Monday, September 26, 2011

Patrik Ourednik's "Europeana"

Patrik Ourednik's Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (Dalkey Archive, 2005) is an unusual book. It's not quite a brief history of the 20th century, and it's not quite a novel. However, it does discuss the 20th century, and it is told by an unreliable narrator, who sometimes jumbles disparate topics and misreports events.

In fact, this book is all about the narrator, and the rhetoric of the narrator, which is dispassionate, detached, and more concerned (if we could even say "concerned") with accounting for the century in statistics and numbers than recounting a story of the century. I think it's necessary as well to say "the narrator" rather than "Ourednik" because I don't think that the book provides any clue into Ourednik's own stance on the 20th century until the final sentence of the book. And, if I tell you what that sentence is, it will probably deflate the exercise or experience of reading it. 

And while you are reading it, you are going to wonder why you decided to. For the Europeana century is marked primarily by war, genocide, and body counts. And statistics. The first few sentences set the tone:
The Americans who fell in Normandy in 1944 were tall men measuring 173 centimeters on average, and if they were laid head to foot they would measure 38 kilometers. The Germans were tall too, while the tallest of all were the Senegalese fusiliers in the First World War who measured 176 centimeters, and so they were sent into battle on the front lines in order to scare the Germans. 
The next 120 pages continue in the same vein--the statistics, the quick leaps between events (in the above, how did we jump from the Second to the First World War?), and detached cynicism. The book is more than a criticism of the idea that human history is a story of progress, it's also a critique--or at least, I think, on the basis of the end of the book that I can't discuss, that it is a critique--of the attempt to "survey" or "look over" history from a standpoint that is able to definitively account for it. As Ourednik states in an interview with Context (also published by Dalkey Archive):
The primary question wasn’t to know what events, what episodes were characteristic of the twentieth century, but which syntax, which rhetoric, which expressiveness belonged to it, in what sense was it redundant, etc.  
Thus it strikes me the book is a critique of its own rhetoric and "expressiveness," an 'auto-reductio ad absurdum' of the attempt to quantify historical change and void the subjectivity of historical agents. Sure, your patience will be tested by the statistics, the body counts, and the repeated references to Nazism (which appears over and over and over in the narrative, sometimes leaving the reader feeling as if nothing happened in 20th century Europe other than World War II). Nevertheless, those final few pages, with their critique of the smug arrogance of late twentieth century chroniclers of political power, are edifying enough to warrant a trip through the 20th century of Europeana.

(See also my review of Ourednik's The Opportune Moment, 1855)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Amazon and Print on Demand

For all the night owls, like myself (via Scu at Critical Animal):

Carol J. Adams, who you might know as the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, has published a post on her blog about Amazon's print-on-demand "service." I've received a few of their reproductions, and of those, a couple have really stuck out due to  the cheap materials used, including the cover, the cover ink, the paper, and the binding (wait, what the hell else is there to a book [and I don't mean that in the Derrida 'question the oeuvre' kind of way--that's a topic for another post, perhaps]? Maybe the black ink isn't as glossy either...), and, of course, the barcode on the back page. Now, I'm not necessarily against print-on-demand, especially if it results in the handful of Routledge titles that I am interested in becoming affordable. But, as Adams, points out:
Apparently, it is common to have an agreement with publishers that they can produce copies of a book if it is out of stock. However, Amazon is apparently determining what being "out of stock" means in a very flexible, self-interested way. If they receive an order and they, Amazon, are out of stock of the book, they are producing their own rather than obtaining the book from the publisher's warehouse.
This sounds questionable at best, and as a published author, I would prefer that the copies of my book taking up space in Continuum's warehouses go first before anybody starts printing on demand, so that someday a more affordable paperback can replace the hardcover. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New APPS Interviews Ladelle McWhorter

If you work on Foucault, and you aren't familiar with Ladelle McWhorter's Bodies and Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalization (Indiana UP, 1999), you should be. It's one hell of a read, providing an interpretation of Foucault that is both personal and political (and it discusses, at one point, line dancing). An interview of her with John Protevi is now available at New APPS. After noting that she was a "queer child in every sense of that word," born in a northern Alabama town in 1960 (and don't forget about segregation), McWhorter states:
What I remember most about childhood was the sense that so many things had to go unspoken—because speaking them might destroy our world or because there just weren’t any words to speak them with. I know that one thing that drove me to philosophy was the deep need to find ways to speak, which involved critiquing how the world was put together so as to preclude speaking so much of what I half-perceived and felt. I had to find my way out of that world in order to survive.
Of course, the whole interview is worth reading. 

