Copyright © 1996 The American Studies Association. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes within a subscribed institution. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically outside of the subscribed institution, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the JHU Press.
American Quarterly 48.2 (1996) 316-343

American Studies:
A Not So Unscientific Method

Brian Attebery

It has become commonplace in recent discussions of cultural studies to refer to American studies as an unsuccessful predecessor, something born in a burst of postwar enthusiasm about 1945 and then collapsed by the mid-1960s. The main reason for its collapse, according to commentators like Jeffrey Louis Decker and Patrick Brantlinger, is a lack of theoretical rigor that led to unconsidered humanist and empiricist postures. 1 Regardless of the political convictions of early practitioners of American studies, for example Henry Nash Smith's left-liberal and Leo Marx's more radical views, their assumptions of historical continuity, American exceptionalism, national consensus, and the existence of the self-contained and rational individual are said to have led inevitably to a reaffirmation of the bourgeois capitalist state and its white male elite. Rather than looking to American studies for insights or examples, therefore, even a sympathetic critic like George Lipsitz suggests that we must invent a wholly new interdisciplinary study of culture using the theories of Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Gramsci, and so on. 2

This critique is quite different from earlier attacks on American studies as unsystematic, subjective, and belletristic, most prominently Bruce Kuklick's "Myth and Symbol in American Studies," 3 but two weaknesses within the American studies tradition give credibility to both readings. The first is the absence of a satisfactory articulation of [End Page 316] the principles from which Marx, Smith, and other Americanists worked--not that they necessarily lacked such principles but that they could never describe them in terms acceptable to either the dominant historical and literary schools of the postwar academy or the cultural theorists of the present.

Any theoretical perspective, whether the New Critical and historical-empiricist views of the 1950s or the Marxist-Freudian-deconstructionist views of the 1990s, makes certain insights possible while rendering others effectively invisible and unutterable. When Leo Marx attempted to defend his and Smith's practice in 1969, he was reduced to calling it an "unscientific method," defining it by negatives because he had no theoretical language to express his intentions and intuitions in positive terms. 4 If this was true in 1969, it is all the more true today, when the word theory itself has become the property of a single, albeit a complex and extensive, philosophical tradition. In effect, commentators like Decker, Brantlinger, and R. C. De Prospo are asserting that if it is not their theory, it is no theory at all. 5 This attitude merely reinforces the impression frequently fostered by American studies scholars themselves that their work is ad hoc, eclectic, and inductive, with no governing assumptions to speak of. 6

The second weakness in the American studies tradition is a tendency to express findings in the form of apparently fixed and absolute theses that do not reflect the complicated and dynamic interpretive procedures that led to the published versions. Both Marx and Smith were aware of this problem. Smith attempted and Marx continues to attempt to surround their best-known works with reconsiderations and revisitations that undercut the apparent definitiveness of the original utterance. 7 However even these amendments do not convey the continual adaptation and adjustment out of which Virgin Land and The Machine in the Garden were born. Such is the case with every critical or historical work, of course, but the academic discourse of the 1950s and 1960s was particulary ill-suited to represent multiple or shifting perspectives, since it generally involved an anonymous scholarly voice proclaiming and "proving" a single hypothesis. Although Virgin Land and The Machine in the Garden are not especially authoritarian by the standards of their time, they do not admit to any doubts and alternatives that might have been in the writers' minds, nor do they attest to the writers' personal involvement in the materials they studied and the impingement of present concerns on perceptions of the past. [End Page 317]

To articulate the theory underlying the work of earlier generations of American studies scholars requires two things. One is a body of evidence attesting to the actual practice that lay behind the published statements. The second is a perspective that can reveal, rather than efface, the theoretical structure underlying the American studies enterprise. Although Marxist-Freudian readings of American studies texts have not been particularly fruitful to date, I find compelling their claim that no study of culture is strictly empirical: we always find what our assumptions allow us to find, and those assumptions are all the more powerful if unconscious. Do the assumptions that the pioneers of American studies brought to their task add up to a coherent and defensible epistemology? I hope to show that the implied theory is at least coherent; to defend its validity is beyond the scope of this essay.

A remarkable set of documents deposited among the Henry Nash Smith papers at the University of California meets the first need for a body of evidence. These are the letters exchanged between Smith and his friend and student Leo Marx. The Smith papers include eight boxes of correspondence not only between Smith and Marx but also with people like Howard Mumford Jones, Bernard de Voto, and Perry Miller. The correspondence with Leo Marx fills eight file folders in box 3 and fourteen in box 4. It begins in 1946 and ends with Smith's death in 1986. The earliest letters are all Marx's, but by the mid-1950s, Smith had begun to keep copies of his own letters as well.

In their forty-year correspondence, Smith and Marx debated the nature of their field, expressed doubts, proposed new theoretical models, recommended readings, and evaluated their own and others' ideas with a freedom that a more public forum did not allow. Their letters, read in combination with their published discussions of methodology, form an invaluable resource for studying the origins of American studies or, for that matter, investigating changes within the American academic community in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Focusing on the Smith and Marx correspondence has the unfortunate effect of contributing to a tendency to reduce the American studies movement to a myth-symbol school consisting of two or three individuals (the identity of the third varies). The contributions of Smith and Marx should not overshadow those of their predecessors and contemporaries, from Constance Rourke to Alan Trachtenberg. If similar records exist attesting to the research methods and interpretive procedures of those individuals, they should certainly be held up alongside [End Page 318] the Smith-Marx correspondence as corroborating or corrective evidence.

Granting that American studies is not reducible to Henry Nash Smith and Leo Marx, it is nonetheless difficult to think of more appropriate starting points for an examination of the field's origins and presuppositions. Yet that still leaves the second need, for an appropriate interpretive lens, a theoretical vantage point from which the scholar's interests and procedures can be seen in context and in depth, rather than being flattened into a cardboard cutout labeled "humanism."

In examining either the published or unpublished writings of Smith and Marx, one's assumptions will inevitably shape one's perceptions, just as theirs did. If a writer uses a word like myth, it will signal one thing if the reader begins from a Jungian perspective, another from a Freudian, and quite another if the reader comes fresh from a reading of Barthes' Mythologies, no matter how carefully the writer attempts to circumscribe the meaning she is invoking. All readings are interpretations; all interpretations are mediated: such is the claim of contemporary theorists and also the claim of Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), the philosopher whose perspective I propose to adopt in reading Marx and Smith. Dilthey himself is relatively unknown to English-speaking scholars, but his interests and ideas make him a worthy alternative to Foucault, Althusser, Lacan, and other Continental thinkers frequently invoked in the name of theory. Although parts of Dilthey's philosophy are problematic, a Diltheyan perspective allows us to make distinctions that a Foucauldian or Althusserian approach obscures and ask questions that they might find meaningless.

Dilthey wrote in an intellectual climate that in some ways resembled that in which Smith and Marx developed their ideas: in both cases, the evident success of the natural sciences led to attempts to adopt a similar approach to the study of human beings and their cultures. Dilthey's objections to this positivistic approach anticipated Smith's and Marx's, and his response, like theirs, was to look for a way to rejoin history and literature, which had been pulled apart by social scientists, on the one hand, and aestheticians, on the other.

