Fourierism and Sexuality: A Couple Thoughts on Socialism and Sexuality in 19th C. America

This is probably a useful thing to do, writing a blog post, a way to get some words on paper and, prior to that, some thoughts composed. I’m presenting a paper at the C19 conference in Berkeley in just over five weeks on the representation and rhetoric of sexuality, gender, and marriage (too much to do, really) in turn of the 20th century novels about socialism (for it, against it, defining it, etc.), what I am calling “novels of socialism.” In order to ground my work, I’m looking at the earlier 19th century history of utopian, communal socialist movements in the US, notably the Fourierists, but I will also end up looking into other groups, too (Owenites, for example).

Carl Guarneri’s The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America (1991) has been indispensable to this end. Charles Fourier (1772-1837: here’s a good, contextualized run-down of his ideas) offered a wide-ranging, and all-encompassing, to say the least, set of critiques, ideas, and recommendations for social change. His theory accounted for the stages of human history, the working of the universe, and predicted the demise of present religious systems with the growth of a “religion” in which people lived in “unconscious obedience to natural law” (Guarneri 94). Also, nations would fall away, to be replaced by 2 million phalanxes (structured living and working communities of a particular size). But, among Fourier’s ideas, as Guarneri notes, “most distressing” to those reformers who wished to act on Fourier’s critique of modern life and economics and build cooperative communities along the lines he described, “was Fourier’s prediction of a ‘New Amorous World’ that would give full scope to human sexual ‘attractions’ by organizing love in a series of graded ‘corporations’ ranging from ‘vestalic’ virginity to complete promiscuity, both heterosexual and homosexual” (94). Continue reading

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Haymarket Revisited, Revised

Contemporary engraving of Haymarket bombing from Harper's WeeklyThis podcast interview with Timothy Messer-Kruse, author of The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age offers a new perspective on the Haymarket bombing of May 4, 1886.  Based on a careful review of the little-researched trial transcripts and other evidence, he comes to conclusions that undermine some of the long-held beliefs about the event and the trial that followed.

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Proposed Paper for ASA 2012

Update 3/19/12 — this proposed paper did not make the cut for the conference in November — 166 of 350 papers submitted were accepted, according to the notification. That’s too bad, but I will continue working on this, nonetheless, beginning with a closely related paper I’ll be delivering at C19 next month.

Gender and Sexual Perversity in Novels of Socialism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Edward Bellamy insisted on describing his utopia as “nationalist” rather than “socialist,” saying in a letter to William Dean Howells that he could never “well stomach” the term “socialism,” not only because of its “foreign” ring, but also because it suggested to him “all manner of sexual novelties.” Nor was Bellamy alone among his colleagues: most utopian socialist writers in the US disavowed the term, many, like Bellamy, coining other labels for their cooperative, manifestly socialist societies.  Certainly socialism’s American detractors had often, and long before Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), gone to the deep rhetorical well of domestic and sexual perversity for arguments against socialism, beginning with reactions to antebellum utopian communities like Oneida, with its institution of “complex marriage,” and those based on Fourier’s model of a “New Amorous World.” But Bellamy and his followers’ conservative gender and sexual politics did not do much, apparently, to disarm the appeal to the imagined sexual and domestic perversity of socialism in the many novelistic replies to Looking Backward.

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Play the Class Struggle Game…

Socialist Games from Charles Kerr Press, circa early 20th c.From the back of a Carl Sandburg pamphlet, You and Your Job (Charles Kerr, 19??), which is available from the Eugene Debs collection at Indiana State U  I would love to have this game and, for good measure, to have the first edition of Monopoly.

ADDENDUM 9/26 — After doing a little web searching to see if this is still out there somewhere (so far, nope), I ran into another, more recent “Class Struggle” game on the Stalin’s Moustache blog.

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Little Change in Public’s Response to ‘Capitalism,’ ‘Socialism’ | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Little Change in Public’s Response to ‘Capitalism,’ ‘Socialism’ | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.


The recent Occupy Wall Street protests have focused public attention on what organizers see as the excesses of America’s free market system, but perceptions of capitalism – and even of socialism – have changed little since early 2010 despite the recent tumult.

The American public’s take on capitalism remains mixed, with just slightly more saying they have a positive (50%) than a negative (40%) reaction to the term. That’s largely unchanged from a 52% to 37% balance of opinion in April 2010. Continue reading

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I love inscriptions and marginalia

A wonderful inscription appears on the inside cover of a book I am reading for my sabbatical research, Ken Roemer’s The Obsolete Necessity: America in Utopian Writings, 1888-1900 (Kent State UP, 1998). This is a copy from the shelves of our library at the College of Charleston. From the author to his dissertation director, the note reads:

Dr. Cohen,

The margins of this book are blank. But for me they are filled with the hundreds of comments and suggestions you offered. I chose you as a dissertation director because you impressed me as one of the most conscientious teachers I have ever met; your supervision of my dissertation proved that my impression was correct. (To say nothing of going beyond the call of duty–imagine reading a dissertation in Spiller’s cabin!)

Thank you; and thank you for the continual advice and encouragement.


I have not researched who Dr. Cohen is. I wonder if Spiller’s cabin was the cabin of Robert Spiller, author of the monumental literary history of the US from way back.  But those details, though I would love to know them, really don’t much matter.  The main thing is Wow.  How cool.

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List of recessions in the United States – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

List of recessions in the United States – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.A crowd of several tens of men tries to enter the building through a narrow door. The men wear top hats. At the foreground, a small boy sells newspapers.

In the course of my current research, I frequently encounter information about the boom and bust cycles of the American economy at the end of the 19th century, and it never ceases to impress me how many recessions there have been in the US.   There were frequent “panics” and profound recessions throughout the end of the century, for reasons which I’m sure many historians and economists have devoted significant ink.  For my work, I’m less interested in the causes than in the literary/cultural responses. But either way, from our current standpoint, I think it’s worth thinking about how often we been in the soup.

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Design Thinking for Educators

Design Thinking for Educators

Design Thinking for Educators

Reinvigorating education by thinking about it through the principles of design.  There are great insights here — from reconfiguring classrooms to thinking about instruction as designed, prototyped, and so forth.  I find the whole thing compelling — and much of it familiar, having seen what talented friends do with instruction in college classrooms.  I wonder how I can be more mindful of my own teaching and curriculum as designed.

I’m putting it on file for next fall when I hit the classroom again with a Mark Twain seminar for first year students, an upper-division late 19th century American Lit class, and a graduate class in the same. Funny, now that I am on a research sabbatical, I find myself thinking so much about pedagogy and course design and running across such wonderful resources.

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Mark Twain: The American: A Proposed First Year Seminar

Twain once wrote, “I am not an American. I am the American.” It’s classic Twain: a statement palpably untrue–Twain’s life was clearly not representative of that lived by all Americans (what one life could be?)–but also it’s dead on the mark, for so much of what animated Twain in his life and writing was the stuff of America in all its dizzying heights and profound self-contradiction. The seminar will take Mr. Clemens at his word. Through reading his work, studying his life, and writing on his themes, we will approach American identity via particularly Twainian preoccupations: rags to riches to rags, technological triumph and failure, slippery identities, racial ambivalence, romance and realism, optimism and skepticism.

…so runs the draft of my description for a proposed first year seminar to be offered next fall.

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The Novels of ENGL 349: A little levity in service of introduction to the course

The Novels of English 349

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