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Dpartement d'Etudes Anglophones Laboratoire Suds d'Amriques

LHANG101 : Initiation la littrature anglophone

An Introduction to American Literature - I

Course Map, Documents, Links

Jacques Pothier Sept. 2011

Universit de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines


ILEI Dpartement dEtudes Anglophones

Prologue: the American Myth .........................................................3


1.1 1.2 1.3 The otherness of America .............................................................................. 5 A Mirror for Europe ......................................................................................... 7 A history of literature?.................................................................................... 8

Colonial America : The Pilgrim Fathers .........................................9


2.1 2.2 American Primer ............................................................................................. 9 Histories and Chronicles of New England..................................................... 9
Captain John Smith. A Description of New England, 1616 ........................................ 9 William Bradford History of Plymouth Plantation (1630-1651) .................................. 9 Cotton Mather. The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693); Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) ............................................................................................. 10 Apocalyptic readings of history live on to 2005: the example of the Left Behind series <www.leftbehind.com>. ....................................................................... 12

2.3 2.4

Writing in early colonial America ..................................................................12 The Puritan Legacy ........................................................................................12

Major Trends: the American Tradition .........................................13


3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 American Incarnation: "l'espace amricain"................................................14 On the Road....................................................................................................14 The New Adam ...............................................................................................15 The Eye ...........................................................................................................17

From the Enlightenment to a National Literature .......................18


4.1 The Age of Enlightenment .............................................................................18
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) Leader of the Great Awakening............................. 18 Fresh approaches......................................................................................................... 19 Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) The Age of Reason .................................................. 19

4.2 4.3 4.4

American Gothic ............................................................................................20


Rip van Winkle (The Sketch-Book, 1819-1820) .......................................................... 21

Edgar Allan Poe..............................................................................................23 James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) ...........................................................23


The wilderness.............................................................................................................. 24 The American hero ....................................................................................................... 24 The American other ...................................................................................................... 25

4.5

Myth and History of the New Nation ............................................................26


The American historical novel .................................................................................... 26 Looking for a Poet for the Nation................................................................................ 26

The American Renaissance .........................................................29


5.1 Transcendentalism: the Metaphysics of Nature ..........................................29
romanticism .................................................................................................................. 29 The self and the universe............................................................................................. 30

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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self-reliance ................................................................................................................... 30 Emerson's Nature ......................................................................................................... 31

5.2

The Machine in the Garden............................................................................32


Emerson and "Sleepy Hollow" .................................................................................... 33 the social role of the poet, of the artist: Reconciling art and nature ...................... 34

5.3

Thoreau and his Legacy ................................................................................36


pragmatism ................................................................................................................... 36 An American rite of Spring ...................................................................................... 37 but let us not get carried away ............................................................................... 39 Thoreau's Politics ......................................................................................................... 40

5.4

The Path to the Dark Side ..............................................................................41


Hawthorne : Killing the dead father ............................................................................ 41 The Call of the West, the Legacy of our old home, and a Southern Dystopia.... 42 Facing Nothingness ..................................................................................................... 44

5.5

The Political Context......................................................................................44


The Political Context: Jacksonian Democracy......................................................... 45 The tariff question and the issue of states' rights: Southern fears......................... 45 Poe and Melville............................................................................................................ 46 Optimism or pessimism ............................................................................................... 46 The Black Other: from Cooper to Stowe ............................... Erreur ! Signet non dfini.

1 Prologue: the American Myth


Why should we be interested in the history of American Literature ? And, come to think of it, why should we study literature, instead offor instancejust reading and enjoying it ? The status of French literature would seem unproblematic. Ever since the Serment de Strasbourg (842) or the Chanson de Roland, French texts have been marking the progress of the sense of a national community that is now France. It does not matter much that other people should have adopted our national language for their own cultural productions. Most of the time, we just ignore that in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Romania and many other countries, some people write in French. For American literature, it has to be a little different. To begin with, we shouldnt say American, but there should be a qualifier to refer to the people of the United States, as there is one in French (tatsunien) or in Spanish (estadounidense). You realize this awkward confusion when you pass a bridge over the Rio Grande and see the border plaque

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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Universit de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines


ILEI Dpartement dEtudes Anglophones

AnywayAmerican literature is part of anglophone literature, but it is not English literature. Would there be a reason for not studying English and American literature in the same course? What then would be the common point between all the literature written in English in the United States? Why would the choice of writing in this country, or of holding a green passport with the embossed bald eagle, make you a writer belonging to this literary community? Maybe after all it is not the American writers fault. Maybe this American identity is our problem, for us living in the old world. When we look at American literature, we look at a notion peculiarly attractive to our imagination, a dreamed America, an American Dreamthat is not exactly the dream that our Quebecois cousins have they dont call the people of the USA Americans, because they too are Amricains. So America is a myth. In our bibliography, there is a book with a funny and revealing title: Homrique Amrique, by Sylvie Laurent. It is not a complete history of Americashe only examines a few significant examples of cultural productions to illustrate the myth of America, and the reference to Homer just recalls the Greek myths. This is how the blurb puts it: A la manire de la Grce Antique, l'Amrique ne cesse de se raconter sa propre histoire Au cinma, la tlvision, dans les romans populaires ou les magazines, elle crit chaque jour sa lgende et relit avec passion ses gloires et ses preuves, ses croyances et ses doutes. There are two ideas here : America as story, and as repeated story. Back in ancient Greece, the myths (from mqoj, speech, narrative) ensure that everyone is equal in front of collective memory, beliefs, a shared history. The myth is an act of speech, a story, a narrative, implying a system of thought, a shared imaginary representation

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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Universit de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines


ILEI Dpartement dEtudes Anglophones

In modern democracies we may have forgotten this function. The cultural consensus is achieved through constitutions, laws, the symbols of national identity. But they still define themselves by a body of narratives and speeches defining the national imaginary. Well find that it is particularly true of the United States, and it becomes more obvious in times of crisis when the nation will tend to believe that if things turned out wrong it is because the nation forgot to cling to its values. The choice of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential candidate for the Republicans in 2008, the rise of the Tea-Party movement, the rejection by many supporters of the Republican party of the idea that global warming is a consequence of human activity and that something should be done about it, are consequences of this shared cultural background. You can see this in many examples, but the speech by Michael Steele, the former governor of Maryland and Chairman of the GOP1 , when he is introducing the choice of Sarah Palin at the convention in 2008, is a very good one: http://youtu.be/VdSsOnVWhic . Behind him, you can see views of the great American outdoors the landscapes of the West. In his speech, Steele identifies John McCain, the Republican candidate for President, to the defense of individual freedom, which implies severe curbs on taxation that deprives individuals from hardearned money, and to encourage oil-drilling that will decrease American dependence on foreign oil. In recent months, the incredible resistance to President Obamas Health Care Bill is based on the idea that the government has no right to force citizens to pay for a service, even health insurance. Independence, individual freedom, self-reliance, wide-open spaces : these are elements of the American myth, the American story, and they are built into American literature. 1.1 The otherness of America In this we inherit a long story of fascination for America. Ever since its discovery America have projected on the New World the other face of their frustrations for life as they lived it back in the old world. It was seen as a virgin land, a blank continent if you ignored a few Indiansand their population was actually sparse in North America. It was like a new planet, to start again. At the end of the eighteenth century this innovation took up a new meaning: North America was the ground for a new experiment in government, the first modern democracy. In the nineteenth century a tremendous continental expansion took place. In the twentieth century technological innovation was so fascinating that it was common to say that what happened in America would only be possible a generation later in Europe. Of course there were drawbacks: after WWI it took ages for the US to shake fee from the Great Depression; and even though the American sacrifice of WWII saved the world from totalitarianism, the Soviet Union hung on for more than 40 years, and could even outsmart the USA when it sent its first man into space. In 1989 what Reagan had called the evil empire was down, and it seemed that the USA had climbed to the top of the world to become now the only super-power. Some claimed that it was the end of history, but the dogs of hatred that had been unleashed caused the

GOP (Great Old Party) : The Republican Party.

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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maddening catastrophe: on September 11, 2001 the new millennium startedand after 10 years the US cannot seem to seriously overcome its multifaceted crisis. Let us go back to the beginnings: after Columbus. In 1515, the English had not started to settle in America, but the effects of the American Dream could already be felt: in Utopia, or : the Happy Republic, Thomas More coined the word utopia: a world that is nowhere, or that is the reverse of this world. America opens up territories on which something else can be attempted. The world is not closed and finished after all, there is room for social experiment. This new world need not be the prisoner of a history of violence and warmaybe this is where the kingdom of God can be established? A new Atlantis?
The Mexican historian Edmundo OGorman influentially wrote in 1958 that America was invented before it was discovered, demonstrating that Europeans had long imagined a mythical land of marvels and riches they then projected onto the unfamiliar terrain. This projection was not always positive. The common representation of a virgin land waiting to be explored, dominated, and domesticated relegates the natural world to the passive, inferior position then associated with the feminine. The French naturalist George Louis Leclerc de Buffon even argued in 1789 that since the region was geologically newer, its very flora and fauna were less developed than Europes.2

There is a sense that there is something exceptional about America. This sense was obviously shared by the immigrants who had decided to cut off their bonds with the mother-country to start a new life in America. They has to believe that it was worth the sacrifice. From the beginning, America was about this tension between the dream and the accomplishment, imagination and reality, and so the first writers in America had to describe what the American experience was about. Popular imagery associated the American continent with the Indiansthat is what you see on the beautiful ceiling of the Chiesa di Sant Ignazio in Rome, painted in 1682 by Andrea Pozzo, or at roughly the same period in the allegorical statue of America standing a few miles away form here in the gardens of Versailles .

