July 13th, 2012



Among the books in the departmental housecleaning stack (anyone with any experience around a university knows about departmental housecleaning stacks) was the seventh edition of Paula S. Rothenberg's Race, Class, and Gender in the United States, and once Book Review No. 24 is done, it goes back to the housecleaning stacks.  It's an anthology, and the only apparent organizing theme is that some people lead pretty miserable lives, and that misery is due in some part to circumstances beyond those people's control, which the compiler would like readers to believe can be summarized as the multiple oppressions of race, class and gender.  But if you'd like to find an antidote to the poverty of cultural studies, such as, oh, a coherent logical framework, keep looking.  You get the usual language about intersecting modes of oppression, but you also get essays in Comparative Victimization in which the tussles between gang-bangers of Latin American extraction and gang-bangers of African or Asian extraction suggest there is no one model of marginalization.  That is, once one rules out "deficient life-management skills", something that an extract from William Ryan's Blaming the Victim rules out.  Never mind that the toddler enters pre-school or kindergarten deficient in reading and calculating skills, and the pre-school corrects that.  Never mind that according to Allan Bloom, the freshman enters college uncivilized, and the opening of the American Mind corrects that.  And you get Holly Sklar's extended meditation on see that big house, see that small house, but no basis for doing anything other than commiserating.  (I found this post that suggests where to go from that information.)

The book is now available in an eighth edition, priced around $60.  Can you say third-party payments?  The customer reviews there say more about the book than I have.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
book and cup

#71 My Antonia - Willa Cather (1918)

The fifth of my re-reads – and I feel as if I am reading very slowly. I have been, and am still so very tired – that I am struggling to read for long in the evenings – and am now finding it hard to marshal my own thoughts and reactions. Oh well – I’ll do my best.
I had remembered nothing of this novel really – just knew that I had enjoyed it – probably twenty odd years ago. Whether my reading experience was affected by my tiredness this week, but although I did enjoy this book very much – I didn’t love the second half of the book as much as the first half – or as much as the Willa Cather novel I read a few months ago – O Pioneers. I would still recommend it highly though.
The introduction of My Antonia opens with two old friends travelling by train and reminiscing about a girl they had once known many years earlier. As a young boy of ten – Jim Burden travels to the plains of Nebraska to live with his grandparents. He quickly falls in love with the life they lead in the wide open spaces of the plains.
“The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers...I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
Their nearest neighbours are the Shimerdas a Bohemian family struggling to live in pretty rough conditions. Their daughter is the Antonia of the title – four years older than Jim, she is a strong handsome girl, full of life, and Jim is captivated by her. They become great friends – and Jim helps to teach her English. The years pass – Jim and his grandparents move into town, and later Antonia follows as she is hired to work for neighbours of the Burden’s in Black Hawke. Each section of the novel charts a different part of Jim and Antonia’s lives. Their paths diverge – when Jim goes to university, Antonia stays behind, is deserted by a man, has a child and goes back to her parent’s farm. Jim sees Antonia very infrequently although she is often in his thoughts. Antonia is a strong sympathetic character – although only ever seen through Jim’s eyes – she seems to embody the pioneer spirit.

“Antonia had always been one to leave images in the mind that did not fade - that grew stronger with time. In my memory there was a succession of such pictures, fixed there like the old woodcuts of one's first primer...She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true...She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture...All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.”
Willa Cather’s prose is deceptively simple – and yet she manages to evoke the Nebraskan landscape and the Pioneer life style perfectly. It is this landscape that is the real star of this novel.