Innocence to Experience (and Back Again?): Uncertain Passages through the Intercontinental Looking-Glass
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John Matteson revisits the transatlantic conversation between the New World and the Old, by drawing on the archive of nineteenth century US writers about Europe. He is not so much interested in highlighting what these more or less celebrated figures had to say about Europe, its history, and its people, as in reflecting on how, through what he calls ‘the intercontinental looking glass’, Americans had to come to terms with the often unsettling stare of the foreigner. Though he knows his use of Du Bois’ famous concept of ‘double-consciousness’ might appear misconceived, Matteson insists that ‘the doubly conscious state that Du Bois ascribed to African Americans differed from other experiences of dual awareness not chiefly in terms of quality, but mostly of degree, though the degree is assuredly vast’. Matteson argues passionately, eloquently and, in his references to his own personal experience, quite amusingly, for the need to safeguard this tradition of cross-cultural comparison, though he ends by confessing his fears that contemporary Americans might be tempted ‘to turn away from the transatlantic looking-glass entirely’.
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