Dilthey's is a theory of the study of human beings and their culture: he claimed that all such studies are necessarily both interdisciplinary and interpretive. In this, as in many of his ideas, he stands so close to Smith and Marx that his more explicitly articulated philosophy can help reveal the basis of theirs. The form of American studies they were [End Page 319] inventing is remarkably similar to the enterprise he was the first to call "human studies" or "the human sciences" (Geisteswissenschaften). Indeed, considering Dilthey's influence on the development of such fields as interpretive sociology, intellectual history, hermeneutics, and the study of worldviews, it seems odd that he has not played a greater role in the debate over American studies theory and methology. However, the full range of his thought is only now becoming evident with the posthumous publication of his writings in German and the even more belated beginnings of a systematic translation of that work into English. Such scholars as H. P. Rickman, Theodore Plantinga, Rudolf Makkreel, and Michael Ermarth are questioning earlier dismissals of Dilthey as a minor neo-Kantian or mere transition figure between, say, Hegel and Heidegger. This process of reevaluation promises to be as significant as the rediscovery of Dilthey's contemporary C. S. Peirce. 8

Dilthey's philosophy cannot shield American studies from attack; however, a reading of the Smith-Marx correspondence in the light of Dilthey's ideas reveals the degree of coherence and sophistication with which Smith and Marx approached their investigations and so may redirect criticism to more fruitful grounds. Indeed, many of the objections raised with respect to Smith's and Marx's forms of American studies have also been lodged against Dilthey. He has been accused of treating collectivities such as nations as if they were thinking and feeling entities, 9 of ignoring the possibility of "false consciousness" and bad faith in literary texts, 10 and of confusing facts with ideas. 11 Scholars could easily insert these charges and the reponses to them by Dilthey and his later commentators into the ongoing debate over the nature and validity of American studies.

However, Dilthey's philosophy is most pertinent to the work of Henry Nash Smith and Leo Marx as a means of altering our understanding of the project in which they were engaged: the actual subject of their study, the kinds of evidence they chose to examine, the ways they attempted to understand that evidence, and the ways they tested their own conclusions. Criticisms of their work all too often depend on oversimplifying or misrepresenting one or more of these elements. Although the letters contain many statements regarding Smith's and Marx's intentions, a Diltheyan perspective makes certain statements stand out as explorations of theory rather than as mere descriptions of method. Thus, Dilthey is more useful for this purpose than, say, [End Page 320] Foucault because his ideas have not worked themselves so thoroughly into the current interpretive climate. Hence, he can help us see such familiar texts as The Machine in the Garden and Virgin Land as something other than what we have always taken them to be.

There are many answers to the question, "What does American studies study?" American culture, some say, or American society or the past or works of art in context. In July 1946, Leo Marx, then enrolled as a graduate student in American civilization at Harvard, wrote to Henry Nash Smith about changes in his program that he felt would move him back toward "the concrete subject matter of American civilization" and "the fundamental discipline in the field," which he believed was history. Yet even while aligning himself with the historians, Smith was attempting to redefine what the student of American civilization did with historical materials. First, he asserted that "there was something to be learned from the social anthropologists, sociologists, and social psychologists" despite the high "percentage of their work which is simply either elaboration of the obvious, or verbalization of things which I already know in another language." Second, he expressed his excitement at the approach exemplified in the teaching of F. O. Matthiessen, whose "personal intellectual integration" made the content of his course, which was poetry, "part of a larger view of reality." 12

The implication is that although the subject matter for American studies is something in the past, it is not past events in themselves, but some feature of the past that an anthropologist or psychologist might find of interest. Moreover, this aspect of the past is something particularly accessible through poetry and other literary texts.

Futher definition of the field comes in another letter from Marx to Smith, dated 13 August 1946. Here Marx proposes that "it would be possible to trace, using the literature as an index, the genesis of the American middle class simply in terms of its self-consciousness, or the consciousness of 'middleness.'" This direction, he believes, would allow him to "make use of what actual work has been done by historians and sociologists to make connections between what I find in the literature and what I can establish as historical fact," at the same time taking him "into some interesting byways of modern sociological and psychological theory that interest me." 13

Thus, what Marx singles out as his primary interest is neither the literary artifact as an aesthetic object nor the historical and cultural context that surrounds it, but the "consciousness" that is formed by the [End Page 321] latter and used to construct the former. He conceives of this consciousness as something collective--the self-awareness of the American middle class--although it is accessible primarily through the expressions of individual artists.

By 1948, Marx began to shape this project into a thesis. The challenge was to define it so as to evade the strong pull toward either conventional literary study or straight history. A letter to Smith ex-presses some of this effort:

The chief thing is that I've decided against any attempt at a comprehensive survey of a period or a theme, and that (for the thesis, at least) what I want to do is to examine the influence of the industrial revolution upon, & the use of technological materials imaginatively by, several major writers of the mid-century, but always in the context of their total work. 14

Working from methodological hints he found in Erwin Panofsky's Studies in Iconology, Marx laid out the following regimen for himself:

1. Isolate the use of industrial-technological themes, metaphors, images in the work of the writer under consideration.
2. Examine the way in which these fit into the novel, story or poem,--the way they are imaginatively assimilated, contribute to the total effect, etc. . . .
3. See how the attitudes toward the emerging machine age are related to the major preoccupations, themes, concepts of the writer; this involves both his personal experience, his explicit statements on the subject as well as what happens in his work.
4. Returning to the works of art & reading into them all that is implicit, how does our information illuminate the writer's work, & his relation to his society? 15

Thus, the methodology Marx envisioned for his study was a circular one, or rather an open spiral, beginning from his reading of key passages, broadening out to entire texts, further expanding the field of inquiry to include the writers' extratextual experiences as participants in the age of the machine, and finally returning to the passages for another go at interpretation. This is the trajectory that has since become familiar as the hermeneutic circle (a concept Dilthey played a major role in developing). The initial reading of a historic text, which is shaped by the reader's prior knowledge and experience, impels the reader to acquire further sorts of knowledge and experience that are then brought back to the text to produce a corrected and augmented reading. The process can be repeated indefinitely, resulting in a series [End Page 322] of interpretations that approach but never quite meet the author's intended meaning. Intention and interpretation cannot be identical, because interpretation depends on what the reader, as well as the writer, brings to the text. Marx may be expressing his awareness of the researcher's role in producing whatever truth he may uncover when he confesses to Smith that the scope of this thesis "is so delightfully arbitrary and up to me." 16

The Smith papers do not include Smith's portion of the correspondence during this period, but Marx refers to one of Smith's responses in such a way as to reveal that Smith is trying to guide him into a more conventional sense of his own undertaking. "I found your letter," says Marx, "& your idea that I am wrong in thinking of this as literary criticism--that it's intellectual history. I'm not sure it is either." Smith seems to suggest that what Marx is proposing is merely analysis of a particular intellectual content, the kind of content measurement being practiced by sociologists and social historians, but Marx disagrees:

The machine age is, in terms of art, relatively new, and of course first had to be absorbed in terms of content. In that sense you are right (& you agree with Panofsky--iconology=analysis of content, as distinct from form.)
But I do believe that ultimately form is involved. Eliot makes the point that our ear has been affected by the internal combustion engine. 17

By the next letter, Marx turned this discussion into a more clearly defined thesis proposal, focusing primarily on the canonical writers Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau but still reading their texts as expressions of socially determined experience:

I find myself most intrigued, at the moment, in discovering that I can prove, to my own satisfa[c]tion, the nature of the social content (which I've always thought was there) contained in the intense concern of the Transcendentalists (Emerson in this case) with the epistomological dilemma. I get at this through the use, at key points, of technological references, symbols and themes, such as the use of the railroad motif in the crucial spot in Nature where man (subject, consciousness) becomes separated from the object (nature). 18

Interestingly enough, although Marx here moves toward the symbol-theme terminology of Smith's Virgin Land, the influences that he cites on his thinking are materialists such as Herbert Marcuse, Kenneth Burke, and Karl Marx. 19 [End Page 323]

In a 1953 letter, Marx takes up the troubling question of how literature fits into and yet remains apart from the historical context. He questions an assertion of Smith's that "all investigations of the past are to be regarded as of equal value." If they are not of equal value, who is to assess the difference? Marx answers that "some sort of hierarchy of values seems indispensible, and of course the hierarchy can only come from the experience of the living man." Knowledge has value only if it can have an impact on the present, and so Marx confesses that "I find it impossible to write anything without getting involved in what seem to me the contemporary applications of history." 20

It may be possible, nonetheless, to meet the past on its own terms while remaining committed to the values of the present, for we can recognize in the products of the past the same kind of sifting, structuring, and evaluating of experience that we undertake in our own lives. This is especially so in works of literary art, which are never merely raw materials on which the scholar imposes order but are already attempts to explain themselves and their circumstances. In Marx's words, "the work of art doesn't merely give 'knowledge,' or rather the 'knowledge' it gives is of a different order. It provides an experience larger than either informational or conceptual history, i.e., it is an experience not limited to the mental." Hence, "the arts are entitled to a higher position on the scale than most historical writing . . . on the grounds that a great work of art compresses more of human experience into durable form than most scholarship does. It is important by virtue of its ability to convey the complexities, by virtue of its longevity, and its accessibility." 21

By 1954, these ideas were generating a plan recognizable as that which was eventually to underlie Marx's The Machine in the Garden. Marx tells Smith that a reconsideration of Virgin Land helped him see that he too "must deal with the agrarian myth, and that my book is really about the tension between the two modes of perception, or rather the two conceptions of man and society." He needed therefore to work in stages, first "deal directly with the ideology of industrialism, and the imagery of industrialism as developed in society--i.e., outside of literature." Next he would "deal with the problems, or rather the themes and symbols offered to the writers by the development of the new power," and the way "the symbol-making imagination of Part I [is] transmuted into the symbol-making of the writer." Finally, he would offer "an intensive analysis of four longer works . . . as exhibiting as [End Page 324] manifest in the imagistic pattern, the sense of the tension between two worlds." 22

At this point in the correspondence, having heard much from Marx but only indirectly from Smith, we learn Smith's ideas on the aims of American studies as represented in his current project, the study of Mark Twain that was to become Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer. 23 Smith points out to Marx that the choice of Twain as subject automatically invokes an interdisciplinary approach: "I should also point out that Mark Twain does not lend himself to isolating literary techniques; he seems to me to be more deeply rooted in the society than any other figure in our literary past or present. I shall have to use everything I have got in the way of insights into the relations between literature and the society if I am to do anything with him." 24

Like Marx, Smith seems to feel that the literary text is of interest not because it is exceptional, an isolated aesthetic object, but because it is more than ordinarily representative of its time and place. Marx tends to seek this representative quality in the text's internal complexity, Smith in its external connections, but both are in agreement that the literary text is of particular value to those who are studying not merely the past but the way people experienced the past.

As they worked out their own approaches to American thought and experience, Marx and Smith frequently referred to other scholars whose examples were either useful or obvious dead ends. Among the latter was the New Criticism, which Smith identified in one letter as an extension of the Genteel Tradition: "Hence, possibly, the rooted aversion to sociology or any kind of science: the New Critic wants to cherish his dream of beauty and fears it will be destroyed by scientific knowledge. This is XIX cen[tury] type insecurity." 25 However, neither Smith nor Marx is willing to accept the positivistic attitudes of contemporary social science. Marx complains of one historian that "his method doesn't allow for the possibility that a writer can have important and valid insights into the very situations of which he himself is the victim." 26

However, Marx continues to hope for a kind of social science that will take into account such phenomena as consciousness and symbol formation. "May Brodbeck has been telling me," he writes to Smith, "a lot of what she thinks we can learn from the more abstract reaches of social science speculation, particularly in the realm of 'theory construction,' etc. This I feel would be very useful. So much of the work in our [End Page 325] field seems to begin with unacknowledged, confused, or contradictory assumptions, and to turn to data intrinsically incapable of answering the questions addressed to it." 27

Smith is sympathetic, but a bit more skeptical: "I am perfectly willing to believe that theoretical achievements may prove relevant to American Studies but in some digging I have not been able to find anything that is already usable in this area." He, more than Marx, is content to let the theory evolve as an outgrowth of the work they are already doing:

I recognize with pleasure how very much we are in agreement, not only about what is wrong but also in what we may try to do to remedy the mistakes and wrong directions of scholarship and criticism as they are now practiced. . . . If we wait to eliminate all hints of contradiction in our assumptions, and to examine everything we are taking for granted, we may find that the sun goes down before we make the first whack at chopping down the tree itself. The best way to move is toward the actual criticism, etc. itself. Not that I deplore theory: you know me too well to imagine that; in fact perhaps I am trying to fight against a weakness for theory in myself [ellipses in original]. 28

What Smith means by "actual criticism, etc." is an activity in which the scholar carefully tests critical insights against other sorts of evidence. In response to a proposal by Marx to study "the relevance of Moby-Dick" he asks:

[H]ow are you going to prove the contention about relevance? Will you be dealing with anything more than its relevance to Leo Marx? When you start talking about the popularity of the book, it seems to me you have committed yourself to some sort of demonstration of exactly what its popularity is, that is to say how many readers of what groups are attracted to the book; and then you encounter the further problem of demonstrating that the reasons that you think you see for this popularity do in fact account for it. 29

Here Smith is acknowledging the enormous difficulty in doing what he and Marx have set out to do: to use selected literary texts as points of entry into a mentally constructed reality different from, and yet related to, their own. Smith calls the question Marx has raised "almost unmanageable." 30 Marx agrees in a letter from 1962:

I find that I am not writing one book, but three: (1) the literary response, I mean a literary response to industrialization in the 19th century, which has involved me in an account, (2) of the affinities between America and the "pastoral ideal," and (3) the degree to which the cardinal images (the [End Page 326] machine and the garden) were properties of the extra-literary culture as well. To keep all of these themes in relation to each other is beyond my meagre talents, I'm afraid, and I am not at all sure the result will be readable. 31

Yet both Marx and Smith remain convinced that the nearly impossible task is eminently worth doing. It is important to remember that books like The Machine in the Garden, Mark Twain, and Virgin Land were attempts to find order in evidence that their authors knew to be vast, complicated, and often contradictory. What some readers today find overly neat and unified in their work was the result of considerable effort to remain intelligible, to find some pattern that could serve as a starting point for further investigation. In the published studies, the patterns they came to call myths and symbols often seem to be substantive embodiments of national consensus. Yet the letters reveal that Marx and Smith saw symbol and myth rather as interpretive tools to aid them in identifying the structures of thought used by nineteenth-century writers to sort out their own complex and contradictory environment and in explaining the interaction of individual and society in the formation of those thought patterns.

