I have often wondered why my books on American Literary history, the Cycle and L. H. U. S., have received such wide acceptance here and abroad, and yet the ideas underlying them and forming a comprehensive theory of literary history have not. Nobody speaks of Spiller as the father of a theory of history, such as those of Turner and Toynbee. My only explanation of this difference is the realization that Turner and Toynbee base their ideas on essentially Darwinian and Horizontal views of the universe whereas my theory of history is based on a circular view like that of Einstein. Maybe some day this difference will be understood, and my theory of history will come into its own as a dynamic process.
R. E. Spiller
America as Canon and Context: Literary History in a Time of Dissensus
There's a simple reason for undertaking an American literary history at this time. A lot has happened, critically and creatively, since Robert Spiller's Literary History of the United States. And besides, as Spiller then pointed out, every generation should produce its own literary history. That revisionist challenge has special resonance for Americanists. it recalls Jefferson's appeal for social renewal and each generation. It echoes Emerson's "American Scholar": "Each age must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this." There are new insights, new outlooks, new thoughts. Why should we grope among the monuments of the past?
American Literature, Volume 58, Number I, March 1986, Copyright c 1986 by the Duke University Press. CCC 0002-9831/86/$1.50
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