Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Images from leftist artist Rockwell Kent's 1930 illustrated version of Moby-Dick, which was sold through the Book-of-the-Month Club and revived the book's popularity. Kent was asked to do a version of Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, but proposed the Melville classic instead. Weirdly enough, the cover of this version did not credit Melville (is Moby-Dick himself the author? V. fitting).

Title: Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851). I read the Penguin Classics edition, introduced by Andrew Delbanco.

Author: Herman Melville, 1819-1891. It's sad to think how early in his life he wrote this amazing book, and how anti-climatically it was received. Melville's first couple of books, which were more conventional adventure stories, got a degree of popular acclaim, but Moby-Dick didn't sit so well with the type of readers who had gone for his more salty (sorry) stuff. Melville saw a revival in the 1920s, spearheaded by the writing of several biographies (Lewis Mumford wrote one in 1929! was there anything the Mum couldn't do?), as well as the belated publication of Billy Budd, Sailor in 1924. See above caption for info about the popular revival of Moby-Dick. There have also been a couple of film version of this book, including one made in 1930 and one in 1956, directed by John Huston and script-written by Ray Bradbury, which I would really like to see.

Some words: This book was totally wasted on seventeen-year-old me the first time I read it. It's a fever dream, it's obsessive, it's beautiful, it's funny and very sad.

I appreciated Andrew Delbanco's introduction for a number of reasons, but I most profited by keeping in mind his comment about the looseness of the narrative form. He writes that there are times in the novel when there's no way that Ishmael can still be the narrator, in the traditional first-person sense, and the reader must give up on wondering "How could Ishmael know what Ahab said to himself in the belowdecks...or what Starbuck said to Ahab in private conversations..." etc.

Forewarned, I pictured the narrative more as Ishmael's scrapbook on the fall of the Pequod, a series of texts, accounts of things he witnessed, reports of his studies, but also things he might have imagined or foreseen or projected. (I suppose you could also look at the book as alternating between first and third person narrators, but I think my way is more fun.)

I kept a list of the different narrative forms that these small texts/chapters took, and I came up with: Dramatic script or soliloquy; affadavit; natural history (these were the chapters on the whale's anatomy, which I thought were hundreds of pages long when I was in high school reading this, but were actually much shorter); adventure story; yarn-within-a-story, a la Heart of Darkness (the chapter on the Town-Ho!); Emersonian essay (the amazing "Whiteness of the Whale"); object study resulting in multiplicity of character perspectives (the chapter in which each character reacts to the doubloon pounded into the mast); and horror story (the appearance of the dead Parsee, lashed to Moby-Dick's back and staring at Ahab, was an indelible image worthy of Poe). This is a very postmodern book, perhaps. I'm sure somebody has written on that.

I am going to forebear to comment too much on the questions of what Moby-Dick means for America or American literature, since I'm pretty sure a couple of the authors I have yet to read will do that, but I am interested to know if anyone has written an ecocritical or animal-studies analysis of the book. The chapter on the possible future extinction of the whale (in which Ishmael points to the buffalo, who, he argues in 1851, are commonly slaughtered without going extinct, as evidence of the whale's similar ability to withstand constant culling - heh) is one candidate for an analysis, but I also kept fixating on how Ishmael constantly points out how ironic it is that the whale lights the scene of his own slaughter. There's something here about the way that the body of the animal is made to betray itself, and how the nineteenth-century character sees this as somehow grotesque yet inevitable.

Also, the entire project of Moby-Dick could be seen as a forced re-marriage of production and consumption; during a time in which whale oil is used to light the ceremonies and celebrations of humanity, Ishmael writes, fewer and fewer humans seem to understand the risks and death involved in the killing of whales (risks and death both for the whales and the humans). The chapters on the floating factory that is the Pequod after a kill point toward a sort of a Jungle for the whaling industry, but with a less activist slant - it seems as though Ishmael simply wants the landlubber to realize the ultimate madness of technological achievement that their desires can stimulate.

In a way, the madness of Ahab is the ultimate extension of an endeavor (whale-hunting) which comes about because of the mad strivings of humanity. Even Starbuck (aka reasonableness/rationality) is unable to stop it. The human bond, as between Ahab and Starbuck, is finally unable to slow down Ahab's mad desires - after Ahab bids Starbuck to come close and "let [him] look into a human eye", which gaze is "better than to gaze upon God" (591), the bond that's created doesn't stop Ahab from continuing, but seems rather to seal Starbuck's fate. The first mate is unable to make a moral stand against Ahab's madness, because he sees Ahab's humanity. So, Melville says, we are all complicit in allowing each other to run amuck with doing and fixing and pushing and achieving.

Other books I've read which analyze this one: In Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current, he points to both Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1938) and the writings of J.N. Reynolds (most prominently the story "Mocha-Dick" [1839]) which he describes as antecedents to Moby-Dick. Leo Marx's Machine in the Garden juxtaposes the chapter in which Ishmael sits on the masthead and meditates on the meaning of life and the dirty, dark production chapters, in order to show the conflict in American life between lofty transcendentalism and the underpinnings of capitalism and material progress.

Vocab words: "puissant" ("possessed of or wielding power"); "poniard" ("a small, slim dagger"); "tierce" ("a third part").

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Machu Picchu. The Inka, for Mann, are a paradigmatic example of the role of disease and political fragmentation in the conquest of American civilization by the Europeans.

Title: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Charles C. Mann, journalist, who writes (mostly) science coverage for the Atlantic Monthly, Nat'l Geo, Vanity Fair, etc. His other books include @ Large: The Strange Case of the World's Biggest Internet Invasion (1998, with David Freedman); Noah's Choice: The Future of Endangered Species (1996, with Mark Plummer); The Aspirin Wars: Money, Medicine, and 100 Years of Rampant Competition (1991, with Mark Plummer); and The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics (1986, with Robert Crease).

My review: Mann's book is an overview of debates in archaeology, anthrophology, ethnobotany, paleontology, paleography, paleobotany, ancient history, and any number of other specialized fields, all of whom are trying to determine what the "New World" looked like before Europeans got here. The overall impact is a shift from a view of a sparsely populated, wild place filled with primitives who lived by the grace of the land, to a conception of continents covered with people who maintained the landscape for their particular needs, sometimes living in balance with the ecology and sometimes failing to do so.

Mann echoes Shephard Krech and William Cronon's lines of argument, discussing some of the same examples as Krech (including the controversy over the Pleistocene extinctions) and citing both authors. He also owes a major debt to Alfred Crosby, previously of UT American Studies, and geographer Jared Diamond.

