Cosmopolitan Vistas: American Regionalism and Literary Value 2019-06-15T22:18:30+00:00
Cosmopolitan Vistas: American Regionalism and Literary Value

Tom Lutz identifies a consistent ethos at the heart of American literary culture for the past 150 years

In a major statement on the relation of art and politics in America, Tom Lutz identifies a consistent ethos at the heart of American literary culture for the past 150 years. Through readings of Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, Hamlin Garland, Ellen Glasgow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Sinclair Lewis, Edgar Lee Masters, Claude McKay, Edith Wharton, Anzia Yezierska, and others, Lutz identifies what he calls literary cosmopolitanism: an ethos of representational inclusiveness, of the widest possible affiliation, and at the same time one of aesthetic discrimination, and therefore exclusivity.

At the same time that it embraces the entire world, in Lutz's view, literary cosmopolitanism necessitates an evaluative stance, and it is this doubleness, this combination of egalitarianism and elitism, that animates American literature since the Civil War. The nineteenth century's realists and sentimentalists, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and of the Southern Renaissance, the firebrands who brought in the new canon and the traditionalists who struggled to save the old all ascribe, Lutz argues, to the same cosmopolitan values, however much they disagree on what these values demand of those who hold them.

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About the Book

This is my entry into a crusty old genre, the “Function of Criticism at the Present Time” essay.  It represents my general understanding of the history of literary culture in America over the last 150 years.

Among other things, it is my answer to those who would find literary culture to have conservative impulses and effects; in my reading, literature has instead been a profoundly progressive force in American culture, championing greater and greater inclusion, fostering wider empathy and understanding across social and cultural divides.

Series: Nonfiction
Genres: American Studies, Cultural History, Literary History & Criticism
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication Year: 2004
Format: Paperback
Length: 240 pages
ASIN: 0801489237
ISBN: 9780801489235
"In his provocatively revisionist account of regional and local color fiction, Tom Lutz argues that the recent turn to cosmopolitanism in assessments of American literature is actually a return to the mainstream of American literary thought. In Lutz's view, cosmopolitanism is not new, but rather has been pursued as a value by novelists and critics from the 19th century forward. Characterized by inclusiveness, multiplicity of perspectives, and a deft shuttling between local and universal commitments, cosmopolitanism has always guided our thinking about American literature."
"Cosmopolitan Vistas sets up a far-reaching and productive conversation between U. S. regional fiction and contemporary debates in cultural studies. As a reader of regionalist texts, Lutz is consistently astute; and as a proponent of cosmopolitanism as a framework for assigning literary value, Lutz is well worth reading. He comes to regionalist fiction and its critical debates with a remarkable freshness and clarity."
"Cosmopolitan Vistas is an ambitious and exciting work of literary criticism. In it Tom Lutz seeks to return literary critics to the literary by reminding us of our own desire for the cosmopolitan vista. His argument is striking and is amply supported by a thorough analysis of almost 150 years of critical responses to regionalism. There are very few books that take seriously criticism that was written more than twenty years ago, and his approach to this earlier material is smart and refreshing. This is a powerful and engaging book."
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