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Posts Tagged ‘William Faulkner’

Donald Trump, the Cowboy

In America, American History, Art, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Film, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Politics on March 22, 2017 at 6:59 am

Allen Mendenhall

This article originally appeared here at The Daily Caller. 

Americans love film, a medium we’ve popularized across the globe. We’re home to Hollywood; we pioneered cinema as an industry and an art form.

Film has enabled cultural memory and iconography to survive in residual form from generation to generation. Since early motion pictures, images that flashed across our screens have become part of our communicative coding, manifesting themselves in political discourse in subtle, unexpected ways.

Perhaps the most foundational figure in American cinema is the nomadic cowboy, that romantic hero of the frontier whose moral ambiguity thrills and troubles us. Frederick Jackson Turner announced his frontier thesis in 1893, drawing attention to the rugged individualism and westward expansion that characterized American liberty and differentiated the New World from Europe.

The masculine figure of the cowboy embodies this thesis. He’s an archetype. Garbed in buckskins and spurs, he conquers the wilderness and the Indians, exacting ruthless revenge on his foes and exercising his menacing skills to achieve justice, at least his notion of it.

But he has a dark side. One is never certain whether he’s a bad guy with good qualities or a good guy with bad qualities. He can be, like Wyatt Earp, both lawman and outlaw, and his very presence creates dysfunction, jeopardizing the harmony of the community and the stability of the nuclear family. Even Shane, the most impeccable of cowboys, endangers the affection between Joe Starrett and his wife and risks undermining the sense of corporate community he’s fighting to uphold.

The cowboy is a paradox: heroic yet savage, mannered yet unruly, tamed yet wild, gentle yet violent. He’s a beloved and mysterious loner, reckless in the pursuit of civilized life. There’s dissonance in his desire to establish domestic settlement and close the frontier while exploring nature, roaming the open range, and maintaining noble independence. With his code of honor, he’s the American version of the brave and chivalrous knight who rides off on quests and adventures.

Former presidents have sought to embed themselves in the Western genre, troping the image and lore of the cowboy. President Reagan, a friend of John Wayne, acted in Westerns and was known to clad himself in big shiny belt buckles and Stetson hats. George W. Bush played up his Texas swagger, wore boots and shot rifles, vacationed on his ranch and applied the pioneering spirit to foreign affairs.

Unlike his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump is a cowboy, or the semiotic mutation of one. That’s why he appeals to so many Americans. This may come as a surprise. He might seem more like the cowboy’s close cousin, the urban gangster. After all, he’s a New York casino and real-estate magnate who wears dark suits and bright ties and displays his money and wealth. He’s gaudy and flashy like Tony Montana, and a wealthy patriarch like Vito Corleone. He’s charismatic and travels in groups, and there’s a noirish quality to his messaging, which the media keeps calling “dark.”

Yet his narrative arc is not one of dramatic rise and inevitable fall.  Nor is he an immigrant figure with ties to drugs and organized crime. He is, instead, the brawling gunslinger, marked by vanity and bravado, irresponsible in his boastfulness. He speaks for a community not his own, glamorizing his triumphs and victories. His bombast and boisterousness have an inexplicably moral feel, as if he represents more than himself and speaks for others—the common man, the forgotten man, the ranchers and laborers.

The cowboy stands up to cattle-baron cronies, just as Trump takes on leading news outlets and the so-called “establishment.” He portrays himself as an outmatched Will Kane, ready to confront gangs of rivals against all odds—as he did in the election when he knocked off his primary opponents and then the presumptive Democratic president, proving an entire class of pollsters and the commentariat wrong.

Like Old Rough and Ready, Trump is vague on political positions and policy prescriptions. His supporters speak of the “Trump Train,” a phrase suggestive of the nineteenth-century railroad, which dominated American industry. His derogatory comments about Mexicans and immigrants are alike in kind if not degree to those of Ethan Edwards regarding the Comanche. Think John Wayne in The Searchers.

Trump is married, but not domesticated. He blurs the lines between truth and embellishment, decrying and creating fake news in the same breath. He harnesses the power of the maxim from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Trump’s high-soaring rhetoric is reminiscent of an earlier moment in American history when there were, in the American psyche, clear winners and losers. The slightest insult can cause him to seek revenge that’s both personal and heedless, having something of the showdown about it.

He’s a tweet-dueler. The Internet being the new frontier, in an age when you can’t get away with gratuitous killing, he trades characters, not bullets. And he’s quick on the draw, able to unload rounds of tweets in mere seconds.

Like William Munny, the aging anti-hero in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Trump doesn’t drink. His infatuation with Mexico and insistence on building a wall across the Southern border recall the boundary disputes of a bygone era. Imagine Santa Anna and the Republic of Texas as historical antecedents to current border anxieties.

Trump’s carefully orchestrated press conferences, campaign rallies, and inaugural address suggest that he demands a spectacle that’s as visually magnificent as a John Ford film. He fancies the long-shot panorama with American flags in the background. He flies in and out of small towns, ever the roving myth, and he doesn’t have a single place to call home.

During a period of economic contraction, aging population, shifting demographics, and declining American power, ordinary Americans understandably look to a time of territorial growth, when heroes defeated “the Other,” solved their problems, and overcame adversity. With the advent of Google Maps and Street View, folks long for a past of exploration and geographic mystery—when there were borders between known and unknown lands. Trump talks about Greatness. Speaking in superlatives, he refers to things as Amazing, Huge, Tremendous, and Wonderful. His vision for America is as wide in scope as the Western landscape.

Trump is a construct of the mythic figure we’ve come to expect from viewing Western symbols, plots, and motifs. He reminds us of the William Faulkner line: “The past is never dead; it’s not even past.” The cowboy is indeed alive and well, even if he’s a sign of the past. He comes in the improbable, astonishing form of Donald Trump. And he wants to win.

 

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Harold Bloom’s American Sublime

In Academia, America, American Literature, Art, Artist, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Creativity, Emerson, Fiction, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Nineteenth-Century America, Novels, Philosophy, Poetry, Rhetoric, Scholarship, The Novel, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on August 12, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review originally appeared here in the American Conservative.

What can be said about Harold Bloom that hasn’t been said already? The Yale professor is a controversial visionary, a polarizing seer who has been recycling and reformulating parallel theories of creativity and influence, with slightly different foci and inflections, for his entire career, never seeming tiresome or repetitive. He demonstrates what is manifestly true about the best literary critics: they are as much artists as the subjects they undertake.

Bloom’s criticism is characterized by sonorous, cadenced, almost haunting prose, by an exacting judgment and expansive imagination, and by a painful, sagacious sensitivity to the complexities of human behavior and psychology. He is a discerning Romantic in an age of banality and distraction, in a culture of proud illiteracy and historical unawareness. Bloom reminds us that to be faithful to tradition is to rework it, to keep it alive, and that tradition and innovation are yoked pairs, necessarily dependent on one another.

