Edmund Wilson on America’s Role

From Edmund Wilson’s A Piece of My Mind (1957):

“One can say that on the one hand, you find in the United States the people who are constantly aware… that, beyond their opportunities for money-making, they have a stake in the success of our system, that they share in the responsibility to carry on its institutions, to find expression for its new point of view, to give it dignity, to make it work; and, on the other hand, the people who are merely concerned with making a living or a fortune, with practicing a profession or mastering some technical skill, as they would in any other country, and who lack or do not possess to the same degree, the sense of America’s role.”

Wilson was – and still is – America’s essential literary and cultural critic. He left a body of work that changed and is still transforming our sense of who we are. For me, he and Emerson are the true America spirit, the American mind. I feel an Edmund Wilson phase of deep rereading coming to the fore. Also, great timing, I just found a copy of Clive James’ first book of collected criticism, The Metropolitan Critic. James has written seminal essays which go to the heart of Wilson’s unique role as a writer-critic. First James, and then back to Wilson for the umpteenth time…

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