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Culture and Language at Crossed Purposes

The Unsettled Records of American Settlement

Culture and Language at Crossed Purposes unpacks the interpretive problems of colonial treaty-making and uses them to illuminate canonical works from the period.

Classic American literature, Jerome McGann argues, is haunted by the betrayal of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Indian treaties—“a stunned memory preserved in the negative spaces of the treaty records.” A noted scholar of the “textual conditions” of literature, McGann investigates canonical works from the colonial period, principally John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon aboard the Arbella, key writings of William Bradford and Anne Bradstreet, Cotton Mather’s Magnalia, Franklin’s celebrated treaty folios and his Autobiography, and Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. These are highly practical, purpose-driven works—the record of Enlightenment dreams put to the severe test of dangerous conditions. McGann suggests that the treaty-makers never doubted the unsettled character of what they were prosecuting, and a similar conflicted ethos pervades these works. Like the treaty records, they deliberately test themselves against stringent measures of truth and accomplishment and show a distinctive consciousness of their limits and failures. McGann’s book is ultimately a reminder of the public importance of truth and memory—the vocational commitments of humanist scholars and educators.  

272 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory

Table of Contents

List of Figures
1: Scope and Method
2: The Exceptional Encounter
3: On Native Grounds: North American Treaty-Making (ca. 1609–1721)

Part I: Puritan Enlightenment: Via Dolorosa
4: William Bradford: The Diary (1620–21), the History (Of Plymouth Plantation), and the Hebrew Studies
5: John Winthrop: From Journal to History
6: Anne Bradstreet: The World Elsewhere
7: Cotton Mather’s Magnalia
Interchapter 1. Covenant Chain Treaty-Making and Franklin’s Folios

Part II. Secular Enlightenment: The Importance of Failure
8: Franklin’s Autobiography: Composition as Explanation
9: The Education of Thomas Jefferson
Interchapter 2. The End of Kaswentha: A Brief History

Part III. Truth and Method
10: The Arbella Sermon: A Case Study
11: The American Scholar in the Twenty-first Century

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