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Emergent WorldsAlternative States in Nineteenth-Century American Culture$
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Edward Sugden

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781479899692

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479899692.001.0001

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Threshold States in the Immigrant Atlantic, 1789–1857

Threshold States in the Immigrant Atlantic, 1789–1857

(p.145) 3 Threshold States in the Immigrant Atlantic, 1789–1857
Emergent Worlds

Edward Sugden

NYU Press

This chapter places the US Americas in the zone after the Atlantic revolutions of the era of world crisis but before the realization of a true democracy. In positioning them as such, it argues that in the first half of the nineteenth century the US Americas were neither an old nor a new world but some intermixture of the two. The figure of the radical immigrant emblematized this threshold state. These immigrants found the US Americas to be a zone that was on the verge of transformation into a fully realized democratic social polity but not quite there yet. As such, they created a formulation of citizenship that allegorized this midstate—“living death”—that reflected their sense of being between a subject and national, democratic citizen. It was the job of a German American genre—the “immigrant gothic”—involving canonical fiction like Herman Melville’s Pierre, German-language city mysteries, and reactionary nativist fantasias, to imagine what the redeemed social world desired by immigrant radicals might look like. Although these fictions found it comparatively easy to imagine the apocalypse, a completely redeemed democracy proved elusive. Instead, they came to dwell on the limited capacity of fiction to bring about radical historical transformation.

Keywords:   Atlantic, new world, immigration, nativism, threshold state, immigrant gothic, Pierre, city mysteries, democracy

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