Americana

Why Did Henry James Kill Daisy Miller?

Daisy didn’t care that people were talking about her, whereas for Wilde the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Daisy and Wilde made a point of being cheeky to aunts (and the cheekiness of Victoria Dare could have served as a model for Wilde), whereas Winterbourne had imbibed in Geneva the idea that one must always be attentive to one’s aunt. Wilde was as little earnest as possible, whereas one of Winterbourne’s auntly encumbrances, after having been rebuked for snubbing Daisy, declares “In such a case, I don’t wish to be clever, I wish to be earnest”.

Melville’s “The Confidence Man”

Every optimistic cliché you have ever heard is heard in the first part of the book. Self-help writers, investment counselors, management consultants, prosperity theologians, gurus, futurologists, free-market visionaries – in the America of a century and a half ago, they were all already there. If you trust, you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams; but the doubters will be left behind. “Not a player but shall win”. “Missions I would quicken with the Wall Street spirit…. In brief, the conversion of the heathen would be let out on contract.”

Westward the Course of Empire Makes its Way

In the United States das Blaue Blume was located in the frontier West and romantic idealism expressed itself in geographical expansion, with similarly disillusioning outcomes. 

The Comanche Trade Network

From the perspective of Asian history Comancheria seems very similar to the various small and usually short-lived nomad / Chinese states that filled power vacuums in north China when China was weak and divided and passed out of existence once a strong Chinese dynasty arose. Comparison can also be made as well the Bulgar and Khazar trade states that arose north of the Black and Caspian seas during the second half of the first millenium AD. These states were founded by nomad raiders akin to the Huns, but they eventually became nodes in a relatively peaceful trade network reaching from Greenland to China, the Middle East, and India. These states were much larger and longer-lived than Comancheria, but they suggest a development trajectory which might have been possible under different historical circumstances.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s post-decadent novel “This Side of Paradise”.

At least ten recognized decadent authors are seen on Amory’s reading lists: Verlaine, Wilde, Swinburne, Pater, Huysmans, Gautier, Bourget, Dowson, Symons, and Ralph Adams Cram. Along with these are another ten or so authors beloved by the decadents or in some way related to them: Poe, Rabelais, Boccaccio, Suetonius, Petronius, Byron, Chesterton, Robert Hugh Benson, Compton Mackenzie, and H. L. Mencken. One of the book’s two epigraphs comes from the decadent Oscar Wilde, and the author most frequently named or cited in the book (along with the progressive H. G. Wells, who is ultimately rejected) is the decadent poet Swinburne.

People, the Devil, and Mirrors in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise

Amory’s / Fitzgerald’s fear of the dark and of ghosts, his vision of the real presence of the devil, and his final belief that beautiful women are evil do not fit with Fitzgerald’s image as a rebellious young Jazz Age libertine, though do they fit in perfectly with Catholic decadence. What was new about Fitzgerald was not any kind of advocacy, but merely a straightforward, almost naturalistic, depiction of the scandalous ways of his generation. ….. Fitzgerald wrote realistically about the conceited and spoiled Ivy League rich rather than about slum dwellers, and his picture is no more distorted than any other realism is. (The differences between Fitzgerald’s self-portrait as Amory and what is known about him are interesting, but it’s hard to say that it is an idealized picture). Amory’s archaic superstitions and moral doubts did not hurt the book with its hip youthful audience, probably because many of them had started out the same fears and doubts as he did.

Further Annotations to Nabakov and Appel’s “Annotated Lolita”

I wish that Appel had asked Nabokov about Henry James’s Daisy Miller and Chodorlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. For all their differences, Daisy Miller and Dolores Haze are classic American Girls ™, 70 years (and not many miles) apart —  Lolita’s mom Charlotte even calls herself an America girl. In Les Liaisons Dangereuses the innocent 14 year old convent girl Cécile Volanges is seduced (by an evil seducer, natch) but ends up liking it and wearing out the seducer, though of course her life is ultimately ruined. (Times change: she would have been married off at age 15 anyway.)

Kenneth Burke Faked It Too: Trained incapacity and Institutional Psychosis

Ignorance turned out to be a major result of specialization. Decision makers give up their knowledge of the whole as they seek full and complete knowledge of their particular piece of the whole.  But ignorance is not only a correlative of specialization. It is almost a condition for peaceful coexistence among specialists. Ignorance tends to be meaningfully distributed throughout the  heierarchies. There was more ignorance at the center than at the periphery…..This brings our particular concern into focus. Ignorance at the scale that we observed could not have occurred by chance alone. Ignorance at this scale involving scientists — that is, men dedicated to knowledge above all else — had to be deliberate.

To See Ourselves as Others See US

The most important dumb Swede in American history was Chief Justice Earl Warren. In film, Sonja Henie was dumb, Greta Garbo was less dumb, and Ingrid Bergman was not dumb.

