Saturday, April 30, 2005

Books you can't burn

I have been stricken with a book meme, thanks to Nuno at Rua da Judiaria. Hopefully my answers are as interesting as he expects.
What book, other than Fahrenheit 451, would you want to be?
Braudel’s The Mediterranean. If I couldn’t be an indestructible book, I guess I will be a big book about a big sea over a big span of time.

Have you ever been really struck by a fictional character?
I have always identified with Kafka’s doppelganger K, but Egil from the Icelandic Sagas fascinates me: strong, clever, poetic, ugly.

What was the last book that you bought?
Dunya Mikhail’s The War Works Hard: I have been in the poetry kick recently, in part because of National Poetry Month. These are simple, direct works from an Iraqi woman – a Christian, an exile – that are critical of both the old regime and the occupation. Check out this poem.

What was the last book you read?
Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours: Rilke is an excellent poet. These are exploration of Christian faith and spiritual intimacy. A common theme is the inability of the poet to express his understanding of G-d in images. My favorite part is his poetry on Abel (“before there was death, there was murder”).

Rummel’s The Case against Johann Reuchlin: literary scandal in the sixteenth-century over Jewish books. I wrote about it recently here.

Which books are you reading?
There are many, since reading is an ongoing project.

Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh: I have been reading this slowly, one section every night, to absorb the atmosphere of Persian literature. I love Zahak, the dictator who feeds brains to the snakes growing out of his shoulders.

Jonathan Sperber’s The Kaiser’s Voters: Sperber wrote several books on politics in the Rhineland in the nineteenth century. Rhineland Radicals argued that a strong democratic spirit survived the failed Frankfurt Parliament of 1848-1849 and had to be suppressed by force. In this book Sperber takes a broader look at the democratic process in Germany.

The aforementioned The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail.

Reginald Shepherd’s Angel, Interrupted: poetic explorations of Chicago, blackness and queerness. The poems are interesting, but Shepherd takes formalism too far – it becomes a straightjacket for his imagery. Thinking of leaving it aside.

Harry Jansen’s Construction of the Urban Past: Theoretical attempt to create an historiography of urban history. It really has not commanded my full attention, and it might never.
Which five books would you take to a desert island?
I’ve picked some heavy stuff – hopefully I will become the prefect hermit.

Martin Buber’s I and Thou: a reflection on personal relations, especially between the individual and G-d, from the perspective of existentialism and Jewish mysticism.

Edmond Jabès’ Book of Questions: six volumes of poetry exploring French and Jewish traditions, exile, otherness.

Johann Huizinga’s Autumn of the Middle Ages: it explores the limits of medieval representation and chivalry during the decline of the Burgundian state.

Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities: A farcical look at Vienna before the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is not so much a novel than a collection of related character sketches, all of which are open ended.

Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in a Cathedral: I love Peru’s Vargas Llosa, but I have been intimidated by this book so far. I guess having all the time in the world to read it, I should.

To whom are you going to send this erm... let's say confession...and why? (three people)

Only three people? Ok, how about Brdgt at Fear of a Female Planet, Philosopher king Brandon at Siris, and Franco-blogging medievalist Zid at Blitztoire.

The Prisoner

Something by Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail for the end of National Poetry Month.
She doesn't understand
what it means to be "guilty."
She waits at the prison entrance
until she sees him, to say,
"Take care of yourself,"
as she always used to remind him
when he went off to school,
when he left for work,
when he returned while on vacation.
She doesn't understand
what they are saying now
at the back of the podium
in their official uniforms.
They report that he should be kept there
with lonely strangers.
It never occurred to her,
as she sang lullabies on his bed
in those distant days,
someday, he would end up in this cold place
without windows or moons.
She doesn't understand,
the prisoner's mother doesn't understand
why she should leave him
just because
"the visit is over."
From The War works Hard

Friday, April 29, 2005

Minorities in the Imperial Tradition

[Note: the date for Carnivalesque, the Early Modern Carnival, has been changed so that it will not conflict with the History Carnival. The new date is Friday, May 6. Perhaps this post will inspire you.]

