The Fall 2003 course site for English 241 -- American Literature to 1860.
Instructor: Joe Lockard / English Department / Arizona State University
For further information about the course instructor, see http://www.asu.edu/clas/english/who/lockard.htm.
English 241 - American Literature to 1860
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
A couple of you have indicated via e-mail that you will continue blogging on a private basis. That news is definitely worth a large smile...send any continuing blog addresses and I'll become a reader.
The entire class has now received grades for their blogs over the last month, paper grades and comments, and a grade on their database research for the Swisshelm autobiography. The database work went exceptionally well and most students received As for this team blog project.
Final electronic grades will be posted later today via the ASU online grade report system.
There will be two following e-mails regarding (a) course evaluation, and (b) permission for credited use of the annotation research for the Swisshelm electronic edition. Each will explain itself.
In the coming weeks, please remove your blogs. This should be done on general electronic housekeeping principles. The instructor's blog will remain through the coming semester, and then will be taken down. Under the Settings menu at Blogger.com there is a 'Delete your blog' function. Or you can take down your blog via Blogger's edit function. If you wish to keep a copy of your blog for reference -- or simply as a keepsake -- then go to 'Save As' under your File menu (assuming that you use a PC -- call me for Mac instructions) and save the blog to a file on your harddrive.
I'd like to finish this course by thanking you all for joining us in the blogosphere. This has been an interesting experiment for all of us, and it is the first such course at Arizona State University. Along the way I've certainly learned an enormous amount about how this sort of 'indie' online course works, and about the workload and technical demands of a blogged course. There are a couple choices that I re-decided in the middle of the course (blog grades during the last month of the course; team blogging set-up; not having people re-design their site appearance in mid-course) and the relevant decision-making criterion has been -- what's simplest? Generalizing from your responses, after the first techno-shock involved in blog set-up, this has become an easy and simple means of classwork. It's much more interesting and lively than conducting this all as threaded discussions on Blackboard.
One of the pleasantest features, especially for a teacher doing this as a self-designed first-time online course, has been discovering the group of personalities that have emerged here. I'll take away memories of hours-new William Mote, who we adore (did everybody see William's sweet Halloween pumpkin costume?); Paula's impressionistic haiku-esque blogs; realizing that Dalia was going to be blogging on Sunday evenings, whatever; Christina admiring her instructor's legs and similar outrages against proper behavior; reading blogs from Kira, Lauren, Katie, and Summer, and realizing once again just how many frighteningly motivated women inhabited this online class; Amanda's first photoblog and the pleasure of having pets in an electronic classroom (or in neutered Nemo's case, the pain!); realizing with slight despair that it was near-impossible to blog adequately on Emerson, but happily realizing that Thoreau and Melville worked much better in an electronic teaching environment; being felled by kidney stones and receiving lovely get-well e-mail; getting telephone calls for technical assistance early in the semester and then later in the semester phone calls just to say "Hi, Professor Lockard!"; writing blogs for hours and realizing just how little I was able to say with how much effort; watching the magic of a class arise where we did not know each other; watching some bloggers discover new American literature texts with delight; reading through linked discussions where folks agreed, and disagreed vehemently; and knowing that it was all visible all the time on the Internet.
Several articles I have written on cyberculture have been intensely critical of the manifest and manipulative tendency to substitute electronic communications for physical community, and have rejected the entire concept of 'virtual community.' This is an intellectual, social, and political position that I continue to maintain. However, there is no contradiction between this argument and recognition that humans find ways of extending their friendliness and sociality through all different means of communication. If a literature class is best built on friendly talk and intellectual dialogue, then building that class in blogspace is only another way to discuss stories. In many senses, a good literature class is what a civil society is about.
Thanks for creating this online class together. Please feel free to drop past my office at the English department and introduce your physical avatars. I've enjoyed this semester together, and will miss you. I wish you and your families the best of holidays.
Adding an Emersonian nature-walk photo of myself and my son David...
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Yesterday blogging finished and this will be the last instructor's blog on course materials.
I wish to briefly summarize where we stand at the end of this semester and argue for its contemporary meaning. In order to do that, I have first added a photo of the Mission San Xavier del Bac, established by Father Kino in 1777. It stands several miles west of Tucson and if you have not visited, it's a highly worthwhile weekend trip.
The reason for blogging this image is that Arizonans too often see themselves as separated and distant from the complex contact history and literature that created so much of 'the East.' An early American literature course almost seems one short stop away from a foreign literature course. However, this is far from the reality, which is that in Arizona we are an inseparable part of that history. The Mission San Xavier del Bac was repeated in many times in many forms throughout the American continents, and the cultural contacts and conflicts between native America, Europeans, and Africans have produced the rich and difficult historical literature that this course has addressed.
I trust that the insights gained have been worth the reading time.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
I have been reviewing the compilations of research queries and database searches concerning the obscurer points of Jane Grey Swisshelm's Half a Century.
There are two prevailing observations to be made here. First, very few felt limited by the selections of library electronic resources. A considerable variety of resources have been employed in information searches. Second, the choice of reference questions indicates the extraordinary variety of textual points in this nineteenth-century autobiography that are no longer 'common knowledge.' What you have collectively identified as textual points where you might not understand the historical or social reference represent an access barrier to readers. To break down those barriers to easy comprehension is one of the leading difficulties in 'entering' nineteenth-century literature today.
And now you have a great stock of knowledge for Trivial Pursuit, too...
Monday, December 08, 2003
Paula observes of Billy Budd: "Billy left the ship called "Rights of Man". That means, simply, that upon leaving the ship, he left his rights behind as well. Billy was impressed on the ship, "Indomitable", which simply means, unyielding." The former ship's name, of course, immediately invokes Tom Paine and his work of the same name, whereas the "Bellipotent" (not "Indomitable") refers to the military might of British crown, the power of royal and imperial governance. To depart from one to the other, in the middle of the Atlantic, is to shift from democratic to autocratic rule. Billy Budd has been pressed into naval service, which is to say that he has been enslaved and lost free will. The act of striking and killing Claggart, a superior officer, is no less than another form of slave revolt, one that cannot be countenanced. Thus Melville has written of two revolts, one black ('Benito Cereno') and one white ('Billy Budd'), and each ends in a sentence of death for those engaging in revolt. This plot simplification, however, while useful at one interpretive level, is in the end unacceptably reductionist because Melville packs each novella with so many philosophical and human conundra.
Heather D. wonders about the ending, which bothers her. There is unquestionably a sympathetic identification with Billy Budd, for Melville spends the entirety of the story building that sympathy. And yet, by comparison, one wonders why a similar fate for Babo in 'Benito Cereno' has not been preceded by a build-up of narrative sympathy? It seems as if Melville too is a captive of his age, even as he critiques it ruthlessly.
In terms of Heath D.'s discussion of the religious significance embedded in Billy Budd, the sacrificial figure who invites Christographic comparison, this has been one of the standard thematic discussions of the novella for the generations that have produced term papers on this text since it began to appear in American literature teaching anthologies beginning in the 1920s. It was substantially 'safer' interpretive territory in classrooms than the homosexual theme, although to his credit, I remember my ninth-grade English teacher, Mr. Miller, raising that discussion when I first encountered this story in 1969.
Katie compares the narrative structure of Billy Budd quite interestingly to a Quentin Tarentino film. It's quite true that Melville relies on a foreshortening, a packing-in of the narrative structure. He achieves great depth within a relatively short novella using this technique.
And Katie will miss blogging....! Summer, on the other hand, sounds like the semester has exhausted her!
Sunday, December 07, 2003
It's Sunday afternoon and you guys look like you are all blogged out for the semester. Only two blogs up on Melville's Billy Budd. If it will make you feel better, let's extend the deadline until the last official day of classes and coursework -- Tuesday, December 9. Then we are really finished. Yey....
In her response to Billy Budd and the Swartz essay, Christina writes: "The best answer continues to lie in laws that reflect a 'higher order of appeal' that is changeless and grounded in natural law, instead of 'shifting webs of contingency.'" One must reflect on the rather large number of laws and legal systems that have based themselves on claims of timelessness and divine inspiration, and that have passed into historical obscurity or are repugnant to contemporary eyes. Execution of women by stoning for adultry seems repugnant practice to most of us, and this practice bases itself on natural law claims. Are we to read the execution of Billy Budd under the positive law system of the British admiralty as rationalization for the superiority of natural law? Any thoughts on this debate?
