own language with an exact and adequate vocabulary. Fuller’s comprehensive view on gender is best delineated in Woman in the 19th Century, where she writes of “no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman ... they are perpetually passing into one another.”72 The masculine and feminine elements she understands as standing in a dialogical relationship, as two halves of the same thought, where “the development of the one cannot be effected without that of the other.”73 Moreover, she de¿nes woman not merely in terms of a biological sex, but rather as the feminine, magnetic, and intuitive element that can contribute to social reforms. The female element she endows with a demonic inclination – the “instinctive, spontaneous force, which at once, without calculation or foresight, chooses the right means to an end.”74 Furthermore, in Fuller’s personal mythology an ideal woman is a woman in a transition stage between Muse – the passionate energy, “the unimpeded clearness of the intuitive powers,”75 – and Minerva – the independent, intellectual discipline, which she characterizes with the words: “[m] an partakes of the feminine in the Apollo, woman of the masculine as Minerva.”76 Minerva is the “power of continence ... the power of self-poise.”77 Muse and Minerva are thus the two parts of woman’s nature, between which a dialogical process of becoming is instigated, while “each comprehends and apprehends”78 the other. Still, it is “the Muse [that will] weave anew the tapestries of Minerva.” 79 It is clear that Fuller saw the Muse as the predominant element in woman’s nature, just as she saw energy as predominant in Jupiter and beauty predominant in Venus. It is the Muse side of woman which enables her to “behold the true character of the person through the mask of his customary life,”80 and whose perceptions “may appear as prophecy or as poesy.”81 Nonetheless, even if predominant, the Muse needs the counterpoise and contrast of Minerva for its development, for the indispensable act of “legitim[ization] of freedom ... [and] ... the perfection of motion.”82 It perfectly concurs with another of Fuller’s views that: “[o]nly the dreamer shall un-

Ibid., 310. Ibid., 245. 74 Braun, Margaret Fuller and Goethe, 110. 75 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 310. 76 Ibid., 310 77 Ibid., 311. 78 Ibid., 311. 79 Ibid., 311. 80 Ibid., 310. 81 Ibid., 310. 82 Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, 311. 72 73


Margaret Fuller’s Supernal Literary Critique of Ideology

derstand realities, though, in truth, his dreaming must not be out of proportion to his waking!”83 Fuller witnessed a real transition stage of social reform in Rome, during the momentous Spring of Nations. To do justice to her writings from that period demands, however, a whole separate article. For now, suf¿ce it to say that mediating between thoughts, languages, and cultures, Margaret Fuller not only was a critic who “stands alone among her contemporaries,”84 but also still is one of America’s comprehensive and supernal critics. Actively engaged in the current events and referring to the “invariable principle,” she provided an insightful critique of her time, and in so doing contributed to de¿ning the path for the future development of American literature, theory, and criticism. This is due to her willingness, ability, and endeavor to allow for individuality and comprehension of differences, cater for a sensible dialogical balance among the diversities, and also due to her continuous effort to keep them always in a dynamic relation, on the point of transition, in a passage through translation and interpretation to a yet higher as well as deeper understanding.

Works Cited Primary Sources Fuller, Margaret. The Essential Margaret Fuller. Edited by Jeffrey Steele. Rutgers University Press, 1992.

Secondary Sources Boggs, Colleen Glenney. “Margaret Fuller’s American Translation.” American Literature 76.1 (2004): 31-58. Braun, Frederick Augustus. Margaret Fuller and Goethe. Folcroft Library Editions. New York: Henry Holt, 1971. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays: First Series., 1841, (accessed: September 17, 2006), Essays Series 1. 1st World Library, 2005. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Conduct of Life., 1860, (accessed: September 17, 2006). Emerson, Ralph Waldo, William Henry Channing, and James Freeman Clarke. Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. I. text/text-idx?c=moa&idno=ABX9209.0001.001&view=toc (accessed: May 27, 2005). 83 84

Ibid., 146. McMaster, “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic,” 48.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


Emerson, Ralph Waldo, William Henry Channing, and James Freeman Clarke. Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Vol. II. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1881. Fleischmann, Fritz. Margaret Fuller’s Cultural Critique. Her Age and Legacy. Peter Lang Publishing, 2000. Fuller, Margaret. Art, Literature, and the Drama. Edited by Arthur B. Fuller, 1869.;cc=moa;sid=0860bc6d6b 3ee02c8169bf3d2a2f244e;rgn=main;view=text;idno=AEA9951.0001.001 (accessed: October 1, 2006) (Scholarly Publishing Of¿ce: University of Michigan Library, 2006). Fuller, Margaret. At Home and Abroad; or, Things And Thoughts In America and Europe. Edited by Arthur B. Fuller, New York, 1869. cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;cc=moa;sid=e2df30915a68c96479e7933384b31102;rg n=main;view=text;idno=ABX8370.0001.001 (accessed: May 27, 2005), (Scholarly Publishing Of¿ce: University of Michigan Library, 2006). Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Margaret Fuller Ossoli. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1981. Howe, Julia Ward. Margaret Fuller. Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970. McMaster, Helen Neill. “Margaret Fuller as a Literary Critic.” The University of Buffalo Studies, Monographs in English, Vol. VII, No. 3, 1928. Norwood Editions, 1975. Melville, Herman. Hawthorne and His Mosses. 1850. (accessed October 1, 2006). Mills, Bruce. Poe, Fuller, and the Mesmeric Arts. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2005. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Poetic Principle.” poetprnd.htm (accessed: April 4, 2007). Poe, Edgar Allan. “Review of Longfellow’s Ballads and Other Poems.” 1842. http:// (accessed: April 4, 2007), (The Selected Writings by Edgar Allan Poe, edited by G. R. Thompson, Purdue University, 2004). Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Vol.1. The University of Chicago Press, 1984. Steele, Jeffrey. Trans¿guring America. Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller’s Writing. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2001. Zwarg, Christina. Feminist Conversations. Fuller, Emerson, and the Play of Reading. Cornell University Press, 1995.

THE IDEOLOGY OF ENVIRONMENTALISM AND THE R HETORIC OF WITHDRAWAL IN R AYMOND MUNGO’S TOTAL LOSS FARM: A YEAR IN THE LIFE JACEK ROMANIUK In the United States of America the 1960s as a decade of rebellion saw diverse forms of countercultural resistance. Some embraced political protest realized through rallies, manifestos, and subversive actions; others advocated the use of violent means to overthrow the existing social order together with its institutions; yet others chose withdrawal and communal living on the margins of society as peaceful resistance to a dominant and repressive system. Irrespective of the form of realization their rebellion possessed, all groups voiced their arguments through the rhetorical and ideological means they propounded. In this essay we will focus on the hippies’ rhetoric and ideological approach to reality, as manifested in Raymond Mungo’s self-narrative, Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life. Its author, co-founder of Liberation News Service, the national underground press agency, and a rural commune in Vermont, Total Loss Farm, seems to be the epitome of the spirit of radicalism, environmentalism and individualism pervading the Sixties. Thus, with the aid of Critical Discourse Analysis, we will examine rhetorical means (tropes, symbols, visual aspects of the book) and the dominant ideology pervading Mungo’s account– environmentalism. The division of the autobiographical book into sections titled after the four seasons of the year and making Fall the initial one, brings to mind associations not only with the passage of time but also with hibernation and preparing oneself for the hardships of winter. Moreover, this seasonal title points to Mungo’s strong environmental awareness and close contact with nature, which was one of the characteristic features of the hippies’ lifestyle. It is further reinforced by the section’s subtitle, “Another Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” which bears an open af¿nity with Henry David Thoreau and his book of the same title. Following in Thoreau’s footsteps, Mungo seems to favor civil disobedience in the form of withdrawal from political life into an agricultural seclusion. Interesting is the fact that although Mungo introduced sections to his book, it does not have a contents page, which may suggest that life cannot be codi¿ed but one life-period organically Àows into another, which also rings of the hippies’ ideology.


