||MW 4-5:30||166 Barrows||
A survey of literary culture from early Transcendentalism through the Civil War. Our readings will look at the relationship between genteel society and mass culture, taste and consumerism, class politics and public intellectualism, while exploring the way that social status in the U.S. has been historically accommodated to democratic practice. We will examine the literary distinctions that emerge in a market-based culture, and chart the forms that become increasingly elite in this period, with special attention to the way that images of taste speak to questions of political status. Our readings will take us from early nineteenth-century debates over institutions of culture through later representations of style, intellectual practice and cultural dissent, and will be discussed alongside contemporary paintings and visual materials from the popular press. At the same time, we will address the ethics and epistemology of African American literary culture in this period as it responded to and participated in a variety of aesthetic forms. The course will work across literary genres—essays, autobiography, poetry, novels—while asking questions about the conditions in which these genres appeared, their readership, their manner of circulation, and their changing function across the decades that would come to be known as the "American Renaissance."