A Race of Singers: Whitman’s Working Class Hero from Guthrie to Springsteen B RYAN K. C ARMAN Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000 Reviewed by R OBBIE L IEBERMAN I always thought that Ronald Reagan had misunderstood Bruce Springsteen’ s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, and that is why he lauded it as a great patriotic song. But Bryan Carman has a very different view. He suggests that Springsteen’s music was open to conservative interpretation because of his faith in American democracy and his manliness. This is Carman’s argument in a nutshell: accepting the privileges of whiteness and maleness while criticising a system that made life difcult for working-class people was a tradition that Springsteen inherited from Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, a tradition that goes back to Walt Whitman. Whitman defended ‘artisan republicanism’ against the dehumanising process of industrialisation in the nineteenth century – he raised concerns about freedom, independence, and equality, but failed to promote class consciousness or structural change. Instead, he emphasised moral truths and a collectivity rooted in homosocial and homoerotic bonds (i.e. bonds between men). While Whitman may have been hailed by American Communists in the 1920s and 1930s as their ‘heroic
Historical Materialism – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2003
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