". . . 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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finally, A Report Of What It's Like Where We Are

And it is every bit as bad as our worst fears. Note this did not come from a newspaper or a city agency office. It is a private person who did a survey on foot and reported.

We're being left to twist in the wind, while uptown people are chirping the good cheer of having the day off and how they are going Christmas shopping.

What are we going to do ....

Annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade Cancelled

For the first time in its 39 year history.  It steps off at right where we are.  On a normal Halloween by now already all kinds of ghoulies and strangeness would be starting to gather on our streets, until by 8 PM it is ruled entirely by denizens of other realms and times.

The theme for 2012 was supposed to be the end of the world as declared by the Mayan calendar.

Mayor B announced he cancelled the parade last night:

Unfortunately, we just cannot spare the manpower from the NYPD and other city agencies to host the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, so we are postponing it to a later date sometime next week," the mayor said, according to NY1. "We'll work tomorrow and figure out what date makes sense given the resources the city has."

Description of this year's theme, from their website:

“This year, as 2012 ticks away the final year of the Mayan Calendar, and visions apocalyptic or euphoric fill our imaginations; we will explore the many embodiments of Time. The sound of ticking seconds reassures us of the continuity of our universe, a mechanical heartbeat, definite yet infinite. But how well do we know Time? We think of time as immutable, yet we know it to be elastic. Some moments pass with glacial slowness, as others speed past us. It bends and stretches, like Dali's drooping watches and Einstein's speeding trains. We think of time as intangible, yet we can know it only through physical forms: swinging pendulums or orbiting celestial bodies. We think of time as infinite, yet modern physicists tell the story of its beginning, and ancient calendar-makers tell of its end. With all this in mind, this year's Parade will be lead by a host of temporal entities. Clockwork White Rabbits will keep time for the procession, as winged alarm clocks sail overhead, incarnating Virgil's adage "tempus fugit". Other manifestations and analogs will abound, from cuckoos to TARDISes, culminating in a grand horlogical dance, as Time goes by.”

It is the end of time for us, down here, looking for and finding no news for the dead zone below 25th street.  All we know still is it is dark and powerless. We have no idea about going home.

el V did his two presentations yesterday.  They were very good.  The students in the music dept. class were sharp, interested, knowledgable and did not text, eat or sleep. At the evening Angola (long) presentation, some older women from out of town who are not connected with the university at all attended.  One of them said, "You know there are so many opportunities to hear something like this.  The school should do a better job of letting people know these things are going on.  Not all of us come to New Orleans for the usual tourist stuff." One of them had books for Ned to sign.  They bought "Kiss You Down South" too. After the reception we were taken to a wonderful dinner with wonderful people and talk at Boucherie. This all took our minds away from that about which we can doing nothing at the moment -- a most excellent thing!

Tonight he'll probably hang with Galactic at Tip's.  Thursday -- conference, all day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Manhattan Is Dead

As we know so well, it isn't the storm or the even that is the worst, but what the destruction it leaves behind, and the days afterwards. Here, we are surrounded by the love and understanding from the gut, by so many people. We're very fortunate. Though my freezer back home is stuffed with meat ... though the weather's turning colder now. And since Wall Street is down there, we know all the Powers That Be from corporate to political will do their best to get the power back as fast as possible.
The west side of lower Manhattan -- unlike the east village and below that took the brunt of it -- won't be as much physically damaged from flooding. But the power station at 14th Street blew about 9:30 PM. So there is no electricity, and no cell phone service either in our third of Manhattan.
Our Manhattan, at the very least, is dead. Flooded. No power. Haven’t heard from a soul in Manhattan. Can’t find single photo from our neighborhood. Where will the Halloween Parade go?
Harlem and Brooklyn are fine, thank goodness.
"The damage across our city is massive. It will not recover quickly.... The power grid and transit will take a long time." Mayor Bloomberg, speaking about an hour ago.
At the very earliest power won't be restored for at least three days, and likely longer than that. Buses will run sooner though the airports won't open for some while. A number of the hospitals and health care facilities are without power or even had to be evacuated. But two thirds of Manhattan are OK. I can watch the local NYC television stations via streaming on my laptop -- our local public radio station's AM band transmitter got knocked out, which is usually the best source of local information. They are located a few blocks away from our building.
Right now I'm feeling like I felt on 9/11 -- not the gut-wrenching fear and horror of Katrina down into my bones, knowing how people were suffering -- and dying. What I've got is that detatched shock of non-recognition of everything, that kind of alitude sickness because the normal anchors of reality gravity are gone. Hopefully we'll get our normal back fairly soon, though full recovery will take a very long time -- and maybe climate change won't ever allow full recovery, before another massive storm hits.

Ned has to visit a class t Tulane this afternoon, and this evening he's doing a presentation on Angola (Africa)  and the spiritual and musical world of the past that impacts the culture of Louisiana.

It's unreal. This whole time I've not felt we're in New Orleans at all. My mind is up north. Just as duing that disaster of the Failure, my mind wasn't in NYC, but down here.

