". . . 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

Friday, January 31, 2014

"The Faces of Young White Slavery" - 1864; Harper's

Today's NY Times Disunion column, which runs throughout the current observances of the lead-up, duration and aftermath of the U.S. Civil War highlights one of the strongest incentives in the North for abolition and emancipation prior to the primary shooting war *. White slaves -- the unease, discomfort and nervousness they caused northerners is something that I have been tracking for the last few years as well.  If these white people are considered 'negro' and therefore slaves, what about my daughter?  What about my husband? What about me?

In the south the white slaves also provoked anxiety -- who is in truth actually white and free, and fit to associate with me?  It was getting more difficult to tell with each generation, to where court cases were proliferating in attempts to declare this person and another a non-person, in fact, but black.  The courts -- judges, attorneys, witnesses and jurors -- were having such difficulty in deciding that cases would be tried and re-tried, and finally end, again, inconclusively.

Such an end-point of race-based slavery is inevitable, since the very condition of slavery means no control over one's body, one's very self, so the right to rape is embedded in slave ownership.  Additionally the lighter-skinned the white offspring of the rape -- particularly for the female child -- the more valuable the child in the marketplace.

At the same time, these white-skinned slaves bore public witness in their very existence that directly contradicted the slave power's own propaganda of the morality of slavery and its beneficence for both owner and slave.  Their existence wrote public volumes about the morality and behavior of the individual slaveholder, what he did, when others were politely averting their eyes -- or while they were raping their own slaves.

Thus arose the lie of the intrinsic immorality of the slave woman: lascivious and immoral -- it was her fault that she and successive generations of her daughters, before and after her, were repeatedly impregnated by white men -- she and they -- who had no basis by which to refuse, who were imprisoned by a system that coerced sexual submission as well as submission in all other ways.
... Harper’s Weekly wrote: “to all appearance, she is perfectly white. Her complexion, hair, and features show not the slightest trace of negro blood.” With their fair skin and elegant dress, Rebecca and Rosa evoked for most viewers the “fancy girls” sold in the New Orleans slave market. The fate that awaited these girls as concubines to white men was clear to most viewers at the time. Their tender youth compelled Northerners to renew their commitment to the war and rescue girls like these.
The column on the propaganda campaign that used white slave children to rally a war-weary northern population can be linked to here.

Some of the photographs used in the campaign were included in their original format in the recently past exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in "Photography and the American Civil War."  This exhibit has moved now to the New Orleans Museum of Art, opening today, January 31.

 We were shooting each other about the expansion of slavery for quite some time already, notably Bloody Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska battles.  Another instance was John Brown's quixotic incursion into Virginia. As well, the many attacks and even killings of anyone in the south who might speak against slavery, as well as the constant imprisonment, torture and even killing of any slave who objected to anything, much less being a slave.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mansfield Park - The War of 1812 - Louisa Catherine Adams

I had been thinking that while we USians are fascinated with all things Jane Austen, it appears Miss Austen hadn't a particle of interest in the U.S.  The only mentions of the New World, I thought, were in Mansfield Park.

The absentee Baronet Bertram goes, with his heir, Tom, to sort out his plantations in Antigua, which seem to have been badly mismanaged -- which happened with West Indies absentee ownership.

It turns out Mansfield Park also includes a mention of America, meaning the U.S. It occurs after Sir Bertram returns, the amateur theatricals and all its accompanying dramas are put a stop to, and the unwelcome guests prudently depart:

From Chapter XII:
Fanny could listen no farther. Listening and wondering were all suspended for a time, for Mr. Bertram was in the room again; and though feeling it would be a great honour to be asked by him, she thought it must happen. He came towards their little circle; but instead of asking her to dance, drew a chair near her, and gave her an account of the present state of a sick horse, and the opinion of the groom, from whom he had just parted. Fanny found that it was not to be, and in the modesty of her nature immediately felt that she had been unreasonable in expecting it. When he had told of his horse, he took a newspaper from the table, and looking over it, said in a languid way, "If you want to dance, Fanny, I will stand up with you." With more than equal civility the offer was declined; she did not wish to dance. "I am glad of it," said he, in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper again, "for I am tired to death. I only wonder how the good people can keep it up so long. They had need be all in love, to find any amusement in such folly; and so they are, I fancy. If you look at them you may see they are so many couple of lovers—all but Yates and Mrs. Grant—and, between ourselves, she, poor woman, must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor," making a sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, who proving, however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous a change of expression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything, could hardly help laughing at. "A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! What is your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to think of public matters."
As there are so many Royal Navy figures in Austen's family and her novels this might be thought about a bit. It is generally believed that Mansfield Park was begun in 1811 and completed in the summer of 1813, with a publication in 1814. The U.S. officially declared a state of war with Britain in 1812. *

However, the conditions of war provocation had been place long before 1811, among them the many hostile encounters on the sea between the U.S. and Britain, as part of Britain's high-handed treatment of U.S. merchant ships. The U.S. had no navy, thanks to President Jefferson, who thought without a navy chances for war with Europe were less. Jefferson's administration basically bowed to France -- the U.S. people saw it that way. He embargoes all European trade for the U.S. plunging the U.S. into deep economic depression, particularly outraging the New England mercantile-shipping-banking elite. Ultimately this provoked New England (for the first time, not the last) to attempts organizing secession from the U.S. In the meantime, the west wanted War!  Impressment of sailors from U.S. ships was only a single goad. In most ways the U.S. was in an impossible situation, caught between England and France as both nations demanded the U.S. alliance and support, forbidding U.S. traders to deal with the other or any nation supposedly allied with the other.

