Thin Is In: Rethinking 40 Years of Intellectual History in the Age of Fracture

friedman foucault butler gates

But let us honestly state the facts. Our America has a bad name for superficialness. Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it. The quote is by Ralph Waldo Emerson from “Fate,” the first essay in his 1859 collection, The Conduct of Life – a somber, more dialectical late-career work in light of his reputation as an irrepressible optimist. In the essay, Emerson describes at metaphorical length the necessary tension – a fistfight even, like “two boys pushing each other on the curbstone of the pavement” – between Fate and Power (or at another point Nature and Thought). If America is to achieve its … [Read more...]

Debating Dan Rodgers’s Age of Fracture

Age of Fracture detail

I’ll never forget the moment I ran into a graduate student whose confidence oozed out of his pores. There I was, fresh out of college, excited about a book I had just purchased that I believed would tell me all I needed to know about the decision to go to war in Vietnam. The confident graduate student snatched the book from my hands, quickly glanced at the blurbs on the back cover, and then proceeded to skim the endnotes and bibliography. In less than two minutes, he handed it back to me, declaring “there’s absolutely nothing new in this book. Don’t waste your time.” Well, okay…It’s easy now for me to see what he was doing, and, despite the arresting ridiculousness of such a know-it-all … [Read more...]

Activating Alternative Historical Narratives: The Black Arts Collective of Philadelphia Visits South El Monte

"Let It Sparkle"

SEMAP Interview from Henry Pacheco on Vimeo. For Activate Vacant, the South El Monte Arts Posse invited artists to transgress space by creating installations in abandoned, un-used, and, often, fenced of lots. Carribean Fragoza’s two word self-titled poem installation/billboard “ay corazon,” made entirely of white plastic grocery bags, interrupted the monotonous landscape and functioned as an emotional holograph for El Monte’s commuters. Christopher Anthony Velasco’s “Let It Sparkle,” invited bus riders and the SEMAP team to cover the adjacent abandoned car garage and parking lot with yarn. Lastly, Jennifer Renteria’s rendering “The Uncultivated Park,” allowed residents to contemplate … [Read more...]

Chasing Narrative: Jennifer Egan’s Sometimes Non-Linear Take on Time, Age, and Technology

pulp-fiction

High school didn’t leave much time for movies.  Maybe that’s not entirely true; movies were there and time for them existed, but the level of analysis one marshals as a college freshman or high school student probably lacks the kind of insight more seasoned individuals can bring to the table. In other words, it’s hard to say how much adolescents attend to issues like structure, perspective, or the relationship between audience and the art; those heady thoughts tend to come much later as successive waves of pop culture and literary canons continually crest and recede.  But it was 1994 when Pulp Fiction first introduced a new generation to the complex marriage between the visual, the … [Read more...]

Subculture Rub: Tracing the Winding Path of Street Art

OFF-FIRST-FOUR-EPS

From our perch in the early 21st century, when multinational corporations hoover anything remotely hip, it is easy to forget how hostile the climate for hip once was. The church, the law, capital and mass opinion all lined up against hip, as against a disease.                                                                              -- John Leland, Hip: The History, 2009 When the image of scarf wearing, bespectacled black man in the vein of the famous 2008 Obama campaign poster began popping up around D.C., Prince of Petworth blogger Lydia DePillis wondered just who was responsible.  After a circuitous route than took DePillis to DC “wheatpaste” artists DIABETIK and DECOY, the local … [Read more...]

Nazis, Boxers and Fish Dicks: Ned Beauman’s Noir

Nazis, Boxers and Fish Dicks: Ned Beauman's Noir

I am a bit of a sucker for “first” novels. There is something about the unbridled sense of possibility that a “new” author brings to the reading experience: a new voice, a new pair of eyes to slide behind and view the world. There is no “sophomore slump” to consider, no depressing self-parodying nonsense that so many bloated and self-important literary masters sadly descend into after years of unabashed praise and excess. It is a sublime comfort to me to know that at this moment, there are thousands of angry young men and women pecking away at their laptops, pouring their rage and frustration and romance out onto the screen, one hard-earned word at a time.  Out of these thousands, a few … [Read more...]

Essence Precedes Existence? The Problem of Identity Politics in Hurewitz’s Bohemian LA

Essence Precedes Existence? The Problem of Identity Politics in Hurewitz's Bohemian LA

What does it mean to “be” white, or black, or gay, or working-class? How might a Jewish Ethiopian-American who grew up in poverty but now has a big bank account define himself? Which identity matters most – the current status of wealth and privilege, the experience of coming from a hardscrabble background, or Jewishness or Africanness or national identity (native or adopted)? Does one dimension of identity actually have to subordinate the others? Our current president is almost always described as being black, despite having one white parent and growing up almost entirely with a white family. His own experience is far more complex than our contemporary framework of race and identity allows, … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Said Said What? Orientalism and the Other

Dog Days Classics III: Said Said What? Orientalism and the Other

Edward Said, Orientalism, 1978 Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism is without a doubt a massively influential work that grad students and others sometimes use far too carelessly. Along with later works such as 1993’s Culture and Imperialism, Said established a critical insight into how Western works, fictional and historical, created a discourse about the East that conflated it with femininity, emotionality, and sensuality that left Eastern culture submissive to the masculine, scientific, and rational West. The book exploded the idea of an objective history and raised questions about the efficacy of Western histories of the East. After all, the West’s imposition of the above traits on … [Read more...]

Learning from Tiny Tower: Mobile Gaming and the Post-Industrial Society

Learning from Tiny Tower: Mobile Gaming and the Post-Industrial Society

Ever since Wii came along and swept everyone from me to my seventy year old retired Teamster uncle into the world of gaming, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that video games have become a tool by which our future robot overlords are retraining us to perform various tasks after the big takeover.* Big Brain Academy, in particular, reminded me of those later scenes in 1984, when the Party had smashed every bone in Winston’s hands and he had to learn to write again using a big pencil, like a kindergartener. 4423… 3244. Do-re-mi…mi-re-do. Memorize the faces and match the frog to the dog. When a game tells me to take an order on the phone and then tell it back to the game – “calzone, risotto, and a … [Read more...]

How to Approach a Historical Methods Course?

Teaching historical methods is a bit like studying American history – outsiders are prone to be skeptical. America has history? History has methods? You mean, like statistics and models and guidelines for the proper use of a Bunsen burner?  (My question is informed, or should I say misinformed, by a total lack of knowledge of what research methods in the sciences might actually be.) Almost every history major (except for one of the degenerates who writes for this site) has to take some variation of a methods course as an undergrad. For most people, this class is the first time they ever hear the word “historiography.” I know when I saw a snarky comic strip on my professor’s door in which … [Read more...]

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