American Literature and American Identity : A Cognitive Cultural Study from the Civil War to the Twenty-First Century book cover
1st Edition

American Literature and American Identity
A Cognitive Cultural Study from the Civil War to the Twenty-First Century

ISBN 9781032078953
Published November 11, 2021 by Routledge
286 Pages

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Book Description

In recent years, cognitive and affective science have become increasingly important for interpretation and explanation in the social sciences and humanities. However, little of this work has addressed American literature, and virtually none has treated national identity formation in influential works since the Civil War. In this book, Hogan develops his earlier cognitive and affective analyses of national identity, further exploring the ways in which such identity is integrated with cross-culturally recurring patterns in story structure. Hogan examines how authors imagined American identity—understood as universal, democratic egalitarianism—in the face of the nation’s clear and often brutal inequalities of race, sex, and sexuality, exploring the complex and often ambivalent treatment of American identity in works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Eugene O’Neill, Lillian Hellman, Djuna Barnes, Amiri Baraka, Margaret Atwood, N. Scott Momaday, Spike Lee, Leslie Marmon Silko, Tony Kushner, and Heidi Schreck.

Table of Contents

Introduction. Celebratory Nationalism, Critical Nationalism, and Disillusion: America After the Civil War

Chapter One. National Identity and National Emplotment

Part One: Race (I): Native America

Chapter Two: Love and Death: Adapting The Last of the Mohicans

Chapter Three: Heroism, Sacrifice, and Ancestral Memory: N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain

Chapter Four: Blood and Soil: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony

Part Two: Race (II): African America

Chapter Five: Heroic Narrative and Colonialism: Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones

Chapter Six: Heroic Narrative and Black Masculinity: Leroi Jones’s Dutchman and The Slave

Chapter Seven: Against Despair: Spike Lee’s Malcolm X

Part Three: Sexual Orientation

Chapter Eight: Sexual Preference and the Purpose of a Democratic Nation: Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour

Chapter Nine: The National Community and Its Alternatives: Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood

Chapter Ten: Institutions and Communities: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America

Part Four: Sex and Gender

Chapter Eleven: Sex Hierarchies and Utopia: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland

Chapter Twelve: Sex Hierarchies and Dystopia: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Chapter Thirteen: Sex Hierarchies and the Law Today: Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me

Afterword: A Note on Pessimism of the Intellect and Optimism of the Will

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Patrick Colm Hogan is a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut, where he is on the faculty of the English Department and the Program in Cognitive Science. He is the author of over 20 books, including Literature and Emotion (2018) and American Literature and American Identity: A Cognitive Cultural Study from the Revolution through the Civil War (2020).


"Employing the findings of contemporary narratology and cognitive science to explain the psycho-social dynamics of national identity, this book analyzes how American literature since the Civil War has represented, and also intervened in, the efforts to define and salvage an American identity plagued by contradictions between its radically egalitarian core and its often brutally exclusionary dynamics that marginalize certain racial, gender, and sexual identities. In the current (post?)Trump era of rampant American nativism, systemic racism, white supremacism, and toxic masculinism, it is hard to imagine a more timely and important work of literary analysis. More generally, the conceptual tools provided by this book make it a valuable resource for understanding the varying ways in which different narrative prototypes contribute to the construction and reconstruction of any social identity." Mark Bracher, Director, Neurocognitive Research Program for the Advancement of the Humanities, Kent State University

"Exhaustively researched, American Literature and American Identity is a smart and timely book that draws on cognitive and affective studies as tools for understanding the ways in which understandings of national identity are imbricated into narrative structure. In his sensitive reading of widely read literary works, Hogan demonstrates how authors promoted a vision of American identity as universal and egalitarian in spite of the nation’s glaring inequalities. This is an important book that comes at a critical time in American history, one in which America’s past sins and future hopes are falling under increased public scrutiny." Stella Setka, West Los Angeles College