". . . 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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bancroft History Prize + -- the Return of el V!

So many very fine history titles came out last year that the judges awarded the Bancroft Award to two titles. The Bancroft is one of the oldest and most prestigious history prizes given out in the U.S.  I don't think it is ever awarded to anyone who isn't an academic (which means TASC automatically wouldn't be considered, though the prize-winners are often published by non-academic, trade/commercial publishers. It is sponsored by Columbia University so that would make sense.

This year Greg Grandin's Empire of Necessity won along with Sven Beckert's Empire of Cotton. Both authors received a fair amount of media attention when their books came out -- at least here.  Grandin is well known already, and won other awards. We don't know Beckert but Greg's an amigo.

Both books deal with the global aspects of capitalism, cash crops, slavery and the slave trade. They're both "Big Picture" histories.  Both books are eminently readable though their authors are academics.

I mention the readability because I've been frequently seeing online this winter that academic histories cannot be big picture and cannot be written in accessible, readable prose, and thus are objects of derision. This appears to be repeated mostly by non-professionals and non-historians and by those who are uninterested in history, so uninterested in history, that they flat-out deny it's a discipline and profession at all. Academics do, of course, worry about readability and accessibility -- but many of them, like most people everywhere, aren't gifted writers, thus  we still have all these works that don't read well -- which is too bad, for them, but most of all, for us, as readers and scholars.  (Of course, a great deal else goes into the research of history beyond reading and writing, including math, archeology, statistical analysis, and other sorts of data mining.)

I've paid particular attention to this year's winners because both Grandin and Beckert deal with some of what TASC deals with (in fact, Cuba and Its Music is cited in Empire of Necessity). Another reason is I'm reading 

Foner's Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (2015), for which much of his research took place in Columbia University's Butler Library's Rare Book collection (i.e. includes papers and archives). Two summers ago we did a great deal of research there in the papers of Frederic Bancroft. 

Not only did he establish and fund the Bancroft History Prize, but he's the founding father of the history of the U.S. domestic slave trade studies, with his self-published Slave-trading in the Old South (1931).

Slave-trading in the Old South was self-published because he could afford to pay for it (which was very expensive in those days). In this era the southern revisionist vision of the antebellum south and slavery dominated the current publishing industry as it did politics and history. Since he could afford to self-publish Bancroft chose to side-step embarrassing rejections from all those editors -- many of whom he knew well, as he, like they were, was among America's aristocratic class -- and thus avoid embarrassment all around.

Additionally, Bancroft was a contemporary of Henry Adams and other American aristocrats, within and without the discipline of history, whose works we've read thoroughly throughout the process of researching and writing The American Slave Coast.

Not that any of this matters to anyone but myself, but I like to keep track of these moments where I feel part of the mighty currents that make up the study of Matter of America and its history.


El V comes back tonight, late. The weather is not pleasant, so this time he won't be bringing nicer weather with him upon his return, as he so often when having been away.  I've missed him so much!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Vikings - Season 3 - History Channel - If Any, Only Minor SPOILERS

The History Channel's original scripted, long-form drama, Vikings, has four more episodes before season 3 closes.  It was recently announced there is going to be a season 4. Thus the series is a significant success, since there was no idea at season 1 there would be another one, much less at least two more seasons. Vikings was my favorite television watching from its first episode all the way through the end of season 2. But the intensity of my involvement in third season has been muted in comparison to the past ones, so much less that my assessment has been through these first 6 episodes has been, "wait and see."

The reasons for being less involved with the episodes this season aren't so easy to winkle out. There have been some fine scenes in each episode, but no story-line or relationship possessed the kind of tension that hooked season 2's viewers as when all around Ragnar his people were allying with King Horik to betray him. This was revealed to be one of Ragnar's cunning long plays, which was laid as an entirely plausible trap of King Horik. The conclusion contained one of the most beautifully choreographed scenes of judgment and execution sickening violence in the history of television.

These final scenes came after episode 7, "Blood Eagle" that held us breathless through the  the punishment-execution of Jarl Borg, who also had betrayed Ragnar. Even more, Ragnar emotes a flawless soliloquy to his dead daughter Gyda, one of the victims of the plague in Kattegat while he was away in Wessex. Interwoven in these arcs are the arrival a pregnant Aslaug, among the consequences of which are, wife en titre, Lagertha, divorced Ragnar and left Kattegat, returning just in time as an earl in her own right with fighting men to help out his next invasion-- and much more, as well as new characters, such as King Ecbert of Wessex, who are interesting in their own right. We never faltered from our full investment in these characters and their fates (with the exception of the fully historically preposterous character, Mercian princess Kwenthrith, an unbalanced nympho who acts out in public).

But not this year.

King Ecbert relaxing without his crown in order to better hangout with the two who have caught his attention in a net of curiosity as curiosities,  Athelstan the former monk who is now a viking warrior and Ragnar's favorite counselor, and Lagertha, who is a farmer, an earl, a warrior and divorced wife, who killed another unsatisfactory husband -- also very beautiful and intelligent.
Part of the problem is the core group is divided. The female characters we know best, Aslaug, now Ragnar's wife, and dropping sons seemingly every year, are left in Kattegat with the characterless children. Everyone else goes to Wessex, including warrior-farmer Lagertha and her want-to-be imitator, the former slave girl -- who manages the seemingly impossible of being less interesting as a free woman than as a slave -- , now carrying Ragnar's oldest son's child, and a passel of farmers. There's a lot of negotiation in various languages about the land promised Ragnar's farmers by King Ecbert. Christian Saxons are appalled by the eating habits of pagan vikings, while Princess Kwenthrith acts equally appallingly to the eyes of pagans. She gets way too much screen time in the first episodes -- and worse, the Nords can't have any of the land until they kill all her -- and King Ecbert's -- enemies.

