". . . 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, July 29, 2017

"When Greeks Flew Kites" - Sarah Dunant's BBC Podcast Series

     . . . . This morning I subscribed to Sarah Dunant's podcast series, "When Greeks Flew Kites," the first podcast series I have ever subscribed to;  it's already in my Overdrive audio download folder, and I'll be able to hear it for five days, starting tomorrow. 
‘The answers history gives us depend on the questions we ask it’
A new radio podcast will look at present-day anxieties through the prism of the past . . . .
When Greeks Flew Kites takes some of our present-day anxieties and looks at them through the prism of the past. The first programme explores our current fears about the future; how the older, never-had-it-so-good generation is handing on a wasteland of debt and insecurity to its children. It is as if a long-established pact – that each generation should do better than the last – is breaking down. How did we get here?
We focus on the rise of the nuclear family; race and the American dream; and British myths; how those of who grew up in the postwar era were led to believe that the future would continue to deliver social mobility and improvement.
For those old enough to be our own history now, how do our memories square up with reality?

Why did I subscribe to this series when I've never had an inclination to do so for any of the thousands of others out there, from every venue from our public radio system to every online news venue, to all the independents? This one is about the value of history from a very good writer of historical fiction, who is as comfortable writing for and presenting with a microphone to an audience as she is in archives and libraries.  As the other genre she writes in includes thrillers, and has a background in theater, she has a strong sense of pacing and rhythm too -- which so few writers do.

So, perhaps writers setting themselves up as podcasters have it backwards? The podcasts are to attract readers to their books, but in this case it was the books (and the content of the occasional Dunant article I've encountered, such as this one) that attracted me to her podcast.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Emily Dickinson, Poetry is Not A Quiet Passion

     . . . .  The film, A Quiet Passion (2016), is a psychological biography of the poet, Emily Dickinson. 

There are many Emilys in this film, as she, like Whitman, contained multitudes. The first one we meet is the schoolgirl Emily, steadfastly refusing to declare religious conversion and a born again, saved, experience. This Emily is played by Emma Bell, who, then, in a subsequent sequence of family portraits subtly ages and becomes Cynthia Nixon, who performs the star turns of acting as the adult Emily Dickinson. 

Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson and Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie.
I saw the film months ago but the thoughts it provoked about the poet and the times in which she lived, the people among whom she passed her passionate, and often painful life -- exterior and interior -- remain riverlets winding through my ongoing mental preoccupations.

A Quiet Passion is an exquisite film, with the exception of allowing Mabel Todd Loomis to actually see the poet, which she never did.  But here the meeting is, in a terrible pitch of highest plausible drama, a moment when Austin, Emily’s brother, is discovered by her in – not flagrante, exactly – but in a passionately incriminating intimacy -- in hers and Vinnie's home! This is so many violations simultaneously that the infuriated Emily literally spits out the words (not the first time in this family drama, in which all members can and do give as good as they get, when these terrible moments blaze up between them.  This is not Austin's house, he's betraying Susan, her sister-in-law, whom Emily and the whole family love tenderly, and -- Austin has fallen from the place of  perfection and moral arbiter where Emily and the family had so fondly placed him.

Emily's life is so much about family.  The Dickinsons are tied and bonded as closely in affection and intelligence as a family can be. As we know, not all is smooth all the time. The fallings out are passionate and the barbs thrown are cruel and to the exact bulls eye, just because they do know and love each other so well, and are such equals in passion and self-knowledge.  Yet, except for Austin's Grand Treachery, whenever the members fall out, once the poison has erupted, they are horrified, not with the person toward whom the violence was directed, but at themselves.  They are horrified by themselves, and see where they are unfair, and wrong, and always apologize sincerely, at once, and are ashamed.  The apologies are always accepted.

These days I miss that old puritan tradition of constant examination of soul, the authentic desire to be honest with God, to care at least as carefully for the soul as the bank account, and that death and the after life are always in mind. Abigail Adams was fully possessed by this, but like Emily, it never interfered with her sharpness of intelligence and commentary.