The Stock Exchange is opening tomorrow.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Below 39th St. Manhattan's Dark -- That Means Us Too

Record surge, tunnels flooded. Just as ConEd was shutting down three small substations for downtown Manhattan the main station at 14th street went dark. They believe flooding was the cause.

The NYU hospital's back-up power system failed and the patients have to be transferred. This is an enormous facility -- a small city all itself.

Mayor Bloomberg isn't in a suit any more. In blue workshirt and jeans, his voice is cracking -- he's exhausted. Yet he insists the power will back down there in a few hours. Because the high tide has arrived and gone, and the record storm surge is receding, and so is the heavy rain. But the wind is still going on and the storm will go on for at least two more days.

Not to mention what it will take to get the region's many airports from JFK to Maine up and operating again.

The Outlook Is Not Looking Good

Update: ConEd just informed our friends on Kenmare Street -- east of Broadway, below Houston, just above Canal -- they are turning off the power in that part of Manhattan. That's a straight shot to our place on the west side.

It is more likely our end of town, at least, will lose power than it won't lose power, and the real thing hasn't hit yet. The chance that the basement of our building will flood is at least 50% and the real thing hasn't happened yet.

So I took Unhappy Ears Dog on a long walk -- she's a rescue and very needy. Hostess took down the boxes and so on with her winter clothes last night, and today is a work day, moveover one longer than usual. Molly was drooping ever more as the morning rolled on.

Now she's bright and undroopy. Instead of her tail being tucked, her tail wags when she does her job of following me whenever I get up from the chair. She's resting instead of hiding. She also got a treat. She's cheered me up.  This is why we have pets.  We can do something for them, and it makes us feel better too.

In the meantime, el V, here in New OrleansSome people have asked, so:

I will be speaking in New Orleans tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct. 30) evening at 6:30 at Tulane's Jones Hall, room 100A, on "Kongo Belief Past and Present." On Thursday, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. in the Iberville Room of the Astor Crowne Plaza, I will be part of a panel at the American Musicological Society conference titled "Moving Roots of Music: The Many Worlds within New Orleans."

When he's not doing this, he's watching the east coast on the computer. Actually, what el V's doing is working his behind off, to be ready for tomorrow's talk and making the next Afropop program in the epic of Angola.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Orleans

We are here.  Picked up at the airport and driven to where we're staying for the first part.  A lovely friend of a friend with a lovely home in the Broadmoor neighborhood, who loves New Orleans and who knows it so well.  Had dinner with a mixed krewe of our Hostess, a mixed bag of Tulane academics and others.  And this is among the elements that I love so much about New Orleans -- that xocial interaction stratification between formal academic experts and artists, etc. and anyone else who cares and studies and knows, is just not there.  Which is what it was like in Havana.

It feels almost like I'm dreaming at the moment.  I keep thinking I'm back in London (am very tired) but it is so not London.  It's so great to be back again.  It feels more like home than 'home,' does, i.e. where I was born and grew up.

Friday, October 26, 2012

H = Halloween or Hurricane

Three loads of laundry spin in the dryers.

I've been packing. Can't finish until the clothes are dry. But then it will be finished for the most part before we head for the airport.

Life feels as though it's gone on hold again, not in a good way. I'm accustomed to this feeling -- a perpetul clench in the abdomen, and a sense of nothing is real. I learned this feeling first on 9/11. Since then there have been so many occasions.

The streets are filled with small and even some larger ghoulies, witches, cats, robots, so many masks and made-up faces. The schools had their Halloween parties this afternoon and none of the kids were about to change out of their costumes when mom or other caretaker picked them up at the end of the school day.

The stores are packed with women looking for just the right look -- another costume of a sort -- for their weekend and the parties on Wednesday. I bet the parties will be wild, those that get held and attended. However, I got no sense from any of these shoppers they were aware of what might be happening on Wednesday. In any case they are young: invulnerable and immortal. It will merely be an adventure about which they'll tweet and fb.

So, as far as I can tell, outside of the governor and the mayor, the head of the MTA, and the radio people, nobody is concerned a bit about Sandy.

I know how fast that can turn over though ....

The rain and wind should start Sunday. But we'll have been in NO for 24 hours by then.

I don't know. But at least Himself has stopped phoning me every two minutes!

I'm tired. Neither of us got more than four hours of sleep last night.

It's nice that a friend is picking us up from Louis Armstrong tomorrow. We'll figure out what else we're doing after that.

Evacuating From NYC To No

I told Himself to book the damned tix already and stop calling me every second! So we’re coming in to NO tomorrow, late afternoon, if God’s willin’ and the crick don’t rise. The thing is this thing is even huger than Irene – and I can’t stand the idea of being locked in here with him for three days certain we are going to starve, go without water and die.

The city will be hit by storming for at least three days. And so will all the regions north and south and west of us. That could make it difficult to restock here for quite a few days -- flooding and snow -- because Sandy is so huge, so things could get unpleasant.

So he’ll talk! And open with a line about evacuating to New Orleans from a hurricane, doubtless!

Now -- where are we going to stay??????

I am never going to get any work done ever again.

This is going to really mess up the election, and these are the regions most likely to come out for Obama.

The Tempest - Again!

Last year it was the Halloween blizzard.  After which it never snowed again.