The most interesting thing that happens is King Ecbert is fascinated by Lagertha, who takes it all in canny, sensible stride.  Ecbert is as intrigued by her as he is with Athelstan, another one who keeps Ragnar's back.

Siggy, who has proven herself in o so many ways a most valuable asset to Ragnar's family and kingdom even though she was the former ruler's wife.
While back in Kattegat, despite Siggy's best efforts Aslaug is having an attack of petulance, makes bad choices -- or god-driven choices or is bewitched by a charlatan under the guise of an avatar of Odin -- which have very bad consequences. Further than that one cannot go, without spoilers.

Aslaug and one of her many sons.
The problem is viewers aren't invested emotionally in Aslaug, partly because her character has played her spoiled upper class card so often -- and she took splendid Lagertha's place -- so Aslaug's welfare matters little to us, beyond their effect upon Ragnar and the other characters for whom we do care. She pops out sons, unlike Lagertha whose loss of her final pregnancy seems to have made her infertile. Yet these sons, who are in the sagas very important, are without personality, unlike Bjorn and Gyda as Lagertha and Ragnar's children in the first season.

Floki, even more antic this season, melding into -- unbalanced?

So far, in these first 6 of the 10 episodes, season three's predominate theme has been to dramatize what it is for people, whether Christian or pagan, who inhabit a time in which the gods are real to everyone. Even the title of this last episode

Athelstan, once a monk, then a slave and farmer, then a warrior and a viking, crucifiction victim and counselor to kings
underscores this theme: "Born Again." This season has gone to great pains to show the depths of intolerance possessed by people holding different religions, and how quickly and effectively this intolerance can be harnessed by the power elite and even others for objectives and goals that have nothing ultimately to do with religion. But when the intolerance is harnessed for the purposes of authentic religious convictions, it's even worse. Yet, this fact of religious intolerance employed for power and conquest,

Another god's man, the Seer of Kattegat
or genuine belief played upon by charlatans (see: for perhaps a charlatan's exploitation episodes 2 and 3, "The Wanderer" and Warrior's Fate) hasn't managed engaged our imaginations in the way court and hall political intrigues have done.

With three very big deaths in this season already, things are such a mess for Ragnar in both Kattegat and Wessex that I'm as impatient as he is to go on a vacation to war in Frankia. Next week -- "Paris".  The season is beginning to shake out now, finally, maybe.

Friday, March 27, 2015


IN the Guardian, by Kathryn Hughes: how can a news cruiser resist the following --
During Henry VIII’s reign, codpieces became so large that it was impossible for men to bend over to pull on their shoes.
The sentence was provoked by a survey of Fashioning the Body
a collection of scholarly essays written to accompany an exhibition of the same name in Paris in 2013 and that will be mounted again at the Bard Center, New York from next week. 

So many terrible events crashing one-upon-another this week. The beginning was my own building escaping burning down thanks to stupid tenants and building owner (prevented only by the quick work of my across-the-hall neighbor and myself calling the fire department -- yet owner still thinks making it possible for drunk young males to play with fire is an excellent thing). Yesterday afternoon four East Village buildings just like this one were destroyed in a terrible conflagration, thanks to people's greed squeezing more and more profit out of buildings that aren't equipped to handle that much gas, while refusing to hire qualified plumbers and electricians -- not to mention the constant pounding the infrastructure of buildings, pipes and lines receive from constant renovation for wealthy people and high-rise building where there shouldn't be.

The consequence of the East Village catastrophe include evacuation all around the area, hundreds of homeless, two people missing, 19 in the hospital, four with critical injuries.

At the same time, the Germanwings tragedy-crime -- and our city at least is observing cancer week, and all the media is booming non-stop the most terrible stories of people dying of the most terrible things and how it all would be prevented and / or cured if we had a decent health care system and people could afford medical care and drugs. Our foods,even organic ones, are filled with cancer-causing pesticides and our wine is filled with arsenic.

These things have rather jangled my nerves this week -- plus, el V is where communications can happen only infrequently and for very short bursts. 90 miles off the U.S. coast and we can't skype, make phone calls, and hardly can e-mail, there's so little bandwidth in Cuba, thanks to we know whom.

So this light-hearted look at our historical fashion and style preposterousities has been welcome -- the paragraph's last sentence is particularly delightful.

No sooner had codpieces reached their most gargantuan proportions than they were at risk of bursting under their own pretentions. Not for nothing did Montaigne call them silly and even worse, a kind of “falsehood and imposture”. Yet just 250 years later – a mere blink compared with the millennia it takes to produce a permanent swerve in the body’s skeleton – they were back in fashion. In the Regency period, skintight trousers for men were teamed with narrow coats (rather than Henrician puffed shoulders and barrel chests) to create a long, lean line broken by a wide buttoned flap that puckered and pouched much like an impromptu codpiece. The effect was to draw attention to the phallus while nonchalantly pretending that it was the last thing on your mind.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What To Do With Dragons

I was finally able to pick up The Widow's House, fourth volume in Daniel Abraham's Dagger and Coin series..

