Allen Porter Mendenhall

Archive for the ‘Arts & Letters’ Category

Boswell Gets His Due

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, British Literature, Christianity, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Scholarship, Western Civilization, Writing on August 19, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review originally appeared here in Liberty.

What is Enlightenment? The title of Immanuel Kant’s most famous essay asks that question. Kant suggests that the historical Enlightenment was mankind’s release from his self-incurred tutelage, an intellectual awakening that opened up new freedoms by challenging implanted prejudices and ingrained presuppositions. “Sapere aude!” Kant declared. “Dare to be wise!”

Tradition maintains that the Enlightenment was an 18th-century social and cultural phenomenon emanating from Paris salons, an Age of Reason that championed the primacy of the individual, the individual’s competence to pursue knowledge through rational and empirical methods, through skepticism and the scientific method. Discourse, debate, experimentation, and economic liberalism would liberate society from the shackles of superstition and dogma and enable unlimited progress and technological innovation, offering fresh insights into the universal laws that governed not only the natural world but also human relations. They would also enable individual people to attain fresh insights into themselves.

Boswell was a garrulous charmer with Bacchanalian tendencies, and a fussy hypochondriac raised Calvinist and forever anxious, perhaps obsessive, about the uncertain state of his eternal soul.

Robert Zaretsky, a history professor at the University of Houston and the author of Boswell’s Enlightenment, spares us tiresome critiques or defenses of the Enlightenment by Foucault and Habermas and their progeny. He begins his biography of James Boswell, the great 18th-century biographer, with a historiographical essay on the trends and trajectories of the pertinent scholarship. He points out that the Enlightenment may have begun earlier than people once believed, and in England rather than France. He mentions Jonathan Israel’s suggestion that we look to Spinoza and company, not Voltaire and company, to understand the Enlightenment, and that too much work has focused on the influence of affluent thinkers, excluding lower-class proselytizers who spread the message of liberty with a fearsome frankness and fervor. And he maintains that Scotland was the ideational epicenter of Enlightenment. Boswell was a Scot.

All of this is academic backdrop and illustrative posturing, a setting of the stage for Zaretsky’s subject, Boswell, a lawyer and man of letters with an impressive pedigree and a nervous disposition, a garrulous charmer with Bacchanalian tendencies, and a fussy hypochondriac raised Calvinist and forever anxious, perhaps obsessive, about the uncertain state of his eternal soul. He marveled at public executions, which he attended regularly. He also had daddy issues, always trying to please his unpleased father, Lord Auchinleck, who instructed his son to pursue the law rather than the theater and thespians. When word arrived that his son had been sharing his private journals with the public, Lord Auchinleck threatened to disown the young James.

Astounded by the beauty and splendor of Rome and entranced by Catholicism, Boswell was never able to untangle the disparate religious influences (all of them Christian) that he picked up during his travels. He was equally unable to suppress eros and consequently caught sexual diseases as a frog catches flies.

Although the Life of Johnson is always considered one of the most important books in the language, Boswell himself has been relegated to the second or third tier of the British literary canon.

Geography and culture shaped Boswell’s ideas and personality and frame Zaretsky’s narrative. “With the European continent to one side, Edinburgh to the other,” Zaretsky intones, “James Boswell stood above what seemed the one and the same phenomenon: the Enlightenment.” This remark is both figurative and literal, concluding Zaretsky’s account of Boswell’s climbing of Arthur’s Seat, a summit overlooking Edinburgh, and his triumphant shout, “Voltaire, Rousseau, immortal names!”

Immortal names indeed. But would Boswell himself achieve immortality? Boswell achieved fame for his biography of Samuel Johnson, the poet, critic, essayist, and wit — who except for one chapter is oddly ancillary to Zaretsky’s narrative. Although the Life of Johnson is always considered one of the most important books in the language, Boswell himself has been relegated to the second or third tier of the British literary canon and treated, poor chap, as a celebrity-seeking minor figure who specialized in the life of a major figure. If Dr. Johnson is Batman, Boswell is a hobnobbing, flattering Robin.

Boswell’s friends have fared better — countrymen and mentors such as Adam Smith and David Hume, for instance, and the continental luminaries Voltaire and Rousseau. But there are many interesting relationships here. To cite only one: Thérèse Levasseur, Rousseau’s wife or mistress (a topic of debate), became Boswell’s lover as he accompanied her from Paris to England. The unsuspecting Rousseau, exiled in England, waited eagerly for her arrival, while a more astute Hume, who was Rousseau’s host, recognized matters for what they were.

Zaretsky believes Boswell was an exceptional talent, notwithstanding his weaknesses, and certainly worthy of our attention. Glossing several periods of Boswell’s life but closely examining his grand tour of the Continent (1763–1765), Zaretsky elevates Boswell’s station, repairs Boswell’s literary reputation, and corrects a longstanding underestimation, calling attention to his complicated and curious relationship to the Enlightenment, a movement or milieu that engulfed him without necessarily defining him.

The title of the book assumes plural meaning: Boswell attained a self-enlightenment that reflected the ethos and ethic of his era.

Zaretsky’s large claims for his subject might seem belied by the author’s professedly modest goal: “to place Boswell’s tour of the Continent, and situate the churn of his mind, against the intellectual and political backdrop of the Enlightenment.” To this end, Zaretsky remarks, “James Boswell and the Enlightenment are as complex as the coils of wynds and streets forming the old town of Edinburgh.” And so they are, as Zaretsky makes manifest in ten digestible chapters bristling with the animated, ambulatory prose of the old style of literary and historical criticism, the kind that English professors disdain but educated readers enjoy and appreciate.

Zaretsky marshals his evidence from Boswell’s meticulously detailed missives and journals, piecing together a fluid tale of adventure (meetings with the exiled libertine John Wilkes, evenings with prostitutes, debauchery across Europe, and lots of drinking) and resultant misadventure (aimlessness, dishonor, bouts of gonorrhea and depression, and religious angst). Zaretsky portrays Boswell as a habitual performer, a genteel, polite, and proud socialite who judged himself as he imagined others to have judged him. He suffered from melancholy and the clap, among other things, but he also cultivated a gentlemanly air and pursued knowledge for its own sake. The title of the book, Boswell’s Enlightenment, assumes plural meaning: Boswell attained a self-enlightenment that reflected the ethos and ethic of his era.

Zaretsky’s book matters because Boswell matters, and, in Zaretsky’s words, “Boswell matters not because his mind was as original or creative as the men and women he pursued, but because his struggle to make sense of his life, to bend his person to certain philosophical ends, appeals to our own needs and sensibilities.” We see ourselves in Boswell, in his alternating states of faith and doubt, devotion and reason. He, like so many of us, sought to improve himself daily but could never live up to his own expectations. He’s likeable because he’s fallible, a pious sinner who did right in the name of wrong and wrong in the name of right, but without any ill intent. A neurotic, rotten mess, he couldn’t control his libido and didn’t learn from his mistakes. But he could write like the wind, and we’re better off because he did. He knew all of us, strangely, without having known us. God help us, we’re all like him in some way.

Harold Bloom’s American Sublime

In Academia, America, American Literature, Art, Artist, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Creativity, Emerson, Fiction, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Nineteenth-Century America, Novels, Philosophy, Poetry, Rhetoric, Scholarship, The Novel, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on August 12, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review originally appeared here in the American Conservative.

What can be said about Harold Bloom that hasn’t been said already? The Yale professor is a controversial visionary, a polarizing seer who has been recycling and reformulating parallel theories of creativity and influence, with slightly different foci and inflections, for his entire career, never seeming tiresome or repetitive. He demonstrates what is manifestly true about the best literary critics: they are as much artists as the subjects they undertake.

Bloom’s criticism is characterized by sonorous, cadenced, almost haunting prose, by an exacting judgment and expansive imagination, and by a painful, sagacious sensitivity to the complexities of human behavior and psychology. He is a discerning Romantic in an age of banality and distraction, in a culture of proud illiteracy and historical unawareness. Bloom reminds us that to be faithful to tradition is to rework it, to keep it alive, and that tradition and innovation are yoked pairs, necessarily dependent on one another.