I confess, I disobeyed the sex-segregation injunction and read about Christina's perm... Jon and I are copying down notes for our own perms....
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
As folks read Billy Budd, you may wish to return to the Swartz essay on positive and natural law. Billy Budd -- especially in Captain Vere's speech on the law -- offers a profound social argument on these conflicting ethical systems and their respective care for human life.
Summer writes of 'Benito Cereno,': "In this story, the established significance of racial difference annuls the obvious similarities of character and action between the Spaniards and the slaves. In their socially-approved and religiously-sanctioned moral miasma, the Spaniards fail to recognize the brutality with which they are treated by the rebel slaves as arrestingly similar to the brutality with which they themselves initially exercised authority over the slaves."
Did anyone notice the representation of the Spanish in this story? They seem not entirely 'white' in the sense of a Yankee ship-captain, and Don Benito appears stereotypically less than capable. Spanish racial oppression against blacks seems embedded in a cruelty that receives its return, whereas when the Americans board the San Dominick and suppress the slave revolt it's all business, no hard feelings.
Jon writes: "It is his tone, I feel, that makes Melville so brilliant. He speaks directly to the reader. That is a tough thing to accomplish. Also, he possesses a vast knowledge of a great many things. And unlike others of his time he does not blatantly flash this knowledge around just for the purpose of showing how smart he is. He uses his words in a way that enhance his tale."
Several of you commented on the 'difficulty' of Melville's prose. Yet, as Paula also commented, that is what makes Melville such a rewarding read. There is a brilliance and shine to his prose; each word is there for its purpose. It is the intellectual abstraction of Emerson combined with the careful plotting of Hawthorne, who Melville chose as his model. However, that same crafted effort to re-create sea stories into profound discussions lost Melville most of his original readership that had been charmed by the romantic South Seas setting of Typee but were dismissive and -- among remaining readers -- mystified by the abstruseness of his last 'inland sea novel,' The Confidence Man (1857), set on the Mississippi River.
The class blogs on Swisshelm research are coming along quite nicely.
Anjie's photos from Holloween are gorgeous! That baby pumpkin costume is so sweet....
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Regarding 'Benito Cereno,' Christina writes: "JL, could you walk us through this story please? What was the main theme, and what, if any, were the minor themes?
p.s. Jon and I both liked Moby Dick better! I didn't read it for a class though, so I didn't have to concern myself with "deeper meanings." For me it was just a great whale tale!"
This is the first recorded instance of students liking Moby Dick more than 'Benito Cereno.' There have been occasions in the past when I have taught Moby Dick as the first text in a course. In the first class I held up the thickest copy I could find and talked lovingly of the book. And on both occasions there were students who -- quite literally -- got up and quit the class as I spoke. Properly applied, Moby Dick clears out that non-performing back row of students. Now you all know a trade secret of American literature teachers and why that whale of a novel holds such an estimable place in the canon!
The plot action of 'Benito Cereno' is rather simple. An American ship captain, Delano, happens upon a drifting Spanish ship, the San Dominick (to what does this refer?). Imagining himself engaged in providing friendly assistance, he spends a great deal of time on the Spanish ship, entirely uncomprehending of the real situation. A reader readily understands that matters are radically 'wrong' aboard this ship, and perhaps the most confounding element of the story lies in Delano's obtuseness, innocence, or whatever interferes so hugely with his perceptions. Just as Delano cannot understand that he is standing in the midst of a slave revolt, so too he cannot understand the relationship between Don Benito and Babo. As Delano leaves the San Dominick, all seemingly put aright, Don Benito dives for safety and all is suddenly clear. Delano suppresses the revolt violently, the slave ship is escorted to port, Babo is tried and beheaded, and Don Benito dies shortly thereafter apparently from sheer fright of black slaves in revolt.
One way to discuss this story might, for example, lie in the function of racist stereotypes that prevent Delano from recognizing the slave revolt, indeed that endanger his life through this failure. One might also discuss the story in historical terms, for there were similar slave revolts aboard ships (noting that the real Captain Delano suppressed one aboard the Spanish ship Tryal, or noting the famous Amistad revolt of 1839), and that involved his family. However, the inescapable discussion lies in this story as a paradigm of civil warning. Melville was quite far-sighted and his sea voyages had made him comfortable with a range of world cultures; he had bitter words for European imperialism in the Pacific, its racialism, and he appreciated native cultures. Melville was intensely aware of the impending national conflict in the United States over race slavery and 'Benito Cereno' can be read as a parable of that national incomprehension. Delano, in his thick-headedness, is the antebellum American citizen who, faced with war, cannot recognize it.
It is to be noted here that Melville writes for a white readership and that essentially controls his narrative closure. How might this story be re-imagined if the slaves were to succeed in their revolt and gain their freedom? Such a story was actually written by Frederick Douglass, based on another actual revolt, although it is a fairly wooden story without Melville's craft (and the only fiction Douglass ever published). In this story, told via a couple observer-narrators, a Babo-like slave-hero figure named Madison Washington leads that shipboard revolt to freedom and safety. So in reading 'Benito Cereno,' it is useful to remain aware of readership expectations: this is a black slave revolt that cannot succeed against white power.
To understand such differently racialized potentials within slave revolt stories, I like to contrast 'Benito Cereno' with another fiction from this sub-genre and compare Babo to the representation of Spartacus, a la Kirk Douglass. For a grim topic, it's a certain kind of perverse fun...
Paula has come up with an interesting inquiry derived from this passage of Swisshelm's Half a Century (p. 145):
"The period of the Visiter was one of great mental activity -- a period of hobbies --and it, having assumed the reform roll, was expected to assume all the reforms. Turkish trowsers, Fourierism, Spiritualism, Vegetarianism, Phonetics, Pneumonics, the Eight Hour Law, Criminal Caudling, Magdalenism, and other devices for teaching pyramids to stand on their apex were pressed upon the Visiter, and it was held by the disciples of each as 'false to all its professions,' when declining to devote itself to its advocacy."
In this list of social reforms (e.g. Turkish trowsers refer to bloomers, dress reform and suffragism; Fourierism refers to a form of socialism, as in Hawthorne's Brook Farm), what precisely is "criminal caudling"? Some hint may be had by the following citation of Magdalenism, which refers to prostitution and Mary Magdalene.
The Oxford English Dictionary (available online via the ASU library's electronic resources), provides the following for 'caudle' as a verb:
1. trans. To administer a caudle to.
1607 SHAKES. Timon IV. iii. 226 Will the cold brooke Candied with Ice, cawdle thy Morning taste. 1672 DAVENANT Love & Hon. (1673) 256 Cawdled like a Haberdashers Wife That lies in of her first Child. 1832 Blackw. Mag. XXXII. 458 [They] have caudled and beflannelled themselves.
2. To mix, as in a caudle.
1790 H. BOYD in Poet. Register (1808) 133 Blessings unsophisticate and pure; Not caudled for our taste with dregs terrene. 1845 CARLYLE Cromwell (1871) V. 44 His Highness has inextricably caudled the two together.
3. To talk over, lecture (a husband). [A nonce-use from 'Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures'.]
1845 Tait's Mag. XII. 482 The mother is easily convinced..she must Caudle her husband into the same conviction.
Caudle as a noun is a thin wine-based warm gruel fed to the ill. None of these definitions would appear to fit 'criminal' activity.
It would require a quite specialized slang dictionary, none of which is available online, but "criminal caudling" refers to then-criminalized homosexuality. It derives from 'cauda' (Latin for 'tail') and less-used English today retains 'caudal' as an adjectival reference to tail.
Melville's first novel, Typee, caused some scandal and was issued in an expurgated edition for its references to homosexuality, for which he employed such nautical slang as 'rounding the Horn,' and no public scandal at all for its depiction of a heterosexual orgy on deck between Marquesan women and American sailors. In the current Billy Budd -- the 'handsome sailor' -- reading, the major line of recent criticism has precisely concerned questions of sexual orientation and human rights. As you read through Billy Budd, forewarning of this narrative element should enable you to identify this 'closeted' theme. For what is Billy Budd really being hung?
Monday, December 01, 2003
I'm back from a lovely Thanksgiving vacation with my visiting 18 year-old son, just in from western Ireland. His intelligence, gentle kindness, impish humor, and especially his handsomeness represent an inexplicable generational improvement. We celebrated our immediate post-Thanksgiving with a walkabout in southern Utah, which was sunny and chilly -- great walking weather...
