The American Imagination: A Critical Survey of the Arts from the Times Literary Supplement

The American Imagination: A Critical Survey of the Arts from the Times Literary Supplement

The American Imagination: A Critical Survey of the Arts from the Times Literary Supplement

The American Imagination: A Critical Survey of the Arts from the Times Literary Supplement

Excerpt

'The American Imagination' is a bold phrase, and it is a hardy man who tries to define it. The noun is perplexing and the adjective anomalous. There must be an imagination: Coleridge has said so! but what psychologist would be impressed? The psychologist himself discusses it seldom, and then with caution. The students of the behavioural sciences in general, sober men, write little about it. Beneath their feet they glimpse the depths of Freud and Jung; the prospect, if not dismaying, is thought-provoking. Modern writers about literature and the arts prove almost as wary. Only the fact that they have less information than the behavioural scientist induces them to speculate more. And even that is not much. How little they have to tell us is hard to realize until we contrast the mutterings of to-day with the tumult of talk in Coleridge's time. To-day's philosophers, lastly, have spoken more often than the literary critics, and their approach has been more systematic. Notwithstanding, the result has been much the same.

The idea of an 'American' imagination has received still less notice. However, the general belief in national characteristics--in things American or Spanish or French--has always been strong. Though racialists and propagandists have often used the belief for their own bad purposes, the idea is innocent enough. It has been found in the past in some very good historical writing and continues to be found to-day. If it does not appear there as a formally stated theory, it is evident as a working premise.

In addition to enduring among historians, the idea is quietly coming back into the thinking of certain important, if at times ponderous, social scientists. As one of them has noted, 'Rorschach series from . . .

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