• William Dow
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)


Conceiving of the term “class” as it works within the terrain of culture, this study has asserted its essentially discursive nature and how this term might be used to organize texts and to articulate the social relations between texts and readers. From Whitman’s incarnational epistemology to London’s and Le Sueur’s valorizations of real experience as the legitimating source of narrative authority, all of the writers in this book were concerned with the dilemma of finding a language for representing a reality lived by others in the face of readership often far from such realities. Yet while acknowledging that the term class refers to an objective set of material conditions (or relations) that can be observed in society, this study has emphasized that such an objectivity cannot be taken too far. Class, as John R. Hall has argued, can no longer “be conceived as a ‘structure’ in its own terms, constituted as either a historical subject—‘the’ engine of history—or a theoretical objective of ‘objective’ empirical dynamics” (2). Instead, as this study asserts, class is itself a dynamic, discursive product of history; it is, as E. P. Thompson emphasized in The Making of the English Working Class, “a relationship, not a thing” (10–11). To come to terms with the challenges of class representations, and with such issues as cross-class encounters and class mobility, we need to understand the function of literary theory that can make discussion of class possible and yet at the same time account for class in its historicity.


American Writer Class Mobility Aesthetic Form North American Literature Discursive Product 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, Barbara Foley, Telling the Truth; Paula Rabinowitz, They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary ( New York: Verso, 1994 );Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America ( New York: Oxford UP, 1973 );Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    and John Hartsock, A History of American Literary Journalism ( Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2000 ).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    See John Hartsock, A History of American Literary Journalism: The Emergence of a Modern Narrative Form ( Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2000 ), 1–20.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See Marjorie Perloff, “‘Creative Writing’ among the Disciplines,” MLA Newsletter 38, 1 (Spring, 2006): 3–4.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    For an astute discussion of the materiality of aesthetics and aesthetic practices, see Paul Gilmore, “Romantic Electricity, or the Materiality of Aesthetics,” American Literature 76, 3 (September 2004): 487–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 5.
    See Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in Critical Theory Since 1965, ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle ( Tallahassee: Florida State UP, 1986 ), 240–252.Google Scholar

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© William Dow 2009

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  • William Dow

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