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AMER RENAIS: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (Galaxy Books) Paperback – 31 Dec 1968


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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press USA; New Ed edition (31 Dec. 1968)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019500759X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195007596
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 3.6 x 13.7 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 963,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"ÝMatthiessen's¨ exploration of the haunted mind of Hawthorne, of Emerson's integrity, of the mental hell in which Melville lived, of Whitman's schizophrenia, of Thoreau's chosen solitude, Ýhas¨ produced a book unequaled in American critical writing."--The New Republic


"[Matthiessen's] exploration of the haunted mind of Hawthorne, of Emerson's integrity, of the mental hell in which Melville lived, of Whitman's schizophrenia, of Thoreau's chosen solitude, [has] produced a book unequaled in American critical writing."--The New Republic



"[Matthiessen's] exploration of the haunted mind of Hawthorne, of Emerson's integrity, of the mental hell in which Melville lived, of Whitman's schizophrenia, of Thoreau's chosen solitude, [has] produced a book unequaled in American critical writing."--The New Republic



"[Matthiessen's] exploration of the haunted mind of Hawthorne, of Emerson's integrity, of the mental hell in which Melville lived, of Whitman's schizophrenia, of Thoreau's chosen solitude, [has] produced a book unequaled in American critical writing."--The New Republic


"Perhaps the most profound work of literary criticism on historical principles by any modern American."--Saturday Review


"[Matthiessen's] exploration of the haunted mind of Hawthorne, of Emerson's integrity, of the mental hell in which Melville lived, of Whitman's schizophrenia, of Thoreau's chosen solitude, [has] produced a book unequaled in American critical writing."--The New Republic


"Matthiessen has brought to light a rich and complex period....His comments on language and style, in addition to being discerning as criticism, become finally profound reflections on nineteenth-century American society."--Daniel Aaron, Kenyon Review


From the Back Cover

This text has taken its place as the definitive treatment of the most distinguished age of American literature. Centering the discussion around five literary giants of the mid-nineteenth century-Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman. Matthiessen elucidates their conceptions of the nature and function of literature, and the extent to which these were realized in their writings.

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9abecb1c) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a3d6e10) out of 5 stars THE American Study 19 Jun. 2007
By Sören Fröhlich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is hard to find a more seminal work on American Literature than American Renaissance. Until today, any self-respecting American Studies scholar or expert for American Literature has to come to terms with this massive shedding of ink on some of the best American texts ever published.
Though I find myself at times lost in the wealth of Mr. Matthiessen's allusions and remarks, especially when he weaves all too great a narrative from the swatches he collected, I remain fascinated with this genuinely passionate account of a harmony where many believed (and still today believe) to hear only cacophony. Suspiciously quiet about his personal leanings and politics (a fact that, with all due respect, could simply not remain untouched by more recent cultural, gender, and Marxist critics), Matthiessen takes us back to an age that holds more of today than we sometimes think, and that already foreshadows in its depth what more superficial ages would later repeat ad nausea.
It is not a novel, nor a Michener book, but if you are seriously interested in 19th century American literature (and he does give Whitman the respect he deserves), this may very well be one of the most readable studies on the subject. Sadly shortcutting Dickinson, Poe, and other authors that are excavated only today, this book still points calmly and self-assuredly to those novels and poems that stand out. All these dead, white men wrote texts that we simply cannot ignore, and whether we love Cervantes, Joyce, DeLillo, whether Tan, Faulkner, Burroughs, or Lacan, we have to see that the whale's whiteness and Walden's silence are with us always.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9abefbac) out of 5 stars Emerson's America 24 Sept. 2012
By off the tropic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
F.O. Mathiessen's "American Renaissance:Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman" (1941) is a painstakingly detailed historical study of how form and content, style and meaning, merge with a new unity in the works of key representative American artists - Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman - to create a re-birth of a distinctive American artistic imagination that ripens to maturity in the 1850s. This uniquely American moment in the history of art is described with breathtaking eloquence, critical insight, and exegesis by a brilliant stylist and scholar.

Mathiessen traces the primary influences that lead up to this American renaissance of artistic expression, citing classical, medieval, renaissance sources (Thomas Browne, Milton, Dante, Plato) as important determinants of style and expression. The guiding assumption here is that America, in its essence, can only be revealed in the works of its greatest representatives, who inevitably remain its greatest artists. Mathiessen examines the journals, notebooks, marginalia of key authors, along with other secondary historical and critical sources, to trace influences between them and their common tie to one progenitor - Ralph Waldo Emerson - to show how the democratic cultural ethos, the radically new natural landscape of America, the overlooked spaces of the commonplace, and the intellectual clash between transcendental and tragic ideals inspire the form and content of the representative works in this new artistic enterprise. Emerson and Thoreau's more reconciliatory vision is made to stand in contrast with the darker tragic vision of life in the novels of Hawthorne and Melville, before the book transitions back to the Emersonian optimism of Whitman's poetry.