Now I've got to go to work.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Republicans and Class War

Today the New York Times published an article titled "Republicans Call Obama’s Tax Plan ‘Class Warfare’" by Brian Knowlton. He writes:
Representative Paul D. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a leading proponent of cutting spending on benefit programs like Medicare, said the proposal[Obama's current one]would weigh heavily on a stagnating economy.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Ryan said it would add “further instability to our system, more uncertainty, and it punishes job creation.”

“Class warfare,” he said, “may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.”
It's funny that the only people that still talk about class war are the ones waging it. Class war is rotten economics and rotten politics. Everyone needs to get out their US history books and study how life was for workers in the US before the advances propelled by the labor movement. The class warrior elites want to reduce us to our slave status we had in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Semester... the first semester during which I have no institutional affiliation as either a student or professor since I started my college studies in the mid-1990s. True, I had a year between my Master's and PhD studies, but even then I spent that time taking French and German courses to improve my language skills. I'm not unemployed, however. But I do have to figure out how to balance working 40 hours a week while completing several commitments (publications and conferences, such as the upcoming CSCP meeting) that I took on over the summer under the premise that I would be working at the University of Ottawa.

Just in case you were curious, I do have teaching for the Winter Semester, in the Department of Visual Arts, reprising my "Art Theories" course, although I will be changing up a lot of the material.

Finally, I have been reading Kevin B. Anderson's Marx at the Margins, which ought to be the handbook if you're reconsidering Marx's writings on nationalism, ethnicity, and non-western societies (yes, I pretty much cribbed that from the subtitle), as well as his works on the American Civil War or Ireland. There's a passage from Marx's ethnological notebooks (as cited by Anderson) that is just waiting for Zizek to turn it into a post-Marxist slogan. Marx writes:
the seemingly supreme independent existence of the state itself is only an illusion, since the state in all its forms [is] only an excresence [sic] of society.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 1, 1939 (WWII), September 11, 1973 (Chile), September 11, 2001 (USA)

Referring to the outbreak of World War II the Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden wrote a poem titled September 1, 1939. Here are some of the lines:
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night...

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
The poem invokes an understanding of how violence and war fit into the cycles of human civilization.

On September 11, 2001 when I received information on the news about the terrorist attacks life felt surreal. Never since the War of 1812 did the US suffer an attack on the mainland soil. Unlike the majority of the world, north Americans are not familiar with such experiences. We north Americans bonded with solidarity. There were vigils and touching conversations. There were also increased levels of hate. People of color were targeted for abuse by thugs. In my own Central Vally Californian town I saw, alongside US flags, large Civil War Confederate flags waving on large trucks. Subdued political tendencies became openly pronounced. There were calls for war and calls for peace. More war prevailed and the violent cycle of human civilization continues.

After September 11, 2001 I learned of September 11, 1973. A catastrophic event on the whole of American society. This American tragedy occurred further south in Chile. It deserves to be told on the same day because this September 11 bloodletting was linked to US "pragmatic" strategies of Cold War politics. I leave a clip from a youtube explaining this often overlooked event. To reflect on our own sufferings I invite the reader to merely turn on the news. The US media is covering it thoroughly. All the sad Septembers should be remembered.We should also ask ourselves what we remember them for.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Question of Palestinian Statehood: Why is it a Question?

After years of a failed peace policy the Palestinian Authority is unilaterally going to the UN and will apply for statehood. The US government, along with Israel of course, is livid. How dare the Palestinians get their own state without allowing Israel to steal more land under the benevolent approval of the US political establishment.Al Jazzera English reports:
The Palestinians will not be deterred from seeking UN membership, senior officials say in response to a report that the the US is trying to head off their bid.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the US has launched an attempt to persuade the Palestinians not to seek statehood at the annual UN General Assembly meeting beginning on September 20.

"When it comes to going to the United Nations, I think the train has left the station," Muhammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah committee overseeing the UN bid, said on Sunday.

"We're already on the way to New York. We are very ready for this. All our papers are ready."

The New York Times, citing US officials and foreign diplomats, said the US has tried to restart peace talks with the Israelis in a bid to convince Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to drop the bid.

The Obama administration has made it clear to Abbas that it will veto any request to the UN Security Council to make a Palestinian state a new member outright, the newspaper said.

The US and Israel do not support a two-state solution despite their claims. The PA and many other observers are aware of this. Recall the tremendous flack Obama got for saying that Israel had to return to the 1967 borders. That was the "official" position of Israel and the US. When he said it out loud it made it sound like the US might commit to what it said.

The Palestinians must make such a bid. The Jewish settlers of pre-1948 wanted a state and claimed it; despite the fact it had the majority of the land occupied by Arabs. Palestine must become a state with a majority of Arabs in the land; despite the fact it has been ruled militarily by Israel and occupied by a minority of post-1967 Jewish settlers.