Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800

Thanks to insistence of occasional contributor Sean Moreland, I've lately taken some interest in British romanticism. The impetus is a co-authored paper that we are writing on Schelling, Coleridge, and Poe. I've already mentioned the fun I've had reading Poe, but my research on Coleridge has increased my interest in the aesthetics and politics of the British romantics, not only STC, but also Wordsworth, and the now lesser-known John Thelwall.

After reading volume one of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, acquiring a copy of Lyrical Ballads seemed to be the next obvious step. But which edition to acquire was not so obvious, since they are numerous. I did some browsing and settled on Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, edited by Michael Gamer and Dahlia Porter, and published by Broadview Press. This edition was slightly more expensive than those of Penguin or Oxford, but it is more useful for the academic who finds himself (or herself) a novice in a new field.

The Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, reproduces not just the first two editions, but also  an excerpt of Wordsworth's 1802 preface, contemporary reviews of both editions, and numerous appendices including: poems by Coleridge that were originally intended to be published in the LB, correspondence and commentary on the volumes, excerpts from contemporary prose and poetry, and a short section on mapping the locations of the poems. 

It's a lot of material, but very useful. For my purposes, I was interested in how Wordsworth's contemporaries received the poems. For I was initially hesitant to make the jump from German to British romanticism because I had understood Wordsworth to be, as he is now often presented, a nature-poet. Reading Rancière in advance of the Lyrical Ballads had challenged that characterization, and the contemporary reviews, reproduced in this volume, confirm that his contemporaries did not miss the political aspect of Wordsworth's concept of nature, from the hints of Rousseau, to the way that his experiments in ascertaining "how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure" undermined the accepted hierarchies of aesthetic, moral, and political attitudes of the time.

I found the 1798 edition to be more compelling, but this could be due to reading the 1800 edition soon after. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the playful aspect of beginning the later edition with Wordsworth's "Expostulation and Reply" and "The Tables Turned," which introduce the Lyrical Ballads by asking the reader not to read it. And I couldn't complete this short review without noting the apt characterization (in the 1800 edition's 'Argument' prefacing The Ancient Mariner) of the mariner's act as a demonstration of "contempt of the laws of hospitality."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Communism and Racial Equality in the South

We've had an eye on the historian Robin D.G. Kelley since...well, not just since we read his book on Thelonious Monk last year, but since we had first discovered--many years ago--Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism (Kelley wrote the introduction to the most recent edition).

When a few links to an NPR program on "How 'Communism' Brought Racial Equality to the South" popped up in the feeds today (not to mention on I Cite), we figured that Kelley must have been involved in some form. When I thought I'd make a joke about how some Republican hack was going to find this out and turn it into one of those rousing primary non-issues (LOOK! NPR IS PUSHING COMMUNIST PROPAGANDA!), I discovered that the interview is originally from February 2010. 

It's a short reminder (in fact a discussion of Kelley's Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression) that the Communist Party played an important role in organizing civil rights struggle in the 1930s, and something to think about as the Occupy movement reorganizes for 2012.
Prof. KELLEY: In 1928, the communist position internationally was that African-Americans in the South have the right to self-determination. Meaning: they have the right to create their own nation in the South. In this position that came out of Moscow, it came from other black communists around the globe.
And with that idea in mind, they sent two organizers to Alabama and they went to Birmingham. And they chose Birmingham because it was probably the most industrialized city in the South. And they went there thinking they would organize white workers. And from white workers, black workers would follow. But no white workers had come forward.
And so, the first two organizers was a guy named James Julio(ph), who was a Sicilian worker who had migrated to Alabama, and another guy named Tom Johnson(ph), and together they went out looking for white workers and black workers came.
And black workers came in fairly large numbers right away because to them, they had a memory of reconstruction, the memory of the Civil War. And in that kind of collective memory, they were told that one day the Yankees will come back and finish the fight. Well, when they saw these white communists, they said, oh, good, the Yankees are here. We cant wait to join.
And it was no small part of the movement:
Prof. KELLEY: Well, theres a couple of ways to think about this. One, in terms of actual dues-paying members, they never had more than 600, 700. But then, if you look at all the other auxiliary organizations, the International Labor Defense, which focused on civil rights issues, they had up to 2,000. The Sharecroppers Union had up to 12,000. You had the International Workers Order. You had the League of Young Southerners. You had the Southern Negro Youth Congress. If you add up all these organizations, it touched the lives easily of 20,000 people.
Finally, the moral:
MARTIN: Hmm. So, what would you hope people would take away from all the work that youve done, documenting this history?
Prof. KELLEY: Well, first what I really emphasize is the fact that these were ordinary people, most of whom could not read or write, who were able to, on their own, form a very strong and productive movement that saw not just black peoples problems, but all peoples problems as connected. They saw joblessness and Civil Rights, and the right not be raped or lynched, self-protection - that all these things are part of one big struggle. And they really did succeed in building an interracial movement. Even if the whites were in the minority, those whites were there with them. And that vision, that ordinary people can make change, was a legacy they left us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Representing Art Theories

