Shared posts

07 Jul 18:01

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit:

I cannot…describe what Mallory has done to an already terrifying book:

“Can you take someone else’s Real,” he asked, “or are you stuck getting it on your own?”

The Skin Horse looked at the Rabbit then.

“What I mean is,” the Rabbit said carefully. “If something else was already Real. Could you take it from them, and keep it for yourself.”

“No,” the Skin Horse said, and his voice was a crawling black thing across the floor. “You can’t take Real from another toy.”

But the Rabbit wasn’t finished. “Can you take the Real out of a boy? Can you take his heart in your own self and leave him with a sawdust heart on the nursery floor in your place?”

And the Skin Horse did not say anything.

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And the Skin Horse was afraid for the first time in a long time.

08 May 14:41

Roku Redux

by 50 Watts
"Rays of the Sun in the Afternoon" Rokuro Taniuchi (or Roku, as he often signs) is one of my favorite illustrators and I've featured him many times over the years. These images from the 1950s are again courtesy of Jimoto and his stunning site Dassaishooku. Previous posts on this artist My note from the first post I did on Roku in October 2008:I discovered the incredible Japanese illustrator Rokuro Taniuchi (1921–81) while searching for Tadanori Yokoo books. On the Amazon listing for this profusely-illustrated book—Taniuchi Rokuro Gensouki (Shinshindo, 1981)—Yokoo is listed as the editor. The book seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth, and I feel incredibly lucky to have found it. Through some creative googling of Japanese characters, I did manage to dig up an archive [link now dead]. Comparing the book to this site, I discovered that many of the images were originally made for the Weekly Shincho. I think others must surely be illustrations for children's books. The artist dated some of the works: late 40s / early 50s. The book includes an insert promoting the "Unicorn Color Series." Has anyone heard of this series? I plan to do another post from this book—it is too good not to share. Update: Paul McCann kindly translated the captions! "A Night Where a Raid Seems Likely" (Paul says: "untranslatable pun, 晩 is just 'evening' but looks like 日 day + 兔 rabbit") "Distributing Whale Meat" "The Aching Orphan" "Bathhouse" "Dandelions in Sunamachi" (Paul adds, "real place, literally 'Sand Town'") "The Story of the Slave Trader" (and Paul adds "???") "The Day the Prostitute Died" I've featured these last three images before but I love them and Jimoto's scans are better so here they are again: "The Magnetic Dolls Bought at the Fair" "The Autumn the War Ended" "The Frightening Road Home" Previous posts on this artist This post first appeared on April 30, 2014 on 50 Watts
08 May 14:36

Suggestions for the Next iBooks Update

by Ali Shapiro
08 May 14:34

The Power of Children’s Literature

by Annie Cardi

Derek tells me that I tell anecdotes from the Ramona Quimby and Anastasia Krupnik series like they're from my own life.

18209402Annie Cardi is the author of the new young adult book The Chance You Won’t Return (Candlewick Press), which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviewsand also won the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award in its manuscript form.

Annie is a wonderful writer as well as an avid reader of both young adult books and literary fiction, and over the next several months she’ll be contributing a regular feature to the blog in which she discusses—among other things—what each of the two genres can teach us about the other. I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am. —Andrew Ladd, blog editor


A few weeks ago, I saw a bumper sticker on an SUV that read “TUCK” in green-and-white lettering. Because my first job out of grad school was editing finance textbooks, I knew this probably referred to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. But a part of me wanted to believe it was actually in honor of Angus Tuck, the father in Natalie Babbit’s classic children’s novel, Tuck Everlasting.

It also struck me that I wouldn’t have felt such a heart tug if it had been a potential reference to Mrs. Dalloway or Never Let Me Go or Interpreter of Maladies—all other favorite novels of my adult reading career. I love and admire those books; I’m deeply invested in their characters and am awed by the carefulness and power of their craft. But there’s something different about them.

They don’t belong to me, not in the same way Tuck Everlasting does.

Books that belong to us are set apart and feel like they’re an indelible part of our lives, not just as readers but as people. When someone mentions their title, it’s like hearing about your hometown, and all those places only locals know about. Seeing someone read it on the subway or in a coffee shop makes you feel like you and the reader share a secret. Even on library or bookstore shelves, it’s a book that belongs to you.

There are lots of books we can enjoy or admire, books that make us think and grieve and rejoice. But even those don’t necessarily belong to us as readers. No book belongs to you like a book you read when you’re young.

These are the books that teach you how to live in the world. They help you understand what it’s like to experience sudden loss (Bridge to Terabithia pretty much destroys everyone in middle school). They help you understand international tragedy (The Book Thief is a fascinating and powerful look at WWII Germany). They help you realize that so many of us carry deep, secret pain (Speak and The Perks of Being a Wallflower have saved generations.)

As a young reader, you’re still forming your ideas and beliefs about the world and how you function within it. Books written specifically for kids and teens have the power to enhance and shape these ideas in a deeply personal way, and thus can stay with readers for the rest of their lives in a deeply personal way. Maybe you haven’t read Charlotte’s Web in a while, but its story of friendship and courage and grief is yours forever.

Children’s and young adult books aren’t just pleasant ways for kids and teens to start experiencing literature. They’re literary and powerful in their own right, and they have the potential to stay with readers in a much more meaningful way than books written for adults could. They’re not just books—they’re a part of who we are and how we got that way.

Tuck Everlasting and its story of immortality and possibility and letting go is mine forever. I may have first read it almost two decades ago, but no matter what other novels or business schools come along, it’s with me forever.

11 Apr 01:56

People of the Book: Brad Pasanek

by Gretchen E. Henderson

Brad is an acquaintance, and a good friend of good friends, and this interview gives a better idea of the actual intellectual substance of being a professor of 18th-century British literature right now than anything I've seen on the internet lately.

People of the Book is an interview series gathering those engaged with books, broadly defined. As participants answer the same set of questions, their varied responses chart an informal ethnography of the book, highlighting its rich history as a mutable medium and anticipating its potential future. This week brings the conversation to Brad Pasanek, assistant professor at the University of Virginia, whose work questions the “mind as metaphor” through hands-on literature, app-books, and digital humanities.

1. How do you define a “book”?

Brad Pasanek. Photo by Dan Addison.

Brad Pasanek. Photo by Dan Addison.

Almost immediately, I want to turn that question back: what isn’t a book? Or refer it to the eighteenth century, where I find the term coyly defined in Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum as “a thing well known” and extensively, in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, as “a volume in which we read or write.” The other book-people interviewed here (librarians, bibliographers, etc.) will be nicer of definition, I’m sure. But in an English department the book stands as a metonym of literature and learning. And it stands metaphorically for more besides. I call to mind commonplaces from antiquity and the Middle Ages: the book of the life, the Law written in the “tables of the heart.” Galileo and Bacon encouraged the Moderns to collate bibles and the codex naturae. The face is as legible as any page; infancy is a blank slate. And so on.

2. How do you engage regularly with books, beyond reading?

I teach books and write about them; I hunt for new ones in the library and recall interesting ones from colleagues and stack them on my desk. I take trips to D.C. or L.A. or London to visit the rare ones.

I am completing revisions of my own first book just now (to be published this year by Johns Hopkins University Press). It’s part monograph and part database, a scholarly experiment that digests thousands of metaphors of mind from eighteenth-century English literature. The metaphors are fixed in argument by the book, while the database, titled The Mind is a Metaphor, makes my evidence available for readers to search through and sort. In epigram: the book is the text; the database, a new kind of paratext.

I’m indexing the eighteenth century. I describe the work as a “dictionary” in order to invoke the wordbooks of Voltaire, Pierre Bayle, and Samuel Johnson. Voltaire’s was a philosophical dictionary; Bayle’s was a critical and biographical one; Johnson’s is closest to a modern dictionary. All three dictionaries are surprisingly writerly if not cantankerous, and more than mere compilations. Abecedarian order is a powerful formal device. And a headword becomes a reason to improvise an essay. I’ve written eleven of them: from “Animals” to “Writing,” my book alphabetically enstranges (that is, defamiliarizes) the grand narrative of the Enlightenment.

3. What has been your most unusual interaction with books?

When I taught high school, I once asked an underprepared class to color-code the title terms of Pride and Prejudice (and their synonyms) in the text of the paperback novel. When we met the next day, we discovered that riffling the pages produced explosions of red and blue at those plot points involving Elizabeth and Darcy. The distinction between story and discourse—like many formal abstractions—was made visible by closely and mechanically marking a text.

My interest in words is an abiding one. Because I study metaphors, I open a browser window on an electronic text collection and run proximity searches, looking for one keyword (a tenor) within one hundred characters of another (the vehicle). In graduate school I spent hours, days, weeks, months reading search results in KWIC concordances.

Here’s a snapshot of a proximity search for mind and mine, typical of the reading I do on my laptop. In the list, Samuel Bowden’s is first of several mineral metaphors of mind to appear:

Search results from HUGO, a bespoke search interface for the SGML versions of the Chadwyck-Healey literature databases. Maintained for years by Glenn Worthey of Stanford University Libraries, the search engine was put to rest this past spring. R.I.P.

Search results from HUGO, a bespoke search interface for the SGML versions of the Chadwyck-Healey literature databases. Maintained for years by Glenn Worthey of Stanford University Libraries, the search engine was put to rest this past spring. R.I.P.

This is a low-tech version of text mining in which I take on the heavy work that might eventually be carried out by machine learning algorithms. But for now, I continue to do a lot of desultory reading in online archives like Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Early English Books Online, and Google Books. I search by keyword, studying all the paragraphs in a book in which the word mind or soul appears. Every week I devote at least one workday to collecting and counting metaphors. I’ve collected 13,294 metaphors as of this morning. The effort is drudging by design. In a race against the machines, I play John Henry.

Marking metaphors, I sometimes think (aspirationally) of the obliterating beauty of Yayoi Kusama’s repetitive-compulsive artworks, built up from loops and dots. I think also of the eighteenth-century satirists who complain about “index-learning” and “bookful blockheads.”

4. Do you have favorite tidbits from the history of books?

I intend to write an essay about watermarks in the late eighteenth century: more specifically, about John Dunlap’s publication of the Declaration of Independence, which was printed on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, on paper watermarked with a crown. I would want to specify how the Declaration overstrikes that crown—and how the crown haunts the Declaration.

