Monday, February 28, 2005

For G-d and Churchill

Winston, not Ward.

Jacob Heilbrunn takes issue with neo-conservatives embrace of Britain's Winston Churchill. He focuses on his bad record of imperialism and democratization:
What, after all, was Churchill's imperial legacy? While he was laudably eager to establish a Jewish state, his forays into Arab nation-building after World War I, including the creation of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, plague the region down to the present. Far from helping avert the collapse of the empire, Britain's machinations under Churchill accelerated it. At the same time, it's not clear how ''liberal'' Churchill's imperialism actually was. He was a rather equivocal democratizer, declaring in 1942 that he had not become ''the King's first minister in order to liquidate the British Empire.'' He bitterly fought with Roosevelt over recognizing Indian independence, and he despised Gandhi.
Unfortunately, the article misses some points about Churchill that neo-conservatives would loath: the fact that he was a Realpolitiker who, for good and bad, dragged his feet when it came to confronting the German army directly, who looked for peripheral theaters of combat, and who made alliances to solve Britain's shortcomings.

Their little yellow faces

Searching around for stuff on drama during the Weimar Republic (particularly stuff relevant to Zuckmayer) I found this interesting book: Grand-Guignol: The French Theatre of Horror. The Grand-Guignol was known for its extreme plays that mixed sexual titillation with extreme violence: stories of sexual predators, prostitutes, sadistic murderers. The theater, whose heyday was the 1890s to the 1930s, developed a reputation for the carnage depicted in performances: some audiences were uncertain that they witnessed staged, rather than real, violence.

The book examines the history of the theater and its work in terms of the techniques it employed and how the audiences interpreted it. Founded in 1887 by André Antoine and Oscar Méténier to stage naturalists plays that critiques bourgeois morality. But the plays developed in a number of different directions -- more melodrama, more elements of avant-grade drama (notably expressionism), use of special effects — so that it turned into a hybrid of old and new theatrical styles.

The coming to the theater was itself part of the experience. Patrons worked their way through the narrow streets and alleys of seedy Montmartre, then known for prostitution and Bohemian artists, to find the chapel that had been converted into a performance space. Inside, little had been done to the interior to remove evidence that this had been used for religious purposes. Because of the dimensions of the space the audience was always close to the performance, creating an immediate intimacy.

The plays themselves were short and intense. The stories mixed the erotic and the violent, exploiting current fears as best as possible (often taking sensational stories directly from the newspapers). Perhaps the most important part of the performance was physical, detailing the movements of the actors in order to amplify the moment of fear. At just the right moment, the actor would gaze carefully at the audience, tearing down the boundary between performer and observer and implicating them in the violence being portrayed.

The book also provides a number of scripts that were performed at the Grand-Guignol. One that most interested me was The Ultimate Torture (1904) by André de Lorde and Eugène Morel. Taking place during the Boxer Rebellion, it represents the last moments before a consulate is liberated by the Europeans. The play uses the popular image of the non-European as savage and brute whose rage is beyond containment.

Locked up inside and feeling isolated within a hostile nation, the French staff is confused about the events that are going on outside. They fear that the rebellion is closing in on them.
Everywhere ... all around me ... their little yellow faces, grimacing ... screaming! What a nightmare.
Their terror is intensified by the reports that come from outside of extreme atrocities that are committed against westerners, deepening their sense of hopelessness.
Dead — all dead ... massacred ... tortured ... And me ... I saw Carel die: they tore out his fingernails and ripped out his eyes ... I heard his screams ... Then it was my turn ... they put me on the same floor, all covered with blood ... and my hands — they cut them off ... And then ... I heard a noise — cannon fire — and I was alone ... pools of blood ... I called out for Carel, I looked for his body ... there was nothing left ... blow to pieces ...

They took a nun, took her and tied her up, choked her ... tore out her fingernails and toes ... and then ... with red-hot tongs they ripped out her tongue, tore off her breasts ...

Along the canal ... thousands of them, thousands ... hidden in the grass ... there's no hope ... you can't escape ... you're done for ... So ...

Think of Carel ... look at me ... Don't let them get you alive ... Don't let them get you alive ... Don't let them get you alive ...
Hearing gunshots and smelling smoke, the staff fears that the rebels are at their door. The consul, in an act that he thinks will spare his daughter from torture and humiliation, shoots her. Of course, the gunshots come from the soldiers who will save them.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Random Notes

I am so tired. From 5.30 until 8 all I heard was the sound of plows scratching the asphalt and ancient snow blowers. I had no sleep, and my lecture today stunk (I had to keep backing up to pick up points I had forgotten, and in the process confused my students. At least we had a discussion about Antigone that was better than I expected).

