As we journey together, the journeys are multi-faceted.
There is a physical journey – such as a Journey into Hidden America or Canada. But there is an emotional aspect at well.
We not only go to places beyond the interstate (whether Main Street or “off the beaten path”) to chronicle interesting activities, places and individuals worth remembering. We also journey into our collective sensibility, into our collective memory, space and community.
This fact was especially impressed upon me a couple of years ago by Miles Orvell. He is a professor of English and American studies at Temple University. He did so in a brilliant book, The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American Memory, Space, and Community (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
His premise is that for more than a century, the term “Main Street” has conjured up nostalgic images of American small-town life. Representations exist all around us, from fiction and film to the architecture of shopping malls and Disneyland. All the while, the nation has become increasingly diverse, exposing tensions within this ideal. In The Death and Life of Main Street, Miles Orvell wrestles with the mythic allure of the small town in all its forms, illustrating how Americans continue to reinscribe these images on real places in order to forge consensus about inclusion and civic identity, especially in times of crisis. Orvell contends that Main Street was never what it seemed; it has always been much more complex than it appears, showing in a discussions of figures like Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, Frank Capra, Thornton Wilder, Margaret Bourke-White, and Walker Evans. He argues that translating the overly tidy cultural metaphor into real spaces–as has been done in recent decades, especially in the new urbanist planned communities of Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany–actually diminishes the communitarian ideals at the center of this nostalgic construct. Orvell investigates the way these tensions play out in a variety of cultural realms and explores the rise of literary and artistic traditions that deliberately challenge the tropes and assumptions of small-town ideology and life.
For me, the book was especially powerful for providing a point of departure and point of reference in our own “Journeys”.
We have been stimulated and inspired by his writings.
So, in future postings we will wrestle with notions of authenticity, community and more.
As we do so, the thoughts will be ours and how they relate to our explorations, journeys and smart narratives. But we do so acknowledging and tapping into Orvell – how provided a strong foundation for us to build.
We thank him and highly recommend him to you.Share