The early United States was a culture of the episode. In Episodic Poetics, Matthew Garrett merges narrative theory with social and political history to explain the early American fascination with the episodic, piecemeal plot.
Since Aristotle's Poetics, the episode has been a vexed category of literary analysis, troubling any easy view of the subsumption of unwieldy narrative parts into well-plotted wholes. Garrett puts forward a new, dialectical theory of episodic form to recast this peculiar object of literary history, looking to the episode as a narrative unit smaller than the genre in order to give an account of all the period's major prose genres. Garrett shows how, in ways both magisterial and mundane,
episodic forms gave variegated shape to the social, political, and economic conflicts that defined the moment of national formation.
Episodic Poetics proposes a new method of reading and a new way of conceiving of literary history. The book asks how we might understand the cultural role of the episode as a literary micro-unit, one that forces us to read individual narratives in terms of an always partial and fraught development toward plot. Episodic Poetics combines theoretical reflection and historical rigor with careful readings of texts from the early American canon such as The Federalist,
Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, and the novels of Charles Brockden Brown, along with hitherto understudied texts and ephemera such as Washington Irving's Salmagundi, Susanna Rowson's Trials of the Human Heart and the memoirs of the metalworker and failed entrepreneur John Fitch. Garrett recounts literary history not as the easy
victory of grand nationalist ambitions, but rather as a series of social struggles expressed through writers' recurring engagement with incompletely integrated forms.
Matthew Garrett is Assistant Professor of English & American Studies at Wesleyan University.
Contents ; Introduction: Reading the Episode in the Early Republic ; The Episode between Part and Whole ; Telemachus's Doubt: Toward a Theory of Episodic Poetics ; The Whole against the Parts: Narrative Theory ; From Event to Episode: Historical Poetics ; The Hillock and the Mountain ; Chapters ; Chapter One: The Poetics of Constitutional Consolidation ; Complexity and Consolidation: Out of Many, One ; Common and Finer: The Legacy of 1787-88 ; The Chain of Reading: Commerce, Episodic Poetics, Politics ; Hierarchy and Literary Form 1: Commerce and Contagion ; Hierarchy and Literary Form 2: Governing the Splintered Society ; Hierarchy and Literary Form 3: Faction as Form ; Mercantile Time and the Periodical Plot ; Debt and the Rhythm of Exchange ; Unreadability and Nationalism's Chain of Reading ; Chapter Two: The Life in Episodes ; Structure and Dispersion ; Erratum and Episode: Duration and Narrative Binding ; Character and Competition, Success and Failure ; Society, Mischief, and the Episode ; Experience, Selection, and Narrative Unity ; Chapter Three: The Fiction of Hesitation ; Reading the Episode in the Novel ; Adventure and Didacticism ; Incipits and the Incitement to Reading: From Clarissa to Constantia ; Against the Episode: Morality and Form in the Literary Market ; Nothing Happens ; Endless Prolixity ; Episode versus Futurity ; Episode and Ideology ; Chapter Four: Miscellany and the Structure of Style ; Commodity Writing ; Whim-Whams on the Market ; Criticism and the Work of the Writer ; Salmagundi: An Arthrology of the Literary Miscellany ; The Rejection of Reference ; Volubility and Formal Compromise ; Appendix to Chapter Four: Table of Contents and Collation of Salmagundi ; Conclusion ; Works Cited ; Index