What can the performance of a single play on one specific night tell us about the world this event inhabited so briefly? Alexander Nemerov takes a performance of Macbeth in Washington, DC on October 17, 1863—with Abraham Lincoln in attendance—to explore this question and illuminate American art, politics, technology, and life as it was being lived. Nemerov’s inspiration is Wallace Stevens and his poem “Anecdote of the Jar,” in which a single object organizes the wilderness around it in the consciousness of the poet. For Nemerov, that evening’s performance of Macbeth reached across the tragedy of civil war to acknowledge the horrors and emptiness of a world it tried and ultimately failed to change.
Alexander Nemerov, Vincent Scully Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, is the author of Icons of Grief: Val Lewton's Home Front Pictures, The Body of Raphael Peale: Still Life and Selfhood, 1812-1824 (both from UC Press), and Frederick Remington and Turn-of-the-Century America.
"A benchmark in the writing of art history and in studies of the Civil War, Acting in the Night occupies a category unto itself. It uniquely immerses the reader in a holistic experience of the Civil War and shows Nemerov as a consummate stylist in the field of American art history."—Kathleen Pyne, author of Modernism and the Feminine Voice
"This is a work of criticism that borders on poetry, a brilliant and extremely original book that invites us to rethink our relationship to the artistic world we study."—Julia Reinhard Lupton, author of Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life
"Alexander Nemerov is one of the greatest readers of American visual culture. This book has the revelatory power that only wide-ranging curiosity and true independence of mind can achieve."—Richard H. Brodhead, author of Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in 19th Century America
CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association
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