". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Faulkner -- The South -Writing History in Fiction

Faulkner on writing in the South, a 1000 word introduction for a special 1933 edition of The Sound and the Fury, five years after its initial publication. From the first volume of Joseph Blotner's massive Faulkner: A Biography (Random House 1974, pp. 810-11).
"Art is no part of Southern life," he wrote.  He described how it was different in New York and Chicago.  The reason was simple: the latter two -- representing the East and the Middle West -- were young and vigorous, whereas the South was "old since dead ... killed by the Civil War."  The "new South" was not Southern at all but merely a land of immigrants trying to remake the South along Northern lines.  "Yet this art, which has no place in Southern life, is almost the sum total of the Southern artist.  It is his breath, blood, flesh, all."  He went on from there to the most conscious scrutiny of Southern writing he had ever attempted.
"Because it is himself the Southern is writing about, not about his environment; who has, figuratively speaking, taken the artist in him in one hand and his milieu in the other and thrust the one into the other like a clawing and spitting cat into a croker sack.  And he writers. We have never got and probably will never get, anywhere with music * or the plastic forms.  We need to talk, to tell, since oratory is our heritage.  We seem to try in the single furious breathing (or writing) span of the individual to draw a savage indictment of the contemporary scene or to escape from it into a make-believe region of swords and magnolias and mockingbirds which perhaps never existed anywhere.  Both of the courses are rooted in sentiment, perhaps the one who writes savagely and bitterly of hte incest in clayfloored cabins are [sic] the most sentimental. Anyway, each course is a matter of violent partizanship, in which the writer unconconsciously writes into every line and phrase his violent despairs and rages and frustrations or his violent prophesies [sic] of still more violent hopes.  That cold intellect which can write with calm and complete detachment and gusto of its contemporary scene is not among us; I do not believe there lives the Southern writer who can say without lying that writing is any fun to him.  Perhaps we do not want it to be."
Residents of Lafayette County, out of which Faulkner imagined his Yoknapatawpha County

Blotner, p. 831; February 1934; Faulkner letter to his publisher, Harrison (Hal) Smith:

" .... "I believe that I have a head start on the novel," he began.  "I have put both the Snopes and the Nun ** one aside.  The one I am writing now will be called DARK HOUSE *** or something of that nature.  It is the more or less violent breakup of a household or family from 1860 to about 1910.  It is not as heavy as it sounds.  The story is an anecdote which occurred during and right after the civil war; the climax is another anecdote which happened about 1910 **** and which explains the story. Roughly, the theme is a man who outraged the land, and the land then turned and destroyed the man's family.  Quentin Compson, of the Sound & Fury [sic}, tells it, or ties it together; he is the protagonist so that it is not complete apocrypha.  I use him because it is just before he is to commit suicide because of his sister, and I use his bitterness which he has projected on the south in the form of hatred of it and its people to get more out of the story itself than a historical novel would be.  To keep the hoop skirts and plug hats out, you might say." *****
In my mid-twenties I was fascinated by Faulkner's fiction.  I read and re-read all the great American novelists with profound wonder and care. The Novel!  it was my grande amor, to which I'd faithful to death and after! Slowly, fighting it every realization along the way, I gave into despair about these 20th century white male writers, because they depressed me with their unexamined presumptions about women. Faulkner, as much as Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams is responsible for the crazy women who populate southern fiction. Then, to my terror, all fiction, with a few exceptions began to read increasingly repetitive, predictable, complacently stuck on adolescent matters, nay, even infantile obsessions.

Finally, in these days, slowly I’m creeping back into some of joy and admiration of fiction.  It seems to have begun with Fitzgerald, and then Faulkner.  Perhaps it's because I came to them more in terms of historical fiction (as with Faulkner) and in terms of history embedded in fiction (as with Fitzgerald).  As well, since my mid-twenties – the South has become the center of my scholarship. Mastery of a variety narrative approaches is as essential for a writer of history as it is for a writer of fiction.  It always pays to study the best.

Life takes you places you never expected, which perhaps is why we remain reluctant to leave it.


* He evidently didn't think Jazz qualified as musical art, much less all the other forms of southern black music with which he was more than familiar, both in his home region and from the time he spent in speaks in Memphis and New York.  He'd spent a lot of time in his youth dancing to W.C. Handy playing live, with his band, in Oxford.  He attended a lot of dances, and by all accounts, if he wished to dance, he danced well.  He was a musical person.


The Nun refers to Requiem for a Nun (1950) the sequel to Sanctuary (1931). It was in Requiem for a Nun Faulkner wrote what may be the most famous line of American literature, maybe even the requiem for the fate of the nation, as we repeat endlessly our cycles of psychic bigotry and violence, as well as the economic cycles of boom and bust: “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” There are those who would argue that the most famous line in American Literature comes from Gone With the Wind, and will quarrel over which one that is, whether, "My dear I don't give a damn," or "I'll think about it tomorrow."

*** THE DARK HOUSE is what will become Absolom, Absolom! (1936).

**** 1910 is years after Faulkner was born (1897), which makes even more interesting he might think an historical novel is.  One aspect of Faulkner's genius in terms of narrative capacity as a novelist was how he could sail around in his history. Characters and events in single works, in his short fiction as well as his novels,  emerge out of a variety of temporal locations: before the Civil War, during the Civil War, and return to the present, i.e. the present in which he the author was putting these words on paper.  This is not easy to do, particularly not with narratives as multiply populated as Faulkner's are. He groped intensively for years as how to accomplish this. It was the tools of  modernist narrative, forms with which he grew up, in fertile collision with the local language and oral storytelling modes with which he also grew up, that made works such as The Sound and the Fury successful and enduring.