Kirsten Silva Gruesz, America, Keywords for American Cultural Studies http://keywords.fordhamitac.org/keyword_entries/america_full.html Sept. 10, 2011

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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The wonder of America is projected on the figure of the Native Americanand the exoticism rubs off on the European colonists. The European visitors to America find different people even in colonial times, although the settlers obviously came to America with their prejudice, their European ideologies and religions, their books, their clothes, their customs. As Bradbury puts it, They came to the new world with European issues in their heads, and these issues, values and historical awareness were to be projected unto America. But in those remote centuries months are necessary to cross between the continents, and so it is impossible for the most authoritarian regime to keep its grip on the colonies. The UK mostly leaves the colonists to their own deviceit does not really matter with these areas largely populated by convicts, poor people, or puritans. What is really important is the sugar plantation of the Caribbean sugar islands. These early visitors were amazed by a country with no aristocracy, with a certain equality in conditions. Land is plentiful. The colonists seem to live in the kind of state of nature that the philosophers of the enlightenment idealize. If the colonists brought their old prejudice from Europe, it seems to have flourished there, as if America was a gift of God to start anew, to try again the principles and values from which Europe had departed. 1.2 A Mirror for Europe While the Europeans look at America as the mirror of their failure, the Americans still value how the Europeans see them. When he drafts the Declaration of Independence in 1776 Jefferson addresses the nations of the old world, reminding them of the principles their philosophers have outlined in the eighteenth century:

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

America is a country whre people from Europe, with the same cultural legacy, the same beliefs, the same religious creeds, the same political traditions, manage to create the land of the free, as the national anthem will later put it. To the Europeans, it can be seen as a laboratory to show the Europeans that they too could become the masters of their destiny. 1.3 A history of literature?
The colonial period (1620-1765) Pre-romanticism, revolution and the early Republic (1765-1820) Romanticism and national identity : the American Renaissance (1820-1865) Reconstruction, Realism and naturalism (1865-1910) The moderns (1910-1945) From modernism to postmodernism

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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2 Colonial America : The Pilgrim Fathers


Let us look at the earliest writers before we consider some major trends in the Amercian tradition, already observed in some features of these early works. 2.1 American Primer
The "New England Primer" was the most common textbook for children in colonial America. It is claimed that 5 million copies of the primer were sold, which reflects the importance of literacy for the settlers, but also the belief that literacy should not be wasted on idle reading. It is often presented as the beginning of American culture. But the Puritan legacy is not all there is to 17th century North America. The practical interest of reading was not limited to the praise of God.

2.2 Histories and Chronicles of New England


It all started with narratives: the explorers and the first colonists were eager to share their experience. It was also a matter of good communication: by presenting the American adventure under attractive lights, they were more likely to get help from their government, more likely to attract dynamic people to populate the new colonies. Other motivations worked themselves in, as we shall see. Captain John Smith. A Description of New England, 1616 the founder of the colony at Jamestown, Va., in 1607, was arguably the first in a long line of chroniclers. His narrative is mainly remembered for creating the myth of Pocahontas. William Bradford History of Plymouth Plantation (1630-1651) Histoire de la Colonie de Plymouth, ed. Lauric Henneton. You can visit the reconstructed "Plimoth Plantation" , Mass., or at least visit their interesting web-site. The Puritan colonists in New England were especially eager to situate their history. To them, it had to be placed in a religious context. It was important to remind everyone of the reasons why the Pilgrim Fathers had left England, and of the basic principles on which their society was based their commonwealth, founded on the famous Mayflower Compact3. Early on, they felt threatened by dissidents, such as Thomas Morton (Hawthorne told of this confrontation between Morton's companions and the Puritans in "The May-Pole of Merry Mount", 1836), but they became really nervous when the new generations' faith showed signs of weakeningand it was time to start a witch-hunt to root out the devil.

The text of the "Mayflower Compact" can naturally be found in many places on the internet. Here is a serious source: http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/mayflower.htm

Introduction to American Literature Jacques Pothier


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Universit de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines


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Cotton Mather. The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693); Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) After the crisis, the religious leaders of the community found an urgent necessity to tell about it: they had to explain that all this happened because of God's will. For the Puritans, who were Calvinists, God's providence could not be controlled by man. They were completely in the hands of God, and no amount of good works could save a sinner if God had decided to withdraw his grace. The sinners had to feel in a state of permanent unrest, and the only thing they could do was read the Bible and look for signs that God supported them. Typology stems from the idea that the Bible tells of God's continuous purpose in history: the salvation of the chosen people. Just as the old Testament provided types for events in the New Testament (Jonah for three days in the belly of the big fish Christ's resurrection on the third day), the Bible provided the type for the history of the New Englanders as God's new elected people in the new Canaan, the promised land that was America. In The Christian Philosopher, Cotton Mather himself showed an interest in scientific learning. But his interest in Nature is not that of the scientists as they were getting used to working in the 18th century and as we are still seeing them now. While scientists describe what happens in nature and try to work out how the natural causes and effects, Mather will try to understand why God's Nature behaves the way it does. Scientific thought must not be allowed to weaken the faith that it is the Puritan divines' mission to uphold. So the authority of the Church must be upheld with reason if possible, with force if necessary. The community must stick together, and it is important to defend a society. All the members cannot be held by the Covenant of Grace, as the first settlers were (all those who were united in the grace of God); but they are no longer united in the Church Covenant (the visible union of the saints) or the civil covenant (the city). In the "Wonders of the Invisible World", Mather does not so much charge society's enemies as he tries hard to defend society against the devil's attacks. The point to be made is that whatever the inhabitants' faults (i.e. sins), the Commonwealth of New England represents God's will, and that the individual should obey. Mather writes at a time when the authority of the church on the colony has been eroding. The authorities of New England try to appeal to history (an interpretation of the past) to support their legitimacy.

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Mather looks into the Bible for the type of their struggle. He finds two types: the plight of the Hebrews, and the plight of the early chritians. Mather' mission is to read Nature (God's second book) to make God's plot plain to the Americans. He wants to show that the witches are the instrument of a devil's plot to destroy the community. Mather claims that the devil himself must have known the cosmic symbolical significance of the Pilgrims: an essential stage of the eternal war between good and evil is being fought in New England. It is therefore logical that the more NE prospers, the more it is attacked b the devil and its agents.4 God's ambition for the people of New England was so great, He had such great things to achieve through the New Englanders, that the devil was naturally enraged against the colony and particularly active to bring them down. The battle is so intense in NE that you have to take sides. As Miller puts it in The Crucible, "The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone..." The New-Englanders, are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devils Territories; and it may easily be supposed that the Devil was Exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a people here accomplishing the Promise of old made unto our Blessed Jesus, That He should have the Utmost parts of the Earth for His Possession. There was not a greater Uproar among the Ephesians, when the Gospel was first brought among them, then there was among, The Powers of the Air (after whom those Ephesians walked) when first the Silver Trumpets of the Gospel here made the Ioyful Sound. The Devil thus Irritated, immediately try'd all sorts of Methods to overturn this poor Plantation: and so much of the Church, as was Fled into this Wilderness, immediately found, The Serpent cast out of his Mouth, a Flood for the carrying of it away. I believe, that never were more Satanical Devices used for the Unsetling of any People under the Sun, than what have been Employ'd for the Extirpation of the Vine which God has here Planted, Casting out the Heathen, and Preparing a Room before it, and causing it to take deep Root, and fill the Land; so that it sent its Boughs unto the Attlantic Sea Eastward, and its Branches unto the Connecticut River Westward, and the Hills were covered with the Shadow thereof. But, All those Attempts of Hell, have hitherto been Abortive, many an Ebenezer has been Erected unto the Praise of God, by His Poor People here; and, Having obtained Help from God, we continue to this Day.

The change of attitude towards Indians is interesting: at first the Puritans had obtained financial help to convert them. But they soon decided that it was impossible to convert them. A short step before they were considered the agents of Satan, and then killing them off was considered "a divine slaughter" performed by the English on behalf of the Lord.

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Apocalyptic readings of history live on to 2005: the example of the Left Behind series <www.leftbehind.com>.

2.3 Writing in early colonial America


For the Puritans, writing should not be an idle task: it should be useful: need to express and teach faith, give examples. Writing is historical, biographical, pedagogical, and always religious: Histories and Chronicles of New England Sermons (Increase Mather, John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, later Jonathan Edwards) Biographies and Diaries (Mary Rowlandson) However, more secular voices can be heard, following English trends, as in Poetry (Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor)

2.4 The Puritan Legacy


Puritans were by far the older founders, but considered with a mixture of awe and rejection. They are very present in American literature Washington Irving "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" Ichabod Crane is a typical yankee self-made man, with little reverence for what was there before. He represents the democratic man, modern science against the old-fashioned inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow who cling to old Dutch ways. But his two favorite books are the New England Almanac and Cotton Mather's History of Witchcraft. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1950); The House of the Seven Gables (1851) Arthur Miller, The Crucible (1953)

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3 Major Trends: the American Tradition


cf. Histoire Naturelle by Buffon: an organized, rational narrative to make sense of a chaotic reality and find its inner structure. Finding what is exceptional about the literary experience of literature, as Noah Webster wanted to prove that a linguistic identity was emerging, that would cause the American language to differ completely from the English model. The literature and culture of the USA is not that of a language, it belongs to a country. To some extent, English literature is about the human condition in general, but in the English language, whereas American literature tends to be about what it means to be American. See the choice of titles in the Library of America and compare it with the titles in, say, La Pliade. In the twentieth century, several critics have tried to define this American tradition in literature. D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 1923: The old American art-speech contains an alien quality, which belongs to the American continent and to nowhere else. There is a new voice in the old American classics. The world has declined to hear it, and has babbled about children's stories. Why? Out of fear. The world fears a new experience displaces so many old experiences. And it is like trying to use muscles that have perhaps never been used, or that have been going stiff for ages. It hurts terribly. Lawrence says the basic reason why the first American colonists have wanted to come to America instead of staying in England has been to get away. Not to get away from oppression: to get away from the European spirit. They want no masters, sure enough; but they don't want the new humanism of Europe either and he is obviously thinking of the Puritans. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom. The shout is a rattling of chains, always was. Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the depest self likes. And there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving. ... You have got to pull the democratic and idealistic clothes off American utterance, and see what you can of the dusky body of IT underneath. Frederick O. Matthiessen The American Renaissance (1941) Others will follow, taking on several motives as the defining features of the American literary experience:

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The romance of the west for Henry Nash Smith (1950)5, The American Adam for R W B Lewis (1955)6, Technology and wild nature for Leo Marx (1964)7.

