Though of diverse backgrounds and training, Mumford, Tate, and Eisley shared remarkably concordant and convincing views of the state of twentieth-century American soceity. All three considered America to be benighted by a dominant myth—the “myth of the machine,” in Mumford’s phrase—that resulted in cultural degeneration. Through an examination of selected works of each critic, Carrithers explains how these writers both identified and fought against this myth.
Carrithers asserts that Mumford, Tate, and Eisley in their essays revived prophecy as a mode of expression and as a means of appraising culture in a broad historical context. Like the biblical prophets, the three concerned themselves not so much with the future as with the present. They sought to unmask the falseness, the moral emptiness, of a reductive, abstractive, mechanized model of the world.
Carrithers considers Mumford as he moved from conflicted stances in the four volumes of The Renewal of Life to the more assured and comprehensive vision of society he portrayed in the two-volume The Myth of the Machine. He examines Tate’s critique of American culture as it developed from his youthful involvement with the Fugitives and Agrarians to, in later years, an increasingly coherent but comber construal of the world’s plight. Finally, he describes Eisley’s fully emergent rejection of reductive scientism and temporalism—a large part of “all that is crushing us,” Eisley wrote—evident in The Immense Journeyand other books.
Mumford, Tate, and Eisley—these “watchers in the night”—all wrote against the grain of most of their contemporaries, posing questions about generally accepted current values and proffering alternatives that would make the world a more humane and transcendent place. Gale Carrithers’ thoughtful, chalenging analysis of their efforts will be required reading for anyone who wishes a better understanding of our age.
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