Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Two years ago, I quite enjoyed Louis Bayard's Mr. Timothy, so I was looking forward to his most recent novel, The Pale Blue Eye (2006). While Mr. Timothy is a sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol, The Pale Blue Eye adopts a different (albeit familiar) strategy: its narrator, Augustus Landor, joins up with a youthful Edgar Allan Poe to investigate multiple murders--not to mention missing hearts--at a rather beleaguered West Point. "Landor" isn't an allusion to the poet--he owns a cottage. ("Augustus," however, is probably a nod in the direction of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and perhaps C. Auguste Dupin as well.) In the manner of Sherlock Holmes pastiche, the novel thus writes a promised but unwritten Poe story, rather than rewrites an extant text. Along the way, we read a poem that isn't "The Raven," stumble across some situations vaguely reminiscent of "The Tell-Tale Heart" (including, of course, the title, which here appears in the aforementioned non-"Raven"), and meet a suspiciously House-of-Usherish family. In other words, Bayard imagines the novel's events as fictional biographical precursors of Poe's own tales, grounding them in "reality" instead of the Gothic, Freudian psychology, or however else one might choose to interpret them.
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for Mr. Timothy singularly failed to carry over to this newest venture. First and foremost was the question of style. As in Mr. Timothy, Bayard usually avoids writing cod nineteenth-century prose; Landor frequently addresses his "Reader," in a manner more akin to Jane Eyre than Poe's narrators, but that's about it. If only Bayard had shown similar restraint with Poe. Alas, the reader is subjected to considerable quantities of faux Poe--and very faux it is indeed. It's hard not to giggle when confronted with effusions like this: "Lea. Lea! What a ravishing residue does that name deposit within my ear's inner chamber! What a world of happiness is foretold within those two brief and euphonious syllables!" (209) Bayard's ersatz Poe primarily relies on multisyllabic words, vaguely stilted sentence structures, an occasional slide into alliteration, and literary allusions; there's little sign of the real Poe's rhythmic sense, his use of apposition and repetition, and the like. Since Bayard modernizes Landor's prose but not Poe's, the overall effect feels even more jarring, as if the two characters had accidentally stumbled into each other from different novels and decided to collaborate.
The plotting, however, is just as problematic. While I plead guilty to thinking sometimes uncomplimentary thoughts about historical mysteries, the "historical" element is not the difficulty here--it's the "mystery" bit. Since I'm about to reveal the ending, the rest of this essay will go below the fold.
Mr. Timothy was occasionally beset by mystery cliches, but The Pale Blue Eye positively swarms with them. There's the Rundown Ex-Cop with Personal Motives, the Earnest Sidekick, the Discursive Explanation While the Suspects Do Nothing, and so forth. The plot that locks all of these elements together, however, isn't out of Poe--it's out of Agatha Christie. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, to be precise. But unlike Christie, who had plotting down to an exact science, Bayard ornaments and inflates his narrative; Landor tricks us more by red herrings than by artful omission. The revelation of Landor's guilt and motive feels clumsy. Looking back over the novel in retrospect, the reader can see some points where Landor has clearly misdirected us, but in other instances, the case is fuzzier. Moreover, given Poe, one would expect a more...outrageous? insane?...narrator, but Landor exhibits only run-of-the-mill (and perfectly understandable) vengefulness. Faux Poe at one end, insufficient Poe at the other. A bit more of Patrick McGrath's spirit might have been in order.
This is not to say that there's nothing worthwhile about the novel. <; Near the end, Landor tells Poe that "I can do business with a poet all right. But not with a liar" (323), and the novel implicitly dwells on the fine line between storytelling and lying, real and poetic truths. (It is perhaps less successful when dealing with the imagination; Poe believes that his poems are being "dictated" to him by spirits, but as I noted above, the novel proposes a much more banal, biographical explanation.) And Bayard also devotes considerable space to the perils and promises of memory, which becomes as much of a threat as a haven. But I fear that the novel overall failed to live up to the promise of Bayard's previous work on nineteenth-century ground.
Hazel Rowley,"A Sort of Homecoming," The Nation, 11 September, reviews Middle Passage by Brown's prize-winning historian James T. Campbell, Kevin Gaines' African Americans in Ghana, and Ekow Eshun's Black Gold in the Sun.
Stein Ringen,"The American Seen," TLS, 30 August, reviews Claus Offe, Reflections on America: Tocqueville, Weber and Adorno in the United States.
Two pieces in yesterday's Boston Globe are worth noting:
Alex Beam,"MIT's Inconvenient Scientist," discusses attempts to suppress the work of an MIT scientist who challenges widespread beliefs about global warming. If Richard Lindzen is promoting fake science, his accusers should take their case and evidence to his superiors at MIT. Otherwise, let the debate continue!
Jeff Jacoby,"Sacrificing Truth on the Altar of Diversity," discusses the practice of faking disability for illustrations in children's textbooks. It's not exactly like putting blackface on white models to represent diversity, but it isn't exactly unlike it, either.
Finally, farewell for the time being, at least, to our colleague, Caleb McDaniel, and farewell to his Mode for Caleb. As always, he explains his reasoning better than I could, so go over and read it. It's a very exciting time for the McDaniels. We wish them the very best and look forward to the possibility of Caleb's rejoining us in the future.
