Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Strange Afterlife of Jean-Baptiste Kléber

Now that all the interesting teams have been eliminated, and the usual teams are moving on in the World Cup, I can look forward to the Tour de France. It’s one of the few broadcasted sports not played in an artificial environment (stadium or arena) in which the participants encounter the landscapes of the country. Indeed, the Tour de France was created in 1903 as an event that would cover the entirety of France, making the public think of how expansive, yet united, the country was.

Last year, just before I returned from France, banners appeared around the Place Kléber announcing that Strasbourg would be the starting point for the 2006 race. Twice before Strasbourg has been the Grand Départ, first in 1919, when Alsace was returned to France by the Treaty of Versailles, then in 1952 to promote the coming of the European Parliament–two moments of major historical and political importance. Even so, almost every race has had one through Alsace. The Tour has always had a message: Alsace belongs to France, and France belongs in Alsace.

The site of the Grand Départ is the Place Kléber (Google satellite map), the largest square at the center of the city. Along withe the Cathedral, it is one of two centers of public life in both Strasbourg and Alsace. Towering above the landscape, the Cathedral was a symbol of Gothic style and Christian democracy. Clemenceau chose it to celebrate Alsace’s return, but secular France did not embrace it.

The Place Kléber, perhaps not even a quarter mile from the Cathedral, is at the heart of the city's commercial area. Known originally as the Aubette (a northern French word for market) and the Barfüsserplatz ("barefoot square"--a Franciscan monastery was once nearby), it is the largest open space within the medieval city. The market stalls still stand along the northern side, and the major shopping avenues radiated from it in all directions. People congregate there at all hours of the day.

Overlooking the square is the statue of Jean-Baptiste Kléber (1753-1800), Napoleon’s general. It was he who fought against the Ottomans in Egypt when Napoleon returned to France. Immediately, the Strasbourgeoisie celebrated him as their hero of the Revolutionary Era.

Plans to memorialize Kléber emerged almost immediately: during the brief restoration that preceded the One Hundred Days. Municipal officials insisted that it was a matter of honoring an example of bravery than preserving sentiment for the Empire, but the royal prefect, Bouthillier, regarded Strasbourg as hostile territory to the Bourbon Monarchy: “among the people one often cries vive l'Empereur! I must make continual arrests.” In 1818 the ministers of war and interior recommended that the statue should not be on public ground; the appropriate space for it would be the Cathedral (where Kléber’s body had been reinterred.) (Perhaps they were right to be concerned: in 1836, Louis Napoleon was able to win over some of the citizens and officers in his brief coup.) The statue, designed by Philippe Grass, was finally completed in 1838, and Kléber's corpse was reburried underneath it.

The monument took on more nationalist meaning after the German annexation. The pro-French student clubs at the university made it the site of its most important rituals, the monôme. According to John Craig,
“following the annual banquet members [of the clubs] marched silently and in single file to the city's central square, there to pay their respect to the statue of Jean-Baptiste Kléber.”
The ritual came to an end when the student clubs were outlawed and disbanded.

In 1905, the Kléber monument again became a site of tension between region and the German Empire. A group of alumni, many of whom had moved to France, repeated the monôme. The police, acting on instinct rather than orders, dispersed them. The press was livid: another incident in which Germans rejected Alsatians as equal citizens. Editorials focused on Kléber’s Germanness–his family’s origins in Franconia, his education at a Bavarian military academy, and his service in the Austrian military. However, some editorials focused on Kléber’s Alsatian-ness: he belonged to Alsace, and if Germany wanted Alsace, they had to accept Kléber. According to one letter, written in Kléber’s voice,
“Alsatian I was, and Alsatian I remain.”
German authorities had no choice but to tolerate Kléber, his monument, and the veneration of the Strasbourgeoisie. They must naturalize him.

