August 12, 2009


Picked up a book with previously unpublished articles (and a few uncollected short stories) by Nelson Algren yesterday. Its called Entrapment and Other Writings; Entrapment being Nelson's unfinished novel.

Reading the introduction, I came upon this paragraph from a 1953 essay in the Nation that Nelson penned, which, as the editors write could well have been, 'with a few changes of detail', written in 2008:
Five years have passed since we began, once again, to rearm. Do we therefore feel more free from attack than we did five years ago? Have we thereby established an abiding trust in the hearts of other peoples? Do we therefore find ourselves with more friends in the world? Are our rights as free men thus made more secure? Or have we not once more demonstrated that keeping industries that depend for profit upon war and the preparation for war (such has the aviation industry) in private hands is equivalent to putting a hot-car thief in charge of a parking lot? So it must be that, in the present senatorial passion for investigation, the reason nobody investigates the men who are trading off our freedoms for private enrichment is that they are the very ones who are doing the investigating.”
I had read this couple years back when I read Algren's book Non-Conformity, a book which allegedly the FBI pressured the then-publisher, Doubleday, to not publish when it was written in the early 1950s [1].

Also, in a brief interview from 1957 included at the end of the book (Entrapment & Other Writings, that is), I glean this gem:
Life (magazine) wants writing that's so hygienicized and so cellophanized that it's lost all its vitality. This kind of writing breeds of sort of spiritual isolationism. There is something more to our shouldn't be merely a collection of gadgets and nothing more, two cars in a neat arage. So many lives are made up of gadgets and nothing more.
Once again, as true today, (perhaps moreso!), as it was in the 50s! He continues:
There are all these myths, you know. Our society is full of them: the General Motors myth, the gray flannel suit myth. And the biggest myth of all is that of the gadget, gadgets everywhere, a collection of things: two Fords in the garage, a deep freeze in the basement, and an all-purpose wife in the kitchen. There was never a time when men lived more tidily in such disorder. There were never more analysts telling other analysts what to do. There was never a more rigid moral code adopted so much abundance with so little satisfaction.
With a few changes and updates to the collection of things we surround ourselves with in the 21st century (as compared to the 1950s), the above paragraph rings so true!

To quote some more:
Q: You think, then, that Americans are deceiving themselves most of the time?
A: We live in an age where self-deception is at its height. Nowhere is there such discrepancy between people's lives and what they hear every day about their lives. Magazines like Life exist by fostering this kind of self-deception.
Instead of berating certain magazines, I'd update the above to TV channels and the media of today... but this self-deception sure does continue today too!

Leave you with this gem from later in the interview:
Q: “What do you think is the relation of the church to the people you write about—the accused, the underprivileged?
A: “I’d say the church does gently what the police do roughly.”
Now I've got to get around to reading Nelson Algren's Paris Review interview from 1955!

[1] Notes from the 1998 publication have this to say:
As Algren was writing Nonconformity, his affair with Simone de Beauvoir was coming toan end and the FBI was compiling an extensive file on him. Both of these developments exerted an influence on the resulting essay. Finally, the FBI found two informants of "known reliability" to denounce him as a former Communist. Doubleday, his New York publisher, which had pressed Algren to let them publish Nonconformity, then canceled his contract.

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