Posts Tagged ‘William Hogeland’

nice, huh?

A Boston-area speaking engagement — just learned this is open to the public. I’ll speak at Boston College High School on Tuesday 3/6, at 3:30 PM, part of the Corcoran Living Library Lecture Series (which has hosted some pretty cool people).

The talk will be in the Bulger Performing Arts Center, 150 William T Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA (that’s it, to the left) . Along with playing a little banjo music, I’ll be talking about — and encouraging discussion of — Tea Party and Occupy appeals to founding economic history; failings in liberal/conservative consensus histories of the founding; what we should and should not mean by accuracy in historical research and narrative; why “constitutional conservatives” aren’t. Should be lively. If you’re in the area, come on in — it’s free.

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gobble gobble gobble

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, and the MSM no longer even remembers it, I will comment — I actually feel forced to comment! — on the flap about the Pilgrims as socialists that I was drawn into over the past week. The trip began when I was quoted in an interesting Sunday Times “Week in Review” piece, which lays out the controversy.

(Briefly here: For years, Rush Limbaugh and some publications of the Austrian School of economics beloved by American libertarians, and more recently Glenn Beck, have been saying that the story of the Pilgrims is a story of socialism failed — that the Pilgrims began by holding property in common in a socialist-utopian way and starved because of it, then switched to private property and thrived enough to thank God for the bounty of the harvest: the first Thanksgiving. Thus America began in a lesson about the evils of socialism and glory of property. This year, thanks to the Tea Party, the story has received new mainstream attention.)

The Times quoted me near the end of the piece, not on that subject but on the problem that I think arises when people across the political spectrum seize on some historical event and force it to serve an overdetermined purpose for a current position. Bad history, bad politics. As I told the reporter, history is always slanted. How and why it’s slanted, in particular cases, is something we should be keenly aware of. … blah blah blah.

But thanks to that one, general quote, which came with a reference to my MIT Press book Inventing American History (where I write about distortions in public history), and thanks also to my seemingly endless eagerness to promote myself, I went on both Michael Smerconish’s syndicated radio show and ABC News “Good Morning, America” (do they observe that comma?), to weigh in not on my subject, which is the way everybody across the spectrum, each of us, distorts history, but on the current controversy: whether the Pilgrims began as socialists and then learned the error of their ways.

In the interviews I tried both to wrangle with the immediate question about the Pilgrims and to discuss what is, to me, the great, non-seasonal theme, political tension in public history. I also suggested that now and then we might want to lighten up a bit on the whole “lessons of history” thing. It was fun. Smerconish gave me ten minutes, and we had what I thought was an interesting conversation (and I like his unique effort to bring talk-radio intensity to centrism). “Good Morning America,” with its very specific needs, managed to shoehorn three seconds (literally!) of a twenty-minute interview into a piece on the controversy. Not surprising, but startling to watch: my name flashed on the screen so briefly that all I can do is hope that subliminal advertising actually works.

So now that I’m a media-certified expert: Were the Pilgrims socialists?

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“Remarks are not literature,” Gertrude Stein warned the young Hemingway.
“Blogging is not writing,” I kept saying, a few years ago, to myself.

When I get involved in a lot of “actual” writing projects, like now, I can’t find time to write these blog posts. But since these blog posts involve writing, and I’m free on the blog to write whatever I want, and I take writing the posts seriously and enjoy writing them, I’m wondering what’s “actual” about the nonblog writing I do. Usually my nonblog writing involves an assignment (that is, I’m not the only person who wants me to do the writing); and editors and/or collaborators (I’m not the only person who has something to say about how it’s written); deadlines; money; and more readers than I get for my blog. Those are all good reasons to write elsewhere than here. And I was doing it long before I ever started blogging, which I resisted for years.

