Thursday, July 28, 2005

Civil Ceremony

Arguing that civil marriage has had a long life among devout Christians, Johno at Perfidy writes:
Working my way through Francis J. Bremer’s John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father, I come by this tidbit:"[in the Massachusetts Bay colony,] [m]arriage was rejected as a sacrament and became a civil ceremony performed by local magistrates.” ... marriage was by law a civil ceremony divorced from the church even in 1630, a time when the Massachusetts Bay Colony was 100% Christian crusaders aiming to be a beacon of G-dliness to the world and shunning from society those who fell short.
Johno's comments remind that the ceremonial side of Christian marriage was, well, un-Christian. According to Edith Ennen, early theologians wrote at length about the rite and definition of marriage.
The constent, the mutual affetion of the bride and the bridegroom (affectio maritalis) was a main constituent of marriage. This is expressed most strongly in the fact that the partners themselves administer the marriage sacrament.
The mutuality of marriage focused on the man and woman; it left out legal and ceremonial matters. Instead Roman law was used. Consequently, the implied equality of Christian marraige disappeared underneath property issues that weakened women as marital partners. The rite of marriage was difficult to sustain without reference to extra-Christian institutions. Marriage belonged to a wider field of social and cultural practices beyond Christian theology or tradition.

Aside: Ennen also notes that Church authorities were suspicious of the revelry of wedding celebrations, and some bishops forbade priests from attending.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Tristan and the Sites of German Memory part III

Something that can be clearly taken from both my reading and others' analyses is that Gottfried was unkind in his description of court life. The kings are incapable of acting on their own, deferring their decisions to the desires of others whenever possible.

[This is the part III of a three part series. To start at part I, click here. To start with part II, click here.]

Mark, Tristan's seigneur, is so ineffectual that when he spies his wife and Tristan making love, he seeks out his vassals rather than draws his sword. The members of the court are involved in intrigues against the king and each other. They plot to steal Isolde and to destroy Tristan. However, they are incapable of succeeding at even those endeavors.

And they are incapable of love. The only good hearts are Tristan's adoptive family in Normandy and his birth parents, Blancheflor and Rivalin. We never learn what type of lovers Tristan and Isolde could have been without the love potion. Courtly virtue, including courtly love, are imitations. True virtue and true love are independent of the aristocracy. In Joachim Bumke's analysis, noble love stands in opposition to the established social hierarchy.

Tristan, himself not a lover, stands above everyone else in terms of his virtue and prowess. He hones his abilities as a warrior, leads the court in combat and ritual, and has the ear of the king in every decision. The first third of the romance discusses his exceptional upbringing and character. He charms men and women with his poetic tongue, his musicianship, and his hunting. Every king is inferior to him, practically deferring to him as if they were his vassals.

Tristan, however, sharpens the distinction between himself and the court when he pretends to be the son of a merchant. Twice in the story he claims a humble birth in order to disguise himself. The rouse ends only when he is discovered.

In the first instance he claims to be a boy abducted and brought to Cornwall. The court is so surprised by his eloquence in all languages, his knowledge of the customs of court, and ability to sing and play the harp, that they ask how a poor burger could know these things. He answers: training and education, those things that the bourgeoisie use to imitate the aristocrats.

The second time he pretends to be a minstrel who has tried his hand at trade but has fallen on hard times. He disguises himself so that he can been cured by the queen of Ireland, the sister of the man whom Tristan has killed and who poisoned him. Known as Tantris, he gives lessons to Isolde in music. He returns in this guise again, slaying a dragon that has plagued Ireland but that no one could stop. Severely wounded, and again in the care of the queen and Isolde, the young woman bemoans the social position that fate has given Tantris.
"By rights he should rule a kingdom or some land of suitable standing. It is an odd world, where so very many thrones are filled by men of inferior race and not one has fallen to his lot. … He has been greatly wronged: Lord, Thou hast given him a station in life out of keeping with his person!"
Tristan is part trickster, and he has the station that Isolde imagines he deserves. Nevertheless, his superiority casts a light on the inferiority of the nobility. They follow his example, learning from him, imitating him. The seeds of virtue are not in their birth, but in their self-improvement, which they pursue half-heartedly.

It may go to far to read Gottfried's bourgeois credentials in his critique of court life. I am tempted to compare the discussion of virtues, imitation and education with Norbert Elias' Civilizing Process and the history of manners. However, the similarities reflect less on Gottfried that on Elias' passions and the interests of 19th and early 20th C social scientists. Back in the 19thC, Tristan might have contradicted imperial ideology by showing how inferior kings weigh down nations. A strong portrait of aristocratic depravity, the Hohenzollerns would want to separate themselves from the romance. At the academic level the social critique of the romance was taken more seriously, placing Gottfried against the politics of nationalism and the compulsion for cultural purity.

BTW, get Gottfried's book and read it

History : Germany : Literature

Tristan and the Sites of German Memory part II

Gottfried's identity was a matter of dispute during the late 19th C century. Nothing was known about him other than his authorship of the work. Based on one manuscript on which the author was called "Master Gottfried from Strasbourg", it was assumed that he was in fact a burger from Strasbourg. His lack of knowledge about court practices removes him at least from the aristocratic world. Based on the scholarship he displays, it was also assumed that he was educated in French institutions.

