". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tonight, for Black History Month, Slave Coast on "What's the 411?"

At 6 PM tonight we'll be on the oldest black radio station, out of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, with Sharon Kay, host of "What's the 411."

The American Slave Coast has received the honor of being one of  the features for  "What's the 411?"'s observances of Black History Month.

This is the second time for The American Slave Coast on "What's the 411?". The first time was last fall, days after Slave Coast was published.

Tune in here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Baby! Mardi Gras Is Here!

Tune into WWOZ. to hear.

To see, go to the Times-Pic's video site here.

Eat some King Cake.  Dance and shake that thang!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Tonight - Tune In Context of Whte Supremacy C.O.W.S. /Black Talk Radio Network

The C.O.W.S. w/ Ned and Constance Sublette : The American Slave Coast

Monday, February 8th 8:00PM Eastern/ 5:00PM Pacific

Chris Jackson and Beyoncé

Chris Jackson, is the co-owner with his now ex-wife Sarah McNally, of Jackson McNally, the first successful NYC indie bookstore to open after amazilla killed all the stores.  He's featured in the New York Times Sunday magazine here.

Chris Jackson and Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Awards
At one point in this article, Chris Jackson says this, which is fully sensible:
‘‘The great tradition of black art, generally,’’ he started again, ‘‘is the ability — unlike American art in general — to tell the truth. Because it was formed around the great American poison, the thing that poisoned American consciousness and behavior: racism. And black culture, such as it is, was formed around a necessary resistance to this fundamental lie. That’s the obligation. And this is the power that black art has.’’
This amplifies what he stated above:
This power — the power of the unvarnished truth — is what is at stake when we talk about the problem of exclusion in the world of books. What believable version of American reality can be the product of an industry that, according to a recent survey, counts black people as just 4 percent of its employees? We can admit that race is not our only national reality without denying that it clarifies the workings of — and relations among — the others. A kind of American Rosetta Stone. 
This is the unique claim on the truth that black art can make: It draws its energy from its embrace of hybridity, from a rejection of the illusion of American purity. The joy of expression and the sorrow of experience, properly commingled, might result in something new — and true.
How can that be argued with?  As we all understand that this poison can never be drained from our national expression and attitude until the truth is told, told as matter-of-fact, and starting at the earliest years in our education system, among many other institutionally racist venues.

In many ways, Beyoncé's video for her single, "Formation," dropped for the Super Bowl is saying the same thing.

It can be viewed here on the Rolling Stone site.  Guarantee -- watching it only once won't do.

Beyond that, however, are the reactions particularly of African American women from different entry points, but are saying the same things, but in different ways.

The writing about "Formation" by African American women is filled with brilliant imagery.  Looking at just three different responses to "Formation" illustrates what A.O. Scott is describing when he asked, "What is criticism, what is reviewing?"

Here are three different African American women actively thinking about their experience of "Formation"

In fact, it's bloggers like these who have most impressed me, beyond the video itself.

Three different approaches, three different 'languages', all of them deeply expressive in their different manners of thinking hard, thinking actively, i.e. critically in response to an experience that was aesthetic, entertaining or political, depending on the approach.  And I'm responding to their language and imagery in response to her imagery (seeming more than to the lyrics, but hey, music video!)  in a very positive way.  I.e. they are persuasive.


For some of we white people who have been crowing that the lyrics' referencing of "slayer" and "slaying" is inspired by Buffy -- no, it's not.  This terminology comes from of the early days of hiphop and rap: slaying the competition, rivals, obstacles, whatever, was constant usage long before the Buff was a glimmer in Whedon's eye, and it still is.

Beyoncé proves once again she and Jay-Z are not only the most successful figures  globally in entertainment today, but  likely the smartest business people too.
Beyoncé slayed -- she even slayed football.  She's the winner of the Super Bowl. There's a whole more talking about "Formation" than there is about the game. She certainly substituted white space with space that is fully black matters.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Criticism and Reviewing

A.O. Scott, one of the NY Times's film critics, has published a book about what it is to be a critic, to look at aesthetic or entertainment experiences in a thinking manner: Better Living Through Criticism.  This book about criticism is itself reviewed and critiqued in the NY Times today, by Michae Wood.

Michael Wood, center, announcing 2015 Man Booker Prize Short List for fiction written in English (Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings won the prize.)
Wood, an author and literary academic, writes criticism for many respected publications including The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.

Wood explains Scott's interrogation of the role of criticism, defining what criticism is, doesn't so much focus on judging, which inevitably means more negative commentary than positive, but the active experience of thinking about something.

I like this -- particularly the final sentence:
What haunts Mr. Scott’s book, and makes it so satisfyingly inconclusive, is the deceptively simple notion of thinking. Here is where the professional and the amateur meet. “A critic will be no different from anyone else who stops to think about the experience” — whether of watching a movie or reading a novel or looking at a painting or listening to music. When his interlocutor expresses surprise that Mr. Scott has “written a book in defense of thinking,” adding that “Nobody is really against thinking,” the critic says: “Are you serious? Anti-intellectualism is virtually our civic religion."
That sentence feels particularly apropos as the reviewer of Better Living Through Criticism introduces his thinking about the critic's book with Henry James, favorite devil of the anti-intellectual national religion.

