Are you excited? Hooo boy, I am! There’s nothing I love more than
soccer books and soccer (and food, that’s always good too), and thanks to a slow snow day at work I finally found the time to get my ring of raconteurs ready. So how did it go for you –
Ah, that’s alright. I’m sure
the two all of you reading this will get a good squad set up at some point. But enough blathering – here, then, are the nominees for the US squad for the 2014 Word Cup FinalsTM…
Naturally, it’s a perfectly objective squad with no room for change or improvement. Yep, these are the eleven definitive authors the US has ever produced.
Right. The 4-3-3 formation was not a purely tactical decision, but it does provide a kind of framework for explaining why I picked who and where they went. So here goes:
Goalkeeper: Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson may not have been the tallest author around – actually, I have no idea how tall he really was – but as far as his literary qualities go he has all the makings of a great American goalkeeper. Why? Well, I like to believe that a strong squad is built around its defense, and any sterling defense needs to have the confidence of its keeper, an imposing figure who can lay down the foundations for all play from the back line forward. And Emerson is probably as good a candidate as anyone else for the gloves.
Self-reliance isn’t a uniquely American cultural concept, but few would deny that Emerson, through an essay of the same name, theorized it and planted it in the fertile national consciousness of the mid-19th century. That seed of self-reliance has found its way throughout a great deal of American literature since, not least in Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches stories and the mythology of the ‘self-made man’ that persists even today. Of course, Emerson proliferated many more ideas than self-reliance alone, but that one in particular is what merits his place in the team. Let’s just hope he’s a good shot-stopper.
Defenders: Arthur Miller (RB); Ernest Hemingway (CB); William Faulkner (CB); Henry David Thoreau (LB)
There is no rhyme or reason to why I put these back four where they are. But if there is any rhyme or reason as to why I picked them as defenders, it’s because I think they all created works that contribute to a peculiarly American idiom. Miller, for example, extracts just the right amount of pathos from the Lomans’ suffering amidst shattered dreams in Death of a Salesman, while The Crucible still has yet to (and may never) slip into a historical footnote thanks to its startlingly relevant commentary on xenophobia, moralism, and mob mentality. Hemingway gets into the starting 11 for his pared-back, almost minimalistic style which expresses as much about his characters’ failings as their actions do (re: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms). Faulkner deserves more justification than I’ll give him here on the basis of his piercing, if not devastating insight into both the collapse of Southern decadence (for lack of a better word) and the torment of the human psyche. And Thoreau probably could have played keeper like Emerson, but…actually, I have to admit I didn’t know why I put him at left-back. But when someone can muse on our relationships to nature and civil government as well as he does, a spot on the squad list is well-deserved.
Midfielders: Walt Whitman (holding midfielder), Mark Twain and Toni Morrison (central midfielders)
Yes, I know I crossed out (F. Scott) Fitzgerald and made him a substitute. No, I had no real reason for doing so.
Midfielders, in a sense, play in every position. Obviously they’re expected to pass and keep the ball in the middle of the pitch, but they also have their defensive and offensive duties, and the best midfielders either excel with one of those attitudes or commit themselves to both.
That’s not necessarily the same case with the authors I chose for my midfield, though I see some similarities. Whitman serves as the ‘fulcrum’ of this particular squad, because like his companions in the back four he wrote poetry – Leaves of Grass being the exponent of his work – that exalted the American penchant for individuality (“One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person…” is how he began Leaves). But he didn’t just contribute a strong body of work like any other memorable poet; he also gave the US its first and probably most famous national epic, that colossus and collage of words, observations, and emotions which amounts, again, to a uniquely American consciousness. Twain and Morrison have contributed as much to that mythical “Great American Novel” with their highly imaginative – and highly different – styles and visions of social reality. Take them out of their midfield roles, and you would have a hard time constructing a unified literary squad, because their mastery of dialect in particular – Northern and Southern, black and white – is what makes this team, in my mind at least, so cohesive.
Forwards: Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison (wingers); David Foster Wallace (center-forward)
If you haven’t already noticed – or better yet, if you’re still reading this! – I really value a writer’s style. The way a writer, in any genre or form, crafts language and structures it says as much about the themes he/she expresses as the meaning of that language does. With Hurston and Ellison, then, there’s a remarkable fluidity to their language that, well, I don’t know, portrays their concerns on the black experience (one distinctly female, the other almost unambiguously male) with great pace and power. Whether it’s the subtle differences in intonation among the people of Janie’s world in Their Eyes Were Watching God, or the jazz rhythms and hyperrealistic nightmares of Invisible Man, these two writers have – like everyone else on this list, of course – made American literature as special as it is, not only within this country’s borders, but well outside of them too.
And then there’s David Foster Wallace. Perhaps the man in real life may not have had the look of an accomplished striker, and I confess that I’ve yet to read Infinite Jest. But if his writing is anything like “Consider the Lobster” – a staggering essay that takes its cues from seemingly bizarre combinations of knowledge, from arthropod biology and neurology to human ethics and social history, in building up to a disarming consideration of why we treat lobsters the way we do, and how aware we are (not least how aware the lobsters are)of our actions – then it’s difficult to see why he would not be an exceedingly talented center-forward, a real beacon of American literature, its concerns, and its imaginative potential.
Have I done any of these writers justice? Of course not.
Is this the best set of eleven players in the American literary scene? Not at all – and the substitutes (see below) won’t make for a universally-loved squad of eighteen.
Did I enjoy writing this? Absolutely. And I hope you enjoyed the change of pace too.
Speaking of pace: let’s just hope we’ll survive against the Germans, the Ghanians, and the Portuguese.
A brief word on the substitutes, arranged in semi-deliberate positions:
GK: Leslie Marmon Silko – For using the harsh realities of modern Native American life to depict the American (if not universal) struggle of assimilating into one culture while preserving one’s own. Notable work: Ceremony (1977).
RB/LB: Henry James – For employing narrative as a vehicle for portraying the inner workings of the mind, and vice-versa. Notable work: The Turn of the Screw (1898).
CB: F. Scott Fitzgerald – For his now-mythologized portraits of American life during a decade where anything seemed to be possible, but wasn’t. Notable work: This Side of Paradise (1920).
CM: Ha Jin – For an honest take on loyalty to one’s “people” and one’s “values,” and what happens when these terms are no longer as clear-cut as they once seemed to be. Notable work: War Trash (2004).
RW/LW: John Steinbeck – For his elevation of the lives of ordinary people in a time of incredible disarray into extraordinary narratives on the human struggle to survive. Notable work: Of Mice and Men (1937).
AM (attacking midfielder): Robert Frost – For his mastery of the American vernacular and his creation of a distinctively American brand of verse. Notable work: Mountain Interval (1916).
CF: Jonathan Franzen – For a piercingly accurate yet ridiculously hilarious take on all of our human idiosyncrasies, whether or not we’re aware of them ourselves. Notable work: The Corrections (2001).