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U.S.A., by John Dos Passos What is to be done with U.S.A.? Like a few other novels, John Dos Passos’s trilogy is one whose stature substantially exceeds the general reader’s familiarity with it, and so one of the inevitable questions that arises when bringing it up is “what kind of novel is it?” a question which… Andrew Seal 09/13/10 2 09/28/10
Party in the U.S.A.: The Big Money, by John Dos Passos There will be a post looking at the trilogy as a whole and trying to place it in the landscape of American literary history as that history looks to someone at the present moment, but for now, I’ll simply complete the inventorying project of describing the contents of this last volume… Andrew Seal 09/06/10 1 09/07/10
Invidiousness and Parentheticals: Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club Obviously, this book is now nearly ten years old (perhaps I should have waited a few months so I could make this a decade-after assessment), but I just read it a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d offer some thoughts, especially since it’s been so well read. One word crops… Andrew Seal 08/31/10 19 09/07/10
Party in the U.S.A.: Nineteen Nineteen, by John Dos Passos As with the first post for The 42nd Parallel, I’ll begin by running through some of the basic details of characters, plot, etc. There are eight “biographies” in this volume: John Reed, Randolph Bourne, Paxton Hibben, Woodrow Wilson, J. P. Morgan, Joe Hill, Wesley Everest, and the Unknown Soldier who is… Andrew Seal 08/01/10 0
The Country and the City: The U.S. Case--The Machine in the Garden In my first post on Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City, I wrote that “at least for U.S. literature, there have been attempts to write literary histories of depictions of the city and there have been attempts to write literary histories of depictions of the country, but there is no… Andrew Seal 07/06/10 5 08/02/11
Structure and The 42nd Parallel An inordinate amount of the criticism that has been written on John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. has been devoted to its structure—the four modes of biography, Newsreel, Camera Eye, and narrative. I think critics generally fasten onto this tetra-partite structure as the most importantly obvious part of the book as it looks so much… Andrew Seal 07/04/10 7 07/12/10
Party in the U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel, by John Dos Passos In this post, I’d just like to introduce some of the key elements of the first volume and of the work as a whole. Shortly, I hope to have at least one more analytical post written, but for now, just a stocktaking—what’s in this novel? Both description and analysis of the… Andrew Seal 06/29/10 5 07/03/10
The Country and the City, by Raymond Williams It is both a shame and also perfectly understandable that Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City is one of those title-line citation books: those monographs which are obligatorily footnoted whenever certain keywords turn up—in this case, the combination or interaction of “city and country.” But that citation is usually no more… Andrew Seal 06/23/10 12 07/22/10
Party in the U.S.A. U.S.A. is the slice of a continent. U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stockquotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a… Andrew Seal 06/16/10 4 07/01/10
The Search for Order, 1877-1920, by Robert H. Wiebe There is an interesting and I think rather consequential disjunction between the style of Wiebe’s classic synthesis of the Gilded Age/Progressive Era and its content: in few words, Wiebe brought an 18th-century sentence to a 19th-century fight. Wiebe’s equipoise and preference for the apothegm, resembling above all a long cascade of… Andrew Seal 06/13/10 0
The House of Mirth and The Rise of Silas Lapham "There is a point where taste has to begin” - Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham I like this quote in part because, even in the larger context (which you can get by clicking on the link), the expression “has to” straddles very elegantly the hortatory and the necessary: it is… Andrew Seal 06/05/10 0
Regionalism as a Qualitative Term I was in the midst of paper-writing for the term (please don’t ask me anything about Ignatius Donnelly or Barthes’s reality effect for awhile) and so I missed a chance to respond to a very interesting interchange between Mark Athitakis and D. G. Myers on the possible decline of regionalism. Myers,… Andrew Seal 05/27/10 1 05/27/10
Sister Carrie and Television A long line of novels stretching at least as far back as Mansfield Park uses a theatrical performance (typically of amateurs) as the hinge of the plot. The moment of performance, of taking on another identity, allows the characters a burst of self-understanding or permits them to see another character—usually someone… Andrew Seal 03/14/10 2 03/15/10
Survival Stories: What Is the What, The Hurt Locker, and The Wire In a Blographia Literaria post about The Forever War and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which I meant to cross-post here, I promised a further exploration of what I saw as a common theme in both those texts and in Dave Eggers’s novel What Is the What. All… Andrew Seal 02/22/10 19 03/06/10
eBooks, Piracy, and Stockpiling Caleb Crain’s excellent overview of what 2010 may have in store for book sales makes a very convincing case for the significance and likely effects of Amazon’s decision this week to use a “nuclear” option on a recalcitrant publisher, Macmillan. Amazon caved sometime after Crain had post, but his analysis of… Andrew Seal 02/01/10 5 02/11/10
Live Free or Die Hard (Wiseman, 2007) Like so many films that revived old franchises this decade, this one poses as a sort of restart, asserting above all that the history of its previous incarnations has to be overcome to make the film make sense to current tastes. I can’t remember if it’s actually in the film or… Andrew Seal 12/24/09 12 02/21/10
What Good Can Masterpieces Do? In reading around for a paper I’m writing on Franco Moretti, I ran across an article (sorry, subscription wall) by Jonathan Arac with the title “What Good Can Literary History Do?” It presents a number of questions about the place and purpose of literary history, but the following struck me squarely… Andrew Seal 12/13/09 2 12/14/09
