Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-03-16 19:42Z by Steven

Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars

University of Pennsylvania Press
288 pages
6×9; 24 illustrations
Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8122-3844-0

Betsy Erkkilä, Henry Sanborn Noyes Professor of Literature
Northwestern University

In Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses, Betsy Erkkilä argues that it is through the historical and psychological dramas of blood as a marker of violence, or race, or sex, or kinship that Americans have struggled over the meanings of democracy, citizenship, culture, national belonging, and the idea of America itself as it was constituted and contested in its relations with others and the world. Whether blood is construed as setting up a boundary incapable of being crossed or is perceived as a site of mixing and hybridity, its imagery has saturated the literature of the American republic from the time of the founding. Erkkilä moves from a consideration of contests about territorial, sexual, racial, class, national, and aesthetic borders in the Revolutionary period and the nineteenth century to a discussion of recent contests about the boundaries of culture and the disciplines and the relation between aesthetics and politics, identity and difference, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, the local and the global.

Erkkilä’s American literature is a field of cultural and political struggle, one she examines in scenes of mixture and crossing, miscegenation and incest, doubling and hybridity that subvert, alter, or undo the boundary-building imperatives of American history. While she is concerned with the “crosses” of sex, race, class, and blood, she also looks at the ways history and “blood” impinge on the putatively pure realms of culture, literature, and aesthetics in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and the Caribbean writer C. L. R. James; she explores the ways the hybridity or mixture of social languages becomes a force for resistance and New World transformation in the writings of Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams, Walt Whitman and Harriet Jacobs; and she considers the ways modern subjectivity and the Freudian unconscious bear the markings of the dark, savage, sexual, and alien others that were expelled by the disciplinary logic of the Western Enlightenment and its legacy of blood in the Americas.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. Blood, Sex, and Other American Crosses
  • 2. Mixed Bloods: Jefferson, Revolution, and the Boundaries of America
  • 3. Revolutionary Women
  • 4. The Poetics of Whiteness: Poe and the Racial Imaginary
  • 5. Whitman and the Homosexual Republic
  • 6. Emily Dickinson and Class
  • 7. Beyond the Boundaries: C.L.R. James to Herman Melville
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments

Read the Preface here.

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Reading Boddo’s Body: Crossing the Borders of Race and Sexuality in Whitman’s “Half-Breed”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-03-10 02:17Z by Steven

Reading Boddo’s Body: Crossing the Borders of Race and Sexuality in Whitman’s “Half-Breed”

Walt Whitman Quarterly Review
Volume 22, Number 2 (Fall 2004)
pages 87-107

Thomas C. Gannon, Associate Professor of English
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Offers an extended cultural reading of Whitman’s early story “The Half-Breed,” focusing on psychosexual and post-colonial implications of the story in the context of Whitman’s career, and examining Whitman’s half-breed character Boddo as a racial and sexual “border figure.”

He was deformed in body-his back being mounted with a mighty hunch, and his long neck bent forward, in a peculiar and disagreeable manner …. His face was the index to many bad passions-which were only limited in the degree of their evil, because his intellect itself was not very bright …. Among the most powerful of his bad points was a malignant peevishness, dwelling on every feature of his countenance …. The gazer would have been at some doubt whether to class this strange and hideous creature with the race of Red Men or White—for he was a half-breed, his mother an Indian squaw, and his father some unknown member of the race of the settlers.

—Walt Whitman, “The Half-Breed: A Tale of the Western Frontier”

[T]he question of the abject is very closely tied to the question of being aboriginal. …

—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

The “Noble Savage” and the “Monstrous Abortion”

“They showed the child of the Indian girl—my son!—I almost shrieked with horror at the monstrous abortion! The mother herself had died in giving it birth. No wonder.” (“The Half-Breed” [EPF 272])

WHITMAN’S EARLY TALE, “The Half-Breed” (1846), with its contrived plot, sometimes ludicrous melodrama, and blatant appeal to an audience primed for frontier exoticism, would hardly be included on many people’s “A” lists of required Whitman readings. And yet the relatively scant critical attention it has received from scholars is still rather surprising, given the current interest in cultural studies of race and ethnicity. Indeed, the title character’s sheer physical status as a mixed-blood stuck between the worlds of “White” and “Red” seems to beg for an analysis of the work in terms of recent ideas of racial and cultural “hybridity.” William J. Scheick would read Boddo as simply “the passionate, revengeful hunchback half-blood,” whose deformity and moral degeneracy portray the “unnaturalness” -in Whitman’s view-of interracial union. But might not the title character’s racial ambiguity allow for a consequent ambiguity of meaning, and his mixed-race “body” thus serve as a heterogeneous, contestatory site of competing discourses, perhaps even producing its own “discourse of rebellion,” in Michael Moon’s phrase (80)? The half-breed Boddo would thus not only serve as the “immediate instrument of the friction between the races” (Scheick 37), but also as the liminal site or border upon which the encounter of discordant cultural discourses is negotiated.

