Sacvan Bercovitch,Sacvan Bercovitch is Carswell Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University. He is the author of The Puritan Origins of the American Self and The American Jeremiad, among other works. He has also edited several collections of essays, most recently Reconstructing American Literary History (1986). This essay was delivered, in substantially the same form, as a two-part talk at the Salzburg Seminar, session 242. 9-21 June 1985. For my present purposes, and in terms of my immediate concerns, the problem of ideology in American literary history has three different though closely related aspects: first, the multi-volume American literary history I have begun to edit; then, the concept of ideology as a constituent part of literary study; and, finally, the current revaluation of the American t Renaissance. I select this period because it has been widely regarded as both the source and the epitome of our literary tradition; because it has > become, accordingly, the focal point of the critical revision now under way in American studies; and because, from either of these perspectives literary or critical, it seems to me a particularly fitting subject for the occasion. For one thing, we owe the idea of an American Renaissance at to F. O. Matthiessen, who was a prime mover of the Salzburg Seminar, and a member of its first faculty in 1947. Moreover, American Renaissance was a classic work of revisionist criticism. It reset the terms for the study of American literary history; it gave us a new canon of classic texts; and i t inspired the growth of American studies in the United States and abroad. It is not too much to say that Matthiessen, American Renaissance, and the Salzburg Seminar brought American literature to postwar Europe. What followed, from the late forties through the sixties, was the flowering of a new academic field, complete with programs of study, periodicals, theses, conferences, and a distinguished procession of scholarly authorities, including many graduates of the Salzburg Seminar. Matthiessen figures as a watershed in this development. For if American| Renaissance marked the seeding-time of a new academic field, it was also the harvest of some three decades of literary study. I refer, first of all, to the dual legacy that Matthiessen acknowledges of T. S. Eliot and Vernon Parrington which is to say, the partnership in American Renaissance between the terms "literary" and history"; or, in the words of Matthiessen's subtitle, between Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman ~art," meaning a small group of aesthetic masterpieces, and "expression," meaning representative works, reflecting and illuminating the culture at large. It was the remarkable achievement of Matthiessen that his book yokes these concepts gracefully together. Somehow, one concept seems to support the other. The historical designation American seems richer for its association with an aesthetic renaissance; Emerson's and Whitman's art gains substance by its capacity to express the age. Matthiessen himself did not feel it necessary to explain the connection. But we can see in retrospect that what made it work what made it, indeed, unnecessary for Matthiessen to explain the connection was an established consensus, or rather a consensus long in the making, which American Renaissance helped establish. I mean a consensus about the term Literary" that involved the legitimation of a certain canon, and a consensus about the term "history" that was legitimated by a certain concept of America. That double process of legitimation may be traced in the emergence of the United States, between World War I and World War II, as the major capitalist power or, in the Cold War terms of the late forties, the leader of the Free World. Providentially, we have two sets of literary landmarks, European and American, to commemorate the process. At one end, in 1917, D. H. Lawrence's germinal Studies in Classic American Literature and the The Cambridge History of American Literature (hereafter, the first Cambridge History); at the other end, framing the U.S. experience in World War II, American Renaissance (1941) and The Literary History of the United States, by Robert Spiller et al. ( 1948), which proceeds teleologically, from "The Colonies" through "Democracy" and "Expansion" to "A World Literature." "Increasing power and vitality," according to Spiller's opening "Address to the Reader," "are extraordinarily characteristic of [our nation].... Never has nature been so rapidly and so extensively altered by the efforts of man in so brief a time. Never has conquest resulted in a more vigorous development of initiative, individualism, self-reliance, and demands for freedom." Hence the ®Americanness¯ of our major authors. Ours has been a literature "profoundly influenced by ideals and by practices developed in democratic living. It has been intensely conscious of the needs of the common man, and equally conscious of the aspirations of the individual.... It has been humanitarian. It has been, on the whole an optimistic literature, made virile by criticism of the actual in comparison with the ideal. Significantly, Matthiessen's American Renaissance celebrates the same manly ideals. Even while recognizing (as Spiller does) the tragic-ironic emphasis of Hawthorne and Melville, Matthiessen tells us in his introductory chapter that "the one common denominator of my five writers . . . was their devotion to the possibilities of democracy." And like Spiller, he locates those possibilities in self-reliance, initiative, individualism, and (to recall Matthiessen's original title) the freedom of "Man