Tuesday, June 11, 2013


"The master no longer says: 'You shall think as I do or you shall die'; but he says: 'You are free to think differently from me and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but you are henceforth a stranger among your people... Your fellow creatures will shun you like an impure being.. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence worse than death." -- de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

"You think me the child of circumstances: I make my circumstances. Let any thought or motive of mine be different from what they are, the difference will transform my condition and economy.  You call it the power of circumstance but it is the power of me."  Emerson, "The Transcendentalist"
All ye acolytes now may bow.

For rarely has a director so young earned for his films the kind of breathless excitement and critical esteem that now routinely greet Paul Thomas Anderson's work.  His most recent, The Master, has evoked comparisons to Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane for naturalistic detail and technical innovation.  And in praise of its thematic range and fatalistic vision, less circumspect reviews even have invoked the novels of Twain, Norris, and Dreiser. 

Now, we should forgive any critic if, after hundreds of hours spent each year wading through what Michael Herr once called the studio system's "Pavlovian drool," a literate drama aspiring to more than meretricious spectacle or facile sensation excites his passion and elicits a little innocent hyperbole.   Does Anderson truly aspire "to uncover the mysterious workings of the American mind," as The New York Times' Dennis Lim recently put it?  Perhaps, this overstates the case just a tad.  On the other hand, if Anderson does indeed seek to carry on the legacy of literate cinema Messrs Kubrick, Coppola, Altman, Malick, and Sayles have endowed, then our critics assume an accompanying responsibility.  To them falls the task of filling in the relevant historical background and cultural context for the audience to appreciate the full picture.

But with the possible exception of The New York Review of Book's critic, Geoffrey O'Brien, few have reckoned with The Master's broader intentions, themes, or significance.  O'Brien distinguishes himself first of all by dispensing with all the idle chatter about biographical similarities and doctrinal parallels between Lancaster Dodd's the Cause and L.Ron Hubbard's Scientology.  Because whether true or not, Anderson didn't intend a biopic. More importantly, by inventing his New Age prophet whole cloth and by fashioning his hermetic theology from isolated threads of Eastern philosophy, Jungian psychology, and dissident Protestantism, Anderson's fiction has implicated a phenomenon more deeply embedded in the social fabric.

As O'Brien writes in "Going Brilliantly Crazy,"
"America has after all long since been the great breeding ground of self-help cults and apocalyptic sects and secret initiations, of home-brewed universal panaceas and fresh-minted pseudo-scientific jargon, of occult communal bonding and shunnings... These are not denials but extensions and variations of American life."
This isn't to say that Lancaster Dodd's messianic pretensions, arcane theories, and visionary methods don't recall some of the more insular and nefarious cults to inhabit the American landscape. The Moonies, Krishnas, Branch Davidians, The Family, Heaven's Gate, Scientologists, and Nation of Islam all come to mind.  But the Cause’s occult trappings notwithstanding, the movement mines a characteristically native faith in self-improvement that has underwritten a prolific cottage industry in the U.S. ever since Benjamin Franklin extracted the thirteen temporal virtues necessary for personal advancement from the Puritan doctrine of the calling and his publication of them in Poor Richards' Almanac turned the book into a runaway best-seller.  Russell Conwell's Acres of Diamonds (1890); Orison Swett Mardsen's Pushing to the Front (1894), Bruce Barton's The Man Nobody Knows (1925), Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking (1953), Tony Robbins' Awaken the Giant Within (1992), and yes, L.Ron Hubbard's Dianetics (1982): all of these belong to the same family of mass-market success literature that descends from Franklin's modified Protestant ethic but which professes to equip its disciples with worldly power.  A promise of health, wealth, and eternal happiness whose echo reverberates beyond the religious sphere in the countless advertisements, informercials, and product pitches which bombard us daily.

