April 16, 2004


Go check out Big Pharaoh, posting live from “the crazy area I live in, the Middle East”:

I’m afraid almost no one shares my views in Egypt. Brainwashed by a completely unbalanced media, the majority of Egyptians do not give a hoot about the future of Iraq as long as they see the US in trouble. Nobody stops to think about how Iraq can evolve into a decent nation, they are busy praying for more chaos to prove that the US was wrong.

Also new, also excellent: Italy’s Joy of Knitting:

About a year ago I happened to talk with an acquaintance of mine, a teacher of Belles Lettres, and she expressed her distaste for American culture. She said it lacked depth. I replied that I had read several works by Americans and that I didn't find them superficial. At which she insisted, and I asked her if she had ever actually read anything written by an American, to which she replied "Not really". "Not really what? Almost, but not quite, or never?" I went on, feeling terribly nasty indeed, and stated quoting some well known authors. Henry David Thoreau? Herman Melville? Edgar Allan Poe? Henry James? Edith Wharton? "Not really, no." Not even oft quoted poets? Walt Whitman? Emily Dickinson? "Ehm, no."

Then she said solemnly, "I don't need to know American culture to understand that it's worthless."

Posted by Tim Blair at April 16, 2004 05:34 PM

I’m afraid almost no one shares my views in Egypt. Brainwashed by a completely unbalanced media, the majority of Egyptians do not give a hoot about the future of Iraq as long as they see the US in trouble. Nobody stops to think about how Iraq can evolve into a decent nation, they are busy praying for more chaos to prove that the US was wrong.

The scary thing is that if you take out 'Egypt' and replace it with 'Fitzroy' or 'Newtown', it's just as accurate.


Then she said solemnly, "I don't need to know American culture to understand that it's worthless."

Three little words, Miss Culturally High-And-Mighty:

Italian. Game. Shows.

Posted by: Andrew D. at April 16, 2004 at 06:00 PM

And William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Louis Zukofsky, Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Paul Bowles, Edward Dahlberg, Jack Spicer, Paul Blackburn, Robert Creeley, Douglas Woolf, John Hawkes, Gilbert Sorrentino, Hubert Selby, William Gaddis, James Purdy, Ishmael Reed, LeRoi Jones (if you can stand him as he morphs into Amiri Baraka), Wallace Markfield, the early William Eastlake, Coleman Dowell, Lorine Niedecker...?

Well, maybe she looks to places like the New York Times Book Review aka the Martian Gazette for the inside dope on American literature. With their carrying on about Saul Bellower, Norman Mail-it-in, & John What’s-Upike (“the faucet dripped rusty tears”), Joyce Carol Oats Breakfast Cereal, there were years when you’d have thought there were no other American writers.

Posted by: ForNow at April 16, 2004 at 06:06 PM

I meant, John What’s-UpDike.

I left out Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hart Crane, Emanuel Carnevali (emigrated from Italy, wrote beautifully in English, died young), Charles Olson, Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West....

Posted by: ForNow at April 16, 2004 at 06:17 PM

"I don't need to know American culture to understand that it's worthless."
And I don't need to meet her to understand that she's just another pretentious lefty academic jerk.

Posted by: Keith at April 16, 2004 at 07:04 PM

And I thought it was supposed to be Americans who were bumpkins who didn't read books.

Posted by: Quentin George at April 16, 2004 at 07:59 PM

Ezra Pound? The American sympathizer/collabrator with the Nazis and the Fascists, who had his passport taken away so he could live in Italy for his anti-American activities during WW2? Too bad the US did not do to him what Britain did to Lord Hee Haw (i.e. execute the man for treason.). At least Iva D'Aquino (Tokyo Rose) had a good reason for why she was acting the way she was....


Posted by: C.T. at April 16, 2004 at 08:10 PM

Nevertheless Ezra Pound was an extraordinary poet and even perhaps as TS Eliot (another American) named him, the greater craftsman of the two.

ForNow, you left off the greatest (yes, IMHO) of all 20th Century American novelists, William Faulkner. I don't know of anyone, save perhaps Nabokov (an American by choice), who could deny the depth, power, and artistry of Absalom, Absalom! or The Sound and the Fury. And this is also the opinion of a host of Nobel Prize Winners. Marquez referred literally to Faulkner as his Master. Sartre regarded John Dos Passos (also an American--and quite a right-winger at the end) and Faulkner as the greatest of all living novelists. Seamus Heaney, if memory serves, called Robert Frost his favorite poet.

Even the most ideologically scornful of anti-Americans recognizes the contributions of American artists to the culture of not just the US but also the world. The Brits are even afraid of opening up the Booker Prize to include American writers for fear of it being overwhelmed.

This (assuming she's) Italian woman is just an ignorant hack.

