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American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions$
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Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231156172

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231156172.001.0001

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The Writing on the Wall

The Writing on the Wall

Revolutionary Aesthetics and Interior Spaces

Chapter:
(p.56) [2] The Writing on the Wall
Source:
American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions
Author(s):

Ivy G. Wilson

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231156172.003.0002

This chapter explores how political subtexts are illustrated through the use of a revolutionary aesthetic that stages questions about the relation between iconography and interiority. Beginning with a reading of Phillis Wheatley and Scipio Moorhead, it underscores a particular relationship between interiority, visuality, and political revolution that is heightened further when one considers the various permutations in the iconography of George Washington and Toussaint L'Ouverture from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. The permutation of these iconographies traces Washington's image from Wheatley, Irving, Stowe, and Melville as well as a parallel series on L'Ouverture by Phillips, Webb, and James McCune Smith. By examining a number of different simulated portraits of Washington and L'Ouverture, the chapter investigates the ways that writers and orators engaged the processes of visualization through literary and oratorical portraiture—a particular concern for African Americans who were preoccupied with the processes of visualization as an operation that allowed them to imagine themselves as part of the U.S. or, conversely, to fantasize about different alternative socialities altogether.

Keywords:   political subtexts, revolutionary aesthetic, aesthetic theory, Phillis Wheatley, Scipio Moorhead, African Americans, visualization, George Washington, Toussaint L'Ouverture, iconography

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