This year it's Sandy, the Frankenstorm, rolling over us for Halloween.

Himself's really pushing us to do the JetBlue tomorrow. Because if he's going to make the talks in New Orleans he has to go tomorrow, then, because Monday will be blocked by the storm.  And he's not about to leave me here while he goes off.

This would rip at the minimum $2000 out of our budget, and I'm all about the budget.

These talks don't pay. We'd have a wonderful time in NO and avoid some discomfort here -- but it's not going to be $2000 worth of discomfort. Nor are our lives in danger, which would make it all different. 

What I think we're going to get here is a nasty and cruel combo of wind, rain and snow. But as usual, at this time, I think Manhattan -- unlike Long Island and New Jersey -- will mostly be fine. We may lose power for a while if the storm surge (and it is a Full Moon) floods the subways and other underground tunnels. It's unlikely we will lose the use of our gas stove and oven.

So, I'm being a meanie, and saying NO to NO.

Boston, where we were to go today, got postponed; Haiti got postponed;  now New Orleans is out too. 

Instead of Boston, New Orleans and Haiti it's going to wind, rain, snow, tornadoes perhaps, and hurricane.

Our lives are very unlikely to be endangered.  And as it's is neither hot nor cold, if we lose power it won't be like a buggy, drowned 100 degree August mess.

There is no fooling oneself, however. It's going to one hell of one awful, expen$ive mess. And there will be people who will die, and homes will be destroyed.  It's not a joke.

Not good so close to the election either. This is the region that votes solidly blue ....

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Renaissance of Geographic History

"Faces, Places, Spaces" in the New Yorker, by Adam Gopnik.

... the history of spaces: the history of terrains and territories, a history where plains and rivers and harbors shape the social place that sits above them or around them.

[Nedslist] Between Piety and Desire download / Roulette Oct. 23

CDs exist! We are now in a post-Kiss You Down South world.

I've uploaded an mp3 of one of the songs on the album -- "Between Piety and Desire" (which was pretty much the theme song of my book The Year Before the Flood) -- as a [nedslist] exclusive, available right here.

Tell your friends about our show! This is the obligatory day-before reminder that I'm playing my only NYC solo concert of the year tomorrow (Tuesday) at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, convenient to the trains, in Brooklyn. The page for the concert on Roulette's website is here.

National Geographic's world music site has a nice piece about the album and concert.

Besides concert merch and mail order (, and soon from CD Baby), the tracks will be available on iTunes and other download services. But those are mp3s, and when you buy a CD, you get those lovely uncompressed *.wav files.

Press and radio people: contact me for material.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How 'Bout That? *Kiss You Down South* National Geographic

National Geographic music puts up an endorsement for Kiss You Down South and the performance at Roulette on Tuesday night.

It covers everything, including the cover art.  :)

Beastly Saturday

Not the weather, which is gorgeous, and promises to stay so through el V's performance on Tuesday at Roulette (and the CDs of Kiss You Down South have arrived already too!). Computers and the modem link. Or something. Troubles increasing throughout the week. El V poo-pooing until it hit him too today.
We messed and screwed around with it and called Time Warner, blahblahblah.
Finally we did what I'd been trying to get him to do all week -- reset the modem (I didn't do it myself because it involved a great deal of bending and it remains just out of my reach, since, tadah! Ned picked where to put it and it's convenient for his significantly longer reach ....). It's evidently true -- one's modem does need to be reset fairly frequently or else problems. Why can't I remember that until the problems actually manifest? We spent most of today on this. We had other things we need to do.Everything's fine now. But he got the blue screen of death. And recovered ....

Now there's Windows 8 -- which by all accounts is as much a merde as was Windows Vista, and probably even more so. Have I mentioned how much I HATE touchscreens?

One good thing came out this latest digital stall out. While I waited and waited for my back up to run I removed about the equivalent of two cotton balls of lint from inside my keyboard.

Maybe tomorrow we can some things accomplished. Next week's nights are mostly busy, including among other events, watching the last debate in Harlem with the Treme crew, el V's performance at Roulette, having dinner with the foremost linguist-scholar of Haitian Kreyole, a salsa night in the Bronx.

Nevertheless, all day in the background, niggling at my mind was a phrase which deals with music and improvisation I've read in a novel, which, in context of the paragraph and anything to do with music, is meaningless.  Why do fiction writers do that?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

We Laugh At *Downton Abbey*

If any television program has earned being laughed at, it is Downton!

I saw some eps of Downton's third season while over there.  No doubt whatsoever that as season 2 was worse than season 1, so is season 3 even worse than than season 2 for silliness and plot holes, bad acting, bad writing and general bombiastic argy-bargy.

And Shirley Maclaine -- where did she go?????  I, for one, suspect Thomas the EviLe Footman - Valet.

Others also laugh at Downton:

Laughing At Self Wakes Self

There is nothing more immediately tedious than reading accounts of dreams. Even dream sequences in books, films and television send me into a state of vexation. Lazy writing, vexed self screams! Lack of thinking, self screams.

This one is so very silly it might pass -- here I go, accounting one of my own dreams.

