Friday 30 January 2009

Research Seminar: David Herd

At this week's research seminar - the first of the semester - David Herd from the University of Kent (author, most recently, of Enthusiast!: Essays on Modern American Literature (2007)) will be talking about: "Stepping Out with Frank O'Hara."

Monday February 2, 5pm, A2.51. All welcome.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

News: John Updike Dies

John Updike died yesterday, and the death of one of America's greatest novelists has prompted a variety of responses. A number of fellow writers react to his passing in the Guardian, whilst John Irving explains what he'll miss about Updike for Slate. The New Yorker, meanwhile, has devoted a whole section of its website to Remembering Updike, and you can listen to a selection of interviews with him thanks to NPR. If you're not sure what all the fuss is about, then the New York Times gives you a sampling of his prose and William Pritchard (for and Deirdre Donahue (for USA Today) give you their pick of the best ways into Updike.

Sunday 25 January 2009

News: And so it begins...

Above, President Obama's first weekly address, released through the White House's own youtube channel. A sign of things to come? It seems like it. Throughout the last few months, Obama and his team have already demonstrated a clear commitment to the use of new technologies, and there's no sign of that stopping now. From Obama's own much-touted Blackberry fixation to the disappointment of Obama's staff at the arcane state of technology in the White House through to the immediate redesign of the White House website, this is destined to be a presidency that plays itself out in the Web 2.0 world. You can read more about the ways in which Obama is likely to use web technology in a guest spot by for the Washington Post.

Saturday 24 January 2009

News: Minnesota Senate Race - Still Going

Coleman, Franken

Since the inauguration has come and gone, election night might seem like a distant memory. But not in a Minnesota, as Kirsty Callaghan explains:

After what has been one of the closest and most fiercely contested Senate races in recent history, Democratic candidate Al Franken was declared the winner of the Minnesota Senate race on January 5th. After the original count in November, incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman appeared to have won by 215 votes – a percentage of just 0.008% of the almost 2.9 million votes cast. State law requires that in cases where the margin of victory is less than 0.5% of the vote, a state-wide recount is required. The manual recount began on 19th November, with representatives of Franken and Coleman present to observe the examining of each one of the 2.9 million votes and with challenged ballots sent to the independent Canvassing Board.

After several weeks of re-examination, ballot challenges from both campaigns (including the much-discussed ‘Lizard People’ write-in (see left)) and the acceptance of many previously-rejected absentee ballots, Franken was shown to have a lead of 225 votes, a result certified by the Minnesota State Canvassing Board on 5th January. The change in fortune was owed partly to successful ballot challenges and the fact that those manually recounting the ballots could detect voter intent where electronic counting machines could not. However, because state law requires a waiting period of seven days before the Canvassing Board can issue an election certificate, Coleman’s lawyers had the chance to file a contested election lawsuit. This means that when Coleman’s term came to an end on 3rd January, Minnesota was left with just one Senator and the certificate of election cannot be issued to Franken until Coleman’s election contest has been resolved. A three judge panel met this week to consider whether, as the Franken team suggests, the case should be thrown out before it reaches trial. If they choose to begin a trial, Minnesota's second Senate seat could be empty for months to come, whilst the scandal surrounding Blagojevich’s appointment to fill Obama’s former Illinois seat has left a second Senate seat unfilled.

You can catch up with the story so far on the Caucus, Salon, the New York Times, and Slate. And you can preview the ins and outs of the trial thanks to

Friday 23 January 2009

American Psyche: Willa Cather and the Great Plains

by Will Greaves
Willa Cather declared in 1922 that the world had split in two; My Ántonia, Cather’s elegy to the Nebraskan prairies of her childhood, evokes the memories of just what had been lost to history.

[T]he red of the grass made all of the great prairie the color of wine-stains.

Narrator Jim Burden’s unadorned metaphor establishes the deeply personal connection that Willa Cather’s characters share with the American landscape. My Ántonia offers a fictionalized account of Cather’s own childhood experiences in late nineteenth-century frontier America, and the novel is shot through with a powerful feeling of nostalgia – what James E. Miller refers to as “that quality of evoked feeling which penetrates the pages of the book” (“A Frontier Drama of Time,” 52). The very title prepares us for this: My Ántonia does not attempt an objective account of Ántonia Shimerda, but rather Jim’s own intimate reminiscences about the girl he grew up with, and their shared childhood experiences.

