What We’re Reading: Summer Books Edition

 

Here are some of the books that the Blog’s editors have lined up for summer. From art history to critical theory, from fiction to poetry, we’ve got you covered if you’re looking for something to pick up during the academic off season.

Erin

I have a confession to make: I have never read D.F. McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts from cover to cover. As a working bibliographer I encounter a huge variety of “texts,” from incunabula to 20th century manuscripts printed on Xerox machines, to 45 rpm sound recordings, even recordings on magnetic tape. As Jerome McGann wrote in a 1988 review for the London Review of Books, “In a series of trenchant illustrations, [McKenzie] unfolds a profound truth about ‘the book’ itself – and thence about every kind of possible text: that it is meaning-constitutive not simply in its ‘contained’ or delivered message, but in every dimension of its material existence.” So, Marshall McLuhan meets Phillip Gaskell and Fredson Bowers?  I’m about to find out.

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Eve Babitz, age 14, reading a biography of novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn.

I’m also going for it with Hollywood fiction to support my work with a private collection of film scripts and cinematic ephemera this summer. As a New Yorker, Los Angeles seems the land of good vibes, great hair, and Fridays off to me – I loved Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and P.T. Anderson’s film adaptation. So, I’m looking for a sense of the place on the ground, without completely bursting my Beach Boys bubble.  I just started Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood, up next is Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life Like Any Other, and then comes Don Carpenter’s Hollywood Trilogy. Babitz is a sophisticated, well read, well connected, and totally liberated mid-century California woman, and best of all she is a tremendous writer.  O’Brien and Carpenter’s books both come highly recommended as novels of the note-so-glamorous side of Hollywood life on both ends of the 20th century.

Spencer

The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, ed. Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts (2003): I’m a hopeless science fiction/fantasy addict, as well as a history of science buff. Rarely do those passions come together, but some of the genre’s cleverest writers—Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore—have compiled this darkly comic “anthology” of imaginary maladies. Being something of a hypochondriac, I am a little nervous (in a good way).

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 9.11.45 AMKate Tempest, Hold Your Own (2014). Kate Tempest is a brilliant, prize-winning poet from the UK, whose debut collection, Hold Your Own, explores gender, sexuality, and the life cycle through a reimagining of the story of Tiresias, the blind prophet of Greek mythology. A brief sample: “Snakes. Two snakes! / Coiling, uncoiling / Boiling and cooling / Oil in a cauldron / Foil in a river / Soil on a mood ring.”

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719). The beach read extraordinaire. One of those books that has sat on my shelf unread for far too long. Arguably the first English novel. It created its own genre—the Robinsonade—of castaway or “desert island” stories.

Cynthia

One summer, I carried W.G. Sebald’s After Nature all over Europe, like a talisman. I read it quietly in hotel rooms, and over coffees in little squares. The historian’s work can be alienating, so much solitude, so many hours and days spent unmoored from your own time. Here was someone else who did that deep dive, and came back with a work of lapidary beauty. It’s a work that always sets me thinking about the writer’s craft.

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Summer, for me, is also a time for re-reading those books that first opened certainintellectual doors. I often go back to T.J. Clark’s work – whether the more conventional art historical works, like The Painting of Modern Life – or stranger ones like Farewell to an Idea, The Sight of Death. Clark both knows how to look and how to leap from ekphrasis to argumentation. I plan to read and and look at the art work under discussion again, and somewhere between reading and looking, come to a new understanding of work and text.

But it’s also a season of sun, and salt, and blue. This summer, I’ll have Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse in my beach bag, for something that feels deceptively diaphanous, along with Joan Didion’s South and West for a glimpse at another writer’s working process. I’m also carrying Solmaz Sharif’s first book of poetry, Look, because something about the heat and pain in these poems demands slow, careful reading. Read a stanza. Look at the sea. Repeat. If I should find myself stuck at an airport, I’ll reach for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. I second Eric on this recommendation. They are gripping. They pull you into another world and nothing makes a four-hour travel delay go by faster.

Eric

Elena Ferrante. The Neapolitan Quartet surely need me least of all to sing their praises at this point. They are very good and (at least for me) gripping enough that the summer is the right time to sit down with them. Pay more attention to the backdrop of postwar Italy than to the sexist shenanigans around authorship that have recently overshadowed the novels themselves.

Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge, 1993). This classic in recent critical theory has since provided an important base for significant work in intellectual history. I should have read it a long time ago.

Benjamin Straumann, Crisis and Constitutionalism: Roman Political Thought from the Fall of the Republic to the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2016). This is well outside my area of expertise, but I just finished teaching a semester of Roman history and David Armitage’s Civil Wars whetted my appetite for this sort of thing.

Derek

A film series and book pairing: the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents a summer-long series on the centennial of Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973). His oeuvre extends well beyond films about the Occupation of France, but I’ll look at those films through the lens of this book, by Professor Leah Hewitt, Remembering the Occupation in French Film: National Identity in Postwar Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

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Jean-Pierre Melville

Mary Sarah Bilder’s Madison’s Hand Revising the Constitutional Convention (Harvard UP, 2015), through a range of fascinating research tools, invites us into James Madison’s writing of his Notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787, showing the complex biography of a text often treated as an unimpeachable primary source.

Another pairing—and in this vein of the biography of a text: William Carlos Williams’s epic American poem Paterson (1946-1958) and the multiply eponymous film Paterson (2016), a film about writing poems, which has stirred interest in Williams’s work.

Disha

I have read the historical novel Hild by Nicola Griffith every summer since 2014. Griffith is best known for her fantasy writing, and has produced a stirring and lush story with fantastical elements that is rooted in the fragmentary records left by Bede of the life of St. Hilda of Whitby. Griffith also kept a blog in which she recorded the progress of her historical writing: https://gemaecce.com/. Set in 7th century Anglo-Saxon England, this novel details the childhood and early adulthood of a young woman of a royal house, and moves languidly through loss, sexuality, the rhythms of political and everyday life, and the tumult of living in changing and unprecedented times. I find it equally comforting and unsettling. A sequel is forthcoming. The author’s interview in The Paris Review is also a helpful look at what writing about the fantastical/real is like.

Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital by Vivek Chibber is a book I have read about, but have not read. I hope to correct that this summer. It is a work with immense political stakes as well as implications for work done in the space between the fields of intellectual history, critical theory, postcolonial studies, political thought, and global history (a zone with which I find myself increasingly preoccupied). I will no doubt have to read it alongside the many critiques and responses to it (some of which has been helpfully collected here).

Daniel Brückenhaus’s 2017 book, Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe: 1905-1945 is an exploration of the effect of state pressure, surveillance, and policing on anti-imperial activity. Brückenhaus has detailed here the development of a transnational anti-colonial government in the first half of the twentieth century, in northwestern Europe in particular. This book is also framed in terms of a pre-history of current debates about such a transnational surveillance operation, and the trajectory of such an entity over the last century told through archival research in Britain, France, and Germany.

Basma

Richard Swedberg Tocqueville’s Political Economy (2009). Tocqueville: political thinker, proto-sociologist, or political economist? Although the text primarily interests me for its perspective on Tocqueville in America, it is sure to prove useful to intellectual historians more generally as well. By examining the intersection between Tocqueville’s thought as a proto-sociologist and political thinker, Swedberg unearths an easily missed yet crucial aspect of Tocqueville’s outlook and method: political economy.

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Photograph of Claude McKay, taken for ‘Home to Harlem’ promotion, c. 1928.

David Motadel Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (2014). In good graduate student fashion, this is one of the books I preordered, received a few months later, read the first chapter meticulously, and promptly placed on my bookshelf. Summer is finally here and with it more time for pleasure reading. This text is fascinating for its depiction of colonial societies’ interaction with Nazi Germany and the latter’s views on Islam. 

Claude Mckay Amiable with Big Teeth (2017). I first encountered Claude McKay after reading Brent Edwards’ “Taste of The Archive.” Written in 1941, a Columbia graduate student discovered the unpublished manuscript in 2012 (an amusing story in its own right). The novel touches on the mood and climate in Harlem on the cusp of World War II.