History Carnival #3 is up. Rob did a tremendous job bringing together posts. He noted my own writing on the Icelandic Sagas and the Vinland Map, which is one of the strongest things I have written. There are other gems: I have intended to comment on this post from Frog in a Well about the inclusion of women in Feudal Japanese history. The post touched a nerve because I feel that my own dissertation, on the surface, appears devoid of women, which disappoints me (the books of Clara Viebig being the major exception). However, I have been self-conscious about teaching women's agency in the Ancient world -- how can you make students believe that there were avenues to power for women if they used their assets (broadly speaking) wisely? (I have even consulted with several women's historians, who have said that I am approaching the material the right way, but still I feel dirty.) I intend to comment on some of the other posts when I get the time to read them.

I hope that Johno gets better, or that his convalescence is long enough to achieve his goal of reading fifty books this year. Note all that Mieville -- not an easy task. Ditto Natalie.

On the Carnival note, I drew the lot for Carnivalesque in May. Natalie and Philobiblion hosts the next one at the beginning of March, so there is still time to send in entries. Thereafter, send all your posts to me!!! Especially some Gallicists and Germanists -- I can't be the only one. BTW, should a yid hold Carnival? How about a temporary name change, like Purimesque?

I am still reading Sebald's Austerlitz in German -- I would like to say that I am savoring it slowly, but truth is that the vocabulary is a bit specific for me to read quickly. Something else that I have been enjoying is Cuentos de Cuanto Hay, a bilingual collection of folktales from New Mexico. Some common motifs: girls who hide away in boxes, giants who take away young girls, and princes who come back from war to find that their secret fiances are missing. I also must recommend the series Crisis and the Arts: the History of Dada for its utility.

Rua da Judiaria has a new address. Check out this post (in Portuguese -- c'mmon, it's not that hard) about music from the Uganda community that converted in the 1980s.

H-France also has a new home.

Joel at Far Outliers looks at Graham Greene's Power and the Glory, a novel that I looked at a while back. Is Greene experiencing a resurgence?

Sharon links to Little Professor's post about crit-words that should be dumped or that have outworn their welcome. For the record, when I say map I mean it!

The internet is lonely without Frau Claire.

I have been following the Supreme Court case against eminent domain in New London, CT. I think this is a case of overextended authority. As the attorney for the residents said, "Should a city take over a Motel 6 because a Ramada Inn would bring in more money?" City Comforts has an excellent analysis and roundup of links on the subject.

Pearsall look at lifestyle in the face of demographic trends.

Finally, it was so cool that Jay McCarroll won Project Runway. I hope that he makes this argyle-as-network for men as well.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Get your antisemitic memes while they're hot!

Here's the new one, courtesy of commedian Dieudonné:
Zionism is the AIDS of Judaism.
[Check out this cartoon (in French) on Diedonné.]

American Living Space

I have been looking at works by Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) in order to understand how German social scientists in the 19th century connected landscape and politics. The environment, as it was affected by human activities, was taken as evidence of the moral character of the people who interacted with it. Conversely, the environment also affected the moral development of the same people, imagining an intimate link between the two.

Ratzel is credited as the founder of human geography with the publication of Anthropogeographie in the 1880s. Unfortunately, he also offered the often misused term Lebensraum, a category for understanding the geographic influences on politics.

In 1873-1874 Ratzel took a trip across America, visiting the major cities in the East and South before making his way across the continent to see Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. He wrote his observations and sent them back to the German newspapers that sponsored his trip. Later, he compiled his letters in Sketches of Urban and Cultural Life in North America, which is a compelling look at the social condition in the US at the time of the Second Industrial Revolution. The translator/editor of the book compares it favorably with de Tocqueville, almost describing it as the social equivalent of the political Democracy in America.

Cities were the markers of American development. Ratzel analyzed them for their configuration, for their ability to support economic growth and to solve social problems. He was impressed: there is a general feeling of optimism, that American communities had the space and insight to resolve problems caused by urbanization, having opportunities that German cities did not. He met with German immigrants, whom he describes as agents in commerce. He also attended a lot to the aftereffects of "the unique economic system" of the South — slavery. In general he is favorable to the port cities in the South because of their openness to the Caribbean. However, the economic progress of southern cities was retarded because former slaves had not been integrated. Consequently, they were the cause of anarchy. This problem affected cities physically: where there should be industries at the edge of the city (as in northern and European cities) there were ethnic shanty towns, and where there should be industriousness, there was
dirt, idleness and demoralization as well as a picturesque disorder and lack of civilizatory amenities.
His most negative comments deal with the political life of Columbia, South Carolina, and its black politicians:
... I had to admit the slaves at least knew how to ape their masters pretty well. ... Who can blame the black, since they have not had any time to learn better, when for the time being they resort to imitating the phrases and gestures of their former masters ... The droll misgovernment of the blacks is certainly only a short intermezzo, a couple of carnival weeks before and after the bleak times of complete debasement and privation.