Bloom has been cultivating the image and reputation of a prophet or mystic for decades. His stalwart defense of the Western canon is well known but widely misunderstood. His descriptive account is that the canon is fluid, not fixed—open, not closed. It might be stable, but it’s not unchangeable. The literary canon is the product of evolution, a collection of the fittest works that have been selectively retained, surviving the onslaught of relentless competition.

Bloom’s prescriptive position is that, because human agency is a controllable factor in this agnostic filtering process, serious readers can and should ensure that masterpieces, those stirring products of original, even genius minds, are retained, and that the latest works are held to the highest aesthetic standards, which are themselves established and proven by revisionary struggle. The merit of a work is not found in the identity of its author—his or her race, gender, or sexuality—but in the text proper, in the forms and qualities of the work itself.

Bloom’s latest book, The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, examines ambitious and representative American authors, its chapters organized by curious pairings: Whitman with Melville (the “Giant Forms” of American literature), Emerson with Dickinson (the Sage of Concord is Dickinson’s “closest imaginative father”), Hawthorne with Henry James (a relation “of direct influence”), Twain with Frost (“our only great masters with popular audiences”), Stevens with Eliot (“an intricate interlocking” developed through antithetical competition), and Faulkner with Crane (“each forces the American language to its limits”). This mostly male cast, a dozen progenitors of the American sublime, is not meant to constitute a national canon. For that, Bloom avers in his introduction, he envisions alternative selections, including more women: Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Marianne Moore, and Flannery O’Connor. Bloom’s chosen 12 represent, instead, “our incessant effort to transcend the human without forsaking humanism.” These writers have in common a “receptivity to daemonic influx.” “What lies beyond the human for nearly all of these writers,” Bloom explains, “is the daemon.”

What is this daemon, you ask. As always, Bloom is short on definition, embracing the constructive obscurity—the aesthetic vagueness—that Richard Poirier celebrated in Emerson and William James and Robert Frost, Bloom’s predecessors. Bloom implies that calling the “daemon” an idea is too limiting; the word defies ready explanation or summation.

The daemon, as I read it, is an amorphous and spiritual source of quasi-divine inspiration and influence, the spark of transitional creative powers; it’s akin to shamanism, and endeavors to transcend, move beyond, and surpass. Its opposite is stasis, repose. “Daemons divide up divine power and are in perpetual movement from their supernal heights to us,” Bloom remarks in one of his more superlative moments. “They bring down messages,” he intones, “each day’s news of the metamorphic meanings of the division between our mundane shell and the upper world.”

What, you might ask in follow up, is the American sublime that it should stand in marked contrast to the European tradition, rupturing the great chain of influence, revealing troublesome textual discontinuities and making gaps of influence that even two poets can pass abreast? “Simplistically,” Bloom submits, “the sublime in literature has been associated with peak experiences that render a secular version of a theophany: a sense of something interfused that transforms a natural moment, landscape, action, or countenance.” This isn’t quite Edmund Burke’s definition, but it does evoke the numinous, what Bloom calls, following Burke, “an excursion into the psychological origins of aesthetic magnificence.”

The Daemon Knows is part memoir, a recounting of a lifetime spent with books. There are accounts of Robert Penn Warren, Leslie Fiedler, and Cleanth Brooks. Bloom’s former students and mentors also make brief appearances: Kenneth Burke, for instance, and Camille Paglia. And Bloom doesn’t just analyze, say, Moby Dick—he narrates about his first encounter with that book back in the summer of 1940. He later asserts, “I began reading Hart Crane in the library on my tenth birthday.” That he remembers these experiences at all speaks volumes to Melville’s and Crane’s bewitching facility and to Bloom’s remarkable receptivity.

Bloom has not shied away from his signature and grandiose ahistorical pronouncements, perhaps because they’re right. Melville, for instance, is “the most Shakespearean of our authors,” an “American High Romantic, a Shelleyan divided between head and heart, who held against Emerson the sage’s supposed deficiency in the region of the heart.” Or, “Emersonian idealism was rejected by Whitman in favor of Lucretian materialism, itself not compatible with Indian speculations.” Or, “Stevens received from Whitman the Emersonian conviction that poetry imparts wisdom as well as pleasure.” These generalizations would seem to service hagiography, but even if they’re overstatement, are they wrong?

My professors in graduate school, many of them anyway, chastised Bloom and dubbed him variously a reactionary, a racist, a misogynist, a bigot, or a simpleton; they discouraged his presence in my essays and papers, laughing him out of classroom conversation and dismissing his theories out-of-hand. Or else, stubbornly refusing to assess his theories on their own terms, they judged the theories in the light of their results: the theories were bad because certain authors, the allegedly privileged ones, came out on top, as they always have. This left little room for newcomers, for egalitarian fads and fashions, and discredited (or at least undermined) the supposedly noble project of literary affirmative action.

They will be forgotten, these dismissive pedants of the academy, having contributed nothing of lasting value to the economy of letters, while Bloom will live on, continuing to shock and upset his readers, forcing them to second-guess their judgments and tastes, their criteria for aesthetic value, challenging their received assumptions and thumping them over the head with inconvenient facts and radical common sense. The school of resentment and amateurish cultural studies, appropriate targets of Bloom’s learned animus, will die an inglorious death, as dogmatic political hermeneutics cannot withstand the test of time.

Bloom, on the other hand, like his subjects, taps his inner daemon, invokes it and rides it where it travels, struggles against the anxiety of influence and displays all of the rhetorical power and play of the strong poets he worships. Dr. Samuel Johnson and Northrop Frye reverberate throughout his capacious tome, and for that matter his entire oeuvre. Bloom’s psychic brooding becomes our own, if we read him pensively, and we are better off for it.

Those who view literary study as a profession requiring specialized and technical training, who chase tenure and peer approval, publishing in academic journals and gaining no wider audience than groveling colleagues, do not possess the originality, the foresight, or the brute imagination necessary to achieve enduring appeal. Reading, done right, is a profoundly personal activity, an exercise in solitary contemplation and possible revelation; writing, done right, is transference: the redirection of complex states of consciousness and knowing from one person to another. A few sentences of Bloom’s contemplative questioning, such as the following, are worth the weight of whole academic articles: “At eighty-four I wonder why poems in particular obsessed me from childhood onward. Because I had an overemotional sensibility, I tended to need more affection from my parents and sisters than even they could sustain. From the age of ten on, I sought from Moyshe-Leyb Halpern and Hart Crane, from Shakespeare and Shelley, the strong affect I seemed to need from answering voices.” Here Bloom invites Freudian investigation of himself, summoning the psychoanalytic models he uses on others.