The letter echoed the sentiment of societies that remembered the military accomplishments of Alsatians ... for France, of course. German culture made the memory of fallen soldiers one of the highest civic duties. The Alsatian memorial societies claimed to do only that:
“The memory of the dead is a harvester of the past that brings out of the recesses of the heart that which is best in our history.”
Of course, it forced a confrontation between Alsace’s history and German nationalism. It was the origin of an understanding of indigenous rights that would be fully developed in the 1930s: Alsatians had the right to remain what they were. Any ambitions that they had to become more must proceed from their right.

When the Germans returned in 1940, the statue was dismantled, and Kléber was reburied elsewhere. The square was renamed Karl Roos Platz, after an automist who was shot in 1940 by the French government. With the defeat of Germany, the square was renamed, and Kléber, both corpse and statue, were returned.

The Place Kléber and its venerated hero was always the site of contested nationality, but always a nationality that had special local and regional meaning: borne of citizenship rather than ethnicity. The memory of Jean-Baptiste Kléber exceeded, perhaps, his own deeds. He became the eternal citizen of Alsace, a reminder to the nation of the genius and self-determination of the people.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

"Kick the Nazis out!"

Poster for a counter-rally to one planned by the Fascist NPD in Munich on July 1 (in Bavarian; click here for English version.)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Saint Bloch, the Unknown

So far, I have read nothing but enthusiasm for a plan to canonize Marc Bloch among France's great minds in the Panthéon. The author of Strange Defeat, Bloch seems to embody the strengths of French republicanism. A great honor due to a great thinker, I share Zid's disappointment that he is not being honored equally for his history and his contribution to medieval studies.

Wish David Tiley Well

He's been having a bad year.

[Sorry, Dave, I got your last name wrong. I still want you to recover.]

Augustine atop the Tower of Babel

Jonathan Wilson has an interesting post about language and imperialism based on his reading of Augustine.

The passage falls in the middle of book XIX, which discusses "the opinions of the philosophers regarding the supreme good, and their vain efforts to make for themselves a happiness in this life." According to Augustine, the world's different languages produce political divisions that frustrate any efforts to achieve universal temporal peace:

And here [in the world], in the first place, man is separated from man by the difference of languages. For if two men, each ignorant of the other's language, meet, and are not compelled to pass, but, on the contrary, to remain in company, dumb animals, though of different species, would more easily hold intercourse than they, human beings though they be. For their common nature is no help to friendliness when they are prevented by diversity of language from conveying their sentiments to one another; so that a man would more readily hold intercourse with his dog than with a foreigner. But the imperial city has endeavored to impose on subject nations not only her yoke, but her language, as a bond of peace, so that interpreters, far from being scarce, are numberless. This is true; but how many great wars, how much slaughter and bloodshed, have provided this unity!
So Augustine says that peaceful intercourse (which he takes as the goal of human government) is impossible without a common language, but the Roman empire imposes a common language by force, which itself thwarts the cause of peace in the world. He continues:
And though these [wars of conquest] are past, the end of these miseries has not yet come. For though there have never been wanting, nor are yet wanting, hostile nations beyond the empire, against whom wars have been and are waged, yet, supposing there were no such nations, the very extent of the empire itself has produced wars of a more obnoxious description -- social and civil wars -- and with these the whole race has been agitated, either by the actual conflict or the fear of a renewed outbreak. If I attempted to give an adequate description of these manifold disasters, these stern and lasting necessities, though I am quite unequal to the task, what limit could I set?
At least a few things should be qualified. The Romans, while imposing their language on the nations and tribes they conquered, did not always insist that their language supplant native linguistic traditions, nor did they insist on strict adherence to their own grammatical standards. For the most part, Latin was a language of communication for elites, a pidgin for merchants, and its use fluctuated over time and space. "Latins" multiplied, becoming languages of their own or synthesizing with the native tongues they encountered. Indeed, Latin was not the only language of empire--Greek was alive in the "East," which put it in a position to preserve other traditions of Rome long after the city's fall. (Of course, my typical complaint that "peace" really meant "order.")

Latin was not the tool of empire as was, say, French, Spanish, and English. French may be one of the best examples of how insisting on homogeneous linguistic standards can work against the goals of empire. French educators insisted that colonial subjects were incapable of reproducing the vocal and philosophical subtleties of the language. According to David Gordon, this "linguistic chauvinism" made French alien and unassimilable to those subjects. Even Britain had a better track record bringing their language to the world, allowing peoples to adopt it to their own needs.