Bloom has been cultivating the image and reputation of a prophet or mystic for decades. His stalwart defense of the Western canon is well known but widely misunderstood. His descriptive account is that the canon is fluid, not fixed—open, not closed. It might be stable, but it’s not unchangeable. The literary canon is the product of evolution, a collection of the fittest works that have been selectively retained, surviving the onslaught of relentless competition.

Bloom’s prescriptive position is that, because human agency is a controllable factor in this agnostic filtering process, serious readers can and should ensure that masterpieces, those stirring products of original, even genius minds, are retained, and that the latest works are held to the highest aesthetic standards, which are themselves established and proven by revisionary struggle. The merit of a work is not found in the identity of its author—his or her race, gender, or sexuality—but in the text proper, in the forms and qualities of the work itself.

Bloom’s latest book, The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, examines ambitious and representative American authors, its chapters organized by curious pairings: Whitman with Melville (the “Giant Forms” of American literature), Emerson with Dickinson (the Sage of Concord is Dickinson’s “closest imaginative father”), Hawthorne with Henry James (a relation “of direct influence”), Twain with Frost (“our only great masters with popular audiences”), Stevens with Eliot (“an intricate interlocking” developed through antithetical competition), and Faulkner with Crane (“each forces the American language to its limits”). This mostly male cast, a dozen progenitors of the American sublime, is not meant to constitute a national canon. For that, Bloom avers in his introduction, he envisions alternative selections, including more women: Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Marianne Moore, and Flannery O’Connor. Bloom’s chosen 12 represent, instead, “our incessant effort to transcend the human without forsaking humanism.” These writers have in common a “receptivity to daemonic influx.” “What lies beyond the human for nearly all of these writers,” Bloom explains, “is the daemon.”

What is this daemon, you ask. As always, Bloom is short on definition, embracing the constructive obscurity—the aesthetic vagueness—that Richard Poirier celebrated in Emerson and William James and Robert Frost, Bloom’s predecessors. Bloom implies that calling the “daemon” an idea is too limiting; the word defies ready explanation or summation.

The daemon, as I read it, is an amorphous and spiritual source of quasi-divine inspiration and influence, the spark of transitional creative powers; it’s akin to shamanism, and endeavors to transcend, move beyond, and surpass. Its opposite is stasis, repose. “Daemons divide up divine power and are in perpetual movement from their supernal heights to us,” Bloom remarks in one of his more superlative moments. “They bring down messages,” he intones, “each day’s news of the metamorphic meanings of the division between our mundane shell and the upper world.”

What, you might ask in follow up, is the American sublime that it should stand in marked contrast to the European tradition, rupturing the great chain of influence, revealing troublesome textual discontinuities and making gaps of influence that even two poets can pass abreast? “Simplistically,” Bloom submits, “the sublime in literature has been associated with peak experiences that render a secular version of a theophany: a sense of something interfused that transforms a natural moment, landscape, action, or countenance.” This isn’t quite Edmund Burke’s definition, but it does evoke the numinous, what Bloom calls, following Burke, “an excursion into the psychological origins of aesthetic magnificence.”

The Daemon Knows is part memoir, a recounting of a lifetime spent with books. There are accounts of Robert Penn Warren, Leslie Fiedler, and Cleanth Brooks. Bloom’s former students and mentors also make brief appearances: Kenneth Burke, for instance, and Camille Paglia. And Bloom doesn’t just analyze, say, Moby Dick—he narrates about his first encounter with that book back in the summer of 1940. He later asserts, “I began reading Hart Crane in the library on my tenth birthday.” That he remembers these experiences at all speaks volumes to Melville’s and Crane’s bewitching facility and to Bloom’s remarkable receptivity.

Bloom has not shied away from his signature and grandiose ahistorical pronouncements, perhaps because they’re right. Melville, for instance, is “the most Shakespearean of our authors,” an “American High Romantic, a Shelleyan divided between head and heart, who held against Emerson the sage’s supposed deficiency in the region of the heart.” Or, “Emersonian idealism was rejected by Whitman in favor of Lucretian materialism, itself not compatible with Indian speculations.” Or, “Stevens received from Whitman the Emersonian conviction that poetry imparts wisdom as well as pleasure.” These generalizations would seem to service hagiography, but even if they’re overstatement, are they wrong?

My professors in graduate school, many of them anyway, chastised Bloom and dubbed him variously a reactionary, a racist, a misogynist, a bigot, or a simpleton; they discouraged his presence in my essays and papers, laughing him out of classroom conversation and dismissing his theories out-of-hand. Or else, stubbornly refusing to assess his theories on their own terms, they judged the theories in the light of their results: the theories were bad because certain authors, the allegedly privileged ones, came out on top, as they always have. This left little room for newcomers, for egalitarian fads and fashions, and discredited (or at least undermined) the supposedly noble project of literary affirmative action.

They will be forgotten, these dismissive pedants of the academy, having contributed nothing of lasting value to the economy of letters, while Bloom will live on, continuing to shock and upset his readers, forcing them to second-guess their judgments and tastes, their criteria for aesthetic value, challenging their received assumptions and thumping them over the head with inconvenient facts and radical common sense. The school of resentment and amateurish cultural studies, appropriate targets of Bloom’s learned animus, will die an inglorious death, as dogmatic political hermeneutics cannot withstand the test of time.

Bloom, on the other hand, like his subjects, taps his inner daemon, invokes it and rides it where it travels, struggles against the anxiety of influence and displays all of the rhetorical power and play of the strong poets he worships. Dr. Samuel Johnson and Northrop Frye reverberate throughout his capacious tome, and for that matter his entire oeuvre. Bloom’s psychic brooding becomes our own, if we read him pensively, and we are better off for it.

Those who view literary study as a profession requiring specialized and technical training, who chase tenure and peer approval, publishing in academic journals and gaining no wider audience than groveling colleagues, do not possess the originality, the foresight, or the brute imagination necessary to achieve enduring appeal. Reading, done right, is a profoundly personal activity, an exercise in solitary contemplation and possible revelation; writing, done right, is transference: the redirection of complex states of consciousness and knowing from one person to another. A few sentences of Bloom’s contemplative questioning, such as the following, are worth the weight of whole academic articles: “At eighty-four I wonder why poems in particular obsessed me from childhood onward. Because I had an overemotional sensibility, I tended to need more affection from my parents and sisters than even they could sustain. From the age of ten on, I sought from Moyshe-Leyb Halpern and Hart Crane, from Shakespeare and Shelley, the strong affect I seemed to need from answering voices.” Here Bloom invites Freudian investigation of himself, summoning the psychoanalytic models he uses on others.

Bloom is now 85. He claims to have another book left in him, making this one his penultimate. His awesome and dedicated engagement with the best that has been thought and known in the world appears to have left him unafraid of the finish, of what comes next, as though literary intimacy and understanding have prepared him, equipped him, for the ultimate. It seems fitting, then, to quote him on this score and to end with a musing on the end: “We are at least bequeathed to an earthly shore and seek memorial inscriptions, fragments heaped against our ruins: an interval and then we are gone. High literature endeavors to augment that span: My twelve authors center, for me, that proliferation of consciousness by which we go on living and finding our own sense of being.”

Excerpts from “Westminster Hall,” by F L Light

In Arts & Letters, British Literature, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Shakespeare on August 5, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook  and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

Westminster Hall. James Burbage and Shakespeare are seated.

Burbage: The Privy Council can on riddances
Pronounce. It governs the legalities
Outside the city’s scope or what the Crown
Would touch.

WS:             As a patrician council how
Should they abide your common plea?

Burbage:                                               Why, Will,
Assure yourself, the Council favors quality.
Opinionated oligarchs prefer
Their kind. Ignoble verities will be
Unnoted. Evidential knowledge is
Not high enough in rank to weigh against
Renown. Her name ennobles her complaint.
She is too glorious for a loss in court,
Where reputation has more proof than real
Disproof. Her reputable rank is heard
More readily than ours of trade. She has
Momentous notability while ours
Is mean.

WS:    Thus for a coat of arms I have
In proper requisition been precise;
For with a gentleman’s esteem I’d stand
Protected from the contumelies of power.