I've read the prior volumes, and quite liked the first two. The third one though, was fairly generic in ways the first two were not.  However, The Widow's House is back to form and I stayed up later than I should have for two nights in a row, reading it to the end -- because I could not guess how it would end, which is not the case for this reader with most fiction at this point.

As Widow's House contains a dragon that held some promise of being an interesting character,  I got to thinking about dragons in fiction.  Actually, the most interesting thing Inys the dragon does is get drunk. That may be a first?  I can't recall whether any of the dragons in the books of the alternate history/fantasy Tremaire series ever got drunk.

Writers like to have dragons, but few of them seem to know what to do with them when they get them. Among those who seem to understand their dragons are the

writers Katharine Kerr, whose Deverry dragons are essentially cats (which works very well), or McCaffrey's, in the first Pern novel, who are medieval heavy

cavalry chargers with super firepower. Another exception is McAvoy's Mayland

Long, the black dragon of Tea With the Black Dragon (1983) -- "black dragon" signifies my favorite oolong tea -- is a shape shifter. So, as a wise Mandarin, he possesses human-kind personality and physical characteristics. And Novak

 knows how to create an Enlightenment - Age of Revolution philosophe with Tremaire.  Others of her dragons also had differentiated characters and voices.*

However, Hobb's dragons seem nothing more than slabs of mountain in one series and, unintentionally on the part of the writer, never made any sense. Another couple of her series made dragons be everything from rotting toxic poisonous swimming serpents to mad things that made no sense. These dragons' real function is to become woods out of which are constructed ships, that communicate with the special persons. Then there was another series, which I confess I couldn't read which seemed to try to unify the mountain dragons of a Fitz series's world with the world of the Shippers. In that one the dragons' function was to give a very special young female a save the world mission.

Got's dragons' function -- so far, only expected function -- is to be WMD -- which so far at least can't seem to be imagined actually taking place in the narrative either. Wait! one of them burned up a bad guy once who spoke contemptible insults about Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons in a language he mistakenly thought incomprehensible to the Mother of Dragons Who Is Always Threatening / Promising Something-or-Other Will Be Done to Something-o- Someone-or-Other. Or did that only happen on-screen and not on the page at all?  It's all so long ago who remembers?

The exceptions to this would be the afore-mentioned Novak dragons,  Kerr's, and now, Abraham's Inys, the world's last dragon, has personality / character. Still, for all his size, Inys inhabits only few pages of The Widow's House. He's referred to much more than he's on-stage, er, on page.

Which again seems that with dragons, when one has them, it's difficult to give them actions of active significance, beyond deus ex machina, or, as in Hobb, McGuffin roles. This seems so for Got's dragons. ** 

Well, in fact Abraham's Inys is instrumental to a significant action: as he falls to the weapons of the enemy, the inhabitants of the city that has never been successfully sieged other than by insiders opening the gates -- OPEN THE GATES to save the dragon that was thought to be saving them -- AND THE CITY FALLS TO THE ENEMY.  Horribly.

There is the Ch'in dragon in Carey's Namaah spin offs from the Phedré - Terre d'Ange series, featuring Moirin, whose voice is exactly like Phedré's, and whose

vagina is equally magical. In the second volume, Naamah's Kiss, Moirin goes to Ch'in and rescues Snow Tiger-- a celestial princess imprisoned by her uncontrollable dragon powers and appetites. Moirin saves and liberates Snow Tiger via her afore-mentioned divine vagina.** It also employed the Westerner-goes-to-Asia-and-saves-the kingdom trope.

Maybe the best dragon is still Smaug from The Hobbit, though he too was onstage for a relatively short period?  But he had a character and agency up the wazoo, and he sure did something. And when he fell, the story of what he wrought wasn't magically concluded.  He was onstage as long as he needed to be.


*   I haven't read the volumes released since Tremaire and Captain William Laurence went to Africa -- I've been so immersed in one way and another for the last few years with the Age of Revolution and Napoleón history and slavery)

** This seems equally so for dire wolves. Everyone talks endlessly about dragons and dire wolves, but they do very little, and in fact entire books go by and they don't even appear

* * *  Please take note: I am neither criticizing the divinity of the vaginas of either Phedré or Moirin, nor the author for giving them these vaginas.

Their vaginas have as much right to possess magical power as do the bodies of the super-powered, super-attenuated male characters in every genre from mysteries (for example, James Lee Burke's Robicheaux and Clete, or Child's Jack Reacher) to sf/f, in which these aging Warrior - Heroes are still taking and giving punches and kicks more powerful than a mule's and getting up immediately, or at least recovering after a day or two in the hospital with no further problems until they again do something stupid.

No matter how old they are crowds of gorgeous lascivious and smart women throw themselves at these old, beat-up guys who continue to exhibit truly bad judgment and make terrible life choices. Additionally, their wives and lovers keep getting killed because of these guys' bad choices, even as they white-knight service even more gorgeous and / or deserving females.

So why shouldn't a Fantasy Female God-blessed heroine be the most beautiful and attractive woman in the intelligently and lovingly imagined author's world, the foundations of which are built on a spiritual belief in the worship of love and beauty, that these qualities are indeed divine? Carey's women live fully within their milieu of theology, philosophy and history that are inclusive, not exclusive (though of course the less special Special Terre d'Ange's take it for granted they are superior to all other peoples, which surely annoys the Others), so within this world building they are entirely plausible extra-special saviors.

