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GB and US: How far? How close?

John Atherton

Opening Remarks

Marc Chénetier

Texte intégral

1Dear friends and colleagues,

2In the name of the ordeal our non-French-speaking foreign friends may possibly undergo in the following hours, I trust all present native academics will forgive me if I endeavor to address this meeting in English, and very briefly. These few words will be to welcome one and all in a city that was once famously freed from Great Britain by a diminutive and inspired virgin, and from which a much taller individual, but clearly no less imbued with a mystical sense of the hallowed nature of this land, of a bearing and disposition of mind no less heroic, saw fit to remove all remaining traces of American military presence in a period closer to this happy reunion. You may well think, of course, upon contemplating the center of our prospective interest for the coming two days, that all this goes to prove is that one, indeed, either never learns or never has enough. I would invite you rather to believe that a cordial disregard for boundaries and a craving for seamlessness is all that moved the collective responsible for this hopefully heated but altogether peaceful gathering.

3You may recall that the original text announcing this colloquium - "The United States and Great Britain: How Far? How Close?" - voiced a genuine concern for such misunderstandings in such proximity. It may well be - and language here rears its fascinating and problematic mien once again - that my own difficulties with having been for years what has come to be called a "mid-atlantic" man, had something to do with such anxieties: a mere Frenchman trained in British English and dumped in the heart of the heart of the midwestern heartland at an eminently plastic age, I noticed that what twang it had taken me all of two osmotic months to acquire had demanded six yours of harrowing efforts to be gotten rid of; back on square one of British English with a view to meeting the requirements of the refined and excruciating rack we call Agrégation. I had no cease till I was california and acquired yet another method making myself misunderstood. Vituperated as a "Brit" or a "limey" Has I taught in America, my masochism required that I should make all efforts to go back to England and become known to my Norfolk, students as that "bloody Canadian." Happily, traces of seventeenth-country parlance left in these latter parts most recently helped me meet the challenge of Virginia mountains and backwoods speech. Due to the foreseeably renewed peregrinations I owe to an equal attachment to both strange places, the struggle, my friends, let me tell you, is far from over... "Franglais," compared with my predicament, is a problem solved.

4The celebrated division of the United States from Great Britain by "a common ocean" has, therefore, more than a familiar ring to my sore ears and you may take this colloquium to be but quite a comprehensible expression of my desire not to remain too much alone for too long.

5I hope, therefore, the following moments we shall have the pleasure to share with you, will make me understand either that I was all wrong and that what differences I had grown oversensitive to were pure paranoia on my part or that the basic schizophrenia of your traditional French "angliciste/americaniste" is indeed, and doubly, as one would naturally expect, "la chose du monde la mieux partagée" when it comes to making eagle's heads or lion's tails from cultures often considered as germane.

6Bernard d'Hellencourt and Bernard Vincent, my very dear colleagues who helped make this meeting the unadulterated success it cannot fail to be, and myself, as well as the entirety of the English Department of this university welcome you and thank you for having found time in your busy schedules to prepare your thoughts, and more time, still, and energy, to come, sometimes from very far, and share them with us.

7Even though most of the proposed papers are comparative in their structure, I hope we can concentrate our discussion of them somewhere on the space between two cultures which, by dint of some eerie continental drift of the mind, seem to grow every day further apart at the same time as their respective legacies get more intertwined. I mourn the absence of a British colleague who had every intention to deliver a paper explaining there is no such thing as what we French are fond of calling an "anglo-saxon" but was unfortunately kept from coming over to enlighten us on this crucial issue.

8Finally, I want to thank publicity the British Council the University of Orléans and the Faculté des Lettres for the very kind support they gave us in this enterprise, a support without which you could not have come from this far to get this close and I could not have had the pleasure I have in declaring this session open.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1986

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