Watermark and chainlines made visible on light table, Honnold/Mudd Library

Watermark and chainlines made visible on light table, Honnold/Mudd Library

Crowns are standard in watermarks, but some early American papermakers incorporated different imagery. See, for example, the liberty bell (at left), which I discovered in the Special Collections of Honnold/Mudd Library.

I am fascinated, too, by the watermarks in early printings of Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” is date-stamped to July 13, 1798 in its subtitle. The poem begins famously with the clause “Five years have passed” but is printed (I don’t know that this has ever been noted by literary critics) on paper watermarked “1795.” The paper-medium intervenes between Wordsworth’s visits to the Wye Valley in 1793 and 1798, it supports the verses occasioned by the second visit, and it belies—I think—the Romantic, transcendental sentiments forwarded in the poem.

5. What material part of the book interests you most?

At Stanford, I was taught by Jay Fliegelman, a brilliant character and great teacher, now, sadly, deceased—he was also a “People of the Book,” plural noun and all. It was Jay who taught me to read more than printed pages. He’d put a Paul Revere silver creamer in your hands and ask for an interpretation of the embossing. He showed his students how to read the shape of a Wedgwood serving dish or the structure of a Windsor chair. Jay proved to me that a material object could be as legible as a line of text. I’ve suffered happily enough from referential mania ever since.

Because of Jay, I’m interested in the way materiality figures meaningfully with and against printed text—watermarks, fold-out plates, marginal notations, and other book technologies augment and complicate our reading of an author.

The Spectator, No. 488 (Friday, September 19, 1712). U.Va. Special Collections.

The Spectator, No. 488 (Friday, September 19, 1712). U.Va. Special Collections.

The line between accident and meaning is especially provoking. Take as an example the Spectator papers, which were sold singly as folio half-sheets for a penny until a new tax on paper forced the publishers to double their prices in 1712. While those readers who could not afford to buy the periodical essays as they were printed could still buy them collected “in the Lump” at the end of run, the “Rich and Wealthy” were able to savor papers still fresh—so we are told by Mr. Spectator—in the “several Accidental Circumstances of Time, Place, and Person.” Such a reader might then collect and trim the loose sheets, binding together individual issues as in the copy pictured. Every physical book is thus shaped by accident and circumstance.

(Another accident: the placement of the tax stamp in the copy pictured above falls fortuitously close to Mr. Spectator’s description of papers sold singly like “Cherries upon the Stick”—and in the juxtaposition I can’t help but see the red stamp as a cherry.)

6. If your house was burning and you had to take three books, which would you save? Why?

I’d like to think I would save whatever library books are stacked on my nightstand (two or three just now): to be returned. But probably, pedagogically panicked, I would grab whatever books I had to teach the next day. On the sidewalk, while I watched the house burn, I’d remember my paperback copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the margins of which are crammed with my undergraduate annotations. All those callow insights, up in smoke. 

7. What about the current moment for books interests you?

We live in a period of remediation (I’m hearing, mutatis mutandis, Karl Polanyi’s title repurposed: The Great Remediation). The literature of the past is suddenly and newly available to the present—in the lump, as it were. It reminds me of the early eighteenth century: of the flood of translations, imitations, and piracies; the compilations and anthologies, and the publication of poems “by several hands” that had circulated previously only in manuscript.

posts from “Hands on Literature.”

posts from “Hands on Literature.”

I’m exercised by conflations of page and screen and delight in the absurdity of the rare-booker who, in a Grolier Club talk, laments the horrors of mass digitization and then displays a page image from an incunable in his Powerpoint slide show. As I skip, skim, and search in text collections, I routinely encounter bizarre scanning artifacts and am similarly brought up short. Musing on the “several hands” of early modernity and the root meaning of “digital,” I began to collect images of “Google hands”—that is, those traces of labor accidentally memorialized in Google Books. These evidences of manipulation usually feature an anonymous worker’s fingers caught on camera. I archived several locally; and then, a little over a year ago, I started a Tumblr on Hands On Literature, with links back to the books. I try to post a new image every few weeks.

8. Where do you go to find and/or give away books?

A local used bookstore (Heartwood Books) seems to have bought a great number of volumes from a now-retired, eminent eighteenth-centuryist who used to teach in my department. I buy her cast-off books as I find them. The prize is a copy of a monograph by another important UVA eighteenth-centuryist, filled with inscriptions. My colleague David Vander Meulen has also been helping keep books with provenance in the department and has passed on to me some minor treasures. Right now, thanks to David, I’m the caretaker of Irvin Ehrenpreis’s Bond edition of the Spectator papers, which previously had been in the care of Martin Battestin. Both Ehrenpreis and Battestin—important eighteenth-centuryists—left marginal notes in the volumes.

9. How do you foresee books evolving in the future?

Presentation copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (Paris: Printed 1784-85). U.Va. Special Collections.

Presentation copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (Paris: Printed 1784-85). U.Va. Special Collections.

Faculty in the English department have been talking about a digital anthology, a for-us-by-us effort, that would bring full-color page images of hard-to-edit texts to the tablet environment. As a proof of concept, John O’Brien and I created a tablet version of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia with funding from The Jefferson Trust. Jefferson’s text, which exists in multiple states and editions, is complicated, existing in manuscript and print copies that differ significantly.

Our goal was to build a difference engine that would enable students to compare two important copies of Notes owned by UVA (a 1785 private printing that Jefferson gave to the Marquis de Lafayette, shown left, and Jefferson’s own copy of the 1787 first edition, published in London, shown below right). We loosely collated the two editions, designed a scroller that keeps correlate pages in contact, transcribed Jefferson’s inscription to Lafayette as well as the corrections, additions, and marginalia in his personal copy, edited a modern reading text with annotations, and bundled it together with the page images.

Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Notes (London: Stockdale, 1787). U.Va. Special Collections.

Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Notes (London: Stockdale, 1787). U.Va. Special Collections.

We aimed originally at the iPad and intended to distribute our digital variorum for free, but a funny thing happened on the way to the App Store. We were rejected—three times. (Our story, a cautionary tale, is detailed at The Chronicle’s Profhacker blog as “This is Not a Book.”) We fell afoul of Apple’s corporate strategy, it seems, which divides tablet content into apps and books.

App/book: it’s a terribly invidious distinction. An e-book that isn’t obviously game-like or “interactive” is dismissed as being “simply a book.” A philistine phrase if ever I read one! But the App Review Team, at least, has a straightforward answer to the first question posed in this interview: a book is something submitted to the iBookstore, where it serves, more or less, as a container for text and video files.

For now, we have given up on the App Store and are redesigning Notes as an open web-based project that will work on a variety of devices. The Scholar’s Lab at UVA is leading the new programming effort, and I’m pleased to share a screen capture of the reading text. The online Notes will pull page images directly from the institutional repository and allow the reader to switch between text and image, as well as compare the editions.

Web app, designed by the U.Va. Scholars’ Lab.

Web app, designed by the U.Va. Scholars’ Lab.

10. What question do you wish that I had asked related in some way to books? Ask, then answer it.

  • Q. Your wife informs me that you have been surreptitiously culling titles from your three-year old son’s library; mostly books that you can’t bear to read to him anymore. Which titles have disappeared? And what has happened to them?
  • A. Well intentioned family and friends have given us some truly dreadful books. Some of these books I have hidden in places where it is unlikely they will soon be recovered. One benumbing tale—Mike and the Scary Noise—fell into the recycling bin and is now lost, for good. I find holiday books hard to take at any time of the year, but especially so out of season. Happy Easter, Curious George and its stickers might soon be banished to the basement.


Brad Pasanek teaches at the University of Virginia, where he is an Assistant Professor in the English department. His business card, if he had one, would tell you he is a distant-reading big-data digital humanist. And that he is fascinated by poetic diction, intellectual history, and commonplacing. His first book, Metaphors of Mind: An Eighteenth-Century Dictionary, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press.


11 Apr 01:41

Geoff Dyer's stroke

by Jenny Davidson
As noted elsewhere, the most amazing thing was that he filed his New Republic copy.
10 Apr 15:54

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are probably the most famous...

by 50watts


Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are probably the most famous Soviet-era science-fiction writers, but only recently have any of their numerous books come back into print in the US: Chicago Review Press published a new translation of Roadside Picnic (the basis for Tarkovsky’s Stalker) in 2012 and Melville House just published Definitely Maybe (translated by Antonina Bouis). CRP will also publish Hard to Be a God in June.

These scans come from the 50 Watts hoard except for the top 1979 Penguin (art by Adrian Chesterman) courtesy of David/qualityapemanRichard M. Powers illustrated the bottom Roadside Picnic and the four other covers in that style.

@WritersNoOneRds / Facebook

03 Mar 15:53

In Memoriam: Shirley Temple, 1928-2014

by The Siren

@Derekbjenkins, re: future Movie Nights.

It was a day that, due to some long-forgotten domestic dust-up, required distraction, and the Siren sat her boy-girl twins in front of the computer and began to frantically search Youtube for something that would quiet them down. Here’s what she found.

The boy soon wandered off to fetch a toy. The girl sat quietly, so quietly that the Siren figured maybe she was too bored to move. When the video ended, Alida slid forward, pointed to one of the other videos on the sidebar and said, “Her. I want to see more of her.”

We watched about a half-dozen more clips.

My daughter still loves Shirley Temple. When the Siren broke the news that 85-year-old Shirley Temple had died, she cushioned the blow by reminding Alida that we still have Adventure in Baltimore to watch on the DVR, and that surely TCM would be running a tribute day (they are, March 9th). At age 10, she’s seen almost as much Temple as the Siren has.

On that first day surfing Youtube, it swiftly became obvious that Alida liked the dance routines with Bill Robinson best, proving she’s the Siren’s daughter all right. Alida was only four; thus the Siren was spared the need to explain that in the 1930s, the only white partner an adult black man was going to get onscreen was a little girl, and even that caused consternation. Also, since we weren’t watching the whole film, the Siren also didn’t have to explain The Little Colonel’s treatment of its black characters, a task that even now could send the Siren to bed with a sick headache.

All the same, their dancing together was, in its way, revolutionary. When the Siren was a kid, Just Around the Corner was one of her favorites. This number still charms — Bert Lahr stretching his mouth out like an animatronic clown, and Robinson charging down that staircase is thrilling. When Robinson and Temple start to dance, their off-camera regard for each other is apparent. There are all kinds of little ways dancers have of giving each other respect. Look at how, at just before the 1:50 mark, the number’s timing goes just the merest hair off, and they steady each other so fast you could miss it, if you haven’t watched Just Around the Corner three dozen times during your childhood.

