Innocence to Experience (and Back Again?): Uncertain Passages through the Intercontinental Looking-Glass


John Matteson revisits the transatlantic conversation between the New World and the Old, by drawing on the archive of nineteenth century US writers about Europe. He is not so much interested in highlighting what these more or less celebrated figures had to say about Europe, its history, and its people, as in reflecting on how, through what he calls ‘the intercontinental looking glass’, Americans had to come to terms with the often unsettling stare of the foreigner. Though he knows his use of Du Bois’ famous concept of ‘double-consciousness’ might appear misconceived, Matteson insists that ‘the doubly conscious state that Du Bois ascribed to African Americans differed from other experiences of dual awareness not chiefly in terms of quality, but mostly of degree, though the degree is assuredly vast’. Matteson argues passionately, eloquently and, in his references to his own personal experience, quite amusingly, for the need to safeguard this tradition of cross-cultural comparison, though he ends by confessing his fears that contemporary Americans might be tempted ‘to turn away from the transatlantic looking-glass entirely’.

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Published : 2015-05-01

MattesonJ. (2015). Innocence to Experience (and Back Again?): Uncertain Passages through the Intercontinental Looking-Glass. Review of International American Studies, 8(1). Retrieved from

John Matteson
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York  United States

John T. Matteson has an A.B. in history from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. He also holds a J.D. from Harvard and has practiced as a litigation attorney in California and North Carolina. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; The Harvard
Theological Review; New England Quarterly; Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies; and other publications. His 2007 book, Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Professor Matteson is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and a former Fellow of the Leon Levy Center for Biography. He has received the Distinguished Faculty Award of the John Jay College Alumni Association and the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement by a Ph.D. Alumnus of the Columbia University School of Arts and Sciences. His second book, The Lives of Margaret Fuller, was awarded the 2012 Ann M. Sperber Award for best biography of a figure in journalism or media. John Matteson is a Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York.

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