F. O. Matthiessen: The Critical Achievement

F. O. Matthiessen: The Critical Achievement

F. O. Matthiessen: The Critical Achievement

F. O. Matthiessen: The Critical Achievement

Excerpt

In 1963, more than twenty years after the publication of American Renaissance, Roy Harvey Pearce acknowledged in the essay, "Literature, History and Humanism," what he described in his subtitle as "an Americanist's dilemma." Noting that much of the criticism of American letters which had been written after the appearance of American Renaissance deserved to be called "post‐ Matthiessenian," Professor Pearce nonetheless argued that we have yet to comprehend or fully absorb Matthiessen's achievement. Taking as his example Matthiessen's twofold assumption that "an artist's use of language is the most sensitive index to cultural history, since a man can articulate only who he is, and what he has been made by the society of which he is a willing or an unwilling part," and that to read cultural history in this fashion is to "feel the challenge of our still undiminished resources," Professor Pearce pointedly asked:

Do we yet know how to define the terms: "artist," "use of language," "sensitive index," "articulation," "being a willing or an unwilling part"? Do we yet understand what it is to be "challenged" thus? Have we understood what it means to have "undiminished resources"?

I have written this book on the assumption that the best way to come to terms with these questions, and others like them, is to start with Matthiessen's own work. I have been motivated . . .

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