I like what follows from this as well:
Henry James wrote that criticism showed the mind engaged in “a reaching out for the reasons of its interest,” and A. O. Scott, a chief film critic at The New York Times, says something similar toward the end of “Better Living Through Criticism,” his lively and argumentative book: “Let’s say that a critic is a person whose interest can help to activate the interest of others.” The difference between the two formulations is important. James’s critic is talking to himself and is not necessarily being paid for his reaching. Mr. Scott’s critic — like Mr. Scott himself — has a job to do and readers to persuade or annoy. 
But the notion of interest brings the two remarks together, and almost casually excludes most of what we often think criticism is. What happened to judging, finding fault, even interpretation? 
Seeking for reasons of interest might involve some of these activities, but it wouldn’t have to, and the shift of emphasis is illuminating. Mr. Scott doesn’t exclude judgment from his inquiry. He says it’s “the bedrock of criticism.” And he reminds us that the job is “not nice. To criticize is to find fault.” (He also thinks that critics are always getting things wrong and devotes a brilliant chapter to how they so consistently manage this.) But bedrock is not soil, and still less is it the plants and creatures that grow on the earth. It may at times be essential to find fault; it is scarcely ever enough.
Another way of putting it is that liking / not liking, popular / not popular, good / bad is not sufficient for reliable or even interesting judgment.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Reading Wednesday -- Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli: A Strange Romance

Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli: A Strange Romance (2015) is by Daisy Hay, a Brit academic in Literature. This background explains the narrative clumsiness accorded accorded by narrative's lack of focused through-line of "romance". Speaking from relative experience here, one is allowed to speculate that this subtitle was strongly suggested (never imposed!) by the editor of the book.

As the author frequently informs us, this was no romantic marriage, but one of mutual convenience.  Disraeli -- Dizzy -- was fabulously in debt, desperate to be returned to parliament in order to be immune from arrest by his multitude of creditors.  He was as professionally frustrated as both author and politician as he was in Society as a Jewish outlier, despite his conversion to the Church of England. It had long been the case that a successful political career was nearly impossible for dissenters and non-conformists. Without belonging to the CoE, many other professions were also closed -- until 1907, one couldn't even get a degree from Oxford without allegiance to the Anglican Church.

The woman Disraeli married in 1839 was 12 years older than he, burdened with a semi-scandalous reputation that was founded in fact as well as gossip. His own reputation included not so sotto voce observations regarding his relationships with other men, including fellow author and member of parliament, Bulwer Lytton.

Mary Ann Viney-Evans, 1st Viscountess Beaconsfield (1792-1872)  was a petite, vivacious, good-natured and very pretty young woman.

In her maturity Mary Ann was a beautiful woman, and remained so for many years.
Disraeli encountered Mary Ann first in political drawing rooms, as wife of Member of Parliament, Wyndam Lewis. Disraeli and Mary Ann liked each other in these situations, and encouraged each other's biting observations. He saw much more of her, and more intimately, when he stood as companion candidate from Wycomb, with her husband.  Mary Ann was an enthusiastic, tireless and very effective campaigner. Not long after their election, Wyndam suddenly fell dead in his study. His friends urged Disraeli to seize this opportunity, which many other suitors already had set out to gain for themselves as soon as Wyndam was in the ground. Mary Ann was for ambitious, thwarted young men, a beautiful, wealthy widow, that essential conveyance to financial security found so commonly in history and fiction. As for Mary Ann, a husband would allow her freedom of action and behavior that weren't possible for a single woman in Society. As well, young and filled with energy, she found him very attractive.  Wyndam had been years older than she.

Less romantic than that is difficult to claim.  But -- they enjoyed each other's company. Initially.

What followed marriage was not smooth, particularly as Disraeli constantly lied to her about the extent of his debts. She constantly had to retrench her finances, sell off her possessions, negotiate and borrow, to pull him from the fires of bankruptcy and arrest in the periods that he wasn't in parliament. On her side the big bumps were her excessive public expression, dressing excessively and as time went on, in a manner not appropriate to a woman of her age,  and. most of all, her objections to 'sharing' him with friends, colleagues and his family.

We are interested in the lives of these two people and their relationship with each other, because they are significant political figures, and, as well, signature figures in their development of their era's social and literary conditions -- and how things changed from when they were young, to full-blown Victorian middle-class ideals. Benjamin Disraeli was one of the foremost politicians of the Victorian era. He was prime minister twice -- indeed, Queen Victoria's favorite minister, a condition founded upon his devotion to his wife, and hers to him. Queen Victoria even elevated Mary Ann in her own right to the peerage.
"On November 24, 1868, Mary Ann ceased to be Mrs. Disraeli and became instead Viscountess Beaconsfield."
Which elevation turned out to be extremely popular with the public, to everyone's surprise.