Buy the book.  Join the club.  Swallow the pill.  Call this number now and for just $19.95, you, too, can uncover the hidden secret to attaining invincible physical health, prodigious financial success, everlasting romance, inexhaustible carnal pleasure and total control of your destiny.
Of course, the depth and range of national experience Anderson's imagination manages to assimilate has been one of the hallmarks of his oeuvre from the outset.  His maiden film debuted in 1996.  If comparatively modest in its ambition, Hard Eight nonetheless blends three traditional pop genres-- the noir thriller, Western, and gangster picture-- and distills from the melange a small-scale, but nonetheless poignant American tragedy. Set amidst Las Vegas' seamy demimonde, its apparently straightforward narrative about the price one man has to pay to exorcise the dynastic ruin wrought by a criminal past nonetheless figures as a subtle metaphor about the graft, racketeering, and violence that founded Sin City and that forever shadow its glitz.
History doesn't enter Anderson's work as an active, dynamic force until his second, and most renowned feature, Boogie Nights.  But, here, too, the director's adaptation of Hollywood formula yields more than the sum of its parts.  Instead of a nostalgic period piece or cloying morality tale, Boogie Nights' panoramic portrait of hip, 1970s Southern California as a licentious, drug-addled Babylon transfigures a predictable narrative about an adult film star's rise and fall into a historical fable about the personal casualties and emotional wreckage the sexual revolution left in liberation's wake.   
From a decadent California reminiscent of Joan Didion, Anderson moves in his third film to a Los Angeles with intimations of Don DeLillo's allegorical dystopias Don DeLillo.  Magnolia depicts Tinsel Town as a surreal, barren dreamscape, where lonely tortured souls cling to the one medium that binds them, television, but at a grievous cost:  the screen ends up reducing their lives to its own vulgar and tawdry dimensions.  Wholesome, iconic hosts of children's quiz shows sexually abuse, and permanently traumatize, their young daughters.  Ambitious, overbearing fathers pursue vicarious fame and fortune on the backs of prodigy sons.  Adulterous, gold-digging wives discover they love the men they marry for money just as death impends.  Frogs abruptly fall from the sky and complete strangers spontaneously break into song, bringing with them, respectively, Biblical retribution and the promise of redemption.  And at the center of this Dadaist Hollywood opera stands its impostor par excellence, Frank T.J. Mackey, the guru of male seduction and Lancaster Dodd's more pathetic forerunner.  Mackey is a man whose overweening sexual bravado only serves to compensate for the fragile, quivering child inside who dissolves at the sight of his estranged dying daddy-- an irony Anderson compounded by casting Tom Cruise in the role of a spurious Lothario.   