In this film the trajectory of the poet's mind is beautifully evoked over time. Death takes one to God, who is the beloved passionate anonymous Byronic lover eagerly awaited, but whom never quite enters the bedroom, the father, the Brontëan brother, like life, death, infinity and heaven, merging one into another. The Brontës' novels, Wuthering Heights particularly, and Jane Eyre, with whose narrator, Emily closely identifies, painfully convinced that she, like Jane, is unblessed by the beauty and charms that attract men's love, while passionately desiring it -- and equally, believing that love is death for a woman -- are deliriously invoked with delighted consciousness of committing female transgression at every turn in these women's earlier lives.

Vryling, Emily, Vinnie, happily making fun of men who take themselves so seriously while knowing nothing.
Some have evaluated the dialog in the earlier parts of the film as too much admiration for Jane Austen – which writer, importantly, unlike the Brontës and George Eliot --  Dickinson did not like. or admire. Thus, intelligently, throughout the film,  admiration of the Brontës is expressed by many of female characters. Perhaps these critics got it wrong -- they are English after all, and there are areas of the trans-Atlantic mind that seem to remain forever veiled to their sight. All these sharp, quick quips and ripostes among Emily, her sister, Vinnie, and their friend, Vryling Buffam, are accompanied by continual happy prolonged laughter. They are happy young women, thoroughly in love with each other’s intelligence, personalities, characters and language brilliance. Their pleasure in each other is so gracefully expressed by the actors (the cast is splendid even beyond the tour de force that Cynthia Nixon achieves), that the viewer participates equally in their pleasure.

After Buffam's marriage vows; Emily does not join the other guests outside the church congratulating the newly married couple.
This joy begins to fade with death of friends and relatives, and particularly the marriage of her beloved friend Vryling Buffam's religious conversion, and her subsequent marriage a pastor. Thereafter the friendship, as Emily feared, disappears entirely. It may be Emily deliberately disappeared the friendship, as she was as passionately convinced that marriage had to destroy the only kind of friendship that she could sustain, that of passionate intimacy. Now too disappears the laughter, as her partner in transgressive wit enters the grave of wife and motherhood.  Her terrible loneliness begins to manifest, chosen as deliberately out of anger with the world she's been given, her place in it as a woman, as an artist with a soul as large as the universe, physical maladies and pain, and -- a mind that cannot be contained within a single world, much less house and garden, and which possesses an intimate, passionate relationship with God.

I do wish the film had included the witnessed incident of Emily drowning unwanted newborn kittens in a bucket of water. I had to make due with another acclaimed incident of her father, while waiting to be served his dinner, calmly complaining his plate is not quite clean, and she calmly picking up the plate to smash it into pieces against the table. She explains,  “Now it does not matter.”

Most of all though, I wish the film makers had resisted and not manufactured an event between Emily and Mabel Todd Loomis, her brother's adulterous lover, and the woman who took over Emily after her death and created out of whole cloth all the phony mythology of the eternal Maid of Amherst, and herself as the only intimate of the poet.  Loomis never saw Emily in the flesh, never exchanged a word with her, and never got a glimpse of her poems.  She stole them from Emily's sister, Vinnie, then went on tour 'acting' Emily, and reading her poems, which bowdlerized to fit better with her phony Emily.  Which is a 19th century tale in itself!

Nevertheless, in terms of Emily herself, and her family, these decades of the 19th century from the 1830's to post the War of the Rebellion, the picture of the finest and most progressive and liberal minds of New England, and thus of our nation, and just how much passion and imagination fueled such minds -- there's never been a film like this.  It is joy to watch from the first scene, to the last.

Though all the actors are superb, in the end, such a film succeeds or fails according the actor who is Dickinson.  Cynthia Nixon is magnificent.  No one can doubt that the poet would be in heaven to see herself as Nixon has portrayed her.  Poetry is anything but a quiet passion.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesday in July Is For Fiction

     . . . . I may have read more fiction this month of July than in all of 2015 - 2016 and the first half of 2017 put together. 

This means novels that I started and read straight through, completing them to the last page.  I pick up a lot of fiction and give up on the book by the end of the first chapters, as well as many others where I get about half or two thirds through and quit due to do not care, and also, why is this so much longer than it needed to be? 

