Saturday, December 31, 2005

Eretz Israel, Ersatz Germany

Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945) was unique. She broke the conventions of poetry as easily as she broke the conventions of femininity. She became the prototype of the Weimar artist, poor, almost homeless, living off handouts in Berlin boarding houses. She was androgynous and promiscuous, styling herself in oriental clothes and playing with the boundaries of gender. Her own friends assumed that she was insane.

As much as she played with gender, she also clung to her Jewishness. She explores aspects of Jewish identity in many works. Her understanding of Jewishness, however, was not taken from Judaism itself. It was constructed from within German culture. She interpreted the contents of Judaism in terms of the spirituality that pervaded German culture of the early twentieth century. It borrowed the emotions and elation of poetry and music. But when she was forced into exile from Germany, her sense of Jewishness collapsed.

Lasker-Schüler structured identity in rather unique ways. She styled herself to express a multivalent personality, dressing androgynously, acting promiscuously, and speaking of herself in different genders. She was once recorded as saying, “Thank G-d I am Jew,” referring to herself in the masculine rather than feminine. The personalities that she created, for herself and in her works, were seldom self-representations. At times they mediated between self and society; other times, they were perspectives of a complex personality.

Lasker-Schüler’s earliest writings reflected, in part, the bleak landscape of the Wuppertal, an industrial region on the right bank of the Rhine River to the north of Cologne, where she was born. Her play, Die Wupper, did not so much critique industrialism than mystify the region. Her works had already showed propensities for abstraction and expressionism. None of her other works revealed a desire to promote the local, the Land, and her later works, during the period when she lived in Berlin, showed more appreciation for cosmopolitanism and striving for universalism.

Her Heimat, if any, was German. Language was her home, the source of her ideas, the root of her universe.
I do not know the speech
Of this cool land,
I cannot keep its pace.
Her concepts of Jewish identity and femininity were built from her understanding, and revolt against, German literature. Her Hebrew Ballads have been criticized for lacking a solid sense of Jewish traditions. She was either non-chalant or ignorant of tradition, building an ethnic (rather than religious) understanding of Judaism. Miller says that the ballads employ the narratives of the Old Testament (Tanakh) to criticize the misogyny, patriarchy (read Jacob and Esau) and militarism of German society. (It has also been suggested that her ignorance was a condition shared by other Jewish women of the time–their religious education was not valued.)

In the 1930s Lasker-Schüler became a favorite target of the Nazis. She was the worst of Weimar, the epitome of the intellectual Jewess. Moreover, she had been subjected to several attacks. She moved to Switzerland, but eventually her German citizenship was revoked in 1938, requiring her to move to Palestine.

She seemed indifferent to Palestine. Rather than seeing it as a new home, it was a permanent exile. She was not at ease with Palestine, Israel, Jerusalem, Hebrew or Yiddish. She felt separated from other Jews, especially when they resented German language as a symbol of antisemitism and genocide. The romantic attachment that she showed towards Palestine in her early poetry never materialized when it became her home. Moreover, the language in which she expressed herself became hostile terrain.

Lasker-Schüler was not the only Jewish author who wrote in German to experience the alienation from it. Yvan Goll, an Alsatian Jews, escaped the conundrum of German by also writing in French (although seldom the same poems in both languages.) Another Alsatian, Nathan Katz, found the local dialect of the tiny Sundgau as a fruitful place from which to compose in a Germanic dialect. Most notoriously, Paul Celan reinvented German by unearthing archaic language and composing impossible compounds, stretching the abilities of the German language to their limit.

German-Jews, in many cases, found it difficult to separate themselves from German culture, even after awareness of the Holocaust was widespread. They came to believe in its value, and to trust in their own assimilation. The sounds of Wagner continued to move them to tears.

Lasker-Schüler seemed similarly trapped. Able to reinvent femininity, she was trapped by labguage. Her late, post-exile works revealed feeling of homelessness, the loss of a cultural realm that should could call home. Even as the Holocaust forced her to confront the incompatibility of Judaism and German culture, she fought to keep the ruined terrain of German language as a refuge from her feelings of isolation and separation.

Ich habe zu Hause ein blaues Klavier
Und kenne doch keine Note.

(At home I have a blue piano
although I know none of the notes)

Es steht im Dunkel der Kellertür,
Seitdem die Welt verrohte.

(It is dark in the cellar
since the world was brutalized)

Es spielten Sternenhände vier
– Die Mondfrau sang im Boote –
Nun tanzen die Ratten im Geklirr.

(It played in 4/4 time
--the moon woman sang on the boat--
now the rats dance with its clanging.)

Zerbrochen ist die Klaviatür…
Ich beweine die blaue Tote.

(Broken is the piano's lid ...
I bemaon the blue death.)

Ach liebe Engel öffnet mir
– Ich aß vom bitteren Brote –
Mir lebend schon die Himmelstür –
Auch wider dem Verbote.

(Oh dear Angel open to me
--I have eaten from the bitter bread--
The gates of Heaven are already open to me,
contrary to prohibition.)

[English phrases translated by yours truly.]


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Converso Spaces

An interesting little article from the AP about the discovery of a secret synagogue in a church in Porto.
A chance discovery in recent months during renovations of a building in this Atlantic port city has revealed a dark secret from Portugal's past: a 16th-century synagogue.

Built when Portugal's Jews had been forced to convert to Catholicism or risk being burned at the stake, the house of worship was hidden behind a false wall in a four-story house that the Rev. Agostinho Jardim Moreira, a Roman Catholic priest, was converting into a home for some older parishioners. Father Moreira, a scholar of Porto's Jewish history, said that as soon as the workers told him of the wall, "I knew there had to be some kind of Jewish symbol behind it." ...