in the Open Air." Whitman, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Melville, he explains, all felt it was incumbent on their generation to give fulfillment to the potentialities freed by the Revolution, to provide a culture commensurate with America's political opportunity. This is the background against which the new literary history will have to define itself. During the past couple of decades consensus of all kinds has broken down left and right, political and aesthetic broken down, worn out, or at best opened up. Conspicuous among these is the dual tradition that Matthiessen inherited: on the one hand the literary consensus authorized by Eliot, which announced itself as the New Criticism; and on the other hand, the consensus history (as we have come to call it) through which Parrington defined the main currents of American culture. Together, these traditions issued, in American Renaissance, as the vision of five marginal men who represented not only their own age but the very meaning of America. The reason for the current ferment in American studies is that the assumptions behind that vision no longer seem to account for the evidence. We have come to feel that the context they provide conceals as much as it reveals. To use a once-fashionable phrase, the paradigm has become inoperative. What we have instead is a Babel of contending approaches, argued with a ferocity reminiscent of the polemics that erupted in the last, great days of Rome, and that Augustine lamented as the barbarism of the scholastics. I do not mean by this to suggest some ominous political parallel. My point is simply that the risk we run in undertaking an American literary history now is that it will be perceived, upon its devoutly wished-for publication in 1989, as being neither history nor literary nor American. Let me say at once that I don't see any solution to the problem. Or rather, the only solution I see lies in making the problem itself the cornerstone of the project. It was the achievement of Matthiessen and Spiller to consolidate a powerful literary-historical consensus. It will be our task to make the best of what (for lack of a better term) may be called a period of Dissensus." So I come to the first part of my subject, the new Cambridge History of American Literature. My purpose here is purely descriptive. I would like to give some general sense of how this work i being put together if nothing else, to outline the sorts of questions that lie behind our pasteboard decisions.3 How, then, to make a virtue of dissensus? To start with, we decide to go with those whose dissensus it is; that is, with Americanists trained in the sixties and early seventies. Our contributors are generally between tenure and forty-five; they represent no special approach, school, network or set of principles, except the principles of excellence and balance. They were chosen for the quality of their work, for their diversity of views an interests, and for their openness to other, conflicting views and interest None of this necessarily implies a rift between generations. Some of the young scholars are confessed traditionalists; others are openly build upon the work of their teachers; and all of them are committed to presenting not just their own insights but those of peers and predecessors. Still, they will present these from within a distinctive generational experience; ar that experience (of discontinuity, disruption, dissensus) requires its difinititive form of expression. In considering a format for the History, X obvious precedent came to mind. The "omnium-gatherum" seemed inappropriate for our purposes as did the alternative model of the single author history, and for much the same reasons. The eclectic mode the first Cambridge History assumes comprehensiveness and objectivity The cyclical design of the Spiller History expresses a single-minded attempt at synthesis. Any contemporary effort will have to be flexible, open-ended, a] se f-reflexive. This may help explain our decision to restrict the number: of contributors. Lacking the authority for synthesis, we felt we should encourage personal voices. Lacking faith in sheer plenitude, we felt it necessary to allow fuller scope for active collaboration, not only with each volume, but across volumes. In short, we wanted neither a host piece-work specialists to fill out a putative grand design, nor representative of a host of eclectic constituencies to satisfy some putative statistical no (twelve pages for the Chicanos, fourteen for the Chinese, two for Eskimo). Perhaps the right term for the approach we sought is integrated in the sense of narrative integration, and with the qualifications I h just mentioned. Integrative, as distinct from either eclectic or synthetic personal voices, responsive to different voices, but allowed ample development in their own right; continuities and contrasts between e emerging neither by chance nor by editorial fiat, but through substantial interchange between contributors. Clearly, this precarious balance latitude and mutuality would require a group of manageable size. need an Aristotelian mean between the hubris of Parrington's one the anonymity of Spiller's fifty-five,et al." We settled on twenty contributors, for five volumes of about six hundred pages each. Twenty-one spokespersons for dissensus! I cannot say that the pros filled me with confidence. The next step in our venture was to bring a group together and see what assurances could be worked out. Partly the conference dealt with practical matters. But most of it, and by all accounts the most reassuring part, was devoted to the moot points. Without compromising on