Bloom is now 85. He claims to have another book left in him, making this one his penultimate. His awesome and dedicated engagement with the best that has been thought and known in the world appears to have left him unafraid of the finish, of what comes next, as though literary intimacy and understanding have prepared him, equipped him, for the ultimate. It seems fitting, then, to quote him on this score and to end with a musing on the end: “We are at least bequeathed to an earthly shore and seek memorial inscriptions, fragments heaped against our ruins: an interval and then we are gone. High literature endeavors to augment that span: My twelve authors center, for me, that proliferation of consciousness by which we go on living and finding our own sense of being.”

Faulkner Studies in Japan, edited by Thomas L. McHaney; compiled by Kenzaburo Ohashi and Kiyoyuki Ono

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, History, Humanities, Japan, Literature, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, Southern Literature, The South on February 5, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

The following review appeared here in Southern Literary Review in 2009.

It was with great interest—and, perhaps, skepticism, for I myself taught English in Japan—that I read Faulkner Studies in Japan, an assemblage of critical essays written and translated by Japanese academics and edited by American Thomas L. McHaney, professor of literature at Georgia State University. Whisking eagerly through the pages of this significant, insightful book, I learned, to my surprise, that Faulkner’s reputation in Japan has been, for six decades, mostly favorable, despite that his “works are difficult to read, even in his own country.”

Though my brief stint as sensei didn’t lend itself to instruction in unconventional, stream-of-consciousness fiction—just getting my pre-teen students to pronounce “Yoknapatawpha” would’ve been inconceivable—other sensei have taught Faulkner with relative if not outright success.

According to McHaney, the Japanese have enjoyed a longstanding admiration for the short, mustachioed Mississippian, who once affectionately remarked, “The Japanese people really and actually wanted to see and to know me—the man, the human being.” Under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, Faulkner visited Japan in 1955, roughly ten years after the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and fourteen years after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Faulkner’s sojourn, particularly his appearance at a summer seminar in Nagano, resulted in probably the most fruitful give-and-take he ever allowed as public speaker. “By virtue of their interest and their sincere questions,” McHaney explains, “Faulkner’s Japanese audiences also seemed to have received a higher percentage of clear and meaningful answers from him than almost anyone who ever asked him to explain himself.”

McHaney divides the book into three sections: General Studies, Studies of Individual Works, and Faulkner and the Japanese Writer. Topics addressed in General Studies include, among others, Faulkner’s style, his echoes of T.S. Eliot, his repetition or self-parody (he enriched and diversified fictional worlds he created in previous works), and his resemblance to—and difference from—Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis and John Barth. Only three novels—As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Go Down, Moses—receive individualized treatment in the second section, though one could register little complaint about their exegeses.

The final section, peppered with “several reflections by distinguished Japanese novelists,” reveals, in McHaney’s words, “not only a profound response to Faulkner’s mysteries but also the deliberate intellectual appropriation of his techniques as both a Modernist and post-Modernist writer.”

Readers interested in either Faulkner or Japan, to say nothing of American literature enthusiasts generally, will find much here that’s appealing and constructive, but might, I suspect, find the editor’s selectivity wanting. The nearly random assortment of topics gives the impression that inclusion in the work depended on Japanese nationality and not, say, thematic coherence. Nevertheless, Faulkner Studies in Japan will sustain many re-readings and is essential for any Faulkner aficionado.

John William Corrington, A Literary Conservative

In American History, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Creative Writing, Essays, Fiction, History, Humanities, John William Corrington, Joyce Corrington, Law, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Modernism, Southern History, Southern Literature, Television, Television Writing, The Novel, The South, Western Philosophy, Writing on October 23, 2013 at 8:45 am

 

Allen 2

 

An earlier version of this essay appeared here at Fronch Porch Republic.

Remember the printed prose is always

half a lie: that fleas plagued patriots,

that greatness is an afterthought

affixed by gracious victors to their kin.

 

—John William Corrington

 

It was the spring of 2009.  I was in a class called Lawyers & Literature.  My professor, Jim Elkins, a short-thin man with long-white hair, gained the podium.  Wearing what might be called a suit—with Elkins one never could tell—he recited lines from a novella, Decoration Day.  I had heard of the author, John William Corrington, but only in passing.

“Paneled walnut and thick carpets,” Elkins beamed, gesturing toward the blank-white wall behind him, “row after row of uniform tan volumes containing between their buckram covers a serial dumb show of human folly and greed and cruelty.”  The students, uncomfortable, began to look at each other, registering doubt.  In law school, professors didn’t wax poetic.  But this Elkins—he was different.  With swelling confidence, he pressed on: “The Federal Reporter, Federal Supplement, Supreme Court Reports.  Two hundred years of our collective disagreements and wranglings from Jay and Marshall through Taney and Holmes and Black and Frankfurter—the pathetic often ill-conceived attempts to resolve what we have done to one another.”

Elkins paused.  The room went still.  Awkwardly profound, or else profoundly awkward, the silence was like an uninvited guest at a dinner party—intrusive, unexpected, and there, all too there.  No one knew how to respond.  Law students, most of them, can rattle off fact-patterns or black-letter-law whenever they’re called on.  But this?  What were we to do with this?

What I did was find out more about John Willliam Corrington.  Having studied literature for two years in graduate school, I was surprised to hear this name—Corrington—in law school.  I booted up my laptop, right where I was sitting, and, thanks to Google, found a few biographical sketches of this man, who, it turned out, was perplexing, riddled with contradictions: a Southerner from the North, a philosopher in cowboy boots, a conservative literature professor, a lawyer poet.  This introduction to Corrington led to more books, more articles, more research.  Before long, I’d spent over $300 on Amazon.com.  And I’m not done yet.

***

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 28, 1932, Corrington—or Bill, as his friends and family called him—passed as a born-and-bred Southerner all of his life.  As well he might, for he lived most of his life below the Mason-Dixon line, and his parents were from Memphis and had moved north for work during the Depression.  He moved to the South (to Shreveport, Louisiana) at the age of 10, although his academic CV put out that he was, like his parents, born in Memphis, Tennessee.  Raised Catholic, he attended a Jesuit high school in Louisiana but was expelled for “having the wrong attitude.”  The Jesuit influence, however, would remain with him always.  At the beginning of his books, he wrote, “AMDG,” which stands for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam—“for the greater glory of God.”  “It’s just something that I was taught when I was just learning to write,” he explained in an interview in 1985, “taught by the Jesuits to put at the head of all my papers.”

Bill was, like the late Mark Royden Winchell, a Copperhead at heart, and during his career he authored or edited, or in some cases co-edited, twenty books of varying genres.  He earned a B.A. from Centenary College and M.A. in Renaissance literature from Rice University, where he met his wife, Joyce, whom he married on February 6, 1960.  In September of that year, he and Joyce moved to Baton Rouge, where Bill became an instructor in the Department of English at Louisiana State University (LSU).  At that time, LSU’s English department was known above all for The Southern Review (TSR), the brainchild of Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, but also for such literary luminaries as Robert Heilman, who would become Bill’s friend.