The Brits were blockading U.S. ports, as well as those of European nations who wished to trade with the U.S. or France. One consequence as the burning of Copenhagen for trading with the U.S. One of the few nations with whom we could still trade was Russia, where was John Quincy Adams as our minister, who was entrusted to keep that trade open and obtain, hopefully, other assistance as well against England and France. Both France and England felt they needed friendly relations with Russia -- until Napoleon screwed the pooch on that, that is.

In 1812, Madison's administration was pushed by the South and the newer western states into declaring war on Britain: with an empty treasury, thanks to Jefferson's Embargo, no navy, thanks again to Jefferson, no army, thanks to the states' determination to finance their individual militias only and refusal of a draft to make a national army.

So, even before the War began, the U.S. turned to privateering. -- smuggling, of course, went on as it always had.

To the chagrin and shocked disbelief of the Brits, U.S. privateers took numbers of Brit vessels -- even at the entry roads of the Thames and in the English Channel!  (The exact, astonishing large number is enumerated Henry Adams's history of Madison's administrations.)

The U.S. ship yards began re-building a navy at a pace the Brits didn't suspect was possible. With the news that the USS Constitution had defeated the His Majesty's Guerriere, there was disbelieving wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout England.

On the shores of the Chesapeake, things were generally better for the Brits (until the Star Spangled Fort McHenry engagement). In August 1814, the Brits fired the government buildings when they took Washington, D.C. (thereby turning the President's Palace into the White House, as the thick white paint of repairs concealed the soot-covered walls) and the destruction of a whole Brit invading army at New Orleans -- which invasion arrives from Jamaica via the navy.

As did France, thus United States filled the English papers while Jane Austen wrote Mansfield Park. a novel that glancingly mentions the War to illustrate another characteristic about Tom Bertram.

In the meantime, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams was in St. Petersburg, bearing and losing a child, a favorite of both the czar and czarina, while her husband negotiated fishing and trading treaties with Russia. Then in the winter of 1815 she traveled by coach from Russia to Paris, and Napoleon escaped from Elba.


* For a timeline of novel's chronology and that of its composition, go here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reading Wednesday -- Ebony & Ivy - Not a Novel + 12 Years A Slave, More

Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities, by Craig Steven Wilder (2013), Bloomsbury Press, is a history I've wanted to read since it came out.  This stupid elbow accident is giving me a window of time, so in I plunged.

This history is a component of slavery, slave-breeding and the slave trade about which I knew very few facts, and those were sketchy.  The largest sense I previously had about how entwined the entire history of North America's earliest academies were with these matters, I had gotten from a friend of mine, whose great-great-great-grandfather had worked at William & Mary -- but she's always emphasized that though he was African American, he was free. She's been writing a novel based on her ancestor's life, which will be a wonderful book.

The four earliest academies in North America are, as many of us know, Harvard,  William & Mary, Yale and the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton.  The depth and scope of their connection to slavery, the slave trade and slave-breeding set me back.  And what is true about them is equally true of every institution of higher learning in the U.S. founded before the mid-1860's, particularly all the Ivies: Dartmouth, Princeton, Brown, you name them, they all profited and even financed these slave buying and selling, even, yes, ships to Africa in the earliest years.

Here is another work of scholarship providing evidence for something we write early in The American Slave Coast: "No matter how awful you learn our slavery system was, it is always worse than that."

The New England states, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have nothing to congratulate themselves for in terms of slavery before the early decades of Independence.  And even then, as we talk about in The American Slave Coast, all of these states continued to make huge fortunes out of the slave trade, particularly the African slave trade.

For another example of the reality always being worse than the record, try this article that describes the experience of a Union soldier from New York, who was on the Louisiana ground where Solomon Northup ended up, with the brutal Epps:

His entry for May 21 condemned the savagery that made a slave of Northup and 4 million other men, women and children in the American South.
“I took the opportunity to investigate this abominable sistem of slavery ... I have examend their instruments of torture the stocks whip and paddle and strap,” Burrud wrote. “Solomans book is true to the letter only it dos not portray the system as bad as it is it is not in the power of man to do it.” In other words, slavery was even worse than what Northup had written in his memoir. It defied description.

Political Jobbing Cats!

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I've been to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you do there?
I frightened a little mouse, right under her chair.

Cats poised to descend on Parliament to help rid Westminster of vermin; see, here.

Larry is Westminster's Chief Mouser.  However, Larry Needs Help
as the Mouse Population Soars.

Larry Meets You Know Who

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Life of Shakespeare - Historical Drama Mini-series

The Life of Shakespeare 6-part series was shown on ITV in 1978.  It was scripted by John Mortimer (he who is responsible for Rumpole of the Bailey and many other things).

