". . . 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

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Captain John Smith by J. A. Leo Lemay &* Homicide*

The American Dream of Captain John Smith (1994 - University Press of Virginia) by Prof. Lemay is the first book written by this American scholar that we've read.  This is the case despite living among his personal library collection -- the first scholars to have that privilege -- and reading many of titles, opening and dipping into many more, and yet not able to fully delve into that magnificent collection.

So, when we returned to NYC from the Fellowship we ordered several of Lemay's books.  This is the first one to arrive.  What a fascinating tale it is too, a tale of swashbuckling heroism of both the European Renaissance and the American frontier.  Smith was a knight and he wore armor.  He wore the iron collar of slavery to the Turks. He fought the Turk in the Transylvanian armies (when the Poles had an empire and fought the Turks, Mongols, Tatars and Russians in the region), slaying three of the Turks' greatest warriors in single combat, then cut off their heads so they might be impaled on poles.  He went to Virginia. He was twenty-six years old.  He returned to England because a careless aide blew off Smith's balls, evidently trying to light a cannon or a musket, as well as the aristocrats of the Virginia Company being dissatisfied with Smith's yeoman practicality of making things work, and making even aristocrats work, while not finding gold, and making friends with the Indians -- and playing the tribes off against each other, being the best friend of each one.  Then he wrote books.  He was an egalitarian and a visionary.  The tales about him, for so long dismissed as tall tale telling are true.  He is the first Virginian, the perfect knight, pure and true.  After him Jamestown fell apart, into starvation, slavery and massacre.  His was the perfect New World binary -- only White Men and Indians; he was untainted by the evil of slavery.  His New World was re-created again in Owen Wister's Virginian, who like Smith, was a natural aristocrat who possessed all the needful skills to survive and thrive, particularly that of effective violence.

I am almost finished watching the first season of Homicide: Life on the Street (1993). Most appealing to this watcher is Crosetti’s conspiracy cover-up obsession with Booth’s assassination of Lincoln.  In ep 7, "In the Rockets Dead Glare," he and his partner, Meldrick Lewis, go to D.C., where Crosetti insists on first stopping at a Chinese restaurant, which, it turns out, is in the building that used to be Mary Surrat's boarding house where many an anti-Union conspiracy was planned.  A secret service agent takes them to Ford’s Theater and shows them around the area, points out the Doctor’s house across the street where the unconscious, bleeding Lincoln was carried. Would this have as much meaning if I hadn’t listened this winter to Manhunt, the book about Booth, the conspiracies, the assassination, Booth's escape, the aftermath, and the hunt for him?  They are showing us in an entertaining and plausible way that Maryland's history is deep.

Homicide's Baltimore is larger and more varied than The Wire's Baltimore, less claustrophobic. It's the Baltimore which I got to know to some degree this year fairly well, thanks to local friend-guides.  It's a city, not a corner, not the dead-enders, despite it being all homicide all the time, even the homicide of a police dog.

What else is particularly interesting about this series, at least its first season, is that the bond among them all as police overides everything else, whether race, gender or class.  There is a single female detective, but she's the younger Melissa Leo -- 'nuff said?  They all smoke, but the struggle is beginning between those who are quitting / quit and those who aren't.  We are seeing demands by the non-smokers for segregated space in the office. 

Rooted in a place and a job of work, even though it wasn't Simon's show in the sense that he didn't produce, direct or write ( he 'merely' wrote  the book from which the show took its title -- and I read the book too around the time it came out), you can see how much this is still in place in Treme, with New Orleans and music in particular. 

The photo is of the plaque on the old fire department building that stood in for the Baltimore Police headquarters in Homicide, down at the waterfront, Fells Point, across from the big park that was the site for the Broadway open markets.  I took this shot at the beginning of December, 2010.

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