Scott McLemee,"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," Inside Higher Ed, 30 August, takes a look back at three seasons of HBO's"Deadwood."
Douglas Mastriano,"Alvin York and the Meusse-Argonne Offensive," HistoryNet.com, n.d., looks at America's hero in WWI, Alvin York, from the German point of view. Thanks to Tom Bruscino at Big Tent for the tip.
Richard Wolin's"Foucault the Neohumanist?" CHE, 1 September, is not subscriber only and it's definitely worth the read. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
Louis Menand,"Bob on Bob," New Yorker, 4 September, reviews Jonathan Cott, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews. Does Menand publish anything that is not essential reading? Thanks to Eric Altermann at Altercation for the tip.
It is always easier to complain about the work of others than to do a better job yourself.
Hence my current dilemma. I've just re-read a long narrative section of one chapter where I'm talking about the political history of one chiefship, in particular the career of one of the central figures in my manuscript, Chief Munhuwepayi Mangwende.
Now keep in mind that I've been thinking about this particular history for about eight years now. Even I have trouble following the ins-and-outs of assassinations, poisonings, conspiracies, plottings, competing claims to the chiefship, intermingled familial histories and so on. As I re-read it, I feel a bit like Michael Palin's character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who is trying to smooth tempers over after Sir Lancelot slaughters a wedding party: "Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who."
What is especially challenging for me as I think about my probable readers are the unfamiliar names of all the individuals, particularly given that some of the names actually repeat quite often within a generation. (I have to sort out at least three contemporary men who were commonly known as Gomba, for example.)
So a couple of questions for anyone reading.
1. Do you find kinship diagrams useful in general for following relationships within families? What about when they necessarily get really messy (The two chiefly lineages with which I'm concerned have a lot of cases where widows are remarried to rivals, sometimes forcibly, and have children by two, three or sometimes four men in their lifetimes)?
2. If you're writing about byzantine conspiracies and confusingly entangled lineage politics, is it ok if readers remain largely confused about what's going on, given that this is impressionistically what I'd like readers to feel anyway? Or does a rapid-fire review of plots, counter-plots and rival claims that features about thirty different African men with names unfamiliar to American readers just reinforce the feeling that African history is generally incomprehensible? (Basically I'm asking whether it's better to make a point about how complicated things are by laying it out in all its glory, or just telling you all that it's really complicated and boiling it down to its simplest particulars.)
Just to give you some flavor of what I'm dealing with, here's one largish chunk of this section of the chapter. My central character is Munhuwepayi Mangwende; here I'm trying to explain the background to the attempted assassination in 1940 of Munhuwepayi Mangwende by his cousin Raguma, with the probable cooperation of his half-brother Enoch.
Timothy Burke, Spiders and Captives, Chapter Three, draft, 2006.
"In the late 1870s or early 1880s, following a period of famine, the holder of the chiefship was Katerere, who only held the chiefship for a year. The circumstances of his death were unknown, but immediately after his death, Mungate Mangwende of the other lineage became chief. Several oral histories claim that at this time, Katerere’s son Chirodza attempted to assassinate Mungate and stage a coup d’etat by sending a flock of bees to sting Mungate to death.
Mungate survived this attack and decided to retaliate, asking his sons Gatsi and Muchemwa to kill Chirodza. They got him drunk and threw him in a river to drown with his arms and legs tied, and Mungate claimed the chiefship. Later, in 1892, Mungate and Muchemwa were also thought by many to have set up Chirodza’s nephew Gomwe to be killed by colonial police. Mungate also tried to “eat up” the rival lineage by giving away Chirodza’s wives to members of his own lineage, including to Muchemwa , but Chirodza’s younger brother Chibanda as well as some of his sons survived the takeover.
Muchemwa functioned as his father’s most ruthless political enforcer, but eventually became politically estranged from him after Mungate pursued alliances with Portuguese traders moving into the Zimbabwe plateau in the 1880s and later accommodated the new white colonizers who came north in 1890. At least one scholarly account argues that both Muchemwa and Gatsi became broadly popular figures with the general populace in the chiefdom due in part to their opposition to colonial intrusion, but at the cost of being estranged from the elites within both chiefly lineages.
Muchemwa was an important leader in the 1896-97 uprising against the colonizers, and unlike many, refused to surrender at its end. During the uprising, he murdered Bernard Mizeki, a convert to Christianity from Mozambique who had moved into Murewa to prosletyze for the Anglican Church. He also continued to settle dynastic scores largely unrelated to the struggle against white rule during this same period, killing and threatening many of his enemies within the district. Muchemwa waged a personal guerilla war until 1903, when he brokered an agreement with the colonial official William Edwards that allowed him to avoid criminal punishment but compelled him to live next to Edwards and remain under his personal supervision.