P.S. As a young man Kipling made a pilgrimage to the US to bow down before Mark Twain. For what its worth. I always liked Kipling.

Posted by: S.A. Smith at April 16, 2004 at 08:40 PM

Then she said solemnly, "I don't need to know American culture to understand that it's worthless."

While there are some pretty impressive names posted here, I think we're missing the point. Rationality and proof will not move the faithful. This teacher is baptised in the fire-and-brimstone faith known as Anti-Americanism. All you can do is chuckle at the poor dope's cognitive dissonance as she frantically struggles to hold on to her provincial world view when confronted with the facts. And it *is* pretty funny...

Posted by: Tongue Boy at April 17, 2004 at 12:07 AM

And just yesterday, the French ambassador was lecturing Americans for being rascist....the pot calling the kettle black.

Posted by: lulu at April 17, 2004 at 12:15 AM

Sounds like she's qualified for a gig teaching at an Ivy League school.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 17, 2004 at 12:37 AM

>>Rationality and proof will not move the faithful.

I agree this is the point, terrifying as it is.

Nevertheless, I have to add Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty to the list.

Posted by: Ann at April 17, 2004 at 01:26 AM

However much I love their country, the Italians are some of the first world's most provincial people. I wouldn't take it too personally, they embrace very little that isn't Italian. This is to their detriment, of course.

Posted by: peter at April 17, 2004 at 01:28 AM

Everyone might not agree, but I will add: John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton and Tom Wolfe.

Many europeans have such a superficial understanding of Americans and things American.

Posted by: Stacy at April 17, 2004 at 01:42 AM

Ahem, I left Twain, Faulkner, Welty out purely in order to leave other commenters something to say.

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 01:49 AM

"We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It's a breed - selected out by accident. And so we're overbrave and overfearful - we're kind and cruel as children. We're overfiendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We're oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That's what we are all of us."

The Chinese immigrant Lee in East of Eden - Steinbeck. 1952.

Posted by: Stacy at April 17, 2004 at 01:53 AM

Also Dos Passos etc.

Yes, he was, like Dahlberg, an one-time commnunist. Dahlberg said that Dos Passos was the only communist he ever knew who was also a human being.

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 01:55 AM

I am so sorry but I must add: "We're violent people. Maybe it's true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave the independent and generous. If our ancester had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil."

Posted by: Stacys at April 17, 2004 at 02:00 AM

A well-known British SF author who has emigrated to Texas, evidently to keep his sneer in training, and his wife once visited a bookstore where I part-timed. Said wife trolled out the usual Texas-cultural-wasteland comments. That seemed strange to me since Texas has a serious arts program in its schools and was one of the biggest customers for playscripts we had at my day job (publisher). To which said wife replied sweetly, "Yes, but they aren't very _good_ plays are they?"

Since pointing out that our biggest sellers were Shaw, Molière and the Greeks would only have confused matters at that point, I left them signing their albino swordsman fantasy books...

Posted by: Richard McEnroe at April 17, 2004 at 02:17 AM

Moorcock's wife radiates all the sweet good nature of Ilsa, She Wolf of the Nazis.

I once had a chance to visit Moorcock at his house, but after I read his impassioned defense of Andrea Dworkin, I figured we wouldn't have much to talk about.

Posted by: Bruce at April 17, 2004 at 02:31 AM

I second John Steinbeck and add Willa Cather. I love to re-read their work, especially My Antonia. Their stories are simple yet majestic.

Posted by: Polly at April 17, 2004 at 02:47 AM

“They threw me off the hay truck about noon”—one of the most concise opening lines ever, The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain

“Kansas City is a vast inland city, and its marvelous river, the Missouri, heats the senses; the maple, alder, elm and cherry trees with which the town abounds are songs of desire, and only the almonds of ancient Palestine can awaken the hungry pores more deeply. It is a wild, concupiscent city, and few there are troubled about death until they age or are sick. Only those who know the ocean ponder death as they behold it, whereas those bound closely to the ground are more sensual.” —opening of Because I Was Flesh by Edward Dahlberg

“It is not the State, but the people that wither away” —Edward Dahlberg at the end of Can These Bones Live


