The Historical Mind: Humanistic Renewal in a Post-Constitutional Age, edited by Justin D. Garrison and Ryan R. Holston. SUNY Press, 2020. 320 pp. $95.00.
In “Modern Currents,” an essay featured in his 1928 collection titled The Demon of the Absolute, the literary critic, philosopher, and academic Paul Elmer More (1864-1937) lamented the minimal impact of the so-called New Humanism on the American reading public. Elsewhere in this essay, More took various then-contemporary writers to task for their “emancipation of art from the responsibilities of life” (57). He criticized such authors as Amy Lowell, James Branch Cabell, and Theodore Dreiser, saving his fiercest shot for John Dos Passos, whose novel Manhattan Transfer More likened to “an explosion in a cesspool” (63). Why are these American writers, More fretted, so popular, whereas the country’s literary and social critics—especially Irving Babbitt, the progenitor of New Humanism—are largely unread? When a New Humanist “produces a book which ought to bring him recognition as a leader of public opinion,” More groused, “what is the result? In most cases there is no result; nothing happens; voices calling in the desert” (75).
Perhaps More spoke too soon. Almost a century after he penned those words, much of the enthusiasm felt for some of the authors he pilloried…
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