Jesús Costantino, University of Notre Dame | Newberry

Jesús Costantino, University of Notre Dame

Thursday, January 29, 2015

5-7 pm

Stiffel Seminar Room, B-82

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Literature Seminar

“The Squared City”
Jesús Costantino, University of Notre Dame

In late nineteenth-century American literature and visual arts, two key sites—the tenement and the boxing ring—express the pressures put on urban spaces and the people that inhabit them. In the enclosed spaces of the tenement and the boxing ring, the telescoping movement of laboring bodies from nations to cities to neighborhoods takes on a metonymic sheen, as if the lived reality of industrial labor could be condensed and grasped in a single spatial “unit.” This paper argues that the rise of ethnicity as a legal and rhetorical category emerges alongside the same labor-driven spatial efficiencies that inform the ring and the tenement. Using turn-of-the-century boxing manuals and Jacob Riis’s diagrams and photographs of cramped tenement spaces in How the Other Half Lives as points of departure, I demonstrate how authors like Abraham Cahan, Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Frank Norris frame these ethnically charged spaces in pugilistic terms.

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