Except for writing a brief concluding chapter, I appear to have substantially finished a follow-up to Literature and Inequality. This one is a lot shorter (44,000 words so far instead of twice that), more pointed, and I hope more accessible and fun, although those (I also hope) are also attributes of the current work. This is partly from learning by doing, but also from my having here a more contemporary and pop culture focus.
The current working title is Bonfires of the American Dream in American Rhetoric, Literature, and Film. It's a successor to the Part 2 follow-up of Literature and Inequality that I had previously contemplated.
Part 1 has 3 parts, each covering 3 works from a particular time and place. Part 2 was originally going to do the same, albeit entirely restricting the canvas to the US and UK. But this not only makes the work rather long, both to write and to read, but also adds to the challenge of finding its particular focus. That took me a couple of years to nail down when I was writing Literature and Inequality, and while I felt satisfied with how that came out, it also felt a bit like drawing to an inside straight in poker. Not something that I was desperate to chance again.
Instead, then, I basically picked out one-third to four-ninths of the projected work, depending on how one counts, and writing something which I could parse out directionally, at least in very general terms, from the start. It would emphasize a theme that had featured a bit in Literature and Inequality, but that had not been consistently in view, pertaining to the darkness and destructiveness of the Ayn Rand theme in American culture, and how it helps to explain Trump-age America.
I also push beyond just classic novels to examine three distinct types of cultural product. After the introduction, in Chapter 2, I examine two culturally important pieces of American rhetoric. The first is Russell Conwell's Acres of Diamonds speech - incredibly prominent from about 1870 to 1925, which I juxtapose with Ayn Rand's 33,00 word John Galt speech near the end of Atlas Shrugged.
Chapter 3 examines The Great Gatsby, but with an eye not just to the text, but to its variable cultural reception in different eras.
Chapter 4 examines two classic films, which I demonstrate have more in common than one might initially have thought. The first is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. The second is Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street.
Whereas Literature and Inequality took years to write (uncharacteristically for me), this one has been entirely written during the pandemic. I was still mulling over just what sort of a project (if any) it might be when the pandemic started and I ceased going to my NYU office (I have been there just once since the middle of March). So I've been writing it on my laptop, and doing research online plus through mail purchases, to the extent that I had not already laid in my materials.
The next step, apart from writing the conclusion and finalizing the text, is looking for a publisher I hope it will be a lot easier this time around, both because Literature and Inequality has shown (I think) that the sort of thing I am doing is feasible, and because it is shorter, more pointed, and closer to contemporary popular culture. Only the Conwell speech doesn't have a current high profile. I'm also going to be thinking about the choice between seeking out university presses and (as I did with Literature and Inequality) more independent publishers that might also be more entrepreneurial.
More soon, I hope.