One of the most, maybe the most, time consuming parts to preparing a lecture for the course "Theories of Art" is searching for decent digital reproductions of paintings and sculptures. Even when you can access a resource like ARTstor, I spend a lot of time considering what images are most appropriate (is an image verging on cliche? if less known, is it still formally interesting? etc.). Note that ARTstor is not complete, which leads to the next paragraph:

If you don't have access to these resources via a library, things get tougher. As long as a work is in the public domain (more or less), Wikipedia is fairly reliable, although you often have to switch between languages to find your way to the more extensive galleries (often this requires going to the page in the artist's native language, where there is often the most interest in his or her work). When the work is still under copyright, things get much trickier. I spent the last two days working on a lecture on Max Raphael's Proudhon, Marx, Picasso, on excerpts from the chapter on Marx. Overall the book was a pleasure to read--too bad it's faded into obscurity (I discovered it  while researching Walter Benjamin's sources).

Every lecture starts with an image of the critic if possible. This lead me to MoMA, where I discovered a watercolor by Max Pechstein, Max Raphael, 1910:

But when I wanted to address some of the questions posed by Raphael, and pose them through the interpretation of visual arts, I had some difficulty finding the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Diego Rivera. To save you some time, if you like, and if you would like a source for images for teaching some contemporary work under copyright, here are a few links:
  • Diego Rivera's murals from 1931-1932 at MoMA are here.
  • Basquiat, at Potomitan, a resource for créole culture.
  • And from my research last year, the gallery Latin American Masters. I found the site while looking for José Bedia, whose work figures prominently in Gerardo Mosquera's article "The Marco Polo Syndrome."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Egypt, Revolution, Samira Ibrahim, and Western Paternalists

In the recent Egyptian elections the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties won the majority of votes. Overrated intellects such as Alan Dershowitz and Thomas L. Friedman will be giving their "I-told-you-so"s to the West and even advice to secularists in Egypt. See Friedman's December 6, 2011 article "Egypt, the Beginning or the End?" in the New York Times. Dershowitz really knows best. On 01/31/11 he wrote a piece for the Huff Post World titled "The Egyptian Revolution May Produce a Lebanon-Type Islamic Regime." He wrote:
I have visited Egypt on several occasions, most recently a few months ago. Compared to other repressive dictatorships I have visited over the years, it was a 5 or 6 on a scale of 10 for the average Egyptian. The hard question is will it get better or worse. "It's too soon to say." My best guess is that it will get better for some and worse for others.
Wow! So much insight. Dershowitz somehow has the ability to judge the scales of repression in undemocratic countries.

I think it is a shame and disgrace that Egyptians or any other country would be expected to defend their revolutions from anyone other than their own. A revolution by its definition is an internal conflict that a given society has to resolve with its self. It is also condescending to tell them what they should do. Egyptians don't need so-called advice from Friedman or others. There is one thing we as Westerners, especially US citizens, can do: We can tell our government to stop sending billions of dollars (coming from US tax payers) of military aid to the Egyptian military. You know, that military that has kept the corrupt regime in power and tortured civilians. I may be wrong on this, but it seems the Egyptian military historically pawned off the job of repression more on the Egyptian police. Initially, when the revolution against President Mubarak began, the Egyptian military attempted to divorce themselves from the dictator and the police. The military posed as guardians of the people and the revolution. Their true colors came out quickly. The military now attempts to control and perhaps sabotage the revolution to maintain the power it always had.

