Spirited media : revision, race, and revelation in nineteenth-century America
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"Spirited Media" analyzes distributed structures of authorship in the reform literature of the nineteenth-century United States. The literature that emerged out of reform movements like abolitionism often was a product of complex negotiations between speech and print, involving multiple people working across media in relationships that were sometimes collaborative, sometimes cooperative, and sometimes antagonistic. The cultural authority of print and individual authorship, often unquestioned in studies that focus on major or canonical figures of the nineteenth century, has tended to obscure some of this complexity. Moving from phonography, to Josiah Henson and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to spiritualism, to Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman, I consider four cases in which reporters, amanuenses, spirit mediums, and poets revived and remediated the voices of abolitionists, fugitive slaves, and figures from American history. By separating publication into events—speech, inscription, revision, and print—I show that "authorship" consisted of a series of interactions over time and across media, but that in the case of reform, the stakes for proving that authorship was a clear and indisputable characteristic of print were high. For abolitionist, African American, and spiritualist speakers and writers, authority depended on authorship, which in turn depended on the transparency of the print or the medium, or the perception of a direct relationship between speaker and reader. Like authorship, this transparency was constructed by a variety of social actors for whom the author was a key site of empowerment. It was authorized by appeals to revelation and race, two constructs often sidelined in media histories, yet central to discussions of society and politics in nineteenth-century America. Thinking of authorship as a distributed phenomenon disrupts models of the unitary subject and original genius, calling attention instead to uncanny acts of reading and writing in nineteenth-century literature. This dissertation argues that we should think about the transformative power of U.S. literature as located in revelation, not just creation, and in congregating people, not just representing them.