LINES OF THE DAY

". . . 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, April 30, 2011

In Baltimore, Tomorrow

From el V:

Attention Baltimoreans!


Ned Sublette + Madison Smartt Bell, Sunday night (May Day! May Day!) at 7 pm, Cyclops Books + Music, 30 West North Ave. at Maryland (next to
Windup Space and catty-corner from Joe2.)


I will be reading from "The Year Before the Flood" and singing songs
from the forthcoming album "Kiss You Down South."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It Was Good!

Last night was about as perfect a spring evening and night as you could get. El V's performance was one of his very best, I think. OTOH, his voice and his performances do just keep improving, so this is probably merely normal musician-performance momentum.


The audience was wonderful, and as diverse as an audience can be here. The audiences down here really 'get' him in every way. Last night was about as perfect a spring evening and night as you could get. El V's performance was one of his very best, I think. OTOH, his voice and his performances do just keep improving, so this is probably merely normal musician-performance momentum.

Also, the audience was wonderful. The audiences down here really get him in every way. There's something for everybody who makes up these audiences too, in his songs and his books.

I do admit shamelessly to enjoy chatting with the people who seek me out to specifically say how much they enjoy coming to his events because of -- and I quote one woman in particular here -- "he's such a gifted, multi-talent artist and a brilliant, formidable intellect." This sort of thing said by people who hold copies of his books and cds.

Then, of course, then, I would enjoy that, wouldn’t I! Also, enjoying the praise given to my partner is part of the job description, isn't it -- otherwise, you know, why bother?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Historical Breakfast

With Peter Wood, author of the ground-breaking, trail blazing Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (1973).

We can't make his lecture Thursday night because we're doing the same for the county historical society and museum annual dinner and dance. So getting to hang out this morning mattered. He's coming to el V's musical performance tonight though, so we'll see him again before he leaves.

Monday, April 25, 2011

HBO *Treme* - Season 2 - Ep 1

Fantastic.

Gads that cutting back-and-forth between NO and NYC ... yes!

Pitch perfect, every detail right and correct.

Treme is a costumbrista; some describe this hispanic form as concerned with a romanticization of the culturally ephemeral. Now New Orleans is fantastic, but it is not fantasy -- not a romance. Nor is it ephemeral. New Orleans is in cyclic, wheel time, not arrow time. Once something happens, it keeps on happening. But the attention to every cultural detail of particular time and place, getting it perfect, within the story/stories being told, that is costumbrismo.

This seems even more so, as the founding hispanic element, so long overlaid by the Anglo and the French, has re-emerged since the Failure of the Levees, and Treme is showing its return ... the wheel has turned again.

Shivers, shivers, shivers.

Another ex-Con: *Jonah Hex* (2010)

Friend Felipe informed me that Jonah’s an ex-confed too. Thus, I watched.
More than loosely adapted from the DC comic.

A cross of western occult steampunk, alternate Civil War History, and the Sergio Leone good, bad and ugly westerns. Also a bit reminiscent of Scorsese's Civil War film, The Gangs of New York because of Turnbull's psychopathic Irish sidekick (Michael Fassbender).

For the occult, we have magical Indians’ magic (the one and only black person in the film is not magical this time) to return JH (Josh Brolin) from the deathly realms, but not all his parts returned, so he if he touches a dead person he can speak with him, and learn what the dead know (how very Kongo!). He’s accompanied by crow/s, who do, what? for him. Horse, his horse, is loyal and communicative. The second time he nearly dies he acquires a magical dog (from where? why?) who brings the magical Indians to resurrect him again.

The steampunk comes in as the big ass Rube Goldberg weapon which is a giant six shooter revolver, crossed with a bowling ball alley (designed by Eli Whitney!), with which Turnbull (John Malkovich) plans to destroy D.C. on the centennial of Independence. Therefore we know this is 1876.

Carry-over qualities from The Virginian: the whore with heart of gold (Lilah, played by Megan Fox), who loves the protag, and the horse (Horse), that loves him too.