Ratzel's trip across the continent was fascinating for different reasons. As optimistic as he was about the east coast, the American West reveals misuse of a inhospitable land. At first he is enchanted by the landscape interpreting it in terms of medieval Europe, seeing mystical and romantic ruins in the cliffs.
The unusual rock formations cause the mind to conjure up marvelous im-ages. You cannot help but notice them. Nearby they go unnoticed as well-known kinds of rock, but at a distance they catch and hold your attention by the innumerable striking formations—on the mountains they look like long rows of unfinished walls, like castles, and like ruins of churches and chapels, and in far-off valleys like pyramids, sepulchers, or when piled up, like cemeteries full of columns; on ledges they are like huts, dark mine entrances, terraces, or bastions. Except for the train, slowly treading its way up the mountain, everything is so devoid of human life, enveloped in the extremely gray-green cloak of dry grass, only occasionally interrupted by the pines whose dark twisted forms even seem enchanted. They would certainly seem to be trees but one would look around in vain for the shapes of trees. These are the gnomes of the tree kingdom.
He finds a landscape that is absent of human activity — whereas others might have seen grandeur and spirituality in the Rocky Mountains, he sees deserts and desolation. He sees an undifferentiated, underdeveloped environment that offers nothing to look at, just the dreary color of rocks. Comparing them to the Alps, the Rocky Mountains are unaesthetic.
Because of their general aridness, the Rocky Mountains form a much less beautiful landscape than the Alps; at most, the wild, grotesque rock formations and the ravines or canyons that are for long stretches filled with these formations can be compared with the magnificent scenes in our high mountains. Nevertheless, one cannot fail to see that that section crossed by the Pacific line shows the mountains in their poorest, most monotonous, yes almost frightening aspect. ...

... the Alpine scene, which in no way is the most magnificent or most beautiful, is the work of an infinitely rich and artistically creative imagination, whereas the ones here, even at the most breathtaking places, seem like rough sketches, like frames that are waiting to be filled in with shapes and colors. The immense abundance of lakes and rivers, the innumerable springs and little streams of the Alps are so much in evidence there, while here usually only a somewhat lighter, greener tone in the gray vegetation cover indicates a tiny amount of concealed moisture.

Because of the predominantly dull lines in the mountain contours and the rock fields, which here and there seem to have been heaped up with indiscriminate ferocity, the emptiness and barrenness assume a crude, repellent aspect, but it needs only a more opulent coloring of vegetation to make it appear perhaps even attractive. Nudity here, just as with the human body, is a most demanding state of being; it is always repugnant except when the most attractive lines circumscribe it.

Outside of the cities, in the wilds of America, Ratzel sees a misuse of land and space, which is perhaps punctuated by the desolation of the environment. Perhaps the landscape was unconquerable, but the attempt to do so led to errors in settlement, errors that reflected the inability of Americans to understand the relationship between man and environment. He describes Denver as being poorly positioned with respect to water and forest resources; its location reflected only the need to have a junction between the cities to the west and the south.

Most disturbing to Ratzel is the fact that parts of America already looked old — parts of the landscape were already littered by ghost towns, the remnants of singular economic activities that became unprofitable because they were poorly positioned with respect to the railroad. If Americans perfected the city, they were lost with respect to the environment, wasting it rather than living with it.

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[Please forgive the profanity.]

Several weeks ago the City of Spokane (in Washtington State) declared its intention of creating gay district in its downtown. Their decision was in part sparked by notions that urban areas can be revived by attracting "the creative class". To my surprise, the negative reactions have been docile -- little homophobia has been sparked by the proposal. Some people think that this is a stupid idea: you cannot expect the "creative class" to come if you hang out signs that say "gays welcome."

The most critical reactions have come from those who would normally support the extension of rights for homosexuals. They call it ghettoization, which it is. But they equate ghettos only with extermination camps and ethnic, urban poverty, which they should not. For Jews, ghettos were opportunities for protection, creating spaces wherein cultural and religious life could flourish. Yiddish literature is filled with loving portraits of communal life within the ghetto. Similarly, American ghettos are centers of culture and political activism in spite of their other problems. Hopefully a deeper look at what ghettos have represented and how they have functioned will allow critics to see what opportunities they can get from gay districts rather than dismissing them as confinement.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Random Notes

I have been working hard trying to finish my current chapter by the end of the month, meaning that I have been rereading the same material. This stage of the graduate experiences is all about obsession. Valentine's Day was nice (I made a Caribbean stew with plantain and cod and a pear salad, served with a bottle of Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc. Our new bunny, Mildred, is developing -- she is showing signs of being a German Lop (chubby cheeks and a strong topknot).

Brdgt has been following the controversy surrounding Harvard President Larry Summers and his comments on paucity of women in the sciences.
[T]he relatively few women who are in the highest ranking places are disproportionately either unmarried or without children ... I think it is hard-and again, I am speaking completely descriptively and non-normatively-to say that there are many professions and many activities, and the most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties near total commitments to their work. They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect-and this is harder to measure-but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women.
Interestingly, these comments ought to reveal problems in how graduate study is structured, particularly how graduate programs can be hostile to students with families.

