". . . 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, March 31, 2013

Emma Thompson's Film *Effie* Cleared For Release

The Emma Thompson period film, Effie,  dramatizing the pre-Raphaelite scandal of art critic, John Ruskin, his unconsummated marriage with the much younger Effie Gray, their divorce and her consequent marriage to painter John Millais, has been finally cleared for theatrical release. After a long copyright battle, it should be reaching theaters here in the U.S. by the end of May.

Emma Thompson's film Effie, with Dakota Fanning in the title role as Ruskin's teenage bride, is released in May. Photograph: Joel Ryan/AP/Press Association Images

At the same time,  Marriage of Inconvenience: John Ruskin and Euphemia Gray, by Robert Brownell proposes a quite different cause for the failed marriage from the one long favored, which purported the virginal, fastidious mama's boy was shocked on his wedding night to discover his baby bride possessed pubic hair.  Supposedly his only ideas of the nude female body were those formed from viewing smooth white classical statuary.

What reverberated then and now was that the reason given for ending the union was non-consummation. But what really snagged in the public consciousness was Ruskin's explanation of why he didn't fulfil his marital duties: "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there  were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."
Those "certain circumstances" have been the cause of much salacious speculation. The reasons mooted range from his aversion to children, his religious scruples, a wish to preserve Effie's beauty and to keep her from exhaustion so they could go Alpine walking, to a revulsion with body odour and menstruation. Effie herself was the inadvertent source of the most famous of explanations: Ruskin, she said, "had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening".
Brownell says it was money and fear that Effie would attempt to pass off the pregnancy of a lover as his own.  Effie had married him for his money, at the request of her father, who had recently lost his own fortune.  Clever Ruskin, then, refuses to consummate for 7 long years, in order that his wife not have an opportunity to deposit a cuckoo's egg into a cuckhold's nest.  Thus his  mother kept his lively young bride under constant surveillance.  Eventually she'd get tired of it and she'd divorce him and he wouldn't have to give Effie any money.  He deliberately threw Effie in Millais's way.

He says, "Mrs Gaskell, who was at school with her, remembers Effie collecting admirers as a hobby."  However, as a commentator corrects, Elizabeth Gaskell, 18 years older than Effie, couldn't have been a schoolmatee of Effie's.

I don't buy Brownell's revisionist version of the couple's failed marriage, but pre-Raphaelite art, the artists who made it, and the era out of which they emerged, have been an ongoing interest my since I was in high school, so you can lay money on it -- I will be in the audience to watch this movie.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Civil War: Northerners Consciously Fight For Union AND Abolition

From today's NY Times Disunion column by C. Kay Larson, "Michael Thompson's War."  Mr. Thompson was a farmer from Illinois.

This column is another of the perfect refutations to the constant, non-thinking, uninformed accusations that defenders of the Lost Cause throw up:  "The North wasn't interested in slavery or in abolition."  On the contrary, as in my own family, there was a huge number of Northerners who understood and approved that the war was being waged to preserve the Union and that preservation was inextricably entwined with slavery.  For the point of Secession and the war for the CSA was to expand the Slave Power throughout the hemisphere.

See this, from the column:

But Thompson’s character comes through most forcefully in the March 28 letter written to his wife. In it he asserted what many fighting men from the northern Midwest were feeling, as the war neared its second anniversary, especially given the antiwar sentiments of many remaining on the home front:
We are done carrying on this war on peace principles. Our armies that are in the field are determined to prosecute this war to the bitter end. … They spurn with the utmost contempt those traitors in the north who would sell themselves and their posterity to a relentless foe that would reduce them and us to be mere vassals to a set of aristocratic slave holders and traders in human flesh whose vital principle is the few to dictate, the mass to serve.

And this, in response to a Texan who said migrated Northerners to his state were the most fervid in defense of slavery:

Thompson responded that the opposite held true in his neighborhood. The Southern families he knew were the strongest in opposition to the Rebellion. Thompson wrote that they, like thousands of others in the “Deep North,” look upon slavery as a curse to mankind, a curse to society both in a civil and religious sense.
In rearing up families in luxury and ease with a domineering spirit, lounging in idleness and vice, frowning on anyone who should do anything for themselves, looking upon those that would cook a meal’s victuals or would curry his own horse ignominious.
This class hates slavery. They have a conscience. They see the evil that slavery places on society. They flee from it as they would flee from the wrath to come. They move North to a land where universal freedom prevails, where labor is looked upon as meritorious, where all are permitted to read the Bible, where all are on an equal footing in regard to procuring an education, where all can worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences and where the Wealth is with the masses and not with the favored few. Such is the class that moves North and they are opposed to this rebellion from the fact that it strikes at the very root of the society that they have moved North in search of and because the South is waging this war to break down free institutions and establish a government with slavery as its base and that the few should lord it over the masses.
Thompson was speaking as much for himself as for others. If the Union war effort didn’t begin with an ideology, by early 1863, following the issuance of the final Emancipation Proclamation, “freedom” for all citizens surely became the Northern watchword. Federal arms were protecting blacks, and no longer would Northerners fear becoming “white serfs of Southern nobility.”
As a Massachusetts private wrote his wife, “‘I do feel that the liberty of the world is placed in our hands to defend and if we are overcome then farewell to freedom.’”
Mitchel Thompson did not survive the war. On Aug. 20, 1864, he was in a unit that escorted a telegrapher near Fort Donelson to repair a line. A squad of 11, including Thompson, detached to seek out local guerrillas. They were attacked by more than 100 drunken guerrillas. The Union men fought fiercely; most refusing to surrender, even after their ammunition ran out. They were killed regardless. One soldier was carried wounded into a home by local women and murdered on the couch where he was laid. Only four of the men survived to tell the story. One was Marion Morrison, actor John Wayne’s grandfather. Mitchel Thompson was last seen alive, behind a tree reloading his rifle. 
It's always been a puzzle, this claim out of the defenders of the Lost Cause, that no one in the North cared about slavery per se, when the Slave Power prophets and proselytizers constantly howled that northern Abolitionists were conspiring to destroy slavery and their owners' special way of living.  If no one in the North cared about slavery, where did those Abolitionists come from?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

