One interesting American thing (a technical term, meaning a moment or event, a text, a controversy, an idea, a figure, or whatevertheheckelse I think of) per day, from Ben Railton, a professor of American literature, culture, history, and, natch, Studies.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
May 28, 2011: Pahk Your Blog in Hahvahd Yahd
In honor of my boys’ first Boston Public Garden swan boat ride earlier today, here (more briefly than they deserve, but the boats, or maybe the boys, tired me out!) are three great moments in American literature and culture set around some of the Boston area’s most significant landmarks:
1)A Visit to the Hall: About halfway through Henry James’s big, complicated, messy The Bostonians (1885), his Southern, ex-Confederate male protagonist Basil Ransom pays an equally complicated visit to Harvard’s new Memorial Hall, which had been built to commemorate the Union dead who were Harvard students and alums. Basil’s sense of camaraderie with these former foes feels partly like many other reconciliation narratives in this post-Reconstruction era;but there’s no denying the emotional impact of the scene, and of the memories of war that it conjures up in Basil.
2)Submerged History: In one of my first posts here, on the Shaw Memorial, my second link was to Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” (1960), a poem that manages to link the abandoned South Boston Aquarium to the Memorial, threading both into powerful and ultimately angry images of a city and nation where past and history have been submerged beneath an ocean of televised images and “savage servility,” and where the cliché that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it is giving striking new life.
3)A Swan Fetish: No post that begins with the swan boats can end without including the best scene ever set at that location, and one of the great movie monologues of all time, Robin Williams’ speech to (Good) Will Hunting about everything he doesn’t know. It’s an incredibly powerful and revealing scene, telling us a great deal about both of these pivotal characters, but it’s also a worthy lesson for any of us: that the more certain we are about what we know, the more likely it is that we haven’t yet experienced the complexities of life quite as fully as we could. But also, and equally important, that one of the best ways to learn about anything is to listen to each other—and Williams makes plain that he’s more than happy to listen to Will when Will is ready to return the favor.