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Joseph Cropsey—American political philosopher; distinguished service professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago; dedicated teacher; and coeditor of the “Strauss–Cropsey Reader” (History of Political Philosophy), a staple in universities for fifty years—died last week at the age of 92.
Cropsey completed his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1952, with a dissertation on the work of Adam Smith, one of his lifelong scholarly interests (in addition to interstitial aspects in the works of Plato and Karl Marx, the figure of Socrates and issues of philosophical sobriety, and the limitations and entrapments of modern liberalism). By 1957, Cropsey was at the University of Chicago (after stints at the CCNY and the New School) as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, following Leo Strauss, who would become his most significant collaborator, and assist in his intellectual turn from economics to political philosphy.
Strauss encouraged Cropsey to examine texts deeply. “When Strauss was at the head of his class, sitting up there, he would at a certain point say, ‘What does this mean?’ When I have to deal with a text of Plato, I have constantly to be asking myself, ‘What does that truly mean?’ Until one comes to grips with the question, one has not done one’s duty to the object or to oneself,” he told Dialogo.
Cropsey continued teaching at Chicago until 2004, garnering the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, serving on 134 PhD dissertation committees, and directing the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy.
This post is sponsored by a trip to my parents’ house—on a non-descript island in the Detroit River, among the postindustrial, downriver suburbs of southeastern Michigan, where I have found four books heldover from my high-school years as a resident of said home: D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, T. J. Clark’s The Painting of Modern Life, Carl Sandburg’s Poems from the Midwest, and The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara. Were I to know then what I know now:
that Women in Love could not be more rife for celebrity baby names (Birkin) and maxims: “Your democracy is an absolute lie.”
in a more or less tentative stab at adult self–becoming, I had at some point highlighted the following in Clark’s essay on Olympia: “Prostitution is a sensitive subject for bourgeois society because sexuality and money are mixed up in it. There are obstacles in the way of representing either, and when the two intersect there is an uneasy feeling that something in the nature of capitalism is at stake.”
The O’Hara poems with folded pages are “Oranges,” “After Courbet,” and “In Memory of My Feelings,” which in no way do I sanctify as the Frank O’Hara poems I would turn to today in time of crisis (“and the poet takes up the knives of his wounds to catch the light”)
But Carl Sandburg: Stalker of Wheat, Player of Railroads. Carl Sandburg runs through the smooth muscle of any Chicago list, haunting revisionist histories with “Onion Days” (“Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti comes along Peoria Street every morning at nine o’clock”), and caterwauling over ethnographic analyses with “Child of the Romans” and “Mamie.” Crazy Carl (“indubitably an American in every pulse-beat”—H. L. Mencken), the grand old Swede, was a lifelong Social-Democrat (who married Lillian, the sister of Edward Steichen—who once, too, came and left Michigan) whose Chicago Poems took on the city from German saloon to shovel, from the Halsted Street Car to the Polish folk-home. Even the heat—Carl knows:
In a Breath TO THE WILLIAMSON BROTHERS
High noon. White sun flashes on the Michigan Avenue
asphalt. Drum of hoofs and whirr of motors. Women
trapsing along in flimsy clothes catching play of sun-
fire to their skin and eyes.
Inside the playhouse are movies from under the sea. From
the heat of pavements nad the dust of sidewalks, passers-
by go in a breath to be witnesses of large cool sponges,
large cool fishes, large cool valleys and ridges of coral
spread silent in the soak of the ocean floor thousands
A naked swimmer dives. A knife in his right hand shoots a
streak at the throat of a shark. The tail of the shark
lashes. One swing would kill the swimmer . . . Soon the
knife goes inot the soft underneck of the veering fish . . .
Its mouthful of teeth, each tooth a dagger itself, set row
on row, glistens when the shuddering, yawning cadaver
is hauled up by the brothers of the swimmer.
Outside in the street is the murmur and singing of life in the
sun—horses, motors, women trapsing along in flimsy
clothes, play of sun-fire in the
“And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”
Heat wave as repression? Not an exact science. But something about the sweltering temperatures this weekend (the feeling of exodus, perhaps, but not migration) prompted a return to The Grapes of Wrath. 1936 was the year that set many of the record temperatures in the United States that we’re now dabbling in breaking; it was also the year of the coup d’etat that triggered the Spanish Civil War (farewell, Abraham Lincoln Brigade!), and a massive sit-down strike by the United Auto Workers in Flint, Michigan. In the middle of the Dust Bowl’s prairie-afflicted sandstorms and the Depression, our wealth inequality peaked and would remain at the highest levels the country had seen, until just prior to the Too Big to Fail crisis (2007).
In July of 1995, a similar wave struck Chicago. NASDAQ topped 1000, we tried to “disarm” Iraq, and a slow municipal response converged with the elderly poor living in the heart of the city, ushering in unprecendented deaths (over 700) and procedural calamity.
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock (under Iraq? Unforgiveable pun?), yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the majority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), ruled in the National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, likely caught your attention. Despite attempts to repeal the act by both the 111th and 112th Congresses, the Court determined that the government mandate for health care was a tax, and thus fell under Congress’s taxing authority, with the caveat that the federal government could not withhold Medicaid funds in their entirety to states that refused to comply with Medicaid expansion. The Washington Posthas a helpful electronic cheat sheet that explains how the legislation will affect you directly in the months and year to come, based on the type of insurance you do or do not carry, your income, and household status. With that in mind, we asked scholar Beatrix Hoffman, author of Health Care for Some: Rights and Rationing in the United States since 1930, to weigh in on Court’s ruling in light of her own research on America’s long tradition of unequal access to health care. Her thoughts follow below.
