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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.

«Zooming in on works of literature, art, and film, and back out again to take in the vistas of social history within which those works are situated, Sally Bayley’s lyric meditation on American space is richly suggestive. Written with verve, and an admiration for makers as diverse as Dickinson and Dylan, Edward Hopper, Robert Smithson, and the Coen brothers, this is a book not only about architecture and landscape, but about daydream and desire. Its subject is the restless exchange between mind and place that has been and remains essential to imagination in America.» (Professor Langdon Hammer, Yale University)