In the early 1960s, Bill pushed for TSR to feature fiction and poetry and not just literary criticism.  He butted heads with then-editors Donald E. Stanford and Lewis P. Simpson, who thought of the journal as scholarly, not creative, as if journals couldn’t be both scholarly and creative.  A year after joining the LSU faculty, Bill published his first book of poetry, Where We Are.  With only 18 poems and 225 first edition printings, the book hardly established Bill’s reputation as Southern man of letters.  But it invested his name with recognition and gave him confidence to complete his first novel, And Wait for the Night (1964).

Bill and Joyce spent the 1963-64 academic year in Sussex, England, where Bill took the D.Phil. from the University of Sussex in 1965.  In the summer of 1966, at a conference at Northwestern State College, Mel Bradford, that Dean of Southern Letters, pulled Bill aside and told him, enthusiastically, that And Wait for the Night (1964) shared some of the themes and approaches of William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished.  Bill agreed.  And happily.

***

Of Bill and Miller Williams, Bill’s colleague at LSU, Jo LeCoeur, poet and literature professor, once submitted, “Both men had run into a Northern bias against what was perceived as the culturally backward South.  While at LSU they fought back against this snub, editing two anthologies of Southern writing and lecturing on ‘The Dominance of Southern Writers.’  Controversial as a refutation of the anti-intellectual Southern stereotype, their joint lecture was so popular [that] the two took it on the road to area colleges.”

In this respect, Bill was something of a latter-day Southern Fugitive—a thinker in the tradition of Donald Davidson, Allan Tate, Andrew Nelson Lytle, and John Crowe Ransom.  Bill, too, took his stand.  And his feelings about the South were strong and passionate, as evidenced by his essay in The Southern Partisan, “Are Southerners Different?” (1984).  Bill’s feelings about the South, however, often seemed mixed.  “[T]he South was an enigma,” Bill wrote to poet Charles Bukowski, “a race of giants, individualists, deists, brainy and gutsy:  Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson (Andy), Davis, Calhoun, Lee, and on and on.  And yet the stain of human slavery on them.”  As the epigraph (above) suggests, Bill was not interested in hagiographic renderings of Southern figures.  He was interested in the complexities of Southern people and experience.  In the end, though, there was no doubt where his allegiances lay.  “You strike me as the most unreconstructed of all the Southern novelists I know anything about,” said one interviewer to Bill.  “I consider that just about the greatest compliment anyone could give,” Bill responded.

While on tour with Williams, Bill declared, “We are told that the Southerner lives in the past.  He does not.  The past lives in him, and there is a difference.”  The Southerner, for Bill, “knows where he came from, and who his fathers were.”  The Southerner “knows still that he came from the soil, and that the soil and its people once had a name.”  The Southerner “knows that is true, and he knows it is a myth.”  And the Southerner “knows the soil belonged to the black hands that turned it as well as it ever could belong to any hand.”  In short, the Southerner knows that his history is tainted but that it retains virtues worth sustaining—that a fraught past is not reducible to sound bites or political abstractions but is vast and contains multitudes.

***

In 1966, Bill and Joyce moved to New Orleans, where the English Department at Loyola University, housed in a grand Victorian mansion on St. Charles Avenue, offered him a chairmanship.  Joyce earned the M.S. in chemistry from LSU that same year.  By this time, Bill had written four additional books of poetry, the last of which, Lines to the South and Other Poems (1965), benefited from Bukowski’s influence.  Bill’s poetry earned a few favorable reviews but not as much attention as his novels—And Wait for the Night (1964), The Upper Hand (1967), and The Bombardier (1970).  Writing in The Massachusetts Review, Beat poet and critic Josephine Miles approvingly noted two of Bill’s poems from Lines, “Lucifer Means Light” and “Algerien Reveur,” alongside poetry by James Dickey, but her comments were more in passing than in depth.  Dickey himself, it should be noted, admired Bill’s writing, saying, “A more forthright, bold, adventurous writer than John William Corrington would be very hard to find.”

Joyce earned her PhD in chemistry from Tulane in 1968.  Her thesis, which she wrote under the direction of L. C. Cusachs, was titled, “Effects of Neighboring Atoms in Molecular Orbital Theory.”  She began teaching chemistry at Xavier University, and her knowledge of the hard sciences brought about engaging conservations, between her and Bill, about the New Physics.  “Even though Bill only passed high school algebra,” Joyce would later say, “his grounding in Platonic idealism made him more capable of understanding the implications of quantum theory than many with more adequate educations.”

By the mid-70s, Bill had become fascinated by Eric Voeglin.  A German historian, philosopher, and émigré who had fled the Third Reich, Voegelin taught in LSU’s history department and lectured for the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he was a Salvatori Fellow.  Voeglin’s philosophy, which drew from Friedrich von Hayek and other conservative thinkers, inspired Bill.  In fact, Voegelin made such a lasting impression that, at the time of Bill’s death, Bill was working on an edition of Voegelin’s The Nature of the Law and Related Legal Writings.  (After Bill’s death, two men—Robert Anthony Pascal and James Lee Babin—finished what Bill had begun.  The completed edition appeared in 1991.)

By 1975, the year he earned his law degree from Tulane, Bill had penned three novels, a short story collection, two editions (anthologies), and four books of poetry.  But his writings earned little money.  He also had become increasingly disenchanted with the political correctness on campus:

By 1972, though I’d become chair of an English department and offered a full professorship, I’d had enough of academia. You may remember that in the late sixties and early seventies, the academic world was hysterically attempting to respond to student thugs who, in their wisdom, claimed that serious subjects seriously taught were “irrelevant.” The Ivy League gutted its curriculum, deans and faculty engaged in “teach-ins,” spouting Marxist-Leninist slogans, and sat quietly watching while half-witted draft-dodgers and degenerates of various sorts held them captive in their offices. Oddly enough, even as this was going on, there was a concerted effort to crush the academic freedom of almost anyone whose opinions differed from that of the mob or their college-administrator accessories. It seemed a good time to get out and leave the classroom to idiots who couldn’t learn and didn’t know better, and imbeciles who couldn’t teach and should have known better.

Bill joined the law firm of Plotkin & Bradley, a small personal injury practice in New Orleans, and continued to publish in such journals as The Sewanee Review and The Southern Review, and in such conservative periodicals as The Intercollegiate Review and Modern Age.  His stories took on a legal bent, peopled as they were with judges and attorneys.  But neither law nor legal fiction brought him fame or fortune.