As a reader, my real objections are the primary characters' non-differentiated voices, vocabulary and cadences. "Blessed Elihu" and "love as thou wilt" seem invoked in every gdded paragraph; by the fourth volume what had been fresh about the voice and invocations had crossed over into annoying and even snort-provoking. One was so tempted to do the drinking game with the endless repetitions, but -- you know? probably Phedré would agree and say, "as thou wilt, what makes you happy."  :)

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Day of Spring Lift-Off -- Havana

After a week of frantic preparation, with winter's return further complicating the stress and sturm, the plane did lift off,  despite weather and the fact that for reasons JFK has currently shut down all its runways except one,  All flights need to expect at least a 4 hour delay.  But they left so early -- a 4 AM rising! -- they managed only a half hour delay.

Snow, rain, are currently providing further delays.  So I was glad to re-wake to a text from Him, saying they were boarded and about to taxi.

The Prado, on a facsimile of which during Prohibition's last year, some scenes of Boardwalk Empire's final season are set.
I won't hear from el V, probably until tomorrow, due to the continuing difficulties and expense of communications between there and here.  We haven't been out of touvh with each other for this long since the last time I didn't go to Cuba with him, which was in 2000.  Not even while in Africa -- we can skype from Africa . . . .

Thursday, March 19, 2015

American Name of the Day

Thanks to Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain, and his Innocents Abroad, this on goes into the collection of favorite American names:

Bloodgood Haviland Cutter, an actual person, from a well-known 19th century family on Long Island.

He was a wealthy, go-getting sort of fellow, who was an obsessive rhymer, at length, into the bargain. This trait was not admired by Mr. Clemens.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

History - Sheep Guard Dogs

One morning I woke with the realization that I didn't know when in human culture we began training herding sheepdogs.

So far I've learned that it is far more ancient that I'd have assumed -- if, that is, if I'd ever thought about it previously.  I have other things to do but I can dig a little in the time cracks.

This is what I learned last week:
Through the Middle Ages in Europe guardian dogs have been used to guard livestock, such as sheep and goats.  The evolution of the herding sheepdogs breeds we know today correlates with the elimination of the wolf and increased land enclosure for production of food and fodder crops.
Instead of allowing sheep and goats to roam wherever pasture could be found with Livestock Guardian Dogs protecting them from predators such as wolves, bears and other predators, shepherds increasingly selected dogs that would instinctively herd flocks of sheep together.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Last Evening

Not quite dark, sky a blue velvet curtain against which the lights of One World Trade Tower and the planes banking out of LaGuardia were bright and sharp.

Ahead of me on the sidewalk are five young African Americans, only one of whom is female, talking animatedly with each other -- not on phones -- and entirely blocking my way, as I'm heading home and walking much faster.

Unlike the vast majority of the hordes who come down here, who clearly are not of the neighborhood, these younglings had spatial sense -- and pay attention to their surroundings.  They notice I'm behind them and blocked, and smile, apologize and move to make way for me.

Now I'm ahead of them I can hear what they're talking about.  They're talking about 9/11.  The young woman says, "I kept hearing the towers, the towers but I had no idea what the towers were.  Just something awful happened."  One of the young men says something about the school he was in when it happened and the little kids in his class who were Muslims and how scared they were.  She returns, thoughtfully, "I've never understood who the guys were who did that.  Osoma Bin Laden -- was he really a Muslim?  Was he an Arab?  Because when I got old enough to understand anything there were all these crazy people on tv talking about our president is a Muslim and an Arab and an African, and I'm going, "What?"

By then I'd arrived to the door of my building.  In the course of putting down my bags and getting out my keys, the group caught up with me.  On impulse I addressed them, "I apologize, I don't want to be rude, and I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but are you all from out of town?"

They stopped, and all of them responded, "Yes!  We're from L.A.  This is our first time here.  We're on spring break and trying to visit places that have to do with the history of our life."

They were on their way to Memorial and Ground Zero site.  One of the guys -- I learned his name was Zach -- exclaimed, "I've seen this block, this street, that sight (pointing at the One World Center Center, its lights sparkling, its spire bright red tonight, like and art object designed out of the school of gigantism.

Exchanging names, hesitantly, Dominique asks, "Were you here then?"

So we talked for nearly forty minutes, out there on the sidewalk as night fell on NYC, about that day, what 9/11 meant for NYC, what it meant for el V and I, personally.  And what it had all meant to them.  That was a lot of why they were on this trip.  Young as they were on that day -- one of them in pre-school -- they sensed the world had changed forever, and they wanted to know how and why.

Then Katrina was in the conversational mix.  All of them had relatives who lived through Katrina.  They'd been to New Orleans often.

They said how glad and lucky there were to have met me, as they went down to the Ground Zero Memorial site.

I was so glad and lucky to have met them.  These are the young people who are going to fix some of the greatest messes the earth has ever experienced since she evolved homo saps.  They were just splendid in every way.

But there was more to why they were so impressive, beyond their excellent manners and courtesy, their sense of being comfortable in their own skins and with each other, their obvious intelligence and their articulate language.

But, it wasn't until waking up this AM I understood why I felt such confidence in them.  Not once during this whole experience with them, which was about an hour, did I see or hear a phone among the 5 of them.

They surely have those phones.  But they were entirely involved all this time in the material world, the world they see, hear and touch, and not the virtual world.

That is what makes them special.  How many people their age (and alas, so many more of us too, who are much, much older) who forego the virtual world of their devices for that long?