“KoKo. What did that mean? Gibby and Donnie G sat listening to it for the fourth time in Donnie’s room. Whole pieces of their world were being chipped off and shredded, ruthlessly. Great blasts of foreign air. A foreign air, the whole wide world entering the house.
“Donnie had called Gibby in to hear it, a record he’d bought for the other side, a Don Byas ballad. And there was this Charles Parker and his Re-Bop Boys playing ‘KoKo.’ They stared at each other, sharing a Wings. They were almost frightened.
“Nothing to do with the street or the neighborhood or Yodel’s or Al or Eddy. Or the girls. Or the Friday night dances. The local Democratic Club. 8-Ball. A clear-edged world of turmoil and darkness. Black.
“A foreign air. It might have been Rimbaud come to their ears in perfect candor. What was the drummer doing? The notes crammed together and released, zipping, glittering. The sound of that bright metal being flailed.
“They left themselves. They came back. They laughed and played an hour of Benny Goodman and then played Parker again. The same clear joy. They went outside and the street seemed different, they saw it narrow. With people closed out from the gigantic world. It had blasted a hole in the world around them. Through which, Apollinaire, beckoning them to his fabulous Texas. Charles Parker singing underneath the limes.”
—opening of Steelwork by Gilbert Sorrentino

“Mr. Twombly was awake before Cynthia. Usually they slept only until the sun entered their room, and usually Cynthia woke first, woke him. Not today. Perhaps the sun had grown too weak for her or, hard to believe, would be in the room for too short a period to interest her. Yesterday it had been just twentynine minutes; this morning, although he was too late to time, he knew it would be a few seconds less. And Cynthia lay with her head pillowed by her hands, in sun and unaware. When he scratched her underside with his fingernail she stretched her long neck a little, opened her eyes to blink at him. Mr. Twombly did not really like to tease her, but he did not like to see her sluggish either. Shaking his head, he dropped her two breakfast flies. Some days he preferred not to watch her dismember and devour them, so he lay back on the pillow listening to her knock her rocks, and listening for Kate’s snoring to stop, soon Ben’s, little Gloria’s. When finally that happened he knew, even more surely than when he felt the sun, that a day was here.” —opening of Fade Out by Douglas Woolf

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 03:10 AM

Let me add a couple of ornery Irish cusses from my area of the country: Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy.

Oh, but they write Westerns and are thus obviously grubby peasants and unworthy of attention.

Of course, they are Westerns only in the most general of senses. But try telling an effete Euroteacher that.

Posted by: Steve in Houston at April 17, 2004 at 03:43 AM

"Huckleberry Finn" is America's "Don Quixote", and "Iliad", and "Canterbury Tales."

"It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger - but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither."

No sentence ever summed up America's most complex and continuous conflict better, or with more honesty.

Posted by: Dave S. at April 17, 2004 at 04:01 AM


McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses" express in beautiful detail what it means to be cowboy. It is a worthy piece.

Posted by: Stacy at April 17, 2004 at 04:07 AM

Stacy, I agree - it's terrific. Some of his earlier work - e.g., "Blood Meridian" - is unbelievably dark and decidedly unromantic in its depiction of life in the West.

Posted by: Steve in Houston at April 17, 2004 at 04:17 AM

Ayn Rand, mother of modern Libertarianism and one of the best-selling authors of all time (Yes, she was not native-born; but she was naturalised, lived, wrote, and died an American)

Charles Bukowski, the prose-poet of the bottle

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the father of modern horror

William S. Burroughs

Robert E. Howard, without whom your Famous English Fantasy Author would still be writing "true confessions" for five cents a word

Ambrose Bierce

Posted by: Dave P. at April 17, 2004 at 04:33 AM

I mus thumbly object, Dave, in that while Rand may be oft-sold (so is L. Ron Hubbard, mind you), and many of her ideas important (especially the ones that aren't wrong), she's really not a very good writer, in terms of Art.

I mean, did anyone read the whole John Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged?

In terms of literary craft, I find it boggling that she's in the company of the fine authors in your list. But maybe it's just me.

Posted by: Sigivald at April 17, 2004 at 04:44 AM

Man, you guys have named some great authors. You are obviously too cultured to be Americans or Australians!

I have to put Salinger on the list, I don't care what anyone says. Ditto with Kerouac.
Steinbeck was great, I'd like to second and third that one. Some of his passages in Grapes of Wrath almost made me cry, I wish I had a copy to quote from with me (I'm at work, it's at home).

Bukowski is a great one too.
John Kennedy Toole of A Confederacy of Dunces, one hit wonder, but a great hit. Was Joseph Heller American? I think he was, and Catch-22 is on my all time short list.
Has anyone actually touched on some of our sci-fi contributors? That list would be pretty long I imagine.
And can an inquiring mind ask for some of the great Aussie writers?

Posted by: Kyle at April 17, 2004 at 06:06 AM

I don't need to know Italian culture to know that meatballs belong in sandwiches.