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Science of ID

Brian Ogilvie, a former professor of mine, wrote an article that looks at natural theology in the 17th century as an early example of intelligent design and its problems:

... Natural theology had identified design as the best proof for God's existence. It had an optimistic view of design: this was the best of all possible worlds, the human eye the best of all possible eyes. This argument glossed over some obvious problems. Why do some people get cataracts? Why do our eyes have a blind spot where the optic nerve plunges through the retina? To natural theology, which argued that the Designer is perfect, just, and all-powerful, these flaws were embarrassing. Even before Darwin, they opened up natural theology, and the Christianity it supported, to skeptical attacks.

... If, by chance, Intelligent Design develops a real scientific research program and identifies biological adaptations that evolution cannot explain, scientists will not become modern-day natural theologians in droves. Instead, they'll start seeking a better natural explanation. If Intelligent Design is a real science, its proponents should welcome this possibility. If they shudder at the thought, they should stop cheapening their religious beliefs by trying to pass them off as science.

Long ago, Saint Augustine warned Christians that spouting falsehoods about science would only make their faith seem ridiculous. Intelligent Design proves him right.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Sunday Reading

I doubt that anyone is out there reading on the internet. Contrary to most people, I am doing work before I light the first Chanukah candles in eight hours.

Joel at Far Outliers writes about "How Koreans Chose Japanese Names," an interesting analysis of how names get converted that bears some resemblance to how certain German names became Jewish. More and more, foreign names are being rendered into phonetic spelling because of pressure from Koreans:
But the practice now is to render such names into katakana approximations of their sound values in standard Chinese or Korean. I believe this change was driven partly by some activist Korean Residents in Japan who wanted to de-Japanize their names, but probably also by both the DPRK and ROK governments, which are both generally anti-hanja, pro-hangul (although the ROK Ministry of Education seems to have reversed its hanja-teaching policies many times during the past three decades). So now Korean Kims who Japanized their names to Kane-something can revert to Kimu, and Kim Ilsong can be rendered in katakana as Kimu IrusoN instead of in Sino-Japanese as Kin Nichisei.

Of course, katakana sound values impose a phonological straitjacket not much more elastic than the Sino-Japanese readings of Sinographic names, but at least the new practice treats Chinese and Korean names like those of other foreigners--and, more important, not like members of a special Japanese-dominated kanjisphere (or, alternatively, a China-dominated 汉字球 'hanzisphere').

One blogger is South Africa is sick of hearing Americanized English in radio advertizements:

[T]his whole adopting of the American accent thing, especially when you've never set foot in America - I just don't get it. What's wrong with our own ethnic African accents? Why do you have to be a pseudo-American to be cool? Frankly, I find it annoying. While on the subject of language, another thing that irritates me is the number of white people who phone in to radio talk shows, or write letters to the editor, and send in letters to radio and TV stations to complain about how black news readers and reporters "butcher" the pronunciation of the English language.

Marc at Cliopolitical has another post on the Barbary Pirates, something that he returns to often. This one, however, is not about American religion, but whether they were the type of jihadists that exist today.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Secret Pages

Funny how readily accepted the story of the student whose library habits earned him a visit from Homeland Security; also funny how quickly the academic community has become furious over the hoax.

I have often wondered whether I have come to the attention of any in the government for my politics. [Click here to read more.] My views tend to be to the left, but at times I strongly sympathize with the sentiment of conservative views. My dissertation has a strain that regards Catholic politics as a viable democratizing force. On the other hand, I have voice my opposition to the president and my resentment over the results of his policies. I volunteered for Democratic opponents. Visiting Morocco five years ago must put me in the 'person of interest' category (whatever that is supposed to mean) at the very least. Oh, let's not forget this fine blog --definitely suspicious!

I found the idea that checking out Mao's Little Red Book a little romantic (as well as shocking.) It hearkened back to the early 19th C when books themselves could be considered dangerous, and border authorities strictly regulated their circulation. It reminded me of Strasbourg under the July Monarchy, when the city's presses published all the German nationalist weeklies for export. It reminded me of the cheap handbills spread by the communist resistance in occupied Paris. It hearkened back to a time when academics were taken seriously as political contributors.

More fuel for the fire

I haven't had time to digest these two pieces. I'll probably say something about them later today.

Mémoires abusives:
L'innovation juridique des "procès pour la mémoire" se justifiait, certes, par l'importance et la singularité du génocide des juifs, dont la signification n'est apparue que deux générations plus tard.

Elle exprimait cependant un changement radical dans la place que nos sociétés assignent à l'histoire, dont on n'a pas fini de prendre la mesure. Ces procès ont soulevé la question de savoir si, un demi-siècle après, les juges étaient toujours "contemporains" des faits incriminés. Ils ont montré à quel point la culture de la mémoire avait pris le pas, non seulement sur les politiques de l'oubli qui émergent après une guerre ou une guerre civile, afin de permettre une reconstruction, mais aussi sur la connaissance historique elle-même. L'illusion est ici de croire que la "mémoire" fabrique de l'identité sociale, qu'elle donne accès à la connaissance. Comment peut-on se souvenir de ce que l'on ignore, les historiens ayant précisément pour fonction, non de "remémorer" des faits, des acteurs, des processus du passé, mais bien de les établir ?