In August 1909, Muchemwa confronted two sons of Chirodza, Mutsvatiwa and Gururi, during a meal. Mutsvatiwa was the son of one of Chirodza’s wives whom Muchemwa had taken as a wife after murdering Chirodza. Mutsvatiwa would later testify that Muchemwa frequently chased or attacked him whenever they met, and on this occasion, their mutual hostility boiled over. Muchemwa asked why the two men refused to greet him, and then grabbed their food away from them when they refused to reply. Mutsvatiwa and Gururi got up and left the hut, returning a few minutes later armed with clubs. Mutsvatiwa accused Muchemwa of plotting to poison or bewitch him and then struck him across the forehead with his stick, opening a deep cut three inches long. Muchemwa was able to make it the local clinic on his own, but his skull had been fractured. His condition went unnoticed or at least untreated and he died almost two weeks later after a police officer noticed how bad his condition had become. The Attorney General of Southern Rhodesia refused to prosecute the men for murder, calling the crime “just”.
After Muchemwa died, his brother Gomba took one of his wives and completed the payment of bridewealth to her father that Muchemwa had begun. Here I arrive at the entangled relationship of Munhuwepayi, Enoch, Raguma and Raguma’s other victims, Mbumbira and Josiah. Munhuwepayi was Muchemwa’s son, born only a year before his death, in 1908. Raguma was Gomba’s son, born of Muchemwa’s former wife. Enoch was also Gomba’s son, but of a different mother, born before Raguma. Mbumbira was Munhuwepayi’s older half-brother, also a son of Muchemwa. Josiah was Munhwepayi’s nephew, the son of Muchemwa’s sister and the district officer William Edwards. (Or the son of another district officer, depending on which source you trust.) Just to make it more difficult to follow, let me also introduce at this point Raguma’s sisters Erica and Ethel, who were born after him, and whose bridewealth was eventually ostensibly to spark the dispute between Raguma and Munhuwepayi."
Both men repeatedly singled out Jews (Wolfowitz, Feith, Elliot Abrams) when describing policies that have broad support in the upper levels of the administration. When asked why he took this approach, Walt replied, "I could have mentioned non-Jewish people like John Bolton."
Mearsheimer, Milbank noted, "made no such distinctions as he used 'Jewish activists,' 'major Jewish organizations' and the 'Israel lobby' interchangeably." He accused Israel of having briefed the administration months in advance of their plans to attack Hezbollah; when asked to supply evidence, he cited the "public record." From where: Al Jazeera?
Some points the duo made were undoubtedly true. Walt, for instance, pointed to the US-Israeli alliance to explain the Bush administration's policies in the recent conflict in Lebanon. But how these policies directly related to the alleged massive influence of Jews high in the administration the Harvard dean didn't say. More bizarrely, Walt suggested that if not for the Israel lobby, the Iraq war "would have been much less likely." Many items might explain the Bush administration's conduct in Iraq. But Saddam Hussein as of 2002 wasn't exactly Public Enemy #1 for Israel.
Mearsheimer concluded the appearance by donning a button, "Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby." There's some high-level intellectual commentary.
A study by the Pew Research Center suggests that the riots of Fall 2005 don't reflect a failure of the French model of assimilation, nor do they reflect special dissatisfaction among French Muslims for their place in society--at least vis-à-vis other western nations.
Based on poll results, French Muslims 1) have the same concerns of Muslims in other countries, 2) although they are more likely to regard unfavorably the US and the War on Terror, they are more likely to regard them favorably as well, 3) more suspicious of the ascent of anti-Israeli politics (a.k.a. Islamo-Fascism); 4) more likely to feel at home in the West. Here are some charts:
French Muslims appear to be more opinionated, more skeptical, and generally more accepting of the values of their nation than their brethren in other countries. Are French Muslims more French than Muslim? Perhaps, although the conclusion of the pollsters--that "the French need take no integrationist lessons from their European neighbors"--is dubious. French Muslims may feel more French than British Muslims feel British, but the question of how minorities feel about their citizenship and nationality has, in the past, produced highly deceptive results. Those who claim to be true French may have more to say about how integrated French Muslims really are.
[Cross-posted at The Rhine River.]
Thanks to all who commented about"Women and History Blogging" at Cliopatria, BlogHer, The ClutterMuseum, Frog in a Well/Japan, Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee, The Sheila Variations and Siris. The history blogosphere remains predominantly male, though as Sharon Howard points out, probably less so than the political blogosphere. Given the nature of the internet, as Scott McLemee and Gillian Polack suggest, the lists of blogging female historians are probably not exhaustive. But the discussions helped us to find each other and added two more blogs, both to the lists in the post and, eventually, to Cliopatria's History Blogroll: Polack's Even in a Little Thing, which combines interest in history and sci-fi, and elle, abd, which is the only blog by an African-American historian that we've yet found.
Even with the additions, it's useful to remember that about 40% of female historians who are blogging do it anonymously or pseudonymously. As New Kid on the Hallway points out, that does tend to inhibit their discussions of history on the net, because to discuss their research interests might tend to compromise their anonymity. A far smaller percentage of male historians blog anonymously, but to my knowledge the single most spectacularly sad outing of a pseudonymous history blogger was of a male graduate student. His online moniker was PhDFraud. Don't bother looking because no one's there anymore. One of my issues with Bitch PhD is that she encouraged his dysfunctional behavior, under cover of pseudonymity, that ultimately led to his outing.