Temple represented not only FDR’s remark about a baby who could help Americans forget their troubles, but also the movie studios’ banking on wholesomeness once the Production Code came down. Financially, that was an excellent bet; in the years that Shirley Temple was the world’s biggest movie star, the box office recovered from the slump it had endured in the early 1930s. It was a good bet for Temple, too, money-wise. She’s said to have made about $3 million during her years at the top, although a lavish lifestyle and bad investments depleted that nest egg before she had kids of her own.

Temple’s mother was by all accounts the driving force behind her child’s career. Little Shirley’s first films were Baby Burlesks, the misspelled title conveying the nature of the enterprise. Made at Educational Pictures, where Buster Keaton would wash up a few years later, the shorts are relics of another time when putting kids in adult costumes and scenarios was considered cute. Worse than the Burlesks themselves were the techniques, if you can call them that, used to control the tiny players. The parents weren’t allowed on set, and Temple later recalled that if a child misbehaved, she was shut in a windowless room with nothing to sit on but a block of ice.

Once Temple moved on, her mother was a constant presence; Allan Dwan, who directed Temple in Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, recalled that Gertrude Temple would run lines with the little girl at night. Shirley was always letter-perfect by the time the cameras rolled, ready to prompt with the right line if an adult actor blew his cue. “We hated her for that,” said Alice Faye, co-star in Poor Little Rich Girl. Adolphe Menjou complained that Shirley, age 6, was upstaging him in Little Miss Marker, and she did, although if you’re gonna steal a scene from somebody, Adolphe’s a fine choice of target.

The Siren’s said this before, but give it a rest, please, with the stuff about sublimated sex in Shirley Temple movies. It makes the Siren want to coo, “My goodness, they just can’t slip any subtext past you, you wised-up sophisticated old thing! Next thing you’ll be telling me that war movies are homoerotic and Busby Berkeley’s chorus lines remind you of fascist rallies!” It’s been done.

And Graham Greene offers nothing to explain to anyone why Shirley Temple still has the ability to stop a crabby little girl in her tracks. Admittedly, it’s not necessarily easy from a distance of 80 years for an adult cinephile to figure out what the big deal was. Her early vehicles make Busby Berkeley look like a model of narrative logic. In something like Bright Eyes or Captain January, all you do is watch everybody defer to Temple. Sometimes the Siren can swear the gnashing of adult actors’ teeth is audible on screen, and not just Adolphe Menjou’s.

The appeal lies partly in the mystery of star quality, something Sheila O’Malley describes well: "She was a phenomenal performer. It is impossible, still, to watch her movies and not get sucked into who she is being, what she is bringing to the screen." When the Siren was in acting school, the catchphrase was “give it away.” Temple gave — gives — everything in a scene.

Children learn quickly and painfully that the world does not revolve around them. A kid watching a Shirley Temple movie gets a much sweeter version of life: A little girl who stops the show every time she sings or dances, and when the orchestra lays down its instruments, she runs around straightening out the adults. It was enchanting to the Siren, when she encountered Temple on TV; it shouldn’t have been surprising that Alida, and a very young acquaintance of David Cairns, were also ensnared.

As Temple got older, the musical numbers became less frequent and often less elaborate. But the essential elements are still there. There’s always a little girl facing off against people who are not truly evil, they are just in an extremely bad mood. Shirley knows how to fix that, through the all-conquering might of her childhood pizzazz. After singing and tapping her way through the early Fox musicals, Temple was ready to get a paralyzed child walking again in Heidi and to make a dour farm family sparkle in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. In the wonderful Technicolor The Little Princess, Shirley could even call someone back from the afterlife, as her father (emphatically dead in the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel) reappears in a hospital, a mite banged up by the Boer War but otherwise ready for his closeup.

Is it the least bit surprising that in Wee Willie Winkie (still the Siren’s favorite) Shirley handily solves an Indian diplomatic crisis? No wonder the adult Temple could sail through Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution as the American ambassador.

David Cairns also mentions that Mark Cousins, in his Story of Film, alleges (David's paraphrasing) "that Temple is too performative, not natural enough." The Siren doesn’t understand that at all. Critiquing Shirley Temple for being too performative is like yelling at Lassie for shedding. It’s what she does. How long, oh lord, how long must we suffer the notion that the best acting, child or adult, is always “natural” or “realistic”?

Cousins’ point, however, is an explanation sometimes offered for why Shirley didn’t make it as an adult actress, aside from the fact that she grew up. But the Siren disagrees with those who say Shirley grew into a bad actress. She glows in Since You Went Away, playing a 13-year-old with a crush on (of all God’s earthly people) Monty Woolley. John Ford thought well enough of her, years past Wee Willie Winkie, to give Temple a key role in the magnificent Fort Apache. In The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, her comic timing is on a par with that of co-stars Myrna Loy and Cary Grant, and the number of actors who can claim that is vanishingly small.

Temple faced three much bigger factors as she aged (and yes, that’s a mighty strange thing to write about an actress who basically retired when she was 22). The first was poor script quality; Ronald Reagan all but apologized for That Hagen Girl in his autobiography. And that problem probably stemmed from this one: Nobody knew what to do with Temple. She was still lovely, but the movies that made her name were already associated with a vanished time. There was a war on, and then it was over, but people still remembered the Temple of lollipops and animal crackers. Mickey Rooney, one of but a handful of child stars who ever experienced Temple’s level of fame, managed to make some highly credible noirs. When Deanna Durbin tried that in Christmas Holiday, even decent box-office receipts couldn’t persuade anybody that here was her future.

Hence factor number three: On some level Temple, like Durbin, had had enough.

Who can blame her for that? There’s something sad about such professionalism at a young age, the idea of a little girl crying when the director calls “Action,” instead of over spilled ice cream or a playroom squabble. (Dwan said if you wanted Temple to cry, all you had to do was tell her to imagine never seeing her mother again.) But Mrs. Temple, ambitious though she was, somehow kept Shirley grounded. The greatest testimony to that is how the little girl handled adulthood when it finally arrived.

In 1998 Shirley Temple Black, looking gorgeous, was a Kennedy Center honoree. In part one, look at the ovation she gets! The joy, the affection in that audience is glorious. And when every tap-dancing kid in America comes out to perform “The Good Ship Lollipop” in part two, watch for when they cut to her in the balcony — and Shirley Temple Black, almost 70 years old, is singing along and bopping to the music, happy to still be giving happiness. That’s it right there, what made her a star, and why she’ll always be one. Her. I want to see more of her.

21 Feb 00:47

Nicholas Kristof: Why Professors Suck!

by Karl Sharro

for real lol

Nicholas with one black person.
SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.

That’s the totality of my argument, but let me write a few hundred more words just to fill this column.

For example, take academics’ infuriating tendency for writing paragraphs.

In today’s fast-moving world, paragraphs have become redundant.

They are also a challenge for the average reader’s attention span.

Nicholas with two black people.

Now where was I.

The third problem with academics is their maddening refusal to write grand sweeping generalizations. And don’t get me started on caveats.

To prove my point, I’m not going to use a single example or fact in this column. But it will still sound like gospel, not least because you’re reading it in the New York Times.
Nicholas with one black woman.

Sadly research has come to mean spending time and effort dealing with facts. Then arranging them into tables and graphs.

Bo-ring. Write from the gut. This is what the public wants. And those graphs are too small to read anyway.

And do they have to have so many specialized fields? How is anthropology different from sociology really? My own career is testament to how the two fields can be combined successfully.

Academics also snobbishly shun their subjects and keep them at a distance. Since WWII, academics have stopped taking photographs with natives altogether. They have also stopped referring to them as natives.

Wow, got very close to writing a whole paragraph there.

Throughout my career I have made a point of countering this trend and telling the intimate stories of people rather than dealing with annoyingly abstract and intangible facts.

I also make it a point to always be photographed with black or brown people. Academic journals could learn a thing or two from my selfless efforts.

But we have to be culturally sensitive when taking those photographs. On a recent visit to Africa, we asked to take a picture with a family we were visiting but I noticed that they unfortunately had sofas and chairs in their living room. This is the downside of globalization.

So we asked them to remove the furniture and took the photograph with all of us sitting on the floor. Which looked way more authentic.

And just the other morning I saw a black man jogging in the park. I stopped him and asked to take a picture with him, but he told me he was in a rush and he had to get to the law firm where he is a partner. I had to chase him through the park with the photographer following us until he finally agreed to stop and take the photograph. But he wouldn’t sit on the floor.
Nicholas sitting on the floor with a few black people

But I digress.

Universities are becoming irrelevant because they are not USEFUL. I put that word in capitals so you don’t miss its significance. Instead of offering policy prescriptions, they are still unfashionably pursuing knowledge. What have you done for me lately.

That’s why I see think tanks as the future for political thought. Even the name is very suggestive. A clearly-limited and defined container for thinking outside the box. Nimble, slick, light-weight vehicles for thoughts formed in words of five or six-letter words at most. Keep it simple and clear.

You might think I am glibly abusing my position as a globally-known columnist to undermine professors and universities. And yet.

I will openly engage with debate about this column and retweet comments addressed to me in a way that will make me seem intellectually generous and celebrate the fact that we are all talking about the unsubstantiated things I said in here. That would never happen in traditional academia.
Nicholas with a few black children. (You get the idea.)

Take the Arab Spring for example. Universities and professors didn’t see it coming. Neither did columnists and think tanks. But who wrote more words not predicting it? I rest my case.

I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. Close shave.

So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like perverted, badly-dressed, needlessly elaborate medieval monks — we need you!

Legal warning: If you haven't figured by now that this is a parody of this, then you shouldn't have quit college. 

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05 Feb 19:53

online education and the desperate need for educational realism

by Freddie

It’s not uncommon for politics and policy to be distorted by a romantic vision of human nature, but nowhere is that more true than education.

Here at Purdue, we have a strong freshman composition program, Introductory Composition at Purdue (ICAP). One of the reasons for its strength, in my opinion, is our  conference system. English 106, the largest ICAP course, is a five-day-a-week teaching commitment. All students meet with their ICAP instructor in a one-on-one or small group conferencing sessions every week. As you can imagine, having to teach every weekday is not a thrilling prospect for many of our TAs. Despite what most people think, teaching a college class is a major time commitment; lesson planning and preparation for in-class activities is an even bigger time commitment than grading, which is a bear itself. The conferencing requirement also has major cost implications for the university; because the course meets so often, it carries a higher credit load, meaning that our TAs typically teach only two sections a year, rather than the one/two schedule typical of graduate students. Multiply that across hundreds of sections of the course. It’s a major commitment.