The book covers a very wide range of subjects, and does a very adroit job of using early chapters to set up a trio of final chapters that bring together his conclusions into a neat bundle. For example, Mann discusses the debates over demography, which run like so: Some posit, based on the difference between early travelers' accounts and later observations, that so many Indians were killed off by early epidemics transmitted by arrivistes such as De Soto that by the time more Europeans came to survey and colonize, there weren't nearly as many Indians as there were a short time before. Thus, when we estimate how many Indians used to inhabit the continent, we should assume many more than we previously thought.

Moreover, those Indians that were left were in a state of political turmoil. Mann illustrates this theory using the story of Squanto, reconstructing it in such a way that Squanto's friendliness toward the Europeans can be explained by the deaths of most of his tribesmen, leaving him vulnerable; and that the willingness of Massasoit of the Wampanoag to cooperate with the Plymouth colony could be due to the same thing (since most of M's tribesmen had died, he was left with little choice but to ally with the English against the Narragansett).

Having set this up, in later chapters Mann describes the new understandings we have of the way in which Amazonian Indians may have managed the growth of fruit trees and sowed charcoal into the soil in order to create a more human-friendly environment. He concludes that, in fact, the entire "untouched" Amazon may be a human artifact. He then adds this to the knowledge we have of the way that Indians on the East Coast burned their forests for ease of access and management of food species (see Krech, Cronon again).

Combining the knowledge we have of these systems of ecological management, with the ideas coming to the fore about the way that populations were affected by early epidemics, Mann posits that the "wild" forests that the Pilgrims saw thronging the coastline, the throngs of passenger pigeons, many of the signifiers of "abundant America", may all have been due to the recent disappearance of the groups of managing Indians who had previously kept these ecosystems at equilibrium. Wow! Now, that's what I call a revelation.

I admire the way that Mann handles the issue of the impact of these debates over the past on the current political situation. Although I was wary of the fact that the New York Sun endorsed the book, and was occasionally annoyed when Mann came down heavily on the wise-use side of environmental ethics, he definitely recognizes that the information in the book could prove useful to conservatives wanting to expiate ancestors from charges of genocide and environmental misuse (like so: "well, if the Indians were all killed by germs, and they were ecological abusers anyway, then what's the big deal?") To this end, Mann distinguishes carefully between the conventional idea of Indians at the mercy of their environment and the importance of a new understanding of Indians as creative maintainers of the landscape.

Artist's rendering of what the city around Cahokia, in modern-day Missouri, may have looked like around AD 1000-ish. This was a real revelation to me, though others may have heard of it - the mounds in that area reveal evidence of a city of 120 acres, holding between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

All of the popular press reviews of this book were totally in love with it, so there's that.

I love reading the paperback copies of these kinds of books, because the afterwords often tell you exactly what specific criticism the authors received after the publication of the hardback. Mann stepped into many already raging controversies, and he acknowledges that he was bound to make some people mad and get some arguments wrong. (The great thing about this kind of intelligent-layman book is that he has an automatic out whenever questioned on technical matters - well, at least, I think so.) The most pressing criticism is that a lot of these "revelations" are actually over fifty years old - but, as Mann says, if the general public/those in public schools aren't taught about them, they lose their importance. Hence, the book.

Yanomami family, by Victor Englebert (photographing for an advocacy group). Mann points out that by the time the Yanomami were encountered in the seventeenth century, they may already have moved from an agricultural lifestyle to a hunter-gatherer one because of the upheaval caused by disease communicated by other groups which had made contact with Europeans. Thus, the conventional image of their lives is one that fails to acknowledge the full history of the tribe before contact and assumes that they have always been so.

Vocab words:
"ramose" ("branching"); "theogony" (theology which studies the origins of gods); "coruscate" ("to give forth intermittent or vibratory flashes of light"); "fissiparous" ("producing new individuals by fission").

This book has an extensive bibliography. Secondary: Frances Fitzgerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (1980); C. Ponting, Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (1991); Stephen Pyne, Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire (1982); R. Temple, The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention (1998).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman

"Examination of a Witch", by Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853. Karlsen points out that artists, writers and historians who have been interested in Salem stretch in a continuous genealogy beginning with the events themselves.

Title: The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York: Norton, originally published in 1987)

Author: Carol F. Karlsen, professor of history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Minimal information available on the departmental website, but Karlsen graduated from Yale history dept. in 1980, and thanks John Demos, Edmund Morgan, Kai Erikson, and Nancy Cott for their help in the process of writing the book. It looks like she's come out with one other book, an edited diary of a colonial woman, and was at one point working on another one about gender relations and the Iroquois, though I don't think it's come out.

My review: For Karlsen, the black hole in the middle of all other explanations of the social meanings of witchcraft has been the gender question. She acknowledges that class-based rationales for the crises have found some kind of pattern, but then seeks to more conclusively situate these class patterns within questions of gender.

By performing a series of parsings of demographic information, Karlsen arrives at the conclusion that an accused witch was likely to be a woman who stood to inherit or had recently inherited property, because of a lack of brothers or sons in her family, thereby exposing the fault lines of a society based on the orderly succession of possession from father to son.

Other demographic characteristics of accused witches were advanced age, in a time during which older women were seen as a burden because of their inability to bear children or do work; contentiousness or dissatisfaction with their lot, which Karlsen compassionately ascribes either to the "eye of the beholder" or to the fundamentally unfair social conditions of the time, instead of to the personalities of the accused, as previous historians had done; or a family relationship to an accused witch or an executed witch. Karlsen goes beyond other analysts in asking not only which persons were accused - a number which would include men, young women, and even children - but which were actually convicted, and given severe punishments. This group most often included women of the older, property-holding persuasion.

Karlsen writes that the social conditions of gender relations in the colonies were set up to foment maximum confusion and upset on the part of male members of the society when it came to their view of women. The sexual double standard meant that, in order to allow for their own sexual freedom, men had to also allow women to occasionally have adulterous affairs, which might disrupt succession of property; the economic dependence of women meant that men had to support women; and the laws of primogeniture meant that they had to live with whatever their fathers decided to do in the matter of property (which might sometimes include making decisions which favored mothers or sisters over brothers, or favored only one older son while slighting younger ones). Meanwhile, older religious views of women held that these Eves were the temptresses who had caused mankind to fall. Although Puritan elders tried to set up a more kind attitude toward women, in order to facilitate harmony between the sexes in the small-scale enterprises of living in the colonies, this fundamental view of female treachery surfaced when females threatened the gender hierarchies of life. "It was," she writes ominously, "a formula which invited the Devil" (218).

