Secular Revelations: The Constitution of the United States and Classic American Literature [NOOK Book]

Overview

The United States Constitution, battleground of a politically bifurcated nation, and sponsor of that nation's now threatened cultural unity, is a quintessentially political document. Americans' representatives swear loyalty to it, and her soldiers die for it. Yet no one has ever seriously considered the formative influence this document, so central a force for all Americans, has had on American cultural life. Now, in this ambitious book, Mitchell Meltzer has for the first time demonstrated the extent to which the...

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Secular Revelations: The Constitution of the United States and Classic American Literature

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Overview

The United States Constitution, battleground of a politically bifurcated nation, and sponsor of that nation's now threatened cultural unity, is a quintessentially political document. Americans' representatives swear loyalty to it, and her soldiers die for it. Yet no one has ever seriously considered the formative influence this document, so central a force for all Americans, has had on American cultural life. Now, in this ambitious book, Mitchell Meltzer has for the first time demonstrated the extent to which the Constitution is both source and inspiration for America's greatest literary masterworks.

Retelling the history of the Constitution's formation, Meltzer explains how the peculiarly paradoxical form of the Constitution, its "secular revelation," underwent a literary rebirth after the passing of the Founders' generation, and issued in what is strangest and most characteristic in America's classic literature. By combining the secular with the revealed, a Constitutional poetics results that gives rise, in both politics and literature, to the formation of more perfect unions.

Offering powerful new perspectives on Lincoln, Emerson, Whitman, and Melville, Meltzer reveals how the Constitution counterintuitively generated such oft-noted tendencies as these writers' penchant for self-contradiction, their willingness to court radical discontinuity, and their intensely conflicted, romance-directed fictions.

Secular Revelations presents the Constitution in a new role, the inspiration of a great national literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Cercles
Mitchell Meltzer's book offers an interesting insight into a seldom studied aspect of American cultural history. In its pages, the author analyzes the impact of the American Constitution on three of the main American Renaissance writers, Emerson, Whitman and Melville...Secular Revelations enables us to look into the Constitution of the United States, not merely as a legal text, but as a cultural frame; Meltzer gives the reader numerous examples, and his study of the three writers he chooses is accurate and inspiring.

— Alice Beja

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674040946
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 204
  • File size: 314 KB

Meet the Author

Mitchell Meltzer teaches at New York University.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: The Constitution and American Literature
I The Constitution as a Secular Revelation
1 At the Beginning 11
2 The Path to Union 23
3 The People, Having Spoken, Speak 31
4 Almost a Miracle 39
5 The Paradox of Secular Revelation 49
II An American Literary Renaissance
6 Declarations of American Literary Independence 57
7 Preserving the Revelation 66
8 Preserving the Paradox 78
9 The Literary Renaissance of Secular Revelation 87
10 Essays in Time 97
11 A Poetic Form for Straying 111
12 Clinging to Narrative 125
13 Confidence and the Darkness of Revelation 144
Conclusion: The Literary Art of Uniting States 156

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2005

    The American Constitution and American Values

    I would have been tempted to read this book if I¿d known only that Harold Bloom had spoken so highly of it. When I discovered that the book¿s subject the American Constitution, an interest of mine, I pre-ordered it. The book, Secular Revelations, not only did not disappoint, but turned out to be one of the most important books on the Constitution in over a decade and one of the most original ever. Thousands of books have, of course, been written on the Constitution. But the vast majority of these have been about legal aspects and nearly all of the rest have examined narrow historical issues. Meltzer¿s book does so much more than this. Using the works of America¿s greatest writers¿Whitman, Emerson, Lincoln, and Melville, for example¿Meltzer demonstrates in most persuasive fashion the central importance of a secular vision that infuses not merely the works of these great writers, but the very worldview of most Americans. At a time when questions of American identity are so prevalent, when peoples from all of the world¿s cultures wonder what makes America what it is, this book is a godsend. Meltzer¿s literary analysis is more than first-rate, and no doubt will generate myriad articles in literary journals, I suspect that the typical reader¿and I hope there are a great many of them¿will be especially fascinated by the light these analyses shed on telling us who we are. It is astonishing that no one until now has noticed the common threads that bind these authors to each other and, more importantly, bind them to us. Especially interesting is Meltzer¿s explanation of how contradictions in the American vision not only did not impede the influence of that vision, but made it possible. Meltzer understands that cultural vision is not a merely logical exercise, but one that must take account of the roiling, oft-conflicting aspects of human needs and desires. This is a great book, one that will undoubtedly be on many ¿best of the year¿ lists of serious journals. But it is also a book that is as much fun as it is illuminating. If I could read only one book this year, this would be it Steven Goldberg

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