Our reading this week will be Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor (HA 2656 - 2714). It's as grand a finish to this course as imaginable. Melville's vision in Billy Budd in many ways summarizes the discussions of this course to date, and as we'll discuss, goes even further. There is a briefly indicative slideshow to which I shall refer further.
I've been reading blogs to catch up on your holidays and your Melvilles. More shortly.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
We're returning to individual blogging this week. The team research compilations on Swisshelm's Half a Centurywill not be due until the last day of classes, December 9, although the compilers should have a draft ready for online review by Friday, December 5. Setting the due date back gives all late-arrivers a chance to complete this assignment without penalty.
However, the class as a whole is progressing forward into the first 'Melville and the Hydrachy' section. The reading this week will be Herman Melville's 'Benito Cereno' (HA 2598 - 2655), with the usual blogging.
You will find an initial slide presentation on Melville. This presentation reviews Melville as viewed by popular culture; outlines Melville's writing career, and especially in influence of his first novel Typee; the political reception given Melville; parallels of Benito Cereno with Amasa Delano's Narrative; and some initial critical suggestions concerning the San Dominick as a commons.
In reading Benito Cereno, it is crucial to realize that Melville had very definite ideas concerning the uncivilized behavior of Europeans and Americans in foreign lands, and that his fiction reflected that opinion.
I'll be online next on Monday, December 1. A happy Thanksgiving to all!
Friday, November 21, 2003
Er, Christina, students are not allowed to compliment the instructor's legs! Decorum, please...ahem....
If this class is a horrendous reading load, then there is terrible news: the reading load is almost precisely half of the in-class version of English 241. The reason is that no reading assignments should be made for which students are not responsible, or potential responsible (e.g. via unannounced quiz). Since blogging and one paper are the means of reading evaluation in this course, then the amount of reading must be reduced to that which is reasonable for blogged commentary. Even this higher load was not near the approximately 400 pages per week load that I have often assigned in the past for undergraduate courses. Graduate literature courses run at about 800-1000 pages per week.
One of the best arguments for online education is to keep faculty like me at arm's length...
A lovely weekend to all!
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Heather B. asks "The civil war did free the slaves but was that the cause of the war? Correct me if I�m wrong Prof L but when I studied the civil war in history, economic motives were at the core of the dispute." This has been a heavily-debated question since the Civil War began. It would be entirely correct to observe that there were several leading causes to the Civil War -- competing nationalisms, constitutional conflict, economic divergence, cultural/social differences, and religion. Richard Carwardine wrote an excellent book several years ago, Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America, contending that the Civil War was an American religious war. John Ashworth takes a more Marxist approach in Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic, arguing that this was a conflict of economic systems, and Ashworth is an equally excellent and persuasive scholar. My view is that both are correct, and very much like the parable, are each describing different parts of the elephant. If one looks for causation, though, the only consistent element between such histories is the centrality of race slavery and the political effects & antagonisms that it generated. There has been a major school of Civil War historiography -- Ulrich Phillips and his followers, holding sway from roughly the 1920s to the late 1960s -- that attempted to 'write out' race slavery from discussions of cause in the war. Also known as the 'Southern nationalist' school, these historians exercised major influence in textbook coverage of the war, such that they promoted economic explanations and minimized the role of slavery in contributing to the war. The last thirty years have witnessed significant corrective re-writing on this issue.
As a heavy reader of mid-nineteenth-century newspapers, I assure you that as war approached the Northern newspapers (few Southern ones on my reading list) were discussing slavery and the Union. They were not discussing the economic advantages and disadvantages of industrial versus plantation systems. That discussion was certainly in the background, as when the New York Times ran a series of articles in 1859-60 by Frederick Law Olmstead, which eventually became his The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveler's Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States. While he and other writers of the period, such as Hinton Helper, also discussed the economics of slavery and the slave states, they were not determinative forces in antebellum public discussion.
Christina has been posting her research responses. She did it the old-fashioned way via the Encyclopedia Americana, the 1957 edition. The first edition of Americana was published in 1836, with Fritz Lieber as its editor and author of many of the essays. Lieber was a recent German immigrant writing in a foreign language, which made his accomplishment all the more impressive. He was a political liberal and wrote a harsh anti-slavery article under the 'Slavery' entry, which endangered his Southern market. Who says authoritative information isn't biased, and often properly so?
The assignment has been constructed to ensure that any class member can complete it online, but if you wish to use this type of encyclopedic resource, do so.
Comments on the text of Half a Century are welcome, although not required.
A student from this class requested that I write something towards "[my] point of view on the effectiveness of blogging versus other methods of online learning or versus the learning that takes place in a traditional classroom (or both, depending on where your experience lies)." Actually, I've been having to think a good deal about this question and the current interim period while folks are doing their research work is an appropriate point to write some initial thoughts.
This period has been an experiment for all of us. It is quite unlike the prevailing forms of online education at this university, and it is being watched within the English department and elsewhere. My own experience lies in traditional classrooms; this is the first online course that I have taught. I have been involved in webwork and Internet cultural studies of various sorts since the early 1990s, which is how I came to have a joint appointment in American literature and information technology. This background does not imply uncritical acceptance of electronic pedagogies as unmitigated benefit. Quite frankly, I find the quality and level of online courses to be unacceptably deficient for the most part, whatever advantages they may offer for certain categories of students. The deficiencies appear to be such that accreditation issues may arise for various institutions that rely on canned Internet courses to provide revenue streams at low cost. The questions surrounding the quality of online education appear to derive as much from educational and systemic issues as much or more than its use for turning defined bodies of knowledge into neatly-packaged online commodities. Some topics simply demand a direct social experience of education for effective discussion, and online education cannot teach anything, anytime, anywhere, as its proponents claim. Other topics and disciplines can indeed benefit from online course offerings. This past summer I watched portions of an excellent ASU College of Law online course in commercial torts, one that was excellently designed with streaming video and quite helpful features. Any single-minded position in regards online/in-class education should be regarded with suspicion, since the greatest social benefit comes from keeping a 'full toolbox' of educational tools and technophobia is definitely counter-productive.
Blogging is my teaching conscience at work. Literature is about talk, writing, and more talk. The dialogic subject is the irremovable center of literature, literary studies, and literature teaching. While a teacher can communicate knowledge about the work and its historical context, real learning arrives with individual and group engagement with that work. Teachers who avoid this engagement through online course design that removes their individual persona, their reaction to the ebb and flow of discussion, eliminate themselves from that work of learning dialogue. They become information managers rather than engaged teachers. Blogging is a performative engagement, one where sometimes the teacher speaks/writes, sometimes responds to questions, sometimes goes head-to-head with a student, sometimes goes quiet and reads, and sometimes just has fun.
In a blogged course the instructor's blog is stage center, whatever happens. There are days in which I write 2,000 words and more, which is a substantial effort. For this reason I believe that blogging is rather limited as an instructional format; it demands considerable dedication to writing and is a labor-intensive form of teaching. The current social -- or more specifically, economic -- forces moving the integration of education and technology are looking towards IT to reduce labor costs by increasing the efficiency of educational product delivery to a greater number of students ('scaleability'). That conversation can happen effectively with a class of twenty students; it cannot happen with a class of 40 or more students. The instructor's blog will shrink to an increasingly isolated and spotlighted stage center as the number of students rises. Information technology is not a solution of itself to the human relations that create and define education.
Another phenomenon is visible in blogged coursework, one that is not immediately apparent to those who do not look beyond the technology or reflect on its sociology. Blogging is based upon and promotes middle-class values. How so, you wonder? Beyond having an income adequate to pay for tuition, a home computer, and connectivity? The premise of this course is that of their own motivation students will learn the initial technicalities of blogging, turn up at the necessary websites, read their assigned course materials, and write blogs several times a week in order to achieve a good grade. In short, the ideal participant in this course is a well-disciplined student who has absorbed the values of self-governance, regularity, daily work performance, good behavior, combined with technological proficiency, that keep middle class folks living in the middle class. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these values; indeed, those of us who like good service in a service economy value these qualities. However, US society exhibits a strong propensity for normalizing these values and inflicting heavy economic and social penalties upon those who have not absorbed or who refuse to embrace such values. If social discipline is not absorbed, it can be imposed. Classrooms have been one historic location for the inculcation of such social discipline, and as such have also been the site of ideological contest over the nature of values taught.