 

 

How the Nineteenth Century Misplaced the Samaritans

by guest contributor Matthew Chalmers

“Are the Samaritans worth a volume of 360 pages?” Thus pondered an anonymous reviewer of James A. Montgomery’s The Samaritans: The Earliest Jewish Sect (1907).  Today, specialists in Samaritan Studies are still arguing that they deserve broader attention—most recently in Reinhard Pummer’s 2016 survey of Samaritan history. Despite the low profile of Samaritans when compared to “world religions” like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, they are an intriguing case: a Torah-observant group tracing their origins, like Jews and Christians, to ancient Israel, but worshiping God on Mount Gerizim near Biblical Shechem rather than in Jerusalem. Travelling back in time we see that our gloomy anonymous reviewer stood at the end of another arc in European scholarship, at the beginning of which Samaritans had provoked curiosity from an antiquarian as prestigious as Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609).

London Polyglot, 1657 f. 228-229_Credit_Fisher Rare Books Library

How did Samaritans go from being sought after by some of the most influential early modern intellectuals to being the afterthought of an early twentieth-century scholar? The answer tells us something about how ideas gain and lose academic worth. What does it mean for a scholarly project to be valued—and how can change in that valuation reveal or occlude possibilities for writing history with our archives? To answer that question it is instructive to begin by looking to what intrigued scholars about Samaritans in the early modern period.

Portrait of Josephus Justus Scaliger, by Jan Cornelisz, 1608_Credit_WikiCommons

In 1581, the famous Dutch antiquarian Joseph Scaliger confronted a problem of chronology. He knew, like the medieval and late antique chronographers before him, that the genealogies in the Samaritan Pentateuch’s version of Genesis reported the chronology of the biblical patriarchs  differently from the Masoretic text used by Jews. He also grew intrigued by Samaritan Hebrew’s preservation of characters more similar to the ancient Hebrew alphabet—the alphabet he thought they shared with the Phoenicians—rather than the square script of contemporary Jews. What if the remaining Samaritan communities preserved undiscovered manuscripts capable of upending the standard view of ancient Israel, just as their chronology sometimes contradicted that of ancient Jews?

Scaliger asked his contact Claude Dupuy to write to their friend Gian Vincenzo Pinelli to ask his Jewish contact in Constantinople to acquire a Samaritan calendar. When the Samaritans responded, sending him a calendar, he reached out directly to their communities in Cairo and Shechem. Unfortunately for Scaliger, the answers were lost in the wreck of the ship carrying them back to France, the St. Victor, and he died before their recovery. Fortunately for posterity, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), an antiquarian based near Marseilles, the home port of the St. Victor, managed to recover the responses. They contained—to Peiresc at least—a treasure-trove of information and curiosities. He then spent substantial time and attention trying to obtain Samaritan manuscripts. Subsequent generations of scholars shared his interest (as Peter Miller has explored).

Peiresc and Scaliger’s search for Samaritan secrets is partly explained by how post-Reformation battles between Christian scholars incentivised control over the biblical past and spurred debate about its variant versions. Mastery of Bible manuscripts served as a primary qualification of expertise within these scholarly contests. The Samaritan Pentateuch, as Scaliger had noticed, sometimes agreed with the Greek version of those five books over against the Masoretic text, and sometimes contradicted both. A Catholic scholar such as Jean Morin (1591-1659) could thus argue that the Samaritan Pentateuch proved Protestant appeals to a pure Hebrew original were a basic mistake. Moreover, emphasizing the skills of manuscript study permitted well-connected scholars to emphasize mastery over the Bible with their superior access to the manuscripts perceived to embody the history of a text. The Samaritan Pentateuch, for this reason, found itself incorporated into two Polyglots (Paris 1628-45; London 1657). These prestigious and expensive collaborative projects printed multiple versions of the biblical text side-by-side, thus displaying the expertise of the editors while also undermining the appeal to any one ancient version (tacit: the Hebrew). For more than a century, then, the Samaritans—whilst never gaining the degree of attention granted to the great ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Israel—mattered.   

How, then, did Samaritans go from this relative prominence to almost total neglect at the turn of the twentieth century? As Arnaldo Momigliano has demonstrated, antiquarianism, and its fractal approach to the historical past, never really went away. Nor did the attachment of scholarship to Christian goals. But the world of learning had been reconfigured. Research into Samaritans, for instance, calls for some expertise in Hebrew and Arabic as well as the languages of Mediterranean antiquity. This antiquarian combination jarred with the philological segmenting of the nineteenth-century university (except for German Jewish scholars who, as Susannah Heschel has tracked in her research on Abraham Geiger, were increasingly excluded by anti-Judaism).

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, moreover, antiquarianism proved no match for political, national, and racial logic in incentivizing the selection of material for study. During the global expansion of European power, “religion” came to function in what David Chidester has called an “empire of religions.” Scholarly approaches framed religious history vis-à-vis tension between universal “civilization” and “the primitive” as a means to formulate universally applicable difference between European Christians and non-Europeans, between proper Christians and deviant Christians, or between European Christians, Jews, and Arabs. In turn, such intellectual practices encouraged methods best able to order taxonomies of knowledge according to progress towards a universal prototype embodied in an imagined “modern” or “Christian” Europe. The Samaritans, a small group which most commentators expected to disappear, whose historical appearances are intermittent enough to resist smooth narrativization, made too small a splash in a research space dominated by universals with all-encompassing scope.

Even the biblical basis for Samaritan prominence that drove the interest of scholars like Morin fell on hard times. Wilhelm Gesenius, one of the primary contributors to Semitic language pedagogy, had little patience for the potential priority of the Samaritan Pentateuch. His 1815 De Pentateuchi Samaritani origine, indole et auctoritate commentatio philologico-critica demonstrated to the satisfaction of most Bible scholars that the potential of the Samaritan text to witness an earlier version of the Hebrew Bible was a pipe dream. Similarly, his grammar—first published in 1813 but used even today as a pedagogical touchstone—dismisses Samaritans as a minor subset of north-west Semites, characterized by ethnic and linguistic mixture. In the first decades of the twentieth century scholars like Paul Kahle and Moses Gaster attempted to rehabilitate the Samaritan Pentateuch as worthy of scholars’ time. But it was too little to retain Samaritans within the Biblical Studies mainstream.

The publication of Samaritan texts continued, but contemporary scholars increasingly criticized those publications as amateurish. Thus, Samaritan literature fell prey to a double attack: on the one hand, published in editions slated for their poor quality, plagiarism, and lack of professional attention; on the other, attacked by academics whose choice of research topics had judged Samaritan Hebrew too insignificant to receive more expert attention. A savage review in the 1902 Journal of Near Eastern Studies of an enthusiast’s attempt to provide a Samaritan grammar embodied both ways of thinking. “Our universities do not maintain professorial chairs for Samaritan,” the author wrote, “and not one of the many widely advertised series of world-literature extracts contains a single citation from Samaritan literature. The world has judged rightly. There is nothing in this literature to tempt anything higher than an antiquarian…”.

Samaritan priest with Torah scrolls_Credit_thesamaritanupdate.com

Since this early twentieth-century nadir, Samaritans have seen much more attention. The Societe d’Études Samaritains was founded in 1989, and has met semi-regularly ever since. Although much of the scholarship published in the burgeoning field of Samaritan Studies is in Hebrew or German, we now have a comparative critical edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic text (reviewed here by Emanuel Tov) in English. Stefan Schorch, Abraham Tal, and others have worked hard to make core Samaritan documents accessible to European scholars (especially in De Gruyter’s Studia Samaritana series). An ongoing project at the University of Manchester currently headed by Katharina Keim examines Moses Gaster, whose archive includes hundreds of letters that he composed in Samaritan Hebrew. My own research examines the representation of Samaritans in Late Antiquity, modifying our histories of the period as one of religious polarization and using the Samaritans to render visible the selectivity of modern historians.  

