Paul Morand (1888‒1976) was a writer who personally witnessed the profound shift in the West from modernism to postmodernism, and U.S.A.-1927 (1928) is the singular poetic interpretation of the tensions rapidly arising in a post-war, pre-crash America. In this paper, I propose a re-reading of Morand’s vision of the U.S.A. as a spatial interrogation of the ways in which the role of traditional locality and community was gradually superseded by the polarizing effect of rapid industrial modernisation. I argue that much contemporary ecocritical, geocritical, and cosmopolitan theory can provide novel and innovative lenses through which to read these poems. U.S.A-1927 represents a point of tension between the Modernist écrivain-voyageur and a culture in thrall to the possibilities of cultural acceleration. Here, I show that what Morand encounters is, paradoxically, an experiential limit of endless superficial difference that mediates and attenuates, but never resolves, the burgeoning tension between the local and the global, rootedness and movement, fragmentation and unity. The result is a poetry of extreme spatial compression, refraction, and, at its extreme, sameness and immobility. Morand’s America is a montage of spatial dis-location: here, Hollywood is just as much of a “nowhere” as the Mojave Desert – perhaps more so. This, I suggest, heralds the advent of a “société du spectacle” avant la lettre, entranced by its own global potential yet singularly unable to abandon its national roots. It is precisely these conflicting values, manifested physically in spatial practices of living and travelling, which continue to permeate the way we construe place in a postmodern world riven by these same contradictory forces.
Feb 14, 2023