Loi et mémoire:
Avec l'article litigieux de la loi de février, une autre dérive apparaît. Non seulement les parlementaires sont sortis de leurs compétences pour mettre à mal l'indépendance des historiens, mais ils l'ont fait de la pire manière : en partant de préjugés et d'idées toutes faites, sans avoir cherché à juger sur pièces. Résultat ? Des déchirements inutiles, des emportements hors de propos, des querelles inutiles et malsaines. Au bout du compte, le monde politique n'a pas à être très fier de cet épisode.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Next Whisky Bar

Today the wife and I are trekking down to the in-laws for a holiday visit. I'll have to make some food before leaving, including my roaster butternut squash soup, so I won't have much time to blog.

Jonathan Dresner has stepped down from active involvement in Cliopatria. I wish him luck. He has been, after Ralph, the glue of the organization. It's interesting that he feels he needs to free up time to develop Asian history blogging:
I want to experiment with class blogs. I want to make the Frog blogs one of the landmark sites in Asian historical scholarship and pedagogy, and the Asian History Carnival an engine of a growing on-line community of interest. I want Asian history topics to find their way into the History Carnival and Carnivalesque and even the Teaching Carnival regularly, and that requires that the Asian historical blogging community grow and make stronger connections internally and externally.
Will it be a trend for academic bloggers to concentrate more in their fields? The three Frog in a Well blogs (Japan, China, and Korea) are remarkable group endeavors that delve deeply into their subject matter. Adding on bloggers over the past year and starting new blogs for each country (where's Frog in a Well-Mongolia?) Dresner has created a strong academic community with an identifiable on-line presence. (Konrad Lawson's contributions are particularly good.) I wonder whether Europeanists should group themselves in a similar manner.

[ETA] If you are looking for some new blog to read today, check out Inside Iran, written by an American student in Tehran.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Virgin Rape Myth

Read this, everyone. I forewarn you, however, that it is not easy to stomach.

Tight-lacing Men

I am so gleefully happy that the new season of Project Runway has started. Still the smartest of the reality shows (in that it tests the creativity and knowledge of the contestants and their ability to realize their designs), the new designers are much more articulate and have stronger personalities than the first season’s designers. (I love the tempermental Santino.)

Season Two is already a few weeks old, and each time it comes on I do the same thing: I leaf through my copy of Valerie Steele’s The Corset: A Cultural History (one of the books for a class that I TA’d.) In particular I look over the few pages on men’s corsets in the nineteenth century, a short-lived phenomena in which manufacturers produced undergarments for men that allowed them to control their proportions and achieve desirable bodies.

Steel sees the use of corsets as an essential part of the modernization of fashion. As the Industrial Revolution made various types of clothing more readily available, the ideal of the ‘aristocratic’ body type became the ‘feminine’ body type. Garments were constructed with the feminine body in mind, which made corseting essential to fitting in (indeed, filling) the clothes.

Corsets belonged men’s sartorial regimens since the eighteenth century. Military officers, particularly cavalry men, felt that they were an indispensable means of back support. According to Steel, dandyism put the notion of men’s corsets into the public sphere, but not without controversy.
The number of dandy caricatures produced between 1815 and 1820 indicates that at least a conspicuous minority of fashionable men wore stays or corsets ... . Nevertheless, the idea of a man wearing stays struck people as truly ludicrous, especially as it could easily evoke the complimentary idea of women in breeches.

Fashionable menswear continued to emphasize the cinched waist throughout the 1830s. One French dandy of the era insisted that “the secret ... of the dress lies in the thinness and narrowness of the waist. Catechize your tailor about this ... Insist, order, menace ... Shoulders large, the skirts of the coat ample and flowing, the waist strangled – that’s my rule.”
Steele argues that although men’s fashions emphasized the slender waist, use of corset was frowned upon. Discussions of male corseting contributed to discourses on the dissipation of national strength and military prowess. Another fashion history, Elisabeth Hackenspiel, notes that the tailoring of men’s clothing necessitated corseting, even though society associated it with effeminacy, contributing to an incongruity between ideals of masculine beauty and sartorial practices. Throughout the century the practice disappeared to the peripheries of men’s fashion.
After 1850s, men who wore corsets usually claimed to need them for medical reasons, often back support. Not only had fashionable menswear become looser, obviating the potential need for figure controlling garments, but the prevailing bourgeois worldview increasingly held that men should not think about trivialities such as fashion.

Unfortunately, Steele does not explain positive reasons why the practice waned. I suspect that the rising popularity of gymnastics offered a ‘natural’ alternative to body contouring that improved the strength of the body rather than depleting it. Researching my MA thesis, I came across numerous discussions between Zionist physicians about how with properly tailored gymnastics programs could help achieve the corseted look without the ills associated therewith.

The Corset, Valerie Steele, p. 35-39

Books, books, books

Some new acquisitions (mostly gifts): Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, Earl Shorris' Latinos: The Biography of a People, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, Bernard Malamud's The Complete Short Stories of Bernard Malamud, Tahar Djaout's The Watchers, and Antonio Lobo Antunes' The Inquisitioner's Manual.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Virtual Rights of the Author

An interesting interview of Roger Chartier on the past and present of propriety of authors over their works.
The idea of an freedom of access to the culture was carried by a whole current of the Enlightenment with Condorcet. But this concern is present even at those which want to establish the author's copyright. The reasoning of Fichte, in Germany, is remarkable. He says that a book has a double nature: material -- the object -- and spiritual. The object belongs to whoever bought it. But spiritual contents? The ideas belong to everyone, but there is also the form, this manner of stating ideas, of expressing feelings that is specific to the author. This last element is, according to him, the only one which can justify the author's copyright. [Click here to read more.]