*****  It’s interesting to see contemporary Mississippi novelist, Greg Illes, working in the post-Faulknerian south now, attempting to bring to light the non-dead past of the Civil Rights era sins, crimes and evil. These are the matters of a trilogy Illes is writing. The first volume, Natchez Burning, was published this year. The Bone Tree and Unwritten Laws will follow. As Natchez Burning's  as protagonist, Penn Cage, is Mayor of Natchez, it seems likely the two sequels will also feature that center of true historical evil, Natchez. Judging by the material of the first installment this trilogy appears to follow the arc from the JFK assassination to that of Martin Luther King, or maybe Bobby Kennedy as well.  The perpetrators are a coalition of the New Orleans – Miami mob and bigoted corporate interests, employing generationaly violent criminals,  sharpshooting Mississippi lowlifes – “white trash”.  Freedom Summer in Mississippi is the sort of material Illes may be working with.

What for me, at this time, is most interesting about Faulkner the man as well as his fictional world, is that, unlike Natchez, Yoknapatawpha County is not part of the Delta, center of Mississippi aristocracy past and present. This mattered very much to Faulkner, a part of his sense that most southern fiction was phony, and his determination to show the real South, through hisknowledge of his own country and people.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Next Month

From the El Paso Opera website:

El Paso Opera and Ballroom Marfa are proud to announce the Texas premiere of “Vidas Perfectas,” the Spanish-language production of the avant-garde American composer Robert Ashley’s (1930-2014) groundbreaking work “Perfect Lives” (1983), which concerns a bungled bank robbery in the American Midwest. Originally commissioned by The Kitchen in New York City and subsequently produced for the BBC as a seven-episode television opera called “Perfect Lives,” “Vidas Perfectas” switches the locale to the U.S-Mexico border, the landscape inspired by Marfa, TX, and the language to Spanish. The opera tells its untraditional story through an innovative combination of video and live performance. An opera that incorporates chanting, storytelling, meditation and ecstatic revelation, “Vidas Perfectas” challenges the way we think about language, opera, television, and performance.
The Protagonist - Lead
 David Grabarkewitz, El Paso Opera’s general and artistic director, calls the production “fun, funky and weird. It’s not traditional opera storytelling; expect to see an edgy performance.” He says experiencing “Vidas Perfectas” will be like stepping into a modern art installation.
“Vidas Perfectas” comes to El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and Marfa after a successful debut at The 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. All seven episodes are being recorded and edited for television and will be released on CD and DVD;  “Vidas Perfectas” will continue to tour internationally as a live performance.
It's going to be an interesting experience, stepping back into the Southwest, to which, other than Texas -- meaning Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston and Austin -- I've not been in years.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

U.S. Civil War and CSA Gun-runners 2

War provides the best opportunities to make a fortune and make it fast, for those positioned to do so. So much money, available in so many ways, including government contracts, sloshing around under the pressure to get everything done as fast as possible, i.e. lack of oversight. See: the war in Iraq 2003 - 20?

Some lowly troops manage to be war profiteers too -- recall Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer of Yossarian's squad in Catch-22. 

What needs to be factored into the history of blockade gun-running to the CSA:
most of the goods brought through the blockade were aimed for the elite who could pay for them. In the earlier years, when the blockade was still porous, goods for the southern belle market such silks, perfumes, lace, and for their mothers and fathers such as fine tea and coffee were the staples brought in by blockade runners. They brought far less of armaments or anything else to supply to the war effort -- not food supplies such as flour, even in in the dark desperate period in the last 18 months of the war. For this greed, the CSA opinion-makers chided the blockade runners in the press.* The reason for not bringing in essentials was there was nott enough money in it to make the dangerous runs profitable. The capitalist free market self-regulation at work....

Very quickly the CSA had nothing dependable with which to pay for arms -- like prostitution the arms trade is a business of cash on the barrel head, not credit. Running the blockade for most privateers was about making shyte loads of money**. They demanded payment in gold or other dependable currency, and did not accept the worthless confederate currencies. This is in Gone With the Wind via Rhett Butler's blockade running phase. He talks with Scarlett about why he trafficked in luxury goods***He made sure, too, to get out of blockade running before the operation got too dangerous and difficult.

The only port that seems to have brought in armaments regularly, and right up to the Surrender at Appomattox, was Galveston.  Galveston, however, was outside of the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast to New Orleans and up the Mississippi through Tennessee encircling blockade of the CSA. The Federals had even reoccupied the great Virginia port of Norfolk in the dark days of 1862, and had occupied it ever since. Even via Galveston, according to the southern  De Bow's Review's carefully compiled statistical complaints, more ships brought in luxury goods than arms. When shipments of essential, disappeared commodities such as flour were brought through, only the very wealthy could afford to purchase them -- see: food riots, CSA.

It has been noticed among historians and critics that Brit historians, for whom this era of our history is not their historical speciality, frequently get wrong the matters of the  U.S. Civil War.****   John Keegan's  The American Civil War (2009), focused on the battles, which, according to those who are obsessively detailed in their life-long study of the Civil War battles say his book is filled with glaring errors.  Evidently he never even visited the battlefields of which he wrote. What the man who wrote  the brilliant The Face of Battle, all about leading from the front, thought he was doing with this one is a mystery, because the other parts of his The American Civil War,such as the foundation causes for the War, are also poorly researched, or at best, mistaken, drawing far too much on 1960'sGlorious Lost Cause revisionists.

However, one place in the Americas where British and French armaments did go in quantities during the Civil War -- and many of them via CSA ships -- was to Mexico.***** Even in the latter days of the Civil War, there were secessionist fire eaters who still dreamed the filibuster dream of taking all of Mexico as the gate through which they would expand their slavery system throughout the hemisphere. They were willing to cooperate with the French and British in this operation, particularly for gold, fully expecting that when the time came it would be a simple matter for the CSA to take over all the territories for itself.