One of the features of online classes has been their normalization of social performance values within a nominally open educational format. This format is neither as open nor as accessible as it appears, and performance values are no mean obstacle to accessability. There should be no surprise in discovering that middle class students from the United States obtain most from online education because it is attuned to these class values, one where there is a strong demand for financial return on investment in education. And yet both US society and the world-at-large are filled with people who do not share the values of the US middle classes, and who have an equal demand for, need for, and right to education. Discursive online education formats like blogging have a definite potential for accommodating such social diversity, but emphatically discursive course models such as this one appear to have a marginal future in the currently-developing constellation of mainstream online education. I do not mean to be pessimistic inasmuch as a demand for dialogue has shaped education since at least the Greeks, and the knowledge-commodifiers and their CoursePacks will face educational markets (previously known as students) who will want real teachers and not pop-up icons.
During these past couple months I have been involved in a book project about which I have increasingly ambiguous feelings, one with the tentative title Brave New Classrooms: Educational Democracy and the Internet. Although I realize that one reason for my ambiguity lies in that this project takes away from time I would prefer to spend on nineteenth-century studies and another book on witnesses of slavery, I increasingly realize too that I question and doubt the possibilities of that sub-title. As I read John Dewey's Education and Democracy (1916), one of the classic addresses to the question in US literature, it became increasingly apparent how distant his concerns lay from the constructivist models that prevail in discussions of online education, where learning choices are another form of consumer choice, and where participatory education as a form of citizenship is an alien concept. In online courses, "student-centered learning" becomes code language for "pay your tuition and do it yourself," an abandonment of instructional responsibility that Dewey would never have countenanced. In their phrases and argument, relatively few of the essays submitted for this edited volume even recognize such issues and questions associated with democratic education, and that is dismaying of itself. How does online education ignore, forget, or refuse a century's worth of discussion -- including teachers like Dewey, Korczak, and Freire -- and render the riches of the humanities into such a wasteland? There are many answers to that question, I fear.
Yesterday I noted Charles Johnson's admiration for and invocation of Ralph Waldo Emerson. A check-in with CNN this morning provides a report on the activities of other Emerson and Thoreau readers, clearly engaged in some subversive English studies.
I'm waiting to hear Britney Spears and Madonna tell how New England Transcendentalism inspired them!
-- JL, starting the day with a broad smile
Female-student kiss spurs debate at school
Thursday, November 20, 2003 Posted: 12:12 PM EST (1712 GMT)
Stephanie Haaser was suspended for
kissing another girl in her school's cafeteria.
CLARKSVILLE, Maryland (AP) -- Inspired by a high school assignment, Stephanie Haaser leaped onto a cafeteria table, shouted "End homophobia now!" and kissed classmate Katherine Pecore.
Haaser said she was making a statement on behalf of gay and lesbian students because she was bothered by the verbal and physical harassment they face.
Their principal said he respected what the heterosexual students were trying to do, but they needed to learn more appropriate ways to make a point. Haaser and Pecore were suspended for two days.
"It's highly inappropriate to stand on a table in the cafeteria and make out, whether the kiss was heterosexual or homosexual," said River Hill High School principal Scott Pfeifer. "I don't think there's a school in the country where parents would consider that appropriate behavior."
Haaser, a junior, said she chose to make the statement as part of an English class assignment, which required that she engage in a nonconformist act in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
This afternoon I sat in a colleague's class listening to Charles Johnson, one of the leading African American writers and winner of the National Book Award for his 1990 novel Middle Passage, McArthur Foundation 'genius award' winner, and all sorts of honors. This part I knew. What I did not know was that Johnson did his doctoral work in philosophy and that he admires the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He spoke about doing a new introduction to update an edition of Emerson's essays, mentioning that 'The Over-Soul' interested him particularly as a Buddhist. But when I listened to Johnson speak, with palpable joy in his voice, about reading through Emerson's journals, I realized that here was one of the true faithful. Not only does Johnson enjoy Emerson's daily journals, he has been keeping his own journal since age 12, so it was contemporary like meeting historical like.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
The Swisshelm autobiography into which we are settling now is a work that is quite interesting, but that has received negligible critical attention. I first encountered the text this past summer while reading Lucy Colman's Remniscences, another autobiography of an abolitionist and women's suffrage leader. Colman was quite admiring of Swisshelm and it seemed a good idea to read her writing as well. Fortunately, the Dartmouth College library was purchasing stock throughout the nineteenth century and happened to have a -- very battered -- copy available.
As happens often with autobiographical literature from this period, my reactions are mixed. The first two-thirds of the book are substantially more interesting than the latter third, for Swisshelm enters into lengthy recitations of her service as a Civil War nurse. To hear her tell the story, she reorganized the entire Sanitation Department and physicians quailed at her criticism. There is excessive self-inflation and, to my taste, Swisshelm does not emerge as an overly likeable figure at various points in the text. However, the generation of activist women that arose during the 1840s and 1850s worked very hard to become a participatory social force in the Civil War effort. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, was hard at work in 1862 organizing the Liberty League to petition in behalf of the Emancipation Proclamation's promulgation, and she obtained the support of half a million women. Tens of thousands of women supported both Union and Confederate forces as nurses and seamstresses. Swisshelm was in the midst of these forces and tried to locate herself centrally with them. This is a very male military world and culture, and women who want to participate in this new world are finding narrative means to do so.
Swisshelm strikes me as a person who felt keenly a lack of control over her own life, and as someone who made it her work to remedy that absence through energetic journalism. She was a rarity for her day -- a divorced woman -- and felt herself a continual outsider. Journalism was her remedy for that condition, and she could not be other than a campaigning journalist. There is a great deal of rough-and-ready social attitude in her writing, as if to say to other women 'don't complain about your status, do something about it.'
As folks identify research questions and post them on their blogs, we'll chat more about this text. Opinionated reaction always welcome....
Monday, November 17, 2003
The Team Blog Assignment is now online at the Blackboard course site under 'Assignments.' Team e-mails will go out tomorrow. If there are questions about the assignment, please contact me.
Final team research reports are due on December 9. For this week, read the Swisshelm text and organize your online research.
There are a couple alterations from the syllabus. First, since everyone is now comfortable with individual blogs, we are not going to change to group blogs. There is insufficient reason to change what works. Second, the grading will not be collective for each team; it will be individual within the team, based on identifiable contributions to the team research. Third, we have more than enough work dealing with two hundred pages of Swisshelm, so the Henson text was left out. Next class...
This assignment is a treasure hunt through nineteenth-century American social history, one that should be memorable and enjoyable.
If there are any questions about how to search or what databases might be appropriate for a specific research question, send me e-mail and I'll see how I can help.
Anjie writes: "I do know, through my historical studies, that Lincoln himself was not the great abolitionist he was reported to be. Lincoln would have done anything to preserve the union, whether it meant freeing the slaves or not. That was not his one goal, contrary to what one might think..." Anjie is correct, but this should be qualified by extending the biographical time frame. Abraham Lincoln's racial attitudes might be described as fairly typical of southern Illinois of his early adulthood, which is to say that if slavery was viewed with some disapproval, it was not sufficient cause for which to fight a war. Blacks were regarded as inferior, having no claim on equal citizenship, even if slavery was offensive. During the 1850s, abolitionists such as Garrison and Douglass had little regard for Lincoln, whom they viewed as a western populist, and had no enthusiasm for his presidential candidacy. For his part, Lincoln had not the least empathy towards abolitionists; for him, the question lay in the nation, not in the institution of slavery per se. Lincoln made a sufficient number of bigoted statements about blacks during this decade that any contemporary writer with an animosity to work out -- writers who apparently have no flaws themselves and cannot tolerate human inadequacies -- can reach into the public record and, quite factually, paint Lincoln as a racist without much effort. And they miss the point entirely. What I admire in Lincoln lies in his self-transformation from this insular frontier racialism into a public and national conscience who genuinely embraced equality as an ideal. Tracing this transformation through his Civil War rhetoric and writing is stirring reading, and in many senses Lincoln initiated and embodied that endlessly-troubled project of national transformation over issues of racial equality. Given that opposition to racism constitutes a political demand for individual and social change to foster group equality, there seem few if any major figures in US history who have so thoroughly embodied that change as Abraham Lincoln.
And that's why there is a little white statuette of Abraham Lincoln sitting on my office desk.
Running on through the blogs, in response to the natural vs. positive law query, Christina writes "...I would say that Douglass's arguments for abolition are based on natural law. This was entirely appropriate for the Fourth of July, as was his use of the Declaration of Independence as a springboard for his oration on the hypocrisy of slavery since the Declaration invokes natural law as its basis for freedom. The South invoked legal positivism in its defense of slaveholding."
