This issue marks my tenth year of editing Oregon Humanities magazine. Ten-year periods are good, solid chunks of time. They seem compact and complete, almost like an object you can hold in your hand and dispassionately consider from all angles.
Of course, this sense of a decade being a finished product is just a construct, a trick, a way of coping with the passage of time. Certainly the magazine has changed, as magazines do and should, going from a biannual to a triannual publication, evolving in step with the organization, and finding fresh ways to showcase the humanities and the world of ideas in Oregon. It's received its share of accolades and criticisms, and, as editor, while there are things I'm proud of in these ten years' worth of pages, there are also things I would love to go back and do differently—do better. No surprise to readers: it's not just in editors that the desire to revise is strong.
Although any ten-year period of time provides good fodder for reflection, this particular ten-year period of time in America, from 2001 to 2011, has been especially rich and ripe. Some call it the 9/11 Decade, focusing on the bookends of the World Trade Center bombings and the death of Osama bin Laden. Others call it the Lost Decade, which begins with the same event, but shapes a different narrative, one that includes two wars, the collapse of a financial system, recession, seemingly intractable political bipartisanship, and a new generation of protestors on both sides of the spectrum—some shaking up the status quo by winning congressional seats and others taking to the streets with tents and hand-scrawled signs.
Regardless of what we call these past ten years, it's clear that America has changed because of what it has lost. Rupert Cornwell, chief U.S. commentator for the Independent in the United Kingdom, writes that in addition to America's loss of lives, treasure, and reputation, “Most of all, perhaps, it has lost its illusions. One, that its home territory was invulnerable, beyond the reach of hostile foreigners, vanished on that terrible Tuesday morning.But a decade on, another no less cherished illusion has disappeared as well: the certainty that whatever happened in the world beyond, America was a place of infinite opportunity and evergrowing prosperity.”
Inspired by this narrative of change and loss—and, I admit, by a desire to, if not revise the past, then to revisit it and glean from it something useful—I recruited the magazine's excellent editorial advisory board to help me find intriguing, provocative, still-resonant ideas from past issues to share with readers again.
Given where we find ourselves at the end of 2011, it will probably come as no surprise that this Encore issue is a collection of writing about class and American identity. But this time around, these articles and essays are informed and colored by different circumstances, by the sum total of a decade of change and loss. I hope that all readers—both long-time and new—will experience these ideas in this context and find in these pages meaningful perspectives and insights that help make sense of the world we live in today.
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