Americans have chosen to invest one small part of their history, the settlement of the western wilderness, with extraordinary significance. The lost frontier of the 1800s remains not merely a source of excitement and romance but of inspiration, providing a set of unique and imperishable core-values: individualism, self-reliance, and a clear sense of right and wrong. As a construct of the imagination, our creation of the West is exceptional. Since this construct has little to do with history, David H. Murdoch argues that our beliefs about the West amount to a modern functional myth. In addition to presenting a sustained analysis of how and why the myth originated, Murdoch demonstrates that the myth was invented, for the most part deliberately, and then outgrew the purposes of its inventors. The American West answers the questions that have too often been either begged or ignored. Why should the West become the focus for myth in the first place, and why, given the long process of western settlement, is the cattleman's West so central and the cowboy, of all prototypes, the mythic hero? And why should the myth have retained its potency up to the last decade of the twentieth century?
"A stimulating and readable venture in the history of ideas. Blending arguments and material from philosophy, theology, history and science, Rue addresses a fundamental problem in Western Culture: the crisis of meaning and the eclipse of the shared value system upon which personal wholeness and social coherence in the West have been based."
Paul Radin, famed ethnographer of the Winnebago, joined Fisk University in the late 1920s. During his three-year appointment, he and graduate student Andrew Polk
Watson collected autobiographies and religious conversion narratives from elderly African Americans. Their texts represent the first systematic record of slavery as told by
former slaves. That innovative, subject-centered research complemented like-minded scholarship by African American historians reacting against the disparaging portrayals of black people by white historians. Radin’s manuscript focusing on this research was never published. Utilizing the Fisk archives, the unpublished manuscript, and other archival and published sources, Anthropology and Radical Humanism revisits the Radin-Watson collection and allied research at Fisk. Radin regarded each narrative as the unimpeachable self-representation of a unique, thoughtful individual, precisely the perspective marking his earlier Winnebago work. As a radical humanist within Boasian anthropology, Radin was an outspoken critic of racial explanations of human affairs then pervading not only popular thinking but also historical and sociological scholarship. His research among African Americans and Native Americans thus places him in the vanguard of the anti-racist scholarship marking American anthropology. Anthropology and Radical Humanism sets Paul Radin’s findings within the broader context of his discipline, African American culture, and his career-defining work among the Winnebago.
Comparison is an indispensable intellectual operation that plays a crucial role in the formation of knowledge. Yet comparison often leads us to forego attention to nuance, detail, and context, perhaps leaving us bereft of an ethical obligation to take things correspondingly as they are. Examining the practice of comparison across the study of history, language, religion, and culture, distinguished scholar of religion Bruce Lincoln argues in Apples and Oranges for a comparatism of a more modest sort.
Lincoln presents critiques of recent attempts at grand comparison, and enlists numerous theoretical examples of how a more modest, cautious, and discriminating form of comparison might work and what it can accomplish. He does this through studies of shamans, werewolves, human sacrifices, apocalyptic prophecies, sacred kings, and surveys of materials as diverse and wide-ranging as Beowulf, Herodotus’s account of the Scythians, the Native American Ghost Dance, and the Spanish Civil War.
Ultimately, Lincoln argues that concentrating one's focus on a relatively small number of items that the researcher can compare closely, offering equal attention to relations of similarity and difference, not only grants dignity to all parties considered, it yields more reliable and more interesting—if less grandiose—results. Giving equal attention to the social, historical, and political contexts and subtexts of religious and literary texts also allows scholars not just to assess their content, but also to understand the forces, problems, and circumstances that motivated and shaped them.
Investigating the central role that theories of the visual arts and creativity played in the development of fascism in France, Mark Antliff examines the aesthetic dimension of fascist myth-making within the history of the avant-garde. Between 1909 and 1939, a surprising array of modernists were implicated in this project, including such well-known figures as the symbolist painter Maurice Denis, the architects Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret, the sculptors Charles Despiau and Aristide Maillol, the “New Vision” photographer Germaine Krull, and the fauve Maurice Vlaminck.
Antliff considers three French fascists: Georges Valois, Philippe Lamour, and Thierry Maulnier, demonstrating how they appropriated the avant-garde aesthetics of cubism, futurism, surrealism, and the so-called Retour à l’Ordre (“Return to Order”), and, in one instance, even defined the “dynamism” of fascist ideology in terms of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage. For these fascists, modern art was the mythic harbinger of a regenerative revolution that would overthrow existing governmental institutions, inaugurate an anticapitalist new order, and awaken the creative and artistic potential of the fascist “new man.”
In formulating the nexus of fascist ideology, aesthetics, and violence, Valois, Lamour, and Maulnier drew primarily on the writings of the French political theorist Georges Sorel, whose concept of revolutionary myth proved central to fascist theories of cultural and national regeneration in France. Antliff analyzes the impact of Sorel’s theory of myth on Valois, Lamour, and Maulnier. Valois created the first fascist movement in France; Lamour, a follower of Valois, established the short-lived Parti Fasciste Révolutionnaire in 1928 before founding two fascist-oriented journals; Maulnier forged a theory of fascism under the auspices of the journals Combat and Insurgé.