Page 3


HISTORY. Gf A VI F. III Tif\(Pr\(1 po h1 +” the academic critique of her work. When her books were applauded for their poststructuralist elements, she said, “I don’t even have any idea what that is.” Moser spends a considerable amount of time describing the aura around Lispector’s beauty. Merely meeting Lispector evidently tongue-tied men, who were unable to put their finger on what made her unique. The translator Gregory Rabassa recalled being “flabbergasted to meet that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf.” Men would throw themselves at her feet, as Lispector recalled, “There was an American poet who threatened to commit suicide because I wasn’t interested.” Sadly, this mystique made it difficult for Lispector to age gracefully. In 1966, at age 45, Lispector badly burned her right arm when she fell asleep smoking. After the accident, she became embarrassed to be seen in public. Moser describes Lispector’s later life as a series of struggles with lost beauty, drug addiction and loneliness. As Lispector became increasingly reclusive, her work became more mystical and more popular. She appeared at the First World Congress of Sorcery in Colombia in 1974, and though her presence was treated as a spectacle, it solidified her own mythology. Her cult following would continue to grow after her death in 1977. Today, Lispector’s likeness is issued on postage stamps in Brazil. She is a hero to so many Brazilians precisely because her work, and her identity, is open to interpretation. As Moser says, “Clarice Lispector has been described as just about everything: a woman and a man, a native and foreigner, a Jew and a Christian, a child and an adult, an animal and a person, a lesbian and a housewife, a witch and a saint. Because she described so much, of her intimate experience she could credibly be everything for everyone, venerated by those who found in her expressive genius a mirror of their own souls. As she said, ‘I am all of yourselves.” Ryland Barton is an Observer intern and a graduate student at the University of Texas School of Journalism. REVIEW American Ideas BY TOM PALAIMA In April, William H. Goetzmann, a Pulitzer-prize winning historian at The University of Texas at Austin, told the Austin American Statesman that as a boy his family had rented an apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota where John Dillinger had once lived. The enamel surface of the bathtub had spots eaten away by the acid that Dillinger’s gang had used to erase their own fingerprints. Touching the tub gave Goetzmann a feeling for history, a knack for seeing human beings for what they were when they were. Goetzmann likes to take his readers into that kind of American past and CC get them used to living there.” This is a real trick to try in Beyond the Revolution, an intellectual history of the creation and evolution of the idea of “America” from the Revolutionary War to the end of the 19th century. The subject cries out for commentary from today’s perspective on what has happened to original ideas, and where positions taken up during old controversies have led. A less accomplished historian and storyteller would not have pulled it off. But Goetzmann does, using the skillful misdirection of a professional magician. In Beyond the Revolution, Goetzmann gets us deeply absorbed in the lives of intellectual figures, famous and obscure, who contributed to what each of us believes, thinks or feels America isand we all have different ideas depending on region, social class, education, religion and our lives’ roads taken and not taken. Meanwhile, almost magically, Goetzmann makes us see why the concept of America had to be constructed in the first place. He examines what it has meant to Founding Fathers; to practitioners of public education in the crucial 5o years after the Declaration of Independence; and to scientific explorers from the 182os through 185os. He considers its meaning for black intellectuals Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism By William H. Goetzman Basic Books 48o pages, $35 in the immediately antebellum South; to “scribbling women” in the 1800s whose “domestic novels” made women the center of attention and put men in the place where women wanted them; and to thinkers, writers and statesmen from Tom Paine to William James and John Dewey. For all these Americans in the first 125 years of our country, America was defined by what it wasn’t. It wasn’t Europe. It wasn’t a decadent aristocracy. It wasn’t social or political conformity. Most of all, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, while “France was a land, England a people, America always had about it the ‘quality of an idea.” It was an idea Americans could believe in because we never were forced to settle on a single definition. Goetzmann may strike some readers as high-mindedly off-putting in his eyond the Revolution. W11,341Atr.001TZM A P 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 30, 2009