Our Preposterous Use of Literature

Our Preposterous Use of Literature : Emerson and the Nature of Reading

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Since the mid nineteenth century, the figure and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson have been used to stand for the essence of America and for closely guarded ideals of the American literary tradition. In more material realms, we can find Emerson or quotations of his works selling everything from insurance policies to tennis shoes. "Our Preposterous Use of Literature" is a dazzling critique of summary uses of literature and encapsulating methods of reading, methods that in effect limit or destroy the texts they purport to interpret.Using the historical reception of the works of Emerson as a case study, T. S. McMillin conducts a bold inquiry into the political and philosophical nature of reading. He examines the ways in which Emerson's texts have been read in the United States, the myriad methods by which those texts have been pillaged, picked over, and repackaged - in a word, consumed - by biographers, political apologists, self-help proponents, entrepreneurs, and academicians alike.By investigating how these readers have appropriated Emerson's texts to serve their own ends (all the while proclaiming to have produced 'the meaning of Emerson'), McMillin shows how a reductive, consumptive method of reading alters both the process of the textual encounter and the nature of the text itself. A profound meditation on the nature of texts, the office of the scholar, and the use of literature, "Our Preposterous Use of Literature" proposes a new natural philosophy of reading: a method of reading at once more responsible to the texts we interpret and more closely connected to the worlds in which our interpretations take place.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 200 pages
  • 157.5 x 235.7 x 18.5mm | 537.46g
  • University of Illinois Press
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252025385
  • 9780252025389

Review quote

"McMillin's interesting and lively study challenges the professorate and all those who would teach from a text to consider the proper use of an author's written work and an appropriate philosophy of reading. How does one proceed responsibly in transmitting 'the message' found in a text at the same time that one makes it relevant to the reader without violating the text's own integrity? This is one of the major questions persuasively dealt with in this book." -- Choice "Contributes significantly to Emerson scholarship and American cultural studies in an area that has long called out for attention. In a series of beautifully documented discussions of Emerson among his American inheritor-exegetes, McMillin historicizes the reading of what he aptly calls the uses of Emerson." -- Philip D. Beidler, American Literature ADVANCE PRAISE "What McMillin calls for is a revolution of sorts, a most welcome revolution in this day and age: a revolution in our readings of Emerson and, by extension, of all other texts and contexts. He does a most creditable job of explaining the ways and means whereby, in seeking to make their Emersons and their Americas, all but a very few of his predecessors have essentially written off the experience of the reading, of Emerson and just about everything else. McMillin would restore the reading and the enjoyment of the reading. He would extend the persuasions of Cavell beyond philosophy." -- Peter A. Fritzell, author of Nature Writing and America: Essays upon a Cultural Typeshow more

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