“You were no real Confederate. You wasn’t no sesech. You didn’t believe in slavery either. You just didn’t like the government tellin’ you what to do.”  So says the one and only black character in the movie, to Jonah Hex, in order we understand that Josh Brolin is a hero, not a villain. However, it is never said what it was that the government was telling Jonah Hex to do that he didn’t like being told. (Government forces him later to be conscripted back into military service at the command of President Grant, to find Turnbull. But the war is over, and JH wants to find Turnbull for his vengeance, his only reason for living, which is why wise President Grant gives the command (at least the flick presents Grant as a competent, sober, effective POTUS). Wait, JH isn't really living, is he?)

Felipe responded "The black storekeeper who certifies Jonah as "not a racist" but a man philosophically dedicated to "freedom" is the icing on the cake. Just in time for the 150th anniversary! Such an amazing coincidence."

Only good lines:
“He’s dead, Hex."
"I’ll have a word with him all the same."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Town O' Robins

As mentioned previously I've never seen such large robins, so many robins at one time in one place as down here in C'town on the Eastern Shore. Here is one of them, clicked two Sunday afternoons ago ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


April Sunday Squirrel In the Pink `````````````````````````````````


April C'town Sunday Study in Red ............................


Early April Ivies Entwine Sunday C'town ===================
 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Evidence of Bird Brain Observed In the Field

I cut up an apple that had been sitting in the refrigerator for months and scattered the pieces in the backyard. A bird grabbed a piece of apple and instead of grabbing their own pieces of apple, the other birds chased around after the first bird.

Also, the bumbles, the biggest I've ever seen, longer than my thumb.  The yard is buzzing.

Our backyard this morning ~~~~~~~~~









Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Washington! The Man, the General, the President

According to Jill Lapore, in the NYer Magazine, via the Ron Chernow plod'nthud bio.


This makes an interesting diptych with David O. Stewart's observations about the Chernow bio of Washington.

Myself, mostly I'm patting myself on the back, or would if my chronic pain and other back problems allowed me to do that, that I know who Jared Sparks is, and knew that a long time ago*, via my work with Sam Ward. He and Sparks were close friends and colleagues in Sam's relative youth, decades before he became known as King of the Lobby.

From JL's piece:

[ "Washington was a very good President, and an unhappy one. Distraught by growing factionalism within and outside his Administration, especially by the squabbling of Hamilton and Jefferson and the rise of a Jeffersonian opposition, he served another term only reluctantly. His second Inaugural Address was just a hundred and thirty-five words long; he said, more or less, Please, I’m doing my best. In 1796, in his enduringly eloquent Farewell Address (written by Madison and Hamilton), he cautioned the American people about party rancor: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” And then he went back to Mount Vernon. He freed his slaves in his will, possibly hoping that this, too, would set a precedent. It did not." ]

Despite his faults and sins, of which I have learned far more of this year -- all of them around slavery -- than I even knew, George Washington remains one of my very few heros.

Among the reasons I apprecite historian Jill Lapore's articles in the New Yorker, is that she reminds the reader when necessary, what we need to take into account when women are assessed and described by historians of previous eras, and even now, no matter what nation, what culture, what religion -- this, for example, when running down the descriptions of George Washington's mother:

[ "In Chapter 2, we are reminded that George suffered from a “difficult mother,” alerted about “his mother’s domination,” and alarmed to hear that she was not only “self-interested”—surely a sign of wickedness in the female sex—but also “strangely indifferent” toward her eldest son’s towering ambition." ]
------

* This is because el V didn't know who Jared Sparks was. Yes, we are that silly and simple! :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Here Again

C'town again. It's like Neverlandia. Other than the friends here, here just goes poof when we leave it. I can't believe it exists -- it's a vaporous memory of loveliness and allergies.  So many varieties of trees with pinkish, pink and fuschia colored flowers!  So many trees and shrubs with flowering reds.  And I do not know what they are, mostly.
Well, we are here again after the NYC weekend. A cherry tree in my backyard has blossomed. I had no idea I had a cherry tree. And tulips also. I'm not so good with trees and flowers that didn't grow in the Red River Valley. Then in New Mexico it was a desert and arid mountain environment, so that was all something else. In NYC, it's all public what we see growing in Manhattan -- in parks, pocket parks, in front of businesses and office towers, on the avenue berms, whether flowers or trees. So they are industrially familiar.