* While the rebel states still had paper for a press; there were no paper mills in any of the CSA states.

They'd imported paper, as so much else, from food, clothing, buggys and hoes, from the northern and western states while concentrating their resources on expanding into more land and more slaves for raising cotton.

** There were some notable CSA patriotic blockade runners, but so few they can be enumerated on one hand, probably.

*** However, in Gone With the Wind's New Orleans chapter, soon after Appomattox, there are hints that Rhett was still involved in gun-running to Mexico, as part of a fairly cosmopolitan syndicate of lowlifes, entrepreneurs and fortune-hunters. This made him so much money he could finance an up-scale brothel in Atlanta (of course run by a madame with a heart of gold who loves him), as well as finance a bank, when every bank in the former CSA had pretty much collapsed.

**** Not all British historians by any means are guilty of this.

*****  The mid-nineteenth century War of Mexican Independence (a/k/a Guerra de Reforma) (from whence comes the commemoration of Cinco de Mayo, 1862), and the nationalists' resistance to the subsequent French invasion and occupation, are treated as sidebars to the U.S. Civil War -- much as slavery was during the era of Jim Crow up until the Civil Rights era.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

UK Gun-running Lengthened the U.S. Civil War By Two Years

An article in the Independent captioned "Historians reveal secrets of UK gun-running which lengthened the American civil war by two years," by David Keys describes:
200 vessels were purpose-built or upgraded on Clydeside, in Liverpool or in London for the Confederate states – and hundreds of thousands of guns (including heavy artillery) were manufactured in Birmingham, Newcastle and near London for the Confederate Army.
This isn't news, really, at least not to American historians of the Civil War. However, what might be news to our friends in the UK,  is these vastly lucrative enterprises were entirely illegal.  Which is why our U.S. Navy was allowed to patrol the Channel, the upper Thames, and the surrounding coasts, particularly that of Scotland. They sunk many a CSA owned and operated vessel, particularly the privateers.  The British government did not protest, nor did the British navy attempt to engage the U.S. vessels.

Nor does blame-shifting to the UK change the facts that the responsibility for the continuation of the U.S. Civil War 1863-1864 through 1864 - 1865 was directly the responsibility of Jefferson Davis and his fire eaters. New Orleans had been lost, Vicksburg had been lost -- the control of the Mississippi was the Union's. Gettysburg had been lost -- no more opportunity to invade the North, and in most wars, a defensive war only is a losing war.  The CSA had no money, they had run run out of supplies to replace what they'd lost.  The UK had nothing to do with Sherman's March of 1864 after the loss of Atlanta and the last effective railroad.

This was click-bait to get readers to look at what is news --  marine archeology, which found CSA wrecks in the Thames, Channel and particularly around Scotland's coast.

This part of the article provoked very large smiles:
Three other Confederate wrecks around Britain’s coastline are the Iona
1, which collided with another ship and sank in the Clyde in 1862, the
Lellia, which went down in a storm off Liverpool with the loss of 47
lives in 1865, and the Matilda, which sank in dense fog in the Bristol
Channel in 1864.
The newly discovered main secret UK headquarters of the blockade-busting operation was a still extant mansion in the quiet and secluded
Stirlingshire village of Bridge of Allan. At any one time, it housed
around 10 Confederate agents who held their planning meetings there –
and used it as a base from which they could visit top shipbuilding
magnates and others on Clydeside and "test drive" vessels to assess
their speed.
Eliza Wigham, left, and Elizabeth Pease Nichol were leading lights in the Edinburgh Ladies' Emancipation Society. Link to more information about them here.
They seem to have located their headquarters in the countryside so as to avoid the attentions of the various detective agencies which had been appointed by the US Federal government to track them down.
However, their wish for rural anonymity did not prevent some of the southern agents from wearing “big hats and smoking large cigars” – key clueswhich, in early 1864, led the amateur sleuths of the anti-slavery Dundee Ladies’ Emancipation Society to realize who they were – and to inform the US consul in Dundee accordingly. After much pressure had been exerted by the US on the British Government, the exposure of the secret headquarters led a year later to the British preventing the export of a giant, potentially game-changing 130m armoured warship - and four other warships - to the Confederate Navy.
Warning: do not waste time, as I did, reading the comments to this article.  They are  filled with serious false information.  This includes insistance that the Mission to Saint James, who was Lincoln's choice, Charles F. Adams (father of Henry Adams, who has written extensively out of his experience as his father's private secretary in these matters), was run by somebody else -- as well as the inevitable revisionist correcting the author with the news that the U.S. Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, and all the other inevitable bs's of those ilks.

I also disagree with the author of this book quoted in the article, because he says things like this:
“It demonstrates that Britain’s neutrality was, in reality, a complete
sham,” said Dr Graham, the author of a major book on the Civil War
gun-runners, Clyde Built: The Blockade Runners of the American Civil War
If this was true, why were those Dundee Ladies' Emancipation Society so vigilant? Both Keys and Graham seem to  misses the point of their existence and their activities entirely.

That the UK's capitalists were more than willing to make a profit in every way they could manage out of the U.S. Civil War, well, that's not news or surprising.  Gunrunning is part of every war, and by golly, though I hate to say it, that includes a buncha northerners too. Slavery?  A war about it?  It'$ ju$t busine$$ to run guns, evade blockades and cheat on the very lucrative government contracts by providing shoddy goods, over-charging and all the rest.  I'm so sorry that both the CSA and the USA did it too.  So that France and the UK wanted to get them some of that, not a surprise at all.


There is a terrific historical novel to be written in this.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Longest Day of the Year, First Day of Summer - Campaign Weekend!

