". . . 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

Saturday, January 23, 2021

RIP Sharon Kay Penman 1945 - 2021

 Sharon Kay Penman died yesterday, Friday, January 22, 2021.

Her last novel, The Land Beyond The Sea (March 2020), was the last novel I borrowed from the library, right before covid-19 closed everything in March.  I wasn't able to return it to the library until the second week in August, when a few branches re-opened, for pick-up and returns.

I had read Penman's previous novels in the sequence they were published.

She was one of those great historical novelists who researched the deep scholarship.  She delved into the academics' work as carefully as the scholars themselves researched their primary materials and read the original languages, out of which to create those scholarly resources she so carefully consulted.   I particularly appreciated how she embraced that history isn't fixed, how much new information can change what we thought we knew. Sshe expected this, acknowledged and adjusted, accordingly, as much as possible.  

Our household expresses that constant of historiography like this: "How much the 11th century has changed in the last ten years!"

Penman's books helped get me through some tough times, so immersive and dense with detail of the long ago they are.  Though history changes, her books will continue to help us escape for hours from a terrible present -- or just a very hot day, too hot, too humid, too glary, to go outside.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

On January 20th, 2021 The United States Inaugurates A President

     . . . . From: me; To: me;  for my personal archive, so nothing brilliant, particularly insightful or original: Notes From Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2021, watched via the live stream from The Washington Post. 

The U.S. Marine Band just concluded an extraordinarily spirited rendition of "Hit the Road, Jack!" The piece is spirited and jaunty, and more than a bit sneering in its composition, of course, but my goodness, how it came out just now!

The greetings among Harris, Emhoff, Obama and Michelle was moving.  We can only imagine what these four people are feeling.  Harris is so good smiling. Even masked, her eyes tell you she's smiling, and how broadly.

Here, even more strongly than ever, we feel, with all that's happened, and then the pandemic and insurrection, we are seeing history live in real time. Today's speakers and the organization of this centuries' old ceremony and ritual, are communicating to us clearly.

High winds in D.C.  Snow flurries.

It's happened! We have a President of the United States again, after these years of  war waged by the weapons of mass destruction, anarchy, hate, cruelty, greed.

Pence did not applaud Harris when she was sworn in.  Didn't see if he did applaud Biden or not..

Saw many were double-masked.  E V observed, "If I had to be in the presence of those republicans I'd wear three masks!"

The participating women chose beautiful colors in their coats, projecting joy and confidence. No fur!

Though all security tried to convince the President not to perform the transition on the Capitol steps, he insisted.  It was the right call. It wouldn't have been the same if they'd chosen some other place, not public.

The President quoting the verse from “American Anthem” brought tears to my eyes.  How is this even possible?  All the words of his speech carried meaning I felt in my bones.  How is this even possible?  All the words, even those of "Amazing Grace," all these platitudes of national unity, equality, democracy, faith carry meaning.  That's how bad things have been for these last years. Joe Biden and the inauguration inspire this cynical historian, in our emergence from, what the poet spoke, "this terrifying hour." Amanda Gorman hit her inaugural poem, "The Hill We Climb," right out of the park, her delivery perfect.

The 1776 Project is now gone from the gov. website.

The stock market is soaring, as it has pretty much ever since Biden-Harris were elected.

All over the nation we are reading the omens: A birder friend  in Arizona says, “the second Biden started speaking, a pair of mourning doves flew to my balcony and began cooing. (The door is open.)” Here, after the inauguration address, Ned dashed out for a minute.  Above the Towers, huge white clouds, scudding with today’s strong winds of today; beyond them, clear open blue, through which the sun is hitting the Towers with such intensity, we are all illuminated – and a little blinded by the glare.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

We Remember ... January 20th, 2009

      . . . . What a happy day January 20th, 2009 was.  We watched the pre-and post-inauguration  on great big screens at SOB's with our friends, eating Brasilian food and toasting the couples with champagne.

Tomorrow's inauguration will have our hearts in our mouths again, but for such different reasons, as we fear for them.  But then, a lot of the reasons for heart in mouth are the same.  

Tomorrow, again, we hope, for the first time in so very long.

I never expected I'd write such a thing, but I never dreamed this nation could actually be in such a condition that we'd be celebrating a Restoration, a restoration of centerist, moderate neoliberalism, as a restoration of normalcy.  I think I understand the giddy joy of the English greeting Charles II on his way to the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Also like January 20th, 2009, January 20th, 2021 will be cold too.

Monday, January 18, 2021

For a Perfect January 2021 Night Of Escape, Go On A Date With Netflix's Lupin!

     . . . . Lupin (2020) season 1. Netflix-France. Master thief, master of disguise, from the 1900’s - 1920's classic French series.  