Posted by: derf at April 17, 2004 at 07:10 AM

“Once upon a time there was time. The land here in the Southwest had evolved slowly and there was time and there were great spaces. Now a man on horseback from atop a bold mesa looked out over the violent spectrum of the Indian Country—into a gaudy infinity where all the colors of the world exploded, soundlessly.
“ ‘There’s not much time,’ he said.
“The young man was confiding things to no one beneath a single buzzard witness sailing in patterned concentric rounds without tracings in the hard, perfect New Mexico blue, way up. Now the young man swung the horse and walked it slowly along a ledge that looked down on the geological southern end of the Rocky Mountains above an unknown wash called the Rio Salado. The Rockies finished in a flaring red Morrison formation set off by a dwindling strip of white gypsum. The long, giant, heroic Rockies died here in a crumpled flag motion where few people knew.”
—opening of Go In Beauty by William Eastlake

“No, no, Henri. Hands off the wheel. Please. It is too late. After all, at one hundred and forty-nine kilometers per hour on a country road in the darkest quarter of the night, surely it is obvious that your slightest effort to wrench away the wheel will pitch us into the toneless world of highway tragedy even more quickly than I have planned. And you will not believe it, but we are still accelerating.
“As for you, Chantal, you must beware. You must obey your Papa. You must sit back in your seat and fasten your belt and stop crying. And Chantal, no more beating the driver about the shoulders or shaking his arm. Emulate Henri, my poor Chantal, and control yourself.
“But see how we fly! And the curves, how sharp and numerous they are! The geometrics of joy!
“At least you are in the hands of an expert driver.”
—opening of Travesty by John Hawkes

“Somewhere, out beyond the limits of the twentieth century, there is an outpost called Tasmania, Ohio. It is not so cold as Cleveland, nor so drab as Cincinnati, nor so mean-spirited as Columbus. It is no nearly so large as any of those three rather ghastly Ohioan Fates (Cincinnati spins; Cleveland measures; Columbus bites with mad yellow teeth), having had the good sense to stop at natural barriers, knowing that if you climb every mountain and ford every stream, chances are you’ll wind up with a wet hernia.”
—opening of Mrs. October Was Here by Coleman Dowell

“Place broken: their faces sat and broke each other. As suns, Sons gone tired in the heart and left the south. The North, years later she’d wept for him drunk and a man finally they must have thought. In the dark, he was even darker. Wooden fingers running. Wind so sweet it drank him.
“Faces broke. Charts of age. Worn thru, to see black years. Bones in iron faces. Steel bones. Cages of decay. Cobblestones are wet near the army stores. Beer smells, Saturday. To now, they have passed so few lovely things.”
—opening of “A Chase (Aligheri’s Dream)” in Tales by LeRoi Jones later known as Amiri Baraka

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 07:59 AM

Hey, and let's not forget some other masterworks by Baraka:

from 'The Black Man is Making New Gods'

"Atheist Jews double crossers stole our secrets…They give us to worship a dead Jew [Jesus Christ] and not ourselves… Selling fried potatoes and people, the little arty bastards talking arithmetic they sucked from the arab's head…"

Hell, he might really appeal to this eye-tie.

Posted by: Bruce at April 17, 2004 at 09:03 AM

Truman Capote
J.D. Salinger
William Styron
Carl Shapiro

Posted by: Theodopoulos Pherecydes at April 17, 2004 at 09:04 AM

Much like the the westerns Steve mentioned, critics have a hard time taking SF seriously. I'll add Isaac Asimov to the list. Born in Russia but an American from the age of three. One of the founding fathers of modern science fiction, and writer of more than 500 books also covering topics from hard science to theology and history.

Posted by: Bryan C at April 17, 2004 at 09:15 AM

I'm not surprised that this enjoyable thread celebrating my American *culture* (get the word straight Euroweenies) hails from Australia. Without ever having travelled there I'm more and more convinced that our two lands have a great deal in common.

Without any further cataloguing let me add American music to the above. Oh yeah...

Posted by: Sweete at April 17, 2004 at 09:25 AM

Jones/Baraka has become evil-minded, & hatred was always big with him. Black racism, Stalinism, that’s the kind of thing that he’s into. His later writing is full of cheap false shots & is a conscious attempt to plant seeds of hatred & venom into American culture forever.

Ezra Pound was a naive money-crank, a fascist, & a traitor who narrowly escaped being hanged for broadcasting enemy propaganda like Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) who was hanged for that. Instead Pound was confined to a mental institution for the rest of his life. How strange that he & the Jewish Leninist Louis Zukofsky remained friends.

Of course the French have Jean Genet, who believed in the beauty of evil as such, & wrote in the effort to make the reader to feel that beauty. Planes crashing into suburban homes, such things turned him on.

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 09:44 AM

To the sci-fi division I nominate J.G. Ballard & Henry Kuttner (vague strong impressions from long ago) & second the nomination of H.P. Lovecraft who despite his weaknesses is not to be ignored (keep Cthulhu happy).

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 10:37 AM

I don't need to know this woman to understand that she's a worthless, obnoxious bigot.

