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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

IN THE MUSEUM OF CULTURE Marshall Walker, The Literature of the United States of America (Macmillan) £14.00, £3.95 pb.
Larzer Ziff, Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence in America (Penguin) £2.95 pb.
Jerome Loving, Emerson, Whitman and the American Muse (University of North Carolina Press) £16.50
Alan Wald, The Revolutionary Imagination: The Poetry and Politics of John Wheelwright and Sherry Mangan (University of North Carolina Press) £21.00
Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, The Complete Correspondence Volume 5 (Black Sparrow Press) $20.00, $7.50 pb.
Harold Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (Oxford) £13.50

'Solitary, singing in the west, I strike up for a new world'. Thus Walt Whitman, in 1860. But that new world - already, in fact, the child of battle - was soon to age fast, in the blood of the Civil War: today, some wars on, it seems very old indeed. We need not engage in a facile anti-Americanism - believing that the fault lies in the Stars and Stripes, not in ourselves - to feel that the USA has taken on the sins of the Old World and magnified them mightily; that may be, indeed, why it provokes European hatred. America, perhaps, is our own unthinkable image, projected on a global screen: barbarous, vulgar and glittering; a bright-clad power of darkness, striking up for Armageddon.

If America seems to hold powers of life and death over us - even though they may be our own powers, cast out and grown monstrous - we may think we have one consolation: that great nation has power, but not culture. Culture, of course, is a notoriously difficult concept, and in one sense of the term - as 'a whole way of life' - America, like any society, has a culture: but not, we may say, in the sense of a rich continuity of perceptions and valuations maintained and developed over centuries. There we have the advantage, or at least had, before 'Americanization' infected us. Yet America is, undoubtedly, a very 'culture-conscious' society. George Steiner has called it a 'museum-culture', ...


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