Converting Loss to Profit:
Collaborations of Sentiment and Speculation
It's the economy, stupid,
-James Carville
I've always been attracted to the standard model of American individual-
ism and, at least sometimes, identified myself with it. What "real" Ameri-
can doesn't fantasize about being the isolato, the dissenter, the excep-
tional hero who flees into the territories and thereby, somehow, saves
those left behind? This figure has drawn a lot of scholarly attention and
is, without a doubt, key to the way that Americans imagine themselves
and their country. But what happened to the isolatoes when their mis-
sion of escape turned into a mission of settlement, when the territories
became states, when the Ishmaels returned home? And what about those
from whom the American hero fled, those whom the American hero was
supposed to save? Did they recognize themselves as needing salvation or
did they, also, think of themselves as "real" Americans?
This book has been an attempt to recover this other model of Ameri-
can identity, which I see as based on a sense of collaborative individual-
ism. If most books on the topic of American subjectivity have focused
on the possessive individual, it would be fair to say that mine exam-
ines the collectively haunted individual: the individual who does not
exist unless in an ongoing, reciprocal relationship with an other in which
the boundaries between self and other, past and present, alive and dead
are constantly being negotiated. The collaborative self is produced and
perpetuated only through participation in an economy of emotions in
which affections circulate in the form of gifts to bind disparate persons
together into subjects able to recognize themselves and act on the world.
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