Burbage: Yes, yes. Armorial fortitude avails
In litigation where one’s stature is
Observed.

WS:          Incarcerated debtors have
No rank while lordly borrowers are left
At large.
Burbage:     I think the giddy nobleness
Of Oxford fit for jail.

WS:                           He is too high
To see himself deluded.

Burbage:                        And your friend,
Southampton, in excess of easiness
Expends himself.

WS:                     I fear he is far gone
In impecunious vacancies. His goings
Of gold are lightly gamed away.

Burbage:                                     There is
The bloated bonnet of the dowager. Enter Lady Russell.

WS: It swells herself conceitedly to suit
Her rank.

Burbage: The bailiff comes. Enter bailiff.

Bailiff:                                      All present rise
In subject salutation to the lords
Of state. Enter four members of the Privy Council, Sir Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley, Lord Cobham, and Sir Edward Coke, who sit down about a table.
All sit.

Burghley:       What matter, bailiff, is
Before us?

Bailiff:     The petitioners in Blackfriars,
My lord, beseech the Privy Council now
To let no playhouse in their midst be wrought.

Burghley: How many have petitioned with their names?
And who are chief among them?

Bailiff:                                            Twenty nine
Are named thereon. The chief of them are Lady
Elizabeth Russell, Dowager; George Lord Hunsdon; Sir Thomas Browne, knight, Stephen Egerton of Saint Anne’s church, and Richard Field, printer to the Crown.

Burghley: Who would defend the playhouse from this plea?

Burbage: My lord, I am James Burbage, bound
In ownership to build this theatre for
My company, the Lord Hunsdon’s Men, of which
A sharer, William Shakespeare, would with me
Defend it.

Burghley: How then guard your venture when
Your patron is averse thereto?

Burbage:                                   He weighed
His spirit with my lady’s spite and could
Not desperate inspiration brook.

Burghley:                                      That may
Be so. Now Lady Russell, as the prime
Complainant on this parchment, read it out.
Bailiff, to Lady Russell bring the writ.

Lady R: In chambered transformation of the Friars’
Refectory beside Lord Hunsdon’s house
And near Lord Cobham’s, now James Burbage would
By framework a theatrical resort
Complete. An arduous nuisance, cynosurally
Not sane, seductively seditious, would
With brigand congregations Blackfriars crowd.
Amassed in molestation, Londoners
Like jouncers, vagrant japers, changefully
Conjoined, our gentle precinct would deject.
And should diffusive pestilence come down
From God, these crowds will aggravate the course
Of death. And fanfaron profaners would
With throbbing respiration trumpet forth
The entrance for a play, so near the church
In blazing perturbation as to throw
The rightful services of ministers
And pews into distraction. Thus, my lords,
In sensed consideration of this shame
And for that never hitherto there was
In Blackfriars such a playhouse, nor should be
While the Lord Mayor has from London barred
Such faults, which try in unprotected liberties
Their trials of plays, you should this troop displace
And have the rooms reframed for trades of use.

Burghley: What little replication would you players
Pursue?

WS:      My lord, the grandest comprehension was
Required in Rome, where presses ten times broader than
Would come in Blackfriars filled the lanes for plays,
As public delectation laudative
Of Plautus proved. In flowed conventions Romans,
Encompassing convergent wholeness, would
By theatres magnify themselves, immense
Assertions gathering, where Caesar was
Revered. To legion generalities
Extending, throngers without prejudice
To Rome would in the Circus Maximus
Comprise one hundred thousand for the cheer
Of rival favorites on the road. Convened
Contentiousness appeased the populace,
Not their insurgent fluency provoking.
Municipal atonements, unified
Amassments, would be found in theatres, where
The vices are depicted for distaste,
And nothing virtuous is deformed.

Interview with Hubert Crouch

In Arts & Letters, Books, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Justice, Law, Literature, News and Current Events, Novels, Southern Literary Review, Southern Literature, The South on July 29, 2015 at 8:45 am

This interview originally appeared in Southern Literary Review.

Hubert Crouch

Hubert Crouch

AM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to Southern Literary Review about The Word, your second novel. Jace Forman, the protagonist of your first novel, Cried For No One, is back in this novel. How has your experience as a trial lawyer shaped Jace’s character, if at all? Is it even possible to identify where your legal background has shaped your character development?

HC: I leaned heavily on my experiences as a trial lawyer while creating Jace Forman. I actually know how it feels to try “high-stakes” lawsuits – the intense pressure, the sleepless nights, the perpetual gnawing in your stomach – because I have lived through them. What a trial lawyer goes through in his professional life has a profound impact on his personal life – again, I felt I was able to portray that realistically with Jace because personal experience was a good teacher. I am not saying Jace is autobiographical – he’s not. That being said, my ability to create his character was, in large part, the result of having been a trial lawyer myself.

AM: I’m not out­-of­-bounds in supposing that readers of Cried For No One will, like me, associate Ezekiel Shaw and the Brimstone Bible Church with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, which is featured in the book. Is there a deliberate connection?

HC: I taught Free Speech and the First Amendment to SMU undergraduates. One of the cases we discussed in class was Snyder v. Phelps. There were some lively exchanges between students over whether the Supreme Court got it right when they threw out the multi-million dollar judgment awarded to the Snyders. Had the Court gone too far in protecting free speech? Had the Court allowed a zealous sect to trample upon the rights of a family to bury their loved one in peace? Our classroom debate inspired me to change the factual scenario, inject a different religious issue and pit the conflicting positions against one another in a fictitious lawsuit.

AM: What made you decide to incorporate Leah Rosen and Cal Connors into the plot? Did you envision them at the outset, or did they come later, after you had already begun writing?

HC: Cal and Leah were characters from my first novel, Cried for No One. Leah continues her investigation into Cal’s legal misdeeds in the stand-alone sequel.

AM: As someone who has never attempted to write a thriller, I’m curious about how the intricate thriller plot falls into place. How much mapping or outlining do you do before beginning the writing process, and how often is the writing process interrupted by the need to adjust or revise?

HC: Before I wrote a word of the manuscript, I drafted a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline, which went through a number of revisions. Once the outline was finished, I began writing the novel. Some might argue that having an outline is too confining. I get that. But for me, it is important to know where I’m ultimately going to end up before I start the journey. I find there is plenty of opportunity for creativity along the way.

AM: Texas. It’s big on the map and big in your book. You’ve been practicing law there for some time. How far back does your connection go?

HC: A long way. I graduated from Vanderbilt in 1973 and then attended SMU Law School. After receiving my law degree from SMU, I began practicing trial law in Dallas and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Although I grew up in Tennessee, I felt right at home in Texas. As the old adage goes, when you prick a Texan, he bleeds Tennessee blood.

AM: Why did you dedicate this book to your female law school classmates?

HC: One of my close friends and study partners in law school was female. She was brilliant, graduating number one in our class. And yet she received few offers from the top law firms in Dallas. There could be only one explanation – she was a woman. She, along with several other of my female classmates who had encountered a similar fate, took bold action and sued some of the major firms in Dallas. A settlement was reached which opened the door to countless female law school graduates afterwards.

AM: When did you start writing fiction?

HC: Over twenty-five years ago. I wrote a manuscript that has still not been published, although I consider pulling it out of the banker’s box it’s been in for years and giving it a read to see if it’s salvageable. After I shelved it, I was inspired to write my first novel, Cried for No One, by an actual lawsuit I handled involving a macabre grave robbery. I got up early each morning and wrote before going to work. The process took me years before I had a finished manuscript.

AM: Do you know what the future holds for Jace Forman? Can readers expect to see him again?

HC: I have enjoyed creating and getting to know Jace. Based upon the reviews, readers seem to like him and, if that sentiment continues, I will likely keep him around for a while.

AM: Last question, but two parts. How much research into the First Amendment went into this book? And how interested were you in First Amendment issues before you started into this book?

HC: I have studied the First Amendment, and the cases interpreting it, extensively. As mentioned above, I actually taught a course about it to SMU undergraduates. The drafters were so brilliant and far-sighted to come up with such an important enactment. We will forever be in their debt.

AM: Thank you again.