The Ideology of Environmentalism and the Rhetoric of Withdrawal

The ideology to which Mungo devotes lengthy passages in his autobiography is environmentalism, and he presents it in two aspects: as counter ideology to political activism, and as a way of life. He states openly that the peace movement he used to believe in did not manage to provide him with “insulation from America,”1 although at ¿rst, he offers a vivid account of the movement’s victories: We danced on the graves of war dead in Vietnam, every corpse was ammunition for Our Side; we set up a countergovernment down there in Washington, had rallies and meetings, tried to ¿ght ¿re with ¿re. Then Johnson resigned, yes, and the universities began to fall, the best and the oldest ones ¿rst, and by God every 13-year-old in the suburbs was smoking dope and our numbers were multiplying into the millions.2

The account abounds in the means of rhetorical manipulation. Initially, Mungo uses war casualties as an argument to persuade others to support the anti-war cause. He also skillfully applies differentiation and valuation into them and us, good and bad,3 suppressing and backgrounding the latter at the same time. Finally, the reference to the movement’s numerical strength aptly serves to convert the audience to embrace a new ideology. Yet, despite the many victories the peace movement could boast of, it did not live up to Mungo’s expectations. In his view it did not manage to offer any alternative solutions to the already existing structure. On the contrary, it fell into the pitfall of becoming another repressive system.4 His words ring powerfully with this aspect, “It was then that we put away the schedule for the revolution, gathered together our dear ones and all our resources, and set off to Vermont in search of the New Age.”5 Such a move, according to Timothy Miller, is characteristic of the hippies, since they rejected everything that seemed super¿cial, along with the Western tradition that placed the individual in its center; rather, they embraced communal values.6 Besides, Mungo stresses the environmental inclinations not only through the literal use of Vermont but also through an entymemic inference,7 which leaves it unstated but elevates the state to the rank of the promised land, the Biblical Canaan. Mungo’s autobiography abounds in mythological and Biblical references and, as it seems, they are applied so as to make the ideology behind them easily comprehensible to the extensive numbers of Americans brought up on the Bible. To the Mungo: Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life, 16. Ibid., 16. 3 Cf. Leeuwen, “The Representation of Social Actors,” 52; Paine, “When Saying Is Doing,” 17. 4 Cf. Mungo, Total Loss Farm, 17. 5 Ibid., 17. 6 Cf. Miller, The Hippies and American Values, 4. 7 Paine, 14–16. 1 2

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


commune he co-established, Total Loss Farm, Mungo ascribes the religious qualities of the promised land and its members, in turn, are termed God’s chosen people.8 Moreover, he evokes strong connotations from the Book of Genesis, particularly with the Angel of Death killing Egyptians and passing by the doors marked with the lamb’s blood, “We can see the long shed […], […] the clubhouse itself, blue roof, blood-of-the-Lamb red door to signify we’re God’s chosen people, may the butchers of boyhood pass us by in the night.”9 Interesting in the fragment is the last clause. As in ancient Egypt, where Jews were treated as slaves, here Mungo seems to suggest that free people are enslaved by the system and its servants who are bound to destroy boyhood, thus not letting one reach maturity. Moreover, he stresses the importance of childhood as the formative period of people’s lives, announcing that, “Children take life by short hairs. They are the real Makers of Life, they believe in it. […] Innocence is our only possible hope.”10 By advocating a return to childhood and reaching innocence once again, the reader may infer that reality takes away the inherent quality of life, thus denying hope to Americans. Moreover, Mungo is echoing here the Transcendentalists’ admiration for purity manifested in innocent children. On top of this, he presents his readers with the hardships of adult life that force people to adopt conformism and double-facedness. He says: It is awfully hard to be nine once you’ll never see nineteen again. I am never quite free of the forces attempting to make me grow up, sign contracts, get an agent, be a man. I have seen what happens to men. It is curious how helpless, pathetic, and cowardly is what adults often call a Real Man, […] his courage reduced to encounters with the boss. He worries. He is responsible without being responsive, and proud for his penchant for taking the rap though he knows he is powerless to create the act. If that is manhood, no thank you.11

The presentation coincides with the views of extensive numbers of the hippies, as observed by Miller. According to him, they saw America as exerting a negative inÀuence on the social and emotional lives of its citizens, “a treadmill, a swamp of mediocrity, an emotional pressure cooker; it has become a series of meaningless institutions that transcended persons and developed lives of their own.”12 On the other hand, such an itemization of America’s vices also served to justify one’s decision of “dropping out,” and seeking one’s ful¿llment in a countercultural community and lifestyle.

Cf. Mungo, Total Loss Farm, 144. Ibid., 143–144. 10 Ibid., 137. 11 Ibid., 137. 12 Miller, The Hippies and American Values, 8. 8 9


The Ideology of Environmentalism and the Rhetoric of Withdrawal

As an antidote to the mainstream lifestyle, Mungo invites the readers to return back to nature.13 He claims that: It’s not easy, dear one, to live this modern, anachronistic Life, but it’s great and grave and vibrant, miraculous and holy, serene and ecstatic, lovely and loving in full, rich, ¿nely textured way with details and quality and character.14

Here, the reader is confronted with a number of rhetorical devices. Firstly, Mungo directly addresses the audience so as to make them heed the importance of his message. Secondly, Mungo uses an oxymoron calling the life he so eagerly advocates modern and at the same time anachronistic. Moreover, he elevates this life to the rank of an intense spiritual experience, since it is not only written with a capital letter, but it is also endowed with a series of valuating adjectives, ones that refer to transcendence. He concludes with a powerful statement that this life abounds in everything that “normal” life in America lacks–details, quality, and character.15 To complement the entire picture, in the opening section of the book, titled, “Invocation: A Simple Song of the Life,” Mungo declares, “We’ve absorbed our initial violent reaction against the society of our fathers, and are off on newer and more constructive adventures. In short, we are learning how to be alive again.”16 Not only does this proclamation function as an open rejection of political and ideological protest against America, but the suggestive metaphor of “learning how to be alive again” assumes that they need to ¿nd a new source for their rebirth–life in accordance with nature that would provide people with the rejuvenating potential it carries. Mungo also marvels at the beauty of the surrounding world. Elated, he incants, “Holy holy holy the ¿eld between pond and road, […]. What have we done in our lives to deserve such profuse blessing of God?”17 The fragment seems to bear three layers of meaning. Firstly, it overtly proclaims Mungo’s love and admiration for nature. In its second meaning it resembles a liturgical hymn–“Hosanna in the Keith Melville sees such a high elevation of nature, manifested in environmentalism, as one of the most radical ideas offered by the counterculture, the one that powerfully contradicted the old image of nature seen as “inanimate and external to man, something to be mastered and used.” See: Melville, Communes in the Counter Culture, 204. 14 Mungo, Total Loss Farm, 140. 15 Cf. Guy Strait’s description of the hippie lifestyle, which to him is an antidote to vices stigmatizing the lives of the middle-class. Strait, “What Is a Hippie?,” 223. Tuli Kupferberg sees the emergence of the counterculture, manifested in the hippies, in the same way–as a reaction to formalized and destructive practices of dominant society. See: Kupferberg, “The Hip and the Square,” 227. 16 Mungo, Total Loss Farm, 10. 17 Ibid., 137. 13

