Monday, January 15, 2007

The several Americas.

Stanley Elkin evokes the Thomas Pynchon of The Crying Of Lot 49 or Mason & Dixon:
Despite change, much had remained the same – or else progressed sequentially that having known the beginning he might have anticipated what came afterward. Again he was struck by his old sense of the several Americas; he knew that lurking behind the uniformities of federal highway system and the green redundancy of enormous exit signs that made Sedalia seem as important as Chicago, and the blazing fifty-foot logotypes of the motels, and colonial A&P’s and Howard Johnsons’ like outposts of Eastern empire in west Texas’s scrub country, and teller’s cage Dairy Queens wantonly labeled as old steamer trunks, and enamelly service stations, and in back of all the franchised restaurants and department stores – there was a Macy’s in Kansas City – dance studios, taco stands, drugstores, motion picture theaters and even nightclubs, and to the side of the double arches of the hamburger drive-ins and the huge spinning chicken buckets canted from the perpendicular like an axis through true north. America atmospherically existed. It wasn’t the land; he had no mystic or patriot’s or even householder’s sense of the land at all. Region somehow persisted inside monolith. The Midwest threw a shadow as exotic as Spain’s. He believed in all of it. New Englanders were salty, Southerners proud, Westerners independent, Easterners sophisticated, Appalachians wise and taciturn and knew the old, authentic songs. And beneath all that, beneath all the clichés of region, he believed in further, ultimate disparities between rich and poor and lovely and ugly and quick and dull and strong and weak. And structuring even these, adumbrating difference like geologic layer, character, quirk, personality like a coat of arms, and below personality the unspoken, and below the unspoken the unspeakable, so that as he walked down Main Street he might just as well have been in Asia. It didn’t matter that the columnists were syndicated or that the rate of exchange was one hundred cents on the dollar; he felt a vague, xenophobic unease. He stared at people as at landmarks or battlegrounds or historic sites; he moved up and down the aisles of Rexall’s Drugstore as through someone else’s church, and picked at the Colonel’s fried chicken like some fastidious visitor to Easter Island pantomiming his way through a feast of guts.

Stanley Elkin, The Dick Gibson Show 250-51 (Dalkey Archive Press, 1998).

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