Thinking Across the American Grain: Ideology, Intellect, and the New Pragmatism

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In Thinking Across the American Grain Giles Gunn makes a major contribution to the current revival of pragmatism in America by showing how it provides the most critically resilient and constructive response to the intellectual challenges of postmodernism.

Gunn reclaims and refurbishes elements of the pragmatic tradition that either have been lost or have undergone important changes and shows how newer critical approaches have strong roots in the pragmatic tradition. For Gunn, pragmatism is no longer concerned solely with the nature of knowledge and the meaning of truth. Because of its insistence on critical self-awareness, its opposition to closed systems of thought, and its concern with the ethical, political, and practical contexts of ideas, pragmatism offers a blueprint for performing intellectual work in a world without absolutes. The world Gunn's pragmatism recognizes is one of multiple truths, unstable interpretations, and competing interests.

After critically reexamining the nature and scope of the pragmatic legacy, Gunn explores the way pragmatism successfully responds to conceptual and methodological controversies, from the rebirth of ideology, the spread of interdisciplinarity, and the development of the new historicism, to the revolt against theory, the erosion of public discourse, and the problematics of American civil religion. Drawing throughout on the work of William James, Henry James, Sr., John Dewey, Kenneth Burke, W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Poirier, Stanley Cavell, Clifford Geertz, Frank Lentricchia, Richard Rorty, Richard J. Bernstein, and others, Gunn shows that pragmatism, because it offers a way of thinking across the categories of modern intellectual specializations, is located at the intersection of these critical, and often competitive, discourses. The postmodern challenge for the pragmatist thinker is not only how to render these different discourses conversible with one another, but how to turn the salient insights of each into elements of a new democratic and critical public culture, one able to counter the twin threats of ideology and solipsism.

Giles Gunn is one of our most acclaimed contemporary critics, and this broad and ambitious book is certain to become one of the central works in the current revival of critical pragmatism and cultural studies.

Citation Information

City of Publication: 

Chicago, IL

Publisher: 

University of Chicago Press

Publication Date: 

1991