Patricia Robertson,"Living Like a Queen Was Seldom Sweet," Toronto Star, 27 August, reviews Eleanor Herman's Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics. Thanks to Alfredo Perez at Political Theory Daily Review for the tip.
Richard Overy,"‘How Gladly I Die This Noble Death'," Telegraph, 21 August, reviews Christopher Clark's Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947.
Anna Mundow,"In the Ashes of an Inferno, A Lingering Debate," Boston Globe, 27 August, interviews A. C. Grayling, the author of Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan.
Rummaging through my office library this summer, I've become reacquainted with some of the titanic methodological battles that shaped the practice of scholarly history in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them occasioned by the rise of social history.
While these debates were often tied to general changes or conflicts in the academy over identity politics, multiculturalism, qualitative and quantitative methods, studies of society "from below" and so on, they also often took on a very particular localized character within history. Lots of scholars had a share of the debate over Time on the Cross, for example, but the intensity of the debate reverberated within history departments and historical scholarship.
It seems to me that the major controversies of the last six to ten years that have involved works of scholarly history have either concerned questions of intellectual honesty and scholarly craft (Bellesiles, Ambrose, Goodwin), or have concerned works of history which are at the borders of the discipline, such as Guns, Germs and Steel.
I suppose I feel this with particular intensity about my own sub-discipline of African history, which seems to me to be both very productive (e.g., many good new monographs being produced) and somewhat placid (e.g., not that much to debate or discuss, a high degree of methodological consensus coupled with a certain kind of conformism to perceived goals or postures).
So my questions for readers is this:
1) What's going on in your own fields of specialty in terms of controversies? Are there major books in the last five to eight years which have successfully sparked a satisfyingly rollicking intellectual debate about the field and the discipline itself?
2) Am I right that the discipline in general seems to operate with much more methdological consensus or mutual toleration than in the 1970s and 1980s? Yes, I know, here comes the 'groupthink' argument--consensus doesn't necessarily mean groupthink, it could just be that strong debates over method or argument have become trans-disiciplinary in some fashion. But any answer will be interesting to me.
3) Is it a bad thing if major debates about the basic nature, methodologies, and insights of a discipline move to other areas of study like economics, political science, sociology or literary criticism? E.g., if I'm right that things are calmer now, is that a sign of relative sanity and maturity, or of a kind of disciplinary senescence?
It's been bothering me lately that there aren't many women blogging about history. Sure, there are women historians blogging about grad school or teaching, and there are women historians who comment on current events, but I'm having a helluva time finding women writing about history on their blogs. I like Cliopatria but I sense very strongly the absence of women writing for that blog.
Trillwing, my female colleagues are fully capable of making themselves heard. Violets neither cower nor shrink here. But let me posit a thesis: most female historians who blog about history do so in their own names. Other female historians blog about things that are often equally important and interesting, but they do it anonymously or pseudonymously. Trillwing's pseudonymous post about Doris Cochran and Alterior's Fascinating History are the rare exception.
Meet my colleagues: Sharon Howard, the godmother of both the History Carnival and Carnivalesque and prolific blogger at Early Modern Notes. She's just come off a hiatus to tell us about her new job and having joined another group blog, The Long Eighteenth. Miriam Burstein blogs at The Little Professor and both Cliopatria and The Valve. Like Sharon, Rebecca Goetz is transitioning into a new job. Now an Assistant Professor at Rice, she will probably soon have an announcement that her (a)musings of a grad student is a thing of the past. We're looking forward to what her future holds in store!
Beyond the women who blog both at Cliopatria and their own spaces, there are many female historians who blog in their own names. Philobiblion's Natalie Bennett and Break of Day in the Trenches' Esther MacCallum-Stewart both also blog at Revise and Dissent, a good reason to be reading Revise and Dissent. Katrina Gulliver, Motoe Sasaki-Gayle, and Winnie Wong blog at Frog in a Well/China, Gyewon Kim and Yuna Kim at Frog in a Well/Korea, and Youngsoo Kim and Kuniko Yamada McVey at Frog in a Well/Japan.
Relaxing on the Trail's Sheila Brennan, Historiological Notes' Kristine Brorson, Kaffeehaus Blog's Esther Brunner, Egyptology News' Andie Burns, another boring academic has a blog's Elizabeth Carnell, Art History's Shelley Esaak, Ancient/Classical History's N. S. Gill, Miscellany's Katrina Gulliver, No Middle Name's Meagan Hess, Clews' Laura James, In the Middle's Eileen Joy, PhDiva's Dorothy King, Crescat Sententia's Amy Lamboly, Paternosters' Chris Laning, [Bracket]'s Sharon Leon, Women's History's Jone Johnson Lewis, History on Trial's Deborah Lipstadt, Deep Language's Pam Mack, Age of Enlightenment's Melissa Marsh, Public Intelligence's Barbara McGowan, Historical Fiction's Carla Nayland, Betsy's Page's Betsy Newmark, EHearth's Allison Meyer O'Connor, The Sheila Variations' Sheila O'Malley, History Talk's Paula Petrik, Adam Smith Lives!'s Sandra J. Peart, Even in a Little Thing's Gillian Polack, 20th Century History's Jennifer Rosenberg, 18th Century Cuisine's Carolyn Smith-Kizer, Medieval History's Melissa Snell, Digital Medievalist: Scéla's Lisa Spangenberg, Earmarks in Early Modern Culture's Kristeen Steenbergh, Aquaduct's Amy Stevens, Times and Seasons' Julie Smith and Rosalynde Welch, Eat Your History's Deborah Uhler, Jennie Weber of American Presidents Blog and Jennie's Rambles, Lauren Winner, Kelly in Kansas' Kelly Woestman, Damn Interesting's Cynthia Wood, Past Matters' Rebecca Jane Woods, and Owlfish's Shana Worthen are other female historians blogging in their own names and, for the most part, blogging about history.
