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The American Traveler's Love and Solitude: "The Atlas", or William T. Vollmann's Pragmatics of the Double

Hikaru Fujii
Amerikastudien / American Studies
Vol. 53, No. 4 (2008), pp. 507-520
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41158397
Page Count: 14
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The American Traveler's Love and Solitude: "The Atlas", or William T. Vollmann's Pragmatics of the Double
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Abstract

William T. Vollmann's novels are devoted to the interrogation of 'America,' which ultimately questions the American 'I' in the present time. A constant insight running through Vollmann's work is that this American self is not so much a free individual as a formation in power relationships. In short, Vollmann constitutes the self in the present as the doppelganger of 'America.' Reflecting this inquiry, his 1996 book The Atlas brings together the numerous fragments of an American world traveler's experiences. The nameless traveler always finds himself in asymmetrical relations with the 'other,' typically monetary relations with women in the Third World. In the age of globalization, the American self emerges out of the whole atlas. Yet, The Atlas rejects any optimistic gestures of Americanism: numerous scenes of violence and lines of difference run through the map, defining the position of the traveler where, against all idealism, he discovers himself to be a wretched white man scattering his desire and cash across the globe. In the post-Cold War era of Americanism, Vollmann's atlas converts any optimistic view of the self into its negative double, an intolerable man in the map of power relationships. The Vollmannian doppelganger reveals the unbearable weight of being American.

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