*The Naming of America* & *A Renaissance Globemaker’s Toolbox*

The New York Times Science Section:

Five years ago, John W. Hessler, a historian of cartography at the library, published “The Naming of America,” an account of the map’s importance in post-Ptolemy geography, its disappearance for centuries and its rediscovery in a castle near the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. Now, Dr. Hessler has dug deeper into the dynamic of the years between Columbus, in 1492, and Copernicus, in 1543. Science and exploration were stretching minds to distant horizons, once unknown. Copernican astronomy was about to dislodge Earth from the center of the universe, a start to the Scientific Revolution.
His new book, “A Renaissance Globemaker’s Toolbox,” is not able to solve the mapmakers’ enduring mystery. But it is a richly illustrated delight to the eye. I advise a slow tour of the maps, drawings, marginal notes and other material remains of Schöner’s wide-ranging mind. Read the informative captions, then begin the text.
General readers will find the accounts of Schöner’s place in history and the preservation of the map lucid and fascinating. Parts of more technical chapters, like the instructions on making a terrestrial globe, appear to be written more for the author’s academic peers than for many laypeople. And of necessity, this is hardly a flesh-and-blood biography, as the archives are largely silent about Schöner’s personal life.
For more images re A Renaissance Globemaker's Toolbox, go here:
A Renaissance Globemaker's Toolbox is the first scholarly biography of the Nuremberg astronomer and mathematician Johannes Schöner (d. 1547) and the first history of the Schöner Sammelband, a collection of maps and notes put together by him sometime after 1516. Into the Sammelbund, now part of the Kislak Collection of the Library of Congress, Schöner bound two masterpieces of cartography by Martin Waldseemüller, celestial and terrestrial globe patterns of his own design, fragments of two other celestial and terrestrial globes, and the earliest printed star chart, by none other than Albrecht Dürer. It is a book whose contents has spurred some of the most hotly contested debates in contemporary historical geography and the history of exploration, containing as it does the only surviving copy of the famous 1507 World Map by Martin Waldseemüller, the earliest map to show a Pacific Ocean, dated years before its accepted discovery by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513. Although it is well known that Schöner owned this map and Waldseemüller's later world map, the Carta marina (1516), until now very little research has focused on how he used them and on the origins of the other materials that were found in the Sammelband.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


This black-and-white Spanish film, Blancanieves (2012) sets the Snow White fairy tale within the bullfighting milieu of 1920's Seville.  Blancanieves is the matador.  The film opens in NYC on March 29th. I am looking forward to this!

Warning: this trailer begins with a cosmetic commercial that contains a chameleon and brilliant colors.

There is flamenco, there are six (not seven) matador dwarves, and a ... dirigible.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sex and the Romans + *Vlillette*

A long essay in the Observer around the first-time inclusion of this Pompeian sculpture of Pan and a partner in congress in a British Museum Exhibit.*  Much interesting cultural history.

What intrigues me most about this controversial history for viewing this piece of sculpture, is this:
... in the 19th century the sculpture was transferred to its new home, now the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, where it again became part of a reserved collection.
For anyone still too shy to seek permission or bribe the guard, there were published engravings and photographs. In 2000 the museum opened the "Secret Cabinet" to a fanfare of press (and to women as well as men) but, by keeping the cabinet as an entity apart, still branded Pan and the goat "pornographic".

What is being recalled here, is that in earlier eras, including much of the 20th century, objects such as the contents of the Secret Cabinet could be viewed by anyone who knew enough to ask -- that is, as long as they were male viewers.

As ever, through my years of consciousness of such matters, my XX brain is baffled by this puzzle in the western world about XX people being kept away from seeing erotic art and / or pornography, when, most of the time, it is their own XX bodies that are at least half of the focus of the images. (In the case of the sculpture in question, the goat is definitely given the 'woman's position' in relationship to Pan's penetration.)

One remembers Charlotte Bronte's Professor Paul Emanuel hectoring Lucy Snow in Villette, when finds her gazing at a internationally lauded nearly nude odelesque at an art exhibit.  Lucy too thought this attitude on the part of men idiotic and tells him so.

Professor Constantin Heger, the married professor with whom C. Bronte fell in love and, as a sort of consolation modeled Paul Emanuel, as Heger did not share Charlotte's emotions.

It's also of interest that this novel, as are all the novels written by the Brontes, is penetrated by so many gothic elements.  It was in this era that women had more access to the objects in such Secret Cabinets.


* I linked to a high quality site's reproduction rather than put it here, since this Pan and Goat congress are readily available to be viewed -- and perhaps people such as those who protest cruelty to animals might not appreciate having such a thing show up without warning.

Friday, March 22, 2013

This Time, It Was To Glasgow

I've read with great interest the review of outstanding Marxist historian and all around cultural and political critic, Eric Hobsbawm's final book, Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the 20th Century, a posthumous collection of his essays, as well as the extract taken from it, "The American Cowboy," both in the Guardian.