"Repentance of Judge Sewall", a painting whose provenance I cannot seem to figure out for the life of me, though it is in the "Examination of a Witch" style (I got it from a site that doesn't cite authors/painters...but has a nifty "Salem Jeopardy" feature, which kind of makes up for it.) Judge Sewall, who publicly apologized for his role in the trials no more than five years after their conclusion, also became an anti-slavery advocate. There are a couple of books about his life, one of which, by Richard Francis, was well-reviewed. Karlsen points out that a remarkable feature of the Salem trials was how definitively they marked the end of an era. She writes that Enlightenment thinking finally began to predominate in the colonies, which made witchcraft obsolete as a concept (some, like Sewall, had already had mixed feelings about the validity of executing people accused of it).

Reviews of others: Paul Boyer, in the Journal of American History, called Karlsen's interpretation "provocative" and lauds it for its subtlety and reach, but says that she does not sufficiently confront the established scholarship on the subject. In the New England Quarterly, Bernard Rosenthal wrote that the book advanced a very valuable argument, but took a couple of pages to quibble with various points of historical interpretation, particularly when it comes to the analysis of the possessed children/women who accused women in Salem (this is a criticism that Karlsen also discusses in her afterword). Rosenthal also pointed out, somewhat weirdly, that any explanation of why witches were mostly women would have to reach back to Europe, and says that Karlsen could solve that problem by either looking at particular conditions of New England, which, Rosenthal says, would "falsify" the issue, or by skirting it. I don't get why incorporating elements of English tradition with local conditions in the analysis (which is what I thought Karlsen did, by the way) would be "falsification".

Leads: Secondary: Mary Douglas, Implicit Meanings (1975)

Poster from the 1996 version of The Crucible, dir. Nicholas Hytner. (Interestingly enough, this jpg was taken from a site called If this is love, I'll take tomato juice.) Karlsen argues that the vision of Miller's play, in which the sexpot servant Abigail Williams screws everyone over by accusing her master/lover's wife of witchcraft, minimizes the true sexual politics behind the witchcraft scares, which were more based on boring questions of property ownership than on adulterous affairs like this fictional one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Children in the House

"Mrs. Freake and Baby Mary", Artist unknown, Massachusetts, 1674 (now in the Worcester Art Museum); Calvert points out the stiffness of the baby figure as an example of the favored attitude toward children, who were to be straightened out and formed into humans in order to escape the curse of four-legged animality.

Title: Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600-1900 (Boston: Northeastern UP, 1992)

Author: Karin Calvert, who was an assistant professor of history at UPenn, but appears to now be an independent scholar. I don't think she's written any other books, but the Internet is strangely decentralized on the topic of her whereabouts. Her affiliation with the Winterthur Center led to this book.

My review: Calvert uses material culture sources as well as textual ones to delve into the changing meanings of early childhood for Americans between the colonial and Victorian eras. Paintings, furniture, clothing, diaries, and writings of medical professionals make up the substance of her argument.

She describes colonial parents as somewhat afraid of, or disgusted by, their infants' abjectness. Crawling or creeping was seen as a sign of the animal within the child, to be avoided at all costs; therefore, colonists created clothing which would "straighten" the child out and render it immobile and easily tended, and built furniture such as the "walking stool" which held the child upright in an effort to teach it to walk early.

The era of the "natural child", which roughly corresponded with the Revolutionary and antebellum periods, saw greater influence of theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued that children were going to develop into humans without the need for the strict clothing and furniture which previous generations saw as so necessary. Clothing standards relaxed, and cradles came into fashion, but without the apparatus on the sides intended to lace swaddled children in so firmly that they could not escape.

The Victorian era, the final one Calvert examines, saw the child as a precious, innocent talisman of the family's intact and holy nature, and doted on infants by placing them in show-offy carriages and prams, intended for display value. (This doting, however, did not go so far as to allow the children to run around freely; Calvert writes that the heavily decorated homes of Victorian gentlepeople would be under serious threat by a toddling family member, so cribs with high sides could be used to "jail" children up to age four or five, if necessary.)

"Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge and son William", Ralph Earl, Connecticut, c. 1790 (now at the Litchfield Historical Society); Calvert uses this painting as an example of the newly relaxed attitude toward childhood - little William's hair is loose and his attitude playful.

Reviews of others: In Contemporary Sociology, Paula Fass wrote that the strength of the book lay not in any originality of overall argument, but rather in moments of insight surrounding the material objects analyzed. Fass wishes that the book had taken a more broad approach to the possible significance of childhood in light of broader social trends - with the exception of the section on the Victorian era, she writes, Calvert seems to shy away from making broader cultural insights. This narrowness, Fass finds, sometimes leads to what seems like a wilfull ignorance of issues relating to class. In the American Historical Review, John Demos (this book got reviewed by the big guns!) saw a lot of value in the book, arguing that its approach to already recognized changes in American family setup added a lot of nuance to a possibly reductive subject. The material culture artifacts integrated into this analysis, Demos says, add greatly to this sense of depth and nuance.

New words: "Ideotechnic", which seems like it might have gone out of style.

Victorian woman pushing a pram (image not from Calvert's book, but rather from a BBC series on successive ideals of British womanhood): The pram, for Calvert, symbolizes the new desire to display babies as icons of the successful domesticity of the Victorian household; prams go hand in hand with the rise of new park-based urbanism (see Olmsted in New York); and they configure the infant at the center of a much larger display, making him or her appear even smaller and more helpless, qualities which were prized in the Victorian era in a marked departure from previous years.

Leads: Primary: Lucy Larcom, A New England Girlhood (1889). Secondary: I have to read the Phillipe Aries book, Centuries of Childhood (1965), at some point. Also: Kenneth Ames, "Material Culture as Non-verbal Communication" (1980); Bernard Mergen, "Toys and American Culture: Objects as Hypothesis" (1980); Linda Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 (1983).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Risk Society

Title: Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage Publications, trans. Mark Ritter, 1992; orig. published in German in 1986)

Ulrich Beck, German sociologist, who holds positions at the University of Munich and the London School of Economics. His works revolve around globalization, ecology, individualization, and the changing nature of work. Among his other recent books are The Normal Chaos of Love (1995, written with his wife!); Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk (1995); The Reinvention of Politics: Rethinking Modernity in the Global Social Order (1996); Power in the Global Age (2005); and Cosmopolitan Vision (2006).

Review: Beck's "Risk Society" is a post-industrial order in which the logic of wealth will give way to the logic of risk: in other words, he who has the most toys does not win; rather, he who can best evade the dangerous consequences of everybody's toys is the winner. The unfortunate part is that complete evasion may be impossible, meaning that everybody is at risk from everybody else's modernizations. Modernity, Beck argues, has perpetrated supposedly unforeseen "side effects": many of his examples are ecological, such as radioactivity, pollution, environmental illness, etc. In these cases, the logic of progress, which called for technological advancement without thinking of the price, has created regression and danger of unforeseen types. Traditional structures of knowledge - government; science, as currently practiced - are insufficient to contain these dangers.

