Lost in the Customhouse

Lost in the Customhouse : Authorship in the American Renaissance

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In this vigorous challenge to dominant literary criticism, Jerome Loving extends the traditional period of American literary rebirth to the end of the 19th century and argues for the intrinsic value of literature in the face of new historicist and deconstructionist readings. Bucking the trend for revisionist interpretations, Loving discusses the major work of the 19th centuryOCOs canonized writers as restorative adventures with the self and society.From Irving, Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Thoreau, and Emerson to Whitman, Twain, Dickinson, James, Chopin, and Dreiser, Loving finds the American literary tradition filled with narrators who keep waking up to the central scene of the authorOCOs real or imagined life. They travel through a customhouse of the imagination in which the Old World experience of the present is taxed by the New World of the utopian past, where life is always cyclical instead of linear and ameliorative.Loving celebrates, enjoys, and experiences these awakened and reborn writers as he challenges the notion that American literature is preponderately OC cultural work.OCO In the epilogue, he packs up his own carpetbagOCothe American egoOCoand passes through the European customhouse to find that American writers are more readily perceived as literary geniuses outside their culture than within it."show more

Product details

  • Electronic book text | 262 pages
  • University of Iowa Press
  • Iowa City, United States
  • English
  • 1587291355
  • 9781587291357

Back cover copy

In this spirited challenge to dominant American literary criticism, Jerome Loving extends the traditional period of American literary rebirth to the end of the nineteenth century and argues for the intrinsic value of literature in the face of new historicist and deconstructionist readings. Bucking the trend for prophetic and revisionist interpretations, Loving discusses the major work of the last century's canonized writers as restorative adventures with the self and society. From Washington Irving to Theodore Dreiser, Loving finds the American literary tradition filled with narrators who keep waking up to the central scene of the author's real or imagined life. They travel through a customhouse of the imagination in which the Old World experience of the present is taxed by the New World of the utopian past, where life is always cyclical instead of linear and ameliorative. Loving argues that the central literary experience in nineteenth-century America is the puritanical desire for the time before the loss of innocence - that endless chance of coming into experience anew. Lost in the Customhouse begins with a discussion of Irving, Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Thoreau, and Emerson and finds these seminal Renaissance writers waking up primarily to psychological facts which blossomed into the fiction of a self begotten out of the nothingness of experience. In part 2, Loving shifts his attention to the urbanization of the American imagination and discusses Whitman, Twain, Dickinson, James, Chopin, and Dreiser. Here the dream-driven impulse is more clearly influenced by social history: abolition, women's suffrage, industrialization, and the growth of professionalism. Loving focuses upon therole of the woman who finds herself on the same frontier as her male precursors - "with nothing but a carpetbag - that is to say, the (American) ego". Throughout the study, Loving challenges the notion that American literature is preponderately "cultural work". In the epilogue, he packs up his own carpetbag and passes through the European customhouse to find that American writers are more readily perceived as literary geniuses outside of their culture than within it.show more

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