Surveyors of Customs
American Literature as Cultural Analysis

Oxford Studies in American Literary History Series


Language: Anglais
Cover of the book Surveyors of Customs

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290 p. · 15.6x23.4 cm · Paperback
In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne, fired from Salem's Custom House and returning to writing, reconceived his old job title, Surveyor of Customs, as his new one. Taking seriously this naming of the American author's project, Joel Pfister argues that writers from Benjamin Franklin to Louise Erdrich can be read as critical "surveyors" of customs, culture, hegemony, capitalism's emotional logic, and much else. Literary surveyors have helped make possible and can advance what we now call cultural analysis. In recent decades cultural theory and history have changed how we read literature. Literature can return the favor. America's achievement as a literary nation has contributed creatively to its accomplishment as a self-critical nation. The surveyors convened herein wrote novels, stories, plays, poetry, essays, autobiography, journals, and cultural criticism. Surveyors of Customs explores literature's insights into how America?its soft capitalism, its "democratized" inequality, its Americanization of power?"ticks." Historical?and timely?questions abound. When and why did capitalism invest in the secular "soul-making" business and what roles did literature play in this? What does literature teach us about its relationship to the establishment of a personnel culture that moved beyond self-help incentive-making and intensified Americans' preoccupations with personal life to turn them into personnel? How did literature contribute to the reproduction of "classless" class relations and what does this say about dress-down politics and class formation in our Second Gilded Age?
Joel Pfister is Olin Professor of English, Chair of the American Studies department, and was recently Chair of the English department at Wesleyan University. He has written five books and co-edited a volume of essays that range over U.S. literature and drama, the cultural history of subjectivity, the Anglo-American history of cultural critique, and the history of Americanization, race, and class.