Beck calls for an increase in what he calls "reflexive modernization" - a phase of modernity in which science and technology will become constantly self-critical and self-regulating. He calls the state of mind which has allowed science and technology to operate without checks an example of "counter-modernity" - those who believe in sci/tech in a religious way are undermining the principles of open reflection and assessment upon which modernity should be founded.

Additionally, Beck analyzes the style of individualization which he sees coming about in a post-industrial society. Work, he argues, now requires people to be flexible and single. It also extends these requirements to both genders. Industrial society required that women remain in the household, so that men could work, but this was in and of itself anti-modern. Now that women have learned to demand equal personhood and prerogative, nobody knows how to handle the resulting conflicts within marriages. This riff on individualism seems a bit disconnected from the information on risk.

Julianne Moore as a San Fernando Valley housewife afflicted by environmental illness in the totally terrifying "Safe" (1995).

As for potential holes that could be poked, were one to be in a poking mood, many of Beck's conclusions, especially in the section on gender relationships and in his thinking on work, seem to apply mainly or mostly to European/American/Western society - and society of a certain economic class, at that. Beck would argue that the new politics of risk means that class will no longer matter, because risk will be spread over all human bodies. But his argument already kind of eats itself, because, as he writes, those with more money and education will do better at managing risks - will know what kinds of food not to eat, will be able to buy bottled water, live further away from chemical threats, etc. I can buy the idea that the threat will spread over a wider range of social class, but not that it will threaten all equally.

As for his thesis about individualization and how it is affecting gender relationships, I would argue that there are many, many societies in which women have not been able to perceive individualization as their due. This is still a Western phenomenon, and an affluent one, at that. Thus, the seismic changes Beck points to seem only to be seismic for certain sectors. Is he assuming that as goes Germany and the United States, so goes the world?

Photograph of four-year-old with lymph system severely affected by fallout from Chernobyl. Taken by Paul Fusco.

Other books I've read which use this theory: None I've read so far; I know some upcoming ones will, though.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Darwinism Comes to America

Title: Darwinism Comes to America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998)

Author: Ronald Numbers, of the history of medicine and bioethics department at UW-Madison. Numbers has written many books about religion and science in America (and has been the president of both the American Society of Church History and the History of Science Society). His books include Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (1976); Medicine Without Doctors: Home Health Care in American History (1977); Almost Persuaded: American Physicians and Compulsory Health Insurance, 1912-1920 (1978) (that's an interesting one - I wonder how/if Spencerian ideas of "survival of the fittest" worked there); The Creationists (1992); Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender (1999); and most recently, When Science and Christianity Meet (2003). His site says he's working on a bio of John Harvey Kellogg, among other things.

My review: This book consists of a series of essays, many derived from conference presentations or articles, some co-authored. Numbers begins the book with an introduction of the terms, describing the evolution (sorry) of "Darwinism, creationism, and intelligent design" as concepts. Here he tries to restore some of the nuance to the spectrum of beliefs about evolution: some creationists believe(d) in the long-day theory (the idea that Genesis' "week" referred to eras, not days as we know them); some believe(d) in "natural" evolution punctuated by divine interventions, etc. (Interestingly, this chapter also addresses the impact of Sputnik on teachings of evolution.)

The next chapters seek to illuminate different aspects of the controversy, including whether or not Southern scientists reacted completely negatively to the theory (no, sir - this section recalls Marsden's arguments about the variety of religious opinion during this time period, including the point that fundamentalism originated in many cases in the urban North); how "creationism" has changed since its use by Louis Agassiz; how the Scopes trial got re-cast in the eyes of history as a victory for urban values and secular society (this chapter would be a good one to use to introduce the trial in an undergrad context); and how Adventists and Holiness sects responded to the theory. The Adventist chapter included some interesting material on how Ellen G. White may or may not have associated "lower" races with animals in her understanding of what happened during and after the Flood (p 99). Adventists saw some sciences as having been derived from satanic delusions - but believed that it was possible to know (or at least, for some people, like White, to know) which ones were satanic and which were okay.

Reviews of others:
In The Journal of Southern History, Steve Wolfgang welcomed the chapter on southern reception of Darwin (to be expected, given the rehabilitative nature of the work) and called the book a good introduction for students unaware of many aspects of Darwinism (an assessment echoed by David Hull of Northwestern, who wrote one of the blurbs for the back of the book). Kary Smout, in Isis, begged to differ, writing that the essays in this book would be difficult for non-specialists (I think I might have to agree) because many of them are based on Numbers' responses to a large body of scholarship, a setting-straight of a body of knowledge. (It's no fun to read a setting-straight when you have no idea what was crooked.) She wished that Numbers had seen fit to make broader conclusions: "Although I learned many fascinating facts from this book, all I learned was many fascinating facts. Since Darwinism has come to America, the result has been varied and complex. What hasn't?"

Vocab words:
"prosopographical" ("a study of a collection of persons or characters, esp. their appearances, careers, personalities, etc., within a historical, literary, or social context").

Books to follow up on: Primary: Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (1931); EP Ellyson, Is Man an Animal? (mid-1920s - anti-evolution book); Youth's Instructor - Adventist periodical for young people

Secondary: Jon Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America: Protestant Intellectuals and Organic Evolution, 1859-1900 (1988) (Numbers dedicated this book to "Jon Roberts, author of the best book on Darwinism in America" - I do believe he meant this book, which I think might have been advisable to read instead, or at least in addition to, Darwinism Comes To America).

The back matter of this book includes a series of biographical notes about each of the 80 naturalists in the National Academy of Sciences from 1863-1900.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sexual Politics of Meat

I'm pretty sure this book did not mention the 1972 movie "Prime Cut", in which Lee Marvin finds Sissy Spacek naked, in a pen full of hay, in a barn, about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But it sure should have.

Title: The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York: Continuum, 1990)

Carol J. Adams, who has a masters in divinity and an extensive career as an activist outside of her academic writings. She's not affiliated with an academic institution, so far as I can see, but guest-lectures at many, and seems to travel extensively, giving a slide show based on this book. Other books she's written include Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat (2004); The Pornography of Meat (2004); and Living Among Meat Eaters (2003). Adams lives in Dallas, which is brave on many levels, considering her political commitments.

