The black, memorable year of 1929. Its 2011, three years since the great recession and the economic needle won’t budge.Employment is worse. And the housing crisis and foreclosures show little improvement. Are we in a socialized version of the dirty 30’s? Wak leadership, appeasement, and an election which is yawning us into the comfortable myth of a better, more communal America; a better world. Like Coca Cola the good times are within an arm’s reach of desire. Happy days are here again. Well almost here. But yes, both the GOP and Dems will be trying to reviralize the old communal myths and a kiner gentler America. But only after this commercial break from our sponsors…
Does it starts, and end with money?
A baited banker thus desponds,
From his own hand foresees his fall,
They have his soul, who have his bonds;
’Tis like the writing on the wall. ( Jonathan Swift, The Run Upon the Bankers, 1720)
But, is it inflation, or recession or deflation,that we must fear most? The important thing is to fear it seems. Whether Weimar is on the horizon, or the Depression, or creeping fascism or creeping socialism or just plain creepies. The pundit debate lately has reignited over issues as old as the current malaise itself: On the FOMC its whether to move quickly towards an incremental normalisation of monetary policy, which means looser money and a quantitative easing bomb and the austerity gang. Reading James Thurber from the 1930’s seems a similar context to today’s antagonisms. Either way, its a repeat of the great American con-game…
In James Thurber’s Let Your Mind Alone!: “It was in none other than the black, memorable year 1929, that the indefatigable Professor Walter B. Pitkin rose up with the announcement that “for the first time in the career of mankind happiness is coming within reach of millions of people.”
Thurber’s irony, it seems to me, aims not only at the disjunction between the historical moment and the glad tidings proclaimed by an accomplished American huckster of happiness, but also at the American’s preoccupation with being happy, with happiness as the goal of life, as if in perverse misapplication of the most famous line in the Declaration of Independence. Unhappiness is un-American, we seem to believe, and becoming happy is something in the nature of a patriotic duty for all of us. Thurber’s remark also takes in, I believe, most of the politicians of the period, from men like Herbert Hoover, who offered only genial assurances that prosperity was just around the corner, to men like Franklin Roosevelt, whose plan of action Thurber seems generally to have approved but who came to power at the Democratic Convention of 1931 with the premature announcement that happy days were here again. It is not hard to hear in such assertions, at any rate, the familiar ring of an authentically American confidence game. Read More:http://www.compedit.com/james_thuber_and_depression_humor.htm
Thurber’s chief mode of participating in the Depression was his running battle with leftist writers and critics. Given the infrequency and brevity of Thurber’s comments on the Depression, together with the New Yorker’s unmistakable ambience of affluence with its ads for Packard and Pierce-Arrow, Brooks Brothers and Bonwit Teller, it is small wonder that leftists viewed his writing with distrust and dismay. Thurber’s assessment of the complaint against New Yorker writers in general, that “we don’t attack communism but we don’t go for it, head over heels” (Bernstein, 229), greatly understates the true animosity involved in this particular literary controversy. Certainly it oversimplifies the issues. Like most other modernists, Thurber maintained throughout that he was simply defending art from contamination by life….
…Art was inescapably autobiographical, to be sure, as he told Malcolm Cowley: “[O]ur own lives must always by the subject for our writings, come what may” . But the achievement of art required distance from life, as he wrote to Max Eastman at about the same time. “Humor,” he said, “is a kind of emotional chaos told about calmly and quietly in retrospect.”7 In this version of Wordsworth’s dictum, calm and quiet are clearly needed to transmute the raw materials of experience into art. The mistake of the leftists, in Thurber’s opinion, was that they were at once too conscious of being literary people and too involved in politics to practice the patience that art requires. Read More:http://www.compedit.com/james_thuber_and_depression_humor.htm
For Depression-weary Americans, Thurber’s title would also have summoned up two other social myths besides Saroyan’s, both of them somewhere near the conservative end of the political spectrum. One of these myths recalls post-Civil War America and the small town and rural society which Thurber had already treated comically in My Life and Hard Times and would later celebrate in Thurber Country (1952). This is the world in which the song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” originated in the first place, a world where, as Thurber described it in “Return of the Native” (1950), “There was a lot of picnicking and canoeing and cycling, and going for hikes in the woods on Sundays in spring, the men in boaters and bright blazers, and the women in shirtwaists and skirts.” Its virtues were self-sufficiency, contentment, modest economic competence, and a kind of wide-eyed innocence before the outside world. There are, Thurber suggests, no daring young men any more, only worn out and ludicrous middle-aged ones who make themselves look even more foolish by placing themselves in situations into which only daring young men should enter. But there are, alas, plenty of P. T. Barnums left in Depression-ridden America, and there are still more suckers born every minute. Read More:http://www.compedit.com/james_thuber_and_depression_humor.htm
Thurber never did live down the charge of triviality first leveled against him in the New Masses. Though he bitterly assailed the Communist-hunting activities of Senator McCarthy and his cohorts in the late forties and early fifties,14 he never quite forgave such former friends as Donald Ogden Stewart and Dorothy Parker. As late as 1960 when he wrote “The Case of Comedy,” they were very much on his mind. The leftists, he said, are continuing their “concerted attack on humor as antisocial, antiracial, antilabor, [and] antiproletarian. . . . [T]hey have left no stereotype unused in their attack, from ‘no time for comedy’ to the grim warnings that humor is a sickness, a sign of inferiority complex, a shield and not a weapon.” Those final metaphors belong to Dorothy Parker, and they originally appeared in the New Masses during a debate already nearly a quarter century old when Thurber penned his….
…Had the Depression inspired only such pieces as “How to Write a Long Autobiography,” “What Are the Leftists Saying?,” and the parodies of Caldwell and a few other writers, that would indeed have seemed to justify Kyle Crichton’s claim that politics for Thurber was largely a matter of personal preference and class prejudice and that he wrote in a social vacuum. But there are, in fact, numerous other pieces not so purposefully or narrowly political which show Thurber as an acute observer of his times; these works clearly grow out of the Depression broadly considered as a psychological if not an economic and political phenomenon. Perhaps the most cynical story Thurber ever wrote, for example, “The Greatest Man in the World” (1931), belongs equally in time and temperament to the Depression era, when disillusionment with the American dream was rampant. The extravagance of the title tells us that this is a story about the carny hype and hoopla of the popular press, which affixed such hyperbolic labels to the latest hero as a mere matter of course. The term carries no historical force; it is unabashedly superlative because it does not really intend to invite comparison with other great men but simply to promote the most recent and, therefore, the “greatest” one. It belongs to the world of P. T. Barnum, to circus showmanship and spectacle, and is not something with which responsible journalism would have anything to do.