So July's fiction reading is much more than usual, that’s for sure.  Staying home alone during the brutally hot, polluted and humid 8 days that el V was off to hot and humid Cuba, and feeling physically crummy is probably responsible -- that, and maybe some novels I wanted to read.  

Brookmyre, Christopher. (2016) Black Widow.

Right after finishing this novel, which I'd picked off the shelves without any prior knowledge of either the book or the author, I learned Black Widow was just won the UK's Crime Writers' Association Golden Dagger award for 2016.

Nerd pop culture references all the way through, which gets wearing and doesn't wear well for readers of the future. The investigator of the mystery, and primary narrator is really too old for this stuff, so it was annoying as hell.  But since many of the other  characters were nerds and young and live in that culture I kept page turning / reading, until fairly close to the end I got all too familiar sensation that comes with trying read fiction, which is "Isn't this over yet?????" -- "gads, this is at least 50 pages too long!" --  so skipped to the end to find out who did it and why. Spoiler alerts! 


The conclusion was disappointing: two rich sibs caught in flagrant incest, cut out of the money by their outraged father, had concocted an elaborate plot to fake a murder, create a false identity for the sake of a life insurance policy and getting married in France.  But they needed to find a woman who would be plausible as a husband killer to take the rap. She is subjected to gaslighting to the highest degree. It this character, a brilliant women who is a surgeon, that kept me reading almost all the way through. It was fine, except for the incest. 


Pop culture / nerd culture, you bet he does GOT too.  Feh.  He and his ending let me down, as endings so often do.

However the following books all have satisfying endings.

Cleeves, Ann (2016) Cold Earth.

The latest of her Jimmy Perez Shetland series.  It was slow-going, particularly in getting going, in an almost exact replication of the first Jimmy Perez - Shetland Islands book I read. In fact, the location is where the first one took place even. This in an on going problem in almost all of her Shetland books. though not in the television adaptations.

One of the many pleasures I receive from reading Cleeves (she's the author of Yorkshire's Vera Stanhope novels too -- the first one of which, The Crow Trap, originally published in 1999, I finally got to read last month!  And it was the very best of the Vera novels I've read so far), is how different the television series are from the books.  Both the Vera and Shetland tv series are among my big watching pleasures.  These provide good lessons in how to adapt successfully from print to screen. The first lesson, may well be the most important -- the casting makes all the difference, and when it's perfect, the visual adaptation may well be more compelling than the print, without being in the least faithful to the plots or even who the characters are -- but then television has its own rules, which may not be necessary for the page.  As said, an education in writing.

French, Tana; (2008) The Likeness.

I’ve read all of Irish writer French’s novels almost as soon as they were published in the US, except this, her second one.  It was involving, though the pretext, that divine, insulated group of college kids who are interested only in each other is rather more than tired. But so talented a writer as French (rather like the great talent that was Daphne Du Maurier for our age)  did something fresh with it. The problem, though, is is that they really aren’t kids, and don’t even feel in the early 20’s. So how does this undercover female detective protag manage, since, even though older than the 'kids', still her experience seems too deep for her early 30’s, as she says she is, even though she supposedly looks a lot younger.

But hey, it’s hot, I read in the bed, with the a/c cranked until deep into the night.  I turned the pages compulsively. This passed the hours most agreeably until I could relax enough and sleep while el V was in Cuba.

Leon, Donna (2016) The Waters of Eternal Youth: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery. 

Venice is drowning in tourists and their crap, immigrants, the mob and general corruption of everything.  But still, despite everything being online these days, the Commissario and his family continue to read the classics and eat the most wonderful meals at least three times a day.

Rankin, Ian. (2016) Rather Be The Devil.

Rankin's hard drinking, chain smoking, 60's rock and roller, rule breaking, ass kicking, Scott's cynic Rebus is retired from Edinburgh's police force. It's all caught up with him after many books in the Rebus series.  He's not smoking, but coughing disgusting crap with a shadow on his lung, trying to cut back on drinking.  But he’s still dueling with Big Ger, frustrating Siobhan Clarke and everyone who cares for him, but going to the center of what has happened in the past that has bled into the bloody present. Another change in Rebus --  the proverbial lone wolf detector, he's one of three -- and actually cooperating as much as Rebus can cooperate with them. This means the narrative provides additional povs beyond Rebus's in this convoluted case, which is about – what exactly? The disappearance of a banker, who seems to be connected to all sorts of nefarious financial deals, drugs, gambling, homicide – and, well, not Russians, but Ukrainians, laundering money in and through Scotland. But then Rankin's Rebus has never about the case, really, but about the wild ride he takes you on..