Marx explains his interest in the pastoral "impulse" (not yet "ideal" or "cultural symbol") because "pastoral is a metaphoric assertion of the importance of certain values, a way of thinking about experience." For a nineteenth-century writer like Hawthorne or Melville, it is "a way of conceiving himself in the physical universe without aid of revelation. Pastoral is in a genuine sense metaphysical as well as psychological and political in significance." 32 At this point, Marx had been engaged in his study for a dozen years or so, yet the symbol around which he was to organize his book had only begun to emerge. The primary subject matter of his investigation was the metaphysical, psychological, and political significance of technology for a particular class of Americans, and the specific symbol that he eventually called the machine in the garden was merely a useful entry into the perceptions and values of that class.

The response to both The Machine in the Garden and Virgin Land, of course, suggests that readers perceived them otherwise: as defenses of a particular methodology centered around cultural symbols. Smith was somewhat bemused by this reading of his work and by campaigns to turn myth and symbol into a methodological foundation for American studies. His letters to Marx in the 1960s indicate that he was more critical of the myth-symbol method than were many of his admirers: [End Page 327]

I have been fascinated by the relatively slight success of various efforts to spell out a methodology that you and I and Bill Ward and a number of other people, such as William R. Taylor and Dick Lewis, have been using. 33

Smith's view of their method was that it involved something like the social scientist's content analysis but without quantification:

That is, we read the material and when we keep running across variants of this or that image, we make a note of the fact. After we have identified the images or symbols that recur most frequently (here is where some kind of intuitive quantification takes place), we begin to operate on the basis of what I would call the coherence theory: that is, we discover to what extent the images or symbols are related to one another in some kind of pattern. As the pattern gradually becomes more and more clear, we are in a position to engage in something like prediction in that when we pick up the next book we begin to read it with certain expectations of what we shall find there. 34

As to what the researcher should read, Smith's answer seems to be to let publication be the primary criterion, since he is looking for patterns in the public consciousness:

I have simply begun, as a rule, with magazines--just as I think you did when you were looking for descriptions of and images derived from the machine--and the only way to cover the ground is to do an immense amount of paging, volume after volume, reading articles that by their titles seem to promise some relevance. In the field of fiction or poetry, the procedure is comparable, except that we do have lists of authors who have survived and to whom we would normally turn first. But after having looked into the work of well-known novelists, we then begin poking around in a necessarily unsystematic fashion in the work of subliterary types. Here the magazines, of course, offer the kind of built-in sampling device, if they carry fiction. 35

Focusing on published writings, of course, leads to a certain degree of bias in that some groups were underrepresented on or absent from the printed page. Smith's interest in subliterary or nonliterary modes, however, means that his conclusions are more broadly based than those of the literary scholars, while his skill as an interpreter of literary texts gives him insights that quantitative historians might miss. His defense of the method ultimately rests on the claim that it is what one necessarily does in examining the past, whether one acknowledges the fact or not:

I don't know of any more subtle refinements of method than these. And it may be that the historians are scandalized by such a sloppy way of [End Page 328] proceeding. But I wonder whether their procedures, if examined close up, are in fact any less sloppy and less intuitive. 36

In another letter from 1967, Smith points out to Marx that one thing that has been hindering their project is a false dualism between "historical (empirical, hard) fact and subjective (mental, non-empirical, soft) fantasy that we have been wrangling with various historians about for a couple of decades." His own efforts, he says, depend on bridging the gap:

I think I am interested in a subject (topic, entity) that transcends this dualism: might I call it cultural history? More specifically, I am concerned with one strand (an important one,) of cultural history of roughly the past 150 years, the history of conceptions of the self, of the actual, operative views (assumptions, doctrines, working hypotheses) current in American society. I turn to fiction for data because I think that the assumptions having most relevance may be more or less--more rather than less--covert, inarticulate, not conceptualized fully. 37

His justification for this study is that the sense of self found in writers from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Henry James remains useful in understanding writers like William Burroughs and Edward Albee and the contemporary world they tried to represent:

I'm not prepared to advance a systematic account of all this but I want to suggest that interest in mental process (not just in Freudian theory or any kind of "scientific" truth about the psyche) is very relevant to the way the world looks now. In this sense I don't think I am embarking upon a merely antiquarian enterprise. 38

Marx finds this study worthwhile but has doubts about the specific sources Smith has in mind: "[I]f one's true object is to study definitions of the self in late 19th century America, aren't there more revealing sources: handbooks of behavior, school texts, moral philosophy, sub-literature (more responsive to audience demands), whatever?" He also sees the same objection to his own endeavors:

Or, to put it more personally and bluntly: is your method to a large degree determined by the fact that you are interested in two things: literature and cultural history, and that in order to do cultural history and have the pleasure of reading novels, you bring the two together. I sometimes think that explains some of the things I do, and while it isn't a reprehensible motive, is it a trustworthy one? 39

[End Page 329]

As was the case twenty years earlier, Marx feels the need for a social scientific theory to provide more solid footing for the task of integrating literature into history and, as before, finds that existing theories come up short. "The trouble is," he complains, "that our model for the extraliterary culture is so crude. We know that there is not a single value system in a complex society, but that the really interesting distinctions involve the various subcultures and their places in the total social structure." 40

Much of the correspondence in the late 1970s and early 1980s involves searching for models of culture that are better attuned to intricacies of cultural interaction and literary expression. Their search leads them in a surprising number of directions, from phenomenology to structuralism. Along the way, Marx recommends to Smith, or Smith to Marx, the work of Clifford Geertz, Peter Berger, Fredric Jameson, Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, and Mikhail Bakhtin, 41 writers in whose thought they found parallels to and reinforcement of their own work and that of others associated with what they now begin to refer to as the image-myth-symbol (or ISM) method. Marx, for instance, says that "I think Clifford Geertz's essays in The Interpretation of Cultures (on ideology, ethos, religion) go as far as anyone can go with the tacit method of the ISM school." 42 However, none of these writers is presented as offering a wholly unproblematic method to replace their own interpretive efforts. According to Marx, Geertz too "comes up against real difficulty in relating ideology and other collective mentalities to the structure of power." 43