Written in 1918, the novel offers a later perspective of an earlier time. Cather had become deeply disillusioned in the horrific aftermath of the Great War, as well as with an increasingly mechanised and urbanised Republic. As a response, she mythologises America’s pre-industrialised past: the final chapter shows Jim and Ántonia looking at photographs from their youth, a tangible reference to this bygone era. Eschewing any real sense of plot, the anecdotal structure of My Ántonia produces a cumulative effect: the frequent allusions to formative events in Jim’s life, and the accompanying feelings of nostalgia produced by this, combine to set the novel’s wistful tone. One particular scene depicts Jim protecting himself and Ántonia from a snake by beating it away, a symbol of the inevitable loss of innocence experienced by growing up, as well, it is often suggested, as reflecting Cather’s personal rejection of heterosexual relations.

Depicting scenes from Jim’s childhood spent in the American prairies, My Ántonia also chronicles the immigrant experiences of many of the largely eastern European families who settled the Plains States during the nineteenth-century in the hope of sharing in the American Dream. Cather depicts both the overwhelming enormity, and the opportunity for cultivation, that this new landscape presented:

There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.
Cather’s is a largely sympathetic portrait of these often challenging experiences, focusing on the Shimerdas, a Bohemian family who attempt to carve a new life from this raw ‘material’. Homesickness, communication problems and the vagaries of social hierarchy are all obstacles which block the path of the settlers during the novel. Yet as Miller continues, the fate of all characters, irrespective of personal circumstance, is ultimately subject to the inevitable cycle of nature: as the first section follows the often harsh impact of the shifting seasons upon the frontier, so the novel also presents a microcosm of the cultural development of society, beginning with the prairie experience in the west, and concluding with Jim’s enrollment at Harvard in the east. Yet when he revisits Ántonia at the end of the novel (and so completing the cycle), Cather privileges the enduring qualities of the frontier as the only appropriate image with which to conclude her story.

In this ambiguous conclusion, however, Ántonia has abandoned English in favour of the Bohemian language of her ancestors as she speaks with her family; hers is a future tempered by the past, and My Ántonia is a novel saturated with memories of the “precious, the incommunicable past,” a past embodied in the compelling figure of Ántonia.

Thursday 22 January 2009

News: Inauguration - Again

If Obama gets to do an inaugration do-over, we can spend one more post on the inauguration. Above, you can see a snippet of the inauguration newspaper quilt put together on Elsewhere, there's been some neat content analysis of Obama's inaugural address. ReadWriteWeb has used wordle to generate a wordcloud of the most commonly used words in Obama's speech - and compares it to those who went before. The New York Times does something similar, but presents the most commonly used words in each and every inauguration address in a handy interactive timeline.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

News: Obama & Thomas Paine

Much attention is being paid to Obama's use of sources in his inaugural speech - here's CNN, for example. It's certainly been noted that when Obama seemed to quote Washington, he was in fact quoting Thomas Paine. Above, you can see the quotation in question as it appeared in the first pamphlet of Thomas Paine's The American Crisis, published in December 1776 - more famous, perhaps, for its opening line: "These are the times that try men's souls." You can view an original copy of the Crisis at the Library of Congress. But why might this be of particular interest to us at the UEA? Because Thomas Paine was born just down the road in Norfolk - in Thetford, in 1737. Below you can see a picture of Thetford's statue of Thomas Paine; and you can read more about the remarkable life and career of one of Norfolk's most famous sons thanks to BBC Norfolk.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

News: President Obama Speaks

President Obama has spoken, and the dissection has already begun. Here's the video (thanks, MSNBC) and the transcript of the inauguration speech in full (thanks, Huffington Post). Reactions? Leave us a comment.

Full transcript as prepared for delivery of President Barack Obama's inaugural remarks on Jan. 20, 2009, at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.

They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

News: Inauguration Day

It's no surprise that the inauguration is producing mountains of digital comment. Where to start? The New York Times gives an account of Sunday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial - the event that kick-started the three-day inauguration celebrations - and Obama's activities yesterday, the Martin Luther King Day of Service. Thankfully, Slate gives you a breakdown of today's newspapers and their reactions to events. Slate has also been asking its readers to write their own inauguration speeches. Serious Eats lets you know what's on the menu at the inauguration luncheon - and gives you recipes to recreate the dishes at your own inauguration parties.

But how to watch the inauguration? Close to home, you can watch it in the Blue Bar - coverage from 4pm-6pm. Online, CNN gives you some tips about live-streaming and live-blogging here. But as our own loyal commenters have already told us, CNN's own streaming site is probably the most interesting pick, particularly because of its mash-up with facebook. The swearing-in begins at 11.30 (16.30 UK time), and Obama will be sworn in at midday. Once it's embeddable, we'll put it all up here. Enjoy. And goodbye, George.

