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Lecture 04 - Time and Fear in Lindy's America


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

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Lecture 04 - Time and Fear in Lindy's America

  1. 1. Lecture 4: Time and Fear in Lindy’s America English 140 Summer Session B, 2012 9 August 2012 “One insight that injury affords is that there are others out there on whom my life depends, people I do not know and may never know. This fundamental dependency on anonymous others is not a condition that I can will away. No security measure will foreclose this dependency; no violent act of sovereignty will rid the world of this fact. What this means, concretely, will vary across the globe. There are ways of distributing vulnerability, differential forms of allocation that make some populations more subject to arbitrary violence than others.” —Judith Butler, Preface to Precarious Life
  2. 2. Time perception in The Plot Against America ● “the young aviator whose daring had thrilled America and the world […] came to occupy a special niche in the gallery of family anecdotes that generate a child’s first cohesive mythology.” (5; ch. 1) ● “‘No!’ being shouted in a man’s loud voice from every house on the block. It can’t be. No. Not for president of the United States.” (16; ch. 1) ● “Back in February, my cousin Alvin had already left for Canada to join the Canadian armed forces, just as he said he would.” (44; ch. 2) ● “Alvin had been my family’s ward for close to seven years. His late father was my father’s oldest brother” (45; ch. 2)
  3. 3. ● “The pressure of what was happening was accelerating everyone’s education, my own included.” (101; ch. 3) ● “They’d [Herman and Bess would] themselves explain everything, but only after Alvin had a chance to get used to being home and could better understand how America had changed since he’d gone to Canada.” (125; ch. 4) ● “Imagining a future when I’d be in the cellar manning the furnace all alone was, at nine, as upsetting as thinking about the inevitability of dying.” (139; ch. 4)
  4. 4. ● “I’m laughing uncontrollably now not only because the story is especially funny as he half whispers it in the darkened room, but because never before has a man revealed himself to me this way, using the prohibited words so freely and openly cracking toilet jokes.” (153; ch. 5) ● “I’d never before seen anyone faint, other than in a movie, and I’d never before fainted myself. I’d never before looked at my house from a hiding place across the street and wished that it was somebody else’s. I’d never before had twenty dollars in my pocket. I’d never before known anyone who’d seen his father hanging in a closet. I’d never before had to grow up at a pace like this.” (172; ch. 5)
  5. 5. ● “We, after all, were no less enjoined to an unknowable future than were our exiled friends, and so we sat spooning our sundaes in the awninged semidarkness of the cool pharmacy, everyone speechless and completely spent.” (255; ch. 7) ● “American history had recorded its first large-scale pogrom, one clearly modeled on the ‘spontaneous demonstrations’ against Germany’s Jews known as Kristallnacht, ‘the Night of Broken Glass.’” (266; ch. 7) ● “a state of emergency” (268; ch. 7) ● “I’m thinking that, alone now out in Kentucky, he [Seldon] sounds as though he were the one who was kicked in the head. He sounds stunned. Stunted. He sounds stopped. And yet he was the smartest kid in our class.” (279; ch. 7)
  6. 6. ● “my father could think of nothing but the synagogue bombing that had taken place in Cincinnati the previous night and the looting of Jewish-owned stores in American cities scattered across two time zones.” (289; ch. 8) ● “the fear of persecution was such that not even a practical man grounded in his everyday tasks, a person who tried his best to contain the uncertainty and the anxiety and the anger and operate according to the dictates of reason, could hope to preserve his equilibrium any longer.” (300; ch. 8) ● “‘That’s it,’ he [Herman] told Shepsie Tirschwell, ‘I can’t live any longer not knowing what will happen tomorrow’ […] we’d been overpowered by the forces arrayed against us and were about to flee and become foreigners.” (301; ch. 8)
  7. 7. Absence and silence ● “the men out on the street thought differently. Lindbergh’s not mentioning the Jews was to them a trick and no more.” (17) ● “all of it simply a prayer, an improvised prayer imploring the household gods to protect our humble five rooms and all they contained from the vengeful fury of the missing leg.” (133) ● “in order to patrol our affairs and scrutinize our conduct their ghosts resided two stories beneath our flat.” (140) ● Phil, on Sheldon: “I’d never liked being with anyone so nakedly eager to be befriended.” (141)
  8. 8. ● “That was all he said or had to say. He never mentioned von Ribbentrop’s name or FDR’s or made reference to the German-American Bund or the Iceland Understanding. He said nothing in support of the Nazis, nothing to reveal an affinity with their leader and his aims.” (179) ● “[…] to reveal the president for what he was, a chief executive and commander in chief who hadn’t yet bothered to acknowledge that anything like a state of emergency existed, let alone called in federal troops to prevent further rioting.” (268) ● “the president makes no mention of Walter Winchell, does not allude to the assassination two days earlier or to the funeral the day before or to the speech made by Mayor La Guardia on the occasion of his anointment as Winchell’s successor by Franklin Roosevelt in a New York synagogue. He does not have to.” (306)
  9. 9. ● “The fear was everywhere, the look was everywhere, in the eyes of our protectors especially, the look that comes in the split second after you have locked the door and realize you don’t have the key.” (329; ch. 9) ● Seldon: “In Newark it’s ten after ten?” Bess Roth: “In Newark and Danville both. It’s exactly the same time in both places.” (333; ch. 9)
  10. 10. The defenses against Fascism ● “There was Roosevelt, there was the U.S. Constitution, there was the Bill of Rights, and there were the papers.” (18) ● Policeman at the Douglas Hotel: “But that doesn’t mean that all hotel reservations are created equal.” (70) ● “Walter Winchell had been fired by Jergens Lotion only hours after coming off the air on the Sunday night that I’d run away. […] Jergens’s first charge against him was that a broadcaster with a weekly nationwide audience of more than twenty-five million had essentially ‘cried fire in a crowded theater.’” (240)
  11. 11. ● “There is still a Supreme Court in this country. […] There is still the ballot box and people can still vote without anybody telling them what to do.” (197) ● “‘And what will they vote for?’ my mother asked.” (197) ● “The shootout with the city police that had resulted in the deaths of three local thugs […] had left everyone on the street feeling as though a wall had been pulled down that had previously protected their families – not the wall of the ghetto (which had protected no one, certainly not from fear and the pathologies of exclusion), not a wall intended to shut them out or seal them in, but a sheltering wall of legal assurances standing between them and the derangements of a ghetto.” (337-8)
  12. 12. Notes toward a philosophy of history ● “Turned the wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as ‘History,’ harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.” (114) ● “‘Son, anything can happen to anyone,’ my father told me, ‘but it usually doesn’t.’ ‘Except when it does,’ I thought.” (125)
  13. 13. ● “And that was when I began to bawl and Mrs. Wishnow took me in her arms and said, ‘That’s okay. Things like this happen. They can happen to anyone.’” (259) ● “‘Because what’s history?’ he [Herman] asked rhetorically when he was in his expansive dinnertime instructional mode. ‘History is everything that happens everywhere. Even here in Newark. Even here on Summit Avenue. Even what happens in his house to an ordinary man – that’ll be history too someday.’” (180)