Paul Jay focuses his analysis on two strands of American criticism. The first, which includes Richard Poirier and Giles Gunn, has attempted to revive what Jay insists is an anachronistic pragmatism derived from Emerson, James, and Dewey. The second, represented most forcefully by Richard Rorty, tends to reduce American criticism to a metadiscourse about the contingent grounds of knowledge. In chapters on Emerson, Whitman, Santayana, Van Wyck Brooks, Dewey, and Kenneth Burke, Jay examines the historical roots of these two positions, which he argues are marked by recurrent attempts to reconcile transcendentalism and pragmatism. A forceful rejection of both kinds of revisionism, Contingency Blues locates an alternative in the work of the "border studies" critics, those who give our interest in contingency a new, more concrete form by taking an historical, cultural, and anthropological approach to the invention of literature, subjectivity community and culture in a pan-American context.
Paul Jay is associate professor of English at Loyola University of Chicago. He is the author of "The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, 1915 1981," and "Being in the Text: Self Representation from Wordsworth to Roland Barthes.""