For Tuesday, let’s read “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the first chapter of W. E. B. Du Bois’s magisterial The Souls of Black Folk. (You can find a copy the complete book here.) Be sure to make three annotations on the excerpt – – these should include at last one original annotation and up to two replies to annotations.
Here’s something to keep in mind as you read the Du Bois excerpt. In “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” Adams repeatedly declares that “in America neither Venus nor Virgin ever had value as force–at most as sentiment.” As we saw from the word cloud I passed out on Thursday, “force” is a very important term for Adams. He contrasts “force” with sentiment, but this contrast also seems to appear under other guises. For instance, he tells us that “[t]he true American knew something of the facts, but nothing of the feelings.” And, elsewhere, commenting on St. Gaudens, Adams says that “the art remained, but the energy was lost even upon the artist.” All of these contrasts seem to point some chronic gap or difference between appearance and reality, form and substance, artifact and experience.
On Tuesday, I offered one name for the problem or situation that Adams keeps returning to: irony, a condition where appearance and reality are out of joint. Can you see any places in “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” where Du Bois seems to describe a similar disjuncture between appearance and reality? Are there points in Du Bois’s text where he is equally aware of – – perhaps even troubled by – – the misfit between word and thing, sentiment and force, fact and feeling, art and energy, appearance and reality?
Bonus Easter egg: Du Bois too participated in the Great Exposition of 1900. His contribution to the Exposition – – like so much of his intellectual work – – may even have anticipated our contemporary moment.