Deeper and deeper
After my lame attempt yesterday to cover from 1839-1866 quickly, I realize I’ve just got to do this in small chunks. For example, I’d never studied Matthew Brady in depth before, and he fits into things quite well. And there’s a big chunk of US economic history to contend with as well. Evidently, there was a depression in 1837 and a depression in 1870. It’s interesting to me that explosions of creative activity are often spurred by these things. Nice to know, since it looks like we’re headed that way again.
Exploring a bit of learning software on Jacob Riis, the author makes the point that Riis’s autobiography published in 1901 was deeply permeated with the “self-made man” trope. I’m noticing the same thing in a biographical sketch of Brady from 1946. It’s like finding another smoking gun. It ties back to Carlyle’s lectures on heroes in 1840. Charting the rise of that rhetorical trope seems important too. And then there’s the Carlyle-Emerson connection, the publication of Nat Turner’s diary in 1831. . . . I should have known better than to dip into the 19th century. I know the British side of things quite well, but now I really have to increase my reading in American lit. It just gets deeper and deeper.
That’s the problem with starting something “In the Beginning . . .” It always turns out to be formless and void.
*New Link for the sidebar— Douglass Archives of American Public Address— a great archive of speeches.
A good article on portraiture and the construction of the national identity:
From Gentility to Republicanism: Creating an American Form of Portraiture in the Early Republic.
Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth, and succumbs to falsehood. Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error. Time and hindsight alter history, too. But historians’ revisions must conform with accepted tenets of evidence. Heritage is more flexibly emended. Historians ignore at professional peril the whole corpus of past knowledge that heritage can airily transgress.
In the closing pages of his “Photography” essay Kracauer makes an unexpected turn in his argument. Photography is given a role in the study of history. Suddenly, the mute surface appearance of the photograph that was impenetrable to probing the essence of the subject becomes an advantage. The photograph can only signify meaning in hindsight once the personal value of the image has been diminished after the grandmother and her grandchildren have died and the garments merely look peculiar.
The original “self-made man”— Horatio Alger, Jr. Resources.