By Jennifer Greiman
What's the hangman yet a servant of legislation? and what's that legislation yet an expression of public opinion? And if public opinion be brutal and thou an element half thereof, artwork thou now not the hangman's accomplice?Writing in 1842, Lydia Maria baby articulates a drawback within the courting of democracy to sovereign energy that keeps to occupy political conception at the present time. Is sovereignty, with its reliance on singular and remarkable energy, essentially inimical to democracy? Or could a extra totally learned democracy distribute, proportion, and popularize sovereignty, hence blunting its extraordinary personality and its uncomplicated violence? In Democracy's Spectacle, Jennifer Greiman appears to an past second within the historical past of yankee democracy's vexed interpretation of sovereignty to argue that such questions about the popularization of sovereign strength formed debates approximately political belonging and public lifestyles within the antebellum usa. In an emergent democracy that was once additionally an expansionist slave society, Greiman argues, the issues that sovereignty posed have been much less inquisitive about a unique and unparalleled strength lodged within the country than with an influence over lifestyles and loss of life that concerned all americans intimately.Drawing on Alexis de Tocqueville's research of the sovereignty of the folk in Democracy in the United States, besides paintings via Gustave de Beaumont, Lydia Maria baby, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville, Greiman tracks the crises of sovereign strength because it migrates out of the kingdom to develop into a constitutive function of the general public sphere. Greiman brings jointly literature and political conception, in addition to fabrics on antebellum functionality tradition, antislavery activism, and reformatory reform, to argue that the antebellum public sphere, remodeled through its empowerment, emerges as a spectacle with investments in either punishment and leisure.
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Additional info for Democracy's Spectacle: Sovereignty and Public Life in Antebellum American Writing
Their jointly published work, On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France, offers a comparative study of the two novel theories of penitentiary discipline that were widely and intensely debated in the 1830s and ‘40s: New York’s congregate model, organized around silent group labor, and Pennsylvania’s infamous system of total solitary confinement. 79 Other observers, however, saw in these innovations little more than refinements in ancient cruelty. 82 As the rioting and massacre at the Astor Place Opera House indicate, theater was no idle pursuit in antebellum America.
Mass spectacle in the antebellum era took many forms—theatrical, reformist, commemorative, political. ”51 But regardless of how novel these spectacular relations and mass politics appeared, they were never separable from the more archaic uses to which spectacular political power had traditionally been put. 52 Put another way, the middle decades of the nineteenth century might be said to mark that moment when the remnants of Foucault’s epoch of public violence crossed paths with the earliest traces of Guy Debord’s “society of the spectacle,” and what emerges from this crossing is a surprising glimpse of the correlation between two seemingly distinct forms of spectacular power.
From Miles Coverdale’s fears of lost autonomy in an intimate community, to Hollingsworth’s scheme to transform Blithedale into a prison of sympathetic influence, to the multiple introductionâ•‡ /â•‡ 33 public exhibitions of mesmerism and magnetism by the Veiled Lady, The Blithedale Romance repeatedly stages the dilemmas inherent in a community that is alternately defined as a theatrical illusion and a reformed penitentiary. Hawthorne’s Blithedale has traditionally been read as an indictment of a community that is both impotent and stifling, and critics have extrapolated from this claims of Hawthorne’s scathing views of a mass-market public culture composed of passive, politically inert subjects.
Democracy's Spectacle: Sovereignty and Public Life in Antebellum American Writing by Jennifer Greiman