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Lecture 04 - Myra, Tanis, Mr. Katamoto (11 April 2012)


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Fourth lecture for my students in English 104A, UC Santa Barbara, spring 2012. Course website:

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Lecture 04 - Myra, Tanis, Mr. Katamoto (11 April 2012)

  1. 1. Lecture 4: Myra, Tanis, Mr. Katamoto English 104A Spring 2012 11 April 2012 “There are, of course, many racist and sexist moments in this novel; Faulkner in that way was a man of his times. Yet in his transcendent vision he was a man who imagined way beyond the thinking of his times. This ability reminds us that when writers of any historical period use their work as a medium to express dominator culture, they are making a political choice. There is no historical period where we cannot find a thinker or a writer who dared to imagine beyond the constraints of the dominator culture of his or her time; they too were making a political choice.” —bell hooks, “Learning Past the Hate”
  2. 2. George and Myra “Yet she existed only for him and for the children, and she was as sorry, as worried as himself, when he gave up the law and trudged on in a rut of listing real estate.” (75; ch. 6, sec. 4) “He drove happily home, and to Mrs. Babbitt he was a William Washington Eathorne, but she did not notice it.” (182; ch. 17, sec. 2) “Myra Babbitt never slid on the ice” (274; ch. 29, sec. 2)
  3. 3. “As he began to drift away he also began to see her as a human being, to like and dislike her instead of accepting her as a comparatively movable part of the furniture” (289; ch. 30, sec. 2) “With true masculine wiles, he not only convinced himself that she had injured him but, by the loudness of his voice and the brutality of his attack, he convinced her also” (304; ch. 32, sec. 1) “she was not merely A Woman, to be contrasted with other women, but his own self” (315; ch. 33, sec. 1)
  4. 4. George and Tanis ● George is drawn to Tanis in part because she agrees with his prejudices, especially re: women. ● Tanis: “I don’t think any woman ever learns to drive like a man” (234; ch. 24, sec. 2) ● “she lamented her feminine ignorance, and praised his masterfulness, and proved to know much more about bonds than he did” (274; ch. 29, sec. 2) ● “Tanis was no longer his one pure star, and he wondered whether she had ever been anything more to him than A Woman” (283; ch. 29, sec. 4) ● “But Tanis, she’d tell me I was all right” (311; ch. 32, sec. 5)
  5. 5. George and his toys “Gives the last touch of refinement and class” (45; ch. 5, sec. 2) Babbitt, buying fishing equipment for Maine: “Well, come on, Brother Ijams […] Here’s your chance! We’re a couple of easy marks! Whee! Let me at it! I’m going to buy out the store!” (114; ch. 10, sec. 2) “He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty.” (57; ch. 6, sec. 1)
  6. 6. Babbitt’s reception “Let me confess at once that this story has given me vast delight. I know the Babbitt type, I believe, as well as most; for twenty years I have devote myself to the exploration of its peculiarities. Lewis depicts it with complete and absolute fidelity. There is irony in the picture; irony that is unflagging and unfailing, but nowhere is there any important departure from the essential truth. Babbitt has a great clownishness in him, but he never becomes a mere clown.” — H.L. Mencken, The Smart Set (October 1922)
  7. 7. “[Babbitt] is an expression not of discerning observation of American middle class life and character but of propaganda that passes with some of our young writers as liberal thinking, as cosmopolitanism, or sophistication. […] Speaking of the recent passion of real estate men to call themselves ‘realtors,’ how about the recent passion of novel writers to call themselves ‘artists’?” ― The Chicago Daily Tribune, October 8, 1922 “A cheap, vulgar life is cheap and vulgar! This appears to be the real message of the new novel by the author of Main Street.” ― North American Review, November 1922
  8. 8. “To write satire is to perform a miracle. One must hate the world so much that one’s hatred strikes sparks, but one must hate it only because it disappoints one’s invincible love of it; one must write in denunciation of ugliness and put the thing down in unmistakable black and white, yet keep this, as all written things, within the sphere of beauty. But Mr. Lewis has been equal to these things. He writes of vulgar Zenith City and its vulgar children, yet never writes a vulgar line. He is merciless to George F. Babbitt […] and he reveals him lovable and pitiable, a strayed soul disconsolate through frustrated desires for honor and beauty.” ― Rebecca West, New Statesman (October 21, 1922)
  9. 9. Omi & Winant’s “Racial Formation” ● Race is a social construction, and is neither ● An essence (determining “who someone really is”) nor ● An illusion (an entirely spurious product of the mind) ● Omi and Winant’s definition: “Race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies.” (55)
  10. 10. ● … is “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (55). Much of the essay is a sketch of how this process actually functions. ● … occurs at (at least) two levels: ● “Political” (including questions of public policy) ● “Everyday” (questions of “common sense” and other practical concerns). ● … has a history. ● … “is a kind of synthesis, an outcome, of the interaction of racial projects on a society-wide level” (60). “Racial Formation” …
  11. 11. Everyday racial practice … ● … “depends on preconceived notions of a racialized social structure” (59). ● … manifests itself in unconscious expectations of race as essentialist (i.e., stereotypes). ● … is pervasive: “Temperament, sexuality, intelligence, athletic ability, aesthetic preferences, and so on are presumed to be fixed and discernible from the palpable mark of race” (60).