[This is part II of a three part post. To start with Part I, click here. To skip to part III, click here.]

One literary historian pointed out that there was no way to locate where the poem was written or from what social group the author emerged. This claim, which on the surface was true, must have been an attack on the Alsatians who claimed Gottfried as their own, separating them from one of the Great German poets. (A not entirely watertight proof or origins comes from the handwriting and language, both of which conform to Alsatian standards of the 13th C.)

Could there have been political motivations? As I read, I thought that this attack was out of step with what I knew about German policies of integration. The Hohenzollerns, who were both German emperors and Prussian monarchs, used Medieval heritage in order to establish their own historical legitimacy. In particular, they restored castles and fortifications, showing how the dynastic presence shaped and moved German history since antiquity, and that the Hohenzollerns were the successors of the Hohenstaufens.

Why would they distance themselves from this literary landmark? My initial guess was that the potential bourgeois character of the work conflicted with legitimacy of aristocracy. Gottfried's Tristan was evidence that German culture could develop without the support of the court, especially in Alsace.

The truth is more complex. Germanists and historians in the 19th C suspected Gottfried's work of introducing French influences into German literature. One critic complained that Gottfried lacked originality, wholly borrowing from French sources rather than developing a narrative from his own originality based on the German character. He introduced fantastical, mystical elements to an otherwise pragmatic German culture. The Alsatian Tristan is almost a degenerate work: according to the critic, Gottfried feigns being an aristocrat in this work, filling the work with endless theorizing without founding a sound moral universe.
"He recognizes no bounds for the desires of men, except the public opinion of refined society, which for its part allows everything that does not create a painful sensation."
He creates nothing more than a a play of wit and words, " a clever conversation on the subject of love." The critic abhors the writers who followed Gottfried's example, Rudolph von Ems and Konrad von Wuerzburg, who attended more to the craft of language.

Another critic claims that Gottfried arrested a process of separating German from French influences that was started by Hartmann von Aue. He stood "in sharp opposition to what the people hold dear" in the rest of Germany. This second critic locates Gottfried in an era when Strasbourg and Alsace underwent significant changes. The power of the German courts waned; the territory became separate from the rest of the Allemannic world; municipal independence grew; in place of the ideals of the aristocracy came bourgeois culture and artisan liberties. "The poet was the first flower of this social transition." Loosened from eastern influences and falling under western, Gottfried's exploration of love reveals virtue uprooted from its noble foundation, as was Alsace. The final judgement: "Gottfried is the Frenchman to the Germans."

Alsatian critics, it would seem, praised Gottfried for the things that the Germanists condemned: the introduction of a mixed culture. Rene Schickele's poem, unsurprisingly titled "Gottfried von Strassburg", praised him for putting "Gallic music into shiny Germanic words." Moreover, he introduced an unconditional love of the world that wanted nothing to die and no sides to be taken. Schikele romanticizes quite a bit, but none the less casts a positive light on Gottfried's place in European culture.

His supporters and detractors seemed willing to locate Gottfried in the world of the Alsatian bourgeoisie. However, the terms of their debate centered around identity rather than milieu.

Go to Part III.

History : Germany : Literature

Tristan and the Sites of German Memory part I

During my research trip I was absorbed in the romance of Tristan as it was written by Gottfried von Strassburg. Although I knew that the work could not be decisively attributed to the city, I nonetheless read it for evidence of a bourgeois outlook on the medieval world.

However, I began to question whether or not Gottfried could be described as a Burger. The characters readily deploy disparaging words about merchants and all those outside the court, and the only strong portraits of burgers are negative (they are the merchants who kidnap Tristan and bring him to Cornwall). Moreover, Tristan's disguise as the son of a merchant sometimes reads like a parody.

Is there a bourgeois worldview in the romance? Answering this question has taken me forward to the nineteenth century to see how German nationalists and Alsatians fought over medieval patrimony in a battle to establish authority over German site of memory.

[This is a three part series. Part II is here, part III is here.]

Gottfried wrote during a remarkable period in German history. 1170-1230 was a literary golden age when three of the triumphs of medieval literature were produced: the Niebelungenlied, Parzival, and Tristan (all of which became Wagner operas). But it was also an era in which the power and reach of the Holy Roman Empire began to wane.

The story of Tristan and Isolde
passed through many hands before it reached Gottfried. It is a tragic romance that takes place at court between a knight and his queen, brought to each other's arms by a love potion. The degree to which the two lovers are responsible for their affair changes with each version of the poem, some writers weakening the potion in order to impugn their character. Gottfried dispenses with the scandal. In his version the effects of the potion are unescapable and everlasting. Without a cure, Tristan and Isolde cannot be guilty.