In the comments to the Guardian review a commenter wrote:

My city Glasgow became an industrial powerhouse built upon the
enslavement of Africans, you can still see it in street names: Virginia
Street, Tobago Street etc.
For instance:

There were slave owners in Glasgow also; here is one who wishes to sell his 19 year old slave woman, who was brought from Charleston, South Carolina:

You never know where things will lead you.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

*From Up On Poppy Hill* Next Film From Studio Ghibli

In the New York Times's Movie section: "Grounding a Romance in Memories," we learn this is an historical movie, not a fantasy film of spirits and magic. Instead, we see Yokohama of 1963.  This looks fascinating.  Google has lots of stills, and there's a trailer: WARNING! horrid advertisement lead-in, complete with Mad Menish theme music:

This looks at least as fascinating as Spirited Away.  Perhaps more so,at least for me, as it's an historical.  It's playing here in NYC at the IFC on Avenue of the Americas.
"Of course we had certain archival materials to refer to, but the truth is that when I grew up, some of those sights still remained,” he said. “I remember that when the sun was setting, how that hit the town and how beautiful it was. I remember how dark certain parts of the town were, or the fact that they didn’t have fluorescent lights, but the more orange, warm glow of the lights at the time. I remember the way people were kind, instead of robotic.”
And Mr. Miyazaki did take some lessons from his father to heart for scene like this.
 “What Hayao Miyazaki often taught me is to not draw from photographs,” he said. “Because all I would produce is mimicry. You have to draw from your mind.” 
However, one can wish that the people weren't so pink-white and round-eyed ... probably people who know Japan better than I do -- which is everyone -- can explain this.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Are We Up This Week: The Lehman Bros.

The Lehman Bros., dry goods merchants and cotton brokers, in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1840's 1850's and 1860's.  And also then, in New York City, even before the Civil War.  Also, blockade running.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Backstory to Sergei Filin, Bolshoi Ballet's Aristic Director

Those who love, or even, merely, enjoy ballet, probably know about the terrible event back in January, when Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet's Artistic Director, was attacked with sulfur oxide thrown into his handsome face.  He's endured mulitple operations since, to repair, as far as possible, his sight and his face. He is still in recovery.

Until very recent days who the culprit was for committing such an awful act was unknown, though speculation, even informed speculation, abounded.

The March 18th issue of The New Yorker has a very long, informative piece by David Remnick, that goes into the entire background to this criminal act of aggression, "Danse Macabre." (The link is to the single-screen view.) As ballet lovers know, there's a long history between the Russian Ballet and Russia's rulers. The Boshoi in particular has always mirrored in its own way Russia's conditions.  It's no different now, Remnick and many of the people with whom he spoke say.
I heard this all the time. Sometimes an institution has an uncanny way of embodying the society to which it belongs. For decades, the office of the heavyweight championship of the world—and the battles for that crown, from Jack Johnson to Mike Tyson—said something about the racial dynamics of twentieth-century America. So it is at the pinnacles of Russian dance. Since the nineteenth century, the country’s two principal stages—the Mariinsky, in St. Petersburg, and the Bolshoi, in Moscow—have acted as microcosms of imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, and, now, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 
How can a ballet lover not resonate to this?

After the Revolution, the imperial theatres were not, initially, a priority for the Bolshevik leadership. “It is awkward to spend big money on such a luxurious theatre,” Lenin said of the Bolshoi, “when we lack simple schools in the villages.” In 1921, Lenin told Anatoly Lunacharsky, the cultural commissar, to “lay all the theatres in the grave”—to destroy them—and focus on the urgent needs of the workers and the peasants: literacy, food, medicine. But Lunacharsky noticed that, even with civil war consuming the entire country, peasants and workers were happy to fill the seats of the Bolshoi. And it wasn’t revolutionary theatre that captivated them. It was, in part, ballet. They lacked, at first, a certain connoisseurship. Some workers, Ezrahi writes, were so ignorant of the mute art of ballet that they asked one another when the performers would begin to sing. Nevertheless, Lunacharsky insisted that the workers “ceaselessly demand opera and ballet.” The Bolshoi, in the end, was not razed.
It's not a part of the focus of Remnick's piece, but this explains why Cuba's Revolution put such an emphasis on the arts, and why, one of the consequences is that today Cuba is a ballet powerhouse.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The History Writer Experiences Bliss

I've been living it these last two weeks.

I made a huge discovery for The American Slave Coast a couple weeks back by doing something nobody I know has done, or at least no one I know has done in decades. I have been reading the speeches and other collected writings of John C. Calhoun. As I scrabbled with them, I discovered a tiny book, less than 200 pages, published way back in the Civil Rights and Voting Act era, 1963, John C. Calhoun, by an historian few these days are familiar with, Richard N. Current. (As a contrasting example, Robert V. Remini was coming up in that same era, and he's still got juice, as he owns Andrew Jackson and the entire era.) He's a solid scholar, one who can write. Current, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, is jargon free. His prose is clear, concise and explains issues in astonishingly few words, sometimes issues I have been still puzzling over.


Published in something that was called The Great American Thinkers Series, by Washington Square Press, in paperback, the series begins with Jefferson >yikes<, includes some people I've never heard of, as well as those everyone has heard of Benjamin Franklin, and others that back in the day anyone with a solid B.A. should at least have a nodding acquaintance with the name, such as Veblen, Jonathan Edwards, etc.

The book's sections are a Chronology, The Man and His Career, The Theory of Government, Significance and Influence [which includes a chapter titled "The Neo-Calhounism of the Twentieth Century," which -- recall -- this was the Civil Rights era] and, Literature on the Subject. Footnotes and Bibliography. Such a guide for Calhoun's papers is splendid. I'd been going through the shelf of Calhoun's papers at Bobst Library -- this little book cut down my search time!

