Monday, January 31, 2005

Seeking Opinions

Is there room for poetry, written in German, in a French anthology? (Est-ce-qu'il y a de place pour des poèmes, ecrivée en allemand, dans une anthologie française)?

Schickele and the Alsatian Mission: Germany

René Schickele was the most archetypical Alsatian of the twentieth century. His life and his work embodied the struggle to understand the opposition between French-German heritage and French-German conflict. I am spending a lot of time writing about him, although not specifically on his fiction. Rather I have been looking at his aesthetic environmentalism as it pertains to his politics. Nonetheless, it is interesting that he was at the center of the European avant-garde in the 1900s and 1910s, a commitment that began with his dedication to the artistic rejuvenation of Alsace.

Schickele's involvement in the avant-garde began with the founding of a circle of artists in poets in 1902. Jüngste Elsaß, in their name and words, allied themselves with art nouveau and Jugendstil movements. But it was more than an artistic movement. At the center of their manifestos was a mission to use Alsace as a vehicle for change in Wilhelmine Germany. Because of the dual heritage (French-German) Alsatians were in a position to introduce the French artistic spirit and republicanism. The province could be a base from which the struggle against Prussianization could be waged, militarism abolished, and the decline of democracy reversed.

Jüngste Elsaß also set itself against provincial culture. By calling itself the "youngest generation of Alsatians", they criticized the theater in dialect that had emerged in the previous decade. Speaking in Alemannisch, they were isolating Alsace from the rest of Germany. As much as the annexation in 1871 was a catastrophe, Alsatians had to live with the reality of belonging to the Kaiserreich. The Alsatian mission was to use that positioning to bring rapprochement between the two great powers. (However, some contributed Mundart poetry to a number of journals.)

The group broke up within a short time. However, many of the writers, especially Schickele, Ernst Stadler, and Otto Flake found themselves at the center of expressionist literature. Indeed, their poems appeared in the first anthologies of the movement. Many of them met up and constituted a new literary circle – in Berlin, of all places. Their interest in Alsace remained, but the ideology that connected art, revolution, rejuvenation, and province was less apparent.

Schickele's writings tended to place mixed identities at the center of internal, psychological struggles for artistic realization. The novel Der Fremde (The Stranger) follows a young man of mixed identity (French mother, Alsatian father) from personal conflict to symbiosis in an artistic humanism. Other writings were critical of bourgeois culture. Schrei auf den Boulevard (which Schickele initially wanted to call "Cris de Paris", until Flake talked him out of it) is a collection of journalistic essays that idealizes Paris as a radical utopia as a means of criticizing the German bourgeoisie. In spite of his propensity to put Alsatians at the center of his works, audiences ignored that dimension of his work; his reputation was based on the experimental qualities of his writing.

Schickele was deeply involved in politics as well. He was always critical of Alsatian figures, like Emile Wetterle and (Uncle) Hansi, who stirred up the emotions of French audiences. There emotional diatribes against Germany did nothing to improve the situation in Alsace and everything to increase the likelihood of war. In fact, he was close to Jean Jaurès, accepting his position that France would not likely regain Alsace through war.

In 1911 he became the editor of a Strasbourg newspaper. In that role, he recommended that Alsatians accept the new provincial constitution because even though it was far from perfect, it was the first step toward democracy in Germany – the Alsatian Mission. He also articulated a necessary pacifism of Alsatians, who could not choose between two masters.

When war broke out in 1914, Schickele fled. Like many other Alsatians, he did not want to be conscripted, he did not want to choose sides, and moreover, he opposed the war because he fear it would destroy province. Schickele made his way to Zurich which, with some of his friends from the Jüngste Elsaß-days, they were involved in the Cabaret Voltaire, meeting the younger Alsatian artists like Jean (Hans) Arp and Yvan Goll, who would be more closely associated with Dada and surrealism. Schickele, because of his publication history and editorial experience, served as an unofficial editor for the works of the Dada poets.

His expressionist masterpiece from this era was Hans im Schnackenloch, a reconsideration of the position of Alsace in the context of war. Hans is another bi-cultural progeny who is confronted with a series of choices between two loves, human and nationalist. His brother, who is an assimilated German, joins the Prussian army. He is torn between a woman who is pro-German, another who is a socialist pacifist. However, it is his pacifism that is tested most. Through the series of calamities Hans is forced to conclude that to fight the war he must fight its ultimate purveyor – the Prussian military machine. Reluctantly, he joins the French army, and fights on the side against his brother.

Schickele greeted the November Revolution both with hope and disease. It was the opportunity for social change, but he was afraid of the consequences of the violence and conformity that characterized Bolshevism. He rushed back to Germany to participate, but was disappointed in the direction it took. He was also disappointed that Alsatians hid behind the entry of the French army and the eventual re-annexation as a counter-revolution.

To be continued (Schickele and the Alsatian Mission: Europe).

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Today's Fight: Bird vs. Tree

Assyriologist Jean Bottéro delves deeply into the emergence of writing, sifting through the numerous fragments of texts to understand how writing structured thought and allowed for complex scholarship to emerge. Among the inventories, school books, official communications and literary myths are disputations, a device used to explore the essence of things:
[T]wo objects that were clearly taken as the prototypes and the representatives of their species and that were of similar sort and were given a human personality and [confronted each other in a literary tournament]. By turns each of them presented its own qualities, advantages, and prerogatives until one of them was declared the winner ... behind the mental games and the endemic passion of the ‘duel of prestige’ there lies a real analysis of the objects presented.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

At the request of BRDGT, here is a close-up of the French propaganda map, showing Ireland as a cat being led by England on a leash.

