Daniel Aaron University of Michigan Press, 2009 Library of Congress E175.5.A15A3 2007 | Dewey Decimal 973.07202
“I have read all of Daniel Aaron’s books, and admired them, but in The Americanist I believe he has composed an intellectual and social memoir for which he will be remembered. His self-portrait is marked by personal tact and admirable restraint: he is and is not its subject. The Americanist is a vision of otherness: literary and academic friends and acquaintances, here and abroad. Eloquently phrased and free of nostalgia, it catches a lost world that yet engendered much of our own.”
“The Americanist is the absorbing intellectual autobiography of Daniel Aaron, who is the leading proponent and practitioner of American Studies. Written with grace and wit, it skillfully blends Daniel Aaron’s personal story with the history of the field he has done so much to create. This is a first-rate book by a first-rate scholar.”
—David Herbert Donald, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
The Americanist is author and critic Daniel Aaron’s anthem to nearly a century of public and private life in America and abroad. Aaron, who is widely regarded as one of the founders of American Studies, graduated from the University of Michigan, received his Ph.D. from Harvard, and taught for over three decades each at Smith College and Harvard.
Aaron writes with unsentimental nostalgia about his childhood in Los Angeles and Chicago and his later academic career, which took him around the globe, often in the role of America’s accidental yet impartial critic. When Walt Whitman, whom Aaron frequently cites as a touchstone, wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” he could have been describing Daniel Aaron—the consummate erudite and Renaissance individual whose allegiance to the truth always outweighs mere partisan loyalty.
Not only should Aaron’s book stand as a resplendent and summative work from one of the finest thinkers of the last hundred years, it also succeeds on its own as a first-rate piece of literature, on a par with the writings of any of its subjects. The Americanist is a veritable Who’s Who of twentieth-century writers Aaron interviewed, interacted with, or otherwise encountered throughout his life: Ralph Ellison, Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, Richard Hofstadter, Alfred Kazin, Sinclair Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Crowe Ransom, Upton Sinclair, Edmund Wilson, Leonard Woolf, and W. B. Yeats, to name only a few.
Aaron’s frank and personal observations of these literary lights make for lively reading. As well, scattered throughout The Americanist are illuminating portraits of American presidents living and passed—miniature masterworks of astute political observation that offer dazzlingly fresh approaches to well-trod subjects.
Another South is an anthology of poetry from contemporary southern writers who are working in forms that are radical, innovative, and visionary. Highly experimental and challenging in nature, the poetry in this volume, with its syntactical disjunctions, formal revolutions, and typographic playfulness, represents the direction of a new breed of southern writing that is at once universal in its appeal and regional in its flavor.
Focusing on poets currently residing in the South, the anthology includes both emerging and established voices in the national and international literary world. From the invocations of Andy Young's "Vodou Headwashing Ceremony" to the blues-informed poems of Lorenzo Thomas and Honorée Jeffers, from the different voicings of )ohn Lowther and Kalamu ya Salaam to the visual, multi-genre art of Jake Berry, David Thomas Roberts, and Bob Grumman, the poetry in Another South is rich in variety and enthusiastic in its explorations of new ways to embody place and time. These writers have made the South lush with a poetic avant-garde all its own, not only redefining southern identity and voice but also offering new models of what is possible universally through the medium of poetry.
Hank Lazer's introductory essay about "Kudzu textuality" contextualizes the work by these contemporary innovators. Like the uncontrollable runaway vine that entwines the southern landscape, their poems are hyperfertile, stretching their roots and shoots relentlessly, at once destructive and regenerative. In making a radical departure from nostalgic southern literary voices, these poems of polyvocal abundance are closer in spirit to "speaking in tongues" or apocalyptic southern folk art—primitive, astonishing, and mystic.
This book tells the story of Montague Farm, an early back-to-the land communal experiment in western Massachusetts, from its beginning in 1968 through the following thirty-five years of its surprisingly long life. Drawing on his own experience as a resident of the farm from 1969 to 1973 and decades of contact with the farm's extended family, Tom Fels provides an insightful account of the history of this iconic alternative community. He follows its trajectory from its heady early days as a pioneering outpost of the counterculture through many years of change, including a period of renewed political activism and, later, increasing episodes of conflict between opposing factions to determine what the farm represented and who would control its destiny.
With deft individual portraits, Fels reveals the social dynamics of the group and explores the ongoing difficulties faced by a commune that was founded in idealism and sought to operate on the model of a leaderless democracy. He draws on a large body of farm-family and 1960s-related writing and the notes of community members to present a variety of points of view. The result is an absorbing narrative that chronicles the positive aspects of Montague Farm while documenting the many challenges and disruptions that marked its history.
Only a few of us seek immortality, and fewer still by writing. But Arthur Inman challenged the odds. He calculated that if he kept a diary and spared no thoughts or actions, was entirely honest and open, and did not care about damage or harm to himself or others, he would succeed in gaining attention beyond the grave that he could not attain in life.
The diary became a many-layered and strikingly animated work of a gifted writer, by turns charming, repellent, shocking, cruel, and comical. But the diary is also an uninhibited history of his times, of his eccentricities and fantasies, of his bizarre marriage arrangements and sexual adventures. Inman’s explorations of his own troubled nature made him excessively curious about the secret lives of others. Like some ghostly doctor-priest, he chronicled their outpourings of head and heart as vividly as he did his own. The diary reads like a nonfiction novel as it moves inexorably toward disaster.
This is an abridged version of the celebrated two-volume work published by Harvard as The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession.
