Michael Rogin

Michael Rogin died in 2001. Stephen Greenblatt wrote about him in the LRB of 3 January 2002.

Conceived in slavery and dedicated to the proposition that black men are created unequal, the United States has attempted to come to terms with its longue durée of white supremacy only twice in its history. The first effort, made by black and white abolitionists in the period of nationalist expansion, and caught up in the conflict between slave and free labour modes of production,...

Mon Pays: Josephine Baker

Michael Rogin, 22 February 2001

Travelling to Paris recently, I was surprised to see advertisements for ‘Joséphine Baker, Music-hall et paillettes’, an exhibition at the Espace Drouot-Montaigne commemorating the 75th anniversary of her electrifying Paris debut and the 25th anniversary of her death. With its pictures of Baker costumed and nude (and often both at the same time), with some fantastic outfits...

Ralph Ellison wrote his own running commentary on the mammoth fiction he laboured over for the last forty years of his life and failed to finish. When his literary executor John Callahan appended some of these jottings to the end of ‘Juneteenth’, the ‘novel’ he extracted from two thousand manuscript pages, he gave Ellison the last word: the final note reproaches the editor from beyond the grave, along with the readers Callahan has invited into the unfinished structure. ‘Incompletion of form,’ Ellison wrote, ‘allows the reader to impose his own imagination upon the material with too little control from the author. Thus I don’t like to show my work until it is near completion.’ He was responding to an unfavourable reading of portions of the novel which he had shown to two of his friends, Albert Murray and the critic Anatole Broyard.‘

California Noir: Destroying Los Angeles

Michael Rogin, 19 August 1999

The first picture to greet the reader shows cars half-submerged under water, scattered in all directions as far as the eye can see. ‘January 1995 storm (Long Beach)’, the caption reads; ‘Apocalypse Theme Park’ is the heading that introduces the section to follow. Welcome to Ecology of Fear. Turn the page for the second photograph, which displays a collapsed freeway behind a ‘Los Angeles City Limit’ sign. Opposite this evidence of damage is a table entitled ‘Biblical Disasters?’ that lists the deaths and dollar-losses from three years of earthquake, fire, riot and flood in the mid-Nineties. Ecology of Fear throws just about everything at metropolitan Los Angeles: water, earthquake and drought (Chapter 1), concrete (Chapter 2), fire (Chapter 3), wind (Chapter 4), wild beasts (Chapter 5), science fiction (Chapter 6) and spatial apartheid (Chapter 7).

‘The 20th century belongs to the United States because of the triumph of its faith in its founding idea of political and economic freedom.’ Not only did the American people ‘grow rich and expand their domestic freedoms. They sustained Western civilisation by acts of courage, generosity and vision unparalleled in the history of man.’ So Harold Evans introduces his lavishly illustrated ‘popular political history’ of ‘the American century’, written to educate American immigrants like himself about the ‘nature of their heritage’. Something goes wrong when the page numbers change from roman to arabic numerals, however. The first page of Chapter One, ‘The Last Frontier’, introduces us to the theft of the land promised to the Cherokee Indians in perpetuity, and to the gap between a Western history of ‘failure, exploitation and despoliation’ – the effects on the original inhabitants are attended to with eloquent detail – and a mythic West that epitomises the ‘spirit of freedom … in America’s perception of itself.’’‘

Is there anything stranger than a pop star out of time? Before Elvis Presley, before Michael Jackson, there was Al Jolson – ‘the most popular entertainer of the first half of the 20th...

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That’s America

Stephen Greenblatt, 29 September 1988

The 15th-century classic of paranoid witch-hunting, Kramer and Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum, provides a convenient gloss on the word ‘glamour’. Witches, the Dominican...

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