Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

The Current Reading List

Posted in Books,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the July 23rd, 2010

Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin. Just about the perfect novel: funny, poignant, wise. Nabokov’s ability to make the English language dance at will is astonishing. The hero Pnin is a White Russian exile, an intellectual reared in the salt water of Europe now trying to survive in the mucky freshwater of 1950s American academia. It’s been years since I’ve fallen quite so deeply in love with a work of fiction.

Narita Ruichi and Iwasaski Minoru, Norma Field wa kataru: sengo bungaku kibo 『ノーマ・フィールドは語る―戦後・文学・希望』(2010). Part of the handy Iwanami Booklet series, in a compact 63 pages this provides an appealing portrait of the life and scholarship of my colleague, Norma Field. In a series of interviews with two of Japan’s leading intellectual historians, she talks about growing up the daughter of an American soldier and a Japanese woman in 1950s Japan, about her intellectual awakening in the 1960s and 70s, and about the ethics of scholarship in today’s tangled academy.

Alexander Saxton, The Great Midland (1948). A recently revived classic of late American proletarian literature, the story of Communist Party activists on the South Side of Chicago: railroad workers (both black and white), University of Chicago armchair radicals (both male and female), immigrants and their children. Reminiscent of early John Dos Passos, the narrative moves forward and backward through the history of the first half of the twentieth century as it depicts the friendships, jealousies, and confusions of a generation of American radicals.

Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism (1989). West’s classic account of American pragmatism is driven by great passion and intelligence, and he makes a persuasive case for the relevance of James, Dewey, Peirce and their intellectual descendants in today’s world. But I’m also struck by the remarkable undercurrent of American exceptionalism that runs throughout his argument.

One Response to 'The Current Reading List'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. Linda said,

    on July 23rd, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    oooh, I will read Pnin next. What do you think about Pale Fire, Despair, and Transparent Things? I’ve only read Lolita and Bend Sinister so far, and the others are on my shelf, and not sure which to read next. If he writes like this in English, I can only imagine how he wrote in his native language–his writing is really a gift…masterful.