The American Renaissance: New Dimensions
This volume of the Bucknell Review originated because American literature before the twentieth century has been receiving little theoretical attention. The prevalent posture toward work inspired by Levi0Strauss, Lacan, Derrida, and others reflects an insecurity about the status of American criticism that casts latter-day Americanists in a reenactment of a debate over interpretive authority that has a long history in America, reaching its highest pitch during the period we call the American Renaissance. The editors suggest greater openness to theoretical approaches to nineteenth-century American writers. American literary scholarship has been an accepted discipline for a relatively short time, and its self-consciousness even today expresses its youth. The contributors to this volume belong to what might be seen as the third generation of Americanists, removed by only a few decades from the beginnings of the discipline. The essays gathered here illustrate in different ways the usefulness of accommodation between traditional American scholarship and recent theoretical methods. Richard Grusin's article addresses the relation between traditional and theoretical criticism directly, suggesting at the same time the analogy between modern theories of interpretation and the interpretive dilemma that helped spawn Transcendentalism. Julie Ellison also examines the search for spiritual authority in a post-Scriptural age. Steven Fink and Joan Burbick give us markedly different views of Thoreau. Professor Fink revises our usual notions of the lonely Romantic rebel by portraying the development of Theoreau's symbolic imagery as a strategy for bringing himself closer to his audience; Professor Burbick turns history into fiction and shows how Thoreau's historical imagery subverted American historical conventions. Tobin Siebers approaches Hawthorne more as a comparatist than as a theorist. Projecting Hawthorne against a Romantic tradition that is wider than New England and not limited to Puritan origins, Siebers offers in Hawthrone a surprisingly social and moral figure. Mitchell Breitwieser's reading of Whitman and Gregory Jay's of Poe most closely resemble the sort of analysis that distresses traditional critics. But neither ultimately dissolves his author's text into the indeterminacy of language. By linking theoretical issues to those that scholarship has long struggled with, each suggests the particular potency of theoretical approaches to nineteenth-century texts in which problems of identity, origin, interpretive authority, and presence appear as motivating themes and determining methods.
Contributors: Richard A. Grusin, Julie Ellison, Steven Fink, Joan Burbick, Tobin Siebers, Mitchell Robert Breitwieser, and Gregory S. Jay.
About the editors:
Harry R. Garvin was John P. Crozer Professor of English at Bucknell University.
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