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American Silence

Zeese Papanikolas

Publication Year: 2007

In American Silence, a complement to his previous study Trickster in the Land of Dreams, Zeese Papanikolas investigates a number of significant American cultural artifacts and the lives of their makers. For Papanikolas, both the private failures and public successes of Clarence King, Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, and Hank Williams resonate with silences. These silences—absences and omissions—put them in opposition to the American mythology of success and express the essential solitude Alexis de Tocqueville found at the heart of the American soul. The painters George Caleb Bingham and Jackson Pollock and the New Orleans photographer E. J. Bellocq extend the theme of erotic loss and the redemptive possibilities of art beyond it into the realm of the visual.
On a deeper level, the lives and works of these writers, thinkers, artists, and public figures connect them to more disturbing questions of American crimes of race and despoliation. Their silences and reticences contain a lingering pathos rooted in a consciousness of utopian possibility just missed and to an unspoiled nature almost within living memory.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Table of Contents

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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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Overture: The Unpaintable West

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pp. 1-24

What do these figures mean? An old man, a boy, a bear cub chained to the prow of a pirogue floating downstream on a calm river in some golden morning of a past that no longer has a history. They gaze at us. The boy leans on a skin-covered box that holds what we...

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One: The Inner Geology of Clarence King

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pp. 25-52

This mountain doesn't exist. The Sierra Club doesn't know about this mountain. The Nature Conservancy is unacquainted with it. It is not on any of the inventories kept by the Wise Use movement. No sheep have gotten lost...

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Two: Henry Adams at the Fair

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pp. 53-84

Everybody Henry Adams knew was either dead or dying as the summer of 1893 approached. His neighbors most generally sat down on their stairs, or wherever came handy, and died. Somewhere he must go, and the quicker,...

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Three: The Cruelty of Seeing

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pp. 85-98

Floating above the waves, pushed by the gentle winds, Venus in her nakedness makes her way to Paphos to be born. As soon as she touches shore she will be covered by the cloak held out to her by the solicitous Hour. In..

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Four: Some Versions of the Pastoral

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pp. 99-140

From the air, the land flattens out. The wrinkles of mountains and hills become a two-dimensional pattern, like a postcubist Braque or a Picasso or a Masson. Looking down, her eyes were full of it, and over the snow hills and...

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Five: Sublime America

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pp. 141-158

The artist in his studio: an old subject. You think of the huge paintings that turn their backs to us on their easels in Velásquez and Rembrandt, as if to insist on the obdurate materiality of canvas, stretcher bars, nails, and glue,...

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Six: Lonesome America

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pp. 159-186

When Alexis de Tocqueville entered the Michigan wilderness in 1831, it was, above all else, the silence that impressed itself on him. At night, and even at noon, the silence was so profound and the calm so complete that it created...


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pp. 187-190


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pp. 191-212


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pp. 213-221

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205963
E-ISBN-10: 0803205961

Publication Year: 2007