Americans consider themselves polite, but they stick their hands in their pockets, drink from the bottle, speak in raised voices. Someone ought to train them how to behave in museums. Not only do they converse as if they were in their own houses; they do so in order to give educational lectures. With all their terrible goodwill, they wish to learn and to make all things serve this purpose. It is an American vice to believe that a work of art must teach something. In the same way, they were persuaded to drink red wine because they were told that wine was good for them, without consideration of pleasure. Their passion for learning is naive and honorable.
One thing about Americans that I always forget and that always strikes me when I arrive in their country—or, rather, step onto the airplane—is the bad cut of their jeans. And also their taste for muscle. Whether this is one practical manifestation of a taste for brute force I cannot say. Also the soft drinks, which come in bottles twice as big as anywhere else, and the power lines, which instead of being buried underground encumber the edges of the sky. And that it’s a country of blonds. And their obsession with the weather, forever plastered on the screen by NY1 and printed at the bottom of the back page of the New York Times along with the temperature, humidity level, and wind speed. In the end, what we forget about countries is everything banal that we want to call characteristic. Isn’t this what goes by the name of sociology?
They are overly fond of brown.
They eat all the time. What anguish must be theirs!
Charles Olson—or was it Melville?—said that America has replaced history with geography. What makes for boredom, which in America can be so violent, is the unfilled urban space. In contrast to Europe or Asia, which are stuffed to overflowing, in the United States the population density per square kilometer is very low. Whence those depressing suburbs, depressing because one can always find a parking place. In America one feels not solitude but isolations. They are a people without balconies. Yet they cannot help interfering in other people’s business, according to the Protestant custom. And on courthouse steps one sees people brandishing signs that say, as if they knew, GOD HATES ABORTIONISTS. It is a country fascinated by lust.
Americans spend less time arguing over things than over the right to speak about those things.
They go to court over everything. This is a way ofmaking money, of course, and of causing trouble for one’s neighbor, but more deeply it points to the fact that, for them, nothing follows from itself. One good quality of the United States is that here common sense is never taken for an established thing. These litigious people believe more in reason than in fatalism.
It is the only country in the world where no one remains a foreigner. A person can go by the name of Zgrabenalidongsteinloff and no one will raise an eyebrow. "In New York there are no impossible names," as I was told by a novelist whose name raised the eyebrows of elegant racists in Paris. This is what makes everything possible. They walked on the moon because they are the moon. One admires their courtesy.
Tuesday, May 19
An excerpt from French writer Charles Dantzig's "Liste des Américains," in the May Harper's Magazine.
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