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


highest”–sung just before the most crucial moment of the Eucharist–the transubstantiation. In such a combination–admiration for nature and God–Mungo seems to imitate St. Francis of Assisi, who made every plant and animal his brother and sister. Finally, the proclamation echoes the verses of the famous Ginsberg’s poem, Howl, in which the poet repudiates consumerism and materialism of the modern world with the purpose of diverting people’s attention to transcendental values. Not surprisingly then, Mungo declares, “each of us is Christ Almighty. Independence within dependence is another of the ironies which suddenly make perfect sense in our lives.”18 The persuasive metaphor of a human being pretending to be almighty God suggests a heavy dose of potential hidden in people.19 Moreover, accompanied by an oxymoron, “independence within dependence,” it serves as convincing appeal for others to start to imitate the communal living in which one not only willingly sacri¿ces his or her freedom for others, but only then can they ¿nd ful¿llment and happiness. Moreover, Keith Melville sees such a situation as a paradox of the afÀuent society; its young members, heirs of the accumulated wealth, consciously and willingly reject it in order to pursue the values of communal living, sharing, and celebrating rural life in accordance with nature.20 Mungo’s love for nature expressed in a religious language can be traced in several passages in his autobiographical book. Horri¿ed at the sight of redwoods being cut down, he declares: When we emerged from the magni¿cent forest, as from church, dazzled and energized by our big OD of living godhood, it was to more roaring and wheezing of internal-combustion engines, this time long trucks carrying dead redwoods to the cemetery, chained together and stacked in pyramids like corpses after the Plague; like common peasants, these princes were being sliced down and shipped off to some cheap razzle-dazzle end. […]. How, then, shall we worship to a McCullough Chain Saw after the Redwood Lord thy God; thou shalt not have false gods before thee.21

Firstly, Mungo applies a telling simile comparing the forest to the church. As in Ibid., 149. It bears a striking similarity to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s concept of people being endowed with God-like powers within themselves. Cf. Emerson, “The Transcendental Deity,” 47. 20 Melville, Communes in the Counter Culture, 20. A similar observation is put forward by Lewis Yablonsky in his seminal study of the hippies, The Hippie Trip. According to him, the eager adoption of the hippie lifestyle by numerous young people was a response and a remedy for the dominant technicalization of American life. Cf. Yablonsky, The Hippie Trip, 12. Moreover, he postulates that the litmus test for American society would be the approach of the young who, having been offered all the social bene¿ts, rejected the easy life. See: Yablonsky, 26. 21 Mungo, Total Loss Farm, 108. 18



The Ideology of Environmentalism and the Rhetoric of Withdrawal

the church, where we are dealing with sacrum, it also seems to be so in the forest– divinity is there, and what is more, these Àoral and faunal kingdoms enable people to experience “godhood.” Interestingly, towards the end of this passage, Mungo resorts to the categorical Biblical language of the Ten Commandments, evoking the ¿rst one–“Thou shalt have no false gods before me,” as if to indicate the paramount value, which for him is nature. A metaphor of a cut-down Christmas tree is also used with the same intention. According to Mungo, people fancy cutting them down, bringing them home, and decorating them for Christmas as if out of a whim, however, in order to lessen their sin for doing so they deliberately cut the smaller ones, not the big trees.22 This juxtaposition of a seemingly trivial matter such as cutting down a tree for Christmas and a serious religious matter, which is a sin, makes the readers realize the sacred character of nature. Moreover, through such a presentation of nature, people are forced to acknowledge their responsibility for deeds against nature. This brings to mind an analogy with two concepts of nature and land: wild nature which is required to be tamed, a concept favored by extensive numbers of previous generations, and America with its wild nature as a Garden of Eden, where everything could exist without human intrusion. The hippies preferred the latter concept not limiting it only to plants and animals, and it was they who even coined the slogan “live and let live,” meaning “do your own thing and don’t harm others.” The culminating section in the book, titled “Warm,” is dedicated to the commune Mungo was living in, Total Loss Farm. When he says, “Total Loss Farm has become the ¿nal inhabitable earth on the planet that we are capable of seeing; beyond it, in any direction, just the great waters; […],”23 the enthymemic meaning of the metaphor is to elevate Total Loss Farm to the status of Noah’s Arc–the only refuge for earthly species in the times of the Great Flood. Moreover, what Mungo seems to suggest here, although he leaves it unstated, is that as in the case of Noah’s Arc, where only the representatives of species were saved; in the case of Total Loss Farm–only its members would be saved. Additionally, the metaphor of the impassable waters not only brings to mind immediate associations with the Àood, but it also serves as a starting point for differentiation, dividing the whole American society into those who belong to the commune, and those who constitute compounds of those “great waters.” Such a rhetorical maneuver serves the purpose of cementing the group’s members together through exposing the common enemy. The intriguing name of the commune together with its signi¿cance are decoded in this section. Mungo informs his readers that: it’s not in ‘Vermont’ or anywhere else with a name and a tax-rate. It’s not on any 22 23

Cf. ibid., 63. Ibid., 170.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


chart, you must ¿nd it with your heart, […]. […] it produces nothing visible to the mature eye–all the livestock, machinery, seeds, and such tools and not even one peach or can of maple syrup makes it as far as the market. And nobody who goes in there to stay has ever been seen alive again.24

The fragment bears striking similarities to Abbie Hoffman’s testimony before the Court in the Chicago 8 Trial. When asked by the judge where he lived, he replied that he lived in Woodstock nation, whose place is in his and his fellows’ minds.25 The mythologizing aspect of this presentation is explicit here. Mungo, as does Hoffman, presents the place of his residence in non-material terms. Through denial of its material features such as geographical location and economic obligations, Mungo reaches a wider plane of its existence–placing it within people’s hearts. Thus, he openly mythologizes the commune and puts it forward as an alternative way of living. Mungo is convinced of the role that he and his commune friends are to play for entire mankind. A case in point is his statement, “There is no adventure greater than ours. We are the last life on the planet, it is for us to launch the New Age, to grow up to be men and women of earth, and free of the walking dead who precede us.”26 Worth noting is the repeated reference to the inevitability of death, applied here to make the readers heed the message even more attentively. The passage also reverberates the ominous words of the Port Huron Statement, “Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living.”27 Besides, only the commune members, as the heralds of the New Age, are endowed with the rejuvenating potential, and as such they are mythologized and elevated to the rank of the saviors of the human race. The personalizing aspect combined with activation is given the main focus here, since it is they who are to become “men” and “women” of the earth. Moreover, towards the end of the passage, Mungo applies valuation in the form of nomination,28 calling previous generations the “walking dead.” Thus, the role of Mungo’s commune fellows is even graver because they not only have to free themselves and others from the spells of the past, but also to become an antithesis to previous generations, favoring life in all its aspects. Consequently, in this section Mungo devotes some space to the generation gap. He states: it has been a while since we lost our leaders, and the clubhouses springing up everyIbid., 128. Cf. Levine, McNamee and Greenberg, eds., The Tales of Hoffman, 140–141. 26 Mungo, 171. 27 “The Port Huron Statement,” 330, 329–374. 28 Cf. Leeuwen, „The Representation of Social Actors,” 42–43; Johnstone, Discourse Analysis, 46. 24 25