 Shakespeare is played by Tim Curry while Ian McShane plays Kit Marlowe. The period London's influential gay population is given parity in this series.  I've only watched some of it so far, but am enjoying it a great deal.  It's lively and energetic.  The costumes are splendid as is appropriate for a series that sets so many scenes within the theater with the costume makers forever chasing Richard Burbage and other famous board treaders about for fittings.  The more the watcher knows about this era of England politics, both power and literary, the more the watcher will enjoy.

The discs were obtained from netflix.  The color values are a lot higher than on many dvds from this era of English television, though it doesn't play full screen.

 The vitality of the period, the place, the London theater. the man and his cohorts are fundamental to this series, and a fine way to observe the splendid fact that my broken elbow is healing well and I feel so much better -- and energetic myself.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Louisa Catherine Adams, Austen's Young Ladies and the Marriage Business

Is it useful at all to compare and contrast Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams with Jane Austen's characters beyond the cultural gender fact that a successful marriage was the only career for women in their time?  Their fate in life was literally the men they married.  What follows is an attempt to see if there's anything worth considering historically as to what Americans and the English women of a certain rank had in common, if anything, during this era of the marriage business.

Louisa C. Adams was born on the eve of the American Revolution, 1775, to a father who had immigrated from Annapolis to London, and an English mother. When she entered the  marriage market, in London and even on the continent, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era had overthrown the Age of Reason. It was in the process of being replaced by the Romantic Era, at least in London and already previously in parts of Central Europe.

Sense and Sensibility is set in southwest England between 1792 and 1797
Like Austen's Sense and Sensibility Marianne, LCA was adamantly on the side of sensibility, as her personal papers reveal.

John Quincy Adams, her husband to be, born 1767 in Massachusetts to Founding Parents of the American Revolution and the United States of America, eight years his wife's senior, was as equally a pure product of the Enlightenment as he was of his puritan heritage. They had in common that they'd lived in other countries and learned other languages in their formative years.

LCA 1821 - 1826  by Gilbert Stuart
After a, for her, frustratingly lengthy engagement they married in 1797 when she was 22 and he was 30. Their marriage was successful, but it was also very difficult, from the beginning until JQ died in 1848. LCA's personal papers are the primary source for learning how tumultuous was the transition between the age that had passed and the age that was coming into being.   JQA was non-communicative, rational, scholarly, cool, withholding and introverted, devoted to duty, while passionately ambitious. She was extroverted, social, depressive, fashionable, dramatic and expressive, and also passionately ambitious, as illustrated by her brilliant efforts in the run-up to the 1824 presidential election.

In the eyes of  Louisa's family the young John Quincy Adams, constantly at their London home, was a most eligible bachelor, or in the more appropriate French which Louisa spoke at least as flawlessly as he, un bon parti. Externally everything was right, even the difference in their age was marriage-appropriate. At that time JQA was even physically attractive though not of the robust variety of manly appeal. He was a successful statesman, with experience already at the courts of Russia and at the Hague. He'd traveled across Europe, lived in several of the capitals including Paris. He was highly educated, with connections of the best. His prospects in American terms were equal to those of Mr. Darcy's station: President Washington himself had named JQ to the Holland post; his father was Washington's Vice President; and before they became engaged, JQ's father became President of the U.S.

What she didn't realize was JQ's temperament was even more difficult than Mr. Darcy's at his worst.  JQ even seems to balked at the final stage of actually marrying.  It took a bit of travel and encouragement from Louisa and her father -- following him to the Hague after a year's engagement -- to get him up to the altar.  As well, Mr. Johnson offered a financial settlement for Louisa. They married, and within days, Mr. Johnson's business collapsed, he went bankrupt and fled with the rest of his family back to America.  JQA was left holding the bag, sans marriage settlement, and with his father-in-law's creditors demanding payment from him. Then, his assignment to the Portuguese ministry in Lisbon got changed to Berlin -- after they'd shipped their household goods at considerable expense, leaving them waiting for the next installment of JQA's salary before they could even leave London. This was a terrible way for a young woman to begin her marriage, already at disadvantage.

At least Darcy knew Elizabeth Bennet had no financial prospects and a financially feckless father before they married.

However, though JQA seemed not to know it at the time, and seems never to have acknowledged it to her at least overtly, he married the perfect woman for the ambitions that burned in him his life through.  It may well have been a different thing for her.

Have only gotten through the historical background, maybe. But now the right hand, arm and elbow are ordering, "No more!"

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Imperial Adventure Fiction -- Is It Historical Fiction?

Robinson Crusoe (1719) is influenced by perhaps mostly true tales and events that took place in the 17th century.

Treasure Island (1881 - 83) takes place in the 18th century.

However, Kim (really all of Kipling's work) She, King Solomon's Mines, The Four Feathers and King of the Khyber Rifles are set in the present in which they were written -- when the sun remained very high in Britain's colonial sky.

Thus it feels incorrect to include works like the top two into a critique of "Imperial Adventure Fiction."

However, it can be useful in a critical way to think of what makes a work historical fiction, since many works of consciously historical fiction are very much adventure fiction too, as opposed to categorized as the author of the linked-to article does, as "imperial adventure fiction."