Most English majors and most historians who deal at all with the 19th century have a sense of whom Benjamin Disraeli was, which includes his colorful early life as a dandy and aspiring literary man in the vogue of the Romantics such as Byron and Shelley. Even now, lit majors, specializing in the history of the novel, and historians specializing in the politics of the Victorian era, still read his fiction for insights into politics, religion and cultural matters of the age.

However, knowledge of his wife among both English professors and historians is less common. That Mary Ann was extraordinary -- or at least socially singular and eccentric -- is beautifully described by Hays. The author successfully makes her case, that without Mary Ann, who is judged as inferior in intellect, breeding, education and importance, Disraeli would never have risen to the pinnacles of social and political success that he did.

Most English majors and most historians who deal at all with the 19th century have a sense of whom Benjamin Disraeli was, including his colorful early life as a dandy and aspiring literary man in the vogue of the Romantics such as Byron and Shelley. Even now, lit majors, specializing in the history of the novel, and historians specializing in the politics of the Victorian era, still read his fiction for insights into politics, religions and cultural matters of the age.

However, knowledge of his wife among both English professors and historians is less common.  That Mary Ann was extraordinary -- or at least socially singular and eccentric -- is beautifully described by Hays. The author successfully makes her case, that without Mary Ann, who is judged as inferior in intellect, breeding, education and importance, Disraeli would never have risen to the pinnacles of social and political success that he did.

Disraeli in his dandy period.
This is where and when romance enters. This had been a marriage of convenience for them both. They didn't have much in common, other than Mary Ann's undeviating devotion to his career even when he was nobody.  When he became successful, he was no longer dependent on her as previously and their lives diverged. In the earlier years of their marriage they had mutually manufactured a poetic fantasy of their grand romance, which faded under the pressures of debt and lies (his) jealousy and insecurity (hers of his relationships with his sister, other men and political cronies and work), lack of children, her volatility.  But as time went on, he became authentically devoted to her, both from gratitude and from recognition of her particular gifts for making friends and inspiring affection -- including with the notoriously difficult Queen Victoria herself. That in itself makes the book a valuable portal into the Victorian era.

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton PC, was an English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician (1803 - 1873). Best-selling Victorian novelist, including works such as The Last Days of Pompeii; also a Member of Parliament.  He and his close friends, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, were infamous in their circles for the Parisian sexcations they took together a couple of times a year.
It's also enlightening to read the descriptions of another Victorian famous name at the intersection of literature and politics -- Bulwer Lytton, who, with his wife Rosina, whom he treated so abominably, was a close friend to both the Wyndams and Disraeli. After reading the descriptions of Lytton and his family coolly ridding themselves of the 'nuisance' of Rosina by committing her to an insane asylum, one cannot but believe that this is what provoked another close friend of Lytton and Dickens, Wilkie Collins, into writing The Woman in White (1859).

As in The Woman in White, Rosina was released from that asylum by the actions of her loyal, loving female friends. In Collins's novel it is the devotion of the half-sister, who rides to the rescue, behaving as a man. (Unwomanly behavior is one of  Rosina's great sins, as far as Bulwer and his friends were concerned -- meaning she was vocal about objecting to his infidelities and other bad treatment, rather than meekly accepting everything.) The Woman in White is remarkably woman-centric and woman positive for the day, centering women's actions for rescuing themselves from the legal and social constraints of the time.

Mary Ann was often laughed at for not being demure enough, for flouting the conventions of behavior, speech and dress for the increasingly rigidly ordered drawing rooms and parlors of the Victorian era.  Hay frequently employs examples such as Rosina Lytton out of the circles of Mary Ann's friends and relatives to illustrate how fortunate Mary Ann's own circumstances turned out.

Mary Ann's intelligence understood how differently, financially and socially, her life was from so many of the women she knew.  She understood that luck, not virtue, played a huge role in who survived prosperously, and who did not. She was generous to many of the women she knew for whom poverty and struggle were their daily condition.

Beyond this however, for anyone who is interested in Victorian England and how it became Victorian, the lives of these people, spent together, traverse that trajectory, from the Regency era, when married people were allowed, with proper decorum, wives as much as husbands, to have lovers -- to the purely domestic ideal of the angel in the house.

Politics, history and manners among this privileged set of people at the top of their society, are extremely well detailed.  Wherever possible Hay has provided substantial extracts from the Disraeli's personal letters, journals and from newspaper accounts, which are valuable time-traveling devices in themselves.

Personally, considering what a role in politics they both played, I would loved to have seen some mention of their attitudes about slavery and the U.S. Civil War, but alas, there is none.

Still, as far as romance goes, Benjamin Disraeli did marry again, someone significantly younger, also wealthy.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Went Walk About -- Ran Into A Bernie March

Here's a YouTube of the event:

One used to run into the welcome, random unexpected event or action all the time just walking around town, but no so much these days.  So this was all the more welcome on a chilly, but sunny, day.

The marchers were trying to get out the word to vote for Bernie in the April primary.  For the most part they were young, excited, cheerful and everybody loved them.  Even the police escorts seemed to find this an enjoyable experience.