Pulp Fiction

Alice Neel, Kenneth Fearing, 1935
Museum of Modern Art

Satire in American History:
An Essay for Tom Disch

“A connoisseur
of self-loathing”
—Dana Gioia

Did they enjoy this—our honorary ancestors. Those we may not speak of as Indians now—but rather, as Native Americans?

Surely there were jokers among them—trading all Manhattan for a handful of tacky ceramic beads? Laughing at the poor pale stupid white Gringos—from across the sea?

Did they, that is, have opportunity to have such views—as satire and dystopian smirk at the future? Did they have any sense of what plagues us now—lovely late capitalism angst and the haunting pains of greedy globalization?

For there were no American writers or critics back then—slicing adroitly through the history of New York and the opening vistas of White Man literature.

Unless, perhaps, you count the French intelligentsia, brooding along the Seine thinking ahead of time—young Rimbaud imagining Bateau Ivre as schoolboy's dream of Cowboys and Indians .

A kind of poète maudit roadmap itself, I suppose—Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, Lautréamont and Stéphane Mallarmé ("accursed cowboys of the Apocalypse") back in 1884, America as an oracle of cruelties, scalping and tourists on a bus.

A postcard sweeps ahead of us—at a glance vast forests of stately maple, intensely orange? The Indians must have known these colors—the sudden shifts from green to ocher to umber. The brightest yellow, deepest red—colors of the gleeful dead?

Then Odes to Midwest Blizzards—Oh! wonderful the weightlessness and whiteness! Plenty of room for Ideolog wars and John Brown’s body, whose absolutes are always proven right.

Miss Whitman next—and then more white and white again, poets winning the same adhesive arguments year after year—by making the Indian, Black, Chicano, Asian opposition Disappear! For sale?

Then the pure bright blue glint of San Francisco—Golden Gate Bridge and pretty blue-eyed boys at Stanford. Down there in Palo Alto—home of the jinxed crossed palms.

Young Esthetes then as now—before the ax, the ox, the plow? I must believe there were—and why? They knew, didn’t they—it was all for sale?

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