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Troy Camplin Reviews “Napoleon in America,” a Novel by Shannon Selin

In America, American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Creative Writing, History, Humanities, Novels, The Novel, Writing on August 20, 2014 at 8:45 am
Shannon Selin

Shannon Selin

Napoleon in America is a “what-if” historical novel that combines a variety of styles – epistolary, newspaper article, and regular novelistic narrative – to create a work that reads like a very well-written narrative of history. Given that the author is necessarily working with an entirely fictional world – one in which Napoleon escapes from St. Helena to the United States – the fact that she can create such an effect is quite remarkable. The reader is made to feel as if he or she is reading about actual historical events. Of particular note is the fact that Selin creates the impression that we are reading a Great Men History book, which makes it rather distinctive. As such, it is going against the direction in which historical studies have, themselves, gone.

Much contemporary history deals with everyday life, local histories, etc. But given that the protagonist of this novel, Napoleon, is the kind of person who is distinctly bored with everyday life – is too big for everyday life – we should not be surprised to find a story dominated by the overwhelming presence of the personality of Napoleon. It is perhaps for this very reason that the novel becomes involved in the great movements of Napoleon rather than the intimate details of his life. These aspects are touched on here and there, of course, but in the end, we remember Napoleon the Conquerer, not Napoleon the almost-died-when-he-got-to-America. Napoleon quickly recovers to dominate the novel with his personality. But this personality is not one changed by circumstances. He is the Napoleon we all love and loathe. He cannot settle down. He has to conquer.

Thus, with Selin’s novel, we have a complete inversion. The novel has, historically, dealt with everyday people in their everyday lives. The actions of most novelistic characters do not have a major impact on historical events. If we look at the way histories are written over the same time period of the rise of the European novel (which includes American and Canadian literature and, stylistically, much literature written in the rest of the world during the 20th century), we primarily see the complete opposite: an interest in major figures and their major effects on history dominate most historical narratives over this same time period. However, we see a shift within history toward the same kinds of concerns we see in novels: everyday peoples, the histories of institutions, local histories, etc. Thus, we should not be surprised to find novels picking up the kinds of narratives we once found in histories.

Along with the Big Men of the time, Selin deals with the Big Ideas of the time; of course, the Big Men are often the Big Men precisely because they discuss and try to enact the Big Ideas of their time. Liberalism and dictatorship and whether Napoleon is really a liberal or little better than the kings he likes to depose are discussed – as no doubt they were, in fact, discussed historically. We see some of the conflicts within French Liberalism – and some of the contradictions. Was it a mere coincidence that French Liberalism led to the Terror and to the Empire under Napoleon? Or was it simply bad luck? Pro- and anti-Napoleon liberals are unified in their opposition to the Bourbons, but the question is raised as to whether replacing one monarch with another is really an improvement. Yet, there seems a willingness, even among those who oppose Napoleon, to support revolution against the Bourbons, even if it results in another Napoleon (literally or figuratively). Along these lines, Selin does a magnificent job of showing how blinding the opposition to the Bourbons is in the decision by the French government to invade Spain. The King in fact opposes the invasion, but ends up being talked into it; the liberals believe the invasion is a Bourbon plot and evidence of his being a cruel dictator. The reality is more humdrum than the conspiracy theory the liberals are desperate to believe.

Overall, Selin’s book goes beyond what we would expect to find in a historical novel whose main character is a major historical figure. A traditional historical novel would have the characters doing all the major, public actions the history books tell us happened. Selin has to do something quite different. She has to first know what did in fact happen during the historical period in question; she then has to understand Napoleon well enough to understand what he might do in circumstances other than those in which he did, in fact, find himself; and then she has to create a realistic alternative to what did in fact happen, understanding the butterfly effects of a Napoleon in America. It is a garden of forking paths, and one can go in any number of directions. To this end, Selin is certainly effective in her choice of direction. The great uncertainty created by Napoleon’s presence in America is well demonstrated. The U.S. government does not seem to know what to do with him. We are, after all, talking about a young country still learning where it fits in the world. It has the benefit of being separated from Europe – where all the action lies – by a large ocean. But the action has come to America’s shores when Napoleon escapes St. Helena. The uncertainty that leaves Napoleon free to raise an army and wander into Texas is well within the realm of possibilities. As is the naïve belief by some – such as James Bowie – that Napoleon can be “handled.”