Precisely, although one might add that pro-slavery apologists included claims based on putative laws of racial nature.
Tracy comments further: "I think it is safe to say that Garrison and Douglass would have opposed slavery using natural law in their support and that pro-slavery supporters would have used positive law. However, the difficulty in using natural law is that if natural law is just, then how could something like slavery ever happen in the first place?"
This question leads towards a very long discussion and debate, one that can't be addressed here without taking the rest of the day for a full response. Which means that it's a good question.... Natural law, as its name suggests, refers to theories of law and polity that seek to enact and codify law based on assertions about an intrinsic human nature, natural morality, or fundamental principles of nature. Beyond this generalization, there are many theories of natural law, including those that go back to the Epicurean injunction "Follow nature" and further. Most base themselves on the elaboration of universal and immutable laws of nature that human law should incorporate and imitate, and most also invoke divine sanction for their views of law. The natural law school was once accounted all but dead in contemporary political philosophy, limited to fringe movements such as the Natural Law Party. However, during the past 30-40 years conservative philosophers such as Friedrich Hayek and Ronald Dworkin have revived the tradition, and at least one Supreme Court justice -- Antonin Scalia -- accounts himself an adherent to natural law.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
I hope that we'll see some use of the Swartz essay on positive and natural law in responding to this week's readings. Would Garrison and Douglass base their opposition to slavery, for example, on natural law or positive (human-made) law? What implications does this philosophical choice have for their politics? How does Douglass struggle with this conundrum in "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"
Christina, several comments. William Lloyd Garrison was a white abolitionist, not black. His political philosophy was called 'immediatism' -- that is, a demand for immediate emancipation of slaves -- and he was a pacificist. With the advent of the Civil War he conceded on pacificism and ultimately was given the honor of raising the flag over Fort Sumter when it was re-captured by Union forces. He was allied for some years in the 1840s with Frederick Douglass, until Douglass formed his own antislavery newspaper in Rochester, New York. As for "Booker T. DuBois," this might refer either to Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. DuBois. Washington did not have a strategy of civil rights litigation; DuBois was long-time editor of the NAACP organ, The Crisis, which did have such a strategy, via its legal office. However, (Marxist professor) DuBois and the NAACP parted company in 1934, well before the first of its civil rights cases that led towards Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the legal careers of Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, and the outstanding contribution of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to US constitutional law. The comparisons of slavery with socialism, and the antebellum pro-slavery ideologist George Fitzhugh with "10,000 Marxist professors in the United States," seem -- put moderately -- questionable.
Several features of Fitzhugh's exerpted writing are striking in rather different ways. First, note the emphasis on justification of slavery and the repeated use of the verb 'justify.' This is a rhetorical defense of a pro-slavery political position under great intellectual pressure, one that has been created by over two generations of strong intellectual attack in the United States. Second, note the presence of distinctly identifiable Southern nationalism, one that asserts a separate culture based on the putative advantages of the 'peculiar institution.' There is an enormous pride expressed here in Southern intellectual culture that Fitzhugh attempts to compare to the Northern states and to Europe. Third, and despite the preceding, Fitzhugh's assertions constitute profound provincialism in regards Europe, where he claims quite nonsensically that Pope Pius IX is a "radical reformer" and Louis Napolean and the Bourbon are socialists, all evidence of a deep disconnection from social reality. During a period of strong social repression in Europe following the 1848 revolutions, Fitzhugh finds a world "ripe, at any moment, for revolution" (HA 1914) and one where the South is "the only conservative section of christendom." Fourth, the threat to this Southern civilizational stability and propserity, Fitzhugh claims, lies in antislavery as a movement that creates social unrest where there need be none: "All of its discontent, and its political, moral, and religious heresies have grown out of abolitionism. Men who begin by assailing negro slavery find that all government begets slavery in some form, and hence all abolitionists are socialists, who propose to destroy all the institutions of society." (ibid) As opposed to such social falsehoods, Fitzhugh argues, slavery must be defended as inevitably deriving from a natural order that the South faithfully preserves. In this concluding aspect of his argumentative line, Fitzhugh is 'modern' in that he employs social far more than biblical argument, which was the territory of most pro- and anti-slavery disputation. As Paula phrases it quite interestingly, Fitzhugh 'gift-wraps slavery.'
While Fitzhugh's rationalizations of slavery might be repulsive for a contemporary reader, it is crucial to read some selections from this type of text in order to understand what Douglass, Garrison and other abolitionists faced. Often folks are quite surprised to discover that there was a very large pro-slavery literature, one that was as large and diversified as anti-slavery literature, including novels, poetry, essay collections, and so on.
Friday, November 14, 2003
Summer has a very interesting blog on her reactions to George Fitzhugh's 'Southern Thought.' My query: if we read the writings of George Fitzhugh with contempt for their racialism, what contemporary writings are going to be similarly regarded 150 years from now -- assuming that humanity survives its own mistakes?
Listening to the Kronos Nuevo album, an upbeat way to finish Friday afternoon. This weekend Napoleanic-era naval bloodshed is available onscreen in Master and Commander, which seems like a update of a Rafael Sabatini bodice-ripper, skip the bodices. We shall see how Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey fares on this outing...
Heather D. brings up the Walker quote: "It is positively a fact that they were not quite so audacious as to go and take vessel loads of men, women and children, and in cold blood and through devilishness, throw them into the sea." My reading of the line is that 'they' refers to Africans and Asians who did not practice slavery with such calculated brutality. Thus, his argument runs, Europeans are far more heathen-ish than those they call heathens. It would be more factual to state that all societies that have employed chattel slavery have terrible histories of mass murder and social cruelty. Equally, it would be factual to state that European slave systems have been far more deadly, efficient in labor commodification, and global than other slave systems.
Walker's use of the term 'heathen' for European slavers, whatever its origins in justifiable outrage, seems to me as problematic as the European use of the term for non-Europeans and non-Christians. By ascribing satanic possession to oppressive social forces -- note Walker's repeated use of 'devils' and 'devilishness' (HA 1786) -- we reduce social descriptions to demonization. While in some ways Walker is a far more thoroughgoing intellectual product of the Enlightenment than Jefferson, given that he demands social equality that Jefferson refuses, he too has flaws such as these. Given the genocidal scale of provocation, though, it seems difficult to fault Walker for exhausting available vocabulary.
Paula writes: "I noticed that David Walker's Appeal makes it clear that black people do not consider themselves Americans at this time and why would they want to be?" Since Walker writes his own opinion, it would seem preferable not to accept his representation for the entire body of African American opinion. However, Walker certainly does instantiate an early figure in the tradition of what later emerged as black nationalism. He is passionately angry, entirely mistrustful of any positive force in white society, and concerned to foster a sense of oppositional community among blacks in the US. Remember that this appealed is addressed "to the Colored Citizens of the World," and not to the white public. For Walker, it is white society that is barbaric in its inhumanity and racism. He enjoins blacks to buy copies of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia to give to their children to read, in order that they recognize the racial constellations of oppression and how argue against them (HA 1784-1785). Walker is concerned to rouse the energies of the black community in their own behalf and towards self-development, since there will be no one else to do it for them.
Considering the millions in slavery, why should any contemporary reader be surprised that angry black voices such as Walker existed? It was to be Douglass, in all his fervor and militant antislavery, who ultimately was to become far more of a bridge figure between blacks and whites in antebellum America.
Christina asks: "I am curious about the words Walker attributes to Thomas Jefferson. The passages he alludes to seem to have been written by Georges Louis Leclerc about the American Indians. They are paraphrased by Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia and then Jefferson actually disagrees with Leclerc's perceptions of Indians' physical and mental inferiorities. "Before we condemn the Indians of this continent as wanting genius, we must consider that letters have not yet been introduced among them." (HA 978). Later in that same document, Jefferson wrote this about American slavery: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: . . . The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest" (991). It seems that Walker took his argument about the wrath of a just God directly from Jefferson, incorrectly attributed other statements to Jefferson and also misapplied those statements to blacks. JL, did I misread T.J.'s Notes?"