Heinrich Heine's Deutschland (of which I have written at length here and here) references Jakob Hoogstraten, a Belgian theologian who taught at the Cologne University. In the 1500 and 1510s he stepped into a controversy over the contents of Jewish books. A converted Jew, Johannes Pfefferkorn, called for the burning of Jewish books because they contained anti-Christian content.

The emperor asked humanist Johann Reuchlin to evaluate the claim. He wrote a defense of Jewish books, claiming that they were not dangerous and, furthermore, authorities to should copy and translate these books for themselves. Hoogstraten, acting on the unpopularity of Reuchlin's opinion, had copies of Reuchlin's work burned in 1513. Heine brings up the affair to discuss the problems of tolerance at the heart of German nationalism.

I believed the affair to be too obscure to read about in English, so I forgot about it until I found Erika Rummel's The Case against Johann Reuchlin: Religious and Social Controversy in Sixteenth-Century Germany. The book collects and translates the documents surrounding the controversy.

Pfefferkorn was a Moravian Jew who converted; soon after he settled in Cologne and used his status as a former Jew/new Christian to gain the ear of the Dominicans in the university's faculty. He insisted that the Talmud and Kabbalah slandered the Holy Family and some prayers cursed of Christians and converts. As such, the books should be burned and confiscated.

Reuchlin had studied some of the texts. He was asked to look into the charge of anti-Christian content and to determine whether the books could be destroyed according to law. To the latter, Reuchlin's answer was unambiguous:
If it is found that a Jew knowingly keeps such a book which has been expressly and clearly printed to insult and shame and dishonor our Lord Jesus Christ, his mother, the saints, or the Christian law, the book should be taken away and burned, and the Jew punished because he himself has not torn it apart, burned or suppressed it.

However, Reuchlin saw no evidence of such content: there were no slanders, and the prayers that were criticized neither cursed converts or were specifically anti-Christian. He claims that Pfefferkorn was a poor authority in these matters: as a Jew, he was poorly educated.

When the report was published, it was immediately attacked by the Dominicans. Pfefferkorn was himself at the head of the offensive against Reuchlin. Reuchlin responded by publishing his own attack on Pfefferkorn's character.

These documents, especially those written by Reuchlin, describe the attitude of the Holy Roman Empire towards its minorities (the Jews in particular) and the ability to get a fair hearing in the imperial courts. Steven Ozment's The Burgermeister's Daughter suggests that individuals, especially women, could always find another forum in which to express their grievances. The decentralized nature of the empire meant that law and justice were more rigidly applied than at the imperial level. In judicial terms, federalism opened up an avenue to appeal the particularism of principalities, duchies and cities.

Some of the same "tolerance" applies here. Reuchlin insists that, before the emperor, all subjects are equal:
In this matter the action taken against a Jew should be no different from one taken against a Christian, for both are immediate subjects of the Holy Empire and under imperial authority: we Christians through our elector, who elects the emperor, and the Jews through their open admission, when they say: "We have no king but the emperor."
Reuchlin argues, furthermore, that because of the differences of religion, the only forum for theological grievances is the emperor. The laws the Church passes to protects itself from heresy are not applicable because, well, heresy can only be understood within Christianity and not without. The real theological problem is that Christian lack knowledge of Jewish texts.

I don't want to make Reuchlin look too cool. He opened the dictionary of antisemitic stereotypes to defend against his opponent, Pfefferkorn, the convert.
Disdaining the law, cheating on social customs, turning away from Christian charity, instructed by men who boast of being doctors, and supplied by them with many and various useless quotes, this man who is ignorant of theology and law, inexperienced in literature, and knowing no book written in the Latin language, equipped only with some childish, trite Jewish stuff, undertook to write against me and published a slanderous book in German, full of invented charges ...

And behold, at the appointed time, the notorious Pfefferkorn came, with great sanctity (O G-d and saints above!) or rather full of evil hypocrisy; "with bent head and lowered eyes, mumbling (but keeping in his heart a wrathful silence) he opened his lips and weighed his words," looking like one praying and making vows.