basic differences, the contributors found they could agree on what the central questions were; on the need for a narrative form which, in texture and substance, would embody the questions they shared; and on the central importance of history in dealing with those questions not only because the contributors were already themselves committed to writing a literary history, but because they were convinced that the tendency of literary theory, in all its varieties, from deconstruction and feminism to ethnicity, semiotics, and cultural archaeology, lay in that direction. That sense of common questions and directions was enough to start with; but it did not resolve what I believe was implicitly the central issue of the conference, the problem of ideology. Let me emphasize the personal note: ideology was not on the agenda; it did not enter our discussions in any direct and substantive way; it does not refer to any particular political stance; and it will not be the unifying theme of our History. But as a problem, I think, ideology will become increasingly important to all the contributors in the course of writing the History. That implicit and insidious problem is the central concern of this paper, and it may be well to begin with a general definition.4 I mean by ideology the ground and texture of consensus. In its narrowest sense, this may be a consensus of a marginal or maverick group. In the broad sense in which I use the term here (in conjunction with the term "American,") ideology is the system of interlinked ideas, symbols, and beliefs by which a culture any culture seeks to justify and perpetuate itself; the web of rhetoric, ritual, and assumption through which society coerces, persuades, and coheres. So considered, ideology is basically conservative but it is not therefore static or simply repressive. As Raymond Williams points out, ideology evolves through conflict, and even when a certain ideology achieves dominance it still finds itself contending to one degree r another with the ideologies of residual and emergent cultures within he society contending, that is, with alternative and oppositional forms hat reflect the course of historical development. In this process, ideology functions best through voluntary acquiescence, when the network of ideas through which the culture justifies itself is internalized rather than imposed, and embraced by society at large as a system of belief. Under ese conditions, which Antonio Gramsci described as "hegemony," the terms of cultural restriction become a source of creative release: they serve to incite the imagination, to unleash the energies of reform, encourage diversity and accommodate change all this, while directing e rights of diversity into a rite of cultural assent. I would like to advance this model, hypothetically, as a description what we have come to term the American ideology. And having done that, let me enter two caveats. The first is that the term itself is somewhat misleading. The American ideology is often described as some abstract corporate monolith whereas in fact the American ideology reflects a particular set of interests, the power structures and conceptual forms of modern middle-class society in the United States, as these evolved through three centuries of contradiction and discontinuity. So "considered as America" is not an overarching synthesis, e pluribus unum, but a rhetorical battleground, a symbol that has been made to stand for diverse and sometimes mutually antagonistic outlooks. My second caveat tends in the opposite direction a qualification of the qualification. I would urge that, in spite of all that diversity and conflict, the American ideology has achieved a hegemony unequaled elsewhere in the modern world. For all its manifold contradictions, it is an example par excellence of the successful interaction between restriction and release, rhetoric and social action. An ideology, to repeat, arises out of historical circumstances, and then re-presents these, symbolically and conceptually, as though they were natural, universal, and right as though the ideals promulgated by a certain group or class (in this case, individualism, mobility, self-reliance, free enterprise) were not the product of history but the expression of self-evident truth. The act of re-presentation thus serves to consecrate a set of cultural limitations, to recast a particular society as Society, a particular way of life as the pursuit of happiness. Ideology denies limitation, rhetorically, in order to facilitate the continuity of certain rhetorical forms. But the forms themselves may be expansive, dynamic. Ideology transmutes history into myth so as to enable people to act in history. In this sense, ideology stands at the intersection between the terms a literary" and "history," mediating between canon and context, expressive form and social structure. When mediation succeeds, literary historians can proceed under the aspect of eternity, as though they were free of ideology, unfettered by limits of time and place. It is the sort of freedom that Augustine felt, in setting out the correct path for exegesis; or the Anglican Thomas Hooker, explaining the "divine" right of kings; or Karl Marx, discovering the "scientific" laws of history; or Emerson, announcing the transcendent" prospects of the American Scholar. In each case, freedom is a function of consensus. And lest I seem to have exempted myself from that process, I would like to declare the principles of my own ideological dependence. I hold these truths to be self-evident: that there is no escape from ideology; that so long as human beings remain political animals they will