Gottfried borrowed, by his own admission, the story as written by the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas. Gottfried's plot moves in the same manner as Thomas'. By his own admission, Gottfried is not interested in creating an original narrative or a new version of the story, but using the story in order to comment on the nature of love (as well as other things). One of the most remarkable passages is the allegorical Cave of Love, a refuge for Tristan and Isolde that allows Gottfried to explore the topography of emotions.
"[The cave's] roundness inside betokens Love's Simplicity: Simplicity is most fitting for Love, which must have no concerns, that is, Cunning or Treachery. Breadth signifies Love's Power, for her Power is without end. Height is Aspiration that mounts aloft to the clouds: nothing is too great for it so long as it means to climb, up and up, to where the molten Crown of Virtues gathers in the vault to the keystone ... ."
Unfortunately it is impossible to separate Gottfried from Thomas: most of the latter's stanza have been lost, so that the former is the only evidence of how the latter was structured. Conversely, Gottfried's ending is lost, usually replaced with the remaining verses of Thomas.

Reading both straight through reveals how Gottfried used Thomas' text, diverging from the narrative to discuss matters of philosophy, law and literature in beautifully poetic terms. He even criticizes Thomas in the process, saying that he had to replace elements that were either too fantastic or incongruous with known reality. If there is a weakness, it is that Gottfried was a stranger to court practices and the Anglo-Norman realm and relied on information about them from Thomas -- and sometimes misunderstood that information.

Go to Part II.

History : Germany : Literature

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Random Notes

Dead again. That is, my lap top is out of commission. Apparently this new problem is actually something Dell overlooked in the last overhaul, and I enjoyed a pleasant, burning aroma over the weekend instead of a functioning research tool. I hate Dell.

Perhaps I can recover from the Tour de France, which I watched religiously every day. As much as I revelled in Lance Armstrong's final victory, I can't help but feel sorry for Jan Ullrich, the perpetual second fiddle whose accomplishments will be forever obscured. Their rivalry reminds me of Dimaggio-Williams, the later's legacy weakened by years on the frontline and the lack of a World Series ring. Despite his other accomplishments in racing outside of the Tour, a fellow countryman, a cyclist, declared that "he gave nothing back to cycling." [ADDED:] Here are Ullrich's victories: winner Tour de Suisse 2004, German Champion (road racing) 2001, Olympic Champion (road racing) 2000, winner Vuelta 1999, World Champion (ITT) 1999, winner Tour de France 1997, German Champion (road racing) 1997, Amateur World Champion 1993.

David Sucher points out this really cool website, Water History (pretty self-explanatory). Some readers might enjoy this article on Medieval London's water system, which serves as a prehistory to the 1666 fire:
Circumstances conspired to make the fire a catastrophic event. London was in the throes of a long drought. The flow of springs, which fed the city's conduits, was greatly reduced. The wells, still numerous in city, were low. Additionally, the houses were nearly all made of wood and packed closely together; the stores and warehouses were full of oil, pitch, hemp, flax, and other combustible wares; a strong wind carried the fire from roof to roof and from street to street; and there was a lack of organization and equipment to deal with the fire.

London's water systems, as it turned out, were in no condition to assist in putting out or controlling a major fire. The flames as they started out from London Bridge put the wooden water system of Peter Morice out of commission. But, worst of all, there was a great deal of shortsighted carelessness. In the perplexity and confusion of the early hours of the fire, no authority was respected. Roads were torn up to get at the wooden water pipes. The pipes were cut so that fire buckets could be filled. Cutting the pipes for short-term gain turned out to greatly hamper longer-term firefighting efforts. Water soon ran to waste in some areas while pipes and cisterns were dry in areas where water was most needed.

"Neither trees nor commerce nor life, but death takes root in the concrete shade of twelve lanes of interstate traffic": I have passed Ralpjh Luker's A Strange Career of Alleys, Avenues, Boulevards, and Interstates around to a number of people, who have all reacted positively to his look at geographical segregation in Auburn. One person, a sociology grad student, told me that his advisor refused to see the deeper roots of this segregation. Ralph's post raises questions, however, about the effectiveness of reconciliation across No Man's Lands, not just in the South, but in very conflict where people have refused not just to live with each other, but also continguously to one another (I am especially thinking of Israel's security fence).

Is Vahdettin, the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, ripe for rehabilitation? Some Turkish historians argue that he was not the traitor portrayed by Turkish nationalists. The historical revision/correction has sparked political controversy, the conservative press coming to the aid of the historians.

Johno, updating his progress on the 50-book challenge, looks at two books that have been overlooked in the reviews of new history: Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and Philbrick's Sea of Glory. Jonathan Dresner looks at a history of ninja, which he finds lacking.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Rabbit/Gender News

Yesterday something strange happened. We found that our two rabbits were in the same space, that they had been fighting, and small drops of blood were everywhere. It was Mili who was bleeding, and he was wounded in his penis. He must have tried sexually to dominate Tuivel, who is older, bigger, and more aggressive. Tuivel must have bit Mili. We rushed him to the vet; he will be OK, but we will give him antibiotics for the next week.

I'm sure that this was neither a Bris or a more fundamental change of identity. Mili is lucky that his wound is no deeper than tooth marks. We worried that something more radical would have to be done. Considering his past gender confusion, we hope that nothing like this happens again.


The Carnegie Endowment has put up a translation of a working draft of Iraq’s Bill of Rights that a secret committee is working on. A typical document, although it may institute anti-Semitism in its first article, refusing to recognize Israeli citizenship. I should not be surprised: a measure of Iraqi sovereignty might be the ability to retain some hatred.

