Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Death of a Habsburg Metropolis

Interesting article in the NY Times about Lviv's desire to reclaim its European identity, even though time and Soviet regimes turned it into something else.
Lviv - which is known as Lvov in Polish, Lemberg in German - was once as European as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and wishes to be part of Europe once again. But it is not in Europe. At least not as defined by the border of the European Union, though that border is a mere 50 or so miles from here, where the Bug River separates Ukraine from Poland.

... "You have to remember that after World War II, 90 percent of the population of Lviv changed," said a local historian, Vasyl Rasevych. "The Jews were eliminated. The Poles went to Poland. And before World War II, 50 percent of the population was Polish, 30 percent was Jewish."

When Stalin grabbed Western Ukraine for the Soviet empire, Red Army officers helped themselves to the homes and apartments of the city's better-off. Factories and their workers were moved here from farther east to replenish the depleted population ...

If the heavy hand of the Soviet dictatorship had not left such a powerful imprint on Lviv, where Joseph Roth, the Austrian-Jewish writer, went to college and where Sholom Aleichem, the originator of "Fiddler on the Roof," wrote some of his stories, this city would almost automatically belong to the European club.

Love of Sevens (Meme)

Brandon did this one, here is my take:

Seven things to do before I die

  • Hike the Atlas Mountains
  • Sight read music on classical guitar
  • Teach a child how to speak French
  • watch all Jean Renoir's films in one sitting
  • live in Chimayo, New Mexico
  • have up to seven rabbits of different breeds
  • buy a small place somewhere in Alsace

Seven things I cannot do
  • play video games
  • bake bread
  • open a jar of pickles
  • sleep on my back
  • read a Victorian novel
  • work an 'eight-hour day'
  • change oil (and any other car-maintenance task)

Seven things that attract me to my best friend
  • reads books that I do not
  • talks about cuisine and wine drinking
  • knows a lot about music and could jam upon occasion
  • travels to interesting places
  • has no interest in talking about her/his car, my car or cars in general, unless the car talk is about Car Talk
  • I let them be the artist, s/he lets me be the historian
  • doesn't use the verb 'disrespect'

Seven things I say most often
  • dude!
  • noch ein/une autre (usually said at a bar)
  • absurd
  • thereof
  • memorialized
  • what the ...
  • (the untranslatable rolling eye for which I am famous)

Seven books (or series) I love
  • The six or seven volumes that make up Jabès' Book of Questions
  • Guo's Soul Mountain
  • The Icelandic Sagas
  • Emile Zola's La Bête Humaine
  • Elisabeth Reichart's February Shadows
  • Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Sebald's The Emigrants

Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • The Great Dictator
  • The Last Laugh
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Wings of Desire (Himmel über Berlin)
  • To Live
  • West Side Story

Seven people I want to join in, too
I don't want to curse that many people, although I will tag Johno at Perfidy and Nuno at Rua da Judiaria

Monday, November 28, 2005

Archive of Sexology

Composing the previous post, I found this interesting resource: the Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology at Humboldt University.

Race and Progressives

At Regions of Mind, Geitner Simmons has a post on the attitudes that people in the women's suffrage movement had about immigrants and minorities:
The women'’s suffrage movement passed through a curious period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During that time, suffragists often criticized extending the franchise to immigrants and racial minorities.

It is ironic that a social movement associated with progressive thought would embrace such prejudice. Still, this isn'’t news. It's long been understood, since at least the pioneering analyses by historian Richard Hofstadter in the 1950s, that racism was a powerful undercurrent in the Progressive movement in particular. ...

The suffragists'’ turn toward elitism is explained well in Alexander Keyssar'’s well-conceived book "“The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States" (Basic Books, 2000). He writes:

"By the 1901, the aging Susan B. Anthony, a witness to a half century of struggle, concluded that one of the three '“great obstacles to the speedy enfranchisement of women' was '“the inertia in the growth of democracy which has come as a reaction following the aggressive movements that with possibly ill-advised haste enfranchised the foreigner, the negro, and the Indian.' "

Keyssar points to a cultural change in the suffragist movement several years later, as voices arose to challenge such thinking:

"The turning point for NAWSA [National American Woman Suffrage Association] came at its 1906 convention, at which child labor reformer Florence Kelley sharply attacked the movement's class and ethnic prejudices. '“I have rarely heard a ringing suffrage speech which did not refer to the '‘ignorant and degraded' men, or the '‘ignorant immigrants' as our masters. This is habitually spoken with more or less bitterness. But this is what the workingmen are used to hear applied to themselves by their enemies in times of strike.' " ...

The mixture of seemingly antithetical positions reminds me of a recent article on August Forel on the occassion of the centennial of the publication of his book, Die Sexueulle Frage. Forel has been celebrated, especially in his native Switzerland, as an advocate of sexual freedom and attacking the foundations of moral laws and regulations (including over same-sex marriage.) He said,
The state cannot forbid a person from exercising mastery over his own body without feigning the role of the advocate of G-d.
Erwin Haebele describes his position:
But which were these abominations that Forel wanted legalized? They were, first of all, the complete legal equality of the sexes and the formal recognition that female house work was just as valid as male work outside the house. In addition, he demanded the decriminalization of concubinage and all mutually consentual sexual relations among adults, including incest and all "perversions" as long as they did not violate the rigths of others. In the case of homosexuality, he even regretted that marriage between men was prohibited, since it would be "quite harmless to society". Moreover, Forel demanded the free availability of all contraceptives, and he even wanted abortion to be allowed in cases of rape, danger to the mother's health, mental illness and similar contingencies. It goes without saying that, at the beginning of our century, such a program, proposed by a renowned scientist, had the character of a provocation.

Despite his desire for openness, Forel was also a leading proponent of eugenics and forced sterilization "for the betterment of the race." He approved of the euthanasia of deformed births and criticized the use of "the healthy" to fight wars.

Both examples show an odd entanglement with the Victorian mentality: revolt against its morality but its obsession with the health of race and nation. There is less of a break from the world of the nineteenth century than an attempt to resituate it more solidly within rational, scientific knowledge that could be just as exclusionary as what preceded it.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Five-Finger Research

Luckily I have only once made the mistake of leaving an archive with a document among my notes. I won't say where it happened, or what I took. But the next day I filed it back in place, and no one was worse of for my "theft." But now I am a bit more attentive in how I organize my workspace.

John William Rooney and his friend appeared before the Parisian courts on Wednesday for much more extensive lifting, including the Treaty of Fountainebleau, in which Napoleon renounced his claim to the imperial throne, from the National Archives. Potential sentence: three years in prison.


From an editorial in Le Monde:
Recent research has shown that the reinforcement of French ghettos can be explained by the flight of lower and upper classes who do not want to take the chance at social mixing.

According to Eric Maurin, "The French ghetto is not so much a place of confrontation between the included and the excluded as a theater in which each group makes a virtue out of flight or sidestepping the group immediately below it."
[Crappy translation is my own.]

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ideal Types and Ideologues

My post on Heidegger's relationship with Nazism garnered some interesting responses. Enowning (of enowning) insists that the philosophical works show no signs of Nazism, and cannot be approached as if they did. I disagree with his position, but it is one that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Brandon of Siris (in comments here and here) tacked hard in the other direction, claiming that the distinction between philosophy and politics is artificial, and that good analysis of Being and Time shows clear influence of Nazism. In his own post, Brandon questions Heidegger's defenders: his innocence can only be shown by "gerrymandering" the boundaries of his philosophy. Shulamite (of the tastefully named Vomit the Lukewark) takes a moderate approach that is open to both interpretations, underlining the compatibility of Heidegger's philosophy and Nazi ideology.

In my gut I know that Brandon is most likely right. Heidegger's work, especially Sein und Zeit, was a conversation in part with Nazi ideology, and to obtain a usable Heidegger, one must construct a double that bears no relationship with Nazism.

But to echo the other opinions, the philosopher plus the Nazi does not, in itself, make the Nazi philosopher. It was all too common for German intellectuals to construct a ideal version of the movement and its beliefs rather than know it sui generis.

Click here to read more.

Few regarded Hitler as an intellectual giant, but they stood behind his anti-Bolshevism, his nationalism, his imperialism, and his restoration of order. An interesting example were the judges, who found it difficult to apply the Nuremburg Laws, even though they willingly swore oaths to the Führer. The regime's racism did not accord with the judges' belief in an orderly state run by laws (Rechtstaat.) Where the regime wanted the courts to rule on the basis of race, it found the judges engaged in too many 'legalism' that watered down the impact of Nuremburg.

The German intellectuals did to Nazism what one must do to Heidegger: they madesanitizedd copies of Nazism that, unfortunately, deluded them to the reality of the regime. It's possible (and I am in no position to judge this) that Heidegger did just that--created an ideal rather than engaged the ideology. Reading back from his philosophy would probably not give us an accurate image of the Third Reich and its principles.

A more complete approach would consider 'the social history' of Heidegger's thought: his relationships with people in academia and politics, his reactions to social movements, and how he fit into the milieu.

[ETA]Peter Gay, in his classic Weimar Culture, described how Heidegger's though played into the malaise felt by Germans:
What Heidegger did was to give philosophical seriousness, professorial respectability to the love affair with unreason and death that dominated so many Germans in this hard time. Thus [he] aroused in his readers feelings of assent, of rightness ... Whatever the precise philosophical import of Sein und Zeit and of the writings that surrounded it, Heidegger's work amounted to a denigration of Weimar, that creature of reason, and an exaltation of movements like that of the Nazis, who thought with their blood, worshipped the charismatic leader, praised and practiced murder, and hoped to stamp out reason--forever--in the drunken embrace of that life which is death ... Heidegger gave no one reasons not to be a Nazi, and good reasons to become one.
For what its worth, I find Gay's analysis of Weimar is weakened by an idealization of what republicanism is and what it can do. He equates it too closely with the Enlightenment.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Welcome Mat

Oh my G-d! I have received as many hits in the last hour as I normally do in five days! All for my post about my experiences of Muslims and Africans in Europe, Strangers on a Train. I can't thank Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit enough for giving me some attention, or Geitner Simmons for recommending my post to him.

Unfortunately, I wish I could offer more to such a prestigious audience. This is a history blog, a reflection of my experiences studying the peoples who live around the Rhine River and their struggles to define their place in the world. Because of my trips to various places in France and Germany, I have had the opportunity to meet people who try to make a place for themselves among people who do not always accept them as members of the same community. The experience seems to be the same, even though the legacies of France and Germany are so different.

Anyway, if you care to look around, you might be interested in some of my writing on European history. My topics can be 'recondite,' as one friend describes them, but they are well informed. Here are some posts that might interest you:
Thank you for stopping by.

Uncle, Uncle, UNCLE!

The boys at Ministry of Minor Perfidy, in the most perverse act ever, have composed the most abstruse poll ever. Don't look under the fold, unless you want your brain to burst. Some of the questions garnered random cursing from me.