Geitner has a wonderful post on slavery in early Colonial America. One of the most interesting points: slaves were valued as transcultural agents, able to interact fluidly in different milieu. Some time back, Natalie had a post on how Greeks looked at slavery, not making any significant attempt to justify it. I think an interesting look at Greek attitudes comes from Aristotle's Politics, Book III, in which he defines citizenship against those people who do the work of society:
The necessary people are either slaves who minister to the wants of individuals, or mechanics and laborers who are the servants of the community.
King of Grub Street, Historian Robert Darnton, said something with which I completely agree (via Simplicius Simplicissumus):
I don't believe history teaches lessons. I hope it provides perspective -- that is, it helps us to see the present in relation to other times and places. It can give us a deeper sense of the human condition, and it can help us avoid the time-bound, ethnocentric tendencies that impair all efforts to understand the world in which we live.
Let me add this: get politics out of my history-- if you are doing history to support your political position, I'll bet you are doing bad history. (For a rebuttal, go to Spinning Clio's post on the Patriot's History of the US..)

Finally, check out this post on the film collaboration between Lew Mumford, Aaron Copland, and Ralph Steiner on the future of American cities.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lethargic Revival

The New York Times has an article about the revival of Berlin as a cultural center of Germany. The major question: is there the money to keep all the institutions of both East and West Berlin alive? The article is a good summary of what has been happening, particularly the new museums that are being built. But it never asks why the municipal or federal government should invest in Berlin's cultural development, nor does it mention to resentment felt elsewhere in Germany that money has gone to re-creating a showpiece, part of a an laready over-budget project to re-capitalizing the city. There is no reference to why Germany needs this cultural capital, especially when many cities already have a wealth of high culture.
The former East Berlin was home to most of the city's major museums and theaters and two of its three opera houses. But these 18th- and 19th-century buildings were in desperate need of repair and renovation. Further, from East Germany Berlin inherited an ugly asbestos-riddled Palace of the Republic, built in the 1970's to replace the 17th-century Hohenzollern Palace but now likely to be razed itself.

Yet, for all that, there is cause for optimism. Organizational problems are being resolved, and long-term reconstruction projects are going ahead. ...

"I think culture is the only real force for renewal that Berlin has for the next 50 to 100 years," said Barbara Kisseler, the city's under secretary for culture. "At the moment, we have more problems than we need. But these are only financial problems, not problems that cannot be resolved."

The biggest headache of recent years was, Can Berlin afford three opera houses? The accountants said no, but politically it was impossible to close any of them. Finally, with a view to cost-saving, a new Berlin Opera Foundation was created last year to oversee the Deutsche Oper in the west and the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden and the Komische Oper in the east.

The shake-up meant merging the opera houses' three ballet companies into a new Staatsballett Berlin, sharing opera workshops and trimming 18 musicians and seven singers. As a result, the city hopes to reduce its annual opera subsidy by $19 million to $126 million by 2009. At the same time, while income levels here cannot sustain sharply higher ticket prices, the opera houses are being urged to find corporate sponsors.
My other posts about Berlin about the meaning of the Wall and the restorations of the Hohenzollern Palace and the Palace of the Republic: here, here, here, here.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Homecoming

I posted more about the anniversary of the bombing of Dresden at Cliopatria, focusing on how post-war understanding of the ruins has changed.
... In order to return home, Germans must confront the destruction, the negation of everything, including the negation of the beauty of heroism on the front and sacrifice at home, that their war had created. ...

:: Germany

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Wuerzburg Syndrome

[Note: this is a reprint of comments that I made elsewhere, edited and reworked, about the problems of German memory -- the issue of allied bombing of Dresden seems to have been renewed in recent days.]

Over at H-German, there is an ongoing discussion about Der Brand. The controversy surrounds the Juerg Friedrich's book of the same name and a rediscovered work by the late WG Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction. Friedrich and Sebald, in different ways, attempt to restore the tragedy of the aerial bombing of German cities to the German consciousness. I do not want to go into the details, but it suffices to say that they see the bombings as a German tragedy.

But within that debate has emerged another: remembrance of the bombing versus remembrance of the Holocaust. One historian would call this Würzburg Syndrome. In Würzburg, a city in northern Bavaria, there is a prominent memorial to 4,000 people died who died in allied bombing in 1945. That event was memorialized in a book by Nossack, Der Untergang. Sebald, in turn, memorialized the bombing when he discovered Nossack's work and commented on it is his book. There are three memorializations to the same event.

But there is no memorial for the Holocaust in Würzburg, which was a major station for the assembly and deportation of Jews. The inequality between the two is obvious. It raises the question whether or not memorial for Der Brand can be constructed independently of memorials for the Holocaust.

