By Paul Jay
From Emerson to Rorty, American feedback has grappled in a single manner or one other with the matter of modernity—specifically, the best way to verify serious and cultural criteria in a global the place each place turns out the made from an interpretation. half highbrow historical past, half cultural critique, this provocative ebook is an attempt to shake American suggestion out of the grip of the 19th century—and out of its contingency blues.
Paul Jay focuses his research on strands of yankee feedback. the 1st, together with Richard Poirier and Giles Gunn, has tried to restore what Jay insists is an anachronistic pragmatism derived from Emerson, James, and Dewey. the second one, represented such a lot forcefully through Richard Rorty, has a tendency to minimize American feedback to a metadiscourse in regards to the contingent grounds of data. In chapters on Emerson, Whitman, Santayana, Van Wyck Brooks, Dewey, and Kenneth Burke, Jay examines the historic roots of those positions, which he argues are marked by way of recurrent makes an attempt to reconcile transcendentalism and pragmatism. A forceful rejection of either different types of revisionism, Contingency Blues locates an alternate within the paintings of the “border experiences” critics, those that supply our curiosity in contingency a brand new, extra concrete shape through taking a extra old, cultural, and anthropological method of the discovery of literature, subjectivity, group, and tradition in a pan-American context.
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Additional info for Contingency Blues: The Search For Foundations In American Criticism
This link between the products of art and the products of technology results from the idea that nature embodies a method or economy reproduced by human beings in the exercise of their wills-whether toward the end of constructing a statue or building a canal. Both activities are taught by, and are thus dominated by, nature. " The ability to engage in what Emerson calls "useful arts" (12) we "owe to nature" (12), since the useful arts constitute "reproductions or new combinations by the wit of man" (12) of processes he has learned from nature.
Emerson does confront the central problem of an emergent modernity, but by having recourse to a transcendental ground for knowledge and truth he reintroduces the kind of metaphysical assurance modernity defined itself by rejecting. l 4 The tension between these two positions marks the extent to which Emerson's cultural criticism is determined by the demands of working out a post-Enlightenment approach to subjectivity, knowledge, and experience. It is a tension that will continue to determine the lineaments of American criticism through the rest of the nineteenth century.
While the formation of capital, mechanization, and the development of productive forces were transforming both America and Europe, what Habermas characterizes as "the establishment of centralized political power and the formation of national identities" contributed in a particularly telling way to America's sense of its own modernity. Emerson's was a new age, then, in two related senses: the "oppositional significance" of Emerson's America was rooted both in its break with cultural and political values in place since the sixteenth century in Western civilization and, more specifically, in its attempt to ground itself by breaking free from European culture.