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Constituting «Americanness»

A History of the Concept and Its Representations in Antebellum American Literature


Iulian Cananau

This work in cultural history and literary criticism suggests a fresh and fruitful approach to the old notion of Americanness. Following Reinhart Koselleck’s Begriffsgeschichte, the author proposes that Americanness is not an ordinary word, but a concept with a historically specific semantic field. In the three decades before the Civil War, Americanness was constituted at the intersection of several concepts, in different stages of their respective histories; among these, nation, representation, individualism, sympathy, race, and womanhood. By tracing the representations of these concepts in literary texts of the antebellum era and investigating their overlapping with the rhetoric of national identification, this study uncovers some of the meaning of Americanness in that period.
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Chapter 3. Methodological Considerations toward a Theory of Americanness and Its Contribution to American Literary History


Chapter 3. Methodological Considerations toward a Theory of Americanness and Its Contribution to American Literary History

The notion of ideology seems inextricably connected with Americanness, although the former is a highly problematic socio-philosophical concept with a very sinuous path in the history of modern Western thought. In a recent analysis of the semantic fields of “ideology”, Michael Freeden summarizes the reasons why ideology remains an essentially contested concept: “although it may have an identifiable core, that core is too vague to contain viable meaning on its own and will always need to be supplemented by additional adjacent components and concepts, many of which are incompatible with each other, that act as quasi-contingent qualifiers” (76). However, in spite of the semantic diversity of the concept of “ideology”, most of the authors cited so far seem to have worked exclusively with a pejorative core understanding of it in both classic and later Marxist terms as the sum of purposefully concealing or misleading ideas designed to perpetuate an unjust status quo. In addition to its failure to do justice to several other possible definitions of ideology, this approach is also marred by the common tendency to equate ideology with false consciousness, a practice that becomes apparent in some critics’ dismissal of Americanness as an ideological lie. As David McLellan explains at length in his book Ideology, identifying ideology with “false consciousness” (a phrase coined by Engels) is a common error in interpreting Marx’s own less systematic reflections on the topic, and,...

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