As much as I find Würzburg Syndrome unpalatable, there are trends in memory that have been useful for disestablishing German authoritarianism. The German past is littered with the ruins it created, and those ruins cannot be read in only one manner. Heinrich Böll's stories wrap the incessant pursuits of war and genocide with post-war conditions. His intentions were not to elevate the suffering experienced in the post-war years to the same level as those caused by Germany. Within the rubble of bombed out cities, he finds that sacrifice produced nothing and nothingness, not even the beauty of sacrifice. From that position he developed a critical eye towards German politics, ceaselessly analyzing how the federal republic fell short of personal freedom.

Utopia and Despair

Yesterday I was writing in my favorite café, locally referred to as "The Mind". I stepped out for a moment, but when I returned a friend of mine, a professor from Mt. Holyoke, was sitting at the adjacent table. She said that the knew that it was me because of my books. At first I was confused because the seven books that were stacked next to me were by no means thematically linked. One was on the gardens of Versailles, a book I never read and was returning. Another was a work by a student of Friedrich Ratzel, of which I read selections and was returning (it was nowhere as good as I had hoped). I also had Sebald's Austerlitz, a book that I am reading slowly because I am reading it in German. Perhaps it was the mix of French and German books that gave me away.

No, it was a particular book, Shearer West's The Visual Arts in Germany, 1890-1937: Utopia and Despair, that clued her in. When I looked down at the book, I saw the last three words of the title and thought, "this perfectly describes the range of emotions of dissertating -- oscillating between grand ambitions and paralyzing self-doubt." Well, there aren't that many dissertator-bloggers out there, are there?

Speaking of despair, the New York Times has a review of recent works related to Heloise and Abelard, some academic, some fiction, some imaginative, some too imaginative. And Teller, of the duo Penn and Teller, speaks his mind -- in prose -- on a book that describes how the Indian rope trick was a journalistic hoax.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Announcements for German Historians

Smoky Mountain English

Is right English yorns? The Connection had a show on dialect of the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee. The interviewee, Michael Montgomery, who compiled a dictionary of Appalachian words and usage (Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English), comments on the relationship between dialect and standardized language, efforts to preserve dialect in the face of deruralization, and how dialects reflect experiences of place and environment (similar to Vigeé's thoughts on Judeo-Alsatian). The best part of the interview is the description of hunting for morels as "land fishing."


Yesterday was miserable. It snowed just enough that driving was difficult not enough to close campus today. Boo!

Nonetheless, my wife and I ventured out. When went to the Mt Holyoke College Museum. Petals and Plumage brought together various examples of Indian textiles. The collection was visually appealing, but I felt that more context should have been created around the individual pieces. The other was Eye on Water, an exhibition in conjunction with a conference on water issues in the 21st century. The works were mostly photographs and some paintings from the college's collection. My favorite works were an illustration of Venice by Hiroshi Yoshida, this photograph of a Brazillian garden by Sandy Gall, and Martha Armstrongs expressionistic look at the Ox Bow.

Like I said, winter sucks!
Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Random Notes

Le Figaro describes the debate among Lacan's old seminar students over the publication of his lectures. (Googl-English)

Natalie looks at how ancient philosophers looked at slavery:
Bernard Williams, in Shame and Necessity, says that the ancient Greeks - here talking primarily of the Classical period - did not generally attempt to morally justify slavery.
Here is something interesting: the use of felony disenfranchisement in racial politics:
Mississippi’s 1890 constitutional convention was among the first to use felon disenfranchisement laws against African Americans. Until then, Mississippi law disenfranchised those guilty of any crime. In 1890, however, the law was narrowed to exclude only those convicted of certain offenses – crimes of which African Americans were more often convicted than whites.

Bridget looks at the role of intellectuals in American life.
... Once again we have a continuity/discontinuity argument. Pells traces continuity between pre-war leftist intellectual thought and the post-war acceptance of the Cold War, yet the bomb and other consequences of the war loom large in influencing this shift to a Conservative age and the tempering of radical thought. Do you see continuity or discontinuity? Do we have anything else to compare this intellectual shift to? ...
Joel looks at Grant's "frontier formation."

While I am on the subject of frontiers, the online journal EspacesTemps has an excellent article that attempts to resituate frontier theory with regard to globalization. The authors argue that boundaries are not being demolished as much as being resituated and redefined.
"Frontier realities appear elsewhere, in other forms, but always in places invested with a strong capacity of social and political structuring."

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Fifi Kreutzer

Up until now, this expressionist painter was unknown, linked to her associations with other artists, including her husband. This exhibit in Bonn has contributed to the rediscovery of Fifi Kreutzer's work in its own right.

