Range of America's Written Words; Essays on Cultural History Collected

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 18, 2009 | Go to article overview

Range of America's Written Words; Essays on Cultural History Collected


Byline: Bruce Allen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Make it new, Ezra Pound demanded, in an influential utterance that argued the case for detailed study of classic texts, respectful assimilation of their achievements and the application of learning thus absorbed to a poetic apprehension of the here and now and yet to be. It was a clarion call taken up by such modern masters as Hemingway, Stein, Picasso and Shostakovich, and many, many others.

The editors of this rich exercise in cultural history have likewise taken up Pound's challenge, producing an eloquent patchwork volume that gathers up more than 200 essays, chronologically arranged by subject, into a beguiling symphony that expresses the bewildering, often intimidating varieties of what we presume to call the American experience.

If invited to list qualities peculiar to both that experience and the range of America's written words, I might isolate four: exploration, discovery, industry and innovation. Indeed, something rather like this imaginary quartet would appear to be playing softly in the background of this curious if not quaint volume of lore that ought not to be forgotten - which I'll call both a distant cousin and certifiable blood kin to such venerable standard works as the multivolume Cambridge History of American Literature and the mammoth one-volume Literary History of the United States.

Beginning with A New Geography that tells the story of the first (1507) map on which the word America appears, and concluding with a visual collage (created by MacArthur Award-winning artist Kara Walker) that wryly commemorates the 2008 election of President Obama, this splendiferous tribute to the best that so many of us have thought and said and made embraces classic and watershed literary works and their authors, political acts and events and issues, statements of purpose and conscience, achievements in both the fine arts (music, painting, sculpture, et al) and the raucous venues of popular culture (yes, Virginia, we do get a crash course in the autobiographical writings of 1970s porn queen Linda Lovelace), and major figures ranging from the makers of the Constitution of the United States to contemporary film and television personalities and the giants and giantesses of pop, jazz and rock music.

There is, to be sure, a pleasing abundance of incisive critical appreciations: scrutinizing Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet's judicious use of the language of scripture and diarist Samuel Sewall's enlightened albeit troubled personal morality; Charles Brockden Brown's heroic, flawed attempt to write the first truly American novel Wieland, 1798); a revealing comparison of Dreiser's Sister Carrie with Wharton's The House of Mirth ; novelist Gish Jen's persuasive defense of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye against criticisms of its pedestrian artistry; even unto editor Marcus' thoughtful appraisal of Richard Powers' award-winning 2005 novel The Time of Our Singing.

There are numerous examples of what I'll call extensions, radiating toward or from a significant work of art or event. Examples (sticking with literature for the moment): David Treuer's discussion of the indigenous Native American sources of Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha ; literary responses to the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials, from Hawthorne's stories to the novels of Caribbean author Maryse Conde; and the aforementioned Richard Powers' moving essay on the Boston Civil War Monument honoring Col. Robert Shaw's all-black Union regiment, unforgettably further memorialized in Robert Lowell's masterly poem For the Union Dead.

Literature is, paradoxically enough, not the whole story. Even American history buffs will surely learn much from essays analyzing the early political history of the republic, the phenomenon of immigration and its immediate and enduring effects on America's sense of solidarity, the shame of racism, the many avenues into which the energies of popular music (from the comic song "Yankee Doodle to the complex urban inflections of hip-hop) poured themselves and the adoration of success and celebrity that made icons of professional athletes, film stars and auteurs alike, and musical performers of all sorts and conditions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Range of America's Written Words; Essays on Cultural History Collected
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.