FYS Section A07. America Is Elsewhere: "Open Spaces"?
At the heart and root of the American experience is the dynamic dialogue between the democratic autonomous self and society as a collective. It has always carried with it a distinctively gendered framework: the autonomous individual is the “authentic” male on the frontier or “out there” in conflict with the authority of society, which has been seen as female and “inauthentic” in many ways. The “new,” post-1945 dynamic dialectic is that of the authentic, autonomous, democratic, male individual vs. the capitalist, commercial culture that has come to define the new American citizen as the ultimate mainstream consumer. Such authenticity, however, may not actually exist. In every case, dissatisfaction and anxiety rule the immediate present. America has always been elsewhere.
The performance of authenticity has also become commodified, generic, and often formulaic in books and films, such as ones we will read and see, Into the Wild and “Brokeback Mountain.” We will begin with The Kite Runner, followed by The Book of Jonah, the new novel about a young Afghan boy’s coming to America and the clash of cultures and new spaces he finds himself in. Other novels will include Robert Stone’s Bay of Souls, Paul Auster’s City of Glass, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Fair Maiden, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Tim O’Brien’s In The Lake of the Woods, and Don DeLillo’s Point Omega. The books involve voodoo rites, Harlem in the 1920s, a poor girl acting as a nanny in a rich New Jersey seaside town, a detective in search of a man determined to kill his son, a politician and his wife who may or may not vanish into the northern Minnesota woods, and a Pentagon “think-tank” expert self-exiled to the desert after the Iraq war. We’ll explore the yearning of the characters for “open spaces” and “authentic” retreats and sanctuaries that include sex, murder, racial identity, euthanasia.
Professor of English