They are multidisciplinary books that explain the great myths explaining the American imagination. The great works of the American tradition are mined for myths and symbols to explain what a society thinks.

3.1 American Incarnation: "l'espace amricain"8


New world no history, no leagacy (provided one forgets about the European past and the early American past, which is undocumented anyway). The incarnation of a dream. To its European settlers, America did not connote society, or history, but indeed in its natural parameters, geography. America was a avatar of the world prior to feudalism and, in the sense that it still awaited its primal molding, it was anterior to the old world's divisions. Responding only to nature (as it had no history), American civilization remained at one with it and embodied nature's laws organically, as the adult embodies the child rather than as a painting representing a landscape. The European immigrant who became an American saw himself not as entering a better society but as leaving society altogether.9 Jefferson has the intuition that America will remain democratic as long as there is land to give out to newcomers. As a free landlord, each American will have a stake in maintaining his society, will have an interest in making sure that it works. Cf Henry Hathaway "How the West Was Won" (see IMDB10). This incarnation in space is mediated by the motive of the road.

3.2 On the Road


Cf. Ptillon, Pierre-Yves. La grand-route : espaces et criture aux EtatsUnis. Paris : Editions du Seuil, 1979. See The Pilgrim's Progress de John Bunyan (1678-1679): time as a road. The quest for God as a personal experience.

Henry Nash Smith. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. Cambridge, Mass., 1950. R.W.B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1955. 7 Leo Marx. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964. 8 Pierre-Yves Ptillon "L'espace amricain". Grand atlas des littratures. Encyclopaedia Universalis, 1990, 236-239. 9 Myra Jehlen, American Incarnation: the Individual, the Nation, and the Continent. Harvard UP: 1986, pg. 5. 10 IMDB, or the Internet Movie Data Base, mine de renseignements sur le cinma.
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Metaphorically, the American experience is a journey, away from a wellmapped space to a blank space. In Poe's Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym (1837-8) the hero leaves the hold of a ship in which he was hidden, and the ship he is on drifts to the whiteness of the Southern continent, which is inscribed with strange hieroglyphs. In Moby-Dick, the first pages of the novel are devoted to fragments got from all the books of the cultural history of the world which dealt with whales. But that is before the story starts: when the story does start, the protagonist explains that he embarked on his whaling voyage because he was fed up with the world (see chapter 1). He did not know what he was looking for: but when he got on the whaler, he learnt that they were looking for a blank whale blank like a page. There is a fascination for the escape from cultural texts, from cultural patterns, to a blank surface: see "Bartleby".

3.3 The New Adam


Columbus: America's history began with an egg the egg that Columbus swore that he could stand on one of its ends. It also began with a fraud, since in order to make the egg stand he had to break its shell. The purity of origins the egg is symbolically spoiled by the stain of sin the fall. An interesting aspect of America's relationship with the issue of origins is its contradictory attitude to the issue of origins, heritage. fatherhood. As we shall see, throughout the history of America, there has been a debate about "the Founding Fathers". But who were those first Americans? Were they the "Pilgrim Fathers" who came on the Mayflower in 1620? Were they the "Founding Fathers" who declared independence and created the United States in 1776? These are only some of the most frequent legacies which have been claimed. But others, such as Thomas Jefferson himself, claimed that the real ancestors of the American experience were the Saxons who lived in Britain before it was invaded by the Normans, before it was corrupted by the European influence of the language and the feudal system. This obsession launches another important issue in American literature. Isn't the American hero, the American everyman, an orphan looking for his real father? Many American heroes are orphans: they have been raised by aunts, uncles or adopting families; they are teenagers who have broken free from their family bonds: Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876) Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884) Jay Gatsby (Francis Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby,1925) Nick Adams (Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time, 1925) Bigger Thomas (Richard Wright, Native Son, 1940),

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Frankie Adams (Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding, 1946) Augie March (Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March, 1953) Marco Stanley Fogg (Paul Auster, Moon Palace, 1989)...

By running away from family bonds, the American hero is also attempting to be his own origin. He seems to be shaking free from the chains of previous generations. In The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne has a character complain: Shall we never, never get rid of the past? It lies upon the present like a giant's dead body! In fact, the case is just as if a young giant were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying about the corpse of the old giant his grandfather, who died a long while ago, and only needs to be decently buried....11 Compare with the destiny of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter (1850). In a tale he wrote a few years before, "Earth's Holocaust" (1844), he imagines a whole crowd setting fire to a pile of relics of the past: this tale is an apologue of the idea that it should be possible to get rid of all the previous experience to start from scratch. The next generation should not feel bound by laws and political organization which had been set up by their forebears. Many American heroes will also try to recreate themselves, to experience again what it is like to find oneself in primeval nature. To European immigrants, American nature was a unique experience: unlike in Europe where there was hardly any experience of a natural landscape, it was still possible to see unspoiled scenery. Americans dream of the self-made-man, and admire self-made-men: see Nick Carraway in The Geat Gatsby (see course manual). But more often than not of course, the self-made man is a fraud like Jay Gatsby. Gatsby really recreated his character, forsaking his real name James Gatz. here is how the narrator of The Great Gatsby comments on him: I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people his imagination had never really accepted them s his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end. (pg. 105)

11

Quoted by Richard Warrington Baldwin Lewis, The American Adam, p. 17.

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So much to comment! how the dream of the new Adam is soiled by the vulgar reality; how the dream world of Cindarella is recreated as Disney World or any other fake realitythink of The Truman Show.

3.4 The Eye


But with Gatsby's vulgar and gaudy recreation of himself we can be introduced to something else what Richard Poirier has called"The Visionary Possession of America."12 The vastness of American space is something you experience through the eye: a continent to see before you possess it or isn't it that it is only by seeing you can ever possess? You see it as the dream comes true. Gatsby again (Nick Carraway, the narrator, conjures up the vision of the Dutch discoverers, the first Europeans who saw the island of Manhattan this is the last page of the novel): ... as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailor's eyes a fresh, green breast of the new world. . . . for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. Emerson's intuition: " I become a transparent eye-ball" ("Nature")

12

Richard Poirier, A World Elsewhere: the Place of Style in American Literature (1966)

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4 From the Enlightenment to a National Literature


4.1 The Age of Enlightenment
Symbolized by two men, born three years from each other: Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) Leader of the Great Awakening Apparent contradiction between the religious faith of the Puritans and a new, rational outlook on nature brought by the scientists of the 18th century. Continuing interest in sermons, such as Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God". Emphasis on a personal experience of religion rather than on the coherence of the religious congregation. The preacher attempts to move his audience by playing on their emotions. He was a religious man, but also a man who valued knowledge and science, and he believed that man could be improved. From Isaac Newton, Edwards borrowed the concept that the harmonious working of the universe reflected the magnificence of "the Great Geometrician" or God. As a minister, he tries to check what he sees as the decline of faith: his ringing sermons seek to create a revival of faith. He is still an American millenarist reading signs and types for a coming American regeneration of mankind, but he considers the additional scientific evidence which supplements typological evidence. More than ever, Nature is a symbolic system which man must interpret: a frame of mind which foreshadows the romantic spirit, and also the transcendental spirit. Emerson will say that "Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." Edwards wants to make Puritanism viable for his time, by settling it on a strong theoretical, philosphical basis. He is not content like Mather to rest on biblical scholarship, but aims to respond to what the scientists are seeing. He tries to respond to the question of affectivity in faith. He stresses the emotional side of religion, the psychology of subjective experience. He agreed with John Locke in the concept that ideas are generated by sense impressions knowledge must be supplemented by faith. He believed in the intuitive process - a person must passively surrender to receive grace through senses. One cannot achieve saving grace through a rational process. By so doing, he implicitly weakens institutional authority regeneration was not certified by church, but by ones own emotional conviction. It bypassed doctrinal orthodoxy the converts immediate sense of participating in spiritual reality rendered intellectual formulations less significant. It made religion more popular it is easier to experience emotional excitement than rational understanding.

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A more personal, individual religious experience. It made religion more democratic by emphasizing the individual experience of conversion, and the equal capacity of everyone, child or adult, rich or poor, ignorant or wise, to be touched by the inner experience of grace. Edwards' theology can agree with the antinomian heresy that the Puritans had condemned with Ann Hutchinson. It made religion trans-colonial -- breakdown of distinctions between church and creed, it encouraged the proliferation of sects which led to vagueness in doctrine, laxness in discipline, and faded into general religious indifference. It gave rise to a community organized in pursuit of secular values. To a certain extent Edwards was the last great Puritan preacher: he still represented the need to explain God's works in nature. But he was also genuinely interested in the sciences. The Great Awakening is the name given to a religious revival in 1730s which marked a departure from Puritan theology. Fresh approaches Other chronicles or essayists had emerged in the colonies, which were not all Puritan. One can take the example of William Byrd from Virginia, who had the largest library in the colonies and had been educated in Europe. He knew Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and Italian. He was a friend of many of the intellectuals of the English Restoration. To Byrd, American life may be hard, but it is promising; he is optimistic that it will be possible to free America from wildness and to raise it to civilization through human progress, energy, character. And not to reach God's millenium. Byrd is exploring the frontier and the interior of the continent, he is interested in everything, but he doesn't know what to make of it. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) The Age of Reason Born in Boston, he has imbibed the Puritan spirit. Even if he split in time between Europe and Philadelphia, he remained a Puritan in spirit, with a taste for self-scrutiny and an interest in self-improvement and the improvement of others. But his Puritan conscience was free from Biblical reference: for him, the question of the spiritual has turned into a question of ethics, a technique of efficient self-management and public efficiency. He is a pragmatic, who believes that is is much better to do than to speak. If he thinks about the laws of nature, it is because he wants things to work better for man. His autobiography shows an optimistic ambition to start from scratch and work out an ideal rule of life which might be of use to others beside himself. Like many later figures in American literature, he is a self-made man. His Poor Richard Almanack (1733-58) is an annual collection of practical farming advice, popular wisdom and miscelaneous advice.

