11 November 2007

Re: Liam (Defending the Midwest)


I couldn’t agree with you more. I have been ruminating over your emailed response to the blog (I love receiving responses; that way I know I am communicating, albeit indirectly, with someone.) I hope my follow-up helps to elaborate on what I meant by my original sketchblog post.

Let me just say before I begin, I hope the sketchblog becomes more of a springboard for the ideas I write about in the regular blog, like they have (will) with this post. I get these ideas, suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, and feel the urgency to get them down on paper, make them manifest, as a record of their existence. I suppose because the world is subtle, riddled with details, and we’re lumbering creatures whose senses fix on what they need and ignore the rest, we need time to let ideas soak, simmer, and incubate. With so many of our ideas and plans for life, there is never enough time to implement them all. We’re selective, not comprehensive. And for that matter, a good deal of our ideas turn out to be bad ones, and thankfully never come to fruition. Thus, the job of the unconscious (sketchbook) is to act as a workshop for rough shaping ideas, storing observations until something relevant appears in the landscape.

But alas, this one has stuck to the wall like spaghetti noodles ready to come out of the boiling water. (Really, I just like that image. I am reminded of my eccentric aunt from Vegas who told me on a visit out to see her, when I was five, that you know the noodles are ready to eat if they stick to the wall. Much to my surprise, upon saying so, she threw some noodles to the wall.) I am here, interested in these common roots in terms of the relation between Midwestern criticism and Coastal critical theory.

The idea of a “Midwest culture” never really occurs to most. However, this ‘Culture’ comes intuitively to those of us living in the Midwest and so I (we) don’t consciously think about it. Certainly, given the high degree of ignorance (or is it simply lack of exposure?) of the West Coast/East Coast-ers concerning Midwesterners – who are often stereotyped as unsophisticated and stubborn – I feel obligated to detail the Culture of upper Midwest. Though, by taking a closer look at Midwestern culture should help to clarify the record and realize certain things in the upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin, are actually culturally progressive.

I would assert that the declining Rust Belt cities of the Great Lakes, with their histories of 19th- and early-20th century immigration, manufacturing base, and strong Northern European, Protestant influence, are more representative of the Midwestern experience than the small towns and agricultural communities in Kansas, Iowa, the Dakotas and Nebraska of the Great Plains.

CNN recently conducted a survey to discover readers' favorite American cities, based on certain aspects like culture, people, dining and shopping. The list is supposed to serve as a basis for travelers who are looking to visit different parts of the country and experience the richness and benefits that each city has to offer.

Unsurprisingly, the list, both frustrating and annoying, focuses on the "culture-rich" coastal cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, while almost entirely ignoring the whole Midwestern United States. In fact, the only two Midwestern cities that were even considered for this survey were Chicago and Minneapolis. There's so much going on in the Midwest, it's a shame that, as a region, we are constantly maligned and designated as "fly-over states" just because we don't have the hustle and bustle of the big coastal cities.

*This dialogue continues for some length, and so only those who are interested may continue reading here, and those of you who can't be bothered at the moment may continue without scrolling for a day and a half.