Among the mass of free-to-the-public activities offered this weekend is yoga in Times Square
We are already having the perfect summer solstice, first day of summer weekend, weather-wise. This June perfection is predicted to remain through the weekend. Which, as we have plans, which include a gathering of the Haitian music tribes, is appreciated.  Thank you Weather Magistrates!

In the meantime, what kickstarted my system into existence this morning was seeing this through the waiting-or-tea-to-steep blur, was "Cochran Asking Blacks to Rescue Him in Republican Primary" in the New York Times:

Republican needs black votes to defeat his t-bagger opponent, in Mississippi, where black voters are so overwhelmingly Democrat that finding a black repub is statistically irrelevant.  Not to mention that repubs, not merely the extreme t-bagger sorts, have been working their hineys off to suppress black voting all together.  Yet this campaign, the Mississippi Republican party is funding serious outreach into the black communities on the behalf of Mr. Cochran.*

It made me laugh out loud, i.e. kickstarting the system.

Still, the situation is serious, as expressed by one African American voter who expects to turn out for Cochran:
Mr. Cochran’s challenge in reaching black voters was evident as he stumped last week before crowds that were almost entirely white. Talamieka Brice, 33, a small-business owner in Ridgeland, Miss., was one of the few African-Americans in the crowd. She said she had not been impressed by either campaign’s outreach to African-Americans but planned to vote for Mr. Cochran in the runoff — in part because Mr. McDaniel’s focus on “Mississippi values” worries her.
“Traditionally, things that have been associated with Mississippi values and what the state stands for are things that are not good for minorities,” she said. “That scares me.”
What I particularly appreciated in the article was the t-baggers' financiers - organizers' response to Cochran's hopeful strategy here, that it proved how liberal he'd become, that he was now a Democrat.


* By the way, in our currently crazy poisonous political atmosphere, surely every state can point to equally startling reversal among allies of one kind and another.
I was trying to make clear that I'm not picking on Mississippi.  I hope it doesn't sound like that.  What I am doing though, is seeing the past repeated in the present, following William Faulkner's informed vision.

For reasons I'm not that clear about as yet, but want to be, this is easier to see the repetitions with (some) southern states than (some) states in the north and west. The political history of my long-time resident state is so labyrinthian that Byzantium's seem easily understood in comparison.  It's been that way here since the days the Dutch ran it and were making huge fortunes in furs, land and carry trade.  There's no way to make sense of our state's politics to anyone who hasn't studied it for a long time, which I have, off and on, and I still can't follow many of  the clues to the end.  But one thing is clear -- it's always been about Really Great Big Money, and who gets the patronage, i.e. control, of dispensing it in the very many ways it can get dispensed in our state -- while keeping the largest percentage for the dispenser. Political patronage is the key.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Today: Juneteenth

For information about what Juneteenth is, why it is, and how it matters to the United States, this entry on the blog Dead Confederates: A Civil War Era Blog, of Andy Hall, Civil War nautical historian, particularly those matters in Texas, will provide all the necessary information.  As well, Andy Hall is a good writer, who presents things clearly, concisely and pertinently.  He also is an impeccable researcher and scholar.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mississippi: As It Was, So It Shall Always Be

The last few years were the Years of Henry Adams as my pathfinder into so many issues.

Here at the year's half way point, reviewing the notes and scribbles out of my researches for 2014, I can see that Mississippi is front and center this year.  It was time, of course.  But the trip in March, from New Orleans, through Natchez to Memphis, sealed the deal.

The pathfinder writers are Alexander Percy and William Faulkner.*  Thank goodness northwestern Mississippi Faulkner is a great writer, an interesting personality, with an intelligent consciousness -- because Delta aristo Percy is not.  It's been a hoot reading young Billy Falkner's reviews of Percy's poetry in the U of Mississippi's paper and magazines. **

The other night I discovered that Faulkner, one who hardly ever wrote notations or anything else inside his books, made in his introduction to Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1920 and Year Book of American Poetry*, in which the then literary arbiter, Bostonian William Stanley Braithwaite, wrote in in his introduction:
" ... Indian and negro materials ... are in our poetry still hardly better than aspects of the exotic.  No one who matters actually thinks that a national literature can be founded on such alien bases."
Faulkner's response was:
"Making one his extremely rare marginal comments, William Faulkner drew an arrow pointing to this passage.  Above it, in large letters, he wrote, "Good God." "
Unlike Braithwaite, despite his appointment to Atlanta University,  Faulkner spent his life in close interpersonal relationship with negroes, Indians and Indian-Black.

It's interesting, digging into the political battles between the Delta planter aristocrats such as Leroy Percy and the businessmen of the northwest, for instance,

Published serially in 1880, this is the most successful of William Faulkner's grandfather's books; it sold something 160,000 copies. The White Rose of Memphis is a riverboat plying the Memphis to Crescent City route.
 Twain's Life on the Mississippi was published in 1883, though the first part was published in 1876.

among whom Faulkner's grandfather, William C. Falkner, was prominent.  (Falkner became Faulkner when Billy applied to the Canadian RAF training program toward the end of WWI, and pretended to be English, thinking his chances of acceptance would be greater.  He even trained in British-speak with an English public school buddy of his older friend, at Yale. Evidently the RAF never caught on that he wasn't English.) This antagonism, of businessmen, traders and those who wanted internal improvements, with the ruling elite planters goes back long before the Civil War.  You see this in other states' history, too, those states that would become the CSA.

