Jonathan Franzen on Midwestern Values
Jonathan Franzen is an award-winning American novelist and essayist. Franzen was born in Chicago, Illinois, raised in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Swarthmore College. He also studied on a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany. He lives on the Upper East Side of New York City, and writes for The New Yorker magazine. Franzen's "The Corrections," a novel of social criticism, garnered considerable critical acclaim in the United States. It became one of the best-selling works of literary fiction of the 21st century and won both the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
Question: What was it like growing up in the Midwest in the '70s?
Jonathan Franzen: What was it like growing up in the Midwest in the ‘70s? I think it was probably more like growing up in Hawaii or Washington State or Florida in the ‘70s, than it was like growing up in the Midwest of other decades. I think it was mostly the ‘70s and those were same everywhere.
Maybe we took it a little bit less ironically, all of that personal growth and self realization stuff of the ‘70s--we really bought it. Again, maybe just for a critical year or 18 months longer, but that’s enough to set the hook.
And I think it’s about a prolongation of innocence and it’s a prolongation of childhood. That’s how I would describe the Midwest; you are just so far from a border or a coast that the possibility of cynicism takes just a little longer.
When it hits, it hits full force because you have to embrace that cynicism and that irony and that rage because you’ve been duped, because you have survived to a greater age with your innocence and you feel so betrayed by the world and that the first reaction is to become unbelievably cynical and hard. But there is that kind of soft caramel center that never goes away, and maybe I’m just generalizing for myself, but I know that I was an unbelievably innocent 18 year old in every way. But not stupid and not unaware of the world, but I somehow still thought it was a nice world.
Question: What changed your mind?
Jonathan Franzen: Freshman year at college basically. I went to Philadelphia. It was not Philadelphia’s fault. I love Philly.
And it wasn’t those other kids’ fault; they came from somewhat tougher east coast schools, a lot of private school kids. Wow. The voltage between their jadedness and my innocence was bound to make one of us unhappy and it wasn’t going to be them.
In some respects, it’s never really be ruined. There’s something about this whole narrative that makes me uncomfortable because I truly don’t believe in the Midwesternness of the Midwest. I cannot get outside it and account for it; I believe it exists, but it’s sort of like the center of the earth. I don’t actually know for sure that we have a molten core, I’m told we do and there’s no reason to doubt, and it must be there. And the Midwest, which is kind of the molten core of the country, that must exist too.
Question: What are Midwestern values?
Jonathan Franzen: Whenever anyone asks me to generalize about the Midwest, I want to come back and say there is no such thing as the Midwest.
And every once in a while, someone says, “You know, there’s no such thing as the Midwest." And then I want to argue with that person and say, “That’s not true. Have you ever watched a Midwesterner get on the subway in New York City?”
It was certainly true in my high school that fashions got there a year or two later than they did on the coast. What we thought was very, very cutting edge was already passé in California and New Jersey--as I bitterly discovered when I went east to go to college.
So what that time lag represents, I’m not sure.
Midwestern values; I don’t think there is such a thing as Midwestern values.
It’s kind of the crank capital of North America right now; those wonderful Midwestern plain states. So it’s not like, what do you say? It’s no different from anywhere else, and yet we all feel that there is something there.
Recorded On: Apr 1, 2008
Jonathan Franzen on growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
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It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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