Good reading, but I'll have to disagree and clarify. Walker's invocation of divine wrath over slavery bears no special obligation to Jefferson. Rather, Walker's rhetoric bears far closer relation and derives inspiration from the antislavery rhetoric of the growing African American church tradition. Beginning with independent congregations in the late 1780s, the first being established by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, African Americans created separate church movements for themselves. Richard Allen did so when blacks were quite literally dragged off their knees when they knelt to pray in Methodist churches in Philadelphia, on grounds that they were not fit to offer common prayer even in segregated galleries and must only watch whites in church prayer. This led to the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal church in 1816, and the growth of churches that provided fora for protests against slavery. David Walker was heavily involved in the African Methodist Episcopal church and the African Meeting House quite close to his Nob Hill home in Boston. Invocations of divine wrath and punishment for the sin of slavery were common rhetoric in the black churches, and Walker drew on this tradition rather than relying on Jefferson's occasionally troubled conscience.
As for Jefferson's attitudes towards Indians and blacks, he participated in the racial hierarchy-drawing and typography that characterized most European Enlightenment thought on the subject. In reference to Indians, Jefferson seized on them as scientific counter-examples to de Buffon's theory that biological degeneracy governed the New World and its residents (see HA 976-977). In order to make this (pseudo-scientific) argument, Jefferson had to grant putative and relative equality to Indians and argue for environmental determinism. Racial hierarchy-making of that and later eras often interposed 'the red man' as an intermediate stage between blackness (and/or yellow-ness), and Jefferson was entirely unoriginal in this regard. When it came to blacks, Jefferson had quite pronounced beliefs in black inferiority and white superiority, and compares Indians favorably to blacks. For example, "[Indians] astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory: such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture." (HA 986) Nonetheless, in the following sentence, Jefferson mentions blacks and music and finds 'they got rhythm.' All of these putative cultural attributes total as a racial valuation, in Jefferson's estimate. "I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." (HA 988) It would require later scientific figures like Agassiz to consolidate Jefferson's "suspicion" into elaborated pseudo-scientific arguments on racial typology and polygenesis. The same tradition of racialist thought stretches through the nineteenth century into the twentieth and, seeing as the Aryan Nation rallied a couple thousand members last weekend in Cave Creek, into the twenty-first.
What Walker contributed was an early challenge to this Jefferson-inspired model of racial hierarchy. As Peter Hinks points out in his excellent book To Awake My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance (1997), Jefferson's comments concerning blacks in Notes on the State of Virginia had long been offensive to the black community and had drawn previous responses. (Hinks 178-179) The issue is not whether Walker misunderstood, misattributed, or misapplied Jefferson's statements concerning blacks, for he understood them as clearly as did others, but rather his exposition of the use of such racialism to provide intellectual underwriting for slavery. In attacking Jefferson's views on race, Walker was addressing the writings of an already-sacrosanct figure in American history, one whose views (if not his private sexual behavior) towards blacks were well-known and heavily-cited for authority. As Hinks writes, "For Walker, the hypothesis of black inferiority was first and foremost a moral abomination founded on a vicious racial hatred of blacks by whites and on a desire to make the exploitation of labor of an already subject people more perfect. It had nothing to do with scientific inquiry and the pursuit of truth, and to treat it as though it did was only to legitimize white racist terms for discussing it and to suggest, however slightly, that perhaps blacks were not human." (209-210) Walker attacks Jefferson on precisely the point of intellectualism, differentiating between educational opportunity and allegations concerning innate capacity. His anger in phrasing this attack is absolutely palpable from the text of the Appeal (see HA 1785), but to be placed in a position of having to argue for one's claim on humanity is a more than just cause for emotional anger.
Jefferson believed that the institution of slavery could not be perpetuated indefinitely, while simultaneously arguing that blacks were inferior in condition. There is no necessary contradiction between these two positions; indeed, they were often argued as complementary positions to evidence a claim on liberality while maintaining white supremacism. What motivates Jefferson in Query XVIII, which Christina cites, lies in its last sentences (HA 991). "I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave arising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation." Not only was Jefferson responding to the spirit of the often-called 'Age of Revolution,' but he was interpreting the revolutionary potentialities of his own Virginia society and its slave system. His hope for a peaceful emancipation of slaves was never to come about, and Jefferson witnessed the opposite as early as the 'Night of Fire' slave uprising in Haiti on August 22, 1791. Jefferson was quite clear-sighted about potential threats to the early Republic, and he fully understood the long-term threat that slavery held to national unification.
This advertising campaign graphic for Bernardo's -- the major British children's philanthropy -- fascinates me. There have apparently been complaints concerning the disturbing nature of the image. It is much too strong an anti-poverty image for some tastes; but then, I doubt the aesthetic complaints are coming from poor folk. What interests me here is that by imaginative juxtaposition of imagery to create an immediate emotional effect, this graphic is doing the work that we ask from the best writing. The complaints against the ad -- which would seem far better directed against poverty -- register social discomfort, but its ability to elicit discomfort is a measure of the ad's ethics. Even as I shudder a bit at the image, I admire its ethics. The Douglass narrative (HA 1826-1827) has a similar instance of ethical register in its first chapter, where he writes of his initiation into the violences of slavery through the sight of his aunt being hung from a kitchen joist naked and whipped by their master. He records that he dove into a closet to hide himself from the sight and did not emerge for hours. It is at such powerful moments of narrative ghastliness, where a reader reacts to the violent simultaneous torture of a woman and child, that effective witness occurs. As Paula writes, "This narrative is not difficult to read, it is difficult to 'digest.'" The ghastliness of Douglass' childhood memories or that Bernardo's image of a child may disturb some, but both put an end to complacent narrations of privileged childhoods.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
In preparation for the group blog assignment beginning next week, a draft digital edition of Jane Grey Swisshelm's autobiography, Half a Century (1880), has been placed on the Blackboard class website. It is available under the Course Documents section in two versions, HTML and as a Microsoft Word document, for your convenience and reading preference. We will be reading the first 201 pages, or less than two-thirds of the full 363-page text, leaving off her story just as the Civil War is beginning. It is not a difficult read, and is being placed online early for those who finish the current week's readings.
The assignment has been re-organized, and we will not be using the Josiah Henson digital text. Further assignment instructions on group blogging will be posted.
Steven Rubio is off to Malaga and Ronda for some sunshine, together with his high school sweetheart, Robin.
One of my favorite-ever baby photographs of my daughter was taken her as a vivacious 14 month-old beaming from a chair-seat carried by my father. It was taken in Malaga, and what Dad didn't say as he showed that photograph to family and friends was that was the only time he carried her during our Andalusia trip! My back had finally broken down after 17 straight days of carrying that well-fed girl... The citizenry of Spain could not get enough of her cheerful blondness waving from her back seat. We estimated that at a rate of 50-70 street visitors daily wanting to play with our baby, we should have charged admission...
What does any of this have to do with early American literature? Nothing, other than that I picked up a cheap local paperback edition of Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra (1832) there and loved it. It's remarkable that so many generations of tourists in Spain have read that book as an imagination aid. Part of the social duty -- or privilege -- of a minute handful of American writers during this period was to go out, see the world, and bring it home for readers, either in fiction or travelogues. And it was precisely this that Thoreau inveighed against in demanding that folks stay home and discover the world in the Massachusetts woods. But thinking back to Tales of the Alhambra, I can't remember much about it other than that I liked the stories despite their thinness. Irving actually was much better when he wrote about colonial New York life.
And there is a new class pet! Mach II, looking like the reincarnation of Washington Irving (sl-oooo-w style!).
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Yesterday's posting on manners, which in the nineteenth century -- and too often today -- relied on double standards, happened to mention Daniel Webster in the same blog. Here's an excerpt from the next class reading, Jane Grey Swisshelm's Half a Century, in which she discusses her work as a newspaper correspondent in Washington in 1850. She is discreet about two facts: the scandal to which she refers is that Webster fathered two children with a black woman-servant, which was the Bill & Monica scandal of the day, and that Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, fired her for reporting the news. Swisshelm was the first woman journalist to sit in the congressional press gallery, albeit for a quite brief tenure. Polite manners, however, meant that certain public knowledge about public figures was not open for discussion, and she violated that unspoken code by mentioning the racial and gender double standard of a male politician of national reputation. While there were certainly sex scandals in Washington before this one, this was the beginning of their journalistic coverage.
Darkest of the dark omens for the slave, in that dark day, was the defalcation of Daniel Webster. He whose eloquence had secured in name the great Northwest to freedom, and who had so long been dreaded by the slave-power, had laid his crown in the dust; had counseled the people of the North to conquer their prejudices against catching slaves, and by his vote would open every sanctuary to the bloodhound. The prestige of his great name and the power of his great intellect were turned over to slavery, and the friends of freedom deplored and trembled for the result.