Monday, March 9, 2015

BBC1 Poldark Return2

The first episode broadcast in the UK last night -- with nearly 7 million viewers. As Poldark captured 29% of the Sunday night viewership from 9 PM on, it was a successful debut.
Poldark also topped BBC1’s JK Rowling adaptation A Casual Vacancy, which it replaced in the Sunday night slot.
A Casual Vacancy began with 6.6 million viewers last month, ending its three-part run with 4.6 million. 
And here's a review of the first episode: "rugged and gorgeous – and that’s not just the coastline . . . ."
The other major star – also rugged and gorgeous – is the coastline along which Poldark gallops. Dorset’s dead to me since the second series of Broadchurch, even if the Jurassic coast was about the only thing that didn’t disappoint. It’s all about Cornwall now, though. And that’s something else that’s much better here than in the Spanish-dubbed 1970s, when, on the few times it does venture out of doors, it’s drab and grey. Here, sparkling, it’s so much more than a backdrop. God it’s beautiful, who needs Croatia? This isn’t going to do Cornish tourism any harm at all, the Poldark effect.

How can anyone resist anything that opens with a man in a cloak galloping along cliffs rising from the ocean's coast (clips from the first episode available at the link)? I love the reviewer's description of the series as a "family swashbuckler."

Ruby Bentall, Verity Poldark 2015
I'm now attempting to wrap my head around the idea that Verity Poldark, Ross's cousin, is this time around being played by Ruby Bentall, the actress who was Minnie the skivvy in Lark Rise to Candleford.

Norma Streader as Verity in Poldark 1975
Alas, I have learned that one of my favorite characters from Poldark 1975,

Caroline Penvenen and Dr. Enys 1975
Caroline Penvenen, played by Judy Geeson, who marries Dr. Dwight Enys, and thus makes another couple I adored, is not in Poldark 2015.  WHY?????

I have also learned that PBS will broadcast Poldark 2015, though I still don't know when in June.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Am A Bad Person + Poldark

For reasons unfathomable to mere mortals, the bare ankle has been a thing these last couple of years, summer and winter, for both male and female.

Having spend most of today, like yesterday, at a history conference on various matters of slavery in the Atlantic world I could not help but notice the Fashionable and Trendy hording upon on the streets and sidewalks, on a weekend, that if still quite cold, is at least sunny (or it was -- there are mutterings on AccuWeather of mixed snow and rain fall later). They are wearing, without sox, stiletto heeled boots, dazzling white $500 sneakers, rhinestone flatties, all kinds of very fine footwear. They also are all looking at their devices, talking, texting, whatever. Four times -- 4! -- I watched these fashionistas walk into the water gathered at most corners, filthy water from melted snow and ice and all kinds of stuff in it. The expressions of shock when that water went over their bare ankles was so amusing I laffed (though politely and hopefully inaudibly behind my gloved hand, of course). Splutters and swears, shrieks and screams, all of which I confess here to enjoying, very much.  I am a bad person, totally lacking in sympathy for my fellow women and men.  Nor do I give a gd. >g<

Now -- Poldark!

Tomorrow night begins the first episode on BBC1 of the remake of the 1970's Poldark series, which I had loved when amiga T and I would watch it in PBS re-runs on Wednesday nights. This one looks scrumptious -- see the trailer above.

Aidan Turner, the actor playing Ross Poldark, was the romantic male lead on the Brit Being Human, and he was why I watched the first two seasons.  Aidan Turner's character managed to be brooding in that dark moody romantic troubled soul way, and yet very charming and very funny too.  He might make a terrific Ross Poldark, though surely one very

different from the original BBC Ross, played by Robin Ellis -- who was also a very satisfactory period drama romantic male lead.

Among the elements that made this series, the original and this re-make, and the books on which they're based, so appealing to me, is that they take place during the Era of Revolution. This is the 1970's when neither British nor American movies and television had yet turned their backs from including any content in the scripted drama that commented on class and political - economic inequity.

The series begins with Ross coming back to Cornwall from America, where he fought for the King against the rebelling North American colonists.  He returns with sympathy for the rebels and revolutionary ideas about class and rank himself.  Recall, he's a Cornish man, not necessarily in sympathy with the King and the House of Lords.  The more I read in this era's history the more aware I am too of how tough the rank-and-file and poor had it in these times of war with France and Napoleon.  Everything was taxed, just for starters.

Being on the coast, as they are in Poldark, there has always been smuggling, doubtless even before the Romans invaded and conquered. But during these decades of war and taxes smuggling everywhere became the biggest business of all, other than army and navy matériel business.  As well, there were years of bad weather, in which crops failed, and business for everything dropped way down, as Europe was increasingly in chaos (though Napoleon as First Counsel, did manage to bring France back to order, including eradicating the bandits).  All of this is in Poldark.  Yum.

PBS, please bring this Poldark to the U.S. audience too!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Corporate Pillage and Power Supported By the State: The East India Company

In the Guardian's Long Read series, "The East India Company: The original corporate raiders," is excerpted from William Dalrymple's forthcoming book, The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803, to be published next year.