The Ideology of Environmentalism and the Rhetoric of Withdrawal

where like ports in the storm. Perhaps it is we who are found, and our parents are lost! […]. They always seemed to know, in their grave fashions, exactly where they were going, […]. But they couldn’t be so clever if they can’t catch up with us!29

Firstly, Mungo contrasts two phenomena–the loss of leaders and the mass appearance of clubhouses, as if the two were mutually related. Moreover, by comparing clubhouses to havens guaranteeing safety, Mungo seems to point to the path the young should follow if they do not wish to be overpowered by the tempests of the adult life that they parents live. On top of this the author applies differentiation with us and our parents, and valuation–the former are found and on the right track, whereas the latter went astray and are unable to live up to their offspring. The crucial word Mungo ascribes to parents is “seemed,” a verb denoting a hypothetical situation. Thus, he further stresses the insincerity of the adults, who did not really know their destinations or were perplexed by life, but nevertheless still wanted their children to follow them. As it turns out, all these rhetorical manipulations are utilized in order to put forward an alternative and rewarding way of life for the young. To sum up, Mungo in his autobiographical account offers the rhetoric of inner and outer escape. The former is manifested in his mental withdrawal from active participation in society, while the latter means the beginning of a new life in a rural commune, leaving traditional social institutions behind. When compared with the autobiographies of the leading Sixties radicals (Tom Hayden, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman), Mungo’s account appears to be an antidote to the politicized forms of protest, with environmentalism put to the fore.

Works Cited Primary Sources Mungo, Raymond. Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with Liberation News Sernice, at Total Loss Farm and on the Dharma Trail. New York: Cytadel Press, 1990. –––––. Total Loss Farm: A Year in the Life. Seattle: Madrona Publishers Inc., 1970.

Secondary Sources Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Transcendental Deity.” In Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology, edited by David Leeming and Jake Page. 45–49. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 29

Mungo, Total Loss Farm, 131–132.

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Johnstone, Barbara. Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002. Leeuwen, Theo van. “The Representation of Social Actors.” In Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis, eds. Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard and Malcolm Coulthard, 32–70. London: Routledge, 1996. Levine, Mark L., George C. McNamee and Daniel Greenberg, eds. The Tales of Hoffman. New York: Bantam Books, 1970. Kupferberg, Tuli. “The Hip and the Square: The Hippie Generation.” Berkeley Barb, 4 Aug. 1967. In Notes from the Underground: An Anthology, edited by Jesse Kornbluth. 224–228. New York: Ace Books, 1968. Melville, Keith. Communes in the Counter Culture: Origins, Theories, Styles of Life. New York: Morrow Quill, 1972. Miller, Timothy. The Hippies and American Values. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991. Paine, Robert. “When Saying Is Doing.” In Politically Speaking: Cross-Cultural Studies of Rhetoric Social and Economic Papers No. 10, edited by Robert Paine, 9–23. Philadelphia: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1981. Strait, Guy. “What Is a Hippie?” Maverick, April 1967. In Notes from the Underground: An Anthology, edited by Jesse Kornbluth. 221–223. New York: Ace Books, 1968. “The Port Huron Statement.” In Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Streets of Chicago, edited by James Miller. 329–374. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. Yablonsky, Lewis. The Hippie Trip. Baltimore: Penguin, 1973.

THE POLITICS OF THE DISCOURSE ON ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM FROM THE COLD WAR ERA TO THE PRESENT-DAY JUSTYNA WIERZCHOWSKA From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Abstract Expressionism, or the New York School of Painting, dominated the American art scene. Numerous American art critics have de¿ned this avant-garde movement as the legitimate successor to the Paris School,1 and “the glorious birth of an American national art.”2 This essay aims to demonstrate how the abstract paintings produced by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, William Baziotes, Clyfford Still, David Smith, and other artists belonging to the New York School circle, were interpreted by American art critics during the Cold War era, and how this interpretation changed with the advent of the cultural revolt of the late 1960s. By examining changes in the rhetoric employed by prominent American art critics writing on Abstract Expressionism, such as Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, William Rubin, Barnett Newman, Alfred Barr Jr., and others, this essay analyzes the connections between art criticism and American Cold War ideology, which aimed to construct an image of America through the concepts of freedom, individualism, and togetherness. The underlying framework of this essay’s analysis of the rhetoric concerning Abstract Expressionism has previously been voiced by the art historian Jonathan Harris, who in 1993 observed that “how values are formed involves asking questions about who believes what, in which historical and social circumstances.”3 The time span of the Abstract Expressionists’ activities stretched from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s. In the 1930s, most of the painters took part in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration scheme, which sponsored American artists by commissioning art for public buildings. At this early phase For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see: Sandler, Triumph of American Painting; Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art; Shapiro, Abstract Expressionism, A Critical Record; Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism. 2 Fuller, “American Painting Since the Last War,” 173. 3 Harris, “Modernism and Culture in the USA, 1930-1960,” 69. 1


The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

the would-be Abstract Expressionists drew from the American visual tradition of the time—from both the nationalistic Regionalism and the egalitarian Social Realism. However, once the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact resulted in a fundamental reshufÀing of the pre-war international balance of power by allying fascists with communists, its repercussions soon reverberated in the international political scene. The pre-war struggle that united socialists and capitalists in their common battle against fascism was now replaced by a new one that gradually evolved into the Cold War binary division of communism versus capitalism. This new political situation inspired radical changes to American intellectuals’ political views. Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s they were abandoning their leftist sympathies and moving en mass towards the center, while some gradually embraced more conservative, conformist positions in the McCarthyist America. This major intellectual shift that occurred among the American intelligentsia prompted, in its turn, dramatic changes in the American visual arts and art criticism. American Social Realism and Regionalism were wiped out by a general disillusionment with both Stalinism in the Soviet Union and with the American agrarian past. This created an artistic void, since the former expressive devices and their underlying philosophical assumptions were perceived as irrelevant in the post-war turmoil. Therefore, after World War II, American artists were desperately seeking new means of expression and a new mind-frame that would allow them to produce meaningful art. This complex situation de¿nes the roots of what turned out to be a breakthrough step in the development of American visual art, prompting Greenberg to observe in 1948 that “the main premises of Western art have at last migrated to the United States, along with the center of gravity of industrial production and political power.”4 From the very beginning then, Abstract Expressionism was destined to eclipse the achievements of the Paris School. Even the very name “New York School” was to position the American movement as both an “allusion and contrast” to its French predecessor.5 As stated above by Greenberg, American postwar prosperity was to be accompanied by a proliferation of progressive American art. This new art was to surpass the European avant-gardes’ formal and conceptual achievements and thus reinforce Henry Luce’s idea in 1941 of the 20th century being “the American Century,”6 a de¿nition that had gained a new importance with the intensi¿cation of the Cold War. It was around 1947 when the majority of the Abstract Expressionists ¿nally got rid of the remaining ¿gurative elements in their paintings. On the one hand, this gesture reÀected the artists’ commonly shared feeling that no kind of realism could reÀect the traumatic character of the post-war human condition. On the other, their Greenberg, “The Decline in Cubism,” 572. Hess, Abstract Expressionism, 7. 6 Luce, “The American Century,” 11-29. 4 5