In the end, again, Rebus's nemesis, and in these later novels, now at least a frenemy, if not friend, Big Ger Cafferty’s back, old as he is -- as old as Rebus, but he's not over the hill yet, any more than is Rebus. But Rebus has learned to work with others, as much as Rebus can: Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, and the male officer promoted and moved over her, to international crime, Malcolm Fox. They all get what they want. Further, Rebus still has his girlfriend from the previous book, Deborah Quant, who works post mortems for Edinburgh, has since the last book acquired a dog named Brillo – and he’s lost weight.  Neither Big Ger nor Rebus are anywhere near down for the count yet, and they glory in it -- and that they have both proved they are both still at the top of their intersecting game.

It was good reading for a hot and humid July weekend in NYC.

Today the weather is splendid, a perfect July summer day.  There's enough July left that I may be able to get in yet another novel.  Tonight I begin an historical set colonial Manhattan of 1746. I've been looking forward to this one. 

Spufford, Francis (2017) Golden Hill.

 If I am able to finish this one (it's not long) it would make a grand total of six -- 6 -- novels, I read this month!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ammunition -- Surely They Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank - HBO Confederates

     . . . . Even on the ASOIAF forum HBO's announced next project with D&D alternate history in which the southern antebellum slaveocracy successfully seceded has set off a sh*t storm, on the order of "Bad Idea or Worst Idea?" with loads of people weighing in with all the cliched, stereotypical expected responses, which basically say --
Woo! slavery's so haut!
It's just entertainment what's your problem?
How can you condemn something that hasn't even been written yet?
The Civil War wasn't about slavery.
Antebellum slavery couldn't industrialize because it was a feudal system not a capitalist system.
The north didn't care about slavery.
There were very few abolitionists (and evidently, judging by these comments, not a single person of color -- or white woman -- was in favor of abolition or against slavery, and this was wholly a white man's war).
Why not just have let 'em have their part of the country and all would have been fine.
Slavery would have just withered away.
To be able to combat these idiocies coolly and effectively, one needs to be armed -- and trust me, those thoughtlessly regurgitating these cliches are not.  One must point out particularly what the slavocracy's objectives were (number 1: expansion of slavery) there are a few books one can read to make one competent. One should read them too,  because what most people think they know about antebellum slavery, "the underground railroad," abolition and the roots of the War of Southern Aggression are at best out-dated (such as slavery was a feudal system), and at worst,  just wrong (the north didn't give a damn about slavery).

For example, Eugene Genovese's thesis that slavery was feudal not capitalist, has been dismantled by vast scholarship in the last twenty - thirty years. Enormous amounts of scholarship has gone into the history of antebellum slavery in all its aspects since the Civil Rights Movement, and historians everywhere have been reaping the benefits of this in the last 2 - 3 decades.  The same is true for the war effort itself.