One cannot but help recalling the English government, its enthusiasm to help fill the East India Company's empty coffers from the glut of India tea on the market, gave some big pushes to the North American colonies' rebellion and secession. (For a good description of this series of unfortunate events, particularly for New England, and especially Boston - Massachusetts, see Nick Bunker's An Empire on the Edge (2014).*

The pull from Dalrymple's The Anarchy concludes:
The 300-year-old question of how to cope with the power and perils of large multinational corporations remains today without a clear answer: it is not clear how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess. As the international subprime bubble and bank collapses of 2007-2009 have so recently demonstrated, just as corporations can shape the destiny of nations, they can also drag down their economies. In all, US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets from January 2007 to September 2009. What Burke feared the East India Company would do to England in 1772 actually happened to Iceland in 2008-11, when the systemic collapse of all three of the country’s major privately owned commercial banks brought the country to the brink of complete bankruptcy. A powerful corporation can still overwhelm or subvert a state every bit as effectively as the East India Company did in Bengal in 1765. 
Corporate influence, with its fatal mix of power, money and unaccountability, is particularly potent and dangerous in frail states where corporations are insufficiently or ineffectually regulated, and where the purchasing power of a large company can outbid or overwhelm an underfunded government. This would seem to have been the case under the Congress government that ruled India until last year. Yet as we have seen in London, media organisations can still bend under the influence of corporations such as HSBC – while Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s boast about opening British embassies for the benefit of Chinese firms shows that the nexus between business and politics is as tight as it has ever been. 
The East India Company no longer exists, and it has, thankfully, no exact modern equivalent. Walmart, which is the world’s largest corporation in revenue terms, does not number among its assets a fleet of nuclear submarines; neither Facebook nor Shell possesses regiments of infantry. Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model for many of today’s joint-stock corporations. The most powerful among them do not need their own armies: they can rely on governments to protect their interests and bail them out. The East India Company remains history’s most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate power – and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders become those of the state. Three hundred and fifteen years after its founding, its story has never been more current. 
I'm guessing (i.e.I do not know!) this first serial from Dalrymple's book was run so far ahead of publication due to the Guardian centering for weeks the HSBC scandal. It's also not a chunk just pulled from the book; it was edited and revised,

as the pulls in various publications from Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band: A Memoir aren't chunks of self-enclosed text, but revised as well.  First Serial excerpts often need a revision specifically for the specific publication in play, as most books aren't composed as stand-alone sections, and the length and focus for each publication is different.


*  William Dalrymple  and Nick Bunker are two of my most admired and favorite independent scholar-writers -- meaning they both do splendid research, but they are also good writers as writers, which makes all the difference. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Re-reading C.L.R. James

The lines that impress today come from C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins:Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, second edition, revised, 1963 -- originally published 1938.

p. 78 --

"The rich are only defeated when running for their lives."

Something else I've encountered upon this re-reading of The Black Jacobins: this is the only work of history in which there is not a jot of sympathy for the fate of King Louis XVI.

James also observes, which no else has either, that the organization of the plantation sugar slaves for both field and factory work on San Domingo was closer to that of the Russian proletariat than any other group of laborers at that time.  This made for a mass uprising, as in Russia.  He says on p.85:

"The slaves worked on the land, and, like revolutionary peasants everywhere, they aimed at the extermination of their oppressors."

Historians don't write sentences like these any more.  But who knows, that they may again someday?

Toussaint L'Ouverture

Even more impressive to me, was how he opens this chapter quoting the war song of the San Domingo slaves throwing off, literally, their chains:

Eh!! Eh ! Bomba! Heu! Heu!
Canga, bafio té!
Canga, mouné de lé!
Canga, do ki la!
Canga, do ki la!
Canga, li!

What I did not know the last time I read The Black Jacobins is the legacy of this war song of the San Domingo slave revolution remains embedded in the culture of many places in the Caribbean to where a variety of San Domingueans and later, Haitian, immigrated.  We began to learn of this and understand it via our Puerto Rican amigo, Alex LaSalle (note, name is "french"), whose family's oral culture always said his ancestors were brought to Puerto Rico by a mulatto master fleeing the wars, who brought a female slave concubine and their children with him.  His grandmother was still singing this song to him and other children when they were babies.

From a demonstration / workshop / performance gig of Alma deMoyo in Connecticut.

As well, one of the national dances of Puerto Rico is the Bomba, along with the Plena, both of them contra danses, but at least one of them done to this war song, as the drums thunder out its rhythms.  There are traditional costumes that go with these dances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, for Baryshnikov and an audience filled with African American and Caribbean heads, of all skin tones and diversity.  

El V and Alex have taught classes around this war song, bringing in the drums and dancers, including a performance plus presentation in New Orleans Congo Square.

These are the sorts of communications out of the past that make my breath come fast and my heartbeat speed up, because they are -- well so wonderful. The Black Jacobins is from the past before I was born.  It is also part of my own reading - research past, going back to the first time before I knew enough to get the benefit from it, to another time when I got a great deal, to now, when I am receiving even more.  The times are so different now from when I first read the book, it's as if that first reading may as well have taken place in another world.

These little bits that are transmitted still via family and culture, and which are personal to people I know, about something I'd seen myself, but upon first encountering, knew nothing.  And this way, I too, in a minute manner, am a part of the transmittal of historical memory.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Catalog Copy Mock-up - TASC

This is the copy that goes up on B&N, etc. next month, from what people will form an initial opinion. It's really good. It repeats directly text in TASC, but it left out three essential points -- which are Andrew Jackson, Polk and Texas. We have until end of day to give Editor those points for changes.  Thus the CRP site that has its forthcoming titles with cover art up, currently have taken them down as the "official" catalog comes into being.

TASC is going to be $27.99 on Kindle.