A Historic Ruling for Health Care
The Supreme Court shocker that (mostly) saved the Affordable Care Act adds a new chapter to the history of health-care reform in the United States. As we heard frequently throughout the debates, several presidents and numerous politicians have proposed national health-care plans in the past. Over the course of nearly 100 years, only Lyndon Johnson was successful, with the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Then, when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March 2010, Barack Obama achieved the most sweeping reform in history. Yesterday, just a single vote by Chief Justice John Roberts saved the entire law from being declared unconstitutional.
This was the first time that national health-care reform faced a constitutional challenge. Medicare was funded through a payroll deduction, which (the Supreme Court just reminded us) was fully within Congress’s power to tax. Medicare’s framers deliberately grafted their new health-insurance program for the elderly onto a popular, efficient, payroll-tax-based system that already existed and was fully constitutional: Social Security.
President Obama and the members of Congress who wrote the Affordable Care Act broke with this successful reform tradition by rejecting the option of expanding Medicare or otherwise building on existing tax-based social insurance programs. Believing such an approach to be politically unfeasible, they instead opted for the “individual mandate,” which requires the uninsured to purchase private health insurance, an idea that originated in a conservative think-tank and was first applied in Massachusetts under then-Governor Mitt Romney. Despite this dramatic political compromise, the individual mandate did not succeed in capturing the votes of the Congressional opposition—not a single Republican voted for the Affordable
“A lawyer walks into a bar”—oh, you’ve already heard it. “A one-legged lawyer walks into a bar”—no? That, too?
How about this one? I’m working on my timing. “What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer?” Give up? “A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.” Is that funny?
n 1873, Robert Vischer coined the term Einfühlung in “On an Optical Sense of Form: A Contribution to Aesthetics” in order to designate a sort of personification—the projection of human feelings on the natural world. Vischer was concerned with our ability to feel ‘into’ nature and art, and Einfühlung picks up from the German Romantic tradition of Johann Gottfried Herder and Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardernberg (Novalis) as a process of poetic identification with the natural world and its underlying spiritual relationship with man. Part of Vischer’s interest laid in the fact his father Friedrich Theodor Vischer had, a generation earlier, written the monumental Aesthetik and attempted the use of Einfühlen in order to describe architectural form in congruence with German Idealist philosophy and the rebellions of 1848–49.
Vischer relegated empathy to the place between purely responsive and intellectual feeling, stating “like the immediate feeling, empathy leaves the self in a certain sense solitary. The outward appearance remains a source of unconscious enticement and subjection.” Part of the argument formed here is the processional nature of Einfühlung: it’s only through projection, exchange, and return that the distinctions between internal and external, outward appearance and inner emotion, can be resolved. The first relation of empathy is to one’s self. It’s between the rise of Vischer’s text in the late nineteenth century and the construction of philosophical aesthetics as a dominant category of the discipline that psychologist Edward Titchener translates the term Einfühlung as empathy for the first time, in 1909—four years after Freud’s publication of The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious.
By this point, the concept of empathy had been transformed by Theodor Lipps, who altered the usage of the term from the domain of aesthetic appreciation to the social and human sciences—ultimately linking our aesthetic perception with our perception of another embodied person as a “minded creature.” The risk here is extrapolating empathy from a metaphoric engagement with optics, perception, and aesthetics and shifting it to our earliest understandings of motor mimicry (advanced already by Adam Smith, as early as 1853), anticipating work with imitation, mirror neurons, and physiological response by as much as 150 years. Though Lipps’ argument is grounded in facial expressions (if we see an angry face on another person, we have a tendency to “imitate” it), he extends this concern with empathy to all mental activities requiring “human effort,” including self-reflection.
It’s this sort of empathy-as-simulation that Freud will pick up on, opening The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious with a d
Andrew Sarris—film critic, teacher, and auteurist foil to fellow critic Pauline Kael—died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 83. Though it will be hard for anyone to follow up his friend Richard Corliss’s touching remembrance over at Time (this is perhaps the only memorial in recent memory I’ve read where one’s eyes well-up at the use of a carnivoric metaphor, as in: “When I entered that trapezoidal classroom on East Ninth Street, I saw a panda man.”), the Village Voice has assembled a tribute of clips from his decade at the paper, and it’s always worth a visit to Eric C. Johnson’s archive of Sarris’s Top Ten lists from the past fifty years. Though I’m familiar with his criticism, I will admit that much of my interest stems from his feisty takedown of Pauline Kael’s I Lost It at the Movies. I hope Sarris isn’t rolling over as I write this, but it’s worth mentioning his engagement with two women—not just Kael, but Sarris’s longtime partner, fellow critic Molly Haskell—and the ways in which these relationships alternately contributed to the defense, development, and evolution of his own writings, as the screen went from Welles and Preminger to Godard and Nichols to Cronenberg and Demme. A lot of the Kael–Sarris feud gets misconstrued, and Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog (Team Sarris) revisits that history, citing Sarris at his best, on the days when film critics—be it Kael, Sarris, Manny Farber, John Simon, and others—did more than pass along their take:
“We were so gloriously contentious, everyone bitching at everyone. We all said some stupid things, but film seemed to matter so much. Urgency seemed unavoidable.”
With all of this in mind, we asked our own film editor Rodney Powell, a devoted connoisseur of film criticism’s golden age, to give Sarris a fitting send-off. His words, along with an excerpt from Sarris on John Ford (from The American Cinema), follow below.
Andrew Sarris has moved on to the great pantheon in the sky, leaving us mere mortals behind to mourn his passing and to celebrate his achievements. There is no question that his legacy will endure.
