Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture

Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture by Werner Sollors

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Nothing is pure in America, and, indeed, the rich ethnic mix that constitutes our society accounts for much of its amazing vitality. Werner Sollorss new book takes a wide-ranging look at the role of ethnicity in American literature and what that literature has said--and continues to say--about our diverse culture. Ethnic consciousness, he contends, is a constituent feature of modernism, not modernisms antithesis. Discussing works from every period of American history, Sollors focuses particularly on the tension between descent and consent--between the concern for ones racial, ethnic, and familial heritage and the conflicting desire to choose ones own destiny, even if that choice goes against ones heritage. Some of the stories Sollors examines are retellings of the biblical Exodus--stories in which Americans of the most diverse origins have painted their own histories as an escape from bondage or a search for a new Canaan. Other stories are American-made tales of melting-pot romance, which may either triumph in intermarriage, accompanied by new world symphonies, or end with the lovers death. Still other stories concern voyages of self-discovery in which the hero attempts to steer a perilous course between stubborn traditionalism and total assimilation. And then there are the generational sagas, in which, as if by magic, the third generation emerges as the fulfillment of their forebears dream. Citing examples that range from the writings of Cotton Mather to Liquid Sky (a post-punk science fiction film directed by a Russian emigre), Sollors shows how the creators of American culture have generally been attracted to what is most new and modern. A provocative and original look at ethnicity in American literature DTCovers stories from all periods of our nations history DTRelates ethnic literature to the principle of literary modernism DTGrave and hilarious, tender and merciless...The book performs a public service.-Quentin Anderson
Publication Date:
29 / 10 / 1987

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