So, what do we learn from this about how ideas gain or lose value over time? Samaritan Studies remains a very small field disconnected from disciplines with which it could share closer links such as Biblical Studies, Near Eastern Studies, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, History. From the vantage point of Samaritan Studies we can perceive particularly sharply how the spectre of the nineteenth-century professionalization, nationalization, and universalization of academic research haunts contemporary frames of reference. In particular, we can see the power of habit in pre-selecting our areas of academic research, the questions we ask, and the sources that we use to answer them and how much the manufacturing of history relies on such habits of selectivity even with respect to a group who share much of the past of Christianity and Judaism. By noting such habits and looking past them, we can begin to fray the edges of the stories we have learned to tell—and render them more able to surprise us.

Matt Chalmers is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the manufacture of identities through control of the past, and his dissertation explores often overlooked representations of Samaritans in late antique Christian and Jewish sources. He tweets with occasionally alarming regularity from @Matt_J_Chalmers.

The Protestant Origins of the French Republican Revolution? The Case of Edgar Quinet

by guest contributor Bryan A. Banks

In his 1865 La Révolution, Edgar Quinet addressed the question: Why did the republican experiments of 1792 and 1848 seem to turn to terror, empire, and tyranny? “The French, having been unable to accept the advantages of the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, were eventually led to deny them … and from there, how many false views did they end up embracing.” (158) Caught between political “absolute domination” of this world and the Catholic Church’s “spiritual absolutism” over the next, any republican experiment in Catholic France was doomed to fail in Quinet’s mind.

Edgar Quinet

Edgar Quinet by Louis Bochard, 1870

Quinet looked towards the Netherlands, England, and the United States to see the benefits of Protestantism. These states benefitted from their revolutions (the Golden Age following the creation of the Dutch Republic in 1649, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the American Revolution), because they had learned from Protestantism the value of liberty of conscience. In France, the people remained in servitude — whether it be to the bishopric, to a Bonaparte, or to a Bourbon.

Such remarks should not be surprising given that Quinet spent the majority of his republican political life deriding Catholic Church. Born from Calvinist stock at the turn of the century in 1803, Quinet attempted to make a name for himself in the world of letters during the Restoration period. He found his voice and message through his early attempts at philosophical poetry and political essays, but eventually he turned to the history of religion. In his early writing, Quinet began to conceive of a republican religion opposed to the domestic conservatism of the Bourbon Restoration and the July Monarchy, similar to that of his colleague, friend, and collaborator, Jules Michelet. In 1838, Quinet took up the appointed position as professor of the history of literature at Lyons. Four years later, he moved to the Collège de France, where he began to write a history of the French Revolution. In the early 1840s, the Catholic Church sought to gain greater control over the university system. Quinet and Michelet entered into a polemical debate with the Jesuits and Ultramontanists on this issue. The Collège de France in 1846 dismissed Quinet for his attacks against the Roman Catholic Church and his open espousal of republicanism.

Later, Quinet participated in the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy during the Revolution of 1848, only to go into exile in Belgium and Switzerland following Louis Napoleon’s coup and the subsequent establishment of the Second French Empire. So given his historical context, it should not be surprising to find Quinet reflecting on the “failures” of the republican revolutionary tradition. Only later in his life, after the fall of the Empire and the establishment of the French Third Republic, did Quinet return to the country and resume his professorship at the Collège de France.

Quinet’s link between the emancipatory individualism of the Reformation and the outbreak of republican revolution needs to be understood in its transtemporal tradition. At the beginning of the century, the connection between the Reformed faith and the republican revolution were prevalent. In his 1800 travelogue, the German Johann Georg Heinzmann remarked:

The French counter-revolutionaries say that the Protestants are the cause of the Revolution and that they degraded the clergy and disseminated free ideas, which are those of foreigners, not the French … The republican French value Protestants and give them credit for the first victory of light over dark. The true revolutionary … is a friend of the Protestants.(158, 172-3)

Heinzmann’s observation reflected both the persistent confessional divisions in revolutionary France as well as a much larger debate over religious predilections for political expression. Counter-revolutionaries, as Heinzmann noted, imagined a seditious Protestant plot to bring down the Old Regime and replace it with a republic, but this idea was not new to the nineteenth century.

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, the French bishop and theologian, along with the controversialists that stoked the fires of Louis XIV’s Revocation of the Edict of Nantes at the end of the seventeenth century, too had drawn a direct correlation between the regeneration of the Christian conscience espoused by the Reformed and the “seeds of liberty” that would spring republicanism. In 1689, the Catholic conspiratorial theorist Antoine Varillas published a tract entitled Histoire des revolutions arrivées dans l’Europe en matiere de Religion. The Reformation became a violent revolution hellbent on abolishing the monarchy and establishing a republic.

This connection between Calvinism and republicanism was fostered in part by certain Huguenots in exile like Pierre Jurieu who spread arguments for popular sovereignty based on Scripture. Understanding the political ramifications of these statements led fellow refugees like Pierre Bayle to denounce republican formulations as fomentations. Despite the efforts of many Huguenots in the diaspora to thwart republican sentiment, many philosophers of the Enlightenment furthered reified such a religio-political-cultural connection. Inspired by Montesquieu’s L’Ésprit des lois, the Calvinist La Beaumelle summarized this link as: “The Protestant religion is better suited to a republic because its fundamental principles are directly linked to the republican form of government. An enlightened faith is in perfect harmony with the spirit of independence and liberty.”(29)

The Reformed republican mythos was a persistent political narrative in the French imagination before, during, and after the revolutionary tumult, which installed the first French Republic. Yet this genealogy of the republican-Protestant connection emphasizes a common discursive field that pervaded the early modern and modern periods. Catholic monarchists, Protestant anti-monarchists flirting with republicanism, Huguenot skeptics, French natural philosophers, and nineteenth-century avowed republicans all employed such a connection to celebrate or condemn the religious link to the political — all recognizing such a connection as causal and not constructed from deeper socio-economic drivers. More importantly, this connection valorized the individual as best served by republicanism and best suited to foster a Republic. Following the second of two “failed” republican experiments, thinkers like Quinet, dredged up over two centuries of the French social imaginary to rebuke Catholicism as totalitarian in favor of the republican Reformed.

Bryan A. Banks is Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Adirondack and co-editor of the blog Age of Revolutions. His current research focuses on Huguenot refugees during the long eighteenth century. You can follow him on Twitter @Bryan_A_Banks.

What We’re Reading: Week of June 12th

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

Mike

Markus M. Haefliger, 500 Jahre Reformation. Der englische Sonderweg (NZZ)

Kay Ehling, Biografische Notizen zu Karl Löwith (Merkur)

Henning Ritter, Verehrte Denker. Porträts nach Begegnungen (portraits of Carl Schmitt, Jacob Taubes, Klaus Heinrich, Isaiah Berlin, Hans Blumenberg)

Sibylle Lewitscharoff, Blumenberg (novel)

Franco Moretti, Distant reading (collection of essays)

Cynthia

The following group of pieces, all from The Brooklyn Rail, circle around the question of history painting’s place in our time:

Donald Kuspit introduces the subject with “The New Figurative and History Painting” (Brooklyn Rail)

Brian Winkenweder, “The Day’s Outrage: Fearless Girl and Open Casket” (Brooklyn Rail)

Mark van Proyen, “Response to James Cooper” (Brooklyn Rail)

Robert R. Shane, “Temporal Nomads: The Scandal of Postmodern History Painting” (Brooklyn Rail)

Jacob Collins, “The Issue of History Painting” (Brooklyn Rail)

Adam Miller, “Contemporary History Painting” (Brooklyn Rail)

Robert Zeller, “History Painting and the Problem with Art Education” (Brooklyn Rail)

Matthew Lippmann, “Romeo and Juliet of Hell’s Kitchen: On Tina Cane’s Once More With Feeling” (BLARB)

(The heat is ON in New York, and Tina Cane’s poetry seems like the thing to read on a muggy summer night.)

