Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee

wowee-zowee-4f67050baa823

Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

tolkien and martin

By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

What Does Woodward’s Origins of the New South Have to Say to the Twenty-First Century Reader?

c vann woodward imdb

Less than a decade after C. Vann Woodward’s epic tome, Origins of the New South (1951), had been published, the author was already lamenting the passing of the geographic/political/economic unit he had dedicated his life to studying. In “The Search for Southern Identity,” an article originally published in 1958 in the Virginia Quarterly Review and reprinted in The Burden of Southern History, Woodward explained that every identifiable marker of southern distinctiveness—“the one-horse farmer, one-crop agriculture, one-party politics, the sharecropper, the poll tax, the white primary, the Jim Crow car, the lynching bee”—had been either destroyed or were “on their way towards vanishing.” A … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: John Brooke on Joseph Smith, Alchemy, & the Longue Durée

sunstone mormon

I entered my first semester of graduate school with supreme overconfidence. It was August 2001, three weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. I had just graduated from a tiny liberal arts college in central Illinois in May. The school was initially founded by self-exiled Kentucky abolitionists around 1848, at a time of antebellum experimentation. At this little campus with historic red-brick buildings dating back to the 1850s, I had gotten used to being a big fish in a little pond: out of fewer than 500 students, I was one of three honors graduates that year. I worked in the college archives. I knew a lot of history. I thought I was good. Grad school changed all that. All of a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Why I Love Michael Holt, His Bowties, & the Whig Party

Academic celebrity death match

As an undergraduate student in Professor Michael Holt’s “Coming of the Civil War” class at the University of Virginia, I felt rather lost for the first part of the semester. It was a large lecture class that made it intimidating to ask questions or make comments (not that I would have anyway). Moreover, Dr. Holt was the quintessential university professor – impeccably dressed in a sport coat and bowtie (this was UVa after all) with a shock of white hair – and he treated us as though we already had an intensive handle on the history of antebellum America. Which I definitely did not. The central texts for the course were Holt’s own book, The Political Crisis of the 1850s and Eric Foner’s Free … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: The Shadow over Lovecraft

lovecraft - the lurking fear

The flimsy, Ballantine paperback edition of The Lurking Fear and Other Tales, an oddball collection of short stories spanning much of the career of H.P. Lovecraft, sports what has to be one of the least frightening cover illustrations in horror fiction. A leering monster, the face of which looks like the lovechild of a unidentified primate and a vampire bat, peers through the broken shards of a window. The candle clutched in its hand illuminates bared teeth and scraggly hair. The more I think about that cover, the more fantastic it becomes. It is a throwback to the 1920s and 30s pulp magazines that were Lovecraft’s bread and butter, a time of adventure fiction that was painted in broad … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Halttunen on Confidence Men, Painted Women, and Borrowed Watches

confidence men and painted women

We begin our annual Dog Days Classics series this year with a reflection on the work of Karen Halttunen.  Past entries have looked at influential works by Barbara Fields, Giovanni Arrighi, the Roberts Caro and Wiebe and many others. In spring 2005, I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, just a few months out from passing my oral prelim and beginning my dissertation research on Progressive Era higher education and intercollegiate football.  I was also getting ready to teach my first stand-alone course, Civil War and Reconstruction, in the upcoming summer term.  I realized that having grown up in central Illinois in a working-class family that rarely traveled, I had never … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Lanny Budd, Upton Sinclair’s Ideal Idler

LBcollage

"It was profoundly true that movements of the spirit came first, and that events of history were consequences thereof." -Upton Sinclair, Wide is the Gate Several years ago I was directed toward Upton Sinclair’s socialist-minded quasi-spy novels about a young man named Lanning Prescott Budd. The 11 books span the breadth of time from the onset of The Great War to the rise of the Cold War, but as I have been able to acquire only the first half of the series, my investigation has followed Lanny only so far as the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. A New York Times reflection on the books gives a decent introduction to the protagonist: Born in 1900, he was the illegitimate child of an … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: The Wages of Whiteness and the White People Who Love Them

white people

July, 1956. It had been over a decade since the Carnegie Foundation solicited Gunnar Myrdal’s opinion on American race relations. A Nobel Prize in economics and Swedish citizenship rendered him an objective observer. That year, James Baldwin wrote a scathing critique of what is now a long forgotten book—Daniel Guerin’s Negroes on the March. “Labor’s interests may often be identical with the Negro’s interests,” Baldwin explains, “but Mr. Guerin fails to understand that, in the light of the white worker’s desire to achieve greater status, his aims and those of the Negro often clash quite bitterly.” (Baldwin, ‘Collected Essays,’ Literary Classics of the United States. 1998, The Crusade of … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Robert H. Wiebe and The Search for Order

A junk shop in Elizabethton

“Men in confusion clutched what they knew.” This is how Robert Wiebe describes the actions of America’s leaders in their “rudimentary bureaucracy” as the nation entered World War I in 1917. Much of the debacle that followed – both the wave of violent repression at home and the political failures of Woodrow Wilson, outfoxed at Versailles and in the Senate – resulted from just such limits of knowledge and practice. In essence, Progressive leaders used old solutions to solve new problems. But rather than a condemnation of human weakness, this sentence encapsulates Wiebe’s subtly empathetic historical vision: that historical actors of all stripes – radical or conservative, anonymous farmers or … [Read more...]

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