Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sinclair Lewis

As a transplanted Minnesotan I have always tended to take heart and connection from the luminous artistic figures from this state. There is a small group of creative people here who have a powerful sense of regionalism, but whose work is also etched deeply into the world's consciousness. Though most importantly to me these are people who have simply had a wonderful impact on me, and I have found it delightful to spend the bulk of my adulthood wandering around in their source material. Dylan, though perhaps the least intensely regional of them, counts high in this list. Charles Schulz, as regional as they come, though more strongly in his better, first half of his career, has made a similar impact of pleasure and recognition upon me. I have richly appreciated Garrison Keillor, in a real sympathy, though oddly I never seem to find anyone else around here who can stand him. My love of The Jayhawks was late to the party, but pure. Luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prince, and Judy Garland have all had communicated a lesser impression upon me, but I'm pleased to have them around. And I am currently taking an unexpected gratification in, and identification with, Sinclair Lewis.

I am eleven things here on this blog. I can't list them now because I am cutting it way too close to deadlines to waste a perfectly good blog post on an aside, but I will say that one of those eleven things is that I am a satirist. And as a satirist I enjoy seeing dear satire sprinkled about the world. Alas that satire is pretty thin on the ground these days. I don't get the feeling it plays well on the Internet where it is either high profile (The Onion, The Daily Show), or a valiant low level effort that devolves into a group of people not getting it followed by a group of people explaining it, which all seems to suck the life out of it.

So imagine my delight when I opened Sinclair Lewis' old Arrowsmith and found some hardcore, stone cold satire. He is a terrifying satirist.

I read this. It is about a fictional college, Winnemac, of a fictional state, but I take it as no small reference to the University of Minnesota because, why not?

It is not a snobbish rich-man's college, devoted to leisurely nonsense. It is the property of the people of the state, and what they want- or what they are told they want- is a mill to turn out men and women who will lead moral lives, play bridge, drive good cars, be enterprising in business, and occasionally mention books, though they are not expected to have time to read them. It is a Ford Motor Factory, and if its products rattle a little, they are beautifully standardized, with perfectly interchangeable parts. Hourly the University of Winnemac grows in numbers and influence, and by 1950 one may expect it to have created an entirely new world-civilization, a civilization larger and brisker and purer.

Ah yes. It's a bit of a cruel thing, and nearly a hundred years old. I am eleven things in this blog. Oh but that one. I read my fellow Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis and think

I am home.

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