The Loneliest Jukebox

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A hard-knock life

"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water," one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic internet forum.

"It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving," said another. "I can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now.''


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Sunday, January 17, 2010

My revisions: must we burn Harris (1995)?

A few days ago, the contributor copies of Richard Wright@100 beat the snow and arrived in the post (ISBN 9789727729395 - obrigada, Paula!). My chapter is called 'American Structure' and revolves around the literary apprenticeships of Wright and, to a much lesser extent, Ralph Ellison. More or less on the same day, I bumble across William Burrison's essay on 'Richard's Wright's Tricky Apprenticeship', which originally appeared in CLA Journal 29 (June 1986).* After the usual expletives and sweating it, I was pleased to discover no major sins of omission on my part. It does beg the question: at what point does the unreasonable expectation of total knowledge shade into being a rubbish researcher?

In related news, I was playing catch-up with Jonathan Harris recently. Harris' book on federal art** appeared as I was writing up my Ph.D. on a related topic. Panic ensued that it would force me to rewrite, but an appearance by Harris at my then university and a look at some of his other material, plus reading the book itself (!), convinced me I'd be fine. Up to a point, aspects of our arguments overlapped.

Cut forward by a decade, for Harris, or 15 years for me, in my sluggish efforts to stay on top of the literature, and Harris publishes the following description of his work:
'I think I pursued [my] scepticism over the value of art ... by deciding to research and write a Ph.D. about paintings and sculptures, those produced in the US during the 1930s, that remain in art derided history as some of the most awful ever produced anywhere.'

So far so good. Some of my wanderings took me to the same place.

'My attitude superintending this period of work, I now recognize, was very confused: ... I believed that questions of value or quality in art were simply irrelevant to me understanding why and how art was mobilized by Roosevelt's New Deal state. Particularly irrelevant were "modernist" art history judgements from the post-1945 period subsequently imposed on 1930s art.' (p.4)


Subsequent commentary suggests that the author was in the process of revising his take on New Deal art (and more), not least because of the personal 'issues of identity' propelling him to revise his own subject-position as a writer: 'This period for me (1980-1986) was a heady time mixing theoretical Marxism and practical socialist politics, along with an engagement with a much more heterogeneous emergent intellectual discourse now called "cultural theory". (p.5) By 2005, things had clearly moved on.

Although he says it's not a confession, the 2005 book opens with the author setting things up along similar lines to Morrisey: has the world changed or has he changed? 'Probably both' is the answer, but where does this leave someone who is trying to work with his 1995 book in 2010?

*A version of the essay appears as Lawd Today: 'Richard's Wright's Tricky Apprenticeship' in pp.98-109 of Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present.
**Federal Art and National Culture: The Politics of Identity in New Deal America (Cambridge Studies in American Visual Culture)

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Cobbett over here

Here's me in the THE, reconsidering William Cobbett's Rural Rides. Students of CC1500 Critical Approaches to Journalism will have heard all this already. Happy new year!

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