Location: Louisiana

Self: My own self, but different

Narrative: My poor self gets cruised by a corporate pooba to infiltrate a long-time established state corporation currently extending its pillaging, plundering, pollution and destruction of state's natural resources, including the wetlands and the Gulf waters. The recruiting corp isn't wanting to stop these activities by this particular local rival, it just wants to spy upon it in order to pillage, plunder, pollute and destroy more effectively and more quickly than its more established rival. I have been threatened with financial harrassment and punishment if I don't accept this corp's assignment.

I am dressed in contemporary highly effective female executive fashion. My skills in reading and writing financial statements, insurance policies, running an office and so on are tested and I come up aces (see, my own self, but different).

But there is one other thing. The recruiter asks: "How are your skills with progressive competitive swimming?"

I respond, "What the eff are you talking about? Never heard of such a thing."

Recruiter gets huffy and threatening: "It's the favorite sport of all poobas. You must be able to join in the sport during social occasions, and do it competitively."

I respond: "Maybe up north where you come from, where you have summer vacation homes in pristine wilderness, preserved by northern progressive politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and FDR, but down here the corps have done such a good job that our water sports are all performed on top of the water in boats, not in it. Just like you are used to having a social safety net and public education. But down here we have Bobby Jindal. This is why you will fail in your mission to own Louisiana."

This was so frackin' preposterous, and my delight in spouting so many unlikely multi-syllable words (The-o-dore Roo-se-velt; pro-gress-ive!) in succession, while dreaming, made me laugh so hard I woke myself up.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Playing Ruritania

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies.

This large book (830 pp) was published by Allan Lane last year, and reviewed in the December 15, 2011 LRB. (Alas, the the entire review isn't available for view except for subscribers.)

If one is fascinated by places that carry allure in their very names -- Tolosa, Burgundia -(whose Burgundy, where and when?)! -- and, many a time, Poland but, and still, "Poland isn't finished yet," which can not be said for Ruthenia, or Tolosa.

Further, the LRB piece is a meditation in detail and depth on imperiums' inability to imagine their transience, and small, weak realms, who even more than comprehending how easily they can be disappeared, understand that their very languages are more than likely to disappear within another generation and a half.

It was reviewed again this week in the UK Guardian. Did come out in a paper edition? There's nothing to indicate why it was chosen to be reviewed in that publication now.

Another book that will be of great interest to fantasy writers who like to play Ruritania with European geography is the biography of travel writer, Patrick Fermor: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper. Though the reviewer doesn't say this, Fermor's world has been as effectively disappeared by history as any invoked in Vanished Kingdoms. Fermor's time was a part of Merian C. Cooper's world, a world in which his explorations allowed him to imagine and create King Kong.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Historical Fiction - *The Dead Are Real* The New Yorker

The title brings up vividly an experience with the Tumba Francesa in Santiago de Cuba. After performing a variety of dance-drum-rhythm dances, the Director, an ancient woman, asked us how we liked it. El V, impressed even more than usual, said something on the order of how alive-O, how much vitality, how not dead and museum quality it was. Her response was, "And the dead, they too were dancing."

The dead are not dead: they are the ancestors. History never goes away.

"The Dead Are Real: Hilary Mantel’s Imagination," by Larissa MacFarquhar, Oct. 15, 2012  (The New Yorker) is an essay about historical fiction.

What is it? Who writes it?

There are so many pithy paragraphs in this essay that any of us who have an interest in historical fiction would be sorry not to have read it.

Here follows a comment which describes my personal vexations with so much that is marketed as historical fiction but is not;:

The reputation of historical fiction is unstable. In the thirties, the Marxist literary critic György Lukács argued that early historical novels like those by Scott, Balzac, and Tolstoy showed that man’s nature was not fixed but transformed over time; thus, they showed that revolution was possible and, in doing so, made it more likely. But these days the historical novel is not quite respectable. It has difficulty distinguishing itself from its easy sister the historical romance. It is thought to involve irritating ways of talking, or excessive descriptions of clothes. 
To often history is employed in fiction  by the sort of people who regard history as "a bathtub in which we all can splash around as we like" -- you can imagine how people for whom history is both profession and passion feel about that!

The past, in fiction, has more prestige than the future, but, as with the future, its prestige declines with its distance from the present. Novels about the past hundred years or so are all right, but once you go beyond the First World War, once you leave indoor plumbing and move into crinolines and wigs, your genre status deteriorates very quickly. A book jacket depicting Henry VIII, or a queen wearing pearls, is off-putting to a certain sort of reader. Why would a writer write about the distant past, that reader might wonder, if not to escape the realist discipline imposed by familiarity? If not to flee to a world blurry enough so that men can behave like Vikings and not seem ridiculous, and ladies can be ladies without being pathetic? And if a writer writes about historically significant people then she is forced into a respectful posture that depreciates her status still further, since it has become one of the hallmarks of literary fiction that its authors regard their characters with something between affectionate condescension and total contempt. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

We Need *Cold Comfort Farm* - Andrea Arnold's *Wuthering Heights*

Literature grad students specializing in the English novel have long given thanks for Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm (1932) -- and even more so for the BBC 3-part 1995 adaptation, which had a theatrical release in the U.S.