Contemporary Lupin is a son of a Senegalese immigrant. A poor person, a person so socially inferior in every way, a person so much higher in status and economic condition.  This is where the story begins.  "... how? I was always so good to him . . ."  Until you weren't.  But that shouldn't count, should it, in the balance of the times I was good! That comes quite early in watching, and that is when the viewer knows, "This is going to be very good."

Lupin is the perfect watch for the January of These 2021 Times, as our breath continues bated, exhaling, inhaling, between a violent insurrection aimed at bringing down the country's political institutions, and the longed for inauguration of a New Day. 

I do have a sort of criticism though -- I wouldn't wouldn't ?  Like many of the elegant self-conscious series these days, Lupin too plays silly buggers with the timeline. Here though, I think the purpose of this choice was for narrative clarity and establishment of characters and relationships, plus contributing suspense. Gotta say how admirably, efficient and succinctly it was done, giving the audience the information of how Lupin and his friend with the jewelry-antique shop, who is a master forger, etc., hooked up.

Beyond that, one suspects this timeline choice had a further objective, to equip thematic content. The strongest theme emerges via the nested narratives of father-son of past, into that of father (protagonist)-son of the present, both sets being taught how to be successful from the fictional Lupin, and in the current case, the current father revenging his own father and creating justice where it previously hadn't existed. It is here that the thematic concept of Lupin-dead father-protagonist father as 'gentlemen / knights vs. the barbarians is the strongest.

Then there is the nested theme -- can hardly get more contemporary than this -- of how pop culture pervades the daily life of 'ordinary' people.  For the positive side of this, the fictional 1920's Lupin is the model for a man that Diope's father and his sone adhere to, that of the gentleman's behavior -- courteous always to women, kind to the less fortunate, and righting injustice.  The negative is when identification with a fictional figure so permeates an 'ordinary', non super, but real human being, the human being can get to a point where s/he can no longer tell the difference between that fiction and her/himself.  There haven't been enough episodes to see where this will go -- the direction of Amazon Original's The Boys, or just drop as too distracting for the audience's eye. At one point an investigator announced, "He thinks he is Lupin!"  I am not sure myself this is the case, but with only 5 episodes in this series's first season, one cannot tell.

However, again, this being a French series, there are books everywhere, and people are reading the books-- and they are talking about the books.  In this case it's mostly editions, valuable and not, of author Maurice LeBlanc's fictional Lupin of the 1900's and '20s. Whenever I encounter this common trope of French television, the characters discussing books, I am delighted.

In the end, this is a television series, So, much like Killing Eve, neither the philosophy nor the capacity of the showrunners have the scope necessary to explore such matters in depth. Though, like Killing Eve, Lupin's glossy surface charm is a positive, as the protagonist is modeled on a pop culture, bigger than life figure, (like a superhero),  a master of disguise and illusion. "Fool the audience" is the mantra, which means first, fooling the the police, and whomever else, as auctioneers and nabobs of the Louvre.

We are given much to make Assane Diop sympathetic, and smplr to show those he’s going after are cruel, evil garbage. Mr Big, who set off the trajectory of vengeance, sold arms to terrorists to blow up a French embassy – and he’s French. and he's doing it only to stay rich, not even for an ideology, toxic or otherwise.  Can’t get more scumbag than that, and ya these are the people running the world everywhere.

Lupin somewhat reminds me of Orphan Black, in the sense the actor puts on a variety of characters.  But Maslany’s job was much more difficult and thus her achievement is more so, as she wasn’t disguising a protagonist, she was being different people. But this actor is very good too, and compels our eyes to watch him as much as Maslany does.

So disappointing there were only 5 episodes, though more are coming. So is an inauguration of a new POTUS.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Ireland Is Not The Western: Tana French's The Searcher

      . . . . These Are Some Times, happenin', eh? since I last posted.  The night before last el V was wakened by a clap of thunder from the big storm pounding the City.  He woke with a cry, leapt from the the bed, madly scrembling for clothes, yelling at me to get dressed and GET OUT! thinking a bomb had fallen.

That was the night I'd finished reading Tana French's The Searcher (2020). With this novel, she's back to earlier form, and in some ways surpasses the earlier books that were very good themselves and made her justified reputation. The critics one and all informed us at the top The Searcher is modeled on one of John Ford's swan songs of movie Western, The Searchers (1956). I know where the critics tipped to that idea, or think they did, most likely because they were told so think that by the press release. 

