Lecture 06 - The Economy That Jack Built; The Novel That George Built (18 April 2012)


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Sixth lecture for my students in English 104A, UC Santa Barbara, spring 2012. Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/s12/index.html

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Lecture 06 - The Economy That Jack Built; The Novel That George Built (18 April 2012)

  1. 1. Lecture 6: The Economy That Jack Built; The Novel That George Built English 104A Spring 2012 18 April 2012“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed bymadness, starving hysterical naked,dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawnlooking for an angry fix […]” —Allen Ginsberg, Howl, lines 1-4
  2. 2. SpeculationOn Mr. Jack: “He was convinced that the fabricof his world was woven from threads of steel,and that the towering pyramid of speculationwould not only endure, but would growconstantly greater.” (166; ch. 12)“What happened in Wall Street was only theinitial explosion which in the course of the nextfew years was to set off a train of lesserexplosions all over the land.” (311; ch. 25)
  3. 3. “Bond issues involving staggering sums were beingconstantly ‘floated’ until the credit structure of thetown was built up into an inverted pyramid and thecitizens of Libya Hill no longer owned the streets theywalked on. The proceeds of these enormousborrowings were deposited with the bank. The bank,for its part, then returned these deposits to thepoliticians, or to their business friends, supporters,allies, and adherents—in the form of tremendousloans, made upon the most flimsy and tenuoussecurity, for purposes of private and personalspeculation. In this way ‘The Ring,’ as it was called,which had begun as an inner circle of a few ambitiousmen, because in time a vast and complex web thatwove through the entire social structure of the townand involved the lives of thousands of people. And allof it now centered in the bank.” (310; ch. 25)
  4. 4. Real Estate Speculation in Babbitt (1922, set in 1920)“‘Now look here!’ Purdy wailed. ‘I know f’r a factthat a piece of property ’bout same size, rightnear, sold for less ’n eighty-five hundred, ’twa’n’ttwo years ago, and here you fellows are askingme twenty-four thousand dollars! Why, I’d have tomortgage— Why good God, Mr. Babbitt, you’reasking more ’n twice its value!” (41; ch. 4, sec. 5)“The work of the world was being done. Lyte hadmade something over nine thousand dollars,Babbitt had made a four-hundred-and-fifty dollarcommission.” (42; ch. 4, sec. 5)
  5. 5. Speculation in Libya Hill“Mrs. Delia Flood […] was a woman of property, andher favorite topic of conversation was real estate. Infact, long before the present era of speculation andskyrocketing prices, she had had a mania for buyingand selling land, and was a shrewd judge of values.With some sixth sense she had always known whatdirection the development of the growing town waslikely to take.” (85; ch. 6)Sam Pennock: “Made three hundred thousanddollars in the last two months. . . . Why, it’s the truth!Made a trade yesterday and turned around and soldthe lot again not two hours later. . . . Fifty thousanddollars just like that!” (98; ch. 7)
  6. 6. “For their ruin had caught up with them. Many ofthe people in that throng had lost their lifesavings. But it was not only the bank’s depositorswho were ruined. Everyone now knew that theirboom was over. They knew that the closing of thebank had frozen all their speculations just as theywere, beyond the possibility of extricatingthemselves. Yesterday they could count theirpaper riches by ten thousands and by millions;today they owned nothing, their wealth hadvanished, and they were left saddled with debtsthat they could never pay.” (313; ch. 25)
  7. 7. This is also a crisis in representation
  8. 8. The Great Depression (1929-1947)● Many, but not all, economists see the Stock Market Crash of 1929 as beginning the Depression.● Interest rates and wages remain low, while unemployment remains high ● Unemployment reaches 25% in 1933. ● In the U.S., from 1929-1932 … – Industrial production decreases 46% – Foreign trade decreases 70% – Unemployment increases by 600%● Economic recovery begins about 1933, with gradual recovery of prices and values.● Government spending in World War II results in post- war boom
  9. 9. On George Webber: “He had used thephrases as symbols of something real,something important that he had feltinstinctively but never put into words. Andthat’s why he hadn’t been able to make her[Esther] understand. Well, what was it?What had he been afraid of?” (221; ch. 16)
  10. 10. Home to Our Mountains● Fictitious novel by George Webber, published November 1929, shortly after the Stock Market crash.● Webber’s first published novel.● The story of the novel and its reception largely describe the publication of Wolfe’s own Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life (1929). ● Like You Can’t Go Home Again, Wolfe’s (not Webber’s) earlier novel is a Bildungsroman.
  11. 11. Reflexive Commentary● Wolfe sometimes uses this identification to comment on his own writing: Nebraska Crane: “Boy, you shore do write ’em long, don’t you? […] Makes me tard just to tote it aroun’!” (292; ch. 22) George: “I must have written half a million words or more.” (330; ch. 26)● Or think of the waiter’s “Armenian story” (“she—takes —off—her—veil!’) (354-8, ch. 27) in comparison with his monologue about the pregnant waitress (359-60).