Click here to read on.
  • Philip Glass or Terry Riley? Glass (though I prefer Michael Nyman)
    # Milton or Dante? Dante, all the way
  • Mission of Burma or Gang of Four? Burma (Gang of Four asked for way too much money on their tour)
  • Buzzcocks or Wire? Buzzcocks, only because their more fun and sounded better live
  • Webern or Berg? Berg – can’t get enough Woyzeck
  • Vico or Spengler? Spengler was a dick, so Vico by default
  • Addison or Steele? Steele, unless you meant Lexington Steele
  • What’s your favorite Goethe poem? I’ll go with Johanna Sebus for romantic reasons
  • What’s your favorite Keats poem? if you read the previous poll, you’d know I wasn’t an Anglophile
  • What’s your favorite de Kooning work? meh
  • Art Moderne or Bauhaus? Bauhaus
  • Clarke or Asimov? Clarke
  • Joyce or Pynchon? Joyce (don’t believe I picked him as my favorite anything)
  • Dreiser or Dos Passos? Dreiser (more familiar with his work)
  • Lucchese or Gravano? beats me
  • O’Connor or Welty? neither strike my fancy
  • The New Criterion or The New Yorker? New Criterion
  • Granta or The Paris Review? Granta
  • Ghengis Khan or Alexander The Great? Ooh, good question: Ghengis Kahn
  • Jean-Luc Godard or Krzysztof Kieslowski? Godard
  • Nino Rota or Ennio Morricone? Morricone
  • The Romance of Three Kingdoms or Journey To The West? not familiar with either
  • Bolshoi or Mariinsky? no opinion
  • Alvin Ailey or Jerome Robbins? Robbins
  • Laphroaig or Lagavulin? &^%##%^
  • Golden Cavendish or cube-cut Virginia? um, er, uh ....
  • Beluga or Savruga? Whatever they put on my salmon roll
  • My Favorite Things or A Love Supreme? A Love Supreme, just for the opening bassline and the brilliant drumming
  • Beethoven: better at Cleveland under von Dohnanyi or New York under Bernstein? Bernstein
  • Chanson de Roland or Orlando Furioso? Only read Chanson de Roland
  • Esalen or Chautauqua? Chautauqua
  • Grand Crus: Montrachet or Chambertin? no opinion
  • Explain the faults in reasoning in act ii, scene three of King Lear. Hmm, when was is that Lord Ichimonji was forced to leave his palace?
  • Guryevich or Tolstoy? Tolstoy
  • Kepler or Brahe? Brahe
  • Louenhoek or Galileo? Galileo
  • Ruprecht or Heeringen? must remain neutral
  • Castelnau or Bulow? I don’t know which Castelnau, but von Bülow was a jerk
  • Best military memoir - Gallic Wars or the Anabasis? Another good one: Gallic Wars
  • Most literate general - Wellington or Caesar? Caesar
  • What, in your opinion, is the single greatest flaw with the new Michelin Guide: New York, and what differentiates it from Zagat? #$%^&^%$#@$%^&
  • Which is the correct condiment for a roast beef on sourdough: aioli or brown horseradish mustard? And what cheese would be most appropriate for that sandwich: farmhouse cheddar or washed-rind tomme? since I’m veg and kosher, I am a bad person to ask, but I’d go with the mustard and cheddar
  • For a five course formal dinner, how many spoons would you find to the left of the dinner plate? none–trick question
  • Who’s your favorite Muslim naturalist? there are Muslim naturalists?
  • Who was more important in the decline of Christianity in the west, Descartes or Newton? Descartes
  • Whose Protestantism (Puritanism) do you feel had more of an effect on the shaping of the American politicial and social landscape: John Calvin or John Owen? Owen, if you give him a gun
  • Favorite sophist? Lucian
  • Who do you feel was more responsible for the development of the Calculus, Newton or Leibniz? Leibniz, only ‘cause Newton is a jerk
  • Euclidian or Reimann [sic] topology? shot in the dark: Riemann
  • Which Superstring theory is most likely to survive intact if M-theory proves valid? $%^&*
  • Favorite pre-Revolution Russian mathematician and why? (&**&^%^$
  • DiBergi or Smithee? I can't resist picking Meathead
  • Sidd Finch or War Of The Worlds? abstain

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Random Notes

Looking at us looking at them: Apparently the French media is annoyed that the American media turned suburban Paris into downton Baghdad:
On the news channels, the dramatization and the mise en scene were always spectacular and without nuance ... [they] compared the riots to the war in Iraq or the earthquake in Pakistan, with maps, reporters at the sight of [tension], and numerous invited experts ... They concerned themselves with the history of the suburbs and immigration in France, asked about the origins of the violence and were above all interested in possible connections with Islamist terrorism.

Never a cop when you need one: Sharon at Early Modern Notes describes an interesting case of murder in 17th century England:
If any killing is a sad affair, there is something particularly poignant about this one: the waiting wife who would never see her husband again, the identification based on clothes and the contents of pockets, the killerÂ’s distraught mother (the magistrate who examined her - who had no sympathy for her son - thought that she had become mentally disturbed ("touched") and asked that she might be excused appearing in court).
She found this to be a rare case because the murder did not occur within the context of the local community.
But it makes you wonder, reminds you of the limitations of early modern policing. None of these places are that far apart, after all ... If Andrew [the victim] had been just a little further from home, perhaps Sarah [his wife] would never have tracked him down at all; if Richard [the killer] had not simply run home, he might well have got away with it.
Breadcrumbs: Johno at Ministry of Minor Perfidy (or is it Perve-idy) decided to take Brandon's quiz. Calling himself the "least appreciate great thinker in history" leaves little to research, but he does a splendid job of playing with beer, food, and music.

