On one specific question for my fellow American Studiers about my current book in progress.
Despite all of my goals and plans for those other projects, and despite the one I’ll discuss in the weekend’s post and lots of other things that are percolating as well, I have to admit that to my mind a truly successful sabbatical will mean one thing and one thing only: the completion of a manuscript for my fourth book, Hard-Won Hope: How American Novels Find Light in Our Darkest Histories. As I wrote in this post, my most explicitly focused on the project, the book certainly owes its existence to my blogs, both the more personal one I kept for much of 2007 and, of course, this one. That makes it a communal product to be sure, the result of the ideas I’ve shared here (loyal readers will find that the book’s focal texts have almost all been covered in this space, often multiple times) and of the kinds of conversations I’ve had and connections I’ve made here. I would and will say the same of my hopefully forthcoming third book (currently under publisher’s review) and, frankly, of everything I write and work from now on.
Compared to the other projects I’ve discussed this week, though, I still see a book as much more fundamentally individual and private, as something that a writer works on in his or her own space before sharing it with the communities beyond. I’m also superstitious enough not to want to say too much about it yet, as I’m afraid that might jinx the fall’s work in some way (not sure how exactly, but superstitions don’t have to be logical or rational to take hold, of course; don’t get me started on when the count is 2-2 and there are 2 outs and 2 runners on). So while I expect to provide at least one or two reminders and updates on those other projects as the sabbatical moves along, not least to make sure to give you (and all those new readers who will be joining us in the months to come!) lots of chances to share your voices and ideas, I don’t necessarily plan to provide the same play by play when it comes to Hard-Won Hope. To quote Westley, or more accurately the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Learn to live with disappointment” (it’ll be tough I know, but I’m sure you’ll find a way to cope).
But with all of that said, I’m also a big believer that very few of our ideas are solely our own, that research is a communal process, and that each of my prior books has come as much out of conversation as out of the voices inside my own head. And when it comes to the book’s starting points, as described in that above-linked blog post, I have one main question on which I’d love to hear your thoughts, fellow American Studiers. My central idea, that it is only out of an engagement with our darkest histories that these novels’ characters (and thus readers) are able to find utopian futures, seeks in part to bring together two very different American traditions: the jeremiad, warnings about our fallen and sinful nature; and millennialism, the belief that we’re moving toward a glorious future. So my question is this: do you guys know of other ways, in our history, in our culture, in our scholarship, or anywhere else, that these traditions have been brought together? Ideas or places where realistic (if not pessimistic) critiques of our failings and yet utopian hopes for our future can coexist, and in fact have depended on one another? I’d love to learn about such ideas, so I can put mine in conversation with them explicitly and clearly.
Thanks in advance! Last fall project this weekend,
PS. You know what to do!
9/7 Memory Day nominee: Jacob Lawrence!
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