". . . 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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Poet Elizabeth Alexander

While working out this afternoon I listened to poet Elizabeth Alexander speak and recite her poetry. Like I have, many who recognize Alexander's name probably first learned of her work when she recited at Obama's second inaugural.

Her mother was an historian. She's a professor herself as well as a poet. The professor part supports the creative part of her life in many more ways than the financial -- just as being a mother does, she thinks. She's so articulate, her thinking so deeply grounded, that her language shimmers as much while speaking as on the page.

She spoke of reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, or rather, how for some years she avoided reading it. "I thought I just can't take it right now.  Some other time."  When she did read it, she could read it only in small bits, over a long period of time.  The novel has captured terrible dimensions of the African American historical experience -- particularly that of the antebellum mother's experience, in the language of poetry. It's terrible beyond describing yet Morrison did it, in language that "shimmers" in words of "radiance."

In the course of the program Alexander said without centering the black experience and culture in our educational system we have no idea what this nation and its history are.  Of course she's far too generous, intelligent and compassionate to even think that this centering of African American history and culture must be accomplished by, or even should be, through the exclusion of everything else.

A review of Alexander's latest book here.

What she means, what we believe, is that this experience must be finally taken from the sidebar and put as much front and center as that of the battles and diplomacy of the War of Independence.

When I brought this up to my partner and co-author of The American Slave Coast he responded: "that indeed is where many historians are at these days.  I think the general weight of the history profession now is there. We have the moral force of history on our side . . . "

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BBC America Musketeers Season 2

Is there anything, anything at all, that Musketeers doesn't do right? and classy?

They even record the music that scores all those action scenes live, in a studio, with an orchestra made up of living female and male musicians! Paul Englisby is the compose and music director.  There aren't that many series that do this, not in the movies, even on Broadway, and certainly not on television.

There is nothing simple about Musketeers.

Even the super villain character of Milady de Winter is fully rounded, and complex, mysterious -- and developing. How can a villain develop?  Their job is to be evil and thwart our protagonists.  Even the primary villain of this season Rocheford, isn't simply evil, but boy, is he scary!  King Louis XIII, lost much of his sympathy as he reverts to the arbitrary use of a monarch's power while becoming paranoid and very selfish with it, and thus easily manipulated.

All of these characters are equally interesting and were from the first episode of the first episode.  They only became more so in season 2.  So I'm very sad that Milady will not seen during the first episodes of season 3.  Maimie McCoy is pregnant and was't able to join the cast when shooting began for it back in April.

The series even does women and people of color right, and within historical context.  That Constance sees so clearly what the consequences up the line for her would be by running off from her husband to live with d'Artagnan -- and then they were able to get married, but not that fast, because Constance feels guilty about her husband's death, though in truth she wasn't responsible in the least. Though she did not love him she never pretended that it was right to be so passionately involved with someone else while married to him.  It wasn't -- honorable.  Though they marry and d'Artagnan is dazzlingly happy, it doesn't seem that he understands even now why Constance didn't immediately fall into partnership with him when Bonacieux was dead.  He seems to believe she merely saw he was right and she was wrong.

And it's an adult series in which substantive matters are at stake -- though surely non-adults must find much of the program appealing?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What the British Did During The Blitz

A new book declares the real beginning of the sexual revolution took place in England, with London the epicenter target of the Blitz.

Long article in The Daily Mail:
"Adapted from The Secret History Of The Blitz by Joshua Levine, to be published by Simon & Schuster in partnership with the Imperial War Museum on July 30 at £16.99."
The Blitz intensified sexual desire. A full two decades before the so-called permissive society of the Sixties, a dramatic, if understated, sexual revolution was already taking place — one which would, significantly, prove to be a forerunner of the mores by which Britons live today.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

Animated graphic depicting the African slave trade, part of Slate's ongoing series. Based on the Eltis and Richardson database, with proportional-size dots for the number of kidnapped people per ship, it depicts the movement of 20,528 voyages in two minutes. Who went where, when, seen as a flow.

This makes clear how few Africans were brought to Colonial and U.S. shores, in proportion to those taken to the Caribbean and Latin America.

By the way, briefly after the end of the War of Independence, and then particularly after the War of 1812, a huge percentage of these captives were brought to the Caribbean and South America on ships flying the U.S. flag and carrying U.S. papers.

3 Entries Included In The American Slave Coast Index

The three entries in The American Slave Coast's index most unlikely to be found within another single book's index are:

1) the Margravate of Azilla;

2) Selim;

3) Salgar.

Happily I'm recovering from whatever knocked me down the last two days. Though still woozy and dizzy, the pains and headache have mostly gone -- well, as much as the pain in my back ever goes away.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prince of Minor Writers: Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm (2015) New York Review of Books.

"There's nothing easier than to be an incendiary. All one needs is a box of matches and a sense of beauty."

Sir Max Beerbohm by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1903)
Ashmoleon Museum of Art and Archeology
One does wish for more of this incisive writing in these days of glib shallowness and over-hopped IPA.

The last of everything has been sent to Publisher. The American Slave Coast goes to print tomorrow. Books in warehouse sometime in September. Published October 1.

 My eyes are dry and itchy. A headache which insists my head is simultaneously falling off and exploding. Sick to my stomach. My left hip is in so much pain I got about 3 hours of sleep. My lower back is screaming.  My neck can't turn. Every part of my body aches.  El V surely feels even worse.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reading Wednesday - Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell

Traitor's Blade (2014) is the first installment of a fantasy series with the serial title, Greatcoats, that is inspired to a degree by Dumas's famous Musketeers.  Nor does one need Dave Duncan's blurb to know that fine Canadian author is also an influence. The second volume, Knight's Shadow, appeared earlier this year.

Traitor's Blade reads like what it is, a first novel.  As a first effort any intelligent reader -- particularly any reader who has also published -- will give the poor proofreading (such as "waste" for "waist") a pass, since genre publishing doesn't usually shell out for professional proofreaders -- or even copy editors.

A good copy editor or line editor though, would have helped Traitor's Blade become the better book that it is trying to be. An editor would have helped the author to smooth out his uneven tone which lurches between what so many mistake as Dumas-style wit and banter, and meaningful yet clumsy metaphysical speculation on the nature of being and nothingness. A good editor would have recognized the author loads too many fight scenes at the front, abruptly introduces magic, then disappears it again for most of the book until suddenly -- magical creatures! An editor would have informed the author that his big reveal is buried. Though Falcio seems to know what this all about, there's so little time provided to the reveal of the big reveal the reader is left scratching her head as to what actually happened and what it means.

The narrative does move quickly, but necessary transitions have been omitted, which screws with pacing and rhythm.

Another way of putting it is that Traitor's Blade needed another revision.

Some of these problems are inevitable with a first person narrator, who emotes like someone who has read the addresses of Vlad Taltos often and uncritically, yet who is admirably attempting to hit those notes of tension, high stakes, peril, courage and justice that combine so pitch perfectly in BBC / America's   

The Musketeers (season 1, 2014; season 2, 2015 -- the very best adventure television ever! with the best coats! horses! leather! and steel!). The voice of the narrator hasn't yet been fine tuned to the story being told, or the voices of the other characters.  Voice is hard!

Doing the Dumas affect effectively in English is also difficult.  The French language tends to lend itself to that affect of effortless ballon that English doesn't -- which perhaps

explains why the language of ballet remains French. English language genre writers often seem to equate the tone of cynicism and sarcasm with the light-footed repartee and wit in which a Dumas veils his concerns with justice, loyalty, honor and courage.

Justice, loyalty, honor and courage are what Traitor's Blade is about.  So much so that Falcio, our narrator and protagonist, informs the reader early on that the great difference between his kind -- the King's Greatcoats (read musketeeers) and knights (read the Red Guards) is that he and the Greatcoats are about justice, which is for all, no matter what class and station, while knights are about honor, which is about themselves. This is the primary reason I am looking to find De Castell's second novel, since its title, Knight's Shadow, suggests in this book the author may be exploring that conflict more deeply. That's interesting, and not something we've seen much of lately in fantasy fiction.

The voice may not be quite as fresh as it will be, and it is not yet trained, but the mind behind the creation isn't going to be satisfied to writing to formulae.

Or so it seems to this reader.

P.S. The jacket copy bio's tone doesn't well serve Sebastien De Castell, who it seems to this reader, is on the brink of having a fine writing career.  Yah, it's a genre thing but really, he is an adult.  His book, which wrestles with adult matters -- and so few do these days --  proves it.

Charoite in rough state.
Charoite polishes up into lovely jewelry and other pretty items.

P.P.S.  The author's choice, to name Greatcoat's quest, the King's Charoites, is a happy one. In New Age parlance, chariotes' energies can promote physical and emotional healing, help overcome obsessions / addictions and channel other positive transformations when worn on the body. Their shades of violet are lovely.