I agree with all the authors mentioned here. I would add Ralph Ellison, Paul Fussell, Howard Fast and Carl Sagan.

As for Australian authors, how about Patrick White, Kit Denton, Mary Durack, David Malouf or Christos Tsioalkas? You don't have to agree with their political views to appreciate their writing.

Posted by: gaz at April 17, 2004 at 01:05 PM

How about Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler?

Posted by: Sarah at April 17, 2004 at 01:18 PM

For good science fiction authors, there's Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Poul Anderson, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, S.M. Stirling, John Ringo, and David Drake.

And I enjoy A. Bertram Chandler -- from Oz, if I recall correctly. H.G. Wells is another notable author.

And in the interest of fairness, there is always Jules Verne. True, he was French, but wrote some good yarns!

Posted by: JeffS at April 17, 2004 at 01:47 PM

The British fantasy & horror writer Algernon Blackwood lived many years in the USA.

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 02:09 PM

More American greats (who I've read and can vouch for) - Emerson, Stephen King, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, James Thurber, E.B. White and P.J. O'Rourke. Maybe I should wait for the verdict of history, but I do think P.J. O'Rourke (still writing) is a genius.
In general, I think the Brit's do Sci-fi better than the Americans - Ballard (he is British, not American), Aldiss, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and, yes, Moorcock.
Great Australian writers - try A.D. Hope, James McCauley, Mary Gilmore, Clive James, and Barry Humphries. Greg Egan is a good Australian sci-fi author.

Posted by: TimT at April 17, 2004 at 02:20 PM

Ballard, British, of course. I was too young to focus on that back then.

I just remembered a remarkable science fiction novel I read on an off chance years ago, The Forgotten Planet, in which the 40th generation of descendants of spaceshipwreck survivors have to contend with an almost overwhelming environment of giant insects, spiders, etc., themselves descendants of a much earlier accidentally interrupted & forgotten terraforming project. What makes it work is that the author Murray Leinster is an entomologist who writes very well indeed & brings a scientific perspective to the characterizations of the bugs & the buggy, mushroomy environment (aside from the novelistically suspended fact that the bugs actually too big to live) & also to the characterizations of the humans in ways that seem interesting & natural.

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 02:38 PM

ForNow, Blackwood is one of my favourites. And if he can be claimed as one of our own, then surely PG Wodehouse can, a man who absolutely loved the US, lived here most of his life, and died an American citizen. He's buried on Long Island.

Posted by: Sarah at April 17, 2004 at 04:03 PM

Blackwood fan here too. I’ve even read Episodes At Thirty & some of Blackwood’s so-called children’s books—strange & poignant.

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 05:41 PM

The Arab street who couldn't care less about the Iraqi people just so long as America is proved wrong, sounds a lot like the SBS and the ABC to me.
As for American culture maybe that French moron meant to say Arab culture...if there is such a thing...oh wait, honour killings, I guess that's included as part of their wonderful cultural heritage.

Posted by: Brian. at April 17, 2004 at 06:15 PM

“Favourites”—interesting spelling—quick, what’s the last letter of the alphabet?.Did you say “zed”? Are you a transplant, Sarah, an immigrant? Is this claiming the foreign-born as our own really about—you? If so, welcome to the USA, fellow Amerrrican. :)

Posted by: ForNow at April 17, 2004 at 07:01 PM

Ah, nothing so romantic, alas. I'm American born, but my Canadian mum somehow managed to impose the spellings and accents of her native land on me at a tender age, and I've never recovered completely.
My favorite Blackwood is "The Willows." I'm determined to canoe the Danube one of these days, in search of sentient vegetation.

Since you're a Blackwood fan, I probably needn't recommend M.R. James, E.F. Benson, and Arthur Machen...?

Posted by: Sarah at April 17, 2004 at 08:27 PM

You know, William Cullen Bryant was pretty darn good. Too bad no one reads him any more; he's like the Hudson River School in verse.

And O. Henry hasn't been mentioned!

Posted by: Brian at April 17, 2004 at 09:13 PM

Oh sure- the Americans get a really balanced picture from their media.

The average American knows less about US foreign policy then the average Arab on the street.

Posted by: rhactive at April 17, 2004 at 10:38 PM


All Arabs know is that they're not responsible for anything. An absolution that gutless Al Jazeera ladles out by the spoonfull!

Posted by: Brian. at April 17, 2004 at 10:58 PM


The topic was American culture. And I like how you call average Americans ignorant. How Sherwood Anderson of you.

Posted by: ushie at April 18, 2004 at 01:06 AM


The topic was American culture. And I like how you call average Americans ignorant. How Sherwood Anderson of you.