However the electronic text is an open, malleable, polyphonic text. It is potentially always the object of transformation. Thus dissolves what made it possible to recognize a work like [one's own] work, therefore to assert the property of it. The fundamental question: how to recognize the perpetuated identity of a work in a technical support which gives neither stable borders nor identity to the text? ...

Today, the world of electronic technology allows the position of author to be immediately registered in the position of reader. ... There is a proximity between reading and writing, listening to music and producing it, which is made infinitely stronger than before. We are thus vis-a-vis a technological innovation which upsets this historical sedimentation which led to the aesthetic and legal definition works.

This is why the question arises: is the right of the author a parentheses in the history? ... It is the great question, at the same time legal (what is a work?) and cultural (what is an author or a creator?). I will take care not to answer: each time the historians made a forecast on the future, they were grossly mistaken.

"Divine Spinoza, forgive me. I have become a fool."*

Check out this bit of good news :

Yes, my wife and I are expecting a child, some time in June. This ultrasound was taken last month at around nine weeks, and yesterday we heard the heart beat for the first time.

We are absolutely ecstatic. We have two names (one for a girl, one for a boy) that we adore. I think it will be a girl, and woe to anyone who thinks otherwise! We are excited about buying cute baby clothes, bunny suits (of course) and neat little books. And I can already imagine teaching her (or him) how to say the names of the tram stops in Strasbourg.

To my surprise I am not nervous about extra responsibilities or financial burdens. Indeed, the joy has permeated my writing, bringing levity to an otherwise dense subject.

*Kudos to anyone who can identify the reference.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sunday Reading

The weather is cold, the sky is cloudy, but at least the apartment is now warm, especially after the $2.50 tube of caulk that I bought. So what is there to read this Sunday? Click here to find out.

Last week, Geitner at Regions of Mind, in the midst of the excitement of Brokeback Mountaint, looks at the phenonenon of "bunkies" as a form of intimacy between cowboys in Cowboys, Gays and Cultural Envelopes.

Brian Ladd, reviewing Richard Evans new book on Nazi German, hits the nail on the head: ordinary Germans are boring.
"The story of the German people - Evans's real subject - does not lend itself to drama as easily as the story of Hitler and his henchmen ... Evans avoids the weakness of too many histories of the Third Reich, which become virtual biographies of Hitler, with ordinary Germans appearing either as victims of Himmler's terror or as mindless vessels of Goebbels's propaganda. Instead, he presents a story with few heroes and too many colorless villains - a fuller and truer picture of the Third Reich, but a less gripping one than Shirer's."
Evans also seems to share my distaste for Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, the most overused and misunderstood piece of concert music. Also Ralph Giordano review of Hannes Heer's Hitler war's (It was Hitler), an examination of collective innocence, the history of the lie of the war generation that they were not involved in the Third Reich's crimes.

In Back on the Slippery Slope, The Valve's John McGowan examines the problem of slippery slope arguments: they exclude any possibility of moderation ... and harmless collaboration.

I can't believe I missed this, but Natalie Bennet of Philobiblion has taken to blogging the 19th century diaries of Francis William Wynn on Diaries of a Lady of Quality. Of course, I love this post about the queen of Würtemberg, who was obliged to receive Napoleon. I wonder, when she says, "the least failure on my part might have been a sufficient pretence for depriving my husband and children of this kingdom," the queen was referring to recognition of kingship or to simple possession of the crown.

Another article in the NY Times looks into access for non-Europeans in France's top universities.

[ETA]Check out the Books of the Year 2005 Symposium at ReadySteadyBook. [HT: Matt Christie, who is also a participant]

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Two Recommendations

I have a question for the academics out there: if someone, perhaps someone outside academia, what two books what you recommend that would give them a sense of what people in your field do and that explains what you study?

My answer below the fold.

Johann Huizinga's Autumn of the Middle Ages (because it deals with definitions of civilization, periodization and national identity, and because it poses an interesting question about what makes modern art) and Alon Confino The Nation as a Local Metaphor (how relgional history and culture were integreated into national history.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Association of Mosque and State

Xavier Ternisien wrote an interesting article about France’s relationship with Islam and Muslims. The conventional view that Islam came too late to benefit from French patronage, that the law that separate church and state must be strictly applied despite the growing Muslim population, contradicts what French legislators and administrators felt when the crafted the notorious law.

According to Ternisien, French legislators and administrators in 1905 and 1907 debated whether or not the strict separation should apply within France’s colonies. They decided that although the law should be en force, it was imprudent to enforced.

Teaching religion in French schools helped integrate Muslim children into the colonial system, as well as to turn Islamic authorities into willing collaborators. Conversely, it was feared that Muslims would revolt against French authorities if religion were not taught in schools. Religious education meant religious control.

Most importantly, many believed that Muslims were too primitive for secularism.
[Senator Eugène Brager] felt that ‘indigenous’ were not in a position to benefit from secularism. "We say that the continuing movement of modern ideas should necessarily lead to the separation of the two powers. Should these considerations be applied to the colonies? Do the natives of Congo, Madagascar or Tonkin possess the intellectual abilities capable of understanding the progress made by modern ideas?" [Crappy translation is my own.]
Islam is another example of France dispensing with republican uniformity for practicality. Not wanting to deny themselves a tool to strengthen its hold on the colonies, exceptions to strict separation were written into the laws of secularism. Consequently, there is a legal basis for allowing exceptions to those laws for France’s current Muslim population. (Of course, the issue is not accomodating them, but making their faith more French.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Albert Memmi on French Colonial Memory

Albert Memmi, a Judeo-Tunisian writer, wrote this response to the controversy over an ammendment to a French law that demanded recognition of "the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in North Africa."
Has colonization benefitted the colonized?

