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Lecture 02 - Off on a (Historical) Tangent


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Second lecture for my students in English 140, UC Santa Barbara, Summer 2012. Course website:

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Lecture 02 - Off on a (Historical) Tangent

  1. 1. Lecture 2: Off on a (Historical) Tangent English 140 Summer Session B, 2012 7 August 2012 “It was strange to think, while seated there with all his colleagues, that people so well educated and professionally civil should have fallen so willingly for the venerable human dream of a situation in which one man can embody evil. Yet there is this need, and it is undying and it is profound.” ― Philip Roth, The Human Stain, p. 306-7 (ch. 5)
  2. 2. Administrative matters?
  3. 3. Time present and time pastAre both perhaps present in time future,And time future contained in time past.If all time is eternally presentAll time is unredeemable.What might have been is an abstractionRemaining a perpetual possibilityOnly in a world of speculation.What might have been and what has beenPoint to one end, which is always present.Footfalls echo in the memoryDown the passage which we did not takeTowards the door we never openedInto the rose-garden. My words echoThus, in your mind. – T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” lines 1-15
  4. 4. Philip Roth (1933-) ● Probably best known for Portnoy’s Complaint (1967). ● Novels are frequently set in or around Newark, New Jersey, and often concerned with questions of Jewish identity and culture. ● The Plot Against America (2004) won the 2005 Sidewise Award for Alternate History and the 2005 James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians.
  5. 5. The Americanness of the (fictional) Roth family● “The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week; the women worked all the time, with little assistance from labor-saving devices.” (3)● “‘Pride of ownership’ was a favorite phrase of my father’s.” (8)● “we retained no allegiance, sentimental or otherwise, to those Old World countries that we had never been welcome in and that we had no intention of ever returning to.” (17)● “Something essential had been destroyed and lost, we were being coerced to be other than the Americans we were.” (108)
  6. 6. Identity and difference● “the bigot who had denounced Jews over the airwaves to a national audience as ‘other peoples’ employing their enormous ‘influence … to lead our country to destruction’” (15)● “Rabbi Bengelsdorf had spoken on the Americanization of Americans in every Newark church and public school, before most every fraternal, civic, historical, and cultural group in the state” (34)● “But now something external had transformed the meaning of these drawings, making them into what they were not, and so he’d told our parents that he’d destroyed them, making himself into what he was not.” (26)
  7. 7. The (alternate) 1940 campaign“His [Lindbergh’s] speech was unadorned andto the point, delivered in a high-pitched, flat,midwestern, decidedly un-RooseveltianAmerican voice […] ‘My intention in running forthe presidency,’ he told the raucous crowd, ‘isto preserve American democracy by preventingAmerica from taking part in another world war.Your choice is simple. It’s not between CharlesA. Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.It’s between Lindbergh and war.’” (30)
  8. 8. “It turned out, the experts concluded, thattwentieth-century Americans, weary ofconfronting a new crisis in every decade, werestarving for normalcy, and what Charles A.Lindbergh represented was normalcy raised toheroic proportions, a decent man with an honestface and an undistinguished voice who hadresoundingly demonstrated to the entire planetthe courage to take charge and the fortitude toshape history and, of course, the power totranscend personal tragedy.” (53)
  9. 9. The (alternate) 1940 election“The November election hadn’t even beenclose. Lindbergh got fifty-seven percent of thepopular vote and, in an electoral sweep, carriedforty-six states, losing only FDR’s home state ofNew York and, by a mere two thousand votes,Maryland, where the large population of federaloffice workers had voted overwhelmingly forRoosevelt while the president was able to retain– as he could nowhere else below the Mason-Dixon Line – the loyalty of nearly half theDemocrats’ old southern constituency.” (53)
  10. 10. The (actual) 1940 election● FDR beat Wendell Willkie by 449 electoral votes to 82. FDR won 38 of the 48 states and had 27.3 million popular votes to Willkie’s 22.3 million.
  11. 11. Election results by county
  12. 12. Will America go fascist?● “There was Roosevelt, there was the U.S. Constitution, there was the Bill of Rights, and there were the papers, America’s free press.” (18)● Sandy: “America’s going to go fascist.” (26)
  13. 13. President Lindbergh“To gauge the value of this man, as Sandy had rendered him,wasn’t difficult. A virile hero. A courageous adventurer. A naturalperson of gigantic strength and rectitude combined with apowerful blandness. Anything but a frightening villain or amenace to mankind.” (25)
  14. 14. ● “We all watched along with Sandy, who was unable to conceal his enchantment with the very Interceptor that the president had flown to and from Iceland for his meeting with Hitler. The plane climbed steeply with tremendous force before disappearing into the sky. Down the street, the people out walking burst into applause, somebody shouted ‘Hurray for Lindy!’ and then they continued on their way.” (72)● “‘We knew things were bad,’ my father told the friends he immediately sat down to phone when he got home, ‘but not like this. You had to be there to see what it looked like. They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare.’” (76)
  15. 15. Being Jewish in Lindbergh’s America● Bess Roth: “it isn’t like living in a normal country anymore.” (59)● “Just Folks – described by Lindbergh’s newly created Office of American Absorption as ‘a volunteer work program introducing city youth to the traditional ways of heartland life’” (84)● “my father objected strenuously to what the OAA’s existence implied about our status as citizens.” (84)● “by the spring of 1941 the only minority the OAA appeared to take a serious interest in encouraging was ours.” (85)
  16. 16. ● “[…] Aunt Evelyn intimating none too gently that the greatest fear of a Jew like her brother-in-law was that his children might escape winding up as narrow-minded and frightened as he was.” (86)● Sandy, to Rabbi Bengelsdorf: “I learned a lot, sir. I learned a lot about my country.” (103)● Rabbi Bengelsdorf: “I believe that Sandy and the other Jewish boys like him in the Just Folks program should serve as models not only for every Jewish child growing up in this country but for every Jewish adult.” (107)● “‘Oh,’ said my father, ‘against the Jews now too?’ [Alvin:] ‘Those Jews. The Jews who are a disgrace to the Jews – yes, absolutely!’” (52)
  17. 17. What’s horrifying about horror? “[H]orror’s bite is explained as a sudden tearing-away of the intellectual trust that stands behind our actions. Specifically, it is a malicious ripping-away of this intellectual trust, exposing our vulnerabilities in relying on the world and on other people. […] horror puts forward scenarios that through their vivid depiction threaten our background cognitive reliance on others and the world around us.” – Philip J. Nickel, “Horror and the Idea of Everyday Life” (2010)● Phil: “so his [Lindbergh’s] nomination by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security that I had taken for granted as an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an American world.” (7)
  18. 18. Media credits● The photo of Philip Roth (slide 4) is probably under copyright, but has been selected for its unique value as a teaching tool, and is a low- resolution copy not suitable for producing quality reproductions It originally comes from a 2008 interview in Las Vegas Weekly. Source:● The electoral maps of U.S. Elections by county (slide 10) and by state (slide 11) are from Wikipedia users Romeisburning and AndyHogan14, respectively. Original source URLs: ● 1940.svg/2000px-ElectoralCollege1940.svg.png ●● The photo of Charles Lindbergh receiving a meal from Hermann Göring has been released “for public use.” Original source: arles_Lindbergh_a_Nazi_medal.jpg