Although in his reviews for the Village Voice and laterthe New York Observer, he applied his deep historical knowledge of film and his keen intelligence to contemporary releases, his primary legacy is contained in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929–1968. In a piece I wrote several years ago discussing essential books on American cinema, Sarris’s masterpiece headed my list (as it still would):
For cinephiles of a certain age, this is the Citizen Kane of film books. Spurred by his exposure to the film culture of France, where American movies were taken seriously, Sarris promulgated his own version of the auteur theory, emphasizing the director as the primary creative force in filmmaking during the studio era. Although battered by detractors (most notably Pauline Kael), Sarris stood
Welcome to a new era of Mark Rothko–fixation. This presupposes, of course, the longstanding cultural caché of what has come to be known as the Rothko Case, from its late 1960s origins to the more recent insider piece “A Matter of Rothko,” penned by David Levine for Triple Canopy. We note Bert Cooper’s office-befuddling investment in an early Rothko abstraction during an episode of Mad Men (which viewers would see give way to Hokusai’s The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife); we watch Alfred Molina’s star-turn in John Logan’s play Red (2009), which fictionalized Rothko’s creation of a series of murals for the tony (no pun intended) Four Seasons restaurant in Midtown Manhattan’s Seagram Building; we narrate along with Simon Schama‘s Power of Art television documentary, which profiled the murals project as one of eight masterworks by eight artists with Schama’s occasionally unrestrained literary flair (“Just how powerful is art? Can it feel like love or grief?”).
And next month, we’ll reprint James E. B. Breslin’s Mark Rothko: A Biography, a 707 pp. (“a book of heroic dimensions,” reads the marketing copy) tome originally published in 1993 by the author of a previously acclaimed biography of William Carlos Williams:
When the book was first published, scholar and critic (and Guggenheim Fellow and Dedalus Foundation president) Jack Flam took it to task on several points in a #longreads review published by the New York Review of Books. What follows are snippets from the review and its resultant letters to the editor, in which Flam and Breslin, along with curator Sam Hunter, responded to each other’s points of address:
Sometimes, however, Breslin displays a lack of familiarity with other works of art. In his discussion of an early watercolor landscape, for example, he becomes involved in a rather more complicated analysis than this essentially derivative picture warrants, relating it to Cézanne’s watercolors, apparently without seeming to realize that the subject, composition, and rendering of Rothko’s painting are clearly similar to the watercolors of John Marin. Moreover, Breslin sometimes gives verbose and repetitive descriptions of Rothko’s paintings (as well as of many of the people Rothko knew), and he supplies biographical interpretations that can strain one’s credulity as well as patience. For example, Breslin unconvincingly relates Number 10, 1950 to Rothko’s memory of being constricted by swaddling clothes as an infant. Rothko himself, like the painting, is said to be “also soft-edged and sensitive,” and the structure of the picture is said to be an attempt to recover “a lost relationship” after the death of his mother. These seem more like free associations based on Breslin’s biographical research than comments about painting.
The NYT’s 6th Floor blog ran a post yesterday by Amy Kellner about the installation of Yayoi Kusama’s career-spanning retrospective, which opens this July at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The show, the first to present a hearty selection of Kusama’s work to the West since LACMA’s Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958–1968 (1998), was curated by Frances Morris, head of collections at the Tate Britain, where the show originated. Along with some excellent behind-the-scenes shots of “Fireflies on the Water,” originally installed for the Whitney’s 2004 Biennial and now a part of the Museum’s permanent collection, the post included an introduction to Kusama as an “adorable, polka-dot-obsessed Japanese artist.”
No one would argue with the obvious presence of dots, minimalist pop-blobs, flickering lights, and the omnipresence of concentric circles in Kusama’s oeuvre. But the use of the world “adorable”—in regards to an artist who has openly struggled with psychiatric problems, including obsessive and suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and the decision to voluntarily commit herself to the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she has lived since the mid-1970s—seems a bit more problematic. Or is it? Is it problematic to label Kusama, cloaked in art-pop attire, sometimes hippie-robed, other times blending in with the haute-chic female artists of her day—sometimes appearing slight, other times ferocious—adorable? Is it a problem to label anyone whose illness intertwines with their public and private persona—as descriptively as their curiosity-drenched art, seemingly as much and a little a part of them as any other set of atoms triggering their chemical reactions—adorable? I don’t know. Maybe the argument is against “adorable” in general, for any artist. Because it strips away the complexity of the person behind the work, and because we catch ourselves in a creator’s grand narrative and lose focus on the intricacies and complications of the work (and Kusama’s work was nothing if not primed for all kinds of human experience).
The Whitney’s official press release calls Kusama “legendary, semi-reclusive, and still vibrant,” and a quick Google search adds a strand of adjectives to that short list: prolific, incessant, avant-garde, significant, influential, important, controversial, suffering, celebrated.
Reading Kusama’s autobiography Infinity Netmight shed some light on the issue of her appearance, and our own tendency to focus on her signature component:
By covering my entire body with polka dots, and then covering the background with polka dots as well, I find self-obliteration. Or I stick polka dots all over a horse standing before a polka-dot background, and the form of the horse disappears, assimilated into the dots. The mass that is “horse” is absorbed into something timeless. And when that happens, I too am obliterated.