*On this issue, don't miss Sheila O'Malley's,"A Boo-Hoo -- No Women!!" The Sheila Variations, 27 August; or the discussion at The Clutter Museum and a subsequent update there.
Trillwing's point is not that female historians are under-represented on the net, but that they tend to concentrate on issues in their academic lives (graduate school, professional and pedagogical matters) rather than on history. If it's true, I think it's related to the fact that many female historians blog anonymously or pseudonymously. After all, Invisible Adjunct, the patron saint of the history blogosphere, largely established the pattern. After the Flood, Ancarett's Abode, at the moment, Baraita, Blogenspiel, CityGirl, Classical Archaeologist, Creating Textiles, Don't Forget Your Shovel, Dr. History, Eating an Elephant, elle, abd, epistolae unde ambitus, Fascinating History, Fear of a Female Planet, Heo Cwaeth, History is Elementary, I'm Too Sexy for My Master's Thesis, In Saecula Saeculorum, inmatesrunningtheasylum, The Life & Times of a History Ph. D. Student, Medieval Woman, Meg's Blog, My Research Blog, The Naked Tree, New Kid on the Hallway, The Old Foodie, Pretty Hard, Dammit, Queen of West Procrastination, Quod She, Real History Blog, A Shrewdness of Apes, Streams of Consciousness, Verbal Privilege, and Kate Marie and Darryl Ann at What's the Rumpus continue in it. Some of them were blogging before IA and some of them continue in it long after she became a memory.
By my calculation, about 60% of the female historians who are blogging are doing so in their own names. It is they, I'd suggest to Trillwing, who are likely to see a blog as a place to do history. The other 40% of blogging female historians see it primarily as a vehicle for doing other, often equally important things – things that may be most effectively done anonymously or pseudonymously. There's lots of good history being done on the net by female historians. Look for it where women are blogging in their own names.
Steven Hahn,"The Other American Revolution," TNR, 17 August, reviews Eric Foner's Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. This is a first-rate piece of provocatively thoughtful writing. Thanks to Paul Harvey for the tip.
E. J. Dionne, Jr.,"A Down-Under Lesson for the GOP?" Washington Post, 25 August, argues that Australian Prime Minister Paul Howard has perfected a way of invoking history to re-assure voters buffeted by his free market economics that the Republican Party might emulate. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
Our colleague, KC Johnson, replies to Duff Wilson and Jonathan D. Glater,"Files from the Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers," NY Times, 25 August, at his new blog, Durham-in-Wonderland, which is devoted entirely to the case arising from charges of rape against members of Duke University's lacrosse team.
I need hosts for the History Carnival from 1 October onwards! You don't need to be a professional historian, but you do need some familiarity with the history blogosphere. New faces are always especially welcome but any previous hosts who'd like another go will be much appreciated too. If you want more info, check out the carnival homepage, and get in touch with me as soon as possible at: sharon[at]earlymodernweb.org.uk
And I'll be hosting an early modern edition of Carnivalesque over this coming weekend. So, if in the last couple of months you've read or written any outstanding posts about early modern (c.1500-1800 CE) history, literature, art, philosophy, music, etc, nominate them now! You can either email me at the earlymodernweb.org.uk address above or use this submission form.
PS: Thanks to everyone who's kept the carnivals up and running by organising, hosting, submitting posts etc, while I've been away this summer.
Gregory M. Lamb,"Origins of a Reluctant Genius," Christian Science Monitor, 21 August, reviews David Quammen's The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution. Thanks to Alfredo Perez at Political Theory Daily Review for the tip.
Joshua Zeitz,"Is America So Unique," American Heritage, 22 July, reviews Eric Rauchway's Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America. Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the tip.
Duff Wilson and Jonathan D. Glater,"Files from the Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers," NY Times, 25 August, reports on the release of 1850 pages of evidence in the Prosecutor's file.
Cliopatria's contributing editor, Mechal Sobel, writes from Haifa that a month of war left her weary and worried. She will be at October's American Studies Association convention in California, where she's been asked to speak there on Israel's behalf for"five or ten minutes." Attached to her e-mail is this message by her husband, Zvi, who teaches sociology at the University of Haifa."I would say many things differently," Mechal writes,"but essentially I am in the same place he is." I recommend it to you.
