Adam Gopnik, editor
Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology.
The Library of America, 656 pages, $40
Perhaps the only trope more tired than the American in Paris is the American writer in Paris. For years, Adam Gopnik, the last expatriate left standing at La Closerie des Lilas, beat his dead horse in the pages of The New Yorker. He collected his writings in a book called Paris to the Moon. Now there is Americans in Paris, a repackaging of American writers from Ben Franklin to Dorothea Tanning, edited by vous-know-who. Here, great writers become a succession of epithets from Let’s Go, Paris! Abigail Adams is an “ur-WASP.” Thomas Jefferson: “photogenic” and “the model student, the first on a Junior Year Abroad.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: a “doggerel rhymester.” Hemingway, Pound, and Stein: the “Tinker, Evers, and Chance of the American Experience in Paris.”
Gopnik is only too self-aware of his own situation: “Paris for Americans is no longer an exclamation point at the end of the world but a question mark at the fringe of our Empire, and if exclamation points provoke poetry, cultural interrogation produces comedy.” Rather than joyous escape, in Gopnik’s Paris we find didactic lessons. The American occupation after World War II, for instance, becomes an occasion for a homily on the current occupation in Iraq.
The admixture of expatriate posturing and foodie logic makes for creepy results. It was while stateside during 9/11 that Gopnik, in The New Yorker, wrote that the pyre of World Trade Center rubble was “Not entirely horrible from a reasonable distance—almost like the smell of smoked mozzarella.”
The present volume is not quite so emetic. Nevertheless, it is just as tasteless.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 23 Number 1, on page 77
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