So, yes, sensorially: Kusama is dotty. And in terms of word choice, she is worthy of admiration, as evidenced by the gesture of “adorable.” But the langua
Did you know that in a game of cultural touchstones, it’s only a single gesture or two that takes us from this:
“We do not live in the sort of universe in which simple lineal control is possible. Life is not like that.”—Gregory Bateson, “Conscious Purpose versus Nature” (1968, 47)
Today, we regard Gregory Bateson as the Kuhn-ian impresario behind systems-theory-based cybernetics—a friend of Jerry Brown’s and the ex-husband of Margaret Mead, Bateson was also the first to credit Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh as originating our modern concept of the double bind. Bateson wrote about somatic practices and linked the functions of the body to other epistemological systems, ultimately focusing on man’s capacity for scientific arrogance and purpose-driven, autocratic understanding. Interestingly enough, Bateson made a name for himself outside of cybernetic circles through his association with Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly in the mid-to-late 1970s (other contributors included Witold Rybczynski, Wendell Berry, and Ursula K. Le Guin), which popularized the ideas of space- and media-based practices, often in a New Journalism-inspired style. The other star of CQ? Lewis Mumford, whose talk influential talk “The Next Transformation of Man” was transcribed in the fourth issue.
Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future explores the largely forgotten group of British thinkers—Bateson included—that tripped the light fantastic at the frontiers of psychiatry, systems management, politics, epistemology, and Eastern thought as the twentieth century came of age. In the excerpt that follows below, he locates Bateson’s ideas on schizophrenia and enlightenment alongside Western appreciations of Zen, as a form of what Foucault might call “gymnastics of the soul.”
Bateson noted a formal similarity between the double bind and the contradictory instructions given to a disciple by a Zen master—Zen koans. In the terms I laid out before, the koan is a technolo
Jules Feiffer, cartoonist-raconteur born in an era when caricature could be scathing, indicative, deeply personal, and most definitely not post-irony, is the author of Backing into Forward: A Memoir. The cult of Feiffer, which hinges on two of the versatile writer-artist’s best-known personas—illustrator of the beloved children’s book The Phantom Tollbooth and the man behind a much more adult-oriented series of comics, often penned for the Village Voice—revs up in Chicago this weekend in preparation for Feiffer’s conversation with Christopher Borrelli at the Printer’s Row. On the heels of this event, as Feiffer finishes up work on his graphic novel Kill My Mother, our own Miranda Sklaroff asked him a few questions about his process, inspirations, and the decision to make zillions by penning a work of pot-boiled realism:
MS: What made you decide to do an original graphic novel now?
JF: Pure avarice. About a year and a half ago, having made all sorts of changes in my life, I decided it might be a really good idea to make a lot of money fast. Therefore I was going to write a pot-boiler. It was going to be an action thriller, full of all the noir touches that I had grown up reading, adoring in Chandler, Hammett, et. al., and the movie versions thereof. Having written many of the scripts for Will Eisner’s The Spirit from 1949 to 1951, I thought it would be fun to return to an old form, this time strictly in prose, and that I could probably knock it out in a couple of months, sell it for a zillion, not to mention the movie sale, and after that, sit back and relax into my dotage. As it turned out, my pot-boiler never started to even simmer, and in rethinking what I could do about this, and still make zillions, it occurred to me that it might go faster (and be truer to the spirit of Eisner) if I turned it into a graphic novel. But, of course, get someone besides me to illustrate it. Because that sort of realism was not my style. And besides it would take much too much time—a couple of years at least—for me to draw, while there were all these other things that I would much rather do, like lie back and enjoy my dotage.
As it turned out, what I first envisioned as a hack job got more and more interesting, and I became more and more serious about it as I got further and further into the complexities of character and story. And by the time I had finished the first draft of the book that I had named Kill My Mother from the beginning, without a clue as to what the title meant, I had spanned a ten-year period from 1933 and the Great Depression to 1943 and the war in the South Pacific. And I had a cast of characters, larger than life, intricately involved, and most of them women. None of this was planned, it just decided to happen on its own. What happened after that is that WW Norton (and Bob Weil, my editor) loved the manuscript, and took it for granted that, of course, I was going to be the illustrator. I tried to explain to them that I would be 102 before I finished the book, but no one was listening to me, so I went home and started drawing pages that demanded a style that I had serious doubts that I could handle. I had, since early childhood, loved the a
The Declaration of Independence was animated by a demand for “consent of the governed” and the promise of popular control has inspired a long and, at times, violent struggle for the right to vote by all Americans, the full and equal right to freedom of speech and assembly, and other essential rights.
Does the American government respond to the broad public or to the interests and values of narrowly constituted groups committed to advancing their private policy agendas? On one side lies democratic accountability; on the other a closed and insular government that is ill-suited to address the wishes or wants of most citizens. When politicians persistently disregard the public’s policy preferences, popular sovereignty and representative democracy are threatened.
The responsiveness of national policymakers to what most Americans prefer has declined and remained low for almost two decades.
Can we rely on competitive elections to fend off muted responsiveness to centrist opinion? After all, congressional Democrats suffered stunning setbacks in the 1994 elections following Clinton’s campaign for an unpopular health care reform plan and the Republicans’ congressional majorities were reduced in the 1996 and 1998 elections after they pursued policies that defied strong public preferences. We argue that electoral punishment may not be enough to improve the public’s influence on government: the responsiveness of national policymakers to what most Americans prefer has declined and remained low for almost two decades despite electoral setbacks to Democrats and Republicans. Politicians have worked hard to obscure their true positions and to distort the positions of their opponents, which makes it hard for the electorate to identify the policy positions of elected officials and to punish politicians for pursuing unpopular policies. In addition, most members of Congress today attach greater electoral importance to following the policy goals of party activists than responding to centrist opinion. The bottom line is that most politicians are keenly motivated and amply skilled at evading electoral accountability for long periods. Their success has impaired our system of accountability and sullied the quality of citizenship by eroding public trust and fuelling the news media’s increasing focus on political conflict and strategy rather than on the substantive issues raised by government policy.