Why do I not mention and criticize groups such as those austere and grim Salafists from the Nour Party that have recently took power in the new government? Because my tax money does not empower them. The US government has helped fund and maintain the long standing regime. The Egyptian state uses state power to repress Egyptians and the US government contributes to that power. Hence, the US is linked to this legacy. Brave activist women like Samira Ibrahim have fought against the US funded tyranny of Mubarak, the police and the military. As a consequence she, along with countless other women, had not only suffered under Mubarak's rule for decades, but currently had "virginity tests" (rapes) from the Egyptian military while incarcerated. (It could have been worse. As Dershowitz pointed out, this was only repression on the scale of 5 to 6 out of 10.)I have posted two youtube clips talking about her and her struggle. She is an inspiration to many and a condemnation to others.

Of course I hope this revolution gets better and transforms Egypt into a prosperous nation. I want to see Egypt have religious equality and gender equality. Egyptians, not I, will do that work. There are plenty of issues for US citizens to take on in our own country. Yet, I should try to get my own government to stop using limited US funds for repression-devices and weapons to be put in the hands of the bad guys in Egypt (and elsewhere).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Courbet and Proudhon

I've already mentioned the texts that I am teaching in the course "Great Philosophers," but I haven't yet posted about "Theories of Art," which I am teaching for the Department of Visual Arts. The course is organized around three themes, the first being "The Intersections of Art and Politics." We're reading, during this part of the course, Plato, Baudelaire, Proudhon, Zola, and Max Raphael.

Courbet, Proudhon and His Children in 1853 (1865)
Tomorrow, I'll be teaching an excerpt from Proudhon's Du principe de l'art et de sa destination sociale, and next week, we'll look at Zola' rejoinder (to an already dead Proudhon, and not in a metaphorical sense). The debate, as it were, turns on whether the artist or the artwork has some kind of social obligation--and the work of Courbet is right in the middle of it all. Proudhon says yes (in a very moralizing kind of way), Zola says no, and Courbet says, when he rejects being awarded the Legion of Honor in a letter (which was published) dated June 23, 1870:
My opinions as a citizen do not allow me to accept a title that derives essentially from the monarchic order....Honor is neither in a title nor in a ribbon, it is in actions and the motivation for those actions....When I am dead, they must be able to say of me, "That one never belonged to any school, to any church, to any institution, to any academy, and, above all, to any regime except the regime of freedom" (From Letters of Gustave Courbet, ed. Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, University of Chicago, 1992).
Courbet demands independence, but not on a purely individualistic basis like Zola. I think at least this much is evident from the fact that Courbet participated in the Paris Commune--and was it not, then, "the regime of freedom?"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In absentia / year in review

Comrade McLennan here. To my dozen or so faithful readers on this blog, I bid you hearty greetings after a long, long interval.

2011 was an insane year. The parabola dipped pretty low, but the year was seized. I travelled extensively, defended my dissertation, forgot how to play guitar, and had an amazing time teaching. And yes I'm still reading books and caring about politics. So expect me back, with a sporadic vengeance!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reminders: CFP for Schelling Society Meeting

Don't forget that the deadline for the submission of abstracts to the first meeting of the Schelling Society of North America is January 15th. For information, see HERE.

Also, for graduate students: the deadline for the "German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies"  conference, here at the University of Ottawa, is January 30th. For information, see HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The New Semester is Starting

I'll be introducing my first course for the winter semester in under two hours. Here's the reading list for the course:
  • Plato, The Republic, Books IV and X
  • Aristotle, Politics, Book I
  • Descartes, Discourse on Method, Part I, and Meditations I, II, IV and (briefly) VI
  • Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise (selections)
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (selections)
  • Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts ("Alienated Labor" and "Private Property and Communism")
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, chapters 1 and 3
  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity (as much as we can read in two weeks)
Compared to previous iterations of the course, I've switched from the first few books of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to the Politics, and added Wollstonecraft and Du Bois (who I've previously taught in the course "Fundamental Questions"). In addition, I decided to change things up with Beauvoir. Instead of teaching Sartre's "Existentialism is a Humanism" followed by the introduction to The Second Sex, we will be sorting out The Ethics of Ambiguity--why absurdity and ambiguity are not the same thing.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rick Santorum: Christian Nuclear Bombs are Better Than Islamic Ones

Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is enthusiastically ready to go to war with Iran if they pursue attempts to go nuclear. According to him, at the Republican debate in Concord, N.H., an Islamic theocracy is more dangerous with a nuclear bomb than a Christian (US), atheist (former Soviet Union), or Jewish state (Israel). He does not explain it explicitly that way, but it is certainly implied. Robin Abcarian, in the January 8, 2012 Los Angeles Times writes:
Moderator David Gregory noted that the United States has lived with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear North Korea. “Why is it we cannot not live with a nuclear Iran?” he asked. “And if not, are you prepared to take the country to war to disarm that country?”

