Danger and Vulnerability in Nineteenth-century American Literature: Crash and Burn (Hardcover)

Danger and Vulnerability in Nineteenth-century American Literature: Crash and Burn Cover Image

Danger and Vulnerability in Nineteenth-century American Literature: Crash and Burn (Hardcover)

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Nineteenth-Century Americans saw danger lurking everywhere: in railway cars and trolleys, fireplaces and floods, and amid social and political movements, from the abolition of slavery to suffrage. After the Civil War, Americans were shaken by financial panic and a volatile post-slave economy. They were awe-struck and progressively alarmed by technological innovations that promised speed and commercial growth, but also posed unprecedented physical hazard. Most of all, Americans were uncertain, particularly in light of environmental disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, about their own city on a hill and the once indisputable and protective hand of a beneficent God. The disasters, accidents, and social and political upheavals that characterized nineteenth-century culture had enormous explanatory power, metaphoric and real. Today we speak of similar insecurities: financial, informational, environmental, and political, and we obsessively express our worry and fear for the future. Cultural theorist Paul Virilio refers to these feelings as the "threat horizon," one that endlessly identifies and produces new dangers. Why, he asks, does it seem easier for humanity to imagine a future shaped by ever-deadlier accidents than a decent future? Danger and Vulnerability in Nineteenth Century American Literature; or, Crash and Burn American invites readers to examine the "threat horizon" through its nascent expression in literary and cultural history. Against the emerging rhetoric of danger in the long nineteenth century, this book examines how a vocabulary of vulnerability in the American imaginary promoted the causes of the structurally disempowered in new and surprising ways, often seizing vulnerability as the grounds for progressive insight. The texts at the heart of this study, from nineteenth-century sensation novels to early twentieth-century journalistic fiction, imagine spectacular collisions, terrifying conflagrations, and all manner of catastrophe, social, political, and environmental. Together they write against illusions of inviolability in a growing technological and managerial culture, and they imagine how the recognition of universal vulnerability may challenge normative representations of social, political, and economic marginality.
Jennifer Travis is associate professor of English at St. John's University.
Product Details ISBN: 9781498563413
ISBN-10: 1498563414
Publisher: Lexington Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2018
Pages: 174
Language: English