Cover to Cover with Jack Foley & Nina Serrano

Cover to Cover with Jack Foley – September 25, 2019

Today’s show is the third in a series of shows presenting excerpts from Jack’s book, Visions & Affiliations: California Poetry from 1940 to 2005. In Jack Foley’s Unmanageable Masterpiece (Monongahela Books, 2019), Dana Gioia and Peter Whitfield write: “In 2011 a tiny press in Berkeley published Visions & Affiliations, an eccentric 1300-page chronology of post-war California literature in two massive paperbound folio volumes. With no commercial distribution or publicity, the book sold about two hundred copies and soon vanished from sight—but not from the memory of the small audience that read it. Some of them considered the elaborate time-line the first adequate account of California’s complex and contradictory literary life. Others recognized Foley’s radical innovation in changing how literary history could be written. A few even considered these strange and sprawling yet compulsively readable tomes an oddball masterpiece.”

Jack writes (in 2011),

 

In 1940, when this time line begins, California’s image had changed. The state had moved out of its early provincialism and had begun to take its place in the nation as a whole. In The Parade’s Gone By, film historian Kevin Brownlow tells us that in 1920 “film people were called ‘movies’ by Hollywood residents, who were unaware that the term referred to the product, not to the personnel.” By 1940, no one confused the “movies” with the actors and technical people anymore. In 1915, the Panama-Pacific Exposition—a celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal and a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean—had kept the state of California and the city of San Francisco in the public eye; twenty-four years later, San Francisco had its very own World’s Fair. By 1940, the Golden Gate Bridge had been operating for three years and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for four. The Bay Bridge had cost $78 million and was described as the longest bridge ever attempted. Twenty-three men had died during its construction. In Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Maltese Falcon (1930), Sam Spade’s secretary Effie takes the ferry to Oakland. In the classic 1941 film version, Effie drives across the Bay Bridge. Like all detective stories, Hammett’s tale is relentlessly and deliberately urban, and both book and movie are, among other things, a hymn to the fascination and sophistication of the city of San Francisco. Raymond Chandler’s equally brilliant paeans to the fascination and sophistication of Los Angeles, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely appeared, respectively, in 1939 and 1940. (During the 1940s, Chandler was in Hollywood writing for films.) A very successful film version of The Big Sleep was released in 1946. Three films were based on Farewell, My LovelyMurder, My Sweet (1945), The Falcon Takes Over (1946), and a third using the original title in 1976. “Film noir”—like the books on which it was based—is deeply rooted in a glamorized, paranoiac image of “the city.” In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the unprecedented step of running for a third term. Jane Darwell won an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her performance in The Grapes of Wrath, a film based on Californian John Steinbeck’s novel, set in California. Steinbeck’s book won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize, as did Californian William Saroyan’s play, The Time of Your Life. Saroyan’s play won, in addition to the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award—an extraordinary combination. A new form of radio reception, FM or “frequency modulation,” was invented in 1939; radical, listener-supported Berkeley station KPFA took to the FM band ten years later. A 1940 survey indicated that nearly 30 million American homes had radios. Another indicated that American illiteracy had reached a new low of 4.2 per cent. In June, 1940 the Alien Registration Act (the Smith Act) required the registration and fingerprinting of aliens and made it illegal to belong to an organization advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government; it was the first law to sanction guilt by association. Before a teeming crowd of 92,000 people, Southern California defeated Tennessee 14 to 0 in the 1940 Rose Bowl at Pasadena, California.

“I came to California in 1927,” Kenneth Rexroth told David Meltzer in a 1969 interview:

“The day I got into town, San Francisco’s leading poet, California’s leading poet,killed himself. George Sterling. He pretty much represented the California scene in those days [Sterling died November, 1926—ed.]… San Francisco, when we came there to live, was very much of a backwater town…We just didn’t have any competition. It was like Picasso dropping back into the world of Trollope.”

Rexroth championed the importance of “personality” in poetry, insisting that his work was not what T.S. Eliot called an “extinction of personality” but embodied “the interior and exterior adventures of two poles of a personality.” It was only in the poetry of Rexroth’s friend and sometime disciple, California native Robert Duncan, that Eliot’s idea of the mind as a multiplicity—a clash of contexts—became an issue of importance. Rexroth’s tireless and sophisticated efforts at establishing art in the Bay Area were an immense factor in an extraordinary Western cultural awakening. He was aided by the presence of some of the finest minds to grace twentieth-century culture—poets, musicians, novelists, printers, filmmakers, painters—all of whom contributed mightily to the flowering of the West. This book, incomplete as it is, gives some of the minute particulars of California’s cultural awakening—an awakening which placed California in some ways at the very center of twentieth-century American experience. In A Lou Harrison Reader, Peter Garland writes of “California’s and the West’s contribution to American culture” during the twentieth century. Garland suggests that California’s unique contribution is “a renewed sense of place”:

“This sense of place differs from much of America’s other regionalist perspectives in that it is internationalist in scope. In that way regionalism becomes a liberating and progressive, rather than limiting, factor. Only in California perhaps, with its already mixed Anglo, Asian, Hispanic and Indian population and heritage, could this viewpoint have developed naturally andwithout intellectual self-consciousness or ‘borrowing.’”

 

The “viewpoint” Garland describes—simultaneously “regionalist” and “internationalist”—has been home to an extraordinary number of kinds of writing. Californian Ishmael Reed coined a term for the sizzling cultural soup that constitutes California—as well as America as a whole: he called it “multiAmerica.” It is “multiAmerica” which is the subject of this book. It chronicles time: sunrises and sunsets, big events and little, in brawling, sprawling L.A. and at San Francisco’s Golden Gate. Beat father figure Lawrence Ferlinghetti—whose San Francisco bookstore, City Lights, was declared an historical landmark in 2001—writes,

 

Everything changes and nothing changes

Centuries end

and all goes on

as if nothing ever ends…

But I still hear singing

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