Production thinks The American Slave Coast print edition will run 772 pages.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Napoleonic Triumverate

That all three of the books with which I'm engaged this week feature Napoleón is accidental, not intentional, but I do enjoy such serendipitous occurrance.

The "recreational" book I'm reading is In These Times: Living In Britain Through Napoleon's Wars 1793 - 1815 (2014) by Jenny Uglow. This book is rather disappointing. I was expecting more content rather than unattached, unconnected extended anecdote (this criticism is also leveled by British history reviewers too, I see). Extended as these anecdotes are though, they frequently leave out what

British view of the XYZ Affair, notorious in the U.S., which here is portrayed as female. The line below reads: "Property Protected a la Francoise."

the reader needs to know. I expected learn specifics about the banking and financing of this era, which includes a British banker pulling the financing together for the U.S., for the Louisiana Purchase. But this momentous event gets a couple of words at most -- and those words are unattached to anything -- in fact one would have to use cogitation to understand the man she mentions is a banker -- and I never learn the name of his bank. I also hoped to learn much more about what it cost Britain to blockade the U.S. shipping not only to their own markets but everyone else's.

The audio book I'm working out with is Napoleon's Wars: An International History (2007) by Charles J. Esdaile. The focus isn't so much on the man and certainly not on his love affairs (yay), but on the why of the many wars he fought, and how they were won or lost and the consequences of the occurrence, the winning and / or losing, on the larger stage of Europe. Among the useful elements the author stresses is that it wasn't until the second coming of Napoleón during the Congress of Vienna in 1814 that all of Europe and Britain and were united against France. This was the only time during this entire era of warfare that happened. I hadn't quite realized that before.

The first edition (1938), from Secker & Warburg
The current research book is a re-read, for the third time: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938), by Trinidadian scholar, C.L.R. James (1901 - 1989) which is about the French Revolution, Napoleon, England and the Haitian Revolution. The Black Jacobins is the seminal book on Haiti and the Haitian Revolution. Before this book, Haiti and its Revolution had fairly been written out of the history of the French Revolution and Napoleón's Empire. After this book it was no longer possible to discuss either of them without including Haiti and its Revolution. Or, to quote James from his own book, regarding the Haitian slave owners' claim to representational seats in the 1788 Estates-General:
. . . . Full of confidence these slave owners claimed 18 seats, but Mirabeau turned fiercely on them:  "You claim representation preportionate to the enumber of the inhabitants.  The free blacks are proprietors and tax-payers, and yet they have not been allowed to vote.  And as for the slaves, either they are men or they are not; if the colonists consider them to be men, let them free them and make them electors and eligible for seats; if the contrary is the case, have we, in apportioning deputies according to the population of France, taken into consideration the number of our horses and mules?"
In other words the Big Whites, the white slave owning class of San Domingo (as James refers to it, writer in English as he is), claimed population proportional representation for themselves in the Estates-General based on the number of slaves they owned (just as in the U.S. Constitution for the antebellum southern slave owning elite)  -- while denying other property owners seats in the Estates-General because they were "small whites," i.e. didn't own land and slaves, the rapidly growing class of mulattoes, whose wealth in cash, land and slaves was rapidly increasing, and the "black" free people, who were not wealthy and owned no land or slaves.

The upshot was that the San Domingo Big White slave owners were allowed only 6 deputies, while:
" . . . the great Liberal orator [Mirabeau] had places the case of the Friends other Negro squarely before the whole of France in unforgettable words.  The San Domingo representatives realized at last what they had done; They had tied the fortunes of San Domingo to the assembly of a people in revolution and thenceforth the history of liberty in France and of slave emancipation in San Domingo is one and indivisible."
Alas, such attitude lasted for a very short time, as emancipation was not to the taste of those who initially played such a role in France in making the Revolution, the great property owner class, referred to as the Great Bourgeoisie  and particularly the Maritime Bourgeoisie, whose entire fortunes were tied to every aspect of slavery in San Domingue.

This time around understand more clearly I had previously James's assertions that PM Pitt's demand to abolish the European African slave trade was high hypocrisy. By the time of the French Revolution, San Domingue was the most wealth-producing territory on the globe, financing almost all of France with its production of sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo, and the related industries including the slave trade. However, at this time as well, England's India colonies were beginning to be successful producing sugar and cotton, and the workers needed to be paid only a penny a day. San Domingue demanded more African slaves every year to put more of the island into cultivation -- devouring the captives' lives in less than ten years, from overwork, disease, starvation and abuse. By 1789 San Domingue was importing at least 40,000 Africans annually. Pitt's desire to abolish the European African trade was straight up protectionism for English products -- his definition of Adam Smith's "free market" meant eliminating the competition. Previously this had sailed right past me.

This latter, btw, is the book anyone must read before even thinking s/he's going to write anything about San Domingue, Haiti (especially if s/he's never been to Haiti, the Caribbean and doesn't know anyone from these parts of the world) or the French Revolution, whether journalism, history, literary fiction, genre fiction -- anything. For if s/he hasn't read this book s/he is going to make a huge fool of her/himself. This time around I'm reading the second edition (1963), to which James appended his seminal essay, "From Toussaint L'Overture to Fidel Castro."

Is it necessary to add that James was a Marxist in his politics and in his historical perspective? This is why U.S. history departments in the 50's and 60's didn't want him on the syllabus.

Would that all of our books would remain so foundational, so seminal, so necessary, 80 + years after initial publication as The Black Jacobins has.

