Gonna try that readin' thing again.

I think I just got bogged down. Yes. I need to try and (re)read Jameson and Adorno and Derrida and Foucault and more Harvey 'cause I know I haven't gotten everything there is to get out of them. But it's all making me sick and depressed. Do you know that, outside of hardboiled fiction, social/political theory is about all I have tried to read seriously in years? No wonder I only finish a few handfuls of books year. Also, shitty jobs. That hurt too. And then there's this Internet thing. Which I need to get away from.

Three threads:

History of fine art and photography plus criticism, with a focus, unsurprisingly, on Modernism and also Contemporary Art, at least whatever out there is good
History of America
American prose fiction of the twentieth century

This will be easier I think. I can always come back to reading those tearing apart every facet of human existence with a pair of tweezers borrowed from Marx. God knows, the rest of the world ain't catching up with that shit anytime soon.

I want suggestions, but here is the general sketch so far:


Well, I'll re-read Gombrich's history first, and then dig out my severely under-utilized copy of Art in Theory 1900-1990 (since updated to include the years 1991-2000, but I won't worry about getting another copy yet!). After that, an earlier edition of Fineberg's textbook. That should get me back to where I was when I left college. A month of hard work to replace a two semesters worth of drudgery and alienation. Imagine I used to have to pay to be miserable. Now they're payin' me!

I also have Jed Perl's book on mid-century New York, for what it's worth.

For photography, I may get this relatively new history.

All will be supplemented by these big books from Skira I have been picking up on the cheap here in Providence. The essays in this one are fairly cryptic (and see above for who I don't feel like reading to get a sense of how cryptic) so far, and I haven't started on this one yet. I think will keep going with these series, though, as the illustrations are very good and I have already been introduced to a few names I hadn't heard of yet. At least for early twentieth century painting within the Western tradition, that is a welcome surprise.

After that, what's next? Individual artist monographs? Some publisher's series on art history (if so, which?) Some really good criticism? Yes to all of the above, but where to start?

I guess I'll get some ideas once I get going.

My best guesses: a good collection of Greenberg. And probably Rosenbaum. And also some big-ass books by/about some favorites:
Boccioni (seems to be the only large-scale survey?)
Rodchenko - recommendations?
Arte Povera - fuck this one got expensive! I wish I had had less than half of that money a decade ago in DC.
Jurgenssen - new to me - thanks MOMA
Robert Frank - obvious, canonical choice but I still love
Salgado - likewise
Also looking forward to this one. Thanks again, MOMA. Never thought I'd ever want pictures of male prostitutes but DiCorcia has a really spectacular eye and a way of finding humanity redolent of the best Italian filmmakers.

American History:

It's not like I don't know it. In fact, in my youth I was an insane Civil War buff, and have been to almost every major battlefield. But a lot of details are missing in my head, especially when it comes to legislation. I have a general survey for the "official" word, and will probably finally get around to reading Zinn's book, which, to be honest, I have been prejudiced against not because of him, but because of who I hear discussing it. You know the type. The formerly ultra-sheltered product of a white, striving, middle-class, barely-political family who finally figured out that, like, America kills people and stuff. Whoa, man! Yer blowin' my head! Does capitalism, like, exploit people too? Fuck, man! Fuck!

I digress.

For more detailed general history, I have cobbled together a reading list, mostly from Penguin and Oxford, to take me through Reconstruction. Again, this is more mainstream fare. I don't know that I really need some ultra-Leftist revisionist take. Rather, as many facts as possible that I can then interpret on my own. That being said, suggestions are, again, welcome, especially if you can come up with something that would provide a legal history of the United States, written for the intelligent general reader, that especially discusses significant Supreme Court cases...

American Colonies, Taylor
The Glorious Cause, Middlekauff
The Idea of America, Wood
Empire of Liberty, Wood
What Hath God Wrought, Howe
Battle Cry of Freedom, McPherson (have read already, happily much less Manichean than I feared)
Reconstruction, Foner
What's next? Good pre-WWI histories, WWI->WWII, then post-War, then Vietnam, then fucking Reagan-era?

I should probably find another volume of the Federalist papers, founding documents, etc. Beyond the above, I dunno? Should I go deeper? Adams' histories? All of those Library of America tomes of everything from Hamilton and Jefferson and etc? I have to get to Democracy In America eventually, I know it, but I dread it, too. Should I?

American 20th Century Prose:

A lot of re-reading here. Love Hemmingway and Fitzgerald and Faulker and Anderson, haven't gone much further than that. Need to get to Dreiser and Dos Passos. Who else from around that time? Off the top of my head, without consulting the Internet? Wharton? Wright? Cather? McCullers? Bowles? Steinbeck, duh and the Stein without the Beck. Ellison (later). And a fun month of rereading Cain and Hammett and Chandler (who is next to depict alleys at night?).

Also O'Neill and Williams and Miller and ODETS! I know plays are not novels and stories. Thanks!

OK I could try some poetry, too, though I've never connected with it. Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, anthologies abound, and then,
there are others, too,
even without the Ws.


Will probably start with Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio still haunts me, but, other than two or three short stories from other collections, I haven't dug further. So his novels maybe, though probably not the first two, and none are really in print, are they(?), and his other short stories, certainly. Then Fitzgerald and Hemingway again. Faulkner. Should be quick if I put the time in. Except for that last guy. Not to be insulting.

Later: Roth. Didion! Pynchon. Nabokov. Salinger. DeLillo. Auster? Miller? Agee?
See you in 2023.

Why so much America? I'm from here. It's as good a place to start (over) as any. And less daunting too. Russian, French, English literature? A lifetime each. Or so it seems to me.

Though that's mastery. I don't think I'll quite get that far. Just back and then forward to the level of what a general education would be in a better world than this.

So I'm wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt and black shoes. Send me syllabi. Yeah.


carl said...

Robert Coover's The Public Burning!

Paul Hebron said...

Albion Seed's by David Hackett Fischer, about the foundation of the US in migration from England: dead interesting; Edward Jay Epstein's Agency of Fear (the whole thing is an ebook here http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/agency/prologue.htm ), a somewhat lawyerly account of how Nixon and stooges used drugs as a crook to remold the powers of the Office of President; some Dorothy Parker stories n stuff

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

you state But it's all making me sick and depressed. - and i wonder if maybe you might want to reconsider your goal and/or your strategy - just a question

with regard to reading suggestions:

vonnegut's slaughterhouse five - history AND literature - maybe you had to read it before - read it again - you'll get more out of it

there's a howard zinn comic book

The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders by Jacob Needleman

:-p said...

Thanks for all of the suggestions. Some of these are especially excellent and exciting.

Yes I think the whole point is to reconsider the goal. The goal is to try and build again instead of tearing apart. So a break from hardcore criticism, or at least the kind of stuff that makes one feel like positive change is impossible.

Though it may backfire. Nothing like reading history to set the date of "it's all fucked" further back.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

These days I'm enthusiastic about finding out that "Mindfulness in Plain English" is available for download in a free, completely legit PDF edition.