Cold Comfort Farm parodied a genre popular then, sometimes called the 'Loam and Lovechild' novel. Among the writers well-known for their efforts in this sort of specifically located rural life were Mary E. Mann, the Brontës, Mary Webb,  D. H. Lawrence, Sheila Kaye-Smith and Thomas Hardy. Some will include the George Eliot of Adam Bede in this earthy school.*

Wuthering Heights doesn't have characters with redeeming features, except perhaps Mr. Earnshaw's own honor, and his compassion for this foundling. This is what fascinated me.  Heathcliff's and Catherine's great struggle for dominance -- their so-called romance --  never spellbound me, as it seems to have so many. It was destructive to the players and everyone around them -- and perhaps even to the land, their shared passion for the land, supposedly the foundation of their passion for each other.

It's a very strange book. What's even more strange is how so many readers have persisted in reading it as something it is not. But then, the film versions are what most of them are referencing anyway, which have generally glossed over how severe, cruel, amoral and hard it is. A fitting composition of a woman who refused treatment or assistance while dying in terrible pain for months, a woman who was able to beat her obstinate, fierce dog, Keeper -- not only into submission -- but into absolute loyalty to herself -- when Keeper committed the crime of sleeping on a white counterpaned bed.

What has fascinated me about Wuthering Heights was the Heathcliff tale -- what is not said about him, what is implied through Brontë's word choices, -- and its parallel to Charlotte Brontë's Rochester and his mad wife in the attic, brought back from the Caribbean, in Jane Eyre. Additionally to consider, the Victorian deus ex machina of plot resolutions, the unexpected legacy from a distant relative that Jane Eyre receives comes from an uncle who exported wine to the Caribbean colonies.

This why I've so liked Patricia Rozema's 1999 film version of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. She too opened up a classic novel to the reality of slave economy  of the time that supported so many of England's wealthy men. Rozema did it, it seems to me, in manner plausible to what Austen would know, and Fanny Price would encounter.  They just wouldn't talk about it in a drawing room -- unless in the terms of abolitionism, of which there was a strong movement even in those days in England, with many supporters. Fanny Price or Jane Austen wouldn't talk about this in public, not due to a silly kind of modesty, but because the knowledge of slavery was so awful, it wasn't fit for children to know. Knowing what slavery meant about men you lived with, were dependent on -- you could not throw this out to the winds. You would be so horrified and ashamed for them -- and even more so for they would not be ashamed themselves. They would, however, be angry that you knew of their behaviors. They would blame you for possessing the knowledge, be horrified by you, a female who has knowledge of impurity. Yet they, the men who do these things, are not considered either impure or to be shamed -- it is the slaves who are impure and shameful -- like you are, now that you know.  Moreover, women are not allowed to judge what men do, because men are set above women in all things. This is all implied with a very few images and screen shots in Rozema's Mansfield Park.

This is something everyone knew about as part of their world, but conventionally couldn't speak of much, or at all -- if they were nice**. But then, the Brontës were widely considered not nice for writing what they wrote. So here's a paradox: these sisters' books, generally criticized at publication as having gone wildly out of polite and womanly bounds in their expression of experience, are now icons of the apotheosis of the ideal Romance -- at least Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are. Throwing slavery and the slave trade into the mix of any story is the antithesis of Romance.

But Emily Brontë's novel was anti-romance in another way. Wuthering Heights is a portrait of home life as power struggle, the power struggle conducted via domestic and animal abuse.***  It is the trajectory of the abused becoming the abuser, the now widely recognized signals of abusive personality starkly in evidence: the violence against a child followed by tenderness, and, particularly, the many incidents of  hurting animals, especially dogs.  Heathcliff hangs a King Charles Spaniel as the last thing he does before taking Isabella Linton off to marry, in order to hurt Catherine who married Isabella's brother Edgar and got pregnant by him. (What happens to Isabella and the child Heathcliff gets on her are not included in the film -- the child himself isn't in the film either.) Later, Hindley Earnshaw's son (Hareton, who is never named in this film of Wuthering Heights -- seemingly only Cathy-Catherine and Heathcliff are large enough to receive frequent, articulated naming in this church-invaded yet godless universe of Yorkshire moors) is seen hanging dogs too. These cruelty to animals scenes have been left out of the previous films based on Wuthering Heights.  Arnold's camera lingers, in tight frame, on the dogs' struggles.****

Arnold's Wuthering Heights is the mud and cold of Yorkshire, the shit and piss,  the obstinacy, the cruelty, the dumbness of animals and humans, the hardness -- and the pointlessness -- of this rural life. Only the wild creatures are free, can live (that is, if they can evade snares, and surely, in season, the beaters for shooting parties). The beauty to be found here, is found in very small things that are enlarged to fill the entire movie screen, so enlarged they frequently transform into shapelessness, losing all identifying markers: a single feather from a lapwing, a drop of the endless rain hanging from a bud of heather, a leaf falling in the endless chill.  Or in the vastness of the endless sky.  The blood and feathers and wool of domestic animals on stone of kitchen hearth, in the cold muck of cold barn floor, in the buckets of endless offal fed to the dogs, these are mirrors of the blood spilled in domestic violence, the beatings Hindley gives Heathcliff, wounds layered over old slave whipping scars that Cathy kisses in twisted rapture, the beatings that Heathcliff inflicts upon others, and upon himself.

