Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Geology of Paris (Père Goriot part 2)

Andrew brings up an interesting point about the pension, its surrounds, and its relationship to the rest of Paris.
The book so far has emphasized the dreariness of the environs in which it takes place through the gossiping, the consumption, the general lethargy. But more than that, Balzac has effectively created an isolated world, in which to enact a social experiment. ...

When Balzac removes the pension of the busy happenings of Paris, he manages to maintain a requisite distance between the story he wanted to tell and the audience who listened. He emphasized the his audience wasn't really involved in this story, because he created the specific circumstances. However, he still manages to do a double take, claiming that his creation does, in fact, represent "truth." Balzac performs a complicated move: he indicts his audience in what he recounts, while removing them from the scene of the story. If successful, Balzac's novel would chronical the moral failings of his age, without fully alienating the audience that perpetuated those failings.
Ah, yes! having his milieu and eating it, too! The pensions is in Paris, is part of Paris, IS PARIS ... yet, also a world of its own, aging, and forgotten by the rest of the cosmopolitan world.

Many of Balzac's main character, encountering Paris for the first time as students or young professionals, find themselves in some dreary hotel in the Latin Quarter (apparently, it was not yet the vibrant center it is today. I've even stayed several times at one of the hotels where Balzac lived.) The pension occupies a crevice in that decrepit world,
between Val-de-Grâce Cathedral and the Pantheon, two towering structures that change the very atmospheric conditions, jutting up into the air with their sallow spires, muddying everything with the glowering, harsh colors of their domes. In there, the pavement is bone dry, there's no mud in the streams, nor any water, and grass grows along the walls. In there, the most carefree man in the world is as depressed as everybody else walking those streets ...
Balzac's description of the quartier is pressing: locked between two monumental edifices, the first representing royal France, the other the revolutionary nation, lurks life that is unchanged by time. They are the refuse of an older Paris, that have been pushed together by necessity. They blend into their environs so well, they cannot be distinguished from it (Balzac literally says that the description of the buildings applies to the people as well.) Out of sight, the people of the Latin Quarter are victimized by the architectural politics that sucks life from the land and the spirit from the soul. They are like primitives, who live beneath mountains of stone: they are easily ignored.

They are also anthropological oddities. Lost between Val-de-Grâce and Pantheon are Daniel Roche's "People of Paris," who but fifty years earlier still carried the traditions they brought with them from the provinces. Balzac's Paris is not just a world in which the the aristocratic traditions breath on life support, but the honorable traditions of the French country (which Balzac find, in their poverty and diligence, to be far more noble that the sociability of the elite) are pushed out, and the little people forced into closer interaction with the degenerate aristocracy.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Slobodan's Lackey

Something I haven't followed closely enough: the growing backlash against Austrian writer Peter Handke after being selected for the Heinrich Heine Prize. Since the announcement was made, Handke has been the subject of scathing articles for defending Milosevic during the Balkan Wars and speaking at his funeral. The city council of Dusseldorf, which sponsors the prize, is considering revoking the prize committee's selection.

Conspicuous Desiring (Père Goriot part 1)

One quarter through Pere Goriot, the title character, a retired vermicelli manufacturer, has moved into a pension, asked twice to move into less expensive apartments within the pension, received his daughters, and sold off silver and other possessions. Yet he is the object of scorn and ridicule by the proprietress and the other pensioners, described as a scandalous scoundrel, derided for dallying with women and being a miser.

In his first post on Balzac as historian, Andrew writes:
Balzac [portrayed French society] through the creation of fictional worlds, ones that in some ways are created to perfectly illustrate the point Balzac wished to express. Perhaps, then, Balzac's utility to the historian resides in his efficient evoking of a "'histoire des moeurs'" [2]. A history, not of economics, politics, or even society. But a history of culture and the ways in which economics, politics, and society had the potential to affect the everyday French citizen.
In Pere Goriot, the pension is a microcosm of the corrupt sociability of Restoration France (1815- 1830, the period after the fall of Napoleon in which the monarchy and aristocracy pretended that nothing had changed since the revolution, especially their legitimacy.)

