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The nineteenth century was a time of extraordinary attunement to the unspoken, the elusively present, and the subtly haunting. Quiet Testimony finds in such attunement a valuable rethinking of what it means to encounter the truth. It argues that four key writers—Emerson, Douglass, Melville, and Henry James—open up the domain of the witness by articulating quietude’s claim on the clamoring world.
The premise of quiet testimony responds to urgent questions in critical theory and human rights. Emerson is brought into conversation with Levinas, and Douglass is considered alongside Agamben. Yet the book is steeped in the intellectual climate of the nineteenth century, in which speech and meaning might exceed the bounds of the recognized human subject. In this context, Melville’s characters could read the weather, and James’s could spend an evening with dead companions.
By following the path by which ostensibly unremarkable entities come to voice, Quiet Testimony suggests new configurations for ethics, politics, and the literary.
Shari Goldberg is Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas.
"Through Shari Goldberg’s passionately attentive readings of core texts within 19th century American literature, Quiet Testimony bears witness to the intimacy between testimony and literary thinking, and in so doing provides a model for radically rethinking the very concept of literature."—Donald Pease, Dartmouth College
“Goldberg’s book is both timely and exciting. Her readings of Emerson (a writer whose work has always seemed to me to resist the pressures of close reading) are quite simply brilliant American literature. Her work, more than that of any other critic since Charles Feidelson, allows us to teach Emerson and Melville together by pointing to similarities rather than differences as well as to see their formal and ethical concerns as establishing a trajectory that includes the work of Douglass and James. Goldberg’s voice is one of the most exciting ones among the current group of young scholars of nineteenth-century.”
—Edgar Dryden, University of Arizona
“This is a major and exemplary work that deftly situates the authors in their historical situations while at the same time deeply respecting their thinking, reading them in order to adduce their complicated attitudes toward testimony, which Goldberg successfully advances as an urgent and central issue for each of them.”—Mitchell Breitwieser, University of California, Berkeley
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