I found in his papers a consistent line of argument that the North was going to destroy the interstate / domestic slave trade, with statistics to show what this would mean for the economy of the Slave Power (he uses the term on occasion himself) -- you can't get more pertinent to The American Slave Coast than this.

This is the sort of thing that is unadulterated joy for an historian, with the value add that current historians seem to have written this pivotal figure out of their work, as too dusty or -- who knows?

It's the way Henry Adams's histories have been written out of the bibliographies of American history now for almost a century. Why? I have speculated, but I really don't know. He's a treasure house of information, all of it thoroughly cited in primary sources, as well as what he learned first hand, being a member of that family who was there for much of it -- and knew the figures involved personally, and even made a lot of the history themselves.

But on the other hand this allows us to bring in materials that will be brand new to a lot of people, and that's good.

He also lays out in organized and detailed arguments why there was no other consideration for living than white supremacy, and why abolition was -- I quote -- "the disease that will destroy this nation." That isn't part of our mission in The American Slave Coast, but it cannot be ignored. And with the determination to strike down the Voting Rights Act and so much other racial bigotry out in the open again in this country, one understands why Current felt it was important to do this little book in 1963, for an inexpensive, easily available series.

I bought it for $1.50. Plus shipping and handling. It's been helping me write too.

And now I seem to have come down with something. Head aches, eyes itch, throat hurts, nose sniffly. This is smashing right into my productivity.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Caught Between Piety and Desire: A Q&A with Author and Musician Ned Sublette

By Larry Blumenfeld, music critic for the Wall Street JournalThis is in an international art magazine, and lengthy.

LB prefaces the Q&A with a long prelude.  Here's a pull:
There sat Ned Sublette at a table near the rear of the FB Lounge in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem a couple years ago, as drummer Bobby Sanabria’s big band played loud and great. Sublette was surrounded by stacks of T-shirts he’d designed — he wore one, as did each member of Sanabria’s band — and copies of his brilliant 2007 book, “Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo.” 
Both the shirt and the book were expressions of what Sublette calls “Postmamboism” — “a portable theory that places music at the center of understanding” and “begins with the study of African diaspora musics,” as he explained in a post on Boing Boing. ....
Sublette is something of a trickster figure, popping up in various guises to inform, yes, but also to challenge our notions about music and culture, language and shared history, throughout the Western hemisphere.
Fun to read though, particularly if you are interested in music generally, history, Cuba, New Orleans and other matters of import.

*The Vikings* (2013) History Channel - First 3 Episodes

There are to be ten episodes in all.

So much eye liner (for the men, of course) and such talented hair stylists (for the men, of course).  Which makes the viewer wonder why the writers inserted a scene of a 12 year old Viking-to-be sneering at a monk’s tonsure, when half of his own head is shaved, his father definitely has a high fade + tail, and so do almost all the other warriors with the exception of an Eric (who has flowing blonde locks and I'd like to see more of him).
It’s nice that the rape to set-up and establish character we see in the first scenes fails because the baddies try it on with a Shield Maiden, Our Protag Ragnar's wife, Lagertha, who chops them up.  Yet – rape, to do this. Couldn't we have seen some other sort of action scene to establish that Lagertha is a kick-ass woman?  And not that much later we have a successful rape committed upon a poor smith’s daughter, by Our Protag’s Bad Brother, Rollo -- who also wants to f*ck his brother's wife -- which is how we know of course that Rollo is a Bad. This poor raped girl will later also have to watch her father be murdered by other Bads in a particularly horrible manner, with the insinuation she will be taken off to be a slave and treated with yet more physical and sexual brutality. Which is another way we know Earl Haraldson and his minions are Bads. They also willy nilly seize members of a man's following or relatives as hostages, just because they feel like it.  I’m not sure how historically accurate this is for the culture of the time – the time when the Vikings had no idea there was an England. No more than I previously knew that the Vikings of the time (the time is that of the monastery of Lindisfarne) didn't know about England. 
Also, these Vikings are extraordinarily sexually permissive, quite like LA Californication types, offering to share their wives with other men in sexual threesomes at the drop of a hat an axe. Who knew?  Though again these scenes are plot and character-establishment devices. The Bad antagonist, Earl Haraldson, offers his wife, Siggy, the only woman allowed eyeliner, because clearly she's some sort of sorceress and a Bad, to a minion, as a test of minion's loyalty. Well, Earl Haraldson did offer, Siggy writhed in willingness, but minion's lust-hazed acceptance somehow proved treason so he's chopped.  However, when Ragnar offers a threesome with himself and Lagertha to Athelstan, his captured slave priest, Athelstan refuses -- and reshaves his tonsure -- proving he's worthy to be left with Ragnar's children, running the farm. At least, that's presumably what that scene was doing there. Thus Ragnar can securely take his Shield Maiden wife Lagertha with him on his second raid on England's monasteries.   Because, of course, Vikings always take their wives on expeditions of rape, murder and plunder!
The scenery scenes of mountains a fjords are breathtaking though.
Vikings was created and produced by Michal Hirst (Elizabeth; The Tudors).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More *Sherlock* Information - A Series / Season 4

So says Benedict Cumberbatch:

We’ve agreed to two more [seasons] but I could get into trouble for saying that,” Cumberbatch said in an interview this week with RadioTimes.

Alas, still no more news as to when PBS will broadcast the Resurrection, the episode in which we learn how Holmes survived the Fall.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

BBC 1 *Sherlock* Series / Season 3

Alas.  Alack.