Posted by: ushie at April 18, 2004 at 01:06 AM

Hmmmmmm.....an intelligent conversation interrupted with an irrelevant and idiotic comment. Must be rhactive.

rhactive, go and read a book. Try Dante's The Divine Comedy, with a focus on Inferno. For your homework, answer the following question in 50 words or less: "Which Circle of Hell should rhactive be placed in?" Your answer will be graded for proper grammar, spelling, and concise thoughts.

Posted by: JeffS at April 18, 2004 at 02:27 AM

No one has mentioned F. Scott Fitzgerald or Nathaniel West, Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams, Chaim Potok or Langston Hughes.

I get tired of the incessant Euro-bigotry too. Despite the inflated sense of themselves as being "experts" on our politics and our culture, if you converse with them at any length you quickly come to realize they know very little about us. They know Bruce Willis and Bennifer and that's it.

Mainly what I've learned over about the past few years of reading blogs from Europe, is that I'm really, really glad my ancestors caught a boat that sailed west 150 years ago.

I bet there are a lot of Aussies who feel the same way (except the boats were going southeast.)

Posted by: Susan at April 18, 2004 at 04:14 AM

Ushie: I rather thought rhactive's comments were more Sinclair Lewis-ish, perhaps with a dash of John Dos Passos thrown in, and seasoned with a pinch of William Soroyan.

Posted by: Susan at April 18, 2004 at 04:46 AM

Doesn't Thomas Pynchon rate a mention? Okay, 'Vineland' was no 'V', let alone a 'Gravity's Rainbow', but 'Mason & Dixon' is gorgeous. And 'Crying of Lot 49' is a masterpiece. It's not mere literary smoke and mirrors, you know.

Posted by: Dombo at April 18, 2004 at 04:53 AM

Not much romantic about me either. I was born in Philly. After a year & a half I was in Manhattan & my family soon followed. Now I call Queens home. I’ve recently taken to sometimes putting the “u” in “glamour” since I learned that there is no word glamor in Latin. (The word actually comes via Scotland from “grammar.” See Quiddities by W.V. Quine.)

I may have read this or that by M.R. James, E.F. Benson, or Arthur Machen long ago in anthologies. Doubtless I’ll read ’em all eventually.

I mentioned [F.] Scott Fitzgerald & Nathanael West. And let’s not forget Stephen Crane.

Ron Loewinsohn (Magnetic Field(s)). Ross Feld (among other things, Years Out & Only Shorter, the latter a novel about cancer which Feld himself had & recovered from).

Irving Rosenthal (Sheeper). William S. Burroughs’ son William Burroughs Jr. (Kentucky Ham).

Hilda Dolittle, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi. Paul Bowles’ wife Jane Bowles also wrote. A biography of her was a bestseller some years back. I was never crazy about ee cummings but there he is. Gertrude Stein.

And irresponsible, crazy Paul Goodman, one of Gestalt Psychology’s three co-founders, also author of the once famous Growing Up Absurd, wrote also novels, short stories, & poems. He wrote beautifully, & was that rarest thing, a “writer of ideas” who has the art to carry it off as literature, but his personal proclivities, some of which peek out in his writing, made him another moral & social disaster for American literature.

Posted by: ForNow at April 18, 2004 at 06:11 AM

...and then there's Albert Murray, H.L. Mencken, Michael Herr's "Dispatches", Ralph Ellison, Ben Franklin's autobiography, William Least Heat Moon, "Black Elk Speaks", Will Rogers, Ken Kesey, John Muir, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, Gary Larsen, Barry Lopez...and on and on...

And lets not forget the basics--is there an Italian "Declaration of Independence", "Common Sense", "Federalist Papers", "On Civil Disobedience", "Gettysburg Address", "JFK's innaugural speech", "I Have a Dream", "Letter From Birmingham Jail" and so much more?

I have been struck since 9/11 by the extent of anti-American bigotry, and how it is based on such a degree of ignorance of America that its proponents should be ashamed.

Remind me again why the US is providing for the protection of Europe? I'm inclined to be pro-NATO, but...I think we have better things to do.

Posted by: philip at April 18, 2004 at 10:46 AM

You really can't take such shit seriously. With the small amount of info given you don't know where she was coming from or what the reference was anyway. I think the comment has more basis in the typical lefty academic attitute (which is the same as US academic lefties) rather than a serious cross cultural challenge. Let me make a full disclosure here - I was born in Europe and there are certain aspects of European culture and lifestyle that I really love. And it is understandable that Europeans are highly annoyed with certain attitudes and practices of Americans. The insularity and lack of interest in other languages and aspects of other cultures can be infuriating to them. A lot of it is situational of course -- we are way over here and have the dominant economy and the English language is the business language so there isn't much incentive. With that said, it used to drive me nuts that when I was on a European business trip with other Americans they wanted to eat steak and go to the local Irish pub. For crying out loud I used to tell them. You can have steak and go to an Irish pub anytime! Why the hell not go eat something that is only available here and check out the local nightlife? The quality of ordinary food is so much better in Europe and I can see why they look down on US fast food proliferation that is taking down the level of their cuisine.

