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American Studies Paperback – November 1, 2003
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
The success of The Metaphysical Club, which won last year's Pulitzer Prize for History, surprised few regular readers of the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, where Menand has contributed many of the most thoughtful review-essays of the last decade. This book collects some of the most cogent and clearly articulated of those pieces, and reaffirms Menand's position as a preeminent historian of American liberalism's cultural incarnations. The opening pieces, on William James's depression (or "sadness") and Oliver Wendell Holmes's "bettabilitarianism," further the brilliant profile of pragmatism developed by Menand in The Metaphysical Club. The review-essay "T.S. Eliot and the Jews" is a sharp extension of the debate surrounding Anthony Julius's T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (and it might just entice someone to bring Menand's Eliot monograph, Discovering Modernism, back into print). Considerations of Richard Wright and Pauline Kael offer assessments of their achievements, showing why they still matter. The long New Yorker pieces on Al Gore and architect Maya Lin show Menand's rigorous disinterestedness working less well in the context of interview journalism, but essays that portray Hustler's Larry Flynt and evangelist Jerry Falwell as "working opposite sides of the same street," or exploring Christopher Lasch's flirtations with populism, throw that technique's power, and Menand's mastery of it, into bold relief.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An intellectual archaeologist, Menand dusts off old assumptions and shores up sagging intellectual foundations in order to solve various aesthetic and cultural mysteries. His pleasure in his work is palpable, which is why The Metaphysical Club [BKL My 15 01], a seemingly weighty book about William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and John Dewey, won the Pulitzer Prize. Menand is still intrigued with these fellows, and they do appear in this splendid essay collection, but his interests are many, his reading extensive and deep, and his critical facilities exhilaratingly versatile. In essays remarkable for their discernment, wit, and erudition, Menand sure-handedly dissects the work of T. S. Eliot, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, and, most passionately, Pauline Kael. He also offers a piquant history of television and a dead-on analysis of the New Yorker and, in his most electrifying critical adventures, casts new light on rock and roll, Rolling Stone, and the marketplace; and, in "Lust in Action: Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt," he discerns a peculiarly symbiotic relationship between televangelists and porn. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The topics covered by this uneven group of essays run from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., to Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell. Menand also has things to say about William James, T.S. Eliot, The New Yorker, Bill Paley of CBS, Pauline Kael, Christopher Lasch, Maya Lin, and "the mind of" Al Gore. Although I did a good deal of underlining--a lot of it trying to make sense of his comments about Christopher Lasch's philosophy against liberalism--there is something about Menand's conclusory style that is off-putting, as though his opinions are the only valid ones. For example, he claims that Justice Holmes "was utterly, sometimes fantastically, indifferent to the real-world effects of his decisions," citing the infamous "stop-look-and-listen" ruling concerning automobiles at train intersections. I think there is plenty of evidence otherwise, and I'm reminded of the famous "yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater" opinion in Lochner v. U.S.
At his best, Menand can summarize a view in very few, well chosen words: "It is easy to appreciate [Maya Lin's] works as environmental installations....natural materials shaped in topological contours. It takes a little longer to see that they are also refinements on destruction...the Vietnam Memorial is made by repairing a large gash in the earth." He also reminds us of things important to remember: that Al Gore wrote his senior thesis at Harvard on the impact of television on the presidency, concluding that "because television loves one face over many faces its effect has been to increase the president's political power at the expense of Congress's."
I had also forgotten that during the 1992 campaign Bush Number I "tried to make it seem that Clinton was a traitor because he had gone to Moscow as a student in1969." This month marks the 50th anniversary of the famous statement by Joseph Welch in "Army vs McCarthy"--"Have you no decency, sir?" I remember it as a two-liner, the second being "Have you no sense of shame?" Clinton in Moscow was a campaign issue in 1992!
The most startling conclusion reached by Menand is that Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell really were on the same mission: to put the shame back into sex. The readers of Hustler Magazine also turn out to be members of Falwell's Moral Majority that claimed to have put Ronald Reagan into the White House. The chain of 7-Eleven stores sold 20% of all issues of Playboy, leading Menand to conclude that Falwell's TV audience of alienated lower class men was remarkably similar to the profile of the Hustler audience. When the Jim Bakker sex scandal brought him down during the anti-porn campaigns of the 80s, and 7-Eleven took Hustler and Playboy off its racks, it marked the demise of the culture of anything goes sexuality coincidental with the demise of the culture of televangelism. Mighty interesting.
Menand reviewed Eats, Shoots & Leaves in the New Yorker of 6/28/04, doing a carefully worded dismemberment of that sloppily written "punctuation text" written by a former sports columnist in caffeinated prose. He included an interesting digression about speaking versus writing: "The uncertainty about what it means for writing to have a voice arises from the metaphor itself. . . .As a medium, writing is a million times weaker than speech. . . .[C]hattiness, slanginess, in-your-face-ness, and any other features of writing that are conventionally characterized as "like speech" are usually the results of laborious experimentation, revision, calibration, walks around the block unnecessary phone calls, and recalibration. . . .Writers are not mere copyists of language; they are polishers, embellishers, perfecters. . . .Does this mean that the written "voice" is never spontaneous and natural but always an artificial construction of language? This is not a proposition that most writers could accept. The act of writing is personal; it feels personal. . . . Composition is a troublesome, balky, sometimes sleep-depriving business. What makes it especially so is that the rate of production is beyond the writer's control. You have to wait, and what you are waiting for is something inside you to come up with the words. That something, for writers, is the voice. . . .What writers hear when they are trying to write is something more like singing than like speaking. Inside your head, you're yakking away to yourself all the time. Getting that voice down on paper is a depressing experience. When you write, you're trying to transpose what you're thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music. This writing voice is the voice that people are surprised not to encounter when they "meet the writer." The writer is not so surprised." . . .Some writers, when they begin a new piece, spend hours re-reading their old stuff, trying to remember how they did it, what it's supposed to sound like. This rarely works; nothing works reliably. . . . Sooner or later . . . the voice shows up, . . . and walks onstage."