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Showing posts from April 12, 2020

an anthropology of the 1 percent

Ethnographic field studies of peasants, hunter gatherers, farmers, powerful village men, etc. are common. Field studies of rich American families are less so.     Off hand, I can only think of George Marcus’s studies of   rich Texas families in Houston and Galveston, which was nevertheless full of insights.   Marcus uses a term that the muckrakers used – dynastic wealth. His view of wealth is still wedded, however, to the notion of the family, especially in terms of male heirs. Myself, I think that we should look at modern wealth from the perspective of the “house”. This is akin to the dynastic perspective – we think of the “house” of Windsor, meaning, vaguely, parts of the extended family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. A house his, on the one hand, a concrete building, and, on the other hand, a synecdoche for the entirety of the property. “Members” of the house can include servants, as well as the less endowed cousins, aunts, uncles and others who have some claim on the property.

a great debut novel

The list of great debut novels is short – although some of them are the greatest of novels. Don Quixote might be considered a debut in two ways – it is the debut of the modern novel, and a debut novel. There’s Dead Souls, the Pickwick Papers, Madam Bovary, Decline and Fall, The Sun Also Rises, V. There’s also Chiendent, Queneau’s first novel, which has been translated as Barking Tree or Witchgrass. Americans are more familiar with crabgrass, which holds the same place in our lawn mythology as chiendent in France. The principle of the weed – of the invasion of an alien thing that is much like the real thing – in this case grass – but somehow not is a beautiful structural metaphor for what Queneau was doing. My own novel, Made a Few Mistakes, boosted one of Queneau’s brilliancies – the idea that falsehoods can take life and motive power, moving people to do absurd things under false premises. An idea that is put into a literally Cartesian framework in Chiendent, as a plain clerk,