Patterns for America
In recent decades, historians and social theorists have given much thought to the concept of "culture," its origins in Western thought, and its usefulness for social analysis. In this book, Susan Hegeman focuses on the term's history in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. She shows how, during this period, the term "culture" changed from being a technical term associated primarily with anthropology into a term of popular usage. She shows the connections between this movement of "culture" into the mainstream and the emergence of a distinctive "American culture," with its own patterns, values, and beliefs.
Hegeman points to the significant similarities between the conceptions of culture produced by anthropologists Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead, and a diversity of other intellectuals, including Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Dwight Macdonald. Hegeman reveals how relativist anthropological ideas of human culture--which stressed the distance between modern centers and "primitive" peripheries--came into alliance with the evaluating judgments of artists and critics. This anthropological conception provided a spatial awareness that helped develop the notion of a specifically American "culture." She also shows the connections between this new view of "culture" and the artistic work of the period by, among others, Sherwood Anderson, Jean Toomer, Thomas Hart Benton, Nathanael West, and James Agee and depicts in a new way the richness and complexity of the modernist milieu in the United States.
best-known texts: in Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa; in Benedict’s Patterns of Culture; and in Boas’s own popularizing texts, The Mind of Primitive Man and Anthropology and Modern Life.44 In texts such as these, the anthropologists in effect advertised their professional expertise to society in terms of their ability to offer contrastive examples of other societies. While the gesture of intercultural comparison would become a familiar critical tool, thanks in part to Boas, it is significant that
“highbrow” Puritans. There is, however, one crucial distinction between Brooks’s social criti- 102 CHAPTER 4 cism and Benedict’s new construction of the dichotomy. Brooks—and Sapir— envisioned the different tendencies in American life as rooted in specific historical contexts, and handed down to contemporary Americans despite the fact that they were no longer relevant to present conditions. This was Sapir’s “spurious” culture, the product of what the social science of this period so often
brethren, he was able to attain them. He had the genius for transferring them, when they encountered obstacles in life, to some other but still real plane. And I say real, because the Jew never lost the objective balance, never leaped up in the transcendental escape. The plane to which he lifted his needs was ever one upon which his emotions, instincts, experience, and activity of life could remain in play. If he was persecuted and despised, he found his sense of power in his religious mission.
greed—ironically, at the expense of archetypal, stereotypical American victims, including the Indian Jake Raven, lynched by a southern mob who thought he was black; “the American Boy” Lemuel Pitkin, made into a Horst Wessel–like martyr to Whipple’s new party; or, in The Day of the Locust, the catatonic Midwesterner Homer Simpson. In addition to West’s implicit equation of cultural nationalism with a pernicious political nationalism, West’s creeping antipopulism stands in contrast to Frank, who
emergent “highbrow” anxiety about mass culture and populist politics. Here, I turn to the moment of mobilization for World War II and its aftermath in the Cold War, which would put new ideological pressures on these usages of “culture.” While the fear of totalitarianism (first fascist and communist, and later Soviet) remained a more or less constant feature of American politics from the thirties onward, the cultural responses to this threat proved inadequate in the face of the war. Indeed, both