Iran, said Santorum "is a “theocracy that has deeply embedded beliefs that the afterlife is better than this life . When your principal virtue is to die for Allah, then it’s not a deterrent to have a nuclear threat . It is in fact an encouragement for them to use their nuclear weapon.”
He is hinting that Iran has a suicide-bomber mentality: that Islam inclines the use of the nuclear bomb. It should be noted that the US, a mainly Christian state, is the only country to have dropped nuclear bombs (killing over 200,000 civilians). [Updated:] There are debates about the actual reasons and reactions made by the US government during WWII against Japan. The US government's official reason for bombing Japan was because Japan started a war with the US. Japan used suicide bombers, though I don't recall that the Japanese religion promised virgins in the afterlife as a reward by Allah for their mission (side note: The Persian/Iranian word for God is Khoda, although Allah is used at times).

I usually never recommend Wikipedia as a source but its page on the history of suicide attacks gives an interesting perspective to this ignorant Islamophobic statement by Santorum. I would like to make it clear that I'm nuclear-bomb phobic and would like them all to be dismantled. I simply think it is really hypocritical that nuclear powers such as the US and Israel to tell Iran they can't have one. Every nation that attains a nuclear bomb is a "suicide attacker" state.

This video I'm posting, "History of U.S. Intervention in Iran - 1953 Until Present," is a must see. I don't believe there is one point made that is debated by historians.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Poe as Critic: The Drake-Halleck Review

I've spent the last few weeks reading a variety of works by Edgar Allan Poe (and Coleridge, for that matter), preparing for a paper that I am co-authoring with Sean Moreland on the connections between Schelling, Coleridge, and Poe. Sean is in Seattle, whittling the material down to a twenty minute presentation, to be given on Sunday morning at the MLA conference (see here). If you're in the area, I'd recommend checking it out. At least I've learned a few things from this unlikely line of research.

I've also learned that Poe could be a devastating critic. It's one thing to engage in polemics--something I'm sure we're all familiar with. But Poe takes literary criticism to another level, given that he's unafraid to use his talents to mischievous effect. As in laugh out loud funny, although if I build it up too much you will not laugh, and thus not embarrass yourself by punctuating the silence of a library or the murmur of a café.

In the Drake-Halleck review (in fact, go read it rather than what follows here), Poe attacks the tendency of American critics to inflate the literary value of American authors, noting that we "find ourselves involved in the gross paradox of liking a stupid book the better, because, sure enough, its stupidity is American." There are, Poe argues, cases in which American literature measures up to other national literatures (he's thinking particularly of  the British), but overestimating sub-par work by authors such as Joseph Rodman Drake and Fitz Greene Halleck undermines "the health and prosperity of out literature."

In what follows, Poe argues that Drake's poetry only requires a "moderate endowment of the faculty of Comparision"--the fancy-- rather than a facility with imagination and ideality. After summarizing the plot of the poem the Culprit Fay, he writes (all that follows is from Poe):
It will be there seen that what is so frequently termed the imaginative power of this story, lies especially- we should have rather said is thought to lie- in the passages we have quoted, or in others of a precisely similar nature. These passages embody, principally, mere specifications of qualities, of habiliments, of punishments, of occupations, of circumstances, &c., which the poet has believed in unison with the size, firstly, and secondly with the nature of his Fairies. To all which may be added specifications of other animal existences (such as the toad, the beetle, the lance-fly, the fire-fly and the like) supposed also to be in accordance. An example will best illustrate our meaning upon this point-
He put his acorn helmet on;
It was plumed of the silk of the thistle down:
The corslet plate that guarded his breast
Was once the wild bee's golden vest;
His cloak of a thousand mingled dyes,
Was formed of the wings of butterflies;
His shield was the shell of a lady-bug queen,
Studs of gold on a ground of green;
And the quivering lance which he brandished bright
Was the sting of a wasp he had slain in fight.
We shall now be understood. Were any of the admirers of the Culprit Fay asked their opinion of these lines, they would most probably speak in high terms of the imagination they display. Yet let the most stolid and the most confessedly unpoetical of these admirers only try the experiment, and he will find, possibly to his extreme surprise, that he himself will have no difficulty whatever in substituting for the equipments of the Fairy, as assigned by the poet, other equipments equally comfortable, no doubt, and equally in unison with the preconceived size, character, and other qualities of the equipped. Why we could accoutre him as well ourselves- let us see.
His blue-bell helmet, we have heard
Was plumed with the down of the hummingbird,
The corslet on his bosom bold
Was once the locust's coat of gold,
His cloak, of a thousand mingled hues,
Was the velvet violet, wet with dews,
His target was, the crescent shell
Of the small sea Sidrophel,
And a glittering beam from a maiden's eye
Was the lance which he proudly wav'd on high.
The truth is, that the only requisite for writing verses of this nature, ad libitum is a tolerable acquaintance with the qualities of the objects to be detailed, and a very moderate endowment of the faculty of Comparison- which is the chief constituent of Fancy or the powers of combination. A thousand such lines may be composed without exercising in the least degree the Poetic Sentiment, which is Ideality, Imagination, or the creative ability. And, as we have before said, the greater portion of the Culprit Fay is occupied with these, or similiar things, and upon such, depends very nearly, if not altogether, its reputation.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 in Reviews