Our analysis should not be confused, however, with naive populism. We recognize that the sheer complexity and scope of government decisions require elite initiative, at times without public guidance. And, on occasion, elites may need to defy ill-informed and unreasoned public opinion in defense of larger considerations and, instead, rely upon the public’s post hoc evaluations of their actions and their arguments justifying their actions. Franklin Roosevelt’s arming of mercha
(First summer comes, and he’s the only one I ever feel like reading—)
“The greatest work of the twentieth century will be that of those who are placing literature on a plane superior to philosophy and science. Present day despairs of life are bred of the past triumphs of these latter. Literature will lay truth open upon a higher level. If I can have a part in that enterprise, I shall be extremely contented. It will be an objective synthesis of chosen words to replace the common dilatoriness with stupid verities with which everyone is familiar. Reading will become an art also. Living in a backward country, as all which are products of the scientific and philosophic centuries must be, I am satisfied, since I prefer not to starve, to live by the practice of medicine, which combines the best features of both science and philosophy with that imponderable and enlightening element, disease, unknown in its normality to either. But, like Pasteur, when he was young, or anyone else who has something to do, I wish I had more money for my literary experiments.”
William Carlos Williams, c. 1931
If you share an affinity for Williams’ four-diver white prose under the summer sun (“So I come again to my present day gyrations”), you’ll find him (or discussions of his work) here:
Il mare ha delle punte bianche ch’io non conosco e il tempo, che bravo
si dimena bravo nelle mie braccia, corrompo docilmente—
e sottile si lamenta per i dolori al ginocchio a me toccàti.
Senza livore io ti ricordo un immenso girono di gioia
ma tu dimentichi la vera sapienza. Se la notte è una
veraconda scematura io rivorrei giocare con le belle
dolci signore che t’insegnavana che il dare o il vero, non
Sentnedo morire la dolce tirannia io ti richiamo
sirena volenterosa—ma il viso disfatto di un chiaro prevedere
altre colpe e docili obbedienze mi promuove cretine
Gravi disgrazie sollecitano.
Il vero è una morte intera.
From Palermo ’63 (1963)
Poem dedicated to Spatola
The sea has white points that I don’t know and tempo, so good
it wags good in my embrace, I corrupt sweetly—
and slight it laments the aches at the knee touched to me.
Without spite I remind you of an immense day of joy
but you forget true knowledge. If the night is a
trueful abature I would like again to play with the sweet
belles mister who taught you that giving or the true, is
Sensing sweet tyranny die I recall you,
eager siren—but the face stripped of a lucid prediction
of other faults and docile submissions promotes idiot
hopes in me.
The Academy of American Poets recently announced Jennifer Scappettone as winner of the 2012 Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize for Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli, an excerpt of which appears above. The collection is the first to bring together a selection of work in both English and Italian by Rosselli, one of the most important postwar European poets—a musician, musicologist, and self-defined “poet of research”—whose trilingual body of work fused the confessional sensibilities and eruditely broken-lyricism of John Berryman with the formal experimentation of Ezra Pound, and a troubadour’s flourish that extends from Dante to the French moderns. The $10,000 award is given every other year for the translation into English of a significant work of modern Itali
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–82), hard-living, frenetic (libertine, bourgeois-scourging) New German filmmaker would have turned sixty-seven today, had he survived even into his forties. Strong-armed by the influence of Brechtian theater and Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967), Fassbinder went on to direct forty films and made-for-television performances—though like the Frenchman L. J. M. Daguerre and the American John Waters (puppet theater), Fassbinder’s background was the stage, and it showed. His early work is marked by a static camera and dialogue not conceivably of this world; he goes on the record in a piece later reprinted for Cineaste, where he states:
“I would like to build a house with my films. Some are the cellars, others the walls, still others the windows. But I hope in the end it will be a house.”
To watch a Fassbinder film is to participate, if only through mediation, in the tailwinds of the director’s cultural persona, his bad-boy whipping-up of a post-fascist, prejudicial German zeitgeist. To cogently locate him politically, and to infer his contributions to post-war, avant-garde cinema nearly three decades after his death, is a bit trickier.
Coincidentally, it was almost thirty-eight years ago to the day that Fassbinder’s Martha premiered on German television. Martha was the film Fassbinder completed immediately prior to Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (perhaps his most acclaimed production), though it was initially released in the aftermath of that film’s successes. Shot entirely on 16mm, and dealing with typical themes for the director (the fascist undertones of traditional family structures, physical and emotional paralysis, sadism, hysteria, dead cats, obsession, exceedingly banal-yet-mortified facial expressions), it was Martha‘s DVD-release in 2004 that first allowed the film to reach many American audiences.
Never one to shy away from controversy, longtime critic and blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum took on the film—and Fassbinder—in “Martha: Fassbinder’s Uneasy Testament,” featured in his 2010 collection Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition, which collects some of Rosenbaum’s most discriminating pieces from the past four decades, including several like this one, which focus on newly circulating releases and other developments of the digital age. An excerpt follows below.
