Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America
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In this pithy, warmhearted, and very funny book, Eagleton melds a good old-fashioned roast with genuine admiration for his neighbors "across the pond."
Americans have long been fascinated with the oddness of the British, but the English, says literary critic Terry Eagleton, find their transatlantic neighbors just as strange. Only an alien race would admiringly refer to a colleague as “aggressive,” use superlatives to describe everything from one’s pet dog to one’s rock collection, or speak frequently of being “empowered.” Why, asks Eagleton, must we broadcast our children’s school grades with bumper stickers announcing “My Child Made the Honor Roll”? Why don’t we appreciate the indispensability of the teapot? And why must we remain so irritatingly optimistic, even when all signs point to failure?
On his quirky journey through the language, geography, and national character of the United States, Eagleton proves to be at once an informal and utterly idiosyncratic guide to our peculiar race. He answers the questions his compatriots have always had but (being British) dare not ask, like why Americans willingly rise at the crack of dawn, even on Sundays, or why we publicly chastise cigarette smokers as if we’re all spokespeople for the surgeon general.
In this pithy, warmhearted, and very funny book, Eagleton melds a good old-fashioned roast with genuine admiration for his neighbors “across the pond.”
Vatican City.” “After viewing the Finger, or the Eiffel Tower as the inhabitants quaintly call it, we spent an instructive morning strolling around Main Street, known to the locals as the Champs Elysées.” This is not as improbable as it sounds. The American golfer Bubba Watson once caused an uproar in France by announcing that he had seen “that big tower” (the Eiffel Tower), the “building starting with a L” (the Louvre), and “this arch I drove around in a circle” (the Arc de Triomphe). He later
level-voiced themselves. The idea that emotion is an adequate response to such horrors is absurd. They lie in a region as far beyond sentiment as the theory of relativity. Those who can sob and wail are the lucky ones. It may be that some American business types and politicians are sentimental because sentimentality is the emotional mode of those unaccustomed to genuine feeling. Rather as broad humour is the only kind of comedy appreciated by the humourless, so stagey, broad-brush emotion is the
American Dream. As long as you have enough will-power and ambition, the fact that you are a destitute Latino with a gargantuan drink problem puts you at no disadvantage to graduates of the Harvard Business School when it comes to scaling the social ladder. All you need do is try. It is to the credit of the British that they have rarely fallen for this illusion, a fact illustrated by their saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and then for God’s sake give up, there’s no point in making a
touch. There is nothing you can do with it. A corpse is just a lump of meaningless matter. Its meaning has haemorrhaged away. Tragedy is the wager that you can make something out of this dissolution, plucking value from loss and breakdown. You can do so, however, only by staring these things squarely in the face. Only by submitting to their power can you transcend them. It is this that America finds hard to accept. In this as in other ways, it is a profoundly anti-tragic civilisation. On the
idea in their heads. In Britain, you do not generally buy into an idea. That Americans buy into ideas and proposals all the time suggests just how much the life of the mind is modelled on the stock market. A bathroom in Britain is not a facility, nor is a building a structure. The proud phrase “World’s tallest structure” sounds faintly comic to British ears. The British sometimes speak of children as “kids,” but they would rarely do so in a newspaper headline or TV news report. This would be