Here is also a close-up of Central Europe, with Germany depicted as a Prussian helmet on top of the Austrian sleeping man. Posted by Hello


This is one of the maps from the book that I am reviewing, characterizing the European states in various states of ignorance vis-a-vis the threats from the east. Posted by Hello

Amazing Race Stuff

Another quasi-likeable team got cut. Now there is only one amiable team left: Kris and Jon. I cry out, "Chip, why hast thou forsaken me?"

I was surprise, and delighted, that the episode was filmed in Sri Lanka. Some of the locations must have been hit by the tsunami, creating an eeriness that distracted from the race itself.

Hayden offered more inappropriate observations about the Third World. Yes, we Americans may be lucky to have better public transportation in America, but when you were in Berlin did you think, we poor Americans would be lucky to have something like this? Hypocrite!

Snowy Streets

Johno is complaining about the snow piling up in the streets of his New England town. Urban planning in the northeast did not allow for extra public space whereat things could be dumped. On any clear day, street parking in places like Great Barrington, Northampton, and Newton is difficult. The blizzard over the weekend simply overwhelmed urban design (at least from the perspective of the commuter):
[W]hen you live, as I do now, in a city that was in large part planned before the Battle of Concord, 38 inches of snow is a different story. When most side streets barely admit one lane of traffic under optimal conditions and are as convoluted as a David Eggers story, where the hell do you put three feet of snow?
He is not alone in his complaints. Driving around Waltham, snow blocked up most of the side lanes. Unfortunately, people still tried to drive in them, causing chaos. It is snowing again today, and campus has already closed ... not that it is a strong storm, like the weekend blizzard, but the grounds management cannot keep up with snow removal. Good thing I didn't have to drive out today.

Another take on the effects of the snow, listen to this report on All Things Considered about the Boston mayor's crackdown on the practice of reserving parking spaces that have been shoveled out with barrels. And check out that South Boston accent.

Afraid of the world (part II)

This extract, from Steve Mithen's After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000-BC, imagines what living in Çatalhöyük would have been like. The Neolithic site has been called the first city by some, an interpretation that most scholars of urbanism would reject. Nonetheless, Çatalhöyük, as a settlement, incarnated claustrophobia with its narrow rooftop paths, lack of public spaces, and drive to litter their homes with the remains of the dead. What a nightmare! (Another excellent description is here).
Çatalhöyük appears to have a continuous perimeter wall, one that has no entrance and no desire to welcome uninvited guests. [But it is] not a single wall at all, but the outcome of many abutting walls from individual buildings that cling together as if in fear of what lies beyond.

[The returning fieldworkers] climb wooden ladders on to the roofs, dispersing and disappearing down a maze of rooftop pathways, steps and ladders that lead from tier to tier and house to house. Between the paths are flat mud roofs, some evidently used as workshops for tool-making and basket-weaving.

There are three [bulls] at about waist-height — white heads striped with black and red, from which sprout enormous pointed horns that seem to threaten all of human life within the room. Around the bulls the walls are painted with bold geometric designs — sharp, oppressive images above handprints in red and black similar to those painted in the French cave of Pech Merle. But while those ice-age hunter-gatherer hands were welcoming, outstretched in greeting to visitors within the cave, these farming hands of Çatalhöyük seem to be more of a warning or plea for help — people are trapped within a bestiary from which they cannot escape.

Many rooms have clay figurines placed within wall niches, or simply upon the floor; some are evidently of women, others of men, but many seem quite sexless. The most startling is of a woman who sits upon a throne that had been placed beside a grain bin. At each side of her stands a leopard; she rests one hand upon each head while their tails wrap around her body.

The bulls vary from room to room but are always shocking, especially when encountered in the hard- edged beams of moonlight that now enter through the tiny windows, or by flames that bring the beasts alive. There are bulls' heads with long twisted horns, bulls' heads with faces covered with exotic designs, and bulls' heads stacked one above the other from floor to ceiling. Some rooms have free- standing stone pillars with horns, or long lines of horns set into benches daring anyone to sit within their grasp.

The geometric designs are joined by pictures of great black vultures viciously attacking headless people, and by scenes of enormous deer and cattle surrounded by tiny frenzied people. The real people are asleep upon their platforms. They lie in contorted positions.

A pair of modeled women's breasts emerge from the mud-brick and plaster. Both nipples are split apart and peering from within are the skulls of vultures, foxes and weasels: motherhood itself violently defiled.

When houses needed rebuilding they were constructed to the same design at the same place, maintaining the same areas for each activity that took place within them. He suggests that different types of people — old and young, male and female, specialist toolmakers and those without skills — were very restricted as to where they could sit and work within each room. To me it seems as if every aspect of their lives had become ritualizes, any independence of thought and behavior crushed out of them by an oppressive ideology manifest in the bulls, breasts, skulls and vultures.

This sounds like living in a Neolithic hell ... The people of Çatalhöyük seemed to fear and despise the wild.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Afraid of the World part I

This is an excellent site on the work of expressionist painter Ludwig Meidner, especially his apocalyptic landscapes.

Grand Illusion of the Aristocracies

I have a peculiar reading of Gosford Park. Beneath the thicket of complex, dynamic relations is a story about aristocracy's attempt to reclaim its economic vitality -- by entering into popular entertainment. It fails because the preservation and performance of its own codes of honor are an impasse to social evolution.