Due to the schedules of their other projects Cumberbatch and Freeman haven't been free until yesterday, March 11, when they conducted a first read-through of the first script.

We will not be seeing it here in the US until 2014, as essentially three films must be made, and the series won't air on BBC 1 until the end of 2013.

Poor Watson, grieving for two whole years!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Feminist Par Excellence, Joss Whedon Directs Multitudes of Females' Crotch Shots

Judging by the number of the number of crotch shots we see in the trailer for his production of Much Ado About Nothing.

But! I have been put in my place elsewhere for noticing this absolutely fundamental condition of staging Shakespeare, that is all about the crotch shots. Because, you see, I am too dumb to have noticed that back in the Shakespeare's days female characters were played by men or boys. Now that women play women you have to have crotch shots.

So now I understand the way I'm supposed to see Lear naked and raving on the storm battered heath. Thank you, gentleman creepy immature asshole, whoever you are, for telling me the frack off and in such a witty, intelligent, informed manner.

Audubon: From San Domingue Revolution, to the French Revolution to New Orleans

The New York Historical Society is mounting the first of three planned exhibits out of their holdings of Audubon materials: Audubon's Aviary: The Complete Flock.

From an overview of the exhibit in the New York Times:
And in New Orleans in 1821, while trying to earn cash through mundane human portraiture, he was asked by a beautiful woman to paint her nude. Shy, tempted and embarrassed, he wrote to his wife that he backed away (albeit temporarily) and “felt like a bird that makes his escape from a strong cage filled with sweetmeats.”

Audubon (1785-1851) may have even felt a kinship in his migrations, flying, as a child in Haiti, from an imminent slave rebellion, then flying from the French Revolution to the United States when his father thought France was becoming unsafe. 
Even Audubon's biography dramatizes how closely the  lives of so many in the 18th century and the first half of the nineteenth were touched by slavery, in one way or another.

As an example, here is my response elsewhere to a comment on my blog entry on the film Monk, made from Monk Lewis's infamous Gothic novel, that the commentator was more  familiar with Lewis as the author of Journal of a West-Indian Proprietor his account of his visit to his estate in western Jamaica:
Journal of a West-Indian Proprietor was early reading in these matters (it exists currently on my hard drive and the dox backed up on my cloud storage), with my background in the novel and its history. Along with the legacy of C. Bronte's Jane Eyre from her uncle who exported wine to the west Indies and the background of the west Indies plantation in Austen's Mansfield Park, the connection of Caribbean slavery to the individuals of all classes all over over Britain had already emerged for me as an undergrad. Which was a puzzlement, as I recall, to my Vic Lit profs. They didn't see why this should matter in my thinking about the books.
I've been paging through a 19th century book that is a history of Liverpool in the last quarter of the 18th century  written by one of its proud citizens. This book isn't a history of Liverpool's slave trade, but there is a very long chapter devoted to it, that includes tables of all kinds of tables of hard statistical information, of from where, to where, how many, costs and so on. As the book's other sections trace details of the families of all classes, their businesses, their public life and so on, there is a much more of a picture of a city living on slavery than the author of the book would realize, or, perhaps, more to the point, think remarkable.
It's unsettling for us, particularly women, to consider that Jane Eyre is set free to live, really live, as she chooses, by circumstances connected with slavery.  These circumstances converge from two points: her uncle's legacy serving the West Indies' slave owners, and by Rochester's wife, daughter of a West Indian slave owner, whose own dowry allows Rochester to live so well, who, it is strongly suggested, has some African ancestry, burning down the house with herself in it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

For the Love of Animals & Books

A friend's question concerning a novel about a wolf published in 1914 reminded me of a question jigging in my mind this winter.

Why did novels featuring animals, that were published for the adult market, disappear?  In fact, are there still novels even for kids featuring an animal, that provides all kinds of natural history education, being published?

Albert Payson Terhune made an excellent living writing about collies, particularly Lad of Sunnybank,, the sequels and spin-offs from that book.  I think the stories originally ran in the high-paying magazines, like The Saturday Evening Post, that also published writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I read and re-read and re-read novels like Beautiful Joe, Black Beauty, National Velvet, the Lad books, the Bambi books, White Fang, Call of the Wild. I read many others animal centric books too, but those, like Walter Farley's Black Stallion books, were specifically targeted to a juvenile market.  But these others were not.  Then there was the huge Book Club hit, and later a movie, from Lassie Come Home. This one wasn't written as a kid's book either. Much later Watership Down arrived, which I confess I read as an adult and read once and recall nothing of.  It too was for an adult market, not the kids', if I recall the marketing correctly.

I'm speaking of fiction, not the books about animal companions that get published occasionally even now, such as , or books by observers like naturalists, such as the ones about otters (Ring of Bright Water) Gavin Maxwell, or the Elsa the lioness Born Free books. These still show up, occasionally.

Nor do I mean talking animals books like Wind in the Willows or the Redwall series. I mean books that center real animals.

This question arrived about the time I watched the film made from War Horse -- which was written as a children's book.

The final shots in War Horse were of Joey, re-united finally with his Albert, back on the farm, staring out of the yard, through the sunset, looking back to Europe and his adventures, presumably reflecting upon all those others who loved him, loved him at least as much as Albert does.

In her film, Lassie doesn't do this, if I'm recalling correctly.  She is blissfully cuddling her puppies as her boy Joe and the Rich Girl hang over her litter bed, presumably to make a litter themselves one of these days.  One after another, people fall in love with Lassie.  And though she is sympathetic, gives what she can to each one, she remains forever faithful to her boy, Joe.

