• Unusual Occurrences in the Desert: Symbolic Landscapes in the Cultural Exchange between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1939

      Orvell, Miles; Salazar, James B.; Newman, Steve, 1970-; Lowe, Hilary Iris (Temple University. Libraries, 2018)
      What does Mexico mean to the cultural imagination of the United States? What has it meant in the past? In what ways has the U.S. incorporated aspects of Mexican culture into its own? This dissertation explores these questions of cultural and intellectual exchange between the U.S. and Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s by positioning itself amid the present “transnational” and “hemispheric” turn in U.S. literary study. Its subject matter ranges from architecture and urbanism to journalism and travel writing to short stories and novels to muralism and the visual arts. Such an interdisciplinary approach is bolstered by crossing scales of geography from the international to the continental, the national, the regional and the local. Positioning the discussion in geographic terms allows one to see how the possibilities for cultural exchange could never be fully realized, as the ways in which U.S. writers and intellectuals understood Mexico-- then and now-- can rarely be separated from either the physical proximity or the cultural dissimilarity of the two countries, a relationship that has been described as one of “distant neighbors.” This dissertation takes the spatial components of culture seriously, employing useful concepts from the disciplines of human geography and cultural landscape studies to inform its understanding of how diverse figures ranging from Conrad Aiken, Stuart Chase, José Clemente Orozco, Katherine Anne Porter, Sophie Treadwell, William Carlos Williams-- among others less widely known-- understood Mexico and presented it to a U.S. audience during the interwar period. Their narratives often employ the symbolic landscape of Mexico to communicate the qualities of Mexican culture while unwittingly obscuring the reality of what the country itself. Nonetheless, each example points to possible correctives in the pattern, offering a hemispheric perspective from which much can still be learned today.