always be bounded in some degree by consensus; and that so long as they are symbol-making animals they will always seek in some way to persuade themselves (and others) that their symbology is the last, best hope of mankind. I think it's safe to say that I share these principles with all or most of the contributors to the new Cambridge History. It is a commitment to partiality that allows for only two alternatives to the authority of consensus: either to subscribe to a different consensus altogether, or else to confront the problem of ideology, in an attempt to understand its limits and describe its methods of representation. The option, in short, is not time or eternity; it is the nature and degree of one's involvement in consensus. And that option depends in turn not just on qualities of mind and vision but on the historical moment. It seems to me largely a matter of history that both Matthiessen and Spiller assumed that American literary history transcended ideology: American because it stood for the universal possibilities of democracy, history because it was an objective account of the facts, and literary because great art was to be judged in its own timeless terms. It seems to me equally a matter of history, a measure of the dissensus of our times, that all those concepts history, literary, American, and transcendence are now subjects of ideological debate. Let me briefly recall the sources of that quandary.5 One is the recognition that questions of race and gender are integral to formalist analysis. Another is the recognition that political norms are inscribed in aesthetic judgment and therefore inherent in the process of interpretation. Still another is the recognition that aesthetic structures shape the way we understand history, so that tropes and narrative devices may be said to use historians to enforce certain views of the past. These perceptions stem from contending approaches in contemporary critical discourse. Directly and indirectly, the controversies engendered by these approaches, and by the differences between them, have undermined the old terms of consensus and thereby heightened a broad ideological awareness among Americanists, while at the same time providing them with new modes of analysis. Still another source of this quandary, which might be termed the fall from transcendence into history, is the widespread critique of the so-called myth and symbol school of American studies, not only by a new generation of critics, but by the founders themselves. Henry Nash Smith, for example, tells us in a recent essay that he failed in Virgin Land to consider the tragic dimensions of the Westward Movement because they were cloaked in ideas so familiar as to be "almost inaccessible to critical examination." Now, the same ideas ("civilization","free land","frontier initiative," "self-reliance") also obscured the views of the writers he treats, as well as serving, historically, to inspire the energies and rationalize the atrocities of the Westward movement.6 It amounts to a casebook example of ideology in action, a model instance of the relation between interpretation, imaginative expression, and social action that creates and sustains consensus. The example here is mainly negative, a model of intellectual constriction. This, indeed, is the model commonly associated with ideology, as we have inherited the concept from the social sciences. According to this tradition, ideology is inherently suspect, and analysis naturally seeks to expose its limitations through a process of debunking, unmasking, demystifying. In this case the process deserves special emphasis for the contrast it suggests between myth criticism and ideological analysis. Like ideology, myth is inherently suspect, and for much the same reasons: is (among other things) a vehicle of culturally prescribed directives for thought and behavior. Literary critics, however, have tended to avoid the parallel by enforcing a sort of exegetical imperative of inversion. Since ideology pretends to truth, the task of analysis is to uncover, rationally, the sinister effects of its fictions. Since myths are fictions, the task is to display, empathetically, their ®deeper truths" the abiding values embedded deep in simple plots, the range and richness of formulaic metaphors. The double standard reflects the familiar Kantian distinction between the aesthetic and the cognitive faculties. To criticize a myth is to appreciate it from within, to explicate it intrinsically," in its own ®organic" term To criticize a piece of ideology is to ®see through" it, to expose" its historical functions, necessarily from an ~extrinsic," and usually from hostile" perspective. Hence the corrective import of ®ideology" in recent American studies It is an attempt by a new generation of scholars to distance themselves from cultural preconceptions, so as to make the study of myth a mode of cognitive criticism. This approach constitutes a fresh direction in the field and it has had salutary effects; but the approach itself remains problematic for literary history. For one thing, the extrinsic method seized on negative aspects of ideology; its diagnoses feed on social disease Significantly, the recent studies I mentioned in American ideology exclusive consideration of the rhetoric of civil rights, the ideals of conservationism the appeal to liberty, and for that matter the sheer vitality of the culture That may be no more than a choice of focus, but effectually it misrepresent the very nature of ideology, which (in the broad sense I intend here) to enact the purposes of a society in its totality. We come to feel, reading these works, that the American