Why, however, did Augustine not draw on the Tower of Babel in reflecting on the potential of uniform language? The creation of many tongues, in order to defeat the arrogance of humanity, would seem to make multilingualism a virtue.

Architecture, Johnny-come-lately

Today, Paris' new museum will open to the public. The Musée du Quai Branly is already being studied as an attempt to rethink institutions dedicated to non-western art and culture. On the one hand, it attempts to fulfill Chirac's 1995 promise of "a great institution destined to house so-called primitive art." On the other, to keep that institution at the center of public life by making it a regular destination in the life of the city, on par with the Centre Pompidou.

On both points it has been received with loud enthusiasm and quiet concern. The base for its collection comes from the fusion of two institutions whose purpose was less than noble: ananthropologyl museum and a museum of oriental art. Both were products of France's imperialism, and although they work towards different ends, they emphasized the primitiveness of non-western societies. However, Quai Branly strives to overcome the limitations of such institutions. Indeed, Chirac's purpose was to restart non-western studies without the baggage of the past. And in its design and protocols, the institution has attempted to undo the exploitative relationship that characterized its predecessors, making "a place for the confrontation of the cultures of the world, an open window to diversity." Jean-Yves Marin called it "an authentic postcolonial museum"--not just bringing the older collections back on display, museum officials have actively encouraged the participation of scholars and researchers from those regions represented in the museum. Despite the careful planning and the extent of international collaboration, the museum will probably attract blanket criticism about the West and its oriental obsessions.

The other point concerns the design of the museum itself. Already compared to Bibloa's Guggenheim and Berlin's Jewish Museum, the lead architect, Jean Nouvel, has said a lot about architecture's relationship to contemporary culture. And it's not necessarilypositivee:
Nouvel: architecture is the petrification of the cultural moment. This moment supposes that one is interested in something other than architecture: "We cannot invent architecture without the autonomy of architecture." ... Architecture is the last art to express itself after all the others, but it shows itself more than the rest.
Nouvel places his designs within intellectual currents that have already crested: "structuralism, Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Deleuze."

As much as his opinion would doom the long term success of the Musée du Quai Branly, the architectural space will be determined more by its use than the ideas that guided the architects. Its success will be determined by its ability to overcome prejudices against it: that the museum caters to special interest, or that its collections are inferior to the paintings in the Louvre. To that end, designers have loaded the institution with numerous facilities to encourage people to make regular visits; "primitive art" should become more familiar, less exotic, less peripheral.

Great Books in Medical History

Courtesy of BRDGT:

  • Laurel Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.
  • John Harley Warner, The Therapeutic Perspective: Medical Practice, Knowledge, and Identity in America, 1820-1885
  • Charles E. Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of America’s Hospital System
  • Steven M. Stowe, Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
  • Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (New York: Harper and Row, 1976).
  • James H. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life
  • Judith Walzer Leavitt, Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750 to 1950
  • Judith Leavitt, Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
  • Nancy Tomes, The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life
  • Robert A. Orsi, Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes
  • Leslie J. Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973
  • Keith Wailoo, Dying in the City of the Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health
  • David M. Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story
  • Barron H. Lerner, The Breast Cancer Wars: Hope, Fear, and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America
  • Gregg Mitman, Breathing Space : An Ecological History of Allergy in America
  • Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century: The Rise and Fall of the Drug That Defined America

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mexico: Virgin of Quetzalcoatl

From Earl Shorris, The Life and Times of Mexico:
It was a theological rebellion: The criollo church, eventually joined by the mestizo church, separated itself and its parishioners from Spain. Or perhaps the Spanish kings inadvertently decreed the separation, for during the entire colonial period, three hundred years of rule and the extraction of enormous wealth by the Spanish crown, no king of Spain had ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean to visit his provinces in the New World. Nonetheless, the crown made all the important decisions about life and death, God and money, in New Spain.

