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Home on the Horizon

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

Series:

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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Conclusion: Home and Horizon 153

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Conclusion: Home and Horizon Dickinson dreams of taking a sublime souvenir home: a sunset in a cup. What she wants is a portable image of sublime America, proof of its manifest self; sublimity in miniature. But not everything in America is flagrantly obvious; there are also small as well as large things that remain hidden, as Dickinson, a devotee of the small and the hidden (her body of poetic fascicles stored within a rosewood chest), attests to. For Dickinson, the world of home was synonymous with the world of her poetry; both offered domestic interiors that she could imaginatively ‘do up’: places of self-display as well as retreat; nooks and corners. Hovering among the small and well-matched details of the picturesque home life, Dickinson zooms out, often extravagantly, towards the wider world. But like Thoreau, tucked away in his wooded idyll, she is quite aware just how far from her- self the horizon lay. The space between self and horizon, home and the furthest point away that the eye can see, is difficult to measure: approxi- mate. As Thoreau put it, ‘Our horizon is never quite at our elbows’,1 or as the American poet Frederick Seidel bluntly stated: ‘It I feel close to, it cannot come near.’2 In other words, the horizon is a far-off abstraction, and so an easy target for the limitless projection of individual hopes, fears and dreams, continually and comfortably receding into an ever- extendable ideological distance. Since the arrival of the American highway in...

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