Review of Adam Zamoyski’s Phantom Terror

In Arts & Letters, Books, Historicism, History, Humanities, Law, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on July 22, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review first appeared here in Taki’s Magazine.

Born in America and raised in Britain, Adam Zamoyski is not a tenured university professor devoted to obscure subjects that appeal only to audiences of academic guilds. Nor does he write for a small readership. That’s why his books sell and his prose excites; he can narrate a compelling account while carrying an insightful thesis. His latest book, Phantom Terror, bears a subtitle that will cause libertarian ears to perk up: “Political Paranoia and the Creation of the Modern State, 1789-1848.”

Challenging the validity of modern states and their various arms and agencies is the daily diet of committed libertarians, but Zamoyski is not, to my knowledge, a libertarian of any stripe. Yet he challenges the modern State and its various arms and agencies, whatever his intentions or beliefs, and he refuses to shut his eyes to the predatory behavior of government. To appreciate the goals of his book, one must first understand how he came to his subject.

The story is simple: While researching, Zamoyski uncovered data suggesting that governments in the decades following the French Revolution deliberately incited panic among their citizens to validate increasingly restrictive policies. The more governments regulated and circumscribed individual freedoms, the more they took on the shape of nation states: geopolitical entities that had their roots in 16th- and 17th- century Europe but had not fully centralized.

If there’s a main character here, it’s Napoleon Bonaparte. Zamoyski has written about Napoleon in previous books, including 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow (2005) and Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (2008). Having escaped from exile in Elba in February 1815 and suffered defeat at the Battle of Waterloo later that year, Napoleon, once the Emperor of the French, had been reduced to the status of a prisoner, stripped of his dignity and rendered militarily ineffective, his health quickly declining.

Tsar Alexander of Russia, seeing the great Napoleon neutralized, called for a holy covenant with Emperor Francis I of Austria and King Frederick William III of Prussia. For Alexander, who envisioned the State as the realization of a divine idea, the three united rulers reflected the trinitarian Christian God from whom their autocratic, quasi-sacred powers derived. Alexander believed that the unsettling of tradition and order during the French Revolution could be counteracted or cured by the systematic institutionalization of despotic government. First, though, the masses needed to be instructed in the manifest nature of revolutionary threats lurking behind every corner, in every neighborhood, among friends and family, in unexpected places.

And then came the police, a new body of official agents vested with administrative powers and decorated with the symbols and insignias of authority.  Until then the term “police,” or its rough equivalent in other European languages, designated minor officials with localized duties over small public spaces. European states lacked the administrative machinery of a centralized enforcement network besides the military, whose function was to conquer foreign territory or defend the homeland, not to guard the comfort, health, and morals of communities in disparate towns and villages. The latter task was for parochial institutions, custom, churches, nobility, and other configurations of local leadership.

In the wake of the French Revolution, with its ritualistic brutality, mass hysteria, and spectacular regicide, sovereigns and subjects began to accept and support the power of centralized governments to deploy political agents, including spies and informers.  According to Zamoyski, the growing police force—secret agents and all—was less interested in basic hygiene, sanitation, and safety and more interested in subverting the political clout and conspiratorial tendencies of local nobility.

To maximize their power, emperors and government ministers gave color to grand falsehoods about their weakness. Only in their exaggerated vulnerability, catalyzed by true and imagined Jacobins, Freemasons, Illuminati, and other such bugaboos, could they exercise their strength.  Seizing upon anxieties about civil unrest, rulers cultivated in their subjects a desire for police protection, supervision, and surveillance. Conspiracy theories worked in their favor. Francis ordered his police to be vigilant about the spread of Enlightenment ideas; he enacted censorship measures by which people disciplined themselves into obedience, leaving the police to serve, often, as mere symbols of control.

Zamoyski does not focus on any one state but moves from city to city, leader to leader, depicting how European governments staged rebellion for their own benefit.  Several individuals figure prominently for their different roles during this turbulent time: Edmund Burke; Empress Catharine II of Russia; William Pitt; Klemens von Metternich; King Ferdinand VII of Spain; King Louis Philippe; Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington; Charles Maurice de Talleyrand; Robert Steward, Viscount Castlereagh; Joseph Fouché, and marginal characters both stupid and intelligent, of high and low station.

Eventually repression and tyranny backfired. The State apparatus and its leaders across Europe adopted the very tactics and practices they feared in their opposition; they became the kind of terrorists they had attempted to crush. By transforming into their own worst nightmare, they brought about the revolutions (e.g., the Revolutions of 1848) they meant to avoid and inspired the movements they intended to eradicate.

Entrapment, espionage, propaganda, tyranny, sedition, secrecy, conspiracy, treachery, reaction, regime—it’s all here, and it reveals that the operations of power are counterintuitive and complex, even if they’re logical. Hesitant to draw parallels with our present managerial nation states and their version of authoritarian rule, Zamoyski nevertheless marshals enough evidence and insinuation to make speculation about the current order inevitable.

There’s the shadow of Foucault in the background: Zamoyski portrays power as dependent on its lack, exploring how those with authority allow certain freedoms to then suppress them. There’s no power that’s not power over something. Permitting only such personal autonomy and agency as could be subdued enabled European governments to put their authority on display. States manufacture resistance to exercise—indeed show off—their muscle.

With their sprightliness these chapters win for themselves a certain charm. Zamoyski has not just recounted the sequence of events during a fascinating era but exposited an exciting theory about them and the forces driving them. It’s too soon to understand the logic behind the rumors, and the disinformation, we know world powers spread today. Zamoyski provides no direction to this end. He does, however, use history to awaken our imagination to the workings of global power structures, forcing us to ask questions and seek answers about the phantoms of terror that continue to haunt us.

Um Pedido Oficial

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature on July 15, 2015 at 8:45 am

Hugo Santos

Hugo Santos é professor de Literatura no Brasil e possui os cursos de Graduação e Mestrado em Literatura Brasileira, ambos conseguidos pela Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, no estado de Pernambuco, cuja capital é Recife – sua cidade natal (e de acordo com ele mesmo, uma das mais belas cidades do país). Atualmente, ele está frequentando o Programa de Doutorado em Educação de Adultos, na Universidade de Auburn, onde também é professor de Língua Portuguesa e Cultura Brasileira. Além disso, ele está representando o Governo de Pernambuco na iniciativa de se estabelecer uma parceria entre a UA e a Universidade do Estado de Pernambuco, através do estabelecimento, troca e ampliação de pesquisas que permitirão a alunos e professores das duas instituições explorarem o que cada uma tem para oferecer. É autor de “Um Céu Imenso.”

Hugo Santos is a Professor of Literature in Brazil and received both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Brazilian Literature from the Federal University of Pernambuco, in the state of Pernambuco, located in the Northeast of Brazil, whose capital is Recife—his hometown (according to himself, one of the most beautiful cities in the country). Currently, he is enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Adult Education at Auburn University and teaches classes in Portuguese and Brazilian Culture. He is linked to the Auburn University Office of the International Programs as a representative of the Government of Pernambuco and is establishing a partnership between Auburn University and the Pernambuco State University, where he worked in Brazil. The research exchange and extension program enables the students and teachers of both institutions to explore what each university has to offer. He is the author of Um Céu Imenso (“An Immense Sky”).

 

O que tornava aquela cena ainda mais inesperada era o fato dele não imaginar do que se tratava aquela notificação que estava sendo entregue pelo Oficial de Justiça. Seus cartões estavam em dia, dívidas não existiam, tampouco nenhum deslize financeiro que justificasse aquele procedimento.

– Eu entendo, senhor. Entendo que o senhor não faça idéia do motivo, mas a minha obrigação é apenas entregar o documento pessoalmente. O senhor tem alguma dúvida a respeito do dia, horário e local da audiência?

– Dúvida nenhuma. Terça, dezoito de abril, às quinze horas. Vou estar lá, claro.

E assim, sem fazer idéia do que o aguardava, lá estava Rodrigo diante do juiz togado da quinta vara da família, ansioso por saber o que o levara até ali, divagando entre a possibilidade de um filho que não conhecera; uma herança repentina deixada por um tio distante, ou um grande equívoco que logo seria esclarecido.