Had the crown been closer to its most profitable colony, the king might have noticed the signs of religious and intellectual unrest that appeared long before Fray Servando’s sermon; the Jesuits had attempted to Mexicanize Christianity. Even more dangerous was Fray Juan de Torquemada’s notion of the Indians’ having undertaken a journey like that of the Israelites, making them the “chosen people?’ Torquemada’s idea posed several problems for his fellow Spaniards, who considered themselves the “chosen people:’ evidenced by their discovery and conquest of the New World as part of their God-given mission to universalize Christianity.

But then the criollos decided they were the “chosen people” on the basis of the finding of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of precious metals in the sixteenth century. If God had not chosen them, they argued, why would He have provided them with such wealth?

Only one people could be “chosen.” But which one? Could the arguments be combined, as in the idea that the indigenous were chosen to receive Christianity? And if so, by whom? And did that make them the “chosen people”?

The spark came from Fray Servando and the theologians. There had been earlier thoughts of the conversion of the Indians by the Apostle St. Thomas; claiming he was really Quetzalcoatl, but they had come to nothing. The seventeenth-century writer Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who revered the pre-Columbian Indians and had nothing but contempt for their descendants, had argued the unlikely tale almost a hundred years before Servando’ sermon.

At the end of the eighteenth century the St. Thomas as Quetzalcoatl theory had gone out of fashion. It made no historical sense. Then Fray Servando came up with an equally bizarre notion. Sigüenza y Góngora was in the right church but the wrong pew. It was not St. Thomas the Apostle but St. Thomas of Mylapore who had converted the Mexicans in the sixth century. The cloak on which the miraculous image of the Virgin appeared had been brought to Mexico by the sixth-century saint; it had not appeared miraculously.

For the people of New Spain the argument could not have been better. The tall, white, bearded man known to the Indians as Quetzalcoatl had converted the people of New Spain long before the arrival of the Spaniards. As unreasonable as the argument sounds to the twenty-first-century mind, it had a powerful effect on the people of New Spain. It fulfilled their dreams of religious, social and—did they dare say it?—national equality.

So they thought it was logical: Proofs of the evangelization of Spain by St. James the Apostle were very weak, but there was no doubt of the existence of the cloak of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the very cloak that had been brought with him by St. Thomas in the sixth century. A person could see it with his own eyes. What evidence was there that the headless skeleton found at Compostela in Spain really belonged to St. James?

If Servando’s theory was correct, the Mexicans had not been evangelized by the Spaniards; they owed nothing of their understanding of God to the invaders. The Spaniards had come a thousand years too late to lay claim to the discovery and evangelization of the Mexicans. The argument made by Spain since the end of the fifteenth century that it had been chosen to carry out the will of God by evangelizing the natives of the New World no longer held true. St. Thomas, the real Quetzalcoatl, had done his work before the invasion. Truly, God had loved the people and the people had loved God long before the Spanish invasion. The justification for Spanish control had never existed. There was no longer any reason for the people of the place known as New Spain to be loyal to the Spanish Church or the crown.

Servando had conveyed the right to govern themselves to those born in New Spain, the criollos (he did not suggest that the land be returned to the indigenous people whom St. Thomas had evangelized). It made no difference that the historic Quetzalcoatl (of Tula) was born hundreds of years after the supposed visit of St. Thomas. New Spain in the nineteenth century did not concern itself with such matters. Servando had solved the questions around the evangelization and the Virgin of Guadalupe’s cloak; he had pulled everything together with one marvelous explanation just as the Virgin herself was to pull together all the divergent parts of Mexico. The Inquisition recognized the power of his idea almost immediately and saw to it that he was sent into exile. For the next fifteen years Fray Servando wandered through southern Europe and Spain, now in prison, now fleeing for his life, hounded by Church and government.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mexico: Preserving Medieval Spain

From Earl Shorris, The Life and Times of Mexico:
"Carlos Fuentes wrote that 1588 [the defeat of the Spanish Armada] was the third important date in the history of Spain's absolutist monarchy. It marked the beginning of a national collapse, the end of the sixteenth-century glory of Spain.

