Tuesday, June 3, 2008

More from Brown, by Richard Rodriguez

Canada and Mexico have produced North American intellectuals a generation ahead of the United States. U.S. intellectuals of the middleweight New York school continue to uphold the east-to-west custom of intellectual property in order to maintain their authority as critics. East Coast intellectuals continue to contest with the Old World, especially the notorious tag team of England and France...

I was trained east, an inveterate reader of "easterns": Wharton, James, Kazin, Baldwin, O'Hara. I noticed the highest easterns—Wharton, James—were written as though they were westerns (the arrival of an innocent). Isabel Archer of Albany, New York, journeys to Europe where she achieves inexperience amidst the etiolated foliage, the thicker light, the thinner blood, the charged conversations.

We crossed the Mississippi around nine o'clock Sunday night. I remember thinking we had left the West behind.

Go east, young woman! I think we are just now beginning to discern an anti-narrative—the American detective story told from west to east, against manifest destiny, against the early Protestant point of view, against the Knickerbocker Club, old Ivy, the assurances of New England divines.

Josiah Royce, Nick Carraway, Damon Runyan, Lynn O'Donnell—for many of us who had grown up west of the Mississippi, New York was finishing school. Eating clubs at Princeton, Eliot House, authority, memory—all the un-American themes.

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