According to the Wiki entry for Andrea Arnold, she wrote a paper***** when a young school girl about the evils of the slave trade.  Presumably, then, this, as well as Liverpool and Yorkshire's attention to the regional slave trade industry in 2007-08 (2007 was the 200th anniversary of England's abolition of the Africa-Atlantic slave trade) prompted her to cast the young and older Heathcliff with actors of color.  However, Arnold does nothing with this casting. ******  In contrast Rozema's Mansfield Park used the fact of the West Indian colonies' slave system to open up the enclosure of the Park. She shone some light on the darkness that supported  so many Austen lovers's fantasy of English country estate-and-gentry, to further expose the character of some the principals in the story. She did this without invalidating Austen's novel. Arnold did not do this.

What Arnold does with the overt centering of Heathcliff as a black slave is to treat the actor as a slave, i.e. take his body for her / the camera to do with as she / it likes. She frequently exposes his nakedness to our gaze. No other character in this film is seen even partially nude. Yorkshire is a cold climate. Casual nudity isn't natural. So why is Heathcliff  frequently seen entirely naked? This is what we do to people of color in film: we make them naked, we make them kill each other, and make them be killed. Showing us Heathcliff's naked back, with the scars of whipping is one thing.  But showing him disrobing entirely before getting into bed in conditions that don't even include a fireplace or much in the way of bedclothes, providing full frontal glimpses, camera lingering upon his buttocks, is exploitation.  Further -- it is ridiculous -- see cold climate.

If the camera's micro and macro shots are of natural beauty, the middle ground, upon which the human beings are centered, those shots consistently swirl together the erotic gaze with equal parts grossness and the ridiculous. The longest scenes are of Heathcliff suctioning Isabella's mouth, beating himself in rages, and his necrophilic sexual release upon Catherine's corpse. These scenes are portrayed so grossly they make you sick. Heathcliff's obsession is not awe-inspiring, it's disgusting -- and  implausible -- the watcher cannot suspend her disbelief.

Nor does the mere fact that a black man is playing these scenes have a significance.  Whoever enacted the script as Arnold and her collaborator, Olivia Hetreed, wrote it, would be equally preposterous and gross, as very little is shown of  the characters. Most of the characters are not even provided names, though Brontë names everyone, and the first framing narrator, Lockwood, like so many other characters who make the story, is not in the film. To us, the audience, the constant brutality, which all commit upon each other (which is not the case in the novel, particularly between Catherine and her father), seems unprovoked and mysterious.

This is what we see:

It's dark, Mr. Earnshaw brings home a mysterious fellow who is almost full grown, it's dark, Hindley hates him, it's cloudy on the moors, Cathy takes the youth to some rocks, it rains and blows and is dark, Hindley goes away, Cathy and Heathcliff sit on rocks, Mr. Earnshaw dies, it's dark, it's cloudy, Hindely comes back with a wife, it's dark, Hindley beats Heathcliff some more, it rains and blows, Cathy meets Edgar, it's dark (sometime Hindley's wife dies and there's a baby), Catherine announces she's getting married, somebody gets beaten, it's dark, Heathcliff goes away, Heathcliff comes back, it's cloudy (does Hindley die now? or does he just go poof from the film?), Heathcliff runs away with Isabella, it rains and blows (does Heathcliff own Wuthering Heights now or did he own it before?), Heathcliff and Isabella return, it's dark, Catherine dies, Heathcliff beats himself,  it rains and blows, Heathcliff goes (even more) mad, it's dark,  Heathcliff beats himself, it rains and blows, Heathcliff beats himself, has sex on Catherine's corpse, it rains and blows, (somewhere Heathcliff howls) Heathcliff beats himself, it rains and blows, Heathcliff digs up Catherine's coffin, it rains and blows, mud. The End.

This is less than satisfying to the movie goer. Even if that's Arnold's objective, that we be dissatisfied, we have no idea why she wants us dissatisfied.

She's made a Wuthering Heights that is about the camera. If you allow, the camera divides you from what you are seeing.

The telling element Arnold brought to Wuthering Heights was to tightly frame the brutality embedded in the novel, which perhaps was nurtured by the stark and even bleak beauty of the landscape in Brontë's book. Arnold works transformation of this bleakness into ugliness and grossness.  Brontë's transformations were into the formless quietude of the infinite, while still showing a truth of living a life filled work, mud, guts and blood. Arnold left out the deeper context of the novel's universe, despite casting a black man as Heathcliff, despite the rain beaded spider webs and sun shafted cloud giants. She neglected the novel's reconciliation, also a part of the natural world, a coming of peace, to the most non peaceful of personalities.

This why we are grateful there is the witty parody of Cold Comfort Farm to cleanse our palates from this noxious nostrum of a film, that fails to show us the true strangenesses of Emily Brontë's novel, while exposing yet another person of color to an objectifying, exploitative gaze.