The Muskogee – Waukesha -Bismarck Triangle

Now, my point is that these five guitarists all came from the middle of nowhere:  Waukesha (WS), Oklahoma City (OK), Muskogee (OK), Minot (ND), and the environs of Dallas (TX). They were all more Western than Southern,  and their musical environment was countryish. All of them had careers in the boonies before they reached the big city, and all of them were at the top of their trade by the time they reached New York. New York was marketing a music which had matured elsewhere….. The musical world in which Bismarck, N.D. was able to support cutting-edge musicians was  fragile and transient. The radio and the phonograph brought sophisticated music everywhere, but were not yet so powerful that they had replaced the live musicians entirely.

To the Shores of Tripoli: an Appreciation of Google

The Marine Hymn, American secularism, Billy Budd, and the pro- / anti-war song “Reuben James”

Piracy of this robber-baron type is characteristic of any period without an overarching political order, and the Barbary states presented themselves as charging a fee (“protection rent”) for the service of protection from piracy — even though they themselves were the pirates. During the struggles between the great European empires in the early modern period piracy was rampant, and the imperial nations freely used pirates (rebaptized “privateers”) against one another. (The long struggles for control of the Mediterranean and Black seas between Venice and Genoa, and later the Ottomans and Spanish,  are a similar case, and the Athenian founders of Western Civilization played this game whenever convenient). In the late eighteenth century it was the long war between the French and the British which enabled the pirates to practice their trade, and the losers were the smaller states. At one point the US was working with the Sweden, Portugal, The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Malta, and Morocco to settle the problem, but found the British and French to be dragging their feet. (After the defeat of the French in 1815, the Maghreb was fairly quickly pacified.)

Beavers, Mountain Men, and the Avant Garde

The American fur trade was all about beaver, and this book was written at almost exactly the same time as Henry Murger’s historic but not especially good book Scènes de la vie de bohême. In Murger’s book the early bohemian Jean Wallon scratched out a meager living producing copy for the French hatmaker’s journal, “Le Castor” (“The Beaver”).

Peretz’s New Republic wasn’t funded with fascist money.

It is also not true that Peretz is a grandson of the Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer. The Yiddish author of whom Peretz is the grandson was Isaac Leib Peretz. No Isaac Singer of any description has been implicated in Peretz’s operation.

Terrorism in Lake Wobegon

The Monterey Institute of International Studies included the “Minnesota Militia” ricin terrorists as one of only a dozen case histories worldwide discussed in their book on the terrorist use of chemical and biological warfare 1946-1991.

The difference between Fiorella LaGuardia and Leopold Bloom is that LaGuardia wasn’t Catholic.

When James Joyce arrived in Austrian-controlled Trieste in 1904 at the age of 22, the American consul thereabouts was future NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, also aged 22, who remained at that post for another couple of years.

“Rise, you sons of bitches”

Judge Lord hammered away at the Dalkon shield defendants week after week and month after month. His behavior was highly unusual for a judge even then, and in the end he was formally reprimanded for “taking the plaintiff’s side”. The final settlement gave the corporation’s victims a couple billion dollars and the corporation declared bankruptcy. But the judge regretted not being able to shake loose the documents which would have made it possible to send the main corporate players to jail on criminal charges, and he regretted that th e bankruptcy settlement allowed the corporate owners to keep hundred of millions of dollars of blood money (just as the recent Sackler settlement did).

Donald Trump as Extremophile

There are creatures called extremophiles which live 2 miles deep in the rocks, or 2 miles deep in the ocean near boiling steam vents where they never see light, or suspended in the air and water free of gravity with perception of up and down. Trump is a human extremophile. He lived in a world where normal human standards do not apply.

Dr. Watson was boggled to find that Sherlock Holmes did not know the names of the visible planets, but Holmes explained that a detective has no need to know about that kind of thing. What he needs to know about are footprints, tobacco ash, slowly cooling cadavers, etc. Trump is like Holmes doesn’t know anything he doesn’t need to know. He knows what he has needed to know worlds which are not ours, and he has been successful in them. And his world dominates ours.

Ernest Lundeen: the Communist Nazi Liberal

Senator Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota is the most interesting American politician you’ve never heard of. He served 9 years in Congress, first as a Republican and later as a member of left-populist Farmer Labor Party. He mostly supported FDR on domestic policy and could be called a liberal for that reason, but it was not entirely unreasonable (as rightwinger did) to call him a Communist, since his 1934 Social Security Bill (which included domestic workers and farm laborers, both of whom tended to be black, and which was rejected by Congress in favor of a weaker bill) received strong Communist support and may actually have been written by Communists.

Later as an isolationist he worked closely with the American Nazi George Sylvester Viereck and had contacts with the German embassy, so the Nazi accusation is not entirely slanderous either. It’s as if somehow our neat political categories aren’t always entirely useful (though of course, for neoliberal neoconfederate neocons, “Liberals=Communists = Nazis” is just common sense).

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