Monday, July 4, 2011

For the Fourth: John Patrick Diggins's Eugene O'Neill's America: Desire Under Democracy

My custom is to pick a work of American history to read in celebration of the 4th. This year, I decided on a work by John Patrick Diggins (who edged out John Lukac's A New Republic: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century). Diggins final book was published on June 30, and while I still mourn his passing, I was pleased to learn that his final work, Why Niebuhr Now, would make it to press. I eagerly await its arrival @ PL. Fortunately, I had on hand his next most recent book, a book on Eugene O'Neill, which I'd only dipped into. I haven't seen a great deal of O'Neill, but what I have--oh, my! I had the experience of seeing a film production of The Iceman Cometh by the American Film Theater, starring Frederic March, Robert Ryan, and Lee Marvin as Hickey. What a great Bijou Theater experience. Then, in 1999 (I think), I saw Broadway production with the lovely One Hungary Panda, who graciously accompanied me to this. The production starred Kevin Spacey, and I thought it superb. O'Neill is not easy. Two factors greatly influence his drama: his Irish-American family and his reading of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Spengler. This odd coupling doesn't make for much comedy (but try "Ah, Wilderness"), but it's great stuff. (BTW, O'Neill won a Nobel prize and four Pulitzer prizes for his work.)

So why Diggins? Because his work, on American political thought,Herman Melville, John Adams, on the pragmatists and their critics, Weber (his visit to America), Lincoln & Reagan (yes, I've started this one): all focus on the vicissitudes of democracy and power and how it all fits--or doesn't. No one, but perhaps the late Christopher Lasch, combines the intensity of analysis with deep historical understanding. He's certainly one of my favorite American historians.

Happy Independence Day!

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