There is no mention in the correspondence of Bruce Kuklick's 1972 attack on the myth-symbol school, which may indicate that Smith and Marx found the empiricist grounds of his attack irrelevant to their concerns. They were evidently more interested in objections raised by Marxist commentators. Leo Marx relates with relish an incident that is supposed to have taken place in Germany in about 1973, "when a group of deep scholars had seized upon The Machine in the G. as the long sought key to method in American studies, and then . . . a bright young Marxist got up and demolished the book, me, American Studies--the works." A similar critique in an article by Winfried Fluck led Marx to comment that "curiously, I find his argument, so far as I can penetrate the language, pretty convincing. I think what I am writing now may in fact be more compatible with his views than my earlier ones. . . ." 44

Smith, too, finds himself agreeing with some of the critics: [End Page 330]

As to what I think about Fluck: he is of course a young man who is taking out after one of the Fathers and he certainly goes in for all he can get in the way of scoring points. But in my own case I must admit that he has touched a weak spot. I do recognize that I had internalized so much New Criticism that I said somethings [sic] and even thought some things I would not now endorse. For my own part, I think I can see that I was hypnotized a little by the Cleanth Brookses (not to say the T. S. Eliots) into feeling rather lowbrow and considering myself secretly to be a character not unlike the narrator in Innocents Abroad intimidated by Old Masters and so on. Yet my impulse, like that of the Innocent, was to stick out my tongue at sacred masterpieces. The result of my being tense about the matter was the residual piety evident in the passage Fluck quotes from my introduction to AHF. 45

Both Smith and Marx acknowledge that their own attempts to relate "collective mentalities" to political structures erred on the side of underestimating the influence of the latter. Smith, in a 1977 letter, agrees with an argument raised by Marx earlier, to the effect that

the ISM people (including you and me in our earlier phase) do indeed have a theory but it is so deeply buried that we are not aware of it: we operate on the basis of capitalist assumptions (with the accompanying or[n]aments and corollaries of racism, imperialism and so on). I hint timidly in this direction in the new preface of VL. 46

Yet he also says that "for my part, I'm inclined to go on with what I called then 'principled opportunism,' until someone can show me a synthesizing, general theory of society that is more convincing than the rather general statements in your paper." 47

In his reply, Marx denies that he has such a "better theory" and more specifically denies that he has gone over entirely to the economic determinism of the Marxist historians: "the only path I can see out of this dilemma, is to find a way to make much firmer, clearer connections between these large mental constructs (cultural formations is not a cant term, I think) and specific groups of human beings in a specific set of social arrangements." 48

Smith responds with a question: "[I]f one believes that consciousness is determined by the environment, how does one discover what the environment is?" This question relates, for Smith, to the central problem of history, which is the immersion of the historian in the same mediated reality as his subjects, so that there is no objective viewpoint: "In summary, if we can never arrive at a reality uncontaminated by language and culture, can history (written history) ever be anything except Napoleon's un fable convenu?" 49 [End Page 331]

Marx's answer is that the problem is also the solution, that the culturally derived structures of thought which constrain the historian can nonetheless be used to examine how such structures of thought operate. The flaw Marx sees in their earlier work is simply a failure to acknowledge the degree to which the culture they were studying shaped their perceptions: "Thus, you actually worked with a sophisticated set of propositions about the nature of American society when you wrote VL, but that apparatus is largely invisible. (Same with me, I am not making an invidious comparison you surely know.)" 50

Although Marx and Smith see literature operating within a context of real social circumstances and socially determined structures of thought, that context is never simply given but is itself the product of the historian's interpretation of evidence. Marx says that "all the evidence, raw data, suggesting the shape of collective experience or society" is "useless in that form, so that when we say 'society' we inescapably are bootlegging in a large conceptual apparatus, a tacit or explicit theory about the nature of that society (is it classless, agrarian, democ[r]atic, etc.). . . ." This theory then becomes "the lens through which the data are perceived, and it organizes them, lends meaning and value to them." 51

Marx, particularly, sees literature as having a special value to American studies, because the literary text is, among other things, a representation of a theory about society, a portrait of the lens itself. As Marx says, in words that Smith underscored and asterisked, "a book like Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter is the literary equivalent of the historian's synthetic judgment: it is on a par with the theory, not the data." 52 The historian reading the novel reenacts the author's interpretive act: "I do think that a large part of what makes the book powerful is the reader's matching activity--holding the symbolic reconstruction of reality called Moby-Dick over against our sense of that reality (as we have formed it from other sources) and seeing an illuminating analogical structure, or what Emerson would have called a correspondence." 53

Smith agrees, with reservations: "'Our sense': that is indeed a key notion; and you put the matter quite accurately, I think when you write 'a much better clue to what was really happening--or so we now feel . . . what is now being read from the earlier era.'" Yet Smith wants to retain some sense that the historian is responsible to his materials, that present needs cannot make the past into whatever one wants it to be: "Not that I think you go so far as to deny that a text can be an [End Page 332] intelligible object, but you seem to be edging in that direction: do you not? When you speak of 'trying to impose a single meaning,' you leave open the possibility that meanings are not discovered but imposed, and this seems to me a surrender to a sterile skepticism that approaches nihilism." 54

In a 1980 letter, Marx defends a degree of skepticism on the grounds that the historical referent, "the thing in itself," does not exist outside of the cultural presuppositions that determine the way it is represented in a text: "What we do know, that which constitutes the raw material of our productions of knowledge (like literary texts) is already a 'cultural ideological unit'--suffused with the distorting (deformative) and creating (constitutive) effects of our viewpoint--our language; the text is therefore twice removed from 'reality' as suggested by the fact that it consists of second-order symbols (the ordinary language it employs being the first order)." Yet to Marx, this position does not result in "nihilism" but in the only kind of knowledge possible in studying human beings and their expressions, and so he states: "I am quite happy with this combination of materialism and phenomenological complexity." 55

During their long discussion about the nature of American studies, Smith and Marx do not always agree about what they are doing, nor is either's position fixed from beginning to end. However, both men seem to accept a number of premises throughout the four decades of their correspondence:

1. The subject matter of American studies is the American mind or consciousness; this consciousness is variously experienced and expressed by individual Americans but is also somehow collective.
2. The method for studying this subject involves interpreting artifacts, especially verbal texts, in cultural context: this context, however, is not a given but is itself constructed by the researcher through other interpretive acts.
3. The interpreter is himself a product of history: his perceptions are both enabled and limited by the structures of thought given by his culture.
4. Although interpretation starts from the researcher's own culturally acquired values and worldview, a reading of the past can be tested and validated by interdisciplinarity: using psychological insights to probe political positions, reading historical documents with the literary [End Page 333] critic's sensitivity, letting artists' images illuminate writers' words, and so on.
5. Literature has a special place in American studies because the literary text articulates its own theory about itself and its time and place; it may not be a reliable guide to what most people were thinking, but it is the best entry into how they were thinking.

