In the first half of the nineteenth century, the sense that America had fallen, and the question of how it might be redeemed, fed the imagination of writers and artists on both sides of the Atlantic. As Andrew Jackson pursued violent policies of westward expansion and slavery continued in full force in the South, the dream of America as a New Eden seemed ever more of a fallacy. But the possibility and potentiality of new world mythology remained a powerful influence on ideas of authorship and artistry, inspiring the idea that America was yet unwritten, a world still to be made.
This lecture discusses the texture of mythic speech in both word and image. It brings the shared formal vocabulary of the visual and verbal arts, implicit in the shared etymology of texture and text (Latin; textus; to weave) to the fore. Freedman looks at the way in which the colonial myth of America as a New Eden is carried by the fantasy of spotless beginning and original world-making force. She reads rising scepticism in the world-making power of the artist through radical shifts in texture, exploring roughness in Thomas Cole’s paintings, slipperiness in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays, and disintegration in Whitman’s 1855 poem. Reading for texture shows how myth moves across mediums and exposes the parasitic relationship between new world mythology and the history of American colonialism.
Linda Freedman is Associate Professor of English at UCL. She teaches and researches a wide range of authors and topics from the Romantic period to the 1960s. Her research interests are transatlantic and interdisciplinary, often looking at the relationship between literature, theology and the visual arts. She is the author of Emily Dickinson and the Religious Imagination (CUP 2011), William Blake and the Myth of America: from the Abolitionists to the Counterculture (OUP 2018) and is currently working on her third book, provisionally entitled, The Myth of the Fall and the Shaping of Modern Western Culture: Rousseau to Ruskin, from which this lecture is drawn.
Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld) and Dr Caroline Levitt (The Courtauld).
Supported by the Centre for American Art and the Word and Image Cluster.