Friday, May 13, 2011

A question answered

Why Europeans would read someone like Franzen:
For the American reader there is the pleasure of recognizing the interiors Franzen so meticulously describes. Not so for the Italian, or German, or Frenchman, who simply struggles through lists of alien bric-a-brac. We might say that if the Swiss Stamm, to attract an international public, has been obliged to write about everyman for everyone everywhere, Franzen, thanks to the size of America’s internal market, but also to the huge pull the country exercises on the world’s imagination, can write about Americans for Americans (which is no doubt as it should be) and nevertheless expect to be read worldwide.

Freedom has this characteristic: Franzen appears to get all his energy, all his identity, from simultaneously evoking and disdaining America, explaining it (its gaucheness mostly) and rejecting it; his stories invariably offer characters engaging in the American world, finding themselves tainted and debased by it, then at last coming to their Franzenesque “corrected” senses and withdrawing from it. Blinded by this or that ambition, they come to grief because they lack knowledge, they lack awareness. Thus the importance of so much information. Unlike his characters, Franzen knows everything, is aware of everything, and aware above all that redemption lies in withdrawal from the American public scene. What message could be more welcome to Europeans? The more you know about America, which we need to do, the more you turn away from it, which we enjoy.
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