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Franklin is not a fiction writer, but a man of action. He is famous for his discoveries on electricity, but he really became rich because of his talent as a writer. He was a scientist, an inventor, a musician, an economist, a politician of all the founding fathers, he is the only one who participated in the drafts of The Declaration of Independence, the treaty between France and the American Colonies at the beginning of the War of Independence, the Treaty of Paris which put an end to it and the Constitution of 1787. Most important, maybe, Franklin was the first PR expert in the history of the American media. He understood that to be successful it was quite enough to contrive things so people could believe that you were successful. Franklin may embody the practical, resourceful Yankee. He is not interested in general theory; in spite of his tremendous political influence he does not try consciously to create the American man. One of the foremost actor in this enterprise is James Hector St John de Crvecoeur (1785-1813). Like James Hector St John Crvecoeur (1735-1813) , Thomas Jefferson emphasizes that the asset of the American is that he is a farmer who is not alienated from the earth. He is closer to the state of nature. If there is a continuity between the Old World and the New, then the Americans should look at the way of life of the old Saxons before the Norman conquest. In the New World, they could learn from the simplicity of the native Americans.

4.2 American Gothic


The exploration of the darker side is the subject of another course you can take in the second semester, so I can only sketch it in very broad strokes here. Charles Brockden Brown may be considered as the father of American fiction. His novels are full of deceptions, and it is often found that sense impressions are misleading., that reason and faith are unstable guides. Moral ambiguity is everywhere. This is mainly an inner landscape. The American pastoral is shown to have a dark side to itself. Brown was a father to American fiction because he gave anew turn to the European novel he inherited. The American novel tended to be less concerned with society, its institutions, its manners, its classes, and more with the world of the imagination. This American brand of novel-writing was what Hawthorne referred to as "romance": see his famous Preface to The House of the Seven Gables: WHEN A WRITER calls his work a romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former--while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to
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laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart--has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights, and deepen and enrich the shadows, of the picture. He will be wise, no doubt, to make a very moderate use of the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle the marvellous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the public. He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime, even if he disregard this caution. For Leslie Fiedler, the flight from civilization and women leads to narratives of existential self-discovery on the frontier, where (R. W. B. Lewis) the American Adam lives in metaphysical rather than social space. Some critics and readers have argued that this fascination for the power of blackness is as European as American, but at any rate it is set against a mood of optimism and belief in the American Dream. It is by contrast that this mood is peculiarly American. Rip van Winkle (The Sketch-Book, 1819-1820) Stepping aside to watch one's society from the side: the emblematic American condition. Like Ichabod Crane, Rip is independent. An alternative to the self-mademan. Rip is definitely not a man on the move. He does not believe that God put you on earth to build his kingdom. He is a Pilgrim without progress. His family dates back from the first colonists of Dutch New Amsterdam: he has his roots in the famous fathers of the colony. But he didn't inherit their spirit of enterprise. He is a good natured peasant, getting along with his neighbours. He would be quite happy if he did not have this quarrelsome wife who keeps telling him to get moving, work, produce. The story derives from a German original, but Dame van Winkle was Irving's invention. "The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor." He is not interested in Ben Franklin's Gospel of success. But he is a good neighbor, always ready to give a hand to his neighbors' wife, to play with the children, to go fishing with them. in a word, Rip was ready to attend to anybody's business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, it was impossible. In fact, he declared that it was no use to work on his farm; it was the most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole country; everything about it went wrong, and would go wrong in spite of him. His fences were continually falling to peices; his cow would either go astray, or get among the cabbages; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields than anywhere else; the rain always made a point of setting in just as he had some out-door work to do.

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Now is Rip miserable for all that: a bad farm, a quarrelsome wife? Not at all. He takes the world easy. The Ben Franklin of the household is his wife: hard-working, well-kept, frugal, thrifty, she is the opposite of wasteful Rip. When things get too stormy at home, Rip takes his gun and his dog and goes hunting. Or he goes to the inn, where there is a kind of male club wo can gossip the lazy time of the day away, reading and commenting on the newspapers. Because oh yes, they are interested in politics. Eventually Rip is turned out of this last shelter by that terrible wife of his. No escape but in the woods with his dog. Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only alternative to escape from the labor of the farm and the clamour of his wife , was to take gun in hand, and stroll away into the woods. Leslie Fiedler13 sees this escape as foreshadowing today's fishing trip with the boys: cf "So Much Water so Close to Home" Ray Carver, or "The Dear Hunter". When he wakes up after 20 years and gets back to the village without knowing that he has slept 20 yearsfor it was a retreat, not a comploete escapethings have changed. He is like Ulysses coming back afer the same 20 years, but Ulysses found his old servant Eumaeus who helped him get rid of Penelope's suitors. Unlike Eumeaeus's dog to Ulysses, the dog he meets does not recognize him; his wife has disppeared. The Revolution took place while he was sleeping, and the head painted on the sign of the inn is the same , but the name under it has changed; it is no longer King George, but George Washington. The people have become busy, agitated. They are getting very excited about a thing they call vote. It takes him some time and a few blunders to understand what happened. The world has changed , but gradually he resumes his place at the village inn, and only one revolution took place as far as he was concerned: "he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in nd out whenever he pleased." Actually, his story now makes him an attraction in the village and he is very popular again. Quiet though he is , Rip is the paradigm of the American hero who leaves his home and does not find it when he comes back. He is torn between looking away/ looking westward, and looking homeward. And so he finds himself between two worlds and belonging to none.

The same adventure happens to Hawthorne's "Wakefield", who one day has the impulse to leave his home, settle in a neighboring house to watch it from outside, without being seen, for 20 years. The world outside may be a blank space, but the home yu go back to is also erased, impossible to recover.

13

Love and Death in the American Novel, 34

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4.3 Edgar Allan Poe


For Emerson, the poetic imagination allows the poet to see cosmic order and the Over-Soul through the beauty of Nature. But to Poe the imagination of beauty gives access to dangerous secrets; it reveals a destructive truth. The poetic imagination deconstructs the material world, but to offer an unstable world. To Poe, the meaning of the work of literature, ideally of the poem, is completely within its material, technical composition. It doe not lie in the external truth to which it "refers". Poe does not follow many of his neoPlatonist contemporaries in believing that there is a necessary link between what is aesthetically beautiful and what is morally true. In his first collection of poems he defends "indefiniteness " and music. A tale is constructed to achieve a certain effect. Rational organization of a set of causes and effects make him the forerunner of the contemporary short story, especially of the tale of the supernatural and the detective story. The godfather of the Southern Gothic; his comes less from a regional awareness than from a perpetual sense of psychic and geographical estrangement. Poe has trouble finding a public; it did not help that he thought the Americans relentlessly uncultivated. In spite of Charles Brockden Brown, Poe often sets the gothic atmosphere of his tales in the old world: Poe is not interested in being labelled an American writer, and he is not nationalistic in his choice of settings.

4.4 James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)


... [T]hat the field of investigation opened to us by our own country should differ essentially from those which exist in Europe, may be readily conceived. The sources of amusement to the fancy and instruction to the heart that are peculiar to ourselves are equally numerous and inexhaustible. It is the purpose of this work to profit by some of these sources; to exhibit a series of adventures growing out of the condition of the country. (Charles Brockden Brown, preface to Edgar Huntly(1799): As counterparts to the Gothic castles, Charles Brockden Brown claims, "the incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of the western wilderness are far more suitable." Cooper was probably the fist American novelist to achieve international fame. Five novels, like his friend Thomas Cole's five stages in the history of civilization (see The Course of Empire http://pasleybrothers.com/jefferson/course_of_empire.htm ).

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The order of events is different from the order of composition: The Pioneers; or the Sources of the Susquehanna [set: 1793] (published: 1823); The Prairie: A Tale [1804] (1827) ; The Last of the Mohicans: A Tale of 1757 (1826) ; The Pathfinder; or, the Inland Sea (1840); The Deerslayer; or, the First War Path [set in early 1740s] (1841). Cooper creates a national mythology: The West The lone ranger / hunter (cf. Rip van Winkle), as he is reinterpreted in cult movies like Deliverance (1972), The Deer Hunter (1978), Into the Wild The Indian as ambiguous other

The wilderness Cooper's characters live at the edge of the state of New-York. They express the encounter between civilized man and the savages. "Unlike the mountains in Cole's Course of Empire, the mountains of Cooper's early novels, symbolizing America rather than God, themselves change with the progress of civilization's seasons."14 In the five novels of the Leatherstocking Tales , Natty Bumppo embodies the German romantic hero who has made his pact with nature and the forest. "A hero in space" not time, as R. W. B. Lewis has called him, apart from time and history. In Cooper, the greatness of the American landscape, of American nature, becomes almost a character. See Thomas Cole's painting of Last of the Mohicans. The landscape makes a moral point, emphasizing wisdom and eternity. The greatness of the landscape opens up the mind of the American man to the greatness of his creator: this is an idea we shall find again with the Transcendentalists. The American hero The words are shown to be ambiguous: the white conqueror is often wilder than the Red-skin wild man. But the white hero, Leatherstocking, is a white man who adopts the virtues of the Indians by living with them. He embodies the American as the new man he had dreamt of becoming. Jefferson had also praised the greatness of American Indian chiefs. The description Cooper gives of his Deerslayer could apply to more than one hero of the wild west:

14

Ian Marshall, "Cooper's 'Course of Empire': Mountains and the Rise and Fall of American Civilization in The Last of the Mohicans, The Spy, and The Pioneers." George A. Test, ed., James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art (Oneonta: State University College of New York, 1989), 55-66. Available: http://www.oneonta.edu/~cooper/articles/suny/1989suny-marshall.html

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His rifle was in perfect condition, the handle of his hunting knife was neatly carved, his powder horn was ornamented with suitable devices lightly cut into the material, and his shot-pouch was decorated with wampum.15 The insistance on state of the art weaponry and equipment ties up with the American trust in technology. This good equipment is the pride of male heroes such as Lewis in the novel by James Dickey, Deliverance (1972). In The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), Stanley also takes his game seriously. He sneers at a friend of his for being less of a man: "Every time he comes up here, he's got no knife, he's got no jacket, he's got no pants, he's got no boots. All he's got is that stupid gun he carries around like John Wayne." This may mark the retrun to American values after the chaotic trauma of Vietnam. The American other The Red Skin Indian is a character uniquely American: he gives a distinctly American flavor to Cooper's novels, a type that the writers of the old world are interested in. Chateaubriand borrows this exotic type from his visit to the United Sates (Attala et Ren). Balzac is also keenly interested in Cooper's Indians, and he reads all the translations of Cooper's novels which come out in France shortly after the American original (By the way, not the last of many expatriates, Cooper spends several years in Paris and witnesses the Revolution of 1830). Ironically, Balzac will refer to Cooper's Indians to suggest how primitive the people of celtic Brittany can be: Une incroyable frocit, un enttement brutal, mais aussi la foi du serment: l'absence complte de nos lois, de nos moeurs, de notre habillement, de nos monnaies nouvelles, de notre langage, amis aussi la simplicit patriarcale et d'hroques vertus s'accordent rendre les habitants de ces campagnes plus pauvres de combinaisons intellectuelles que ne le sont les Mohicans et les Peaux-Rouges de l'Amrique septentrionale, mais aussi grands, aussi russ, aussi durs qu'eux. La place que la Bretagne occupe au centre de l'Europe la rend beaucoup plus curieuse observer que ne l'est le Canada.16 However the Indian vanishes in the background after Cooper. Another figure of the other looms into view as the issue of slavery comes to the foreground. The fathers of the nation had decided to ignore the issue in the Constitution because they knew it would divide the North from the South, and the priority was to cement the Union. Throughout the first half of the century this figure of otherness becomes more and more important.

15 16

James Fenimore Cooper, Leatherstocking Tales, II (Library of America), 499. Honor de Balzac, Les Chouans (Pliade 8: 918).

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4.5 Myth and History of the New Nation


The American historical novel Cooper is aware that he writes a historical novel, that there is a "course of empire" to write about. He follows the example of Walter Scott, who made the historical novel fashionable in the previous generation. In an age of revolution, the historical novel proposes to make sense of the emerging nations by digging out their past through a medium which obeys the rules of similitude in an age which has ceased to believe in divine prodigies and miracles, rests on solid documentation, and retains the sense of plot of the forerunners of the English novel in the 18th century. Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables is his longest attempt at a historical sketch, since it is the only full length novel in which he parallels the original founders of New England and contemporary politicians. But his interest for history shows in a number of novels and historical sketches, such as "Main Street", published in 1849, in which he exposed "the sons and grandchildren of the first settlers " as clearly more narrow-minded than their progenitors. He concluded the sketch by thanking God that time is taking their successors further and further away form these miserable times.17 Looking for a Poet for the Nation In 1721 Bishop George Berkeley, a philosopher from Ireland: Essay towards Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain (1721) in which he complained of the corruption and degeneracy of life and art in England. In his disillusionment "Berkeley formed the plan of founding a college in Bermuda. With the decline of Europe, the only hope for the future of civilization lay in the British colonies in America. Berkeley proposed to do his part by moving to Bermuda and organizing a college for the education of both British colonists and Native Americans from the mainland. The spirit of the Bermuda project is nicely expressed in a poem Berkeley wrote at this time"[18], part of his 'Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America' (1726):

" America or The Muse's Refuge" A Prophecy

THE Muse, disgusted at an Age and Clime Barren of every glorious Theme, In distant Lands now waits a better Time, Producing subjects worthy Fame;
In happy climes, where from the genial sun And virgin earth such scenes ensue, The force of art by nature seems outdone, And fancied beauties by the true:

17

"Hawthorne's Politics" in Matthiessen, American Renaissance, 322 ss.

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There shall be sung another golden age, The rise of empire and of arts, The good and great inspiring epic rage, The wisest heads and noblest hearts. Not such as Europe breeds in her decay; Such as she bred when fresh and young, When heav'nly flame did animate her clay, By future poets shall be sung. Westward the course of empire takes its way; The four first Acts already past, A fifth shall close the drama with the day; Time's noblest offspring is the last. George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne
With "The Course of Empire": Berkeley was clearly adopting the old translation topos. Responding to Berkeley's call, there might have been an epic poem, and there may have been some, but it is prose which began to translate the mysteries of the New world. a) Joel Barlow and The Columbiad

An interesting case is that of Joel Barlow's attempt. In 1787, he had written The Vision of Columbus. A dialogue between Christopher Columbus and an angel, surveying human history. The angel argues that all human events including Columbus's discovery of America point to the future glory of America. In 1807 Barlow published a much revised version of his poem with a new title, The Columbiad. The new title symbolizes the claim of inheriting an epic tradition dating back to Homer's Iliad, but by adding many voices symbolizing the various social and political groups of the nation, and a lot of classical allusions and lengthy footnotes, Barlow fails to attract the wider, more democratic audience which he intended to reach.
b) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Evangeline: A Tale of Acadia (1847) The Song of Hiawatha (1855), "Paul Revere's Ride" (1861) In the epic slot, we should perhaps just remember Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, although even his contemporaries soon found him obsolete. He was a contemporary of Hawthorne, so we are shooting ahead. Longfellow resolved to provide his country with the native writing the age needed. he spoke for a poetry which drew its qualities form the spirit of the nation. Evangeline: A Tale of Acadia (1847) The Song of Hiawatha (1855), "Paul Revere's Ride" (1861)

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He is the nation's ballad writer. Longfellow is hardly remembered now, but he was vastly popular then, achieving worldwide fame. He became the embodiment of American poetry for the American public, and even to the world. But embodiment of the genteel tradition at the time when the role of poetry was changing, when the mission of poetry was not that of the poet laureate: ten years later Walt Whitman was going to replace him as the truly new American voice.

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5 The American Renaissance


Within the brackets of the Revolution and the Civil War, came the Golden Age of American Literature, a true "American Renaissance." In 1941 F. O. Matthiessen completes a groundbreaking study of the major American writer: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman. It is said that his student Harry Levin, not he, found the title: American Renaissance. That is how we have referred to this golden age of American literature ever since. An age of maturity, which could start with Emerson's claims in "Nature" (1836) and certainly ends with the Civil War.

5.1 Transcendentalism18: the Metaphysics of Nature


This age is celebrated by Charles Ives. The movements of the sonata are named after some of the foremost writers of this time and place. The cooling off of the Puritan inspiration makes room for new denominations at the end 18th-early 19th c., to accommodate a new spirit, more reasonable: unitarianism. The emphasis is henceforth laid on social virtues, playing down theology. The faithful are asked to have a positive attitude in the world to be decent, decorous persons. The sense of doom, of tragedy, decreases, while a sense of the values of the virtues is emphasized. During the first half of the XIXth c., the Unitarian churches spread, mainly in the Atlantic states. The Puritan churches lose the status they had as established churches. In the political agenda of the Unitarian churches, there is the abolition of slavery. The Unitarian's theology emphasizes a reasonable reading of the Bible: of course, the Bible reveals the sense of creation, but it should not be read too literally. Man has been made in God's image, and so the ways of God cannot contradict the working of man's mind, which is based on reason. God cannot contradict reason. romanticism Transcendentalism reacts against this mild, benevolent form of worship. They are not satisfied with the formality of traditional religion either. It is also (Perry Miller) a religious radicalism in revolt against a rational conservatism. The transcendentalists emphasize faith as opposed to understanding, revelation against scientific knowledge. They follow the romantic movement and the philosophy of Kant, filtered through Coleridge and Carlyle.

18

A great internet source on Transcendentalism is at Virginia Commonwealth University: http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/index.html

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Transcendentalism: a reaction against Unitarianism and the Lockean and Newtonean world view. Paradoxically, a return to Edwards and the Puritan tradition. Spirit of Romanticism. Emphasis on the power of imagination. The self and the universe The soul as spirit illuminated by the divine. Need for a private relation between the self and the universe. Transcendentalism claims that it goes back to the root of christianity. Idealism. It is an optimistic philosophy, which holds that there is a unity, a harmony between God and nature: mans nature is in harmony with the spirit of the Universe. In natural solitude, man can be led to truth through communion with nature. Intuition is the supreme way of knowledge. The whole of nature is only a metaphor of the human mind. God gives us Providences , or signs of His intention on us. self-reliance 1832: Emerson, descended from a long line of NE ministers, himself a Unitarian minister, resigns his ministry and pledges himself to a personal, non-institutional form of faith. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, -"But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. (from "Self-Reliance")19 The principle that everyone should listen to his or her inner voice speaks against the idea of a collective set of beliefs: one's life need only be guided by intuition; spiritual leadership is not desirable. A miscellany of ideas, some ethical, some metaphysical, rather than an organized metaphysical system.