I'm not so sure about War Horse, Joey the stallion.  I think he loved all his lovers in the ways they wished to be loved; Joey kept them in mind, as much as he kept in mind his boy and loved him., while adventuring. Despite the terrible things Joey went through, Joey's the perfect representation of "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."  Hey, he survived!

Good Grief! A Movie Made From Lewis's *The Monk!!

Costumed (the novel was published in 1796) terror and violation of helpless young female! 

Penguin's description of an edition it published back in the 1990's of this paragon of  the Gothic  novel mode:

Savaged by critics for its supposed profanity and obscenity, and bought in large numbers by readers eager to see whether it lived up to its lurid reputation, The Monk became a succès de scandale when it was published in 1796 – not least because its author was a member of parliament and only twenty years old. It recounts the diabolical decline of Ambrosio, a Capuchin superior, who succumbs first to temptations offered by a young girl who has entered his monastery disguised as a boy, and continues his descent with increasingly depraved acts of sorcery, murder, incest and torture. Combining sensationalism with acute psychological insight, this masterpiece of Gothic fiction is a powerful exploration of how violent and erotic impulses can break through the barriers of social and moral restraint.

Not much has changed since then, when it comes to savaging young women for laughs, fun and light entertainment.

From the movie:

Movie reviewed in the NY Time here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fashion Discovers *Discovery of Witches* & *The Shadow of Night*

As in the forthcoming film* starring Angelina Jolie as the witch Malificent. Though, as it's based on the fairy tale of "Sleeping Beauty," wasn't Malificent just a bad fairy, not a witch?

As this information arrives via the New York Times Style section, we may wish to judge it in that light.

“The witch is the ultimate bad girl,” said Carly Cushnie of the design team Cushnie et Ochs, who riffed on the Salem witch trials in the fall collection she unveiled last month. “You want to be her.”
 It’s a concept, all right. Witchcraft and its moody expressions — long weedy hair, peaked hats and pointy boots — have attained a strange cachet of late. No longer the hideous wart-covered crone of folklore and fairy tale, the witch of current films, like “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and recent youth-oriented novels like “Released Souls” and “A Discovery of Witches,” has swept aside the vampire as a symbol of power, glamour and style.
Would you want to model yourself on a "Salem witch, " the girls whose hysteria were responsible for the destruction and deaths of innocent people?
The best witches,** it seems to me, are the ones who have come out of Deborah Harkness's series.  The second volume had a lot of problems as a novel, all them around characterization and pacing. It's as though Harkness hadn't yet learned what makes a novel. Through her characters she's so busy chasing time, that in terms of fiction effect, she's lost sight of timing. 
Still,  The Shadow of Night offers much of wonder and originality: the investigations into where the double helix of life extends from the moebius band of time:  perhaps ... eternal life ... or eternal species extinction. I am so looking forward to the third volume in Harkness's series, the conclusion of the All Souls Trilogy

There supposedly is going to be The Discovery of Witches movie, but there seems to have been no more movement on that project in more than a year ago, when it was announced to be in development.

** Though for charm alone, Tanya Huff's witches of her two Enchantment Emporium novels are equal to Harkness's.  But Harkness's fictional world is founded upon on themes and questions that at one time might have been called natural philosophy and alchemy, and now are the matters of the 'hard sciences'  such as chemistry, physics and micro-biology.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Charleston's Pre-Revolutionary Militia


Sellers, Leila. (1934). Charleston business on the eve of the American Revolution. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

. . . The king’s troops could not garrison all of these fortified places. The colony must do its share. The defense of the province was provided for by militia against foreign foes, and by patrols in the country and night watches in the town against domestic enemies. Every citizen, says Hewatt, joined the military to the civil character. Every man between sixteen and sixty years of age able to bear arms had to enroll in the militia. . . . Merchants and tradesmen found military duty inconvenient because it interrupted business. The planters, however, who were more at leisure on account of the task system of managing their plantations, had plenty of time for military exercise and prided themselves upon their martial spirit.

This sounds like reasonable planning to defend the city against other nations' invasion -- and, of course, Indians, right?

But in practice, this is what that militia really was about -- and why that well-regulated militia clause is in the Constitution:

The domestic tranquility of the province was provided for by small patrols drawn every two months from each company. Their duty was to ride along the roads and among the Negro houses in small districts in every parish once every week or as occasion required. To preserve good order in Charleston, where there was danger of insurrection because of the great number of slaves from Africa constantly imported, a night watch was established and paid for by money raised from tavern licenses. In 1770 the night watch consisted of 3 commissioned officers, 3 sergeants, 3 corporals, 3 drums, and 96 privates, armed with muskets and cutlasses; one-third mounted guard every night to “prevent disturbances among disorderly negroes and more disorderly soldiers.” [source: Public Records of South Carolina, XXXII, 385.]

Additionally, imagine what "Their duty was to ride along the roads and among the Negro houses in small districts in every parish once every week or as occasion required" might be like for the Negroes living in those houses. Those plantation fellows out on the town all day and then out into the country, after drinking and whooping it up for hours with their fellows.  Imagine how terrifying for the inhabitants in these small houses on a weekly basis.  Recall these white fellows could do anything to anyone they felt in the mood to do, because it was all in the name of keeping order.  That's how domestic terrorism works to keep the local populations in line.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Fargo Forum's History of the KKK in North Dakota

This is news, at least to me.  I'd no idea, until today's Fargo Forum put up a history of Ku Klux Klan. Evidently the Forum went into their archives about  KKK activity in the Red River Family because of this:

Three mischievous fans of the Roughriders’ hockey team flouted a taboo when they recently wore hooded Ku Klux Klan robes to taunt the opposing squad. But the Red River High School hockey spectators might not have known just how prevalent the Ku Klux Klan once was in the Red River Valley – nor that Grand Forks, home of Red River High, was a hotbed for the group, which railed against Catholics, blacks, Jews, Asians and foreigners.

