To my mind, there is no better place on the internet where highbrow and lowbrow mingle freely and in various novel mixtures than the Los Angeles Review of Books. Their contributors feel young and fresh compared to other “serious” book review outlets, their interests range from narrow academic topics to popular culture and any given essay or review draws freely from a full range of epistemology from first-person experience to the most obscure hermaneutics. I think that the context in which it was launched—a time when the academic market is in free-fall and with anybody with a specialized field of knowledge, particularly those at the beginning of their career doubting whether any of it means anything—gives it a kind of freedom to take leaps and make wild syntheses that I’m not seeing elsewhere.
I can’t be sure about this, because LA institutions are certainly capable of looking diverse while maintaining racist disparities out of the public eye, but it also seems that there is a greater general expectation that the LARB audience is diverse than some of the “traditional” reviews (London, New York).
Anyway, I’ll stop gushing. I just enjoy them so much.
LARB published two articles marking the 50th anniversary of Frank Herbert’s Dune: one placing the novel in the context of the West Coast counterculture, and another exploring how online fascism has adopted it into their subculture.
They are both great, and full of interesting ideas and connections. In the former, I was struck by Herbert’s upbringing, a unique mixture of experiences that fed into a work of writing outside of the usual left/right, conterculture/conservative binaries:
Frank Herbert grew up on the political fringe. His grandparents were members of the Social Democracy of America — an ancestor of today’s Democratic Socialists of America — and helped found a socialist commune in Washington State, north of Tacoma. That’s where his father was raised, and it’s where Herbert spent many of his young years. Though the formal experiment in socialism died a few years before his birth in 1920, Herbert recalled inheriting some “rock-ribbed ideas about the ways people should live together.” Mainly, these concerned autonomy and mutual aid. The Depression ravaged the country but left his family, which grew its own food, intact. Herbert remembered those dark years as “marvelous times.”
It’s easy to imagine that this socialist-raised, Native American–sympathizing young man would become a leftist. But for Herbert, commune living and Indian Henry’s backwoods lessons firmed up a hostility to the federal government. He came to oppose “any kind of public charity system,” he explained, because he “learned early on that our society’s institutions often weaken people’s self-reliance.” So, rather than following the trail of cooperative socialism to New Deal liberalism, he tacked in the opposite direction. Herbert became a Republican.Daniel Immelwahr, “Heresies of ‘Dune’”, LA Review of Books
Our present moment is so deeply shaped by the conflict over counterculture and the antiwar movement. Although the movie was flawed for all of the same reasons that Aaron Sorkin is flawed, I thought The Trial of the Chicago Seven dramatized that well. Our boundaries of what are acceptable things to say, acceptable left-wing opinions to hold, are still constrained by the high water marks of that movement, and the scars of its failure. All of the compromises, issues that were never given center stage because they were feared to be unpopular, they are the millstones around our neck now. Thinking back to Herbert’s Pacific Northwest utopia, a community of white socialist colonizers on the same land that had been taken in active genocide only 30 or 40 years previously, it is clear to me that the America (or West Coast) that fomented the counterculture is such a dramatically different place that I don’t understand it.
It’s also a bit of a dire warning that people don’t always draw the conclusions we expect them to from their life experiences. I couldn’t help thinking of latinos who voted for **** this past election.