It's a sad commentary on the United States and her history, that some things about Mississippi in 2014 stay exactly the way they were in 1860 -- which is how they lost the Waa! under that great Mississippian, Jefferson Davis.
The president of the board of supervisors, Lee Caldwell, a fellow Republican, can riff extensively on the local infrastructure projects that Mr. Cochran, Mississippi’s powerful senior senator, has helped bring to fruition, thanks to his skill at procuring federal funds: The construction of the air-traffic control tower at the Olive Branch Airport. The new east-west stretch of Interstate, which will bisect the county when completed. And a state-of-the-art regional sewer system that solved a chronic wastewater management problem, allowing DeSoto County to attract new industry and build new neighborhoods.
Yet Mr. Cochran is currently fighting for his political life after being trounced here in DeSoto County by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1 by the Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel in the June 3 Republican primary. At issue for many Republicans is the idea that what Mr. Cochran does best is also what he does worst — spend federal dollars.
The result is a race that is raising a question at the heart of American politics, and especially the politics of the South: Do voters hate spending even when it is spending that comes home to them? On an instinctive level, for many Mississippi voters like Randy Harris, a retired auctioneer, the answer is yes.
“Everybody’s got their hand out like these damn people at the food stamp office,” Mr. Harris, 67, said between sips of coffee on Thursday at a local barbecue restaurant. “They’ve got to put an end to all of this spending.”
No public spending for the public good, even when it isn't MY tax dollars!
... like Jane Buehl Coln of Olive Branch, suspect that whatever benefits have come to Mississippi have come at a steep price.
“There’s no telling what kinds of liberal things he had to vote for to get those kinds of things for Mississippi — what kind of trading he had to do,” she said
Mississippi destroyed the United States credit rating by defaulting on Europe and Britains investment bonds for building public projects like canals, back in the 1840's.  They just refused to pay -- nor does anyone to this day know where the money went. This is what states rights looks like.

* I'm forced soon to go to Shelby Foote, another revisionist Civil War historian from Percy's circle in Greenville.

The southern writers who have fallen into well-deserved obscurity, because they were fire eaters and / or, after the waa!, revisionists, magnoliaists, confederate carpetbaggers, are becoming ever more interesting. This interest was sparked with a northern apologist for slavery, whom I read back in Chestertown, James Kirke Paulding.  This NY Knickerbocker's reward from T Jefferson was a well-paid sinecure in the U.S. Navy, from which he became Secretary of the Navy.  It truly was a sinecure appointment, allowing him much leisure time to be an author and help found the Salmagundi Club with Washington Irving, as T Jefferson dismantled the U.S. Navy.

** In this time of his early twenties, Faulkner was working very hard at writing poetry.  Mass market targeted magazines were still major markets for poetry then.  Faulkner had managed to sell one of his poems fairly early on to a major magazine but had failed ever since.  Naturally he was studying what the markets were publishing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

History Sneaks Up In Huge Footprints: Next Year Waterloo and the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennials

The Battle of New Orleans was January 8th, 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed December 24, 1814, between Britain and the United States, officially ending the War of 1812. However, as this was some years prior to telegraph cables and steam ships, communications between the Old World and the New lagged far behind treaty agreements.

Waterloo was June 18th, 1815, interrupting the wind-down the Powers of Britain and Europe thought was happening with the Congress of Vienna, in which the Powers (among whom Talleyrand had managed to insert himself as representative of France -- which speaks volumes of what an effective diplomat-negotiator he was!) were dividing up the spoils of the defeated Napoleonic empire.

Louisiana is ready! we are told, with many events of reenactment and commemoration scheduled.

Surely Brussels has much planned to commemorate and reenact Waterloo, a perennially favorite battle of military buffs. Presumably it is Brussels doing the planning and hosting, since Waterloo took place near there, though then what we know now as Belgium was part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands until 1830. Prior to that, the throne of Holland had been occupied by Louis Bonaparte, Napoleón's older brother. And, previous to the Kingdom of Holland the region had been the Batavian Republic. Just this small bit of Europe dramatizes the extent by which  Napoleón redrew the maps of old Europe, almost inventing for the average person a sense of history, a sharp demarcation of before and after, on a scale previously unfelt by an average Brit or European.

There is a reason for thinking of these two battles together.  The Congress of Vienna assembled in September 1814. Lord Castlereagh, representing Britain, possessed with signing power, was seen generally as disappointingly ineffective. Thus the
Wellington on Copenhagen at Waterloo

Duke of Wellington replaced him in the winter of 1815.

In 1814 some in Britain had a vague idea that General Wellington should lead an invasion out of the Gulf (involving a huge number of HMS transports) into the U.S. southlands (the northern New Englanders had never wanted this war, and indeed traded licitly and illicitly with Britain whenever it could) and trounce the miserable excuse of an independent nation as he'd done the French armies in Spain. Wellington wisely declined to lead any invasion into ground he knew not at all and was vastly unlike Europe's. Moreover, he was a ground tactician, not a naval commander.

Considering the trackless, tangled landscape he'd have had to hack through, lacking farms, towns and markets, filled with hostile Indians, Wellington surely intuited he would not have done well against Old Hickory, who intimately knew these lands, handled Indians like no one else before or since, who burned with his terrible black fire of hatred for the Brits in general dating back to his family's suffering at the hands of the British army in the War of Independence.

Instead, the Duke joined the Congress in Vienna, which fortunately placed him on the ground, in easy contact with the generals of the other European powers, when Napoleón canceled his abdication and the 100 days began, which were finished decisively at Waterloo.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mississippi & Journalism

Over the years I've not cared for this journalist and his points of few much. However, what he says he's been trying to do -- with his wife -- in Mississippi (and other regions not so carefully tracked in national media), what I've been trying to do these last months with Mississippi, which is to see clearly and as honestly as possible (which is pretty hard to do on both counts, for such a strong Opinionator as r me).

