Work of the Fellows: Monograph

Quentin Anderson, Making Americans: An Essay on Individualism and Money

Anderson, Quentin (Fellow, 1979-80)

New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992

From the publisher's description:

What links the hopes of Communist fellow travelers in the 1930s to the work of Emerson a century earlier? Why do we give so much attention to celebrities? And why have we virtually erased the distinction between public and private affairs? Quentin Anderson shows that American individualism goes deeper than we admit. Only in America did writers and thinkers make the claim that a life worth living must subordinate family ties and social obligations to the visionary powers of the self. Drawing on the work of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, John Dewey, and Henry James - all of whom reacted strongly to the infiltration of money in the national imagination - Anderson finds that in denying the ties and obligations of an existing society each ended up by creating what he calls a "visionary capitalism." Such wholesale appropriations of the American scene, whether in art or systematic thought, discount history and individual action within society. He finds this tendency to grasp the world as an individual imaginative possession in both T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and persistent in the claim to an impersonal authority in contemporary literary criticism. Anderson concludes: "We shall not crack the money firmament or attain to the freedom we want until we see that such liberty comes from the quality of our relations with other people and in no other way."

Subjects: Literature; Literary Criticism; American Literature; Capitalism; Individualism