Further, the author's incorrect when she says that people don't read any of these books any longer.  They've never lost popularity with a certain segment of the public -- that same public that has never lost its passion for Sherlock Holmes.*  That all of these works have been filmed and televised many times would tell us this, with the exception of King of the Khyber Rifles.  Myself have re-read all these titles several times, but never re-read Talbot Mundy -- he's not as exciting a writer as the others perhaps?

For me personally, however, the greatest colonial fiction to come out of the UK is that of Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet (1965 - 75), which as Jewel in the Crown, was perhaps the most popular BBC series of all time. It begins in 1942 and concludes with shortly after Independence.  There is adventure.  It is historical.  But composed so early after the events that are the novels, not historical fiction -- and it does seem to be the very antithesis to the colonial thesis that is Kim.


* Would the hardly submerged subtext about Britain's anxieties about her colonial empire and the invasion of the Other (Brasilian wives -- always bad news!) in Doyle's work explain why so many readers who adore the Sherlock Holmes canon, have continued to read these books too?  The only real rival to Holmes might be the character of Kim?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jane Austen Is American-Free: Louisa Catherine Adams

Am I correct in thinking there are no Americans, not a single one, in the Austen canon?

LCA as First Lady
This came to mind as I continue to look at Louisa Catherine Adams, who could have been a character right out of a Jane Austen novel, at least until her marriage. In the much the same era, LCA was brought up like the marriageable young ladies in Austen's novels, and certainly with the same terrifying knowledge that it was marriage and probably nothing else for them, if they wished any sort of adult identity and respect.  She was much the same rank as many of them. Her education could have been that of Emma, but LCA seems to have been actually more talented and better read.  It was never determined whether Emma could speak French but my guess is that she couldn't -- at least beyond the most rudimentary school girl's French.

LCA is older than the average Austen young lady, though, born as she was in 1775, into the first great revolutionary wave, that of the North American British colonies, even though her Maryland father had already immigrated long before that to England.  The great revolution for Austen's ladies was the French one.  But surely the War of 1812 must have effected some members of some of their families?

However, such thoughts may well be goofy,  provoked by the goofy pills for my broken elbow.  I toughed it out today, taking none at all between midnight and 6 PM tonight; now I'm deeply aware of my interior, which is riding the gentle ocean swells of relief, up and down, and all floaty-like.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Turning the Mini-Series Inside Out

This is an examination of the 80's American television mini-series tropes, within the context of the premiere of a parody television series of same, Spoils of Babylon.

In the NY Times television section here.  "Turning the Mini-Series Inside Out."

Spoils is all for laughs and so is this little piece of writing.  Nevertheless it provides a brief run-down of what we expect from these epic-as-television-min-series.

I have blogged here fairly extensively about this mini-series  (and here too) as well as other 80's series, but while typing is considered therapy right now, mousing, and all that isn't -- hurts!  But I am going without the sling today as advised.

I have enjoyed these 80's mini-series very much via dvd -- never saw them when they were broadcast as that happened in the largest part of my life, lived without television.

As I have various significant Life Before and After phases, such as Before El V After El V,  Before Cuba After Cuba, there are other less important one such as Before DVD on Computer and After DVD on Computer -- via which I caught up on all the television I wanted to catch up on within a few years.  Though, as I watched most of this long after their 'time' so to speak, my responses to these generally are different than the contemporary responses when they were broadcast -- for me they are entertaining, but filled with a particular sort of historical data, that dramatizes literally how this nation saw itself and how it wished itself to be seen -- sometimes unconsciously so revealing what it might not like to know about itself.

At this stage when it comes to entertainment, particularly any sort of fiction, it's how the content employs history that most interests me.

What I gleaned from this little piece linked to above is how much the tropes that are necessary to 80's American television mini-series are the same necessary expectations of Big or Fairly Big or Aspiration to Big Fantasy Fiction.  And that is most intriguing to think about.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Broke - Offline

Broke a chunk of elbow radial head early Wednesday evening.

Didn't think I'd broken anything in the fall then, but by the early Thursday AM hours knew I had to seek medical attention.

After scream inducing pain events such as standing up, exams  and ex-rays, it was confirmed.  Worse the break is my right elbosw, and I am a righty.  My left got broken up long ago and so has always been the weaker.  With my back condition in the mix too, well, as one of the very nice doctors, who surely is in pre-K, right? so young is he, stated after looking at the elbow ex rays, "It's official.  You are in very great pain."

It easily could have been much worse; no cast, no surgery. just a sling.  I didn't land on my back, or break a knee or hip.  (Doctors also declared my bones in really good condition, considering my age and all the damaged that has been done to my skeleton. -- the results of diet, vitamins and working out for years with light weights.)  I'm expected to heal relatively quickly.  The pain should recede in a few days.  I have excellent meds. I am expected to start using my fingers, hand, wrist, and shoulder almost immediately, and start moving the elbow in a couple of days to prevent freezing.

The sort of person I am I overdid it yesterday, as well as taking less than the   number of alloted pill for a 24-hour period.  These things are damaging to kidneys and liver, so I am trying to make do with less.  But that was a mistake I won't make today.