Here is a very short list of books than anyone who wants to speak of the system of antebellum slavery and The War of the Rebellion should read:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself;
Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley (Keckley was the US's first African American 
couturier -- right before secession she dressed both Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Davis. She became socially isolated Mary Todd Lincoln's White House confidant. the book is a mixture of authentic memoir and fiction;
Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee--The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged  by William C. Davis;
General Lee's Army: From Victory to Defeat by Joseph Glatthaar;
This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy by Matt Karp;
The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned and Constance Sublette -- which runs down in a chronological, fast-reading narrative the latest scholarship about slavery in North America from the earlier colonial era to Emancipation, including the influence and effects the system within the larger European and hemispheric historical context, but the focus is on the economics of the enslaved bodies themselves -- without which the South had no wealth;
Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement by Fergus M. Bordewich;
Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey -- an interesting contrast to how the Union State Department was seeing the situation with England in particular through the experiences of the US minister's mission to Saint James;
Mary Chesnut's Civil War; the carefully edited after-the-fact diary of a the wife of the South Carolina senator James Chestnut Jr., until secession, after which he served as an aide to Jeff Davis and a brigadier general in charge of South Carolina's reserves (though not seeing action, of course, being such a slavocracy nabob);
The Free State of Jones by by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer -- Mississippians (the state with largest number of millionaires in the country prior to Emancipation) who were neither segregationists nor secessionist, nor were they nabobs -- they suffered and they resisted and fought back.
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams.  He writes of his first hand experiences at the highest levels of England's and France's government during the first years of the war, as private secretary to his father, Francis Adams, as minister to Saint James.
Two things we must never forget about antebellum slavery and the War of Southern Aggression /K/ A it's official name in the records of the United States, The War of Rebellion: African Americans played an immense role in abolition and emancipation.  Escaped slaves and free people of color founded newspapers, wrote books, spoke at endless meetings, organized a relief and assistance for those who managed to escape.  They labored endlessly to keep the issues of the Fugitive Slave Act and Dred Scott in the forefront of progressive minds.  Here we see the first nexus of authentic cooperative action -- not just words! -- of black and white, male and female. Never underestimate the power of people with god-given mission for moral improvement (look at how the evangelicals etc. have managed to just about disappear not only abortion, but any woman's reproductive health care from so many places in this nation, even though it is all legal).

And we must never forget that while the north for the most part, as well as the Union, when the time came, though deeply white supremacist, was also deeply antagonistic to slave labor, for it undercut wages across the board for everyone (as keeping the wages of Haitians at a few cents an hour is the benchmark for wages throughout the hemisphere currently)-- as well as threatening having work at all.  With this half of the 19th century receiving boatloads of immigrants every day, the competition for jobs was fierce.

Having slavery forced upon free soil states was not in their interests -- just as the Fugitive Slave Act was antithetical to their interests, economically, politically, and socially.  Anyone could point to your daughter and son, declare her, him a runaway slave and there was no legal recourse -- and you were supposed to help them.

Don't forget by now there was a large percentage of legally enslaved who had white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair, thanks to generations of white men raping African American women for both fun and profit -- every slave child born provided the slave owner with at least another $50 of credit, in a culture that didn't have money per se, only credit, vastly based in the bodies of their slaves.

So skin color was not a final defense by any means -- nor was an accused runaway allowed to have or speak a defense!  People in the north did not like this.  This brought more people into the anti-slavery factions than anything else, and did it so fast the south couldn't believe it was happening.

You have to know all this and much more besides, and know it inside and out, viscerally, before you can write successfully about anything to do with the history of the war, slavery, and what happened. And the more one knows -- seeing from the benefit of hindsight-- the more one knows it couldn't have happened any other way.

What cannot be white washed away in any kind of entertainment is that slavery = rape and every kind of violence perpetrated on people who have no legal right to object or fight back. Which is why so many can't seem to let it go (see above -- slavery's haut! How dare you object to what turns us on?).  They want and revel in with all their being, the joy of feeling dominant, doing whatever they wish (or their fantasy surrogates do to women and others whatever they wish), to deliberately make people suffer both physical abuse and emotional abuse.

We see this particularly in the many stories or program that involves artificial intelligence / androids. There is no fun in hurting and degrading a sentience that doesn't feel abused and degraded, that in really has no free will or feeling. Thus all the plot lines is giving the androids a/is actual humanity or having them develop it -- so they can feel humiliated and degraded. (A rare exception to this is Ex Machina, an adroid who does feel outrage, but is also entirely sociopathic, lacking all the human feelings and values -- just like slave owner.  She gets hers, and is now unleashed upon the world of poor unsuspecting male victims. O noes!)

We say, for the sake of the story, so people can have identification with the characters we have to give them human feelings.  I.e. we need that dominance from built in abuse.  Which is why this will not help and will make things worse.  D&D have a track record, and that track record is out there for all to see and read.

Entertainments have civic, ethical, social, political and historical responsibilities too.  To say "it's only for fun," -- just think about what that fun consists of.

