An Expressway Runs Through It
by Anthony Chaney
How long has “silo” been used as a verb? Someone will have to school me about that. I’ve been hearing the word more and more in the conversations, written and spoken, of smart people talking about things important to me. Silo may be one of those fashionable usages that gets annoying rather quickly. But as for now, I’m not complaining. I’m just curious how far I am behind the curve.
A practical need bears on usage, surely. Silo must evoke an image people find useful these days: that of institutions, groups, persons, and bodies of information organized into separate containers (“silo-ed”) for isolation and protection. The connotation is negative, like that of “echo chamber,” which refers to the ping-ponging of information within silos. (Once one starts speaking figuratively, the mixing of metaphors becomes hard to avoid.) Open exchange and interdisciplinarity are preferred. Not to silo is preferred. The impulse is holistic.
Because the usage is new to me, the effect is particularly visual. People say silo, I see silos in my head. I grew up in the Midwest; that’s expected. On the evening of May 7 I went to the Texas Theater to see a new documentary and to hear the panel discussion that followed. The panelists used the word silo three or four times. I heard the word, but I was no longer seeing silos. Now I was seeing rows of the high-rise, low-income apartment projects of 1950s- and 60s-era urban renewal. (more…)
Good Wives, Honky-Tonk Angels, and Cuckolded Cowboys: The Feminisms of Kitty Wells, Tammy Wynette, and Nikki Lane
Today we have Part II of Matthew D. Linton‘s exploration of the intellectual history of country music (Part I here). Matt draws together old and new, demonstrating lines of continuity between some of the first commercially successful women in the genre with some of the independent voices of today. Enjoy!
In 1952, Hank Thompson released the hit single “The Wild Side of Life.” It told the story of a young woman who chooses the “gay night life” and “places where wine and liquor flow” instead of settling down and marrying the “only one that ever loved you.” “I didn’t know God made honky-tonk angels,” he crooned, “I might have known that you’d never make a wife.” Like the fallen women in Johnny Cash’s “Cry, Cry, Cry” and Ernest Tubb’s “You Nearly Lose Your Mind,” Thompson’s naïve lover is lured from her natural and safe place in the home for the bright lights of town, presumably to intoxication and promiscuity (“you wait to be anybody’s baby” Thompson sings). Country music’s leading men expressed a deep anxiety about the changing role of women, particularly as they had more autonomy outside the home. By 1950, a wife leaving the home and potential cuckoldry were so intertwined that “stepping out” was a synonym for infidelity.
“The Wild Side of Life” was a massive hit for Thompson, spending fifteen weeks at the top of the Billboard country music chart and launching a successful career. More important than the single’s content or even its success was the response it drew from a young unknown musician named Kitty Wells. That same year she recorded a response, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” (1952), lambasting Thompson and other male country musicians for solely blaming women for the honky-tonk’s culture of loose morals. Written from the perspective of Thompson’s fallen “honky-tonk angel” and imitating the sound of “The Wild Side of Life,” Wells recounts a tale of a moral (read: good Christian) woman lured to sin by lustful men. As she sings in the chorus, “Too many times/married men think they’re still single/that has caused many a good girl to go wrong.” Thompson was correct, God didn’t create honky-tonk angels, they were created by men who had unmoored sex from marriage, desire from commitment. (more…)
Today marks the second entry in our series commemorating the 60th anniversary of Max Lerner’s America as a Civilization. Today we have a contribution from a friend of the blog, Stephen J. Whitfield. Readers of the blog are no doubt familiar with his work, which includes, among many other things, A Critical American: The Politics of Dwight Macdonald (Archon), A Death in the Delta: the Story of Emmett Till (Free Press), The Culture of the Cold War (Hopkins), and In Search of American Jewish Culture (University Press of New England). For many years, Whitfield has been Max Richter Chair of American Civilization at Brandeis. Enjoy, everyone.
By Stephen J. Whitfield
In the mid-twentieth century, when publishers aimed to attract serious readers, a journalist who was also planted in academe became the go-to guy to clarify and to contextualize the great works of Western thought. In 1937, for example, when the fate of capitalism seemed to hang in the balance, Max Lerner (1902-1992) supplied the introduction to the Modern Library Giant edition of The Wealth of Nations. Three years later, when the Modern Library also needed someone to introduce Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Discourses, Lerner was picked. In 1943, when the same publisher needed an introduction for Aristotle’s Politics (in the famous Benjamin Jowett translation), who should get the assignment but Max Lerner? For Bantam Books he provided the introduction to Essential Works of John Stuart Mill in 1961. His forte was American intellectual history as well. In 1943, when the Modern Library got the inspired idea to present The Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes, who had died only eight years earlier, Lerner assumed the task of editing the jurist’s great speeches and opinions. Also in 1943, when Louis Filler authored a biography of Randolph Bourne, no extra credit for guessing who supplied the introduction. Planning to release The Portable Veblen five years later, staffers at the Viking Press must have exclaimed: let’s get Max Lerner to edit the volume. He complied.
In the last six months, it has become a trend among intellectuals and academics to mine the past for thinkers to whom we can look to for guidance in how to address the “Age of Trump.” Hannah Arendt and Richard Hofstadter have, not surprisingly, become the leaders in this renaissance of thinking about oppressive regimes abroad and at home. Thankfully, other scholars have critiqued this, reminding us that African American intellectuals, among many others, embody a tradition of fighting government tyranny at home. For many Americans, fear of the government, concerns about the trampling of their constitutional rights, and desperation to find hope during hopeless times, is nothing new during the Trump Administration. It is merely day to day life in America.
Last night I finally closed the books on the 2016-2017 academic year. I graded my last batch of finals and turned in grades for my last section at the community college. Spring semester started a week earlier at the university than at the community college, so I was “done” with school once already this month. But now I’m really done – and all but done in. So today’s blog post is going to be a grab-bag of links, questions, recommendations and provocations. (Come for the links, stay for the provocations!)
Since my name was invoked in the ongoing debate on Eran’s latest post (“Could there be an intellectual history about ideas”)—as someone who might know something about “false consciousness”—I hereby dedicate a short post to thinking through this term and concept. It seems to me there are at least two ways in which “false consciousness” has been used in the Marxist tradition since Engels first used it in a private letter to Franz Mering:
- False consciousness is how the proletariat (or oppressed classes more generally) internalizes its oppression. It believes that the system is working in its favor, when in fact it’s working against its interests and in favor of bourgeois interests. Working class people are dupes.
- False consciousness is that which describes how all or most people living within the capitalist system wrongly think that capitalism is the superior mode of production and human interaction, or wrongly think it’s the only viable way of living—the only alternative. We’re all dupes.