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


decision to break away from mimetic art placed them in the modernist purist tradition that focused on form itself, as explained by Greenberg in his 1940 article “Towards a Newer Laocoon.” Speaking from within the formalist paradigm, one can say that Abstract Expressionist paintings, until 1947 largely symbolic and drawing from a rich reservoir of visual traditions, such as pre-Columbian cultures, Greek mythology, Surrealist inspirations, had by the end of the decade acquired a nonrepresentational content of colorful blanket-like rectangles in the case of Rothko; dripped, entangled lines in the case of Pollock; and vast, empty spaces in the case of Newman—the tropes most commonly associated with Abstract Expressionism. However, when approached from a conceptual perspective, the very same visual transformation can be described as reÀecting the artists’ gradual interest in the unconscious and the attempt to express themselves without the mediation of ¿gurative representations. For example, the American art historian Ann Gibson quotes Clyfford Still as stating that “to impose any literary allusion [in painting] is to establish a serious block to communication,” and David Smith calling for a “return to origins, before purities were befouled by words.”7 Other Abstract Expressionists repeatedly de¿ed any interpretation of their art, assuming a somewhat escapist approach and doing battle with art critics who dared to interpret their art. Still adopted a particularly hard line in this respect when in 1948 he begged the art dealer Betty Parsons: Please – and this is important, show them [my paintings] only to those who may have some insight into the values involved, and allow no one to write about them. NO ONE. My contempt for the intelligence of the scribbles I have read is so complete that I cannot tolerate their imbecilities, particularly when they attempt to deal with my canvases. Men like Soby, Greenberg, Barr, etc... are to be categorically rejected.8

It seems that the dilemma that faced the artists in the years following World War II was: “How to paint in a post-Auschwitz era, an era of the atom bomb?” or, “How to paint since representation means acceptance and one cannot accept what is unacceptable?” The most outspoken Abstract Expressionist, Barnett Newman, commented on this deadlock by claiming that “the horror of modern conditions could not be represented or described,” since to “depict the horror, to describe it, was tantamount to accepting it,”9 and the intellectual Dwight MacDonald bluntly stated that “to describe was to accept the unacceptable.”10 These assumptions may have resulted in the artists’ eventual refusal to create ¿gurative art, as explained by Rothko who stated that “a time came when none of us could use the ¿gure without mutilatGibson, “Abstract Expressionism’s Evasion of Language,” 195. Rothko in Guilbaut, “The Adventures of the Avant-Garde in America,” 160. 9 Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, 113. 10 Rothko in Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art,197. 7 8


The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

ing it.”11 This is also the French art historian, Serge Guilbaut’s interpretation of the artists’ shift towards non-¿gurative painting, as he claims that in order “to speak of horror without accepting it, some artists experimented with an abstract idiom.”12 Therefore it can be argued that the formal transformation of Abstract Expressionist paintings occurred predominantly as a response to the turbulent political situation of the post-war era. Another fundamental inspiration was the massive inÀux of European avant-garde artists who in the course of the war arrived in New York; chief among them were the Surrealists Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, André Masson, and Marc Chagall and Piet Mondrian. They offered a ¿rst-hand taste of the formal and conceptual achievements of the European avant-gardes, most notably their attempt to combine depth-psychology of Freud and Jung with visual art, and to seek artistic expression without a reference to the external world. So it seems that the Abstract Expressionists strived to incorporate the ideas of the European avantgarde into their own experience in order to produce, to use their own words, “timeless and tragic”13 art. This interest, uniformly shared among the Abstract Expressionists, is reÀected in numerous statements and articles originating in the period from 1940 to mid-1960. Politicians and government-linked institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), interpreted the Abstract Expressionist shift towards non-¿gurative art somewhat differently. In a manner akin to the Greenbergian statement of 1948 quoted above, they felt that with the intensi¿cation of the Cold War, the USA needed an art of its own, an art that would surpass the European formal achievements, and at the same time promote the rhetoric of “Americanness” and “togetherness,” thus serving as a living proof of the freedom of American art compared to the regimented Social Realism of the Soviet Union. And it was this impossible, but at the same time necessary, task of reconciling immediate political goals with timeless aesthetic values that de¿ned the course that American art and American art criticism followed in the ¿rst two postwar decades, despite the escapist statements of the artists. From today’s perspective, it seems clear that the gradual process of the Abstract Expressionists’ shift away from representational painting rendered their paintings particularly ¿t for the American Cold War rhetoric of individualism, democracy and freedom. In 1991, the American art historian Erika Doss observed that by “denying reference to an external world, abstract art seemingly avoided any possibility of political or social manipulation,”14 while in reality it actually made itself open to interpretations and manipulations. As demonstrated by American art criticism of 11 12 13 14

Rothko in Harrison, “Disorder and Insensitivity,” 118. Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, 108. Gottlieb, Rothko and Newman, “Letter to the New York Times,” 561-563. Doss, Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism, 356.

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


the 1950s, the Abstract Expressionists—with their repeatedly emphasized individualism and avid interest in the pre-Columbian, the wild and the rough—constituted perfect candidates to legitimize the ideology of a country that emerged victorious from the war and economically outstripped Europe. Quite clearly, in the Cold War discourse on Abstract Expressionism the very “symbol of America [was exploited] as a rhetorical battleground,”15 since visual art belonged among the cultural domains through which America’s Cold War image was constructed. For this reason, when analyzing the rhetoric of the Cold War discourse on Abstract Expressionism it seems perfectly understandable that art critics such as Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Alfred Barr Jr., William Rubin, and later Irving Sandler, utilized in their writings the most powerful American myths, framing the artists as Emersonian individuals who through their visual creations were able to redeem the American nation and work towards American self-perfection. What is more, this myth was exploited not only by the art critics of the time, but also by the American mainstream media, which effectively shaped the common understanding of Abstract Expressionism. For example, Rosenberg in his famous article of 1952 titled “American Action Painters” claimed that the “American vanguard painter took to the white expanse of the canvas as Melville’s Ishmael took to the sea.”16 Greenberg described this art as “radically American,” rough, brutal, violent, great, spontaneous and non-¿nite.17 The New York art critics and patrons Samuel Kootz and Sidney Janis wrote in 1943 that this kind of painting “has an American intensity, aggression and positiveness that is thoroughly symbolical of the spirit of our most imaginative social, political and economical leaders.”18 An anonymous review of the same year declared that “[Pollock’s] abstractions are free of Paris and contain a disciplined American fury.”19 As late as in 1958 Allan Kaprow still talks of the “self-contained works of the Europeans” and “the seemingly chaotic, sprawling works of the Americans.”20 In 1949 Life magazine published an article titled “Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living American Painter?,” accompanied by a photo of the artists by Arnold Namuth. In 1951 Vogue published fashion photographs by Cecil Beaton in which models posed in front of Pollock’s drip-paintings, and in 1956 Time magazine dubbed Pollock “Jack the Dripper.”21 These, together with other pictures by Namuth, became classic portraits of Pollock, later appearing in Harper Bazaar, the Bercovitch, The Rites of Assent, 362. Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” 583. 17 Greenberg in Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, 175-76. 18 Kootz and Janis in Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism, 175. 19 Karmel, Jackson Pollock. Interviews, Articles and Reviews, 50. 20 Kaprow, „The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” 86. 21 Cox, Art-as-Politics. The Abstract Expressionist Avant-Garde and Society, 90. 15 16


