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Ruthless Democracy:
A Multicultural Interpretation of the American Renaissance
Timothy B. Powell

Paperback | 2000 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691007304
224 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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In Ruthless Democracy, Timothy Powell reimagines the canonical origins of "American" identity by juxtaposing authors such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Thoreau with Native American, African American, and women authors. Taking his title from Melville, Powell identifies an unresolvable conflict between America's multicultural history and its violent will to monoculturalism. Powell challenges existing perceptions of the American Renaissance--the period at the heart of the American canon and its evolutions--by expanding the parameters of American identity.

Drawing on the critical traditions of cultural studies and new historicism, Powell invents a new critical paradigm called "historical multiculturalism." Moving beyond the polarizing rhetoric of the culture wars, Powell grounds his multicultural conception of American identity in careful historical analysis. Ruthless Democracy extends the cultural and geographical boundaries of the American Renaissance beyond the northeast to Indian Territory, Alta California, and the transnational sphere that Powell calls the American Diaspora. Arguing for the inclusion of new works, Powell envisions the canon of the American Renaissance as a fluid dialogue of disparate cultural voices.


"Timothy Powell's theoretically sophisticated and impressively researched book demonstrates that [multiculturalism] can . . . produce literary criticism and historicism of the first order."--Christopher Diller, The New England Quarterly


"Ruthless Democracy's argument demonstrates Powell's mastery of a challenging scholarly archive and his efforts to construct out of it a revisionist account of antebellum literary culture.... Powell's book is positioned to intervene in a debate concerning the future of American literary studies. Should the curricular changes Powell recommends in his multicultural approach to the American Renaissance be adopted ... , his work may become required reading in graduate as well as undergraduate courses."--Donald E. Pease, Dartmouth College

"Ruthless Democracy is a significant contribution to the various and valuable studies of nineteenth-century U.S. literature emerging in the last decade . . . for its rich development of a genuinely, persistently, and deeply multicultural historical context for reading U.S. literary texts."--Dana Nelson, University of Kentucky

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgements vii
Historical Interlude 3
Introduction Theorizing Ruthless Democracy 5
Historical Interlude 27
Chapter One Nathaniel Hawthorne: History Imagined "Fantastically Awry" 30
Historical Interlude 49
Chapter Two John Rollin Ridge: Extending the Borders of "America" from New England to Alta California 52
Historical Interlude 75
Chapter Three Henry David Thoreau: "The Only True America" 77
Historical Interlude 103
Chapter Four Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Question of the American Colonization Society 106
Historical Interlude 131
Chapter Five William Wells Brown: Mapping the American Diaspora 133
Historical Interlude 151
Chapter Six Herman Melville: Ruthless Democracy 153
Notes 177
Bibliography 207
Index 221

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File created: 7/11/2017

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