ideology is a system of ideas the service of evil rather than (like any ideology) a system of ideas wedded for good and evil to a certain social order. Another, more serious problem is that the extrinsic approach St the critic at odds with the work of literature. I mean work in its functional sense, the constructing of an imaginary world that invites a suspense of disbelief and requires an appreciation of the writer's power to persuade the reader to that suspension. One familiar resolution of the problem reinforced in different ways by Matthiessen and Spiller, is to separate high art from popular culture through an almost dogmatic application of the distinction I made earlier between intrinsic and extrinsic criticism Our classic writers are honored as keepers of the American myth; other writers (especially the popular ones) are unmasked as representation of American ideology. When Robert Rantoul invokes the tenets of laisse faire to attack the abuses of capitalism, we claim that his views are contradictory or ambivalent. When John O'Sullivan advances the principal of minimal government, self-reliance, and American progress, we accuse him of using ideology to veil oppression. When Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman express that ambivalence and advance those principles, we say they're creating ambiguities, criticizing the actual under the aspect of the ideal, and enhancing the possibilities of democracy. I am not forgetting the vast differences between these men in mind and imagination; nor do I mean to deny important differences in their relation to the dominant culture. My point is that the traditional dichotomy between art and ideology a pillar of the old consensus is problematic and has increasingly become a subject of debate for this generation. For though in some sense, certainly, a work of art transcends its time though it may be trans-historical or transcultural or even trans-canonical it can no more transcend ideology than an artist's mind can transcend psychology; and it may even be that writers who translate political attitudes into universal ideals are just as implicated as the others in the social order and, in the long run, are perhaps more useful in perpetuating it. This is not at all to denigrate their achievement. Nor is it to deny that American writers have sometimes used the symbol of America to expose ideological contradictions, and so on some level turned the cultural symblogy against the dominant culture. Nor, finally, is it to forget the special capacities of language to break free of social restrictions and through its own dynamics to undermine the power structure it seems to reflect. It will continue to be a function of literary history to define what is extraordinary, irreducible, and uncontained about our major texts. But obviously any defense of literature (as art) which requires a pejorative view of popular culture (as ideology) is itself ideological, part of a strategy designed to enforce the separation of "spheres of influence": business from family, government from religion, politics from art. Like other apologias for literature, as handmaid to theology or as servant of the state, this one has its origins neither in the laws of nature nor in the will of God but in history and culture. And I would suggest that a heightened ideological awareness may help us not only to understand literary texts more fully in their own time but more precisely to define their trans-historical import. I have in mind a cultural dialectic, attuned to the power of language no less than the language of power, sensitive to the emotional and imaginative appeal of myth while insisting on the cognitive dimensions of art. And what makes this sort of model viable, or at least approachable, is the emergence over the last two decades of a sophisticated concept of ideology that is newly useful for the study of literature. I think above all of various forms of Marxism, or neo-Marxism, that have broken from Marx's mechanistic view of base/superstructure, much as recent forms of Freudianism have broken from Freud's simplistic view of art as wish fulfillment and child's play not to deny the interactions between rhetoric and social or biological reality, but to reinterpret these in ways that allow for the complexities of consciousness and for the shaping influence of rhetoric on reality. Basically, Marx saw ideology as false consciousness; he tended to define any ideology that differed from his own as a form of subjectivity that obfuscated scientific analysis. Recent forms of Marxism (influenced in part by a new, relativistic model of science) have abandoned that dream of objective knowledge. Much as the unconscious has come to be seen as a crucial aspect of consciousness, subjectivity for these neo-Marxists, from Frankfurt to Paris, Oxford, New Haven, and Berkeley, has become a constituent of history. This is not the place to detail the change.7 Let me simply list some of its major aspects: the emphasis on language as an intrinsic part of the material of history, and hence itself a central category of historical analysis; the sense of social reality as being at once volatile and malleable, and thus susceptible to radical transformation through the agencies of art; the redefinition of the work of imagination as the constant structure of social knowledge; the concern with silences and ruptures in the text as constituting a vision of cultural alternatives (a vision muted, repressed, but nonetheless formally manifest in the world of the text); the development of a utopian hermeneutics which sees in the values, symbols, and ideas of a given culture, as these are represented