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Vol. 1 No. 1 (2019): The Salzburg Seminar and Its Legacies in American Studies

"Huck Finn at King Arthur's Court": F. O. Matthiessen, the Salzburg Seminar, and American Studies

November 21, 2019


F. O. Matthiessen was a key player in an event which took place at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg in the summer of 1947 and which launched the legendary Salzburg Seminar and may be considered the birth of American studies in Europe. Matthiessen's reflections on this remarkable session, From the Heart of Europe, remains outstanding in its conjuring of a humanist vision amidst ruins. This travelogue, his last major—if largely forgotten—work published shortly before his suicide, has been variously reassessed as an elegiac document of his tragic failure, as a politically deluded scholar, and as a groundbreaking foray into sketching out a radically alternate transnational understanding of American studies avant la lettre. These highly diverging perspectives on Matthiessen's final book, in particular, and on the professional and personal troubles during his last years, more generally, account for the lasting myth-making fascination with Matthiessen, which has left its mark not only on academic discourses ranging from socialist criticism to queer theory but may also be found in the novels of May Sarton (Faithful Are the Wounds) and Mark Merlis (American Studies). Hence, this article reflects on Matthiessen's impact on the 1947 seminar and traces the legacy of this controversial founding father of American studies.


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