There was some general knowledge through the Country of the immorality of Southern men in our national capital. Serious charges had been made by abolitionists against Henry Clay, but Webster was supposed to be a moral as well as an intellectual giant. Brought up in Puritan New England, he was accredited with all the New England virtues; and when a Southern woman said to me, in answer to my strictures on Southern men:
"Oh, you need not say anything! Look at your own Daniel Webster!"
I wondered and began to look at and inquire about him, and soon discovered that his whole panoply of moral power was a shell -- that his life was full of rottenness. Then I knew why I had come to Washington. I gathered the principal facts of his life at the Capitol, stated them to Dr. Snodgrass, a prominent Washington correspondent, whose anti-slavery paper had been suppressed in Baltimore by a mob, to Joshua R. Giddings and Gamaliel Bailey. They assured me of the truth of that had been told me, but advised me to keep quiet, as other people had done. I took the whole question into careful consideration; wrote a paragraph in a letter to the Visiter, stating the facts briefly, strongly; and went to read it to my friend, Mrs. George W. Julian.
I found her and her husband together, and read the letter to them. They sat dumb for a moment, then he exclaimed:
"You must not publish that!"
"Is it true?"
"Oh, yes! It is true! But none the less you must not publish it!"
"Can I prove it?"
"No one will dare deny it. We have all known that for years, but no one would dare to make it public. No good can come of its publication; it would ruin you, ruin your influence, ruin your work. You would lose your Tribune engagement, by which you are now doing so much good. We all feel the help you are to the good cause. Do not throw away your influence!"
"Does not the cause of the slave hang on the issue in Congress?"
"I think it does."
"Is not Mr. Webster's influence all against it?"
"Yes, of course!"
"Would not that influence be very much less if the public knew just what he is?"
"Of course it would, but you cannot afford to tell them. You have no idea what his friends world say, what they would do. They would ruin you."
I thought a moment, and said:
"I will publish it, and let God take care of the consequences."
"Good!" exclaimed Mrs. Julian, clapping her hands. "I would if I were in your place."
But when I went to post the letter, I hesitated, walked back and forth on the street, and almost concluded to leave out that paragraph. I shuddered lest Mr. Julian's prediction should prove true. I was gratified by my position on the Tribune -- the social distinction it gave me and courtesy which had been shown me. Grave Senators went out of their way to be polite, and even pro-slavery men treated me with distinguished consideration. My Washington life had been eminently agreeable, and I dreaded changing popularity for public denunciation. But I remembered my Red Sea, and my motto -- " Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward." The duty of destroying that pro-slavery influence was plain. All the objections were for fear of the consequences to me. I had said God should take care of these, and mailed the letter, but I must leave Washington. Mr. Greeley should not discharge me. I left the capitol the day after taking my seat in the reporter's gallery, feeling that that door was open to other women.
The surprise with which the Webster statement was received was fully equalled by the storm of denunciation it drew down upon me. The New York Tribune regretted and condemned. Other secular papers made dignified protests. The religious press was shocked at my indelicacy, and fellows of the baser sort improved their opportunity to the utmost. I have never seen, in the history of the press, such widespread abuse of any one person as that with which I was favored; but, by a strange fatality, the paragraph was copied and copied. It was so short and pointed that in no other way could its wickedness be so well depicted as by making it a witness against itself.
I had nothing to do but keep quiet. The accusation was made. I knew where to find the proof if it should be legally called for, and until then I should volunteer no evidence, and my witnesses could not be attacked or discredited in advance. By and by people began to ask for the contradiction of this "vile slander." It was so circumstantial as to call for a denial. It could not be set aside as unworthy of attention.
What did it mean? Mr. Webster was a prominent candidate for President. Would his friends permit this story to pass without a word of denial? Mr. Julian was right; no one would dare deny the charge. He was, however, wrong in saying it would ruin me. My motive was too apparent, and the revelations too important, for any lasting disgrace to attach to it. On all hands it was assured that the disclosure had had a telling effect in disposing of a formidable power which had been arrayed against the slave, as Mr. Webster failed to secure the nomination.
Some one started a conundrum: "Why is Daniel Webster like Sisera? Because he was killed by a woman," and this had almost as great a run as the original accusation.
When the National Convention met in Pittsburg, in 1852, to form the Free Democratic party, there was an executive and popular branch held in separate halls. I attended the executive. Very few women were present, and I the only one near the platform. The temporary chairman left the chair, came to me to be introduced, saying:
"I want to take the hand that killed Daniel Webster."
Henry Wilson was permanent chairman of that convention, and he came, too, with similar address. Even Mr. Greeley continued to be my friend, and I wrote for the Tribune often after that time.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
In the ongoing discussion of gender roles and the function of politeness, Paula writes "Professor Lockard, please don't tell me you have never tried to "impress" a beautiful woman simply because she was beautiful. Or were you simply being polite?" There's a trap question for you. Any way you answer, you'll just dig yourself into deeper mud....so I'll answer with a smile and decline to be drawn.
The point here is that codes of polite behavior have had an historical association with gender, class and racial hierarchies, and the polite elevation of women onto pedestals, in the nineteenth century and beyond, served to both justify and conceal the very real accompanying legal, economic, and social deprivations they faced. The Grimke sisters, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other women who spoke in public were considered horrid women who had violated codes of polite behavior and so deserved opprobrium. 'Protected' classes were in fact excluded classes. It would seem far more equitable for contemporary concepts of politeness to ensure that no one remains excluded from polite consideration on grounds of gender, race, class -- or sexual preference.
Kira writes: "Hmmmmm... isn't it odd that the Grimke sisters, two women who were courageous enough to stand up and fight for women's and African-American rights, settled down and ended their public careers as soon as one of them married? Isn't that going against their struggle for women's rights? One could argue that their arguments became null and void after that..." I would ask in return why we expect social activists to be public heroes all the time? They too have a right to private lives. Both sisters fought slavery for years and received public rebukes from their Quaker congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, for writing and speaking publicly against slavery. It took quite a lot of courage, especially as they came from a slave-owning family. After Angelina married and had children, both of the Grimke sisters remained quite active in less public ways. Both worked with Theodore Weld -- Angelina's husband and a well-known antislavery activist -- and provided the indispensible editorial support for his American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. Weld, one of the founders of Oberlin College, unique at the time for educating both women and blacks, was as committed to women's rights as to the abolitionist cause. The three of them formed a cohesive support group and opened a school in New Jersey; later, all three joined a commune and operated another progressive school in Raritan, New Jersey. Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War, was also a communard for some years, as was Hawthorne for a briefer time, so this was more a mark of freethinking distinction during this period rather than an 'alternative lifestyle.' They wrote and lectured in support of the Union cause during the Civil War, and moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts in 1864, where Angelina was active. Hyde Park was especially congenial to their politics, since it was one of the first towns in the United States to permit women to vote (1870).
Christina writes: "Women want to be taken seriously but they just can�t get beyond the vanity thing! Is it any wonder that men ridiculed the idea of women in the public sphere?" Are men so comparatively lacking in vanity? One figure from this period who strikes me -- and struck others at the time -- as extraordinarily vain was Daniel Webster. Webster was continually ready to pose for artists and sculptors. The Chester Harding portrait of Webster, done in 1829-30 during Webster's relative youth, is exemplary in regards male vanity:
These portraits were collaborations between artists and subjects, and in this case was the public portrayal of a young Massachusetts politician on the rise. One wonders, though, if a woman would have been represented with such extraordinary gravamen? And if the above already bears the imprint of vanity, another and even more self-important version appears in Webster's stock engraving from the late 1840s.
I'd say this old boy is just plumb full of himself. The day women have a monopoly on vanity is the day men become extinct.
Monday, November 10, 2003
I have posted at the Blackboard site a copy of an unpublished paper by Omar Swartz, 'Natural Law, Positive Law, Slavery, and Nuremberg,' a paper that does a neat and brief job distinguishing two different philosophical approaches to slavery -- natural law and positive law (see pages 4-11). Can we distinguish between the various authors we have been reading -- Thoreau, Angelina Grimke (see esp. Letter XII, 'Human Rights Not Founded On Sex'), David Walker, and William Lloyd Garrison -- on grounds of their rhetorical adherence to or advocacy of either natural or positive (i.e. human enactments) law? On which side of the debate do they stand, and what are the nuances of their respective positions?
I'm continuing to encourage folks to think in cross-category terms, and the natural/positive law debate is one way of understanding the commonality between mid-nineteenth century social debates on race and gender.
