“Biographical, Historical, Sociological and Literary”: American Myth and Symbol Revisited

  • Abstract:
    The time is right for a reconciliation of the myth and symbol school of American Studies, which was influential in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s, with its poststructuralist and postnationalist successors. After introducing the central claims of this school and summarizing subsequent criticism made against them, this essay defends it from two angles: cognitive and pedagogical. The cognitivist discussion examines the way that the myth and symbol critics theorized symbolism and its relation to emotion at three separate levels of culture. Richard Dawkins’ concept of memes provides cultural evolutionary support for their symbology. Finally, the argument is made that it is also important to take into account the changing pedagogical context of a post-American world, which strengthens the case for approaching earlier centuries of American cultural history in terms of myth and symbol.