Transcendent Reason: James Marsh and the Forms of Romantic Thought

Transcendent Reason: James Marsh and the Forms of Romantic Thought

Transcendent Reason: James Marsh and the Forms of Romantic Thought

Transcendent Reason: James Marsh and the Forms of Romantic Thought

Excerpt

With A characteristic distance that disguised autobiography as social criticism, Henry James once observed that America suffers from the naive need of young societies to get themselves explained." Whether or not this need is "naive," it is plain that American writers have been doggedly self-reflective, searching the flux of our past for clues to the unified national identity at the heart of the democratic state. Thus the appeal for such writers--from Mather's Nehemias Americanus on--of the archetypal figure whose identity is one with that of the nation he represents. Such fictive figures (the Franklin of The Autobiography,"Walt" Whitman, an American) are valuable insofar as they help us to discover ourselves in our past and hence to construe that past as more substantially our own. Yet this same democratic impulse in American scholarship to unite the many in the individual, to subsume difference within the national identity, produces at least two evils. First, it necessarily distorts the "representative" figures who are both its subject and its method, forgetting that their fame depends . . .

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