So he turned to screenplays—and, at last, earned the profits he desired.  Viewers of the recent film I am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith, might be surprised to learn that Bill and Joyce wrote the screenplay for the earlier version, Omega Man (1971), starring Charlton Heston.  And viewers of Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) might be surprised to learn that Bill wrote the film’s screenplay while still a law student.  All told, Bill and Joyce wrote five screenplays and one television movie.  Free from the constraints of university bureaucracy, Bill collaborated with Joyce on various television daytime dramas, including Search for Tomorrow, Another World, Texas, Capitol, One Life to Live, Superior Court, and, most notably, General Hospital.  These ventures gained the favor of Hollywood stars, and Bill and Joyce eventually moved to Malibu.

Bill constantly molded and remolded his image, embracing Southern signifiers while altering their various expressions.  His early photos suggest a pensive, put-together gentleman wearing ties and sport coats and smoking pipes.  Later photos depict a rugged man clad in western wear.  Still later photos conjure up the likes of Roy Orbison, what with Bill’s greased hair, cigarettes, and dark sunglasses.

Whatever his looks, Bill was a stark, provocative, and profoundly sensitive writer.  His impressive oeuvre has yet to receive the critical attention it deserves.  That scholars of conservatism, to say nothing of scholars of Southern literature, have ignored this man is almost inconceivable.  There are no doubt many aspects of Bill’s life and literature left to be discovered.  As Bill’s friend William Mills put it, “I believe there is a critique of modernity throughout [Bill’s] writing that will continue to deserve serious attentiveness and response.”

On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988, Bill suffered a heart attack and died.  He was 56.  His last words, echoing Stonewall Jackson, were, “it’s all right.”

 

Auction Announcement: William Spratling and William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans

In American History, Arts & Letters, Books, History, Humanities, Literature, News and Current Events, News Release, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on April 5, 2013 at 8:45 am

Famous Creoles

William Spratling and William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans, published by Pelican Bookshop Press, New Orleans, 1926, first edition, first issue, number 217 of 250, bound in green boards, with label on front cover, interior of back cover with a label printed “Rebound in L’ATELIER Le Loup” and dated in ink “1986”.

Provenance: From the collection of Stephanie Durant, by descent from the collection of Ray Samuel.

A special copy of a rare and fragile book described by The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans as “one of the great literary curiosities in the city’s history.” The book comprises Spratling’s drawings of himself, Faulkner, and 41 of their acquaintances–artists, musicians, academics, preservationists, and socialites, “artful and crafty ones of French Quarter” with some of their uptown friends and patrons. One was novelist Sherwood Anderson, and Faulkner’s introduction parodies Anderson’s style.

 

The note above is taken from the catalog description of an extraordinary book that will be sold at auction on April 19.  The book has been given by Stephanie Durant of New Orleans to be sold for the benefit of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the sale will be conducted by the New Orleans Auction Galleries, which will donate its commission to the museum as well.

This copy is uniquely valuable because it is signed by 41 of the 43 persons included,

in a few cases with personal notes to its original owner. (See below for a complete list.) That number of autographs is certainly a record: The only other copy I know with more than a dozen or so is one with 31, and it was stolen from a Charlottesville, Virginia, bookshop some time ago.

The catalog description is accurate as far as it goes, but there is a great deal more to be said about this odd little book, written by two young men who went on to become arguably the greatest American novelist and the greatest Mexican silver designer of the twentieth century.  Those depicted include both figures well-known at the time, like writer Grace King and artist Ellsworth Woodward, and some who would become well-known later, like artist Caroline Durieux and writer Hamilton Basso. The title, an obscure joke, refers to a book of caricatures entitled The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, by Vanity Fair cartoonist Miguel Covarrubias (to whom Famous Creoles is dedicated). The “Pelican Bookshop Press” was a fiction: Spratling and Faulkner paid a local printer to produce 250 copies. Spratling (though, note, not Faulkner) signed and hand-tinted some images in 50, mostly for the friends who were included. There was a second printing of 150 copies, somewhat less valuable on the rare book market. The book was not at all sturdy, and it is not unusual to find copies that have been repaired or, like this one, rebound. Many copies have presumably fallen apart and been discarded. Musician Harold Levy’s hand-tinted copy was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The original owner of this particular copy, Stella Lengsfield Lazard, signed her name in ink on inside front. In 1926 Mrs. Lazard was 43. Her husband, Henry Calme Lazard, was a stockbroker related by blood and marriage to several distinguished mercantile and financial families in New Orleans and elsewhere. The couple had one grown son, and lived with her parents uptown on St. Charles Avenue.  (Her father was a successful cotton factor.)

Mrs. Lazard had literary, historical, and musical interests.  In 1925 she wrote a series of feature articles for the Times-Picayune on the mayors of New Orleans, and a few years later she served as narrator for a weekly musical program on WDSU radio, “Sweet Mystery of the Air,” featuring a trio of local musicians: harpist, violinist, and tenor.  To judge by the inscriptions in her copy of Famous Creoles, she was friends with a number of those included.  For instance, one reads, “To Stella, the star, from the stellar Helen Pitkin Schertz”; Flo Field wrote “Love to my old staunch [?] friend”; and William “Cicero” Odiorne, who was in Paris, wrote “When are you coming over?”

Others who did more than simply sign their names include writers Sherwood Anderson and Roark Bradford; artists Conrad Albrizio, Marc Antony, and Virginia Parker Nagel; Tulane cheerleader Marian Draper; and Lillian Friend Marcus, managing editor of the Double Dealer magazine. The presidents of Tulane and of Le Petit Théatre, A. B. Dinwiddie and Mrs. J. O. Nixon, simply added their institutional affiliations.  Natalie Scott just signed the page with her picture on it, but a note in Mrs. Lazard’s hand identifies a building shown in the picture as the Court of Two Sisters (which Miss Scott owned).  One amusing addition: On an almost blank page Arthur Feitel, a 34-year-old bachelor architect, wrote “Me, too” and signed his name.  Feitel, whose picture was not included, was a Tulane graduate who had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts; he would later serve as president of both the Art Association of New Orleans and the board of the Delgado Museum.

Only two “Famous Creoles” did not sign Mrs. Lazard’s book. One is easily explained. By the time the book appeared Ronald Hargrave was pretty much incommunicado; he was painting in Majorca, and he never returned to New Orleans. But the other missing signature is that of William Faulkner. It seems to me that Mrs. Lazard went to a great deal of trouble to track down people to sign her book (William Odiorne signed it, and he was in Paris), so it is almost inconceivable that she didn’t ask Faulkner. He must have refused to sign, possibly just out of general cussedness — he was known for being moody and sometimes difficult, and he didn’t sign the 50 copies that Spratling hand-tinted either. In addition, however, Faulkner didn’t care for “artsy” uptown people he thought were dilettantes (unlike Spratling, who enjoyed their company), and he may have viewed Mrs. Lazard as one of them. Whatever the explanation, in some ways Faulkner’s absence may actually be more interesting than a perfunctory autograph would have been.

