The American Philosopher: Conversations with Quine, Davidson, Putnam, Nozick, Danto, Rorty, Cavell, MacIntyre, and Kuhn

By Giovanna Borradori; Rosanna Crocitto | Go to book overview

The Atlantic Wall

A New Cartography

Only a few decades separate the Italian travels of Winckelmann, Goethe, and the masters of classicism from the transatlantic adventure of Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, the first manifesto on the American myth. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference between them. The first were grands tours enacting the story of origins, in search of the buried, yet vibrant, matrix of Western culture. Tocqueville's was a sort of detour, a courageous digression from the center to the periphery, reaching "the extreme confines of European civilization." America, the continent-nation of the mobile frontier, always presents itself to the European traveler as the edge of an unknown where the lines of a new history are being rearranged.

The novelty of this history also permeates contemporary American philosophical culture, which has been too often assimilated into the European pattern of events, and has rarely been the object of systematic analysis on its own terms. From a critical point of view, we Europeans lack the categories necessary for a coherent interpretation of American philosophy. As in a cubist painting, the contours appear dismembered, torn apart by an explosion that allows no return. Thousands of perspectives overlap simultaneously, each one suggested by a single, specialized point of view. To recompose the profile of this disjointed portrait is to challenge "the Atlantic wall," the screen of mutual misunderstanding that for years has divided the philosophical scenes on the two shores of the ocean.

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