But the bottom line is simple and universal hatred of our economic dominance and power, especially since we don't follow the "socialistic" way quite as strongly at this point (we're heading there). And that gives them an excuse for the differential acheivement. We are rapacious capitalists and that's the only reason we're ahead. They focus on the good of the people with all their social benefits, etc. The thing that infuriates me is that they turn a blind eye to the fact that it is only the US subsidization of their defense that allows them to bribe themselves with all these cushy social benefits. They are in for a big fall and it isn't the US that is their real threat. It is the far East.

Posted by: JohnPV at April 18, 2004 at 01:08 PM

We're taking the wrong take by trying to overwhelm this vapid ignoramus with a plethora of writers' name. Try naming a dozen Italian writers since Leopardi. Theirs is a visual and musical culture, and they taught the Frogs to cook, but by and large, they haven't produced much significant literature in our era. And yes, I've read I Promessi Sposi all the way through in English and large chunks in Italian, and Andrea Giovene is one of my favorite modern novelists, so I am not speaking from ignorance. Ignore her. She's just another academic slut.

Posted by: bernard at April 18, 2004 at 01:14 PM

And of course I meant to say "taking the wrong tack."

Posted by: bernard at April 18, 2004 at 01:18 PM

Gosh golly, JohnPV, I guess I went to a different Europe back in 1981 than you experienced whenever you were there. But I didn't hang out with cultural snobs as you apparently did. By the way, John, you can't have learned very much about your European buddies if you think that they harbor some hatred of steak and fries. Every time I went anywhere, steak was prominent on the menu, though of course it was indifferently prepared at best (actually, you could easily have dissuaded your American acquaintances from wanting steak in Europe by telling them that Europeans have absolutely no idea of how to properly cook a steak, and that they would be disappointed if they insisted on trying the European version), but Europeans (at least in France and Germany) seem to think of it as a delicacy to be savored. As for pommes frites, aka "chips," aka oh-god-not-fried-potatoes again, I would like to know where you lived, because from your attitude it seems that it was the one place in Europe where the things were not served at every goddamn meal. Sure, I had some great meals there, but nothing to beat many of the fine meals I have eaten here in the vulgar USA (to equal them, yes, to beat them, no). The only thing I wish was more easily obtainable is the wonderful extra-thick cream they have in England. But I also ate some of the most comically bad meals I have ever had anywhere, and that includes Denny's: rabbit in Geneva that was so tough I figured they'd baked up Grandpa Cottontail after he keeled over from hardening of the arteries, a piece of "beefsteak" (no, not done "American-style," but with some sort of mushroom sauce) in Cologne that was also so tough that I couldn't chew it, and as for eating in England, I have three words for you: high school cafeteria. The waitresses all even looked like the Lunch Lady, complete with nose wart... I thanked god regularly for all the Tandoori houses and Chinese take-away places, and after the first couple of meals of "hamburger" (gray mystery meat patty covered with lukewarm brown gravy, and the ubiquitous, soon-to-be-hated-as-no-food-has-ever-been-hated-before chips), so did my mother. As for Europeans hating the fast food industry, I guess that's why these places are so damn popular and successful over there: they hate them.

But enough of the odd fact that every time one criticizes European culture all they can think up to fight back with is their food, let's deal with this stereotype mr JohnPV emitted:

And it is understandable that Europeans are highly annoyed with certain attitudes and practices of Americans. The insularity and lack of interest in other languages and aspects of other cultures can be infuriating to them.
Gee, get out much? I suppose our insularity and lack of interest explains why there are American tourists all over the world -- after all, we have plenty of stuff to do within our own borders, yet there we are, running clinics in deepest Africa and exploring the highlands of New Guinea for National Geographic, and trying to fix things in the Middle East when the holy goddamn rest of the world can't even be bothered. I would like to know where this idea of the insularity and incuriosity about other people and places came from. I suspect it came from the same place all this other "America sux" crap came from: out of somebody's ass. Amazing how people are willing to handle a turd once it has dried out.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 18, 2004 at 02:31 PM

Nitpickers. Why shouldn’t we take the opportunity to talk literature? Why should we care about how much info we have about her in particular when she in particular will never hear from us or be affected by us in any way?

If somebody prefers another track why don’t they just pursue it in their comment instead of knocking the fun track that the rest of us took?

What do we really care where precisely she was coming from or what Europeans precisely think? Which is sort of the point. Europeans have long cared more what we think of them than vice versa. Europeans get very competitive about this. I’ve certainly met a few “Ugly Europeans”—coming here only to endlessly, boringly talk about how this, that, & the other thing is better in Europe.