With 2012 beginning, what better time to look back at 2011 in reviews:

Thomas Muntzer, Sermon to the Princes (Verso)
by Matt McLennan

"Engels's classic study "The Peasant War in Germany" - where, it should be noted, Engels rides roughshod over the theological aspects of Muntzer's movement and paints him as a crafty political figure using religious rhetoric to push his agenda forward. Certainly there is much politicking to be found in his writings - Cf the scathing attacks on Luther - but reading him I'm not convinced that the theological and political elements can be so easily separated." 

Robin D.G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press)

"Given that music criticism is a mixed bag, it's hard not to appreciate a well-acclaimed historian taking on the biography of a  complex man so often portrayed as simple, naive, and childlike. Kelley's aim is to dispel precisely that story, first found in William Gottlieb's profile published in Down Beat in September 1947 and popularized through the efforts of Lorraine Lion's press release that accompanied his first record from Blue Note."

David Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (Little, Brown, and Co.)

"Animal fables are generally awesome on account of how grown up and gruesome and darkly humourous they can be. One might even say that animal fables are "fucking metal" at the best of times. Cf also Vikram Seth's "Beastly Tales", and raise your hammers high. Humourist David Sedaris has recently thrown his contribution to the genre into the ring, and it does not disappoint." 

Lisa Shapiro, ed. The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes (University of Chicago Press)

"I can't always say that I like reading the winding paths of philosophers' correspondence. That being said, I recommend The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes to the reader who is looking for a different and not often noticed side of early modern philosophy and letters."

Alain Badiou, Pocket Pantheon (Verso)

"Through humour, sadness, love and ire, the force of Badiou's personality shines through in virtually every eulogy, giving body to the austere rigour of his own philosophical work."

Pierre Clastres, Archeology of Violence (Semiotext(e))

"The essays collected expand upon his central argument, which defines "primitive" societies by their refusal of the State. Taking such societies seriously, for Clastres, means recognizing that they are not embryonic or proto-societies, but rather full-blown political totalities which have constituted themselves in a very conscious and deliberate way so as to prevent the rise of inequality, (non-sexual) division of labour and, ultimately, since these are its very substance, the State." 

Arthur C. Danto, Andy Warhol (Yale)

"From what I can gather, Warhol represents a world that Danto felt at home in, and, for all its self-obsessed pathos, more than likely the world that he feels nostalgia for. Warhol or not, that's not a world I want to glorify, let alone live in."

Patrik Ourednik, The Opportune Moment, 1855 (Dalkey Archive)

The Opportune Moment, 1855 "tells the story of the failure of an utopian commune founded by Italian anarchists in Brazil. It opens with a letter by one of the protagonists (who I will call the epistolary narrator), to his unrequited love, many years after the failure of the new society. At once it becomes clear that Ourednik is writing, in a way, a historical novel and satire." 

Patrik Ourednik, Europeana (Dalkey Archive)

"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....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."

John Nichols, The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism (Verso)

"Given that the first chapter and the afterword situate the history of socialism within contemporary debates, the book might just be the general starting point for reconsidering the history of American radicalism. Given that the Democrats have largely abandoned many of the concerns that allied them with the working class and the civil rights movement, in favor of a politics of progressive verbiage, it may well be, as Nichols writes, "that the only word of the left that still has any meaning is 'socialism.'" "