JDP Connections: Donald Pizer

For the third entry in our web series, retitled as “Dos Passos Connections,” we have a statement from Donald Pizer, Pierce Butler Professor of English Emeritus at Tulane University.Most recently, Pizer published the book, Toward a Modernist Style: John Dos Passos.

The article below is a wonderful reflection on the reading life. My first reading of U.S.A. was similarly grandiose and jostling.


The Permanence of U.S.A.

Donald Pizer

 I was in my teens, in the 1940s, when I first read U.S.A. I was living in a Brooklyn neighborhood, almost a village in its thin connection with the “outside” world. One sign of its insularity was that it lacked a public library, and thus one of the rituals of my boyhood was a weekly bicycle journey to a fairly distant (or so it seemed then) adjoining neighborhood, where I would draw out a supply of books from a tiny store-front library.

Like many of my generation, I was vaguely aware of U.S.A. as a book to read, and being young and a fast reader, I was not deterred by the immense size of the Modern Library edition with its thin, semi-transparent paper. I read the work slowly at first, and then more and more rapidly, until I was fully immersed in it. I had somehow order cabergoline online stepped out of my narrow segment of life into a universe of people and events that was America. I didn’t know then why and how the book held me captive, but I was indeed its prisoner. Today, as a student of the complex architectonics of U.S.A., I know a great deal more about how it achieves its effects and what these effects are, but I have never duplicated, in reading it again and again, the excitement, the rushing compulsion to read and to continue reading, of that first encounter.

When, some forty years later, I told my teenage daughter the story of my weekly trip to the library on my bicycle, through rain and snow, she asked, “Did you realize the Lincoln parallel then or did it come to you later?” But when she herself then read U.S.A. out of curiosity because I was working on Dos Passos, she too disappeared from human intercourse for the few weeks it took her to encompass it. And so it will always be, I think, whatever the means by which we are led to it, for this great work of the imagination.

 -“John Dos Passos: A Centennial Celebration,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1996. (Detroit: Gale/Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1997), p. 177