I bring this up because Geitner's post about the decline of aristocracy in the nineteenth century has me thinking about the paradigm of decline. Pointing to David Cannadine's work (a popular subject of discussion these days), he notes that the aristocracies throughout Europe had stopped making significant contributions by the beginning of the century. The agricultural crisis of the 1880s was a blow to the their agricultural roots.

In order to remain relevant as estates, they must open themselves up to talented, successful members of other estates. The meaning of aristocracy is stretched, becoming less of a tradition-bound group to a step in the process of social ascension. Quoting Cannadine:
... many of these great European agglomerations included land that was worthless, or was bearing exceptionally heavy debts.

Continental agriculture was, in general, much less efficient than British farming, and, in addition, many European landowners were are far more severely encumbered than were the territorial classes across the Channel.

Most Junker estates were very heavily mortgaged, and in Russia, chronic indebtedness was endemic.
In as much as the purpose of the aristocracy was undermined because its ties to agricultural production were weakened, it was not their economic downslide that led to their decline. Decolonization was their downfall.

In general, aristocracies transformed themselves from the ordained overseers of natural hierarchy into a class in the service of the state. They became less involved in agriculture, more involved in politics. They made way for industrial production without surrendering their dominance. Even those nobles who did not turn away from their land started to act more as capitalists, improving land and managing farmers.

Upper houses of parliamentary bodies were one way that aristocrats remained dominant. In Prussia the Herrenhaus (House of Lords), composed mostly of the second estate, dominated legislative matters. The lower house was less relevant. Even so, the Herrenhaus was forced to admit some members from the third estate. The aristocracy was so weak in the Rhine Province that it had insufficient representation in the Herrenhaus. In order to maintain the fiction that the parliament was a representative body, the nobles were forced to accept the mayors into the Herrenhaus. Rhenish mayors, nominated by democratically elected municipal councils, gained the political rights of nobles. The famed Alliance of Iron and Grain was another way that Junkers bridged different economic and regional milieu in order to remain dominant.

The Junkers found themselves more involved in the administration of the state -- the army in particular -- becoming the political glue that held Germany together (see my post on Weber). Similarly, British aristocracy became more involve in the administration of empire.

The problem of the paradigm of decline is that it cannot rest on economics alone. Aristocrats were able to protect themselves by dedicating themselves to the state. They lost that protection whenever the state contracted, usually in the context of defeat, but largely because of the end of empire/decolonization. It is in this sense that a seen from another movie is relevant: Von Rauffenstein mourning loss of purpose in Grand Illusion.

Post-war Immigrants

Very Sebald-like:
When I started secondary school there was a girl who was half-German. I was fascinated by the romance of it and didn't even think of the war. I'd heard all these strange exotic place names like Bavaria and Prussia. I quite fancied being half-German myself. I asked tactless questions and couldn't understand why her response was so hostile. I couldn't understand why she wasn't proud and didn't want to talk about it. Looking back I can see that she must have been teased horribly.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Myth of Personal Autonomy

Jean Giono's Second Harvest (1930; Regain in French) intrigues me. There are plenty of stories about the perversion of 'traditional values' through urban migration. Pig Earth and Once in Europa by John Berger are excellent stories about persistence in the rural Alps (I am less keen on the third book in the series). Giono looks at the most perilous moment, when peasant life is about to disappear and the rural landscape is about to go feral. Jean Giono (1895-1970) was himself a Provençal, spending most of his life in the town where he was born. He rejected the notion that literature must be timeless: that diluted its social potential. He flirted with communism, although he was mostly a pacifist. During WWII he was imprisoned for several months.

The story takes place in Aubignane, an imaginary village that is a distant satellite of Sault in Provence. After two people decide to leave -- one for relatives, the other for the afterlife -- Aubignane is down to its last inhabitant, Panturle. The village is about to disappear completely. Panturle became less civilized, subsisting on small animals that he traps and remaining starches from last summers gardening. The buildings crumble all around, and the earth retakes the fields so that traces of plots are being lost to the human eye. There is no agriculture or civilization, just scavenging: one "had only to choose among the heap of broken houses, and find one with as much roof as possible."

It is not just the landscape that is becoming feral, but Panturle himself. His civility declines. He hides from two passers-by who happen through the town. Later they save Panturle's life, pulling him from a stream where he had fallen and was unconscious. The woman, Arsule (derogatory appellation), who is overworked and underappreciated by her 'man', decides to stay in Aubignane with Panturle.

Panturle commits to forming a household with Arsule, which requires him to invest in developing the landscape. Moreover, it directs him outwardly: he travels to (not so) nearby communities in order to invests in grain and simple tools. As he clear the land and cultivates the wheat, Panturle is placed in greater contact with the world around him, keeping him home separate from the markets. His wheat becomes distinguished for quality that modern techniques cannot achieve (they are designed for volume). Panturle is able to revive the village: new people are encouraged to settle there, and of course Arsule produces a child.

Nature, as in the novels of Ponten, is almost a character of its own. It does nothing to improve Panturle; and in his isolation, it is an obstacle. In particular, the wind in an intrusion into his isolation. It destroys what is left of the village, making scavenging difficult. If it brings Panturle and Arsule together, it is only because it stirs a different madness within him that allows him to overcome his shame.