Fallows quotes a Mississippian who has responded to what he and his wife have been doing, the quote which includes these words, which for me are the heart of so much that so many of us get wrong about everywhere and everything:
I love my home state as much as an American can love the political subdivision in which he was born and raised. I do not, however, think Mississippi is a “great place.” It is not. In the present day it is a strange, tribalistic, confused and impoverished. However, I do believe Mississippi has great potential to be a better place. Thank you for sharing with your readers what many of us believe are the green shoots of some kind of economic transformation here. But more so, thank you for letting Joe Max Higgins and Kimberly Sanford speak about discovering ways forward from this dark, green, lonely place. 
Hattiesburg, Mississippi

That's it. The honesty of love, that does love, and knows of what that love is made, and yet understands what is loved is not a "great place" for whichever of the many reasons that can make somewhere not a great place.

It would help so much if that stars and bars would be taken out of the state flag that flies over the state's U.S. post offices.

Geography creates history, something that climate change should have us all thinking about very hard these days.  If not for ourselves, at least for our grandchildren.  Not to mention for most animals and birds, plants and trees.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Justice Stevens Wishes to Amend the Constitution + Constitutional History

John Paul Stevens sat on the Supreme Court bench 975 - 2010.  At age 94, he's published a new book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.

He was an English major.  After WWII, in which he served in the Navy as a code breaker, he went to law school.  He could go to law school because the G.I. Bill paid for it (if he'd been an African American, however, there would have been no G.I. Bill for him).

What he's proposing for the Constitutional changes is discussed in the New York Review of Books, which is available to read online here:
Gun control, campaign finance, capital punishment, political gerrymandering, anti-commandeering, and sovereign immunity—it’s a heterogeneous list. But there is a unifying theme, which is the importance of democratic self-government. With respect to gun control, campaign finance, anti-commandeering, and sovereign immunity, Stevens would free the political process from the control of the courts. In the case of political gerrymandering, he would go in the other direction, because he would impose a constitutional barrier where one does not now exist. But the reason for the barrier is to improve the functioning of American democracy. It is only in the case of the death penalty that Stevens would create a new, rights-based safeguard, designed to protect an individual right, not to promote self-government as such.
As far as can be told from an article in the NY Review of Books, his ideas have merit.  But then, he believes that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, because Shakespeare was written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Justice Stevens winds up to throw out the first pitch before the start of the Chicago Cubs game with the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005 at Wrigley Field in Chicago
Evidently he's also a Cubs fan.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jane Smiley: Falling In Love Again With England

In this weekend's New York Times's Travel section, Jane Smiley, a novelist whom I've always enjoyed and respected, writes how a guest gig to England's northeast revived her love of England. In her essay," Lost in Time In England's Northeast," she provides an admirable gloss of the region's historical significance as well as its charms and beauties.

The Holy Isle of Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne isn't always accessible
As I'm an enthusiastic audience for the History Channel's Vikings, this part was of particular interest, since Lindisfarne features prominently in the series:
Durham is not much of an international tourism destination, perhaps because Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens and J. K. Rowling are all from elsewhere (though Durham Cathedral did stand in for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies). Even those paradigmatic northerners, the Brontës, grew up 90 miles to the southwest of Durham. What might get you off the East Coast train before Edinburgh is the lost-in-time peacefulness of the broad landscape and the picturesque homeliness of Durham itself, which was founded in 995 by monks who were carrying the remains of St. Cuthbert, one of England’s first native-born saints, from Lindisfarne to this peninsula safe within the embrace of the looping Wear River. The monks had been carrying the remains off and on for 120 years, doing their best to avoid Viking attacks. Legend has it that when the bier became impossible to lift, the monks happened upon a woman looking for her dun cow, who led them, now miraculously able to lift the bier, to the current site.
Then Smiley gets even better:
On the morning I visited, the Chapel of the Nine Altars, where St. Cuthbert’s remains are buried at the east end of the nave, was filled with sunshine. In a quieter spot at the west end, the Galilee Chapel, was the unexpected (to me) tomb of Bede (672-735), the Anglo-Saxon historian who wrote “An Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” as well as numerous commentaries on the Bible, several saints’ lives and three scientific treatises. My scalp actually tingled as I stood before Bede’s 1,200-year-old remains — most of his contemporary authors, of “Beowulf,” of “The Seafarer,” of “The Dream of the Rood,” are unknown. I felt some Anglophilia coming on. My deep love for English literature has never wavered, and here was its very root.
She could well be describing my own experience -- that is, if I'm ever to be so fortunate as to get to this part of the world.

Spiral horned sheep - Durham region

Sheep of the North
Moreover, this is in the country of Nicola Griffith's Hild, the most immersive fiction experience I've had in years:
The north of England was the site of sustained religious conflict in the seventh and eighth centuries — paganism of a basically Scandinavian model was flourishing; the pope wanted to claim the area, but so did Celtic Christians, who adhered to a different calendar. St. Aidan did convert the population and several important kings, but is said to have chosen Lindisfarne because he did not want his local king to be able to tell him what to do. No ruins of the original priory remain, but as I gazed upon the beautiful red sandstone ruin of a Benedictine priory built around the same time as Durham Cathedral, now roofless, weathered, I felt the ethereal, timeless quiet that St. Aidan must have cherished.
Bede spent his life at St. Paul’s monastery at Jarrow (about 18 miles northeast of Durham). The monastery was built about a generation after Lindisfarne by Benedict, the son of a local noble family who went to Rome and subsequently adhered to the pope’s version of Catholic theology. The stone walls, an advance upon Lindisfarne’s oak and thatch, were built by masons brought in from the Continent. These have been incorporated into the church that stands on the site, and the rough authenticity of the modern church (in a curve of the Don River before it empties into the Tyne) is beautiful and a bit forbidding.
A few hundred feet north of St. Paul’s, across the green, is Bede’s World, a museum devoted to replicating life in the eighth century.... 
However, lest anyone fear that the charms of the northeast are confined to the past, there is Antony Gormley’s “Angel of the North:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A&E Longmire, season 3, episode one "White Warrior"

A Western, A&E's Longmire is an unpretentious series, featuring Walt Longmire, County Sheriff of the fictional county of Absaroka, in Wyoming. Though Longmire is unpretentious, it isn't simple-minded, and it is gorgeous, shot as it is in New Mexico, with those huge skies and landscapes.  Fox Home has commented on Longmire here, and here, and here. The two previous seasons are available streaming from Netflix.