Yet now I end up questioning both the blogging and the “actual” writing. One part of me says that maybe I should just go totally self-published online. There are a lot of reasons to do so — but nobody has expressed impatience with writing books and taking commissions better than my old friend Kyle Gann in his piece Almost All Is Vanity on his blog “Postclassic: Music after the Fact.” (Warning: If you have no sense of humor, and/or are under 50, Gann’s piece will bum you out.)

The irony, there, is that a “published” writer is questioning the value of publishing offline — when you’d tend to think a writer published by somebody else, which not everybody gets to be, would see less value in being a blogger, which everybody now does get to be. But something unexpected changed when the Internet made everybody a publisher (too often everybody doesn’t realize they’re publishers, but still). Potentially, it can now look more fun to publish just like everybody else does, now that everybody else is publishing too. Less lonely, for one thing — even though I do reach more readers through books and magazines than I do on my own site. Maybe if I stopped all that, and just really bore down on my own site, I could shift the balance.

But even if I worked on getting critical-mass readership for the blog, and even if I succeeded, would it ever have the feeling of heft or texture that comes with writing a book for an established publisher or an edited essay in someone else’s magazine? It wouldn’t. At least not yet. Part of that may just be a dinosaur thing.

But part of it works more like this: In publishing the pieces on this blog, which bounce off my books, and off current affairs, and off other people’s books and blogs, I have begun to develop an explicit thesis about what I’m really saying, bottom line, both about American history and its problems, and about how those problems resonate with other existential issues. I didn’t expect that to happen, but it’s been happening, and I don’t know if it would have happened if I’d continued to write only in the context of being published by somebody else. So that’s cool. I have a better idea of what I think and feel and grope toward knowing. And at least a few other people find the posts valuable in their own right.

But when I envision developing that thesis, and possibly presenting it, I imagine it taking the form of something I can only call a work. Blogging, ultimately, involves remarking on stuff, as in the Stein quotation above. It doesn’t add up to a work. (Gann’s No Such Thing As Silence, for example, is a work, as is John Cage’s 4’33’“, the piece Gann’s book discusses.) The distinction is not online vs. off. Blogging is like having a column, and sometimes writers have anthologized their columns, but that anthology isn’t a work; we look for something more significant from some of those writers. One may download both an anthology and a work or buy either at a mom-and-pop bookstore or monster retail chain. It’s a difference in kind, not in delivery system. And while blogging (and FB and Twitter, etc.) encourages everybody to have a column, it doesn’t seem to me to encourage work. Yet.

I don’t yet see a space anywhere online where full-scale works (of prose) successfully exist solely in that space. A work may still need to have a physical dimension (as its name implies), even if you prefer to download its virtual dimension. Today’s NYT piece on kids and textbooks may even support that idea.

[UPDATE: Anyway, what I started to say was — see? this is how lame blogging is — that I’m busy with some writing assignments and can’t figure out to keep the blog going as well as I’d like, and I find that surprisingly frustrating. That’s all.]

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... and she never / hollers cuckoo ...

The talk I gave on Declaration at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to air this weekend on C-SPAN “Book TV”: Sat. 7/31 at 4:00 PM and Sun. 8/1 at 8:00 P.M.

A minor note for the record: I seem to recall the very able Doug Swanson, who put the event together, saying in his introduction to the talk that film rights to my novel The Surrender of Washington Hansen are under option to Warner Brothers. Not so — they were under that option, for many years, and in my bio I use the past tense, but the Archives’ edited version missed that.

Just don’t want any filmmakers thinking the novel’s film rights are encumbered, as they say. They’re free and clear — as are Declaration rights so far!

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Simon & Schuster, June 1, 2010This summer I’ll be discussing the strange and rowdy events depicted in Declarationand signing books. The following events are scheduled, and I’ll fill in more as they come (look for Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn):

Thurs., June 10, 6:30 PM. Borders, 1801 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

Mon., June 14, 7:00 PM. Barnes & Noble, Broadway and 82nd Street, New York.

Wed., July 14, 12:00 noon. National Archives Noontime Lecture Series. Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.

Hope to see interested readers at these things — and to have some interesting discussions.

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