19

http://www.rwe.org/comm/

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Emerson's Nature20 Men must free themselves from traditions and the weights of society and of the past, from rigid forms of behavior, from influences (esp. foreign: America should forge its own tradition). Emerson preaches self-reform and self-reliance. "Nature" 1836 has been called the nation's true declaration of literary independence. Emerson argues that There is a moment in the life of every nation . . . when . . . the perceptive powers reach their ripeness and have not yet become microscopic: so that man, at that instant, extends across the entire scale, and, with his feet still planted on the immense forces of night, converses with his eyes and brain with solar and stellar creation. That is the moment of adult health, the culmination of power. (Representative Men) Independence is the keynote: "The American Scholar" 1837: "the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. . . . Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself." Intuition should be substituted to tradition. Self-reliance is the key ethical concept. You must be true to yourself, i.e. to God in yourself. "L'crivain amricain mne la mme gurilla contre la taxinomie que ses anctres coloniaux contre les taxes et les impts" (Ptillon, 97) Nature also advocates a vision of the world: An ideal world coexists with the real world: noumena (the things of the mind) parallel phenomena (what presents itself to the eye). God is an energy, not a particular separate being. God breathes through nature, and man has to attempt to open himself up to this force, this flow. Divinity exists intimately in each natural fact, in each individual self. The universe is one great entity "composed of Nature and the Soul . . . Nature is the symbol of the spirit". Hence the quest for the best self one can imagine to merge in ultimate union with the transcendent Self, the "Over-Soul" (1841). In his lectures, Emerson challenges his audiences to see through the surfaces of the familiar world to the wondrous redemptive reality beyond. Reality is platonically hidden behind the veils of appearances. Every idea has its source in natural phenomena, and the attentive person can "see" those ideas in nature. Logical reasoning should be discarded, in favor of our ability to recognize the intuition of the inner voice .

20

See course handbook.

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This philosophy is optimistic and idealistic. Everything on earth has the divine "spark" within, and thus is a part of the whole. Each individual recognizes his own new world. The spiritual reflection of each person as they move from the rational to the spiritual is the very essence of life, and it is something that everyone should do for him/herself. Conversely the anti-transcendentalists felt humans were depraved and had to struggle for goodness. They believed sin to be an active force. They thought that nature was the possession of God and was beyond the understanding of man. Individualism was dangerous: left to his own devices, man was the prey to the worst tendencies of his nature. One of transcendentalism's most pregnant legacy is the capacity to wonder at the mystery of life, at this hidden half of nature that we can only dimly understand through the sciences. It is by embracing the smallest of miracles on a daily basis that we can begin to understand man's place in nature by looking at a mouse, a half-bloomed flower or, as Whitman's poetry suggests, a leaf of grass.

5.2 The Machine in the Garden


In July 1844, Nathaniel Hawthorne visited the woods near Concord, Massachusetts, waiting for "such little events as may happen." It seems to be a literary experiment of recording his impressions as precisely as possible. He wrote 8 pages of notebook. To begin with, Hawthorne described the setting of this place the neighbors called "Sleepy Hollow." no connection with Irving's. He first recorded in minute details what he saw nearby: how the light plays with the shadows of the trees, the sounds made by the birds, the leaves... Gradually his perception widens to the human sounds which may also be heard: a village clock striking, a cowbell, mowers whetting their scythes what he calls "sounds of labor". These human sounds, he notes, do not break the quiet of the scene, as if human society and natural landscape merged in harmony: there is no tension between man and his environment. But suddenly another sound breaks this harmony: But, hark! there is the whistle of the locomotive the long shriek, harsh, above all other harshness, for the space of a mile cannot mollify it into harmony. It tells a story of busy men, citizens, from the hot street, who have come to spend a day in the country village, men of business; in short of all unquietness; and no wonder that it gives such a startling shriek, since it brings the noisy world into the midst of our slumbrous peace.21 With the train gone and quiet restored, Hawthorne can return to the quiet contemplation of the natural world. Now, variants of the Sleepy Hollow episode have appeared everywhere in American writing since the 1840s. Most of the time, the machine appears suddenly.

21

Quoted in Leo Marx, 13.

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In Thoreau's Walden, the whistle of the locomotive is also heard, penetrating the woods. In Melville's Moby-Dick, a beached whale suddenly turns into the skeleton of a New England textile mill ("A Bower in the Arsacides", Penguin Classics 490). In Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Huck is peacefully cruising downriver on his raft when the monstrous figure of a steamboat bulges out of the night and smashes through the raft. Leo Marx: "indeed it is difficult to think of a major American writer upon whom the image of the machine's sudden appearance in the landscape has not exercised its fascination." Leaping forward to Star Wars and its recycling of century-old myths, you might note that Luke Skywalker and his friends are always helped by peoples that are close to nature, whereas Darth Vader and his rebel forces have their headquarters in the Death Star which is but an extraordinarily large machine. Good nature vs. bad machine: this would look like an environmentalist's dream avant la lettre: a variation on the classic opposition between two worlds, one identified with rural peace and simplicity, the other with urban power and sophistication. In ancient Rome Virgil created this type of symbolic landscape. Virgil's ideal pasturethe pastoral-- was set between two fragile borders: one separates it from Rome (the repressions entailed by civilization), the other from the encroaching marshland (the violence of nature): it is the best of both worlds "the sophisticated order of art and the simple spontaneity of nature." (Leo Marx, 22). Hawthorne's train introduces a more complex style of life, but it is also the real life, brought about by history. It typifies the interrupted idyll, but also the moment of discovery. The myth of Hawthorne's Sleepy Hollow means that Europeans go through a process of regeneration through the garden of the New world. They are reborn. They effect a fusion between nature and art, the community as garden. Hawthorne seems to figure both the realization of the myth together with the awareness of industrialization as counterforce to the myth. A clear-cut division between the world of nature and the world of the machine is foreign to the American spirit. After all, Luke Skywalker uses quite sophisticated technology. And, in the real world, the same Ronald Reagan (or George W. Bush) who liked a life close to nature, riding his horse on the range, was also allowing the mining industry to dig for the resources of federal park land to ensure that Americans can still live up to the dream of riding their SUV through the wilderness... Emerson and "Sleepy Hollow" Emerson, after Jefferson, develops a new, American pastoralism, which can already be seen at play in "Nature" version of

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Emerson is, after all, optimistic about technology. Technology is a good sign of the times which have shown the triumph of independence over the old inherited tyrannies. What seems difficult to understand for us is Emerson's romantic love of nature, joined with an enthusiasm for technological progress, and yet a contempt for the city. Charles Sheeler's paintings illustrate this American pastoralism: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/S/sheeler/american_landscape.jpg.html This paradox can be explained by the peculiar feature of the American geography: American national unity would be impossible without the transportation revolution and the technology that has made it possible. So the machine is not an intruder, but a magical force enhancing the values of nature. "Railroad iron is a magician's rod in its power to evoke the sleeping energies of land and water." (Leo Marx, 234) Like Th. Jefferson before him, Emerson is confident that in America, science and technology can be made to serve the rural ideal. The train makes it easier to conquer the vast spaces of the West, and to move away form the cities, their rigid, almost feudal, social ways. The true new man, the "Young American" he hopes for, will renounce the seduction of trade, of commerce, to look for the simpler joys of pastoral life.22 Ultimately, Emerson sees the whole continent turned into a garden. The new technology is welcome, but the dividing line runs between this new, American pastoral and the perverting cities. The cities have a bad influence on the country people, because the youth of the countryside tend to leave the countryside to come to town and be mingled with the riff-raff of immigrants from the old worlds, bringing in all the perversions of Europe. (Even for Europe, Emerson is confident that industrialization will have a positive role: there have been revolutions in Europe, there is a popular demand for more freedom, so he is optimistic about the good effects of industrialization as freeing the common man) the social role of the poet, of the artist: Reconciling art and nature Emerson recognizes the analogy between the political and aesthetic problems of the age. He sees the American intellectuals (who had never been in the forefront) as having to conquer the new territory being opened up by industrialization. If the new technology appears anti-poetic, it is because it hasn't been consecrated by writing yet. But there is nothing inherently ugly in machines and machinery. It is the duty of the artist, he thinks, to take into account the new reality and locate them at their proper place in the environment of man. Those things become part of nature they are not anti-poetic.

22

Cf. Rip van Winkle?

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What enables the transcendentalist movement to transform Am. Literature was the crucial relationship Emerson saw between his spiritual vision and the nature and social role of the writer. "Circles" (1841): Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle, through which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it. . . . we value the poet. All the argument and all the wisdom is not in the encyclopaedia, or the treatise on metaphysics, or the Body of Divinity, but in the sonnet and the play. In "The Poet" (1844) he expands this idea: poets summon true life through the lens of nature. the poet only seems to create meaning; actually he just sees through the surfaces that veil it. The poet is a seer who helps us see through our own eyes. The I / eye of self-reliance makes the first person voice of Thoreau or Whitman an echo of the Over-Soul.23 The poets are perceivers of a prior poem the universe itself: The poet is the sayer, the namer, and respresents beauty. . . . for the world is not painted, or adorned, but is from the beginning beautiful; and God has not made some beautiful things, but Beauty is the creator of the Universe. . . . For poetry was all written before time was . . . The present world, the American world, is present to the poet as material awaiting vision and the formulation, utterance, that allows it to be known: We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials, and saw, in the barbarism and materialism of the times, another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires in Homer. . . . Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, methodism and unitarianism, are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundation as the town of Troy, and the temple of Delphi, and are as swift passing away. Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes and Indians, . . . the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not long wait for metres. However, wait it must; Emerson tried his hand at poetry, but he did not pass down to us as a great poet. It was for other than he to sing the America he wanted sung. Jefferson and Emerson may have been looking for a way to create a new man out of the pastoral ideal into a new American society which would have found a way to avoid the pitfalls of cities to create a utopia: a society both advanced and rural. A society in which the pastoral dream might be embodied in social institutions.