Disha:

Vinod Kumar Shukla, “Old Veranda” (n+1)

Tracy K. Smith, “My God, It’s Full Of Stars” (The Poetry Foundation)

From Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)

Rebecca Christopher, “The 1830s Are Back Like a Statement Sleeve” (The Hairpin)

Stefan Collini, “E.P.Thompson’s Search for a New Popular Front” (The Nation)

Derek:

Sheryll Cashin, “One Fifty Years of Loving, That Most Radical of Act” (Literary Hub) and Loving (2016, written and directed by Jeff Nichols)

Joshua Zeitz, “The Greatest Hearings in American History “ (Politico)

Elizabeth Economy, “History with Chinese Characteristics” (Foreign Affairs)

Spence:

Bridget Read, “The Powerful Reticence of Elizabeth Bishop” (The New Republic)

Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, “Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Eliot’s long-distance relationship” (TLS)

Joseph Fronczak, “Hobsbawm’s Long Century” (Jacobin)

Stefan Collini, “Politics by Candlelight” (The Nation)

Erin:

From the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, a conversation with the curators of “A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece 700 BC – 200 AD,” now on view at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York. (entrance is free!)

James Wood, “Cramming for Success” (LRB)

Joshua Clover, “Who Can Save the University?” (Public Books)

Susan Chira, “The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women” (NYT)

Eric:

Lynn Clement, “The Commune’s Marianne: An Art History of la pétroleusse” (Age of Revolutions)

Patrick Iber, “The Spy Who Funded Me” (LARB).

Laura Sangha, “What should prospective history students read over the summer?” (many-headed monster).

Is America descending into political violence again?” (Vox)

Yitzchak:

David Shulman, “Israel’s Irrational irrationality” (NYRB)

Martin Fuller, “Louis Kahn’s Mystic Monumentality” (NYRB)

Mariana Alessandri, “In Praise of Lost Causes” (New York Times)

Jelani Cobb, “Bill Maher, Mitch Landrieu, and Echoes of the Civil War” (The New Yorker)

Sarah:

Rowan Cahill, “A forgotten address,” (overland)

Hattie Foreman, “My Work With The Sheffield Feminist Archive: The Importance Of Recording Feminist Oral Histories,” (History Matters)

Gerald Horne, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution: Toward a New Interpretive Framework,” (AAIHS)

Dominic Vitiello and Thomas Sugrue, “Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States,” (Global Urban History)

Sadiah Qureshi, “We prefer their company,” (LRB)

Amnesty International and conscientious objection in Australia’s Vietnam War

by guest contributor Jon Piccini.

Human rights are now the dominant language of political claim making for activists of nearly any stripe. Groups who previously looked to the state as a progressive institution conferring rights and duties now seek solace in our (at least, until recently) post-national world in global protections and norms – a movement ‘from the politics of the state to the morality of the globe’, as Samuel Moyn puts it.[1]

Yet, a long history of contestation and negotiation over human rights’ meaning belie the term’s now seemingly unchallengeable global salience. What constituted a ‘right’, who could claim them and what relation rights claiming had to the nation state are long and enduring questions. I want to explore these questions by focusing on the role that Amnesty International – a then struggling outfit employing a new, inventive form of human rights activism – played in campaigning against conscription in Australia during the 1960s. While a collective politics of mutual solidarity and democratic citizenship predominated in was dubbed the ‘draft resistance’ movement, Australian Amnesty members worked to have Conscientious Objectors recognised as ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ and adopted by groups around the world.

Founded in London in 1961, Amnesty struggled in its early years to stay afloat. By 1966, “The organization’s credibility was severely damaged by publicity surrounding its links to the British government and strife among the leadership”, as Jan Eckel puts it, and such problems were reflected in Australia.[2] Amnesty’s arrival in Australia was ad hoc: from 1964 onwards groups began emerging in different states, mainly New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, which meant that Australia stood out as the only country without a national Amnesty section, but rather multiple State-based groups each struggling with finances and small membership.

I will argue that relating to the draft resistance movement actually posed many problems for Amnesty members. While for some a clear-cut violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Australia’s two key State sections – NSW and Victoria – came to widely divergent interpretations of what constituted a prisoner of conscience, and what duties citizens had to the State: debates which made their way to the organisation’s centre in Europe. These illustrate how human rights had far from settled meanings in the 1960s, even for their adherents, and point towards the importance of local actors in understanding intellectual history.

Australia (re)introduced conscription for overseas service in 1964, with the conservative Coalition government fearful of a threatening Asia.[3] Troops, including conscripts, were committed to the growing conflict in Vietnam a year later. While initially popular, opposition to conscription began growing from 1966 when Sydney schoolteacher William ‘Bill’ White was jailed after his claim for conscientious objector status was rejected. White and other objectors were not “conscientiously” opposed to war in general, but held what the responsible minister labelled a “political” opposition to the Vietnam War, and as such did not meet strict legal guidelines.[4]

Bringing those believed to be ‘prisoners of conscience’ to light initially united both the New South Wale and Victorian sections. The Victorian section released a statement in support of White’s actions: “we feel it impossible…to doubt the sincerity of his convictions and are gravely concerned at the prospect of his continued detention under the provisions of military law”. Given “the grounds for an appeal to the Government on White’s behalf based on the sanctity of the individual conscience are substantial”, the section recommended White’s case to AI’s London office “for appropriate action”.[5]

The New South Wales section expressed near identical sentiments, reporting in August 1966 that “Conscription had been the overriding issue in much of our new work”, pointing to its transnational nature, with the section collecting material on Australian cases while campaigning for the release of conscientious objectors in the USA and East Germany: “the predicament of Bill White is shared by young men all over the world”.[6] White’s public statement of conscientious objection, reproduced in the NSW section’s newsletter, spoke of rights as “unalterable” and inhering in a person rather than being a “concession given by a government”, and as such these were “not something which the government has the right to take”.[7]

White’s release in December 1966 came before AI could adopt his cause internationally, but more objectors soon followed. What became problematic, however, was when the politics of conscientious objection moved to one of downright refusal – non-compliance with the laws of the land. Unlike White, part time postman John Zarb did not seek conscientious objector status but refused to register for military service altogether. His October 1968 jailing saw “Free Zarb” became a rallying cry for the anti-war movement: it was seen as representing the futility and double standards synonymous with the Vietnam War. As one activist leaflet put it: “In Australia – it is a crime not to kill”.[8] AI NSW section member Robert V Horn described in a long memorandum to London, written in late 1968 and sent after internal discussion some six months later, how “Conscription and Vietnam have become inter-mixed in public debate, and in contemporary style outbursts of demonstrations, protest marches, draft card burnings [and] sit-ins”.[9]

Zarb’s case was however nowhere near as clear cut for Amnesty members as White’s had been. Horn described that while “one might guess that many [AI] members are opposed to Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War” these individuals held “many shades of views”, particularly around the acceptability of law breaking.[10] Horn circulated a draft report on the situation in Australia that he had prepared for AI’s London headquarters to other AI members within his section and in Victoria, reactions to which demonstrate just how divisive the issue of conscientious objectors and non-compliers was for an organisation deeply wedded to due legal process. David McKenna, in charge of the Victorian section’s conscientious objection work, put this distinction quite clearly – arguing that those who “register for national service and apply for exemption”, but whose “applications fail either through some apparent miscarriage of justice or because the law does not presently encompass their objections…are prima facie eligible for adoption” as prisoners of conscience.[11]

However, those who “basically refuse to co-operate with the National Service Act” merely “maintain a right to disobey a law which they believe to be immoral”—and as such were not a concern for AI. McKenna here makes use of a similar typology as the Minister for National Service, casting refusal as a “purely political stand” as opposed to those who hold a “moral objection to conscription” and pursue this through the legal system. McKenna brought to his defence the UDHR, noting that in article 29/2 “freedom of conscience is not an absolute, nor is freedom to disobey in a democratic society”.[12] Concerns were raised about “to what extent we uphold disobedience to the law by adopting such persons”, noting that AI had chosen not to adopt prisoners “who refuse obedience to laws [such as] in South Africa or Portugal”, referencing recent debates regarding the adoption of prisoners who had advocated violence. Taking on prisoners who refused to obey laws not only opened the road to similar “freedom to disobey” claims – “are we to adopt people wo refuse to have a T.B. X Ray on grounds of conscience” – but McKenna also feared that in taking “such a radical step…our high repute would be seriously damaged”.[13]