Each of these five points corresponds to one of Wilhelm Dilthey's key propositions about the human sciences. Indeed, as I hope to show, the match is so close that one would suspect some sort of influence, though Dilthey's name is never mentioned in the letters. It is possible that some of his ideas were transmitted through such vectors as William James, John Dewey, Max Weber, Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas, Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, and Mikhail Bakhtin, all of whom incorporated elements of Dilthey's thought into their own work. 56 Equally likely, though, Smith and Marx reached their position through a parallel evolution, starting from assumptions similar to Dilthey's essentially pragmatic ones, dealing with similar cultural materials, and forced to answer similar challenges.

The main difference between Dilthey's Geisteswissenschaften and Smith and Marx's American studies is that Dilthey worked within European philosophical tradition (although he also engaged in literary criticism, biography, and historical research). Thus, he saw the need to make his theoretical presuppositions explicit and to defend them against idealist, positivist, and later, phenomenological challenges. His version of the human sciences is also more systematic than Smith's and Marx's American studies, although like them he changed his emphases and terminology from time to time.

What Leo Marx refers to as consciousness, Dilthey calls Geist, or spirit. In German usage, this term overlaps with the English mind but goes beyond mere rationality. As Dilthey uses the word, Geist includes thought but also emotion, value, and intentionality. It is that which is perceivable in other persons and their actions, but not in natural objects and processes. Hence, the human sciences cannot adopt the methods of the natural sciences, which attempt to describe and analyze purely material processes. To do so would be to ignore the sense of another self, or as Dilthey described it, "the I in the thou," 57 that resides in every human act. The human sciences must account for the fact that "from stones and marble, musical notes, gestures, words and letters, from [End Page 334] actions, economic decrees and constitutions, the same human spirit addresses us and demands interpretation." 58 Whereas "nature is mute to us," and can only be observed from the outside, "we know the state of society inwardly; we can reproduce it in ourselves up to a point by observing our own condition, and we intuitively follow the depiction of the historical world with love and hate, with passionate joy, with full involvement of our emotions." 59

So the interpretation of human history, laws, customs, arts, and so on is dependent on a link between the observer and the thing observed. A painting of a leaf differs fundamentally from a fossil leaf print, although the two are superficially similar. The painting represents someone's intention and grows out of a comprehensible inner reality, comprehensible because it is fundamentally similar to our own.

This explanation may sound dangerously psychologistic, leading to all sorts of false dichotomies and based on an undemonstrable sympathy among isolated mental monads. Dilthey avoids this dilemma by the way he defines inner experience. For Dilthey the individual Geist and its expressions are neither self-contained nor spontaneously generated, but are the products of cultural materials and historical forces. Especially in his later writings, self-awareness is seen as something that comes to us already structured and mediated. Our innermost selves are formed from cultural materials: language, customs, laws, institutions, art. On the one hand, these cultural structures express the beliefs, habits, and desires of individuals; on the other hand, "every individual is also a point where webs of relationships intersect; these relationships go through individuals, exist within them, but also reach beyond their life and possess an independent existence and development of their own through the content, value and purpose which they realize." 60

So when the mind, or Geist, sets out to understand something produced by another Geist, it is not dealing with a wholly separate entity but with something to which it is already connected. This principle is most evident when the researcher's cultural origins are linked historically with the things he or she is studying: both are part of the same "mind-constructed world." 61 Thus, when Henry Nash Smith reads Mark Twain, he retraces some of the steps that formed the identity of Henry Nash Smith; the mind-constructed worlds of both are already linked, although that of Smith differs in many respects, including the existence of the writings of Mark Twain.

This leads to the question of what the researcher does when he or she [End Page 335] interprets. Dilthey points out that we do not have direct access to other minds. We see only the objectified expressions of their subjective experience: their "gestures, facial expressions and words" as well as more "permanent mental creations which reveal their author's deeper meaning, and lasting objectifications of the mind in social structures. . . ." 62 When we interpret such expressions, we draw on experience of the inner significance of our own actions, and, relating the expression at hand to our sense of some cultural whole, we invest it with meaning, purpose, and value. Even our own past actions and expressions must be thus interpreted:

The psycho-physical unit, man, knows even himself through the same mutual relationship of expression and understanding; he becomes aware of himself in the present; he recognizes himself in memory as something that once was; but, when he tries to hold fast and grasp his states of mind by turning his attention upon himself, the narrow limits of such an introspective method of self-knowledge show themselves; only his actions and creations and the effect they have on others teach man about himself. So he only gains self-knowledge by the circuitous route of understanding. 63

What Dilthey meant by understanding (Verstehen) was the application of one's own lived experience (Erlebnis) to some particular expression (Ausdruck) of an earlier experience--our own or someone else's. The earlier Erlebnis itself is unavailable; but memory and present experience allow us to invest expressions with a sense of the inner life that produced them. To interpret is to reexperience (Nacherleben) the state of mind that went into producing the artifact or text in question.

Such reexperiencing cannot be identical to the original Erlebnis nor need it be to allow communication to take place. Dilthey conceived of Nacherleben as a dialogue betweeen the objective expression and the investigator's subjectivity: "Now inasmuch as the exegete tentatively projects his own sense of life into another historical milieu, he is able within that perspective, to strengthen and emphasize certain spiritual processes in himself and minimalize others, thus making possible within himself a reexperiencing of an alien form of life." 64

Dilthey, like Marx and Smith, recognized that reality is always mediated and understanding always incomplete, but it is nonetheless possible to make contact with others, now or in the past: [End Page 336]

Action everywhere presupposes our understanding of other people; much of our happiness as human beings derives from our re-experiencing [Nachfühlen] of alien states of mind; the entire science of philology and of history is based on the presupposition that such recomprehension [Nachverständnis] of individual existence can be raised to objective validity. 65

However, the individual expression is not meaningful in isolation, but only in historical context. In Dilthey's later writing, he emphasizes his belief that understanding is essentially historical rather than introspective: "Man does not discover what he is through speculation about himself or through psychological experiments but through history." 66 To understand even oneself is to interpret, and the method of interpretation is the hermeneutic circle that moves from part to whole and back again. History is the whole within which the individual experience has value and meaning. Yet where is that whole, that "historical consciousness," accessible? Nowhere but in the mind of the interpreter, who has constructed it from other parts. For this reason, says Dilthey, "all understanding remains partial and can never be terminated." 67

When Leo Marx reads Moby-Dick, he interprets individual text in the light of such wholes as American romance, the industrial revolution, the middle class, and American culture. Without such reference points, the text is meaningless, and yet these wholes must always be constructed and reconstructed even as they are used to make sense of Melville's words.