What I don't have in my backyard is lilacs, but they're breaking out where there are lilacs, and I'm so glad. Spring to me always still means Iris and Lilacs. Even though this year I got to have a spring in a place where violets grow naturally, without prodding.

4 more weeks, and it's back to NYC for good.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"The Shock of the Old" Upon the New -- Art Inspired By Other Large Continents' Traditions

"Romuald Hazoume's “Ear Splitting,” made of brush, speakers and plastic can (left). A portrait mask from Ivory Coast at the Metropolitan Museum (right). "




... the reasons people pursue careers in newer art are understandable. Money is one. To an unprecedented degree, contemporary art, no matter what its geographic or cultural source, is now thoroughly tied to and buoyed by the global economy. This phenomenon is fairly recent. Not long ago the contemporary market meant Europe and America. Now it also means New Delhi, Beijing and Dubai. New art has become a worldwide industry. Industries generate jobs.
Holders of degrees in contemporary art history don’t have to limit their career prospects to the low-paying teaching gigs that remain the fate of their colleagues in more traditional studies. They can, in greater numbers than ever, become curators, corporate advisers, auction house experts and dealers in a luxury business that has, so far, floated above the prevailing economic turbulence. Sticklers for academic orthodoxy are prone to hint at corner-cutting features of a contemporary-art major. Language requirements are often minimal, English being the global art world lingua franca. And with only the history of today and yesterday to deal with, primary research can be done, over a Starbucks latte, via Google.

Such skeptics might be persuaded to acknowledge that modern and contemporary studies offer perception-altering images of an art long-filtered through Western stereotypes. At the same time, these skeptics would have serious problems with other scholars in the contemporary field who hold traditional — “tribal” — art partly responsible for perpetuating those stereotypes, and who, for that reason, avoid it.
And avoidance is easy. The market has made it so.
Gads, thanks to the goddesses for Art.  Art is what is the best of us saps.  As the economic crash makes it more and more difficult for how the art world has existed for so many decades to continue block-bustering, things can get authentically interesting again.  Maybe even NYC can get interesting again?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More Concerning HBO's *Treme*

There are other promos for Treme season 2 on the HBO site, all worth checking out.

They also put up 35:04 worth of video of last October's Tulane symposium on "Treme," right there on the HBO website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

HBO *Treme* - season 2

This is the promo. The poem is written and recited by the son of one of our best New Orleans's friends, who is in the Tulane English dept.


It makes me shiver in a way that nothing else coming up on tv does, not even on HBO. Game of Thrones is nothing compared to this, even though HBO's thrown all its promo $$$$$$$ into GOT.

Treme's comin' babeee -- April 24th!

So Badly Did Redford Blow It With *The Conspirator*

Of all years to put out a film that chose to use Lincoln's assassination by a rabid CSA sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, as a paradigm for rummy&otherrethugzguant√°namorenditiontorture etc.'s EviLe doings. Then, they release it the week that observes the sesquicentennial firing upon Fort Sumter by South Carolina and CSA, officially starting the Civil War. What were they thinking? (Perhaps, that they know Civil War history, and that had something startling and new to say.)

Because it is the Civil War sesquicentennial, all year the media has been generally dealing with the issues (Yes! It was SLAVERY! Whatever other issues they too were bedrocked in slavery and the expansion of slavery) and the revisionist mythologies of the Civil War (Lee did NOT free his slaves! slaves did NOT enlist in the CSA army! the CSA DID start the war! Lee DID lose!) (Well then, you get the idiots as on public radio's "The Takeaway," who rolled out all the same revisionist balderdash lies yet again, but that's WNYC for ya!)

