American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

the accepted image of the American myth. Ironically, just at the time that feminist critics are discovering more and more important women, the critical theorists have seized upon a theory that allows the women less and less presence. This observation points up just how significantly the critic is engaged in the act of creating literature.

Ironically, then, one concludes that in pushing the theory of American Action to this extreme, critics have "deconstructed" it by creating a tool with no particular American reference. In pursuit of the uniquely American, they have arrived at a place where Americanness has vanished into the depths of what is alleged to be the universal male psyche. The theory of American fiction has boiled down to the phrase in my title: a melodrama of beset manhood. What a reduction this is of the enormous variety of fiction written in this country, by both women and men! And, ironically, nothing could be further removed from Trilling's idea of the artist as embodiment of a culture. As in the working out of all theories, its weakest link has found it out and broken the chain.

William Boelhower


A Modest Ethnic Proposal

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13, 12

The issue of ethnicity in the United States inevitably surfaces at the national level whenever the ideology of the American Dream or of Americanism tour court malfunctions of hyperfunctions or simply comes in for such routine scrutiny as the presidential elections. In between times, almost everywhere in America it remains the great unknown local fact. Given the continuing success of the founding political experiment, during which the Enlightenment words of constitutional guarantee were forever fixed and sealed, the issue itself remains somewhat of a scandal--for mere repetition of the alchemical formula E PLURIBUS UNUM would not really convert the base metals of a pluralistic society into a finely beaten national gold. Yet this is the impossible possibility, the asylum foundation, on which Enlightenment and even contemporary America is built. It is necessary to know that by definition the American belongs preeminently to the genus citoyen (he is above all a political animal), while ethnicity is his specific difference. Only the genus legitimizes his global circulation within national boundaries. Cultural differences within them remain territorially local. Thus, during a recent television debate involving democratic candidates for the presidency, Jewish-American journalist Marvin Kalb attacked Jesse Jackson with these words: "What we can't understand is if you are a black who happened to be born in America or an American who was born black." Obviously aware of the ideological teeth treacherously hidden in Kalb's trap, Jackson simply danced through it like an ethnic

____________________
"A Modest Ethnic Proposal" from Through a Glass Darkly by William Boelhower. Copyright 1984, Oxford University Press. Reprinted by permission.

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