  12. 12. Modern Racial Awareness ● First appears in response to the encounter between Europeans and the American continents. ● Motivated by expansionist, imperialist, and mercantilist interests. ● Passed through several phases, with associated types of questions that encode presuppositions about race: ● 16th century: Religious (“Do indigenous Americans have souls?”) ● 18th century: Scientific (“What are the causes of the inferiority of non-Europeans?”) ● 20th century: Social (“How have our current understandings of race evolved?”)
  13. 13. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) “The race of the American [i.e., the American Indian] cannot be educated. It has no motivating force, for it lacks affect and passion. They are not in love, thus they are also not afraid. They hardly speak, do not caress each other, care about nothing and are lazy.” ― Philosophical Anthropology (1798) ● This is an essentialist position, rooted in a presumed biological difference. ● It is also, in some ways, fairly typical of many 18th - and 19th -century statements about race (although this is also a very simplistic statement).
  14. 14. Hegemony ● “Hegemony” is the formation of general areas of agreement – “common sense.” By producing this common sense, society consents to be governed in a certain way. ● Over time, the terms by which this consent is achieved can change. ● “Hegemony is tentative, incomplete, and ‘messy.’” (68) ● “The transition from a racial dictatorship to a racial democracy has been a slow, painful, and contentious one” (66).
  15. 15. On racism ● “a racial project can be defined as racist if and only if it creates or reproduces structures of domination based on essentialist categories of race.” (71) ● Racism has changed over the years, just as understandings of race have changed.
  16. 16. Racism in Babbitt “They’re getting so they don’t have a single bit of respect for you. The old-fashioned coon was a fine old cuss—he knew his place—but these young dinges don’t want to be porters or cotton-pickers. Oh, no! They got to be lawyers and professors and Lord knows what all! I tell you, it’s becoming a pretty serious problem. We ought to get together and how the black man, yes, and the yellow man, his place. Now, I haven’t got one particle of race-prejudice. I’m the first to be glad when a nigger succeeds—so long as he stays where he belongs and doesn’t try to usurp the rightful authority and business ability of the white man.” (120-21, ch. 10, sec. 3)
  17. 17. Racism in Babbitt ● Hierarchical; naturalizes race difference (everyone has “their place,” and is expected to stay in it). ● Closely connected to other forms of exclusion based on: ● Class ● American Nativism ● Avowed (and displayed) political orientation ● Group membership
  18. 18. “There’s no rule that you have to trade with your Fellow Boosters, but get wise, boy—what’s the use of letting all this good money get outside of our happy fambly?” (216; ch. 21, sec. 1) ● Though this is a statement about politics and group membership, it operates in a way also common to exclusion based on race, gender, or immigrant status. Sir Gerald: “How do you Yankees get the notion that writing chaps like Bertrand Shaw and this Wells represent us? The real business England, we think those chaps are traitors […] we both have a backbone of sound business men who run the whole show (206; ch. 19, sec. 2)
  19. 19. Dialect and diction in You Can’t Go Home Again ● Japanese: “You were tramp-ling” (29; bk. 1, ch. 3) ● New York working class: “Back it up, deah! Back it up! Cuh-mahn! Cuh-mahn! Givvus a hand, youse guys! Hey-y! You!” (33; bk. 1, ch. 4) ● Simple but honest: “Who is that? … Who? … Is that you, Monk? Well I’ll be dogged!” (51; bk. 1, ch. 5) ● German: “I shall do somesing about it. I have engaged one of zese little men—zese dret-ful little people—vhat do you cal zem?—lawyers!—O Gott, but zey are dret-ful!” (549, bk. 6, ch. 39)
  20. 20. Race in You Can’t Go Home Again, book 1 ● Many characters openly espouse very racist positions, especially in parts of the book set in the South. ● Again, race is closely tied to issues of class and group membership, and the formal power of government organizations often explicitly takes race into account and reproduce conditions of racial domination. “[Judge Bland’s office] was within twenty yards of the City Hall […] The practice, criminal though it was, was a common one, winked at by the local authorities, and but one of many similar practices […] The fact that such usury was practiced chiefly against ‘a bunch of niggers’ to a large degree condoned and pardoned it in the eyes of the law.” (65; bk. 1, ch. 5)
  21. 21. Mr. Katamoto ● “It might be said that their friendship began in mystification and went on to a state of security and staunch understanding” (25; bk. 1, ch. 3) ● Wolfe’s handling of Mr. Katamoto’s accent is rather heavy-handed, as his handling of diction often is in this novel. ● Nevertheless, Wolfe’s portrayal is of two strangers from different cultural backgrounds who manage to live adjacent lives in very different ways by being considerate and friendly.
  22. 22. However … “his girl, the slender, agile little Japanese” (28; bk. 1, ch. 3) ● Grammatically, treats race as a defining characteristic (an essentialist move) “He looked at the young Japanese and started to speak, and found himself looking into the inscrutable, polite, untelling eyes of Asia” (31; bk. 1, ch. 3)
  23. 23. Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) ● Libya Hill is a fictionalized Asheville, North Carolina (Wolfe’s birthplace) ● Known for his use of autobiographical fiction and vivid, impressionistic prose. ● Died at 37 of miliary tuberculosis in the brain.Wolfe in 1937 (photo by Carl Van Vechten)
  24. 24. You Can’t Go Home Again ● Published posthumously in 1940. ● Despite its length, it is only half of a novel Wolfe left unfinished at his death (and which was already more than a million words long). ● Reached its current form under editor Edward Aswell of Harper & Brothers (now HarperCollins). ● Based closely on events in Wolfe’s own life