* My own critical judgment challenges those who want to include Adam Bede in the Loam and Lovechild tradition. I've finely sifted Eliot's methodist, political reformist movement and science infused text via many re-readings, and do not find the pagan and primitive strands for which some of these novelists, such as Lawrence or the Brontës, are noted. Nor is it a depiction of the desperation of rural poverty that Hardy and Mann have done in some of their works. It shows an honest rural prosperity earned by hard work and common sense.

** Beyond the social conventions of polite discourse, particularly for women, not speaking of 'not-nice' matters -- slaves are not allowed to protest their condition verbally or physically -- further, slaves, like women, are forbidden, in the ideal world of the slave holding economies,  to feel sadness or pain from being beaten, sold, losing their families.  Forbidding the subject speech, with the associated coercion of violence, are the primary tools of domination.  If the subject of abuse cannot speak, then, the surrounding society cannot speak of the abuse either, and thus the abuse -- and the abuser -- is safely protected not only by the legal system that sanctions the violence, but by the even more powerful social system that demands silence and invisibility from those it rules.

*** An excellent analysis (though the author has some of the details of the novel wrong -- Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff are not cousins, as she states, for instance -- Heathcliff is a foundling from Liverpool, not a relative of any sort) of the connection of domestic abuse and animal abuse in  Wuthering Heights is:

"Emily Brontë and Dogs"
Maureen B. Adams in Society & Animals Journal of Human-Animal Studies; Volume 8, Number 2, 2000

The connection between those who abuse animals and domestic violence was understood by George Eliot too, as we see in Daniel Deronda.  Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt treats his dogs the way he treats his other dependents, including his wife, Gwendolyn Harleth. Unlike his dogs though, his wife does not bond to her abuser, and she escapes. This is a different solution from Catherine and Heathcliff, each determined to make the other a thrall, neither of them succeeding, unless Catherine does, as the first of the two to escape into death from the endless struggle between them. (Why do they struggle for dominance? Why are they obsessed with it? I've never figured it out, and this film doesn't help any.) For that matter, Emily's sister Anne, finds escape from a violent, drunken husband the right solution for her primary character in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Animals also play important roles in Anne Brontë's novel, as they do in her sister's, including precepitating her protagonist's escape, when she sees her son abusing birds, at his drunken father's instigation.

**** This audience member wondered how these scenes were staged to protect the dogs from physical and mental anguish.  I stayed until the house lights went up.  "No animals were hurt or harmed during the course of filming," was not included in the credit crawl.

***** At first it seemed Arnold would do something  to open further the tale by presenting Heathcliff s as an escaped, lost or freed slave in Liverpool. The old house of Wuthering Heights creaks in the wuthering of the wind. The roar is like the constant roar surrounding the slaves of the Middle Passage, chained below water level, as heard in the video simulation in the International Slave Museum.  It's an awful video; nothing is spared, from the vomit of sea sickness, the galls from the shackles, the slop provided to eat once a day, the roiling feces and urine.  But that's the last thing in the film that might be brought in by the virtue of casting a black actor as Heathcliff.  That, and the whipping scars on his back, are all there is -- and the exploitive, objectifying gaze at his nakedness.

****** During my undergrad years the prof of a history of the novel course set us to do a 'creative' project for our final class project instead of yet another paper.  I created Isabella's diary of her time with Heathcliff, which included how she learned he'd made his fortune when away from Wuthering Heights and the moors via the slave trade -- which was vigorously pursued during the presumed timeline of the novel, which reaches from 1757 to 1803, when Cathy, Catherine's daughter, makes plans to marry her cousin, Hareton, Hindley's son. (The genealogy of Wuthering Heights's three generations is as hard to grasp as anything else about the book, at least for me.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Liverpool's International Museum of Slavery and Andrea Arnold‘s film of *Wuthering Heights*

Looking into the New York Times Wednesday morning, the first day after getting back from England and our visit to Liverpool's International Museum of Slavery on Monday* -- imagine the thrill I felt reading that Andrea Arnold's 'black' Wuthering Heights was finally opening here. Mr. Earnshaw finds Heathcliff in the gutters of Liverpool, from where he brings the child to his Yorkshire family farm on the moors. I've been anxious to see this film ever since first reading about in the English papers last year.

Andrew O'Hehir says Arnold's Wuthering Heights is his film Pick of the Week; he makes his case for his judgement with passion. The reviews in the NYC papers have been favorable. But Michael Atkinson in the Village Voice, who may well know his film history, doesn't know the history of the African diaspora or slavery.  He blithely declares:

In the 1770s, when the story is set, a black child was rare, even in Liverpool, the African chattel of the busy Brit-run slave trade going almost exclusively to British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese colonies in the Americas.
Atkinson is wrong. See this, from the Liverpool International Slavery Museum site:

Of the little research into the Black presence in Britain during the slave trade period most has focused solely on London, yet Liverpool had a considerable Black population during the 18th and 19th centuries, many of whom were slaves. Although there seems to be no evidence of large scale slave auctions taking place here, slaves can be found advertised for sale in the early Liverpool newspapers. Merchants would also place 'WANTED' advertisements in the press, demonstrating their eagerness to purchase an African servant.

