Monday, October 18, 2004

“On the Shoulders of Giants”
It’s just before 1 a.m., and I should be sleeping, but instead I just finished Gene Wise’s first article, from a speech he gave at the American Studies Association Convention in 1979. In this article he talks about how American Studies thought has grown since the “Symbol-myth-image generation of American Studies scholars” influenced—really started the field. Here he refers to F.O. Matthiesen, Perry Miller, Leo Marx, Leslie Fiedler, and the others (who I have yet to read).

So these “giants” had the Herculean task of legitimizing “the scholarly study of America” at a time when doing so didn’t matter. Wise argues that we should “pay tribute to the remarkable genius of individuals” in that generation, even if their ideas are ones that have been termed faulty in the more modern era.

He reminds us that those thinkers were responsible not just for conducting the scholarship, but also for starting the programs in schools. He cites folklore scholar, Richard Dorson, among others as people who were instrumental in starting programs (I spent a lot of time reading Dorson when I was considering folklore as an avenue for study).

At any rate, Wise points out that some of the problems with the work of these original American studies scholars lie within the reflexivity about the culture. Wise cites Henry Nash’s Virgin Land as an example, where he writes about myths and symbols and images, comparing them to “designate larger or smaller units of the same kind of thing namely an intellectual construction that fuses concept and emotion into an image.” I take it from my reading here that such reflexivity is not supposed to be a good thing. Further reading will explain more…

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