Readying for Surprise: Emory Elliott's Literary Historiography

By Foster, Travis M. | Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Readying for Surprise: Emory Elliott's Literary Historiography


Foster, Travis M., Papers on Language & Literature


Emory Elliott. National Dreams and Rude Awakenings: Essays on American Literature, from the Puritans to the Postmodern. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitatsverlag, 2010. Hardcover $65.85.

Very likely, Emory Elliott agreed with Jonathan Arac that those of us who teach and study literature "make a bigger difference faster" in the shaping of our fields not through "extended original composition," but by engaging "a collaborative project of literary history" (7). In "Writing a History of American Literature at the End of the Twentieth Century," one of the essays and talks anthologized here, Elliott accounts for his decision to devote substantial time to literary history because it afforded him a unique opportunity to help "reconfigure the American canon" (244). It's largely the success and influence of projects like Elliott's Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988) and Columbia History of the American Novel (1991) that I imagine Katherine Kinney has in mind when she introduces her 2009 American Quarterly obituary by describing Elliott as a scholar who "worked tirelessly to imagine, extend, and institutionalize" the "radical revision in the canon of American literature" (vii). The Los Angeles Times obituary, too, recognizes Elliott as a literary historian and editor when it praises him for his influence "in expanding the canon to a wide array of diverse voices" (Thurber).

This new collection of Elliott's work, edited by his friend Winfried Fluck and son Matthew Elliott, suggests a slightly different legacy. The volume does indeed provide metacritical and historiographic insights into Elliott's work as an editor, literary historian, and canon expander. Yet it also includes a sampling of key theses that will be familiar to readers of his monograph Power and the Pulpit in Puritan New England (1975) and his multiple essays on Melville and Twain, two figures Elliott had hoped to consider in book-length monographs before his sudden and, by his son's account, unexpected death at the age of 66. Fluck and M. Elliott wisely organize the essays not chronologically, but into four thematic sections: Puritans, Twain/Melville, literary history (or, more accurately, literary historiography), and transnationalism. Taken together, the body of writing emphasizes not the canon expanding scholar celebrated by Kinney and the Times so much as the relentless historian of the present who, time and again, insists that we pay attention to the recurrent "structures of thinking" that give texture and direction to sociopolitical reality (314). Indeed, tacitly at least, these essays, grouped together as they are here, reveal that Elliott's focus on the durability of the past sparked the intellectual and political passions he brought to literary history's unique potential to achieve a feminist and multicultural agenda of canon expansion.

Elliott parses the relationship between past and present through a potentially confusing collection of phrases: "subtle social and psychological tendencies" in 1975 (51); "continuities" and "historical circularity" in 2000 (84), (89); "cultural linkage" and "unconscious ideology" in 2004 (97), (100); "structures of thought and social organization" in 2007 (314). I say potentially confusing because over his career Elliott remains more interested in revealing parallel structures between past and present than he is in conceptualizing that relationship by developing a consistent theoretical vocabulary. Yet reading the materials collected in this volume reveals a procedure at least partially in line with that Walter Benjamin sketches in The Arcades project. Both Eliott and Benjamin turn to history in order to make newly recognizable images that can awaken knowledge about contemporary crises (see, especially, Benjamin 462-63). However, if Elliott shares with Benjamin hopefulness in history's potential to break through epistemological logjams, he depicts a different temporal relationship between past and present. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Readying for Surprise: Emory Elliott's Literary Historiography
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.