The majority of the novel is dominated by the spirit of uncertainty and worry. All the action comes in at the end of the novel, when Napoleon finally does invade Texas. And even then, we are left with a great deal of uncertainty. Napoleon has won a battle and established himself in San Antonio; however, we are left with the question of what will happen next. Napoleon in America has the feeling of the first novel in a sequel. It would not surprise me if Napoleon in Texas were to follow. There is a great deal more to this story that could be explored. Will Napoleon be able to create a long-term presence in Texas? What will be the response of Mexico? What will be the response of the American government? What will be the response of the American settlers? Will the people of Kentucky and Tennessee volunteer to fight for Texas independence under Napoleon as they did for its independence under Austin? Is Napoleon just preparing the way for the Americans to take over, making it a bit easier than it was historically? Or is he perhaps making it a bit harder, since a Mexican government may take Napoleon as a much more serious threat to the government of Mexico than those who only wanted an independent Texas?

For those who enjoy the What-If History genre, these are fun questions to consider. I find it hard to imagine that anyone who reads Napoleon in America – which should include most of those who enjoy historical fiction – would fail to want these questions answered in a sequel.

Troy CamplinTroy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play “Almost Ithacad” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.

Three Poems by Troy Camplin

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Poetry, Writing on March 30, 2012 at 2:00 am

Troy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play “Almost Ithacad” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.

 

Transcendence

Descending from the mountains, down the plain,

Into the valley, I have found a cave

To live in and to contemplate my pain

And joy, the love and strife designed to save

Me from my selfishness, to be reborn.

Do not mistake my constant strong desire –

The animal is transformed to adorn

The unity whose friction brings the fire

Of love out of apparent fleshly lust,

Erecting a true temple to embrace

The higher life of love and joy and trust

That life will lead me right and bring me grace.

When I want to make love to you it’s so

Our spirits can emerge and merge and grow.

 

Made, and Made Anew

The stones are worn with even, weary waves –

The ships are rusting by the rotting dock

That constitutes their cold, collective graves –

As weather runs down every object’s clock.

I look at you, your each new crease and gray –

The sand swirls, eddies up around your feet

With waves which wash so no sand, stone will stay

The way or where it is with every beat.

And yet our children play and chase the birds

That live with what the waves stir up. The seals

Are nursing pups. Sea grass will feel the herds

Of deer who make for cougar mothers’ meals.

Destruction is a part of nature, true –

But first things must be made, then made anew.

 

Lost Girl

She had the words. She knew she had the words.

They forested her, dimmed the light. Her limbs

Spread, palms outstretched to block her movement. She

Had no idea which way to go. She cut

The roots, expecting she would float away –

She tumbled, crushed the touch-me-nots. Brown seeds

Shot out from curling pods. Forget-me-nots

As blue as bluets made mere scents of crushed

Herbaceousness the moment her trunk landed.

So certain, she set out, discovering

New lands – she named new things – but she will not

Return to tell us what she saw. No blaze

Was ever made. She’ll be forgotten, turn

To soil, become the forest floor, mere food F

or fungi. The words will mould, fertilize

A future poetry upon her bones.

She had the words – for one of future’s branches –

Should other poets trim the tree just right

With all their wind and lightning, rhythmic storms

That shape the art by felling forests. Then

She’ll be discovered, newly unforgotten.

Poetry by Troy Camplin

In Art, Artist, Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Creativity, Humanities, Poetry, Writing on September 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm
Troy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play “Almost Ithacad” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.
 

 

Introduction

In the unbelievable and unknown –
In the unrefined and those without thought –
In the unremarkable and unwise –
We find our leaders
We find our heroes
We find our artists
I see it – there is a sun on the horizon –
The rosy fingers of an ancient dawn –
A rebirth of everything from everything we have torn apart –
A world in fragments – no longer a world –
Fragments gathered up –
A world reborn from the fragments –
A world reborn from the past, the ancients –
Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Africans, Arabs, Indians, and aborigines –
Yet –
I am not a postmodernist
And I am not a classicist
And I am not a romantic
And I am not a modernist
And I am not a naturalist
No –
I am each of these – and none
I am the moon and the sun
I am the earth and the sea
I am woman and man
Seriousness and fun
Fragments and unity
Plurality and one

An Astrology

I stand, stare at the Cantor dust of stars,
Stand alone in the open field of grass
That glows in the silver of the moon brass
And dark emerald under a rising Mars.
I wage a silent war within my mind
As I wait in vain for a happiness
These stars cannot bring me. My loneliness
Soaks into the ground to be left behind.
I turn away from Mars and search the sky –
The false-star Venus must be out among
The stars and darkness, a beacon for me
To connect my life to, so I can fly
And leave this lonely-soaked ground a far-flung
Memory. I want to love and to be.

 

Etre Sartre

In France was an atheist, superb
At finding new ways to disturb –
A communist brand,
A Nazi’s friend, and
Philosophy based on a linking verb.

Interview with Troy Camplin, Interdisciplinary Scholar and Author of Diaphysics

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Communication, Creative Writing, Humanities, Information Design, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, News and Current Events, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Teaching, Theatre, Western Kentucky University, Writing on May 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Allen Mendenhall interviews Troy Camplin.