Very unfair to el V to have me out of commission when I must be at the plate to make revisions by deadline, and o! so many things I do all the time.  But I can't even lower or raise my office chair myself, wash my hair, cook -- no knives! -- shop -- you name it, I cannot do it.  Ironically the thing I can still do a little of is keyboard.  But that isn't the same as typing.

May I now take a moment to praise with very great praise the wonderful el V?  His concern, his love, his behavior, his helpfullness, his kindness, his sense of humor are unfailing.  I never did anything to deserve the devotion of someone as wonderful as he is.  I cannot express the scope of my appreciation and gratitude.

Now I've overdone it again.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reading Wednesday - The Pagan Lord (2014 in US) by Bernard Cornwell

 #7 in The Saxon Tales of 10th-11th century Danish trained Saxon warrior, Uhtred, who serves the family of Alfred of Wessex. This one shows the nuts and bolts of formulaic story composition. The dry-walling is well-joined and measured, but nonetheless the discerning eye needs more plaster over the seams of structure. 

\Why no, Lord Uhtred does not take possession of Bebbanburg. There was no plot reason that Uhtred didn't take Bebbanburg, despite author's handwavium trying to explain it.  The obvious reason is that author can't let go of this device to keep Uhtred on the playing field, under the dominion of (some) hated others, rather than becoming the power in his own right he couldn't avoid being, if he sat as lord of his own domain fortress.

That latter development would make for a lot more interesting and new stories than the repetition of what we've already had. Since in terms of the series, we're just at the turn from 10th to 1Ith century perhaps having the fictional Uhtred taking possession of the real Bebbanburg would screw the history too much; the Vikings didn't destroy the Saxon fortification until 993.

The time has arrived to retire Uhtred, who has already survived significantly beyond the average span of a warrior who maintains his leadership as part of the shield wall.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Treme plus No Story Is About Everything

"No story is about everything. And any story that claims to be about everything is, in the end, about nothing."

As Mr. Simon is a fellow who has proven he knows a few things about successful long-form story-telling (and characterization!), this is an observation that story tellers might like to to keep in mind as they construct their own tales for the ages.

Mr. Simon addresses the differences between fictions created out of historical events and historical scholarship.  The last two sentences are wise in these matters, at least for works that being created with the hope that they are saying something worth more than a few moments of purposeless consumption that merely passes the time:
All of which is not to suggest that the fictional story should or could in any way supplant the journalism, the documentarianism or, ultimately, the historical scholarship that has been generated and continues to be generated about post-Katrina New Orleans. Not only is the fictional narrative incapable of replacing empirical reporting and scholarship, it is reliant on such. And when the fictional narrative “cheats” a truth, it does so to better and more honorable effect when the storyteller knows enough to understand the where and why of the cheat. Absent that much, you’re pretty much just getting stuff wrong to no purpose.

Treme worked very hard to be accurate, to be right, about everything from street names, to musicians' behavior and music history, about the place of food in the culture of New Orleans, provoking even arguments about Hubig's Pies.  While doing this they also wrote story and character arcs that were grounded in this culture and had the temerity to center music and musicians instead of good cop vs bad gangster -- thus accused of having no story, as well as arrogantly playing only to insiders, whomever they may have been.

Evidently an Originals in which there New Orleans was never devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and in which there is only the French Quarter and something called the Bayou, inhabited only by human food for vamps, witches and weres, is not even worth criticizing for accuracy or traffic tie-up by persnickety critics, New Orleanians and viewers. No more is True Blood, in which finally Shreveport, always stuck as a second fiddle in the minds of non-Louisianans, exists only as a vamp administrative district.

Even the best creative works run their course, and it came Treme's time to go, so all exit, stage right.  Nevertheless I was very sorry to say "The End."  In fact I couldn't even think for a long time about what it meant that Treme was finished for good. It was the most beautiful and ambitious thing to ever hit a television screen. It is hard to accept that I'll never see again anything like that season 2,  episode 17, "Carnival Time," of Mardi Gras in Cajun country. Shocking, extravagant, eye and ear popping.  Magnificent.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot: Why Do We Keep Resurrecting the Same Literary Characters

"So we’re doomed, then, to reboots of reboots of ‘Columbo,’ drifting ever farther from the source like a damaged battle cruiser in space?"


Two authors,

James Parkera contributing editor at The Atlantic and has written for Slate, The Boston Globe and Arthur magazine. He was a staff writer at The Boston Phoenix and in 2008 won a Deems Taylor Award for music criticism from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers


Pankaj Mishra:

author of several books, including “The Romantics: A Novel,” which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and "From the Ruins of Empire,” a finalist for the Orwell and Lionel Gelber Prizes in 2013. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and contributes essays on politics and literature to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Guardian of London and The London Review of Books

asked the question in The New York Times Book Review. They also attempted to answer the question and provide some analysis via changes in history, culture and technology, rather than passing off snark 'n snort superiority as thought. The full piece is here


A pull from part of what felt to me most interesting from Pankaj Mishra's discussion of James Bond:

Britain is geopolitically too insignificant, and non-Western markets — as well as political sensitivities — matter too much now for 007 to be able to fulfill neo-imperialist fantasies of power and domination. The artless seducer of women with names like Pussy Galore and Octopussy, a man who once charmingly hoped for sex to have “the sweet tang of rape,” also risks driving away a crucial demographic from the theaters. It is surely a sign of the times that in “Skyfall” a non-misogynist Bond retreats to his family estate in secession-minded Scotland, improbably preoccupied with a childhood trauma after what seems to have been a wholly unexamined life.