  12. 12. The Novel’s Reception“On a postcard, sealed in an envelope: ‘We’ll kill you if you ever come back here. You know who.’” (289; ch. 22)“they said that he had turned against the South,his mother, and spat upon her and defiled her.They they leveled against him the most witheringcharge that they could think of, and said that hewas ‘not Southern.’ Some of them even began tosay that he was ‘not American.’” (290; ch. 22)A critic: it is “a barbaric yawp” (349; ch. 27)
  13. 13. What it’s not● It isn’t Piggy Logan’s wire circus, which is portrayed as … – Pretentious – Ineffectual – Meaningless – Avant-garde● It isn’t “intellectual.” (350; ch. 27)● It isn’t an academic project. Fox Edwards: “You see, Miss Allen is an – an academic kind of a person […] and that kind of person, darling, just wouldn’t be able to understand what Whitman and Mark Twain and Keats are like […] It’s a pity! Too bad you’ve got to hear about it first in schools.” (390; ch. 28)
  14. 14. ● It isn’t concerned with conventional truisms about morality: “Mr. Stoat’s literary and critical standards were derived from a pious devotion to the welfare of the jeune fille. […] Mr. Stoat had no young daughter, but in his publishing enterprises he always acted on the hypothesis that he did have, and that no book should be printed which he would be unwilling to place in her hands. The result, as may be imagined, was fudge and taffy, slop and goo.” (479; ch. 34) Margaret Shepperton: “‘I’ve never done anything immoral.’ By this she meant solely and simply a deviation from the standards of sexual chastity.” (287; ch. 22)
  15. 15. ● It isn’t concerned with what’s trendy in literary criticism: Fox Edwards “did not write nine-page reviews on ‘How Chaplin Uses hands in Latest Picture’ – how it really was not slap-stick but the tragedy of Lear in modern clothes; or on how Enters enters; or on how Crane’s poetry can only be defined, reviewed, and generally exposited in terms of mathematical formulae.” (412; ch. 28) Richenbach Reade’s critical works: “They were examples of critical biographies of literary men and politicians, and were examples of the ‘debunking school’ of historical writing. […] They were the kind of books that debunked everything except themselves.” (519; ch. 36)
  16. 16. To Randy: “Not the facts, you understand – notjust the record of my life – but something truerthan the facts – something distilled out of myexperience and transmitted into a form ofuniversal application.” (330; ch. 26)“He was just an American who was looking hardat the life around him, and sorting carefullythrough all the life he had ever seen and known,and trying to extract some essential truth out ofthis welter of his whole experience.” (350; ch. 27)
  17. 17. “A Ulysses kind of a book”“He was still very much under the influence ofJames Joyce, and what he had written was aUlysses kind of a book.” (282; ch. 22)“The vision may be shrewd, subtle, piercing,within a thousand special frames accurate andJoycean – but within the larger one, false,mannered, and untrue. And the large one is theone that matters.” (329; ch. 26)
  18. 18. Allan Ginsberg (1926-2001) ● Probably best known for Howl, a 1955 epic poem that became the subject of an obscenity trial due to its depiction of illicit drug use and both hetero- and homosexual encounters. ● Studied under WC Williams ● Key terms (for our purposes): ● Beat poetry ● San Francisco Renaissance Ginsberg in 1978 ● Autobiographical poetryPhoto by Ludwig Urning ● Free verse
  19. 19. Poetic devices in America (1956)● Anaphora – the repetition of words and phrases: America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956. I can’t stand my own mind. America when will we end the human war? (lines 1-4)● Parataxis – Elements of the poem are put one after the other without grammatical indications of the relationship between them. ● This implies a sort of equality between the elements, in contrast to the opposite stylistic technique, hypotaxis, which tends to subordinate one element to another.
  20. 20. Other notable characteristics of America● Consciously & intentionally speaks for marginalized groups (anarchists, the poor, the queer, unionists, drug-users, the psychically troubled, Communists).● In most cases, lines are end-stopped (there is very little enjambment).● Reinstates the personal “I” in a self-consciously ironic way.● Draws on Whitman, Blake, and Keats in constructing this type of narration.
  21. 21. Personal Narration in America● The speaker is (initially) an individual who addresses the nation directly, as another individual.● Later in the poem, the speaker identifies himself with the object of his address: It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again. (lines 49-50) ● The speaker here uses the “bardic” or “prophetic” first-person narrative technique, in which he identifies himself with “a people.”
  22. 22. Language AbsorptionAfter the identification, common politicalsometimes discourse bleeds into the speaker’slanguage, especially in the last 15 lines:● “Asia is rising against me I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.” (51-2)● “The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages. Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingsta- tions.” (80-84)
  23. 23. “This Is Just to Say” (William Carlos Williams, 1934) 1 I have eaten 2 the plums 3 that were in 4 the icebox 5 and which 6 you were probably 7 saving 8 for breakfast 9 Forgive me 10 they were delicious 11 so sweet 12 and so cold