So, Mr. Redford's lack of formal, systematic study of our history, that he's a film-maker not an analyzer, is bolded in this flick that yet again presents a victimized confederacy and its innocent innocent, collateralized victims. Even the New York Times movie critic notices that this Redford vehicle is not getting the time, the place and the actors historically (the paper has been running the A-1 class Disunion series all year, after all, so one would indeed hope that this periodical's staff would take notice of these historians and other knowledgable people, including very often the commentators, who are getting it right). So does the New Yorker. Surely there are others.

For me personally the characterization of Stanton is wrong as well as offensive. I can go into why in great detail, citing chapter and verse of documentation, but that would bore you all if you already know it, and it would not be boring for your kinds of person to look it up yourselves, if you don't know and want to. Also, D.C.? It didn't look like that. There could have been a great narrative, historical movie in this but that's not the movie they made. With doubtless the best intentions in the world to serve our contemporary burning issues of justice and transparency in government and the legal system, they blew it, because they chose to do so by once again falling into the movie world's unexamined failsafe of the unjustly victimized confederate by the northern Union bully.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Signatures

The Daddy robin redbreast who has claimed my Eastern Shore backyard for himself and his nest-sitting Baby Mama can beat the Daddy robin redbreast who has conquered your backyard!

As perhaps the most unoriginal observation ever, here is a bird paradise. I see more robins here in a single day -- and they are the biggest robins I've ever seen -- than I've seen in all the years put together in NYC.  Here, a backyard, overflowing with varieties of birds and flowers. Cats, squirrels and foxes also.  It smells so good -- if you don't suffer from allegeries like el V, who is suffering worse than he's ever suffered, except on visits to my family farm in the Red River Valley.

Misty and damp today.  Ever greener, every day, along with the brilliant flashes of yellow, fuschia, red, violets everywhere on trees, shrubs and flower beds.  Just returned from a local journalist-historian's lecture on the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake.  It was an excellent presentation, which he and his wife do in the summers on historic replica vessel cruises here on the Chesapeake in the summers.  But ... not a word about the free people of color who were in the U.S. navy or served on other vessels, or those enslaved who assisted the British in return for their freedom.  So I had to say something afterward  during the q&a.  He said this was very important yes, but so many were sold by the British when they took them to Jamaica.  A myth that has been definitively disproved by the very laws in place by Britain at that time, as well as by primary source materials that show where these 8 - 9 thousand freedom earners ended up. But as this was in the morning, and it's only the elderly and people like us who have the leisure to sit in a library and receive a presentation there were actual gasps at this. No one here of the older generations wants to believe 1) that their ancestors' slave would be so treacherous; 2) that the Brits would have kept their promises of freedom.


Fortunately, one of my neighbors was in the audience too (she's also on the BOD of the county historical society and museum), and she jumps in and says, "O Fox, thank you for reminding us that we should stop acting as if the War of 1812 was only white people." So my bad manners squeaked out of that one. I did couch my remarks courteously. He did do a very good job of condensing a very large amount of material into the time slot. And unlike so many tour guides everything he said was correct. But it just left out the color, so to speak, and we really cannot and should not do that any more, ever, in any circumstance, and most particularly the wars of the U.S.A.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Upon Observance of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Day

Wise words arrive from the hearts, the minds and the keyboards of two of the contemporary writers of history I most admire, Edward Ball and Adam Goodheart, in the Opinion section of the NY Times. Today there are at least five columns up, reflecting on the Civil War and its aftermath. However, I particularly recommend Edward Ball's "An American Tragedy" (author of the brilliant Slaves in the Family), and Adam Goodheart's "The Defenders" (author of 1861: The Civil War's Awakening and the person responsible for granting us the Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship -- so I can and do testify at first hand to his many-headed varieties of brilliance).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Overlong Works of History

This historian is a practicing attorney as well, thus he knows the relative value of words and their relationship to time/space!


