The Claims of Experience

Autobiography and American Democracy
Oxford University Press
  • erschienen am 21. August 2019
  • |
  • 256 Seiten
E-Book | ePUB mit Adobe-DRM | Systemvoraussetzungen
978-0-19-006071-8 (ISBN)
Why have so many figures throughout American history proclaimed their life stories when confronted by great political problems? The Claims of Experience provides a new theory for what makes autobiography political throughout the history of the United States and today. Across five chapters, Nolan Bennett examines the democratic challenges that encouraged a diverse cast of figures to bear their stories: Benjamin Franklin amid the revolutionary era, Frederick Douglass in the antebellum and abolitionist movements, Henry Adams in the Gilded Age and its anxieties of industrial change, Emma Goldman among the first Red Scare and state opposition to radical speech, and Whittaker Chambers amid the second Red Scare that initiated the anticommunist turn of modern conservatism. These historical figures made what Bennett calls a "claim of experience." By proclaiming their life stories, these authors took back authority over their experiences from prevailing political powers, and called to new community among their audiences. Their claims sought to restore to readers the power to remake and make meaning of their own lives. Whereas political theorists and activists have often seen autobiography to be too individualist or a mere documentary source of evidence, this theory reveals the democratic power that life narratives have offered those on the margins and in the mainstream. If they are successful, claims of experience summon new popular authority to surpass what their authors see as the injustices of prevailing American institutions and identity. Bennett shows through historical study and theorization how this renewed appreciation for the politics of life writing elevates these authors' distinct democratic visions while drawing common themes across them. This book offers both a method for understanding the politics of life narrative and a call to anticipate claims of experience as they appear today.
  • Englisch
  • Oxford
  • |
  • USA
  • 2,85 MB
978-0-19-006071-8 (9780190060718)
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Nolan Bennett is an Assistant Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. He is a scholar of American political thought, and his research considers why and to what effect historical actors and movements ground their claims for democratic justice in personal experience. He recovers genres like autobiography, slave narrative, and prison writing as appeals to popular authority and representation not found in state or electoral politics. Nolan is particularly interested in issues of prison reform and punishment in the United States, inspired by the long history of prison writing, and with a committed interest to teaching in carceral spaces.
List of Abbreviations Introduction: A Political Autobiography Chapter 1: Benjamin Franklin's Imperfections Chapter 2: Frederick Douglass, from Narration to Denunciation Chapter 3: Henry Adams on the Ends of Education Chapter 4: The Adversity and Empathy of Emma Goldman Chapter 5: Whittaker Chambers and the Confessions of Ex-Communists Conclusion: Autobiography on the Horizon Notes References Index

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