Author: George Blaustein
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Category: Literary Criticism
What has it meant to be an Americanist? What did it mean to be an Americanist through fascism, war, and occupation? Nightmare Envy and Other Stories is a study of Americanist writing and institutions in the 20th century. Four chapters trace four routes through the mid-twentieth century. The first chapter is the hidden history of American Studies in the United States, Europe and Japan. The second is the strange career of "national character" in anthropology. The third is a contest between military occupation and cultural diplomacy in Europe. The fourth is the emergence and fate of the "American Renaissance," as the scholar and literary critic F.O. Matthiessen carried a canon of radical literature across the Iron Curtain. Each chapter culminates in the postwar period, when the ruin of postwar Europe led writers and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic to understand America in new ways. Many of our modern myths of the United States and Europe were formed in this moment. Some saw the United States assume the mantle of cultural redeemer. Others saw a stereotypical America, rich in civilization but poor in culture, overtake a stereotypical Europe, rich in culture and equally rich in disaster. Drawing on American and European archives, the book weaves cultural, intellectual, and diplomatic history, with portraits of Matthiessen, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, David Riesman, Alfred Kazin, and Ralph Ellison. It excavates the history of the Salzburg Seminar in American Civilization, where displaced persons, former Nazis, budding Communists, and glad-handing Americans met on the common ground of American culture. Others found keys to their own contexts in American books, reading Moby-Dick in the ruins. Nightmare Envy and Other Stories chronicles American encounters with European disaster, European encounters with American fiction, and the chasms over which culture had to reach.