But there are multiple digressions in the book that are not necessary and details that are simply numbing, not informative. A good editor could chop 100 pages out of the book (it weighs in at 800+) and no one would notice. Chernow, though, is an accomplished story-teller, and he has kept me gnawing away at his text, periodically calculating how many pages are left.

The Gordon-Reed book is more problematic. She chose to write about a slave family; the written historical record for slave families is always sparse, even for a relatively privileged slave family like the Hemingses. I am still trying to get through the book because I am learning interesting things from it every now and then, and I value that. But I would guess this one is twice as long as it needs to be.

There have been passages when I was inches from starting to pound the CD player in my car. When she notes that no records survive from John Wales, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law, she explains in extraordinary detail all the ways in which his papers might have been destroyed. I actually don't care. Just tell me they're gone.
el V and I have had, and shall continue to have some serious discussions about the length of our books.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In New Orleans

Back in New Orleans tomorrow (Thursday) for two quite different events, both free to the public.


The first, Thursday, April 7 at 7 p.m., is at Tulane University's Dinwiddie 102 (if you’re on St. Charles facing Tulane, Dinwiddie is the building on your far right). This will be a talk on "The Making of Afro-Orleans" -- similar to one from last fall, but never is the same talk delivered twice.

The second, Friday, April 8, 6 p.m., will be part of the Critical Educators for Social Justice Conference taking place in New Orleans. This should be a great conference, and in particular I feel honored to have been included in this event at the Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Rd, New Orleans. Event information can be seen here

It's called "Teaching “Where Ya At”: Historians, Artists, and Veteran Teachers Talk about Making Local Culture and Consciousness Matter in the Curriculum."

Participants: Joyce Marie Jackson, Cultural Anthropologist, Louisiana State University; Kalamu ya Salaam, Poet-Producer-Teacher with Students at the Center; Ned Sublette; Cherise Harrison Nelson, Veteran Teacher-Guardians of the Flame; Louise Mouton Johnson, Veteran Teacher-Visual Artist; Gregg Stafford, Veteran Teacher-Brass Band Member. Discussants: Joyce King, Kristen Buras, Adrienne Dixson. SIG Remarks: Jenice View, SIG-Critical Educators for Social Justice and TBA, Division K.

So come on out and say hi.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Adam Goodheart: "How slavery really ended in America"

Full disclosure: the author is the director of the Starr Center for Writing the American Experience, where we've been located this academic year on fellowship working on our book, The American Slave Coast, thus, a friend.  He also is involved with the NY Times daily Disunion column, as well a frequent contributor to the column himself.

This weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran what they call a preview of his book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, from Knopf, published this month.  You can see it here.

If you can get to it behind that paywall this is one I highly recommend as worth your time, if you have any interest in American history generally, or the Civil War particularly. You are allowed 20 'free' stories per month from the NY Times website. Also, if I have this correctly, you can get to stories if you plug in the title or caption in your search engine; you could try it out by typing into google this: How Slavery Really Ended in America Adam Goodheart .

An excerpt, from the narrative of how the so-called 'Beast' General Butler (a most successful lawyer before the war began) handled the first of the fugitive slaves who ran to the protection of the Union and Fort Monroe down in Virginia:

Yet to Fort Monroe’s new commander, the fugitives who turned up at his own front gate seemed like a novel case. The enemy had been deploying them to construct a battery aimed directly at his fort — and no doubt would put them straight back to work if recaptured, with time off only for a sound beating. They had just offered him some highly useful military intelligence. And Virginia, as of 12 or so hours ago, was officially in rebellion against the federal government, having just ratified the secession ordinance passed a month before. Butler had not invited the fugitives in or engineered their escape, but here they were, literally at his doorstep: a conundrum with political and military implications, at the very least. He could not have known — not yet — that his response that day might change the course of the national drama that was then just beginning. Yet it was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that an unanticipated bureaucratic dilemma would force the hand of history.

