Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture by Werner Sollors

By Werner Sollors

Not anything is "pure" in the US, and, certainly, the wealthy ethnic combine that constitutes our society bills for far of its impressive power. Werner Sollors's new booklet takes a wide-ranging examine the position of "ethnicity" in American literature and what that literature has said--and keeps to say--about our assorted tradition. Ethnic realization, he contends, is a constituent function of modernism, now not modernism's antithesis. Discussing works from each interval of yank background, Sollors focuses relatively at the rigidity among "descent" and "consent"--between the fear for one's racial, ethnic, and familial historical past and the conflicting wish to pick out one's personal future, no matter if that selection is going opposed to one's historical past. many of the tales Sollors examines are retellings of the biblical Exodus--stories within which americans of the main different origins have painted their very own histories as an break out from bondage or a look for a brand new Canaan. different tales are "American-made" stories of melting-pot romance, which can both triumph in intermarriage, observed by way of new international symphonies, or finish with the fans' loss of life. nonetheless different tales hindrance voyages of self-discovery within which the hero makes an attempt to lead a dangerous direction among obdurate traditionalism and overall assimilation. after which there are the generational sagas, within which, as though via magic, the 3rd new release emerges because the success in their forebears' dream. mentioning examples that variety from the writings of Cotton Mather to Liquid Sky (a "post-punk" technology fiction movie directed by way of a Russian emigre), Sollors exhibits how the creators of yankee tradition have in general been interested in what's so much new and smooth. A provocative and unique examine "ethnicity" in American literature ·Covers tales from all classes of our nation's historical past ·Relates ethnic literature to the primary of literary modernism ·"Grave and hilarious, delicate and merciless...The booklet plays a public service."-Quentin Anderson

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The term "ethnicity" here is thus a broadly conceived term. This choice does not represent an attempt to gloss over the special legacy of slavery and racism in America. Slavery has posed a special problem to interpretations of America and poses a special problem to our enterprise. " When American historians today discuss slavery, they encounter the problem that it contradicts so many of their generalizations of American life. As the most recent debates have shown, historians are still searching for a moral and theoretical framework within which slavery can be understood and indicted.

After an elaborate search for the origins of the word—an appropriate enterprise in the ethnic field that inspires so many people to turn to origins in ancestor-hunting — I found the apparently first occurrences of "ethnicity" in W. Lloyd Warner's Yankee City Series, the well-known, five-volume community study of Newburyport, Massachusetts, which began to appear in 1941. " The term "ethnic," as used in this study, does not refer simply to foreign birth. Rather, it has a wider meaning. An individual was classified as belonging to a specific ethnic group if (1) he considered himself or was considered by the Yankee City community as a member of the group, and (2) if he participated in the activities of the group.

It is in this sense that the word "ethnicity" is once recorded in 1772, an instance listed as "obsolete and rare" in the Oxford English Dictionary: "NUGENT tr. Hist. Friar Gerund. I. " Ethnic scholars like to poke around in etymology so that this instance of a religiocentric denigration of classical mythology as "fab- 26 BEYOND ETHNICITY ulous ethnicity" has not gone by unnoticed. Yet the implications of the etymology are brushed aside when Glazer and Moynihan remark how very different the old and new meanings of ethnicity are (Ethnicity 1), or when Joshua Fishman writes that "in modern American usage the term seems to avoid much of the sense of paganism or heathenism implicit in its etymology" ("Language" 43 n.

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