Let’s start with a little backstory:
I had been kicking around the idea that would eventually become this website ever since Fall 2009, my first semester of grad school, when I enrolled in a class called The Ethics of Fiction and the American Novel (pdf course flyer). In hindsight, it was really the ideal class to kick off any grad school career, and the animating impulses behind it have continued to inform my work and thought as they have evolved over the course of the intervening years:”What do we mean by ‘serious’ fiction, and why do we read it? What is its relation to life off the page? Can or should a novel provide guidance, inspiration, or even food for thought for a life well lived? If so, what are the ethical responsibilities of authors and of readers? What, if anything, can works of fiction add to a discussion of ethics in ordinary lives?”
What ultimately came out of that class was an essay called “Expatriate Everywhere: Self, Other and the American Ethos“(pdf), a reexamination of the idea of the American individual, primarily through readings of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, two portraits of New York society that bookend 20th Century American fiction. Rereading it, even from this distance, there are parts that make me squirm in the same way as when I listen to my 7th-grade self sing another stupid song about a girl. And while I’m still not as smart as I thought I was, there are some parts that make me think maybe I wasn’t all that dumb either. That being said, I think it is worth the time to read in full, but for our purposes here I’m just pulling from the last few paragraphs:
This American scholarship of the Self has failed us. We have seen the inviability of the inviolable individual. Our society’s ethos tells us not to look outside of our selves, but to turn inward, steeling our selves, compacting our selves into cold, hard atoms whose only contact with others are accidental violent collisions. We need a new model—a true model—because, as David Foster Wallace said in … This is Water, “The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”
What the hell is the Self? It is the ever-present mediator of our experience, yet we rarely stop to think about how it is defined or how it affects such experience. We spend our time reading up, building our selves their own personal ivory towers, “tiny skull-sized kingdoms”(Wallace 117), that by the time we look up it is too late. We are stone cold, 200 feet tall and utterly alone. When these towers come crumbling down, like on September 11th, we are given the opportunity to reconceptualize our selves.
This new model must be able to accommodate shocks, sudden changes, entrances and exits. It must also abolish the individual, acknowledge the essential interconnectedness of all selves. It should replace the “kill-or-be-killed gladiatorial amphitheatre” that we currently reside in with “a busily collaborative beehive or anthill”(Coetzee 119). It should enable us “to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars—compassion, love, the subsurface unity of things”(Wallace 93)…. [W]e have described the unmooring of the Self, the fluid nature of the boundary between Self and Other, the need to be anchored to a referent to gain meaning, the drift that occurs when we have nothing to anchor our selves to…. “This is water.” We are water.
Taking this as our jumping-off point, I want to update and expand upon some of the ideas I started to develop nearly two years ago.
In the coming days, I’ll be taking on what Adrienne Rich called the “never-to-be-finished, still unbegun work of repair,” stringing things together here as I go. Yes, it will be unpolished and rough around the edges (and around the edges I didn’t even know were there). But writing doesn’t stop when you or I click “Publish,” and I think this project can only be made better by feeding back off of people engaged in dialogue along the way.
I really do not have much desire to talk about politics with anyone outside my small circle of college friends that have (or are working on) a degree in political science. It is not that I don’t think they have valid points or are knowledgeable about the subject. I feel that I become just too damn judgmental when discussing anything within that field. I find that most everyone I talk to about the upcoming election, the “Arab spring” or state and local government see things in blacks and whites. It is probably not what they are actually saying…it is just what I hear. I cannot help that and I am sorry. I am a bit of an elitist when it comes to my field. I myself struggle when talking to a Literature major or a Economics major about those fields. I can hold quasi-intellectual conversations about almost everything but I feel only confident in political science.
However, one very specific topic within the realm of politics I find I can casually discuss with another individual is the upcoming Republican candidates chances of becoming President of the United States. The reason I think I can do this has nothing to do with my degree. I have confidence in my ability (however self-deluded that may be), to predict with some level of certainty, who stands a chance in actually getting elected. It probably is because I listen to the radio, read the newspaper, watch television very casually and voyeuristically follow social media outlets. I do not really dig deep into the issues. I simply listen to the mood of people that do dig deep. What the news stories of a given day, month, year are can give you a very good feel of the pulse of a nation at any given time. What details are inside those news stories (a.k.a. the specifics) I believe, are kind of dispensable. That is my non-scientific approach to politics and life in general.
This brings me to today’s announcement by the Sarah Palin camp that she will not seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States. I believe that this is horrible news. She was my great female hope. Meaning…she is self-destructive, arrogant, and frankly, didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning in the general election next fall. In other words…my perfect Republican candidate (fingers crossed for my #2 Michelle Bachmann). So anyone wanting to discuss any of the other candidates chances with me please feel free. I might not be able to tell you who will win next November, or why he or she might or might not, but I can tell you my own little personal Vegas line.
Obama v. Perry (Obama +10)
Obama v. Cain (Obama +2)
Obama v. every other GOP candidate (Obama + 100)
* I will try to update this somewhat regularly because as everyone but political scientists say, “anything can happen.”