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At each step of this journey through American cultural history, Louis Menand has an original point to make: he explains the real significance of William James's nervous breakdown, and of the anti-Semitism in T. S. Eliot's writing. He reveals the reasons for the remarkable commercial successes of William Shawn's New Yorker and William Paley's CBS. He uncovers the connection between Larry Flynt's Hustler and Jerry Falwell's evangelism, between the atom bomb and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. He locates the importance of Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, Pauline Kael, Christopher Lasch, and Rolling Stone magazine. And he lends an ear to Al Gore in the White House as the Starr Report is finally presented to the public.
Like his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Metaphysical Club, American Studies is intellectual and cultural history at its best: game and detached, with a strong curiosity about the political underpinnings of ideas and about the reasons successful ideas insinuate themselves into the culture at large. From one of our leading thinkers and critics, known both for his "sly wit and reportorial high-jinks [and] clarity and rigor" (The Nation), these essays are incisive, surprising, and impossible to put down.
1888, Correspondence of William James, vol. 6, 338. 36 William James to Frederic W. H. Myers, December 17, 1893; quoted in Allen, William James, 368. 37 William James to Henry James, January 1, 1901, Correspondence of William James, vol. 3, 153—54. 38 William James, “Introduction to The Literary Remains of the Late Henry James” (1884), Essays on Religion and Morality, ed. Frederick H. Burkhardt (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 61—63. 39 William James to James H. Leuba,
The active ingredient in the compound, what puts the bones in the goose, is the thing called “experience.” Holmes was using that word in a particular sense. He meant it as the name for everything that arises out of the interaction of the human organism with its environment: beliefs, sentiments, customs, values, policies, prejudices—what he called “the felt necessities of the time.”10 Our word for it (in many ways less satisfactory) is “culture.” Understanding Holmes’s conception of “experience”
as James put it, summing up what he took to be the common-sense intuition about religion, “since he produces real effects.”1 When he published the lectures, James put the sixth and seventh together in a chapter called “The Sick Soul.” “The Sick Soul” is an examination of morbidity—pessimism, disillusionment, anhedonia, and various types of melancholy, one of which James calls “panic fear,” and as an illustration of which he offers the following case: Here is an excellent example, for
Extermination of the Jews in Germany; it carries an introduction by the Bishop of Durham. Julius, following several other scholars, including Ricks, believed the writing is Eliot’s own. It is not; the review was by Montgomery Belgion, a writer Eliot often published on French subjects. The style, though, is plainly imitative of the style of the master. This is the review Eliot ran: There should be someone to point out that this book, although enjoying a cathedratic blessing, is an attempt to
kill him.”5 She dismissed most of Hollywood’s postwar efforts at serious moral drama, movies like The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Chaplin’s Limelight (1952), as embarrassing imitations of European art films. She regarded The Red Shoes (1948) as kitsch on stilts. She considered Fellini pretentious and overrated, and Bergman a “northern Fellini.”6 And for the high-end imports reverentially mulled over by cinéastes in the early sixties—Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), Last Year at Marienbad