The document started my curiosity: is there some example from Rhenish history that explains both the hunger for reform and the zealotry of terrorism? Vandalism and sabotage have been constant themes (Aside: I have found references to the desecration of soldiers’ graves in the 1890s, which made me wonder whether it was really a Alsatian thing, not antisemitic). The Ur-event of modern Europe, the French Revolution/First Empire may be good example of exporting values and how people react to that.

On the one hand, Rhinelanders fell in love with what France gave them. The Napoleonic Civil Code, which gave them jury trials and the Guillotine, became an enduring institution (the Rhenish Code) that differentiated the West from the rest of Germany. Chambers of commerce became favorite venues for merchants and businessmen. And the creation of district councils and bureaucratic posts gave them greater control over the political functions than they enjoyed during the ancien regime.

The fruits of the revolution challenged the Rhenish Burgers to think beyond their introverted political landscapes. Because of the revolution, the Rhenish Burgers became the premier class pushing for German nationalism, and consequentially, a thorn in the side to Prussian authorities. They fought against Restoration, demanding the creation of elected, representative parliaments at all levels of government as well as voting rights.

Did they love France? Absolutely not. Resentment emerged over the methods of administrators and the attempts to integrate the Rhineland into the French economy and political sphere. Resistance followed. A number of groups emerged that attacked French agents and those whom they identified as collaborators. Johann Buckler, aka Schinderhannes, became an icon for his banditry, particularly for robbing Jews. Schinderhannes was not nearly as contemptible as Bin Laden, but he was still an unsavory character that Rhinelanders admired: he stood up against the duplicity of the French regime: the loss of sovereignty despite the promise of liberation.

Ultimately the Rhinelanders did not love the French as much as what they got from them. Indeed, occupation increased hatred for France while inspiring German nationalism. The two can hardly be separated: more than a century of Franco-German antagonism can be dated from the experience and memory of the occupation. Hatred did not undermine the desire to improve upon the legacy that the revolution left.

It is entirely possible that people in the Middle East, Iraqis in particular, feel the same way about Americans as Rhinelanders did about France. Sovereignty seems to be a primal indicator of liberty, clouding anything else that might go on. Iraqis may eagerly adopt the reforms we would bring them, and hate us for it at the same time. And those feelings may linger, whether or not those reforms take hold.

History : Politics : France : Germany

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Two thousand years of German-Roman Conflict

I've been reviewing materials on Volkskunde (German ethnology or ethnic studies) in the 1890s and 1900s. The "science" concerned itself mostly with the diversity of German folkways. This statement, from Josef Nadler's Literaturgeschichte der deutschen Stämme und Landschaften (The Literary History of German Tribes and Landscapes) from 1912 disturbed me:
The hunter and the herdsman needed open spaces, because the people (Volk) increased in inexhaustible fertility. But because the Romans beat the barbarian, restless and covetous of land, back over the border rivers, the herdsman and the hunter had to become farmers. He whom the earth now nourishes depends on it, and tears himself from it only bloody hearts. The German (Germane) began to adhere to his landscape. A new feeling became known to him: Vaterland, Heimat. In constant fighting with enemies, battle and war become art and science, and the small rubble of the people was powerless. They had to unite firmly, in order to protect the soil which had become dear them. (Translation mine)
This German mysticism, which would be so popular among the Nazis, was losing favor in the social sciences at the time it was written.

Typically nationalists reduced German history to a struggle with Roman civilization, which was represented by France in the contemporary world. They took their history from a narrow interpretation of Roman texts that obsessed over the stability of the frontiers, but ignored those parts that showed how those same frontiers Romans encountered, lived with, exchanged with, and even civilized the same German tribes.

Nadler uses this poorly conceived history to explain German disunity and solidarity and its militarism: because the Romans bottled up the noble barbarians, they had to get tough. However, ethnologists had been downplaying the importance of the Roman frontier for ten to twenty years. The movement of individuals was possible in both direction. The overlap of cultures was measurable, and the Romans were not the only group to have affected the German barbarians. In fact, geography was seen as a factor that determined development more than the clash of civilizations.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Thought I'd do better than this

You Are 49% American
America: You don't love it or want to leave it.
But you wouldn't mind giving it an extreme make over.
On the 4th of July, you'll fly a freak flag instead...
And give Uncle Sam a sucker punch!

How American Are You?

HT: Brandon at Siris, who scored higher than I did.

Dead Tongues

According to Ethnologue, an organization that studies dialects and provides them with written scripts, the following European dialects are dead:
  • Dalmatian (Italian dialect in Croatian)
  • Saami/Kemi (Finland)
  • Frankish
  • Polabean (Slavic language of Germany)
  • Cappadocian (Greek dialect of Turkey, community resettled)
  • Prussian (German dialect of Poland)
  • Slavonic
  • Guanche (Berber dialect of Spain)
  • Mozarabic (Spanish with Arabic influences)
  • Ubykh (Caucasian language, community forced into exile by Russia)
  • Gothic
  • Hiberno-Scottish
  • Manx
  • Norn
  • Knaanic (Judeo-Czech)
  • Shuadit (Judeo-Provençal)
  • Zarphatic (Judeo-French)
  • Karaim (Karaite language, related to Hebrew, nearly extinct)
Only six or seven of these dialects can be said to have died a natural death. The others were subjected to some sort of national or ethnic conflict, resettlement, or genocide.