The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

New York Times Magazine, and again in Life after the artist’s tragic death. They are partly responsible for the stereotype of Jackson Pollock as a true bohemian, putting him in the company of Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac or Edgar Allan Poe. Life reinforced this image with headlines such as “A Shy and Turbulent Man,” “Focused Fury of Creation,” and “Phantasms and Turmoil of His Final Years,” all of which conveyed the image of a tormented artist in the Van Gogh mold. William Rubin in 1967 noted that through such publications “Pollock ... had entered the history of art like a meteor, whose ‘drip’ pictures came out of nowhere ... and who painted virtually nothing but masterpieces.”22 It can be claimed then that during the Cold War, art criticism addressing the New York School either focused on the formal qualities of the paintings, or emphasized the profound philosophical character of Abstract Expressionist art, equating it with Americanness, American individualism, and freedom. The former approach was taken by critics such as Clement Greenberg, Alfred Barr Jr. and Donald Judd, who viewed this art as the ultimate formal achievement of high modernism. On the other hand, Harold Rosenberg, Dore Ashton, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and later Stephen Polcari, all perceived this art as being a universal commentary on the condition of the “modern man” who was experiencing the post-war chaos. This two-fold interpretation, which until the late 1960s prevailed in American art criticism, was fundamentally questioned in the early 1970s by Max Kozloff’s “American Painting During the Cold War,” followed by Eva Cockroft’s “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War” in 1974. In this latter, highly inÀuential article, Cockroft claims that “[t]o understand why a particular art movement becomes successful under a given set of historical circumstances requires an examination of the speci¿cs of patronage and the ideological needs of the powerful.”23 She concludes by saying that in the case of Abstract Expressionism, “the symbol of political freedom” was used “for political ends.”24 This new approach, enhanced by the cultural upheavals of the late 1960s, resulted in a new understanding of the way Abstract Expressionism had functioned in the post-war years. The New York School began to be perceived as having been bonded to the concepts of the Cold War, the politicization of art, the struggle for power, and, above all – ideology.25 Since then, various authors, most notably the French scholar Serge Guilbaut, have bluntly stated that Abstract Expressionism was used throughout the 1950s to construct a certain image of America in order to juxtapose it with the Soviet Union. Some critics have gone so far as to claim that from the mid-1950s Abstract Expres-

Rubin, “Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition,” 14. Cockroft, “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War,” 125. 24 Ibid., 132-133. 25 Frascina, Pollock and After, 91-95. 22 23

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


sionism was “engineered into its improbable position of cultural enthronement”26 by powerful American institutions such as MoMA or the CIA, and that “the very political “neutrality” claimed by some Abstract Expressionists rendered them peculiarly vulnerable to penetration by prevailing ideological trends.”27 The American scholar Michel Leja stretches this claim even further arguing that, throughout the 1940s, New York School painting was enmeshed in processes that helped to resecure the dominant ideology, despite the fact that the artists perceived and represented themselves as fundamentally resisting and opposing that ideology. Abstract Expressionism was a Trojan horse transporting a recon¿gured older ideology into a new era.28

The increasingly abstract and visually crude paintings constituted an easy subject to which interpretations of a political nature could be ascribed. At the same time Cold War art critics and historians carefully avoided references to the immediate political situation, which, in fact, had an enormous impact on the rhetorical aspect of their writings. As noted by Dore Ashton, an art critic who befriended many of the Abstract Expressionists, the debate on art was highly de-politicized throughout the 1950s: “Oblique references abounded ... but the ¿fties were not hospitable to art discussions with political orientation.”29 The predominant trend was to interpret Abstract Expressionism in what seemed a common-sensical manner of presenting the movement as a spontaneous and voluntary expression of the artists’ Americanness. This interpretation successfully crept into the American collective consciousness of the time, as argued by Leja: Abstract Expressionism is taken to be a high-cultural correlate of the country’s military, economic, and technological rise to preeminence in the Western Hemisphere during and after World War II. Not only is it believed to mark the coming to maturity and independence of the visual arts in the United States, but also it is generally interpreted as the quintessential artistic embodiment of the qualities and ideals that the nation’s mainstream, middle-class culture holds dearest: individual freedom, boldness, ingenuity, grand ambition, expansiveness, con¿dence, power.30

Leja hereby enumerates most of the values that traditionally have been associated with the way the United States presented itself. During the Cold War, American art critics used exactly this kind of rhetoric, talking of individualism, universalism, democracy, freedom and progress in art. In the political impasse, the Abstract ExpresFuller, “American Painting Since the Last War,” 174. Ibid., 176. 28 Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism, 10. 29 Ashton in Hess, Abstract Expressionism, 18. 30 Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism, 5. 26 27


The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

sionists were framed as rebels who through their brave thoughts and actions proved America’s talent for self-perfection. This was a cold-war version of one of the most powerful American myths: that of the individual, the Emersonian man, the nonconformist. The American scholar Nina Baym perceives this myth as fundamental to the creation of the American national identity, claiming that it: narrates a confrontation of the American individual, the pure American self divorced from speci¿c social circumstances, with the promise offered by the idea of America. This promise is the deeply romantic one that in this very land, untrammeled by history and social accident, a person will be able to achieve complete self-de¿nition. Behind this promise is the assurance that individuals come before society, that they exist in some meaningful sense prior to, and apart from, societies in which they happen to ¿nd themselves.31

Therefore it can be argued that the “American” character of the abstract paintings produced by the New York School artists was a product of a Cold War era that demanded the United States pick up where Paris left off after it fell to the Nazis in 1940. Therefore Leja rightly claims that Abstract Expressionism’s “American-ness” lay more “in its ideological character than in some con¿guration of essential attributes such as size, energy, rawness, and intensity.”32 This renders the situation of the art critics of the 1950s extremely complex and demonstrates the inevitable political entanglement of art critics’ seemingly neutral interpretation of American visual art of the time. For example, Greenberg’s formalism of the 1950s seems somehow stained, as he, a former Marxist of the 1930s, probably did not seriously believe that art could be kept intact in its domain. Interestingly though, the artists themselves repeatedly rebelled against framing their works as expressions of their “American-ness” or as having any political content, most notably in a 1943 letter to the New York Times, co-authored by Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman, in which they claimed to be interested exclusively in what is “timeless and tragic.” William Baziotes, meanwhile, wrote in 1949: “When demagogues of art call on you to make social art, the intelligible art, the good art – spit on them and go back to your dreams.”33 Pollock also rejected a political aspect to his art, repudiating the very idea of American art by writing in a 1944 questionnaire that “[t]he idea of an isolated American painting, so popular in this country [USA] during the thirties, seems absurd to me, just as the idea of creating a purely American mathematics or physics would seem absurd.”34 Similarly, the Dutch-born de Kooning complained in a 1960 interview that: Baym,“Melodramas of Beset Manhood,” 437. Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism. 15. 33 Baziotes in Kozloff, “American Painting During the Cold War,” 110. 34 Pollock, “Answers to a Questionnaire,” 561. 31