Horn and others in the NSW section “decr[ied] such legalistic interpretation” – “the Non-Complier in gaol for conscientiously held and non-violently expressed views suffers no less than the [Conscientious Objector] who has tried in vain to act ‘according to the law”.[14] While at first divisions on this issue were across and between sections, by late 1969 the Victorian section had solidly decided “that non-compliers should not be adopted”, and sent a memorandum to London to this effect in preparation for the 1970 AI Executive Meeting, to be held in Stockholm.[15] The position of the NSW section was equally clear, expressed in a resolution adopted during ‘prisoner of conscience week’ in November 1969 requesting Amnesty and the UN General Assembly adopt “firm restrains upon legal and political repression of conscience”. “[T]he expression of honest opinions regarding matters of economics, politics, morality, religion or race is not a good and sufficient reason” to justify imprisonment of a person, the Section petitioned, and “no person should be penalised for refusing to obey a law…which infringes the principles here set forth”.[16] The Stockholm gathering backed the NSW Sections views, with the Victorian Section wondering whether this geographical placement and the strength of the Swedish Section – “who have the same problem as Australia and have come to the opposite view” – swayed results.[17]

This small case study provides insights into how the idea of human rights has been contested over time. Australia’s two Amnesty Sections – not amalgamated until the late 1970s – developed polar opposite views around the veracity of law breakers as beneficiaries of Amnesty’s human rights activism. This arguably came down to a fundamental opposition in how both groups conceptualised human rights – as global and inhering in the person, as such not requiring compliance with laws of the Nation State – or as the product and result of citizenship, which gave rights and imposed duties onto a subject. The AI Executive Council’s decision to stand on the side of the individual’s inalienable rights also provides a pre-history of how human rights moved from its 1960s meanings –, best exemplified by the 1968 Tehran Declaration’s deep wedding to the State – to a ‘rebirth’ in the 1970s as a global set of enforceable norms against states – a history that can be fruitfully explored at both the global and local levels.

Jon Piccini is a Postdoctoral Development Fellow at the University of Queensland, where he is working on a book provisionally titled Human Rights: An Australian History. His most recent book, Transnational Protest, Australia and the 1960s, appeared in 2016 with Palgrave. 

 

[1] Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2010), 43.

[2]  Jan Eckel, “The International League for the Rights of Man, Amnesty International, and the Changing Fate of Human Rights Activism from the 1940s through the 1970s”, Humanity 4, No. 2 (Spring 2013), 183.

[3] Australia’s main two main conservative forces, the Liberal party and what was in the 1960s the Country party, but is now known as the National party, operate as a coalition in federal elections.

[4] Leslie Bury MP to Lincoln Oppenheimer, 31 March 1966, reproduced in Amnesty News 21 (May 1969), 3-4.

[5] “Statement from the Victorian Section of Amnesty International. Bill White Case”, Amnesty Bulletin 16 (November 1966).

[6] Lincoln Oppenheimer, “President’s Report”, Amnesty News 10 (August 1966), 3.

[7] “Copy of Statement by Mr W. White, Sydney Schoolteacher and Conscientious Objector”, Amnesty News 10 (August 1966), 2-3.

[8] “Australia’s Political Prisoner”, Undated leaflet, State Library of South Australia.

[9] Robert V Horn, Untitled Report on conscientious objection and noncompliance in Australia, Robert V Horn Papers, MLMSS 8123, Box 33, SLNSW.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David McKenna to Robert V Horn, 2 March 1969, Robert V Horn Papers, MLMSS 8123, Box 33, SLNSW

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Horn, Untitled Report.

[15] David McKenna to Robert V Horn, 19 February 1970, Robert V Horn Papers, MLMSS 8123, Box 33, SLNSW

[16] “RESOLUTION – Prisoner of Conscience Week, November 1969”, Amnesty News 24 (February 1970), 15-16.

[17] “International Council”, Amnesty Bulletin 28 (October 1970), 4-5.

How Victory Day became Russia’s most important Holiday

by guest contributor Agnieszka Smelkowska

At first, Russian TV surprises and disappoints with its conventional appearance.  A mixture of entertainment and news competes for viewers’ attention, logos flash across the screen, and pundits shuffle their notes, ready to pounce on any topic. However, the tightly controlled news cycle, the flattering coverage of President Vladimir Putin, and a steady indignation over Ukrainian politics serve as reminders that not all is well. Reporters without Borders, an international watchdog that annually ranks 180 states according to its freedom of press index, this year assigned Russia to a dismal 148th position. While a number of independent print and digital outlets persevere, television has been largely brought under state control. And precisely because of these circumstances, television programming tends to reflect priorities and concerns of the current administration. When an ankle sprain turned me into a reluctant consumer of state programming for nearly three weeks, I realized that despite various social and economic challenges, the Russian government remains preoccupied with the Soviet victory in WWII.

Celebrated on May 9th, Victory Day—or Den Pobedy (День Победы) as it is known in

Ivan's Childhood

Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962)—the child protagonist encounters the reality of war.

Russia—marks the official capitulation of Nazi Germany in 1945 and is traditionally celebrated with a military parade on the Red Square. During the few weeks preceding the holiday, parade rehearsals regularly shut down parts of Moscow while normal programming gives way to a tapestry of war-related films. The former adds another challenge to navigating the already traffic-heavy city; the latter, however, provides a welcome opportunity to experience some of the most distinguished works of Soviet cinematography. Soviet directors, many veterans themselves, resisted simplistic war narratives and instead focused on capturing human stories against the historical background of violence. Films like Mikhail Kalatozov’s Cranes are Flying (1957), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) or Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) are widely recognized for their emotional depth, maturity and an uncompromising depiction of the consequences of war. Unfortunately, these Soviet classics share the silver screen with newer Russian productions in the form of Hollywood-style action flicks or heavy-handed propaganda pieces that barely graze the surface of the historical events they claim to depict.

The 2016 adaptation of the iconic Panfilovtsy story exemplifies the problematic handling of historical material. The movie is based on an article published in a war-time Soviet newspaper, which describes how a division of 28 soldiers under the command of Ivan Panfilov distinguished itself during the defense of Moscow in late 1941. The poorly armed soldiers who came from various Soviet Republics managed to disable eighteen German tanks but were all killed in the process. The 1948 investigation, prompted by an unexpected appearance by some of these allegedly dead heroes, exposed the story as a journalist exaggeration, designed to reassure and inspire the country with tales of bravery and an ultimate sacrifice. Classified, the report remained unknown until 2015 when Sergei Mironenko, at the time director of state archives, used its findings to push against the mythologization of Panfilov and his men, which he saw as a sign of increasing politicization of the past. His action provoked severe, public scolding from the Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky that eventually cost Mironenko his job, while Panfilov’s 28 (2016) was shown during this year’s Victory Day celebration.

Panfilov's 28.jpeg

Panfilov’s 28 (2016): Soviet heroism in modern Russian cinematography.

Many western commentators have already noted the significance of Victory Day, including Neil MacFarquhar, who believes that President Putin intentionally turned it into the “most important holiday of the year.” The scale of celebration seems commensurate with this rhetorical status and provides an impressive background for a presidential address. The most recent parade consisted of approximately ten thousand soldiers and over a hundred military vehicles—from the T-34, the venerable Soviet tank to the recently-developed Tor missile system, which can perform in arctic conditions. Predictably the Russian coverage differs from that presented in the western media. The stress does not fall on the parade or President Putin’s speech alone but extends to the subsequent march of veterans and their descendants, emphasizing the continuation between past and present. The broadcast of the celebration, which can be watched anywhere between the adjacent to Poland Kaliningrad Oblast and Cape Dezhnev only fifty miles east of Alaska, draws a connection between Russia’s current might and the Soviet victory in the war. Yet May 9th did not always hold its current status and only gradually became the cornerstone of modern Russian identity.

