Bulwark and enclosure

bq. Roger in his book cites a number of accusations that make me respond, Dreiser-like, with a rueful feeling that, whatever may be the European biases, certain of those anti-American denunciations touch on something real, and we ought to pay attention and sometimes hang our heads. French writers, Roger explains, have waxed indignant for centuries now over the quality of American city life, sometimes for reasons that will not appeal to us — an outrage at racial mingling, for instance. Céline did not like Jews, and did not like blacks. The Judeo-negroid sidewalks of metropolitan America were not for him.

bq. On the other hand, some of the classic French indignation will strike us as well-directed. Sartre recoiled at the lack of public places in American cities — the lack of French-style cafés, for instance. What halfway intelligent American, having returned from a week of double espressos in the cafés of France, will think that Sartre was wrong? Sartre observed that European cities benefit from a sharp definition of the city limits, as defined by the ancient bulwarks, and American cities suffer from the lack of anything similar. This remark, too, has its truth. Bulwarklessness has done us in. The plazas and promenades of a thousand European towns offer a public warmth and aesthetic joy that hardly anyplace in America can rival — a chilly reality of American life.

— Paul Berman, reviewing “The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism” by Philippe Roger (among others) at The New Republic

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