Some Fargo residents are outraged that there are members of the Fargo community  who were outraged by the fans demonstrating support for their sports team by donning KKK robes and masks.  It's all in good fun, right? dressing up in the robes of those who lynched and in many others ways shoved a reign of terror upon unnumbered communities throughout the U.S. in the teens and twenties and into the thirties, and did it as much so in North Dakota as in Tennessee?  So what's the problem? Get grip!  Lighten up!  Laugh a little!  This ain't no thang.

It is history, and we know all too well how easily history repeats itself.

Excellent work, Fargo Forum. Thank you for showing, not telling us, so to speak, that none of us anywhere can be too vigilant when it comes to representing bigotry and the evil it performs in even the slightest of a positive light.

A Ku Klux Klan robe, modeled here on a mannequin, is part of North Dakota State University’s Emily Reynolds Costume Collection. The historic robe is not used in classes and is not on display to the general public. The garment was found in the 1950s by a man who worked as a Fargo trash collector. An NDSU employee discovered the robe and hood at an auction sale and bought it for $18, according to a 1990 NDSU Spectrum story.
Evidently grandpa died and the kids, cleaning out the closets, chose to throw out his old KKK robes instead of donating them along with rest of his clothes to the Salvation Army.

There are links to more photos and related stories that provide a profile of a Red River Valley KKK member of those days.  It isn't what you think, and it's shocking, because one of them at least, is an immigrant himself, from Croatia.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

*The Harder They Come*

The Harder They Come was released in 1972.  I watched it several times in a variety of movie theaters, in a variety of cities in my early twenties. But after I moved to the City I didn't see it again until netflix began hitting my mailbox  -- just one of the many enormous changes in the world since The Harder They Come was recorded in a music studio and the film was made. Watching it from this viewpoint I see the many ways this film foretold my future, a future that in my early twenties I'd not the faintest idea about. In those days I’d have needed an atlas’s index to find Jamaica on a map. 

At the end of the 1960's Jamaican reggae was about to take over the world as the music of revolution. At the same time in the Bronx, uptown baby, where the people are fresh baby, what was going to soon be called hiphop was just reaching out to ska and socca and the many techniques the Kingston yardie dj's had recently devised to play music without the big, expensive, heavy equipment that the millionaire white rock bands took for granted.  The pioneer beat makers in the Bronx didn't have it much better than the Yardies in Kingston. The Age of Bling, with diamonds in the ears and grill, gold hanging heavy as lead from the neck had not yet arrived, but it was on the way.
In 1972, from this Jamaican music revolution out of the necessity of the poor, came Perry Henzell, producer (and Chris Blackwell as sleeper producer), and Jimmy Cliff, with the first Jamaican movie, The Harder They Come.  Earlier this week by chance I had listened to the album after a very long time, which made me want to see the movie again.  Like the album, this film hasn't aged a minute either.

I, on the other hand, to make this all about me, have changed tremendously, meaning what I know and bring to this film vs what I didn't know the first time I saw it. It's a life rift of before and after that can barely be comprehended.  One way of bridging that chasm is that the, to me, now, short, recording session scenes in The Harder They Come aren't alien as they were then -- if I had a dollar in a savings account for every hour I have witnessed process in the recording studio that would be a respectable savings account. (And now, recording studios per se, for pop music, are just about irrelevant dinosaurs.)

The story of The Harder They Come is set in the music industry and the ganja trade; the theme is the capitalism that screws the little guy.  In the 70's and 80's, and now too, this is is what the hiphop that spawned gangster rap dramatizes and reflects:  the drug trade is a predatory, evil trade; it is capitalism distilled into its purest, unmasked energy.  The oppressed mirror the oppressor.
No matter how talented, no matter how hard s/he works, the little guy can't evade the monopoly hold on means, production and distribution kept in a stranglehold by the Big Guys.  All these parts collude to keep it that way: music industry, church, police, media.  Though the recent change in technology has allowed some to escape in terms of music production and distribution -- the Big Guys are spending millions a day figuring out how to put a stop to that.  Even your fun, your resistance, your spiritual nourishment exist to enrich us, the Big Guys.

One clue as the story's connection to capitalism is that Our Protagonist's name is kept on the downlow until about the middle of the movie.  Then we hear it only as "Ivan" (i.e. a common way of referring to the Soviet Union), though in the script he's known as Ivanhoe, i.e. a knight in shining armor, taking on the Bad Big Guys – and incidently, the title of one of the novels by Walter Scott – though the writer would have been appalled -- an author much beloved by the slave power southern United States. 

Underlining this is the rescue plan for Ivan when all parts of the establishment are chasing him. The plan is to smuggle him out to --Cuba.  "That's revolutionary," Ivan says.  "And they can fix my arm."  He's been shot up pretty badly.  It's a reference to the universal free health care that Cuba is already famous for in 1972 throughout the Caribbean and South America.  The hunger of poor Jamaican children, and that they can't afford even the means to get to a doctor, is present throughout the movie.  These facts also help drive the story.