"Two earlier dates Fuentes pointed out marked the arrogance and error of empire. In 1492, Spain made the fateful errors that would determine its future over many centuries. Fuentes wrote, "Expelling the Sephardic Jews was the worst wound that the Spanish monarchy inflicted upon itself. It compounded the wound by passing intolerant laws in favor of religious dogmatism and against so-called impurity of blood."

"In the same year the Catholic kings defeated the Moors at Granada, which was but prelude to their expulsion in 1502. Within the space of a few months Spain had stripped itself of most of its intellectual capability in matters of state, finance, commerce, philosophy, literature and got rid of the best of its artists and craftsmen. When Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Indies on October 12,1492, the government that had sent him to gain its fortune through the spice trade was already doomed.

"War, discovery, and expulsion in 1492 affected the administration of New Spain for more than three hundred years, but a single book by Antonio de Nebrija, a grammar of the Castillian language, was also to have enormous influence. When Queen Isabella asked what use there was in having such a grammar, Nebrija is said to have replied that the Castillian language was the ideal weapon of empire.

"The events of 1521, the third date, were to establish New Spain and set the pattern for its government. In that year the urban center of the Mexican world, Tenochtitlan, fell to the Spaniards and their Tiaxcalan allies, but of almost equal importance, the comuneros (townspeople) of Castille rose up in revolt. Fifteen Castillian towns gathered to petition the king for democratic reforms, perhaps a constitutional monarchy.

But there was to be no Spanish Magna Carta. The nobles joined their king in putting down the rebellion. The comunero leaders were executed, and as they died, the idea of democracy in Spain and its colonies died with them. There were no more democratic uprisings during the three centuries of Spanish Empire. The effective democratic movements of 1776 in the American colonies and 1789 in France did not spread to New Spain. The separate political paths of Mexico and its neighbor were set 250 years before Jefferson's Declaration. The deaths of the comuneros had ended the democratic rebellion, and the tightening of the connection between the king and his nobles had begun an absolutist and centralist tradition in Spain, old and new.

"There is a fourth set of dates that should be added to Fuentes's list. Spanish absolutism and orthodoxy were ratified in three meetings in Trent held between 1545 and 1563. The difference between the character and development of the United States and that of Mexico was determined by those three meetings. The Pope's most influential men at the meetings of the Council of Trent were Spaniards, proponents of the most severe forms of dogmatic control over religious thought, forms that furthered the control of the State and the State Church over the individual. Not for the Spaniards was Luther's idea of the "liberty of the Christian man." The Bible, tradition, and the world were to be as interpreted by the Pope.

The Spain of the Middle Ages had been preserved. A wall had been built against humanism and rebellion, the God of Thomas Aquinas had defeated the man of the coming Enlightenment, and democracy, the Athenian contribution to the politics of the modern world, had been shut out of the Spanish Empire. Religion and state had been interconnected, one dependent upon the other, in Spain as it had been in the pre-Columbian world of Mexico."
The transfer of Spanish conservatism, according to Shorris, has been the most dooming aspects of Mexican history. Not just locking it into nostalgic passivity, Mexico received the unreformable institutions of Spain that could neither displace indigenous culture, nor create a syncretic Mexican culture, or allow the native culture of Nahaus and Maya to flourish. The fight to preserve Medieval Spain was tranferred to New Spain, where it fell into an irreconcilable dualism with indigenous culture.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Nazis and their Friends

This by-line was not entirely surprising:
Die CIA und deutsche Geheimdienste ließen den NS-Kriegsverbrecher Adolf Eichmann offenbar unbehelligt in Argentinien leben, obwohl sie seinen Aufenthaltsort kannten. Das belegen nun veröffentlichte US-Dokumente. Die Geheimdienste verschonten den Kriegsverbrecher, weil er über brisante Informationen über antikommunistische Aktivitäten in Westdeutschland verfügte.