Speaking of Food: Sharon recommends French onion soup as a fall delight. I disagree ... completely. If you live anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line, you need roasted squash soup:
one butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
two medium red potatoes, cubed
one apple (I like Braeburns), seeded and cubed
one medium Vidalia onion, chopped
one medium leek, thinly chopped
one bulb of garlic, top 1/5 chopped off.
olive oil
one tablespoon (or more) chili powder
3 cups broth
3 cups water
Combine the squash, potatoes, apple, onion, and leek and use just enough olive oil to coat it. Add the chili powder and salt. Place in a roasting pan, cover with foil, and put it into a 425 degree F oven. Cover the top of the garlic bulb with olive oil, wrap in tin foil, and roast separately from the squash mix. Stir squash mixture after 30 minutes. Leave in for another 10-15 minutes with foil off. Remove squash mixture and garlic from the oven. Combine broth and water and heat to boil. Lower heat and stir in squash. Squeeze out the roasted garlic into a bowl. Put one tablespoon of the garlic into the soup. Puree to your wishes. Serve with bread and roasted garlic on the side.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Preventable Demise of Mr. Heidegger

Jean-Luc Nancy recently asked,
why are Heidegger and Freud subjected to the return of operations of denunciation and demolition? (Le Monde, November 4, 2005)
With regard to Martin Heidegger, the problem is his association with Nazism. Becoming involved with the party, supporting its programs within the context of the university, and (purportedly) compromising his writings to the ideology of the party, Heidegger has become a poster child for the relationship of the intellectual to the authoritarian state. Nancy counters that Heidegger's concern for existence (l'être) is not anchored in ideology. The philosophy of Dasein belongs to the modern discourse on the human condition. Read more!

Heidegger could be seen like the “grays”: the intelligentsia of the Eastern Bloc who joined communist parties to practice their professions. They became defenders of democracy after the communist regimes fell. Pierre Bordieu wrote that a standard reading of Heidegger’s philosophical works reveals no footprints of Nazi ideology or politics.
Not even the most ruthless investigators into the author of Sein und Zeit's murky compromises with Nazism have looked into the texts themselves for indices, admissions, or hints liable to reveal or elucidate the political commitment of its author.
With the exception of a few compromises, Heidegger insulated his texts from politics. The obscurity of language, the inclination towards pure academia, the separation of philosophy from Fascist discourse -- taken at face value, his writings show no commitment to Nazism and no desire to spread it. Any evidence that he was a Nazi thinker must come from outside his philosophy. (Bourdieu characterizes this as avoidance, and Heidegger enclosed himself intellectually without realizing his own conservatism.)

Heidegger suffered from the disease that plagued German intellectuals of his era: the pretension to political disengagement under which lies a preference for nationalism (after Hegel: a state without parties is a state without conflict.) Claiming to be apolitical, they distrusted the chaotic partisanship of Weimar. Under the Third Reich they could pretend to be disengaged and after 1945, they could claim that they were not involved in the Nazi state. Even some who did resist did so because they felt that the Nazi revolution made apathy impossible.

Some intellectuals dressed their scholarship to address ideology, hoping to find favor with the party. Ethnologist Hans Naumann happily spoke the praises of Nazism as Jewish books burned in the middle of Berlin. But he fooled himself into thinking that he could become a leading scholar of the Third Reich: he tried to equate his cultural aristocracy with the Führerprinzip, but his assertion that the common people were not creative, but rather the consumers and perverters of culture produced by the elite, was out of step with Nazism's celebration the völkisch nation. The party, needless to say, ignored him.

I find Heidegger’s indifference to politics within his philosophy difficult to swallow. According to Rene Schickele’s diaries, Heidegger was deeply involved with Nazi groups at the university by mid-1932 ... before the seizure of power. Around the same time, he positioned himself in his lectures (represented in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics) as a critique of movements that like Nazism, interpreted personal malaise as historical conflict:
These world-historical diagnoses and prognoses of culture do not involve us, they do not attack us. On the contrary, they release us from ourselves and present us to ourselves in a world-historical situation and role ... at best [this philosophy of culture] sees what is contemporary, yet a contemporaneity which is entirely without us, which is nothing other than what belongs to the eternal yesterday ... it unties us from ourselves in imparting us a role in world history. Our flight and disorientation, the illusion and our lostness become more acute ...

We do not ultimately need any diagnoses or prognoses of culture in order to make sure of our situation, because they merely provide us with a role and untie us from ourselves, instead of helping us to want to find ourselves ... We may not, therefore, flee from ourselves in some convoluted idle talk about culture, nor pursue ourselves in a psychology motivated by curiosity.
Heidegger spoke specifically of the thought of Oswald Spengler, Ludwig Klages, Max Scheler, and Leopold Ziegler. His critique could be applied to so many systems of belief, but in context these were movements that dealt with degeneration (Entartung.) Nazism borrowed strongly from that discourse, explaining misfortune as international and racial hostility.

Heidegger’s thought may not be tainted, but it is enfeebled, by his early involvement with Nazism. He cautioned against involvement in similar movements, engaging them, but was also willing to join.