Carnival in Cologne, 1926

... After studying printmaking at Hamburg's college of arts and crafts, she returned to the Rhineland and selected landscape and animal motifs as the topic for her lifework. In the mid 1920s she created works using an abstract vernacular and freely interpreting typical countryside vistas of the Oberbergisch and Sieg districts where she lived after marrying F. M. Jansen. But she also captured landscape motifs in southern Germany, Austria, northern Italy, and Serbia, where she had toured together with her husband ...

Vinland without its Map

The Icelandic Sagas are my favorite works of Medieval literature, which is perhaps why last nights program The Viking Deception (about the Vinland Map) disappointed me. I expected the program to show that the map was a forgery, which it did. However, I found that the tone of the show revealed hostility to any popular acceptance that the Vikings were the first Europeans to visit the Americas. So long as the Saga of the Greenlanders, the Saga of Eirik the Red, and L'Anse aux Meadows remained obscure references, then "in 1492 ... ." The scholars seemed to be too invested in discrediting the map , discussing it not as a forgery but as something that disturbed historical conventions. Even the name of the program suggests that the Vikings deceive use, not the forgers.

I think one of the problems that the program unintentionally highlighted is the difficulty accepting oral knowledge. One of the scholars (the transcript will appear here in the future) claimed that the Vikings made no maps. Her statement was a simplification, because she explained Vikings made mental maps (taking cues from the visual landscape) in order to orient themselves.

The fact that Vikings did not make maps is, however, not proof that the Vinland Map could not predate Columbus. Maps were made based on chronicles and memoirs. Gyula Papay notes that Lucas Brandis de Schas produced one of the first new mappings of the Holy Land in 1472 based on the 13th-century travels of a Dominican. Someone could have used the information in the "Vinland Sagas", which were somewhat specific in the orientation of landmasses and provided some compelling details about geology and environment, to create a map of far-off and inhospitable places. The Saga of the Greenlanders even suggests how oral knowledge was used to plot journeys. Bjarni Herjolfsson, who (probably) sighted Newfoundland because he missed Greenland, employs knowledge that is given to him in order to understand his spatial positioning.
Bjarni then spoke: "Our journey will be thought an ill-considered one, since none of us has sailed the Greenland Sea." ...

After [many days] they saw the sun and could take their bearings. Hoisting the sail, they sailed for the rest of the day before sighting land. They speculated among themselves as to what land this would be, for Bjarni suspected that this was not Greenland. ...

They [sailed close to the land], and soon saw that the land was not mountainous but did have small hills, and was covered with forests. Keeping it on their portside, they turnedtheir sail-end landwards and angled away from the shore.

They sailed again for another two days before sighting land again.

[Bjarni] said he thought this was not more likely to be Greenland than the previous land -- "since there are said to be very large glaciers in Greenland."

They soon approached the land and saw that it was flat and wooded. ...

He told them to hoist the sail and they did so, turning the stern towards the shore and sailing seawards. For three days they sailed with the wind from the south-west until they saw a third land. This landhad high mountains, capped by a glacier.

They asked whether Bjarni wished to make land here, but he said he did not wish to do so -- "as this land seems to me to offer nothing of use."

Once more they turned their stern landwards and sailed out to sea with the same breeze. ... They sailed for four days.

Upon seeing a fourth land they asked Bjarni whether he thought this was Greenland or not. Bjarni answered, "This land is most like what I have been told about Greenland, and we'll head for shore here." [Ironically, he was ridiculed for not making land and bringing back concrete evidence of the lands that he sighted.]
Vikings believed that there was land beyond Greenland, but that is not in itself compelling. They imagined that there was always land to be found somewhere out west. But their image of the world drove them to find those lands (with the assistance of demographic pressures of early colonies). Unfortunatly, the millenium of Lief Eiricksson journey were not greeted either with the same enthusiasm or criticism of the 500th anniversary of Columbus'. Joachum Kupper asks:
... why the same kind of historical event, the sudden emergence of continents hitherto unknown to Europeans, could in one case kindle the process of modernity, while in the other it remained virtually irrelevant—so irrelevant, indeed, that despite Leiv's discovery being a generally accepted fact nowadays, Columbus alone continues to be considered as the actual discoverer.
Too often the orality of old tales is dismissed out of hand -- usually with good reason, because the time between the usefulness of oral knowledge and the documentation is quite long, and too much time is allowed for new interpretations to take affect. (This can also be taken as a sign of genuinness: Genesis refers to customs and traditions that the biblical scribes could not have known about first hand -- evidence that the stories came from a much earlier era.)

The time between the events of the Vinland Sagas and their documentation is short -- just over two centuries. The knowledge within the sagas might still have been valid when they were written down. The sagas should always have been considered more authoritative than the Vinland Map. But the visuality of the map always made it more compelling, the orality of the sagas made them more suspicious.

The Amazing Racists

If G-d helped them win, it was a white supremacist g-d.