[The CIA and the German Secret Service let Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichman live unmolested in Argentina, even though they knew of his whereabouts. Newly published American documents supply evidence for this. The Secret Service spared the war criminal, because he posessed volatile information over anti-communist activities in West Germany.]
The article in the Rheinische Post asserts also that Eichmann was left untouched because he could expose the German state secrataries involvement in shaping the Nuremberg Laws.

French complicity in Nazi crimes was on trial, as well. A French court ordered the government and the SNCF (French rail company) to compensate Alain Lipietz for their role in transfering his father into the hands of the Nazis for deporation and extermination. According to the judgement:
L'administration française ne pouvait manifestement ignorer que leur transfert (...) a facilité une opération qui devait normalement être le prélude à la déportation des personnes concernées ...

[The French administration could not obviously ignore that their transfer ... facilitated an operation that normally was the prelude to deporation ...]

Actually, it was pretty bad ...

Some knowledgeable scholars respond to my post on childbirth:
In practice, in England, I doubt many women stayed in bed for a month - it depended on how quickly a mother recovered from the birth rather than being a rigidly defined period. And they weren't really in seclusion: there'd be a regular flow of 'gossips' and food and gifts. It was all meant to be very sociable - for women, anyway. Men weren't welcome. (I think Natalie Davis argued somewhere in her classic 'Women on top' essay that this was a period of household role reversal, when husbands would be expected to do housework and childcare and could be bossed around by their wives, but I'm not sure just how much evidence she had for that one.)
[Judith Leavitt] has an article on "twilight sleep" that is excellent - let's just say that the popular conception that "doctors medicalized and took over childbirth" is not accurate at all. Childbirth was incredibly dangerous and painful and women who could afford pain relief (after the discovery of things like ether) demanded it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Was it really so bad?

"They put women on gas as soon as they arrived at the hospital."

"Believing that new mothers did not produce enough milk, nurses immediately gave newborns a bottle of formula."

"Men were allowed nowhere near the delivery room."

Childbirth classes were interesting, but I especially loved the stories that people shared with us about the conditions into which they came into the world. So much has changed in a generation that our experiences will be substantially different from those of our mothers and fathers. I guess we all had conversations with our parents, and they told us how childbirth was a cold, hazy, sometimes alienating, experience--nothing of the 'naturalness' and intimacy for which we are prepared. Even my own mother apologized to me for what they "didn't know" at the time.

Sometimes I found the stories a bit one sided. The short durée of childbirth--of hospitals, physicians,anestheticss, unnecessary Caesarians, etc.--is, well, short. Hospital births are really a twentieth century phenomenon: Jimmy Carter was the first American president to have been born in a hospital. These stories were highly gendered as well: the doctors were all men; the nurses women who were under the doctors tight control; and midwives were nowhere in sight.

Was childbirth really so bad then, and was it better before? My gut says no. While I am alarmed that medical professionals would have treated childbirth as a medical problem, there were at least some advantages not just to medicine's entry into childbirth, but the professionalization of midwifery as well.

Consider the practice of laying in following childbirth. Women would remain secluded with their children, perhaps with the help of neighbors, for a month. Not only was it an extraordinary curtailingt of a woman's movement, it was a profound misunderstanding of the new mother's recuperative abilities. Moreover, according to Lyndal Roper, this period of intense isolation was the perfect vehicle for generating accusations of witchcraft.

When I have some time (after I stop dissertating for the summer this weekend) I'll look into the history of childbirth some more.

Here are the Young Men (Père Goriot part 3)

For all my blabbing about bourgeoisie and aristocracy during the French Restoration, Balzac conception of social class is remarkably fluid. Both Andrew and I have written a lot already about status and comportment. We both see Rastignac, the young law student from the ‘south', as a figure whose downfall is legendary. Andrew has punctuated this by putting more weight on his provincialism:
He's a young law student from the south, the son of a prominent provincial family which enables him to begin circulating in an elevated Parisian milieu. What's striking about him, in addition to his overt social ambitions, is how he's just wrong about everything.