Progress and the German Gothic

Taking Brandon's recommendation, I looked up philosopher and historian of science William Whewell, who apparently wrote on Gothic architecture in Germany (something which interests me: see here and here), contextualizing it within scientific progress. I found this paper, given by Jonathan Smith of the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 1994.
In 1838, Whewell wrote a poem entitled "Gothic Architecture" that captures the essence of his approach to the study of architecture. The speaker recounts the tale of his conversion from devotee of Classical architecture to lover of Gothic. Returning from Italy, confirmed in the precept that architecture should be "proportion'd, simple, and symmetrical," he sees the medieval cathedrals of northern Europe as "lofty piles": on the outside they are "formless and wild," while on the inside they reveal "still wider disarray" and "deeper confusion unintelligible." Looking more closely, however, and following the lines from vault to shaft to floor, he suddenly appreciates the structural mechanics of the cathedral:

behold! each shaft
Bore its own burden in that branched vault,
And all that ponderous mass was firm upheld
By staves, each staff apportioned to its load.
And when again the eye from floor to roof
Had travelled up the pillar's side,--behold!
Those oblique shafts retired had each its load,
Each its due portion of that stony frame,
Yet ordered all beneath that pillar'd vault.

Instead of seeing meaningless complexity, the speaker now sees a system of interrelationships: the simplicity and symmetry of Classical architecture is "well replaced" by "subordination" and "sympathy"--"not likeness, . . . but a bond / Of common ends".

... Whewell argues that medieval architecture is one of the few exceptions to this otherwise "stationary period." Although the knowledge of mechanical principles necessary for building a Gothic cathedral cannot be said to be science because it is not systematic and speculative, the architecture of the Middle Ages does show evidence of "the progress of scientific ideas" and of being "the prelude to the period of discovery." In Whewell's view, the "possession" of "the idea of mechanical pressure and support" necessary for the construction of Gothic cathedrals "led . . . to its speculative development as the foundation of a science; and thus architecture prepared the way for mechanics."

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Troubled Neighborhoods"

From the speech Chirac gave last night (my translation):
It is a crisis of direction, a crisis of references, it is a crisis of identity. We will respond to it by being firm, just, and faithful to the values of France ...

Thanks to the schools, thanks to the work of educators, a considerable number of youths who com from the troubled neighborhoods (quartiers difficiles) succeed in all areas/ But certain territories accrue too many problems, too many difficulties. Territories confronted by violence and [illegal] trafficking. Territories where unemployment is massive and urbanism inhumane. Territories where children lack schooling, where many young people are at pains to find employment, even when they succceed in their studies ...

Much has already been done: urban zones to bring employment back to the neighborhoods; the plan for urban renovation to replace [the high rises] with more humane habitation ... The education law is in effect: it gives to each student the means to acquire the foundations of indispensible knowledge and permits him/her to fight against the plague of illiteracy ...

However, my fellow citizens, we will not change these things in depth without the effort of each person. Without a profound evolution of the spirit ...

We know well that discrimination undermine the very foundations of our Republic. A high authority to fight discrimination has been created. Its powers are considerable, seeing as it must impose sanctions. But we must not fool ourselves. The battle can won only if each and every one of us involves himself truly and personally. ...
Chirac seems to hit all the right notes, addressing the suburbs and discrimination. It looks to me, however, that there is more weight on the former than the latter. He speaks of racism, but not race. He never mentions Muslims, or Islam, or Africains. If he is content to orient solutions towards "troubled neighborhoods," than the debate might be sterile.

Rilke in French

I have been reading through The Complete French Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Definitely an exhibit for the question I raised earlier in the year, Rilke's poems in French are a serious part of his work, although of a different atmosphere than his German works (sample some here.) His verses are still insightful and elegant, but charming. There is a sense that he needed an escape from the intensity of his German poems, where he explored the interiority of faith, love and art to its fullest. The subject matter is simpler and effortless. As WD Snodgrass wrote in the foreward,
I cannot help wondering how much this coloring [light, deftness and playfulness] may be influenced by the different language; but perhaps it is merely that the fearful confrontation of the abyss had receded further into the past.
Snodgrass may think that they can be dismissed, but the poems exhibit the qualities of other Rilkean poems, but without urgency -- miniatures after masterpieces.

A bigger question might be what Rilke wanted to say to a French reading audience. Many of the poems describe the Valais in Switzerland. In some poems, it seems that he wants to transcend national differences, to say that no one nation possesses the spirit of right at all times.
Haughty wind tormenting the flag
in the blue neutrality of the sky,
even changing its color
as if offering it to other nations
over rooftops. Impartial wind,
wind of the whole world, uniting wind,
evoking worthy gestures,
O you, provoking interchangeable movements!
The unfurled flag reveals its full escutcheon--
but in its folds, what tacit universal!

And yet, how proud the moment
when the wind instantly declares itself
for a given country: consents to France
or is suddenly infatuated
with the legendary Harps of green Ireland.
Showing the whole picture like a card player
who plays his trump
and who, with a gesture and anonymous smile,
recalls ... I don't know what image
of the changing G-ddess.

Winners and Losers

Even though the left and right have been building the gallows on which to hang Sarkozy, he may come out ahead in the political scheme of things.

Unless Mr. Chirac can somehow take charge of the crisis and end it quickly, many people believe he could be a spent political force after the crisis dies down.

Mr. Sarkozy could confound his critics and emerge stronger politically when it is over. His forceful performance continues to fascinate the French news media, though a worsening crisis would carry high risk for him.

