Strangers to This Ground: Cultural Diversity in Contemporary American Writing

Strangers to This Ground: Cultural Diversity in Contemporary American Writing

Strangers to This Ground: Cultural Diversity in Contemporary American Writing

Strangers to This Ground: Cultural Diversity in Contemporary American Writing

Excerpt

This book had its beginning in weekly conversations with the Frenchmen to whom it is dedicated. Every Wednesday morning from February to June in 1958 we took the train together from Paris to Lille, where we were lecturing at the university. My companions knew English perfectly and were familiar with the American landscape, having perhaps traveled about the United States more than I, and they were at once so well-read and so open-minded that their hesitations about the quality of American life, and their occasional rejection of what we consider its values, seemed to me to be significant and to call for careful statement of the opposite positions.

From personal observation they were persuaded that the United States lacks cultural variety. They had ridden our cross-country buses, apparently reading David Riesman and William Whyte whenever they tired of looking out of windows or of listening to their other-directed fellow- passengers. What they saw and heard confirmed what they read: America was monotonously like itself, just as Americans were monotonously like each other.

My general answer was, and is, that beneath the superficial uniformity there is variety in abundance. American writing has testified constantly, for fifty years and more, to the fact that the decisive experience in the lives of most Americans is one of adjustment following a move from one cultural area to another. This experience has so often been . . .

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