Time to attend to the more intelligent Project Runway. A gallery of the final runway show starts here. The last four designers participated, so that the identities of the finally three were not revealed. Austin reconstructs personal boundaries, Kara goes loose, open, and (unfortunately) furry, Wendy rips off Gautier, and Jay takes on Lands End. Given the eclecticism of his collection, Jay might win.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bringing home the baubles, not jobs

This should be called money-laundering.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Losing Side of the Good Fight

Pearsall notes the passing of Max Schmeling, the German boxer who fought Joe Louis in a match that crossed Nazi racial discourse with American race relations. Pearsall has excellent links on Schmeling, and PBS has a lot of material from its excellent documentary "The Fight" on the subject.
We all love happy endings, and it's become convenient in a way to say that Joe Louis and Max Schmeling ended up as great friends. I don't think they were really great friends. I think they were barely friends, they barely knew one another. They spent only forty minutes together in the ring. ... but history tied these two men together... History brought Joe Louis and Max Schmeling together and in history they'll always be together...

A Room with a Political View and You

The image of the Eiffel Tower has been copyrighted. In 2003 a new lighting scheme was installed that allows the city of Paris to control the image of the Eiffel Tower. The economics of this decision seem dubious: the Eiffel Tower brings in more tourism that sales of its image (how much does a 6-in. figure cost?).

Interestingly, the image was not always popular with Parisians. It was one of numerous symbols and structures, each with their own political significance, that competed for their devotion of the citizen of Light.

How Paris was seen always held political importance. In the mid 19th century royalists, republicans and Bonapartists were concerned with restraining the extent of construction. Each wanted views of the institutions that they built to be preserved. Building heights and construction in undeveloped areas were limited.

Hausmannization began the process whereby buildings became larger and more imposing. In 1859 building codes were changed so that heights along streets that were twenty meters wide — the new boulevards — could reach twenty meters. Gradually the height was increased over the years.

However, something else changed in building codes that allowed for more impressive, voluminous architecture. The height of the building was measures to the base of the roof, but the roof itself could be developed so long as it in did not exceed a specific angle (so that a minimum of sunlight reached the street). Roofs became ornate and immense. From streetlevel, the skies filled up with stone and steel behemoths that crowded out older buildings. Even the Sacré-Cœur, the royalist memorial to the soldiers killed by the Paris Commune, was more difficult to see even thought it was perched on Montmartre.

The Eiffel Tower was still visible throughout Paris, the last structure not obscured by the urban architectonics. But it was a controversial monument, described as "a phallus in opposition to the purity of the Sacré-Cœur." Together, the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Cœur represented competing ends of the political spectrum. Royalists and Bonapartists hated the tower; republicans embraced it as a symbol of progress, although half-heartedly.

The Eiffel Tower became a universal symbol because of how tourists viewed it. Paris had become a rich landscape that had been written (and rewritten) by succeeding regimes and competing political philosophies. Patrimony in the center of the city was so dense that it was difficult to establish a symbolic orientation.

Tourist found in the Eiffel Tower an abstraction that stood for nothing other than its own existence. Because it lacked specificity, because it was empty, as Barthes explains, the tower symbolized both Paris and France. Foreigners made the tower an unifying symbol that Parisians were forced to accept.

[Added:] Barista, where I originally read about the copyright issues, has another post on the Eiffel Tower, this one showing the 1937 lighting exhibition. Very cool!

[Also added:] As I was in transit to the library, I was listening to a segment on the Connection dealing with the unrealized scientific potential of the space station. The Eiffel Tower was original justified as a project of scientific importance, although no research was planned around it. After the first decade the number of visitors dropped dramatically (100,000-150,000 per year, less than 10% of its original attendance). The city considered dismantling it in order to open up space. In the 1900s the French military used the tower for experiments in radio telephony, which became essential to defense planning during WWI. Of course, the tower also offered the rudiments of air control and warning against aerial attacks.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Scavenging the Empire

This passage, from Vito Fumagalli's Landscapes of Fear: Perceptions of Nature and the City in the Middle Ages, looks at how Medieval Christians looked at the ruins of the Roman Empire, both physical and spiritual, and used them to make monasteries..
Everywhere towns had decayed and had lost their central position. The ancient world had created a highly sophisticated and essentially urban civilization: the Romans, like the Etruscans before them, had been city builders and the vast and complex network of their towns had had a profound influence on the landscape. ...

Over time, however, the vast reaches of the Roman empire everywhere atrophied. Many towns slowly but inexorably faded away, and economic and social life died as communities became isolated from one another. ... Even agriculture collapsed, and forest, moor and fen began to invade areas which had been cultivated for centuries as city walls and buildings crumbled and squares and open spaces began to be colonized by grass and saplings. ...

By the sixth century vast tracts of country had become wilderness, increasingly desolate and interrupted only by the ruins of churches, towns and villages. Ravaged by decay and war and by invaders eager for booty, these ruins stood awaiting reconsecration or reuse, a task often accomplished by monks, as we shall see. Travellers found the ruins daunting. Sinister and threatening, the abode of evil spirits, they would loom up out of the wasteland or unexpectedly block the path through the forest.