Mr. Villepin initially distanced himself from Mr. Sarkozy's hard-line position but was slow in coming up with a promised "action plan" of his own that would address the frustration of youth born to immigrants. He closed ranks with Mr. Sarkozy as the violence grew, eventually declaring the country's first state of emergency in 50 years.

Whatever points Mr. Hollande is making, the Socialists appear to be in too much disarray to pose a credible threat yet to Mr. Chirac's governing party.

The rioting seems to play into Mr. Le Pen's arguments, but any support he may garner could be diluted by the loss of some of his voters to Mr. Sarkozy.

Mothers on the edge of a nervous breakdown

This weekend my wife and I went to the Northampton Independent Film Festival, an annual event that features small productions, shorts, and documentaries. It used to be a larger event with some major productions as well as popular performances by the Alloy Orchestra. Unfortunately, it has contracted each year. Still, the festival makes a fun weekend.

In the Land of Milk and Money stood out among this year's films. Written and directed by Susan Emshwiller (daughter of sci-fi novelist Carol Emshwiller), it takes a comic look at how a consumer society treats the emotions of women. A dairy company, experimenting with cow genetics, develops milk products that makes mothers kill their own children. The company, admitting nothing, promises to develop a cure for the disease MOODS. In the meanwhile, the mothers are put into concentration camps (filmed at Manzanar.) Men and women fear and reject motherhood (as reproduction and a form of socio-economic activity.) Men become independent of spouses, but are forced to look to the market for services that women provided for free. Click to read full post

The film is 100% camp. The effects are cheap, and there is no pretension to scientific accuracy. The endangered mothers are stock characters from the 1950s, with their hair in buns, aprons around their waists, and rolling pins in their hands. Their attempts at infanticide reflect the '50's material world: poisoned mayonnaise, blenders, cast-iron skillets. They are sympathetic characters, even if they are trapped somewhere between tradition and science. In fact, one of the most effective things about the film is why such traditional types are either rejected or confined.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Strangers on a Train

A few years back I struck up a conversation with a French Muslim on a train from Paris to Strasbourg. To be honest, he struck up a conversation with me as I was too cold and tired to have made the effort on my own. For five hours we talked, mostly about higher education in France and America. Johnny (his nickname) drew a complicated diagram that explained the different tracks of study, depending upon discipline, as a French student worked her/his way up the ranks. I tried to explain American academia to him, but we kept stumbling over the same obstacle: every time I mentioned the baccalaureate, he thought I was talking about high school, not college (in many Latinic countries, the "Bac" is a high school degree.)

We also talked about our fields of study. He specialized in computer programming, so there was little that I could understand (especially in French.) However, we shared an interest in French history. Johnny knew little about Strasbourg and Alsace -- every weekend he took the train out to see his son. He admitted that while Paris was exciting, he felt a bit more at ease outside the neighborhood where he lived. What he liked was late Classical/early Medieval France. He had taken numerous trips up and down the western coast to see some of the earliest churches and pagan worship spaces. For someone in the science, he was well versed in this one area of French history and archeology.

As the train passed through Bar le Duc, he admitted to me that he rarely has conversations with non-Muslims that are so fulfilling. I laughed: our conversation had stretched my conversational abilities to the breaking point, and I made many grammatical mistakes because of fatigue. That was not what he meant. Few Frenchmen paid as much attention to what he had to say. He talked about how he felt about being a French Muslim, born in country but not taken seriously. Unable to talk directly to his experiences, I tried to talk about minority experiences in America. I knew I was not communicating directly to his concerns. I imagined his predicament in American terms.

As I equated things that made sense to me about integration and advancement, I hit a nerve. "More education!?" he said. I wasn't sure what had given him a shock. "Why should I have more education? I move on to the next level, studying more, because the degrees I have earned don't help me to get a job. I look forward only to more education." He had no faith that an employer would give him the chance to practice what he studied (he tried hard to find a job) so he continued to study.

This chance meeting was not unique. I've had it many times in France and Germany: a conversation with an enthusiastic Muslim or African who is surprised that someone will pay attention. Listening to them, I find that they are enthusiastic about their European homeland (adopted or natal.) They are culturally aware, exhibiting (what I consider) good social practices for their milieu. Yet they remain outsiders. I have also asked Frenchmen and Germans about Muslims and Africans: "Why are people who seem assimilated not accepted?" The question can turn a conversation on its end, turning transnational discourse into national defense.

The explanations that I hear through gritted teeth are nothing but cliches. "Immigrants" (which describes even the second generation born in country) are not assimilated. They retain backward traditions. They come just to earn money and send it home. They get brides from the mother country, locking them away and not doing anything to assimilate them. They don't learn the language, so they become rabble-rousers rather than hard workers. They are a problem for society.

The litany of complaints are familiar to me: Frenchmen used them to discredit the protests of Alsatians in the 1920s. They were used to discredit regionalist movements in Brittany and Provence. They were used to discredit traditional Catholics. They belong to a discourse of nationality and nationalization that shifts attention from discourse between national identity and ethnicity to the "other." Indeed, the most understanding Frenchmen said that it was not up to them to understand Alsatians, only for Alsatians to change. Race deepens the problem.

At least in Germany Muslims and Africans know that they are not accepted. The Turks, generations after being invited to work in the factories, are still not citizens, and they are subjected to an arduous process of naturalization. And there is an ongoing, albeit uncomfortable, discourse about how Germans view race. But the French constitution, which calls anyone born in the territory a citizen, obscures the problems of acceptance. Being taken seriously as a Frenchmen require more than a passport.

