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My most recent completed work is the second volume of my biography of Jack London: Author Under Sail: The Imagination of Jack London, 1902-1907; the first volume ranges from 1893 to 1902. This excerpt is from the introduction. Below the excerpt are links to the unrevised chapters of this volume. I was asked to cut a considerable amount from this manuscript; I believe the final version is four hundred or so pages shorter. For example, I cut four pages in the first chapter that discussed George Brett’s working relationship with Upton Sinclair; it contrasts nicely with Brett and London’s relationship, showing in a new way how special it was. I cut nearly every citation to and arguments with other peoples’ work. I cut a long footnote that included London’s stage directions for the theatrical version of Scorn of Women, which have never been published. And so on. I believe the final version is much better for the cuts, and I thank UNP for pressing me to do so. This version has not been copyedited, so please be kind, though let me know of errors. They are entirely my own.
In my previous volume on the authorial career of Jack London, I ended the narrative with his return from England. Having completed The People of the Abyss, he met with George Brett, the publisher of Macmillan Company in the United States, and they began a professional relationship that would last for fourteen years. In the fall of 1902, they were ready to sign a two-year contract with the understanding that they would continue publishing books together on an exclusive basis. This agreement would make London internationally famous. In the present volume, I track London’s rise to fame as he writes several works that continue to keep him in the mind of an international audience: The Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf, White Fang, The Iron Heel, and The Road.
The security of a long-term contract for multiple works did not mean that London’s relationship to his creative imagination had reached a comfortable level. Consider London’s attendance at the Bohemian Club’s annual High Jinks among the redwoods of Sonoma County. In the bohemian grove, artists had set up an outdoor studio for multiple painters to work on canvases in an atmosphere of bonhomie and collaboration. An undated photograph from London’s personal photograph albums is labeled “Bohemian Club `High Jinks’ Placard.” The placard is an approximately waist-high piece of wood or stiff cardboard. An unknown artist painted a white formal shirt with a high collar and large cuffs, one arm raised, the whole shirt floating in the air like something the Invisible Man would wear. The title of the painting is “The White Silence.” We shouldn’t be surprised at how London’s contemporaries read his work. They knew his Klondike stories—like “The White Silence”—were mostly about ghosts in Ghostland. It’s only we who have lost touch with this fundamental aspect of his writing.
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Unrevised chapter 1
This is the unrevised draft of the first chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the second chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the third chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the fourth chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the fifth chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the sixth chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the seventh chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the eighth chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the ninth chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
This is the unrevised draft of the tenth chapter of the second volume of Author under Sail.
Here is an extract from the first chapter of the first volume of Author under Sail.
It is natural enough to think that an author’s career begins (or begins to be interesting) the moment an author becomes famous. Such thinking presupposes that the marketplace determines career arc. In reality, choices made by the individual both independently and in conjunction with the marketplace and its representatives give shape to a career. The work that first brings fame is only part of an organic whole. A writing career begins when the author takes his vocation seriously—a vague though accurate way of taking into account the countless paths individuals follow to become writers.
In Jack London’s case, because his trip to the Klondike in 1897 gave him the material that initially made him famous, it has been assumed his career began in 1898 when he began to write the stories collected in his first volume, The Son of the Wolf. But his trip north and the acclaim his Klondike stories won have obscured two earlier, crucially formative trips that had fulfilled a necessary prerequisite for him to write and thus prompted a steady flow of writing: the 1893 sealing voyage on the Sophie Sutherland and the hobo trip in 1894. These trips, more than the Klondike, gave his career its start. Consider what he wrote before the fall of 1898, when he returned from the North. In 1893, he wrote several first-person accounts of his sealing voyage. During and shortly after his 1894 tramp trip across the United States and Canada, he filled sixty pages of a diary. He wrote ten nonfictional pieces and short stories for his high school literary magazine, nine of which were published in 1895. In 1896 he made several appearances in the Oakland Times. In the spring of 1897, done with school, he lived at his mother’s house in Oakland, writing short stories and poetry whose plots turn on surprise, or fantasy, or glamorous adventure. He imitated as many popular, pseudo-literary, and literary genres as he could. He tested both himself and the market. He trained himself as an author by experimenting widely, and perhaps for this reason only one story—“Two Gold Bricks”—was accepted and published. His training marked the beginning of his career; publication meant that the marketplace was taking him as seriously as he was taking himself.