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


It is a certain burden this American-ness ... When I went to Academy [back in Holland] and I was drawing from the nude, I was making the drawing, not Holland... I feel sometimes as an artist must feel, like a baseball player or something. Members of a team writing American history.35

In 1960, Robert Motherwell backed this view observing that the “essence of this particular historical moment is the problem of identity, traditionally; American literature is full of it. It’s an American problem. Or perhaps, it is a problem for everybody; but it’s extremely sharp here.”36 In the sole issue of the artists’ selfproduced magazine Possibilities, Motherwell and Rosenberg stated that “if one is to continue to paint or to write as the political trap seems to close upon him he must perhaps have the extremest faith in sheer possibility.”37 The artists seemed to be aware then of the political circumstances in which they functioned, and at the same time refuted any connection between their work and politics. Quite notably, though, the artists’ refusal to be labeled worked against them, as they were framed as living proofs of American individualism and “self-reliance.” The Cold War art criticism, seemingly disconnected from the political situation and therefore apparently neutral, masked its most immediate goal – the American struggle for power. The exalted art criticism of the time was accompanied by the massive promotion of Abstract Expressionism at home and in Europe. Numerous exhibitions in New York, both in state museums and private galleries, paved the way for Abstract Expressionism to ¿nally travel to eight major European capitals under MoMA’s international scheme in 1958. The American art critic Peter Fuller argues that it “may be dif¿cult for an American reader, even now, to grasp the effects of this kind of cultural imperialism.”38 Thus the artists’ acclaimed individualism turned out to be of a functional nature: it was praised as enforcing the American political status quo when juxtaposed to the strictly de¿ned social realism of the Soviet Union. Through such abstract categories as individualism, self-reliance, or freedom, art critics such as Greenberg, Rosenberg, and Barr effectively contributed to the strengthening of American Cold War ideology, consciously or not allowing politics to devour art criticism. Complimentary to Michel Foucault’s observations on the relationship between discourse and power, the American scholar Gerald Gunn accurately notes that by “privileging such semisacred abstractions as Reason, God, Liberty, Nature, the Over-Soul, Individualism, Democracy, The West, History, the People ... all forms of transcen-

de Kooning in Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, 48. Motherwell in Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, 77. 37 Motherwell, Robert and Harold Rosenberg. “The Question of What Will Emerge Is Left Open,” 650. 38 Fuller, “American Painting Since the Last War,” 175-176. 35



The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

dentalism ... simply serve as disguised expressions of the will of power.”39 This statement seems perfectly applicable to the way in which Abstract Expressionism was interpreted in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s – the abstract, lofty ideas of art critics translated into politics. However, in the 1960s the unavoidable connection between culture and politics could no longer be masked by formalist talk, as argued by another American scholar Gerald Graff, who notes that since “the mid-sixties ... the assumption that art and politics exist on a separate plane has been so widely challenged that, although it has not disappeared, it is now on the defensive and can no longer be taken for granted.”40 Indeed, the aforementioned early-1970s articles by Cockroft and Kozloff were an expression of a more general trend voiced by new intellectual movements, most importantly New Historicism, and the explosion of politically-inspired visual creations produced by such artists as Ad Reinhardt and Robert Motherwell, both former Abstract Expressionists, Rudolf Baranik, Nancy Spero, Edward Keinholz, Leon Golub, and Ronald Haeberle, amongst others. What is more, since the 1960s, the meaning and importance of Abstract Expressionism have undergone a gradual reevaluation as new theories have enabled a reframing of both the common and professional understandings of this art. One of the most important reevaluations was due to the bankruptcy of modernist formalism, so upheldby the late Greenberg, according to which each cultural ¿eld remained a distinct and discrete domain, puristically set aside from all other ¿elds of human activity and focusing solely on the perfection of its own form and expressive means. However, as argued by the American scholar Barbara Herrnstein Smith, the “traditionalist – idealist, humanist, genteel – tendency to isolate or protect certain aspects of life and culture, among them works of art and literature, from consideration in economic terms has had the effect of mystifying the nature – or, more accurately, the dynamics – of their nature.”41 As natural as this statement may seem today, it does carry a great signi¿cance, as the idealistic perception of art as a sacred domain prevailed in Western culture for centuries. Indeed, this understanding of art is so deeply rooted in the common perception of Westerners that, even in 1983 when discussing the ideology hidden behind Abstract Expressionism, Serge Guilbaut expressed his fear of “dragging art’s ideal values through the mud of politics and ideology.”42 However, today most scholars agree with Herrnstein Smith that, All value is radically contingent, being neither a ¿xed attribute, an inherent quality, or an objective property of things but, rather, an effect of multiple, continuously

Gunn, “Beyond Transcendence, or Beyond Ideology,” 133. Graff, “American Criticism Left and Right,” 109. 41 Herrnstein Smith. “Contingencies of Value,” 1915. 42 Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, 12. 39


Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


changing, and continuously interacting variables or, to put this another way, the product of the dynamics, of a system, speci¿cally an economic system.43

In the case of Abstract Expressionism, this dependence on the economic system was particularly profound, since the international power division reÀected the rivalry between two competing ideologies and was not only based on the two complementary economic systems, but ¿rst and foremost – on two competing political systems where each represented the other as a deadly enemy. This ultimately de¿ned the position of an art movement that was to serve not only as an artistic expression of particular aesthetic ideas, but also as a pillar upon which a political system could partially rest. Moreover, as has already been stated, the very abstraction of the New York School paintings rendered the artists perfectly suited to the American rhetoric of freedom. Since Abstract Expressionism occupied such a preeminent position within American art of the 1950s, from today’s perspective it may be compared to litmus paper on which was detected all the prejudices that for centuries had passed unnoticed. The widely celebrated “universal character” of this type of painting turned out to embrace only white heterosexual males, who claimed the honour of being the only legitimate universal subject for themselves. Women-painters like Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Elaine de Kooning amongst others, were referred to as second-hand reproducers of serious painters’ ideas. For example Lee (Eleanore) Krasner was called in a 1958 mainstream press article “Mrs. Jackson Pollock” “primarily a housewife.”44 Even unto this very day, they are marginalized in most studies on the topic, given a somewhat supporting role and framed as “emotional props” that enabled the “real artists” to pursue their careers. This is particularly striking in the case of two Abstract Expressionists’ wives: Elaine de Kooning and the above mentioned Lee Krasner. The situation of non-white painters was in this respect strikingly similar; their paintings were never categorised as having universal qualities or as being expressions of “Americanism.” The American art critic Arthur Danto recalls the example of an African-American artist, Romare Bearden, who began his career quite successfully in the 1940s. The 1950s, however, were for him “an essentially missing decade” as he felt like “a kind of lost soul.” It was only the cultural turbulence of the 1960s that allowed him to make an art in which his African American experience “could live and make its own logic,” not like in the case of Abstract Expressionism where such experience “was ruled out as being the ‘subject of the artist.’”45 In the McCarthyist 1950s “the universal American subject” was still very exclusive, Herrnstein Smith. “Contingencies of Value,” 1913. Hess, Abstract Expressionism, 15. 45 Danto, “An Artist Beyond Category.” 43



