Tag Archives: Daniel Woodrell

The Voice of Reason is Small But Persistent

31 Oct

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball by Joe Bageant


With the exception of Matt Taibbi, Barbara Ehrenreich, Belen Fernandez and the Baffler cadre (Thomas Frank, John Summers, Rick Perlstein) and Tom’s Dispatch, the voices of dissent and defiance are drowned out by a mainstream noise machine and dwindling population (RIP Howard Zinn, Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal, Joe Bageant) WHat you say, who is Joe Bageant?

Joe Bageant (Rainbow Pie and Dear Hunting With Jesus), who passed away last year, was one of the few American writers who wrote about the White underclass with out stereotype and condescension (see also Frank Bill, Donald Ray Pollack, Daniel Woodrell and Bonnie Jo Campbell). There is a newly published anthology of 25 of his essays Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball: The Best of Joe Bageant edited by Kevin Smith that is rich with insight and humor, from a vantage point rarely voiced in our helter skelter culture. One of Joe Bageant’s last tracts, “AMERICA: Y UR PEEPS B SO DUM? Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga” begins:

If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? That wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

But a more reasonable explanation is that, (A) we don’t even know we are doing it, and (B) we cling to institutions dedicated to making sure we never find out.

And this gem of analysis:

Cultural ignorance of one sort or another is sustained and nurtured in all societies to some degree, because the majority gains material benefit from maintaining it. Americans, for example, reap huge on-the-ground benefits from cultural ignorance — especially the middle class Babbitry — from cultural ignorance generated by American hyper-capitalism in the form of junk affluence.

And then a somber, resonant conclusion

Still, the void, the meaninglessness of ordinary work and the emptiness of daily life scares thinking citizens shitless, with its many unspeakables, spy cams, security state pronouncements, citizens being economically disappeared, and general back-of-the-mind unease. Capitalism’s faceless machinery has colonized our very souls. If the political was not personal to begin with, it’s personal now.

Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe the best we can do is to find the personal strength to endure and go forward on lonely inner plains of the self.

Doing either will take inner moral, spiritual and intellectual liberation. It all depends on where you choose to fight your battle. Or if you even choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.

Currently reading Wilderness by Lance Wheeler (Bloomsbury)

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Red Neck Noir

26 May

No doubt writer Daniel Woodrell had a following before his fine novel, Winter’s Bone was made into an Oscar nominated motion picture (doesn’t that rubric seem archaic?) However, for the unannointed Woodrell’s The Bayou Trilogy (Mulholland Books) has just been reissued in one handy volume containing three of his early novels Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and The Ones You Do.

Whether saddling Woodrell as the creator of “red neck noir” plays to his advantage is beyond my reckoning. Of course I am not sure being affiliated with red necks has aided anyone (you can read Joe Bageant’s Rainbow Pie, A Redneck memoir to ascertain this) but I am certain of a couple of things. Woodrell can write and Woodrell knows a thing or two. For instance here is a quick take on the 1927 flood

…When the big river calmed and the swamp settled back to level, families that had known no life but the swampy decided that the allure of wild rice ranching and nutria trapping was overshadowed by the grand tales they’d swallowed of city life, a place where sugar-cured hams were free so long as a you bought a potato, pigeons were fat and sleek and tasted like shrimp, cash was doled out twice month and there was an endless supply of liquid cheer and hoochy-koochy bonhomie. The flood pushed these folks from the remote life of the swamp and into the bullshit embrace of the bluff winking city.

Others have commented gushingly on Woodrell’s writing so I will spare you the paean —let me just say that you can pretty much flip open his books to any page and have a very good chance of encountering an outstanding example of his craft and sly sense of humor. As in the following, where John X Shade explains to Lunch Pumphrey what happened to the money that was stolen from him

See, I took the advice of the pigskin experts, Lunch, and I put fifteen K down on them wily ‘Bama boys.Saturday last, they lined up against a team from Florida whose star quarterback and favorite wide receiver had just been carted off to jail on rape charges. That ought be an edge, right? Short of a fuckin’ jailbreak that game had to be a lock for the Crimson Tide. But as you might know, late in the fourth quarter their star running back, the one that beat the burglary rap back in the spring, coughed it up inside the Florida ten-yard line, and that Florida linebacker who’d just come off suspension from that summertime assault beef the papers were full of, jumped on the ball and kept ‘Bama from coverin’ the spread.

Long time fans will be pleased to learn that Woodrell has a collection of stories coming out this fall. New converts have a treasure trove of a back list to root through.