This work by the late British literary critic Tony Tanner, presumably a review essay written in the late 1980s but not published, is a response to the then emerging New Americanist field of literary studies and a cluster of publications in the mid-1980s, in particular, Sacvan Bercovitch's new Cambridge History of American Literature. Tanner reflects on the original Cambridge History of American Literature and T. S. Eliot's 1919 review of it, moves on to consider the reshaping of value within American cultural self-assessment associated with Van Wyck Brooks, Vernon L. Parrington, and Lewis Mumford, and others, and then discusses F. O. Matthiessen and the establishment of the postwar/cold war canon and its associated topics. Tanner focuses on the interrelations among writing, democracy, nationality, the canon, and the problematic of the alienation of the writer and the processes by which this became a basis for considering the writer as both alienated and oppositional, as also “representative.” He then develops this in critical dialogue with Bercovitch, offering an excellent summary of Bercovitch's analysis of the enclosure of “America” but then faulting what he finds the weakness of Bercovitch's embrace of the aesthetic after all.
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Tony Tanner; American Canon. boundary 2 1 May 2010; 37 (2): 71–87. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2010-003
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