The story puts less emphasis on urbanization as the modern illness as deruralization. So long as the remaining inhabitants depend on the outside world for their survival, their character atrophies as well as their village. There is no attempt to glamorize personal autonomy. The isolation that Panturle experiences affects him morally, more than moving to the city: "When one is alone, one is wicked, or one turns so. I was not like that before."

Regeneration is set in opposition to autonomy. Urban life is not the enemy. Panturle must engage it in different ways, becoming interconnected but not overcome by it. Nor is some sort of 'plain living' or asceticism the answer. That separates him further. The key to his regeneration is his rediscovery of his relationship with the land -- reclaiming it from nature.

Escape from the city -- suburbanization -- is not a substitute for ruralization. The former is stretching the tissue of urban life thinly across the landscape.

Explaining Intolerance

More details on the reports concerning antisemitism and racism in France: there are 2,500-3,500 extremists who belong to twenty groups. These groups can be classified into five types-- skinheads, identitaires ('community of blood', close in beliefs to the National Front), ultranationalists (driven by nostalgia, with an almost Petainist vision of France), neo-nazis and hooligans. There is no organization or coordination between them, although it is possible for individuals to migrate between groups. Extremism is an urban phenomenon, with the largest groups being in Alsace, Île-de-France (Paris basin), Brittany, and around Pas-de-Calais. One explanation for the rise in attacks: the right no longer looks at communists as their "worst enemy" -- that is position is now taken by Jews and Americans, and increasingly, Muslims.
La grande majorité de ces groupuscules est islamophobe : ils confondent islam et islamisme, le premier étant selon eux incapable de modernisation et portant en germe le second. Mais cela ne signifie pas pour autant que l'antisémitisme a disparu chez eux, comme l'a montré la vague de profanations l'an passé, dont une bonne partie peut être attribuée à la mouvance d'extrême droite.

[On Alsace:] Cela s'explique par la conjonction de deux faits. Le premier est la proximité transfrontalière, l'existence d'une scène néo-nazie et skinhead outre-Rhin. Les idées circulent, les contacts personnels sont favorisés. L'autre fait est la permanence d'un terreau local, qui prend racine dans le sentiment d'une identité régionale menacée. Ce terreau est un mélange d'antisémitisme historique de l'ultra-droite alsacienne et d'hostilité vis-à-vis des populations issues de l'immigration. Les scores électoraux élevés du Front national en sont l'expression.

Friday, January 21, 2005

For Ralph

Ralph seems to be curious about how we all look, especially what we've got on top. We'll, here you go: a little thinner, but that's not my gimmick anyway. Posted by Hello

New Bunny

We have a new bunny. We bought her yesterday at the pet store. Considering her coat, she might be a chinchilla Holland lop. She is very tiny, very energetic, and surprisingly friendly for an animal in a new atmosphere. No name yet. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 20, 2005

So-called reality

When I saw that Jonathan was eliminated, I danced ... first a fox trot, than just some random, pogoing thing.

The race, however, is not as interesting. It is overloaded with ugly Americans. Bolo and Laurie and cartoons, an Kris and Jon are inoffensive. The other three are despicable. Kendra's comments about poverty reveal real bigotry (remember that big famine they had in Ethiopia a few years back?).

On the other hand, I enjoy watching Project Runway. It is the smartest show about the fashion industry. My favorites so far are Kara and Jon. Austin's designs always succeed, but only because he designs in one key only -- everything old Hollywood glamour -- and someone should call him on it.

Woman can't add

Brdgt at Fear of a Female Planet has been covering the ongoing controversey at Harvard over the president's comment that women lack natural abilities for math and science (here, here, and here.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Something in the water

Perhaps it was the ultimate attempt to prove that environment, not biology, causes gayness, the Air Force attempted to produce a chemical that would stimulate homsexual activity.
The original typewritten document on The Sunshine Project website entitled “Harassing, Annoying, and 'Bad Guy' Identifying Chemicals" was drafted in 1994 at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where the chemical agent was to be developed. It suggested using aphrodisiacs to render enemy troops sexually attracted to one another. The document suggested developing chemicals weapons that could affect human behavior so that discipline and morale in enemy units was adversely affected. "One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior," the document said. The six-year plan also suggested developing several other "non-lethal" chemical weapons, including one that would inflict "severe and lasting halitosis" in enemy combatants and a "sting me/attack me" chemical that would cause bees to become more aggressive. The Pentagon has reacted to the Sunshine revelation, saying the proposal was rejected out of hand.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Dutch Senator

After Claire's post about the DNB, I was anxious to know what biographical databases were available to me ... and try a few of them out. I looked up Carl Schurz: a Cologner who was deeply involved in the 1848-49 revolution as a student (here is his remembrance of the start of the revolution). He daringly rescued his mentor, Gottfried Kinkel, from prison. His autobiography has been very useful to me, more because it provides color rather than insight to the age of revolution. I know little about what happened to him, other than he came to the United States and he represented Michigan in the US Senate. And even that information was wrong: he represented Wisconson, not Michigan (good thing that info was only in a footnote).

According to the American National Biography, Schurz joined the Republican Party because of his commitment to abolition. Early on he worked on the ethnic appeal of the party, attracting German-Americans to the cause (here is his portrait of Lincoln). During the Civil War, he helped to recruit Germans into all-German regiments.

