Jargon-free critical essays on the intersection of American culture and history. Aaron (The Unwritten War, 1973) has chosen to reprint articles and reviews spanning the last 50 years. These writings document the bygone era of ``The Man of Letters in American Culture''—title of one of the essays and an unwitting commentary on the entire book- -and give the collection a rather outdated feel. If the man of letters is an intellectual generalist who, Aaron says quoting Lionel Trilling, sees culture as ``the meeting of literature with social actions and attitudes and manners,'' then Aaron is himself a last vestige of that breed of critics who, he remarks, vanished with the death of Edmund Wilson. It will be difficult to find a readership for these pieces, since they want to occupy a cultural space the author himself says has disappeared: the educated readership for the so-called ``man of letters.'' All the requisite topics are here, including an essay on ``The American Left'' in the 1930s, originally published nearly 30 years ago in response to the ``reported upsurge of the New Left.'' The strongest section, ``Outsiders,'' contains essays on issues of class, race, and ethnicity—the holy triad of American Studies and cultural studies today. These were written more recently written and retain a contemporary interest. There's a review of Arnold Rampersad's biography of Langston Hughes; an intriguing theory of ``The Hyphenate Writer and American Letters,'' and ``The `Inky Curse': Miscegenation in the White American Literary Imagination.'' One wishes Aaron had expanded this section into an entire book, instead of burying it in a mass of material that seems governed by personal nostalgia. A somewhat anachronistic collection by an American Studies pioneer. Read full book review >
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