Americanists are often accused of historical myopia. The transnational turn has exposed the critical negligence of severing US literature from its historical and global roots and treating it as an isolated, homegrown phenomenon. If not quite as longue as Wai Chee Dimock’s durée, Giles Gunn’s scope in The Pragmatist Turn is remarkably capacious—extending from indigenous mythologies and precolonial tales of oceanic discovery to “the Modern and Beyond” (chap. 6)—and each of its six chapters reminds us that American literature is “a simplified name for a much more complex tangle of relations” (Dimock 2008: 3). Seventeenth-century religion and the eighteenth-century Enlightenment compose the tangle at the center of Gunn’s critical historiography. By undergoing pragmatist transformations after the Civil War, Gunn argues, these two traditions have survived as “spiritual imaginaries” that are of enduring artistic, ethical, and critical use to American literature and culture. A distinguished professor of English and...

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