In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview

17
European Images of America

This essay, written for a volume of pieces on American intellectual and cultural history, was also printed in Encounter, in tandem with an essay by Melvin J. Lasky on American images of Europe. I have shortened it in minor ways, in part to avoid excessive overlap with other essays in this book. But it remains in main shape an example of my sense of transatlantic relations as I conceived of them in the early 1960s.

IMAGE:Artificial imitation of the external form of an object, statue (esp. of saint etc. as object of veneration); optical counterpart produced by rays of light reflected from mirror, refracted through lens, etc.; form, semblance; . . . simile, metaphor, idea, conception . . .

IMAGINARY:Existing only in imagination; (Math.) having no real existence, but assumed to exist for a special purpose (eg. square root of negative quantity)


IMAGINARY AMERICA

For most Europeans, it may be contended, America has never existed. Instead of being a "real" place it has served as an image: a symbol, a Never-Never Land. How characteristic that the whimsical Scottish dramatist J. M. Barrie should stock the Never-Never Land of his Peter Pan with figures of fantasy from the New World: Caribbean pirates and prowling Indians. The children who read Barrie

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