Then that Jew, baptised with water, rose up in the Church, a married layman, before the congregation of the faithful, that is, before the congregation of the faithful ... and preached about the word of G-d in an authoritative manner, he -- a butcher and ignoramus ... .
Because of Pfefferkorn's conversion, Reuchlin is willing to subject him to his full wrath, turning him into the character of the Jew. Mainstreaming into Christianity opens Pfefferkorn up to full scrutiny. The protections that he deserves as a Jew -- that he is subject to the law of the empire and not the Church -- no longer apply.

What does this say about the empire? The unity of the Reich around the person of the emperor is not dissimilar to the nature of the French king: they unite otherwise divergent social groups. However, the emperor is not the sole representative of the nation as the Bourbon king. Instead his authority is based on his intimacy with these groups, separately composed.

Reuchlin's position with respect to the Jews is comparable to Bucer's. Strasbourg was the first German city to expel its Jews. Bucer recommended that they be included in the community, but subjected to harsh measures (to encourage their conversion). Reuchlin's position was the opposite: that they can contain their separateness until they convert, whenat the law will apply to them fully. The two humanists allowed a modicum of tolerance. They grasped for some area of freedom, but were unwilling to give it in all circumstances.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Sweet Release the End of the Semester will Bring

I am out of gas (if that is not obvious). I have been preparing my lectures until the end of the semester (two more after today -- Boethius will loom large). I have prepared a study guide for the exam and the exam itself (again, Boethius will loom large). I've been searching for cheap accommodations in Strasbourg (please, someone). Because of allergies I feel miserable. Because of Passover I alternate between starvation and indigestion. And I am afraid that one of my students had problems for which he must seek help.

Mili is turning into a horny little bunny.

However, don't let that spoil your fun: May 1 is Carnivalesque! So far I have received one ... ONE POST! You must have writing or seen something of interest. If so, send it to rhineriver***at***earthlink***dot***net.

If I have the energy, I will have a post about Rilke and his analysis of the relationship between the body and landscape.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Taking me back home

Geitner Simmons has a post on how the entertainment industry in New York relocated to Los Angeles ... and then recreated New York.

“In memory,” he writes, “New York seemed nothing less than the ultimate gathering of a whole continent’s energies into a single place.” Moreover, he argues, the New York émigrés could make “could turn around their disdain for their plush prison, Los Angeles, by making every one of its perceived limitations the impetus for an enhanced New York. … Los Angeles’s horizontal endlessness, for instance, would be avenged by movie New York’s overwhelming verticality.”

The result, in countless films, was the Hollywood depiction of a New York of awesome sophistication and a stupendous architectural personality. This was not a falsification, of course, but an exuberant inflation of the reality.
I wrote to Mr. Simmons that the neighborhood of Los Angeles where I grew up was, in part, a recreation of some of the aristocratic getaways in upstate New York.

Mourning for Another Place

In much Sephardic literature, Spain took the place of Israel in the affection of Jews. Following the expulsion in the late fifteenth century, Jews longed to return to Sefarad (the Jewish name for Spain) as they had for returning to the Holy Land. Ironically, Spain is also a territory of memory for Muslims, although al-Andalus is a different place than Sefarad.

The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish uses Andalusia, particularly Grenada, to discuss the loss of homeland. The translations in Agha Rashid Ali's Rooms are never full reveals the desire to recover this memory and history. They also serve as a reference point for critiquing the evolution of Islamic Civilization since the reconquest.
Soon we will search
in the margins of your history, in distant countries,
for whatever was once out history. And in the end we will ask ourselves:
Was Andalusia here or there? On the land ... or in the poem? ...

How can I write my people's testament above the clouds if they
abandon me as they do their coats at home, my people
who raze each fortress they build and pitch on its ruins
a tent, nostalgic for the beginning of palm trees? My people betray my people
in wars over salt. ...