See also Saul Bellow's Augie March: becoming a transparent eye recording fragments without organizing them, without giving them order ( Ptillon, 62)

23

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5.3

Thoreau and his Legacy24


One year after the publication of Emersons The Poet, on July 4th, Henry David Thoreau begins his experiment of personal independence, following his friend Emerson's ideas, and then years later Whitman publishes Leaves of Grass, drawing on Emerson's thought.

pragmatism When Thoreau begins to build his cabin near Concord on Emerson's estate at Walden Pond, we can be reminded of Emerson's essay on "SelfReliance". Here is how Thoreau explains his purpose: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living it so dear, nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life . . . (Walden, "What I Lived For) Thoreau assumes that you reach the truth of life by watching natural facts closely and describing them accurately. His approach is empiricist. Moreover, unlike earlier poets advocating pastoral life, Thoreau takes the choice of a simple life earnestly, seriously, not as a mere poetic convention. He is not writing about pastoral life, he is trying it. And he supplies plenty of hard facts (how much it costs, down to the last cent). With Thoreau, the pastoral middle ground between the wilderness and civilization is a narrow frontier, and he is actually much more in touch with true primal wildness than his European classic counterpart. Rather than settling in a middle ground, he is looking for ways not to choose between the wilderness and civilization. At the beginning of Walden, Thoreau diagnoses the reasons for his contemporaries' misery: there is a dehumanizing process in civilization, because of "economy", as system in which people live not to reach the goals they have chosen, but to serve the ends of the market. In short, "men have become the tools of their tools." Like Emerson, Thoreau does not reject machinery, but he cautions his contemporaries: the machine is not going to give us the solutions. As it is, "We do not ride upon the railroad; it rides upon us."

24

Visit the Walden Institute on line.

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An American rite of Spring At the end of a description of the sounds of a summer afternoon, the railroad bursts into our awareness, just as it had in Hawthorne's description of the same forest setting, but listen how quietly it merges with those sounds without any suggestion of a jarring interruption or intrusion: As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fish hawk dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the shore; the sedge is bending under the weight of the reed-birds flitting hither and thither; and for the last half-hour I have heard the rattle of railroad cars, now dying away and then reviving like the beat of a partridge, conveying travellers from Boston to the country. ("Sounds") The first reference to the railroad is followed by several paragraphs on the same subject. What to Thoreau seems to be at times positive, at other times negative. Thoreau is both hopeful and fearful about the steam-engine. The fact is that in the city men seem not to control the magnificent power of the machine, but from Walden one can see the promise of the new power. Thoreau's nature is happy with man. The railroad may have cut through hills, but nature is all the more manifest for it: Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the village, a phenomenon not very common on so large a scale, though the number of freshly exposed banks of the right material must have been greatly multiplied since railroads were invented. . . ("Spring"). Thoreau is a romantic admirer of nature. It is a platonic nature, through which you can see the work of the Creator from a privileged vantage point. Here you can see the Transcendentalist Thoreau: When I see on the one side the inert bank--for the sun acts on one side first--and on the other this luxuriant foliage, the creation of an hour, I am affected as if in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist who made the world and me-had come to where he was still at work, sporting on this bank, and with excess of energy strewing his fresh designs about. I feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the globe, for this sandy overflow is something such . . . as the vitals of the animal body. You find thus in the very sands an anticipation of the vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype. . . . ("Spring")

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Look at the style: this nature is metaphoric, it expresses itself; it is more an artist as much as it is an engineer ("prototype"). In fact, it is a 25 language to decipher, and Thoreau is anxious for a Champollion to decipher it for himthe old Puritan anxiety. Meanwhile, he plays with the words: the concern is, again, poetic: Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but patented a leaf. What Champollion will decipher this hieroglyphic for us, that we may turn over a new leaf at last? This phenomenon is more exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility of vineyards. True, it is somewhat excrementitious in its character, and there is no end to the heaps of liver, lights, and bowels, as if the globe were turned wrong side outward; but this suggests at least that Nature has some bowels, and there again is mother of humanity. This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side. In short Nature is so strong that it digests the machine, absorbs it. It becomes part of the American landscape. You can compare Nature to a machine just as Nature absorbs the machine: Fresh curls spring from the baldest brow. There is nothing inorganic. These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag of a furnace, showing that Nature is "in full blast" within. The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit--not a fossil earth, but a living earth; compared with whose great central life all animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic. Man and his machines, just like animal or vegetable life, is a superficial phenomenon compared to the natural energy of the soil, of the land. Thoreau's tone may sometimes sound like the romantic English poets with their moralized landscapes: The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever! The faint silvery warblings heard over the partially bare and moist fields from the bluebird, the song sparrow, and the red-wing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell! What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions, and all written revelations? The brooks sing carols and glees to the spring. The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire-- the symbol of perpetual youth, the grass-blade, like a long green ribbon, streams from the sod into the summer, checked indeed by the frost, but anon pushing on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the fresh life below. . So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity.

25

Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832) French Egyptologist & linguist, first deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics in 1798-1822.

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but let us not get carried away One would find it hard to derive Thoreau's message from his narrative of his stay at Walden pond. The narrative is inconclusive, at times ironical about the author's failure to extract an answer from the facts. In "Spring" for instance, Thoreau is not navehe can be ironical about the mood in which spring may put us: We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return. Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors. You may have known your neighbor yesterday for a thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, and merely pitied or despised him, and despaired of the world; but the sun shines bright and warm this first spring morning, recreating the world, and you meet him at some serene work, and see how it is exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy, and all his faults are forgotten. At the end of the winter in Walden, Thoreau records the birth of life. Are we witnessing a new beginning, a rebirth? The coming of spring, Thoreau writes, is "like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age." The important word is LIKE: this rebirth is rhetorical, it is a poetic figure. When he enjoys nature, Thoreau also enjoys the words to describe it. He likes to list the features of a natural scene, to play with the sounds of the words: he is the forerunner of the poet Walt Whitman. If there is meaning and value, Thoreau says that it does not reside in nature or in social institutions, but in the mind, in consciousness. Thoreau enjoys the material world, and this love is the source of his art. But the golden land is a private, literary experience. It does not even reflect Thoreau's personal desire, of he who writes "I think that I love society as much as most" ("Solitude"). The pastoral experience is a healthy cure (remember Franklin's advice toward individual improvement?), a retreat from the world, which is good for mental and moral well-beingnot an escape. Let's face it, there is something pleasant about a vacation in the wilderness: Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness--to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. ("Spring")

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Finally, the pastoral experience is a personal experience of retreat from the world, and it does not provide any clue to the nature of the American experience, except maybe that the removal from history is a recurring feature of American history. The key-word in this American experience may be escape, but an escape from which the American Everyman returns: the America that the American writer leaves to invent must be a terra incognita, a blank space a space in which he frees himself from the clutch of any power, British or not. Think of Herman Melville and his scrivener, "Bartleby": this writer, rather than copying or comparing writings for his conservative lawyer, prefers to stop writing, even if it means spending one's time watching a blank brick wall. The concluding line of "Spring", the last chapter of Walden, looks like the closing of a parenthesis: Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed; and the second year was similar to it. I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847. Thoreau's Politics There is something definitely quixotic about being an American. But the American Quixotte is a practical man. Thoreau was too much of a skeptic to engage in the utopian experiments of Bronson Alcott and others at Brook Farm, but he was quite involved in political and social subjects. He was a determined and vocal abolitionist. Rather than see his taxes pay for the Mexican War he disapproved of, he preferred to go to jail. More than anything in Emerson's heritage, Thoreau embodies the spirit of self-reliance. You can feel it in the description of this hawk in Walden: . . . . looking up, I observed a very slight and graceful hawk, like a nighthawk, alternately soaring like a ripple and tumbling a rod or two over and over, showing the under side of its wings, which gleamed like a satin ribbon in the sun, or like the pearly inside of a shell. This sight reminded me of falconry and what nobleness and poetry are associated with that sport. . . . It was the most ethereal flight I had ever witnessed. It did not simply flutter like a butterfly, nor soar like the larger hawks, but it sported with proud reliance in the fields of air; mounting again and again with its strange chuckle, it repeated its free and beautiful fall, turning over and over like a kite, and then recovering from its lofty tumbling, as if it had never set its foot on terra firma. It appeared to have no companion in the universe--sporting there alone--and to need none but the morning and the ether with which it played. ("Spring") The most lasting influence of transcendentalism on social action and intellectual history may have been Thoreau's doctrine of "Civil Disobedience" (1849). It guided Gandhi's campaign agaisnt British rule in India, then inspired resistance to segregation and the peaceful movement for Civil Rights in the 50s and 60s, and was used in the campaign against the Vietnam War.

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5.4 The Path to the Dark Side


"The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side" (Master Yoda in Revenge of the Sith) For all its optimistic, buoyant spirit, the American Renaissance was haunted by the "power of darkness". Melville saw it in his friend Hawthorneas all artists tend to do, he was also trying to define himself as he described Hawthorne: For spite of all the Indian-summer sunlight on the hither side of Hawthorne's soul, the other side like the dark half of the physical sphere is shrouded in blackness, ten times black . . . this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeal to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from Whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. ("Hawthorne and His Mosses") Melville has an agenda of literary politics behind this praise of Hawthorne. He wants to assert than America needn't be ashamed of its literaturethat American authors can rival with Shakespeare: But what sort of belief is this for an American, a man who is bound to carry republican progressiveness into Literature, as well as into Life? Believe me , my friends, that men not very much inferior to Shakespeare, are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio. And the day will come, when you shall say who reads a work by an Englishman that is a modern? The great mistake seems to be that even with those Americans who look forward to the coming of a great literary genius among us, they somehow fancy he will come in the costume of Queen Elizabeth's day, be a writer of dramas founded upon old English history, or the tales of Boccaccio. Whereas, great geniuses are parts of the times; they themselves are the times; and possess a correspondent coloring. . . . Now, I do not say that Nathaniel of Salem is a greater than William of Avon, or as great. But the difference between the two men is by no means immeasurable. ("Hawthorne and His Mosses") Melville's essay raises two questions that remain relevant: the question of national genres , and how Americans created their own variety of literary genres, whether the great writers of a nation are those who launch new genres; the question whether Art should imitate Politics. Hawthorne : Killing the dead father "Shall we never get rid of the past? It weighs on the living like the corpse of a giant", says one character in The House of the Seven Gables26. "The Custom House", the preface to The Scarlet Letter, represents a comparable questioning of the writer's right to claim a place alongside the fathers.

