Ragged Dicks: Masculinity, Steel, and the Rhetoric of the Self-Made Man




Author: James V. Catano
Type: eBook
Date Released: 2001
Format: pdf
Language: English
Page Count: 288
Isbn10 Code: 0809323958
Isbn13 Code: 9780585457024


Review “Examining narratives of the self-made man from Carnegie to Iacocca, with African-American, ethnic, and worker narratives included, this book shows the persuasive powers of [the story of the self-made man] in creating and re-creating masculinity. This book will help articulate the relationship of rhetoric and psychoanalysis beyond the limits of individualism to cultural questions of gender, race, and class.”—Suzanne Clark, author of Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West Do not be put off by the title, with its reference to Horatio Alger’s nineteenth century novel Ragged Dick. This deeply scholarly book makes a seminal contribution both to entrepreneurship theory and to the field of social constructionism, because it introduces readers to the oft-ignored concept of masculine doxa. It is an eminently readable book, as one would expect from a professor of English. Although ostensibly about steel workers, it nevertheless maps the changing rhetoric of literature relating to self-made men in America. Essentially, the book describes the emotional and aesthetic appeal of the myth on the American people. What makes it such an essential read for entrepreneurship scholars is that it concentrates on popular literature, film and other forms of cultural enactment. This is important because it is a voice seldom heard in serious academic studies. It traces the enduring myth from the writings of Benjamin Franklin through the novels of Horatio Alger to contemporary autobiographies such as that of Lee Laccoca.It is a book about men for men, and such it unashamedly presents a very powerful social construction of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial brotherhood that is ignored or taken for granted. Although it focuses on ''Men of Iron'' (p 2) both literally and metaphorically, the arguments are embedded in literature, psychology and philosophy. Key themes are masculinity, doxa, rhetorical practice, proto-­entrepreneurial tales and narrative. However, the main theme is that of doxa, which Catano refers to as ''a quasi perfect correspondence of mythico ritual representations'' (p 2). Put simply, doxa is about gendered scripts that guide how we behave and literature, in its widest sense, influences doxa. Catano guides readers from the pioneering spirit to the Robber Barons and relates his narrative to the ordinary American man. Importantly, Catano allows for subversive ethnic scripts and variant stereotypes. This is no gushing eulogy, but a clinical examination of an important American myth. Readers might choose to skip the short psychoanalytical section in the introduction on Oedipal and pre-Oedipal rhetoric, but I would advise them not to skip anything else. Take it on holiday; read it on a journey when you will not be disturbed: this is a powerful piece of writing on entrepreneurial manhood'' that deserves your undivided attention. It is an epic journey through the psyche of American masculinity. However, Catano acknowledges that he is deconstructing the literature as historical and rhetorical constructs and not dealing with the flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs.Using common cultural motifs (rags-­to-riches, risk taking and social mobility) and tropes (metaphor), Catano leads the reader through a plethora of different literary genres, such as bourgeoisie novels, dime novels and biographies, charting the changing yet dominant myth of masculinity. He provides in-­depth analysis of the biographies of such people as Andrew Carnegie, drawing out themes relating to men''s love of work and masculine questing. In examining history, myth and self-making, Catano makes an important contribution to how we read entrepreneurship per se from a cultural perspective by illustrating how the myth has evolved in literature over 300 years from pioneers to corporate entrepreneurs, taking account of class-based taxonomies. He demonstrates how the myth alters to accommodate working-class craftsmanship and the entrepreneurial doxa of middle-class values. The spirit of enterprise and thus entrepreneurship changes with each generation, while paradoxically remaining constant. Catano is referring to a process of cultural rewriting to accommodate changing cultural identities.Despite my assertion that this is a book for men about men, it goes deeper than that, and I would encourage feminist scholars of entrepreneurship to read these stories. I look forward one day to reading the sequel, Femininity and the Self-Made Woman.This book will help international readers to understand the American psyche in relation to entrepreneurship and will also act as an inspirational template for mapping the influence of ideology and doxa on the enterprise cultures of their own countries. Cultural rhetoric does influence perceptions and the formation of entrepreneurial attitudes, and Catano appreciates that the rhetorical constructedness of masculinity is inseparable from the rhetoric of the self-enterprising.One could undoubtedly pick out flaws in the text, and in particular the section on Oedipal influences. Freudian teachings either resonate with you, or they do not. It would be pointless to dwell on what the book does not do, because Catano is not a scholar of entrepreneurship per se. Nevertheless, he makes a strong contribution by sticking to what he knows best - literature. He is but one of the voices at the margins of entrepreneurship that deserve to be listened to and learned from. (Robert Smith Entrepreneurship and Innovation ) About the Author James V. Catano, professor of English at Louisiana State University and a member of the women’s and gender studies program, is the coordinator of the Writing and Culture Concentration. He is the author of Language, History, Style: Leo Spitzer and the Critical Tradition.  

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