Although bourgeois types like Goriot would be heroes of the July Monarchy (1830-1848), whose style would be imitated by King Louis-Philippe himself, in 1819 Paris they were boors out of step with the persistence of noblesse oblige. They hoarded money rather than court the approval of the elite; they put themselves off limits to the seduction of entitlement; they shrouded themselves in secrecy that can only be the sign of degeneracy. Personal improvement and frugality counted for nothing.

Despite being relatively unknown to the pensioners, Goriot's character is completely formed from his unwillingness to participate in the same social games as everyone else in Paris: desiring to attend the great parties, to gain the ear of the count, and perhaps possessing the affections of his wife (if not her body, as well.)

This was the society that Balzac criticized. The ambitious seduced the aristocracy in order to make their way into Parisian high society; the aristocracy had to make themselves available for seduction in order to maintain their standing.

The first taste of this comes when Goriot, who is first seen as a man of wealth and, thus, a ticket to the easy life, turns a cold soldier to the game of seduction. Madame Vauquer, the pension's proprietor, plans to use Goriot to improve her own status, perhaps eventually marrying him. First, she uses his presence to attract better clientele to her lodgings.

However, her impression of Goriot turns on a dime: the Countess de l'Ambermesnil (one of the high class lodgers) attempts, but fails, to entice Goriot. Because of his indifference, the Countess leaves the pension in a huff. Vauquer turns on Goriot, not out of jealousy, but because she felt betrayed by his unavailability, and being unavailable did not just make him socially undesirable, it made him asocial.
Once she'd realized that he couldn't be tempted ... it did not take her long to understand why. And what she understood, to use Monsieur Goriot's own words, was that he was and always had been an odd bird. Now, at long last, he'd shown her the futility of her pretty little plan: as the countess had rather forcefully phrased it--certainly a good judge of such matters--there was nothing to be gotten from a man like him. Her aversion, of course, was necessarily a good deal more intense than her affection had ever been. It was not live that led her to detest him, but disappointment.

Goriot appears to be a negative presence in an economy of conspicuous desiring. To the other lodgers, he buys women rather than socializes with them. Eugene de Rastignac, the law student from the "South," affirms this logic of seduction, believing that his ticket to the good life is not obtainable through his professional ascent, but by managing relationships with upper-class women.

Yet he finds himself beaten at this game at every turn: by the dandy, Maxime de Trailles, and the Portuguese nobleman, Marquis de Ajudo-Pinto, whose stature is enhanced by the visibility of their affairs with married aristocratic women. As for the women, the sense that they are attainable, even in marriage, makes them desirable.

The kicker: one of these women, de Restaud, comes to Goriot's defense when Rastignac impugns his character.

As much as I would like to believe that Balzac's descriptions of sociability and seduction are drawn from observations, they could also be taken as a continuation of a tradition of the Old Regime: depicting the aristocracy as a debauched, and thus illegitimate, class. The Diamond Necklace Affair (well described in Sara Maza's book) was an opportunity to depict Marie Antoinette as an adultress. The impoverished writers of Darnton's Grub Street delighted in writing "pornography" that acted as a political weapon against the elites. Although Balzac claims to write about 1819 (from his vantage in 1836), I wonder how valid the trope of the debauched nobleman was.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Père Goriot

Next week, Andrew at Air Pollution and I will read and blog about Honoré de Balzac's Père Goriot, a novel about a middle-aged man of middling means, whose income of preyed upon by family and strangers so that they can make their way in Parisian society. Balzac, like Zola after him, intensively documented the structure and customs of French society in his works, making him almost a sociologist in a novelist's guise. I expect that the historical inspiration will flow from both of us.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hacking the Archive

Yes, let's hack the archive!

The irreverent Sepoy of Chapati Mystery has deployed out a bold vision of translating the Medieval Asian past for the contemporary by creating complex, interactive, digital versions of Persian manuscripts (his name is Red) that can be compared in their versions and referenced to other documents (read The Polygolt Manifesto Part I and Part II.) It would require historians to embrace technology not only with enthusiasm, but with a willingness to learn to intricacies of computer programing itself. Amen!