Rastignac is not destined for greatness in Paris. His parents did not send him there to further their name and enhance their stature. But rather to be rid of him. They did not endow him with the knowledge necessary to adequately function in the big city and such knowledge does not come easily for a provincial young man. Even the cab driver, supposedly Rastignac's social better, understand how Paris functions.

The man from the provinces and the two Frances were not just themes of Balzac's work, they were part of his own experiences. Balzac had made his way to Paris in his youth, and his fiction often drew from his own struggles to achieve literary success. Balzac, however, rarely expressed sympathy for ambitious writers who followed in his footsteps, portraying them as adventurers who gave up their art as soon as they tasted luxury.

Rastignac was but part of the slow growing mobility of early 19th century France that was geographic as well as social. French universities did not keep apace with universities in other nations, and centralization (as in all things) was strong. Most French universities supported one or two faculties, usually reflecting the particular needs of the region. Only two cities in France had full university faculties, Paris and Strasbourg. Since the latter operated more within the German education system, Paris was the logical destination for ambitious Frenchmen. And, receiving their pedigrees in Paris, they resented having to leave (especially true for the public officials.)

Getting back to social fluidity: Balzac recognizes categories like ‘bourgeoisie' and ‘aristocracy', but they seem less important to him than generations. Indeed, the novel could be interpreted as a battle between three generations that have passed through revolution in different ways. First, the generation of 1789, the Goriots, who made their name participating in the changes that would make the nation. Goriot's wealth was made serving the revolutionary government, and there is a sense that his wealth (and by extension, the accomplishments of the Revolution) that the Restoration drained away. Their bourgeois values are unassailable, but their dedication to family makes him vulnerable.

Second, the generation of 1815, who turned the balance achieved during the Napoleonic era into a return of court culture. In the novel, this generation is highly feminized: its faces are all women—Goriot's daughters (de Nuncingen and de Restaud) and de Beauséant. Men are present, but they seem to orbit around these women, trying to possess them. This generation ‘restored' clientelism in which the drives of the Revolution serve their needs.

Finally, the youth of France—Rastignac's generation, who would become the generation of the July Revolution. Eventually, they would pick up the torch of 1789 rather than just feed off its accomplishments. At this stage, Balzac saw the youth of France with immeasurable potential, but he had misgivings about their impressionability: they were too carefree and given to fashion and luxury. They wallowed in the wealth of the elite, believing that it was there own, dissipating their talent on gambling and affairs and abandoning the ideals that brought them to Paris in the first place.
All young men seem to be subject to an inexorable law, though they are driven by their youth and the wild fury with which they fling themselves into pleasure. Whether poor or rich, they never have enough fir life's necessities, though they can always find enough for any whim that strikes them.

Friday, June 02, 2006

English as an Immigrant Language

And as it happens, all the evidence suggests that it takes recent immigrants a generation or so less to learn English than it took the German, Polish, or Italian immigrants of the early 20th century. True, first-generation immigrants are often slow to learn the language, particularly if they live in ethnic enclaves and work at menial jobs. But their children are virtually all English-speaking, unlike the children of first-generation immigrants a century ago.

-- Geoffrey Nunberg, Where our mouth is
This point could have been made stronger: one century ago, new immigrants to America encountered a barrage of cultural institutions that encouraged them to retain their native languages, to stem the tide of Americanization and the loss of ethnic identity. The Swedish Lutheran Church even opposed a measure in the Wisconsin state legislature that would have mandated some (an hour or two) school instruction take place in English.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Recovering from Archive Fever

Part I of History Carnival #32 is up a Aqueduct. It reveals a strange bit of synchronicity: both Evan Roberts and I, on the same day, posted about using digital photography in archival research. Evan's post is more appropriate for the individual researcher (and hopefully he would appreciate the ability to make archival images public), noting what cameras and features are most useful. Cheap (less than $400) can be good -- an expensive camera is not necessarily best for the kind of photography any historian will want to do in the archive, and a more professional digital camera would be cumbersome. One thing I would add: rather than using the black and white mode without flash (because most archives require that pictures are taken with only ambient light), use the camera's white balance feature. Sometimes it can reproduce text more clearly, especially on discolored paper.