To validate one's sense of historical moments and cultural contexts, according to Dilthey, one must move through the whole circle of the human sciences. Just as psychological knowledge depends on the study of history, history depends on knowledge of the conventions that govern the production of texts, and understanding of those conventions requires some sense of the psychological forces at work within the culture. H. A. Hodges summarizes Dilthey's sense of the interdependence of the disciplines thus: "There is no one discipline among the human studies which can guarantee the fundamental concepts of the rest; they check and confirm one another in a relation of 'reciprocal dependence.'" 68 Accordingly, when Smith wants to validate his reading of Twain, he suggests that

what is needed is a method of analysis that is at once literary (for one must begin with an analytical reading of the texts that takes into account structure, [End Page 337] imagery, diction, and the like) and sociological (for many of the forces at work in the fiction are clearly of social origin). Such an analysis would not only take us much farther into Mark Twain's fictive universe than criticism has gone in the past; it would also give us a new insight into American society of the late nineteenth century . . . . 69

The emphasis on interpretation as the primary method of human studies explains the prominence accorded to literary texts. Although any artifact may be expressive, verbal texts are the most explicit because language is the most flexible and precise of expressive codes: "for only in speech does the inner life of man find its fullest and most exhaustive, most objectively comprehensible expression. That is why the art of understanding centers on the exegesis or interpretation of those residues of human reality preserved in written form." 70

Among verbal texts, poetry, by which Dilthey seems to mean literary art in general, offers something more than other written documents. It provides a hypothesis about the very cultural and historical reality of which it is a part and a product. Any historical age, says Dilthey, is composed of multitudes of independent facts compounded into sometimes conflicting systems of relations, "but the unity of a period and people that we characterize as the historical spirit of an age can only arise from these elements through the creative power and self-assurance of a genius." 71 In other words, there is no such unity until someone identifies it, and those who are most likely to create a compelling model of the whole are literary artists.

Thus, Smith and Marx found Huckleberry Finn and Moby-Dick to be useful starting points for investigating the nineteenth-century American mind, not because they are universal touchstones or direct lenses on historical reality, but because they are the fullest and most explicit expression of earlier experience available to us in the present and because they provide testable hypotheses about their cultural moments. Marx defended his interests in very Diltheyan language:

The piece of the 19th century which is currently alive in our consciousness is constituted, I would say, more by Melville and his work than by most of the (then) popular fiction of the era, though I agree, too, that the most widely held views of the time may have been a false consciousness, and I do not think that "accuracy of representation" in any literal mimetic sense is involved. But I do think that in retrospect we find in Moby Dick many telling implications for subsequent developments, that tallies better with our sense of American experience in the 19th century than the popular books of the time would if we were to reread them. 72

[End Page 338]

By reexperiencing the literary text, the researcher gains a sense of how to articulate historical data into a meaningful pattern or structure, what Smith called symbol or myth and Dilthey ponderously termed an "acquired psychic nexus." 73 Smith was more willing than either Marx or Dilthey to venture into popular texts like dime novels in search of these meaningful patterns. Subsequent researchers like Jane Tompkins and Annette Kolodny (discussed with interest by Marx and Smith) 74 have broadened the scope of inquiry and found alternative symbolic structures. Yet the essential undertaking, to understand the mind-constructed world of the nineteenth century, remains the same as that proposed by Smith and Marx, and the method, though enriched by recent theoretical refinements, is still a painstaking spiral through the human sciences in search of interpretive contexts that exist, as do all such unities, in the minds of the interpreters.

Smith's own self-criticisms and Marx's attempts to incorporate Marxist and deconstructionist insights into his methodology, like Dilthey's continual reformulations of his theory, indicate that neither Dilthey's human sciences nor the pioneering works of American studies can be taken as finished projects. Yet, as Dilthey scholar Rudolf A. Makkreel has pointed out, the goal of all such endeavors is to "widen our framework of interpretation and generate new meaning, so that we will not just refine our original understanding, but enrich it. The hermeneutic circle of the human sciences is vicious only if it is used to demonstrate or confirm a thesis--used, that is, as a confirmatory circle." 75 The method not only allows but demands continuous refinement, in a process that is endless but not pointless.

Dilthey's work demonstrates that an enterprise such as American studies may be, as Smith said, intuitive and opportunistic and still result in objectively testable knowledge. It is not necessary to apologize for American studies, as Marx felt compelled to do in 1969, as unscientific. 76 Instead, we might follow Dilthey in defining a different kind of science, one in which interpretation and cross-disciplinary validation replace prediction and experimental verification. In this kind of science, one is always beginning again, writing "introductions to introductions," 77 but each new beginning incorporates and critiques previous work. Although we may not always reconfirm Leo Marx and Henry Nash Smith, their writings form part of our human-constructed world and our culturally defined selves as investigators of the American Geist. We not only read them but also read through them--as I have read them [End Page 339] through Wilhelm Dilthey--and thereby widen our own interpretive framework, enriching our understanding of American experiences and expressions.

Idaho State University

Brian Attebery is Director of American studies and a professor of English at Idaho State University. He has written extensively on science fiction and fantasy and is coeditor, with Ursula K. Le Guin, of The Norton Book of Science Fiction.


Thanks to Leo Marx, Elinor Smith Bracher, and the Bancroft Library for permission to quote from the Smith-Marx correspondence. The research leading to this article was begun while I was a Fulbright Teaching Fellow at the Swedish Institute for North American Studies and completed with the aid of a grant from the Idaho State Board of Education: I am grateful to those organizations. I would also like to acknowledge those who have read and commented on various versions of the manuscript, including Leo Marx, Rudolf Makkreel, John Kijinski, and Mary Ellen Walsh.

1. Jeffrey Louis Decker, "Dis-Assembling the Machine in the Garden: Antihumanism and the Critique of American Studies," New Literary History 23 (1992): 281-306; Patrick Brantlinger, Crusoe's Footprints: Cultural Studies in Britain and America (New York, 1990), 28-32. Also see Henry Giroux, David Shumway, Paul Smith, and James Sosnoski, "The Need for Cultural Studies: Resisting Intellectuals and Oppositional Public Spheres," Dalhousie Review 64 (1985): 476; Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago, 1987), 209-11; and Julie Thompson Klein, Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice (Detroit, 1990), 113.

2. George Lipsitz, "Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and American Studies," American Quarterly 42 (1990): 616-17.

3. Bruce Kuklick, "Myth and Symbol in American Studies," American Quarterly 24 (1972): 437, 441.

4. Leo Marx, "American Studies--A Defense of an Unscientific Method," New Literary History 1 (1969): 77-78.

5. R. C. De Prospo, "Marginalizing Early American Literature," New Literary History 23 (1992): 233-65.

6. Guenter H. Lenz, "American Studies--Beyond the Crisis?: Recent Redefinitions and the Meaning of Theory, History, and Practical Criticism," Prospects 7 (1982): 53-113; Gene Wise, "'Paradigm Dramas' in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement," American Quarterly 31 (1979): 293-337; David R. Shumway, "A Hermeneutics of Myth and Symbol: A Theoretical Paradigm for American Studies" (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1983).

7. Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, 20th anniv. ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1970); Henry Nash Smith, "Virgin Land Revisited," Indian Journal of American Studies 3 (June 1973): 83-90; Henry Nash Smith, "Symbol and Idea in Virgin Land" in Ideology and Classic American Literature, eds. Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen (Cambridge, England, 1986), 21-35; Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York, 1964); Leo Marx, The Pilot and the Passenger: Essays on Literature, Technology, and Culture in the United States (New York, 1988).

