Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

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Everybody seems to have a problem with academics these days.  We've known for a long time that the American right hates us for our intellectual elitism and armchair radicalism, but now the mainstream left-leaning media has also acquired a taste for the game.  A number of recent articles and op-eds in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic have taken humanities professors to task for everything from their "tin-eared arrogance" (Ron Rosenbaum) to their "bat-shit analysis" (Rebecca Schuman), for being "too sociological" (editors of N+1) and for not paying enough attention to contemporary society (Nicholas Kristoff).  We are condemned for our tenured loafers … [Read more...]

Sloping toward the Future?: Generation X and Malaise in Richard Fulco’s There Is No End to This Slope

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  “Hurt people hurt people,” the damaged Roger Greenberg tells a pre-Frances Ha Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach’s 2010 film Greenberg. Stiller’s character, a fortyish former indie rock star turned carpenter returning to California after years in New York, writes angry correspondence to local newspapers, letters of complaint to companies about poor service or accommodations and spends most of his time not doing stuff.   The dissolution of his old band, in part because he harbored fears about more or less selling out, might have seemed like a sign of integrity back in the day, but now his extremism seems to stem from some sort of pathological state of arrested development. He exudes passive … [Read more...]

Toni Margarita Plummer: Writing Her Way Home in The Bolero of Andi Rowe

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With hardly any traffic, she was soon at the Santa Anita exit. She drove over the bridge bordered by chain-link fences, the signs of the Ramada, Mobil, and Burger King growing from their stems, until the car reached the crest, and she eased her foot off the gas pedal, coasting into the outstretched street. —“All the Sex Is West,” The Bolero of Andi Rowe by Toni Margarita Plummer Thousands of books and movies have been set in the Los Angeles landscape, but only a handful of works—including those of Salvador Plascencia and Michael Jaime-Becerra—take place in El Monte. The Bolero of Andi Rowe, a collection of interconnected short stories by Toni Margarita Plummer, is another example, but it … [Read more...]

El Monte Forever: A Brief History of Michael Jaime-Becerra

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“I was born in San Gabriel. [...] There was no hospital in El Monte at the time.”[1] Here is what you should know about Michael Jaime-Becerra: he loves El Monte so much he bought a house there, he used to write poetry he now calls the “demo tapes” of his writing career, he's interested in writing about a Los Angeles the public never reads about, he's an excellent professor but he could be a famous DJ, he changed his name so that people would know a Mexican-American is the one writing his stories, and like many other writers, he has been scribbling down stories since middle school. But we will start with El Monte, since that's what this project is all about: mapping this place, its corners … [Read more...]

7 Books to Make You Grateful for Your Own Family on Thanksgiving

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Visual media have the advantage of providing quick comfort; if you need a change of mood or just an easy distraction, a TV show or a movie or even a YouTube clip can get the job done without too much effort, so long as said visual media is not designed by Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier.  Earlier this week ToM offered up its suggestions for films that touch on the variegated vicissitudes of family, on the theory that watching Pan's Labyrinth or Rachel Getting Married might put the craziness of one's own family in gratifying context.  Books, however, don't offer the same kind of instant remedy.  As Meatwad once said, "Books is from the devil, and TV is twice as fast!"  However, we humbly … [Read more...]

Trying to Be Someone in Irish, Working-Class Brooklyn: Alice McDermott’s Someone

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At the end of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil, we see Tanya, a jaded gypsy, reflecting on the death of her ex, Hank Quinlan, a corrupt detective who had just been shot by his partner.  “He was a lousy cop,” she says matter-of-factly. “Is that all you have to say for him?” asks Schwarz, another cop.  Tanya brushes aside the question.  “He was some kind of man,” she says.  “What does it matter what you say about people?” What indeed.  If Breaking Bad recently reminded us of the futility even the most powerful and dynamic people face when they attempt to preserve a legacy (linking Walter White to Shelley’s "Ozymandias"), we might wonder what the everyman and everywoman may hope to expect … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream I know this quote is probably not the ontological narrative or historiographical prose you expect to see at the beginning of one of these posts.  My passion is cultural and intellectual history, but when I developed this interest as an … [Read more...]

Using Science Fiction to Teach History (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Distant Future)

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I have been reluctant to use fiction in my courses.  This is despite the fact that my own high school and college educations introduced me to most of the fiction I know; as a recalcitrant and noncommittal reader of non-nonfiction, I still find it difficult to get through even the best literary prose.  But the diminutive and terrifying Sharia Isenhour got me to read Crime and Punishment and Cry the Beloved Country in 10th grade—this was a woman who was utterly distinguished by a mien somewhere between drill sergeant and Communist re-educator. My college courses, at a public university not much different from the one where I currently teach, demanded an ambitious diet of literature; at UNCC, … [Read more...]

Frankie Fitzgibbons, the Coen Brothers, and the Free Market

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Some of them want to use you Some them want to get used by you Some of them want to abuse you Some of them want to be abused The Eurythmics’ synth-pop anthem seemed to speak for something about the 1980s—a cold, cool attitude that if you wanted it, you could find it on the free market (no matter how self-destructive it was).  Yet Annie Lennox’s lyrics also evoked a classical kind of of sexual supply and demand.  The whole system would approach equilibrium between those who wanted to abuse and those who wanted to be abused, and ultimately the market would align everyone’s interests, resulting in a kind of kinky harmony—the greatest good for the greatest number. Other pop cultural … [Read more...]

Desperate Characters: Best of 2012 Part II

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As part of ToM's Best of 2012 our contributors reflect on books, movies, music, and other pop culture stand-by's that they discovered this year, no matter when their source of inspiration originated.  That's right, it's a vaguely "objet trouvé" Best of 2012.   Art historians everywhere are recoiling. ToM's Adam Gallagher serves up our second installment.  Click here for part I. Anyone that even pays a minuscule amount of attention to current events should be given a free pass to a certain type of quiet resignation. Here are a few salient reasons why: Climate change, gun violence killing children in American schools, drone strikes killing children abroad, abject poverty, and metastasizing … [Read more...]

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