The world of the modernist is not, however, the treasuries of beautiful manuscripts, but the piles of bureaucratic drivel produced by the modern age and tucked away to be forgotten. They are found in monolithic, poorly ventilated buildings in some forgotten part of the town. The archive! For years the archive has been at the periphery of memory even as they are at the center of civilization. The trip to the archive is a flight of fantasy.

Distance and procedures have made the archive difficult to penetrate. Young researchers can only guess what secrets they might reveal until they can scrounge up the money to visit. Once inside, the pace of revelation is slow: only so many documents can be ordered in a day, so many days in advance; and the pace at which they must be internalized can be so rapid that the subtleties can be lost. Moreover, there was no way to bring anything out of the archive that had not been brought in. The work of young researchers were their own, jealously guarded because of the difficulty it took to obtain it.

The digital camera can change all that. They are a cheap and portable means of storing hundreds of pages a day in a compact format for reading at a later time. Cameras have not always been allowed in archives--indeed, most national archives still don't allow them--and the costs of film and developing made them useful for selective use. Digital cameras don't require film or developing: the pictures are already in the perfect format to be read on laptop screens. In thirty minutes, a day's worth of reading can be recorded and enjoyed at the nearest cafe. So much nicer than a stuffy reading room!

But there is potential to do more. All the information that can be gathered and recorded in a short time could be turned into a virtual archive. The thousands of images of files that a researcher can bring back with her or him could be constructed into digital replicas of the files that exist outside of the archive, available for public use. Even the files at national archives, which normally don't allow any photography, could be approximated. Many of their holdings are often copies of documents made in provincial and municipal archives--smaller institutions whose rules are often more permissive, and who scale allows work to occur more rapidly.

The first thing to do is promote digital photography among historians. It wouldn't require much. A cheap 3-4 megapixels is more than enough to photograph a page in great detail. Some standards might be established about how to photograph documents, but it would not be necessary. Second, locate sources of documents that are also in print. Many compilations hold selective documents that can be digitized with ease (I'm thinking of things like the minutes of the French Assembly and Joseph Hansen's Rheinische Akten und Briefe.) They could be digitized and annotated, much as Sepoy would do to Persian manuscripts. Third, a database would have to be established to catalog who holds what and how images could be obtained. It would seem impractical, at first, to make all images available online. Rather, the database would act as a catalog of the real archives holdings that helps someone retrieve information from other scholars.

The act of translating, in this case, would take the obscurities of the archives not just from the past into the present, but also make the material of the historian more available and familiar to the modern world.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Brief Notes

I spent the weekend watching M. Hulot's Vacation and O Brother, Where art thou?, reading Charles Mann's 1491, drinking a bottle of Rioja, and trying to get some work done ... to some avail. Jacques Tati was an incredible observer of society, like Balzac and Zola, but a lot funnier.

Brett Holmann, on the other hand, put together History Carnival #31. Meanwhile, Munnin's KM Lawson decompresses from his comps and looks forward to his dissertation--congratulations! Marc Comtois, not to be outdone, discovered some dead white men blogging. How revolting!

Brazil's President da Silva contemplated the European Union as a model of Latin American and Caribean unity. I wonder why he rejected other models ... could it have been the experiences of neighbor, Argentina?

I've read only one of the best American novels of the last 25 years! No votes for overachieving plagiarist Viswanathan?

AND THE AWARD FOR THE BEST ENABLER: Charles Clough, who has denied genocide in Darfur. "Target[ing] villagers, but not a whole race"--that's rich, and inconsequential.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Old Man River

It's another anniversary for the Rhine River, and another birthday for me! I've written a lot of posts in the past twelve months, including those from my research trip to France. Perhaps I'll draw up a list of highlights later on, but for now, let me draw your attention to a bit of academia truth and inspiration from Kevin Boyle, formerly my grad school chair:
Historians tend to think of themselves as working in splendid isolation. We spend huge swaths of time sitting alone in archives. When we write we shut ourselves away, banning the kids from our studies, locking office doors. When we get the courage to let others see a chapter or an essay we've been laboring over, we often restrict its distribution to a tight circle of associates with the stern warning, "Do not circulate" typed in capitals on the cover page. Our work is our own, after all, our singular creation.

