Bodies of Reform: The Rhetoric of Character in Gilded Age by James B. Salazar

By James B. Salazar

From the patricians of the early republic to post-Reconstruction racial scientists, from fin de siècle progressivist social reformers to post-war sociologists, personality, that interestingly formable but both ambitious “stuff,” has had an extended and checkered heritage giving form to the yankee nationwide identity.Bodies of Reform reconceives this pivotal type of nineteenth-century literature and tradition through charting the improvement of the idea that of “character” within the fictional genres, social reform events, and political cultures of the us from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century. by way of examining novelists corresponding to Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman along a various selection of texts excited by the challenge of creating personality, together with child-rearing publications, muscle-building magazines, libel and naturalization legislation, Scout handbooks, and good fortune manuals, James B. Salazar uncovers how the cultural practices of representing personality operated in tandem with the character-building thoughts of social reformers. His leading edge examining of this archive deals an intensive revision of this defining type in U.S. literature and tradition, arguing that personality used to be the keystone of a cultural politics of embodiment, a politics that performed a serious position in determining-and contesting-the social mobility, political authority, and cultural that means of the raced and gendered physique.

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Reputation thus named a kind of second, supplemental self with a rather ambiguous and frequently contested jurisprudential and ontological status. Reputation was a commodity form that, as inalienable, distinguished its owner from other forms of human property in that it could not be owned or possessed by another. And yet, reputation was a possession that also dispossessed its owner by remaining forever out of reach in the disseminated representations in the public sphere. Reclaiming the Question of Character The antebellum period has commonly been described as a period in which the ideological assumptions and representational forms that governed character’s regulatory function in the early national period were increasingly undermined by a particular set of political, economic, and social transformations, transformations that rapidly accelerated in the decades following the Civil War.

Persons of character were recognized as authentic, as reliable expressions of their inner character, not because that character has been verified outside the field of its appearance but rather because of the way that they clearly and distinctly appeared in the public sphere itself, an appearance that was itself culturally conditioned by the regulatory, embodied social grammar of race, class, and gender. 59 The referential distinction between the “real” substance of inner character and the representations through which it appeared, moreover, functioned to occlude its regulatory function by disavowing the role of cultural representations and social norms in constituting what comes to count as character.

The chapter begins with a consideration of Sojourner Truth’s famous baring of her muscular arm as a sign of her exemplary character and goes on to ask what kind of political promise was lodged in the transformations of muscle building. I pursue this question first through an account of the emergence of muscle as an emblem of national fitness in a variety of educational, phrenological, sociological, and political writings of the period and of its deeper roots in the rhetoric of character. I then turn to the spectacular display of muscular bodies and the rise of bodybuilding contests in the National Police Gazette and in the broader physical-culture media, focusing in particular on the ways that the muscular body destabilized the visual economy of gender and sexuality.

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