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Reviews Conn, Peter. The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898-1917. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1983. 378 pp. Cloth: $29.95. The Divided Mind is less a book than a set of related essays on a number of figures chosen out of American cultural history from 1898 to 1917. Some of them are major literary figures (Henry James, Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin, Ellen Glasgow) and some are minor ones (Jack London, Ernest Poole, and others). But there are also architects, especially Ralph Adams Cram and Frank Lloyd Wright; a composer, Charles Ives; visual artists, especially John Sloan and Alfred Stieglitz; and a somewhat ill-assorted gathering of reformers and radicals, David Graham Phillips, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, and Emma Goldman. What links these apparently disparate figures is the author's view that all of them exemplify one aspect of their times: "In the early years of this century, the forces of new and old, of experiment and resistance, collided with singular energy. . . . A revolution was occurring, but one that met a counter-revolutionary reply" (p. 5). This organizing "dialectic" between progress and reaction occasionally produces something fresh and illuminating. For example, John Sloan and the other members of the Eight, with their mixture of innovative subject matter and old-fashioned technique, are nicely placed between Kenyon Cox's reactionary The Classic Point of View (a much more satisfactory point of reference than the vague "Academy") and European modernism. More often, however, the most striking and useful perceptions are quite independent of the central thesis. For example: It was James's well-known habit, in his late manner, to submerge both description and analysis in image making. . . . This stylistic habit recurs in The American Scene, pushed in fact a step beyond the practice of the novels to create the book's most striking and curious feature: in The American Scene only buildings speak. Human speech is eradicated from the book and replaced by the monologues of shop fronts and tenements (p. 31). Peter Conn, who is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, can be amusing as well as perceptive, as when he describes the mutual paranoia of Theodore Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover, and Emma Goldman: If the response of Roosevelt and Hoover seems absurdly disproportionate in its fear and frenzy, so also does Goldman's estimate of Roosevelt and Hoover seem frankly unbalanced. Roosevelt was not Czar Nicholas, after all, and Hoover was not Rasputin (though he would probably have liked to have been) (p. 301). There are many other useful perceptions, for example, of the relationship between James' low opinions of the open floor plan in American architecture and of American sodal democracy and immigration policy (pp. 39-41), a subject somewhat more closely related to the theme of progress versus reaction. Related to that central theme is another, namely that American dissent from Anne Hutchinson to Emma Goldman has been pragmatic and antinomian rather than programmatic and ideological. One cannot quarrel with that, but one can quarrel with the author's commitment to ideology, which is so rigid that it consistently leads him to undervalue what he calls "the venerable American ceremony of the antinomian gesture" (p. 66). For example, his comparison between Edna Pontellier's "pigeon house" and Thoreau's cabin, jerry-built on fourteen acres of land borrowed from his friend Emerson. Both dwellings have been taken as architectural 234Reviews emblems of self-sufficiency and independence. . . . But the two buildings signify more impressively the deeply marginal, almost utterly ceremonial quality of their occupants' dissent. Thoreau, insulated by family and friends from any serious venturing, carries his laundry into Concord each weekend for his aunt to wash. Edna, attended by a servant or two, and sustained by a small legacy and gambling winnings, settles down to paint (p. 166). This is grossly reductive. It not only undervalues Thoreau's genuine achievement but also refuses to acknowledge the many and complex reasons for Edna's failure. And what are we to make of the praise (somewhat tentative, to be sure) of Booker T. Washington on the tenuous ground that his sociology "recapitulates Marxist biology"? (p. 127). Or of the announcement...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 233-234
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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