Mrs. Lazard’s copy was eventually acquired by Stephanie Durant’s father, J. Raymond Samuel, a well-known historian, collector and (in his retirement years) dealer in books and art. On his death the book passed to Mrs. Durant, who has now generously given it to benefit the Ogden Museum.

 

–John Shelton Reed, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,

Author of Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s

 

Inquiries about the auction should be directed to :

 

Jelena James

New Orleans Auction Galleries                                                        <jelena@neworleansauction.com>

801 Magazine Street                                                                          800-501-0277
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130                                                        504-566-1849

 

“Famous Creoles”

(with ages in 1926)

Signed Lazard copy

Conrad Albrizio, 27

New York-born, serious artist, Spratling’s neighbor, Arts and Crafts Club

stalwart

Sherwood Anderson, 50

“Lion of the Latin Quarter,” eminence gris, generous to respectful younger

writers

Marc Antony and Lucille Godchaux Antony, both 28

Love-match between heiress and lower-middle-class boy, local artists

Hamilton “Ham” Basso, 22

Star-struck recent Tulane grad, aspiring writer, good dancer

Charles “Uncle Charlie” Bein, 35

Director of Arts and Crafts Club’s art school; lived with mother, sister,

and aunt

Frans Blom, 33

Danish archeologist of Maya, Tulane professor, colorful resident of

Quarter

Roark Bradford, 30

Newspaperman, jokester, hit pay dirt with Negro dialect stories

Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis, 45

Tulane architecture professor, preservationist, recorded old buildings

Albert Bledsoe Dinwiddie, 55

President of Tulane, Presbyterian

Marian Draper, 20

Ziegfeld Follies alum, Tulane cheerleader, prize-winning architecture

student

Caroline “Carrie” Wogan Durieux, 30

Genuine Creole, talented artist living in Cuba and Mexico, painted by Rivera

Flo Field, 50

French Quarter guide, ex-journalist, sometime playwright, single mother

Louis Andrews Fischer, 25

Gender-bending Mardi Gras designer, named for her father

Meigs O. Frost, 44

Reporter’s reporter; lived in Quarter; covered crime, revolutions, and arts

Samuel Louis “Sam” Gilmore, 27

Greenery-yallery poet and playwright, from prominent family

Moise Goldstein, 44

Versatile and successful architect, preservationist, active in Arts and

Crafts Club

Weeks Hall, 32

Master of and slave to Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation, painter, deeply

strange

R. Emmet Kennedy, 49

Working-class Irish boy, collected and performed Negro songs and stories

Grace King, 74

Grande dame of local color literature and no-fault history, salonnière

Alberta Kinsey, 51

Quaker spinster, Quarter pioneer, indefatigable painter of courtyards

Richard R. Kirk, 49

Tulane English professor and poet, loyal Michigan Wolverine alumnus

Oliver La Farge, 25

New England Brahmin, Tulane anthropologist and fiction-writer, liked

a party

Harold Levy, 32

Musician who ran family’s box factory, knew everybody, turned up

everywhere

Lillian Friend Marcus, 35

Young widow from wealthy family, angel and manager of Double Dealer

John “Jack” McClure, 33

Poet, newspaper columnist and reviewer, Double Dealer editor, bookshop

owner

Virginia Parker Nagle, 29

Promising artist, governor’s niece, Arts and Crafts Club teacher

Louise Jonas “Mother” Nixon, 70

A founder of Le Petit Theatre and its president-for-life, well-

connected widow

William C. “Cicero” Odiorne, 45

Louche photographer, Famous Creoles’ Paris contact

Frederick “Freddie” Oechsner, 24

Recent Tulane graduate, ambitious cub reporter, amateur actor

Genevieve “Jenny” Pitot, 25

Old-family Creole, classical pianist living in New York, party girl

Lyle Saxon, 35

Journalist, raconteur, bon vivant, host, preservationist, bachelor

Helen Pitkin Schertz, 56

Clubwoman, civic activist, French Quarter guide, writer, harpist

Natalie Scott, 36

Journalist, equestrian, real-estate investor, Junior Leaguer, social

organizer

William “Bill” Spratling, 25

Famous Creoles illustrator, Tulane teacher, lynchpin of Quarter

social life

Keith Temple, 27

Australian editorial cartoonist, artist, sometimes pretended to be

a bishop

Fanny Craig Ventadour, 29

Painter, Arts and Crafts Club regular, lately married and living in

France

Elizebeth Werlein, 39

Suffragette with colorful past, crusading preservationist,

businessman’s widow

Joseph Woodson “Pops” Whitesell, 50

Photographic jack-of-all-trades, French Quarter eccentric,

inventor

Daniel “Dan” Whitney, 32

Arts and Crafts Club teacher, married (two) students, beauty

pageant judge

Ellsworth Woodward, 65

Artistic elder statesman, old-fashioned founder of Newcomb art

department

Did not sign Lazard copy

William “Bill” Faulkner, 29

Needs no introduction, but wrote the one to Famous Creoles

Ronald Hargrave, 44

Painter from Illinois formerly active in Quarter art scene,

relocated to Majorca

 

From Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s,

© 2012, LSU Press.

My Reading List for 2013

In Arts & Letters, Books, Creativity, Fiction, History, Humanities, Law, Literature, Novels, Philosophy, Politics, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on December 12, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

Editorial Note (April 15, 2013):  At this point in the year, I have already discovered flaws in this list. For instance, I gave myself two weeks to read Augustine’s Confessions and one week to read Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.  I should have done the reverse.  Summa Theologica may have required more than two weeks to read, since I found myself rushing through it, and it is not a book through which one should rush.  My schedule has forced me to speed read some texts in order to avoid taking shortcuts.  Some of the texts on this list will therefore appear on my list for next year, so that they get the treatment and consideration they deserve.

2013 will be a good year for reading.  I’ve made a list of the books I’m going to undertake, and I hope you’ll consider reading along with me.  As you can see, I’ll be enjoying many canonical works of Western Civilization.  Some I’ve read before; some I haven’t.  My goal is to reacquaint myself with the great works I fell in love with years ago and to read some of the great works that I’ve always wanted to read but haven’t.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everybody ought to read these works, but I do think that by reading them, a person will gain a fundamental understanding of the essential questions and problems that have faced humans for generations.

Some works are conspicuous in their absence; the list betrays my preferences.  Notably missing are the works of Shakespeare and the canonical texts that make up the Old and New Testament.  There’s a reason for that.  I’ve developed a morning habit of reading the scriptures as well as Shakespeare before I go to work.  If I’m reading these already, there’s no need to add them to the list, which is designed to establish a healthy routine.  What’s more, the list comes with tight deadlines, and I’m inclined to relish rather than rush through the Bible or Shakespeare.