in art, the primary structures of human needs and aspirations the first principles of a sort of noumenal ~collective logic" so that interpretation becomes the bridge between ideology and the ideal. What is striking here for my purpose is the intense concern with expressive form. If the old "vulgar Marxism" tended to flatten works of art into political blueprints, this new Marxism, as though in overcompensation, compels an even closer reading of the text a more rigorous attention to paradox, irony, and ambiguity than that dreamed of by the New Critics. The text, it would seem, has been invested with all the subtleties of historical process so that history may be understood through the subtleties of literary criticism. In some cases, this amounts to textuality raised to the status of biblical exegesis. I believe that, here as elsewhere, Marxism betrays its roots in the Reformation, with its obsessive apocalyptic correlations between scripture and current events. But my point is not to make a brief for or against Marxism. It is to indicate the possibilities available to literary historians beset by the problem of ideology. From this perspective, I should stress, first, that I have given prominence to Marxist theorists because it happens that they have been the ones most actively engaged with ideological analysis. Second, their engagement is of particular interest because it insists simultaneously on the historicity of the text and the linguistic, expressive dimensions of historical experience. Third, that insistence has tended toward the development of an intrinsic mode of ideological criticism, a form of historical diagnosis which requires an appreciation of ideology from within, in its full imaginative and emotional appeal. Fourth, that development has remarkable and for the literary historian, richly provocative affinities with non-Marxist approaches to ideology. I think, for example, of Max Weber's concept of ideology as < positive, empowering force not so much the child of history as a pervasive historical and cultural agent in its own right and of Karl Mannheim's ®sociology of knowledge,¯ where all knowledge is by definition ideological, so that (in his words) reality is "the interplay between these distinctive attitudes in the total social process." For both Weber and Mannheim (as also, implicitly, for Kenneth Burke), ideology provides a focus for historical understanding that is grounded in the substantiality of expressive form. And much the same may be said of Clifford Geertz. Although Geertz confines his analysis in this respect to periods of cultural transition, still his analysis centers on the relation between ideological "systems of meaning" and historical "modes of knowledge."8 In the wake of consensus, he writes, ideology directs the search for a new coherence. And I would add that, while waiting for the new coherence, dissensus direct us toward the problem of ideology. This seems to me a particularly promising direction in the case of American literary studies. I spoke earlier of the symbol of America as a rhetorical battleground, but of course it could become so only because, from its origins, the symbol was so transparently ideological. What could be a clearer demonstration of ideas in the service of power than the system of beliefs which the early colonists imposed on the so-called New World? What clearer demonstration of the shaping power of ideology than the procession of declarations through which the republic was consecrated as New Israel, Nature's Nation in the Land of Futurity? ®America" is a laboratory for examining the shifting connections between politics (in the broadest sense) and cultural expression, or, in Ceertz's terms, between historical knowledge and aesthetic systems of meaning. This is nowhere more evident than in the mid-nineteenth century, when the process of consecration was hardening into cultural consensus; when, accordingly, the conflicts inherent in the symbol of America became most pronounced; and when, under pressure of vast economic change and impending civil war, the culture found expression, in all its contradictions and all its power of compelling allegiance, in a self-consciously American literary renaissance. And the conditions for examining that renaissance in its broadest meanings, literary and historical, were never more auspicious than they are now, when the old ideological consensus has broken down. So I come to my third and final subject, the problem of ideology in the current revaluation of the American Renaissance. In the interests of brevity, I confine myself to one aspect of the problem, the much-discussed radicalism of our classic writers. The issue has special relevance here because it was central to the process of canon formation from Lawrence through Matthiessen. The literary establishment that substituted Song of Myself for The Song of Hiawatha also sanctified Whitman as outsider and rx nonconformist The scholars and critics who raised Moby-Dick to sudden to epic prominence proceeded to acclaim Melville for his No-in-thunder to a the powers of the earth. Directly and indirectly, the old consensus tended to privilege the subversive: duplicity in Hawthorne, protest in Thoreau, marginality in Poe, antinomianism in Emerson. All this, be it noted, the name of a distinctly national tradition, a classic literature newly recover for its quintessential ®Americanness.