But of course it isn't. Many of us - most of us -- couldn't make it through the profession's incessant demands without the support of a vast network of people. I owe an incalculable debt to the friends who pulled me through grad school, despite my mediocre performance. Again and again colleagues have offered me their time, their connections, and their advice. It's impossible to count how many times my wife - a far better historian than I am - carried me through one crisis or another. And I like to think that I finished that chapter, that book, because my eight year old was willing to pass up her after-school snack so she could listen to her daddy's problems."

Amen! I hope that E_____ (the baby we're expecting) will be as supportive as my wife in my endeavors.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

An Unholy Union?

\Ralph Luker forwarded this post by Jeff Weintraub, wherein he discusses Brad DeLong's reflection about war and peace in Europe: no one has crossed the Rhine River "with fire and sword" for more than sixty years, the longest such period since antiquity (meaning in all written history.) It led Prof. Weintraub to write:
On the other hand, it's also true that we now live in a world where the prospect of a major war between, say, France and Germany really is inconceivable. Why is that?

I didn't worry about fact-checking DeLong's assertion. There were always enough German lords on the east side of the Rhine who had to suppressed revolts in small territories (or wanted to annex them) on the left side that, at least since 1000, this statement is bound to be true. The notion of hereditary Franco-German antagonism, however, was rather new to the 19th century, something German nationalists conjured up in the 1810s and 20s, and the French adopted after the disastrous war in 1870.

Furthermore, between 1818 and 1870, the most significant Rhine crossing by an army was 1849: the Prussian army into Bavaria's Palatinate to suppress the revolutionary democratic uprising, and crossing would not be the best description because they used steam ships from the Prussian Rhine Province to get there. And in the 1880s, French politicians did want an entente with Germany because their hereditary conflict with England was heating up again. At least until Boulanger hit the scene. But I ramble.

The more interesting point that DeLong makes is about the durability of integration, particularly between France and Germany. As I recently notes, French and German scholars collaborated, without much conflict, on a textbook on the two countries common history--that's history in the singular. The two nations have worked well together at least since the mid-1960s, and probably since the Saar question was resolved. And I would not be the first to opine that at the heart of the EU is Franco-German cooperation.

Going back to Weintraub's question: is a Franco-German war unimaginable? If Norman Angell was wrong in 1911 that economic integration made European war 'inconceivable,' why should it be now? If Angell had read the political tea leaves, he might have concluded differently, especially given the German military classes disregard for economic necessities. There is no social class or intellectual movement that sees war as right, revenge or renewal. Were Adenauer, Monnet and Schuman farsighted in making this once unholy union? Monnet might have to be removed from the formula, since Adenauer and Schuman's Catholicism may have been the most significant element in overcoming hesitation to cooperation.

[ETA] Given the nature of most incursions across the Rhine--to suppress the independence of cities and communities--this era of peace might say something more about how European nations are patient with democracy and less rash in their use of military force.

Amerindian Highways and other Sunday Reading

I stumbled upon this post, "The Landscapes of Lewis and Clark, part I", at SOS Forests. Mike looks at why the intrepid explorers could not find the myriad of Indian roads that already existed as they made their way across the continent.
... Besides innumerable trails, there were roads and highways. When millions of people walk the same path over thousands of years, the path becomes a foot-road. Generations of walkers removed all the sharp stones, tripping roots, and head-whacking branches from thousands of foot-roads crisscrossing the West. Indeed, most of the foot-roadside vegetation had been altered by traveler’s fires ...

Lewis and Clark spent much of the summer of 1805 looking for Indian horse-roads heading west. They knew that finding the right road meant success or failure for the expedition. Sacagawea'’s people, the Shoshones, saved the Corps by giving them horses and guides. In late September, when the Lewis and Clark deviated from the road the Shoshones pointed out to them, they got hung up in the brush and nearly starved to death ...
This post leads me back to what John Brinckerhoff Jackson (about whom I wrote here) wrote about reading the landscape. Roads are records of land use: not just transportation, but how to negotiate cultivated spaces and natural features. Lewis and Clark may have wanted to disregard local land use. What they wanted to find was the Roman road, the pathway that showed how all parts of the empire were linked together. I think how they mapped the landscape they crossed supports this desire. I am anxious for the next post in this series ... I'm sure I'll have more to say.

