Uoda: An American "We"
I return, in conclusion, to the anxiety expressed by Barrett Wendell and
cited by Horace Kallen in "Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot": "We are
submerged beneath a conquest so complete that the very name of us
means something not ourselves" (DMP, 194). Wendell's response to the
changing demographics of a nation besieged, to his mind, with immigrants
could in fact be the watchword of United States nationalism. The changing
"we" of the nation-state makes the very name of any "us" mean "some-
thing not ourselves." The task of any official story of the nation is to enable
a smooth transition, to accommodate revisions in order simultaneously
to transform and preserve "us." It at once builds on and changes prior
forms of relatedness and reformulates concepts of personhood and home
accordingly.
My study has been about what the poet John Yau calls "the reading of
an ever-changing tale."l An official story of "a people" invariably lags
behind the seismic demographic changes and corresponding untold sto-
ries that ultimately compel each revision. A national narrative must make
the concept of a "home" for "a people" appear intrinsic and natural rather
than contingent and, ultimately, fictive. At the same time, that narrative
must make the concept of home able to accommodate both changing and
contested frontiers and the mobility within its borders. "Home" must be
sufficiently elastic to incorporate the local into the national: it must, in
effect, be unhomelike.
I have been interested throughout my inquiry in the excitement gener-
ated and risks incurred by authors' efforts to turn attention to untold
stories into readings of an ever-changing tale. From Douglass to Stein,
these writers risked being thought bad writers; they risked being misun-
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