Monday, 21 September 2009

Be nice, now. The English language is not Ed Morrissey’s strong suit, and he at least makes a show of reining in the racist comments he knowingly baits from his audience. Update. If you came from over here, you need to note two things: first, that Patrick's only talking about the title of this post, which is odd, because in the body of the post the sarcasm of the title becomes absolutely clear. So clear, in fact, that my later clarification is really only for people who only read the title of this post. Second, Patrick completely ignores the argument of both this post and my clarification. Make what you will of his silence as regards anything other than the sarcastic title of this post. It seems Mr. Ed Morrissey caught President Obama fibbing again. See, Michelle Obama said this: I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong. So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and same something’s wrong. We didn’t know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. So we were terrified. He said, get to the emergency room right away. Which the New York Times reported thus: In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare. So far, so consistent: something was wrong with Sasha Obama; she was brought to a pediatrician; the pediatrician told her parents she could have meningitis and advised them to take her to the hospital. But Morrissey is suspicious because [i]n a speech to nurses just eight days earlier, Barack Obama told the story quite a bit differently (emphasis mine): When our youngest daughter, Sasha, was diagnosed with meningitis when she was just three months old, it was one of the scariest moments of my life. And we had to have a spinal tap administered and she ended up being in the hospital for three or four days. And it was touch and go, we didn’t know whether she’d be permanently affected by it. It was the nurses who walked us through what was happening and made sure that Sasha was okay. Well, she wasn’t diagnosed with meningitis. How hard is it to get the facts straight so that both Obamas tell the same story? I know what you’re thinking: this is the kind of close-reading I advocate doing in posts like this. Let it be known, however, that I do not believe paying close attention to language is enough: the conclusions drawn from that analysis abide by the basic rules of logic and the English language. So let me help Mr. Morrissey out: Michelle Obama said: So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and same something’s wrong. We didn’t know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. President Obama said:...
A New Literary History of the United States in Literature The publication of A New Literary History of the United States will likely strike a few chords familiar to the participants in the debate that followed Rohan’s latest post. Written neither in the Emory Elliot mode—a history of items both literary and American—nor that of Sacvan Bercovitch—a history all items written by Americans that can be yours for the low, low price of $299.29—editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors instead decided to write a cultural history of the United States in a self-consciously literary voice. As Laura Miller at Salon* writes, the two have pitched the biggest tent conceivable, pegging each of the chronologically arranged essays in the book to “points in time and imagination where something changed: when a new idea or a new form came into being, when new questions were raised, when what before seemed impossible came to seem necessary or inevitable.” With this in mind, they’ve produced a compendium that is neither reference nor criticism, neither history nor treatise, but a genre-defying, transcendent fusion of them all. It sounds impossible, but the result seems both inevitable and necessary and profoundly welcome, too. This is, then, an anthology seemingly written to drive J.C. Hallman to drink, because it doggedly focuses on cultural significance over the literariness of the literary. However soul-deadening he might consider its subject matter, the manner in which most of it is written would likely meet with approval. Though idea-driven, the prose in Jonathan Lethem’s entry on Thomas Edison—in which he exclusively discusses the inventor’s place in film history—still sings: To watch the Edison films now, and those of the other production companies that joined him in the earliest phase of the film industry, is to discover a portal peering both backward and forward in cultural time. Even the most assiduous film buffs tend to begin with Charlie Chaplin, who appeared as a performer and made his first pictures as a fledgling director in 1914, or D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation a year later. But the films that preceded those are as revelatory for their familiarity as their strangeness. Almost none presents a possibility that will fail to be exfoliated in the great boom to come, nor explores an avenue that runs anywhere but straight from the common cultural trove. A 120-second costumed Punch and Judy show like The Clown and the Alchemist (Edison Company, 1900), with its antic clown assisted in his abuses of the sententious alchemist by the use of stop-motion special effects, forms a lucid bridge between vaudeville and a Jim Carrey movie—The Mask, say. And watching the Selig Polyscope Company’s thirteen-minute 1910 version of The Wizard of Oz provides an uncanny sense of dislocation. Presenting a series of highlight moments derived from the popular stage version (adapted by L. Frank Baum, the novel’s author), the Selig Oz, in scenes of the Tin Man’s oiling, of the tale’s companions skipping arm in arm down a yellow brick road, and of the Wizard’s departure by balloon, seems a precognitive appropriation...

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