November 03, 2006

Defining Americanism in the 21st Century

It is not an essay. It is mainly an introduction to a web site. It is rather a link on a web site. The main web site is Unites States Information or International Information Programs of US Department of State, as the site is being desired to be called. The link site is Writers on America.

The motive of the site can be well expressed in the words as given on the web site itself. It follows.

"This book originated as an intriguing suggestion by Mark Jacobs, a U.S.
foreign service officer with our State Department staff who also happens to be a
working novelist. If we were to ask a contemporary group of American poets,
novelists, critics, and historians what it means to be an American writer,
Jacobs proposed, the results could illuminate in an interesting way certain
America values -- freedom, diversity, democracy -- that may not be well
understood in all parts of the world.

In the spirit of trying an
experiment, that is what we did. Choosing 15 writers who have attained a certain
stature for their work, with the group as a whole reflecting the considerable
diversity of American writing today, we commissioned each to write an essay. The
assignment: In what sense do you see yourself as an American writer?

The way it is presented, even a casual looker may not escape from getting attracted to its contents. However, it is depicted in a very innocuous manner in the list of the products of its mother site. It is titled as the Writers on America. It may escape the attention of the visitor to the main site. In case, the visitor activates the link, he will never move away without reading the contents.

I was looking for the original documents on American history. The American government as well as American universities have used Internet in a more meaningful manner. They have understood the real meaning of Information and Communication Technology and every now and then, they are bringing new models to exploit the potential of this technology for the benefit of the humanity. Without such efforts, this technology seems to be a mere toy. Without such experiments, it may be reduced to a place where you see some sign boards of some companies as you see them on the road. You may be using it for online registration, online booking of tickets, online banking, online trading, online news and similar works but that may not continue to bind the users for a longer period. Soon something more will come and the visitors will move on. But, by making it a store house of authenticated information and documents, a true democratization of knowledge, a real freedom through dispersion of knowledge and information, and a continuous medium of learning, the medium is made meaningful for humanity for all times to come. It is not only Americans who are realizing the potential of this medium in a true manner. The similar activities are also seen in case of European countries also. If an impression can be taken for established fact, then whatsoever can be discerned by the email listing of H-Net, even the Japanese and Chinese are also doing this.

Anyhow, it was when I was looking out for the original documents on American history, I stumbled upon this site. As the quoted lines above, as taken from the site itself, can convey, it attracted my attention. It was really a novel experiment. The result is also really amazing. This experiment is there since December 2002. There are 15 stalwarts of American literature of present times and all have different origins but now a common place of residence. They have spoken out with freedom and in the process defined the America of the twenty first century. They are 15 Reflections on the America as it is being felt and lived in 21st century.

I have read the essays only by three writers by now. It has left me with highly ennobling feelings. I have written on each of these three writers. I have picked lines from their essays. I here reproduce the lines by Bharati Mukherjee.

"I'm far more impatient with hostility from Indian and India-born American scholars in "post-colonial" disciplines who instinctively disparage anything with an American provenance. (Their mantra seems to be that if America or the West in general set themselves up as the pinnacle in social and political evolution, then it is the duty of all children of colonialism to oppose them "asymmetrically," that is, in any way they can.)" Bharati Mukherjee

The lines may not convey much to a non-Bharati (Indian) but if an Indian can come out of his complexes and biases, he can appreciate and admire the truth conveyed in the lines of Ms Bharati Mukherjee. I have written my impressions on reading such lines. But I am not able to weave them into a good essay. The introduction to the Web site is rather more effective essay on the content matter of this experiment which has given birth to this site. I have kept back all those lines which I have written but I have given it a title as "Defining Americanism in the 21st Century". I believe that sums up the true theme of this site. Or to quote from the introduction, "America refracted through these writers' minds is not one place but many."

I hope and believe that other readers would also find it interesting.

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