In the senate he was known as "the Dutch Senator" and his phrase "my country right or wrong", often misused and seldom understood phrase. He had tense relations with other members of the Republican Party. He was an early critic of Reconstruction, recommending a more conciliatory approach to the southern states. Frustrated with Grant's administration, he led his own faction:
Although he was elected as a Republican, Schurz soon broke with the administration. Differences over civil service reform, the annexation of the Dominican Republic, southern policies, and patronage in Missouri eventually led Schurz to become one of the initiators of the Liberal Republican movement. His breach with the administration caused a lessening of his radical commitment; eager to conciliate the South, he even voted against the Ku Klux Act and other radical measures.

The Liberal Republicans, however, turned against Schurz, giving leadership to Horace Greeley. The debacle helped to elect Democrats to the Congress. Schurz came back into the good graces of the party with the election of Hayes and was made secretary of the interior.
In his new position Schurz introduced civil service rules within his department, set in motion a policy of conservation of natural resources (especially forests), and cleaned up corruption in the Indian Bureau. His continuation of the practice of large-scale removals of various Native-American nations to large reservations, particularly the forcible resettlement of the Poncas in the Indian Territory, subjected him to criticism, but, in the end, he reversed himself and inaugurated a more equitable policy. His protection of the Indian Bureau from an attempted War Department takeover was also a boon to Native Americans, whose treatment by the army left much to be desired.
Later he was the editor of the Evening Post, where he wrote about anti-semitism in Europe among other things. Here is what he said about America's role in world affairs:
With all its latent resources for war, it should be the great peace power of the world. It should never forget what a proud privilege and what an inestimable blessing it is not to need and not to have big armies or navies to support. It should seek to influence mankind, not by heavy artillery, but by good example and wise counsel. It should see its highest glory, not in battles won, but in wars prevented. It should be so invariably just and fair, so trustworthy, so good tempered, so conciliatory, that other nations would instinctively turn to it as their mutual friend and the natural adjuster of their differences, thus making it the greatest preserver of the world's peace. This is not a mere idealistic fancy. It is the natural position of this great republic among the nations of the earth.

Other sources on Schurz: German Heritage, images from the University of Wisconsin Library.

Random Notes

I miss my bunny.

Sharon did an extraordinary job putting the History Carnival together (BTW, thanks for the inclusion) She is also offering to write a short biography about any figure from the early modern period.

Nuno finds the best photographs for every occasion:

Brandon has an interesting post on how Descartes differentiated between creation and procreation.

On place: Peter Levine has this post on how the text of a community can be read by having students collect oral stories. Matthew Cheney links to this article on Feral Cities. And it looks as if Alex Golub's class on the Virtual Worlds would have been fun ... tant pis.

On the Holocaust: The French weeklies L'Express and Nouvel Observateur have numerous articles on the liberation of Auschwitz. Annette Wieviorka says that we should not call it a liberation because the camp was already abandoned, and no one was looking for it. She also reveals that scenes of bulldozers covering over dead bodies in Alan Resnais film were taken after the so-called liberation. Moreover, she says that there is no comparison between the Holocaust and the Brand. There are extracts left behind by the Sonderkommandos (the Jews recruited to dispose of bodies): Zelman Gradowski, Lejb Langfus, Zalmen Lewental. Ian Kershaw summarizes his opinions in this interview. In an article that I would recommend, Jorge Semprun and Alain Finkelkraut discuss the transmission of the history of the camps. (There are plenty of other stories and personal accounts.)

If Vichy had no heart, did it have a spine? Le Figaro reviews Simon Kitson's book on the prosecution of 2,000 Nazi spies in Vichy France, which is described as an attempt to be sovereign despite defeat. Hanamel links to Henryk Ross' photographs of Lodz.

I don't know what to think about the new Battlestar Galactica. Even though it is stronger without all the "Chariot of the Gods" stuff, it looks like it has been culturally whitewashed. And if you want to turn Starbuck into a woman, ok, but don't call her a 'buck'.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Richardson in the Grenzland

Michael Ackland, in “Henry Handel Richardson’s Years in Wilhelmine Germany: The ‘Most Cultivated Land in Europe’?”, critiques how the Australian-born author portrayed political and social tensions in the Kaiserreich.

Richardson spent a great deal of time in Germany – almost fifteen years. She studied music in Leipzig, and lived in Munich and Strasbourg with her husband, who was herself a Germanist. She took in the developing arts scene. When she settled in Britain in 1903, she positioned herself as a representative of German culture. Until she changed her opinion about Germany with the rise of Nazism in the late 1930s, Richardson took a soft-focus approach to its culture.

Ackland wonders whether or not her German culture reflected her experiences. She lived in several cities that were dominated by contentious politics. Strasbourg was a major military position, and the citizens were aware that they were always at the center of Franco-German tensions. Moreover, the Reich invested money and effort in order to turn Strasbourg as a showpiece.

Did her experiences of Strasbourg make their way into her writing? Ackland sees
an equally striking pattern of subterfuge and omission in her account of ... the new [Alsace-Lorraine].
She lived in the most Germanized part of the city, north of Centre-Ile (old city) in an area that had been built up in a few decades in order to give a new center of gravity to the city. It was a stretch between the government buildings, which included the provincial palace, the university (with the largest university library of its day), the national theater, and the provincial parliament, and the military citadel. She was “at ease in this bastion of Wilhelmine militarism.”

After reading the article, I went to Richardson’s writings to read her opinions about the arts in Alsace. I was stunned that she had so little to say. She writes to giants of European theater, but has nothing to say about the wildly popular dialect theater or Jüngste Elsaß, an art nouveau movement to develop Alsatian literature in German (many members were central to expressionist literature).

