Freedoms as Absolutes: A Virtual Archive of “John Brown’s Body”

By Arendt Speser.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Presenting material gathered at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Yale University), this paper’s primary focus is “John Brown’s Body,” a narrative poem about the American Civil War, written by Stephen Vincent Benét (1928). While an immensely successful and popular book at the time of its publication and well into the 1960’s, Benét’s Pulitzer Prize winning poem has since lost its status as a seminal work of American literature. This paper will use archival research to demonstrate the importance of textual scholarship, following a methodology called “narrative bibliography”. The combination of bibliographic practice and narrative analysis works to construct a compelling argument for the “virtual archive,” a literary commons wherein “John Brown’s Body” reemerges as a significant book in the tradition of American literature, and also serves as an example for the kind of stories that can be told about books in general--how they are made and come into the world. These fictions of the virtual archive contribute to both critical scholarship and cultural production.

Keywords: John Brown’s Body, Stephen Vincent Benét, Walt Whitman, Textual Studies, Narrative, Bibliography, Archive, Virtual, Poetry, Democracy, American Literature, American History, The Civil War

International Journal of the Book, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.39-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 991.199KB).

Arendt Speser

Candidate in Philosophy; Teaching Assistant, Department of English, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Arendt Oak Speser, B.A. Philosophy, M.A. English & Literature, is particularly interested in traditions of intellectual continuity and cultural production. Working with classic, medieval, and American texts, his scholarship focuses on the roles of memory and mediation in literature and philosophy. Pursuing a doctorate in English & Literature with a certification in Textual Studies, his research has turned increasingly toward the archive, where he seeks to integrate bibliographic practice with narrative and poetic analysis. His current writing is concerned with theories of the “virtual archive” and the “democratic vistas” of our literary commons.


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