Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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While I don't think the distinction is as easy as "primitives or pantywaists," or "we write loose baggy monsters because we are a loose baggy monster," I don't think it should be dismissed, either.

As Roderick Nash argues, the difference on which a distinctly American literature rests is at least in part geographic. To justify writing in an upstart country, without the historical and cultural glories of Europe, required Hawthorne, Whitman, Jewett, et al to look toward what Europe lacked and their own homeland offered--not from spite, but necessity, the anxiety of influence in continental terms. Though our concerns (and geography) may have changed, those roots are hard to shake off even if they can't be held accountable for every literary difference.

Dan Green

Or, as Richard Poirier argued, what writers like Hawthorne found in trying "to justify writing in an upstart country" was not so much a writing "commensurate with the open spaces and endless distances" of the geographical U.S., but a "world elsewhere," a world made out of words.


A world built of words, but also of imagination. So while the space of the land may not dictate a particular style or styles, perhaps the ability to imagine an "out there" in which reinvention takes place relies on having a sense of enough space existing to do so.

But I don't want to make that sound as simple (or absolute) as Gibbons seems to, just that for someone like Hawthorne, caught between his commitments to European tradition and American invention, a sense of of geographic possibility may have boosted his sense of creative possibility.

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