As well as slave sales, there were also advertisements for runaways, showing that Black people did not accept their enslavement in Britain passively. The newspapers also show the reality of life for Black people in Britain's most important slave trading port after the lauded Mansfield Decision of 1772. The last slave sale advertised in a Liverpool newspaper took place in 1779, seven years after Mansfield had ruled in the case of James Somersett.

Church records of the time also give us a great insight into the African presence in the town and show many Black people being baptised and buried in Liverpool churchyards. From these records and others, we know there were many free Black people living in Liverpool during the latter part of the 18th century, including students and craftsmen, as well as soldiers and sailors who fought with honour during the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars.

Atkinson doesn't comprehend that enslaved Africans and free people of color existed in ports all over the world, side-by-side, even in countries like England, that didn't have a domestic slave trade, but allowed slavery. It wasn't until 1772 and the Somerset (Mansfield) Decision that domestic slavery in England was overturned (This, incidentally frightened the American colonial slaver owners all way to the bottom of their pockets -- and their account books -- that the Decision paved the way for Abolitionists to have their way throughout the colonies; this fear was another reason the southern power elite spent so much energy creating the propaganda agitation for political independence from England.)

As well, everywhere ships and the sea provided many jobs for men of color, whether slave or free.  Among other sources for this, particularly in Liverpool, Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History, provides extensive, tragic documentation.

Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights opens here in NYC today, at the Film Forum, which is just a few blocks away from here.  I'll be there.

* Among other exciting information gleaned even from this truncated visit to the museum is that several Liverpool slave traders -- all very powerful, very wealthy and very respected citizens of the city -- traded in slaves directly with slave owners in Maryland and Virginia throughout the 18th century, until the War for Independence.

It's A Bonded Classic: Adele sings *Skyfall*

I love this, -- it is perfectly Bond musical bombast, as a Bond movie theme is to be.

You can hear it here, if you scroll down the article.

Or here:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Classic Is Still A Classic

Sunday afternoon in the British Museum:

Time and the River, Time and the Builder

When I originally wrote this, it was 8:46 PM NYC time:

It's going on for 2 AM in London.  We'd been awake since 8 AM London time.  We were in the air for over 7 hours.  Then forever to get off the plane, another forever to get baggage, more forever to get a taxi and then the other forever of getting back to home.

Then unpacking like mad people. El V's made pasta, but I'm not eating any.  I can't face the idea of eating.  I got cleared to start putting life back together today, and getting ready for New Orleans. After that particular NO visit, el V will be going back-and-forth between Haiti and New Orleans for a bit.

It's hard to comprehend that at this time last night (well, sort of, as time is different there -- see, time = cat) we were getting on the train to leave Liverpool. Where I saw a guy about 25 years old take out from its packaging his souvenir Beatles tea towel and ... kiss it.  Like a priest would kiss his surplice before mass.  I am not making this up.  Ourselves, we had gone to Liverpool to visit the Museum of the International Slave Trade – the African slave trade, from which an enormous amount of Liverpool’s wealth was built – which I could even rattle off in my sleep then helped down the line to create the Beatles.

Now it is 8:46 AM NYC time, and I blither responded to an Egyptologist friend's question about the condition of the sphinxes along the Thames:

I saw some of the Thames sphinxes, N.  The ones I saw, fairly close to Trafalgar Bridge, appeared smooth and sleek. London's public spaces and what is in them. received some serious spiffing in preparation for the Jubilee and the Olympics.

So your eyes are just wandering about, darting about -- and there are -- sphinxes!

Perhaps that is what provides London its underlying charm: it's a whimsical city?  Even some of the contemporary architecture makes you smile. There's a brand new Hilton, designed to provoke thoughts of Tudor era country manors -- you know, with all that criss-crossing pattern timber pattern and gables piled on?  Except, it's a skyscraper made from those currently so popular reflecting materials. However, there are 'gables,' higgly piggly, and you smile with surprised delight -- at least both el V and I did, and think. "Howl's Moving Castle," from the animated film.

There's so much, from so many eras, whether so intentioned back in the day, that provides a sense of lightness and fun to the contemporary viewer.

In bleak contrast, there are those gapes, from the Blitz bombing, filled with impoverished post-war practical, dark, clunky square ugliness. Which allows even those whose grandparents weren't born then, to remember and grieve  England's terrible losses and terrible prices paid. Yes, not everywhere is all history the past and done with*.

This is particularily so of places that have BBC, some might say ....  All week, I think it was on BBC 2, ran an endless documentary - recreation series -- British agriculture during the War.


* These are the places, the cities, that I fall in love with -- or like New Orleans, in love and hate with.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Horse As Motif

Elgin Marbles ...

"Considered the finest of the frieze sections depicting horses -- there are four here, not that you can tell from a photograph of this nature, posted on this site, unworked in photoshop:

Energy in motion and three dimensions -- the centaur wins:

Horses everywhere in London and England as images and the living animal.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Heart of Darkness

Liverpool after all, not Bristol, for our last day here.

Appropriately it's foggy, cold and rainy for this trip into the heart of darkness, i.e. the English slave trade. 

The Yoruba Leopard case in the Africa galleries of the British Museum.