There Will Be Blood broadens Anderson's palette further still, thickening its historical texture and expanding its thematic scope.  It also happens to mark an innovation in the director's technique.  Although linear narrative largely vanishes from Anderson's films after Hard Eight, There Will Be Blood eschews plot altogether.  Instead, vivid outsized grotesques and epic portentous imagery narrate an anti-myth of how the West was won.  There Will Be Blood portrays a late 19th century frontier not of heroic settlers or venturesome buccaneers battling truculent natives or subduing a treacherous continent but one rather inspired by Upton Sinclair's muckraking exposes of corporate venality.   On Anderson's frontier, rapacious tycoons hide behind the image of respectable family men so they can fleece local property owners, plunder the surrounding land, and despoil the environment at cut-rate discounts.  While the evangelical ministers who presume to act as the moral center of a transient and lawless community breathe a merciless hellfire piety that masks their own will-to-power.    
Of course, the power struggle Daniel Plainview, the oil baron, and Eli Sunday, the revivalist preacher, wage in There Will Be Blood reenacts a conflict between the country's wild frontier id and its decorous Protestant superego that raged on our soil ever since the Puritans strove to erect a "City on a Hill" amid the primeval forests of an anarchical New World.   In The Master, Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd accordingly contest terrain furrowed long-ago.    
Now, it's true that at first glance Lancaster Dodd and Eli Sunday would seem to hail from two very different spiritual traditions.  The Cause's visionary worldview blends Eastern philosophy, Jungian psychology, and native self-help nostrums while Paul Sunday leads one of those ecstatic evangelical churches, often Baptist or Methodist in affiliation, that trailed in the wake of the country's great migration westward.  But, in actuality, Dodd and Sunday subscribe to a common metaphysic-- a metaphysic that connects them moreover to a religious vein cutting through the entire American heartland and feeding a sectarian cross-section ranging from the mainstream Protestant denomination to the sui generis mystical order.  It's the faith in a divine inner spirit or soul capable of outliving the body and delivering its bearer resurrection, rebirth, or immortality.  The Southern Baptists call it "soul competency;" the Pentecostals, the "Holy Spirit;" the Christian Scientists, the "divine mind"; the Seventh Day Adventists, "soul-sleep"; and the Mormons, the "co-eternal One."  Harold Bloom isolates the thread that binds them in his magisterial book, The American Religion.  
"Religion in America began as European Protestantism but from the 19th century on it became a new mode... post-Protestantism.  It is almost purely experiential; and despite its insistence, it is scarcely Christian in any traditional way... Christian impulses [instead] have been intermixed with Gnostic, Enthusiastic, and American Orphic elements .... A religion of the self burgeon [thus] under many names... whether its devotees call it Mormonism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam or Judaism... It is a knowing by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the-self... [in which] the self is the truth and... the spark at its center... is.. the God within... "        
By attributing American Gnosticism to the 19th century, Bloom was alluding to Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement the Oracle of Concord spearheaded in the century's last quarter after he seceded from the Unitarian church.  But the genesis of America's "soul religion" probably dates as far back as the country's First Great Awakening.   To be sure, the evangelical ministers who inaugurated the colonies' religious revival in the 1740's-- men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent-- never imagined themselves anything less than authentic Calvinists.  But by encouraging their minions to seek God's grace in "inward illumination," they unwittingly attenuated their church's influence and ultimately, the necessity of its rituals, liturgy and sacraments.  Until Emerson came along and discarded Christianity entirely. Borrowing from Asian religions, he located the Almighty inside each person.  "The Eternal One ... the inner power," Emerson wrote, "is the God in you that responds to God without... the divine soul which inspires all men".

Paul Elmer More charts the progression from 18th century Puritanism to 19th century Transcendentalism in The Shelburne Essays On American Literature.
"Emerson had come to the inevitable conclusion of New England individualism... Edwards had denied the communal efficacy of rites, but had insisted on inner conformity with an established creed. Emerson disavowed even a conformity in faith, demanding in its stead the entire liberty of each soul to rise on its own spiritual impulse... The course of Puritan emancipation led in the end to a [religious] individualism and a trust in sheer unrestrained spontaneity... Emersonianism may be defined as romanticism rooted in Puritan divinity."
From this vantage point, the Cause represents just another adventitious branch of the Gnostic theosophy that Transcendentalism nourished and that since has grown into our post-Protestant dispensation.  To quote Richard Hoftstadter, "H.Richard Niebuhr has remarked [that] there is a strain in modern American theology which 'tends to define religion in terms of adjustment to divine reality for the sake of gaining power rather than in terms of revelation... Man remains the center of religion and God is his aid rather than his judge and redeemer.'"
Still, whatever Gnostic threads may link Lancaster Dodd's faith to Emerson's-- and may weave their way, what's more, throughout the country's entire sectarian fabric-- extracting their knotty origins from our distant Puritan past unravels only half the story.  The Master's other half rests in Freddy Quell, the aimless misfit and model disciple the Cause enlists and momentarily attempts to save.

