In the years between the independence of the colonies from Britain and the start of the Jacksonian age, American readers consumed an enormous number of literary texts called "fragments." American Fragments recovers this archive of the romantic period to raise a set of pressing questions about the relationship between aesthetic and national realities: What kind of artistic creation was a fragment?, And how and why did deliberately unfinished writing emerge alongside a country that was itself still unfinished?
Through discussions of eighteenth-century transatlantic aesthetics, the Revolutionary War, seduction novels, religious culture, and the construction of authorship, Daniel Diez Couch argues that the literary fragment was used as a means of representing individuals who did not fit neatly into the social fabric of the nation: beggars, prostitutes, veterans, and other ostracized figures. These individuals did not have a secure place in designs for the country's future, yet writers wielded the artistic form of the fragment as an apparatus for surveying their disputed positionality. Time and again, fragments asked what kind of identity marginalized individuals had, and how fictionalized versions of their life stories influenced the sociopolitical circumstances of the emergent nation. In their most progressive moments, the writers of fragments depicted their subjects as being "in process," opting for a fluid version of the self instead of the bounded and coherent one typically hailed as the liberal individual.
Traversing aesthetics, political philosophy, material culture, and history, American Fragments gives new life to a literary form that at once played a significant role in the print ecology of the early republic, and that endures in the works of modernist and postmodernist writers and artists.
Daniel Diez Couch is Assistant Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy.
"There’s a lot to admire here, including Couch’s ability to say something new about topics like the connections between aesthetics and liberal individualism, which may have otherwise seemed exhausted...American Fragments positions itself less as an intervention and more as a contribution, a missing piece that makes the conversation about early US aesthetics more complete."—Eighteenth-Century Studies
"How is it possible that no one before now has written a literary history of the 'fragment' in early US literature, or one which focuses on this form as important to a more broadly targeted literary history? The fact that such a question can even form itself in a reader’s mind is usually a concrete sign of an author’s success. In the present case, that success rests on the combination of the argument’s novelty and the obviousness of its importance to the field...Before this book’s publication, the 'fragment' may not have looked like a form essential to early American literary history; afterward, it most certainly does."—Early American Literature
"In American Fragments, Daniel Diez Couch urges us to examine the role that the fragment played both for readers and writers between 1787 and 1813...Couch’s work reminds us that there is meaning in the partial, intentionally incomplete silences of these fragments. Early American scholars will find this well-written analysis a thought-provoking addition to our understanding of this tumultuous and transitional period."—Eighteenth-Century Fiction
"In a field that has for decades glanced only fleetingly at the formal category of the fragment without focusing its critical attention, American Fragments is both a flash of illumination and a corrective lens. It restores to us, through the early republic’s minor forms, some of the freedom—and the historical contingency—that has been obscured by the myth of the national plot."—Matthew Garrett, Wesleyan University