While in 1945 Joseph Stalin insisted on celebrating the victory with a parade on the Red Square, the holiday itself failed to take root in the Soviet calendar as the country strived for normalcy. The new leader Nikita Khrushchev discontinued some of the most punitive policies associated with Stalinism and promised his people peace, progress, and prosperity. The war receded into the background as the Soviet Union put a man into space while attempting to put every family into its own apartment. Only after twenty years was the Victory Day officially reinstated by Leonid Brezhnev and observed with a moment of silence on state TV. Brezhnev also approved the creation of a new Moscow memorial to Soviet soldiers killed in the war—a sign that Soviet history had taken a more

Tomb of unknown soldier image copy

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Aleksandrovsky Sad, Moscow – Russia, 2013. (Photo credit: Ana Paula Hirama/flickr)

solemn turn. Known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Могила Неизвестного Солдата), a bronze sculpture of a soldier’s helmet resting on a war banner with a hammer and sickle finial pointing towards the viewer symbolizes the massive casualties of the Soviet Union, many of whom were never identified. Keeping an exact list of the dead was not always feasible as the Red Army fought the Wehrmacht forces for four years before taking Berlin in April of 1945. Historians estimate that the Soviet Union lost approximately twenty million citizens—the largest absolute (if not proportional) human loss of any state involved in WWII. For this reason, in Russia and many former Soviet republics the 1941-1945 war is properly known as the Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная Война).

The victory over Nazi Germany, earned with a remarkable national sacrifice, was a shining moment in otherwise troubled Soviet history and a logical choice for the Russian Federation, a successor state of the Soviet Union, to anchor its post-ideological identity. Yet the current Russian government, which carefully manages the celebration, cannot claim credit for the popularity that the day enjoys among regular people. Many Russian veterans welcome an opportunity to remember the victory and their descendants come out on their own volition to celebrate their grandparents’ generation. This popular participation has underpinned the holiday since 1945. Before Brezhnev’s intervention, veterans would congregate informally and quietly to celebrate the victory and commemorate their fallen comrades. Today, as this war-time generation is leaving the historical stage, their children and grandchildren march across Moscow carrying portraits of their loved ones who fought in the war, forming what is known as the Immortal Regiment (Бессмертный полк). And the marches are increasingly spilling into other locations—both in Russia and worldwide. This year these processions took place in over fifty countries with a significant Russian diaspora, including Western Europe and North America.

Immortal regiment photo

The Immortal Regiment in London, 2017. (Photo credit: Gerry Popplestone/flickr)

This very personal, emotional dimension of the Victory Day has been often overlooked in western coverage, which reduces the event to a sinister political theater and a manifestation of military strength.  The holiday is used to generate a new brand of modern Russian patriotism precisely because it already resonates with the Russian public. People march to uphold the memory of their relatives regardless of their feelings towards the current administration, views on the annexation of Crimea, or attitude towards NATO. Although this level of filial piety can be manipulated, my Russian friends seem to understand when the government tries to capitalize on these feelings. Mikhail, my Airbnb host, who belongs to the new Russian middle class, and who few years ago carried a portrait of his grandfather during the Victory Day celebration, remarked that the government attached itself like a “parasite” to the Immortal Regiment phenomenon because of its popularity. The recent clash over the veracity of the Panfilovtsy story also given many Russians a more nuanced understanding of their history even as some enjoyed the movie’s action sequences. Additionally, the 1948 investigative report that Mironenko had posted online, remains accessible on the website of the archive.
At the same time, many Russians are genuinely frustrated with what they perceive as the western ignorance of their elders’ sacrifices or what seems to them like the Ukrainian attempt to rewrite the script of the Victory Day. In this respect, they are inadvertently playing to their government’s line. This interaction between the political and the personal, family history and national narrative occurs in every society but in Russia seems particularly explicit because the fall of the Soviet Union shattered Soviet identity, creating an urgent need for a new one. While the current administration is eager to supply the new formula, based on my recent experience in Moscow, Russian citizens are still negotiating.

Agnieszka Smelkowska is a Ph.D candidate in the History Department at UC Berkeley, where she is completing a dissertation about the German minority in Poland and the Soviet Union while attempting to execute a perfect Passata Sotto in her spare time.

What We’re Reading: Week of May 5th

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Derek:

Jason Delisle, “The Disinvestment Hypothesis” (Brookings)

Hal Brands, “Why Scholars and Policymakers Disagree” (The American Interest)

Sarah Jaffe, “The Unexpected Afterlife of American Communism” (New York Times)

Josephine Livingstone, “Wonder Woman is Propaganda” (New Republic)_

 

Spencer:

Nadia Khomami, “Unseen Edith Wharton Play Found Hidden in Texas Archive” (Guardian)

Andrew Kahn, “Pushkin for President” (TLS)

Adam Kirsch, “Ironists of a vanished empire” (NYRB)

 

Cynthia:

Claire Barliant, “The Hanging at Mankoto” (Triple Canopy)

Susanne von Faulkenhausen, “Get Real” (Frieze)

Catherine Damman, “See Change: The Sublime Artistry of Trish Brown” (bookforum)

Amelia Gray, “Reading Isadora Duncan’s Autobiography” (The Paris Review)

 

Eric:

Rebecca Fishbein, “A Brief History of The Strand” (Gothamist)

Joe Kanon, “There is no better place to write than the library” (Literary Hub)

Linsey McGoey, entretien par Marc-Olivier Déplaude & Nicolas Larchet, “Les dessous de la philanthropie” (Vie des idées)

Chris Ware, “Saul Steinberg’s View of the World” (NYRB)

 

Sarah:

Jerry Bannister, “How To Finish Your Thesis,” (Early Canadian History)

Katie Dobbs, “Though this be madness: Orange-Sannyas in Fremantle,” (overland)

Shane Greentree, “Catherine Macauley and the “Equal Eye” of Compassion,” (AWHN)

Sam Metz, “Édouard Louis’s Novel of the French Working Class,” (New Republic)

James Wood, “Cramming for Success,” (LRB)

Politics the only common ground

by Eric Brandom

Le congrès des ecrivains et artistes noirs took place in late September 1956, in Paris. Among the speakers was Aimé Césaire, and it is his intervention, “Culture and Colonization,” that is my focus here. This text has been the subject of significant scholarship. Like all of Césaire’s writings it is nonetheless worth reading carefully anew. I look to Césaire now in part to think through the differences between two attempts to take or retake a dialectical tradition for anticolonial politics. How might such a project take shape in and against specifically French political thought? In this post, I hope one unusual moment in Césaire’s talk can be useful.

Put broadly, for Césaire, the problem of culture in 1956 was colonization. By disintegrating, or attempting to disintegrate, the peoples over which it has domination, colonization removes the “framework…structure” that make cultural life possible. And it must be so, because colonization means political control and “the political organization freely developed by a people is a prominent part of that people’s culture, even as it also conditions that culture” (131). Peoples and nations, must be free because this is the condition of true living–having already made this argument with quotations from Marx, Hegel, and Lenin, Césaire next gave his listeners Spengler quoting Goethe. There was a politics to these citations. At issue here was Goethe’s vitalist point, from the heart of “European” culture, “that living must itself unfold.” This was contrary to Roger Caillois (also an object of enmity in the earlier Discourse) and others who “list…benefits” (132) of colonization. One might have “good intentions,” and yet: “there is not one bad colonization…and another…enlightened colonization…One has to take a side” (133).

