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Sentimental Materialism: Gender, Commodity Culture, and Nineteenth-Century American Literature [Book Review]

Weinstein, Cindy (2002) Sentimental Materialism: Gender, Commodity Culture, and Nineteenth-Century American Literature [Book Review]. American Literature, 74 (2). pp. 413-415. ISSN 0002-9831. doi:10.1215/00029831-74-2-413.

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Sentimental Materialism presents an account of the disciplinary processes whereby affective relations to objects came to constitute the proprietary logic of liberal subjectivity and subjection in nineteenth-century U.S. culture. Merish reads nineteenth-century literary texts, and the objects in them, as productive sites in which the outlines of this subjectivity, specifically its deployment of gender and racial categories, are established, reproduced, and, in many cases, contested. The book ranges impressively from a reading of "taste" in the Scottish Enlightenment, to analyses of relatively noncanonical texts such as Catharine Sedgwick’s Home, to a cultural critique of representations of the cigar in Martin Delaney’s Blake and early twentieth-century advertisements. Such a diverse archive is made coherent by Merish’s convincing demonstration that sentimental narratives, and the identificatory structures that they produce (what she calls "sentimental ownership"), encompass "both a recognition of social hierarchy as psychological normals reproduced within the intimate recesses of the desiring subject" (3). And yet Merish also illustrates how various texts within the sentimental tradition, particularly those written by African American women, deploy this model of white liberal subjectivity in order to both incorporate and challenge its cultural capital. Particularly significant is Merish’s contention that in uncritically accepting Weber’s theory of the work ethic as the definitive paradigm through which American identity was produced, critics have failed to see the operations of an equally constitutive consumer ethic—based on the love of objects and the symbiotic relation between things and subjectivity. Merish historicizes the explicit gendering of this subjectivity and examines howsentimental fiction pedagogically enacted female consent and, in so doing, was critical to the construction of "liberal consumer subjectivity" (25).

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Additional Information:© 2002 Duke University Press. Book review of: Sentimental Materialism: Gender, Commodity Culture, and Nineteenth-Century American Literature. By Lori Merish. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press. 2000. ix, 389 pp. Cloth, $64.95; paper.
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:89279
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:29 Aug 2018 20:33
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 00:34

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