Part of my reluctance to join the Fassbinder bandwagon in the ’70s was that I couldn’t accept without qualms the critical industry’s interpretation of his work as left-wing and subversive—an interpretation that was intricately bound up with the rediscovery of Douglas Sirk’s ’50s Hollywood movies by Fassbind
“Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble,/Ancient footprints are everywhere./You can almost think that you’re seein’ double/On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs.”—”When I Paint My Masterpiece” (1971)
On August 30, 1964, a Sunday, Manhattan lay swathed in the heat of a summer afternoon. In their air-conditioned luxury suite high above the intersection of Park Avenue and 59th Street, the Beatles could hear the faint screams of fans who had gathered reverently on the sidewalks around the Delmonico Hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of Paul, George, John, or Ringo peering from behind a curtain. Those screams had rung in the Beatles’ ears for seven months as the cresting wave of Beatlemania rose higher and higher with no end yet in sight. In April the top five places in Billboard Magazine’s Top One Hundred chart were Beatles songs. On August 12, the film A Hard Day’s Night had opened in more than 500 theaters nationwide, earning more than $1.3 million its first week and making Beatlemania a performance for millions of fans to watch and join vicariously. In late August, the Beatles had five singles on the American charts and were winding up a triumphal coast-to-coast concert tour of the United States. Now, as they rested from their performance at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium the night before, they talked to their guest, Bob Dylan, who had driven down from Woodstock to see them. Without fanfare, Dylan pulled a couple of joints from his pocket, put a match to the twisted end of one, and passed it over. For the first time ever, the Beatles were about to get high.
This was, without doubt, one of the most consequential moments in the history of twentieth-century American popular culture. But it was also just five guys getting stoned. It was the birth of a cultural sensibility that would one day colorize Pleasantville, but it was also the first shot fired in the War on Drugs. Within a year, Dylan would release Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, albums that introduced many thousands of American teenagers to his peculiarly mordant version of the psychedelic sensibility and forever altered the ambitions of rock ‘n’ roll. More slowly and more elaborately, and ultimately reaching a far wider audience, the Beatles would follow the path marked out by getting high, an experience Paul McCartney called “really thinking for the first time.” Over the course of the next two years, long before most American teenagers of the ’60s had even heard of, much less taken, psychedelics, millions would find themselves stumbling after the Beatles as they raced from the innocent enthusiasms of Beatles for Sale to Lennon’s murky encouragement to turn off their minds, relax, and float downstream. By 1969, according to a Gallup survey of fifty-seven college campuses, 31 per cent of students said they h
(It should be pointed out that a bit of research on Timothy D. Taylor’s forthcoming The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture lead us here. The book hones in on the indiscriminate blurring between advertising copy and popular music, unearthing a unclaimed piece of our cultural history—the aesthetics of commercialism, and its buzz-buzz-buzzing.)
Brown was a children’s book author, lyricist, and producer, who penned tales about Santa Mouse and put the words, literally, in Carol Channing’s mouth during a run of Sugar Babies. The Wonderful World of Chemistry was his masterpiece, among notable Broadway musicals like Lizzie Borden and more from the “industrial” genre. Even his recent letter to the editor of the New York Times name-drops Truman Capote, all with the humble-brag sensibility of P. T. Barnum directing a song-and-dance revue for daguerreotypes, if you can imagine.
Brown’s thoughts on the company, as published in a press release that ran in the Times, in accompaniment to the Fair:
“The ancient Greeks thought but did not experiment,” he pointed out. “The alchemists of the Middle Ages experimented but did not think. Chemistry’s wonderful world started with an eighteenth-century French genius named Lavoisier combined experimenting and thinking. It was this great chemist’s young apprentice, E. I. du Pont, who left France to establish the company on the banks of the Brandywine in Delaware.”
“Every day that we are living is such a thrill that we can’t stay nonchalant! Better Things For Better Living are coming still—that’s the promise of DuPont!”
Several agencies and institutions were first endowed by Great Society–funded legislation, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Among the landmark legislation passed in Johnson’s term was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Civil Right Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968; the Social Security Act (1965), the Food Stamp Act (1964), and the Immigration and National Services Act (1965); and, the Elementary and Higher Education Act (1965), the Higher Education Act (1965), and the Bilingual Education Act (1968). The Cigarette Labeling Act. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The Clear Air, Water Quality, and Clean Water Restoration Acts and Amendments. These legislative endeavors, voted into law by the Eighty-Ninth Congress (the Johnson Administration submitted eighty-seven bills to Congress, and Johnson signed eighty-four, or 96 percent, perhaps the most successful legislative agenda in U.S. Congressional history), were imperative enough to twentieth-century American life that we don’t need to footnote their contributions (or, sluggish sigh: maybe we do). So, too, with the organizations that sprung up through GS–helmed research initiatives and public partnerships: Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and National Public Radio.
The metaphor was updated by Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” and Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” (another war, incidentally, that has proved to be endless and unwinnable). All these “wars” were properly understood in quotation marks, as serious efforts to solve systemic problems in public health. LBJ did not envision the bombing of poor neighborhoods as the way to conduct a war on poverty. (The drug war, on the other hand, is well on its way down the slippery slope toward literalization as military action.)
In Cop Knowledge: Police Power and Twentieth-Century America, Christopher P. Wilson writes about narratives of police power in mass culture, from crime fiction and film to the denizens of contemporary culture that make use of the squad room, the beat, and the badge. His conclusion? That the stories we tell about police power are intimately linked to the course of modern liberalism, and to the current resurgence of neoconservatism.
In January 2003, Slavoj Žižek penned the article “Gerhard Schroeder’s Minority Report and Its Consequences,” which explored themes from Steven Spielberg’s adaptation (2002) of the Philip K. Dick short story—in which criminals are arrested before they can commit their crimes, thanks to the efforts of a specialized police department, working under the government’s protective wing. For Žižek (and also for Spielberg, who went on the record), the police state evoked by the film was clearly transposed to U.S. international relations post-9/11, where (what has been labeled) the Bush doctrine suggested with a heavy hand that the American military might should remain “beyond challenge” in the foreseeable future. Žižek goes on in the piece to point out the election of Gerhard Schroeder, the German Social Democratic, and a candidate who ran on platform against the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as a real-life “minority report.” In Žižek’s questioning of the war on terror and its resultant political stances, he cites Terry Eagleton on two opposing forms of tragedy: “the big, spectacular catastrophic Event, the abrupt irruption from some other world, and the dreary persistence of a hopeless condition, the blighted existence which goes on indefinitely, life as one long emergency.”