Then there's this, that so many of us find the entire concept sickening on so many levels, delights the ilks that are D&D -- it means they won, which is supremely depressing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shame on HBO -- Morally and Historically Reprehensible

     . . . . The same untalented, ethically, socially and historically ignorant sexist and racist team that brought you limitless gratuitous graphic scenes of female nudity, rape and torture to HBO via Got, now presume to bring the the same, now set in an 'alternate' historical time line in which slavery remains legal because the CSA successfully seceded.

Just for that latter, a "successful" secession has Andrew Jackson spinning in his monument.  He didn't squash Calhoun, South Carolina and Nullification in 1832 for morally bankrupt 21st century media to make it entertainment.  See the Nullification Proclamation By Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, to South Carolina, here.

NY Time pay wall so the url rather than a link is provided:

     . . . . In any case, the south couldn't have successfully seceded because Lincoln and many coalitions behind  him wouldn't allow it. As Jackson knew, neither division would have stood long before England and France picked both of them off. As it was during the first three years of the War of Southern Aggression a faction in both England and France did their best to help this along.  Also because the whole point of secession was to provoke a war with the non-slavery forces so the slaveocracy could then take over the entire nation -- they didn't want to be left alone with their peculiar institution.  Their objective was to aggressively force their peculiar institution upon all by the force of arms.  There is a reason that the U.S. Civil War's official name in the government records is "The War of Southern Aggression."

So Grant whipped Lee's army, and the CSA melted because it was essentially nothing but the Army of Northern Virginia, never a functioning nation. If you don't believe me, read some contemporary

military histories of the Virginia campaign by military historians, such Crucible of Command, and Lee's Army. Among the reasons the CSA was never a nation is that the CSA power elites didn't believe in government in the first place, and couldn't work together any better or effectively than the people in the White House right now do. 

Killing black people at whim with impunity, raping black women anywhere anytime at whim without repercussion, raping black children without even being socially ostracized, torturing and incarcerating at will, using as unpaid labor black people who are prisoners of the entire slavery system, in an what has to be (speaking from historical evidence), an all white country, since slave labor makes immigration unattractive if not downright impossible, since color-coded slave labor fills all the labor slots from housekeeping, to hair stylist to mechanic, to street cleaner, miner, etc . -- in our current climate in which lynch nooses and random, arbitrary of killing of African Americans and threats to do so happen all the time -- can anyone with any sense of artistic talent and social conscience really think this thing which didn't happen and couldn't have happened is a good thing for popular entertainment and the nation? 

This is the height of irresponsibility, as a member of our civic, economic, social and political polity. Media and entertainment does shape all these matters.  Historical accuracy, even in entertainment, is civic responsibility. Ask the  historic slaveocracy that blamed Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin for the Civil War.

Shame HBO and everyone involved, shame, shame, shame.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reading In the 18th Century - Public and Participatory

     . . . . In 18th century England and Europe, with the technological innovations in what was still the rather new-fangled printing press technology books became available commercially to anyone who could afford them.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, self-taught scholar and poet of New Spain (Mexico).

No longer was reading for pleasure, inspiration or information limited to  academics and churchmen with access to archives and libraries, or exceedingly wealthy individuals who could patronize poets, scholars and historians, and buy expensive hand-written manuscripts and the finely crafted tomes.

Though the price remained out of reach for poor people, the rapidly expandng middle-class could easily afford books. Even those who served the middle-classes were able to acquire reading materials for fun and instruction.

Still, candles remained expensive, and so did fuel for fires.  Many people's vision was too poor to read for themselves in such dim light -- and it would be only at night they could find an hour for themselves.  So it was the most natural thing in the world that along with the flood of commercial reading materials came the practice of reading aloud in groups.