On an earlier day of the conference Hubert Deschamps, a former colonial governor turned academic, had asked to say a few words from his chair. Inaudible, he had been allowed to ascend to the podium, and had then given a longer-than-expected ‘impromptu’ speech. Deschamps seems to have offered a limited defense of colonization on the basis of the ultimate historical good of the colonization “we French”—the Gauls—experienced by the Romans. Responding the next day Césaire plucked from his memory a pro-imperial Latin quatrain written in fifth century Gaul by Rutilius Namatianus, ending “Urbem fecisti quod prius orbis erat” (“thou hast made a city of what was erstwhile a world”). I pause over this performance of total cultural mastery for two reasons. First, this comparison of ancient and modern imperialism was more powerful for the French than one might think and second, Césaire was surprisingly ambivalent. He notes that both Deschamps and Namatianus come from the ruling group, so naturally see things positively. Of course like the modern French empire, Roman empire did mean the destruction of indigenous culture—and yet Césaire commented that “we may note in passing that the modern colonialist order has never inspired a poet” (134). It seems to me that Césaire was not without sympathy for the idea of the “Urbs,” but recognized its impossibility.

Culture cannot be “mixed [métisse]”, it is a harmony, a style (138). It develops—here Césaire is perhaps as Comtean as Nietzschean—in periods of “psychological unity…of communion” (139). The different origins, the hodgepodge, that results in anarchy is not a matter of physical origins, but of experience: in culture “the rule…is heterogeneity. But be careful: this heterogeneity is not lived as such. In the reality of a living civilization it is a matter of heterogeneity lived internally as homogeneity” (139). This cannot happen in colonialism. The result of the denial of freedom, of “the historical initiative” is that “the dialectic of need” cannot unfold in colonized countries. Quoting again from Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations, Césaire compares the result of colonialism for the colonized to Nietzsche’s “concept-quake caused by science” that “robs man of the foundation of all his rest and security” (140). Colonialism denies its victims the capacity to constitute from the people a collective subject capable of taking action on the stage of the world. From this failed subjectification, everything else flows. In colonized countries, culture is in a “tragic” position. Real culture has withered and dies or is dead. What remains is an artificial “subculture” condemned to marginal “elites” (Césaire puts the word in quotes), and in fact “vast territories of culturally empty zones…of cultural perversion or cultural by-products” (140).

What, Césaire asks, is to be done? This is the question presented by the “situation that we black men of culture must have the courage to face squarely” (140). Césaire rejects the summary choice between “indigenous” or “European”: “fidelity and backwardness, or progress and rupture” (141). This opposition must be overcome, Césaire maintains, through the dialectical action of a people. Césaire’s language itself contains the fidelity and rupture he will no longer accept as alternatives: “I believe that in the African culture yet to be born…” (141). There will be no general destruction of the symbols of the past, nor a blind imposition of what comes from Europe. “In our culture that is to be born…there will be old and new. Which new elements? Which old elements?…The answer can only be given by the community” (142). But if the individuals present before Césaire in Paris—including among other luminaries his former student Fanon and old friend Senghor, as well as Jean Price-Mars, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright—cannot say what the answer will be, “at least we can confirm here and now that it will be given and not verbally but by facts and in action” (142). Thus “our own role as black men of culture” is not to be the redeemer, but rather “to proclaim the coming and prepare the way” for “the people, our people, freed from their shackles” (142). The people is a “demiurge that alone can organize this chaos into a new synthesis…We are here to say and demand: Let the peoples speak. Let the black peoples come onto the great stage of history” (142).

Baldwin, listening to Césaire, was “stirred in a very strange and disagreeable way” (157). His assessment of Césaire is critical:

Césaire’s speech left out of account one of the great effects of the colonial experience: its creation, precisely, of men like himself. His real relation to the people who thronged about him now had been changed, by this experience, into something very different from what it once had been. What made him so attractive now was the fact that he, without having ceased to be one of them, yet seemed to move with the European authority. He had penetrated into the heart of the great wilderness which was Europe and stolen the sacred fire. And this, which was the promise of their freedom, was also the assurance of his power. (158)

Political subjectivity, popularly constructed, is the necessary ground for cultural life–this was Césaire’s conclusion. Baldwin was not wrong to see in Césaire’s performance a certain implied political and cultural elitism. Here we can usefully return to Césaire’s great poem, the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.

A. James Arnold, editor of the new critical edition of Césaire’s writings, there argues that the 1939 first version of the poem is essentially a lyric account of individual subjectivity. Arnold further argues, and Christopher Miller sharply disagrees, that the first version of the poem is superior, that subsequent versions (in 1947 and 1956) warp the form of the original with socio-political encrustations. Gary Wilder, in the first of his pair of essential books, reads the poem in terms of voice and subjectivity, seeing in it ultimately a failure. What began as critique ends with “a decontextualized and existentialist account of unalienated identity and metaphysical arrival” (288). Looking at Césaire’s attention in 1956 to the poetry of empire, his evident sympathy even in the face of Deschamps’ condescension for the Urbs, impossible though it be in the modern world, we may read the poem differently. Taken together with, for instance, Césaire’s appreciation for and active dissemination of Charles Péguy’s mystical republican poetry in Tropiques, we might see the subjectivity the poem dramatizes as essentially collective, and its project as the activation, the uprising, of this collectivity. It seems to me that we can read the shape of the dilemmas that Césaire confronted in the 1956 talk–between elite and people, decision and growth, culture and civilization, nation and diaspora–at least partly as the pursuit even at this late date, of an impossible republicanism.

Humanist Pedagogy and New Media

by contributing editor Robby Koehler

Writing in the late 1560s, humanist scholar Roger Ascham found little to praise in the schoolmasters of early modern England.  In his educational treatise The Scholemaster, Asham portrays teachers as vicious, lazy, and arrogant.  But even worse than the inept and cruel masters were the textbooks, which, as Ascham described them, were created specifically to teach students improper Latin: “Two schoolmasters have set forth in print, either of them a book [of vulgaria] . . ., Horman and Whittington.  A child shall learn of the better of them, that, which another day, if he be wise, and come to judgement, he must be fain to unlearn again.”  What were these books exactly? And if they were so unfit for use in the classroom, then why did English schoolmasters still use them to teach students?  Did they enjoy watching students fail and leaving them educationally impoverished?

Actually, no. Then, as now, school teachers did not always make use of the most effective methods of instruction, but their choice to use the books compiled by Horman and Whittington was not based in a perverse reluctance to educate their students.  Ascham sets up a straw man here about the dismal state of Latin teaching in England to strengthen the appeal of his own pedagogical ideas.  As we will see, the books by Horman and Whittington, colloquially known as “vulgaria” or “vulgars” in schools of the early modern period, were a key part of an earlier Latin curriculum that was in the process of being displaced by the steady adoption of Humanist methods of Latin study and instruction and the spread of printed books across England.  Looking at these books, Ascham could see only the failed wreckage of a previous pedagogical logic, not the vital function such books had once served.  His lack of historical cognizance and wilful mischaracterization of previous pedagogical texts and practices are an early example of an argumentative strategy that has again become prevalent as the Internet and ubiquitous access to computers has led pundits to argue for the death of the book in schools and elsewhere.  Yet, as we will see, the problem is often not so much with books as much as with what students and teachers are meant to do with them.

“Vulgaria” were initially a simple solution to a complicated problem: how to help students learn to read and write Latin and English with the limited amount of paper or parchment available in most English schools.  According to literary scholar Chris Cannon, by the fifteenth century, many surviving notebooks throughout England record pages of paired English and Latin sentence translations.  It seems likely that students would receive a sentence in Latin, record it, and then work out how to translate it into English.  Once recorded, students held onto these notebooks as both evidence of their learning and as a kind of impromptu reference for future translations.  In the pre-print culture of learning, then, vulgaria were evidence of a learning process, the material embodiment of a student’s slow work of absorbing and understanding the mechanics of both writing and translation.

The advent of printing fundamentally transformed this pedagogical process.  Vulgaria were among the first books printed in England, and short 90-100 page vulgaria remained a staple of printed collections of Latin grammatical texts up to the 1530s.  Once in print, vulgaria ceased to be a material artifact of an educational process and now became an educational product for the use of students who were literate in either English or Latin to use while working on translations.  The culture of early modern English schools comes through vividly in these printed collections, often closing the distance between Tudor school rooms and our own.  For example, in the earliest printed vulgaria compiled by John Anwykyll, one can learn how to confess to a fellow student’s lackadaisical pursuit of study: “He studied never one of those things more than another.” Or a student might ask after a shouting match “Who made all of this trouble among you?”  Thus, in the early era of print, these books remained tools for learning Latin as a language of everyday life. It was Latin for school survival, not for scholarly prestige.