Despite knowing that non-Europeans were viewed with suspicion, I was arrogant to claim that I understood his frustration. Understanding how the "other" was "constructed" was not a substitute for their experiences and identifications. The rioters in the suburbs and cities are inarticulate youths who have not really tasted the frustration experienced by their older brother and sisters and their parents. As much as the "fires" must be put out, all segments of French society must turn to the population that it continually constructs as "the immigrants" to see it for what it is. They are not unassimilated, as the right would see them, or carriers of the Revolutionary tradition, as socialists have recently described them (do they really want to justify the Terror?). Hearing Villepin call for more education and more support to community groups to integrate young "immigrants," I know that Johnny is laughing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I'm game

Brandon invites bloggers to get away from work to consider a few questions. As you can tell, I decided to cut against the grain.

1) Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? Balzac -- no one should accuse me of being an Anglophile
2) Who is your favorite George Eliot character? Büchner's Woyzeck -- no one should accuse me of being a fan of Victorian Literature
3) What is your favorite play by Sophocles? Antigone (I use it to teach Classical Greece)
4) What is your favorite play by Euripides? The Bacchae
5) What is your favorite play by Shakespeare? Racine's Iphigenia (see #1)
6) Plato or Aristotle? Aristotle (I can be didactic, too)
7) Name two movies that most people have probably never seen that you would highly recommend. Belizaire the Cajun and The Unheart Music.
8) Foucault's Pendulum or The Name of the Rose? The Name of the Rose.
9) Tea or Coffee? Coffee, only because I feel cheated ordering tea while out.
10) In your opinion, the least appreciated great thinker in history is: Egyptian /French/Jewish poet Edmond Jabès and German sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld.

And perhaps I'll add a few more questions:
11) Heidegger and Foucault? Heidegger
12) Hemingway or Steinbeck? Steinbeck
13) If you had to say one Oliver Stone film was more historical than the rest, which would you pick? The Doors (despite the hagiography of Jim Morrison, it holds up better than the other films, especially Platoon)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Drafting the Disaster

Now that the burning, upturned cars are finding their way into the center of Paris and other French cities, I want to bring up some places where I addressed issues relevant to the "Muslim question" in France. BTW, I think that Sarkozy has gotten a bad rap for his tough talk: before the riots, he was the only French politician addressing these issues.

May 13, 2004:

This cartoon appeared in
Le Monde on Tuesday (May 11, 2004). It shows a school in which Muslim clerics are being educated in French. The bubble reads “What do you call a female imam?” (Literally: “what is the feminine of imam?”)

The issue of Muslims in France is more complex than the banning of head scarves and other religious symbols in public schools. France is struggling with the question of how to harmonize Islam with political culture. ... secularization means more than removing faith from public life. It means making a French version of Islam: one that confirms the values that the society holds, and one that does not look outside France for leadership.

September 9, 2004
The law against wearing veils in French classrooms is not being enforced in Strasbourg. Because Alsace has unique rules about teaching religion in schools, some school officials feel that it is inappropriate to deny religious freedoms that other Alsatian students enjoy.

The school officials do not feel that they can act against veils because of the tradition of religious education. Islam is not taught in Alsatian schools (like other religions). However, officials do not feel they can act against the veils because the presence of religion is tolerated in schools. Furthermore, the local Muslim community feels that the issue of the veil can be used as an opening to introduce instruction of Islam into schools.
En raison du statut scolaire local, qui n'englobe pas l'islam, les élèves musulmans n'ont en effet pas cours de religion, à la différence de leurs camarades des cultes catholique, luthérien, réformé et juif. La situation peut-elle évoluer ... en préconisant un enseignement de la religion optionnel pour tous ?
So far 80 of the 100-120 cases in which girls have refused to uncover themselves are in Alsace.

October 20, 2004:

The hope that Muslims in Alsace would find some accommodation with school authorities has been dashed. Two girls have been expelled from two lycées in Mulhouse (southern Alsace) for wearing veils and bandanas as a sign of religious devotion, and two more cases are pending in Strasbourg (via Talk Left).

Update: The original law against the veil (loi de 15 mars) specified that religious attire was prohibited. The students attempted to meet the law half way, wearing bandanas as a means of keeping their heads covered in lieu of "Muslim veils". Education officials ruled that the bandanas had taken on religious significance because of their constant use and because they cover the entirety of the scalp. The ministry of education considers the bandanas to be an evolution of religious symbols.

October 25, 2004:
The French paper Le Figaro gave a lot of attention to a book by French finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Describing himself as a practicing Catholic, Sarkozy reevaluates the 99-year old laws on secularism that have been used to justify banning religion from public life. While Sarkozy upholds the loi laïc as a protection for republicanism, he opines that France will need to make some exceptions to secularism in order to integrate Muslims into French society. Sarkozy carries a lot of weight in France--he is expected to become the next head of the conservative UMP--and his opinion will be taken seriously.

November 16, 2004:
Chirac and Raffarin are rejecting Sarkozy's suggestion that the 1905 secular laws should be moderated to let religion (especially Muslims) come into French public life.

November 22, 2004, at the ceremonies for the liberation of Alsace:
Many of the speeches attempted to strike notes of cultural reconciliation. Some described the final expulsion of the Germans as the moment when rapprochement between France and Germany could truly begin. Raffarin, adding a little bit of contemporary politics, compared the oppression of the occupation with the current religious intolerance against Jews and Muslims.

January 14, 2005:
Kai Littmann at EUROPEUS believes that the hate crimes being perpetrated in Alsace are not merely expressions of racism. The graffiti left behind at a recent incident — the attempt to burn down the home of a spokesman of a regional Islamic organization — suggests that the larger issue is migration and crossborder movement.

