The American Writer and the European Tradition

The American Writer and the European Tradition

The American Writer and the European Tradition

The American Writer and the European Tradition

Excerpt

The twelve essays of this volume were originally delivered as lectures in a series of four conferences at the University of Rochester in the winter of 1948-49. The theme of the conferences--the American writer and the European tradition--was chosen because of its crucial importance today. America seems called upon to produce a literature which will nourish and refresh European readers; at the same time it needs to perceive more clearly the source and nature of formative influences, both past and present, upon its literature. We need to know to what degree and for what reasons a European feels a shock of recognition when he reads an American work; we need to find better means of evaluating what the European reader may consider untraditional and "native."

Does the excellence of American writers of undisputed merit rest to an appreciable degree upon their debt to or their independence of the European tradition? Do American writers tend to restate European concepts or are they more prone to reinterpret them? What happens when American writers turn their backs on Europe? What is it that makes an American author peculiarly American? Without a studied search for the answers, we can be as baffled as Huck Finn was by Jim's notorious petitio principii. We can be reduced to saying that an American writer is American because he writes like an American. And without deeper study of our debts to Europe and of our impact abroad, we are in danger of ignoring the whole progress of our times toward the acknowledgment that we live in one world.

The essays in this volume bear upon some aspect of the ques-

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