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Home on the Horizon

America’s Search for Space, from Emily Dickinson to Bob Dylan

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Sally Bayley

In this study of space and place, Sally Bayley examines the meaning of ‘home’ in American literature and culture. Moving from the nineteenth-century homestead of Emily Dickinson to the present-day reality of Bob Dylan, Bayley investigates the relationship of the domestic frontier to the wide-open spaces of the American outdoors. In contemporary America, she argues, the experience of home is increasingly isolated, leading to unsettling moments of domestic fallout.
At the centre of the book is the exposed and often shifting domain of the domestic threshold: Emily Dickinson’s doorstep, Edward Hopper’s doors and windows, and Harper Lee’s front porch. Bayley tracks these historically fragile territories through contemporary literature and film, including Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford – works that explore local, domestic territories as emblems of nation. The culturally potent sites of the american home – the hearth, porch, backyard, front lawn, bathroom, and basement – are positioned in relation to the more conflicted sites of the American motel and hotel.

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Chapter 2: Doors and Windows 61

Extract

2Doors and Windows This Side and Beyond Sitting alone in his basement, Alfred Lambert watches the shadowy light of late afternoon drop like a ‘captive’ into his window wells.1 A hostage to his version of home, he waits for his story to be extended, for something other than the light to pass through. Conversely, Sylvie Fisher, a natural wanderer, cannot stay indoors for long. A Huck Finn-style itinerant, she opens up the home to a larger geography, forcing her family into a relationship with the natural environment. Following on the heels of Sylvie and her nineteenth-century counterpart, Dickinson, this chapter will move through the doors and windows of the American home and explore ways in which America at home looks out upon the world; turns its gaze yonder. On the other side of the threshold lie extended domestic territories – the front porch, front lawn and back-yard spaces; outposts of the twentieth-century domestic world. Extensions of the modern home life, these are places offering larger views, a glimpse of a wider horizon; an opportunity to reflect upon the life led within. Gaston Bachelard reminds us that metaphysical thought is always framed within a dialectic of inner and outer, a geometry that confers ‘spatiality upon thought’.2 And so it was that the Puritan settlers of New England conferred a sense of inner space upon the geography they found. The ‘city upon a hill’ imagined by John Winthrop was as much an inner dwelling, a place of faith, as it was an actual...

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