The way in which this problem has been treated is sadly revealing of the current conflict of opinions. People have preferred at times to deny certain aspects, at other times different aspects. The answer is, however, obvious: when a civilization is in contact with another civilization that is technically more advanced, it gains inevitably some advantages from it. In this sense, yes, colonization offered some progress to colonized. Romanization was an asset.

But that is nothing to be glorified: if the colonizers built roads and schools, it was because they needed them, and not to serve the colonized.

Some believed it, it is true also: the teachers, some doctors, some priests. But, overall, colonization remains an aggression and an exploitation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Last of the Torture

That is, of the Family Edition of the Amazing Race. The finale is tonight, ending weeks of watching one of the most self-righteous, judgemental, neurotic families in television history. I wonder if anyone is still tuning in, or whether this one family has alienated the show's entire viewership.

An Issue of Integration, not Immigration

In the aftermath of the rioting in Paris there has been an explosion of discussion about integration, not just in France, but throughout the European Union. Slowly Europeans are waking up to realize that their Muslims, Africans and Arabs are not immigrants (many of whom have lived in Europe for several generations) but parts of society, albeit imperfectly integrated. I still wonder, though, if they appreciate the problem and what is involved.

One and a half weeks ago the New York Times features an article from a German journalist that looked into the conditions of Turkish women in Berlin. The recent honor killing of one woman by her family (who felt she had become too acculturated, too German) sparked a discussion about the existence of a parallel society within Germany. It is made up of the guest workers and their families: they have no avenue to citizenship; they are isolated from the mainstream; and as time goes on their interaction with their home towns and villages in Turkey, where orthodox Islam is growing, become more important than what they can get from German society. A complaint that I have heard repeatedly, and that the author echoes, is that Turkish men prefer to take wives from their home towns, bringing in people who have no idea how to act appropriately in Germany. From the article:
[Necla Kelek, Seryan Ates, and Serap Cileli] described an everyday life of oppression, isolation, imprisonment and brutal corporal punishment for Muslim women and girls in Germany, as situation for which there is only one word: slavery. ... perhaps half of young Turkish women in Germany are forced in marraige every year. In the wake of these forced marriages often come violence and rape ... . Heavily veiled women wearing long coats even in summer are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in German Muslim neighborhoods. ... they are mostly underage girls wo have been bought -- often for a handsom payment -- in the Turkish heartland villages of Anatolia by mothers whose sons in Germany are ready to marry. The girls are then flown to Germany, and "with every new imported bride," Kelek says, "the parallel society grows." Meanwhile, Ates summarizes, "Turkish men who wish to marry and live by Shariah can do so with far less impediment in Berlin than in Istanbul."

Sadly, Turkish women suffer within an involuted society. Tragically, the journalist does little to analyze the problem within the realm of the guest workers’ families relationships with German society. Explaining that the government withheld citizenship in exchange for social services, the journalist leaves unaddressed the whole history of German-Turkish relationships. Four decades of interaction, of begrudging acceptance of their presence, has done at least as much to sour relationships as policies of nationality. (And as I have witnessed, Germans are generally without compassion when dealing with Turks.) The notion of a parallel society underpins this absconding of German responsibility, this washing of hands, by making it seem that Turks are uniquely guilty of creating their social problems. Not to diminish the magnitude of the condition of Turksih women in Germany, but this discourse tends to shift the blame. Integration is not a one-sided problem for Turkish men; it involves Germans as much as Turkish women.

Click here to read more.

Germany, despite the differences in immigration politics, is in a similar situation to France. At least without the rhetoric of republican nationality (that anyone born in country, regardless of race, is a citizen) Turks know that their presence is conditional, tolerated, and revocable. Germans know, however, that they are not insulated from the types of revolt that unfolded in France or becoming a battleground for conflicts in the Islamic world (the ‘Caliph of Cologne’ being a constant concern of the German media.)

The other recognizable trend is attention to citizenship: providing more access might be a means of integrating people of non-European descent. But as the French riots showed, French citizens were among those in revolt.

The equation of nationality and identity has not been limited to the field of European politics. Several historians have used policies of nationality and naturalization to discuss how national identity is constructed. Citizenship, as it is recognized and granted, is the nation-states’ mechanism for regulating who is, and who is not, a member of the nation. By comparing the policies of different nations some sense of the differences of identity emerge. But in these studies, France and German are opposites, the latter promoting a more exclusive notion of identity. Walking through Paris it’s easy to feel that France is more open to people from all over the world.

Citizenship is not, unfortunately, acceptance. Nationality does not confer identity. Self-identity does not confer integration. Integration does not confer acceptance. There exist tremendous distances between citizenship and integration. The fact that many Turks own businesses that Germans patronize does not mean that their presence is anything more than tolerated.

The question of what integration means should be raised again. Too much of it has rested on identity – whether or not the individual “feels” a particular way or whose loyalty leads him or her to acculturate to national standards. How different parts of society come together and interact – how Peasants become Frenchmen, to borrow Eugen Weber’s phrase – has been put on the backburner.

Disappearing In-State Education

Every years since I earned my MA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst my pride in the institution has diminished. Now it barely serves its primary function of providing affordable education to the state's residents.
... What began as an affordable ticket to a higher standard of living for anyone who was willing to work hard enough is now, according to a recent USA Today survey, the fifth most expensive of the country's 67 public flagship schools.