Hmmm. The library says that Ancillary Sword is ready for pick-up. Will the pages of this novel contain as much excitement as the matters of these books, even though the events -- though not their consequences and effects -- took place so very long ago?. .

Monday, March 2, 2015

Authors & Review(er)s + Text Excised from Trollope's Duke's Children Discovered

From the Guardian: "Why All Writers Are Vain" as their vanity appears to a writer who is also a reviewer:

. . . . The vast majority of writers, if they have a modicum of self-awareness, must know that they probably belong among the literary also-rans rather than the exceptional elites. In my own case, I know I am not the cleverest or most original thinker and my prose is not the most beautiful. But if I am honest, somewhere inside me, probably not too far beneath the apparently modest surface, is the hubristic belief that if I can apply my skills of clear exposition and synthesis to the right subject, I might just write a book of exceptional worth.
I doubt that I am unusual. I’ve met, interviewed and shared stages with many writers over the years, and the majority have come across as modest, grounded people. Only one has turned up in a hotel lobby wearing sunglasses, and that was a performer turned author. Of all the speakers at one literary festival which requires participants to wear head-set microphones, only two have so far refused to do so because it messed up their hair – both male. And yet although the writing profession is generally free of the ostentatious egotism of rock’n’roll, the ways in which it is infused with vanity have become increasingly evident to me. The excessive admiration or pride in their own work that I detected in those two writers would reappear time and again, and eventually I would come to recognise it in myself.

For those who are happy readers of Anthony Trollope's novels, particularly his Palliser novels, or as they are also known, The Parliamentary Novels, there is this:

A limited, deluxe edition is being published that restores the cut text, amounting to about 40,000 words.

“It’s quite extraordinary the different cumulative effect it has, on the richness of the text and the subtlety of the characters,” said Joe Whitlock Blundell at the Folio Society. “When I first read The Duke’s Children 30 years ago, it all seemed to be focused on the Duke’s reactions. But in the restored version, the characters of the children come through far more sympathetically.”
Amarnick writes in a commentary to the new edition that the “thousands of cuts did tremendous damage” to the work. Although Trollope did not delete any of his 80 chapters, he removed consecutive paragraphs in some places; in others, he cut sentences, phrases and words, even replacing a word with one which was slightly shorter on some occasions.
. . . . “There is no concrete evidence for who exactly forced him to make the cuts, though it seems probable that it was Charles Dickens Jr who requested a shorter book for serial publication,” said Whitlock Blundell. “As for his reluctance, there can be no doubt about it. He was very sensitive to any requests to cut his work, and wrote in his autobiography, ‘I am at a loss to know how such a task could be performed. I could burn the MS, no doubt, and write another book on the same story; but how two words out of every six are to be withdrawn from a written novel, I cannot conceive’.”
This may bring tears of justification to the eyes of many an author instructed to cut their own works to improve the narrative flow, structure and rhythm, or for the "economy of cost".

As a friend commented elsewhere, ". . . it's kind of hard to believe Trollope would be improved by the restoration of verbiage."

Like her, I'm not an admirer of Trollope as a prose stylist. As an observer of his times,, most certainly he's a novelist to be mined. But most of his books are nearly unreadable, as far as I'm concerned. Exceptions would be The Way We Live Now, some of the Palliser chronicles and some of the Barsetshire books. But the Pallisers and Barsetshire sequences only after I learned a great deal more about the Victorian era politicians, issues and the Church of England than in previous readings. If one doesn't know the political and Church of England historical miliieu these books are near impenetrable morasses -- or at least they were for me.

Partly this was because, as same amiga remarks in the discussion, "What bugs me are the inevitable purity/virgin subplots. I'd like every one of them cut entirely." 

Yet, there are ladies in his novels who, despite the author, end up successful without being virgin.  But all that Trollope verbiage tends to conceal that they avoided humiliation, disgrace, despair and death. 

Then there's his habit of naming characters with silly names -- such as Killancodlem, Quiverful, Filgrave --  thinking he was following in Dickens footsteps, while viewed as witty by some readers, for others are annoying at best. At worst one cannot take such names seriously, as the age of Dickens had long since been superceded. OTOH, there are a plenitude of astonishingly preposterous names among the English aristos, at least to the ears and eyes of Merikans. 

Even Trollope's novel about wife abuse, stalking, etc., He Knew He Was Right (2004), is a slog to read, and, for that matter, so is the BBC production of it a nearly unendurable slog, except that it does have Bill Nighy in his delightfully slimy persona.

The major exception to the slogs is The Way We Live Now, all about money and publishing and marriage. These matters read just fine to contemporary literature-minded Merkians, even without knowing anything about the Age, so to speak.

Like The Way We Live Now (2001) did, anchored by David Suchet playing the financial ponzi schemer, August Melmont, fortunately some of these other books too have made terrific television, as they excise enormous wadges of Trollope's plodding text. I still love BBC's The Pallisers (1974 - 1975) -- which also gives the Duchess of Omnium the focus she should have -- and 

Susan Hampshire as the Duchess of Omnium during her unhappy European marriage tour.

played by the delightful Susan Hampshire, -- and the Chronicles of Barset (1982 in which Alan Rickman inhabits Obediah Slope -- and it even includes Susan Hampshire, again, as delightful in the role of  La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroniwooed, alas, by Slope, as she was in The Pallisers and as Lady Churchill, in The First Churchills. 

All of these series are happy ways to spend this endless winter.