Dog Days Classics: My Vietnam Vacation with John Paul Vann

My interest in Vietnam stems from various sources. I grew up watching the Vietnam War in my living room with toy soldiers scattered about – old enough to wonder how the enemy could withstand such a disproportionate number of casualties, but too young to reap the benefits of the Summer of Love.  Fifty years later, family members and friends are vacationing in Vietnam (my daughter brought me postcards from her trip there, which I use to take reading notes), a trend in travel which I find both strange and hopeful. Strange because the war claimed 3 million lives, including those of 58,000 Americans, and hopeful because of the Vietnamese people’s capacity to forgive. Moreover, Ken Burns and Lynn … [Read more...]

Spend Your Dog Days with Barbara Fields and HP Lovecraft

Way back in 2011, RR and I conceived the idea of a new series where writers would look back on, reread, and reassess the books that they loved or that influenced them over the years.  Since then, many of our best contributors have revisited books by the likes of Roberts Caro and Wiebe, Barbara Fields, H.P. Lovecraft, Karen Halttunen, Michael Holt and more.  (We've also opened up the series to other kinds of works beyond books or essays, to include music and film.)  The whole idea was just to use the waning days of Summer to write shorter, more casual pieces than the epic, longform articles that we often publish. If you have a favorite scholarly work, novel, album, or film you would like … [Read more...]

Looking Back at American Studies on the 4th of July

Lady Liberty has, admittedly, seen better days--bring us your awesome, bring us your amazing, bring us your winners, but not your losers, not your bleeding Syrian refugee children, please, OK? Sad! But those of us who are native-born or newly minted Americans still find the country fascinating, infuriating, and crazy.  On this most festive of days, it is good to keep in mind all that is decent, inspiring, creative, and complex about the United States and its culture. Over the years, ToM has covered a wide range of issues, from copyright to foreign policy to sports (the latter thanks mostly to our senior dude correspondents, Ryan Reft and Adam Gallagher). Our instincts have always run toward … [Read more...]

Poem: In the Redaction of the Fake 45th

Reading the April 23, 2017 interview transcript between the Associated Press and the fake 45th President of the United States, I was haunted by his disjointed, stream-of-consciousness rambling, which included 16 separate moments noted as “unintelligible” by the AP. I felt as though my own knowledge of language and logical argument were being dismantled. I found it difficult to continue to read the transcript coming from a man who cares so little about his own word choice in relation to the power he wields. However, the disturbing nature of this interview forced me to return to the transcript and interrogate the words. Ultimately, I chose to redact the text and redact the agency of his voice … [Read more...]

Staging Poems and Festivals: Juan Luis Guzmán Takes the Reins at LitHop 2017

Today, Fresno poet laureate Lee Herrick interviews Juan Luis Guzmán, the organizer of this year's LitHop. The festival is this Saturday, April 29th! Our coverage of the upcoming event can be found here and here and here. You are organizing this year's LitHop. How did that come about, and what, if anything, has been exciting during the planning stages? Last year, I was a reader at LitHop and I was able to experience how transformative the event was for the city and for the participants. I have been a reader for similar events in larger cities, like San Francisco and Los Angeles but never in Fresno. There was a sense of magic to the fact that this was happening here, at home in Fresno. When … [Read more...]

Kickin’ It with Gary Soto: The Tropics of Meta Interview

When the opportunity to hold a microphone during a Gary Soto interview came up, I leapt at it.  Soto, the world-renowned (and I can say that: world-renowned), Fresno-born, Mexican-American author headlines the second annual LitHop literary festival on April 29. We met Soto in the hall outside his museum in Fresno City College's old administration building. Soto drives down from his home in Berkeley regularly to conduct tours there. He introduces visitors to his books, poems, awards, photos, and keepsakes from his childhood. He points out the places he proposed to young women, was rejected, and later  found poetry. Fresno City College Professor Juan Luis Guzmán conducted much of the formal … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

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...]

The Thing Called Information: Understanding Alienation in the Post-Industrial Economy

“Here, and shockingly few other places in this country, men are paid to increase knowledge, to work toward no end but that.” “That’s very generous of General Forge and Foundry Company.” “Nothing generous about it. New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become." Had I been a Bokononist then, that statement would have made me howl. - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle, 1963[1] The late Kurt Vonnegut loved to skewer the irrationality of both science and religion in his novels. In the acclaimed Cat’s Cradle, he invented Bokononism—a faith that encouraged its adherents to believe in lies or, at least, “harmless … [Read more...]

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

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...]

Much Ado about Nothing: The Times’ Non-Story about Eduardo Galeano’s Non-Apology

Last Friday The New York Times published an article claiming that Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano now “disavows” his seminal work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America). The book, originally published in 1971, “argued that the riches that first attracted European colonizers, like gold and sugar, gave rise to a system of exploitation that led inexorably to ‘the contemporary structure of plunder’ that he held responsible for Latin America’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment.” For generations of Latin American leftists and students of Latin America Las venas abiertas has been “the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text.” It has been … [Read more...]