Rubble Carnival

A picture of Carnival in Cologne just after the bombing, from this page of stories on the history of Carnival (aka Session) in the Kölner-Stadt Anzieger.

Heresy is Fun

That is, it is fun to study. Preparing for my class, I have found that the most interesting materials come from the latter part of the course — the often misaligned, seldom fully covered Late Antiquity and the numerous religions that vied for the minds and bodies of the people in the good ole' Mediterranean World.

There is something exciting about heresies. They are an underground, a subversive counterculture that speaks to the possibility that canonical texts can have wide and varied interpretation. It poses the question of whether or not the West might have turned out completely different.

Fantasy writer Matthew Rossi intends to write a series of posts for Fantastic Metropolis dealing with heresy. His first post looks at Procopius' Secret History. Procopius was a serious historian in Emperor Justinian's court; the Secret History was a hit piece on the emperor. He accused Justinian and his wife Theodora of performing black magic rites, using the persecution of non- Christians to cover their activities. Furthermore, they covered Belisarius, the general who had successes in the reconquest of the Western Empire, in scandals, making him less effective in the field.

[Added: I forgot that Natalie at Philobiblion wrote about Theodora. Go see her post for a necessary corrective to Procopius' portrait.]

Rossi decides to take Procopius' charges at face value and asks what might have happened if Belisarius had decided directly to oppose Justinian. Rossi speculates that Belisarius would be in a better position to retake the Western Empire. The larger empire would include more non- Christians, forcing Belisarius to abandon the persecution of heretics. He would accommodate heterodoxy, allowing non-Christians to integrate. The resulting empire would be less vulnerable to outside invasions, potentially changing how Islam expanded, favoring missionaries over warfare. (Rossi devolves into deeper speculation about King Arthur and retaking Rome ... .)

Heresies also reveal how mainstream faiths, in their formative period, defined themselves and how they borrowed from religions they tried to undermine. It is a means of tracking the development of orthodoxy.

Manichaeanism is interesting for several reasons. It has been described as Christianity's main competitor, which may be an exaggeration. Nonetheless, it spread throughout Mediterranean and as far as China, and it survived in Central Asia as an important religion for more than a millennium. Christ was central to its theology, although it was a form of Gnosticism. And Augustine was once a member: many of his writings are refutations of Manichaean beliefs and practices.

Manichaeanism was a religion that came out of Persia. The prophet Mani (216-277) taught that all creation was characterized by light and dark elements, good and evil. The materiality of creation (the darkness) buried the light within it. Christ came to give knowledge of the dual nature of creation, teaching them how to redeem themselves and the world by separating light from darkness. Manichaeans were known for their extensive disciplinary regimens that were designed to purify their bodies. The main texts are here.

Good information about Manichaeanism is difficult to come by. One interesting book is Jason David BeDuhn's The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual, which looks at how the body one arena wherein the redemption of the world was played out. As he describes it:
Manichaean gnosis, therefore, is a practical knowledge that permits the reconstitution of the defective body by the separation of its antagonistic components ... Thus, in Manichaean interpretation, Jesus came in the body so that ‘he might ransom those enslaved from the powers and set free their limbs from the subjection of the rebels and from the authority of those who kept guard, and through it he might disclose the truth of its knowledge, and in it open wide the door to those confined within.

Manichaeans restrained their behaviors as a means of purification. Baptism was insufficient because it could not penetrate below the surface of objects and persons. Discipline was a continual process of controlling what went into the body so that the innermost essence -- the Living Self -- is gradually revealed.

Discipline for the Elect, who were the most involved 1/100th of the religious community, was characterized by the Three Seals, which reflected the areas of bodily discipline that they must cultivate. In the Western Tradition, these were the mouth, the hand, and the breast. The Mouth: abstaining from foods that were not ‘G-d-filled': meat, milk, wine. Also, the Elect fasted periodically. The Hand: reflection of avarice and gluttony; must have others gather food for them in exchange for blessing. The Breast: abstinence. The Three Seals were areas that the Elect had to guard against the intrusion of impurity. The Auditors, the other 99%, performed less rigorous regimens, using modest gains over their lifetimes in order to seek improvement through reincarnation.

BeDuhn notes that bodily discipline, in particular with regard to diet, was at a perpetual impasse. All nourishment was composed of both light and darkness, so it was impossible to prevent impurity from entering the body. Mani claimed that there was no way of completely purifying food:
This body is defiled and molded from a mold of defilement. You can see how, whenever someone cleanses his food and partakes of that which has just been washed, it appears to us that from it still come blood and bile and gases and shameful excrements and bodily defilement. But if someone were to keep his mouth away from this food for a few days, immediately all these excretions of shame and loathsomeness will be found to be lacking and wanting [in the] body. But if [one] were to partake [again] of [food], in the same way they would again abound in the body, so that it is manifest that they flow out from the food itself.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Archeology in the making: this bike has been locked up in front of the Mount Holyoke Library for more than three years. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 14, 2005

Cultural Imprinting

[Since I have had my head in my Western Civ course, I will post on a number of subjects related to the good ole' ancient world. I should have an interesting post on Manichaeanism, a brand of Gnosticism, tomorrow.]

