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Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations

German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century


Kurt Mueller-Vollmer

This volume attempts for the first time a comprehensive view of the momentous process of German-American cultural transfer during the 18 th and 19 th centuries, which played an important part in the formation of an American national and cultural identity, a process to which the New England Transcendentalists contributed some of the decisive ingredients, but which has largely escaped the attention of German and American scholarship. In each chapter a specific problem is treated systematically from a clearly defined perspective, deficiencies of existing translation theories are exposed, so that in the concluding chapters 13 and 14 (with an unpublished memorandum by Alexander von Humboldt) a cohesive view of the entire process emerges. A comprehensive bibliography will facilitate further scholarly pursuits.
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12. Translating Transcendentalism in New England: The Genesis of a Literary Discourse


. “We practice our art in unsuspected ateliers”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

12.1 Can there be a Literary History?

This chapter should be read as an argument by way of demonstration against those who for different reasons maintain the impossibility of literary history as scholarly discipline. Of course, the rejection of the very notion of a history of literature as a viable approach to literary studies is not altogether recent, and if we look at the new criticism, Benedetto Croce’s idealist aesthetics, deconstructionist and some postmodernist criticism, this rejection appears to be one of the few constants among otherwise opposing schools of thought. Yet it is only after the postmodernist repudiation of an overarching meta-narrative of Western history, that the very basis has been removed for constructing a history of literature, comparative or otherwise, a history that had employed as its fixed point of reference the unfolding of the various national literatures within the framework of the history of Western Culture. Yet the postmodernist claim of the end of history notwithstanding, we can observe today within the evolving world order and its prevailing economic and transcultural currents and ongoing changes a peculiar resilience of the nation state or their combination as, for example, in the European Union, as a persistent political and cultural force. Moreover, it is an undeniable fact that the literature of modernity and postmodernity has evolved from within the boundaries of particular national literatures while these in turn have played their own part in the...

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