Almost from the film's opening scenes, in fact, set somewhere overseas just after World War II has ended, and which depict its protagonist feigning intercourse with a naked woman sculpted in the sand, Freddie Quell suggests one of those emotional casualties wars inevitably produce.  Survive though he may have.  His anxious facial tics, aloof clenched posture, pugnacious stentorian delivery, flagrant candor and smoldering aggression-- betray a permanent disfigurement.  Before his release, the navy does try to treat him by consigning him to mental hospital, but he sneers at all tests and therapies.  Fortunately for him however, he return to a peacetime America where the Depression has faded to a distant memory, wartime rationing has lifted, business is booming and jobs abound.  He finds work accordingly in an opulent department store as the on-site photographer, tasked with snapping photos of benevolent, smiling families as they browse and shop and savor each other's company.  Only the brooding, taciturn presence behind the lens chafes at the shallow contentment staring back at him.  He drinks to escape, but the booze he fabricates from darkroom chemicals, cleaning solution, paint thinner, motor fuel or any other handy intoxicant cannot extinguish the sulfurous resentment burning inside him.  Eventually, it simply explodes, and he assaults a customer guilty of little more perhaps than vanity and smug self-satisfaction.    

O'Brien describes Anderson's anti-hero as "an isolato of Melvillean proportions."  More than combat trauma ails him, that is  Like Melville's Ishmael and Bartleby and an entire gallery of fugitives, outcasts, exiles and vagabonds haunting the pages of the classic American novel for that matter, Quell also suffers from endemic alienation.   He belongs to no people, past, or tradition.   Apart from mixing moonshine, he boasts no practical craft, skill, or vocation.  And what little family, friends, or loved ones he can claim--an alcoholic father, psychotic mother, incestuous aunt, and forsaken sweetheart -- he either has spurned or fled.  As Leslie Fiedler writes in Love and Death in the American Novel,  "ever since Rip Van Winkle...the typical male protagonist of our fiction has been a man on the run, harried into the forest and out to sea, down the river or into combat-- anywhere to avoid civilization." Natty Bumpo retired into the virgin wilderness. Ishmael set sail aboard the Pequod.  Huck Finn lit out out for the western territory.  James Gatz ran liquor for the mob before changing his name to Gatsby.  The Invisible Man retreated underground.  Freddie Quell joins the Cause.

Or perhaps, more accurately, he stumbles upon it one evening when he slips aboard Lancaster Dodd's yacht (named Alethia or Greek for disclosure) in San Francisco Bay just as it disembarks from shore.  But if messianic leaders, political demagogues, and religious cults routinely prey upon the type of rootless and dislocated drifter Quell exemplifies, Anderson's anti-hero never entirely accepts Dodd's gospel of self-empowerment and soul migration.  Sure, he submits to the Cause's exotic and dubious therapies-- some, like hypnosis and free association, more or less clinical; others like the window-wall exercise arbitrary and frivolous.   But they never cure him of his addictive drinking, curb his violent impulses, or precipitate a discernible personality change.  Quite the contrary, his moonshine may wield a transformative power that eclipses Cause's techniques.  Much like Dr. Jekyll's notorious elixir, it enhances its drinker's instincts, appetites, and natural proclivities while suppressing his inhibitions, conscience, and artifice.  The flirtatious department store model sips it and succumbs to Quell's inept seduction.  The elderly migrant farm worker who quaffs it hastens his death.  While upon Dodd, it works like a tonic and philter, arousing his lust, stoking his aggression, and lubricating his fluency.   