Between 1919 and his death by suicide in 1963, Arthur Crew Inman wrote what is surely one of the fullest diaries ever kept by any American. Convinced that his bid for immortality required complete candor, he held nothing back. This abridgment of the original 155 volumes is at once autobiography, social chronicle, and an apologia addressed to unborn readers.
Into this fascinating record Inman poured memories of a privileged Atlanta childhood, disastrous prep-school years, a nervous collapse in college followed by a bizarre life of self-diagnosed invalidism. Confined to a darkened room in his Boston apartment, he lived vicariously: through newspaper advertisements he hired “talkers” to tell him the stories of their lives, and he wove their strange histories into the diary. Young women in particular fascinated him. He studied their moods, bought them clothes, fondled them, and counseled them on their love affairs. His marriage in 1923 to Evelyn Yates, the heroine of the diary, survived a series of melodramatic episodes. While reflecting on national politics, waifs and revolutions, Inman speaks directly about his fears, compulsions, fantasies, and nightmares, coaxing the reader into intimacy with him. Despite his shocking self-disclosures he emerges as an oddly impressive figure.
This compelling work is many things: a case history of a deeply troubled man; the story of a transplanted and self-conscious southerner; a historical overview of Boston illuminated with striking cityscapes; an odd sort of American social history. But chiefly it is, as Inman himself came to see, a gigantic nonfiction novel, a new literary form. As it moves inexorably toward a powerful denouement, The Inman Diary is an addictive narrative.
Introducing Don DeLillo
Frank Lentricchia Duke University Press, 1991 Library of Congress PS3554.E4425Z72 1991 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
If you want to find out what a rock critic, a syndicated columnist, and scholars of American literature have to say about one of America’s most important contemporary novelists, turn to Introducing Don DeLillo. Placing the author’s work in a cultural context, this is the first book-length collection on DeLillo, adding considerably to the emerging critical discourse on his work. Diversity is the key to this striking assemblage of cultural criticism edited by Frank Lentricchia. Special features include an expanded version of the Rolling Stone interview with the author (“An Outsider in this Society”) and the extraordinary tenth chapter of DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star. Accessibly written and entertaining, the collection will be of great interest to both students and scholars of contemporary American literature as well as to general readers interested in DeLillo’s work.
Contributors. Frank Lentricchia, Anthony Decurtis, Daniel Aaron, Hal Crowther, John A. McClure, Eugene Goodheart, Charles Molesworth, Dennis A. Foster, and John Frow
Studies in Biography
Daniel Aaron Harvard University Press, 1978 Library of Congress CT21.S85 | Dewey Decimal 809
The eleven essays that make up this volume point to some of the new directions biography and biographical criticism have taken in recent years. Among the subjects treated are the responsibilities of the authorized biographer, the practice of biography as it intersects ethnography, biographies of historians by historians, the eulogy as a biographical form, the challenge of rendering the uneventful life, and the biographical implications of a single piece of writing. The essays range from general discussions of biographical aims to fresh examinations of particular biographical works. Despite the diversity of their topics, the authors suggest—if only inadvertently—why so many scholars and writers are taking a biographical approach to human experience.
Time and the Town was the last of Mary Heaton Vorse's books. It is about many things —a town and its people, the author, a certain kind of idyllic life. As much as anything else, it is the biography of the house Vorse bought in 1907 and lived in, off and on, for the next thirty-six years. The moods of the house mirrored her own. "Our houses," she wrote, "are our biographies, the stories of our defeats and victories."
Tinged with nostalgia and disenchantment, the book describes a Provincetown that has changed, a place on the verge of modernity. It is no longer a major fishing port. It has become a place whose business is tourism. Contrasting the old and the new, Vorse celebrates the enduring character of the town itself. She tells stories that are engaging and charming, droll and fabulous. The wrinkled Mrs. Mary Mooncusser who, though drunk and stark naked, conducts herself with great decorum when Vorse pays her a call, might have stepped out of the pages of Sherwood Anderson or Eudora Welty. In another anecdote, the townspeople scour the beaches for cases of booze dumped into the sea by rumrunners and are briefly inflated with the spirit of ancestral smugglers and buccaneers.
Vorse herself remained something of an outsider in Provincetown, despite her evident affection for the place and its inhabitants. They surely regarded her as simply another of those artist-intellectuals--many of whom appear in the pages of this book. The "off-Cape" outsiders put the town in the national limelight but took no interest in local matters. Vorse here ponders local matters exclusively, almost, one suspects, as a way of forgetting the more complex matters that occupied her--her agonies of parental guilt, her resentment of domestic obligations, her third marriage, her depressions and breakdowns. The town is in that sense beyond time.
In The Unwritten War, Daniel Aaron examines the literary output of American writers—major and minor—who treated the Civil War in their works. He seeks to understand why this devastating and defining military conflict has failed to produce more literature of a notably high and lasting order, why there is still no "masterpiece" of Civil War fiction.
In his portraits and analyses of 19th- and some 20th-century writers, Aaron distinguishes between those who dealt with the war only marginally—Henry Adams, Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain-and those few who sounded the war's tragic import—Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and William Faulkner. He explores the extent to which the war changed the direction of American literature and how deeply it entered the consciousness of American writers. Aaron also considers how writers, especially those from the South, discerned the war's moral and historical implications.
The Unwritten War was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1973. The New Republic declared, [This book's] major contribution will no doubt be to American literary history. In this respect it resembles Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore and is certain to become an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to explore the letters, diaries, journals, essays, novels, short stories, poems-but apparently no plays-which constitute Civil War literature. The mass of material is presented in a systematic, luminous, and useful way.