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On Being Cultivated

Anne Dalke's picture
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Title of Book: 
Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy
University of Chicago Press
Year of Publication: 
Anne Dalke
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Several years ago, I was involved in a discussion group that read Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club together--a rich history of the pragmatists, and one that looks only glancingly @ the thinking and doing of Jane Addams. Addams taught one of the pragmatists, John Dewey, quite a lot about a form of decision-making that incorporated the ideas of as many individuals as possible--in order to work through the (only apparent--but oftimes violent) opposition in their interests. I'm grateful to Louise Knight for filling in some of the gaps in Menand's account, for teaching me more about Jane Addams' evolution from her Christian moral upbringing to her adulthood as pragmatist activist and social democrat.
Knight's book was just recommended to me by a friend. I found myself particularly compelled by one insistent theme within it: Addams' evolving and paradoxical definition of what it means to be "civilized," or "cultivated," the trajectory of her re-thinking the education and habits of discrimination on which her class prided itself.
Two moments of revelation highlighted this process for me. The first took place in Spain in 1888, when Addams, traveling with friends, was eager to see a bullfight. She had read Spanish history, and anticipated seeing in the bullfight a re-enactment of "all the glories of the [Roman] amphitheater," the matador fulfilling his role as "the slightly armed gladiator facing his martyrdom." To be able to see the cultural meaning with which the ritual was laden would ffirm Addams' sense of herself, she thought "as a sophisticated, well-educated person." Mulling over her experience after the bullfight, however, Addams "became upset that she had been fascinated by something so revolting": "Her behavior struck her as compelling proof that culture cut her off from feeling compassion for suffering": "an armour or erudition" protecting her from "hideousness" (163).

As she thought and wrote about her life experiences over time, Addams increasingly came to identify the common understanding of "culture" as that which protected one from true cultivation. "It was undemocratic," she argued, to live a life of isolation within one's own class": "The cultivated person is the one who uses his social faculties, his interpretative power, the one who puts himself into the minds and experience of other people....The uncultivated person is bounded by a narrow outlook on life, unable to overcome differences in dress and habit, and his interests are slowly contracting within a circumscribed area. The cultivated person is a citizen of the world because of his growng understanding of all kinds of people and their varying experiences" (402).


Anonymous's picture

After reading The

After reading The Metaphysical Club, I wondered about how psychoanalysis changed our thinking about pragmatism and democracy. Similarly, after reading Citizen Jane Addams, I again thought about psychoanalysis entering into liberal, democratic education. Or would psychoanalysis change Addams life and work choices? Does it change our own?
Anne Dalke’s review helped me to begin to answer my questions by reminding me of Jay Geller’s essay in Teaching Freud, Diane Jonte-Pace, Editor, (2003. Geller concludes his essay by stating that the study of Freud helps us to better read culture.

Anonymous's picture

One question that came to my

One question that came to my mind while reading Knight's biography of Jane Addams was, "How would analysis facilate her democratic choices (decisions)?" Anne's review helped me to recall Jay Geller's essay, Freud and/as the Jew in the Multicultural University (Teaching Freud,2003). Geller eloquently answers that Freud helps us to better read culture.

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