Friday, September 05, 2008

Keeping busy

I've expanded on some of the ideas in my previous post here. Expect my future posts there to be more ladylike and, more importantly, much shorter.

Now, off to track down some very elusive course readings--if they're not at the library or the NYU bookstore or the Strand or the bookstore formerly known as Labyrinth or available via JStor, where do I look? I must be missing something. Clearly my research skills are insufficient.

12 comments:

Jean Claude Mozanique said...

if you live by the strand you are missing the most interesting bookstore on the block

Withywindle said...

Just to comment on your previous post here: it's a fine line granted, but there is a distinction between praising and embodying what is characteristic of a nation and engaging in a Bismarckian Kulturkampf against an internal alien. The French praise of the farmer, for example, shouldn't entirely be reduced to a desire to derogate city dwellers. And that French praise is an interesting model for the praise of small-town America: the French farmer is an icon not because a majority of French are farmers (mais non!), but because until fairly recently (a generation or three back by now) most Frenchmen had been born on a farm, had relatives on a farm, a personal attachment strengthened by the fact that so much of French popular culture--and indeed political culture--had rural imagery, associations, traditions. You didn't have to be a farmer to be a French, but being French rather entailed liking farmers. The cultural hangover is at least two generations after the departure from the soil.

So for small-town America--where "small town" stands in for "rural" as well. It has the associations, political and cultural, that the farmer has for France. Set aside the centrality of the small town in nineteenth century America--set aside the quarter of America that still lives in "rural" areas, heavily concentrated in swing states--the great migration from rural, small-town America to the cities and suburbs came as recently as 1930-70, the generation of Ronald Reagan born in the small towns and making their way in the cities--the Appalachian farmers become Detroit steelworkers--the Okies become middle management in the San Fernando valley. I recently watched a Three's Company episode that by-the-by had the character's go to "my uncle's farm"--a casual possibility for comedy that I don't think you see now in whatever comedy is the hit, when great-uncle's farm has long been sold. Small-town America was demographically vivid at least down to one generation before you; the cultural power of the small-town--liking a small-town--is presumably at least as powerful, and characteristically American, as the cultural power of the farmer in France.

Phoebe said...

The French example doesn't quite help your case--every historical evocation of "la terre" hasn't been accompanied by outright anti-Semitism, but all outright (19th and 20th C) anti-Semitism was accompanied by odes to the land. Enough so that, just looking at something as a text, when I see discussion of "soil," I know not to be surprised when discussion of a plant's roots segue into talk of racial ones.

As for the American version of the question, after listening to the speeches of the RNC, do you really think there was just praise of small-town America and no insults thrown at big-city life? Even if innocent praise of rural America is conceivable, that's simply not how things went down over the last few days.

Withywindle said...

But how many philosemitic Frenchmen also loved the land? Are there no odes to country life on the French left? In America, Woody Guthrie loved the land, and it would be difficult to call him an antisemite.

Small-town America has a chip on its shoulder about the big city, sure. And the insults can slide down the Kulturkampf slope. But they don't have to. And to the extent that big-city life is Democratic--big government, lack of individual responsibility--and not essentially Democratic, but by way of political choice--why shouldn't a pointed rejoinder or two be lobbed that way?

Phoebe said...

I get that the point of this blog-commenting is to say that the other person's wrong, but I'm really not sure why you picked this battle. "Are there no odes to country life on the French left?" And if we dig some up, how would that help? When was the French left so philosemitic? In general, odes to 'the land'--especially in France, but in America as well--are intended as insults to those who were not fortunate enough to have wholesome-folksy roots.

Withywindle said...

All comparisons are invidious; all praise implicitly blames other people ... I think that by understanding the RNC message as "only small-town folks need apply," you're misunderstanding the dynamic and the audience; that "real Americans like small-towns and small-town folks, even if they don't live in them" is a broader and more appealing message, and does express a truth about the national character. Why pick this battle? Because I think you articulated how the RNC message was understood by some millions, and I think it is important that to say that this is not precisely the message conveyed or the message understood. If you like, I think liberals and Democrats (which I understand you don't necessarily identify as) are more likely to lose political contests so long as they believe the message is as you understood it, and that this is a political fact of some importance worth addressing.

Paul Gowder said...

Can any of this really be separated from religion, I wonder? Not religion as in "everyone else vs. the Jews" but, in America, religion as in "fundies vs. everyone else?"

That is, do the rural lovers think that their fellow evangelicals are wicked if they happen to live in the cities, too? I think not...

Phoebe said...

Indeed, but I think both of the religious conflicts you mention are happening simultaneously, the latter of course of more general interest than the former in terms of figuring out national politics. My friends who are horrified by Palin etc. are, now that I think of it, Protestants from outside NYC, so clearly it's not just Jews who now feel alienated.

The difference with the Jewish case is that Jews do not (as is the case of other city dwellers) typically choose to be rootless cosmopolitans. It's our default situation, even if, as is my case, our families have been in the same country for several generations, making us different from immigrants, whose place in the city is seen as a temporary one. We did not come to NYC to escape the confines of our traditions. All of our 'family values' as it were are tied up with our lives in urban centers. So when the RNC beats up on city dwellers, we're just that much more insulted, although to repeat, my NYC friends who are not Jewish are plenty insulted as well.

Petey said...

What you really ought to be posting about is the fact that Palin filed paperwork to start a business in 2005 with the name "Rouge Cou", which is pretty damn clever, no?

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More generally, the GOP has been running against cities for the past several generations.

Your shock and outrage is charming, but c'mon now...

Petey said...

Also worth noting:

The best way to guess your political party is to measure the population density where you live.

The higher the density, the more likely you are to be D. The lower the density, the more likely you are to be R.

The amount of correlation between density and party is astounding. It's a much higher correlation than things like income or education.

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Unfortunately, given the rules by which we select the government, folks who live in low population density areas have votes that are worth more than folks who live in high population density areas.

Thus, the GOP has incentive to polarize on density, while the Dems don't. The GOP wins by bashing cities while Dems don't win by bashing small towns.

In policy terms, this is why Washington spends on highways and doesn't spend on mass transit. In political terms, this is the discourse leans towards lionizing the rural, or put another way, why Palin happens.

Withywindle said...

The word you are looking for is "fortunately."

Dean W. Armstrong said...

"Now, off to track down some very elusive course readings--if they're not at the library or the NYU bookstore or the Strand or the bookstore formerly known as Labyrinth or available via JStor, where do I look? I must be missing something. Clearly my research skills are insufficient."

The Reference librarians can help find them, and if not, you can can at least request them via Interlibrary Loan.