Water, be my memory, let me see what I have lost.
Who am I after this exodus? I have a rock
with my name on it, on a hill from which I see what's long gone ... .
Ali's own poem, From Amherst to Kashmir (in the same book), does the same trick: realizes replacing mourning in one place for the tragedy of another. The poem describes the return of his mother's corpse after her failed medical treatments in the US. The journey flies them over the terrain of the history of Islam, into India and finally, to Kashmir at the peripheries of both Islam and India.

The return of the mother focuses the sorrows of Kashmir for the recent violence: the death of a woman who prayed for those who died in the violence since the 1990s.

The mother's suffering has a complex geography. She identifies with Zainab, who tried to protect one of the sons of Hussain (Muhammed's grandson) as his armies were massacred at Karbala. (The Battle of Karbala is commemorated at Ashura.)
One majlis stays -- Summer 1992 -- when for two years Death had turned every day in Kashmir into some family's Karbala. We celebrated Ashara with relatives ... . That evening, at home, my mother was suddenly in tears. I was puzzled, then very moved: Since she was a girl, she had felt Zainab's grief as her own. ...

Zaibnab wailed. Only Karbala could frame out grief.
"How could such a night fall on Hussain?"
Mother, you remember perfectly that G-d is a thief.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Benedikt XVI's months in the HJ ...

... are less important than his de-Nazification. Neither membership in Nazi organizations nor resistance to Nazism can definitively tell us anything about the Nazi ideas that they still hold on to.

Final Four

One of my favorite teams, Lynn and Alex, were eliminated from the Amazing Race. I thought that they might win, but they never recovered after helping the two California brothers in Africa.

All my hopes are riding on Uchenna and Joyce. (She looked great with a shaved head!) I like Meridith and Gretchen, but sometime they whine a bit much. Considering that the penultimate episode is often non-elimination, both teams should make it to the final two-hour episode. But it might also have a yield, which team "Romber" will likely use. Hopefully Uchenna and Joyce will get a little hustle in their game.

Children of the Revolution

Le Figaro ran a review of two new books on the legacy of the French Revolution. One of them attempts to correct the image of Louis XVI, the other deals with the republic as a problem of continuity in the 19th century.

Jean-Christian Petitfils attempts to dispense with the excessive devotion of royalists and animosity of republicans in his biography of Louis XVI. Instead, he is a moderate, but less remarkable figure for whom the title of traitor is not fit.
Plus savant, plus intelligent, plus intuitif peut-être que Louis XIV ou Louis XV, le vainqueur de 1783 péchait dans l'action. Pacifiste, plus soucieux d'équilibre que de puissance, c'était aussi un réformiste comme on en cherche tant en France.

Marqué pourtant dans sa jeunesse par le courant dévot, il fit adopter, rappelle Petitfils, en 1787, un statut pour les protestants, chargea Malesherbes d'étudier son extension en faveur des juifs, il abolit la torture et le servage dans ses domaines, et encouragea l'expérience de Turgot d'une monarchie administrative rénovée (l'oeuvre de Necker étant nettement plus conservatrice).

Après la convocation des Etats généraux, a-t-il voulu la contre-révolution en juillet 1789, a-t-il voulu quitter la France en juin 1791, a-t-il trahi en avril 1792 ? A toutes ces questions, l'auteur répond par la négative.

Il admet qu'une des grandes erreurs a été le programme proposé dans la séance royale du 23 juin 1789, mais il prétend que Louis XVI est plus sincère dans son Manifeste de 1791, où il défend la vieille alliance du roi et du peuple. Mais la monarchie, souffrant d'un tragique déficit de communication, n'a pas su saisir le projet de démocratie royale chère à Mirabeau.
Fabrice Bouthillon claims that the republic was illegitimate until World War I.
La thèse qu'il soutient dans ce bel essai sur «L'Illégitimité de la République», est que la Révolution, avec sa volonté de créer ex nihilo, n'a pas su donner naissance à un véritable régime politique allant «de soi», tout au moins jusqu'en 1914.

La grande erreur des Constituants, comme les avait bien mis en garde Burke dans ses fameuses Reflections, fut d'avoir cru qu'on pouvait détruire le contrat social et recommencer l'histoire d'un peuple en repartant de zéro.

