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I just wanted to issue a quick “hello” to anyone who may still follow Verba Americana, as well as to new-comers and stumble-acrossers.


Confession: I feel like an impostor, a sort of psuedo-Jay Gatsby, because I declared an ongoing commitment to this project a few months ago and since then I’ve left it to fallow, though I often profess the importance of young academics creating online spaces that spotlight the ongoing immediacy of cultural artifacts that we want to say, in the laziest of ways, may be outdated. We need to do this, as young academics, to remind ourselves that value persists in things often eclipsed by the sexiness of Twitter and, yes, blogging – newer, faster, media. We need to do this, as well, to tell others, to educate, as it were, even as we prepare and hope and sweat toward one day thinking of ourselves as educators, proper. And yet here I am, apologizing because I’ve been absent from Verba Americana for, well, months (yuck).

I won’t further my Gatsby-ness by promising daily posts from here on out. If I were to do that, well, you may as well slap a white suit on me and put me up in a mansion in West Egg. I’d be doomed. But I will say this: I’ll post now and then, and come September, Verba Americana will resume with some regularity, in step with the school year.

I’ve referenced it enough now that I can no longer ignore it, nor would it be responsible of me to do so – The Great Gatsby. As a testament to it’s ongoing importance, Fitzgerald’s shockingly brilliant novel of financial affluence and interpersonal poverty and betrayal is once again destined for the silver screen. Aussie director Baz Luhrmann’s 3D interpretation of the story lands in cinemas next summer, so read the book now, that you may leave the theatre far superior in your critique than the people you see it with. I can take or leave Luhrmann: Romeo + Juliet was good, Australia made me dry heave. I’ll be honest, I want to not like his rendition of Gatsby, but when I saw the trailer for the film in theatres, I think I may have perhaps felt a small shiver of excitement.

The other, unavoidable, certified giant of American lit is, as always, Melville’s Moby-Dick. I favour short fiction, but Moby-Dick is so elemental, so messy and amazing, so studied and reckless, so wild and obsessive – so American – it drives me…bonkers. In an interview with Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), the American writer Gore Vidal (above), who died about a week ago – 31 July 2012 – had this to say of Melville’s epic:

Hitchens: Why does Moby Dick stink? Why is it revered?

Vidal: I wouldn’t say it is all that bad, but it is not very good, either, unless one wants to know a great deal about whales. It is revered because it is very much in the American manner -pompous, humorless, self-important, and ill-written. There are some interesting annotations in Melville’s copies of Shakespeare where you can see him aiming at magnificence and falling with a splash into the old-man-and-the-sea shallows.

While I respect Vidal and deeply admire his writing, I think he’s somewhat hard on Melville. Perhaps the great E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime) and Canada’s own Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) might be considered kinder to old Herman:

With that, I’ll depart, for now. And, as I said, I’ll try to be back before September, at which time I will return regularly. Thanks to those who care to check back, who continue to read, and who encourage me to keep this effort going.

– Joe