Sunday, 28 August 2005

One Quasi-Bloomian Query: Philip Roth & Sinclair Lewis As I'm prepping my contribution to The Valve's mini-seminar on Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, I've slammed into something I have to account but don't believe I'm doing so adequately. To quote my future-self: In American Pastoral, the central character, Swede Levov, searches for answers about (and the current address of) his daughter-the-political-terrorist, Merry. One account of her radicalization blames it on her relationship with her grandfather, Lou Levov, who "during the Vietnam War ... had begun mailing Merry copies of the letters he sent to President Johnson, letters that he had written to influence Merry's behavior more than the president's" (287-88). While visiting during "the summer of the Watergate hearings," Lou and Merry spend the majority of the time haranguing the television: "The so-called patriots," Lou Levov said to [Swede's wife] Dawn," would take this country and make Nazi Germany out of it. You know the book It Can't Happen Here? There's a wonderful book, I forget the author, but the idea couldn't be more up-to-the-moment. These people have taken us to the edge of something terrible." (287) The first question raised by this passage is why Roth deliberately elides or Lou unthinkingly forgets Sinclair Lewis' name. I have no answer to that question outside of a very general statement about authorial anxiety. In The Plot Against America, Roth shies away from associating Lewis' name with his novel. Despite the incredible popularity of It Can't Happen Here--published in '36 to capitalize on the upcoming election, adapted for the theater that same year and performed by WPA actors across the country, It Can't Happen Here may've been the most popular, i.e. most-read and most-watched, work of 1936--Roth fails to mention it even though it belonged to the world the novel shares with ours. (The Lindbergh Administration takes office in 1940.) While I can see the practical reason for failing to mention it--an actual prophetic novel which imagines much of the same ground as an imaginative alternative history probably has no place in it--there's something off-putting about the fact that Roth still feels compelled to have Lewis appear, albeit briefly, in The Plot Against America: Meanwhile, Walter Winchell continued to refer to the Bundists as "Bundits," and Dorothy Thompson, the prominent journalist and wife of novelist Sinclair Lewis, who'd been expelled from the 1939 Bund rally for exercising what she called her "constitutional right to laugh at ridiculous statements in a public hall," went on denouncing their propaganda in the same spirit she'd demonstrated three years ealier when she'd exited the rally shouting "Bunk, bunk, bunk! Mein Kampf, word for word!" (177, emphasis mine) Who is Sinclair Lewis in the fictional world of Roth's novel? A novelist with an important wife. Roth seems unable to do with another what he does so masterfully with himself his selves, namely relate to an actual novelist who has written a novel very similar to one he himself has written. Does Roth want us to assume that Lewis' novel hasn't been written in his...
Wish Louisiana Mississippi & Alabama the Best To all my readers and friends in Baton Rouge tonight, good luck. And stop reading my friggin' blog and start taping your friggin' windows, filling every available container with fresh water, locating your stash of canned green beans and collard greens (and something to open them with), and nailing everything you want ruined (but not lost) onto something stable. Like a concrete patio. In Houston. Good luck to you and yours. (Before anyone says anything, I agree that most of the time the weather isn't news. When it resembles The Day After Tomorrow, however, it's news.) Shades of Galveston dance their frightening dance in my head tonight. I shouldn't say that because Aaron Brown's on CNN saying that "by this time tomorrow we might be looking at Louisiana, at New Orleans, and shaking our heads saying 'Yesterday there was a city there.'" How's that for a cheery, chipper thought? I have many Hurricane Andrew stories, however, and most of them involve stupid adolescent antics in the midst of one of the most dangerous hurricane of the 20th Century. So I have hope that all those I know, love and will be angry beyond the telling of it if they don't evacuate will look around in a week and have humorous flying projectile stories of the same sort I have. (But will they involve Lemonheads like bullets or will they be mundane tales of human survival in the face of natural disaster? Pray for Lemonheads, gentle reader, pray for Lemonheads.) EDIT: There's no reason to panic. Really. From the National Weather Service: AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED. THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. MANY WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE. HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A FEW POSSIBLY TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. MANY WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT. AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK. POWER OUTAGES MAY LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MANY POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS. THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED.

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