American Social Structure: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Analysis

American Social Structure: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Analysis

American Social Structure: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Analysis

American Social Structure: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Analysis

Excerpt

There is a curious contradiction between the first and the second impressions which the United States tends to give its observers. To foreign observers, America is at first most striking for its bustling energy, its intellectual inferiority, and its hunger for culture. The foreign lecturer is given a reception in the United States accorded nowhere else. The array of types attracted by America is described by Dylan Thomas in inimitable terms.

There they go, every spring from New York to Los Angeles: exhibitionists, polemicists, histrionic publicists, theological rhetoricians, historical hoddy-doddies, balletomanes, ulterior decorators, windbags and bigwigs and humbugs, men in love with stamps, men in love with steaks, men after millionaires' widows, men with elephantiasis of the reputation (huge trunks and teeny minds), authorities on gas, bishops, best-sellers, editors looking for writers, writers looking for publishers, publishers looking for dollars, existentialists, serious physicists with nuclear missions, men from the B.B.C. who speak as though they had the Elgin marbles in their mouths, pot-boiling philosophers, professional Irishmen (very lepricorny), and, I am afraid, fat poets with slim volumes.

The foreign lecturers, in Thomas' opinion, are attracted to America like flies to a honey jar. Where else can they find audiences so eager to treat them as authorities, so pathetically concerned with the foreign visitor's opinion of themselves, so ready to pay to be informed of their own cultural inferiority?

But, according to Thomas, the observer finds that the American, so eager to be possessed, in the end eludes possession; although he is ever so ready to be generalized about, he is forever incapable of being comprehended in any set of generalizations.

At first, confused and shocked by shameless profusion and almost shamed by generosity, unaccustomed to such importance as they are assumed, by their hosts, to possess, and up against the barrier of a common language, they write in their notebooks like demons, generalizing away, on character and culture and the American political scene. But, towards the middle of their middle-aged whisk . . .

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