Creator of Worlds

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11 Responses

  1. Christopher Carr says:

    That’s too bad. He was absolutely brilliant.

    Likewise, read Welcome to Hard Times. I’ve used quotes from this on a regular basis in comments and posts here. Here’s my favorite.

    “Every time someone puts a little capital into this Territory I’m called in by the Governor and sent on my way. It doesn’t matter I suffer from the rheumatism, nor that I’m past the age of riding a horse’s back. If a man files a claim that yields, there’s a town. If he finds some grass, there’s a town. Does he dig a well? Another town. Does he stop somewhere to ease his bladder, there’s a town. Over this land a thousand times each year towns spring up and it appears I have to charter them all. But to what purpose? The claim pinches out, the grass dies, the well dries up, and everyone will ride off to form up again somewhere else for me to travel. Nothing fixes in this damned country, people blow around at the whiff of the wind. You can’t bring the law to a bunch of rocks, you can’t settle the coyotes, you can’t make a society out of sand. I sometimes think we’re worse than the Indians… What is the name of this place, Hard Times? You are a well-meaning man Mr. Blue, I come across your likes occasionally. I noticed Blackstone on your desk, and Chitty’s Pleadings. Well you can read the law as much as you like but it will be no weapon for the spring when the town swells with people coming to work your road. You need a peace officer but I don’t even see you wearing a gun. I look out of this window and I see cabins, loghouse, cribs, tent, shanty, but I don’t see a jail. You’d better build a jail. You’d better find a shootist and build a jail.”Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    Damn, both of those excerpts are fantastic. I do believe I’ve found my next recreational read.Report

    • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Just read Jameson on Doctorow.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        You mean drink Jameson with Doctorow.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Here’s a taste (I realize this will immediately cause some to turn away in horror, as it Jameson).The quote that shows up in every review of Doctorow since the early 90s is from this, but makes no real sense without what follows it:

        E. L. Doctorow is the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past, of the suppression of older traditions and moments of the American radical tradition: no one with left sympathies can read these splendid novels without a poignant distress that is an authentic way of confronting our own current political dilemmas in the present. What is culturally interesting, however, is that he has had to convey this great theme formally (since the waning of the content is very precisely his subject) and, more than that, has had to elaborate his work by way of that very cultural logic of the postmodern which is itself the mark and symptom of his dilemma. Loon Lake much more obviously deploys the strategies of the pastiche (most notably in its reinvention of Dos Passos); but Ragtime remains the most peculiar and stunning monument to the aesthetic situation engendered by the disappearance of the historical referent. This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only “represent” our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes “pop history”). Cultural production is thereby driven back inside a mental space which is no longer that of the old monadic subject but rather that of some degraded collective “objective spirit”: it can no longer gaze directly on some putative real world, at some reconstruction of a past history which was once itself a present; rather, as in Plato’s cave, it must trace our mental images of that past upon its confining walls. If there is any realism left here, it is a “realism” that is meant to derive from the shock of grasping that confinement and of slowly becoming aware of a new and original historical situation in which we are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach.

        I can’t say that I’m a fan of Doctorow, though Ragtime is one of those books you probably need to read, but Jameson’s critical analysis (which basically treats Doctorow as the prototype of pastiche) makes reading him much more interesting.

        Perhaps a better quote about Ragtime:

        …The authenticity of the gesture, however, may be measured by the evident existential fact of life that there no longer does seem to be any organic relationship between the American history we learn from schoolbooks and the lived experience of the current multinational, high-rise, stagflated city of the newspapers and of our own everyday life.

        A crisis in historicity, however, inscribes itself symptomatically in several other curious formal features within this text. Its official subject is the transition from a pre-World War I radical and working-class politics (the great strikes) to the technological invention and new commodity production of the 1920s (the rise of Hollywood and of the image as commodity): the interpolated version of Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, the strange, tragic episode of the black protagonist’s revolt, may be thought of as a moment related to this process. That Ragtime has political content and even something like a political “meaning” seems in any case obvious and has been expertly articulated by Linda Hutcheon in terms of

        its three paralleled families: the Anglo-American establishment one and the marginal immigrant European and American black ones. The novel’s action disperses the center of the first and moves the margins into the multiple “centers” of the narrative, in a formal allegory of the social demographics of urban America. In addition, there is an extended critique of American democratic ideals through the presentation of class conflict rooted in capitalist property and moneyed power. The black Coalhouse, the white Houdini, the immigrant Tateh are all working class, and because of this-not in spite of it-all can therefore work to create new aesthetic forms (ragtime, vaudeville, movies).

        But this does everything but the essential, lending the novel an admirable thematic coherence few readers can have experienced in parsing the lines of a verbal object held too close to the eyes to fall into these perspectives. Hutcheon is, of course, absolutely right, and this is what the novel would have meant had it not been a postmodern artifact. For one thing, the objects of representation, ostensibly narrative characters, are incommensurable and, as it were, of incomparable substances, like oil and water–Houdini being a historical figure, Tateh a fictional one, and Coalhouse an intertextual one–something very difficult for an interpretive comparison of this kind to register. Meanwhile, the theme attributed to the novel also demands a somewhat different kind of scrutiny, since it can be rephrased into a classic version of the Left’s “experience of defeat” in the twentieth century, namely, the proposition that the depolitization of the workers’ movement is attributable to the media or culture generally (what she here calls “new aesthetic forms”). This is, indeed, in my opinion, something like the elegiac backdrop, if not the meaning, of Ragtime, and perhaps of Doctorow’s work in general; but then we need another way of describing the novel as something like an unconscious expression and associative exploration of this left doxa, this historical opinion or quasi- vision in the mind’s eye of “objective spirit.” What such a description would want to register is the paradox that a seemingly realistic novel like Ragtime is in reality a nonrepresentational work that combines fantasy signifiers from a variety of ideologemes in a kind of hologram.

        (Emphasis added.)Report

  3. krogerfoot says:

    The awnings were probably striped rather than “stripped,” but you nailed why this is a lovely opening and why Doctorow was a fine writer.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    This is one of the best openings of a novel in the 20th century. I recommend that you read Ragtime the novel rather than watch the movie. The novel is brilliant, the movie less so because they toned some of the characterization down.Report