“Relax. You need to relax!” the film’s villain taunts him. In the age of Jason Bourne, the C.I.A.'s intriguingly mislaid human drone, and Edward Snowden, Bond does look ready for a long sabbatical. Fans need not despair, however. William Boyd’s Graham Greene-reading Bond in the novel “Solo” hints that recycled myth can occasionally construct a fresh relationship with history. Assigned to protect the interests of oil companies in a nasty West African civil war in 1969, Bond appears to himself as “insubstantial and weak,” even “unmanned”: a fleeting glimpse of the commonplace, everyday tragedy of life — disappointment, failure and decay — that might suit remakes better than thickly costumed farce. [Having just watched and enjoyed as mindless entertainment, Red 2, this observation particularly gave me something to mull about about. The only thing resembling thought that drifted through my blank mind while watching this comic book on screen that sort-of stars actors I like to look at,  Catherine Zeta-Jones, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich, was the same as I had when watching the first Red: that Bruce Willis can be an effective comic actor -- who knew? -- and that the way he plays Frank Moses, and how he looks, reminds me a whole lot of Jerry Doyle's Garibaldi in Babylon-5, who I liked a lot. I had a lot actual thoughts though, watching Garibaldi and B-5.]

What interested me most in James Parker's discussion of reboots:

Not to get too portentous about it, but this question for me points like a flaming golden arrow to a much larger question, which has to do with the health of our collective imagination. That is, are we caught in a diminishing loop of derivative creativity, some kind of stranglehold of the secondhand? Have we wandered deeper into Eliot’s Waste Land — the fragmented panoramas, the “heap of broken images,” only now with more zombies — than the poet himself could have foreseen? Can it be that our highest form of cultural expression is the YouTube mash-up?

“The originators, the exuberant men, are extinct,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in 1957, “and in their place subsists and modestly flourishes a generation notable for elegance and variety of contrivance.” We do not have Tolkien, in other words: We have J. J. Abrams. Or Steven Moffat, lead writer of “Doctor Who” since 2009 and co-creator (if that’s the right word) of the new BBC/Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes. Nothing against Abrams and Moffat; they’re both clearly brilliant — zanily gifted reorganizers and rewirers of material. “Elegance and variety of contrivance,” yes indeed, by the bucketload. My point is that the material, for the most part, is not theirs. They work in tropes, memes, brands, jingles, known quantities, canned reactions, market-tested flavors, whatever you want to call them. The cultural critic Simon Reynolds has named this phenomenon “retromania”: He published a fascinating book about it in 2011. Tolkien, too, was of course drawing on his sources, his own scholarly vaults of inspiration, his Kalevalas and Nibelungenlieds and all that. But he was closer to the root, to the first fictive impulse. Which makes “The Lord of the Rings” a rather juicier and more self-sustaining “subcreation” — to use Tolkien’s terminology — than, say, “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

The mileage among opinions will vary.

Friday, January 10, 2014

12 Years A Slave - Northup's Book, Not McQueen's Film

There's a carefully researched article on the UK Guardian that deals with Northup's life, his book, other slave narratives and the times in which he was enslaved.

When slave narratives were rediscovered in the 20th century, the fact that most had been ghosted or edited by white people once again raised the question of their authenticity: many historians repeated the century-old charge that the narratives were exaggerated or fabricated by abolitionists. Unfortunately, much of the US coverage of McQueen's film has rehearsed these invidious questions, but the underlying truths of the atrocities of slavery are beyond dispute, and not altered by the fact that any narrative is, by definition, constructed.
In the case of Northup, his account was verified by the historian who recovered his story, a woman named Sue Eakin. Twelve years old when she discovered a copy of Northup's narrative in a local plantation in 1930, Eakin was intrigued to find it described the area in which she lived. Six years later, as a student at Louisiana State University, she found a copy of the book in a local bookstore. The owner sold it to her for 25 cents, telling her it was worthless: "There ain't nothing to that old book. Pure fiction." Eakin would devote her life, she later said, to proving him wrong.
 Eakin set about discovering everything she could about Northup's life, tracking down its details, using the legal and financial records of the men who owned him to corroborate his account of his enslavement. (Northup himself quotes more than once from such records: "The deed of myself from Freeman to Ford, as I ascertained from the public records in New-Orleans on my return, was dated June 23d 1841.")
Unlike many slave narratives, Northup's named names: the people who mistreated him were still alive, and their own records substantiate the facts of his story. Eakin died in 2009; three years later amateur historian David Fiske published Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery. Between them, Eakin and Fiske established that Northup played a significant role in his book's composition, working closely with Wilson over the three months they wrote it. Fiske even found reports of corroboration made by Edwin Epps himself, from union soldiers who met him in Louisiana during the civil war: "Old Mr Epps yet lives, and told us that a greater part of the book was truth," they reported in 1866.

Black Sails - Starz Puts Up New Trailer

This television series' prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island premieres January 25th on Starz.  Black Sails was renewed for a second season by Starz while the first season was still shooting.