Click here to read more.

Karen Gulliver has the Asian History Carnival at Miscellany. Not included, unfortunately, is Alan Baumler's post, "Japan's War Guilt," which looks at the reception of Japanese war propaganda in an exhibit at MIT. Alan asks, rhetorically, whether Nazi propaganda would raise similar objections. Perhaps the question should not be rhetorical. Perhaps it points to different ways that the two histories are consumed.

On the other hand, Nazi portrayal of deaths could be frighteningly ordinary, as the Boston Globe notes.

Let my pimp my refrain on immigration history.

A certain someone is back blogging, writing about the Korean custom of the first birthday. Towards an Archeology of Iconoclasm looks at the names of pagan gods that Christians removed from inscriptions. The debate about France's memory laws continues, as the socialists in the parliament have proposed that denying the Armenian Genocide should be punished as Holocaust denial. It's success might hinge on how soon Sarkozy becomes prime minister. And in the category of America should not do what France and Germany do, several German states are targeting Turkish immigrants with a language test to see how assimilated they are.

The rapture is not an exit strategy?

Bush no speak Spanish? What does he speak?

The young often make poor, under-nuanced political statements, but it is no wonder that many children participated in the pro-immigration rallies.

Germany has 200,000 Jews now, one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. But even as it approaches the same levels as before Kristallnacht, the nature of Judaism in German has changed significantly. The Rheinischer Merkur looks at the orthodoxy of German Judaism since unification and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Border and La Causa

Happy Cinqo de Mayo! Brandon has a wonderful post that describes the events that are commemorated today, and Lisa Tolliver looks at the cultural (and commercial) aspects (HT: Natalie.)

I had wanted to do something about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, but alas, baby stuff kept me busy. I did, however, find this letter, written by Chavez to the Los Angeles Times (March 13, 1977, Pro Quest subscription required), which blows out of the water the idea that Chavez was a relentless opponent of illegal immigrants:
Illegal immigration is not a problem peculiar to the United States and Mexico. It exists wherever highly industrialized nations border underdeveloped countries . . . . At issue are larger questions of world economics and inequalities in standards of living.

For our part, we will not decide who eats and who does not. This is not a decision for mortal men to make. If growers can import illegal workers to exploit them, we can organize illegal workers to liberate them. We fought hard to ensure that California's farm labor law would guarantee the right to vote and participate in collective bargaining to all farm workers, regardless of residence status. (Emphasis mine)


The Jeunes and the Restless

This map represents six demographic trends in France, according to the Institut National de la Statistique et des ɉtudes Économiques. According to the report (pdf), young French men and women tend to flock to larger cities in their late teens and early twenties, usually for education, and return to their home towns and villages. What is more interesting is that in their mid-twenties to late thirties, when they search for permanent employment, they choose to go south and west (to either cities or suburbs.) Overall, the nation is shifting southward. The large, dark blue swath in the Northwest, where heavy industries once dominated, is a zone of negative migration: young people are leaving for the areas of high-tech industry. (Northern Alsace is almost an island in the deep blue sea, attracting both students and young people seeking employment.)

Paris, as to be expected, has its own characteristics. The spike in arrivals occurs at older ages than other large cities, and the departures occur much later. Where they really differ is in the ages in which migratory trends from the city becomes negative. In the large cities, students stay as long as they studies require, then leave. In Paris, young people stick around till their thirties, then leave. For the former, the age in which the population stabilizes (near zero departures by age) is in the mid twenties. For Paris, the numbers remain negative from the thirties until the seventies. This suggests that young people who move to Paris believe that they will be able to make a career and a home for themselves in the capital, but experience tremendous disappointment as they get older, leading to emigration of middle-aged Parisians. This may say something about the intensity of the Paris protests over the CPE in recent months. The Parisian youth sit at an intersection of hope and discontent, waiting for opportunity, but seeing people not much older than them give up for greener (or in this case, redder) pastures.

