Parables of Possibility: The American Need for Beginnings

Synopsis

Exploring genres ranging from histories to fiction and poetry, Parables of Possibility looks at the negative conception of the emerging nation, one with no kings, no castles, and no aristocracy. The function of this negativity, Martin suggests, was to wipe clean the slate of European history and thereby establish the conditions for a national identity. Writers and orators in the first years of America's independence recited in glowing negatives the European foibles absent from the American scene. This notion of a clean slate, a negation of earlier experience and a presentation of the notion of unlimited possibility, took vital form in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Later, in the works of Cooper, Cather, and Faulkner, Martin argues that the theme of recapturing beginnings became evident. Parables of Possibility traces the American fascination with beginnings, and argues that this long chapter in our history is challenged as never before in the late twentieth century, when conventional formulas no longer seem viable. Skillfully weaving together the products of "high" culture with more popular forms, the canonical with the contemporary, Terence Martin sheds new light on the crisis of meaning in contemporary American culture. As much cultural history as enlightened literary criticism, Parables of Possibility will appeal to readers with a broad range of interdisciplinary interests. Martin's lucid, lively style makes Parables of Possibility accessible to readers both inside and outside academia.