26

You can still visit the house! Go to http://www.7gables.org/ .

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Oedipal conflict with the fathers in Hawthorne: the symbolic weight of the law, embodied by the stern ancestors. But the self is not completely crushed by the weight of this legacy, and desire finds a way to express itself, sometimes by putting on a disguise. An important issue at the time of the revolution: the issue of debt. Should the debts made necessary by the unfair government of King George be paid to the subject of the king when the Revolution has freed the American colonists? They eventually decide that they should be. But the debate echoes in constitutional debate. Jefferson is among those who believe that one generation should not imprison the next generation in his their own chains. He works into the Constitution a system of amendments. Every twenty years or so, the people should change their constitution and adopt their own. Hawthorne imagines such an overthrow in "Earth's Holocaust". In this tale he also pokes fun at Emerson's idea that today's men should feel free to reject the legacy of the past and build a new relationship with the world from scratch. Hawthorne is not so radical: he is not ready to trash the legacy of the fathers completely. Emerson claims that America has no past: "all has an onward and prospective look." Cf Hawthorne's 'My Kinsman, Major Molineux': if Robin wants to rise in the world, he must rely upon his own efforts and not upon family connections; an independent race of men must stand on its own feet, rejecting the past while forging the future. The Call of the West, the Legacy of our old home, and a Southern Dystopia The Removal Act of 1830 drives five Indian tribes away from their ancestral grounds and beyond the Mississippi. The Western movement of the pioneers continues, and the trail-blazers are popular figures. Growth of midwest cities creates new demand for mass culture: short stories, popular novels, new magazines... Beyond the USA, the exploration looks eastward, back to what Hawthorne calls Our Old Home (1863). It also looks toward uncharted seas: Melville's Pacific paradises, the Arctic and Antarctic regions. These explorations had until then be left to the European old nations. When Poe's narrative is published, an American expedition is just setting out to the Antarctic. Prompted to write a full length novel, Poe seizes upon a topic of contemporary interest which he technically plagiarizes.

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Poe's only novel, the Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), is the story of a sea voyage to an imaginary Antarctic continent, which has barely been glimpsed at in the early 19th century. Roughly speaking, The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym can be divided into two parts: one about a journey to the darkest horror, one about exploration. It drives deep into the dark vortex of the world (the dark hold of the ship in which Pym is buried is symbolic), and then the exploration ends in the white symbol of incomprehensible death. At the end of the quest, the travelers first discover mysterious writings on the rocks writing on the wall to be deciphered - then are swallowed by a huge white figure, a symbol of transcendence and terror. Arthur (author?), the King of the Quest for the Holy Grail (Gordon may refer to Allan, the name of Poes father, who was a Scott; Gordon was the family name of Lord Byron). Fiedler: rejection of the family and the world of women, in favor of purely male companionship. At the outset of the story, Augustus enchants Pym with stories of romantic adventures at sea. Twice reborn, first from the Ariel, then from the mutiny and shipwreck of the Grampus, Pym and Augustus leave behind Pyms nuclear family and Augustuss family of seacaptains. In the place of those conventional forms of bourgeois control and civilization (to be compared with the extended family connections involving blacks and whites which was the central pro-slavery argument in the essays published in Poes Messenger), Augustus and Pym substitute their true friendship, based on their adolescent rebellion against family authorities and father figures. This friendship is repeatedly linked with story-telling and writing this, rather than the bourgeois family, is the alternate, real source of social authority.27 Pym buries within the hold of the ship, which he fails to see as a coffin, thinking only of the romantic opportunity of retiring in his own apartment --like giving himself up to irrational mind? In the blackness of the hold, imprisoned in the realm of the irrational, Pym cannot make sense of texts. The misreading of his friend Augustuss message comes from the fact that for him signs do not refer to some extrinsic reality but to the phantasms in his own chaotic unconscious. Cf Harry Levin The Power of Darkness (NY: 1959): a journey to the end of night.

27

John Carlos Rowe Poe, Slavery, and Modern Criticism.

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3 stages in the initiation of the hero: horrors of life in society (aboard the Grampus); horrors of struggle against natural elements (aboard the Jane Guy), final initiation to the supernatural. As in the story of Jonah, Pyms story ends in a rebirth to the milky white waters of the South Pole (to Marie Bonaparte, it was a quest for the mother, ending in the maternal figure in the warm waters of the polar region). Unless Pym enters the womb of the earth again, to be reborn again? At the end of The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym, the hero deciphers a biblical writing on the wall and the original writing on the Wall in the Old Testament was deciphered as: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin :Mene God hath numbered they kingdom, and finished it, Tekel Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting, Peres:. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and writing Persians, as Davids interpretation reads. (Daniel, ch.5). meaning: a divided kingdom, in danger of being given over to darkskinned intruders. Facing Nothingness A rite of passage, from innocence to bleak vision of humanity: human violence, treachery... Violence as formative: an American education through the Poesque figures of premature burial, murder, shipwreck, mass massacre... God is not good, and there is no divine order. A modern novel? Longing for faith in God who is absent: silent void of non-being, le nant. All the writing on the surface of Tsalal ends in the blank page. An ironic commentary on self-deception and misreading. In front of this whiteness, there is nothing to do but write? Pym's story is one of misreadings of visual signs, the conflict between appearances and reality. Truth becomes deceitful, problematic. The narrative may be a hoax, not a true story, but so are the appearance of reality. Shrouded figure at the end: an allegory of the impossibility of meaning?

5.5 The Political Context


If you look at Pym more generally, you realize that Poe was really riding the popular demand for travel narratives, consistent with a country on the move, turned toward the open spaces. Trust in the Manifest Destiny of the US translates in faith in self. The self is celebrated in prose, as transcendentalism celebrates individualism and self-reliance (Emerson's "I") and verse (Whitman's Song of Myself). Thoreau claims self-reliance; Poe rules the verse.28 This new sense of the possible fit with the expanding territory and aspiration abroad of the new nation. Cities are enlarging, the map of land and resources is expanding, immigration is booming, industrialization is flourishing.

See "Yea-Saying and Nay-Saying" in Ruland, Richard and Malcolm Bradbury. From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature. Penguin, 1991, 139 ss.

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The phrase "Manifest Destiny" celebrates the incorporation of Oregon, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, the California Gold Rush. Jacksonian Democracy Self-confidence translates into exploration of new land. Poe publishes The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym as Andrew Jackson passes the reins of government to his chosen successor, Martin Van Buren. The age of Jackson is an age of territorial expansion (Pym finds the narration of the expedition of Lewis and Clark to the mouth of the Columbia in his hiding place in the hold of the Grampus: 63). Jackson himself embodies the backwoods self-made man. He appeals to uneducated people, not the intellectual elite. The tariff question and the issue of states' rights: Southern fears But the germs of sectionalism are also sown. Jackson's vice-pdt is John C. Calhoun, who advocates the constitutional doctrine of nullification: a state could opt out of a federal act which it deemed contrary to its interests. The South fears threats against institution of slavery. But the interests of the region also go against the establishment of new tariffs (custom taxes) to create an economic space throughout the Union to protect the development of American industries. Southerners are afraid that the conspiration to impose unwanted tariffs might also impose abolition. Poe, as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, publishes essays defending the Southern position.

Presidential terms & dates: 1825-29 John Quincy Adams D-R 1829-1837 Andrew Jackson D 1837-41 Martin Van Buren D 1841 William Henry Harrison Whig 1841-45 John Tyler D 1845-49 James Knox Polk D 1849-1850 Zachary Taylor Whig 1850-53 Millard Fillmore Whig 1853-57 Franklin Pierce D 1857-1861 James Buchanan D 1861-1865 Abraham Lincoln R 1865-69 Andrew Johnson R (N Car.) 1869-1877 Ulysses Grant R 1877-1881 Rutherford Hayes R 1881 James Abram Garfield R

1831: Southampton Insurrection in southeastern Virginia: Nat Turner rebellion. the voyage on the Grampus starts in June, 1827, and Pym is published in 1837. The significant event on board the Grampus is a mutiny, distinguished for its extraordinary brutality. In real life, the fear of slave revolts causes authorities to pass much stricter laws in most Southern states. As the enlightened ruler of language, the poet works to contain the savagery the mob, the black, the lunatic within poetic form.

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Melville The continent embodies the new spirit. Thoreau's exploration turns inward. But of course the travel goes westward. So the exploration of new seas and continents, dipped as it is in the age's self-confidence, turns into a metaphyscial quest. Explorer Melville is also the author of "Bartleby", the walled-in, impenetrable scrivener. Moby-Dick begins with a statement about the I's brooding state of mind: the self tests itself through travelling. Moby-Dick: representation of a world pervaded by deception. But Melville would not have investigated "the whiteness of the whale" if Poe had not looked into the whiteness of the Pole. But in Melville and later in Conrad, the two processes will be made obviously simultaneous, not contiguous or juxtaposed. Optimism or pessimism The continent raised anxious questions about guilt and sin, not least as Americans looked to the South and saw the spectacle of Slavery. Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind. There are two laws discrete, Not reconciled, Law for man, and law for thing; The last builds town and fleet, But it runs wild, And doth the man unking.29 Is the narrative of exploration an escape from the dilemmas, tensions and contradictions of the age? To be continued in volume 2

29

Emerson, 1847. Quoted by Ruland and Bradbury, 142.

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