About Andrew Seal
A graduate student in American Studies at Yale University, Andrew also blogs at Blographia Literaria.
Posts by Andrew Seal
Thursday, March 12, 2009
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 King constituted a culmination of all the events and passions of his life, that The Pale King is, in effect, his valedictory address. I’m a little uncomfortable with such a smooth narrative arc for a life that was quite obviously sundered frequently; the implication which can be gleaned from the article that Wallace’s fight against depression was conducted in parallel to his wrestling with this novel is deeply unsettling, as is the further implication, noted by Garth Risk Hallberg that “one wouldn’t want to succumb to the temptation to say that this last novel pushed Wallace over the edge.”Continue reading "Heart of Dullness: David Foster Wallace’s Midwest"
Sunday, March 08, 2009
“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 means and modes of address. The essay was collected in Werner Sollors’s Theories of Ethnicity: A Reader (1996); the emphases are mine.
Continue reading "“The Problem of the Third Generation”"
It is well-known that during the decade of the 1890s the character of American history writing changed. A new emphasis appeared. Scholars looked beyond the older settlements ranged along the seaboard into the communities in the back country. A word that every schoolboy can now explain crept into the textbooks. This word and this theory now almost dominate every page in the volume. The word is ‘frontier’ and the theory is the ‘frontier interpretation of American history.’ Older students wise in the ways of the classroom have been known to pass on to the younger students this piece of practical advice: ‘In any examination in American history if you don’t know the answer, tie it up with the development of the frontier.’
This new emphasis is universally credited to Professor Frederick J. Turner. However, Turner or no Turner the frontier hypothesis was bound to come and to appear in the very decade during which he wrote his famous essay. In fact, the hypothesis may be distilled from the conglomerate mass of information and theory jumbled together in the ten volumes of Scotch-Irish proceedings. It is doubtful whether the pronouncement of one man, no matter how brilliant, could have turned the course of historical writing unless it were already veering in that direction. It is quite possible that Turner who wrote in 1893 drew upon the frontier interest in the Scotch-Irish were arousing by their studies of the part that the Ulstermen took in the movement of settlement into the West. The interest that they awakened united with the scholars that Professor Turner trained to give to American history its new and significant social interpretation.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
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 poetry, but with occasional ill-advised ventures into film and television.
This is from a couple of weeks ago now, but in The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra considers the future of US influence on other literatures, and produces a subtly scattered essay which deftly avoids making any statement too strong, but introduces a number of quasi-assertions. Far be it from me to castigate subtlety, but in this case I think Mishra just doesn’t want to commit himself to a prediction or a diagnosis, in which case I’m not sure what purpose the article serves, with its grandiose titular pretentions and obvious aspirations toward starting a conversation. Mishra does go some ways toward offering an idea of what probably won’t continue to work in the future, but ultimately he uses some rhetorical finesse to evade anything concrete enough to build on.
Among others, the quasi-assertions on offer are:Continue reading "Pankaj Mishra and Tomorrow’s American Fiction Today!"