Plot figures little, if at all, in The Master, so this Jekyll and Hyde opposition serves instead as the narrative hinge around which the film's drama ultimately revolves.  All the while Dodd's Dr. Jekyll aims to transfigure his brutish, wayward subject into a respectable, civilized gentleman through the Cause; Quell's Mr. Hyde plies his mentor with moonshine and slowly erodes his patrician facade and exquisite poise. Instead of completing the next great masterpiece that will succor his disciples and save the untutored masses from death and damnation, the Master boozes, vilifies and growls at skeptics, flatters his vanity with photo junkets, and frolics in the desert.  His debauchery climaxes in an unforgettably harrowing scene in which the prophet of self-control gambols about the living room at his daughter's wedding singing "The Maid of Amsterdam" amid a clutch of reverent women he has persuaded to disrobe.  The scene suggests a pantheistic orgy worthy of the Greek god Pan but couldn't be any less carnal or titillating.  Indeed, not since Eyes Wide Shut has an erotic scene in an American film radiated as much oppressive menace or claustrophobic dread or has Eros more readily bespoken Thanatos, its deathly opposite.   
America's national seal reads "Novus Ordo Seclorum" because the same eschatological vision which galvanized the Great Awakening and developed into the antinomian vision which fuels our contemporary post-Protestant order also inspired our Founding Fathers to believe that the new Republic they'd created heralded a revolutionary vision for mankind.  Here, a man needn't succeed his father in class, status, religion, or profession because plentiful unstaked land, an open commercial economy, and an egalitarian political creed enabled him to forgo his past, to fashion his identity, and to determine his future.  In fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson still looms today over American letters, in part, because Transcendentalism combined the nation's dissident religious ontology and its liberal political creed into a secular philosophy that countless literary heroes, Jay Gatsby foremost among them -- to say nothing of his many historical counterparts-- have adopted as a tacit personal mantra. 
"You think me the child of my circumstances:  I make my circumstances.  Let any thought or motive of mine be different from what they are, the difference will transform my condition and economy... You call it the power of circumstances, but it is the power of me."
How he can harness his "inner power" in order to improve his lot thus becomes the recondite knowledge self-help movements like the Cause promise to illuminate and to deliver.    simply bottle it for him directly in consumable form.

What Freddie Quell discovers however is that you cannot adapt a new identity or jettison an old one as you would a drinking habit, a job, or a change of address.  Dodd's invented self attests to a truth that his philosophy denies.  "The past is never dead; it's not even past."  Sure, the Cause's founder may advertise himself as a "writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, theoretical philosopher," but upon closer scrutiny, his rarefied profile doesn't run much deeper than a meticulously cultivated veneer.  He preaches independence and self-control, yet he relies heavily on the largesse of his wealthy patrons for food and shelter when he doesn't just bilk them of money.  The karmic theosophy for which he claims "scientific validity" evidently consists largely of tendentious hokum, his son confides, he "makes up... as he goes along."  And when anyone dares to question his doctrine or he experiences the slightest duress, he erupts in anger and vilification.

After the police charge Dodd with larceny, and apprehend Quell along with him for obstructing their arrest, they imprison the two men in adjacent cells.   And, there, with them stripped of all affectations, defenses, and pretense; they end up screaming and haranguing each other like two fractious brothers.  This may explain why Dodd remarks upon Quell's familiarity throughout the film.  For beneath the courtly donnish exterior, the Master appears to betray the same rugged, hardscrabble origins as his apprentice. Lancaster Dodd represents the Emersonian man reincarnated as P.T. Barnum.

Not long thereafter, Quell attacks yet another detractor and  in doing so, realizes that despite his diligent efforts, Dodd's therapeutic regimen hasn't reformed him in the slightest.  So at the first opportunity, he hits the road to reclaim the girl he abandoned years earlier but upon returning home, he finds that she has long since married and moved away. Leaving us, if not Quell, to consider the tragic insight at which Nick Carraway once arrived in contemplating the mortal fate of a man who, embodying the self-made ideal, sprang "from a Platonic conception of himself." Contrive as you may to transform your identity or to alter the past responsible for molding your character or steering your fate, history operates behind your back to arrest your progress.

But if The Master treats Emersonian idealism with a cockeyed skepticism, Anderson doesn't quite embrace The Great Gatsby's tragic vision either.  In the final sequence, Lancaster Dodd summons his apostate from across the Atlantic to the new school he has founded in England.  No, he no longer pretends he can save his incorrigible counterpart, but he does nonetheless impart an ominous warning.  No man can live very long without a master.   But Freddie does or at least he strives to.   In bed with a woman he's picked up at local bar, he reverts to a tradition that loners and itinerants like him have relied on throughout American history for grappling with all the immutable circumstances, intractable vices, unbidden misfortunes and worldly constraints he cannot modify.  He laughs about it.        