 

Troy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play “Almost Ithacad” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.  
 

 

Q:  Your interdisciplinary background seems to lend itself to commentary on this site.  Tell us a bit about that background and a bit about your thoughts on the value of interdisciplinary scholarship.

A:  I have an unusual educational background that I only made more unusual in my independent studies. My undergraduate degree is in Recombinant Gene Technology, with a minor in chemistry, from Western Kentucky University. When I am interested in something, I spend all of my time learning about it. So, as an undergrad, I not only learned about molecular biology through my classes, but also in my independent reading. I read the journals and I read even popular works on molecular biology. This led me to John Gribbin’s book In Search of the Double Helix, in which he talks a great deal about quantum physics. I didn’t know a thing about quantum physics, and I really didn’t understand what he was saying about it in that book, so I decided to read his other books on quantum physics, including In Search of Shroedinger’s Cat. I cannot say I understood quantum physics much after reading that book, either, but I was hooked, and read every popular book on quantum physics I could read. In addition, I ran across several other popular science books that introduced me to what would become much more central to my thinking, including Gleick’s Chaos and Ilya Prigogine’s works on self-organization. These provided several of the seeds of my development as an interdisciplinary scholar.

Another element to my interdisciplinary development was a class I pretty much lucked into. Undergraduates have to take several required courses, of course, and one semester I wanted to take a New Testament class with Joseph Trafton (who was highly recommended, and whose class I eventually did take), but it was full. So I took an Intro. To Philosophy class just to get the hours in that section in. By chance I chose a class taught by Ronald Nash—a random choice that ended up changing my life completely.

Nash taught his class using three texts: a collection of Plato’s dialogues and two books Nash himself wrote. One of the books Nash wrote was Poverty and Wealth: A Christian Defense of Capitalism. It was through Nash that I was introduced to free market economics. I was hooked. I read everything I could find in the university library with the word “capitalism” in the title or as the subject. I read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, Hayek, and a little book titled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal  by Ayn Rand. The latter, of course, led me to Atlas Shrugged, and that led me to the rest of her work. Rand hooked me on the idea of being a fiction writer and made me interested in philosophy. I began reading the fiction writers she loved (and the ones she hated, to see why) and the philosophers she loved (and the ones she hated, to see why). I read and fell in love with Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky, Aristotle and Nietzsche. Particularly Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, whose tragic worldviews were deeply appealing to me. Nietzsche deepened my appreciation for philosophy, and introduced me to tragedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew Ferguson on “Converting Mamet”

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Conservatism, Economics, Humane Economy, Literary Theory & Criticism, Politics, Rhetoric, Theatre on May 17, 2011 at 8:06 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following post appeared at Austrian Economics and Literature.

______________________________________________________________________

Although I do not read The Weekly Standard unless James Seaton has contributed an article or review (read Seaton’s review of Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox’s Literature & The Economics of Liberty at this link), I was pleased and intrigued by this recent article by Andrew Ferguson that addresses the political conversion of America’s most famous living playright, David Mamet.  Ferguson opens the piece with this:

Three decades ago David Mamet became known among the culture-consuming public for writing plays with lots of dirty words. “You’re f—ing f—ed” was a typically Mamet-like line, appearing without the prim dashes back in a day when playwrights were still struggling to get anything stronger than a damn on stage. Mamet’s profanity even became a popular joke: So there’s this panhandler who approaches a distinguished looking gentleman and asks for money. The man replies pompously: “ ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’ —William Shakespeare.” The beggar looks at him. “ ‘F— you’ —David Mamet.” 

Some critics said his plays were pointlessly brutal. As a consequence he became famous and wealthy. It didn’t hurt when it dawned on people that many of his plays, for all the profanity and brutality, were works of great power and beauty, and often very funny to boot. When people began to say, as they increasingly did by the middle 1980s, that the author of Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo and Lakeboat had earned a place in the top rank of the century’s dramatists, no one thought that was a joke. He took to writing for the movies (The Verdict, The Untouchables, Wag the Dog), won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his masterpieces (Glengarry Glen Ross), and moved to Holly-wood, where he became a respected and active player in the showbiz hustle.

Ferguson goes on to describe a speech at Stanford in which Mamet expressed his disenchantment with higher education:

Higher ed, he said, was an elaborate scheme to deprive young people of their freedom of thought. He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—“Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever”—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

“If we identify every interaction as having a victim and an oppressor, and we get a pellet when we find the victims, we’re training ourselves not to see cause and effect,” he said. Wasn’t there, he went on, a “much more interesting .  .  . view of the world in which not everything can be reduced to victim and oppressor?”

