American Civilization

EPUB EBook by C.L.R. James

EBook Description


A Marxist perspective on American culture written in the mid 1950's. American Civilization EPUB EBookHis chapters on the differences between Melville and Whitman were excellent, as I recall....

this quote completely jumped out at me:

"There is much talk today about "democracy" and the privileges of "democracy."Many democratic ideas and practices that we have, the Greeks knew nothing about.The Greek dramatist could take up any subject, any subject he pleased at these public festivals and treat them how he liked.Imagine a public festival coming on and the dramatists rehearsing their plays in secret.Meanwhile a national election of great importance has taken place and John L Lewis succeeds Truman as President.Imagine too that Lewis has been carrying on political negotiations with the State of Persia, the British Prime Minister and the President of Brazil.They are in New York, and naturally the President takes them to the festival, along with all the people.The play begins and a modern Aristophanes is seen to have launched a bitter merciless direct attack, with the most violent language (but with marvelous satire and poetry) against Lewis.He criticizes Lewis, compares him adversely to Truman, makes a sausage- EPUBseller of the utmost vulgarity drive Lewis out of power on the score that it takes a bigger and more illiterate scoundrel to defeat a big illiterate scoundrel.In the play before the very rulers of foreign states, the dramatist criticizes the way Lewis has negotiated with them.This fantastic episode is more or less what Aristophanes, a boy of nineteen, did to Cleon, the new ruler of Athens.This was going rather far, but all Cleon could do was prosecute Aristophanes before the courts; download; Aristophanes escaped.

It is the writer's belief that in modern popular art, film, radio, television, comic strip, we are headed for some artistic comprehensive integration of modern life, that the spiritual, intellectual, ideological life of modern peoples will express itself in the closest and most rapid, most complex, absolutely free relation to the actual life of the citizens tomorrow.In fact it cannot be escaped.It is being done in the totalitarian states already.But wheras among the Greeks free expression was the basis of intellectual life, the integrated expression of the totalitarian states is the result of the suppression of free expression.In the one case, therefore, we have perhaps the greatest intellectual civilization known to history; in the other case, we have barbarism......We have now reached a state in modern society where this integration must take place or the complexity and antagonisms of society will destroy the personality.Society is already on the road to ruin through its inability to resolve the contradictions which are preventing this integration."

And this one:

"We have written in vain if we have not established that the particular politics of the United States, the maneuvers of lobbyists, the making and breaking of election promises, the frantic laudation of free enterprise, the very hatred of totalitarianism, all these are actual concrete phenomena which must not for a moment disguise or obscure the profound passionate instinctive attachment to liberty and freedom, and full self-expression of the American people as a whole.The crisis in America is a crisis of tens of millions who have only an instinctive conception of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.They would interpret this as a society in which there are no longer illiterate or ignorant people, but not in general; each individual American sees no reason why he should be illiterate or ignorant.But what to do, how to achieve this, that they do not know.Conceptual thinking is not the practice in America."

And this one, too:

"Just as today governments deal with food more and more in terms of vitamins and calories necessary for life, i.e., to be able to work, so for generations regulations deal with how many windows, distances between houses, etc.The result is that the modern individual (or the modern couple) of moderate means faces the physical conditions of existence worked out to a degree which gives no faculty to self-determination or choice whatever.The circumstances of work, of transport, of home and life, are determined.The individual must fit into them.To recall de Tocqueville, this modern individual's grandfather or great grandfather did not live this way.Life was a heroic adventure for anyone who wanted to act.For the modern individual it is a deadly routine.And for the woman whether she stays at home or goes to work, the personal frustration and anxiety never ceases.For the responsibility of making something tolerable and interesting out of this formidable apparatus of mechanized routinized living devolves by social tradition and practice upon her.Society constructs a huge apparatus whose determinate force is getting masses of people to work and back with the utmost convenience and despatch, for the sake of industry.Into this structure, with every square inch mapped, the woman is thrown with a man and given the impossible task of overcoming the handicaps inherent in the whole structure."

And one more:

"Cultured they are not, in the old European sense, and that is one of their chief virtues.The American bourgeoisie created nothing in that sphere and thus the masses today are not in any way dominated by a sense of inferiority.Furthermore European bourgeois culture, so remarkable in its day, is today an incubus, a weight, an obstacle.The American people, the great body of them, are ignorant of many things their European brothers know.But in social culture, technical knowledge, sense of equality, the instinct for social cooperation and collective life, the need to live a full life in every sphere and a revulsion to submission, to accepting a social situation as insoluble, they are the most highly civilized people on the face of the globe.They combine an excessive individualism, a sense of the primary value of their own individual personality, with an equally remarkable need, desire and capacity for social cooperative action.And when you consider the immense millions of them, they constitute a social force such as the world has never seen before.Their power has been seen only in snatches before."


Good Stuff, eh? Like this book? Read online this: Riddles of Identity in Modern Times (A History of Private Life, #5), Western Civilization.

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