Charles Issawi, discussing cultural imprinting, provides a useful critical tool for understanding how civilizations affect one another and the extent to which it can be said that one influences another:
Most empires, including some of the largest and some of the longest lived, failed to leave a lasting imprint of their culture over a large area. The culture of the ancient empires (Babylonian, Egyptian, Carthaginian) was overlaid by that of Greece and Rome and was finally dissolved and absorbed by Christianity and Islam. The pre-Islamic Persian empires (Achaemenian, Parthian, and Sasanian) left little imprint outside Iran, and the same is true of the Ottomans outside Turkey ...

Three conditions have favored cultural imprinting. First, the existence of an empire which provided a framework within which the culture could spread ... . Second, it has required the migration of fairly–or very–large numbers of the culture bearers from the core to the outlying parts; they include all sorts of people, from priests and scholars to ruffians and convicts ... . Third, in most cases, the culture either was, or soon came to be, identified with a religion that either actively proselytize or at least easily admitted converts ... . Such religion had a threefold effect on cultural imprinting. First, it established the rulers language as a sacred language, superior to all others. Second, it helped to spread the culture among the masses, as distinct from the small upper-class and urban layers on whom imperial rulers relied and who were often influenced by the rulers’ culture. Third, it helped society to withstand such shocks as the invasions of the barbarians ... by preserving the imprinted culture and eventually converting the conquerors.

Alsace Hate Watch

Kai Littmann at EUROPEUS believes that the hate crimes being perpetrated in Alsace are not merely expressions of racism. The graffiti left behind at a recent incident — the attempt to burn down the home of a spokesman of a regional Islamic organization — suggests that the larger issue is migration and crossborder movement.

The two words "Araben raus," painted on a nearby wall, was written to look as if Germans had attempted the arson. As Littmann points out, the words could not have been written by a German because, in two words, the author makes several grammatical mistakes — it should be written "Araber ‘raus". Moreover (and most importantly), racism in Germany is not directed at a group known as ‘Arabs.' Rather the ‘Turks' are the objects of hatred.

Littmann claims that by trying to frame Germans for the violence, the perpetrators were also trying to "trouble the excellent Franco-German entente, which proves to be an indispensable base for the construction of the Eurodistrict CUS-Ortenau." The project to which Littmann refers is a cross-border region between the Strasbourg Urban Community and adjacent areas of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Cooperation across the river has drawn many Germans to Alsace: they live in France and commute to Germany to work.

It is likely that the weakening of national competency over immigration and transnational movement has caused anxieties. What still needs to be explained why perpetrators would choose to frame German, but attacks Muslims.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Ollie passed away this morning. She was having trouble breathing, but we could not get her to the vet in time.

I will not blog for a little while. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Ah ... the cuisine!

The New York Times has an article about the cuisine in Alsace and a recipe for choucroute (this should interest Johno in particular BTW, I am finally perfecting bêchamel.).

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Call me Map Boy

I have been asked to do another review of a book about the history of cartography. Should I take this as a hint?

Not a crisis, but a miracle

When did the Golden Age of the Netherlands begin? An article by Bas JP van Bavel and Jan Luiten van Zanden in the August 2004 edition of Economic History Review argue that the boom of the 17th century actually had medieval roots.

The Egg Dance by Pieter Aertsen

Holland in the early 14th century was nothing like what it was in the early modern period. It was rather underdeveloped, still quite agrarian, without any of the urban characteristics that it would later acquire, and less urban and developed than surrounding regions.
“In the thirteenth century Holland still had all the features of a newly reclaimed region with a strong agrarian character.”
The economic system which existed in the mid-sixteenth century, when the start of the boom is normally dated, evolved over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, an era normally characterized by various crises and epidemics.
“In all respects, the Holland economy thus appeared to have undergone fundamental growth and to have developed various modern traits before the sixteenth-century. Thus, in order to explain its rise and development, attention should shift to an earlier period and ... to endogenous factors.”
In those two centuries, Holland urbanized and developed industries. Agrarian labor diversified its economic activities, taking on secondary labor in industrial production. And exports increased: bricks, beer and textiles throughout northern Europe, herrings to England, and cheese to Rhineland.

Development in Holland was disproportionate with trends in Europe. The urban population increased without significant migration either from the countryside or from afar. The countryside did not become depopulated even though the amount of arable land shrank. Moreover, the rural industries that developed required the highest production costs (not the natural entry point for industrialization).

The authors suggest a number of factors that made Holland exceptional. The feudal system was weak. Peasants had stronger claims on land, and the rate of ownership was higher than elsewhere in Europe. Although small holdings, fragmentation, and loss of arable land forced peasants to consider alternative sources of income, they were more likely to make the best of their situation and stayed put. Land drainage supported their activities by providing peat for fuel for brick production and support for fishing industries. The weak distinctions between rural and urban allowed rural industry (I am shying away from calling this proto-industry) to evolve without interference. Cities and their corporations had no interests in controlling rural production.
“As a result of the weakness of feudal elements in Holland, the emerging cities here did not acquire privileges, market force, or non-economic power over the countryside to an extent comparable to cities in other highly urbanized parts of Western Europe. This contributed to a relatively open institutional framework, both in production and in marketing, allowing for flexibility and rapid development.”
Much of their article deals with the trope of economic crisis, which they insist is doubtful but which colors all interpretations of Dutch history. I wonder whether or not it is possible to extend this criticism to other “late medieval crises”. If the economy was able to evolve creatively and dynamically, could the same have been true of medieval culture and society, in particular the courtly society that Huizinga describes as coming to an impasse?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Romance at the World's Portal

My wife and I watched Marius by Maurice Pagnol, a romantic comedy, somewhat melodramatic, that takes place at the port city of Marseilles. Pagnol wanted to create a sentimental portrait of his home town and Provence with a triptych of life along the docks and the pull of the sea. The plot focuses on two young people, one the son of a bar owner, the other the daughter of a fishmonger, who have grown up rooted in an environment in which people are constantly moving. In this first film in the series, the young Marius leaves Marseilles, in conflict with his love for Fanny, to encounter the world on a cargo vessel that is headed for the East Indies. His departure sets up Fanny as a potentially "used woman" who will be unhappy for the rest of her life.