Abigail Williams has presented us with a lively account of the vastly popular activity of reading aloud in The Social Life of Books.  
Williams, who teaches at Oxford University, explains that from the vantage of our own age, saturated as it is with entertainment and information, “it is hard to imagine the excitement felt by previous readers at the possibility of gaining access to a new book.” 
.... In the pages of his magazine, the Spectator, Joseph Addison commanded that culture come “out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-Tables, and in Coffee-Houses,” and it did. 
Review of The Social Life of Books here.
She explains how reading became something of a “spectator sport.” Of course, as with any type of performance, one had to be properly prepared, and this led to a surge of instructional manuals, further fueling what Williams designates “the great age of elocution,” in which Britons of all backgrounds were gripped with “a near obsession with learning to read out loud.” Tradesmen formed what were rather memorably known as “spouting clubs” for aspiring public speakers, relying on such handbooks as “The New Spouter’s Companion” and “The Sentimental Spouter.” Women, who very often found themselves omitted from public performances, quickly took to them in the home, entertaining friends and family with tales and poems while they knitted or otherwise busied themselves around the hearth.

One of the reasons this reader particular enjoyed Abigail Williams study of books as a popular social activity is because it brought back vividly my first ideas of reading aloud, entertainment, instruction and novels went together naturally.  It was an illustration, of a servant girl by the kitchen fire, reading aloud to the rest of the household staff, the latest installment of Samuel Richardson's Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded.

In the Book of Knowledge's history of literature section, it was carefully explained to the young reader how important reading and novels were in instructing the poorer, less educated classes in morality and social behavior. Pamela was the paragon of virtue that all young women should model themselves on.  The most important lesson of all that Pamela taught poor young girls who served in more prosperous homes that at all costs she must preserve her chastity from the household men who all would set siege to corrupt her from the paths of virtue.  But if she followed Pamela's example she would not only preserve her all important good reputation -- she may well marry the son of the house and become the lady of the house, no longer a servant.

I have looked and looked in vain for an 18th century illustration that shows a young servant girl reading aloud by kitchen fire light to her gathered sister - fellow servants, but have not found one. That illustration must have been commissioned by The Book of Knowledge staff for that section.

It seems that in the 18th century when servants congregated together below stairs, out of the view of their employers, the lower household orders did nothing that interested the popular press illustrator other than drinking and generally roistering upon their masters' substance.  Which reveals even more about the popularity among servants for reading aloud together 'improving' literature.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

International Kissing Day, YAY!


      . . . .  July 6th is officially International Kissing Day -- or -- as it is also known, World Kiss Day.

You know what to do, so, you know, hop to it!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Reading Wednesday: Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth

Born In the USA On The Fourth Of July

     . . . .  In some ways, the 4th here was anything but pleasant.  That yesterday's reading during the birthday of the nation, July 4th, started with the late 19th century Red River Valley, * switched to Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run, then moved on Holger Hoock's Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth, likely contributed to the disquiet.

What is so disturbing when contemplating the initiation of our national independence from Britain, isn't so much what happened between the two opposing armies and what they did to each other, as what took place on the ground, among our own civilians: those who were determined to break away from the Crown, those who wished to stay with England, and those who really had no skin in the game at all and didn't give a damn either way.  Those who were not for it were harassed at best, tortured and murdered at worst, and in very terrible ways.  Their families lost everything including loved husbands, fathers, siblings, mothers and sons and daughters

Then, today, a New Mexico amigo forwarded this, which exacerbated my unrest:
"Albuquerque’s hot summer of angst, decay and politics"
As the administration of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry enters its final months, histories of critical times are being recorded.
Moving to Albuquerque way way way back in the day was my initiation into the public violence * * that is this nation from the beginning. I'd been shielded from that previously because where I had been living, violence for people like me was confined to the home, at the hands of the family, not in the public realm.

Reading this piece brought back those first years in New Mexico where all the public realm violence I've ever experienced, from break-ins to beatings and rape, happened to me. Just about woman I knew had been a victim of rape, break-ins, thefts, street harassment, etc. And the women I knew who had been fortunate enough to not have been victims of this violence had dedicated their lives to trying to stop it, and to help victims heals.

I've never forgotten the 1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot.  (A BBC history of the Penitentiary Riot can be watched here on Youtube.)  This inhuman horror remains probably the most violent and terrible prison riot in the history of the US. Recalling the accounts of that terrible event still make me literally ill. It's astounding-- or not, this being the USA, about which history I know intimately now in detail, breadth and scope that I didn't then -- that it hasn't changed in all these years, just intensified.