They were the dead cities, the remains of the ancient pagan civilization which Christianity had come to redeem, where the bones of Christians massacred by barbarians and the tombs of martyrs awaited rediscovery and veneration. Strange noises, spine-chilling silences and eerie gleams at night indicated the presence of these martyrs. Occasionally they could be glimpsed, but more usually they stayed hidden below ground or in the undergrowth. In the early Middle Ages these Christian dead seemed to be everywhere, gliding around the ruins of abandoned towns or churches.

They could make phantoms appear, bring about strange happenings or even leave physical traces of their passing. The world around became an extraordinary blend of natural and supernatural, coloured with unaccustomed hues, and the earthly world was felt to be very close to the next. Paradise, for instance, was envisaged as a garden of delights, in a projection of this world on to the next. In the eleventh century the chronicler of the monastery of Novalesa in the Val di Susa near Turin noted that a donation of estates to the monastery had included the site of a Roman town where a number of Christians had been martyred. According to tradition, so many had been slaughtered and so much blood shed that the stones of a river running through the land had oozed blood at the moment when it was given to the monastery. The martyrs' blood was believed to have remained in the ground, hallowing the spot for ever and destining it for monastic ownership.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Random Notes

Astronomer Bradley Schaefer's believes that he can reimagine the celestial atlas of Hipparcus, made in the mid-2nd century BC but lost when the Library of Alexandria burned down in the 4th century AD, on the basis of the Farnese Atlas, which was made several centuries later. Schaefer will argue (in an article that will be published in may) that "the comparison of the constellations shows a virtually perfect match with the constellation descriptions of Hipparchus" as he would have seen them in his time.

Natalie has this story about monstrous birth in 17th C England (check out the cool graphic). However, she also tries to decipher a cryptic comment about whether or not knowledge of herbs that cause abortions was ever written down.

The Landschaftsverband Rheinland, which has been compiling historical city maps and aerial views, offers a preview into the book with examples of Duisburg :
Joel notes the survival of Volga Germans.

Frog in a Well discusses whether or not the custom of calling women by their first names, men by their last should be perpetuated in historical scholarship.

Muninn comes up with some great sources for Nazi propaganda material in Norway.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Architectonics of Lard

From Yi-Fu Tuan's book on the aesthetics of the environment, Passing Strange and Wonderful, is this description of Antonin Carême's physical vision of food.
After the French Revolution, France led Europe in transforming cooking into an art in the grand style and an honored profession, with its own literature and roster of famous names. The most distinguished chef of this time was Antonin Carême. In the creation of dishes he strove, paradoxically, for both ostentation and simplicity. Trained in patisserie, an art that encouraged creative leanings, he extended the architectural style to cooking generally. For a grand dinner, he might erect picturesque ruins made of lard and Greek temples in sugar and marzipan so that the gastronome's mind, and not just his palate, could be pleasurably stimulated. Carême's creations were also architectural in that they had a "built" character: they were made of purees, essences, and sauces that were themselves complex creations and yet were listed simply as ingredients along with a piece of celery or a chopped onion. A dish, in other words, was the culmination of a long and elaborate process.

Carême achieved simplification by eliminating medieval survivals such as trimmings of cockscombs and sweetbreads. More important, he established the principle of garnishing meat with meat, fish with fish. His culinary aesthetic is caught in Lady Sydney Morgan's description of a dinner at the Baron de Rothschild's: "no dark-brown gravies, no flavour of cayenne and allspice, no tincture of catsup and walnut pickle, no visible agency of those vulgar elements of cooking of the good old times, fire and water. Distillations of the most delicate viands, extracted in silver dews, with chemical precision . . . formed the fond of all. Every meat presented its own natural aroma—every vegetable its own shade of verdure." Even in Carême's elaborate achievements, his aim was not to superimpose and confuse flavors, but rather to isolate and throw them into relief.

Despite his own success in creating "simple" and distinctive flavors, in general Carême's approach encouraged ostentation and, with it, the sacrifice of savor for grand visual effects. Master cooks had yielded to this temptation since at least Roman times: thus Petronius described a feast in which a hare was tricked out with wings to look like a Pegasus, and roast pork carved into models of fish, songbirds, and a goose.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Devil holds court

This post is image-heavy -- it will load slowly.

Given that Rosenmontag is coming up, I am posting some images from (the long) nineteenth-century Carnivals in the lower Rhine. (Taken from the book Der organisiearte Narr by Christina Frohn.) Click on images to enlarge.

The Spaßvogel

Krefeld 1828

Aachen 1889

The Devil holds Court in Cologne 1835

Illustration by Fikentscher 1872

Carnival Song from Cologne 1912