Why make it? I wasn’t sure I knew the answer to that myself, when I first came to Purdue. I remember being surprised that a college class met every day. It was just so far out of the norm. After just one semester of teaching ICAP, my feelings had changed entirely: I was now worried about a possible future of teaching freshman composition at other universities where I wouldn’t have one-on-one conferencing with students worked into the schedule. Because there, more than in our regular classroom, computer lab, or online course site, was where the actual educating happened. It was in those very small groups, where I could give the individual students individual attention, that I was able to go through their work with them line-by-line and show them where and how they could improve their writing. I’ve tried all number of ways to do that outside of class meetings– marking papers extensively, using Track Changes, real-time online collaboration– and it never, ever works. Most them don’t look, and most of them don’t care, unless there’s the basic human accountability of sitting down with them at a table and going through the changes together. That’s how I drag them to the skills they want.

I will have lost some of you with that verb. “Drag them! How presumptuous! That’s so insulting.” I assure you: no, it’s not. No, it’s not insulting to use the word “drag” to describe educating undergraduates. I promise you it’s not. Of course, there are in most classes one or two or three students who are both very bright and self-motivated. They’re wonderful to work with. But most students require a frankly endless amount of pushing, pulling, cajoling, motivating, and yes, dragging to competence. Some actively resist. I’m not complaining: this is what I love to do, and it’s why they pay me. I signed up to be a compositionist knowing that many, both within and outside of the university, see nothing to respect in the discipline. I did because I love teaching people to write and love researching ways to do it better. I’m just relaying reality, in context with an education media that simply doesn’t want to hear it: our college students are not an army of young autodidacts who are pursuing knowledge out of a love for learning. They just aren’t. They’re here, in very large measure, to collect a degree that they identify as being a largely or purely economic instrument. Who could blame them? That’s what their culture is telling them education is for: making money. So they proceed rationally from that premise.

So you work, and you work, and you work, and you sit with them in conferencing and you revise their papers again and again and you chase them down when they don’t submit by deadline and you make your instructions explicit again and again and you hope that they’ll bother to come back to class after spring break and you work, work, work to get them to a reasonable level of ability. And then when you give them a B+ they write outraged emails to the dean about what a horrible injustice that is. But of course they do. Again, it’s natural: their culture teaches them that everyone is equally capable of everything, and that any problems in education are necessarily the fault of educators and not of students, so they rage when they get a grade that is commensurate with their work. They’re a product of their culture.

Again: I love teaching. I love my students. I’m not trying to insult them, at all. I’m trying, instead, to speak honestly about them in their actual, real-world humanity. And trust me: my  students here at Purdue are not unusually unmotivated or unintelligent. Just the opposite; they’re remarkably bright, attending a competitive public research university, in a period where getting into good colleges has never been harder or more competitive. Yes, they’re a restricted range. They’re restricted near the top, not the bottom. Still, it’s a struggle to educate them. I’m just trying to be honest with you.

So maybe you can see why I am so deeply frustrated with the Clay Shirky vision, which is really just the consensus view, and pretty much Obama’s major vision for the next era of the American economy. It’s a common saw: the next stage of American abundance requires all of our workers be educated, it’s too expensive to teach them in the conventional academic setting, and so we need to replace the physical university with online colleges, staffed by adjuncts teaching many sections of huge classes. And not only will we be erasing the very notion of individual instructor attention, we’ll be particularly targeting the most vulnerable, most difficult to educate students, the ones who now either never make it to college or drop out at huge rates. This is the perfect expression of an educational discourse that has no connection to the reality of what most schooling is like for most students.

At my MA institution, the University of Rhode Island, there’s a great program called Talent Development. It’s a program for minority students from urban parts of Rhode Island; they’re offered admission into the school on a probationary basis, with the requirement that they undergo a summer program before their freshman year and maintain an additional accountability and support program for their first two. Such programs are an essential part of the academy’s mission; they are a moral necessity. And the program does enjoy some success: TD students have better outcomes than other students from similar backgrounds. But notice that the Talent Development program works by doing precisely the opposite of what Shirky sees as the future of education. They’re not reducing face-to-face time; they’re increasing it. They’re not reducing individual instruction and attention; they’re increasing it. And even so, while the TD students do better than other students from similar circumstances, my understanding is that they still on the whole do significantly worse than the median URI student.

Because educating “nontraditional” students– administrator speak for poor students, students whose parents are themselves uneducated, minority students, and students who struggled in high school– is really hard. Look, I don’t doubt that the American university system has failed these students in any number of ways. I could go on at length about those failures. But at some point you have to actually grapple with reality, which is that for a complex and controversial set of reasons, some people are harder to educate. Not everyone is equally capable of educational success. They just aren’t. I’m dedicated to the task as getting as many marginal students in and through as possible, and I think that’s an absolute moral need for our colleges and our society. But it’s not going to work for everyone, and it’s going to take great efforts, and online models are precisely the opposite of what’s likely to work.

We’ll be debating the causes of that inequality for the rest of my life, with liberals asserting that it’s the product of unequal circumstances and systemic  forces, and conservatives asserting that it’s the product of natural talent and work ethic. But at a certain point, the reason becomes irrelevant; by the time they reach adulthood, people  just are unequal, and we have reams and reams of empirical research that demonstrates that. The refusal to grapple with that reality will prove ruinous to the long term economic justice of the United States, as people like Shirky and Arne Duncan and President Obama articulate a vision of education as a great equalizer that denies the reality of unequal ability.

Andrew Sullivan linked to Shirky’s piece by saying that Shirky “wants the academic world to face reality.” Well, I think it’s Shirky and those like him who need to get real. Efforts to change the long-term economic futures of vast social classes through education are the de facto answer to poverty and inequality among the Davos set, despite the fact that education has never been proven to be equal to that task, as people like Matt Bruenig keep pointing out. We are risking the future on a vision that, it seems to me, has no justifiable grounding in either experience or empiricism. Pleasant lies about everyone’s ability to succeed in college, particularly in a new kind of college where by design individual students receive far less attention, are politically pleasing but practically destructive.

I’m not teaching freshmen now, but rather grad students. It’s a lovely experience. And I think it’s what most people think most college teaching is like: working with self-motivated, committed students. But there’s a reason why grad students are rare, and without judgment, I’m telling you that most undergrads simply are not like my grad students. They just aren’t. Fooling ourselves that they are is a huge mistake.

Although my readership is quite modest, I have still enjoyed more attention, in online politics, than I ever expected to get. I have been making some version of this argument for a long time. I have never been able to get even minimal purchase with this argument. People not only don’t agree about it, but just don’t engage. The Atlantic has an entire education “channel,” but you could go weeks there without reading a word of genuine educational pessimism. This is par for the course.

The rhetorical mechanism through which this kind of argument is dismissed is ostensibly liberal– you’re saying that people can’t learn! You’re saying that people are unequal! But I’m not saying that people can’t learn. I’m saying that not everyone can learn the same things, and shouldn’t be expected to, but the dictates of “the economy of tomorrow” dramatically narrows the horizons of what education can try and do. And I’m not saying that people are unequal in their rights, their dignity, or their inherent value. But I am saying that people are deeply unequal in their ability to satisfy certain educational demands which, again, are dictated by the same people who are calling for an economy based on everyone selling smartphone apps. And I am saying that whatever the complicated reasons for that fact, it is a fact, and one that most people actually believe even as they deny it publicly.

The people pushing this vision, tellingly, are almost exclusively people who have little to no connection to the day-to-day work of educating undergraduates in basic skills. Either the people arguing for this are journalists and pundits who have never educated, or they are deans and administrators who haven’t taught undergrads in 20 years, or they are celebrity intellectuals who barely teach and when they do, teach at elite institutions where only the most equipped to succeed are present. The greatest division in educational discourse today is not best understood as progressive vs. neoliberal or something similar. The greatest division, at all levels of education, is between those in the world of media and policy who assert that we have the ability to make miracles happen, and the educators who are actually out there, day-to-day, trying to get students to standards those students cannot meet. We can begin to let our policy discussions reflect on what’s actually happening in our actual schools, or we can continue to engage in pleasant fantasy. We can build a vast edifice of online higher education where, as happens with for-profit online schools now, we all agree to juke the stats, grading and graduating students who lack even basic skills, and degrading the very notion of higher education. That’s an option.

The other option is far more direct, has a far better history, and a far better moral outcome: give people money. Redistribute. Institute some sort of guaranteed minimum income. Unlike large-scale educational reform, giving people money has a great track record for changing their material conditions. Social Security is one of the most wildly successful anti-poverty programs in history. They just cut checks. Extend those benefits to all Americans, paid for through steeply progressive tax rates, and eliminate the massive bureaucracy through which we now deliver our arbitrary and inadequate safety net. The positive effects on educational outcomes are likely to be massive. Freed from the need to secure their immediate material survival, many people will choose to go to school for subjects that they actually want to study. Many others will opt not to go to college, rather than pursuing a degree despite a lack of interest and prerequisite skills, which will be better for them and better for the colleges. I think a guaranteed minimum income would result in an incredible flowering of human productivity, and incidentally a great outburst in small businesses, which should make conservatives happy. But even if the results are more modest, they will be far better at eliminating poverty and human misery than hoping against experience that we can give everyone a quality college education, and that such an education would be a ticket to the good life.

I am a socialist precisely because I know that, whatever the causes, human beings end up substantially different in their abilities, and good people are denied access to a good life because what they are good at is not what the labor market wants to pay for. I believe in equality of human value, but I do not believe in equality of human ability. So I want to force a minimal level of equality in material security and comfort with a simple mechanism that works.

There’s a chance. I’m pessimistic. There’s too much money in the other vision, too many profiteers and too many people making careers as iconoclasts, selling unproven, fanciful visions of the next stage of our economy. We are likely to institute this plan or something like it, and then watch as it fails, and then resist, resist, resist the reality that it’s not working, until finally it’s become too obvious to ignore. Then, maybe, we’ll get real about redistribution. The question is, how much preventable failure and unhappiness will we generate in the meantime?

