Karen Olsson on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle

Olsson from awhile back.

And then there are the heirs of Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, Aristophanes in Lysistrata, Jonathan Swift in A Modest Proposal, Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Charles Dickens in multiple works, Jack London in The Iron Heel, and so on.


Sinclair’s heirs today are writers of literary nonfiction, who derive their drama from facts. It almost seems a shame that Sinclair couldn’t have written that way, for the story of the actual family whose wedding inspired his opening scene would probably have contained more surprises and more nuance than his ideologically driven plot.

But it wouldn’t have been as popular. In the way that Sinclair used fiction to get his facts across to a broad audience, The Jungle‘s closest contemporary counterparts are films like Dead Man Walking or Maria Full of Grace, whose stories illuminate aspects of the death penalty or drug running for audiences much larger than any equivalent book could be expected to have. (And now that Fast Food Nation has been made into a narrative movie, it’s likely to do the same for the meat industry.) Meanwhile, surely The Jungle has endured in large part because it’s a novel. How many high-school English teachers assign Ida Tarbell’s History of the Standard Oil Company or Lincoln Steffens’ The Shame of Our Cities, nonfiction works by Sinclair’s muckraking contemporaries? Judged for its style or insight into character The Jungle may leave something to be desired. But it lays bare a place and a time and an industry, registering injustices which, as Schlosser notes in a foreword to the Penguin Classics edition, we have yet to fully remedy. So, go ahead, read The Jungle for its documentary power—just be warned that, as with Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard, the label is a little misleading.

Joe Strummer and the Clash

 Alexander Billet

Joe Strummer…was an artist profoundly shaped by his time and place.  In a 1970s Britain wracked by racism and unemployment, Strummer chose to put himself squarely in opposition.  The newspapers called the Clash “degenerates,” “hoodlums,” “anarchists.”  To young people, they were “the only band that matters,” and it wasn’t because they sold a million records or made the most money.  They mattered because they were the first band in a great long while that tapped into how the majority of youth actually felt.  Continue reading Joe Strummer and the Clash

Charles Dickens and the Judgments of Bleak House

Julia Stein on Dickens’ Bleak House:

What’s great about Dickens’ he makes judgments: against lawyers corruption, against the corrupt Court of Chancery, against the brutalization of the poor and the homeless. Well, right now the United States is also a Bleak House dominated by corruption: the corruption of the Iraq War totals billions. What is missing in a lot contemporary fiction is Dickens’ moral judgments.

I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a novel which won a recent Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but the well-written novel has a father and son trying to survive in post-apocalypse America. In many ways I thought the Road was metaphorically saying this country is now so bad off all a decent person can do is suffer it–I find that a huge cop out. Give me Dickens any day of the week instead.

Or Lib Lit.

The Kite Runner – Reviewed by Laura Flanders

From Alternet

“Some will say it’s unfair to hold the movie of a novel to task for repeating the propaganda version of U.S. history, but the myth of the United States as macho rescuer is not only misleading, it’s deadly — for people in Afghanistan and around the world. Shed all the tears you like as you’re watching, but don’t leave the remorse in the cinema. Try as it might, Hollywood can’t purge our guilt, or dissuade us of the need to act.”

“reality-based community” – Suskind – Rove – Bush – Corporate Media

Scheherazade in the White House
Christian Salmon

George Bush’s war administration used a magician, Hollywood designers, and Karl Rove – presenting 1,001 stories to sell the invasion of Iraq. And Rove kept the distracting images of John Wayne-like morality tales spinning to help the American public avoid seeing the disaster in Iraq, says Christian Salmon.

Continue reading “reality-based community” – Suskind – Rove – Bush – Corporate Media

Life Among the Mentally Cleansed

They suspected everyone but themselves. They were the good people, respected by the respectable. They were the responsible class. They were the unwitting and witting minions of the monied class, the status quo. Some doubted themselves, but they believed their actions to be good, and good enough. If they believed anything else they could in no way facilitate the great crimes as very much as they did, these people.

More often than not they were people with more money than others. Some were the many faceless intellectuals who had been well trained and quite thoroughly mentally cleansed. Some were the acolytes of frenzied demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity busy duping and poking out the eyes of part of the populace. These people were often cheery, or dutiful, while others went numb or played dumb or otherwise could not care less.

Continue reading Life Among the Mentally Cleansed

Activist Novels Staged in Iran

 Gharibpur to stage “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at Fajr festival

“The dramatization of world-renowned novels increases the number of theatergoers and attracts people from a variety of social classes to come and enjoy the performances. Some academics maintain the idea that the theater is only for the elite, however I personally believe this to be a destructive notion,” Gharibpur told the Persian service of Mehr News Agency, MNA reported Saturday.

Continue reading Activist Novels Staged in Iran

Activist Art – Hustlenomics


“Hustlenomics Collective provides annual events for artists in the areas of photography, visual art, design, and print media . The collective represents talented up and coming Artists from the Bay Area, California to all boroughs of New York City. Each year the collective organizes an exhibtion for the artists to showcase their Art works in an environment that honors honestly, culture, and struggle. The Hustlenomics event annually pulls between 500-600 people of all ages and has been successful in providing Artists who normally don’t have that outlet, a space to shine and feel empowered.”

Eagleton, Amis, and the Literary

The Amis-Eagleton controversy
The British literary elite and the “war on terror”

By Ann Talbot 

In giving Eagleton a kicking, the British literary elite are sending a message to younger and less well-established academics, to aspiring writers and to students that Marxism is not acceptable and that they had better adopt the same degenerate stance as Amis if they expect to be published, get promoted or be awarded any grade above a gamma minus.

Continue reading Eagleton, Amis, and the Literary

Cristina Nehring, the American Essay, and Fiction

What’s Wrong With the American Essay” is a thoughtful essay by Cristina Nehring on the state and nature of “The Best American Essays” and their like, though in the paragraph below she leaves unclear the state and nature of the short story: 

Continue reading Cristina Nehring, the American Essay, and Fiction

Kim Sykes and Artistic Consciousness Post Katrina

Thinking About New Orleans: Kim Sykes

Q. Tell me about the writing of fiction you have written since Katrina.
A. There is little room for nonsense, beating around the bush, sort to speak. I get straight to the point. My characters say what they mean and mean what they say.

Continue reading Kim Sykes and Artistic Consciousness Post Katrina