The first stage of Jack London’s career thus began with the writing of “Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan,” his first publication (1893), and ended with his contractual agreement with the Overland Monthly in January1899 to publish “To the Man on Trail.” His mother, who was a complicated presence and influence, participated in the process of submitting the former and eventually gave way to James Bridge, editor of the Overland Monthly, who encouraged his progress as a short story writer. During these first five years, we see the formation of three essential characteristics of London’s practice as an author. He was beginning to associate the act of writing with travel, he was learning to use sociological data personally observed as material for his essays, and he experimented with form. In these ways he was learning how to tell a story and how fiction and truth interacted. Toward the end of this period, he would begin to choose among the more social, less hermetic practices of authorship. Bridge’s last name, therefore, earns metaphoric content, taking London from his mother to S. S. McClure and John Sanborn Phillips. London’s experience with Bridge and the Overland Monthly allowed him to participate in the national publishing world. At the same time, his relations with Bridge helped London form for himself a fourth nonnegotiable identity marker, that of locale: he would always remain a western writer.
Brendan O’Neill, a senior editor on the literature team at Oxford University Press, emailed me out of the blue on 3 January 2012, asking if I would be interested in editing an Oxford handbook on Jack London. By October, the contract was signed, and the book appeared in 2016. This excerpt is from my introduction.
Here is the first paragraph from my preface to Signature Derrida, to which Francoise Meltzer wrote the introduction. It is a collection of the essays published by Jacques Derrida in Critical Inquiry. I edited nearly all these essays when they first appeared. I’ll never forget when the editorial board decided to ask Derrida if he would care to comment on the controversy just begun surrounding Paul de Man’s writings in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. Francoise called him from my desk, with several of us standing, waiting. And then just weeks later he sent a nearly 100-page manuscript, which we rushed into print by attaching it improbably to the end of a special issue on the sociology of literature. At least one of the editors of that special issue was irritated by the intrusion, as he had every right to be. But we had lived up to our informal motto: Agile Mobile Hostile.
We are witnessing a new mode of attending to the work of Jacques Derrida. I am tempted to say “era” instead of “mode,” but periodization does not work well with reception history; different modes operate coterminously, and periodization too easily misleads us towards a supposed telos. In summing up a complicated history of four past modes of reception, though without assigning priority to any one in particular, we can say that Derrida’s work has been required reading; that it has been considered the instantiation of all that is wrong with the American academy and the Left; that deconstruction and Derrida together were declared dead and morally bankrupt; and that selected works were considered fundamental to our understanding of Marx, Freud, Foucault, and Husserl. But now we are witnessing a new wave of primary and secondary literature that is changing the general reception of his work: the publication of his lectures, the first of what will undoubtedly be a number of academic biographies, a journal entitled Derrida Today, and new critical work produced from a more serious intellectual topos than that of the culture wars. It is a time of rereading Derrida in order to more accurately assess his place, not in the academy or the culture at large, but in the history of philosophy and critical theory.
Bears and Flags: The Grateful Dead’s America and Bohemian Nationalism
After locating the Grateful Dead within a long tradition of California bohemianism, I explain how the Grateful Dead deployed the American and California flags for their own purposes. The flags rallied fellow bohemians to their cause, but the deployment of flags also expressed new ideas about what it meant to be American and still retain bohemian values. The Dead, through their music, lifestyles, and iconography replaced the nationalist/imperialist conception of homeland with a new national understanding of home. Cue “Truckin’.
Gopher Prairie or Prairie Style? Wright and Wharton Help Dodsworth Find His Way Home
“That’s what I’ll do after college! I’ll get my hands on one of these prairie towns and make it beautiful. Be an inspiration…. Why should they have all the garden suburbs on Long Island?”
-Carol Kennicott in Main Street