My review:
Adams hopes to make the point that the act of eating meat has been persistently gendered male, and that the inherent assumptions of meat-eating are similiar to the assumptions of woman-oppressing. What are these assumptions? Adams argues that the "sexual politics of meat" include "the idea[s] that the end justifies the means...the objectification of other beings is a natural part of life...and that violence can and should be masked" (24). Adams uses the concept of the "absent referent" to anchor the various implications of these assumptions or ideas. For her, the act of eating meat obscures the life of the actual animal, just as the acts of objectification or violence or misogyny obscure the life of the actual female. Both the woman and the animal are unimportant in the greater system of meaning constructed by the patriarchy. (For this reason, Adams advocates inserting a "[sic]" after any sentence in which an animal is called "it", just as we would after a sentence in which "he" is used as a universal pronoun.) (See chapter "The Rape of Animals, the Butchering of Women", p 50.)

Adams wants to restore what she sees as a lost history of associations between feminism and vegetarianism, arguing that first-wave feminist activists in the nineteenth and early twentieth century recognized the connections between their own struggles for political recognition and the choice to be vegetarian. She also uses a wide array of literary sources, including utopic novels such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (1915; see Bryson entry); Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906); and children's lit such as Charlotte's Web (1952). She recounts anecdotes from her experience as a domestic violence counselor. She also uses images collected from advertisements and (very interestingly) from publications internal to the meat industry.

"Truck Accident" (2004), by artist Sue Coe, whose Dead Meat is a book of paintings and writings about slaughterhouses.

This book can be difficult for one who lies on the other side of the divide between meat-chewing and meat-eschewing. To her credit, Adams seems to know that the conversion to her "side" can be one that is so absolute as to be almost mystical. But there are moments in this book that feel disingenous, as when she cites a description of a snuff film but neglects to write that the film in question was not actually a snuff film at all (see's debunking of the matter - thanks to Nick for telling me that this was an urban legend and rescuing me from many nightmares); or when she suggests that the school shooters of the 1990s may have shot kids because they were hunters so they were "used to it". Not only that, but the book, I think, assumes too much when it comes to correlation vs. causation. Just because, historically, men have been given more meat to eat even when women require the protein for breast-feeding, does that mean that meat is inherently patriarchal? Did English laborers of the nineteenth century really participate in patriarchy by giving the male members of the family more meat to eat? Should they have tried to find a nice mix of quinoa and kale to serve up instead? Is my skepticism or pickiness about this book derived from some deep guilt about or ambivalence about my meat-eating, which will some day be unearthed in a flood of veganism? Only time will tell.

Reviews of others:
In Environmental Ethics, Deborah Slicer wrote that the book should have been written in clearer, easier-to-follow language (it didn't seem too bad to me!) and that Adams' analyses of race and class issues were unnecessarily truncated. (This is true - there was an interesting bit on Western imposition of meat diets on colonized cultures, but it was brief and undeveloped. There's plenty of room for further investigation in this area - and of the questions of diet imposition in general. The Inuit, for example, eat plenty of meat, but American and English explorers still found their diet disgusting.)

Apparently, in a later book Adams addresses the abhorrent PETA ad phenomenon.

Books to follow up on: Primary:
Henry Salt, ed., Killing for Sport: Essays by Various Writers (1914); the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children.

Linda Birke, Feminism, Animals and Science: The Naming of the Shrew (1994); Gena Corea, The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs (1985); Mary Douglas, "Deciphering a Meal", in Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology (1975); Coral Lansbury, The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England (1985); Carolyn Steedman, "Landscape for a Good Woman", in Truth, Dare or Promise: Girls Growing Up in the Fifties (1985).

Additionally, the book's bibliography is helpfully separated into subject areas, including "Vegetarian Writings", "Animal Concerns and Animal Defense", "Feminist Writings", "Sexual and Domestic Violence", "Literary Criticism", "History, Autobiography, Biography", "Fiction, Poetry, Drama", "Medical and Nutritional Writings", and "Other".

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Unsettling of America

Title: The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977)

Wendell Berry, author of many books: novels, poetry, and essays. Also a longtime resident of northwestern Kentucky, farmer of 125 acres, former teacher of college creative writing, former Stegner Fellow.

My review:

This is a still from the recent documentary King Corn, which was co-made by/costars an alum from my high school, Ian Cheney. In this film, two city-raised kids who have old family roots in agricultural America try to return to Iowa, buy an acre of corn, and live the agdream. Of course, they end up on a tour through all of the technological boondoggles of contemporary monoculture. My favorite moment is when Ian tries to make high fructose corn syrup on his stove, and the process is so complicated that he almost can't do it. The number of friends I have who care a lot about farming (yet, interestingly, don't have farms themselves) is quite large (see, for example, Elanor Starmer's blog), and I am so implicated in this system of thought that reading a book like Unsettling almost felt like overkill. Plus, my conception of Berry's writing came completely from a couple of poems of his I had read and loved in high school, and which were kind of smushy in a latter-day Unitarian earth-love sort of way. (Here's one, "The Peace of Wild Things".)

Unsettling was much more of a jeremiad than I had ever expected, and addressed much deeper issues of National Character (or, more specifically, Modern Character) than I had thought. Berry's thought on technology (broadly defined) and its place in human endeavor goes beyond Luddism or antimodernism (although you could certainly slot him in there - he also really loves the Amish). For Berry, who employs what I would call a heavily Marxist mode of analysis, our "attitude toward work" has caused us to create a Frankensteinian system of technology and impersonal management methods, all designed to distance ourself from our own physical bodies.

As for the structure of the book, which Berry specifically cast as a response to what he saw as "modern or orthodox agriculture" (and remember, this was the 1970s, post-Earl Butz and Green Revolution...), Berry seems to get off with a bang, or three chapters which use the word "crisis" twice in their titles. Then there are more extended meditations on aspects of the crisis, including a chapter, "The Body and the Earth", which seeks to re-place the body in the ecological system and which follows a Carolyn Merchant-esque path in describing the tragic consequences of the divorce of body and soul.

Passages such as this startling one make his point, namely that technology is another method of alienation, leading to increasing enslavement of people and energy. Question: I see his point, but I find it objectionable to compare slavery and, say, modern irrigation systems. Is this direct equivalence, in itself, dehumanizing? Viz: "We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from...Out of this contempt for work arose the idea of a n****r: at first some person, and later some thing, to be used to relieve us of the burden of work. If we began by making n****rs of people, we have ended by making a n****r of the world. We have taken the irreplaceable energies and materials of the world and turned them into jimcrack 'labor-saving devices'. We have made of the rivers and oceans and winds n****rs to carry away our refuse, which we think we are too good to dispose of decently ourselves. And in doing this to the world that is our common heritage and bond, we have returned to making n****rs of people: we have become each other's n****rs" (12).