8. H. P. Rickman, Dilthey Today: A Critical Appraisal of the Contemporary Relevance of His Work, Contributions in Philosophy, no. 35 (New York, 1988); Theodore Plantinga, Historical Understanding in the Thought of Wilhelm Dilthey (Toronto, 1980); Rudolf A. Makkreel, Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies (Princeton, N.J., 1975); Michael Ermarth, Wilhelm Dilthey: The Critique of Historical Reason (Chicago, 1978).

9. Rickman, Dilthey Today, 30.

10. Fredric Jameson, "Note from the Translator," in Wilhelm Dilthey, "The Rise of Hermeneutics," trans. Fredric Jameson, New Literary History 3 (1972): 230.

11. Michael Ermarth, "Objectivity and Relativity in Dilthey's Theory of Understanding," in Dilthey and Phenomenology, ed. Rudolf A. Makkreel and John Scanlon (Washington, D.C., 1987), 74.

12. All quotations this paragraph: Leo Marx to Henry Nash Smith, 13 July 1946, in Henry Nash Smith papers (87/136 c), The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (hereafter cited as Smith papers).

13. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 13 Aug. 1946, in Smith papers.

14. Marx to Smith, 7 Feb. 1948, in Smith papers.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith 7 Feb. 1948, in Smith papers.

18. Marx to Smith, 21 Oct. 1948, in Smith papers.

19. Ibid.

20. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 31 July 1953, in Smith papers.

21. All quotations this paragraph: ibid.

22. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 20 Feb. 1954, in Smith papers.

23. Henry Nash Smith, Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer (Cambridge, Mass., 1962).

24. Smith to Marx, 3 May 1954, in Smith papers.

25. Smith to Marx, 24 May 1955, in Smith papers.

26. Marx to Smith, 5 Oct. 1955, in Smith papers.

27. Marx to Smith, 13 Jan. 1956, in Smith papers.

28. All quotations this paragraph: Smith to Marx, 16 Jan. 1956, in Smith papers (ellipses in original).

29. Smith to Marx, 5 May 1958, in Smith papers.

30. Ibid.

31. Marx to Smith, 2 May 1962, in Smith papers.

32. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 19 Mar. 1959, in Smith papers.

33. Smith to Marx, 7 Apr. 1967, in Smith papers.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. All quotations this paragraph: Smith to Marx, 2 Sept. 1967, in Smith papers.

38. Ibid.

39. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 24 Sept. 1967, in Smith papers.

40. Marx to Smith, 9 Oct. 1967, in Smith papers.

41. Marx to Smith, 12 Feb. 1977; Smith to Marx, 16 Apr. 1977; Smith to Marx, 15 Feb. 1973; Marx to Smith, 12 Feb. 1977; Marx to Smith, 5 July 1973; Marx to Smith, 30 Jan. 1983, all in Smith papers.

42. Marx to Smith, 12 Feb. 1977, in Smith papers.

43. Ibid.

44. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 13 Nov. 1974.

45. Smith to Marx, 24 Nov. 1974, in Smith papers.

46. Smith to Marx, 6 Feb. 1977, in Smith papers.

47. Ibid.

48. Marx to Smith, 12 Feb. 1977, in Smith papers.

49. All quotations this paragraph: Smith to Marx, 16 Apr. 1977, in Smith papers.

50. Marx to Smith, 21 Apr. 1977, in Smith papers.

51. All quotations this paragraph: ibid.

52. Marx to Smith, 2 Feb. 1975, in Smith papers.

53. Marx to Smith, 31 May 1979, in Smith papers.

54. All quotations this paragraph: Smith to Marx, 20 June 1979, in Smith papers.

55. All quotations this paragraph: Marx to Smith, 6 Mar. 1980, in Smith papers.

56. James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (New York, 1986), 61; T. Z. Lavine, introduction to vol. 16, John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925-1953, by John Dewey (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1989), xiii-xiv; Ilse N. Bulhof, Wilhelm Dilthey: A Hermeneutic Approach to the Study of History and Culture (The Hague, 1980), 5; Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (Boston, 1934), 52; George W. Stocking, Jr., A Franz Boas Reader: The Shaping of American Anthropology, 1883-1911 (Chicago, 1974), 11; Victor Turner, "Dewey, Dilthey, and Drama: An Essay in the Anthropology of Experience," in The Anthropology of Experience, eds. Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (Urbana, Ill., 1986), 33-44; Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York, 1983), 69; Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, N.Y., 1966), 7; Tzvetan Todorov, Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, trans. Wlad Godzich, Theory and History of Literature, vol. 13 (Minneapolis, Minn., 1984), 16.

57. Wilhelm Dilthey, "The Construction of the Historical World in the Human Studies," trans. H. P. Rickman, in W. Dilthey Selected Writings, ed. H. P. Rickman (New York, 1976), 208.

58. Wilhelm Dilthey, "The Rise of Hermeneutics," trans. Fredric Jameson, New Literary History 3 (1972): 232.

59. Wilhelm Dilthey, Introduction to the Human Sciences: An Attempt to Lay a Foundation for the Study of Society and History, trans. Ramon J. Betanzos (Detroit, Mich., 1988), 97.

60. Dilthey, "Construction," 180-81.

61. Ibid., 196-99.

62. Ibid., 175.

63. Ibid., 176.

64. Dilthey, "Rise," 243.

65. Ibid., 230-31.

66. Wilhelm Dilthey, "Ideas about a Descriptive and Analytical Psychology," trans. H. P. Rickman, in Rickeman, ed., W. Dilthey Selected Writings, 93.

67. Dilthey, "Rise," 243.

68. H. A. Hodges, The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey (London, 1952), 221.

69. Henry Nash Smith, "Can 'American Studies' Develop a Method?" Studies in American Culture: Dominant Ideas and Images, ed. Joseph J. Kwiat and Mary C. Turpie (Minneapolis, Minn., 1960), 7.

70. Dilthey, "Rise," 223 (emphasis in original).

71. Wilhelm Dilthey, "The Imagination of the Poet: Elements for a Poetics," trans. Louis Agosta and Rudolf A. Makkreel in Poetry and Experience, ed. Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi, Selected Works (Princeton, N.J., 1985), 5:162.

72. Marx to Smith, 31 May 1979, in Smith papers (emphasis in original).

73. Dilthey, "Imagination," 72.

74. Marx to Smith, 29 Aug. 1982, in Smith papers.

75. Rudolf A. Makkreel, "Dilthey and Universal Hermeneutics: The Status of the Human Sciences," Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 16 (1985): 247.

76. Leo Marx has explained that his use of the term "unscientific" was not so much apologetic as provocative. The essay in which the term appears was written in response to papers delivered at a social science conference, and "unscientific" in that context meant, as Marx says, something other than the "shallow, mechanistic, reductive, positivistic scientism" that was being practiced in the name of science. Leo Marx, letter to author, 14 Nov. 1995.

77. Ermarth, Wilhelm Dilthey, 5.