Ruthless Democracy

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Ruthless Democracy: A Multicultural Interpretation of the American Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000)

In Ruthless Democracy, Timothy Powell reimagines the canonical origins of "American" identity by juxtaposing authors such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Thoreau with Native American, African American, and women authors. Taking his title from Melville, Powell identifies an unresolvable conflict between America's multicultural history and its violent will to monoculturalism. Powell challenges existing perceptions of the American Renaissance--the period at the heart of the American canon and its evolutions--by expanding the parameters of American identity.

Drawing on the critical traditions of cultural studies and new historicism, Powell invents a new critical paradigm called "historical multiculturalism." Moving beyond the polarizing rhetoric of the culture wars, Powell grounds his multicultural conception of American identity in careful historical analysis. Ruthless Democracy extends the cultural and geographical boundaries of the American Renaissance beyond the northeast to Indian Territory, Alta California, and the transnational sphere that Powell calls the American Diaspora. Arguing for the inclusion of new works, Powell envisions the canon of the American Renaissance as a fluid dialogue of disparate cultural voices.

Content: 

Historical Interlude
Introduction Theorizing Ruthless Democracy

Part I: Beyond New England
Historical Interlude
Chapter One Nathaniel Hawthorne: History Imagined "Fantastically Awry"
Historical Interlude
Chapter Two John Rollin Ridge: Extending the Borders of "America" from New England to Alta California
Historical Interlude
Chapter Three Henry David Thoreau: "The Only True America"

Part II: Toward a Transnational Understanding of "American" Identity
Historical Interlude
Chapter Four Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Question of the American Colonization Society
Historical Interlude
Chapter Five William Wells Brown: Mapping the American Diaspora
Historical Interlude
Chapter Six Herman Melville: Ruthless Democracy

Reviews: 

"Timothy Powell's theoretically sophisticated and impressively researched book demonstrates that [multiculturalism] can . . . produce literary criticism and historicism of the first order."--Christopher Diller, The New England Quarterly

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