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American ObscurantismHistory and the Visual in U.S. Literature and Film$
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Peter Lurie

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199797318

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199797318.001.0001

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Envisioning Obscurity: History, Racial Knowing, and the “Perfect Whiteness of the Snow”

(p.1) Introduction
American Obscurantism

Peter Lurie

Oxford University Press

This introduction orients this book’s argument surrounding history’s visibility. It points to a tradition of visualizing history initiated by D. W. Griffith’s infamous Birth of a Nation and suggests links between it and a later critical tradition of falsely presuming history’s accessibility. It takes up recent challenges to politicized cultural scholarship and identifies the book’s investment in examining the terms on which so-called American art and culture have been defined. Edgar Allan Poe’s Pym and Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” offer templates for the later discussions of writers’ and filmmakers’ choice to eschew direct representations of history. It links these moves to New Formalist methodology and places the study’s approach within this field, describing the book’s moves from treating modernist writers to discussing the postmodern cinema of Stanley Kubrick and the Coen brothers. It takes up a tenet of modernist scholarship that questions notions of a putatively transcendent, disembodied subject.

Keywords:   The Birth of a Nation (1915), blackness, blindness, vision/visuality, New Historicism, Edgar Allan Poe—Pym, Herman Melville—“Benito Cereno, ” embodiment, hope

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