The lecture collates material from the opening and closing chapters of my recently completed American Literature before American Literature. The book takes off from Constance Rourke’s insight into what she called “the roots of American culture”: that nearly all the cultural work of the British colonial period has a decisively “practical” focus. Equally decisive was the pressure point for the period’s practical issues: Contact between two radically different civilizations and their conflicted values, the one Early Modern, the other Neolithic. That “Exceptional” experience established a set of tense cultural norms and demands that prevail in American literature and culture to the present.
Bio: Jerome McGann, the John Stewart Bryan University Professor, has been working primarily in American Studies for the past six years, though his interest in Romantic and post-Romantic poetry and poetics continues. He is preparing a study of American writing from 1790 to 1945, the sequel to American Literature before American Literature.