It's the hearty raucous laughter that consoled our pioneers after a day of clearing the wilderness, plowing the fields, or slaughtering innocent natives.  It's the American Humor Constance Rourke's famous study in the national character explored as well as the secret Henry James once divined-- "his joke, as one may say"-- buried deep in the country's austere heritage.  It's the guffaw that shrugs off any hardship, pain, and misery that doesn't kill because it means remission for another day.  No, it may not be the metaphysical liberty Emerson elegized or the untrammeled license the fugitive heroes of our fiction seek or even the worldly happiness the Founders envisioned when they declared a new, independent nation.  But in the power it enables us to exercise over our expectations, the power to confront setbacks and adversities without succumbing to paralysis or despair, laughter may be the only freedom over immutable circumstance we are ever powerful enough to exert.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Every four years, a Presidential election tends to awaken the dormant idealism I nourish for the great democratic experiment which founded the land I call home.  So, to honor the pivotal historical moment that most Presidential elections pose, I post below a course description for a class titled "THE AMERICAN IDEA/THE IDEA OF AMERICA," which I recently developed for Princeton University's Anschutz Fellowship in American Studies.   A course syllabus appears in the post below this one.   Dabble, if you must, among the readings.  But, by all means, savor what you choose. 
“It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one.”—Richard Hoftstadter
          About Great Britain’s former colony, Wyndham Lewis writes as follows in his magisterial book, America and Cosmic Man,
“America is much more a psychological something than a territorial something… It is the very opposite of Blut und Boden.  A site rather for the development of an idea of political and religious freedom than a mystical terré sacréé for its sons… You become upon receiving your citizenship papers in the U.S.A. as valid an American as if your forbears had been with Washington at Valley Forge.”  
The observation inspires this class' title.  Because from de Tocqueville to Gunnar Myrdal to Dennis Brogan, foreign authors have rooted America's uniqueness in a formative Idea.  An idea, they have variously called the American Creed, the American “way of life”, or simply Americanism.  The name matters less, of course, than that each author has attributed to it a common set of principles: “liberty,” “equality,” “democracy,” “individual opportunity,” “equal justice,” “due process of law,” “freedom of opinion,” “personal privacy,” “the pursuit of happiness”.  And in their continuity and recurrence lies the suggestion that these shibboleths do more than merely inscribe our founding documents or simply anchor our political tradition.  More importantly, they supply the intellectual inspiration which propelled a remote, fractious British colony nestled in the stark New World wilderness to settle a hostile continent, to integrate a motley population, and to build a cohesive and enduring union that would shine its beacon of promise across the globe.  Even today, in fact, their premises and assumptions generate the dialectic of our culture and seed the collective unconscious out of which every one of us forges, in the smithy of his or her soul, the 'I' of his or her identity.
Our class begins accordingly with the task of defining the American Idea’s content, examining its philosophical origins, and considering its novelty, singularity, and bona fides.  Through the semester’s first four weeks, we will trace its political and religious antecedents, respectively, in the Scottish Enlightenment and Protestant Reformation.  In doing so, we also will frame, and preliminarily probe, some of the questions that will occupy us in subsequent weeks.  For example, how precisely does this ideological heritage inform our nation’s self-image, institutions, domestic conflicts, and foreign policy?  Does its legacy measurably distinguish us from the traditional Old World nations that have sprouted organically from common religious allegiances, tribal lineages, or geographical roots?  And if so, does an “exceptional” origin necessarily imply an “exceptional” destiny?  Is a sense of “Election,” then, a blessing or a curse?
From unraveling the “American Idea,” we proceed in Weeks 5-12 to study what strikes me as its corollary--  the metaphors through which the nation have incarnated "The American Idea" in a concrete and visceral form.  Each week, in the class' second half, we accordingly focus on one of these recurring images, metaphors, and motifs and explore how it has found expression in our politics, law, literature, and foreign affairs.  As Ralph Ellison once wrote, “man cannot simply say ‘Let us have liberty, justice and equality for all,” and have it.  More than any other system, a democracy is always pregnant with its contradiction.”  Thus do the themes heading Weeks 5 through 12 stake out some of the symbolic terrain upon which the nation has struggled to reconcile its inexorable contradictions, while adjusting along the way, to vast changes in its size, composition, and affluence.     
From “The Promised Land” in Week 5 to “The Redeemer Nation” in Week 12, the tropes I've selected roughly describe a historical progression from the antebellum period through the Cold War.   Historical sweep, nevertheless, animated my choices far less than did an aim to illustrate that our culture is, in Lionel Trilling’s words, “a debate or dialectic”.  For example, Week 5’s focus on the frontier’s myth of rugged individualism and unfettered mobility is designed to throw into relief, the following week, Populism’s reverence for small-town virtue and rural permanence.  Likewise, the readings on the “Peculiar Institution” in Week 7 aim to qualify and to dispute their counterpart captioned under the “Southern Idyll”.   Where possible, even the readings within a given week challenge each other.  Week 9 thus will highlight Justice Scalia and Justice Brennan’s constitutional debate in Michael H. about whether we are an “assimilative, homogenous society” or a “facilitative, pluralistic one.”    
By the semester’s end, I hope the course will have imparted two overall lessons. First, is that the democratic ideals with which the Framers conceived the Republic do not merely underwrite our law or influence our politics.  They permeate and encompass America’s entire civilization, its politics, law, economy, society, and culture and not excluding its citizens’ private lives-- fueling their hopes, dreams, and expectations; instilling their morals, manners, and orthodoxies; and inspiring their vision of justice, happiness, and the good life. And secondly, I hope to dramatize the fateful legacy, as Americans, we inherit as a consequence. Each of us has to decide, for ourselves, what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” practically mean-- "a complex fate" indeed. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