(Thanks to Brdgt and Ralph Luker for the link.)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Unwanted

The European institute of Cultural Routes notes this website dedicated to documenting the experiences of exiles and refugees in twentieth-century Europe. The website is quite elegant, featuring the testimonies of refugees in several conflicts (Balkans, Turkey/Greece, Germany, Poland) and has resources for the study of relevant political and legal events. The website is in German, but the testimonies are in the native languages of the refugees themselves.

La Douleur

Emmanuel Dongala's Johnny Chien Mechant has been translated and published in the US under the title Johnny Mad Dog (link to NY Times Review). The book is a fictional look of the effects of civil conflict and guerilla warfare on children.

Still on Africa, Joel notes an article about the relationship between the economics of African misery and tyranny. The author makes the point that the Live 8 concerts did nothing to raise conscioussness about the need for political reform. Joel drives the point home:
Ending dictatorships by military force is the easy part. Nation-building is nowhere close to being an Olympic sport yet. Not even an exhibition sport.
Frog in a Well's Japan Annex notes the creation of the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace, which will focus on sexual slavery during WWII.

On the tenth anniversay of Srebrennica, Tim at Where Project remembers his own experiences with Bosnian refugees.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Am I home yet?

I feel like I am still on my research trip -- now that my computer is up and running, I am typing in notes that I wrote by hand and sorting photographs of documents that I took, things I would have done in Strasbourg. Alas, the good wine is so far away, but at least I have my rabbits running around my feet again.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Got Fodor's?

In my opinion Fodor's has been a weak travel guide. In ten years I have not bought one. I am satisfied to get the two sentences out of them that I need while at the bookstore, and instead buying a Rough Guide (my preference) or a Lonely Planet. My wife, who works in the travel industry, prefers Cadogan's, although she thinks it is getting a bit stuffy. On our recent trip to France I brought Rough Guide and photographed pages from Cadogan's and DK Eyewitness.

On my last visit to the local mega-bookstore, I noticed that the 2005 Fodor's is more than twice its normal size. I thumbed through the France and Germany editions. To my surprise, they are excellent. I wished I had looked at them before leaving: lots of interesting details, advice for budget travelers (that is to say, grad students like me), great itinerary advice (depending on whether someone wants to explore a whole country or a region or a theme), info on how to get around. I agreed with much of what the guides advised. For our next trip (which could be southern Mexico), I might buy Fodor's and leave the rest at home. The next time you are in the bookstore, check them out. (Of course, my luggage would be lighter if they made specific guides for the regions I visit.)

Caleb at Mode for Caleb has posted History Carnival XII. I recommend taking off from work , or quitting, to read all afternoon long. One interesting post looks at FDR's appointment of a supreme court justice.

But I most strongly recommend a number of posts on a character in a Mexican comic book that appeared in blackface. Just go over to Regions of Mind and let Geitner show you around.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Not all the eggs in one basket

Kai Littmann asks an interesting question: what's the point of Luxembourg's Yes? After France's No, Netherland's No, and Britain removing the question from the table, why should anyone continue to vote on the European Constitution. For Littmann, the question should continue to be asked:
Que la construction européenne ne s’arrête pas aux limites géographiques et mentales françaises. Que la question de l’avenir de l’Union reste d’actualité. Que les gens aient voté oui ou non. Qu’il est peut-être plus urgent que jamais de se doter d’une vision de l’avenir. Que l’on attend toujours celle des leaders du non. Car si plan B il doit y avoir, c’est avant tout – et en toute logique - à eux de le proposer. Que les appels à l’intéressement citoyen ne doivent pas rester lettre morte, à l’état de vieux slogans poussiéreux. Parce que l’Europe ne se construit pas qu’à vingt-cinq chefs d’Etats et de gouvernement mais à 455 millions.

[Don't let the European constitution stop at France's geographic and mental limits. Let the question of the EU's future remain in public discourse, Let the people have a yes or no vote. ... Because Europe will not be made by 25 heads of state but by 455 million people.]
Ultimately Littmann is correct. If the problem with the EU, and by extension the constitution, is that it is insufficiently democratic, withdrawing the question from public discourse (as Blair did) only recreates the problem that alienated French and Dutch voters in the first place.

The approval of Luxembourgeois should not be surprising. The politicians of the duchy have oriented themselves towards Europe. Regions of France, like Alsace and Brittany, that placed importance in the European institutions for their own development, similarly voted for the constitution, against the voices of the rest of the nation.

Despite the apparent lack of progress on the constitution, the development of European politics can continue. Unification is not the only model for European development. Indeed, it was not the first that was employed. The "fathers" -- Schuman, Monnet, Adenauer -- put their faith in integration. Europe would emerge as nations became entangled with one another. Instead of creating centralized organizations, they would cooperate through multiple, federal organizations; not just the European Coal and Steel Community (which became the EC and, later, the EU), but also in the Council for Europe and other groups.

Some of these organizations are more European than the EU. The aforementioned Council for Europe, which upholds human rights and conducts social and cultural programs, has 46 members, including would-be EU members Turkey and Ukraine, and also Russia. Unfortunately, the project of EU unity endangers the viability of the Council for Europe. Perhaps the rejection of the constitution will lead Europeans to appreciate the decentered, multipolar, overlapping institutions that also exist, and not see the EU as the only game in town.

