Ragged Dicks: Masculinity, Steel, and the Rhetoric of the Self-Made Man / Edition 3

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Portraits of self-made men are rife in Western culture, as James V. Catano observes. Positive and negative, admittedly fictional and ostensibly factual, these portraits endure because the general rhetorical practice embodied in the myth of the self-made man enacts both the need and the very means for making oneself masculine: verbal power and prowess. The myth of the self-made man, in short, is part of ongoing rhetorical practices that constitute society, culture, and subjects.


To explain those practices and their effectiveness, Catano argues that the basic narrative achieves much of its effectiveness by engaging and enacting the traditional psychological dynamics of the family romance: preoedipal separation, oedipal conflict, and “proper” postoedipal self-definition and socialization.


To focus on the combined social, psychological, and rhetorical dynamics that constitute the ongoing activity he calls masculine self-making, Catano emphasizes a particular strand: masculinity and steelmaking. Pursuing that strand, he argues that these representations of masculine self-making are rhetorical enactments of cultural needs and desires, and that they are ongoing and formative arguments about what society and its individuals either are or should be.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Examining narratives of the self-made man from Carnegie to Iacocca, with African-American, ethnic, and worker narratives included, this book shows the persuasive powers of [the story of the self-made man] in creating and re-creating masculinity. This book will help articulate the relationship of rhetoric and psychoanalysis beyond the limits of individualism to cultural questions of gender, race, and class.”—Suzanne Clark, author of Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West
Entrepreneurship and Innovation - Robert Smith
Do not be put off by the title, with its reference to Horatio Alger’s nineteenth century novel Ragged Dick. This deeply scholarly book makes a seminal contribution both to entrepreneurship theory and to the field of social constructionism, because it introduces readers to the oft-ignored concept of masculine doxa. It is an eminently readable book, as one would expect from a professor of English. Although ostensibly about steel workers, it nevertheless maps the changing rhetoric of literature relating to self-made men in America. Essentially, the book describes the emotional and aesthetic appeal of the myth on the American people. What makes it such an essential read for entrepreneurship scholars is that it concentrates on popular literature, film and other forms of cultural enactment. This is important because it is a voice seldom heard in serious academic studies. It traces the enduring myth from the writings of Benjamin Franklin through the novels of Horatio Alger to contemporary autobiographies such as that of Lee Laccoca.

It is a book about men for men, and such it unashamedly presents a very powerful social construction of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial brotherhood that is ignored or taken for granted. Although it focuses on 'Men of Iron' (p 2) both literally and metaphorically, the arguments are embedded in literature, psychology and philosophy. Key themes are masculinity, doxa, rhetorical practice, proto-­entrepreneurial tales and narrative. However, the main theme is that of doxa, which Catano refers to as 'a quasi perfect correspondence of mythico ritual representations' (p 2). Put simply, doxa is about gendered scripts that guide how we behave and literature, in its widest sense, influences doxa. Catano guides readers from the pioneering spirit to the Robber Barons and relates his narrative to the ordinary American man. Importantly, Catano allows for subversive ethnic scripts and variant stereotypes. This is no gushing eulogy, but a clinical examination of an important American myth. Readers might choose to skip the short psychoanalytical section in the introduction on Oedipal and pre-Oedipal rhetoric, but I would advise them not to skip anything else. Take it on holiday; read it on a journey when you will not be disturbed: this is a powerful piece of writing on entrepreneurial manhood' that deserves your undivided attention. It is an epic journey through the psyche of American masculinity. However, Catano acknowledges that he is deconstructing the literature as historical and rhetorical constructs and not dealing with the flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs.

Using common cultural motifs (rags-­to-riches, risk taking and social mobility) and tropes (metaphor), Catano leads the reader through a plethora of different literary genres, such as bourgeoisie novels, dime novels and biographies, charting the changing yet dominant myth of masculinity. He provides in-­depth analysis of the biographies of such people as Andrew Carnegie, drawing out themes relating to men's love of work and masculine questing. In examining history, myth and self-making, Catano makes an important contribution to how we read entrepreneurship per se from a cultural perspective by illustrating how the myth has evolved in literature over 300 years from pioneers to corporate entrepreneurs, taking account of class-based taxonomies. He demonstrates how the myth alters to accommodate working-class craftsmanship and the entrepreneurial doxa of middle-class values. The spirit of enterprise and thus entrepreneurship changes with each generation, while paradoxically remaining constant. Catano is referring to a process of cultural rewriting to accommodate changing cultural identities.

Despite my assertion that this is a book for men about men, it goes deeper than that, and I would encourage feminist scholars of entrepreneurship to read these stories. I look forward one day to reading the sequel, Femininity and the Self-Made Woman.

This book will help international readers to understand the American psyche in relation to entrepreneurship and will also act as an inspirational template for mapping the influence of ideology and doxa on the enterprise cultures of their own countries. Cultural rhetoric does influence perceptions and the formation of entrepreneurial attitudes, and Catano appreciates that the rhetorical constructedness of masculinity is inseparable from the rhetoric of the self-enterprising.

One could undoubtedly pick out flaws in the text, and in particular the section on Oedipal influences. Freudian teachings either resonate with you, or they do not. It would be pointless to dwell on what the book does not do, because Catano is not a scholar of entrepreneurship per se. Nevertheless, he makes a strong contribution by sticking to what he knows best - literature. He is but one of the voices at the margins of entrepreneurship that deserve to be listened to and learned from.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809323951
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 288
  • Lexile: 1500L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James V. Catano, professor of English at Louisiana State University and a member of the women’s and gender studies program, is the coordinator of the Writing and Culture Concentration. He is the author of Language, History, Style: Leo Spitzer and the Critical Tradition.  

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Effective Rhetoric/Rhetorical Effects: Maintaining Masculinity 16
Oedipal and Preoedipal Rhetoric 17
Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric and Myth 24
2 Dominant Myths/Myths of Domination: Masculinity and Agency 35
Society and Agency, Subjects and Self-Making 36
Language, Psychoanalysis, and Rhetoric 45
Social Myths and Sadomasochism 50
3 A Father Is Being Beaten: History-Making Selves and Self-Making Histories 58
Andrew Carnegie and Middle-Class Myth 60
The Family Romance 62
Workplace Ethos 71
Maintaining Doxa Through Mythic Variation 84
4 Beyond the Buddy Principle: Individual Struggle and Masculine Solidarity 89
Work Shifts/Mythic Shifts 91
Whittaker's Larry Locke: A Story of Labor and Capital 94
Sadomasochism and Self-Making 102
Solidarity, Mutuality, and Unionization 105
Intimacy and Dependency 115
5 Moving Up or Moving Out: Separation, Mobility, Agency 121
Journeyman/Craftsman Masculinity 122
Company Men and Corporate Power 131
Immigration and Agency 139
Ethnicity and Race 143
6 Tapping the Heat: Race, Racism, and Erasure 152
Frederick Douglass's Rhetorics 154
Racism in the Steel Industry 159
Race and Self-Making, Separation and Sadism 165
Race and the Collapse of Steel 171
Self-Making as Self-Erasure 176
7 Making New Metal from Old: Retooling the Self-Made Man 187
Anti-institutionalism 190
Talking the Talk 199
Walking the Walk 203
Solidarity, Risk Taking, and Hot Metal Men 207
Notes 219
Works Cited 259
Index 271
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