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Page 9 text:
rom the very beginnings of American literature, writers have been fascinated with the prospect of a novel which some- now captures the essence of the American experience. For some, particularly in the early years of this century, the fascination lead to a consuming desire to write that novel, and many a tal- ented author devoted considerable efforts to that goal It is generally agreed, however, that none were successful-me Great Amer- ican Novel remains unwritten. But this result is hardly surprising, and today the quest has largely been abandoned as absurd. For America probably never will catch hold of such an all-encompassing doc- umentary. The nation is too large, too varied; it lacks the main fiber by which all strands are set to a predictable pattern. What ' s more, America is a place of rapid change, not today precisely what it was the day before. Still, such an ideal as the Great American Novel can give direction to a study of Amer- ica today, by sending us in search of those great varieties and differences and forcing us to examine them in the context of their con- tributions to the whole. Where might we begin such an enterprise? The writers of this book rejoice in the abun- dance of material in our own University of Michigan and its surrounding Ann Arbor community. In very few places is there such a concentration of varied cultures, living styles, schools of thought, modes of expres- sion, forms of entertainment, and people. The University is a sort of mixed-up micro- cosm of the nation as a whole. Though by no means a scale model or representative cross- section of America, U-M contains most of the elements which come together in various proportions to form the U.S.A. So an under- standing of the elements of the university may aid us in understanding what our country is and perhaps even what it is becoming. We have tried to create in this book a picture of U-M in perspective. Perhaps within that picture will be seen some of the American essence which would be captured in the Great American Novel, if it could be written today. Nonetheless, we must remember that our true subject is not the nation but the Univer- sity of Michig an. Our real purpose must be to provide the reader with an aid to under- standing what U-M is all about. And like America in general, the University cannot be contained in a single all-encompassing glance. It cannot be captured in a few pictures and paragraphs. Any analysis of the University must be an analysis of its multifarious aspects. In the following chapters, therefore, we seek to explore in words and photographs some of the specific things, persons, and events which contribute to making U-M what it is. We can only hope that the contents we have chosen to include will suggest in some way the tremendous range of activity-intel- lectual, recreational, cultural, athletic, and social-which makes the University of Michi- gan so many things to so many. A Si
Page 8 text:
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