THE DREAM OF REASON: American Consciousness and Cultural Achievement from Independence to the Civil War by Clive Bush

THE DREAM OF REASON: American Consciousness and Cultural Achievement from Independence to the Civil War

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Thumbing through this serious-sounding volume, the reader encounters snatches of poetry, pictures of soldiers, animals, Indians, landscapes, and machines, and chapters on the hero, war, peace, photography, natural history, expeditions, animals, Indians, and landscapes. Clive Bush (American Literature, Univ. of Warwick) has gathered this mixed bag to offset the conventional, ""stiflingly specialized categories of cultural response."" As this line discloses, the tone of the book is lofty and contentious, the author earnest and vexed. Bush believes modern American culture lost its revolutionary promise as the sweet rationality, strong sentiment, and benign naturalism brought from Europe proved ill-suited to comprehending the disorderly and hostile actualities of American experience. The imagery of heroes created an iconography of public authority; the idea of nature struggled between orderliness and violence and then faded into fantasies of the machine; the spirit of reasonable conflict sank into the ""mass psychosis of pragmatism and sentimentality""; and photography wrote finis to the idealism of battle. The book is remarkably rich in detail; it is ingenious and perceptive if oddly metaphysical in argument; and it is almost impossible to understand. The network of ideas--more truly ingenious than convincing--which links the facts often dissolves into unintelligible abstractions and arrogant jibberish. Of his title, Bush says, in effect summarizing the book: ""it is an image which indicates a movement of understanding, now engaging connotations of the immediate cultural threshold of the American Revolution, 'the Age of Reason,' now indicating a more 'Romantic' definition of active imaginative consciousness, now becoming a satiric comment on the failure of idealism before a more pragmatic reality."" The facts speak more eloquently here than the author.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1978
Publisher: St. Martin's