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Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 04:20 pm

Bearing the burden of normality

In the Fall 2017 number of The Hedgehog Review, which is devoted to critical reflections on contemporary culture, Paul Christman explores life in " a no-place that is also everyplace and anyplace"--the Midwestern U.S.

It's a topic I've touched on now and then (albeit with a more local focus, meaning the state of Illinois and its parts) but only occasionally with Chrisman's acuity. He notes, for example, 

Historically, when people in the Midwest argue with each other over questions of identity, they fight over issues on universal, national, or local levels. They talk about what it means to be an American, a Lutheran, a farmer, a woman, a lesbian, a feminist, a black man; they almost never talk about what it means to be Midwestern, except in the most cursory fashion.. . . In virtually all the recent work on the Midwest, it remains a setting, not a particular constellation of attitudes or behaviors. 

Then there's this:

When, looking in your own mind for a sense of your own experiences in a region, you find only clichés and evasions—well, that is a clue worth following. So I began, here and there, collecting tidbits, hoarding anecdotes, savoring every chance piece of evidence that the Midwest was a distinctive region with its own history. In doing so I noticed yet another paradox: If the Midwest is a particular place that instead thinks of itself as an anyplace or no-place, it is likewise both present and not present in the national conversation. The Midwest is, in fact, fairly frequently written about, but almost always in a way that weirdly disclaims the possibility that it has ever been written or thought about before. 

Highly recommended.


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