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Ishmael

'Ishmael' cover image

Ishmael

Originally published in 1956. In Ishmael, Professor James Baird responds to the increasing secularization of Western civilization and the creation of what he calls "authentic primitivism." For Baird, the aesthetic austerity of Protestantism undermined the structure of symbols created by Catholicism. In the absence of a meaningful structure of cultural authority in Western civilization, "primary art" took on a quasi-religious role by connecting humans to a transcendent being. Ishmael describes a new system of art, beginning around 1850, that supplanted Christian symbolism. Baird examines writers who helped to create a modern authentic primitivism, with emphasis on Herman Melville, whom Baird sees as a locus of change for the cultural significance of primary art. Baird provides a social history and biography of writers who participated in the primary art movement from 1850 to 1950