Hey Wait A Minute -- I'm from "Flyover Country!"

Anonymous's picture

At one point Winchester suggests that in rejecting the labels, respectively, of “Bosnian” or “Lebanese” writer, Hemon and Alameddine may themselves have essentialized about “Americans” on the program.
But Winchester himself says that “much of the flyover country here [in America] is people who are not in the slightest bit interested [in literature or the rest of the world], you know it’s game shows, and afternoon TV . . .”
Also, he tells a story about meeting a Chinese woman in a remote part of China who asks him to tell her everything he knows about Trollope. He then says “you wouldn’t find that in the middle of America, ‘can you tell me about Ivo Andrić [the Nobel Prize winning Bosnian author of The Bridge on the Drina (1945)], [or] can you tell me all about a great Lebanese writer,’ but you would find it in China, thank heavens.”

What do you think?

oshuhua's picture

Your implication is clearly

Your implication is clearly right--Winchester is equally guilty of essentializing. I think it's pretty hard to avoid, in some cases at least. Ironically, when someone is defensive of their own people's rights or desirous of winning some respect for their own group, insisting on its unique qualities and dignity, it almost automatically leads to the sort of polarization between "us" and "you all." So while insisting on not being glossed over by others, the tendency is to gloss over these others. Perhaps the mind can't picture so many uniquenesses at once.
This is a real difficulty, because clearly each group and each individual deserves some dignity and recognition of its unique nature, but by asserting a group's identity it simultaneously tends to assume a homogeneity it may not really have: "we are such and such" assumes that all members are this way. This can generate, whether on purpose or not, a new stereotype, and stereotypes are very hard to shake off.
My study has been on the way the Western world has regarded the Romanies, and their fictionalized counterparts, the Gypsies. These stereotypes--either of the Gypsy as a villain of sorts, or as a victim group, or even as a simple cultural unit that should be judged objectively--effectively interfere with clear perception in many people. It's a real challenge when your cultural group is perceived as a thieving race--people cannot get over the image to see the real person behind the label.
I hope I'm not drifting too far from the topic. . .I'm rather deeply interested in stereotypes and the perception of reality.
It won't surprise readers here that I urge everyone to evaluate people fairly and individually. However, it's hard to achieve. If we really do that we won't perhaps have any time for our own business! True fairness is very demanding work. I guess everyone, viewing him- or herself as the protagonist in their own life stories (See the 5th interview), tries to live up to the standards of a storybook hero, and therefore wishes to be fair. However, in the end, I guess it may be always a matter of finding a workable compromise between complete fairness and wholesale stereotypes. Perhaps many give people who seem to matter to them a 'fair shake' and then freeze their impression at that point?
Best to all readers!

gregoryknapp's picture

Dear oshuhua: Thank you for

Dear oshuhua:

Thank you for your thoughts.

You mention that you study the Romanies, and I wonder if you have read "Little Money Street: In Search of Gypsies and Their Music in the South of France" a non-fiction book by Fernanda Eberstadt, a writer who has written four excellent novels in the last 23 years and who is, to my mind, much less well known than she deserves to be.

I have not read her non-fiction, so I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it, if you have any.

Thanks again,


oshuhua's picture

Hello, Greg. Thank you for

Hello, Greg. Thank you for the recommendation. I am also a music teacher and composer and feel very interested in this book. I will try to find it! I'll let you know my reactions, for sure.
Best wishes
Chris O'Brien