What might life as one long emergency begin to look like?
Who is in control during one long emergency? To whom do they report? Whom are they controlling, and to which ends?
“These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, c
Richard Gilbert, United States, Harvard, World War II, Wobblies, Schenley Industries, New York, Ayub Khan, Pakistan, Little Rock, Central High, New York Times, South Africa, Emma, Democrats, Taj, Americans, Adamjee, East Pakistan, West Pakistan, Ashraf Adamjee, Wouter Tim, Marx, Indian Ocean, Chestertown, Maryland, Freedom Summer, Walden School, New York, Andy Goodman, James Cheney, Michael Schwerner, Vietnam War, Bernard Fall, Denis Warner, Jean Lacouture, Stanley Hoffmann, Barrington Moore, French, German, English, Government 1a, Carl Friedrich, Max Weber, Adam Smith, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, David Hume, I. F. Stone, Herbert Marcuse, McGeorge Bundy, May 2nd Movement, London School of Economics, Ralph Miliband, Labour Party, Ecole Normale, Paris, Althusser, Montesquieu, Das Kapital, England, Michael Walzer, Dita Skhlar, Artistotle, Hilary Putnam, John Rawls, Dick Boyd, SDS, Alan Garfinkel, Forms of Explanation, Norm Daniels, Cornell, Nick Sturgeon, Richard Miller, David Lyons, American Council of Learned Societies, Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, Leo Strauss, Karl Loewith, the Right, Adolf Hitler, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, J. J. Rousseau, Alex Rosenberg, the Iliad, Simone Weil, Chicago, Africa, Obama, Bin Laden, Goldman Sachs, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Occupy, Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, Karl Loewith, Constitution, Bob Goldwin, Mike Malbin, Dick Cheney, Scott Horton, Eugene Shepperd, Michael Zank, William Altman, Shylock, Fagin, Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Brown vs. Board of Education, Charles Percy, Cuba, the American President, Bradley Manning, Iraq War, Americanism, Evangelicism, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Awlaki, Jack Balkin, Ron Paul, British Tories, Andrew Sullivan, Bob Barr, Condi Rice, Democratic Individuality, Magna Carta, Law Lords, Catholic Church, Spirit of the Laws, Gilbert Harman, Socrates, Meno, American South, Ku Klux Klan, John Woolman, John Laurens, Thomas Peters, Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, Lincoln, Thomas Hobbes, George Washington, Gabriel Prosser, the Republic, Thrasymachus, the Adamjee Jute Mill, Brian Leiter, Bangladesh, Hilary Putnam, Democratic Individuality, Martin Luther King, Thich Nat Hanh, Vienna, Jean-Paul Sartre, Charles Taylor, Vichy, the Riviera, G. A. Cohen, the Communist Manifesto, Engels, the Eighteenth Brumaire, Genealogy of Morals, Politics as a Vocation, 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, Mayor Bloomberg, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, National Labor Relations Act, Flint, San Francisco, Harry Bridges, National Guard, Wisconsin, May Day, the Second International, Haymarket, Civil Rights Acts, Vincent Harding, Memphis, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy, International Working Men’s Association, Hans Morganthau, George Kennan, Robert Gilpin, Robert Keohane, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Michel Foucault, A Theory of Justice, Rupert Murdoch, Jacopo Arbenz, Guatemala, ITT, Salvador Allende, Law of Peoples, David Levine, Blackwater, Xe Corporation, Yitzhak Perlman, Stradivarius, C. P. Snow, Henry Giroux, Max Planck, Denver, Koch Brothers, National Public Radio, Mitt Romney,
Adrian Johns is having a pretty good series of weeks. Earlier this month, the intellectual property specialist was named a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow. The chair of the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science and the Allan Grant Maclear Professor in History at the University of Chicago, Johns plans to use his Guggenheim funding to study the intellectual property defense industry.
Johns is no stranger to prizes. His earlier work The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making won the Leo Gershoy Award of the American Historical Association, the John Ben Snow Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the Louis Gottschalk Prize of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the SHARP Prize for the best work on the history of authorship, reading and publishing. Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, his most recent volume, won the American Society for Information Science and Technology’s Book of the Year Award and was a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title.
A review published in the London Review of Books finesses Johns’ redress of the vitally linked histories of piracy and printed matter:
In Adrian Johns’s account, intellectual property rights have always been precarious. According to him, the concepts of intellectual property and intellectual piracy arose as delayed responses to the advent of printing and the development of a commercial book trade, around the year 1660, in London. ‘To find the origins of intellectual piracy,’ he writes,
stand at the main door of St Paul’s Cathedral. Facing west, walk away from the Cathedral, heading down Ludgate and toward Fleet Street. After about a hundred yards you come upon a narrow alley … Entering the alley, the din of the traffic quickly fades, and you find yourself in a small courtyard. A doorway at the far corner leads into a building of indeterminate age with a stone façade. You pass along a brief, twisting entranceway and into an elegant antechamber. But then the passage suddenly and dramatically opens out, leading into a vast, formal hall. It is richly decorated with 17th-century panelling and arrayed flags, all illuminated by stained-glass windows portraying Caxton, Shakespeare, Cranmer and Tyndale. You are in Stationers’ Hall, the centre of London’s old book trade. And here, beyond all the elegant joinery and ceremonial paraphernalia, lies the key to the emergence of piracy. It sits quietly in a modest muniments room. It is a book.