I doubt that sharing some thoughts about these terrible days will ease the pain or even bring about a degree of clarity. What does seem to be clear is that everything that was is no longer; in many respects this is all to the good while in other ways the inevitable changes will be deeply disruptive and indeed hold great danger for our future as a collectivity. I suspect that the first and most significant danger is a belated loss of innocence with regard to our basic, physical safety. We can be beaten. We can lose wars, our cities are vulnerable (meaning they can be destroyed by conventional means), our army is not quite the potent instrument we thought it to be, our lives (if spared) can be made hell, our economy can be held hostage to the whims of fanatic jihadists on their side and self-satisfied, incompetents on ours.
We have always been a rather fragile enterprise as a state. We, since the beginning, have always reacted to every threat as if it were existential, and the cry"oy vei" might be deemed our national mantra. If we compromise we lose. If we talk, we are weak. If we give an inch they will take a meter. The trouble comes however with realization that this is not completely the result of a certain national paranoia, but has sufficient valence for it to have become an iron clad secular theology putting us into a concrete vest from which we have been unable to extricate ourselves. Our political and military thinking is moribund and recent events have demonstrated this in the most painful fashion.
We are a society that has gone from infancy to old age without having experienced a period of satisfying maturity. We have rid ourselves of all the old verities – community, a just society, equality, simplicity, hard work, dreaming the impossible – to one of individualism, the strong eating the weak, the ‘market', fast cars, palatial homes, trips abroad, reality T.V. shows, hucksterism and God knows what else. Naturally, and following from all of the above, our politicians are corrupt, smug, self-satisfied and self-serving. The army is led by careerists with perks that would shame corporate moguls. The citizens are assured that: a) everybody hates us (and indeed this often enough proves itself), b) we have no partners for peace, c) we are strong, d) time is one our side, e) we will destroy all who dare to lift a hand against us, and finally –"oy vei."
I am still among those who feel that we had to take strong military action in response to the cross border raid by Hezbollah. Consider the following: a violent religiously fanatic organization already demonstrably terrorist and jihadist (the Marine barracks in Beirut, the TWA plane-hijacking and the murder of an American passenger, the blowing up of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aries, the capture and torture of foreign journalists and more) unprovokedly, crosses the international border into Israel, kills four soldiers on patrol, captures two and kills additional who attempt a rescue and for good measure sends rockets in northern communities. When Israel as in the past requests information on the condition of the captives, or Red Cross access, it is denied with the statement that ‘nothing is given without a price.' In the past Hezbollah has mentally tortured bereft parents of soldiers who were kidnapped or missing by not revealing whether they were dead or alive, and then when it transpired they were dead (or had been killed in captivity) bargaining for the return of the the bodies, getting live them for dead us.
Meanwhile Hezbollah built an army with no controls from the legal government of Lebanon and built a state within a state, armed and supported by two outstanding forces for humanitarian concern – Syria and Iran. This militia which along with Iran call not just for our defeat, but for our destruction, our obliteration (think about that for a bit) is then armed with an array of thousands of missiles whose essential purpose is not military (they are not battlefield weapons) but the destruction of civilian targets. The estimate is that they had between 10 and 15 thousand of these rockets in various forms, about 4 thousand of which were fired against us this past month. What were we to do? Good folks in the West say:"Why, you should have talked to them." I presume that would have been the reaction of various western countries whose moral mechanisms have outstripped their basic survival instincts. Indeed, when I asked a close relative of mine in a phone conversations which she had initiated to voice concern for our plight, and in which she criticized our"disproportionality," what would be her reaction if Mexico had launched a murderous barrage of missiles against California, she answered:"We would deserve it." In this way civilizations fade from history and probably deservedly so.
So what about"Proportionality"? I don't really know what it means, but I have my suspicions. There are legalists who could and would draw a formula of proportionality from the mostly unwritten and certainly unstudied books of international law. No doubt these formulas should form the basis for serious study by people who have the luxury to deal with them in an environment of peace and are not immediately threatened by people who want their blood now, at this very moment, and formulas be damned. I suspect that for the most part critics (essentially from the West) their idea of proportionality is drawn from the playing field where it is unsporting to pit Real Madrid against the Nebraska Comets in a soccer game. It's unfair! The Comets don't have a chance in Hell. Stop the slaughter, etc. War is disgusting. Almost everybody killed or maimed is indeed innocent – civilians, soldiers and certainly children and other relatively helpless people.
We had to impress upon the government of Lebanon that Hezbollah cannot be allowed to run riot in the South of their country, thus the Southern section of Beirut, which was a Hezbollah stronghold, was bombed and bombed heavily, and men, women, and children lost their lives. But having said that a message of this kind had to be delivered to Lebanon, do I therefore feel that we are just and pure, or even smart with regard to repeating the message over and over? No. And here is where I fear that I must return to the harsh criticism that I feel is needed for what we did and how we did it and who we are and where we are going. But first, a footnote.