1.  America and Cosmic Man, Wyndham Lewis, pp. 11-35 (Chapters 1-4); pp.
     167-194 (Chapters 20-24)
2.  The Disuniting of America, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Chapter 1 (“A New
3.   The Cycles of American History, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Chapter 1
     (The Theory of America: Experiment or Destiny”)
4.  “The Native Bias,” Philip Rahv
5.  The American Commonwealth, Daniel Bell
     (“The End of American Exceptionalism”)

1.   “Churches and Sects in North America,” Max Weber        
2.  “Judaism, Christianity, and the Socioeconomic Order,” Max Weber  
3.   Who Are We?, Samuel P. Huntington, Chapters 3-4 (“Components of
     American Identity” and Anglo-Protestant Culture”)
4.   The Puritan Origins of the American Self, Sacvan Bercovitch, Chaps. 1, 3, 5
      (“Puritanism and the Self,” “The Elect Nation,” and “The Myth of America”
5.   The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

1.  The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr, Chapter 2 (“The Innocent
     Nation in an Innocent World”)
2.  “The Archives of Eden,” George Steiner
3.  America 1750, Richard Hofstadter, Chapter VII (“The Awakeners”);
     Chapter VIII (“The Awakening and the Churches”)
4.   “Jonathan Edwards” and “The Solitude of Hawthorne,” Paul Elmer More   
5.   Moby Dick, Herman Melville, Chapters VII-IX, (“The Chapel,” “The Pulpit,”
      “The Sermon)

          1.  Second Treatise of Government, John Locke
2.  The American Political Tradition, Richard Hoftstadter, Chapter 1
     (“The Founding Fathers”)
3.  The Constitution (Preamble), Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg
     Address, Abraham Lincoln, The Federalist, No. 45-51
4.  Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923)  
5.  An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal, Vol. 1, Chapter 1
6.  Literature in America, “American Literature,” James Feinmore Cooper