The best version of this trailer can be found here.  The YouTube version isn't as sharp or as complete.

Information about cast and characters here.

The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness Concludes the All Souls Trilogy

Viking will release the conclusion to Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy this summer, July 15, 2014, The Book of Life.

The Book of Life, the conclusion to Harkness's All Souls Trilogy will be available from Viking, July 15, 2014

An exclusive teaser excerpt has been put up online by Lindsay Deutsch.  It is available to be read here.

I am assuming that the book of the title is a physical book, the living properties of which were beginning to be explored by the principal characters, witch Diana Bishop and her vampire husband, Matthew Clairmont, as Shadow of Night concluded.

Like the previous novels' other many readers are doing, more or less patiently, I am greatly looking forward to the publication of The Book of Life. I'm particularly interested in which historical eras they will explore in The Book of Life. As an historian who has also written adult historical fantasy (though sexual attraction, romance and marriage -- and wine -- are very important in Harkness's novels, they are neither Romances nor Young Adult books), the historical geographies and cultures of the books are intensely appealing.

Beyond enjoyment in the historical and adventure aspects, I'm impatient for more of the philosophical and genetic mysteries of time and life that our characters are puzzling over, which for them are literally matters of life and death. Even better, it appears The Book of Life will be the conclusion of all these matters -- the whole story told in three volumes, an actual trilogy, as opposed to an open-ended series.

A Discovery of Witches (2011)

An extensive post discussing A Discovery of Witches can be read here. (Fair Warning: depending on taste for reading content on screen, this could be classified by those who don't have the taste to do so as TL;DR.)

Shadow of Night (2012)

Neda Ulaby, NPR's reporter on arts, entertainment and culture, did a feature on Shadow of Night in the summer of 2012.  I had the privilege of contributing a few words.  You can hear or read the piece here.

Deborah Harkness

The publications of Harkness, professor of history at the University of Southern California, include two non-fiction studies in the history of science:

 - John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. 1999.

- The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 2007

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Mr. Christie - He Who Closes the Bridges

Listening to his O Poor Me! speech of how in no way could this thug-stupid action have anything whatsoever to do with him, O No!

Waiting for him to blow -- his temper began to unravel as soon as the Q&A with the journalists began.  His tap-dancing around the obvious, that HE should resign, since, if HE had nothing to do with this despicable act (that includes a possible consequence of a woman dying because the gridlock delayed aid -- investigation ongoing, from what has been reported), HIS judgment then is so bad for hiring such people -- it's quite clumsy.  HE NEEDS TO RESIGN.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Court Reverses - Bloomberg, NYU Lose + Other Local News

Excellent news for saving at least some of the West Village south from NYU and the other developers! This is part of my neighborhood, where I work, walk, shop and live.

This is part of what they want to tear down.
In connection with the above story -- lately on Bleecker Street, kids have been stopping me, asking where to find the places that are in the Coen Brothers latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, set in the Village folk scene back then. All I can do is roll my eyes and say, "That stuff was all gone even before I got here!" Sure some of the sites were still here in the early 80's but they were pretty much deader 'n a horse shoe nail in 2014  winter, and were trying anything and everything else -- while rents started soaring. But a folk scene in the Village? Not since Bob Dylan moved on to national and international stages.

This is equally great news! Billionaire Mikey outta here for less than week --  here we go. The judge ruled (as if we didn't know!)

The judge, Donna M. Mills, of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, ruled that the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had wrongfully agreed to turn over three public parks to the university to enable construction without first obtaining approval from the State Legislature. 
However, one does wonder if this would be the same ruling if Billionaire Mikey Real Estate Developer was still mayor, he whose private fortune during his 12 -- TWELVE! -- years of wreaking mayoral havoc went from  4 point something billion to 30 point something billion (blind trust my whatsis).  Still, New York Assembly Woman, Deborah Glick,  was part of those leading the fight to stop those towers. And, not incidentally at all, our only super market within many blocks of where I live, and the gardens and parks too, have been saved.

That's the supermarket in the back, the single story edificace, not that tower behind it, of which several are planned by NYU in this stretch of supermarket (serving thousands) and the gardens and park
However,  the fight continues. We haven't won decisively yet. And never will because the NYU real estate developer bottomless pockets won't allow it. But for another year or three or four (or until they can get a mayor back in that cooperates) we have a supermarket and community garden --

The Time Landscape

a goodly portion of which is not planted in anything, but is being put back via entirely voluntary, community effort (though with the cultivation of getting rid of Russian weeds and so on) in the natural habitat of Manhattan Island, called the Time Landscape.  It's currently a  bird and squirrel paradise. The strip is filled with trees and flowers.  You can breathe real oxygen there on the most polluted, heated days. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point a fox might try denning there.

In New Jersey news, he who is a state power, but wants to be national, Gub Christie's got no time for those R-t-bagger types. He's a thug, old-school style. Nevertheless a thug who thinks he can be POTUS and wants to be. If Joe Kennedy could get one of his boys in the White House, by golly he can go there too. Watch me now, watch me -- uno, dos, tres, cuatro -- blam blam blam!