The Harder They Come comments wordlessly on the influence movies have in creating a criminal resistance to the system's stranglehold on productivity and creativity.  Ivan, like his peers throughout the developing world, is enthralled by the violent resistance of the Hero of U.S. westerns and crime films.  They know all the moves of Hollywood's glamorous dance with guns.  Like the criminal primary characters of Hollywood's 'new glamour' hit of 1967, Bonnie and Clyde, Ivan knows the choreography of violence.  He has himself photographed with his guns, in his pretty clothes, by a professional photographer.  He sends the photos to the newspapers.

The movies and television have not only gotten him and his peers desperate to possess all the things that are the markers of the Big Guy life, but also to possess fame -- which then allows them the wealth to acquire those things.  Capitalism creates a need in those it exploits, which can turn and bite capitalists on the ass.  Sometimes.  For a while.

The adulation that Ivan's violent resistance has brought him is the double-edged sword with which the colonized can cut himself even more badly than s/he hurts the oppressor.  Perhaps only Fidel was able to dance that into a successful end-game in our history ....

Cutting down Ivan is handled by the system via divide and conquer.  Mr. Hilton, who lives large on Kingston's music holds back Ivan's hit to punish him for wanting more than $20. Ivan's girlfriend tells her revered minister about Ivan in order to get help for a sick child.  The preacher tells the cops.  The Jamaican police, who live large off the ganja trade punish the little criminal guy, from the growers to the dealers when they want more than the $15 a week so they can feed their children and given them health care, by shutting down the trade.  When the Ras growers and dealers protect Ivan the cops keep the ganja trade shut down until they turn Ivan in.  "Business is business," even the Ras agree.  Their babies are hungry.  The police order Hilton (who also owns the radio stations) to stop playing Ivan's hit, which Hilton''s doing now that Ivan's a folk hero for taking on the system -- the record's selling so well and making him richer -- and Ivan's going down, so he doesn't have to split the money.  "The police tellin' us what music we play now?" asks Hilton's dj.  "When it glorifies crime, yes," says the cop who has gotten filthy rich supplying the ganja to the Super Big Guy distributors in the States.  The police also order the newspapers to stop running the photos and stories about Ivan.

All the parts of oppression lock seamlessly into place to put an end to the Resistance embodied in one emaciated, wounded body.  At the end, in the traditional movie dance of gun death that we all know so well, Ivan's black face is half white from the white sand, as with the Congo kaolin clay white line, signifying the line that divides the underworld, the world of death, from this one.  On the run, Ivan's been half dead for days already, maybe for his whole life in this system that is rigged to keep him from getting ahead.

Along the way we see much of Jamaica that surely hasn't changed in 41 years, the yards of the Kingston’s poor.  We also see much that surely has changed -- pristine, unsullied beaches, which now have been developed for the sake of the tourist trade, or ruined by the mining corporations.  Jamaica's Great Resister, John Maxwell, was writing about this 41 years ago.  He continued writing about this until his death in 2010.

Women and men today can wear an earring or four, and piercings, and tats, and be socially acceptable. White folks of any gender try out the Ras's dreads. Reggae took over the world as the music of Resistance.  It has now been taken into Latin salsa and timba, morphed into the less threatening, non-resistance reggaetón.  But women are still treated as disposable, interchangeable prey, almost less than human by the men of whatever color line. The Anglo-Saxon protestant church created a Black Church in Jamaica and the U.S. unlike anywhere else in the African-Atlantic diaspora, producing a black powerhouse of musical influence found nowhere else in that diaspora. – those churches and unique musical traditions are still alive and vital in Jamaica as in the U.S.

Not much changes. Nor has this film. It is still eye-opening and pulsing with a density of data. It moves fast. And, of course, the music is world-class.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Home for Lunch! Michel-Rolph Trouillot + John Adams + John Randolph

It is a privilege to be in the company of Haitian intellectuals and historians. They are incisive in analysis, precise in expression, and they see the world as it is, and how it was, with even and clear vision. Going back at 4:30 for the keynote and memorial in honor of recently deceased Haitian anthropologist, historian and intellect, Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

Haitian intellectuals and scholars -- and those of the Caribbean in general -- remind me why I like Henry Adams the historian so much.*  He looks at the U.S. through double lenses, that of a member and that of the outsider, when leveling judgment and assessing damage or virtue.

Few historians, if any, particularly in the U.S., have managed to look at our country that way. And he can be so funny!**   As John Randolph-VA remained a significant figure in D.C. politics in the Jacksonian Era, I’m reading through Adam's biography of him right now.

Adams's descriptions of what the milieu was within which Randolph grew up is surprisingly picturesque – something that George Eliot would have written.

That is, George Eliot could have written it, if she'd been capable of seeing or writing of Virginia, past or present at all -- or even the U.S. Nothing of hers about the United States comes to mind. Did she ever comment on the country? She and Harriet Beecher Stowe were good friends, that's about all I can think of as a connection between the U.S. and George Eliot.

The only place Adams fails, as far as I’ve been able to see, is with Ulysses S. Grant and Aaron Burr -- and those were very personal, deliberately falsified portraits and assessments. Yes, Henry, like all the Adamses, could be petty. And then Gore Vidal, who also was unafraid of pettiness, unfortunately followed in those footsteps as he followed in most of Adams’s attitudes.


*  It is a constant interest how Adams, an historian of the class of the most established of the American establishment, an American aristocrat in fact as well as description, became such an outsider from the list of comfortable establishment historians.

** How John Adams achieved his reputation as a dull and dour writer is difficult to figure out. Perhaps his sly and cunning sense of the comic and wit have become obscure to the average reader at this point? Though to anyone who is an historian acquainted with the matters and figures, how he's being funny couldn't escape them, one would think.