Piracy posits the phenomenon at the center of our attempts to reconcile creativity and commerce—and much of Johns’ work seeks to understand this as part of the nature of print culture.
Something tells us he must be on to something. Or maybe we’re just looking for innovative intellectuals whose smiles light up a room:
The University of Chicago Press extends its congratulations to our own Unoriginal Genius Marjorie Perloff—whose astute exploits in literary theory, criticism of twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetics, and consideration of the visual arts we’ve blogged about before, now and again. Why raise another glass to Marjorie?
Well, the American Philosophical Society—the nation’s oldest and most esteemed scholarly organization (founded in 1743)—whose mission is to “promote useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach,” just called her a member. Among her cohort of those inducted with distinction in the humanities? Mary Beard, Marjorie Graber, Wu Hung, Rosalind Krauss, Brent D. Shaw, and Salvatore Settis, in a class of 2012 inductees that extended its reach through the arts and public affairs (along with the physical, natural, and social sciences) to include such luminaries as Jill Abramson, William Kentridge, Cormac McCarthy, Gerhard Richter, and Richard Serra.
So much Hemingway, so little time. So little Hemingway, so much time? Something about little—not literal size; something about Hemingway—Hemingway and. . . . Hemingway and. . . . Hemingway and . . . Gellhorn?
Gellhorn was perhaps a badass at both pursuits (She demurs, “I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.”), but definitely the former. A lifelong leftist, after she divorced Hemingway in 1945, she went on to cover wars in Vietnam, the Middle East, and Central America, penning nearly twenty books, and making her home in more than nineteen international locations before her death by self-inflicted overdose at the age of 89 in 1998.
One of those books is A Stricken Field, which fictionalizes a journalist’s return to Prague after its annexation (1938), in a narrative voice both frustrating and futile, as the main character struggles to assist its refugees and make sense of the once-proud democracy’s difficult plight under the Gestapo. Here, Gellhorn’s voice is both clear and forceful, more reliant on journalistic observation and political reflection than Hemingway’s staccato figures of speech, but still shaped by the years they overlapped as lovers and correspondents to war and second-wave moder
According to NATO’s website, the organization has a threefold focus for their meeting:
the Alliance’s commitment to Afghanistan through transition and beyond;
ensuring the Alliance has the capabilities it needs to defend its population and territory and to deal with the challenges of the 21st century; and
strengthening NATO’s network of partners across the globe.
According to the Nation, Occupy Chicago’s social network and media feeds, and Timeout Chicago, those protestors native to Chicago and in town for anti-NATO demonstrations have prepared for dialogue and protests surrounding the summit with a $10,000 People’s Law Office kickstarter for anticipated bail needs; organized details for formal marches like those coordinated by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and Andy Thayer and the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda; and instituted a hopeful ten-day plan of direct action, including a march on Boeing.
Baudelaire’s perverse ode to Paris is reflected in Nelson Algren’s bardic salute to Chicago. No matter how you read it, aloud or to yourself, it is indubitably a love song. It sings, Chicago style: a haunting, split-hearted ballad.
Perhaps Ross Macdonald said it best: “Algren’s hell burns with a passion for heaven.” In this slender classic, first published in 1951 and, ever since, bounced around like a ping-pong ball, Algren tells us all we need to know about passion, heaven, hell. And a city.
He recognized Chicago as Hustler Town from its first prairie morning as the city’s fathers hustled the Pottawattomies down to their last moccasin. He recognized it, too, as another place: North Star to Jane Addams as to Al Capone, to John Peter Altgeld as to Richard J. Daley, to Clarence Darrow as to Julius Hoffman. He saw it not so much as Janus-faced but as the carny freak show’s two-headed boy, one noggin Neanderthal, the other noble-browed. You see, Nelson Algren was a street-corner comic as well as a poet.
He may have been the funniest man around. Which is another way of saying he may have been the most serious. At a time when pimpery, licksplittery and picking the poor man’s pocket have become the order of the day—indeed, officially proclaimed as virtue—the poet must play the madcap to keep his balance. And ours.
Unlike Father William, Algren did not stand on his head. Nor did he balance an eel on his nose. He just shuffled along, tap dancing now and then. His appearance was that of a horse player who had just heard the news: he had bet her across the board and she’d come in a strong fourth. Yet, strangely, his was not a mournful mien. He was forever chuckling to himself and you wondered. You’d think he was the blue-eyed winner rather than the brown-eyed loser. That’s what was so funny about him. He did win.
A hunch: his writings may be read, aloud and to yourself, long after acclaimed works of Academe’s darlings, yellowed on coffee tables, have been replaced by acclaimed works of other Academe’s darlings. To call on a Lillian Hellman phrase, he was not a “a kid of the moment.” For in the spirit of a Zola or a Villon, he has captured a piece of that life behind the billboards. Some comic, that man.
At a time when our values are unprecedentedly upside-down—when Bob Hope, a humorless millionaire, is regarded as a funny man while a genuinely funny man, a tent show Toby, is regarded as our president—Algren may be remembered as something of a Gavroche, the gamin who saw through it all, with an admixture of innocence and wisdom. And indignation.
It’s impossible to pick a representative interview from the hundreds conducted by Terkel in his lifetime, but this clip from 1961 with James Baldwin, and its opening—Bessie Smith’s Back Water Blues, which Baldwin remarks inspired his “forthcoming novel” (Another Country)—is good enough to take your breath away: