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Home on the Horizon

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


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 4: Folding Frontiers and Lost Horizons 125


4Folding Frontiers and Lost Horizons The Frontier Crossing the American border, Sam Shepard’s frenetic characters are in search of an alternative homeland – a holiday, as Dickinson put it, ‘away from home’.1 What they find, perhaps, is the dubious ‘some’ the poet’s speaker uncomfortably leaves with: a surreal alternative population. Dickinson’s speaker is hesitant, but nonetheless, she leaves. Searching for an imagined ‘metropolis’, she projects something curious on to its ‘Face’ or façade – that curious, even heuristic device that is, in the penultimate line, the feet of the final line that will carry her there. Turning her feet westwards, she ‘remains in Face’; she appears bold and faces west like a man. Dickinson’s speaker does not ‘retire’ from the intent to find her ‘metropolis’. Metaphorically speaking, her ‘emigration’ is the equivalent of America’s historical push forward across territorial frontiers. Frontier has always been a word tightly lodged in the American psyche, both for its historical significance and also for its ongoing cultural resonances. Frontiers divide up space and convert them into place; they are lines and barriers identifying membership and ownership, inclusion and exclusion, territories of inside and outside. Frederick Jackson Turner’s legendary oratory on the matter, ‘The Significance of the American Frontier’ (1893) lay claim to the term to denote the landscape of the historical west; figuratively speaking, it reflected a form of national self-imagining. In the latter sense, the edge 126 Chapter 4 of the frontier marked the tip of American progress: what the Puritans had imagined as...

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