While tuition remains relatively low, steep increases in student fees (which cover everything from sports to health benefits to course fees) and room and board have put a UMass-Amherst education out of reach for many lower-income families. More than a decade of budget cuts has whittled the state's contribution from a hearty half to barely one-third of the university's total funds. Long among the stingiest states in per-student spending on public higher education, Massachusetts is effectively forcing its most prestigious teaching and research institution to rely more heavily on private fund-raising, student charges, and research dollars, putting it on the road to privatization.

... The Amherst campus has compensated by sharply paring tenure-track faculty from 1,220 in 1986 to 921 today and nearly quadrupling total student fees over the same period.

... "We've begun to price out low-income students, and we're heading toward middle-income students," says Max Page, an associate professor of architecture and history at UMass-Amherst. "Low-income students aren't getting here, and those who are here are taking longer to graduate," he says, because they have to juggle school and work.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Wilson found this in a Confederate textbook. Context, anyone?
Q. How do the Indians live?
A. By hunting and fishing.

Q. Where did they once live?
A. In all America.

Q. What has become of them?
A. The white people drove them away and took their lands.

Q. Are they all gone?
A. A few of them live in some places but do not seem much happy.

Q. Was it not wrong to drive them away and take their lands?
A. It was, and God will judge the white man for it.

Q. May not some of the wars we have had, have been such judgments?
A. Very likely.


In accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter made no reference to his opposition to intervention in genocides in Bosnia and Kosovo, nor his sympathy for Milosevic. Jerk!

Types of Political Violence

French philosopher and Holocaust expert Alain Finkielkraut has been in a bit of hot water because of an interview he gave to Ha'aretz last month. He said that the riots in France were "an ethno-religious revolt," which is to say identity-driven and anti-semitic. Moreover, he has been very critical of how race has been read into the rioting. In spite of the existence of discrimination and racism in France, the acts themselves must not be tolerated. Ever since, he has been hounded by the French press, and he has given one or two apologies that have been poorly received.

I was struck, however, by one of his statements:
When an Arab torches a school, it's rebellion. When a white guy does it, it's fascism. I'm `color blind.' Evil is evil, no matter what color it is. And this evil, for the Jew that I am, is completely intolerable.
To some degree he is right: we should be cautious in interpreting how race plays into acts of political violence, and the obvious equation of whiteness and fascism (read racist, reactionary, or anti-democratic) need not always apply.

But for the life of me, I can't think of an instance in which 'torching a school' was not 'fascist' in one way or other, regardless of race. Violence against political actors and institutions can have various meanings. Peasants can burn down the lord's manor to destroy the documents that enserf them. The bureaucrat sent from the capital can be as much an authoritarian as a representative of progress and state-building. The tax collector can represent debt and obligation.

The schoolmaster, however, is a classic archetype of progress and empowerment -- the perfect local target of the monarchists, authoritarians and isolationists who want hierarchy and order, not liberation. Sometimes the schools are part of an overall rebellion as an institution of colonial rule, but they are not singled out among those institutions.

Am I missing something? Can one 'torch a school' and not be a fascist?

BTW, Le Point recently did a big write up on Finkielkraut.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"The Bigger Read List"

Do I complain too much about Anglo-centrism? Anyway, the English Center of the International PEN decided to create its own list of books with a popular appeal that is more global in nature. It is a surprisingly good list of non-English works that truly deserve attention. One big question for the makers of the "Bigger Reading List": only one African -- where are the the Ben Jallouns, the Fall's, the Sembene's?

Click here to read the list.

Classical and Antique
Aesop, The Complete Fables
Saint Augustine, The Confessions
The Bible
Homer, The Iliad
Homer, The Odyssey
Lao Tzu, Book of the Way (Tao Te Ching)
The Koran
The Mahabarata
Virgil, The Aeneid
Wilhelm, Richard and Baynes, Cary F., trans. (original author unknown), Book of Changes (The I Ching)

Romance and Mediterranean
Alain-Fournier, Le Grand Meaulnes
de Balzac, Honore, La Cousine Bette
de Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex
Calvino, Italo, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller
Camus, Albert, The Outsider
Camus, Albert, The Plague
Celine, Louis-Ferdinand, Journey to the End of the Night
De Cervantes, Miguel, Don Quixote
Cocteau, Jean, Les Enfants Terribles
Coehlo, Paulo, The Alchemist
Dante, The Inferno
Dumas, Alexandre, The Count of Monte Cristo
Dumas, Alexandre, The Three Musketeers
Duras, Marguerite, The Lover
Eça de Queirós, José Maria, The Maias
Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose
Flaubert, Gustave, Bouvard and Pecuchet
Flaubert, Gustave, Madame Bovary
Hugo, Victor, Les Misérables
Kazantzakis, Nikos, Zorba the Great
de Laclos, Pierre Choderlos, Dangerous Liaisons
di Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi, The Leopard
Leopardi, Giacomo, The Canti
de Lorris, Guillame and de Meun, Jean, Le Roman de la Rose
Pamuk, Orhan, The Black Book
Pamuk, Orhan, My Name is Red
Pascal, Blais, Pensées
Goytisolo, Juan, Count Julian
Grossman, Vasily, Life and Fate
Kadare, Ismael, The Three-Arched Bridge
Kemal, Yasar, Mehmed My Hawk
Khayyam, Omar, The Rubaiyat
Kosztolányi, Dezsö, Anna Edes
Marai, Sandor, Embers
Perec, George, Life A User’s Guide
Proust, Marcel, In Search of Lost Time
Queneau, Raymond, Zazie in the Metro
Robbe-Grillet, Alain, Jealousy
Sagan, Françoise, Bonjour Tristesse
de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine, The Little Prince
Saramago, Jose, The Stone Raft
Sartre, Jean-Paul, Words
Stendhal, Henri, The Charterhouse of Parma
Stendhal, Henri, Scarlet and Black
Torrente Ballester, Gonzalo, The Saga Fuga de J B