La tabula rasa des émules de Rabaut-Saint-Etienne, ce pasteur protestant qui déclarait en 1789 que «l'histoire n'est pas notre code», a conduit, comme le dit très justement M. Bouthillon, à «un pur contresens» dont les conséquences funestes expliquent toute notre histoire nationale jusqu'à la Première Guerre mondiale, où aucun régime, aussi bien monarchique, impérial ou républicain, n'a su être légitime.
The critic calls this a remarkable analysis of the fight over the legacy of the republic, but that Burke should not be the reference point for political continuity in France.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Claustrophobic Neolithic

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a new expedition to Çatalhöyük, the overgrown village that was called the first city. Attention is now being paid to whether or not the settlement had female-centered worship.
Excitement over the possibility that goddess worship existed as long ago as the Stone Age brought wide attention and crowds of new visitors to the site after the team announced last year that a "robust female limestone figure" had been unearthed.

Although badly eroded, it clearly represented a woman's body -- and it was the first intact figurine that the expedition's teams had found since Mellaart discovered a far more dramatic statuette of a majestic woman seated on what might have been a throne with her arms resting on the heads of two animals that appeared to be leopards.

But Mellaart's mother goddess was found in a grain bin, and the Hodder team's 3-inch figurine was found amid trash left in a grave, suggesting they were something less than figures of worship or power.
Thanks to Orbis Quintus.

Wehler: Stuck in the Tower?

I’ve been reviewing Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s German Empire. I am a little taken aback by his statements with regard to Catholicism and the politics of the Center Party:
The Catholic minority’s relationship with the Reichstag and the federal assemblies ... was frequently crippled by the overbearing influence of neo-Thomist ideas. Catholicism was even less likely than Protestantism to make an active and lasting contribution to spread of parliamentary influence in Germany ... It gradually came to terms with the Protestant-dominated empire.

At any rate no devout Catholic seriously question either the authoritarian structure of the Constitution or the state’s authoritarian policies.

... on the family, education and its own associations, ... [the Center] took a line no less authoritarian than the monarchical state. ... It encouraged the formation of a Catholic ‘subculture’ within German society, a clearly separate social milieu which in many places came to resemble a ghetto.

The paradigm of ultramontane Catholic politicians is not unique to Germany. And to some degree it is true. Support of the Center grew in the context of the Kulturkampf: German Catholics reacted against persecution and wanted their religious liberties and institutions protected. Ludwig Windthorst, the party founder, described the Center as the tower wherein Catholicism was protected.

These experiences made the Center a narrow party under during the years of Bismarck. Even Windthorst complained that the party contributed little to German politics and had been reduced to defending the Church. As Margaret Anderson notes, he wanted to restrain Prussian militarism and wanted to promote social works.

Newer historiography was moved away from this paradigm, in particular with regard to the development of the Center after Bismarck. In the 1890s Carl Bachem started a controversy within the party by declaring that Catholics “must get out of the tower.”

According to Thomas Bredohl, Bachem insisted that the nature of the threats to Catholicism had changed since the Kulturkampf. Furthermore, the party would not survive if it remained a confessional party. It must welcome Protestants, and it must take a stronger interest in workers.

Bachem’s statement created a rift within the party between regional factions that were either traditional or modern. It also created a rift with Polish Catholics who did not agree with the implications of “getting out of the tower”: integration.

Bredohl further asserts that the goals of the Center were to isolate Catholics: “Since unification ... Catholics had been anxious to be accepted as true patriots; but their efforts, however strenuous, had been hampered by anti-Catholic sentiments.”

Karl Rohe notes that it was difficult to diversify as a party and keep the divergent forces together as a single group. By 1914 the Center was no longer considered unpatriotic, although it was still Catholic. But when WWI ended, it was in a position to join a coalition of almost every government in the Weimar years.

