Tuesday, 06 September 2005

Dreamy Architecture & Communion With the Dead (Suspected, Never Verified) On the way to San Francisco we stopped to visit The Winchester Mystery House. What intrigued me about this place is how much it resembles, in house-form, the architectural mode that makes Urbino the most interesting city on the planet. Characterized by more local decisions with global consequences than the world's witnessed prior to the current adminstration's "management" of domestic, international and interpersonal politics, Urbino was built in fits and starts over a couple of hundred years, resulting in a scene-scape which resembles a dream-scape more than a city-scape. Building upon building ascending endlessly (until reaching the birthplace of Raffaello) and then with burning calves and tightened thighs you turn and realize that not only can you ascend further but that the two available routes appear suddenly, as if the walls on your right rift for you alone. To your left is a path hardly discernable from the walls which border it and seems to consist of three ramps, seven of steps, then a stairway of such unreal steepness you reach for the ropes you'll undoubtedly need to descend it. The Winchester Mystery House, while not quite as counterintuitive as Urbino, is as haphazardly constructed (only not nearly so substantial). Its owner, the widowed heiress of the Winchester Rifle fortune, invested her inheritance in a lucrative scheme to ameliorate the souls (mostly Native American) wounded and killed by Winchester rifles. So she built stairs ascending into ceilings, doors which open onto fifteen foot falls or bricked-up walls, &c. I'll post more pictures whenever I figure out how to exploit Flickr's more than ample bandwith. I realize how "bloggy" this entry is. I may well deserve banishment to livejournal. At least I'm not whinging about things I'm incapable of changing.
Good Grief: Peanuts and Post-WWII Ennui I'm back from San Francisco with a backlog of ready-to-read posts that need only be written. The first is inspired by the afternoon I spent at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California. As I wandered its halls and read its walls, I remembered Catherine Jurca's article on Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. (A version of this article appears as the fifth chapter of her excellent White Diaspora.) According to Jurca, Sloan's novel about the money problems plaguing a recently returned WWII veteran "legitimates a contradictory truth for the [professional-managerial class]: its anxiety and unhappiness are inevitable components of its professional and economic well-being" (90). This anxiety, Jurca argues, "is crucial to the achievement and preservation of middle-class economic and social privileges" (92). While she convincingly argues her point, she shortchanges what I take to be Sloan's: namely, that the constellation of symptoms Jurca believes the "the sanctimonious suburbanite" in the 1950s exhibits is the product of the protagonist, Tom Rath, being a veteran of the Second World War. Rath's hostility to the empty conventions of suburban life manifests most saliently during those moments in which he compares (often unwittingly) the vividness of his time as a soldier with the routine of time as a cog. He resists the Great Machine only because his wartime experiences have tempered his soul; commonplace life becomes unbearable because there was a time when life was not commonplace but meaningful. (Jurca is certainly correct in her contention that there's more happening in the novel than what I've sketched out here. Contrary to popular opinion, I often openly admire the work of other scholars. Consider this one of those occasions.) What does this have to do with the afternoon I spent wandering the halls and reading the walls of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center? Schulz, like Rath, was also a veteran of WWII. (Were I allowed to take pictures inside the museum I'd festoon this paragraph with the sketches which accompanied his letters from the front. Brilliant satires of military life encapsulated in the space of an envelope.) He returned from war and created a world-famous comic strip about a boy who suffered from clinical depression not necessarily because of his constitution but because of the forces militating against him. Lucy pulls the football. Snoopy torments him. The entire world, in fact, works to make Charlie Brown's life more difficult than it needs to be. Unlike the eponymous Everett True, whose outbursts are the guff of legend, Charlie Brown never throttles Lucy for pulling for the football or throws Snoopy from a train for tormenting him. He yells "Good Grief!" with the resignation of a war veteran who long ago acquiesced to the unfair demands of the world. In short, my argument-by-suggestion is that Sloan's portrayal of a man whose wartime experience emptied civilian life of meaning applies equally to Charlie Brown (and perhaps Charles Schulz, although that would be a far more...

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