Despite his rank, General Butler had been a professional soldier barely four weeks. In private life, back in Massachusetts, he was a lawyer, and a very successful one — although he grew up poor, the swamp Yankee son of a widow who kept a boardinghouse in Lowell, the textile-mill town. Unable to attract clients through social connections or charm, he became an expert quibbler: a man who knew every loose thread in the great tangled skein of common law and who could unravel an opponent’s entire case with the gentlest of tugs. By his early 40s, he had also built a successful career as a state legislator and harbored larger political ambitions.

A fellow officer once called Butler “less like a major general than like a politician who is coaxing for votes.” Race-baiting was red meat to many of his working-class constituents in Lowell, and he had always been glad to toss morsels in their direction. But after barely 24 hours at Fort Monroe, the new commander had already sized up his new constituency. The garrison was made up predominantly of eager volunteers from New England, many with antislavery sympathies. How was Butler to win the confidence — or even obedience — of such men if his first act as their commander was to send three poor blacks back into bondage?

Butler’s features may have been brutish and his manners coarse, but inwardly, he nursed the outsize vanity of certain physically ugly men — vanity often manifest in a craving for approval and adulation. He also possessed a sympathetic, even occasionally sentimental, heart.

Still . . . sentiment was a fine thing; so was the admiration of one’s subordinates. Ultimately, though, his duty was to his commander in chief. With a few strokes of his pen, Lincoln had made Butler a major general; the president could just as easily unmake him, sending him back to Lowell in disgrace — and with another stroke, for that matter, send the blacks back to their master as slaves.

Whatever Butler’s decision on the three fugitives’ fate, he would have to reach it quickly. He had barely picked up his pen to finally begin that report before an adjutant interrupted with another message: a rebel officer, under flag of truce, had approached the causeway of Fort Monroe. The Virginians wanted their slaves back.

Waiting before the front gate was a man on horseback: Maj. John Baytop Cary of the 115th. With his silver gray whiskers and haughtily tilted chin, he appeared every inch the Southern cavalier.

Butler, also on horseback, went out to meet him. The men rode, side by side, off federal property and into rebel Virginia. They must have seemed an odd pair: the dumpy Yankee, unaccustomed to the saddle, slouching along like a sack of potatoes; the trim, upright Virginian, in perfect control of himself and his mount.

Cary got down to business. “I am informed,” he said, “that three Negroes belonging to Colonel Mallory have escaped within your lines. I am Colonel Mallory’s agent and have charge of his property. What do you mean to do with those Negroes?”

“I intend to hold them,” Butler said.

“Do you mean, then, to set aside your constitutional obligation to return them?”

Even the dour Butler must have found it hard to suppress a smile. This was, of course, a question he had expected. And he had prepared what he thought was a fairly clever answer.

“I mean to take Virginia at her word,” he said. “I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country, which Virginia now claims to be.”

"But you say we cannot secede,” Cary retorted, “and so you cannot consistently detain the Negroes.”

“But you say you have seceded,” Butler said, “so you cannot consistently claim them. I shall hold these Negroes as contraband of war, since they are engaged in the construction of your battery and are claimed as your property.”

Ever the diligent litigator, Butler had been reading up on his military law. In time of war, he knew, a commander had a right to seize any enemy property that was being used for hostile purposes. The three fugitive slaves, before their escape, were helping build a Confederate gun emplacement. Very well, then — if the Southerners insisted on treating blacks as property, this Yankee lawyer would treat them as property, too. Legally speaking, he had as much justification to confiscate Baker, Mallory and Townsend as to intercept a shipment of muskets or swords.
Some weeks back I read an account by a North Carolinian about 'Beast Butler' at Fort Monroe.  It insisted he was making a fortune in cahoots with the U.S. Navy Secretary an a Confederate officers to smuggle Union military goods down south and sell them to the Confederacy.  There wasn't a word in this account about Butler's huge role in establishing the Union response to 'contraband' negroes, the establishment very soon of schools and much else in the vicinity to handle the ever-growing influx of self-emancipators.  This text was a splendid example of how we re-write history despite facts and the revisionsim becomes, alas, fact, a fact that has prolonged this national division of the Civil War to the present time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