Great Lakes Region

This is disturbing:
Some 39 people were burned alive on Saturday when Rwandan [Hutu] rebels torched a village in Eastern Congo after accusing the residents of providing information to UN peacekeepers. ...

“People were locked up inside their huts and then set afire,” the spokeswoman was quoting as saying. “The vast majority were women and children. Thirty-nine were burned alive, and seven were injured,”she said.

Conflicting explanations are being offered for the attack.

“Some people said it was in retaliation for the Congolese army attacks on rebels, while others said that it was to discourage people from helping the UN troops,” the spokeswoman was quoted as saying.

According to news agencies, a Congolese government official in Bukavu quoted survivors as saying the rebels had taunted their victims for supporting UN peacekeepers, who have been cheered in parts of South Kivu during operations in the past week.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Funny Pages part I

One means by which Alsatians protested conditions of the Second Reich was through images, satirical and nostalgic, of traditional life. By referencing folk culture, artists could differentiate the "Pan-German" elements from the native, criticizing the former. Thereby they could avoid references to France.

Among the prominent artist was Henri Zislin (he insisted it was pronounced ZIS-line), who published satirical newspapers as various times, and who published a biting pamphlet Alsace as a Confederate State.

His works contained several recurring themes: mistreatment of women in traditional dress, poverty of old French soldiers, brutishness of Prussian soldiers, and the illusions of German bureaucrats. The women are courted by the coarse Prussians, but they hold out until a true prince comes to marry them (no, the subtext is not very deep).

Links on Zislin and other images:
History : France : Germany

Monday, July 11, 2005

Claude Simon

Another loss for the intellectual world: Claude Simon died Saturday.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Seeing like the Third Estate

When Dante compares the city which was always mending its constitution with the sick man who is continually changing his posture to escape from pain, he touches with the comparison of a permanent feature of political life in Florence. The great modern fallacy that a constitution can be made, can be manufactured by a combination of existing forces and tendencies, was constantly cropping up in stormy times.
Jacob Burkhardt's observations about Renaissance Italy also applied to his hometown Basel. In 1798 the rumors of political turmoil in France overtook the people of Basel. The citizens met and wrote a new constitution that provided new liberties. Within a few days they celebrated: they had achieved a complete "revolution" in a few days, reforming the corrupt ancien regime through peaceful means. And then Napoleon came.

Basel was not alone. The cities and communities throughout Europe overturned ancien regimes, erasing the last vestiges of medieval privileges and spreading their political culture, only to have their efforts judged inadequate by the prefect or general.

The municipal revolutions (as I like to call them) are seldom studied, except by local historians, and often don't figure into the larger picture of the French Revolution. They involved entire urban communities, which examined their corporative practices and overturned vestiges of feudalism. Unfortunately they were labeled conservative. They attempted to amend their constitutions; in the minds of the bourgeoisies, revolution had clear goals and clear endpoints. The larger revolution disturbed them: the Jacobin desire to recreate society de novo, to centralize, to homogenize, and to break down resistance. Subsequently, the national revolution overwrote the accomplishments of the municipal revolutions.

What is unfair is to label the bourgeoisies "conservative", or worse, "counterrevolutionary". Without their presence the French Revolution is unthinkable. The values that impregnated political change, as Guizot and de Tocqueville noted, originated from the political culture that bourgeoisies had cultivated in their own municipal constitutions. Citizenship, rational government, democracy — the culture of the cities valued the participation of its members in the politics of the community, and that spirit overflowed the city walls to spread throughout France.

The radical revolution — the events in Paris, the Jacobins, the Terror — emerged as revolution became a way of life. The drive to transform society overwrote the desire for liberation from the Ancien Regime. As de Tocqueville wrote, reform took precedence over freedom, and the Revolution became a machine for recreating society:
They set no limit to [the state's] rights and powers; its duty was not merely to reform but to transform the French nation — a task of which the central power alone was capable. "The State makes men exactly what it wishes them to be."
In its evolution, the French Revolution feared the political participation of the people whom it claimed to liberate. And it endangered its own accomplishments.

The bourgeoisies outside of Paris distanced themselves from the revolution as an ongoing process. They saw themselves being written out of the political process, their ability to participate curtailed, and the will of the nation ruled by the Parisian mobs. This was more true outside of France, in western Germany, in cities that were sympathetic to revolution but that found themselves under repressive occupations.

Were the bourgeoisies ultimately conservative? No. If their reaction to the radicalism that the French Revolution took on is the only indication, it indicates their reserve and concern. In the larger historical frame, the bourgeoisie (having become a national and international class) continued to be the avant garde of politics in Europe, challenging aristocratic authority and restoration until 1850.

[Note: these comments, originally intended for Cliopatria's symposium, were inspired by Gary Nash's article, "America's Unfinished Revolution".]


Friday, July 08, 2005

Terrorism and the Poverty of Africa

A few minutes ago Tony Blair finished his press conference in which he outlined the accomplishments of the G8 meeting in Gleneagles. He should be commended for forcing the leaders to confront African poverty as a structural problem. But as reporters asked him questions about the modesty of the accomplishments, I could not help but think that Blair himself looked disappointed.