Foi nessa intercalação de projeções que surgiu na sala Madalena, ex-namorada, com um olhar bem tranqüilo, uma leve maquiagem que ressaltava o brilho dos olhos e as maçãs do rosto, cuja expressão meio que se artificializava com o sorriso forçado. Um colar dourado, bem em sintonia com aqueles cabelos loiros, deixava-a ainda mais exuberante, especialmente porque combinava com os brincos compridos que balançavam sincronicamente a cada meneio de cabeça. Para surpresa dele, ela ainda usava o pingente com a letra R, o mesmo de todo o tempo em que estiveram juntos, e que também estava presente no dia do rompimento.

– Se é o que você acha, tudo bem. Não vou ficar insistindo nessa idéia.

– É o melhor mesmo, Rodrigo, porque eu não quero me precipitar numa decisão que vai afetar diretamente toda a minha vida.

– Então quer dizer que estando você apaixonada. Apaixonada, não… me amando; estando nós dois juntos há um ano, projetando nossas vidas, casa, sonhos e tudo, isso não seria razão suficiente pra morarmos juntos? Isso não seria suficiente pra “afetar” sua vida?

– Nossa. Como você está sendo maniqueísta.

– Maniqueísta. Engraçado. Eu sempre odiei essa palavra. Mas, se for o caso, eu estou sendo sim. E se maniqueísmo corresponde a querer o que nos faça feliz, eu serei, sempre, o porta-bandeira do Maniqueístas Futebol Clube.

Foi uma separação difícil. Eles realmente se gostavam muito. Porém, quando se é jovem há fatores que ultrapassam e muito o sentido da razão, ainda que eles se apresentem como os mais razoáveis do momento.

Mas o que ainda não era compreensível era o que tudo aquilo ali representava. O que poderia ter havido e provocado aquela audiência, até então rodeada de tanto mistério, silêncio e confidencialidade? A resposta teve início com o questionamento do juiz:

– Senhor Rodrigo, o senhor faz idéia do que o traz aqui?

– Nenhuma idéia, excelência.

– Muito bem. Esta é uma audiência preliminar, gerada a partir de uma ação movida pela senhora Madalena, aqui presente, e que tem um só objetivo: falar com o senhor.

– Como é que é?

– Isso mesmo que o senhor ouviu. Ela quer tão somente falar com o senhor. Ao que parece, nos últimos dias o senhor se negou a manter qualquer tipo de contato ou conversa com a sua ex-namorada. Não atende nem retorna as ligações; não responde e-mails; o senhor sequer tem dado atenção às súplicas da mãe dela em recebê-la em sua casa.

– Bem, excelência, embora isso tudo me pareça bem estranho, eu posso, sim, dar todas essas respostas a ela…

– Não, não senhor. Estamos numa audiência e o senhor tem que se reportar ao juiz, neste caso eu, para que eu repasse os dados à autora da petição.

– Cumpramos a regra, então, não é seu doutor? Pois bem. Nessas três semanas de separação, muitos foram os momentos em que eu tive vontade de manter contato, ligar, correr atrás. Fazer tudo o que meu cansado coração mandava, excelência. Só que, depois de um certo tempo, você descobre que ninguém pode ser mais amado do que uma única pessoa na sua vida.

– E quem seria?

– Nós não podemos amar ninguém mais do que a nós mesmos, excelência. E quando isso ocorre, deixamos de lado o que nos faria feliz e passamos a nos contentar com migalhas. E convenhamos, doutor, ninguém vive de migalhas.

– Mas não era assim que eu agia. Eu não te dava migalhas. Eu só não estava bem certa do que eu queria. – Àquela altura, Madalena chorava. Mas não um choro estridente, que ecoasse em soluços pela sala, e sim um choro cândido e discreto, que redimensionava sua beleza e marejava também os olhos de Rodrigo.

– Senhora Madalena… a senhora não pode se dirigir diretamente ao depoente. Em todo caso, o senhor entendeu a colocação da moça?

– Entendi. Claro. E eu poderia saber, excelência, o que ela pensa agora?

– A senhora pode responder.

– Eu não penso em outra coisa que não seja em você, desculpe… que não seja nele, excelência. Foram três semanas tortuosas, em que eu trabalhei mal, vivi mal, comi e dormi mal, tão somente por um fator – a falta que sinto. E se eu pudesse fazer qualquer coisa pra reparar, eu faria.

– É, seu Rodrigo, o que o senhor tem a dizer?

– Algo bem simples, e que dito aqui, diante de todos vocês, pode ganhar um ar solene, sabe? Porém, enfim. Eu poderia, sem medo de errar, dizer que me envaidece essa redenção de quem por tanto tempo foi meu foco, meu ar e meu norte. E também me envaidece saber que o que eu desejava era algo possível, plenamente natural e, antes de qualquer coisa, algo bom. Porém, e aí creio que todos concordem, há um momento a partir do qual os vitrais de nossas convicções se partem, e tornam-se difíceis de ser novamente reparados. Confesso que não posso, e nem jamais poderia, tentar juntá-los novamente.

Naquela hora nada mais precisaria ser dito. Um atordoamento momentâneo acometeu a todos. Um silêncio inesperado ressoou sinais inaudíveis. Até batimentos eram possíveis de se sentir. Rodrigo ergueu-se, desejou a todos um bom dia e, antes de sair, beijou a testa de Madalena.

 

Moinhos da Vida

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature on July 8, 2015 at 8:45 am

Hugo Santos

Hugo Santos é professor de Literatura no Brasil e possui os cursos de Graduação e Mestrado em Literatura Brasileira, ambos conseguidos pela Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, no estado de Pernambuco, cuja capital é Recife – sua cidade natal (e de acordo com ele mesmo, uma das mais belas cidades do país). Atualmente, ele está frequentando o Programa de Doutorado em Educação de Adultos, na Universidade de Auburn, onde também é professor de Língua Portuguesa e Cultura Brasileira. Além disso, ele está representando o Governo de Pernambuco na iniciativa de se estabelecer uma parceria entre a UA e a Universidade do Estado de Pernambuco, através do estabelecimento, troca e ampliação de pesquisas que permitirão a alunos e professores das duas instituições explorarem o que cada uma tem para oferecer. É autor de “Um Céu Imenso.”

Hugo Santos is a Professor of Literature in Brazil and received both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Brazilian Literature from the Federal University of Pernambuco, in the state of Pernambuco, located in the Northeast of Brazil, whose capital is Recife—his hometown (according to himself, one of the most beautiful cities in the country). Currently, he is enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Adult Education at Auburn University and teaches classes in Portuguese and Brazilian Culture. He is linked to the Auburn University Office of the International Programs as a representative of the Government of Pernambuco and is establishing a partnership between Auburn University and the Pernambuco State University, where he worked in Brazil. The research exchange and extension program enables the students and teachers of both institutions to explore what each university has to offer. He is the author of Um Céu Imenso (“An Immense Sky”).

 

– Quem sabe a resposta?

Essa deve ser a pergunta mais frustrante para quem ministra aulas na maioria das escolas do governo. Ver os rostos daqueles jovens desestimulados, e que não acreditam poder reverter seus quadros de vida estudando, só não é mais angustiante porque reside, sempre, nos professores, aquela sensação eterna de que uma força maior, um sinal divino, ou mesmo um acaso, intercederá e nos ajudará a resolver problemas quase sempre insolúveis.

E não era diferente naquela escola. Eu buscava nos semblantes deles algo que pudesse destacá-los, de alguma maneira, daquelas imagens que lhes estavam sempre associadas: pais alcoólatras, lares desfeitos, falta de comida e de roupas. Isso tudo sem considerar os eventuais envolvimentos com drogas e violência, que via de regra são levados para dentro da escola, e o ambiente passa a tornar-se um território demarcado por aqueles que podem mais e menos, ficando nós como meros coadjuvantes num cenário conhecido e repetitivo.

– Quem sabe a resposta?

O silêncio sempre ecoava. Evidentemente que às vezes era quebrado pelas ironias típicas de quem via o acento escolar como uma escala obrigatória para a justificativa de recebimento de abonos pagos por programas assistenciais, ou mais raramente pela insistência de pais, esses sim, sonhadores, o que apenas favorecia o aumento da vontade daqueles garotos de não estarem ali.

