". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Woody Guthrie's Lost Novel - *House of Dust*

Full story here at the UK Guardian. 

A novel by folk singer Woody Guthrie will be published next year, with help from Johnny Depp. House of Earth, which Guthrie finished in 1947 but never released, is being edited by Depp and author Douglas Brinkley.

Depp and Brinkley revealed their plans in a new essay for the New York Times Book Review. House of Earth is Guthrie's only "fully realised" novel, they said, influenced by his experiences in America's Dust Bowl, as well as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Tracing the story of Tike and Ella May Hamlin, "hardscrabble farmers" in Texas, it is a "searing portrait of the Panhandle and its marginalised Great Depression residents". Despite a slightly esoteric focus on the importance of adobe housing, House of Earth also includes graphic sex, including "a scorching lovemaking scene on a hay bale".
Yes! It being Woody Guthrie, there is music history involved!

At the time of its writing, Guthrie apparently shared House of Earth's first chapter with musicologist Alan Lomax, who called it "quite simply the best material I'd ever seen written about that section of the country". But Guthrie only showed the finished manuscript to one person, film-maker Irving Lerner, and it languished for decades in a Coney Island closet. After learning of its existence in the late 90s, Brinkley finally tracked down the manuscript last year, with help from Guthrie's daughter, Nora. 
That Alan Lomax -- in everything remotely concerned with popular music for his entire run! But -- having sex on a -- hay bale? One would think that Mr. Gutherie, at least, would know the effects upon the epidermis of bare skin frictioning on a hay bale, just like the effect of horse hair on the skin when riding bareassed.

However, could this be a sign, blowin' in the wind, pointing to a change in popular national consciousness?  From the NY Times essay (link above):

... after finishing the novel in 1947, Guthrie put the manuscript away and concentrated on songwriting. He may have sensed the novel could be considered both pass√© (post-New Deal writing was frowned upon by cold-war-era critics) and ahead of its time (graphic sex). His fertility cycle prose was so edgy that publication was unlikely. And his use of an overdrawn hillbilly dialogue would have found little embrace in New York literary circles. ... 

Yet the book’s architectural intensity makes it a minormasterpiece. When we shared the finished novel with Bob Dylan, he was blown away, “surprised by the genius,” he said, of the prose. At heart, “House of Earth” is a meditation about how poor people search for love and meaning in a corrupt world, one in which the rich have lost their moral compasses. Even though the backdrop is the washed-out agricultural fields of Texas, the novel could just as easily be set in a refugee camp in Sudan or a shantytown in Haiti.

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