Boston Patriots destroy Governor Hutchinson's home; The family just barely escaped with their lives.  The history of Massachusetts that Governor Hutchinson had been working on much his life, drawing on primary documents in his family's possession, was destroyed, along with all the family papers, that dated from the founding of the Massachusetts colony.

Mobs attack a Tory 1775
 A "kingsman', tarred and feathered.
This was a very popular, and gruesome form of public humiliation . The naked body of the victim was scalded from head to toe with hot tar, then rolled in bird feathers.  The victim was usually further shoved upon a rail and paraded throughout the town for hours, and then expelled, still naked and covered in tar and feathers.

Throughout the career of the Sons of Liberty the organization enjoyed the quiet blessing of the well-to-do and politically active that backed separation from Britain. In essence, the Sons of Liberty became the extralegal enforcement arm of the American cause against Parliament.  Support us or this and worse will (and did) happen to you!
Though smaller in scale, many of the many violent actions, i.e. criminal acts,  with which the Patriots, Sons of Liberty and other well organized mobs forced everyone living in the 13 colonies to war with Britain were as sickeningly vicious as the New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot of 1980.

By now, I thought, reading again accounts of these actions, it seems the nation as a whole has caught up with Albuquerque, and many other towns in places like Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, etc., all of which have been following in the footsteps of the start of Independence.

Yes, the nation has actually gone to hell.

Funny. I don't think I mean by the country's gone to hell what my relatives have meant, as they've repeated for decades that 'this country's gone to hell' in that special tone of flat fury. I'm sure they're now pleased as punch that they've made a paranoid, deranged, ignorant, lazy, greedy, lying, arrogant, vengeful, obsessive, cowardly, racist, woman-hating, narcissist bully, who hates everyone who isn't him, asshole in chief of the USA.  He's just like us!

Yah, looking over the news today, July 4th, 2017 was a Greeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat Day in the USA.

Just look at these asshole minions' response to the NPR tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence every July 4th on Morning Edition. when this year NPR's twitter feed put the Declaration of Independence up:

Ay-up this country's gone to hell and the minions have driven it there with every breath they take.

We now even have our own national religious patriotism totalitarian bloviating hymn to national violence.  (It can be seen and heard here, on Youtube.  I'm only putting the link here, as I cannot bear putting a grab of the video itself on my blog.  How many words does this travesty have? 20? Come on guys, you surely are smart enough to know that one teeny tweak and 'great again can be white again. Come on, you know you want to!

Ask Jared Yates Sexton. America's violent spirit is alive and kicking, especially kicking anyone it perceives as Not It.

Burning black Tulsa, June, 1921

Chicago, Red Summer 1919, race riots -- meaning white people rioted, black people were murdered.

These people are just waiting -- itching -- for Someone to give them the signal to start the killing -- again.


Lest one think that the Red River Valley in North Dakota back in 1888 was free of racial and other violence, my reading yesterday included accounts of killing Sioux who lived a bit further north in Pembina Cty.,  an  Italian immigrant discovered dead -- and robbed of his wages from working all spring, summer and fall on a Bonanza farm -- in a granary of wheat, and offhand remarks about Jews, and how often men got drunk and beat their wives and children -- particularly on the holiday of the 4th of July.

**  For me, public violence = crime, concentration camps, genocides, prisons, riots.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Alexandra Silber's Upcoming Novel Tells of Life 'After Anatevka'

     . . . .  This novel, which tells the story of Fiddler on the Roof's Hodel, Tevye's daughter who chooses to follow her the radical socialist lover, Perchik, to a work camp in Siberia instead of immigrating out of Russia with her family. It's one of the most heartbreaking moments in theater history, or so it is to me, who let us not forget, doesn't know much about theater, and is generally uninterested in musicals.  But Fiddler on the Roof is one of those exceptions.

Information about Alexandra Silber and her need to write this novel here -- in her acting career she has played the roles of both of Teyva's daughters.

Silber picks up  Hodel' story when she arrives at the work camp.  It's brutal, as these things were.

This is a novel I wish to read, even though Kirkus, among others, have been fairly snooty about it.

The New York Times wrote about this last year (pay wall, so here's the full url)