This led to a full-throated defense of capitalism, a blast at high taxes and the redistribution of wealth, a denunciation of affirmative action, prolonged hymns to the greatness and wonder of the United States, and accusations of hypocrisy toward students and faculty who reviled business and capital even as they fed off the capital that the hard work and ingenuity of businessmen had made possible. The implicit conclusion was that the students in the audience should stop being lab rats and drop out at once, and the faculty should be ashamed of themselves for participating in a swindle—a “shuck,” as Mamet called it. Read the rest of this entry »

Austrian Economics and Literature Poetry Writing Contest

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Creative Writing, Economics, Humane Economy, Imagination, News and Current Events, Poetry, Writing on May 16, 2011 at 10:47 am

Allen Mendenhall

 

Austrian Economics and Literature Poetry Writing Contest

 

Austrian Economics and Literature is having a poetry writing contest.  The subject of the poems must be, of course, on economics. The poems will be judged on both the author’s demonstration of economic knowledge and on poetic form and skill.Here are the rules:

1. The subject of the poems must be on economics. Naturally, metaphorical treatments are acceptable.

2. Poems are to be submitted to Troy Camplin at zatavu1@aol.com

3. Co-bloggers cannot enter.

4. All judgments are final and cannot be contested.

5. Deadline for entries: June 30, 2011

6. The winning entry will be posted on Austrian Economics and Literature and the author of the winning entry will receive a signed copy of Troy Camplin’s book, Diaphysics.

Creative Destruction, by Troy Camplin

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Poetry on May 6, 2011 at 7:37 pm
The following poem by Troy Camplin first appeared at Austrian Economics and Literature.
 
 
 
Troy Camplin holds a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has taught English in middle school, high school, and college, and is currently taking care of his children at home. He is the author of Diaphysics, an interdisciplinary work on systems philosophy; other projects include the application of F.A. Hayek’s spontaneous order theory to ethics, the arts, and literature. His play, “Almost Ithacad,” won the PIA Award from the Cyberfest at Dallas Hub Theater.  

 

Creative Destruction

The forest fills with underbrush, dead-
Wood tangling even shrew legs, tiny bones
The evidence, if you could see them. Red,
Burned in the sun, the grass dries on the stones.A gale whips up the grass and dust, a cloud
Emerges, lightning strikes, the flames leap out,
The heat and flames create a dance—they’re proud
Of what they’re doing, live without a doubt.

And in their aftermath, the ground is black,
The brush is gone, the trees, alive, are charred—
Destruction’s all that anyone can track—
They’re sure destruction like this should be barred.

But with the rains, the black gives hints of green,
And with the newfound light upon the ground,
New life can spring up and at last be seen,
And even deer have room enough to bound.

The space between the trees is filled with pink
And scarlet, tall fringed orchids share the field
With cardinal flowers taller still. Both link
A newborn network, building a new yield.

And soon the trees are leafing out and shade
The space beneath—a new environment
Is born, where bluets bloom, ferns fill the glade,
Each using what the last sun-flowers lent.

And changes will continue, changes will
Explore the possibilities that grow,
And over time each space will find its fill
Of every difference we could ever know.

Austrian Economics and Literature

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Communication, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication on October 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I will be blogging at a new site created by Dr. Troy Camplin. The name of the site, which was inspired by Paul Cantor & Stephen Cox’s Literature & the Economics of Liberty, is Austrian Economics and Literature.

Legal Research & Writing, Audience, and Cross-disciplinarity

In Communication, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication on September 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Richard L. Larson interrogates the concept of the research paper. He submits that this term (“research paper”) lacks settled meaning because it “has no conceptual or substantive identity” (218). He calls the term “generic” and “cross-disciplinary” and claims that it “has virtually no value as an identification of a kind of substance in a paper” (218).

Despite its ever-shifting meaning, the term “research paper” persists both inside and outside English Departments, both among faculty and among students, at both university and secondary school levels. The problem for Larson is that by perpetuating the use of this slippery signifier, writing instructors mislead students about what constitutes research and thereby enable bad student research.

The term research paper “implicitly equates ‘research’ with looking up books in the library and taking down information from those books” (218), so students learning to write so-called research papers inadvertently narrow their research possibilities by relying on this narrow conception of research as library visitation, cursory note-taking, and so on, without recognition of alternate forms of research that may be more discipline-appropriate: interviews, field observations, etc. (218).

Furthermore, using the term “research paper” to describe a particular type of activity implies not only that other, suitable practices are not in fact “research,” but also that students may dispense with elements of logic and intertextuality and citation because instructors didn’t refer to those things as elements of research papers.

Research papers, properly understood, teach skills that apply to all papers. In a way, all papers are research papers if they draw from sustained observation or studied experience. Read the rest of this entry »

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