¯ It will be a major problem of the new literary history to explain t paradox of an antagonist literature that is somehow also culturally representative. That did not really trouble an earlier generation of critics because they tended to separate the America of the myth, represent, by our classic writers, from the real America, represented by ideology and their victims. Literary history, I believe, requires us to integrate tho two kinds of representation. What forms that integration will take in large measure determine the extent to which we will achieve what is called an integrated narrative. Somehow, we will have to take the American Renaissance out of the realm of cultural schizophrenia which is the legacy of the old consensus and relocate it firmly in history, which is to say, the center of the antebellum movement toward industrialization, incorporation, and civil war. On some basic level, we will have to reconceive our so-called radical or subversive literary tradition as an insistent engagement with society, rather than a recurrent flight from it. In other words, we will have to re-historicize the ideal Americas projected in our major texts those fabled frontier republics of the soul and worlds elsewhere of endless (because self-generating) ambiguity, those roman, lands of moral antinomies (Old Serpent and New Adam, Innocence al Experience) we will have to re-see these fictions historically, in dynamic relation to the culture: neither as mirrors of their time, nor as lamps ®the creative imagination, but as works of ideological mimesis, at on. implicated in the society they resist, capable of overcoming the forces that compel their complicity, and nourished by the culture they often seem to subvert. With this end in view, let me outline two current approaches to the problem. How can an antagonist literature be said to be culturally representative? And specifically, in what sense does this group of America classics, themselves so deeply concerned with the idea of America, represent a radical literary tradition? One answer begins in the utopian hermeneutics I noted earlier. In this perspective, all utopian visions, secular or religious express powerful feelings of social discontent; many are adopted t repressed or ascendant groups to challenge the status quo; and while some of them are thus incorporated into the ideology of a new social order, nonetheless, as utopian visions, even these remain a potential source of social unrest, a standing invitation to resistance and revolt. Every ideology, that is, breeds its own opposition, every culture its ow counterculture. The same ideals that at one point nourish the system may later become the basis of a new revolutionary consensus, one the. invokes those ideals on behalf of an entirely different way of life, moral and material. Now, in the mid-nineteenth century the source of dissent was a indigenous residual culture, variously identified with agrarianism, libertarian thought, and the tradition of civic humanism. By any name, it was the guiding ideology of the early republic. It had provided an impetus to revolution, a series of rituals of cohesion, and a rationale for the political and social structures of nationhood. As the economy expanded, those structures shifted to accommodate new commercial interestes. The cultural continuities were too strong, too basic, for the ideals themselves to be discarded. They were the self-evident truths, after all, of liberal democracy. So the earlier rhetoric persisted, supported by preindustrial traditions and regional agrarian communities that increasingly contrasted with the ways of the Jacksonian marketplace. And on the ground of that opposition, our classic writers developed a sweeping critique of the dominant culture. It was a diagnosis from within, based on the profound engagement of these writers with a society in transition from agrarian to industrial capitalism, and it issued in an imaginative rendering of that society which was at once radical and representative, an expos‚ of inherent contradictions that re-created the culture in its full complexity. The result, of course, was far more than expos‚. It was (to repeat) a diagnosis from within, rooted in the rhetoric of an earlier America, a rhetoric that had lost its direct social function though it remained nonetheless a staple of national self-definition. And thus freed of its practical tasks which included, let me recall, the preservation of slavery in the South, and the exclusion of large parts of the population everywhere in the country from the privileges of power divested of these and other ideological responsibilities to the social order, the rhetoric could appeal now with the greater purity, as the vehicle of disinterested universal truth. If it could no longer serve the culture,. it could serve the cause of culture at large, by conserving the myths of a bygone age. Accordingly, it aligned itself, against the actual course of events, with trans-historical dreams of human wholeness and social regeneration, and thereby invested the notion of an ideal America with a politically transformative potential. In sum, the ideology of the early republic became, in the utopian form of myth and promise, a fundamental challenge to the national republic. And in the major works of the American Renaissance the challenge found its classic literary expression. Both as cultural critique and as prophetic summons, these classics turned the ideological norms they represented independence, liberty, enterprise, opportunity, individualism, democracy, ®America" itself against the American Way. This view of American literary radicalism promises a fuller account than we have had of what Matthiessen (and many others after him including Spiller) termed the conflict between the real and the ideal America.
The Problem of Ideology in
American Literary History Critical Inquiry, Summer 1986, Volume 12, Number 4