Fragments of America
by Norman Spinrad
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted February 27, 2023
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Around the time ReAnimus Press released Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron, several other of his books were also on their list, with more added later. Two of them are non-fiction, this essay collection, and a very short piece about the history of the writing of the aforementioned novel, entitled Experiment Perilous, which I've appended to the end of that review. In his introduction, Spinrad said he set out to write this as a book, but then thought it would be better to do it piecemeal, one article at a time, hoping to get feedback for each one, thus attempting to figure out if he was capable of writing the full book. From all the information I've been able to find, the ReAnimus edition is the first time they were all together. There is no credit page to tell when and where each article first saw print, but my best guess as to the timeline would be late 1960s to the early 70s, with the "FREEP" (the Los Angeles Free Press) being one likely venue, since he was also contributing book, film, and TV reviews there. New York's Village Voice is another possibility, since he was born in NY and lived there until after his college days. It's clear they were written for different publications, but on very similar topics, with only slight edits between a few.
In fact, there is so much repetition the book gets tedious, no matter how well he initially presented his views. Topics include general politics, the economy, policing and "Law & Order" politicians, civil rights, the Vietnam War (and war in general), drugs, guns, the automotive industry, and the ecology. The latter is mostly about air and water pollution, but no mention of either global warming or climate change. While a lot of his ideas are dated by the period of the writing, and his prognostications of the future fall short of reality, since history and human nature are prone to cyclical actions, many are still relevant. His essay on "Blue Power," pertaining to how law enforcement seems to always make its own rules, could easily be from this year. The same for the difficulties and roadblocks keeping blacks and other minorities from casting ballots. The opening essay, "This Land is Your Land (This Land is Not My Land)," starts the ball rolling on the overall principle, that America is made up of a multitude of fragments, the majority of which are not represented by the Establishment. In "WASP Soul" he emphasized the first letter of the acronym over the others, stating it is mostly about Whites being at the top of the heirarchy, including some who do not fall under the banners of the other three letters. This would include some Catholics, and even some American Jews, if they identify with the predominant White upper class, the ones who consider themselves the "true Americans."
One of his demarcation lines is between the Pre-War and Post-War generations, but inside that discussion he makes some expansive generalizations about both. At first he seems to imply the younger contingent were all part of the pot-smoking, long-hair, tune in and drop out crowd. That may be due to his being from New York, and having lived in the Village, as well as bohemian neighborhoods in San Francisco and Los Angeles, so that was what he was seeing all around him. But everyone knows the Post-War generation spans quite a few years and many demographics. I'm ten years younger than Spinrad, thus a child of the 60s, but I was aware of huge gaps of social consciouness between the different grades in my high school, including my older siblings, and I also went through quite a few changes as to my political and social ideas during that period. He does correct that later, but almost too late, by stating he knows many were still stuck in the viewpoints of their parents. Another mistake he made, at least twice, is a statement about how ending the draft would be hard and not likely in the near future. I was drafted in November of 1971, but it ended just a year and a half later.
He is clear in the introduction that he was just expressing his views, that he wasn't working with any more information than the general public had access to. In spite of his missteps and misstatements, his heart was in the right place about trying to suss out how all of the fragments of America could conceivably come together, to find a consensus, to make sure all would have equal representation. Early in his intro he wrote: "Every currently active social and political force seems to be driving the diverse fragments of America further and further apart," then the intro ends with, "…take this as one American's attempt to put together a total picture of his culture by understanding its fragmented parts…" He chose to interpret our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, not as "out of the many, one," but rather "out of diversity, a union."
"Only when social conflict is replaced by a recognition of the positive values of cultural diversity can the fragments of America begin to merge naturally and voluntarily into a true American national identity that is no less that the sum of all of America's parts. The shape of that future American society is not yet visible on the horizon. We cannot foretell the future, but we can move toward it. We cannot completely shape the future, but we can refuse to be shaped by the mistakes of the past. History is in our hands." I both agree with him, and applaud this statement, but at the same time feel he was too optimistic. As I said about Bug Jack Barron, it would be interesting to see what he might make of the same ideas now. I give this a partial recommendation, but due to the repetition, you'll probably want to skim through several of the essays as I did.
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