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New Left Review 78, November-December 2012

Barry Schwabsky


Recently returning to the United States after a decade living abroad, I realized I had allowed certain facts about the place to slip my memory. [1] Anne Middleton Wagner, A House Divided: American Art since 1955, University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles 2012, £24.95, paperback 290 pp, 978 0 520 27097 8 Some of them came back to me with full force last summer, watching what I could bear of the two big presidential nominating conventions. It came as a shock to be reminded how unreal the rest of the world becomes in the rhetoric of Republicans and Democrats alike. Each speaker had a similar tale to tell of how a mother, a grandfather or some other forebear had made his or her way, despite untold hazards and nearly insuperable difficulties, from some inhospitable foreign land—Italy, Cuba, Mexico, wherever—to find a new life, get ahead and gain that holy grail, a small business, in the greatest country on earth. If it was a Republican, great-grandpa had done it by dint of sheer personal pluck and determination; for Democrats, this heartwarming success had been achieved with a helping hand from a benevolent government, which may have been big but, for heaven’s sake, never too big. Likewise in the summations at the end of the candidates’ final tv debates, the incumbent spoke as the representative of ‘the one indispensable nation’, which his opponent then declared to be ‘the hope of the earth’. The rest of the world featured just as a place from which to escape.

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Barry Schwabsky, ‘Under the Flag’, NLR 78: £3

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