Lists provide order and clarity; we make them to reduce options or enumerate measurable, targeted goals.  Lists rescue us from what has been called the “tyranny of choice.”  Benjamin Franklin made a list of the 13 virtues he wished to live by.  What motivated him is perhaps what’s motivating me: a sense of purpose and direction and edification.

At first I wanted to assign myself a book a week, but realizing that some works are longer or more challenging than others, that as a matter of obligation I will have other books to read and review, that I have a doctoral dissertation to write, that the legal profession is time consuming, and that unforeseen circumstances could arise, I decided that I might need more time than a week per book depending on the complexity of the particular selection or the busyness of the season.  Although I hope to stick to schedule, I own that I might have to permit myself flexibility.  We’ll see.

For variety—and respite—I have chosen to alternate between a pre-20th century text and a 20th century text.  In other words, one week I might read Milton, the next Heidegger.  For the pre-20th century texts, I will advance more or less chronologically; there is no method or sequence for the 20th century texts, which I listed as they came to mind (“oh, I’ve always wanted to read more Oakeshott—I should add him.  And isn’t my knowledge of Proust severely limited?—I’ll add him as well.”).  It’s too early to say what lasting and significant effects these latter texts will have, so I hesitate to number them among the demonstrably great pre-20th century texts, but a general consensus has, I think, established these 20th century texts as at least among the candidates for canonicity.

I have dated some of the texts in the list below.  Not all dates are known with certainty, by me or anyone else.  Some texts were revised multiple times after their initial publication; others were written in installments.  Therefore, I have noted the time span for those works produced over the course of many years.

One would be justified in wondering why I’ve selected these texts over others.  The answer, I suppose, pertains to something Harold Bloom once said: that there are many books but only one lifetime, so why not read the best and most enduring?  I paraphrase because I can’t remember precisely what he said or where he said it, but the point is clear enough: read the most important books before you run out of time.

Making this list, I learned that one can read only so many great works by picking them off one week at a time.  The initial disheartenment I felt at this realization quickly gave way to motivation: if I want to understand the human condition as the most talented and creative of our predecessors understood it, I will have to make a new list every year, and I will have to squeeze in time for additional texts whenever possible.  I am shocked at the number of books that I wanted to include in this list, but that didn’t make it in.  I ran out of weeks.  What a shame.

Here is my list.  I hope you enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review of John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on October 31, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following review first appeared here in Southern Literary Review.

John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia is difficult to classify. It’s easier to say what it isn’t than to say what it is.

It isn’t biography.  It isn’t documentary.  It isn’t quite history, although it does organize and present information about a distinct class of past individuals interacting and sometimes living together in a unique, definable space.

It isn’t quite sociology either, although Reed is, by training and profession, a sociologist, and sociology does, every now and then, sneak its way into the pages.

Maybe it’s best to suggest that the book is a bit of all of these, but it’s also an annotated edition of Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans.

Written and compiled by William Spratling and William Faulkner, whom Reed affectionately dubs the “Two Bills,” Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, first published in 1926,was something of a joke: its oft-rambunctious subjects weren’t really creoles, but simply friends of the authors, and most weren’t, by most measurable standards, famous.

Reed’s stated goal, one of them at least, is to provide an “introduction to a Bohemian crowd of artists, writers, journalists, musicians, poseurs, and hangers-on found in the French Quarter in the mid-1920s.”  This eclectic and creative crowd comprises what Reed calls a social circle, or, in more academic parlance, a “loose network of relationships linked by friends in common,” “by association with the same institutions,” and “by common interests.”

Reed explains that social circles, by nature, “have no formal leaders, but they may have their notables,” and they have their cores, too.  The leader of the so-called “famous Creoles” is Sherwood Anderson, and the core, as you might have guessed, is the French Quarter.

Tulane University, with all of its energy, entertainers, and eccentrics, enabled and sustained the circle that produced the local arts, literature, and culture.  The area and its residents gained a national, indeed international, reputation.  As Meigs Frost, a reporter who made the cut as a famous creole, put it, “So many of us here are internationally famous locally.”

Reed’s subtly sociological introductory chapters place his subjects, which were also the two Bills’ subjects, into their historical context—and what a wild, exotic, and at times erotic context it is.  His comprehensive research is delivered with such wit and enthusiasm that one can forget this work is scholarship written by a former professor and published by a university press.

His occasional use of the first person and confessional, qualifying asides—“as far as I know,” “Some may find it easier than I do,” “to my mind artists should not be judged on what prejudiced observers see in their work,” “It is difficult to discuss this,” “I have mentioned,” “I know of someone,” “it’s fair to say,” “It’s hard to imagine”—will let you know, or let you guess at, where he stands on an issue or acknowledges an assumption on his part.  Such delicate humility—or is it just honest colloquialism?—is rare for a person who made his career in the university, and it would be a shame if readers neglected to notice it.

Peopled with absinthe-drinking, music-loving debauchers, 1920s New Orleans was a place where madams and brothels were as common as jambalaya and gumbo; where music poured into the streets, which smelled of spices, sex, and booze; where bootleggers (this was the Prohibition Era, remember) set up shop next to cops (who were customers of the brothels and the bootleggers); where the only limit on free love, it seemed, was the stultifying effect of alcohol; where parties—especially costume balls—were considered failures if nobody got naked; and where vivacious theater, daily newspapers, and edgy literary periodicals flourished.

If this milieu seemed excessive, radical, intemperate, even libertine, it was also in a way conservative: there was among its dwellers a ubiquitous impulse to preserve and maintain.  History, both that being made and that made already, was important to the artists and writers.  The districts, the streets, the homes, the buildings, the sidewalks—all of them required and received care and protection, and all of them underwent systematic revitalization.  The literati, as conservationists, were afraid that the world they had inherited, and to some extent made, was endangered.

Fans of Reed have come to expect certain things: the informal idioms and plain speech he uses while dissecting, with surgeon-like precision, complex people and institutions; the surprising clarity he brings to understudied topics; and the delightful, conversational prose with which he arrests your attention, transports you into another world, and then releases you back into your own world.

In this, his latest, he does not disappoint.  As always, he delivers—and in so doing provides telling insights into a minor renaissance in American literary history.  His discussions of race and sexuality will inspire (or provoke) future study, but more importantly he has addressed some of the least known phases of some of the most known American litterateurs.

Reed doesn’t need my endorsement.  But he’s got it.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Ace Atkins

In Artist, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, News and Current Events, Novels, Southern Literary Review, Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

Ace Atkins is the author of nine novels, most recently The Ranger and Infamous.  A former journalist at The Tampa Tribune, Atkins has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into a 1950s murder.  He lives on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi.

The following interview first appeared here at Southern Literary Review.

AM: What I suspect everyone wants to know is, how do you stay so prolific?  How do you write so much, so quickly?