*Marie, or, Slavery in the United States: A Novel of Jacksonian America

This novel, published in 1835, was written by a Frenchman, Gustave De Beaumont, travel companion of Alexis De Tocqueville, author of the still essential study of American history, Democracy in America, also published in 1835. The two of them co-authored "On the Penitentiary system in the United States." Between May 11, 1831 and February 20, 1832, they covered 7,000 miles, suffering all the travel conditions of hazard and hardship of that time in all the various regions, making a complete circuit of all the former colonies and into Canada. De Beaumont focused his work on the manners and mores and cultural life of the new nation, while de Tocqueville focused on the political institutions. Both men remained political progressives and reformers, fast friends throughout their shared journeys, and for the rest of their lives.


Maria begins in Baltimore. It is framed conventionally with a French narrator who then meets the pov narrator of the events of the novel, who also is French. It is conventionally sentimental in style and sensibility -- which was not exactly the same attitude of style and sensibility that we think of them now: back in the nineteenth century these traits in a novel exhibited the characters' level of education and understanding, whether attained by formal education or by native capacity. and even both.

For contemporary readers this reads hardly as a novel at all, but more like a work of sociology, with copious notes amplifying the statements of behaviors of the various characters as types of contemporary actors on the stage of that brave new world, the United States. Most of all, it is an investigation into the entwined tragedies of the native peoples and the descendants of the slaves brought here from Africa. For me the interest in the book is centered in that, as seen and interpreted by a well-educated (both he and his companion spoke excellent English English -- they had even lived in England for some years), well-informed, European outsider, who very much hopes that the United States is a wholly new and good thing to come into the historically evil world of power, rank and wealth exploiting all others.

The other center of interest is that they traveled the U.S. at the very start of the Jacksonian Triumph of Democracy, and tell us what they see. Outside of the sublime vistas of the still surviving wildernesses, what they see is pretty unattractive. It is energetic beyond comprehension in the getting of and making of wealth. Many are achieving prosperity such as never known by so many, but even more are being crushed by this achievement. Most of all, it is the Native Peoples and the slaves who suffer and are crushed by this accelerated pace of wealth getting, the very peoples -- via the theft of their lands, and in the case of the slaves the very theft of every part of their selves and labor. For women, particularly after their marriages, which are the point of their earlier years, they are immured in home, hardly less imprisoned (prison reform, as noticed above, is of large concern to them) than members of a harem, but unlike in the harem, they have no companions other than their children and their servants -- or as in Baltimore, their slaves. Education and the refinements of life are left to them, whereas their husbands are uneducated bores who can think or speak of nothing but business. However, what good are the education and refinements to these wives who are domestic prisoners?

Worst of all is the condition of the white women who are legally slaves for they have a black/slave ancestor who was raped by her white owner, and her progeny then are generationally raped by their white owners ... thus, Maria, in which we travel from the South to the wilderness of northern Michigan. Though a sentimental novel, this is not a melodrama, nor is it a sensational novel. It is a sober and somber examination of how slavery and theft of lands is the terrible stain upon the grand experiment in perfect liberty and democracy that the men of the country thunder at all times and all places into the ears of everyone that the United States is. In other words, here already we have in a novel of 1835, a distillation of what were the Jacksonian principles of the U.S. -- particularly its exceptionalism in the world. In contrast it shows us as well the blinkers and blinders worn by those who are running the great machinery of that Jacksonian democracy the refusal to see the miseries of inquality they've already enshrined as as the doctrine of the country.

The greatest lesson we are taking away from this academic year of intensive study is how early, how deeply, how extensively the non-progressive ideals of the extreme right got rooted in the the national philosophy.