Monday 19 January 2009

News: Inauguration History

William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson

As excitement builds for Tuesday, the spotlight is being turned on inaugurations past. LiveScience has a run-down of its picks of the "Best Inaugural Addresses Ever." But perhaps unsurprisingly, it's two inaugurations from the nineteenth century that are getting the most attention. The first is the inauguration of William Henry Harrison, whose lengthy inaugural address in inclement weather in March 1841 led to his death from pneumonia (more here from the Library of Congress). More fun, however, was the inauguration of Andrew Jackson in March 1829. The White House was the scene of a public reception, and, as this eyewitness account from Washingtonian Margaret Smith demonstrates, things got a little out of hand:
The President, after having been literally nearly pressed to death and almost suffocated and torn to pieces by the people in their eagerness to shake hands with Old Hickory, had retreated through the back way or south front and had escaped to his lodgings at Gadsby's.

Cut glass and china to the amount of several thousand dollars had been broken in the struggle to get the refreshments, punch and other articles had been carried out in tubs and buckets, but had it been in hogsheads it would have been insufficient, ice-creams, and cake and lemonade, for 20,000 people, for it is said that number were there, tho' I think the number exaggerated.

Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe, - those who got in could not get out by the door again, but had to scramble out of windows.
More available here from Eyewitness to History. And below, a contemporary print, "All Creation Going to the White House":

Wednesday 14 January 2009

News: Inauguration Round-Up

Inauguration anticipation is building, and leeching into popular culture through a variety of avenues. Obama's on the cover of a special Inauguration Day edition of The Amazing Spiderman (via The Smoking Section), and it's already gone to a second printing. More interactively, Paste magazine is hosting the, which allows you to turn any image into an Obama-style poster (see below). Meanwhile, Slate ponders how the Obamas will actually move into the White House, and the detailed answer is strangely compelling. The New York Times has an up-to-date list of the celebrities slated to perform at the "Neighbourhood Inaugural Ball", the first event that Obama will attend as President (confirmed: Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Beyonce and Stevie Wonder). It looks likely to be live-streamed, and we'll let you know where as soon as we find out.

UPDATE: Here's Dr Malcolm Mclaughlin looking suitably Presidential. Feel free to share your own Obamicons with us in the comments.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Profile: Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

Richard Yates

To mark the cinematic release of
Revolutionary Road, Professor Christopher Bigsby profiles author Richard Yates and his 1961 novel on which the film is based:

There are some writers who, whatever their initial reputation, drift from the public consciousness, the flame kept alive by readers and fellow writers who feel honour bound to introduce friends into what can quickly risk becoming a priesthood of the initiates. Richard Yates was one such. His first book, Revolutionary Road, appeared in 1961 and was nominated for the National Book Award. Later in the 60s, recommended by William Styron, he became speech writer to Robert Kennedy, a distraction, he realised, and a disillusionment. In a last novel, never finished, he would lament the dishonesty of public life even as, at the time, he had been dismayed at the loss of a man who he had felt could change America.

There were other books, including the impressive The Easter Parade (1976), but print runs were usually abbreviated. Magazines showed little interest in his short stories. His work went out of print, was resurrected, faded away. He suffered from depression, smoked, and fuelled himself with more alcohol than was good for him. When he died, in 1992, he was reduced to carrying a portable oxygen tank because of lungs ruined by TB and emphysema. There were writers for whom such a history would have been a principle recommendation, providing a satisfying myth in which life was traded for art. It never quite worked that way for Yates. By the time of his death he was largely forgotten. But not by everyone. Kurt Vonnegut was an admirer while Richard Ford declared a debt to him. In this country David Hare waved a banner. Nor were they alone. Today, he is back in print, and now Sam Mendes has made a film version of that first, great novel. Good writers never really fade away. They just wait for people to come to their senses.

New readers should start where his first readers started, with Revolutionary Road, though prepare to have the air sucked out of your own lungs because the world he describes there – suburban America as the 1950s edged into the 1960s – is hermetic. Yates acknowledged it to be his best book, itself, of course, tinder for a depressive. He lost out to Walker Percy who won The National Book Award for The Moviegoer, but in the end it is not prizes that are the mark of a book, though I suspect he would have liked one.