It is clear to me that Jihadists of various stripes are not just folk like you or I who can be reasoned with and convinced that peace is a supreme value, and if only their needs are respected all will be well. They are religious fanatics who are in a war to restore Islam's lost glory and presumed dominance, and Jews are just item number one on a long agenda where blood, murder and suicide are the operational sub-texts. Their aims are plain and simple and their methods for achieving them are similarly so. So what does one do? I guess wherever possible you try to contain them and wear them down using political and economic means. Wherever possible you attempt to drive a wedge between the Jihadists and other elements of Islam who are either committed otherwise or unsure of the rightness or indeed efficacy of their programs. In other instances when the gauntlet is thrown there is little alternative but to fight the phenomenon with force, and in this fight as noted above innocents will die. Either way however, surrender is not an option. Soft peddling of the seriousness of the challenge will not bring tranquility. There really are two sides here and one is relatively sane and the other is completely deranged. If there is resort to all sorts of P.C. bullshit about everybody being basically the same and all of us wanting peace, then the relatively sane are going to lose to the completely deranged and all of our lives including those of millions of Muslims will become hell.
Thus, I feel that our going to war here was not really a choice. That being said, I think that the way it was done highlights and underscores many of the problematics of our society, some of which were alluded to at the beginning of my remarks.
It would appear that our leadership, military and political, were unaware of the true state of our military preparedness. They didn't call up the reserves until it was too late to use them effectively in eliminating the missiles pounding northern Israel. Their mistake was an interesting one, because it was really two mistakes for the price of one. First, I think they didn't call the reserves because they were afraid that they wouldn't come, and how would that look? (In fact, they all came and in some instances, more showed up than were called.) Thus the leadership, having no faith in their own people, dithered until it was too late. Secondly, the military, headed by a pilot, convinced them air power would do it all, and that too was a mistake. They bombed and they bombed almost it seems to prove a point in contention among strategists rather than to achieve an aim which in the end is always political. Why all the bombs on Beirut? Why bombs on roads to be used by refugees fleeing the war after Israel told them to use these very roads to flee? Why was Tyre, center of missile launches against Israel, left essentially O.K., while sites in northern Lebanon were bombed? Why, given the symbolic and historical significance of Kana where over 100 civilians were mistakenly killed in an Israeli shelling in 1996, did the planes once again go after a target where men, women and mostly children were sheltering in that very same town? The air force is an efficient technical instrument with seemingly no thinking of a broader nature visible. If it can be done, why not do it seems to be the operative principal.
While the generals and the politicians evinced little faith in the readiness of the reserves to heed the call to colors, they seemingly had inordinate and misplaced faith in the abilities of the regular army to shoulder the burden. And lo and behold, an army which has essentially been used as an occupying police force for decades, where they were called upon to deal with an oppressed and weak people, beating and killing them when deemed necessary, is not necessarily prepared to take on a well trained and highly motivated guerilla force like the Hezbollah. So they were beaten. And we lost the war. And no amount of posturing, or grandstanding, or twisting or turning is going to change that fact. We lost because of the above, and because our society has become what it has become and creative thinking has (to the extent that it existed) moved from defense and the military to other places. This, of course, is good, but not so good when you need colonels and generals who can out think your enemies. Imagination and"shtick" which were once the hallmarks of the Israeli Army, have departed from among the tents of Zion and have seemingly turned up in the tents of Esau.
Now, one might ask how can the political and military leadership be so opaque regarding the capabilities of the forces available to them. In which country do they live? Who do they talk to other than their lawyers and their brokers?
Clearly, there was no one in charge of this country and I suspect this is true for much much longer than the last month. The air raid shelters were in disgraceful condition, and people could not stay in them for extended periods without turning on each other, or eating their hearts out; the reserves were not properly equipped even in some cases in regard to food and water. Private industry and charity stepped in to partially fill the gap. (How's that as an argument in favor of market forces and privatization?)
Instructions given to the home front (and to the army) were often contradictory and still more often made little sense. (Such as stand near a wall or building when the siren sounds.) Information was two pronged: Asinine nonsense from official sources; ratings-based hysteria from the media.
Leadership in this country is in deep crisis and I doubt if those occupying chairs in high places are aware of how deep and wide it is. Perhaps the signature event that encapsulates this crisis is the decision of the military and political leadership to push forward for the final two days of the war after the ceasefire was agreed but before it came into effect. The reason for this was to improve our ground performance and to enjoy the symbolic victory of planting our flag on the Litani River. Dozens of wounded and 33 died and we don't know why. (Among them the son of David Grossman, one of Israel's leading literary figures who had only days before participated in a press event asking that the military action cease because it was doing nothing worth a damn at that juncture.)
Thus, the country's faith in its political and military leadership has been undermined to an extraordinary degree, and one can only wonder from whence cometh our salvation. Once we start looking it appears that almost everything worth considering will have to be re-thought and re-framed. If anything positive can come of this catastrophe it will be in this re-thinking and re-evaluation of damn near everything, from what kind of society we want here to how we intend to live in this inhospitable region. Eternal verities have been shown to be not eternal and not verities, and policies which seemed like defensible positions are neither positions nor defensible.
1. The wall between us and the Palestinians (costing billions and much distress) makes no sense whatsoever and is easily overcome by tunnels and rockets.
2. Unilateral withdrawal whether from Gaza, the West Bank, or in retrospect Lebanon, is unsustainable. Only negotiations and international involvement in key instances will be workable – maybe.