Obviously he has had a rough day and a half. He staked much on Africa and controlling the emissions of greenhouse gases. The attacks on the London Underground have and will tax his leadership of the country. Clearly Blair was disturbed by the timing of the attacks, when he was trying to move leaders to act on issues that made them uncomfortable.

Did the terrorist attacks scrap progress towards debt relief or cancellation? The question is debatable, but clearly they affected the conference, even if it forced the participants to discuss items not on the agenda -- terrorism in specific. The question should be asked loudly and frequently in order to discredit the motives of terrorism as much as possible. With this attack terrorists revealed their arrogance and selfishness.They timed their attacks to coincide with discussion that could have freed African nations from their dependency and allowed them to develop on their own. At no other times have they revealed themselves to be more shameless. Africans suffer in the terrorists' war against the West.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Paris a perdu les Jeux Olympiques à Londres. Cela m'est égal: les cinq ville qui ont rivalisé sont des premieres villes de ses états, et aucun ne m'a intéressé. Peut-être il faut que une autre ville éssayera, peut-être Lyon?

Des candidates de 2016 pourriaent être:
  • San Diego-Tijuana
  • New Dehli
  • Prague
  • Rio de Janeiro.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Freedom from the Files

I am relieved to have left the archives and say, "enough is enough." I could always read more, losing myself in the minutiae, engorging myself on tidbits of information without turning them into history.

Archives are places of hidden knoweldge that become the stuff of fantasies and desires. Research, like psychoanalysis, seeks to uncover the layers of meaning. It is disconcerting when a file comes up wanting, lacking the depth of information that was hoped for. The longing remains, and satisfaction must be found indirectly in other files.

Like all witnesses, time acts on the files. A student, low on funds, mights slip a few pages into a notebook. Brittle paper tears. Pages become dirty; ink fades; writing becomes uncertain. The bureaucratic squiggles in the margins become meaningless doodles.

Politics can take their toll as well. Records are purged. Files are moved from small offices to centralized archival repositories; files are lost along the way, others never classified and rot in neglect. A stray bomb (or even a well-placed bomb) might turn centuries of potential history into a pile of debris, a problem for a community that will face the challenges of rebuilding in the future. All these things add to the insecurity of the researcher.

Some deliberate acts of archival vandalism cannot be mourned. When the peasants burned down the manor house or the burgers the town hall, they erased the records of feudal obligations, debts, and the surveillance of the prefects. They gave themselves new starts. They destroyed what historians need to learn about them. They destroyed knowledge of their daily lives, but freed themselves from the conditions they lived in(or tried). In due course they asserted themselves as political animals, objects that historians find worthy of study. Should we mourn the loss of the files? For them burying the knowledge of their conditions was freedom. In that which cannot be uncovered, there is still liberation.


Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to announce the Sixth Republic

So the French culture magazine Les Inrockuptible (no link available) announced on its cover two weeks ago. A group of politicians, mostly on the left, feel that Chirac has pushed the strong executive system made by de Gaulle into a presidentialism that governs without listening to the parliament. In their opinions, reform is almost impossible: a new constitution, which gives more leadership to legislators, must be written.

The malaise is to be expected. People voted for Chirac in large numbers in 2002, but only to mount a national protest to Le Pen's candidacy. Ever since he has experienced defeat after defeat in elections, ignoring the growth of opposition to his overuse of the privileges of the presidency. Defeats in the regional and EU parliamentary elections put the breaks on many social reforms that he proposed.

Stubborn, Chirac tried to manufacture victory around the European Constitution; its failure was largely a commentary about popular frustration with Chirac. That same public was less than enthusiastic about the nomination of de Villepin as prime minister.

Domestic politics has been in a holding pattern for a while. Chirac has not gained support for the reduction of social benefits. The "non" vote weakened his ability to protect the social system.

The call for a new constitution have come from a group called Convention pour la VIe République, or C6R.
C6R works to reform public institutions which will guarantee an effective separation of the powers, executive, legislative and legal on the one hand, national and local capacities on the other hand, thus ensuring our fellow-citizens, by guarantees of deliberation the free exercise of their sovereignty. It militates infavorr of a significant increase in the civil rights enabling them to control the decisions taken on their behalf.
The group consists of prominent oppositional politicians, like socialist leader François Hollande and the irrepressible Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who said:
We must dilute the president's dimension as a political actor. The republic should strive for a new definition of parliamentary democracy. Separate the head of state from the head of government. The president should have a role in the moral plan of representing the values of the republic.
Strong executive power is in style, in France and in other countries, and it is not clear that Frenchmen will want change the powers of the presidency. They would rather wait for someone better -- minister of the interior Sarkozy in particular, whose star keeps rising despite a crisis in his marriage.

France : Politics


Carnivalesque #6 is up at Cliopatria. Jonathan Dresner brought together a diverse set of links, which should make for fun reading. BTW, this is the last of Carnivalesque v.1. It will now be monthly, alternating between ancient/medieval and early modern. Sign up to host!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Media(ted) Relations

Something that I look forward to on my long research trips to France is discovering new literature. Despite the abstractness of the language, French has a simplicity that makes it a great language for cross-cultural exchange, be it in the form of people in the Third World writing in a second language or translations of works written in languages that are not widely spoken. Furthermore, the French literary market is hungry enough for new works that many more translations are made available for the average consumer than in English literary markets.