Some of the discussions of “The Half-Breed” that do exist seem to get the story only half-right, as it were. It may be symptomatic of a continuing Euro-American uncomfortableness with racial mixing that David S. Reynolds finds the novella’s plot “too tangled to be summarized”—as, in the story, Boddo’s own “blood” is too “mixed up” to be culturally viable? Reynolds should have stopped there, for his own summary is so “tangled” that he goes on to identify one of the tale’s fullblood Natives, Arrow-Tip, as the “wrongly accused half-breed” who “is tragically hanged. ” (In point of fact, Boddo is the half-breed, whose lago-like machinations of revenge lead to the hanging of Arrow-Tip.) Scheick rather muddles the whitelNative American issue in another way, by discussing Boddo as, above all, an emblem of Southern fears of white-black miscegenation (36-38), in line with various readings of Whitman’s early or intermittent sympathy for the South. As for Native Americans, Whitman’s view is characterized as follows: since “racial separation” is an “unalterable natural law,” and the results of racial inter-marriage are so “grotesque” and “unnatural,” Native Americans are doomed to extinction (37). But at last, while Scheick’s move to Southern racist attitudes yields an interesting cultural reading, it also sidesteps the real white-Indian interaction of Whitman’s plot…

Read the entire article here.

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The Discourse of Interracial and Multicultural Identity in 19th and 20th Century American Literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2011-10-31 04:07Z by Steven

The Discourse of Interracial and Multicultural Identity in 19th and 20th Century American Literature

Indiana University of Pennsylvania
May 2007
373 pages
AAT 3257969

Dale M. Taylor

A Dissertation Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies and Research In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy

The narratives of and about mixed-race people have provided a varied and rich artistic canvas. Using various literary works as tools for investigation, this project explores a discourse for mixed-race people and determines to what extent that discourse shapes conceptions about them. In addition, it examines to what extent subjects of mixed-racial heritage and identity establish and form new cultures, struggle for the validity of their existence in spite of racial binaries, affirm their experiences and to some degree question the validity of race itself. A discourse of mixed-race subjects is related to a discourse about race. Issues of hybridity, creolization and mestizaje have affected postcolonial subjects and Americans throughout the Diaspora. The project will consider people of mixed Native American, African, Latin, Asian, European descent and others. Literature involving and about mixed-raced subjects is their history—whether fiction or nonfiction—a history that has been silenced by political, economic and racial ideology. Mixed-racial and mixed-cultural subjects exist in the “between” spaces of racial binaries. They are “called into place” by self and others through discourse to define and negotiate power. Among the writers and works used are: Gigantic, by Marc Nesbitt, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, “Stones of the Village” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, “After Many Days,” by Fannie Barrier Williams, Passing by Nella Larsen, “The Downward Path To Wisdom” by Katherine Anne Porter, “The Displaced Person” by Flannery O’Connor, Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith, “Origami” by Susan K. Ito, and poetry by Derek Walcott, Walt Whitman and others.


    • Introduction
    • Introduction
    • “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin
    • “Stones of the Village” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson
    • “After Many Days: A Christmas Story” by Fannie Barrier Williams
    • Closing Remarks For Chapter Two
    • Introduction
    • “The Downward Path To Wisdom” by K.A. Porter
    • “The Displaced Person” by Flannery O’Connor
    • Passing by Nella Larsen
    • Closing Remarks For Chapter Three
    • Introduction
    • Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith
    • The Human Stain by Philip Roth
    • Gigantic: “The Ones Who May Kill You In The Morning” by Marc Nesbitt
    • Closing Remarks For Chapter Four
    • Conclusion
    • Appendix A – Permissions Letter Professor Natasha Trethewey
    • Appendix B – Permissions Letter Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture The New York Public Library

Purchase the dissertation here.

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