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

January 23, 2005, concerning a study of racist groups in France:
The right no longer looks at communists as their "worst enemy" -- that is position is now taken by Jews and Americans, and increasingly, Muslims.
La grande majorité de ces groupuscules est islamophobe : ils confondent islam et islamisme, le premier étant selon eux incapable de modernisation et portant en germe le second. Mais cela ne signifie pas pour autant que l'antisémitisme a disparu chez eux, comme l'a montré la vague de profanations l'an passé, dont une bonne partie peut être attribuée à la mouvance d'extrême droite.

July 4, 2005, concerning the novel Le ventre de l'Atlantique:
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.

September 16, 2005:
Every few weeks the French press spits out the same article: polygamy is exploding the hexagonne, the result of the immigrants from Mali who refuse to abandon the practice in contravention of national laws and norms. They come with one wife, perhaps sneak another in later. Or they divorce in the eyes of officials, but remain domiciled. The women, both young and old, are trapped by economic dependence, their lack of familiarity with French, and their adherence to traditions.

The latest of such articles appeared today in Le Figaro. Fatou, who married her cousin, is one of three wives and who has seven of her husband's nineteen children, has been technically divorced since 1993. She would like to establish her own household, but she hasn't the means to do so. Making things complicated for her, officials have refused to renew permission that allows her to continue to live with her ex-spouse.

Certainly polygamy has become a major problem, both socially and legally. Men play a game of misdirection with bureaucrats in their native and adoptive countries. They bring over women who, because of their lack of familiarity with French culture and language, are functionally dependent. They feel powerless to resist their husband's further housemaking.

Divorces are farces, allowing the men to marry again and making the women eligible for government aid -- money which the husbands more often than not send home to their native communities. The government attempts to help them gain independence by giving financial incentives to separate, paying for apartments and care. Still, the economic and psychological costs are high.

The differences between France and the US are interesting. Both countries perceive that they have problems with immigration. But each focuses on a different archetypes. For Americans, the (illegal) immigrant is often a gang-banger or drug dealer -- a character who breaks the law and consumes public resources.

The French also associate their immigrants with hoodlumism, but they use a paradigm of the subordination of women to understand the problem. The wife in a plural marriage is a carryover from a primitive and corrupt society. Her condition worsens because she is incapable of assimilating: she has not been educated because the society from which she comes does not value intelligent women. Consequently, the French discourse focuses on saving these women (and their families) from men who liberate themselves by living in France but turn their households into bastions of tradition.

October 11, 2005:
The centennial [of the laws of secularism] could not have come at a worse time. As girls are being suspended from schools for wearing headscarves, Muslims are clinging to religion in its most traditional form as a form of resistance. Nikolas Sarkozy, perhaps the next president of the republic, has suggested that the law must be revisited to give Muslims the ability to assimilate and France the ability to assimilate them. Chirac, mindful of the tensions, has recommended that commemoration of the law be kept to a minimum.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Random Notes

Wow! The weather has warmed a bit over the weekend. I even saw Kim Gordon strolling Northampton in shorts.

Collectivization: NaNoWriMo has begun (thanks to Aeogae for the tip). It's an orgy of writing, 50,000 words in one month, as a means of jumpstarting whatever literary projects have been lurking in the back of one's brain. Not only is Aeogae participating (you can track her progress at her blog, ), but also Buckethead at Ministry of Minor Perfidy. Also, Buckethead has assembled an incredible Carnival of Music. Not to be outshone, the latest History Carnival is up at (a)musings of a graduate student and Carnival of Feminists. Finally, the history bloggers will pat themselves on the back in the first History Blogging Awards. Just like in American elections, you can go here to vote and vote often.

The Paolos? I gave up on this team early when they got lost in their own backyard and spent the rest of the episode arguing. Now first place two weeks in a row? They work together, compliment each other, respect each other, and hustle. On the other hand, I have no words for the family who call the other teams 'retarded' and accuse women of having breast implants.

Divine judgment: Rua da Judiaria pulls out a great document from the Jewish community of Hamburg. In the document, the community, composed of Sephardim who fled from the Inquisition in Portugal, comments on 1756 earthquake in Lisbon. (Read it in English).

Battling On: Jonathan Dresner noted that in his inaugural post at his new home, Zid compared the historian to the second-rate soldiers who kept the peace in Eastern Europe after WWI. I love the reference of Tavernier's film, but this line is priceless:
History puts the knife between the teeth.
To the front!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


After numerous recommendations, I finally watched Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer is probably my favorite painter (along with Paul Klee, van Goyen, and Delacroix), and I concentrated on social and cultural history of the Low Countries for the early modern field on my comps. I agree with what many people have said, including Brdgt, that the director and cinematographer succeeded in recreating the light and atmosphere of his paintings. Ironically, they may have produced more Vermeer-esque interiors than Vermeer himself.

Unfortunately, I wish I were listening to something else while watching the movie. The story -- I don't know if it was the author of the book or the screenwriter who adapted the novel -- missed a lot by creating a story about artistic obsession and female objectification. Vermeer's paintings, so cool and restrained, resituated desire in bourgeois virtue and piety. The Dutch mentality was driven in opposing directions: the accumulation and guilt of success. Houses filled with things and people that successful businessmen loathed to enjoy. Vermeer's women could be as distant as the objects that surrounded them. In the film Vermeer possessed but never created the distance that typified his work.