Friday, February 27, 2009

An Optimistic View of American Literature

There's an interesting article in the Guardian by Pankaj Mishra about the dominance of America in shaping international culture, particularly in Western Europe. Mishra credits much of this dominance to America's early adoption of "western modernity":

America, Gertrude Stein once said, was the oldest country in the world since it was the first to be modern. With its wealth, unique inventions and distinctive "way of life", the US had already begun in the early 20th century decisively to shape the experience of western modernity. And when it emerged stronger and richer after the second world war, while Europe lay in ruins, its culture had no rivals anywhere in the world.
Despite signals that America's cultural dominance is evaporating, Mishra remains optimistic about the continuing vitality of American literature:
[T]he outlook for American literature seems brighter than at any time in recent decades. Just as the tragedy of the civil war expedited the maturing of American literature, and the Depression seared its lessons on a generation of writers, so the present crisis will likely incite a fresh re-evaluation of values, styles and genres. Out of widespread turmoil and confusion may come America's greatest novels yet; and we will cherish them not because they evoke America's glamorously singular modernity but because they describe a more universal human condition of public and unremitting conflict.

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