The new season's first episode, "White Warrior," picked up where the cliffhangers of last year's final episode, "Bad Medicine," left us.  This one had to be particularly difficult to write, because, picking up from last year like that, it not only had, to a degree, resolve those strands, move the story arch-line along, and it had to include all the ensemble regulars for the returning audience, as well as introduce them to those who are tuning in for the first time.

Robert Taylor's Longmire, as the central protagonist, naturally gets just about all the viewing time, but we do find out that Longmire's daughter will be back, though Cady's appearace was so brief as to be hardly there at all.

The scenes of easterner, Deputy "Vic" Moretti, were confined to her attempt to caregive to Walt, which perhaps bodes more of the show was doing to Katee Sackhoff's role last year -- making her more of a girly victim, instead of the strong, smart and o so competent law officer she was in season one, despite this region's being so different from the urban policing she'd done previously. Again the show went with unnecessary sexing Vic up -- having her uniform shirt unbuttone at least one button too many.

Lou Phillip Diamond was as brillant to watch as Henry Standing Bear, already has shown another dimension to his fascinating character.

Branch getting emergency care on the Rez
Poor Branch, played by the actor who was Forest on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, spent most his screen time in a hospital bed.

Longmire in front, walking with the "Ferg"
But Deputy "Ferg" Ferguson got some juicy scenes, that show us he's continuing to grow into his job and the actor into his role.

No more, for fear of spoilers.  Nor can the audience yet have any idea where this season is going to go.  But there was a bit of dialog that sticks in mind, spoken by a Rez policeman to Walt, about some of Cheyenne performing old religious rituals that went something like this: "Think of them as our version of the extreme Christian right."

So, no disappointment for this returning viewer.  It's nice to have this series rolling for summer viewing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reading Wednesday: William Faulkner and Southern History by Joel Williamson + The Second Amendment

The debate over what it means for a state to have a well-regulated militia got started around 1876 and has escalated in fire eating rhetoric, personal, corporate, political and legal, ever since.

However, after studying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the historic, colonial background to the construction of both, what it means is 1) clearing Indians from lands white migration wanted; and 2) terrorizing slaves to keep them from either escaping or mounting revolts.

For example, in the context of tracing Faulkner's forebears, and where and when they settled in Mississippi, William Faulkner and Southern History (1996), frequently invokes both Indians and slaves in terms of the state militia:
Happily for their future prosperity, the Butlers tied their fortunes to the incipient town of Oxford, the place that would become the county seat and, in a dozen years, the site of the state's university. Early in 1836 the state legislature created nine counties out of the Chickasaw cession, including Lafayette. On March 21, 1836, the governing body of the county, which was called the board of police, held its inaugural meeting. One of the first things the board did was to draw lines establishing four political subdivisions.5 In Mississippi counties these were called “beats,” probably because the state was virtually conceived in slavery and the policing of slaves by jurisdictions labeled beats was the most important single function of government at the local level. This police function was carried out by the “patrol,” a sort of posse comitatus to which every adult white male of military capacity was required to belong. In Mississippi, the patrol in each beat was organized by county officers, and it was the duty of these citizen-policemen to enforce the slave laws. For the most part, this meant riding the roads at night to insure that slaves stayed in their place. Generally in the South, the patrol had the power to arrest, try, convict, and punish slaves on the spot. In  (p.79) Lafayette County, the patrol was recalled vividly by a black woman, Polly Comer, in an interview in the 1930s. Polly had been a slave in the Woodson's Ridge community in northern Lafayette County, and she stated succinctly the role of the patrol. “Dat's what dey keep de patrollers fur,” she said, “to keep de niggers frum runnin' ‘round at nite an' from runnin’ away.”6 The real, if sporadic, threat to black people posed by the patrol was caught, folklore-style, by blacks who sang a popular ditty that declared: 
Run, nigger, run,
Or the pater-r-olle will get you.7
 Ultimately, the patrol was the first line of defense in the event of a slave insurrection. In some counties of Mississippi where the slave population amounted to 70, 80, and even 90 percent of the total, this was a vital function. In Lafayette County, where the slave population soon rose to about 45 percent, the patrol was very important, tying nonslaveholders to the institution of slavery and heightening the significance of race. In Lafayette, Beat One occupied the center of the county and included Oxford. Beats Two (to the northeast), Three, and Four, (and, later, Five, created by dividing Beat Four), were ranged around Beat One in counter-clockwise order.
This book also made clear what the differences between Percys and the Falkner-Faulkners consisted of. These differences have nothing to do with Delta - not Delta residency.

The Percys were wealthy planters of the aristocrat class of the South, who planter aristocracy reaches back at least into the early years of Virginia.  However, Faulkner's family evidently began as prosperous mercers back in England, and never were planters.  They made their very comfortable livings by trade in just about everything, including slave and land dealing.  Running a plantation was not of interest to them, while filling their pockets and bank accounts with cash, instead of a planter's credit, was.