Did the Center fail to critique authoritarianism? It made to blanket critique of the empire, but it supported religious freedoms for all. It also worked for the protection of minorities in Poland and Alsace. And in general, the Center opposed the expansion of Prussian influence throughout Germany. I believe that further research will show that the Center was struggling to become more "progressive" in German politics.

Wehler is the premier German social historian, and The German Empire is a concise and useful outline of the complex society of the Kaiserreich. But it is also the product of an older viewpoint that regards the Reich as Bismarck’s achievement that was poorly understood without him. The Reich under Wilhelm II was an unsteerable juggernaut. It fits with Robert Massie’s portrait of a befuddled emperor who would wear the naval uniform given to him by Queen Victoria at all occasions – a boy with his toys.

Over the last fifteen years the Wilhelmine Reich has been examined on its own merits. John Röhl’s works – The Kaiser and his Court and his two-part biography – reveal the emperor deeply involved in the business of state, particularly through personal politics. The documentary Majistaet brauchen Sonne examines Wilhelm II as the first media star: he was aware of the power of film in communication, and he obsessed with perfecting how he appeared in public.

Wehler’s Center belongs to the traditional Wilhemine Reich, the one which never figured out how to keep diverse forces together, that was overcome by desire for expansion, domination, and empire, and that went headlong into calamity.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

One book?

Check out 400 Windmills, a group blog dedicated to Don Quixote.

Friday, April 15, 2005


The new History Carnival up at Cliopatria, thanks to Jonathan Dresner. Jonathan was very thorough, arranging all items thematically. Should make for good reading. One of the posts that he mentions is Geitner's post on separatism in the early republic, focusing in particular on the contingency of the Union in the first decade of the Constitution. Of course he and I have discussed this a lot, and I hope to comment on his post given some free time.

I am giving a conference paper tomorrow on Adenauer's support for the creation of a West German Republic in 1919. I am desperately trying to cut it down to fit the time allotted. In the future, after I have made a few corrections, I will post the text. Here is a snippet dealing with Adenauer's interpretation of French territorial demands:

[France's] naked revanchisme would increase animosity [with Germany]. But Adenauer looked at the kernel of revenge as a need for security:

"Despite its 50 year old quest for revenge, it is absolutely understandable for France that when the moment for revenge has come that Germany no longer stands as one of the ‘Great Powers’. "

Adenauer soberly informed his audience that as misguided as revanchisme was, France would have its fears about Germany eased. France wanted to create distance between itself and Prussia and undermined the economic support that Prussia received from the Rhineland. In French minds Prussia was an aggressor and was primarily responsible for the war. Adenauer concurred:

"Prussia was the state that drove this war."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Women nervously breaking down at the edge

Orhan Pamuk's Snow is an incredible novel. The story is told as an investigation of a trip that a poet Ka took to the remote town of Kars. He went to this forsaken place to report on a spate of suicides among Muslim school girls and to convince a woman whom he knew in his youth to return to Germany with him.

While there he meets with an underground movement of radical Islamists who may or may not be connected to the suicides. Filled with desire, religious thoughts, and exposed to the old cityscape, Ka started writing poetry with great fervor. Political events, however, took over: the city's secularists staged a coup in order to eliminate the Islamists.

The narrative style can be dense at times, with complex discussion about politics and religion. There are also discussion about literature and poetry. However, they are all appropriate to the story.

One thing for which I must thank Pamuk (if I ever meet him) is his attention to the relationship between gender and geography. Recently I have been “depressed” because women (real women) don’t often show up in regional history. They are often written off, theoretically, because they carry the burden of national ideals of motherhood.

Pamuk makes the setting, the city of Kars on the eastern frontier, and women central to the conflicts between secularism, Islamic fundamentalism and Kurdish liberation.

Kars has an interesting history. A frontier city in Tsarist Russia, it was built by the Armenian elites who made their fortunes from commerce with Central Asia. In modern Turkey, Kars has wasted away. Opportunities and wealth drain away towards the west, taking the youth of the city to Istanbul to live westernized lives. The people who are left live in cultural impoverishment.