04 Feb 19:05

A Sinking Feeling

by feministkilljoys

I have been thinking about how we tend to feel norms most acutely when we do not quite inhabit them. It is a feeling of discomfort, a fidgety feeling. Comfort can be a feeling that we might not even consciously feel. Things recede if we recede. I first wrote about comfort and discomfort in my chapter, “Queer Feelings,” from The Cultural Politics of Emotion (first edition 2004, second edition forthcoming 2014). I was interested in how social norms become affective in time. Here are some passages from that chapter:

It is important to consider how heterosexuality functions powerfully not simply as a series of norms and ideals, but also through emotions that shape bodies as well as worlds: hetero/norms are investments, which are ‘taken on’ and ‘taken in’ by subjects. It is no accident that compulsory heterosexuality works powerfully in the most casual modes of conversation: one asks, “do you have a boyfriend?”(to a girl), or one asks, “do you have a girlfriend” (to a boy). Queers know the tiredness of making corrections and departures, very well; the pressure of this insistence, this presumption, this demand that asks either for a “passing over’”(a moment of passing, which is not always available) or for direct or indirect forms of self-revelation (“but actually, he’s a she” or “she’s a he”  or just saying “she” instead of “he” or “he” instead of “she” at the “obvious” moment). No matter how ‘out’ you may be, how (un)comfortably queer you may feel, those moments of interpellation get repeated over time, and can be experienced as a bodily injury; moments which position queer subjects as failed in their failure to live up to the “hey you too” of heterosexual self-narration. The everydayness of compulsory heterosexuality is also its affectiveness, wrapped up as it is with moments of ceremony (birth, marriage, death) that bind families together, and with the ongoing investment in the sentimentality of friendship and romance. Of course, such a sentimentality is deeply embedded with public as well as private culture; stories of heterosexual romance proliferate as a matter of human interest. As Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner argue, “National heterosexuality is the mechanism by which a core national culture can be imagined as a sanitised space of sentimental feeling” (2000: 313).

We can consider the sanitised space as a comfort zone. Normativity is comfortable for those who can inhabit it. The word “comfort” suggests well-being and satisfaction, but it also suggests an ease and an easiness. To follow the rules of heterosexuality is to be at ease in a world that reflects back the couple form one inhabits as an ideal. Of course, one can be made to feel uneasy by one’s inhabitance of an ideal. One can be made uncomfortable by one’s own comforts. To see heterosexuality as an ideal that one might or might not follow – or to be uncomfortable by the privileges one is given by inhabiting a heterosexual world – is a less comforting form of comfort. But comfort it remains and comfort is very hard to notice when one experiences it. Think of how it feels to be comfortable: say you are sinking into a comfortable chair. Note I already have transferred how a body is affected to the object (“it is comfortable”). But comfort is about the fit between body and object: my comfortable chair maybe awkward for you, with your differently shaped body. Comfort is about an encounter between more than one body; the promise of a “sinking” feeling. To be comfortable is to be so at ease with one’s environment that it is hard to distinguish where one’s body ends and the world begins.

Heteronormativity function as a form of public comfort by allowing bodies to extend into spaces that have already taken their shape. Those spaces are lived as comfortable as they allow bodies to fit in; the surfaces of social space are already impressed upon by the shape of such bodies (like a chair that acquires its shape by the repetition of some bodies inhabiting it: we can almost see the shape of bodies as ‘impressions’ on the surface).  Spaces extend bodies and bodies extend spaces; the impressions acquired by surfaces function as traces of such extensions. As Gill Valentine has argued, the “heterosexualisation” of public spaces such as streets is naturalised by the repetition of different forms of heterosexual conduct (images on billboards, music played, displays of heterosexual intimacy etc.), a process which goes unnoticed by heterosexual subjects (1996: 49).  Streets record the repetition of acts, and the passing by of some bodies and not others.

Heteronormativity also becomes a form of comforting: one feels better by the warmth of being faced by a world one has already taken in. One does not notice this as a world when one has been shaped by that world, and even acquired its shape. Norms may not only have a way of disappearing from view, but may also be that which we do not consciously feel. Queer subjects, when faced by the comforts of heterosexuality may feel uncomfortable (the body does not “sink into” a space that has already taken its shape).  Furthermore, queer subjects may also be asked not to make heterosexuals feel uncomfortable, by not displaying any signs of queer intimacy. The availability of comfort for some bodies may depend on the labour of others, and the burden of concealment.  Comfort may operate as a form of ‘feeling fetishism’: some bodies can have comfort only as an effect of the work of others, where the work itself is concealed from view.

In The Promise of Happiness I refer very briefly to how comfort becomes a form of political labour:

Consider Ama Ata Aidoo’s wonderful prose poem, Our Sister Killjoy, where the narrator Sissie, as a black woman, has to work to sustain the comfort of others. On a plane, a white hostess invites her to sit at the back with “her friends”, two black people she does not know. She is about to say that she does not know them, and hesitates. ‘But to have refused to join them would have created an awkward situation, wouldn’t it? Considering too that apart from the air hostess’s obviously civilized upbringing, she had been trained to see the comfort of all her passengers” (1977: 10).

Power speaks here in this moment of hesitation. Do you go along with it? What does it mean not to go along with it? To create awkwardness is to be read as being awkward. Maintaining public comfort requires that certain bodies “go along with it”. To refuse to go along with it  would be to be seen as trouble, as causing discomfort for others.

In my most recent book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012) I discussed how whiteness can operate as a form of public comfort developing some of the arguments I made in the chapter, “The Orient and Other Others” from Queer Phenomenology (2004):

The word “comfort” suggests well-being and satisfaction, but it can also suggest an ease and easiness. Comfort is about an encounter between bodies and worlds, the promise of a “sinking” feeling. If white bodies are comfortable it is because they can sink into spaces that extend their shape.  To inhabit whiteness as a non-white body can be uncomfortable: you might even fail the comfort test. It can be the simple act of walking into the room that causes discomfort. Whiteness can be an expectation of who will turn up. A person of color describes: “When l enter the room there is shock on peoples’ faces because they are expecting a white person to come in. I pretend not to recognize it. But in the interview there is unease because they were not expecting someone like me to turn up. So it is hard and uncomfortable and l can tell that they are uneasy and restless because of the way they fiddle and twitch around with their pens and their looks. They are uncomfortable because they were not expecting me – perhaps they would not have invited me if they knew l was black and of course l am very uncomfortable. l am wondering whether they are entertaining any prejudice against me”. They are not expecting you. Discomfort involves this failure to fit. A restlessness and uneasiness, a fidgeting and twitching, is a bodily registering of an unexpected arrival.

The body that causes their discomfort (by not fulfilling an expectation of whiteness) is the one who must work hard to make others comfortable. You have to pass by passing your way through whiteness, by being seamless or minimizing the signs of difference. If whiteness is what the institution is orientated around, then even bodies that do not appear white still have to inhabit whiteness. One person of color describes how she minimizes signs of difference (by not wearing anything perceived as “ethnic”) because she does not want to be seen as “rocking the boat”. The invitation to become more alike as an invitation of whiteness is about becoming more comfortable or about inhabiting a comfort zone.

Bodies stick out when they are out of place.  Think of the expression “stick out like a sore thumb.” To stick out can mean to become a sore point, or even to experience oneself as being a sore point. To inhabit whiteness as a not-white body can mean trying not to appear at all: ‘I have to pretend that l am not here because l don’t want to stick out too much because everybody knows l am the only black person here. When you stick out, the gaze sticks to you. Sticking out from whiteness can thus re-confirm the whiteness of the space. Whiteness is an effect of what coheres rather than the origin of coherence. The effect of repetition is not then simply about a body count: it is not simply a matter of how many bodies are in. Rather what is repeated is a very style of embodiment, a way of inhabiting space, which claims space by the accumulation of gestures of “sinking” into that space.  If whiteness allows some bodies to move with comfort, to inhabit that space as home, then those bodies take up more space.

It might seem problematic to describe whiteness as something we “pass through.” Such an argument could make whiteness into something substantive, as if whiteness has an ontological force of its own, which compels us, and even “drives” action. It is important to remember that whiteness is not reducible to white skin, or even to something we can have or be, even if we pass through whiteness.  When we talk about a “sea of whiteness” or “white space” we are talking about the repetition of the passing by of some bodies and not others. Non-white bodies do inhabit white spaces; we know this. Such bodies are made invisible when spaces appear white, at the same time as they become hyper-visible when they do not pass, which means they “stand out” and “stand apart.” You learn to fade in the background, but sometimes you can’t or you don’t.

I have been thinking more about how diversity work (in both senses, see) involves comfort and discomfort.  You have to work to make others comfortable given you have already made them uncomfortable. No wonder diversity work is emotional work! Here is the full quote I refer to in passing above:

 I think with a person of colour there’s always a question of what’s this woman going to turn out like… they’re nervous about appointing people of colour into senior positions….Because if I went in my Sari and wanted prayer time off and started rocking the boat and being a bit different and asserting my kind of culture I’m sure they’d take it differently.

Some forms of difference are heard as assertive, as “rocking the boat.”   Some forms of difference become legible as willfulness and obstinacy, as if you are only different because you are insistent (on being different). The pressure not to “assert your culture” is lived as a demand to pass and to integrate by being more alike. Note how this pressure can be affective:  you experience the potential nervousness as a threat; you try and avoid the nervous glance by not fulfilling its expectation.

Racism often works by identifying the arrival of some bodies as the generalisation of discomfort.  We can identify these same mechanisms at a national level. Take for example Jack Straw’s comments about the burqa made when he was British Home Secretary back in 2006.   He suggested that the burqa made him feel uncomfortable, and that the failure of the covered woman to show her face was a refusal to communicate. When defending his comments to a Muslim woman he said, “If we bumped into each other in the street, you would be able to say hello to me. I would not be able to do the same. The obvious reason is that I cannot see your face. Chance conversations make society stronger.” The Muslim woman becomes the stranger; she prohibits the capacity to say hello, as a happily weak signifier of social solidarity. We might say that the Muslim woman is constituted as unfriendly, as refusing the very grounds of friendship. Her difference becomes the blockage point; the point where communication stops. Note also how discomfort becomes the basis of a political demand: for the white body to be comfortable, others must unveil.