Some other potentially objectionable facets of this argument - beyond the comparison between slaves and tractors - include Berry's lament on the divorce of sexuality from childbearing marriages, which he says has destroyed the fabric of community and devalued the sacred act of sex. Pretty heteronormative, and also fairly biologically determinist, which is interesting, because his call for technological limitation is kind of anti-evolutionary. If you think that humans should be fulfilling the family structures their biology "demands" of them, then you also have to accept the human drive for technological improvement and reduction of work. A family structure that reaches beyond the boundaries of the "traditional" procreative one is a creative reimagining of biology, just like Berry's ideal farming structure would be.

All of Berry's critiques stem from the concept of human limitation, which he argues is necessary for our own health, bodily and spiritually speaking. Human limitation, which might involve limiting technology used (a la the Amish) or production itself (a la all previous versions of agriculture before the Green Revolution) is, of course, not a particularly popular concept, with the dominant visions of technocratic elites focused on the "way forward". Because of this, Berry visualizes himself on the "margins" of contemporary agriculture, and maybe also contemporary society, but says that the "margins" are a totally necessary and fruitful contributor to societal planning. (Once again, I wonder why he can't, then, get with the idea of marginal families or family units.)

I believe my colleague Lisa Powell will be sending me her paper on the reception of this book, so that I can put more in this section. From what I remember of her work, it seemed that Unsettling was the catalyst of a new small-farming movement, and that many new organic/small/local farmers could trace their "awakening" to this book (or, at least, that was her thesis - but then the paper explored the difficulty of pinpointing the origins of a movement or following the influence of a text through said movement - see, for example, Abbey's Monkeywrench Gang and ELF...) More to come on that.

I found this picture of Wendell Berry attached to a fascinating document: a 1976 debate published on NASA's website, in which Berry responded to a contest held for students to plan space settlement colonies. There's a long debate between him and one of the responsible adults. Sample of Berry: "I think you have wandered into a trap - one that is crowded with so many glamorous captives that you think it is some kind of escape. The trap is that a technological 'solution' on the scale of this one is bound to create a whole set of new problems, ramifying ahead of foresight." (See also Markley's Dying Planet on the anti-environmentalism of space colonization.)

Things to follow up on:
The 1914 Smith-Lever act created the cooperative extension service. Was there a childhood education component at that point?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Shifting Gears

Charles Sheeler, "Ford Plant, River Rouge, Criss-Crossed Conveyors", 1927

Title: Shifting Gears: Technology, Literature, Culture in Modernist America (Chapel Hill: the UNC Press, 1987)

Cecelia Tichi, of the English department at Vanderbilt. Her other books are numerous and have a broad range of subject matter: Exposes and Excess: Muckraking in America, 1900/2000 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); Embodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Spaces (Harvard UP, 2001); Reading Country Music: Steel Guitars, Opry Stars, and Konky-Tonk Bars (Duke University Press, 1998) (did she mean "honky-tonk bars"? I bet so); High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music (University of North Carolina Press, 1994); Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture (Oxford University Press, 1991); and New World: New Earth: Environmental Reform in American Literature from the Puritans through Whitman (Yale UP, 1979). Apparently she's also written three novels! Cool.

Stuart Davis, Percolator, 1927

My review: Tichi writes that although some writers, artists, and poets took an antimodern stance regarding the technological advances of the 1880-1930 period (there's gotta be a better name for that fifty years!), others of their contemporaries embraced not only the subject matter of the machine age, but also its methods of composition, adopting what Tichi calls a "gear and girder" approach to art-making.

On the ground, this engineering-style approach reflected itself in more pared-down prose (Hemingway, who cited his apprenticeship with a newspaper, during which he had to telegraph stories to his editor, as a motivator for his simple sentence construction); a materialist approach to poetry (William Carlos Williams - glad to see you again!); and a heightened sense of the motion and physicality of the "real world", taken from Taylorization's attention to detail (John Dos Passos).

Tichi's approach is at its most effective when she goes into deep textual analysis, but when she situates these writers in their cultural milieu, things feel more scattershot. The images chosen to illustrate this book exemplify the problems with this approach - many of them are postcards of major engineering projects, or advertisements mentioning "efficiency", "waste", or other Taylorizing keywords in a commercial context. But often the images are not analyzed in depth or situated within a larger analysis, serving mostly as window dressing for her larger points.

By far the most useful chapter for my purposes is the one on the "cult of the engineer" in American culture (p 97). Here, Tichi describes how the engineer became a heroic figure in children's lit, movies, advertisements, and fiction, taking the place of the cowboy in stories of Western settlement and becoming an aspirational figure. Tichi writes of his appeal: "He signified stability in a changing world...he was technology's human face, providing reassurance that the world of gears and girders combined rationality with humanity" (99). Here she cites Henry Adams, Rex Beach, and Herbert Hoover, among others.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, 1935

Reviews of others: Howard Segal wrote in the Journal of American History that the book was dispassionate and smart and steered clear of either hostility or worshipfulness, which were dangerous tendencies of other books about technology (this did come out in 1987, which was early in the "social-construction" game, I guess). He wished the book could have been more international. In American Literature, Christopher Nelson wrote that Tichi's method of analysis sometimes had trouble with matters of emphasis: why foreground one "cultural tendency" and background another as "latent"? This overstatement, Nelson wrote, led to occasional oversimplification, as when Tichi hit multiple times upon the "analogy of literary economy and engineering values". Nelson also wished that Tichi had included more material on the social realities of technology and its power relationships, such as the implications for labor or the structure of the working class.

Rube Goldberg device for cleaning shop windows; date of drawing unidentified on Rube Goldberg site. Goldberg's machines were parodies of labor-saving methods, exemplifying, like Chaplin's "Modern Times", the comic side of these obsessions with efficiency.

Books to follow up on:
Primary: the Erector set for kids (1910s); The Book of Wonders (1916 kids' text); St. Nicholas magazine; journal: School and Society; Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888); William Book, The Intelligence of High School Seniors (1922); John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer (1925); Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901); John H Randall, Our Changing Civilization: How Science and the Machine are Reconstructing Modern Life (1931); Civilization in the United States (anthology of intellectual thought in early 1920s); childrens' lit about engineering listed on page 100.

Secondary: Roland Barthes, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (1979).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Last Child in the Woods

Image of schoolchildren pulling carrots comes from the website of The Edible Schoolyard, a school-garden project in Berkeley, spearheaded by Alice Waters. Caption: "'The garden looks beautiful, it smells great, it tastes like heaven, the sounds are very calming, and the feel of the plants is wonderful.' - Emily, 6th Grade". The emphasis on the multi-layered sensual experience echoes Louv's ideas about the ways that plants or the outdoors could calm children with ADHD or other behavorial disorders.