The film positions the world of Marseilles in an interesting way. The city is explicitly provincial. The people are unfamiliar with the cosmopolitanism of Paris (they even quip that it is unreal that the capital is forty times the size of their fair city), and moreover, they reject that they can obtain anything from it. However, they are worldly, sharing the experiences of the sailors and the ships, enjoying the products that are brought into port, associating freely with Italians and Africans who freely move around the Mediterranean coast. It is a transnational culture that is in unmitigated by Paris.

It is interesting that transnationalism and internationalism are set in opposition with one another, but it is probably true that first cities (like Paris, New York, London) connect to the world in ways that are different from border cities (like Marseilles, Liverpool, San Antonio). Internationalism requires a high level of social interaction. It is a journey between major cultural centers between elites (political, economic, or intellectual). Transnationalism is, more often, a lower level of interaction that requires migration, necessary encounters with different nations due to proximity and positioning. It also places the individual closer to the elements of daily life--among the working people who might more likely different from one another, rather than people who are similarly cosmopolitan.

Denationalization of the Masses

Gerhard Hirschfeld has an article that reconsiders the attitude of Germans in the last days of WWI.

The mass psychology of Nazi Germany suggests many reasons why the nation followed Hitler into a conflict of elimination and annihilation. The Nazi regime took advantage of the emotions of Germans over defeat in WWI and bound them to a strong leader who promised national redemption. Once bound to the Fuehrer, citizens were constrained to follow because of their sense of duty and (at least in part) by the coercive and repressive tools of the state.

Hermann Claasen's photo of the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Bridge before the Cologne Dom.

Gerhard Hirschfeld points out that this does not explain why Germans continued to support the war in its last years. They were disillusioned about what the war could hope to achieve. People had become aware that they were being misdirected by a criminal regime. And propaganda was dismissed as unrealistic and manipulative. It was "already clear what kind of character the Reich had."

Mass psychology that examines the effects that Nazi discourse is not valid for the years after 1943. And "the last weeks and days of the war did not come across as a collective experience." People hid from the constant bombardments, alone, hoping that Hitler might find some way out, but lacking faith in his ideology. In many ways, Hitler and the nation had parted ways, each supporting the continuation of the war for different reasons. The question that must be asked is how did the Germans 'own' the war independently from Nazism?

Hirschfeld suggests that it was partly out of uncertainty of the future. The call for unconditional surrender and plans to deindustrialize Germany created some fears. However, Germans sensed more than the collapse of the state as they hid from bombers: it was the collapse of their system of values. The stake of Germans in the war became personal, broader than the meager legacy of the Third Reich, and they hoped to salvation even as lost faith in the war itself.

However, they also hoped for an end. Defeat so complete offered the opportunity for renewal: it represent a clean break from the past as well as satisfied the desire the horrors of the war would come to an end. The enthusiasm for democracy that followed the war can be contextualized as a solution to the ironic and disillusionment that colored German traditions in the war's waning moments.

Carnivalizing Carnivals

Hopefully I won't get into trouble for saying this (cross fingers), but I am amused that blogging Carnivals are unlike Carnivals themselves. The Early Modern Carnival, for instance (which Claire did a great job bringing together--go read here and here) , is a serious affair that brings together scholarly posts on a variety of subjects. Johno at Ministry of Minor Perfidy points out the Carnival of Recipes, a wealth of culinary delights. I would say that they are essential reading. However, they lack organisierte Narren, the sense of breaking away from the normal activities of blogging (or academia or anything else) to bring some satirical self-criticism and raucous revelry. Certainly we historians are ripe for parody.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

's Nejjohr!

[That was your Alemannish word for the day.]

Happy New Year!

We decided to spend New Year's Eve in Northampton at their First Night. For the first time in my memory the low temperature was not in (or near) the single digits. It was still a dreary day, and the streets were crowded.

The lineup for First Night was better than in previous years. Klezamir was quite good, although they performed as an instrumental group (no explanation as to how they lost their singer, but it freed up time for raucous dance numbers). The Fawns, a splinter group from the now defunct Aloha Steamtrain, played a modernized version of fifties rock and country.

The best part of the evening were the Young at Heart Chorus and Vishnu Wood. Young at Heart Chorus are an interesting ensemble: a group seniors, all at least seventy years, who perform contemporary songs. There is a tragic irony in everything that they do, using the explicit longing and suffering in popular music to comment on age and death. There is always something odd about the audience reaction to them: how could you not laugh at them singing well we know where we're going, but we don't know where we've been, even if they are suggesting senility. They performed some songs as well with Drunk Stuntmen that were very emotional. Vishnu Wood was all about the Jazz--lots of hard bop with some standards, latin, and free jazz. Unfortunately, we walked in late for the second set, just as they were finishing Salt Peanuts.

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