Sacvan Bercovitch

Sacvan BercovitchSacvan Bercovitch's The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America provides an interesting place to make a brief point: that scholars often seem self-aware, but do not actually give in to total analysis. Bercovitch's first chapter provides some background on the influences that led him into the type of thinking he now holds. He talks about being a Canadian, and the way that helped determine his understanding of American mythology. He talks about scholarly influences, and why he has resisted some of them. Ultimately he recognizing the need for interpreting texts with an understanding of limitation, or what he calls the "hermeneutics of non-transcendence."1 We need to be in the mix of life, culture, and context to attempt any sort of understanding.

Canadian flag

From this point, Bercovitch acknowledges the mental processes he undergoes in his own experiences, and he conceptualizes these experiences as "border-crossings."2 Bercovitch tries to work out a relationship between his Canadian upbringing and his American Studies scholarship. This type of effort is particularly necessary to someone trying to work through a methodology based on contingency and individual context. Towards the end of his book, Bercovitch spells out the truths he believes about ideology and symbology. However, he backs away at the last minute, saying, "I leave it to another generation to analyze the conundrums of this peculiar ideological dependency."3 He is almost willing to confront his own work. His lists the underlying determinants of his thought, but refuses in the end to engage them. In this hesitant approach, Bercovitch gives us a direction to move in, but also a degree of self-consciousness to seek to surpass.


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1Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America. New York: Rutledge, 1993, p. 5.

2Bercovitch, p. 5.

3Bercovtich, p. 356.