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216Philosophy and Literature Aesthetic Individualism and Practical Intellect: American Allegory in Emerson, Thoreau, Adams, andfames, by Olaf Hansen; xi & 249 pp. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990, $29.95. With this book Olaf Hansen, Professor of American Literature and Civilization at the Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, joins Maurice Gonnaud, Roger Asselineau, and other Continental critics who have written significant studies of classic nineteenth-century American authors of nonfiction. He also joins Stanley Cavell, Richard Rorty, and other American philosophers and philosophically minded critics in reevaluating the movement of nineteenth-century American philosophy through transcendentalism and on to pragmatism from the perspectives offered by twentieth-century Continental philosophies such as phenomenology and existentialism. Hansen's perspective is drawn from Husserl's Crisn ofEuropean Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology on the one hand and Adorno's Negative Dialectics on the other, a coupling that may seem as incongruous as that in his title but actually works out quite well. From Husserl he derives a characterization of "the brief era of transcendentalism as the kind of epocL· where a tradition is being redefined with a view to both the past and the future" (p. 135). From Adorno he takes "the overall theme of a philosophy of nonidentity" (p. 1 7), which came more or less unconsciously into the thought of all four writers he examines in consequence of their having "adopted the allegorical mode of thought as their way of expressing a fear about the future" (p. 13). Combining Husserl and Adorno in this manner brings a fresh angle to some heavily worked lines ofinquiry. Fresher by far than his less programmatic allusions to Nietzsche and Benjamin, who have been dragged into so much academic writing in recent years as to be in danger ofbecoming applicable to everything. Surely few things have ever been reproduced so mechanically as learned citations of Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Hansen sees the "allegorical tradition in American culture," inherited initially from Puritan theology, not only "as a major force in the shaping of American culture" (hardly a new discovery), but also "as a way of cognition," indeed as a specifically American mode of philosophizing (p. 208). A native spirit of selfaffirmation finds allegorical expression through art, but through an art that is generated in response to anxiety about the future, which in turn arises from doubts about a past determined by the exercise of practical power. He begins by illustrating these points through close analysis of a painting by Thomas Eakins (TL· Gross Clinic, 1875), much as Alan Trachtenberg sets up his recent study ofAmerican photography with a close analysis of an 1822 selfportrait by Charles Willson Peale. After an additional introductory chapter, mainly concerned with setting the Unitarian stage for the entrance of the Reviews217 transcendentalists, Hansen gets down to business, taking each of his four "men of letters" in turn. He does best by Emerson and Adams, who invite bipolar approaches, worst by Thoreau, whose "doubleness" is not the dualism Hansen seems to take it for, while his chapter on James would have benefited from more consideration of the recent rethinking of pragmatism by Richard Rorty. I also think his book would have been improved not merely in political correctness but in scope and in pertinence by including Margaret Fuller, whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century is open to this sort of approach, as has been demonstrated by Jeffrey Steele in his Representation of tL· Self in the American Renaissance. Curiously, Hansen himself on one occasion (p. 212) places Fuller at the very center of his foursome. He should have followed up his own hint, because it would have further clarified his well-taken point that "transcendentalism in its very essence is a post-Hegelian philosophy: negatively dialectical, intentionally unsystematic, and very much aware of the problem of defining a beginning" (p. 225). Hansen's writing style is refreshingly simple, although this sometimes leads him to sententiousness, as when a chapter begins with the announcement: "In 1876 America celebrated the centenary of its own becoming" (p. 21). But more often it pays off, as in the observation that "there is something about the nineteenth century, a kind of urgency...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 216-217
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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