“The Books at Hand”: James Wood, The “True Scholastic Stink,” and the Common Reader I found Zadie Smith’s recent essay on essays and the novel tremendously frustrating for what I hope are some rather interesting reasons. The essay is frustrating in part because Smith confines her analysis of the history and current state of fiction to the titles and authors that come “off the top… Andrew Seal 11/25/09 12 12/05/09
Updating “Melodramas of Beset Manhood,” by Nina Baym Aaron has brought up Nina Baym’s canonical essay “Melodramas of Beset Manhood” twice recently—once w/r/t Mark Greif’s essay on the struggle for gay marriage and then again in discussing the Publishers Weekly epic fail of coming up with a male-only shortlist for 2009. Not having read the essay (despite its presence… Andrew Seal 11/13/09 5 11/19/09
The Golden Notebook and the Sex War Before I begin my griping on what some may find to be a point unrelated to the novel itself, let me say that The Golden Notebook is astonishing on every level; I have read few novels which strike me both emotionally and intellectually with equal force. Which is not to say… Andrew Seal 11/03/09 9 11/07/09
The Hardest Road to Renewal or, Cultural Studies Now! Bill has pointed out the ongoing kerfuffle which was kicked off by Michael Bérubé’s jeremiad on the past, present, and future of cultural studies in the Chronicle. The Bully Bloggers have posted two responses, one of which is rather extreme (the other is linked in Bill’s post and I think will… Andrew Seal 09/24/09 11 09/29/09
“Toward a History of the ‘Big, Ambitious Novel,‘“ by Mark Greif The latest issue of boundary 2 is really packed with good stuff, at least for an Americanist: there is an amusing interview with Jonathan Franzen, and I’m working my way through Lee Konstantinou’s article on William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. (I’m finding Konstantinou’s article more fun than the book, actually.) And I’m… Andrew Seal 08/05/09 12 08/09/09
Babel-17 and the Problems of Reading from Awards Shortlists I read Babel-17 because a) I’ve been meaning to read a Delany novel; b) this one was at my local library; and c) it won a Nebula and was on the Hugo shortlist way back in, wow, 1966-7. It was okay. And its okayness was kind of disappointing, again for a… Andrew Seal 07/24/09 37 08/06/09
Anxieties of Affiliation: The Creative Writing Program and Transnationalism There are many intriguing conversations that could be started with almost any few pages of Mark McGurl’s brilliant (and tremendously interesting) The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, but the one that I want to try to start is about the way he brings his massive project… Andrew Seal 06/19/09 5 06/21/09
Breeding and Common Property Following a trend, my post on Breeding is, abashedly, about me. There were a few moments where I felt, as a soon-to-be grad student, to be called on, as it were, by Professor Davidson, both because of my disciplinary interests and commitments and because of where I stand within academia. For… Andrew Seal 05/31/09 1 06/01/09
The Continuing Trouble with Walter Benn Michaels A Walter Benn Michaels essay from a couple of months ago has been receiving renewed attention of late because of an NYPL panel discussion that took that essay as its starting point. In brief, Michaels’s essay argued that there is little point in writing novels about the Holocaust, slavery or other… Andrew Seal 04/27/09 11 04/29/09
Parks and Recreation When I heard that Indiana would be the location for an “Office"-like show about small town government, I began to wonder which of my home state’s fine municipalities would get the Scranton treatment, turned unexpectedly into a byword for the foibles and quaint blandness of middle America. Pawnee, Indiana, where Parks… Andrew Seal 04/11/09 10 05/25/11
Of a Postcolonial Persuasion [I was really pleased to find some confluence between the comments on Rohan’s great post about postcolonial criticism and some things I was already thinking about while reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I was heading in what I thought was a slightly different direction, so I decided to approach the book somewhat… Andrew Seal 04/02/09 4 04/10/09
The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell [Adam has done a really fantastic job presenting some really rich ideas, issues and problems that the novel raised and we’re hoping to present some more dialogic analysis of the book yet to come; this is, I guess, a fairly idiosyncratic reading, but I’m hopeful that it will also bring at… Andrew Seal 03/25/09 17 04/01/09
Prefixated on Postmodernity Perry Anderson’s short study, The Origins of Postmodernity, is brilliant on a number of fronts and in a large number of ways, but I want to address a specific issue I have with the way Anderson (along with nearly everyone else who addresses “postmodernism") makes use of prefixes to simplify more… Andrew Seal 03/22/09 9 03/29/09
Heart of Dullness: David Foster Wallace’s Midwest Or, Et in Acedia Ego The New Yorker piece “The Unfinished” provides a very thorough introduction to what will be David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel, The Pale King, part of which is excerpted in the same issue. The article is constructed around the conceit that Wallace’s attempts to write The Pale… Andrew Seal 03/12/09 7 01/18/10
“The Problem of the Third Generation” I’m going to quote one rather long selection from this 1938 essay by Marcus Lee Hansen, in part because it recovers a moment in American intellectual history that I find very intriguing, and also because it seems so close to some contemporary academic concerns and goals yet incredibly foreign to their… Andrew Seal 03/08/09 3 03/08/09
Pankaj Mishra and Tomorrow’s American Fiction Today! I’m extremely pleased to have the opportunity to blog for The Valve; thanks to Joseph Kugelmass and Aaron Bady, who have been kind enough to find what I write interesting, and to Scott Kaufman for setting me up here. I otherwise blog at Blographia Literaria, posting mostly about American fiction and… Andrew Seal 03/05/09 8 03/10/09