Here are a few things I have enjoyed reading on the web lately:
– Interesting dialog at Slate between critic Stephan Metcalf and author Walter Kirn regarding Kirn’s book Mission to America. If Metcalf’s effusive praise doesn’t make you want to buy the book then nothing will. Satire versus fable, clashing Utopian visions in Middle America, the Hardy Boys as inspiration, and America’s spiritual crises are all discussed.
– Also at Slate, Jess Row’s takes on the whole Marcus v. Franzen ruckus from the latest issue of Harper’s. This kind of argument is a bit out of my range but I find it interesting none-the-less. Here is Row’s summation more or less:
It would be one thing if the literary world really did comprise omnipotent insiders and destitute outsiders, arrogant avant-gardists and thoughtful Contract novelists. But Marcus and Franzen are both shadowboxing around a more complicated truth: that the modernist credoâ€”To Make It Newâ€”is part of every contemporary novelist’s DNA, as is a certain degree of ambivalence about the gravitational pull of narrative toward certain well-established forms. We need a vocabulary that can explain a novel like Edward P. Jones’ The Known World, which at times feels deeply archaic and yet unfamiliar, rewarding the reader’s expectations on one level and frustrating them on another. Resorting to terms as all-encompassing and diluted as “realist” and “experimental” isn’t furthering the debate. These days few writers would self-consciously place themselves firmly on one or the other side of these boundaries. Living, as we do, in the wake of a century that celebrated, even fetishized, novelty and growth, we need a more nuanced way of articulating our relationship with the past.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez has a Q&A with Jonathan Foreman, author of The Pocket Book of Patriotism, over at National Review Online. It includes this interesting exchange:
Lopez: Did being the son of a blacklisted father influence your views on patriotism?
Foreman: A great deal.
My father Carl Foreman remained a patriot even when the Hollywood blacklist forced him into exile and he had to sue the State Department to return his illegally confiscated passport. It’s why he never gave up his American citizenship and wanted his kids to be American and proud of it.
But his experience meant that I could never be a patriot of the crowing, unquestioning, rah-rah, see-no-evil type. I’ve never believed that America’s greatness depends on pretending or insisting that her record is flawless. From the very beginning, genuine patriots have fought against for freedom and against injustice in America. Moreover, there is a constant battle in our society between individualism and a brutal conformism. It’s a central theme of American life to be found in great novels and our high school movies alike. You saw it on P.C. university campuses in the 90s and you saw it in the Hollywood blacklist. Both involved ritual humiliations and denunciations that are more about the moral posturing and purity of the inquisitor than the stated goal of the purge.
Like my father I believe patriotism shouldn’t be about fear and hatred, especially not fear and hatred of your fellow Americans. And I guess I distrust people who try to force their notion of patriotic expression on others.