AA: I’m very fortunate to be a full-time novelist. I’ve been writing full time since 2001 and that gives me the freedom to concentrate completely on my stories. Many terrific writers I know have to carve out time from from their jobs to work on a book. I am able to go to my office every day and work on that new novel. I feel pretty damn lucky and that in turn means I get to work on more projects.

AM: You seem to have located The Ranger in regions of the South that you know well.  Would you call this book “Southern literature”? 

AA: Absolutely. I don’t get into working in a certain genre—that’s up to readers and critics—and can hurt the writer and reader. My new series of novels could not be set anywhere else but the South and certainly centers on many Southern themes. I gain a lot of inspiration from the gritty world of Faulkner’s crime stories and turn my attention to the descendants of those people. 

AM:    I noticed that country music and country musicians appear throughout The Ranger.  Can you tell us about the significance of this to the novel?

AA: My first four novels were stylistically and thematically about blues. I always wanted to work on a novel that felt like an old Johnny Cash ballad—a solider returning home to town, unrequited love, guns and violence. I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash and also tons of Outlaw Country—Waylon, Merle, etc.—when coming up with the background of Quinn Colson.

AM: Who is Colonel George Reynolds?  I noticed his name in the Acknowledgments. 

George is the guy who saved my ass. I had contracted to write a novel about a U.S. Army soldier without knowing enough about the modern war in Afghanistan. Colonel Reynolds contacted me from Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan about signing a copy of my novel, Devil’s Garden. He offered help if I ever needed. It turned out, I needed help immediately. He offered terrific insight direct from the battle front and introduced me to the real Ranger who provided the background for Quinn Colson. 

I could not have written the book without him and he still provides me with a ton of answers to picky questions. Read the rest of this entry »

Review of Forensic Fictions by Jay Watson

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Fiction, Georgia, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Law-and-Literature, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Novels, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on December 5, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Allen Mendenhall

The following review originally appeared here at the Southern Literary Review.  If you enjoy this review, please consider subscribing to the Southern Literary Review.  I became the managing editor of the Southern Literary Review in November.

 

Kudos to the University of Georgia Press for this recent reprint of Jay Watson’s Forensic Fictions, which has become something of a classic among law-and-literature scholars.  A pioneering project, Forensic Fictions stands as the first critical work to interrogate the lawyer figure in Faulkner’s oeuvre.

Watson submits that law is vast and multidimensional, “at once a deeply normative cultural system, a vehicle of ideology (in its constructive and destructive manifestations), a force of social stability and control, an entrenched and often blindly self-interested institution, and not least of all a human vocation, a form of practice that in some instances achieves the status of a calling.” 

In Faulkner’s fiction, law helps to highlight the complexity, sometimes liberating and sometimes disorienting, of the “everyday” aspects of Southern culture, institutions, and traditions.  Law is more than bills, statutes, judge-made opinions, codes, and the like.  Law isn’t a monolithic animal but a multiplicity of people and institutions; a product of self-serving performances by lawyers, judges, and politicians; and an accumulation of arguments couched in topoi of guilt and innocence, right and wrong, justice and equality.  Law is, simply put, a network of human relations and a collection of stories. 

Watson’s book examines how lawyers and laws constitute and presuppose authority in the microcosm of Yoknapatawpha.  “Lawyers of course advocate by narrating,” Watson explains, “by telling their clients’ stories in the language of the law.”  Lawyers, then, are raconteurs, and laws are products of language, even as they institute language.

Watson suggests that Faulkner internalized the “conspicuous and complicated presence” of real-life lawyers—Dean R.J. Farley, Governor Lee M. Russell, General James Stone, Ben Wasson, Jim Kyle Hudson, and Lucy Somerville Howorth, to name just a few—and then expressed mixed feelings about lawyers and the legal community in his writings.  Although not a lawyer himself, Faulkner could boast of a legal pedigree, having been born into a family and a society overflowing with attorneys.  Faulkner’s multifaceted and often contradictory ideas about law reflect these cultural associations.

Watson uses the term “forensic fictions” to refer to Faulkner’s depictions “of the legal vocation and the practice of law, a practice that extends from the official space of the courtroom and the professional space of the law office to the farthest reaches of the community.”  Thus conceived, law is not only a communicative vehicle but also a way of life, as mundane as it is exciting. 

Watson works out of the paradigms of forensic discourse.  He treats law as a theater of differences and disparate perspectives and as a vast system of interrelated parts.  An “important subtext” for Faulkner’s forensic fictions, according to Watson, “is the conviction that the values and concerns of the storyteller can and must carry over from a limited, private, aesthetic realm into a public world outside, where verbal creations can reinforce, challenge, or otherwise inform social norms.”

Three novels—Intruder in the Dust, Knight’s Gambit, and Requiem for a Nun—make up what Watson dubs Faulkner’s “forensic trilogy.”  These novels portray the lawyer as citizen-spokesperson, able to appropriate the public sphere as a space for social celebration or critique. Read the rest of this entry »

BOOK REVIEW | Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Essays, Fiction, History, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Nineteenth-Century America, Novels, Politics, Rhetoric, Western Civilization, Writing on November 1, 2011 at 9:26 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following post originally appeared here at Prometheus Unbound: A Libertarian Review of Fiction and Literature.

Good things come to those who wait, the old adage goes, and the world has waited a century for Mark Twain’s autobiography, which, in Twain’s words, is a “complete and purposed jumble.”

This 760 page jumble is a good thing. And well worth the wait.

Twain, or Samuel L. Clemens, compiled this autobiography over the course of 35 years. The manuscript began in fits and starts. Twain, while establishing his legacy as a beloved humorist and man of letters, dashed off brief episodes here and there, assigning chapter numbers to some and simply shelving others. In 1906, he began making efforts to turn these cobbled-together passages into a coherent narrative. He met daily with a stenographer to dictate various reflections and then to compile them into a single, albeit muddled, document. The result was a 5,000 page, unedited stack of papers that, per Twain’s strict handwritten instructions, could not be published until 100 years after his death.

To say that we’ve waited a century to view this manuscript is only partially accurate because pieces of the manuscript appeared in 1924, 1940, and 1959. But this edition, handsomely bound by the University of California Press, and edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and others of the Mark Twain Project, is the first full, printed compilation of the autobiographical dictations and extracts. The editors, noting that “the goal of the present edition [is] to publish the complete text as nearly as possible in the way Mark Twain intended it to be published before his death,” explain that “no text of the Autobiography so far published is even remotely complete, much less completely authorial.” The contents of this much-awaited beast of a book, then, are virtually priceless; no doubt many of Twain’s previously unread or unconsidered passages will become part of the American literary canon.

Stark photographs of the manuscript drafts and of Twain and his subjects — including family members and residences — accompany this fragmentary work. The lively and at times comical prose is in keeping with the rambling style of this rambling man whom readers have come to know and appreciate for generations.  Read the rest of this entry »

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