Barbecue

It’s the most purely American food-and that’s maybe the
only thing about it everyone agrees on

 

You can’t get good barbecue in Paris, London, or Hong Kong, but you can get 18 varieties in Lexington, North Carolina, and 7 in Piano, Texas. Barbecue is the all-American food, particularly south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But American barbecue—whether it’s known as barbecue, BBQ, bar-b-q, ’cue, or just Q—is more than a way of cooking: It’s myth, folklore, and American history; it’s politics (like the time Texas Gov. W.

 
 
 
 
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Why These Three Men Are Part Of Your Soul

“Of late the American character has received marked and not altogether flattering attention from American critics.” The comment, from the opening page of Constance Rourke’s great, unjustly ignored book American Humor , bears one of her trademarks, a gently ironic understatement. “Not altogether flattering”—a muted characterization, indeed, of the jeremiads hurled against their homeland by the members of Rourke’s generation, the American writers who came of age just before World War I. Read more »

The Omni-american

ALBERT MURRAY SEES AMERICAN CULTURE AS AN incandescent fusion of European, Yankee, frontier, and black. And he sees what he calls the “blues idiom” as the highest expression of that culture.

 

WHEN HE WAS SEVENTY, ALBERT MURRAY SCUTTLED AROUND MANHATTAN with the energy of a far younger man. A decade later, two spinal operations having cruelly diminished his orbit, Murray needs one of those four-pronged aluminum canes to inch down a sidewalk, bitter punishment for a naturally impatient man. Albert Murray’s big, handsome grin, which turns a listener into a coconspirator in whatever iconoclasm he is hatching at the moment, gets flashed less often now. Read more »

What Is Jazz?

Wynton Marsalis believes America is in danger of losing the truest mirror of our national identity. If that’s the case, we are at least fortunate that today jazz’s foremost performer is also its most eloquent advocate.

When Wynton Marsalis burst into the public eye in the early 1980s, it was as a virtuoso trumpet player. From the start he was an articulate talker too, but his bracing opinions were off-thecuff and intuitive; his ideas, like his playing, needed seasoning. In the years since, not only has Marsalis’s music deepened tremendously, his thinking has matured and coalesced to produce a coherent theory of jazz.Read more »

The Hazards Of American Individualism

A distinguished scholar of American literature discusses why, after a career of study and reflection, he believes that Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman are bad for you

Quentin Anderson, Julian Clarence Levy Professor in the Humanities Emeritus at Columbia University, argues in his best-known book, The Imperial Self: An Essay in American Literary and Cultural History , that the writings of three of our most representatively American authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry James, embody a distinctly American grand refusal of history and social roles.Read more »

The Artistic Triumph Of New York

World War I made the city the financial capital of the world. Then after World War II a very few audacious painters and passionate critics made it the cultural capital as well. Here is how they seized the torch from Europe.

Mark Tansey is a definitively post-modernist painter. His pictures stand at two removes from nature; not art but art history (or art theory) is his subject. Tansey deals in theories and notions, presenting them with the sort of sharp irony found in editorial-page cartoons. At the major Tansey exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts last year, the most striking and I think best example of the painter’s work on display allegorizes a world historical event in the annals of modern art.Read more »

The Spain Among Us

After half a millennium we scarcely feel the presence of Spain in what is now the United States. But it is all around us.

In 1883 Walt Whitman received an it Santa Fe and deliver a poem at a celebration of the city’s founding. The ailing sixty-four-year-old poet wrote back from his home in Camden, New Jersey, that he couldn’t make the trip or write a poem for the occasion, but he sent along some remarks “off hand”: “We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources.Read more »

Mr. Wadsworth’s Museum

For 150 years a crenelated Gothic Revival castle in Connecticut has housed an art collection that was astonishing for its time—and ours

We tend to identify the first American public display of art with the post-Civil War surge of wealth called the Gilded Age. Conventional wisdom also assumes that our first art museums were born in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—all of which were eager to assert their cultural hegemony. Read more »

What Should We Teach Our Children About American History?

The fiercest struggle going on in education is about who owns the past. Militant multi-culturalists say that traditional history teaching has brushed out minority ethnic identities. Their opponents say that radical multiculturalism leads toward national fragmentation.

In 1987 a sweeping revision of the social studies program in New York State public schools gave the curriculum a strong multicultural slant. It was not strong enough, however, for a task force on minorities appointed by Thomas Sobol, the state education commissioner, in 1989.Read more »