Download E Pluribus Unum: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and by W. C. Harris PDF

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By W. C. Harris

"Out of many, one." yet how do the various turn into one with out sacrificing distinction or autonomy? This challenge was once severe to either id formation and nation formation in past due 18th- and 19th-century the USA. the basis of this booklet is that American writers of the time got here to view the solution of this imperative philosophical challenge as now not the particular province of legislative or judicial records yet able to being addressed through literary texts besides. The undertaking of E Pluribus Unum is twofold. Its first and underlying situation is the final philosophic challenge of the single and the various because it got here to be understood on the time. W. C. Harris provides a close account of the family tree of the concept that, exploring either its functions and its paradoxes as a foundation for kingdom and id formation. Harris then considers the perilous integration of the only and the numerous as a rationale within the significant literary accomplishments of 19th-century U.S. writers. Drawing upon severe in addition to historic assets and upon contexts as diversified as cosmology, epistemology, poetics, politics, and Bible translation, he discusses makes an attempt via Poe, Whitman, Melville, and William James to unravel the issues of social building attributable to the anomaly of e pluribus unum by means of writing literary and philosophical texts that complement the nation's political founding files. Poe (Eureka), Whitman (Leaves of Grass), Melville (Billy Budd), and William James (The forms of non secular event) supply their very own specific, occasionally contradictory resolutions to the conflicting calls for of range and solidarity, equality and hierarchy. each one of those texts is aware literary and philosophical writing as having the aptitude to transform--conceptually or actually--the building of social order. This paintings should be of significant curiosity to literary and constitutional students.

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Extra resources for E Pluribus Unum: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Constitutional Paradox

Example text

Not only, then, is slavery the great interruptor, the nemesis, of unity in nineteenth-century America; one could even argue that,as a formal embodiment of difference, it is the sine qua non of American polity. In part, my analysis of certain literary and religious texts that take on the curing of social formation rests on an assumption about the interrelation of the objective events of history and the imaginary constructions imposed upon them. And that assumption is that the puzzling perpetuation of slavery — the fact that it is retained by the Constitution and not contraindicated — prepares the ground for a theorization, by literary writers if not also by legislators, of a logic of slavery as a motive toward difference.

The Civil War would be fought over the crucial question of how parts should relate to wholes. Unity became the great sociohistorical ambition of nineteenth-century America, stimulating the legislative, judicial, and social as well as literary modeling of constituent-whole relations. But the range of organizational principles upon which models could be based was necessarily restricted by the nation’s founding commitment to solve an insoluble problem in terms that are available to the culture. Because the Constitution (specifically the “separation clause”) and the Federalist Papers had restricted the set of culturally available terms to those secular in character, thereby rejecting the administration of relations between persons through ecclesiastical or monarchical structures, the variety of solutions to the problem of the many and the one that was operative elsewhere was simply not conceivable in the American context.

Difference is almost definitionally thought of in these instances as necessary to the life of the person; necessary to unity itself, it is that without which unity is inconceivable. In America as a posttheological nation, the Protestant disposition to derive identity from negation is continued and becomes the problematic of a unity which, consistent with a need to preserve heterogeneity, is hard to construct. The ultimate failure of texts like Moby-Dick and The Varieties of Religious Experience to construct successfully a model of social unity which is not homogeneous, which is based on variety not totality, makes all the more remarkable the success of Billy Budd’s realization of social and textual entities funded by a pluralism that is, comparatively speaking, endlessly open.

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