Por vezes, porém, exatamente a partir desses acasos pelos quais esperamos, o inusitado acontece e então nós nos vemos saboreando o doce gosto da boa surpresa, tornando-nos, nós mesmos, também garotos.

– Quem sabe a resposta?

– Eu sei, professor!

Naquele momento, esperando a galhofa que se seguiria após uma pergunta simples, e que consistia em saber se a literatura era mais importante do que a matemática, o que ouvi foi algo raro, quase inaudível, entretanto era algo que se insurgia frente àquela muralha de eterno silêncio e, mais importante ainda, era algo correto.

– Não sei se existe uma diferença, professor. A meu ver todas as matérias têm sua importância na nossa vida, sendo que somente no futuro uma ou outra vai ser mais útil.

Ainda que não tivesse sido uma resposta dada por um mestrando de alguma especialização acadêmica, ou mesmo um experimentado psicanalista envolvido em atividades de auto-ajuda, aquelas palavras reverberaram na minha cabeça e, fortes como um torniquete, pressionaram-me a me afastar do pensamento que me envolvia, de modo que continuei a perguntar:

– E quem vai decidir sobre a maior ou menor utilidade? Deus?

– Ele também. Mas a vida, muito mais. Muito mais até do que nós mesmos, professor. Eu não sei o que eu quero ser, nem sei se quero gostar mais de matemática ou literatura, mas sei que um dia vou saber.

Aquele garoto tinha, no máximo, uns quinze anos, e como a maioria da sala, estava fora da faixa-etária para a série, o que me deixou ainda mais curioso. Tanto que após o fim da aula resolvi saber um pouco mais a respeito de seus anseios, mesmo porque eu não me lembrava da sua fisionomia e tudo indicava que ele era novato na escola.

Contando sua história, ele disse que tinha se mudado da Zona da Mata para a Região Metropolitana porque os pais eram cortadores de cana, e naquele período de entre safra, a maioria dos lavradores ficava sem uma renda que lhes possibilitasse um sustento mínimo. Aliado a isso, a preocupação com os seus estudos já lhes mostrava que para atender àquela inteligência do garoto era preciso que se mudassem para a capital. O que foi feito.

Falamos de outras coisas, até de assuntos banais, e na despedida é que ele disse o seu nome – Pedro. Engraçado. Havíamos falado por tanto tempo e sequer eu tinha-lhe perguntado o nome, talvez porque a alegria da surpresa tivesse ofuscado um pouco as ações que a etiqueta nos impele.

À noite, já em casa, brincando com o meu filho de dez anos, que estuda numa escola particular e já tem uma noção do que mais gosta, especulei o quanto estamos, todos, fora do processo. Nós temos, no conforto da nossa poltrona e no controle da televisão, a possibilidade de vagar pela miséria ou riqueza mundial; de assistir acordos de paz ou guerras ferozes; de opinar interativamente, e não temos a capacidade de nos mover, de nos envolver de corpo e alma numa outra batalha, bem ao nosso lado, que tem seu ponto alto no interior de uma escola.

Restabelecido da overdose de realidade e absolutamente convicto do meu papel e da minha missão, que teria, melhor dizendo, que deveria ultrapassar os limites do meu descrédito, fui à escola, no dia seguinte, decidido a contribuir para uma mudança. Algo que envolvesse direção, professores, pais, monitores, alunos, governo, vizinhos. Algo que nos envolvesse e nos movimentasse. Eu era, ali, a verdadeira imagem da disposição e desprendimento, e os meus moinhos de vento eram todos aqueles problemas que me corroíam vorazmente. Eu era o Quixote de minh’alma.

Em frente à escola um aglomerado de pessoas, numa mistura de vozes ao mesmo tempo ensurdecedora e ininteligível. Eram alunos, transeuntes e vizinhos que se juntavam aquele turbilhão de pessoas.

– O que houve por aqui? – Perguntei meio que reflexivamente.

– Não vai haver aula, professor.

– E por que não? – Insisti.

– Um aluno foi assassinado ainda há pouco. Tentaram assaltar, mas como ele não tinha nada, nem tênis, decidiram fazer essa barbaridade.

Poucas vezes na vida senti um gelo por dentro, como senti naquele dia. De um modo instintivo perguntei quem havia sido o aluno, mas já sabia quem seria.

– Ele era novato.

O turbilhão agora era na minha cabeça, e era impossível diminuir a velocidade com que os pensamentos orbitavam na minha mente. Seria possível isso? Seria justo, ou coerente? Este teria de ser o curso exato dos acontecimentos, ou do destino? Existe destino?

A força dos ventos da minha mente rodopiava meus moinhos.

– Tudo bem com o senhor, professor? – perguntava uma voz às minhas costas. Era Pedro, e seu rosto parecia um pouco assustado com tudo aquilo, embora muito mais estivesse eu, dada a possibilidade a que meus pensamentos me conduziam.

– Eu ouvi dizer que um aluno, um novato…

– Eu sei, professor, eu também o conhecia…

Naquele instante senti algo bom. Algo que se seguia a outra coisa anteriormente ruim. Senti, e me convenci, de que todos nós temos missões na terra e que, como seres frágeis, estamos propensos a essas variações emocionais. Não estamos em nada preparados, porém, para perdas de coisas que nos movem, sem um aviso de advertência.

Ao entrar na escola, estava ainda mais fortalecido, e de uma maneira estranha passei a notar detalhes antes despercebidos. Passei a notar, principalmente, que eu não notava quase nada ao meu redor.

Na volta pra casa não parava de pensar no inusitado. Olhando pela janela do carro, protegido de assaltos a tênis, imaginei o que seria mais importante – matemática ou literatura?

 

Review of “A Late Encounter With the Civil War,” by Michael Kreyling

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Historicism, History, Humanities, Nineteenth-Century America, Scholarship, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South on July 1, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review originally appeared here in Southern Literary Review.

Now that it’s 2015, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War has come to a close. Those who don’t follow such anniversaries may not have noticed it was ever here, but it was, although without the fanfare or nostalgia that marked the commemorations at the semi-centennial and the centennial.

Michael Kreyling, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University with an endowed chair and several books to his credit, brings a literary touch to his brief history of the Civil War—not of its battles and heroes and victims and villains but of the manner in which Americans have recalled those things over time. A history about history, conceived as a series of lectures, A Late Encounter With the Civil War bears a title that seems to apply as aptly to Kreyling (he’s had a long and distinguished career in literature but hasn’t worked extensively in the field of Civil War studies) as it does to the current era’s strained connection with the bloodiest conflict the nation has ever experienced.

Kreyling focuses on “collective memory,” a concept he purports to borrow from Maurice Halbwachs and Emile Durkheim and the premise of which is “that humans assemble or construct memory in the context of social life: we remember what our social groups require us to remember in order to maintain historical continuity over time and to claim our membership in them.” Collective memory is participatory rather than commanded, evolutionary rather than fixed, fluctuating rather than static; it emerges out of the conversations people within a given territory have regarding a particular event.

Kreyling is, of course, concerned with our collective memory of the Civil War. It is unclear which individuals enforce or control the regime of collective memory according to his paradigm, but presumably he means to suggest that all members of the community are at least partially complicit in the narrative perpetuation that becomes collective memory.

From the premise of collective memory Kreyling sets out to establish the constructedness of Southern narratives about the war and thereby to refute the assumption of Pierre Nova, who once claimed that “[d]ifferent versions of the Revolution or the Civil War do not threaten the American tradition because, in some sense, no such thing exists—or, if it does, it is not primarily a historical construction.” Kreyling submits, contra Nova, that historical memory is constructed because it involves both gradual initiation and exclusion: those who understand and promote the validated, official account are admitted into the group, members of which celebrate a shared past, whereas those who challenge the authorized narratives are marginalized or altogether excluded from the group. What the approved story of the Civil War is at the moment of the sesquicentennial remains unknown because, he says, only years after such a landmark can we objectively evaluate its cultural reception and narrative production.