The unique landscape of Concord inspires Emerson's transcendental vision in "Nature" (1833), along with a new stress on self-reliance and individualism in a series of lectures and essays culminating in "Representative Men" (1850) and "English Traits" (1860). This radical quest for a return to the self in Emerson's project will take new emphasis and direction in Thoreau's "Walden" (1854). Thoreau's isolation in the makeshift hut in the corner of Concord will forge the New England imagination with the moral worldviews of the larger religious history of the world. The reaction to transcendentalism will emerge in the symbolic and allegorical tragic novels of Hawthorne and Melville. The provincial life that is symbol for all life in its totality is depicted with a new consciousness of evil in Hawthorne's deeply symbolic "The Scarlet Letter" (1850) and "The House of the Seven Gables" (1851), while Melville's more allegorical tragedies will emerge in a Shakespearean metaphysical quest in "Moby Dick" (1851) and "Pierre" (1852). The ever widening, more inclusive, artistic vision will make the business of artistic creation inseparable from the daily business of living in Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855) and the old breadth of humanism that once animated the vision of man in renaissance Italy will return with an inspired eloquence in Emerson's study of great human beings in "Representative Men" (1850).

The central importance of "Man Thinking" and the breadth of vision and meaning that this uniquely American democratic vantage point commands for the individual will usher in a re-birth of art and culture in a uniquely American grain. This vision is a genuine alternative to the narrowly specialized function of art and culture emerging from the aristocratic, class oriented, cultural tradition of Europe. The broader expressive strokes in the art of mid-nineteenth century America will be a renaissance similar in artistic tendency to the broader humanistic "re-births" in artistic movements earlier in Britain and in the continent. This short burst of artistic inspiration from 1850-55 will thus rival the summits of human creativity in history.

One issue I have with the book is an important aspect of Mathiessen's critique of Emerson that culminates on page 184, just before the transition to the sections on Hawthorne and Melville. Emerson's transcendental vision is depicted as incomplete, superficial, since it is dismissive of the tragic sense of life. Mathiessen implicitly endorses the strain of the tragic in the novels of Hawthorne and Whitman as a deeper vision of life. Transcendentalism is derided as an early, naive, movement in largely ignoring the "problem of evil" broached by the novelists. Emersonian optimism and the picture of life it evokes is judged as incomplete since it stops short of depicting one driving fact of American culture, the darker subterranean religious consciousness of sin and evil, and the radical separation of the ideal from the real that emerges from that consciousness.

Here Mathiessen does not evaluate Emerson; he implicitly restates the criticism of Emerson by Hawthorne and Melville. Mathiessen's a priori commitment to the architectural and thematic arrangements of his history, this alternate depiction of the light of transcendentalism and the dark of tragedy, impedes him from recognizing the skeptical strains of thought that inform Emerson's transcendental vision. The result is a rare misstep in Mathiessen's evaluation of Emerson. Emerson's famous quote: "To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine" is the classic Emersonian affirmative, and inclusive, stance. It is in this spirit that Emerson finds a place for the "tragic", the "fall of man", and thus his acknowledgement of this consciousness of evil. As Mathiessen acknowledges, Emerson's essay "Experience" will detail his sense of the tragic in the form of biographical details of loss, and accentuate the division between the ideal, the infinitude of private man, from the real. Emerson's response to the tragic, how he chooses to overcome the tragic, his legendary reconciliatory attitude, while affirmative, is still colored by tragedy. The strained affirmation is belied by the stately calm of his prose. This reserved approach to the tragic is interpreted by his contemporaries, and reiterated by Mathiessen, as naive. But the tragic dimension is very much present. Emerson's philosophy of confronting life in all its range, without negation, requires a full meeting of the tragic. The Olympian depth of self-overcoming in Emerson commands the respect and reverence of his greatest reader, Nietzsche, the tragic philosopher, par excellence. What Mathiessen, and the two central tragic novelists, have missed about Emerson is this deeper tragic cast of mind.

Mathiessen's pioneering work amply demonstrates that even without acknowledging this important tragic dimension of transcendentalism, his Emerson emerges as the dominant voice that the younger tragic generation is importantly reacting against. As such, he is a steady and massive influence through the major periods of American history charted here.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b037120) out of 5 stars A great work of American scholarship 20 Oct. 2004
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The American Renaissance 1850-1855 was the time in which American Literature truly came into greatness. Melville( Moby Dick 1851) Whitman ( Leaves of Grass 1855) Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne. Matthiessen identifies the phenomenom understands that this is the real birth- note of American literature not simply as an insular provincial form but as a world- waking work. He writes with great understanding of the works themselves.

It has been many years since I read this work in graduate- school but I have no doubt it holds up , despite the waves of various critical schools that have tried to undermine its authority.

It is as literary criticism a great work which identifies and interprets great creative works.

It is an essential item in the American library , and a real help to anyone who wants to understand one of the great moments in the history of world- literature.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b3bf54c) out of 5 stars Good book 18 Sept. 2013
By Let's Call it Steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is hard to find in hardcover in any bookstore I looked in. I finally gave up and purchased this e-edition, which is nice because I'll always have it with me. I finally found a hardcover, but this edition is still great.
1 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By J. Herr - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
good book--was a little older/worn than i expected but no real damage so its still a good copy. fast delivery & a great price. solid purchase.
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