Into the vacuum have come Islamists, who are critical of Turkey’s secularism and the oppressive measures used by the government to stifle them. They also complain of the loss of religious fervor in public life and the decline of spirituality. The decline of Kars, as depicted in the book, is probably an attempt to critique of Turkey's attitude towards the history of the Armenian genocide.

Unfortunately, the outward sign of their struggle is the veil, and they turn the city into a battleground over the use of the veil by women. Kars is overcome by a spate of suicides of girls. From the outside it appears that the suicides all confronted the choice between baring their heads in public and expulsion from school.

Denials come from all corners. The municipality and government say that the suicides are not the result of totalitarianism and religious oppression. The fundamentalists claim that good Muslim girls would not commit suicide. The citizens deny the existence of a problem.

The depths of the problem are more subtle: the process of backwardness on the border treats men and women unequally. Islam politicizes the men, allowing them leeway in attacking oppression of the state, but women are forced to perform.
The men give themselves to religion, and the women kill themselves.”

What few choices women have are understood by the dichotomy of Istanbul/Kars. In Istanbul women can free themselves of the gaze of religious zealotry, but they live in a consumer society that offers no political outlet and is bereft of spirituality. The periphery, with its lax government controls, allows for greater political freedom, but at other costs.

The women of Kars realize that they must behave differently, must at least present themselves more modestly. To become more worldly -- more westernized -- means to depoliticize oneself. Once the women took on political roles by putting on veils, they found that they could not go back: not to secular lives, not to the westernized world. Both the state and the Islamists turned them into objects of their conflict.
I put on a head scarf one day to make a political statement. I just did it for a laugh, but it also felt frightening. I'm very sure I intended to wear it for only one day; it was one of those revolutionary gestures that you laugh about years later, when you are remembering the good old days when you were political. But the state, the police and the local press came down on me so hard I could hardly think of it as a joke anymore.

Deafening Silence

A recent spate of plagiarism in my class put me in a bad mood last week, and did not feel much like blogging. The problem resolved itself, thanks to the mea culpa that I offered.

I also wasted half a lecture trying to convince a few students that the Aryans (who displaced the Indus valley civilization in India) were not the Aryans (the invented Nordic master race), even though some people wanted to equate them. In exploring the issue further, I learned something interesting: the Aryans (the former) may have been indigenous nomads rather than invading pastoralists.

Good news: I have funding to stay at home, wear nothing but underwear, and watch my belly button for the whole academic year. Technically, I must finish writing my dissertation, but we'll see which wins out. I celebrating by buying some books of poetry: Sarah Lindsay's Primate Behavior, Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali's Rooms are never Finished, and Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun's Ballad for Metka Krasovec.

In the category "Success has made a failure of our rivalry", it appears as if winning the World Series has taken the heart out of Boston fans' hatred of the Yankees. At opening day yesterday, the fans took no opportunity to taunt Yankee players, even during the ceremony awarding WS rings. On the radio, the same journalist opined that the relationship between the rival teams may have changed forever.

And I finally saw Hotel Rwanda. The movie pushed the bounds of what could be said morally about the genocide without showing the depth of violence. Moreover, I made me itch for a film based on Romeo Dallaire's experiences.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The General

On Wednesday Wes Clark will testify before Congress on the situation in Iraq. His website has a six-question survey dealing with difficult issues of Middle East policy. I implore every to answer them, even though they are only yes/no, they may not like the questions, and you may disagree with Clark's positions.

Clark also had a conference call with a number of bloggers. Reports are at Juan Cole, My DD, Basie and Daily Kos.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Like Manchester, but without Football

Archeologist Jean-Claude Margueron has published a book about the Mesopotamian city Mari, which he claims was a built exclusively as a production center -- the "first modern city".
"How could a city develop in the third millennium BC in the middle of the desert, in a region devoid of copper and in a valley devastated by the floods of the Euphrates making any agriculture very risky?" ...

"The" revelation of Mari -- spread over a dozen years but unpublished until now -- was the existence of a major centre of metallurgy, dating from 2,900 BC.

