ABOUT THIS BOOK
In this bold reinterpretation of American culture, Philip Fisher describes generational life as a series of renewed acts of immigration into a new world. Along with the actual flood of immigrants, technological change brings about an immigration of objects and systems, ways of life and techniques for the distribution of ideas.
A provocative new way of accounting for the spirit of literary tradition, Still the New World makes a persuasive argument against the reduction of literature to identity questions of race, gender, and ethnicity. Ranging from roughly 1850 to 1940, when, Fisher argues, the American cultural and economic system was set in place, the book reconsiders key works in the American canon--from Emerson, Whitman, and Melville, to Twain, James, Howells, Dos Passos, and Nathanael West, with insights into such artists as Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. With striking clarity, Fisher shows how these artists created and recreated a democratic poetics marked by a rivalry between abstraction, regionalism, and varieties of realism--and in doing so, defined American culture as an ongoing process of creative destruction.
Still the New World itself drifts loosely over the American landscape, illuminating major cultural currents and dipping into literary and artistic thickets that make for fascinating...exploration.
-- David S. Reynolds New York Times Book Review
[A] rich investigation into the American commitment to novelty and innovation...If 'culture,' in the anthropological sense, refers to tradition, enduring ways of life handed down from parents to children over multiple generations, Fisher argues, then 19th- and 20th-century America has had nothing of the kind. Instead of 'culture,' we have a 'culture of creative destruction,' perpetual immigration, novelty, innovation, mobility and children's wise refusal to heed the advice of parents...While much of the book, which is written in an epigrammatic style with a minimum of footnotes, is based on Fisher's close readings of Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Thomas Eakins and other American authors and artists, his surprising and wide-ranging reflections on the principle of 'creative destruction' in commerce and technology deserve a readership well beyond specialists in American literature and art.
-- Publishers Weekly
In this provocative look at an ever-changing American society, Fisher considers how the works of great writers reflect the dynamics of cultural change and assimilation. Using examples from such prominent 19th- and 20th-century authors as Twain, Whitman, and Dos Passos, Fisher shows how American writing has been informed by capitalism, economics, democracy, and the unrelenting rise of technology...This is an optimistic book that champions American life and literature.
-- Ellen Sullivan Library Journal
Still the New World plays a series of intriguing variations on the theme of America's perpetually 'unfinished newness.' Whether he reads Whitman for his 'strong poetic nearness' or the urban newspaper as a 'hand-held miniature of the city,' or the suburban landscape as a modern version of Jefferson's agrarian republic, Philip Fisher meets the first obligation of the critic: he is consistently interesting.
-- Andrew Delbanco, author of Required Reading
A bold and original interpretation of what is distinctively American in the realm of culture. Fisher's emphasis on 'creative destruction' as the source of America's continuous strangeness and freshness is greatly rewarding. He lights up whole areas of cultural inquiry in a marvelously succinct way. This is a book that deserves a wide readership.
-- George Kateb, author of Emerson and Self-Reliance
In this lively, highly original book, Philip Fisher celebrates the economic and cultural process of 'creative destruction' that he credits with having shaped today's America. Ours is a nation that remade itself with every new generation, with every wave of immigrants, each of them followed by a wave of their exceptionally adaptable children. This unceasing process of innovation and abstraction--of continuously erasing the past and reinventing the future--is a hallmark of the uniquely American form of 'competitive technological capitalism' that elicits Fisher's wholehearted admiration. Still the New World is fresh, cogent, provocative, patriotic, and pitiless.
-- Leo Marx, editor of Progress: Fact or Illusion?
Philip Fisher brilliantly argues that each generation of Americans is essentially immigrant, required to find its way in yet another of the new worlds that emerge from the destructive-creative cycles that seem indigenous to American cultural life. This is the most eloquent, speculatively wide ranging, and nuanced account I've ever read of the profit and loss that result from this American will always to begin to begin again in the making of our history.
-- Richard Poirier, Director, Library of America
Philip Fisher celebrates what many bemoan--the rootless, restless ways that Americans live their lives and conceive their identities. Ranging brilliantly across literary, cultural, and political themes, he gives us a rich and provocative meditation on the meaning of America.
-- Michael J. Sandel, author of Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy