These two books represent different paths through the thickets of our contemporary post-Foucauldian critical landscape. They both reject historicist varieties of symptomatic reading even while they remain committed to questions of context (Hurh) or period (“epoch,” in Seltzer), and they both incline toward reflexive, formalist, strongly conceptual approaches to American literature. But the manner in which these books articulate form and history are very different, as are their theoretical orientations (although they share an attraction to German philosophy and theory).

Hurh’s introduction situates his study of “the distinctive tone of terror in American romantic literature” (2) vis-à-vis affect theory and science studies, even while his individual chapters are most persuasive when they locate Jonathan Edwards, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville in relation to Enlightenment writing (French logic textbooks, German idealist philosophy) as filtered through mediating figures in the Anglo-American scene. That...

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