Released today is Harvard University Press’ ambitious, (fool-hardy?) new anthology, A New Literary History of America. Edited in part by rock critic/guru Greil Marcus, the new anthology aims for hipster over literature. I’ll be curious to read it in full.
According to the publicity piece in the The Times, “A New Literary History” seeks to include not only turning points in the past 500 years of American history, but also “war memorials, jazz, museums, comic strips, film, radio, musicals, skyscrapers, cybernetics and photographs.” Entries range from Chuck Berry (chosen and memorialized as the real soul of rock, rather than Elvis Presley) to porn star Linda Lovelace, the Declaration of Independence, Leaves of Grass, and, as a final note: Barack Obama. Cool thing about Obama’s entry: MacArthur genius Kara Walker created nine of her signature, subversive silhouettes of our new President. I saw Walker’s work for the first time at the Walker Art Center a few years ago, and was blown away with her braininess and willingness to go there.
I’ll admit I’m naturally drawn to these types of collections, if only for the chance encounter with some obscure artist or event that I’d never considered. Part of the danger of these anthologies is canonizing one person or group’s point of view. Who gets to deem the most important literary events in America’s past 500 years? On the other hand, isn’t it a good thing to have a place to start dialogue and debate?