"Have American philosophers and critics no home to go to," asks Denis Donoghue, "no intellectual tradition of their own?" American critical theory, when "bearing the names of Heidegger, Adorno, Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida, de Man, Deleuze, Lyotard, Blanchot, and other daunting sages," derives from France or Germany,1 but it need not be so. My homegrown critical method (distinct from theory, if theory means only abstract contemplation or top-down imposition) derives from my AngloAmerican heritage, the broadly experiential common ground of empiricism and evangelicalism. My religious as well as philosophical mode of criticism is perhaps most appropriate for interpreting such mid-nineteenth-century authors of British and American extraction as Alfred, Lord Tennyson ( 1809-1892), the Poet Laureate of England, and Ralph Waldo Emerson ( 1803-1881), the Sage of Concord. This diptych of Anglo-American letters follows intrinsically Anglo-American, empirical-evangelical ways of "fighting the good fight." While hardly blind to pain and sorrow, Tennyson and Emerson envision a better future through material "progress" and the social gospel. (Hence they tend to be blind to industrial threats to nature.) Their shared empirical-evangelical approach to experience leads them to the philosophically theological, satisfyingly complex claim that humankind unites with God in world and word and thus harmonizes with the universe.
Norman Maclean, long-time professor of Romanticism at the University of Chicago, concludes in A River Runs Through It and Other Stories ( 1976) that the faith held in common by a Presbyterian minister and his remaining son is: "You can love completely without complete understanding."2 With