More recently an article in The Guardian reports: Cameron will warn that immigrants unable to speak English or unwilling to integrate have created a ‘kind of discomfort and disjointedness’ that has disrupted communities across Britain.”[i] Those unwilling to integrate dislocate the national body, causing discomfort. To make others uncomfortable is to cause disruption. This is how the citizenship duty can become a comfort duty: you have to work to make others comfortable by minimizing the signs of difference.

Antiracist work could be described as a politics of discomfort. This is not to say that we aim to make others uncomfortable but that discomfort might be a consequence of what we aim for:  after all to challenge whiteness is to get in the way of an occupation of space. Sometimes, we might even use comfort as a technique. Some diversity practitioners described to me how they use words such as “diversity” because they are more comfortable words. To use more comfortable words can be a way of getting people to your table. Once people are seated, you can then use more confronting words such as “whiteness” and “racism.”

But of course, sometimes no matter what we say, no matter what we do, we already cause discomfort. The figure of angry woman of colour – as feminist killjoy and as killer of feminist joy – reminds us how discomfort involves explanations as well as expectations: discomfort is explained as caused by such-and-such body (in the context of feminist rooms, this such-and-such is often the brown or black feminist body) such that she is expected to cause discomfort before she even arrives.

One political strategy is to fulfil that expectation; to make what we cause part of our cause. bell hooks describes how one version of Sisterhood is that the “white ‘lady’ (bourgeois woman) should be protected from all that might upset and discomfort her and shielded from negative realities that might lead to confrontation” (2000: 46). Whatever strategies we use, as feminists of colour, we cannot avoid confrontation without also avoiding dealing with the realities of racism. We might have to risk becoming known as confrontational.

A risk is also a potential. Reflecting back on my own writing on comfort and discomfort, I have found one optimistic moment about discomfort. It is from Queer Phenomenology, when I am reflecting on having a mixed as well as queer genealogy.  I am going to end here with this “optimism of discomfort.”

I would say that the experience of having a mixed genealogy is a rather queer way of beginning, insofar as it provides a different “angle” on how whiteness itself gets reproduced.  Whiteness is proximate; it is a “part” of your background. And yet, you do not inherit what whiteness, you do not inherit what is behind you. You can feel the categories that you fail to inhabit: they are sources of discomfort. Comfort is a feeling that tends not to be consciously felt, as I suggested in the previous section. You sink. When you don’t sink, when you fidget and move around, then what is in the background becomes in front of you, as a world that is gathered in a specific way. Discomfort in other words, allows things to move. Every experience I have had of pleasure and excitement about a world opening up has begun with such ordinary feelings of discomfort, of not quite fitting in a chair, of becoming unseated, of being left holding onto the ground. So yes, if we start with the body that loses its chair, the world we describe will be quite different.



Aidoo, Ama Ata (1997). Our Sister Killjoy. Harlow: Longman.

Berlant, L. and Warner, M. (2000). ‘Sex in Public’ in Berlant, Lauren (ed), Intimacy,

University of Chicago Press.

hooks, b. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. London: Pluto Press.

Valentine, G. (1996). ‘(Re)Negotiating the Heterosexual Street” in N. Duncan Body Space: Destabilising Geographies of Gender and Sexuality. London: Routledge.

10 Jun 13:41

The Words We Have Lost: Translating Kant on Enlightenment

by James Schmidt

@Tyler: Having recently taught Kant's essay on Perpetual Peace in my grad seminar on Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism, I've been (fairly idly) trying to reconcile Kant's radical vision of cosmopolitan "well-being" (in short, suggesting that the well-being of the individual nation needn't be measured by the nation's own prosperity considered in isolation but by the collective well-being of the world in which the nation exists) with his famous definition of enlightenment in terms of maturity/immaturity, which, as we've discussed before, has implications for "grown-up studies." But this fascinating series on translating Kant makes me wonder how much of the "immaturity" stuff is an effect of the willful interpretations of translators. Do I need to learn to speak 18th-century German now?

KantBMWhat might have been the most famous words ever written about the Enlightenment go like this: “Aufklärung ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit.”  The problem, however, is that the author of these words — Immanuel Kant (of course!) — wasn’t trying to answer a question about a period in history (i.e., “what is the Enlightenment?”) but was instead trying to clarify what was involved in the process or activity known as Aufklärung. This has become a particular hobby horse of mine. It strikes me that, the moment we start to think that Kant was engaged in an effort to define what “the Enlightenment” was all about, we lose track of what was going on in 1784 and what happened over the course of the next couple of centuries.

For Kant and his contemporaries, “enlightenment” denoted a set of projects and practices. By 1784 there was considerable confusion as to what counted and what didn’t count as a contribution to the “enlightenment of the citizenry.” Hence the question that Kant, along with many others, was attempting to answer in the flood of articles on the question that filled German periods over the next few years. To assume that these articles were an attempt to capture central features of a particular historical period prevents us from understanding just how confused people might have been around 1784 about what was and what wasn’t “enlightenment” and how long it took for these confusions to be replaced by a new set of confusions: disputes about what the historical period now known as “the Enlightenment” was all about. I think these two sets of confusions are related, but I’d like to keep them separate, if only to prevent yet more confusion. In looking at what Kant and his contemporaries were doing, I think it is essential that we realize that it is not the job of historians to resolve other peoples’ confusions — this is what philosophers do, when they’re not helping flies out of fly bottles. There’s nothing wrong with this (though I’d prefer that the flies stay in the fly bottles), but even those who are concerned with trying to resolve past confusions need to get clear on just what it was that earlier thinkers were confused about.

Putting Kant into English

It was in this spirit that, a couple of decades ago, I edited a collection of translations of a few of the German discussions of the question “What is enlightenment?” along with some later discussions of the controversy from the 1780s and subsequent attempts to answer Kant’s question. There were, after all, a lot of responses to the question besides Kant’s and it seemed to me that some of them — notably Moses Mendelssohn’s — were interesting in their own right. Others were useful in clarifying what seemed to be at stake in the debate and helped to understand Kant’s particular concerns (e.g., I think it helps to know that a fair amount of ink was being spilled at this point about issues involving the freedom of the press). My one regret is that I didn’t include the two essays from the Berlinische Monatsschift that prompted the question to what which Mendelssohn and Kant responded: Johann Erich Biester’s article questioning whether clergy were required at wedding ceremonies and Johann Friedrich Zöllner’s response to Biester, which included the famous footnote that launched the discussion. At the time when I was putting the collection together it wasn’t clear (at least to me) just how important and interesting disputes about the concept of marriage were about to become.

As part of the project, I decided to try my hand at translating Kant’s answer. Here’s how I handled the opening sentence: “Enlightenment is mankind’s exit from its self-incurred immaturity.” I didn’t spend much time looking at other modern translations, but I did consult John Richardson’s translation in his edition of Kant’s Essays and Treatises on Moral, Political, Religious, and Various Philosophical Subjects (London: William Richardson: 1798-99). My hope was to get a sense of how Kant sounded to eighteenth-century English readers and to try to keep some of that in my own translation. But it became clear, from the very first word, that this wasn’t going to be possible.  Richardson’s English was too foreign from ours: “Enlightening is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.”

In the years since I did my translation, my admiration for Richardson’s has continued to grow. In retrospect, his rendering Aufklärung as “Enlightening” was a masterstroke. “Mental illumination” was the convention for translating the word that was adopted at the German Museum, the magnificent but ill-fated journal that translated a remarkable number of eighteenth-century German texts into English. “Mental illumination” is serviceable, but clumsy. “Enlightening,” on the other hand, perfectly tracks the way in which Kant was using Aufklärung and the oddness of using this word in this particular place — which kept me from doing something similar — now strikes me as just what we need: it makes it clear that we are dealing with a discussion of an activity, not a period. “Nonage” also works perfectly as a translation for Unmündigkeit and, as I mentioned in my Preface to the volume, it was a word that I would very much have liked to have had available to me.  But using “nonage” today would have been even odder than using “enlightening.”

The closeness of Richardson’s English to Kant’s German serves as a reminder that the vocabulary of the German enlightenment was not entirely foreign to translators like Richardson. According to Kant’s disciple Ludwig Heinrich Jakob, Richardson had studied Kant’s work during a stint at the university of Halle and two of his letters to Kant, written while he was living in Altenburg have survived.1 A few weeks ago it occurred to me that it might be mildly enlightening to slap together a blog post that would look at some of the ways in which the opening lines of Kant’s essay has been translated and see what might be said about them. I figured that, using Google’s Ngram Viewer, I could track the history of the various words that translators used and, perhaps, draw some enlightenment from this exercise. Rather quickly, though, what I was doing became too big (and too time-consuming) for a single post. So what follows will be the first of a series that moves, word by word (well, not every word) through the opening line of Kant’s response and explores the choices that different translators have made and what their choices might illuminate about the words, and the world, we have lost (think of it as my equivalent of making every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, expect that it won’t take too long and will be much healthier).

Rounding up the Suspects

Let’s begin by collecting a few of the more readily available translations (please let me know if there are others that I’ve missed, which might be worth discussing):

  1. Enlightening is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage.
    John Richardson, in Kant, Essays and Treatises on Moral, Political, Religious, and Various Philosophical Subjects (London: William Richardson: 1798-99)
  2. Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity.
    Carl Friedrich, The Philosophy of Kant, (New York: Modern Library, 1949)
  3. Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.
    Lewis White Beck, in Kant, On History (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963)
  4. Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.
    H. B. Nisbet in H. Reiss, Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1970).
  5. Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
    Ted Humphrey in Kant,Perpetual Peace and Other Essays (Indianapolis, Hackett, 1983)
  6. Enlightenment is our release from our self-imposed dependence.
    Leo Rauch and Lieselotte Anderson, in Kant, Foundations of Ethics (Millis MA: Agora Publications 1995)
  7. Enlightenment is mankind’s exit from its self-incurred immaturity.
    Schmidt, in What is Enlightenment? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)
  8. Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his state of self-incurred minority.
    Mary J. Gregor, in Kant, Practical Philosophy, (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  9. Enlightenment is the human being’s emancipation from its self-incurred immaturity.
    David Colclasure and Pauline Kleingeld, in Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History (New Haven, Yale 2006)

There are two places where everyone departs from Richardson’s choices: everyone translates Aufklärung as “Enlightenment” rather than “Enlightening” and everyone except for Lewis White Beck uses “immaturity” for Unmündigkeit. In contrast to his use of “tutelage” for Unmündigkeit (which is not the worst of choices), Beck’s decision to translate the important adjective selbstverschuldeten — which does a lot of work in Kant’s argument — as “self-incurred” seems to have caught on, though a few alternatives have been tried: Friedich attempts “self-caused”, while Humphrey and Rauch and Anderson use “self-caused.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, the greatest variation involves what to do with Ausgang. Richardson’s use of “emergence” was followed by Humphrey and Gregor. I’m alone in opting for “exit,” and I still like it: it retains the rhythm of Kant’s opening (a three syllable noun followed by a two syllable noun) and, “Enlightenment” and “exit” parallel Aufklärung and Ausgang in starting with the same letter (small stuff, I know, but translation is nothing but an accumulation of small things, and I liked how it worked — besides it was how Michel Foucault’s translated Ausgang in his discussion of the essay). Two of the translations adopt “release,” which doesn’t work at all (what’s needed here is a word that implies an action on the part of the agent that is attaining enlightenment and “release” is much too passive). Friedrich used “leaving,” which is unobjectionable, I suppose, while Colclasure and Kleingeld use “emancipation,” which has many of the same problems as “release.”

