Menace in the West: The Rise of French Anti-Americanism in Modern Times

By David Strauss | Go to book overview
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chapter 2 Old World Versus New World

Between the two continents there is utter
disproportion, ascension here, depression there;
two communities the flow of whose life blood,
the measure of whose breath, the possibilities
of whose growth are all at opposite poles--
positive and increasing for the one, negative
and decreasing for the other.

-- André Tardieu, 1927

"I love antitheses," remarked Jules Huret, correspondent for Le Figaro and a friend of Mallarmé. "The sensations which they produce are strong, and when it is not a question of delicate matters, the effects which one obtains, though accurate, are more striking."1 Huret's taste for antithesis as a way of defining relations between America and Europe has been shared by both American students of the Old World and European critics of America. "Almost from the beginning the new world has repudiated the old, defining its own virtues as the precise antithesis of the supposed vices of Europe."2

As both Huret and Cunliffe suggest, the use of antithesis has been governed far more by moral and aesthetic considerations than it has by a desire to identify accurately the two terms which are contrasted. Almost invariably, the antithesis sets off entities which are invested with a different moral weight and thus encourages the reader to identify with one and oppose the other. For example, Americans who contrasted the Old World and the New World wished to dramatize the superiority of the United States.3

The antithesis can also be a convenient device for criticizing one's

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