3. The settler movement, which was on the ropes before the events of the past month, has gotten a new lease on life and this will cost us dearly for years to come.
4. The Jihadists all over the Moslem world have received a massive infusion of support from the street, the mosque and in many instances from the halls of power."Israel and the West can be beaten and time is working for us (the Jihadists)."
5. Israel's one million Arab citizens feel more alienated and more apart than in the past, and the satisfaction expressed by many at Hezbollah's success will play out badly viz. Arab-Jewish relationships in the near (at least) future.
6. The class divide in Israel between a disgusting plutocracy and masses of people with minimum conditions will place great strain on societal stability and solidarity. The gap between haves and have-nots was more than metaphorically played out in the air raid shelters all over northern Israel.
7. Faith in societal institutions has been badly shaken and faith in all echelons of leadership has hit bottom. Also (but this is probably always the case in situations of this kind) no alternative leadership seems apparent.
8. In view of the above, the fear of political instability could lead to a dangerous ascendancy of a simplistic and nihilistic right wing.
Can anything positive result? Perhaps, if we can get over our re-kindled fear of being destroyed and sufficiently large numbers recognize that we cannot bomb"them" into an embrace of the Zionist vision, we will be able to begin taking chances in the path untried – that of serious negotiations on a Palestinian state. Will this bring about peace and acceptance of our presence here? I am not at all sure but no alternative exists which leave us no choice but to try – and pray.
David Garrow,"A Twist in History," Washington Post, 23 August, reviews Garrett Epps, Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America.
Scott McLemee,"The Global Exception," Inside Higher Ed, 23 August, interviews Eric Rauchway.
Finally, A Symposium on Günter Grass: Niall Fergusson,"The Myopia of Hindsight," LA Times, 21 August, Peter Gay,"The Fictions of Günter Grass," NY Times, 20 August, Christopher Hitchens,"Snake in the Grass," Slate, 22 August, Tamas Laszlo Papp,"Grass and Istvan Szabo," hvg.hu, 21 August, and Nathan Thornburg,"Günter Grass's Silence," Time, 14 August, take up Grass's latest self-disclosure.
An Oriental servant was sent by his master to the bazaar to buy provisions. While he was in the marketplace, he saw a woman in pale robes who symbolized death. In hysterics, he ran home to his master and begged for his fleetest horse that he might ride far away to distant Samarkand, beyond the dreaded threat. When he was gone, the master went to the bazaar and he saw this lady attired in pale robes and he asked her, ‘Why did you frighten my servant away?' And the woman said innocently, ‘I didn't frighten your servant away; at least I didn't mean to, because I have a date with him tonight in Samarkand.'
Ordinarily, in the annotations, I try to identify a source from which Johns is likely to have heard a story such as this. Failing that, I try to identify the" classical" source of reference from which the story derives.
I've been working on these Johns texts on and off for eight years and a source for this story had eluded me until last night. I was googling around with various combinations of words and came across reference to Tonight in Samarkand, a melodrama by the French playwright Jacques Deval and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. It had a month's run on Broadway in 1955. The cast included Theodore Bikel, Louis Jourdan, Pernell Roberts, and Alexander Scourby. Deval's play, Tonight in Samarkand, A Romantic Melodrama in Three Acts, was also published in 1956. Time's review (28 Feb ‘55) piqued my curiosity:
Tonight in Samarkand (by Jacques Deval and Lorenzo Semple Jr.) takes its theme from the famous Oriental legend—about the inevitability of fate—that also suggested John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra.
If the"Oriental legend" was so bloody"famous," why couldn't I track down a source for it? Was it an authentically"Oriental" legend? Or, was it a western, let's play Levantine, invention?
But, quickly now, more googles and I had the core of my footnote:
The form in which Johns tells this story is close to Death's speech in W. Somerset Maugham's Sheppey: A Play in Three Acts (1933):There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.It was later used as a preface to John O'Hara's first and most successful novel, Appointment in Samarra (1934). Maugham may have worked from an English translation of"When Death Came to Baghdad" from an Arabic text, Hikyat-I-Naqshia, by the ninth century Arabian Sufi Fudail ibn Ayad. He, in turn, may have recorded the story from a long oral tradition. A somewhat similar tale appeared centuries earlier in the Talmud, Sukkah 53a. After Maugham and O'Hara, other works such as Jacques Duval's Tonight in Samarkand: A Romantic Melodrama in Three Acts (1955/56), Johns'"The Romance of Death" (1965), and Tim Bridwell's film,"Rendezvous in Samarkand" (1999), substituted Samarkand for Samarra as destiny in the epicenter of middle eastern exoticism.
So, there you have it. The footnote isn't finished, of course. I have to go to the library and check the texts to verify the references. But, now, I know what texts to check and the finished form of the footnote will almost certainly look very much like this.
James Meriner,"The Shootout," Chicago Magazine, August, is the most recent update on the controversy between the University of Chicago's Steve Leavitt and John R. Lott.
Finally, John Naughton,"Websites That Changed the World," The Observer, 13 August, lists 15, while Time identifies the"50 Coolest Websites." Thanks to Alfredo Perez at Political Theory Daily Review for the tip.