Germanic and Scandinavian
Anderson, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales
Christensen, Lars Saabye, The Half-Brother
Enquist, Per Olov, The Visit of the Royal Physician
Freud, Sigmund, The Interpretation of Dreams
Frank, Anne, Diary of a Young Girl
Gaarder, Jostein, Sophie’s World
Grass, Günter, The Tin Drum
von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, Faust
Grimm, Jacob and Grimm, Wilhelm, Fairy Tales
Hamsun, Knut, The Growth of the Soul
Hamsun, Knut, Hunger
Harrer, Heinrich, Seven Years in Tibet
Heyerdahl, Thor, The Kon Tiki Expedition
Høeg, Peter, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
Kafka, Franz, The Trial
Klemperer, Victor, I Shall Bear Witness
Laxness, Halldor, Independent People
Mann, Thomas, Buddenbrooks
Mann, Thomas, Death in Venice
Mann, Thomas, Magic Mountain
Marx, Karl, The Communist Manifesto
Musil, Robert, Young Torless
Nietzsche, Friedrich, Twilight of the Idols
Pleijel, Agneta, The Dog Star
Roth, Joseph, The Radetsky March
Schopenhauer, Arthur, Essays and Aphorisms
Sebald, W.G., Austerlitz
Sebald, W.G., Emigrants
Sebald, W.G., The Rings of Saturn
Schlink, Bernard, The Reader
Süskind, Patrick, Perfume

Latin America
Allende, Isabel, The House of the Spirits
Borges, Jorge-Luis, Labyrinths
De Assis, Machado Joaquim Maria, Dom Casmurro
Fuentes, Carlos, The Years with Laura Diaz
Garcίa Márquez, Gabriel, Love in the Time of Cholera
Garcίa Márquez, Gabriel, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Vargos Llosa, Mario, The War at the End of the World

Khayyam, Omar, The Rubaiyat
Lu Xu, The Story of Ah Q
Mao Tsetung, Little Red Book
Marukami, Haruki, Norwegian Wood
Marukami, Haruki, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
Mishima, Yukio, Forbidden Colours
Öe, Kenzaburo, Somersault
Tanizaki, Junichiro, The Makioka Sisters
Xingjian, Gao, Soul Mountain

Bulgakov, Mikhail, The Master and Margarita
Chekhov, Anton, The Lady with the Dog and other stories
Dostoyevski, Fyodor, Crime and Punishment
Dostoyevski, Fyodor, The Idiot
Gogol, Nikolai, Dead Souls
Grossman, Vasily, Life and Fate
Kadare, Ismael, The Three-Arched Bridge
Kertesz, Imre, Fateless
Kis, Danilo, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich
Kosztolányi, Dezsö, Anna Edes
Kundera, Milan, Identity
Kundera, Milan, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Marai, Sandor, Embers
Nabokov, Vladimir, The Gift
Pasternak, Boris, Doctor Zhivago
Platonov, Andrey, Happy Moscow
Platonov, Andrey, Soul
Platonov, Andrey, The Return
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Szerb, Antal, Journey by Moonlight
Tolstoy, Leo, Anna Karenina
Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan, First Love

Schoeman, Karel, Another Country

[ETA] I had to redo the list because some entries were not apprent.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sweet Dreams are Made of These

In La mémoire collective, Maurice Halbwachs doubted that universal(izing) history could be anything more that an intellectual project. So vast, so ancient, it lacked the texture and urgency that national history had in the popular consciousness.
“History can present itself as the universal memory of humanity. But there is no universal memory. All collective memory is supported by a group that is limited in space and time. One cannot collect into one tableau the totality of past events except by detaching them from the groups that guard memory ... history is interested above all in the differences [between societies], and makes abstractions of the similarities for which there exists no memory ...

To bring immediacy to historical elements, social groups must deploy rituals and symbols that takes history from classroom into the public sphere and gives it emotional import. Consequently, meaningful history, capably of becoming memorialized, is precious, circumscribed by spatial and temporal boundaries (especially of a nation.)

Some events are capable of being imagined even though they do not belong to an unbroken memorial tradition (like the Trojan War to the early modern English readership.) Nevertheless, the notion that what is taught in Western Civ courses will probably never find any meaning outside of the classroom weighs heavily on those who teach it.

Hugo Schwyzer'’s recent complaint that the first half of Western Civ tends to be a quick-step march from Sumer to the Bastille stresses the point further (to be fair, we modernists should be able to pick up the story at Aquinas). However, I don'’t worry that something important will be lost as the span of pre-modernity is stretched beyond recognition. Rather, I worry that despite the best judiciousness, speedy lecturing produces lacunas that betray the founding suppositions of Western Civ courses: an ongoing tradition that becomes recognizable as the West.

Click here to continue.

I laughed at this exchange:
Jonathan Reynolds: "I just find it funny that "Western Civ" starts in Mesopotamia..."

Jonathan Dresner
: "And ends there, perhaps?"
Funny, but also telling. One can easily lead from the proto-Agriculture of Jericho to Babylon, but how does one get from Euphrates to Nile? Does the continuity die after Hammurabi? Or do we merely sow seeds that will become plants that will be cooked up by Classical civilization? The endpoints are not the only thing in question.