I'm guessing Christie's political fate, if he goes for the R-nom, will be the same as that other false front, sharing the name of one of the Original Gangstas, Giuliani.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Zora Neale Hurston's 123rd Birthday Gets a Google Doodle

Here is is.  Of course, googling Google, brings it up too.  Better, clicking Google's Doodle brings up links to this great African American writer that provide all the necessary information as to why Zora Neale Hurston rates a Google Doodle.

Today, one cannot help but wishing one could hear Ms. Hurston speak of this novel, or, this one, from last year, or, that one, from 2008, and those who wrote them?

Nice white ladies, still profiting from slavery and Jim Crow. I think about this all the time, in connection with The American Slave Coast, though we have been told frequently there is no comparison to spending years studying, researching this as history and writing fiction as a white person, in which, when African Americans speak or write, they write and speak their own words, as recorded in primary documents they made, not words put in their mouths by the white person. Whereas African Americans have told me that white people writing African Americans usually make them feel as through they're hearing a white singer sitting there on stage, moaning, "I always got trouble 'cause I'm a black-skinned man."

On the other hand, one of the links above goes to a site titled "Strange Fruit," an homage, presumably to Billie Holiday and the song Billie Holiday made famous. "Strange Fruit"  was written by a white Jewish American Communist, Abel Merrenopol.

In another instance, this time fiction too, the mystery series by white writer, Barbara Hambly, featuring Benjamin January, a free man of color in the New Orleans of the 1840's, has a feel that feels right: it is adventurous, it is always perilous for January and his loved one just because of who they are, even when they are free.  However, Ms. Hambly has lived in New Orleans; she's an historian in her day job, so she knows how to learn the past, how people live and speak.  As well, Benjamin January, his wife and most of the other people of color we encounter in this series are generally at least as well-educated as the white people in the novels, if not more educated.  They spend a lot of time in the company of white people too, particularly January, who is a professional musician, since his real day-job, that of a Parisian-educated physician isn't making him the sort of money a white Parisian-educated physicians would make in New Orleans.  For one thing the white doctor could / would treat well-off white patients, while this isn't going to happen for January.

Still, I keep going back to examining my conscience here.  If I were an Adams, at least an Adams of the generation of John Quincy or before, I'd be praying about this all the time.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Louisa Catherine Adams In Winter

Louisa Catherine Adams met John Quincy Adams first in Nantes, when she was four-year-old Louisa Catherine Johnson, and he was twelve.

They met again in London, when he was thirty and she was twenty-two.  She married him, he who had already been a name in diplomacy from D.C. to Russia to Amsterdam and London, who had already experienced multiple perils and adventures.  Now Louisa's perils and adventures began -- starting with her father's bankruptcy and abscondence back to America while she and John Quincy were honeymooning in Scotland.  Her father's bankruptcy not only lost the couple the dowry-allowance Johnson had settled upon his daughter, but the creditors demanded that John Quincy be responsible for Johnson's debts.

In the meantime the couple had spent $2500 -- a very large amount in the currency of the time, and a substantial portion of their bank account -- to send their clothes and belongings to Portugal, where he was posted as minister, only to be told the American government changed its mind and was instead sending him to Prussia. What, what to do.  Somehow they did and become particularly beloved by the Prussian king and queen. Louisa miscarred more than once, which deeply concerned the queen. The queen gifted Louisa with a cosmetic set including rouge, which the Queen insisted she wear, as Louisa was pale from blood loss.  John Quincy scrubbed it off her face himself, her first encounter with the impossible John Quincy, rather than the passionate, poetic, tender JQ she'd heretofore known.  It was only the beginning of the impossibilities.

Perhaps the most impossible thing John Quincy did, while safely ensconced in himself, in France and the Netherlands, negotiating the Treaty of Ghent that settled the War of 1812, was to order his wife off to Paris from St. Petersburg, in the dead of winter, across the smoking ruin that was Europe in the tail end of the Napoleonic wars: hostile, conflicting armies, starvation, disease, desperation, bandits and criminals. Louisa was accompanied by her seven-year-old son, Charles Francis (Henry Adams's father), a man-servant, John Fulling, Madame Babet, a nursemaid hired the day before she departed from St. Petersburg, and Baptiste, a low-ranked prisoner of war who agreed to accompany them in exchange for his freedom. What the EFF was JQA THINKING???????  No wonder within the Adams family Louisa's journey became a thing of growing admiration and legend.  Even she began to see it that way, and was persuaded to commit the experience to paper.

The tale of her perils and her brilliance in extracting her tiny company from them is told by Michael O'Brien in Mrs. Adams in Winter:A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon (2010).  Like her husband's 14,000 word diary, kept from the time he was twelve, Louisa's travelogue from St. Petersburg to Paris in the winter of  1815 is a unique document in American history. Her family and Louisa were correct,deeming this is one splendid tale.  Most of all, it is a tale of women, and how they do, not only Louisa, but all sorts of women she encounters along the journey.

Serendipitiously that O'Brien's book came as a gift this Christmas.  Like Nicola Griffith's Hild, this is another story centering women that feels so right to read in the dark days of the year, particularly this year that has brought the U.S. and the UK such terrible weather of cold and snow, ice and flood.