The Artificial Yankee: Invention, Aesthetics, and Violence in American Literature and Technology
AuthorSchwartz, Samuel Robin
Committee ChairDryden, Edgar
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis project considers the objective and material manifestations of invention, as well as the subjective processes (creative and mechanical) that invention signifies, in order to examine the historical, aesthetic, and ideological roles that invention plays within American literature. I argue that invention calls attention to a paradox within American culture that literary texts are especially adept at revealing: the newness that invention fetishizes often contains a violent underside, which American literary authors both depict and complicate. In chapter 1 I establish the project's foundation--how invention became such a culturally prominent mode of action, and how inventions came to symbolize the march of American "progress." I treat the rhetoric of invention as a text which can be close-read for what it reveals about the role of American artifice in the nation's self-conception.In chapter two I argue that Herman Melville's Typee delivers a series of inventive counter-narratives that disarm the stereotypes that support colonization, and that deflate the sense of superiority that propelled Western colonialism. Using the rhetoric of invention against itself, including its portrayal of patents and intellectual property as necessary regulative mechanisms in the advancement of technology and industry, Typee undermines this logic by tapping into the subversive potential of invention as a creative force.Chapter two examines the various historical, aesthetic and disciplinary roles played by a specific American invention: the world's first automatic weapon. Arguing that its power to subdue crowds was due more to its cultural status than its actual use, I examine the paradox presented by a weapon like the Gatling gun and its depiction in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee: that its elegant appearance and functionality, as well as the latency of the threat it posed, was a power that operated by taking advantage of aesthetic perception. The project's final chapter investigates the poetry and prose of Ezra Pound and Mina Loy for the enthusiasm it registers for, as Pound phrased it, "Machine Art." I argue that the formal invention that drove modernism cannot be divorced from the prominence of mechanical invention that American industry made prominent through the turn of the century.