“The ‘Nature’ of American Literature” explores how John Crowe Ransom and his less-studied contemporary Elizabeth Madox Roberts advanced a theory of literary objects that emerged from nature itself. This theory formed the basis of Ransom’s bid, in “Criticism, Inc.,” for disciplinary stratification and productivity. Through a set of representational practices this article gathers under the terms “natural reading” and “natural writing,” Roberts and Ransom framed valuable aesthetic objects as the product of a carefully cultivated relationship between human observers and landscape. For both, however, this rarified relationship was grounded in and served to reinforce racial hierarchy. Even as the discipline turns away from the cultural elitism associated with New Criticism, Ransom’s understanding of the literary object as natural and thus subject to disciplinary study continues to inform contemporary critical practice. This article thus invites engagement with the often submerged racial politics of the ways we constitute objects and processes of disciplinary literary studies.
The “Nature” of American Literature: Race, Place, and Textuality in John Crowe Ransom and Elizabeth Madox Roberts
Sharon Kunde’s current book project examines the ways early twentieth-century writers in the United States deployed Transcendentalism’s racializing discourses of nature to establish the professionalized reading practices that sutured literary studies to the modern research university. She teaches at the International School of Los Angeles.
Sharon Kunde; The “Nature” of American Literature: Race, Place, and Textuality in John Crowe Ransom and Elizabeth Madox Roberts. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2021; 67 (3): 235–268. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-9373707
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