[Warning: I am colorblind, so don't be too harsh if I got the colors wrong.]

[ETA] The presence of tents around Paris is also an interesting trend.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Stealing the Hyphen from Franco-German History

French and German scholars have produced a textbook for pupils that looks at the common history of both nations since World War II. Two nations, one history. Perhaps what is most surprising is not that they would try to synthesize the two histories, but that the scholars found the synthesis to be unforced and natural. They differed on the orientation of each nation vis a vis the US, certain terminology, and the structure of the textbook (French students read more documents). Major historiographic dispute failed to arise. The ease with which the textbook was written probably best reflects the evolving commitment to rapprochement and to European unity, and at a deeper level the transnational history reflects the habituation of transnationalism between the two nations.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Refrain

There is dignity in immigration.

When the Polynesians made it across the Pacific Ocean, there was dignity in immigration.

When Moses led the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, there was dignity in immigration.

When Oñate led Spaniards and Mexicans to the banks of the Rio Grande, there was dignity in immigration.

When the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, there was dignity in immigration.

When Huguenots, looking for another new home, joined Dutch settlers in New York, there was dignity in immigration.

There was dignity for African men and women when they were placed in slave ships.

When the Acadians traveled from the Atlantic Coast to their new home in Louisiana, there was dignity in immigration.

When the English courts mercifully sent thieves to America, rather than put them to death, there was dignity in immigration.

When Germans in the Bergisch Land and Moselle realized that their farms were unprofitable next to the growing industries, they sent out scouts to Missouri to find new Heimats; there was dignity in immigration.

When Slavic peasants, no longer needed by their Austrian lords because they converted their estates from feudal rents to beet sugar production, settled on the American frontier, there was dignity in immigration.

When Sonorans joined their American cousins in the mines of California and Arizona and on the railroads, there was dignity in immigration.

When Germans, losing the fight for a constitutional monarchy, left for Wisconsin, there was dignity in immigration.

When Italians uprooted themselves because they were terrorized by the landlords' militias, there was dignity in immigration.

When Ashkenazi Jews fled the pogroms in the Pale of Settlement, sometime with the help of the Rothschilds, and found themselves in New York's garment industries, there was dignity in immigration; they found the words of their distant cousins on the Statue of Liberty.

Puerto Ricans were citizens in 1917, but their passage to the mainland was still filled with dignity.

When Cubans floated ashore on makeshift rafts, they were picked up, clothed, and welcomed; there was dignity in immigration.

There was dignity escaping the killing fields of Laos.

When Central Americans cross dry deserts because they have become ‘surplus people' in an age of globalization, there is dignity in immigration.

On the other side about every patriotic song about America is a song about people who felt the times change around them; whose way of life was upended by modernization; whose freedom was threatened by nationalism and the quest for uniformity; who could not imagine how they could fight. Many arrived before there were any restrictions on immigration; many arrived before ‘documentation' was required. Some found that the nation was closed only to their kind, at times of greatest peril. Some were expelled or ‘repatriated' despite their citizenship.

Still, the movement of people was fundamental to the human condition. There is dignity in immigration.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

José, Can You See?

Looks like Sen. Alexander is too late: the US government already commissioned a Spanish-language version of the Star-spangled Banner in 1919 (presumably to be sung by the Spanish-speaking citizens from annexed areas, among others.) Obviously, we should be sensitive to problems of meaning caused by translation, but veneration for the flag and the durability of the nation would seem to carry through with few complications. Raising a furor over a Spanish-language version of the anthem, moreover, seems to contravene the universality of rights embedded in documents more important than the national anthem, such as the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ... .")

Monday, May 01, 2006

Theory and History of Architecture

The program of Architectural Theory at the Brandenburg Technical University at Cottbus maintains an extensive collection of texts on on architecture in the 19th and 20th centuries. Sure, they're all in German, but what gems: Engels' Zur Wohnungsfrage, Joseph Görres' Der Dom von Köln und das Münster von Strasburg (one of my favorites), Gropius' Die Entwicklung moderner Industriebaukunst, Naumann's Die Kunst im Zeitalter der Maschine, Simmel's Die Großstadt und das Geistesleben, ... .