Title: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2005)

Author: Richard Louv, journalist, columnist for the San Diego Union-Trib. Chairman of an org. called The Children and Nature Network. Author of other books about childhood and general life in America: Web of Life: Weaving the Values that Sustain Us (1998); 101 Things You Can Do For Our Children's Future (1993); and Childhood's Future (1992).

My review:

It's a difficult thing to read a book whose premises you fundamentally agree with, but whose presentation elides nuance and is ahistorical and alarmist. (Reminds me of watching "Fahrenheit 9/11" - ugh.) Yes, I do agree that kids spend too much time indoors playing video games; that it is a terrible thing that communities have little space for children to play in; that it sucks that parents are too afraid to let kids bike around by themselves, so they rein them in with cell phones and GPS devices or don't let them out at all; that it's bogus that science education seems not to foster a generalized love of the outdoors, instead directing children toward specialized technological achievement. But Louv's discussion of these matters relies so heavily on anecdote, and on fear, that I find myself picking holes in it almost against my will (and not just because I think Louv's characterization of the problem as "nature deficit disorder" is fundamentally opportunist - the man wanted to sell books, or his editor did, anyway).

A great kid-in-nature tome of earlier years: Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost (1909).

In many ways, Louv's central concerns are very similar to those of Progressive-era educational thinkers such as John Dewey (who he references on p 65, on the virtues of primary experience) and G. Stanley Hall (who idealized his own farm-based upbringing). Louv's book is mostly free from the nastier racial implications of the late nineteenth-century anxiety re: "overcivilization" and degeneration (nobody back then ever seemed to worry about whether black sharecroppers' kids in the South were becoming proper men - all that anxiety was reserved for cream-of-the-crop white children). However, Louv sometimes seems to assume that the standard-issue "kid" is a white suburban one. There are a couple mentions of the problem of equal access to natural areas, and a few interviews with black or Latino kids who come back from wilderness-ed programs fundamentally changed, but they feel like gestures.

Teddy Roosevelt had Louv-like fears a hundred years before Louv louved. Here he is, at about the age when "Teedie" would have started discovering his affinity for the outdoors - a lifelong affection he credited for his vitality and right-thinkingness. See his "The Strenuous Life" for more.

Although Louv does not prescribe the benefits of Outside as a tonic for race regeneration, he does focus on the benefits - a very androcentric approach, which totally ignores a deep-ecology or biocentric POV. Humans, and human kids, are what matters here, not the environment per se. I'll go into pick-apart mode here: Louv is basically arguing that human kids will become stronger, more mentally acute, be cured of behavior problems, and probably get better grades and better scores on their SATs, if they go wander into a forest every once in a while. Will driven middle-class parents everywhere now begin scheduling in nature-time for their little babies, to give them every advantage in the race for success? If it doesn't "work", will they stop? Is this any way to create a new environmental paradigm?

Louv's book touches on very complex contemporary environmental issues, such as whether or not religious groups will embrace a movement which they see as embodying some animistic pagan qualities (292) and even cites Jennifer Wolch's idea of the "zoopolis", or the new interpolation of wildlife and natural growth into the city. But his fundamental stance seems unprepared to grapple with the implications of the scope of the topic.

The questions I see arising here include the most basic ones about the aim of our society, including whether or not we believe in equal economic rights (and thus, access to nature) for all children;
whether technological education and environmental education can ever go hand in hand; whether we are willing to control capitalism (in the form of development) in order to create an environmentally aware society; and whether the system of labor and settlement brought about by advanced capitalism can be amended so that humans continue to get a good dose of "nature time" when they are young - and whether these humans will be able to maintain their contact with nature once they are working full-time, as are the parents reading this book, or whether they will be so straitened with the need to earn a living that they will not be able to do so. The alienation of childhood from the natural world is not the problem. This is a symptom of the way society is going today, and as such, will not be "fixed" in and of itself, but needs to be viewed as a part of a constellation of larger issues around environmental ethics and human rights.

Caption text from article by Michael B. Smith, "The Ego Ideal of 'The Good Camper' and the Nature of Summer Camp", Environmental History, January 2006 (link): "Boys at Camp Dudley, the first YMCA camp in the country, learn the finer points of axmanship, a skill intended to reconnect them with both nature and the "good life" of their frontier forbearers. As critics of this romantic construction of both nature and American history would later point out, learning to use an ax did not in itself prepare children very well for life in a modern city or suburb. (Courtesy of the YMCA of the USA and the Kautz Family YMCA Archive, University of Minnesota.)"

Books to follow up on:

The American Boys' Handy Book, written by Daniel Carter Beard (of the Boy Scouts) at the turn of the century, was reissued in a centennial edition in 2003 - a circumstance I find fascinating.

Eva, my friend who teaches elementary school, recommended this one. Which reminds me that Eva; my sister Sarah, who teaches pre-K kids; and my friend Mira, who is considering going into environmental education, are all intensely concerned about the issues Louv brings up. But Eva and Sarah are criminally underpaid, and Mira will be, if she goes through with her plan. Are Americans ready to consider environmental education as something CENTRAL to childhood, not a frill to be cut as soon as the budget gets tight? If they aren't ready, why? Is it because we still think of it as something that should take place organically (ha), in the bosom of the family (or in the backyard of the family, rather), like it used to? And if it doesn't take place organically, is it still as effective? Can a kid "discover" something s/he has been pointed towards?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The End of Victory Culture

Roll the dice, lady. Roll the dice.

Title: The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (New York: Basic Books, 1995)

Tom Engelhardt, a former journalist and book editor, now working as a fellow for the Nation Institute and writing for/editing the alternative news site One of the things he works on for Metropolitan Books is called The American Empire Project and looks really awesome.

The time between the Cold War and Vietnam marked the beginning of the end of American triumphalism, which was at a high point at the end of WWII, but marred by the existence of the bomb. Combining a bunch of different previous scholarship about American exceptionalism (see Nash Smith), Native Americans (see Slotkin), narratives of war and racism (see Dower, Drinnon), as well as his own childhood reflections, Engelhardt seeks to answer the question of how Americans lost their loving feeling toward their own country - and especially, how children who grew up during that 1950s got to the point where they began to question the country's mission. All of this questioning added up to what Engelhardt terms The End of Victory Culture. (Problem: Weren't there dissenters and disbelievers in American culture all along? Anti-imperialists and war protestors? Socialists? Communists? Yes, there were... Also, there's still a Victory Culture: just ask any random person on the street in Concord, New Hampshire.)

I. War Story
1. Triumphalist Despair:
Basic argument laid out.

2. Story Time: Real-life war stories of America, whose parameters are determined by the victors (see Lepore). Native Americans as central to these stories, while the black story is elided (and haunting in its absence).

