(Thomas M. Lutz)
PERSONAL: Education: Stanford University, Ph.D., 1989.
ADDRESSES: Home—Los Angeles, CA.
CAREER: Writer and educator. University of Iowa, Iowa City, associate professor of English.
AWARDS, HONORS: Faculty scholar award, University of Iowa, 2001.
American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1991.
Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1999.
Cosmopolitan Vistas: American Regionalism and Literary Value, Cornell Literary Press (Ithaca, NY), 2004.
Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Tom Lutz has written books on two aspects of the human psyche: nerves and emotions. In 1856 New York neurologist George M. Beard coined the terms "American nervousness" and "neurasthenia." Neurasthenia is defined as "an emotional and psychic disorder that is characterized by easy fatigability and often by lack of motivation, feelings of inadequacy, and psychosomatic symptoms." Intrigued by the recurrent presence of a diagnosis of neurasthenia in the lives of prominent American citizens and artists in the early part of the twentieth century, Lutz wrote American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History. Michael Vincent Miller commented in the New York Times that Lutz "turns a wide-angle lens on the American cultural landscape during one historical moment—a time when social roles and relationships were in turmoil—and discovers that a peculiar cloudy illness, called neurasthenia, was used to explain almost anything." Public figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and artists such as Remington claimed to have been diagnosed with the disorder. According to Miller, Lutz proposes that "neurasthenia had both materialist and idealist theorists, arguing over whether such ailments are ultimately conditions of the body or soul." Miller insisted that Lutz "does succeed in bringing fresh panoramic perspective to the complex give-and-take between illness and the artistic and intellectual imagination." Mylene Dressler, a reviewer for American Literature, called American Nervousness, 1903 "an attempt at vigilant cultural criticism," suggesting that "discourse [concerning neurasthenia] served inevitably to justify dominant American culture." Writing in the New Republic, Alfred Kazin agreed, stating that "a great many remarkable figures were prime examples of the same condition at the turn of the century."
Lutz's Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears analyzes the reasons and significance behind tears in a historical survey spanning some 2,500 years. Lutz researches the history of crying in regions and cultures as varied as ancient Greece and twentieth-century Australia before reaching his conclusion that the act is a mystery that even modern-day scientists have yet to explain. According to Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor, Crying "delves into the varied cultural contexts" of crying. Kathleen Clanon, a reviewer in Lancet, commented that Lutz assembles "evidence that crying is worthy of thoughtful attention" and that he "uses many examples to make his point that tears are universal, powerful, and largely unstudied." Critiquing the work in the Economist, a reviewer noted that Lutz "convincingly argues that the way we view tears is largely socially determined." Thomas L. Cooksey, analyzing Crying in the Library Journal, concluded by calling the book "a valuable contribution to cultural history."
Lutz's Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America profiles layabouts in the last several centuries, including President George W. Bush, described by Lutz as the "slacker president." He notes famous people in history who avoided work, commenting on the differences between attitudes over time. Lutz compares his own youthful work avoidance with that of such notable figures as Jack Kerouac and Henry David Thoreau. He also corrects the perception of well-known slackers such as Kerouac and Richard Linklater, who actually were industrious, and others, such as Benjamin Franklin, who were not. Nearly all of Franklin's achievements were accomplished after he retired from a life during which he made a show of working. Lutz told Esquire interviewer Tim Heffernan that most slackers do not advocate a world without work, saying: "They're questioning the prevailing work ethic of their time. By refusing to live by society's rules, slackers help us think through our own relationship to work." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Lutz's diligent research on a range of lazy and slovenly subjects … ultimately leads him to side with the bums."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Literature, March, 1992, Mylene Dressler, review of American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History, pp. 174-175; June, 1997, review of These "Colored" United States: African American Essays from the 1920s, p. 453.
American Quarterly, September, 1992, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 474.
Booklist, August, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, p. 1992; April 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America, p. 7.
Economist, September 4, 1999, review of Crying, p. 80.
Entertainment Weekly, October 29, 1999, review of Crying, p. 106.
Esquire, May, 2006, Tim Heffernan, "Lazy Americans," interview with Lutz, p. 40.
Journal of Social History, summer, 1993, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 864.
Journal of the History of Ideas, October, 1991, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 701.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1999, review of Crying, p. 943.
Lancet, February 19, 2000, Kathleen Clanon, review of Crying, p. 663.
Library Journal, August, 1999, Thomas L. Cooksey, review of Crying, p. 123; May 1, 2006, Jack Forman, review of Doing Nothing, p. 108.
Modern Language Review, July, 1993, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 741.
New Republic, August 12, 1991, Alfred Kazin, review of American Nervousness, 1903, pp. 40-42.
New York Times, July 2, 1991, Michael Vincent Miller, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. C15.
New York Times Book Review, July 7, 1991, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 1; April 11, 1993, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 28; June 6, 1993, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 54; September 12, 1999, Robert Campbell, review of Crying, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999, review of Crying, p. 63; February 13, 2006, review of Doing Nothing, p. 71.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 1993, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 10.
Sewanee Review, April, 1994, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 291.
Village Voice, July 23, 1991, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. 65.
Wall Street Journal, August 7, 1991, review of American Nervousness, 1903, p. A9.
Stanford Magazine, http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/ (November-December, 1999), Ginny McCormick, review of Crying.