And then there’s Menschen, which is probably the choice that has been most influenced by contemporary patterns of usage: up until 1983, everyone used “man’s,” then things became more complicated. Rauch and Anderson tried to avoid the issue of gender specificity by using “our,” which has nothing to recommend it, as far as I can see. Gregor, along with Colclasure and Kleingeld went for “the human beings.” And I, unrepentantly, used “mankind,” since anything else struck me as anachronistic (I made amends by following it with the neuter possessive “its”): there is every reason for us to avoid gender specific language when speaking of the species as a whole, but no reason at all to pretend that this was something that Kant or other male eighteenth-century writers would have done (like historians, translators are not in the business of getting flies out of fly bottles).

So, here we are: nine English translations and five German words. I hope to have something up about Aufklärung (including some tasty Ngrams) later this week.

  1. See Arnulf Zweig’s biographical note on Richardson in his translation of Kant’s Correspondence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) and the discussions in Stephen Palmquist, Four Neglected Essays by Immanuel Kant (Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1994) and Guisippe Micheli’s introduction to the reprint edition of Richardson’s translation, Essays and Treatises (Bristol: Thoemmes, 1993).

Tagged: Kant
10 Jun 13:33

Kant for Kids (Notes on a Survivor)

by James Schmidt

Tracing the reception of Kant’s phrase “selbstverschudeten Unmündigkeit” (“self-incurred immaturity” is the current consensus on how to translate it), I stumbled on one of those things that reminds us about the books, and the worlds, we have lost:Teutonia Title Page

This peculiar book, swept up into Google’s scanners during their sweep through the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, is a survivor from a vanished world: a world in which a title like Teutonia could be attached, without irony or aggression, to a book that was edited by two Jewish pedagogues and intended for the education of “German boys and girls” .

Assembled by the rabbi, translator, and writer  Gotthold Salomon (1784-1862) and the teacher and writer Maimon Fraenkel (1788-1848), it consisted, as announced on its title page, of selections of passages from the works of the “most excellent” German writers. The short extracts are organized topically and the table of contents gives a hint of the ambitions of the collection:

  1. God. Providence.
  2. The Knowledge of the World and of Man
  3. The Destiny of Man
  4. Religion
  5. Freedom
  6. Virtue. Vice.
  7. Death. Immortality.
  8. Belief and Hope
  9. Reason and Truth
  10. Nature and Art
  11. Beauty. Taste.
  12. Love. Marriage.
  13. Friendship
  14. Women (Weibliches Geschlecht)
  15. Fortune and Misfortune
  16. Education and Culture
  17. Worldly Wisdom (Lebensweisheit)

The seventh item in the section dealing with  “Reason and Truth” assembles a few passages from Kant, the last of which consists of the entire first paragraph of Kant’s essay on the question “What is enlightenment?”


Here, then, is one of the places where boys and girls from Jewish families, immersing themselves in what their families regarded as the culture to which they belonged, would have encountered Kant’s words.

It’s hard to look at things like this without thinking about all that was to follow. It’s also hard to look at the frontispiece of the collection without thinking about what history does to relics like this.

Teutonia Front

Adorno famously wrote that Mahler turned “cliché” into “event.” Looking at this frontispiece I couldn’t help thinking about the way in which history turns kitsch into monuments.

Tagged: Kant
03 Jun 03:17

"A slut is merely a human female that is constantly in heat, yet has no interest in reproducing, thus..."



“A slut is merely a human female that is constantly in heat, yet has no interest in reproducing, thus causing a disruption in society that threatens the very structure of the family organizational unit. This website and many others, are vectors of intellectual warfare against the strength of the family institution and ultimately the individual’s soul and if you cannot see that then you are blind!”

- This is pretty much the Platonic Ideal of the Salon comment.
26 May 13:03

No Words Turns Five — Two New Mixes and Re-Ups of All the Old Ones

by (Ursell Anning)


I created No Words just over five years ago with the intent of using it as a highly personal folksong repository. Today it is by no means an Internet powerhouse, but I am pleased with the affection it has received. Thanks for all the kind words over the years.

This post features two new playlists, including the first-ever No Words guest mix (courtesy of Cousin Derek). I've also re-upped all previous No Words collections. That's 16 in all, including these two new ones.

Dearest Ursell: A Mix for the Occasion of the Five Year Anniversary of No Words — Compiled by Derek Jenkins

Dearest Ursell

Download (ZIP) / Request Immediate Removal

1) Popol Vuh • "Ah!" • 1972
2) Ivan Rebroff • "Evening Chimes" • 1969
3) Sandy Nassan • "Here's That Rainy Day" • 1970
4) Forward Kwenda • "Chipembere" • 1997
5) The Early Music Consort of London & David Munrow • "Lamento di Tristan" • 1977
6) Lu-Sheng Ensemble • "Lian Hsiao" • 1972
7) Robbie Basho • "Omaha Tribal Player" • 1972
8) D'Gary • "Anary Tany" • 1992
9) Kartik Tivedi • "Basanti: Alap, Jor, Jhala" • 1980
10) Three Musicians • "Twenty-Third Psalm" • 1977

Piety & Custom III: Another Miscellany of Curious and Interesting Songs, Ballads, Histories, &c.

Piety & Custom III

Download (ZIP) / Request Immediate Removal

1) The Pentangle • "Lord Franklin" • 1973
2) Sibylle Baier • "Colour Green" • 197?
3) John Hepple • "Whittingham Green Lane" / "Ward's Brae" • 1996
4) Lena Hughes"Pearly Dew" • 196?
5) Terry Callier"Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?" • 1968
6) Mia Doi Todd"Johnny Appleseed (2005 Version)" • 2005
7) Dick Gaughan • "Jock O'Hazeldean " • 1972
8) "Big Sweet" Lewis Hairston • "Bile Them Cabbage Down" • 1977
9) Sacros • "Diosa del Mar" • 1973
10) Anne Briggs"The Recruited Collier" • 1963
11) Michael Hurley"I Like My Wine" • 1965
12) Andreas Thomopoulos • "The New Spring" • 1970
13) Itsutsu No Akai Fusen"I Will Kick a Pebble" • 1971
14) Julie Byrne"Prism Song" • 2012
15) Atsumasa Nakabayashi Trio • "Plover on the Beach" • 1964
16) Laurence Vanay w/ Jacqueline Carbon • "Juste Te Revior" • 1974
17) Michael Yonkers • "Will It Be" • 1977
18) Jean Bosco Mwenda"Masanga" • 1994
19) Molly Drake • "A Sound" • 195?
20) Eugenia Sirioti • "Ti Kako Sou Exo Kanei" • 1970
21) Ted Lucas • "It's So Easy (When You Know What You're Doing)" • 1975
22) Lal Waterson • "Never the Same" • 1972
23) Jane Turriff • "Mill o' Tifty's Annie" • Child Ballad #233 • 195?
24) Afunakwa"Rorogwela" • 1969

As promised, here are re-ups for all previously posted No Words collections. Please do not delay downloading; these are hosted on Sharebeast, and they may very well go down quickly. Once they're down, it may very well be years before I get around to uploading them again.

1) A Revelry of Piety & Custom in Song: A No Words Compendium — download/post
2) Miriam: A No Words Nativity — download/post
3) MMIX: Ursell's '09 Picks — download/post
4) Wishwander: Ursell's Vashti Tape — download/post
5) MMX I/II: Ursell's 2010 Folksong Picks — download/post
6) Terse Tales & Uneasy Utterings: A No Words Halloween — download/post
7) MMX II/II: Ursell's 2010 Folksong Picks — download/post
8) MCML: A No Words 1950s Reel — download/post
9) Peregrinations: No Words Salutes Bert Jansh — download/post
10) Death Mask: Another No Words Halloween — download/post
11) MMXI: Ursell's 2011 Folksong Picks — download/post
12) Piety & Custom II: Another Revelry in Song — download/post
13) MMXII I/II: Best Folksongs of 2012 — download/post
14) MMXII II/II: Best Folksongs of 2012 — download/post
08 May 00:34

areyouoverityet: What is interesting, is that the Frida Kahlo venerated by American feminists is a...


What is interesting, is that the Frida Kahlo venerated by American feminists is a very different Frida Kahlo to the one people learn about in Mexico, in the Chicano community. In her country, she is recognized as an important artist and a key figure in revolutionary politics of early 20th century Mexico. Her communist affiliations are made very clear. Her relationship with Trotsky is underscored. All her political activities with Diego Rivera are constantly emphasized. The connection between her art and her politics is always made. When Chicana artists became interested in Frida Kahlo in the ‘70s and started organizing homages, they made the connection between her artistic project and theirs because they too were searching for an aesthetic compliment to a political view that was radical and emancipatory. But when the Euro-American feminists latch onto Frida Kahlo in the early ‘80s and when the American mainstream caught on to her, she was transformed into a figure of suffering. I am very critical of that form of appropriation.

Coco Fusco on her Amerindians piece from 1992 with Guillermo Gómez-Peña

13 Apr 15:50

You Can't Hear

by (Matt)

This is pretty much my favorite "music blog" these days. Matt's starting up a record label.