3. Ambush at Kamikaze Pass: War stories in the movies. Short history of the Western, pre-1960, and its similarities with the war movies of the 1940s. A bit about captivity narratives; a bit about the "victim complex" (we are always the transgressed upon, never the aggressor).

4. Premonitions: The Asian Death of Victory Culture: How Asia became "the frontier", and how Korea became a precursor of/warning of what was to come in Vietnam.

II. Containments (1945-1962)
1. War Games:
How the 1950s mixed wartime with peacetime objectives (see May). Includes section on children's war games (81).

2. X Marks the Spot: Articulation of tensions between inclusionary and exclusionary tactics during the Cold War (how are we safe? by assimilating difference, or rejecting it altogether?)

3. The Enemy Disappears:
The invisibility of Cold War adversaries; coverage of the HUAC hearings and blacklisting (emphasis on the performative nature thereof).

4. The Haunting of Childhood:
Childhood, during the Cold War, was the "symbolic meeting place" for two fears: the fear of infection by the Other (see juvenile delinquents); and the propensity of the media to "concretize the fantasies of the young and the nightmarish fears of grown-ups into potent products" (137). "Twilight Zone" seen as example of how these secret fears/fantasies emerged in the public eye.

5. Entering the Twilight Zone:
The atomic stalemate "reflected the limits of what the American story, American national identity, could withstand" (157): we couldn't picture ourselves killing so many people without "provocation". This meant that adversaries had to be more careful, talk about things more, and that "a certain amount of control over the American war story...was placed in enemy hands" (161). Interesting piece on the invention of the Peace Corps as JFK's plan to Americanize far places through youth (164).

III. The Era of Reversals (1962-1975):
1. The First Coming of GI Joe:
Evolution of GI Joe figures seen as marker of how American ideas of heroism and enemy-ship evolved during this time.

2. The Invisible Government:
JFK's assassination, and subsequent conspiracy theories, indicated that Americans could now conceive that their government would keep things from them purposefully.

3. Playing with Fire: The story of Morley Safer's atrocity reports from Cam Ne, and how the response to it (people thought he was a Communist plant, and hey, he was Canadian) indicated America's inability to accept the possible moral bankruptcy of their mission in Vietnam.

Morley Safer at Cam Ne, 1965.

4. Into the Charnel House of Language: Vietnam's "backwardness" in the American war story led to linguistic machinations intended to help Americans process what was happening: an interesting analysis of the use of the word "quagmire", which holds that the word implies American victimhood, once again: Who's in the wrong, when men are being "sucked into" a war? The thing doing the "sucking", for sure. I'm never calling Iraq a quagmire again. (199)

5. The President as Mad Mullah: Nixon told advisors that he wanted the Vietnamese to see him as an evil madman so they would lose their nerve - a concept which fascinates Engelhardt, given American need to see their leaders as upright moral beings.

6. The Crossover Point:
More on the American state of mind in Vietnam, including the "logic" of body counts, which built on itself, and the idea that America wanted to impose a "story" on Vietnam, not just political rule (214).

7. "Something Rather Dark and Bloody":
The story of the My Lai massacre, and response to it. Interestingly, Engelhardt points out, everybody on either side of the protestor/establishment divide was interested in comparing the other side with Nazis.

8. The War Crimes of Daniel Ellsberg: Ellsberg, who worked for RAND and then leaked the Pentagon Papers, is seen as an exemplar of a young American who fell out of love with the war story he'd been raised upon.

D. Ellsberg.

9. Ambush at Kamikaze Pass (II): Reflections of the Vietnam War in film. Also, story of how young war protestors singlehandedly realized the twin fears of the Cold War era: Communism, and the vulnerability of the young.

10. Besieged: How the war protestors used the national media by manipulating symbols such as "Good War" paraphenalia in order to create a sort of living MAD magazine: a subordination of the accepted narrative. Those in charge were horrified: not only the war, but also the home agenda, was slipping from their grasp, due to the death of Victory Culture.

11. Reconstruction:
How did post-Vietnam Americans, robbed of their self-image of conquering righteousness, think to recoup their self respect? Through the children, of course...

IV. Afterlife (1975-1994):
Attempts to rehabilitate American self image include Star Wars, the first Gulf War (in its spectacular, TV-ready execution). More on GI Joe, and a bit of interesting, if slightly out of place, musing on the way that children's culture seems to drive all meaning before it in the creation of an apolitical, timeless global state of conflict (do I agree? don't know) (301).

Reviews: In Contemporary Sociology, George Lipsitz wrote (a bit scathingly, but rightly) that Engelhardt draws "sporadically and unsystematically" on recent scholarship, pointing out holes in interpretation caused by ignorance of such work as that of Eric Lott and David Roediger. Furthermore, Lipsitz continued, Engelhardt's unfamiliarity with the methods of cultural studies led him to write in a narrow, Myth-and-Symbol-style framework, ignoring contradictory or complicating aspects of his Overarching Narrative; and his lack of context for each cultural object (no analysis of the actors involved in production, etc) leads him to make unsupported guesses about their meanings. In the Journal of American History, Stephen Whitfield wrote that the book's analysis was "sprightly", if thin, and that Engelhardt's overall theory about triumphalism was worth encapsulating in book form. Both reviewers called Engelhardt a "leftist". It's interesting to see how differently a "popular" book is reviewed in scholarly publications...

Vocab words:
"osculation" ("close contact, an instance of this; spec. (a) the mutual contact of blood vessels (obs.); (b) Geom., contact of curves or surfaces which share a common tangent at the point of contact (also used analogously of spaces of higher dimension)" - also, "kissing").

Books to follow up on:
Primary: Books: Textbook from 1953: America Before Man; Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane E Levin, Who's Calling the Shots: How to Respond Effectively to Children's Fascination with War Play and War Toys (1990); MIA Hunter series ("Vietnam snuff novels"). Toys: GI Joe "Soldiers of the World" (p 175) and animal enemies. Movies: "North by Northwest"; "The Long Telegram"; "Fail Safe"; Morley Safer's reports on "The Burning of Cam Ne"; "The Dirty Dozen"; "The Wild Bunch"; "Bonnie and Clyde"; "Little Big Man"; "Soldier Blue"; "The China Syndrome"; "Coming Home".

Secondary: Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (1992); Leslie Daikin, Children's Toys Throughout the Ages (1953); Ruth Miller Elson, Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century (1964); Frances Fitzgerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (1979); Antonia Fraser, A History of Toys (1966); Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (1984); John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (1975); Sydney Ladensohn and Ted Schhoenhaus, Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry (1990); Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (1991); June Namias, White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier (1993); David Nasaw, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (1993); Michael Paul Rogin, Ronald Reagan, The Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (1987); Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (1987); Keith Thompson, Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination (1991).