I picked up Le Ventre de l'Atlantique (The Belly of the Atlantic) by Fatou Diome. A Senegalese woman who immigrated to France in the mid-1990s, Diome writes about the relationships between immigrants in France and the people back home. The novel, her second book, explores the West as it is perceived by Africans, especially as images of the West are created and nurtured by media.

Sankèle/Salie quit her village on a Senegalese island to escape an arranged marriage (after her parents kill her bastard son), and sought out intellectual freedom in France, something that she could not have in Senegal. Her liberation, however, comes through hardship and humiliation. Rather than finding a life of free thought, her skin color forces her to live as an outsider, struggling at great expense to survive in a modern economy. The imagined intellectual life is difficult to obtain, and she lives in solitude rather than comfort.

In Senegal, powerful media images of opportunity in the West transfix the youth of her home village. France is a nation of easily-won wealth and luxury. In particular, the adolescents obsess over 'foot' (soccer/football). They gather around the sole television in the village to watch Africans playing in premiere league teams, and even on the national team. The African players are not just wealthy, they are portrayed as men who have been accepted by France as members of the nation. The adolescents dream of establishing themselves in French clubs. ‘Foot' is the only means that they see of escaping poverty, and it defines their desires.

The television, of course, shows only one side of reality. The misery of immigrants, which would be understood by French audiences, does not come to light. The rupture plays out in another medium, the telephone. Sankèle receives calls from her brother Mandiké. He calls her for one reason: to talk about soccer matches. He presses her to put him up so that he can pursue his dream of joining a French club. Instead Sankèle tries to educate him about the dangers of immigration and urges him to stay home: France would not be a land of dreams for him. He reproaches her: she is not helping him. Rather his sister has become a greedy ‘individual' who has lost her sense of obligation to family and community.
"If you think it is better to get by here in the country, why have you not come back? So come, prove yourself that your ideas are right."
Salie realizes with great pain that she cannot communicate the reality above the televised image.

Many African novels explore the dangers of acculturation. After the pattern set by The Ambiguous Adventure, young men are sent into the rarified environments of western colonial schools. They learn in order to save their communities and their cultures. Instead, they are "Westernized", transformed so that they are alien to the communities they would have saved.

Le Ventre de l'Atlantique seems to stand in a new direction that is taking place within African literature (Emmanuel Dongala's Little Boys come from the Stars is another example), one that does not accept the strict separation of the "West and the Rest". Media pierces the into the periphery, carrying images of the West that are uncritical, and consequently alluring. Media cultivates a new imaginary geography in which desire and happiness are defined almost entirely by distance from European and North American countries and the hurdles that must be surmounted in order to reach them. People become blind to what social and economic change can occur at home, and they do not anticipate the complex cultures of the West and what it will take for them to assimilate.

Diome mentions events that I partially witnessed when I was in France in 2002. During the World Cup, as France's fortunes sank and Senegal's rose, Africans in Paris filled with pride, celebrating in the streets with verve. Sadly the Parisian authorities decided that it was inappropriate for Senegalese to rejoice for their national team as Frenchmen would for their own.

[Updatde:] The website Words without borders has a translated passage from the book. I invite everyone to go read.

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Random Notes

I'm back in the USA, looking at the pile of material that I brought back and thinking, "not this week." In the next few days I should get back to regular blogging. I will finish up my diary on Alsace. I will also write about Fatou Diome's Le Ventre de l'Atlantique, the bourgeios perception of ongoing revolution, and an article in the French culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles that announced the coming of the Sixth Republic.

Being home I can get back to reading blogs. Sharon gives an extensive link-fest on the history of clothing and couture.

While I was gone Frog in a Well opened its China annex. Lots of great stuff: Jonathan Dresner raising questions about the consequences of China's one-child policy on private life, and Alan Baumler looking at the problem of recognizing a legitimate state in Chinese history.

On the more political side, David Sucher has blogged up a storm on public domain. He has brought together numerous posts: two on a development project in Buffalo (here and here) which developers are arguing will solve urban blight; and the weakness of a Democrat bill which attempts to inject separation of powers and federalism issues into the debate. Just go over there and start scrolling down.

Peter Levine has some excellent thoughts about defining the former space of the World Trade Center, both culturally and politically. As time goes on, I begin to agree with Donald Trump: either rebuild the Twin Towers exactly as they stood, or make a nice park (I prefer the latter).

I don't know why I did this one, but here are my results for the "What kind of [Christian] theologian are you?" quiz. I am not surprised that I share nothing in common with Martin Luther. (Hat-tip to Through the Cellardoor of Existence).

You scored as Friedrich Schleiermacher. You seek to make inner feeling and awareness of God the centre of your theology, which is the foundation of liberalism. Unfortunately, atheists are quick to accuse you of simply projecting humanity onto 'God' and liberalism never really recovers.

Friedrich Schleiermacher


Paul Tillich


J�rgen Moltmann


John Calvin


Charles Finney




Jonathan Edwards




Karl Barth


Martin Luther

Which theologian are you?
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