Eloquent Obsessions

Writing Cultural Criticism

Eloquent Obsessions

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 12 b&w photographs Published: May 1994

Cultural Studies

Out of the core of experience, these essays began as obsessions. Whether founded in some strongly lived moment, deeply held conviction, long-term interest, or persistent and unanswered question, these essays reveal the writer’s voice—personal, often passionate, full of conviction, certainly unmistakable. Marianna Torgovnick has drawn together writings by leading contemporary scholars in the humanities, representing fields of literary criticism, American and Romance studies, anthropology, and art history. Eloquent Obsessions presents cultural criticism at its thoughtful and writerly best.

This collection explores a wide range of issues at the intersection of personal and social history—from growing up in the South to exploring a love for France or Japan, from coming of age as a feminist to mapping the history of National Geographic, from examining the cultural "we" to diagnosing class structures in Israel or showing how photography deals with AIDS. The authors here bring writerly genres—autobiography, memoir, or travel narrative—to intellectual tasks such as textual readings or investigating the histories of institutions. Continuing a tradition of cultural criticism established by writers such as Samuel Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Edmund Wilson, Hannah Arendt, or Raymond Williams, these essays seek to make a difference, to have an impact, and are based on the fundamental premise that writers have something to say about society. Simply put, this collection offers models for writing eloquently about culture—models that are intellectually and socially responsible, but attuned to the critic’s voice and the reader’s ear.

Aimed not just at academics but also at a more general audience alive to the concerns and interests of society today, Eloquent Obsessions, a revised and expanded version of a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly (Winter 1992), will extend beyond the academy contemporary ways of writing about culture.

Contributors. Jane Collins, Cathy N. Davidson, Virginia R. Dominguez, Mark Edmundson, Gerald Graff, Richard Inglis, Aldona Jonaitis, Alice Yaeger Kaplan, Catherine Lutz, Nancy K. Miller, Linda Orr, Andrew Ross, Henry M. Sayre, Jane Tompkins, Marianna Torgovnick


"This fresh and engaging collection of essays is a significant marker in the momentous shift from academic theorizing to a more public, more accessible form of cultural and literary commentary. These younger critics, like their predecessors in earlier generations, have rediscovered the personal voice as a superb vehicle for new ideas about art, culture, and society." — Morris Dickstein, Center for the Humanities, CUNY Graduate School


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marianna Togovnick, Professor of English at Duke University, is author of Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives and Crossing Ocean Parkway: Readings by an Italian-American Daughter.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction/ Marianna Torgovnick 1
The American Stranger/ Alice Yaeger Kaplan 5
Decades/ Nancy K. Miller  29
The Duplicity of the Southern Story: Reflections on Reynolds Price's The Surface of Earth and Eudora Welty's "The Wide Net"/ Linda Orr 50
Tatami Room/ Cathy N. Davidson 76
Saving Our Lives: Dances with Wolves, Iron John, and the Search for a New Masculinity/ Jane Tompkins 96
Pursuing Authenticity: The Vernacular Moment in Contemporary American Art/ Henry M. Sayre 107
Becoming America's Lens on the World: National Geographic in the Twentieth Century/ Jane Collins and Catherine Lutz 128
Power, History, and Authenticity: The Mowachaht Whalers' Washing Shrine/ Aldona Jonaitis and Richard Inglis 157
The Ecology of Images/ Andrew Ross 185
Academic Writing and the Uses of Bad Publicity/ Gerald Graff 208
Ideology, Energy, and Cultural Criticism/ Mark Edmundson 220
Invoking Culture: The Messy Sid of "Cultural Politics"/ Virgina R. Dominguez 237
The Politics of the "We"/ Marianna Torgovnick 260
Notes on Contributors 279
Index 281
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1472-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1455-4
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