As Humanism took hold in England, vulgaria changed too, transforming from crib-books for beginning students to reference books for the use of students and masters, stuffed full of Humanist erudition and scholarship.  Humanist schoolmasters found the vulgaria a useful instrument for demonstrating their extensive reading and, occasionally, advancing their career prospects.  William Horman, an older schoolmaster and Fellow at Eton, published a 656 page vulgaria (about 5 times as long as the small texts for students) in 1519, offering it as a product of idle time that, in typical Humanist fashion, he published only at the insistence of his friends.  Yet, Horman’s book was still true to its roots in the school room, containing a melange of classical quotations alongside the traditional statements and longer dialogues between schoolmasters and students.

By the 1530s, most of the first wave of printed vulgaria went out of print, likely because they did not fit with the new Humanist insistence that the speaking and writing of Latin be more strictly based on classical models.  Vulgaria would have looked increasingly old-fashioned, and their function in helping students adapt to the day-to-day rigors of the Latinate schoolroom were likely lost in the effort to separate, elevate, and purify the Latin spoken and written by students and teachers alike.  Nothing more embodied this transformation that Nicholas Udall’s vulgaria Flowers for Latin Speaking (1533), which was made up exclusively of quotations from the playwright Terence, with each sentence annotated with the play, act, and scene from which the sentence was excerpted.

Loeb Facing Page Translation

Terence. Phormio, The Mother-In-Law, The Brothers. Ed. John Sargeaunt. Loeb Classical Library.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920.  https://archive.org/details/L023NTerenceIIPhormioTheMotherInLawTheBrothers   

The vulgaria as printed crib-book passed out of use in the schoolroom after about 1540, so why was Ascham still so upset about their use in 1568 when he was writing The Schoolmaster?  By that time, Ascham could assume that many students had access to approved Humanist grammatical texts and a much wider variety of printed matter in Latin.  In a world that had much less difficulty gaining obtaining both print and paper, the vulgaria would seem a strange pedagogical choice indeed.  Ascham’s own proposed pedagogical practices assumed that students would have a printed copy of one or more classical authors and at least two  blank books for their English and Latin writing, respectively.  Whereas the vulgaria arose from a world of manuscript practice and a straitened economy of textual scarcity, Ascham’s own moment had been fundamentally transformed by the technology of print and the Humanist effort to recover, edit, and widely disseminate the works of classical authors.  Ascham could take for granted that students worked directly with printed classical texts and that they would make use of Humanist methods of commonplacing and grammatical analysis that themselves relied upon an ever-expanding array of print and manuscript materials and practices.  In this brave new world, the vulgaria and its role in manuscript and early print culture were alien holdovers of a bygone era.

Of course, Ascham’s criticism of the vulgaria is also typical of Humanist scholars, who often distanced themselves from their  predecessors and to assert importance and correctness of their own methods.  Ironically, this was exactly what William Horman was doing when he published his massive volume of vulgaria – exemplifying and monumentalizing his own erudition and study while also demonstrating the inadequacy of previous, much shorter efforts. Ascham’s rejection of vulgaria must be seen as part of the larger intergenerational Humanist pattern of disavowing and dismissing the work of predecessors who could safely be deemed inadequate to make way for one’s own contribution.  Ascham is peculiarly modern in this respect, arguing that introducing new methods of learning Latin can reform the institution of the school in toto.  One is put in mind of modern teachers who argue that the advent of the Internet or of some set of methods that the Internet enables will fundamentally transform the way education works.

In the end, the use of vulgaria was not any more related to the difficulties of life in the classroom or the culture of violence in early modern schools than any other specific pedagogical practice or object.  But, as I’ve suggested, Ascham’s claim that the problems of education can be attributed not to human agents but to the materials they employ is an argument that has persisted into the present.  In this sense, Ascham’s present-mindedness suggests the need to take care in evaluating seemingly irrelevant or superfluous pedagogical processes or materials.  Educational practices are neither ahistorical nor acontextual, they exist in institutional and individual time, and they bear the marks of both past and present exigencies in their deployment.  When we fail to recognize this, we, like Ascham, mischaracterize their past and present value and will likely misjudge how best to transform our educational institutions and practices to meet our own future needs.

What We’re Reading: Week of May 29th

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Emily:

CFP! Past and Present: Narratives of Progress and Decline in Nineteenth-Century Britain (19 March 2018, Christ Church, Oxford)

Eleanor Parker, “Ascension Day and the Death of Bede” and “‘Highest of All Kings’” (Clerk of Oxford)

Linda Colley, “What Gets Called ‘Civil War’?” (NYRB)

Cath Feely, “Securing an academic career: past and present” (University History)

Renata Colwell, “Dance! Dance! Dance! Youth Culture and Courtship at Queen’s University, 1910-1930” (Notches)

Bruce Headlam, “US Veterans Use Greek Tragedy to Tell Us About War” (NYT)

And these are my last links, after 3.5 years of co-editing JHIBlog. Thank you to all our readers and my wonderful colleagues for everything!

 

Sarah:

David Armitage, “The Atlantic Ocean,” (Harvard Scholar Files)

Loren Balhorn interviewed by Selim Nadi, “Die Linke’s Identity Crisis,” (Jacobin)

Dan Dixon, “‘Just a Person’: Race and the Australian literati,” (overland)

Elaine Mokhtefi, “Panthers in Algiers,” (LRB)

Brent Staples, “How the Swastika Became a Confederate Flag,” (NYTimes)

 

Cynthia:

Derek Walcott, “5 Poems from Morning, Paramin (Specimen)

Matthew Sperling, “When Derek Walcott Met Peter Doig” (Apollo)

(Derek Walcott’s Morning, Paramin offers poetry as both lyric address and art criticism. Though some will think of Mark Strand, who also tackled the task of exegesis and criticism in his poetry, in many ways Walcott’s poems evoke the Renaissance tradition. Think of Titian and Aretino-poetry as the instantiation of creative friendship.)

Thomas S. Hines, “Rite of Spring: Frank Gehry and the Walt Disney Concert Hall” (The Iris)

Mimi Zeiger,Flyover Utopia: On Keith Krumwiede’s “Atlas of Another America” (LARB)

(I am a California girl and my upbringing has made me uncomfortably familiar with the architecture of suburbia — tract homes, gated communities, McMansions. Krumwiede draws upon these forms to create his incredibly strange utopian vision. Zeiger describes it as an “agrarian-minded ‘Twenty-first century settlement scheme for the American Nation.’” I couldn’t resist pairing Zeiger’s review of Krumwiede’s “Freedomland” with architectural historian Tom Hines’s account of Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall came to be. Money, boosterism, and real estate–all contained under the rubric of culture. A classic LA story if there ever was one. But also a classic American one, where land and space are made to speak for the civic values–and virtues–that contain us all.)

 

Disha:

Daniel McDermon, “An Artist and Her Beautiful Boy” (The New York Times)

Claire Colebrook, “End Times for Humanity” (Aeon)

Demi Adejuyigbe, “The Four Horsemen of the Internet” (The New Yorker)

Michael Ralph, “The Price of Life: From Slavery to Corporate Life Insurance” (Dissent)

Decca Aitkenhead, “Fiction takes its time: Arundhati Roy on why it took her 20 years to write her second novel” (The Guardian)

 

Spence:

Sunaura Taylor, “On Ableism and Animals” (The New Inquiry)

Tobi Haslett, “The Feuds of Diana Trilling,” (New Yorker)

John Merriman, “‘And My Frigidaire is Here!’: Gender and Family Life in Postwar France” (LARB)

Tony Wood, “Labor Days” (Cabinet)