Tellingly, during the Civil War, the writer's grandfather, William Clarke Falkner (the "Colonel"), after mustering out of the army due to alienating his men, began land privateering, running Mississippi cotton via mule train out of Tippah County along the Mississippi*, up to Memphis, to sell it to Union dealers -- which was as illegal for the Union dealers as it was for Confederates.  Then he brought back luxury goods to sell in Ripley.  The two sorts, though both southern and confederate through and through, nevertheless, possessed very different ways at approaching their world.  For another instance, that vaunted paternalism of the Walkers is not evident in Faulkner's forebears (not that it went so far back in the day for the Walkers either when they needed hard cash, or a "Negro" just would not behave).


*  Mule train because by then the Mississippi was held and patrolled and held by the Union all the way down to New Orleans.

"Our Words Are Our Weapons"

Rebecca Solnit's article, Our Words Are Our Weapons: The Feminist Battle of the Story in the Wake of the Isla Vista Massacre, has been reprinted widely on internet sites.  I think I first encountered it on Slate -- or maybe Salon.  Where, predictably, the vast majority of comments were howls of outrage by men -- personal attacks upon her intelligence and accusations of man hating, rather than any reasoned response to her reasoning.
Rebecca Solnit has had the most reasoned responses to the Santa Barbara killings, or so it seems to me. But she doesn't connect all the dots in this matrix of domestic terrorism that include gun possession and entertainment that 24/7 invades our homes, workplaces and even billboards that show in graphic detail women being humiliated and otherwise violated for the fun of it. Or to sell consumption of everything from beer to chainsaws. Or to be awards provided for being the most violent of all in any fictional simulacrum of combat, including sports.

However, it's hard to see Our Words as effective means when so many men refuse to read them, listen to them or even understand what the words mean.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Post Delta Thoughts: Faulkner and Percy

Faulkner didn't have it in him to write the sorts of things with which  William Alexander Percy's memoir is stuffed.  The following comes after a long paragraph of descriptive rapture on the beauties of his family's Delta land and plantation:
"Such was my country hardly more than a hundred years ago.  It was about that time that slavery became unprofitable in the older Southern states and slave-holders began to look for cheap fertile lands farther west that could fee the many black mouths dependent on them ...."
That's at the top of the third page of Lanterns on the Levee (1941).

Nor would Faulkner have written anything like this:

 "... a library was as portable as a slave ..." which is on the fifth page.

But, praise be, Percy is so well-bred he will equate "a slave" with library chattel, not a mule, which is what most of his kind did -- who were nearly as inferior to Percys as is "the Negro," who once was "the slave."  Percy's too tasteful to say so but allows reader to notice for herself, as he uses "the slave" to introduce his family's library, how superior his family is to most of the other Delta families.

William Faulkner with his wife, Estelle, in front of their Rowan Oak plantation house, bought in 1930, the year he published As I Lay Dying

Faulkner makes no bones about how rough and rude are the ancestors of the Sutpens and Sartorises, and how rude are the next up-and-coming class, the Snopes.  The Sutpens did not move to Mississippi to feed their "dependent slaves" but because they were poor whites who couldn't get any good land in Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia and South Carolina, where all the good things were in possession of families like the Percys, who migrated out of the upper south, and who came to the New World as high-blooded, part of the English Percys.  Or at least so William Alexander Percy's family believed, and while professing such things mattered not all -- they were natural aristocrats -- they managed to make others aware they possessed such a background.

Trail Lake Cotton Plantation Harvest
The Percys did not live on their vast plantation of Trail Lake.  It was worked, first by slaves, then share croppers and planted all in cotton.  No Big House for the Percys.  Their mansion was in Greenville, where they could keep an eagle eye via the news coming regularly by steamboat on local, state, regional and federal politics -- though they were too aristocratic themselves for the life and death roughhouse sport of politics. The one time LeRoy Percy thought to run for office, he got soundly beat.

So are the Percys and the Faulkners so different because one family is Delta and one is not?  It's the contrast, that Faulkner's work is not the Delta that is part of what makes his work so fascinating.  The United States is geographically vast, and it contains multitudes of cultures, even within single states.

Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County is as close as this nation has come to having a Paris by Balzac. Though I'm going to go out on a limb, since I don't read French well enough, that in literary terms such as style and form, Faulkner is a superior writer to Balzac. (I have read what people who do read French have had to say about Balzac, so that's what I'm basing this judgment on.)

I read Faulkner so avidly and often when getting my first degrees that I've internalized his work. However, perhaps the most important dimensions of work escaped me though of course I knew that his 'southerness' was the platform from which he launched himself into his fiction.

I'd been uninterested in Faulkner during these last decades, because I lost interest in Literature, because Literature with a capital L, like Art, like the Intellectual, no longer matter in shaping public or even private discourse in the way they did in even in the first half of the 20th century. But because of my own experiences in the South, the Gulf and the Caribbean in those decades, about 2008, Fitzgerald began to surface in mind again. This year, Faulkner, the greatest of those white American male writers (for me), has come roaring back. His work is revealing itself in ways I didn't have the tools to grasp back when getting my degrees in History and the Novel.

It's as true for some sorts of Literature as it is for history -- you must walk the ground to fully understand it to the bottom.

It is the same with Geography. Mississippi, and the Delta, make a mysterious land, as mysterious as anything ever imagined, familiar and alien. The only means to penetrate such a mystery is to learn the geography personally.  And lest one be tempted to romanticize this mysterious land, its bloody history will put a stop to it.

That was what Faulkner was up to -- his great body of work a burning sign that says, "This way great evil comes."  In contrast Percy is all nostalgia and lies, he who lived all his life in the elite privilege of wealth and family power, all received out of that cruelty that his kind put on the bottom of the pyramid that was southern society.  No amount of paternalist discourse about the feckless, childish, incompetent "Negro" in his Lanterns on the Levee can wipe out that truth.