Revolutionary Road
is set in suburban New England, in one of those modern developments which never quite assure those who live there that they have arrived at whatever destination they imagined themselves to aspire to. The central characters are the Wheelers, moving grudgingly into their thirties, aware at some level that they have failed while unable to identify the precise nature of that failure. Frank thinks of himself as a ‘kind of Jean-Paul Sartre sort of man,’ as well he might as beneath him is an existential void. He has enough awareness to be conscious of inadequacy but not enough to understand his responsibility for it. His wife sees herself as a support operation until, suddenly, she does not and their world begins its slow collapse.

There are hints of Sinclair Lewis here, as there is of the Ernest Hemingway of the short stories (Yates uses the word ‘brilliantly’ as only Hemingway had done to convey a sense of an inappropriate emotional response). These, though, are no more than nods of acknowledgement. The world Yates creates is his own. He draws a portrait of a society which lacks transcendence, lacks even an awareness of what that might be. His are characters who perform their lives but they are no better at doing so than April Wheeler is when she appears in the amateur dramatics which open the book.

Both of them hazard an affair, though without passion which is altogether too positive a feeling. They are adrift. They have children but make no real connection with them, shipping them off to acquaintances so that they can indulge themselves in the rows which are a substitute for contact. A neighbour’s adult schizophrenic son is one of the only characters to names things as they are, to ignore the curious decorum which passes for sociability, and he is incarcerated for his pains.

They are aware that they are trapped, that the grace of their bodies is beginning to fade, that their ambitions have been compromised and their visions dulled. They are not so much living their lives as waiting them out until April takes it into her mind to kill her child in the womb, though whether that is a gesture towards freedom of a sorts or some final act of capitulation is not clear, especially, it seems, to her.

The book ends as a character turns off his hearing aid, choosing silence over the vapid chatter which passes for communication in Revolutionary Road. And if the rest is not silence then it is no more than a suspiration, a prolonged sigh over an America which seems to have lost any sense of purpose or direction. As Yates himself explained, the title was intended to invoke the revolutionary spirit of 1776, the best, brave spirit of change and possibility now come to a dead end in 50s America.

Well, that is nearly half a century ago. So does Yates’s novel offer anything more than a footnote to an American complacency and conformity that has surely long since disappeared? You will detect a rhetorical question when you read one. Nearly a decade deep into the 21st century, with capitalism in freefall and no one confidently stepping forward to explain what has gone wrong or how we might proceed, that same lack of direction, that same absence of transcendence, that same sense of an obdurate failure mocks us all. Yates was something more than a poèt maudit. He was a moral surgeon dissecting the world we still inhabit.

And here's the trailer:

Saturday 10 January 2009

News: 100 days

This is neat: in preparation for the inauguration, Good Magazine has put together a pictorial representation of the first 100 days of every American president since FDR, marking off the significant moments of that crucible time. Here's their own blurb:
“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people,” Franklin D. Roosevelt told supporters in 1932 while accepting the presidential nomination. When he took office the following year, he spent his first 100 days enacting a dizzying number of reforms designed to stabilize an economically depressed nation. Since then, a president’s first 100 days have been an indicator of what he is able to accomplish. In January 2009, the clock starts again.

Thursday 8 January 2009

News: Inauguration Buzz

We waited until the second post of the year to mention the "O" word, but it doesn't look like Obama-mania is going anywhere fast. Above, you can see his official inauguration poster (as reported by the Huffington Post) which goes on sale tomorrow. Get it while you can. Inauguration buzz is widespread and only set to grow: Wired gives details of the presidential limosuine (5 inch windows, no less) whilst GoogleWatch reports on Google / Youtube's plans for an inauguration party. More crucial updates as they emerge.

Elsewhere, the New York Times political blog The Caucus reports on yesterday's living presidents meeting (see below), whilst others (here, the BBC) spend a final few moments mocking the out-going president.

Captions, anyone?

Wednesday 7 January 2009

News: Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all our readers - and to begin the semester in provocative fashion, two "endings" from this month's Atlantic Monthly:

First, Michael Hirschorn's "End Times" writes the obituary for the print edition of the New York Times - and, by association, all print journalism. And it might be coming sooner than you'd imagined:
But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May? It’s certainly plausible.
Second, Hua Hsu calls "The End of White America":
As a purely demographic matter, then, the “white America” that Lothrop Stoddard believed in so fervently may cease to exist in 2040, 2050, or 2060, or later still. But where the culture is concerned, it’s already all but finished. Instead of the long-standing model of assimilation toward a common center, the culture is being remade in the image of white America’s multiethnic, multicolored heirs.
Enjoy - and let us know what you think.