"In fact the metallurgy was everywhere in the city. It was the existence of this lucrative activity -- Mari produced arms and tools -- which justified everything which we had found previously," said Margueron.

Gestures of Faith

Much has been written about John Paul II already. I am not qualified to speak of his theology, so I won’t. As an historian and Jew I appreciate his efforts to open the archives, to support human rights and social justice, and to reconcile Catholicism with its past actions. If he did not democratize the Church, he opened it up to scrutiny.

I have always been impressed by the economy of his gestures and the awareness of his physicality. The image that most often comes to mind is of him walking with his staff, the crucifix close to his face. I assume that his awareness of performance came from his experiences in the theater. His writings on drama and reveal that he thought deeply about how ideas were expressed physically in conjunction with words. I pulled together some of his thoughts from his analysis of the Rhapsodic Theater and its performance of Shakespeare.

Is not every theater a theater of the word? Does not the word constitute an essential, primary element of theater? Undoubtedly it does.

Nonetheless the position of the word in a theater is not always the same. As in life, the word can appear as an integral part of action, movement and gesture, inseparable from all human practical activity; or it can appear as a ‘song’ – separate, independent, intended only to contain and express thought, to embrace and transmit a vision of the mind.

Accepting the word as a pre-element of theater art results consistently in a significant rhapsodic intellectualism. Because the word, first and foremost, proclaims certain truths, ideas, and structures rather than accompanying the action, rhapsodic performances have an ideological rather than narrative character.

Rhapsodic intellectualism expresses itself not only in content but also in the form of the performance. The gestures employed, mime elements, music and scenery, static and dynamic means – all these develop from the word, flow from it, complement and enhance it. The word and the thought are served through the structure of the performance, their construction and realization.

To give a primary function to the word as a pre-element of theater and to the thought that the word conveys does not at all mean that the actors must be inert. In fact, if the word is to be alive, it cannot be conceived without movement.

The word matures in gesture ... in spare, simple, rhythmic gesture, which acquires its rhythmic pattern from the rhythm of the word.

Man, actor and listener alike, frees himself from the obtrusive exaggeration of gesture, from the activism that overwhelms his inner, spiritual nature instead of developing. Thus freed, he grasps those proportions [between thought and gesture] that he cannot reach and grasp in everyday life. Participation in a theatrical performance becomes festive as it reconstructs in him the proportions that man, at least subconsciously, sometimes longs for.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


To those who are mourning.
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And HaShem showed him all the land, even Gilead as far as Dan; and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the hinder sea; and the South, and the Plain, even the valley of Jericho the city of palm-trees, as far as Zoar. And HaShem said unto him: 'This is the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying: I will give it unto thy seed; I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.' So Moses the servant of HaShem died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of HaShem.

Friday, April 01, 2005


In a few hours the season finale of Battlestar Galactica (v2) will show. I find it ironic that one of the best reviewed science fiction television shows consciously borrows so much from Deep Space Nine, the least popular and least formulaic Star Trek series.

BTW, say goodbye to the new derivation of the same ole' Trek.

Federalism, safe nowehere

America is not the only place where "federalism" and "states' rights" have suffered. A report from the Association des régions de France that the régions, most of which have been ruled by the left for the last year, have failed to grow. After promising to build them up. the socialists have modest plans for them.
Il y a un an, le PS gagnait les élections régionales. En prenant les clés de 24 hôtels de région sur 26, les nouveaux locataires promettaient d'ériger leurs bastions en "contre-gouvernement". Aujourd'hui, l'ambition est plus modeste. Le PS ne parle plus d'infléchir les choix du gouvernement. Les régions de gauche se sont donné un objectif : devenir des "laboratoires de l'action publique".

En 80 mesures, il offre un palmarès ­ y compris en Alsace et en Corse, deux régions UMP ­ des politiques jugées les plus "innovantes". Munie de ce kit d'idées neuves, l'ARF espère faire oublier la polémique "stérile", selon les socialistes, sur la hausse des impôts régionaux dans laquelle les présidents de gauche et l'UMP se sont enferrés.