It may be a shame that Americans aren’t more curious about such deep things as foreign foods & nightlife. And, on the very Moon, an American plays golf. But why should people care what we’re curious about? I’ve seen this concern reach the point where people from little countries have told me that they’re angry that we have no interest in watching their native dances on our TV shows here, or in learning their languages of many declensions, cases, conjugations, tenses, moods, aspects, etc. (If the bickering grievously tribalistic grudge-maniacal Euros had agreed on Esperanto or some such E-Z synthetic lingo for international stuff, we’d probably have taught it in our schools too & the vaunted Paths of Communication would have been thrown wide open.) As if Americans could all be learning the ALL the languages of ALL the countries where high schools teach English as the second language—which is what the combined demands amount to. I have actually had to point specific implication out to foreigners. People around the world certainly aren’t curious enough to learn about our civil culture. James Madison isn’t even on the radar screen of their political intellectuals.

One might add that some sticking to the familiar keeps many an American out of plenty of trouble in foreign lands.

The thread took off, for fun most of all, on in a direction lent to it by the original post.

It’s a shame if it’s true that, like many Americans, Italians ignore their own best writers, writers in the Italian case like Italo Calvino (cosmicomics, t zero, The Baron in the Trees, Invisible Cities, etc.), Italo Svevo (The Confessions of Zeno, The Further Confessions of Zeno), Ignazio Silone (The School for Dicatators), etc. But I don’t see how it follows that we should not point to our literature as an example of our culture. If somebody wants to point to something else, go right ahead, nobody’s stopping them.

Posted by: ForNow at April 18, 2004 at 02:32 PM

Even though I maintain some of what I said in unexpected contradiction to Andrea Harris, I completely agree with her, except where I’m too ignorant to say anything, like the dominance of pomme frites or chips in European dining.

Posted by: ForNow at April 18, 2004 at 02:38 PM

Actually, dude, I think you agree with me. We even have to remind Europeans of those aspects of their culture that are, you know, culture (ie, artists, writers), because every time (it seems) one brings the subject up, all they do is go on and on about their superior eating habits. So they take three hours to eat a baguette, yay them.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 18, 2004 at 02:42 PM

And the fries -- take it from me, they were offered at every meal. And they were fries, just like the ones they serve at Denny's.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 18, 2004 at 02:43 PM

Glory, glory, plastic turkey!
Euros knock our great beef jerky!
Euros turn red & their Muses get shed,
And their crooks go posturing on!

Posted by: ForNow at April 18, 2004 at 03:25 PM

Speaking of Italian writers, there is the one whom we can also count as an American, Emanuel Carnevali, about whom both Anderson & W.C. Williams wrote, & who came to the USA, wrote beautifully in English a single book published 1925 in one printing & out of print ever since, costing you a pretty penny to buy as a collectible, the book A Hurried Man consisting of stories & poems, & he returned to Italy, & died of a disease.


I hope something will be done about this, my God!

“Her name was Melany Piano and she was born of a very good family, in Turin, Piedmond, Italy. Turin is a grey serious earnest city with long straight streets, a huddle of square blocks. If she had been born out in the mountains where Emily lived this wouldn’t have happened, but then . . .
“I saw the old photographs of the family, a yellowish mist on them. Photographs of the romantic period. Period in which one still believed in the solemn face or the melancholy face or the noble face or the pale face. The face of her mother was solemn and mysterious. The face of her father was that of a man with the heart of a knight ; crowned with the well-balanced smile of the successful man ; life to him was an adventure in gallantry — women and war. He was, in fact, an officer of the Italian army in the Erythrean expedition.”

Posted by: ForNow at April 18, 2004 at 04:25 PM

Italian writers: Primo Levi, don't forget him. Famous for If This Is A Man, (survivors account of the holocaust; I haven't read it), he also wrote other fantastic books - Moments of Reprieve, The Mirror Maker, The Periodic Table, The Sixth Day.
If I could speak Italian I might know more about their literature. As it is, all I know is there's a guy called Dante, and that's about all.

Posted by: TimT at April 18, 2004 at 11:27 PM

How could I have forgotten HUBERT SELBY, JR.?

Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)
The Room (1971)
The Demon (1976)
Requiem for a Dream (1978)
Song of the Silent Snow (1986)
The Willow Tree (1998)
Waiting Period (2002)

He has just died. Hubert Selby, Jr., b. July 23 1928, d. April 26 2004, was a writer’s writer, one of the best. W at MerdeInFrance says his goodbye.

Audio of NPR interview with the writer Gilbert Sorrentino about his childhood friend Selby.

Rest in peace.

Posted by: ForNow at April 30, 2004 at 06:37 AM