The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

as noted by the American art historian David Craven, who argues that “socializing across ethnic lines” was in the 1950s very infrequent.46 Arthur Danto brieÀy sketches Bearden’s career, emphasizing the signi¿cance of his non-white origin and the change that occurred in the 1960s: Bearden abruptly became Bearden around 1964 – a miraculous year for him as an artist, when he broke into a mode of representation distinctively his own and entered the calm waters of a marvelously personal style that was never again to be challenged, from without or within. ... What is striking about it is the way the two sides of his work intersect and overlap – his commitment to depicting the “Negro experience” and his great knowledge of modern art.47

Bearden is but one example of the changes that took place on a more general scale in the United States. The cultural revolution of the late 1960s gave voice to many previously silent groups, such as women, non-whites, and sexual minorities, allowing for a gradual reframing of Abstract Expressionism. The new voices have discredited Abstract Expressionism’s allegedly timeless and universal relevance by analysing its exclusive character. At the same time, the growing awareness of the non-transparent character of the language and the now widely shared view that any artistic creation is, to a varied degree, a product of its time and socio-historical context, derived from the writings of Derrida, Foucault and more generally New Historicism, opened up new ways of understanding history, culture and – more speci¿cally – art. As a result, the discourse on Abstract Expressionism has been re-evaluated within the new paradigms. Critics have started questioning the alleged transparency of the notions that lay at the very heart of American post-war art criticism – especially that of freedom, individualism and the universalism of art – demonstrating their ideological entanglement. Therefore, when viewed from a present-day perspective, it does not seem surprising that what came after Abstract Expressionism was alien to it. Arthur Danto notes that Abstract Expressionism “came to an end in 1962, giving way to forms of art, like Pop Art and Minimalism, that could not have been more alien to Abstract Expressionism’s founding vision.”48 The shifts in politics produced new visual expressions and a new kind of rhetoric. Instead of seeking eternal values in “timeless and tragic art,” the 1960s’ artists either produced politically engaged art or provided cynical commentaries on the society in which they lived. However, the process of searching for new understandings of Abstract Expressionism still continues with new voices coming to the fore. The consecutive Àuctuations in the way Abstract Expressionism has been described and interpreted may Craven, Abstract Expressionism as Cultural Critique, 129. Danto, „An Artist Beyong Category.” 48 Danto, “Pollock and the Drip.” 46 47

Ideology and Rhetoric: Constructing America


serve as a prism through which one can trace the changes in the rhetorical production of the American self-image. Today it can be justi¿ably claimed that “American popular culture so infuses the consciousness of the world that everyone, however anti-American in politics or attitude, is more or less deeply American in culture.”49 At the same time, the United States has not ceased to scrabble for the position of being “the self-appointed champion of Western values.”50 Therefore, by analyzing the rhetoric of its past, one can ¿nd certain recurring themes through which this country has constructed its self-image, and connect them to the concepts of ideology and power.

Works Cited Alves, Teresa. “‘Some Enchanted Evening’ – Tuning In the Amazing Fifties, Switching Off the Elusive Decade.” American Studies International 39 issue 3 (2001): 25-40. Baym, Nina. “Melodramas of Beset Manhood. How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors.” In American Literature, American Culture,edited by Gordon Hutner, 431-443. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Rites of Assent. Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America. London: Routledge, 1993. Cockroft, Eva. “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War.” In Pollock and After. The Critical Debate, edited by Francis Frascina, 125-134. London: Harper & Row, 1985. Cox, Anette. Art-as-Politics. The Abstract Expressionist Avant-Garde and Society. Michigan and London: UMI Research Press, 1977. Craven, David. Abstract Expressionism as Cultural Critique. Dissent during the McCarthy Period. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Danto, Arthur. “An Artist Beyond Category.” The Nation 279, no. 19 (2004) www. –––––. “Pollock and the Drip.” The Nation 268, no. 3 (1999) –––––. “The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-1950.” The Nation 268, no. 21 (1999) Doss Erica. Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. Frascina, Francis, ed. Pollock and After. The Critical Debate, London: Harper & Row, 1985. Fuller, Peter. “American Painting Since the Last War.” In Abstract Expressionism. 49 50

Danto, “The American Century.” Alves, “Some Enchanted Evening.”


The Politics of the Discourse on Abstract Expressionism

A Critical Record, edited by David and Cecile Shapiro, 169-181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Gibson, Ann. “Abstract Expressionism’s Evasion of Language.” Art Journal 47, no. 3, Fall 1988. In: Abstract Expressionism. A Critical Record, edited by David and Cecile Shapiro. 195-196. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Gottlieb, Adolph, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. “Letter to the New York Times.” 13 June 1943. In: Art in Theory 1900-1990, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. 561-563. Oxford, UK & Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1993. Graff, Gerald. “American Criticism Left and Right.” In: Ideology and Classic American Literature, edited by Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen, 91-124. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Greenberg, Clement. “The Decline in Cubism.” Partisan Review 15, no. 3. March 1948. In: Art in Theory 1900-1990, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 366-369, Oxford, UK & Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1993. 572. –––––. “Towards a Newer Laocoon.” Partisan Review 7, no. 4. July-August 1940. In: Pollock and After. The Critical Debate, edited by Francis Frascina. 35-45. London: Harper & Row, 1985. Guilbaut, Serge. How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1983. –––––. “The Adventures of the Avant-Garde in America. Greenberg, Pollock, or from Trotskyism to the New Liberalism of the ‘Vital Center.’” In: Pollock and After. The Critical Debate, edited by Francis Frascina. London: Harper & Row, 1985. Gunn, Giles. “Beyond Transcendence, or Beyond Ideology: The Problematics of Cultural Criticism in America.” In: The American Literary History Reader, edited by Gordon Hutner. 131-148. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Harris, Jonathan. “Modernism and Culture in the USA, 1930-1960.” In: Modernism in Dispute: Art Since the Forties, edited by Paul Wood, et al. 2-76. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1993. Harrison, Charles and Paul Wood, eds. Art in Theory 1900-1990. Oxford, UK & Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1993. Harrison, Charles. “Disorder and Insensitivity: on the Concept of Experience in Abstract Expressionist Painting.” In: American Abstract Painting, edited by David Thistlewood, 111-128. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press and Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1993. Herrnstein Smith, Barbara. “Contingencies of Value.” In: The Norton Anthology. Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, 1913-1932. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. Hess, Barbara. Abstract Expressionism. Köln: Taschen, 2005.

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Kaprow, Allan. “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock.” Art News 57, no. 6. October 1958. In: Jackson Pollock. Interviews, Articles and Reviews, edited by Pepe Karmel. 84-89. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1999. Karmel, Pepe, ed. Jackson Pollock. Interviews, Articles and Reviews. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1999. Kozloff, Max. “American Painting During the Cold War.” In: Pollock and After. The Critical Debate, edited by Francis Frascina, 107-124. London: H