            1.  “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Fredrick J. Turner
2.  The Genius of American Politics, “Values Given by the Landscape” and “The
      Wilderness Confirms Puritanism,” Daniel Boorstin, pp. 1-50
3.  Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion (“Notes from a Native Daughter,
     “John Wayne: A Love Song,” “7000 Romaine”)
4.   Where I Was From, Joan Didion (Parts 3-4)
5.  Childhood and Society, Erik Erikson, “Reflections on American Identity”
6.  In America, Susan Sontag

              1.  “Letter to James Madison,” Thomas Jefferson       
              2.  Studies in Classic American Literature, D.H. Lawrence, (“Crèvoceur”)
              3.  The Age of Reform, Richard Hoftstadter (Chapters 1-2)
              4.  The Populist Persuasion, Michael Kazin, (Introduction, Chapter 1)
              5.  The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
              6.  “Philip Roth’s Populist Nightmare,” Matthew S. Schweber

 1.  I’ll Take My Stand, “Reconstructed but Unregenerate,” John Crowe Ransom
 2.  Patriotic Gore, Edmund Wilson, “The Myth of the Old South”
 3.  The Sound and the Fury & “The Bear,” William Faulkner
 4.  William Faulkner, Irving Howe, “The Southern Tradition”
 5.  New and Selected Essays, Robert Penn Warren, “William Faulkner”
 6.  The Portable Faulkner, Malcolm Cowley, “Introduction;” “Afterword”    

             1.  Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)           
             2.  From Slavery to Freedom, John Hope Franklin, Chapters 4-10
             3.  An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal, Vol. 1, Chapter 10-11
             4.  Going to The Territory, Ralph Ellison, “Perspectives in Literature,”
                 “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks”
             5.  Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
             6.  Amistad, Steven Spielberg

            1.  “Young Americans,” Ralph Waldo Emerson
            2.  “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau
            3.    Democracy in America, de Tocqueville, Vol. I, Part Two, Chapters 7, 9;
                  Vol. II, Part Two, Chapters 1-4; Vol. II, Part Three, Chapters 13-14
            4.    Michael  H. v. Gerald D., 491 U.S. 110 (1989);
                  West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
5.   “Transnationalism,” Randolph Bourne
6.   “Metamorphoses of Leatherstocking,” Henry Bamford Parkes

7.    “The Point of View,” Henry James

1.  “The Protestant Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism,” Max Weber
2.  The Liberal Tradition in America, Louis Hartz, Ch. 8, “The American World
      of Horatio Alger,” Chapter 8  
3.  “The Discovery of What it Means to be an American,” James Baldwin
4.  “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt,” Richard Hoftstadter
5.   The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
6.   Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, S01E12 (“Nixon v. Kennedy”)
1.  American Humor, Constance Rourke, (Ch. 1-3)
2.  Omni-Americans, Albert Murray, “Omni-Americans”
3.  Collected Essays, Ralph Ellison, “Richard Wright’s Blues”
     “The Novel as a Function of American Democracy”
4.  “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” David Foster Wallace
5.   The Beer Can by the Highway, John Kouwenhoven, “What’s American
      About America?”
6.  Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
1.  “The Myth of American Omnipotence,” D.W. Brogan
2.  The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr, Chapters 1, 7 
     (“The Ironic Element in the American Situation”, “The American Future”)
3.  “Dictatorship and Double Standards,” Jeanne Kirkpatrick
4.  A Foreigner’s Gift, Fouad Ajami, Chapter 2, (“Chronicle of a War Foretold”)
5.  Resurrecting Empire, Rashid Khalidi, Chapter 3
     (“America, The West, and Democracy in the Middle East”)
6.   Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer, Part I, (“Early Years, Early Training”)
7.   The Quiet American, Graham Greene