Email this review


John Greenway is author of American Folksongs of Protest and Editor of the Journal of American Folklore, but -- far from being a beatnik -- he is a well-educated anthropologist. He seeks to substantiate the theory of cultural determinism, ""which argues that Americans -- like everyone else in the world -- were driven by their cultural genes to become what they are and what they will be...."" After chapters on social behavior and education (the latter augmented by comparisons with the systems of England, Australia, and Russia), he surveys aspects of the American nature: material acquisitiveness, religious dissidence, pursuit of Veblenesque Conspicuous Leisure. Casting about history for a cable of events stout enough to support the staccato telegraphy of a great range of concepts, he catches and holds the view that America has not in fact been the fabulous ""melting pot"". that the Puritan ethos almost alone has been responsible for the character of the important components of American culture. In simplest terms, he says, our best music is mere jazz, our legitimate theatre is a relict, our poetry died with Robert Frost, and our cultural genes compel us to pursue the fruits, not of the vine, but of the dollar; why try to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear? ""We are inevitable, and there is nothing we can do about it except appreciate and enjoy ourselves."" This follows closely the widespread contemporary attempt to validate America's intellectual position by profoundly anti-intellectual means.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1964
Publisher: Knopf