Collective memory is not the same thing as personal memory. It is a “kind of complicated puppet theater” inasmuch as “we are the puller of strings” as well as “the figures pulled.” We not only “set dates for ceremonies of public memory and fill the ceremonies with choreographed activities” but also allow ourselves to be dragged along with such ceremonies; we resort to ritualistic commemoration to project the past onto our present, he explains, and to attempt to define ourselves both by and against our past.

Kreyling argues in his opening chapter that “the United States that formally remembered the Civil War at the semicentennial was different from the America of the centennial and sesquicentennial by one very powerful theme we can identify in retrospect: blood.” The subject of blood leads Kreyling into meandering discussions of The Great Gatsby and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This chapter becomes less about the memory of the Civil War and more about early 20th-century eugenicist fascinations with blood, an element of romanticized fiction that is “latent symbolic” or “cultural” because it “invades or pollutes the endangered citadel of whiteness.”

Theodore Roosevelt used the term “race suicide” to express a widely shared fear of racial degeneration, which was linked, Kreyling alleges, to a perceived collapse of civilization. Kreyling ties Roosevelt’s term to both the creation of and reaction to popular works by D. W. Griffith and Thomas Dixon Jr. He even implicates Woodrow Wilson in the rapid proliferation of racism—and not just by recalling Wilson’s oft-discussed response to the screening of The Birth of a Nation in the White House.

The second chapter maps the shift from memorialization to mass anxiety as race-relations in America forced the nation to reconsider the meaning and purpose of the Civil War. Here Kreyling considers an array of figures, from Bruce Catton and Robert Penn Warren to Edmund Wilson and Flannery O’Connor, to substantiate the proposition that public interest in the Civil War was on the wane and overshadowed by the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. All of this is very interesting, but we shouldn’t be surprised that most of the population at that time was more interested in its present moment than in a war that had occurred a century earlier.

The third and final chapter speculates about those “negotiations” that we have “between what did happen” during the Civil War and “what we would prefer to remember.” I say “speculates” because Kreyling is careful not to seem rash or conclusory about our own moment. Rather than giving an answer, for instance, he says that “we need to ask” the question “[w]here is the South now?” That we may ask that question at all shows how much different our generation is from those which came before, as Kreyling demonstrates by surveying recent literary scholarship on the matter.

Wherever the South is now, it seems to have traveled far from “pure ancestor worship.” That doesn’t mean our memory has become unproblematic. Kreyling sees in the historical fiction of Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, for example, a disturbing turn to a counterfactual mode of ritual that distorts our understanding of past events. Kreyling rounds out his discussion of Gingrich and Forstchen (among other people and texts) with an upsetting observation: “we commemorate past wars with new ones.” Such a strong and ambiguous claim demands clarification, yet Kreyling doesn’t elaborate, perhaps because long explication would detract from the lasting force and profundity of the closing remark.

As smoothly as this book reads, one wonders what its chief contribution will be. It’s certainly unique and innovative to, as Kreyling does, compare vampire fiction with the racist notion of thoroughbred whiteness that was in circulation at the semicentennial. On the other hand, there might be a good reason why this approach hasn’t been tried, and it’s not because no one has thought of it.

When a book doesn’t move professional historiography in a direction that unearths obscure details, that adds to the sum of knowledge on a precise topic, or that sheds light on events by examining them from the unexplored perspective of cultural outsiders, it can rely too heavily on style and creativity and entertainment value. Kreyling’s book isn’t devoid of scholarship, but it does push the bounds of that genre. Perhaps its greatest achievement is its capacity to raise provocative questions about our present relationship to a conflict that in some ways seems so distant, but in others so familiar.

 

Homem com “R”…de reflexivo

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature on June 24, 2015 at 8:45 am

Hugo Santos

Hugo Santos é professor de Literatura no Brasil e possui os cursos de Graduação e Mestrado em Literatura Brasileira, ambos conseguidos pela Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, no estado de Pernambuco, cuja capital é Recife – sua cidade natal (e de acordo com ele mesmo, uma das mais belas cidades do país). Atualmente, ele está frequentando o Programa de Doutorado em Educação de Adultos, na Universidade de Auburn, onde também é professor de Língua Portuguesa e Cultura Brasileira. Além disso, ele está representando o Governo de Pernambuco na iniciativa de se estabelecer uma parceria entre a UA e a Universidade do Estado de Pernambuco, através do estabelecimento, troca e ampliação de pesquisas que permitirão a alunos e professores das duas instituições explorarem o que cada uma tem para oferecer. É autor de “Um Céu Imenso.”

Hugo Santos is a Professor of Literature in Brazil and received both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Brazilian Literature from the Federal University of Pernambuco, in the state of Pernambuco, located in the Northeast of Brazil, whose capital is Recife—his hometown (according to himself, one of the most beautiful cities in the country). Currently, he is enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Adult Education at Auburn University and teaches classes in Portuguese and Brazilian Culture. He is linked to the Auburn University Office of the International Programs as a representative of the Government of Pernambuco and is establishing a partnership between Auburn University and the Pernambuco State University, where he worked in Brazil. The research exchange and extension program enables the students and teachers of both institutions to explore what each university has to offer. He is the author of Um Céu Imenso (“An Immense Sky”).

 

O pior de você acordar de manhã, quando sequer dormiu, é o momento em que se dispersam as nebulosas lembranças de que tudo não passou de um sonho, e se retorna à cruel e surpreendente realidade.

Qual realidade?

A que descobri – que sou feio, asqueroso, preguiçoso e infiel. Tudo isso de acordo com a composição de uma senhora, num programa de televisão.

É lógico que diante de tamanha descoberta me vi obrigado a buscar ajuda, e procurei a principal pessoa a quem recorrer nessas horas – minha mãe. Pois é. Nada de atitudes precipitadas, partindo pra aconselhamentos psicológicos ou perguntando pra antiga namorada. Nada disso. Buscar na santa mãe o aconchego de palavras de conforto é o remédio ideal pra esse tipo de pós-trauma.

E não é que a coisa começou a mudar? Após repassar-lhe toda sorte de desqualificações, termos pejorativos e adjetivos depreciativos, lançados sobre mim pela impetuosa dona-de-casa, ela fitou-me nos olhos e disse-me duas coisas. A primeira – “Rosamunde e Clarice podem responder-lhe melhor que eu.”; a segunda – “Estou atrasadíssima para o supermercado.”

Não preciso nem dizer que só a deixaria sair daquela casa, entrar naquele carro e ir às compras, depois que me dissesse onde eu encontraria aquelas suas amigas, ou vizinhas, sei lá, chamadas Rosamunde e Clarice; qual rumo eu deveria tomar, em qual bairro ou clínica deveria procurar, afinal estava em jogo a elevação ou execração da auto-estima de um verdadeiro homem.

A paranóia delirante já me tomava, quando, enfim, minha mãe me esclareceu tratar-se de Rosamunde Pilcher, escritora escocesa, autora de inúmeras obras literárias, dentre elas “Setembro” e “O Regresso”, e Clarice Lispector que, lógico, dispensa comentários.

Evidentemente que procurei, dali mesmo, respostas delas para o meu escárnio. Não precisei demorar muito. Encontrei em suas obras algo que dito, apenas, não seria o suficiente. Teria de ser escrito. E escrito por duas mulheres maravilhosas, com o propósito de ser perpetuado, de acalentar sonhos e remediar controvérsias.

E se eu tivesse o dom delas, com suas sagazes visões de mundo, sei até o que escreveria, para leitura de reles mortais como eu. Inspirado em Rosamunde, escreveria:

“… seguramente Deus se utilizou também de seu arcanjo mais fiel, seu mais atento mensageiro e sua onipotente graça na minha criação. E quando digo “minha”, o faço desconsideradas as profusões feministas, referindo-me ao macho, em seu gênero mais específico. Eu sou este ser belo, que encanto pelos meus atributos e me completo pelas minhas ações. Qual mulher, independente de cor, classe ou paixão, não vê a minha boca como fonte intangível de magia e que não sente meu beijo como um gosto de vida e de nostalgia?

O meu corpo, visto sob um ângulo eminentemente feminino, e guardadas as óbvias exceções, representa os eternos Adônis e Apolo, moldes da beleza masculina. Em essência, representa também o Norte, o objetivo, o caminho e o desejo da alma feminina.”

