Alas, the Woody Guthrie industry unearths a novel. Apr 15, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 29 • By MICHAEL WARREN
To many in our cultural elite, Woody Guthrie is an American saint. The legendary songwriter from Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, is introduced to every American child by way of his folk anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” But for gatekeepers of the arts, Guthrie is much more: All of his work—every song, every article, every poem—is good and honest and true, the gospel according to Woody. What other justification is there for the release of this deservedly long-lost novel? Completed in 1947 but only recently “rediscovered,” House of Earth is an incoherent polemic interspersed with erotic scenes and rambling descriptions of life in the Dust Bowl-stricken plains.
Its major themes, such as they can be discerned, are Guthrie’s brand of rustic left-wing politics and his obsession with replacing America’s wooden farmhouses with ones made of adobe. The characters are flat and uninteresting; the narrative plods along; the language is often indecipherable. Here’s how Guthrie describes Ella May, the wife of the novel’s hero, Tike Hamlin: “She seemed to be made out of the same stuff that movement itself is made of.”
The editors of House of Earth, historian Douglas Brinkley and actor Johnny Depp, say they found the manuscript in the archives of the University of Tulsa while working on an unrelated project for Rolling Stone.As they write in their lengthy introduction, Brinkley and Depp “grew determined to have House of Earth published properly by a New York house, as Guthrie surely would have wanted.” No doubt Guthrie, a lifelong left-wing/Communist agitator, would have liked to see his book described as a “direct appeal for world governments to help the hardest-hit victims of natural disasters create new and better lives for themselves.” And the focus of the main characters on building an adobe house to weather the harsh climate of the Dust Bowl seems, to Brinkley and Depp, to presage our contemporary infatuation with environmentally sustainable living: “It’s almost as if Guthrie had written House of Earth prophetically, with global warming in mind,” they write. Almost.
But why didn’t Guthrie publish House of Earth after finishing it? Brinkley and Depp provide some possible answers:
Perhaps Guthrie sensed that some of the content was passé (the fertility cycle trope, for example, was frowned on by critics) or that the sexually provocative language was ahead of its time (graphic sex of the “stiff penis” variety was not yet acceptable in literature during the 1940s). The lovemaking between Tike and Ella May is a brave bit of emotive writing and an able exploration of the psychological dynamics of intercourse. But it’s a scene that, in the age when Tropic of Cancer was banned, would have been misconstrued as pornographic. Another impediment to publication may have been Guthrie’s employment of hillbilly dialect. This perhaps made it difficult for New York literary circles to embrace House of Earth as high art in the 1940s, though the dialect comes across as noble in our own period of linguistic archaeology. Also, left-leaning originality was hard to mass-market in the Truman era, when Soviet communism was public enemy number one. And critics at the time were bound to dismiss the novel’s enthusiasm for southwestern adobe as fetishistic.
None of these impediments persists, of course—which probably says less about Guthrie’s misunderstood genius than it does about the trajectory of American literature since the era of William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Saul Bellow.
Woody Guthrie’s canonization began in 1944 when he recorded “This Land Is Your Land,” which helped establish him as America’s preeminent folk voice, even if folk music lacked mass appeal in the swing/big band era. Nor did it help that Guthrie’s song was written in direct response to Irving Berlin’s popular “God Bless America,” which Guthrie condemned as patriotic schmaltz. Woody Guthrie’s America was a collectivist utopia, where “this land is made for you and me.” There are even a few (rarely sung) verses attacking the concept of private property and turning the tune’s repeated phrase on its head: “Is this land made for you and me?”
The left-wing stranglehold on academia.Mar 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 27 • By MARK BAUERLEIN
Neil Gross is a sociologist at the University of British Columbia who previously held posts at the University of Southern California and Harvard, has a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, and received undergraduate training at Berkeley. He edits Sociological Theory and has written a book on the liberal philosopher Richard Rorty.
PBS’s well-feathered nest.Oct 22, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 06 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
The mini-storm over Mitt Romney, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Big Bird pitted two visions of the show’s finances against one another. Mitt Romney claimed he’d cut funding so that Sesame Street would have to air commercials. Big Bird defenders imagined a world in which a lack of federal money would put Big Bird out of business.
10:24 AM, Oct 9, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
In a new television ad, the Obama campaign mocks Mitt Romney’s promise to end the federal subsidy to PBS:
1:25 AM, Jan 25, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Does liberalism embody the military virtues? Is martial virtue the highest stage of progressivism?
President Obama wants us to think so.
Oct 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Life is, undoubtedly, bittersweet. But not America. According to President Obama, America is bittersoft.
12:00 PM, Sep 22, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
I don't think I could possibly overstate how excited liberal 'netroots' are about this clip of Harvard Professor and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren that's making the rounds. I know Warren has a long history of being fawned over by liberals, but read the comments section at any one of those links above and you'll find liberals that make Justin Bieber fans sound like Statler and Waldorf.
Apr 25, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 31 • By PETER WEHNER
Barack Obama’s budget address last week ranks among the most dishonest and dishonorable presidential speeches in generations. It contained an avalanche of false and misleading statements. It was shallow and bitterly partisan. Yet the speech served a useful purpose: It provided the American people in general, and Republicans in particular, with the basic line of attack President Obama will use between now and the 2012 election.
Sarah Palin was on to something.Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Just before noon on Sunday, July 18, 2010, Sarah Palin enriched the English language. Referring to the planned Islamic center near the 9/11 site in New York, she tweeted: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”
First time tragedy, second time farce. Mar 29, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 27 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
After his 1851 coup d’état, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of the real Napoleon, pronounced himself Napoleon III. It was the rise to power of this great-man-wannabe that prompted the famous opening of Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis-Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice.
Metro's inherent liberalism.12:00 AM, Mar 12, 2010 • By IKE BRANNON
Washington, D.C.'s Metro remains a great manifestation of liberalism today. Although it was created at the zenith of the Great Society, and although its union workforce gains overly generous pensions and maintains ridiculous job security, it is Metro's management of its passengers—its attempt to save passengers from their own idiocy—that earns it this title.
The Los Angeles Times strikes back at its critics, and gets rung up by the blogosphrere (again).12:00 AM, Oct 16, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
LIKE MOST CALIFORNIANS, I am sick of discussing the Los Angeles Times.
I had intended to write this week about the sudden crystallization of the Democratic party around the campaign theme "Higher Taxes, Lower Defenses." This combination of Mondale economics with McGovernite foreign policy is without precedent in American political history and deserves close examination. The appearances of Joe Biden and Jay Rockefeller on the weekend talk shows presented even more opportunities to ruminate on the collapse of coherence within Democratic ranks.
But the Times keeps asking for more.