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ACROSS THE POND by Terry Eagleton

ACROSS THE POND

An Englishman's View of America

By Terry Eagleton

Pub Date: May 6th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-393-08898-4
Publisher: Norton

An occasionally illuminating book, but more often an attempt to pass clichés and stereotypes as insight, by a prolific academic whose stabs at humor might play better in his native England.

In case his American readers might otherwise take offense, Eagleton (The Event of Literature, 2012, etc.) explains, “As befits a puritan race, Americans tend to make a sharper distinction between what is serious and what is not. There is sometimes more need of a shift in tone to signal that what you are saying is meant to be frivolous, light-hearted or just plain silly.” So, when he proceeds to observe that “there is, to be sure, a lot of obesity elsewhere on the planet, but nobody is as mind-warpingly, transcendentally enormous as an enormous American,” some readers may decide that he’s just being lighthearted, while others could suggest that he is belaboring the obvious. Eagleton does so throughout a short book that seems longer, one that suggests to the few who haven’t reached such conclusions on their own that there are strains of hypocrisy and foolish jingoism underlying the country’s celebration of all-American ideals and values. To Europeans, he writes, “Suggesting that the Almighty has a special affection for your nation would sound as absurd as claiming that he has a special affection for gummy bears.” More often, the author sets his sights lower than the heavens, such as the differences in American and English diction: “The British use the rather beautiful word ‘children’ far more often than Americans do, who tend to prefer the ugly, demeaning monosyllable ‘kids.’ It is surprising that a nation so scrupulous about political correctness should be content to regard its offspring as small smelly goats.” Oh, and “an Englishman who gets through twenty fags a day is not necessarily a promiscuous homosexual.” Now living in Dublin, the professor also has plenty to say about the Irish.

Meaner would have been funnier; fresher could have been more insightful.