If Western Civ were closer to the history of ideas, it would describe the intimacy between one system of thought and the one that 'superceded' it, how past discursive fields remained adjacent to the present, not separate, but ready to break out through, exerting ongoing relationship between past and present fields. Bounding from one civilization to the next, the potentially minute fissures become chasms. The continued modernization of Western Civ -- dividing it between one very long ancient, medieval, and sometimes early modern half and a modern half; the inclusion of modern interests with the pre-modern; opting to exclude the early eras -- threatens to undercut the possibility of cotinuity (or even contiguity.)

[Crossposted to Cliopatria]

Philosophical Madonna

For the philosphers out there: a fragment from Daniel Cohn-Bendit's interview (in Die Welt) on Hannah Arendt, in which he is asked about her relationship with Martin Heidegger:
That is the beauty of life: love and sex cannot be explained in a philosophically rational way. I say it again: Hannah Arendt is a philosophical Madonna. ... She is a political philosopher who thinks radically, who does without Heidegger in her radical thought, who fell in love completely with this man -- and that love endured always. It insinuated itself in her head and in her body. There are relationships that cannot be explained, and we should accept that.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Secularism and the Man of Faith

This passage from Levinas outlines some important principles about the ideal relationship between politics and religion and the necessity of a secular state.
The Talmud recognizes situations that cannot be governed by the messianic principles of the future, precisely because war remains a present reality. This must be carefully considered: a situation where public liberty gives freedom to the enemies of liberty cannot be neglected under the pretext that liberty will triumph in the last analysis. Faith in the final triumph of Goodness cannot dispense men from concern and action. ... Thus, absolute legislation encounters the concept of history. ...

Click here to read more

The originality of Judaism lies in placing political power next to the power of absolute morality, without limiting (contrary to Christianity) moral power to man’s supernatural destiny, without subordinating (contrary to Hegel) moral power to political power as a concrete one. But this political power maintains a certain independence. It is secular. The prince becomes the principle of law. [Or,] “the law of the state is the law.” [The prince] institutes this state as broadly independent of both ritual and moral law.

Royal and political power are separate from ritual authorities ... Similarly, royal power is distinguished from the moral absolute ... The philosopher-king is an absolute position; in history the king is distinguished from the philosopher.

The fact remains that the law of the Torah stands above the secular law determined by history, an order that includes the possibility of crime and war; once the political authority is called on to leave to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, the law of the absolute does not disappear. The law of the Torah alone names, invests, and controls political power. In the name of the absolute, Absolute law is given leave of absence. “A letter may be torn out of the Torah as long as the Torah as a whole is not forgotten.”

The times of the Messiah must one day emerge from this temporal order. The political world must remain the parent of this ideal world. The talmudic apologue is particularly suggestive here. King David makes war and governs in the daytime; when men rest, he devotes himself to the law. A double life to restore the unity of life.
Of course, the problem of political authority that claims legitimacy from religion was present as early as the first Hebrew states. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell precisely because it abused the legitimacy that G-d gave it. But outside the Tanakh, the relationship of politcs to religion is hardly a problem of Jewish leaders claiming legitimacy(at least after the Bar Kochba rebellion and the fall of the Khazars.) For the most part, Jewish politics have been predicated on relations with monarchs who derive their authority from other religions -- Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and Protestant. They relied on the monarch's good faith that he would not pursue conversion, and instead see the Jews as a corporate entity whose protection was somehow mandated by religious law. To be skeptical, there is something of the French Jew's love for the republic in Levinas' outlook. Nevertheless, Levinas casts effective doubt on the direct injection of religion into the affairs of state.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Random Notes

As today is World AIDS day, let me draw your attention to the statement by the UN's special envoy on AIDS to Africa:
The overwhelming majority of HIV-positive children are infected by the virus during and following the birthing process. Children infected in early infancy usually die before the age of two. There are more than half a million deaths of children from AIDS every year.

In many countries, primarily in Africa, there are programs in place called PMTCT, Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission. Unfortunately, most of these are merely pilot programs: fewer than ten per cent of HIV- positive pregnant women have access to PMTCT. That, in itself, is scandalous.

In most countries the PMTCT program uses what is called single-dose nevirapine - one tablet of that drug to the mother during labour and a liquid equivalent of the drug for the child within 48 hours of birth. Incredibly enough, the transmission is cut by close to 50 per cent! ... But compare it with North America, [where hospitals] use full antiretroviral triple-dose combination therapy from approximately 28 weeks through to the end of the pregnancy. The result? The transmission rate drops to between one and two per cent!!

Good reading: Jim McGuigan's article, "The Cultural Public Sphere." Via Space and Culture.

Some recent book acquisitions: The Collected Short Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Uwe Timm's In my brother's shadow (attempt to imagine his brother who died fighting in Russia as a member of the SS), Shake Hands with the Devil (Romeo Dallaire's memoire of the Rwanda genocide), The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, and Eyes to see otherwise (poems by Greek-Mexican author Homero Aridjis.)

Speaking of books, the NY Times has up its 10 Best Books of 2005 and 100 Notable Books of 2005. The latter is, surprisingly, light on fiction, and history is well represented. Tony Judt's Postwar, a book that I am eager to find as a cutout six months from now, made the former list. I am perpelxed by the absence of Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul, which everyone is welcome to purchase for me if they want to give me a gift.

Call for blogging: Sharon has proposed a symposium on the Old Bailey Proceedings, an online source for history of criminality and law in Early Modern England.

BTW, is there any interest in establish a symposium on Jewish themes for Channukah? Perhaps based on Martin Buber's I and Thou?