English 362a
G. Stadler
MW 2:30 – 4
HU III

Genius & Gender in 19th-Century U. S. Culture


This course examines the cultural meanings and uses of the notion of genius in the nineteenth-century U. S. It is particularly attuned to how the concept of genius was shaped by changing ideas about gender, race, and class, and how transformations in these categories made themselves manifest in literature and the performing arts. We will pay especially close attention to the conditions under which the work of female performing artists and fugitive slave intellectuals was able to be classified as genius. We will examine the ambivalent enthusiasms surrounding these figures in the writings of a wide range of U. S. authors, asking why and how particular models of individuality were said to “transcend” culture and history during this period, and scrutinizing the politics of such attributions within antebellum and Reconstruction-era racial and gender ideology. The last week or two of the class will look at some of these issues as they appear in two twentieth-century figures: Gertrude Stein and Andy Warhol. Throughout the course, we will use some recent (and less recent) theories of authorship, ideology, gender, and performance as critical frameworks.


Period readings will include:
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”; “The Uses of Great Men”; “The Poet”; “Napoleon”
Margaret Fuller, selected essays from the New York Tribune
William Wells Brown, Clotel
Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom
P. T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs
Critical response to the Swedish singer Jenny Lind
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance
Louisa May Alcott, A Modern Mephistopheles
Henry James, The Bostonians
Selected writings by Edgar Allan Poe, William James, William Dean Howells, Gertrude Stein, Andy Warhol, and others.

Late 20th-century theoretical/critical readings will include:
Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?”
Richard Poirier, “The Question of Genius”
Pierre Macherey, “Creation and Production”
Sacvan Bercovitch, from The Puritan Origins of the American Self
Helene Cixous, “Castration or Decapitation?”
Ann Douglas, “Margaret Fuller and the Disavowal of Fiction”
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., from Figures in Black and The Signifying Monkey
Paul Gilroy, from The Black Atlantic
Ernesto Laclau, from Emancipations
Eric Lott, selected writings.

Pre-Requisites: Two 200 Level English Courses, or consent of the instructor.
*Enrollment is limited to 15