Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War

Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War

by Shirley Samuels
     
 

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Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War investigates and explains the changing face of America during the Civil War. To conjure a face for the nation, author Shirley Samuels also explores the body of the nation imagined both physically and metaphorically, arguing that the Civil War marks a dramatic shift from identifying the American nation as feminine to

Overview

Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War investigates and explains the changing face of America during the Civil War. To conjure a face for the nation, author Shirley Samuels also explores the body of the nation imagined both physically and metaphorically, arguing that the Civil War marks a dramatic shift from identifying the American nation as feminine to identifying it as masculine. Expressions of such a change appear in the allegorical configurations of nineteenth-century American novels, poetry, cartoons, and political rhetoric. Because of the visibility of war's assaults on the male body, masculine vulnerability became such a dominant facet of national life that it practically obliterated the visibility of other vulnerable bodies. The simultaneous advent of photography and the Civil War in the nineteenth century may be as influential as the conjoined rise of the novel and the middle class in the eighteenth century. Both advents herald a changed understanding of how a transformative media can promote new cultural and national identities. Bodies immobilized because of war's practices of wounding and death are also bodies made static for the camera's gaze. The look of shock on the faces of soldiers photographed in order to display their wounds emphasizes the new technology of war literally embodied in the impact of new imploding bullets on vulnerable flesh. Such images mark both the context for and a counterpoint to the "look" of Walt Whitman as he bends over soldiers in their hospital beds. They also provide a way to interpret the languishing male heroes of novels such as August Evans's Macaria (1864), a southern elegy for the sundering of the nation. This book crucially shows how visual iconography affects the shift in postbellum gendered and racialized identifications of the nation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A study of Civil War iconography is long overdue.... Samuels offers a fertile reading of that symbol system and its slippages. Examining texts of all types—novels, statues, and images—she lays bare the preoccupying anxieties.... Samuels has an intriguing mind, and it is a pleasure to watch it work. Text after text, subhead after subhead, she offers compelling readings and telling juxtapositions of familiar and unfamiliar documents."—American Historical Review

"Advanced students of nineteenth-century cultural studies may find in Facing America some challenging interpretations and tantalizing suggestions."—Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"[A] learned and intriguing study."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"This is groundbreaking work."—Choice

"Tracing the iconography of familial and political violence from the age of discovery and colonial rule through its manifestation in fiction, broadsides, and photography of the antislavery movement and the Civil War, Facing America presents a fascinating and highly original reinterpretation of the rhetorical war over slavery and the real war that slavery produced." —Eric J. Sundquist, University of California, Los Angeles

"Coalescing theoretical, historical, visual, literary, and personal perspectives, Samuels provides a variety of lenses through which to examine powerful tools of expression in nineteenth-century America. From novels, poems, photographs, political cartons, statues, memorials, and commemorations, she extracts and explicates an emerging national iconography that reveals the desires, fears, eroticism, sexuality, racism, and violence that mobilized the forces of society and that makes 'facing' American compelling and disturbing. This is an original and exciting contribution to American cultural studies." —Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

"This provocative and sophisticated book articulates the unstable intersections among race, gender, and nationalism in nineteenth-century America. Ranging among a great many texts and genres, from photographs, caricatures, pictures, and statues to novels, stories, and poems, Samuels offers surprising new perspectives on identity crossovers, violence in domestic fiction, photographs of Civil War corpses, and the strange career of Lincoln's body, as well as on many familiar and unfamiliar writers from Caroline Kirkland to Ambrose Bierce. Her meditation on what she calls 'substitution panic' shows how visual or verbal displacements paradoxically enhance anxieties about race and sexuality, and sometimes invite viewers or readers to become 'pornogothic voyeurs.' Even American coins, she points out, have us 'facing the dead.'" —David Leverenz, University of Florida

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195128970
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
12/01/2003
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
200
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile:
1490L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Shirley Samuels is Professor of English at Cornell University.

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