Reerguido meu ego e restaurada minha auto-estima, e tendo incorporado o espírito clariceano, escreveria:

“ O que seria eu, afinal?

Seria eu, de fato, obra de Deus?

Teria eu sido uma composição da Natureza, para que a síntese da beleza fosse igualmente dividida?

Ou teria nascido de um raio de luz? Mas aquele primeiro raio do dia. Aquele primeiro raio de sol que, quando vemos, temos a certeza do milagre de cada amanhecer?

Importa, porém, que eu existo.

Que existem problemas é certo, mas existem tantas virtudes…e tantas.

Existem meus sorrisos e encantos; minhas mãos, meus toques, minha fala e meu beijo.

Existe a obra harmônica, a obra humana e a obra visual.

Existe ‘Eu’, afinal.”

E então, lendo estas passagens, apenas uma coisa me viria à mente – eu poderia ser mais reflexivo.

Eu poderia ser também mais poesia, mais atenção às pessoas que me cercam, mais “toque” naqueles que amo e quero bem, mais presença com Deus, mais afago na cabeça do meu pai.

Eu poderia ser, muito mais, o homem que eu deveria ser.

 

A Primeira Noite

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature on June 10, 2015 at 8:45 am

Hugo Santos

Hugo Santos é professor de Literatura no Brasil e possui os cursos de Graduação e Mestrado em Literatura Brasileira, ambos conseguidos pela Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, no estado de Pernambuco, cuja capital é Recife – sua cidade natal (e de acordo com ele mesmo, uma das mais belas cidades do país). Atualmente, ele está frequentando o Programa de Doutorado em Educação de Adultos, na Universidade de Auburn, onde também é professor de Língua Portuguesa e Cultura Brasileira. Além disso, ele está representando o Governo de Pernambuco na iniciativa de se estabelecer uma parceria entre a UA e a Universidade do Estado de Pernambuco, através do estabelecimento, troca e ampliação de pesquisas que permitirão a alunos e professores das duas instituições explorarem o que cada uma tem para oferecer. É autor de “Um Céu Imenso.”

Hugo Santos is a Professor of Literature in Brazil and received both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Brazilian Literature from the Federal University of Pernambuco, in the state of Pernambuco, located in the Northeast of Brazil, whose capital is Recife—his hometown (according to himself, one of the most beautiful cities in the country). Currently, he is enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Adult Education at Auburn University and teaches classes in Portuguese and Brazilian Culture. He is linked to the Auburn University Office of the International Programs as a representative of the Government of Pernambuco and is establishing a partnership between Auburn University and the Pernambuco State University, where he worked in Brazil. The research exchange and extension program enables the students and teachers of both institutions to explore what each university has to offer. He is the author of Um Céu Imenso (“An Immense Sky”).

 

– Alô, mãe?

– Meu filho!? A essa hora? Está tudo bem?

– Mais ou menos. Espera um pouco que tem alguém querendo falar com você.

– Mas… quem?

– Alô?

– Sim.

– Aqui quem ta falando é o Filé.

– Filé? Meu Deus. Mas o que está acontecendo?

– É o seguinte, madame. Seu filho tá aqui comigo, e pra que ele continue assim, vivinho, eu quero que a senhora faça um depósito nessa conta que eu vou lhe dar. Tá pronta pra anotar?

Aquela era a primeira noite de Marcos Roberto no presídio. O que ele não imaginava é que num lugar assim existem regras próprias. Regras que ultrapassam o limite do legal e a barreira do possível, e rasgam ferozmente as sensações de paz e tranqüilidade, tanto de quem entra, quanto de quem fica esperando lá fora.

Ele não esperava também que a noite anterior pudesse acabar assim. Acostumado a pequenos furtos, nada de grande monta, coisas que se limitavam a CDs em lojas de disco, ou bonés em lojas de departamento, resolveu aceitar um convite no mínimo arrojado. Durante a rodada de cerveja com os amigos, um deles sugeriu ao grupo fazer algo mais tentador, algo que definitivamente representasse coragem e ousadia.

– E o que seria, então?

– Vamos fingir um seqüestro relâmpago.

– Um seqüestro!? Mas quem a gente iria seqüestrar?

– Ô, rapaz, se eu falei fingir, então o seqüestrado tem de ser um de nós.

Os olhos de Roberto brilharam nessa hora. Não que ele fosse completamente a favor de uma idéia como essa, mas é que toda perspectiva de perigo naturalmente já lhe aguçava o espírito, e era incrível como mesmo tendo a noção exata do quão eram arriscadas e imorais algumas de suas ações, o envolvimento interno com tudo aquilo, a devoção emocional com o ilegítimo, era algo que o envolvia, persuadia e, por fim, o conduzia.

– Eu topo! E tem mais… eu quero ser o seqüestrado.

Desenvolver o plano não seria problema, afinal, quatro cabeças pensando acelerariam qualquer processo, de modo que já no início da manhã cada um sabia exatamente o que fazer. Na saída da faculdade, Roberto simularia uma conversa telefônica bem próxima ao estacionamento, preferencialmente num momento em que várias outras pessoas pudessem estar próximas e visualizar a cena, e no instante seguinte Giba e Márcio, encapuzados, o renderiam com uma arma de brinquedo e o arrastariam para o interior de um carro conduzido pelo quarto companheiro, Claudinho, já ao volante.

Com tudo perfeitamente planejado, apenas um detalhe restava ser resolvido – como conseguir o carro? Afinal, não poderiam usar um da família, já que a identificação seria imediata e a conexão entre os autores, conseqüentemente, inevitável. Um assalto. E como durante o seqüestro a ação menos arriscada seria exatamente a do seqüestrado, coube a ele sanar essa pendência. Foi aí, exatamente aí, que o seu futuro começou a ser selado.

Carro escolhido, local apropriado, vítima ideal e um baseado pra despertar a adrenalina, lá estava ele no estacionamento do shopping Center, esperando a boa velhinha guardar as compras no porta-malas do gol cinza, um carro igual a tantos outros e que não despertaria tanta atenção durante a ação.

– Ei tia, chega pra lá que eu tô levando teu carro, tá? Num faz escândalo e nem chama atenção que eu te deixo aqui, cheia de saúde, tá ligada?

– Mas meu filho… num faça isso comigo não, uma pobre aposentada.

– Vamo, vamo, tia. Sai pra fora! Sai pra fora!

Resumo da ópera: aposentada jogada no chão; carro cantando pneus; sistema de câmeras filmando tudo, e perseguição iniciada.

Marcos Roberto era audaz, corajoso, mas não era insensato. Ele sabia que uma perseguição, agora já contando com várias viaturas, poderia implicar em coisa mais séria, e se havia algo que ele prezava, era pela única vida que tinha. Rendido, preso, conduzido, autuado e em seguida transferido para o presídio, amargava, naquela noite, o cálice sem sabor da angústia da vulnerabilidade; aquele frio no estômago que apenas as presas sentem diante do caçador, e que faz remontarem-se os flashes de vida na mente desgovernada.

– Mas, meu senhor, eu não tenho esse dinheiro agora.

– É o seguinte, “madama”, se o dinheiro num tiver na conta amanhã cedinho, ou se disser alguma coisa pra polícia, seu filho aqui já era.

– Ai, meu Deus. Tá bom, tá certo. Eu faço isso. Só não machuque meu filho, não faça nada com ele. Eu lhe peço, por favor.

– Faça o que eu tô mandando e tudo vai ficar bem. Até.

E Marcos Roberto ficou “bem”, e a mãe dele pagou o “resgate”, e a polícia nunca soube de nada.

Aparentemente existe um mundo que nunca sabe de nada. O fato é que, por mais que não concebamos o que pode ser imprevisível nas nossas vidas, quando as coisas acontecem passam a ser vistas como previsíveis.

A vida real por trás dos muros de um presídio, descoberta por Marcos Roberto, e a vida por trás da vida de Marcos Roberto, descoberta por sua mãe, fazem parte desse mundo incógnito, em que olhares mostram impressões, mas escondem os desejos da alma. Para descobri-lo, basta um olhar. Basta uma primeira noite fora de um mundo que nunca sabe de nada.

 

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