That’s the single weak element in French’s novel  – ruminations about young males and masculinity and the closing of the US's old West.  Ya really think an old guy in Ireland is gonna muse on that? Or a Chicago cop retired to Ireland?  One feels compelled here to speculate: did French read Greg Grandin’s The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, published in March 2019, while engaged writing this novel. It sure feels like it because those few sentences seem grafted from some other place upon a narrative and tone that otherwise feels organically sprung from the place where the novel is set, which sure as hell is the greatest antithesis to the vast, dry spaces of the west Texas-New Mexico-Arizona territory of Ford’s The Searchers.

Rural East Ireland

The rest of the elements in French’s The Searcher are also the inversion of the elements of Ford’s film, most of which I won’t mention for fear of spoilers, which would be a pity. But one can safely state that John Wayne, playing an ex-confederate, is nothing like French’s protagonist, Cal, the protagonist and point-of-view, a retired Chicago cop, dropped into an out-of-the-way contemporary rural community on the island of Ireland. Thus I truly wish the critics had shut up about The Searchers, because it’s a red herring, which adds nothing to the narrative, but rather, to the discerning reader, rather detracts.

The reason this novel is satisfying is because it doesn’t follow any previously generic template.  I can almost always predict exactly where things are going, etc. in any genre of fiction (or movie or television show), at this point.  But not in this novel of French's. 

Among the charming elements, the novel contains a Greek chorus of  ravens, the keen observers, commenting on the action and particularly upon Cal. He views them as a community, with both group and individual personality and expression.  When he thinks to himself the ravens are laughing at him, you agree, from the description of their action and sound. French does this though, without anthropomorphicizing the birds. The protag treats them with respect, and despite having a shotgun, and a being a hunter, he wouldn't think of shooting them, especially just for fun. It's deep rural Ireland, and the ravens belong there.

I took 5 nights to read it -- not binging through (not there's time anyway to binge through a novel in These Times).  It's so well written word for word and composed in rise and fall of action, with lovely rest places now and again, one is happy not to dash through in a single burst, but linger in the world of the novel for a while.

John Ford's The Searchers

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Black People Save The Country!

      . . . . Black People save the country. Once again. 

Not only were they forced by violence to build this country, they have to save the country that over 400 years later continues its systemic and systematic abuse of them.  Over and over. 

Can we now have Stacy Abrams in charge of vaccine distribution and vaccination organization? Please? Actually let us have Stacy Abrams in charge of organizing everything!

There are Those who suggest Stacy Abrams should be given Winds of Winter to finish, as well as rewrite HBO's GOT. 🤣

BTW, wtf? Giuliani yelling about trial by single combat to decide this election? How trollee troll can he get!!!!! 🤣

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Round and Round Like Goldfish In A Bowl

      . . . . I want to go out, now the weather's rather better, but el V is back in again, after only a couple of minutes.

The entire entire neighborhood today is dangerous to go out in because it's packed in the way Times Square wasn't allowed to be NY's Eve. Nobody is wearing masks, not really. They are on their necks and chins, and they're all standing close together to get seated in one the streateries.  The people who don't live here are back.

Yesterday was rough. We had another storm here, which for us was hard rain all day and into the night.

This may have contributed to both of us crashing hard yesterday, physically and mentally. For maybe only the second time since the Pandemic I never even got dressed. I couldn't do anything at all. As well as w/o energy, I felt sick, had stomach cramps. (El V didn't share that, though he did the general malaise.) Which made no sense. Nor were we remotely hung over. We each had a glass of champagne at midnight with a couple of pieces of dark cacao chocolate. We'd eaten reasonably in the day. But both of us were flat out miserable, if not so in exactly the same ways. We'd not even gotten out of bed until after noon because of feeling rotten. Both asleep again by midnight last night.

Perhaps ... why the crash? ... having people we are close to starting to die again? again that every day the information about the Pandemic is worse than the day before?  knowing we can't do anything for el Vs family in Tucson, and can't even be there with them?  I dunno.

Thank goodness, today I feel a lot better: I am wearing clothes! I have washed my hair! I have changed the sheets! I have made rice! I had toast, whereas yesterday I ate nothing.

Again, like Christmas week, this is a week that was a month of Sundays. I can't believe it is still this week. A lot happened, but we are feel like gold fish in the glass bowl, swimming round and round and round with every round exactly the same.

At least there are books to read -- Christmas haul, doncha know.

Stothard, Peter. (2020) The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar

Tempest, Kathryn (2017) Brutus: The Noble Conspirator

Crowley, Roger. (2019) The Accursed Tower: The Fall of Acre and the End of the Crusades

Johnson, Walter (2020) The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

Harris, John (2020) The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage

The only remotely good part of yesterday was snugged up in bed, reading The Last Assassin, fantasizing that somebody will take upon themselves, in whatever form it take, to execute all those who have assassinated the USA.