Thursday, November 30, 2006

So Why a Hawthorne Blog?

Shall we count the reasons?

10. No matter how you define "American" or "literature," or choose or refuse to connect them, something Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote is going to end up being important in some way to you. (Now I'll lie in wait for Eric Cheyfitz or Jay Grossman or Gregory Jay or Jane Tompkins to comment.... There are probably a dozen post ideas buried in this mega-qualified claim alone.)

9. Don't believe me? Then why do so many other writers engage his works in their fiction, drama, and criticism? And I'm not just talking about the usual suspects, from Melville to Twain to James to Faulkner to Warren to Lowell to Updike. I'm talking Chesnutt, Du Bois, Wharton, Borges, Ellison, Baldwin, Acker, Morrison, Kingston, Conde, Mukherjee, and Parks, among others. (For a start, see Brodhead's The School of Hawthorne, Budick's Engendering Romance, Coale's In Hawthorne's Shadow, Idol and Ponder's edited collection of essays, Hawthorne and Women, McCall's Citizens of Somewhere Else...and of course future posts here.)

8. The Eldritch Press and Donna Campbell Hawthorne sites are pretty darn good, but not blogs. Same goes for the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society and the Hawthorne in Salem sites.

7. The debate over academic blogging is over. (If you haven't been following it, it's no big loss.) [Update 1/22/07: Well, not literally over. In fact, when I originally wrote this, I wasn't even aware there was a controversy over the term "academic blogging" or who was known for using it. So maybe this should be revised to read, "For me, the debate over Blogging While Academic is over, to the extent that I've decided to start this blog, that is." Not quite as punchy, eh?]

6. The debate over the dangerosity of American university faculties in general and literature departments in particular is, sadly, far from over. Seems I can't help but be in the middle of it, whether I want to or not. And actually, having chosen to enter grad school around the time everyone seemed to be up in arms over the "culture wars" and "political correctness" and "the closing of the American mind" and "tenured radicals," I kind of brought it on myself.

5. Which is not to say I want to embrace Hawthorne's rhetorical pose of being an apolitical observer barely in touch with his times while actually being closely aligned personally, professionally, and politically with certain tendencies in the Democratic Party of those times. Far from it.

4. After all, I got hooked on this blogging thing when I started writing a dueling-banjos-style column for the local newspaper with a philosopher friend of mine not so long ago and created a blog to give us a potentally wider audience. (With less than a thousand visits a month, "wider" should be given far less weight than "potentially," although various search engines do bring us hits from all over the world.)

3. Even though I got a sabbatical and a Fulbright and have been teaching in Japan for several months, all of which gave me a graceful way to take a hiatus from our ongoing intellectual death match, I found that I missed blogging and began commenting all too regularly at my favorite blogs. I needed to find a way to focus my writing on my actual research so as to finally finish turning that ol' dissertation into a real book manuscript.

2. Or maybe I just needed a way to procrastinate more "productively." We'll see. (Although in point of fact, it was only through a host of distraction techniques that I was able to finish the dissertation--"The Race for Hawthorne," 1998--itself. More on them, and "the writing process," someday.)

1. So already you can see why a writer like Hawthorne appeals to me personally. Take his long post-college period of research and writing, resulting in lots of short pieces of varying quality, and finally, the books--what is that but a somewhat hopeful publication model for me? Not to mention his self-deprecations and indecisions and subtleties, his historical sense, his attention to form, structure, and craft, and his variety of modes, moods, and narrative strategies. Or that so many interesting and important scholars and critics spanning so many decades have written on him in so many interesting and important ways.

0. But Hawthorne also appeals to me politically--and precisely because his politics are so disappointing to me in so many ways. After all, his evasions, ambiguities, ambivalences, affiliations, blind spots, and prejudices are just as important to understand and assess as his achievements and influence. They may tell us as much about ourselves and our own times as him and his, if not more. And they will, if I have anything to say about it.

-1. Probably next I better explain and justify the blog title. But the girls (san-sai, almost, and nana-kagetsu) are going to wake up soon, I have to do some serious memorizing for the last Japanese language class of the week, and I have a talk to outline and quotes to compile for the Kyushu American Literature Society meeting at Fukuoka University this Saturday. It's called "American Studies and the Race for Hawthorne," so of course it will be the subject of another few posts someday.