When I was little, I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. In the summers, we'd go to Cape Cod to visit my grandparents. They were an old-school New Englanders, but had spent much of their adult life in Bethany, West Virginia, where my grandfather had taught German at Bethany College. They had a friend from Bethany named Sieglinde who had moved to Cape Cod as well and lived a few doors away. Sieglinde was a German immigrant and she had an accent. I remember being at the beach with her and walking out on the jetty - that's a big man-made pile of rocks that sticks out into the ocean - and the way she pronounced it. "Chetty". I'm thinking about it now because the town that Sieglinde lived in when she met my grandparents in Bethany has been in the news recently - Steubenville, Ohio. Whenever I read the name, I say it in my head with a little bit of a German accent: "Ssssstupenville".

When my parents got divorced, I moved with my mom to Harwich, Massachusetts. I was six. Cape Cod's got beaches and Kennedys and a rich people reputation but my reality was year-round residents, mechanics, restaurant workers, fishermen. There were a lot of people with Portuguese names - Silva, Monteiro - and sometimes the Portuguese people had in-between skin tone and curly hair. Occasionally I would hear the word "Cape Verdean" but I wasn't really interested enough to figure out who was from where or the ways in which what went before expressed itself in people's bodies and attitudes towards each other. Class and race. Harwich is right next to Chatham, ground zero of the blueblood culture, and the towns resisted regionalizing their school systems until the last few years. My mom relates a story about a guy from Chatham at a town meeting whose comment on combining school systems was, "We don't want our kids going to school in a foreign country!"

I had some circumstances growing up that read as difficult: divorced parents, struggling single mom working as a waitress, alocoholic stepfather. It took a toll, psychologically. But, in reality, I've never known want. I've never gone hungry. When I was a 20-something slacker, I had a safety net (I'm white). I always had a job (I'm white) and always paid the rent myself, but I borrowed from parents once or twice and had an inheritance (I'm white). That's how I got little stuff, like a van for my band to tour in. It's the little things. I paid cash. I named it Malcolm, after the old-school New England uncle who left me the money. I never met him.

What went before. (White) people making money at the expense of (other) people. Institutional, systemic. Expressed in attitudes. Little things. Jokes.

But hey it's hard for all of us out here, right? I mean who's got time to examine your own shit? I had some advantages, some things that fell into my lap. But some other things were really hard!

My reality. When I was a teen, I lived in Rape Culture. I lived in White Supremacy. I remember the thought processes that are so well documented in this era of enlightened outrage. The mansplaining, the "reverse racism." I remember seeing a kid draw a swastika with his finger on the school bus window, and just thinking it was a cool little design. I drew a swastika on my mom's bedroom window a morning or two later, and my mom was, um, fucking horrified. As it happened, it was when we had just moved to the Cape, and we were staying in Sieglinde's house while she was in Steubenville for the summer. My mom said "Never ever draw that symbol, especially on a German person's window!"

So here's the thing. Little comments and little jokes are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It's how the whites keep their fucking OG charade going. Psychological warfare. Constant. On every level. Now it leaves a trail of digital slime though. Twitter comments that get screenshotted and there are just millions of them, idiots talking about how that girl was a whore and she deserved it or the president's black and some fucking joke about black people. This shit is no different from what I remember when I was a teen but I was part of it then, and the part of my brain that knew it was wrong DIDN'T EVEN HEAR the wrongness because when it puts you in the in group, the ones with the power, you can't hear the wrong, you just hear the joke. Funny stuff. Then nice liberal people like the me of now take the screenshots and write a blog post and everyone is like, OMG can you believe these racist people? When are we gonna get past it? Or if it's a marginalized person writing, like a woman, they're like, yep, people are fucking crazy ass racist homophobic male dickbags, I keep saying this, but nobody seems to hear me.

YOU CAN'T HEAR. The dickbags writing the comments do not care what the liberal pussies and bitches say. And maybe too, on the other side, the reduction of a person to a comment that shows a vile attitude has the function of distancing and dehumanizing. Not that it's wrong to call out things that are wrong, just that maybe, engaging with a bloodless screenshot instead of a person is not as productive as your righteous anger makes you wish it was. Dig? I mean "at least we're having the conversation now." But no one's invited the dickbags.

I saw the band Drop Dead probably about fifteen times in the mid-Nineties. It seemed like they played every show I went to. I was really into fast, chaotic, screamy, angry punk, so I would go to shows with fast, chaotic, screamy, angry punk bands, and Drop Dead were the fastest, screamiest, angriest band, so they always headlined. Damn. Just damn. The singer Bob would get up in your face and scream and his face would be contorted with rage. Their politics were vegan, eco, animal rights. Four white dudes making a fuckload of noise and screaming at me about what I ought not to be doing or thinking or whatever, and me a lefty vegetarian just all stroking my chin with all the other lefty vegetarian white 20-something chin-strokers in the room, all knowing he's not screaming at us, we're already vegan, he's yelling with us at all our meat-eating minivan-driving suburb parents and their church groups who don't even think twice about eating the hell out of some fried chicken with mayonnaise all over it.

Except no, Bob was screaming at us. It was too loud for our parents to hear.

My van wasn't even mini.

Anyway I never got into Dropdead cause of the politics. I liked em cause the songs were short and musically unpredictable ("fucked up" is how I'd put it) and I like stuff that's not the same as other stuff, cause if it's the same as other stuff, why would you like it particularly and not something else?

Los Crudos sounds a lot like Dropdead, but why did I think they were boring but not Dropdead? I'd be all, it's just fast Dischargey punk parts. Wasn't fucked up enough. Crudos wasn't white dudes, at least not if ethnicity disqualifies you - and you better believe it does. And gay. Double-marginalized. Condemned to silence by white old me, for not being fucked up enough.

What did Crudos scream about?

Quien? Tu acusas al mundo?
Quien? Tu nque niegas tu poder.
Quien? Tu que olvidas tus derechos.
Quien es el pendejo mas grande?

(Who? While you accuse the world.
Who? While you deny your own power.
Who? While you neglect your rights.
Who is the biggest dumbass?)


Los niños de mi barrio
Ya saben que no existen palomas blancas
Saben que son cosas de dibujos no mas.

(The kids of my neighborhood
Already know that white doves do not exist
They know that it is something seen only in pictures.)


Si no vemos el dia que existen mujeres, sin marcas en su cuerpo,
Ojos morados, labios sangrantes, y cuerpos violados,
No mi pueden venir hablando de revolucion.
Porque nunca va llegar.

(If we do not see the day that women do not have bruised bodies, eyes blackened, bloodied lips,
Do not come talking this Revolution shit to me,
Because it will not ever come)

(Translations are the band's, from the lyric book.)

I couldn't hear em. Not fucked up enough. But maybe, just maybe, they weren't trying to impress me with time changes, cause maybe they figured dead kids and battered bodies and homophobia were fucked up enough. Maybe they played fast and loud cause who wouldn't be angry?

(Seventeen years on. Martin's voice is pretty fucked up actually. High and whistley.)

It's not about me. It's not about you.

27 Mar 17:28

What The New York Times forgot to tell you about the Explosion of Digital Music in Africa

by Tom Devriendt

What are the conventional courtesies for resharing on here? Via @billtron? H/T? Or is it obvious that I've reshared, and from whom? SO GREEN

Guest Post by Benjamin Lebrave

This morning I started my week reading the following on the New York Times’ website: “Digital music, responsible for the improvement in the industry’s brighter overall outlook, has failed to catch on across much of Africa.” To be more accurate, the first words I read were “Serraval, France”, the location of the writer. Ironically, Serraval’s city hall website starts with the following: “Today, children use the internet much like our generation played marbles.” Well it seems that despite Serraval’s noted efforts to encourage the use of the internet, Eric Pfanner, the great mind behind this piece of in-depth NYT journalism, may have lost his marbles. 

Just for comedic effect, let’s continue fact checking for a minute. Pfanner talks about high profile moves, then mentions three artists to back up the significance of the claim: Power Boyz from Angola, DJ Vetkuk from South Africa, and W4 from Nigeria (not even a facebook page for him, all I found was this). Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Tchuna Baby, and wish that song were a global hit. But it’s not, and Power Boyz are at best a second tier band. Same goes for W4 or DJ Vetkuk, who may also be talented, but for the sake of this article, are completely irrelevant. No mention of D’BanjP-Square, or any other proper pan-African heavy hitters.

Maybe they don’t chop money in Serraval…

No mention of Spinlet either, a Nigerian company backed by serious investment money for over a year now. While it is clear Pfanner is green about digital music in Africa, he did however do his homework among Western players attempting to jump on the African bandwagon. But that’s exactly the problem: he relies on PR information obtained from corporations, who rely on consulting firms to do their market research. And those firms rely on information obtained from offices in London, Paris, or at best Johannesburg. Even when they do have some kind of ground office, it is exactly that: an office.

If you want to understand how digital music is evolving in Africa, you first have to step out of the office, and go where digital music lives: in the devices of teenagers. You have to witness how music listening and consuming habits have changed. You have to see how hits blow up strictly from bluetooth swapping. You have to go to concerts, and watch crowds chant in unison to songs which never play on the radio or on TV.

To think that the number of paid downloads is a testimony to the advancement of digital music in Africa is like looking at champagne sales as an indicator of overall growth in Africa. When people live on a buck or two a day, it is slightly unlikely they will spend a buck on a song. But that does not mean they are not living and breathing digital music. That does not mean digital music does not make or break artists, who then go on to get endorsement deals, and a properly lucrative career. Digital is not only the cornerstone of how music lives in Africa today, it is also fundamental in the business of music.

The problem with this New York Times article is nothing new: the general consensus about reporting in Africa seems to be: nobody knows, nobody cares, so let’s just put the smallest amount of effort into it. Let’s rely on the same reporter who writes about Moscato wine and French tax schemes, he’s smart enough, he’ll get it right. And even if he doesn’t, who cares?

Well the irony in this case is: specifically because digital media (and music) is exploding in Africa, a lot of us notice, and a lot of us care.

I have to add one last bit: the main reason for Pfanner’s article is Samsung and Universal’s launch of The Kleek, a music service aimed at African markets. Pfanner tells us digital music is non-existent in Africa, and tells us Universal is jumping in. So that would make Universal a bold, courageous pioneer. Now THAT is good humor.

* Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave runs Akwaaba Music, a platform promoting and distributing urban and electronic music from all over Africa. He also reports about musical discoveries for Fader magazine and This Is Africa.

25 Mar 15:01

Illustration by Niroot Puttapipat for The Bold Knight, the...

Illustration by Niroot Puttapipat for The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life, from Myths and Legends of Russia, collected by Aleksandr Afanas’ev and translated by Norbert Guterman; published by The Folio Society.