Top of the week and onwards we blog...
There is a good deal of reading this week, so it's best to start quickly. Blog early and often.
Our reading this week consists of David Walker, from Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (HA 1775-1786); William Lloyd Garrison, 'Editorial' (HA 1787 - 1790); George Fitzhugh, from Southern Thought (HA 1908 - 1918); Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (HA 1814 - 1880) and 'What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?' (HA 1881 - 1899).
Also this week, we have two slideshows. The first, 'Transatlantic Abolitionism and Frederick Douglass,' locates the Douglass narrative within the context of the transatlantic antislavery movement. Like Equiano in the eighteenth century, Douglass made use of the international opposition to slavery. The second slideshow, 'The Enduring Relevance of Frederick Douglass and Slave Narratives,' provides a contemporary context for the slave narrative and ways that we can read such narratives. Slavery is far from a nineteenth-century issue, as the State Department's 2003 Trafficking in Persons Report attests. The October 26th blog below also concerns contemporary slave trafficking and a Sudanese narrative, which is equally part of the transatlantic literature of slavery.
Later this week there will be further information about the group blogging assignment.
Sunday, November 09, 2003
Yesterday, while visiting Flagstaff, I noticed an Agassiz Street in the middle of the historic district, and smiled before explaining the nineteenth-century cultural reference to Ewa. It's fascinating to gain an insight into the scientific faith of the town's founders, who clearly not only saw Lowell's Obervatory as a source for the town's future, but wanted to reinforce that view by invoking the name of Louis Agassiz. And so I talked. Ewa, to my great good fortune, is prepared to suffer me at these moments.
In the 1840s, there was no larger name in American science than Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), whose scientific reputation was rather like that more recently of Stephen Hawking, Stephen Jay Gould, or Carl Sagan. At Radcliffe College there is still an Agassiz Hall, in whose ballroom years ago I sat designing kites (too long a story).
Agassiz was born in Switzerland and studied in Paris, where he became a close friend of the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. In 1832 he became professor of natural history at the Univesity of Neuchatel. Among his publications during this period were Recherches sur les poissons fossiles (1833-44), an historic work on fossil history, and Etude sur les glaciers (1840), which made him the father of glaciology. Charles Lyell, the best-known English geologist of the era -- and a keen observer of the US southern states, where he traveled extensively -- recommended Agassiz, who came to the United States in 1846 and two years later accepted a professorship of zoology and geology at Harvard.
Agassiz became an immensely popular lecturer on fossils and biology, and emphasized -- note the correspondence with Emerson and Thoreau -- studying science in direct contact with nature. Through this emphasis on field studies, he influenced generations of American scientists. His Contributions to the Natural History of the United States (1857-62) includes his famous "Essay on Classification," an extension of the theory of recapitulation to geologic time. Despite his own evidences for evolution, Agassiz opposed Darwinism and believed that new species could arise only through the intervention of God.
And here we arrive at the painful part, and the reason why some members of the Radcliffe community want to change the name of Agassiz Hall. Agassiz advocated polygenism, a theory implying that racial difference signified a difference in species type, and holding this to be scientific law, also advocated for miscegenation laws to prohibit blacks and whites from marrying. As Stephen Jay Gould notes, Agassiz arrived at scientific racialism upon arriving from Europe and encountering racial diversity in the United States, quoting from his first reaction in the 1840s:
"It was in Philadelphia that I first found myself in prolonged contact with Negroes; all the domestics in my hotel were men of color. I can scarcely express to you the painful impression that I received, especially since the feeling that they inspired in me is contrary to all our ideas about the confraternity of the human type (genre) and the unique origin of our species. But truth before all. Nevertheless, I experienced pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, and their lot inspired compassion in me in thinking that they were really men. Nonetheless, it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us. In seeing their black faces with their thick lips and grimacing teeth, the wool on their head, their bent knees, their elongated hands, I could not take my eyes off their face in order to tell them to stay far away. And when they advanced that hideous hand towards my plate in order to serve me, I wished I were able to depart in order to eat a piece of bread elsewhere, rather than dine with such service. What unhappiness for the white race -- to have tied their existence so closely with that of Negroes in certain countries! God preserve us from such a contact." Cited in Gould, Mismeasure of Man (1981), p. 44-45.
In short, Agassiz did not like blacks and his scientific theories responded to his phobia; the same cultural phenomenon is readily visible in the novels of William Makepeace Thackeray, who traveled heavily in the American South. The authority that Agassiz lent to scientific racialism was enormous, and pro-slavery writers quoted heavily from his writings. He moved in the elite realms of American cultural life and had quite profound effects beyond science. For example, in the 1860s, Agassiz's essays were appearing in the same journals -- notably The Atlantic -- alongside the short stories of Henry James, and his brother, the psychologist and philosopher William James, was a student and later research assistant to Agassiz. So when we encounter Agassiz Street in Flagstaff, we're meeting the iconic power of nineteenth-century Harvard science, the embodiment of a transatlantic re-establishment of European knowledge on the American continent, and a white supremacist. While the early residents of Flagstaff had one reputation in mind when they named the street, a substantially different reputation attaches to the name today.
All of this serves as serendipitous prelude to discussions of race in the context of Walker, Fitzhugh, Garrison, and Douglass. The Fitzhugh selection is brief, but illustrates Agassiz's views from the perspective of the first US sociologist.
Have been reading some of the new blogs. Paula comments: "Mandi wrote that she found it endearing that her husband opened doors and gave up his seat for her. Well, the more equality we achieve, the less this will ever happen in the future." Is there some contradiction between polite manners and human equality? Unless polite manners are to serve simply as camouflage for male supremacism and patronization of women, then the essence of politeness lies in sharing these daily gestures of kindness and care. A larger, more comprehensive definition of polite manners is needed, one that does not begin and end in the nineteenth century.
Yesterday's walk in Walnut Canyon and along the Arizona Trail was invigorating. Juncos, woodpeckers, and bluejays a-plenty. Who needs Henry David Thoreau on nature-walking when there are such great walks? And I'm sure he would agree...
Friday, November 07, 2003
Friday afternoon, and some blogs on the Grimke sisters, Sojourner Truth, Fanny Fern, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are beginning to appear. While that is happening, I'll respond to some of the blogs from a very interesting round on Emerson and Thoreau.
One of the tendencies in discussions of American literature of this period is that a gender segregation creeps into the historicization. Sentimentalism and suffrage issues receive one discussion as 'feminine'; Transcendentalism (excepting Margaret Fuller) and better-known novel literature get colored 'male' and receive another discussion. And yet they all emerged from the same period and milieu; sentimentalist and Transcendentalist writers did not think of themselves as divided by a cultural wall. For example, the daughter of Bronson Alcott, one of the central Transcendentalist writers, was the abolitionist, suffragist, and novelist Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women (1867). Indeed, she received part of her education from Thoreau and Emerson. In Alcott's writing on the inner lives of young women, one can distinctly identify the importance of the Transcendentalist elevation of individual conscience as a social guide. That Thoreauvian discussion which centered on individuals an obligation to decide on ethical behavior, to the extent of civil disobedience, could also serve as a principle for encouraging independence among young women, suggesting that they needed to reconcile their actions with their own conscience rather than accept social dictates passively. Women such as the Grimke sisters, who scandalized public opinion by denouncing slavery and speaking at meetings (and later by acknowledging and supporting their black half-siblings), were very much the cultural models behind such fictional characters as Jo March, who in Little Women becomes a self-supporting writer in New York. Alcott's novel, quite mistakenly categorized as 'youth literature,' profoundly incorporates Transcendentalist values into a domestic narrative about women entering the world and finding their own talents through Emersonian self-reliance. Many more romance novels of the later nineteenth century borrowed those same values rather less consciously. Little Women, by the way, is a marvellous novel for re-reading to discover what you did not see if you read it at age 12 or 13, when most seem to encounter it first.
So rather than view Emerson and Thoreau as separate subjects from the Grimke sisters et al., it may be useful to wonder at their cultural interrelationship.
Heather B. is entirely right to be reminded of lines from Coleridge in discussing Emerson. There is substantial intellectual kinship in their derivation of philosophical abstraction from observations of nature. This is the heart of the Romantic tradition. And I do agree with you about Emerson often appearing to engage with 'nature for nature's sake,' one where the brilliance of the verbiage seems to distance and mediate a reader's relationship from nature; rather, it all seems a brilliant verbal pile to sanctify nature as an originating force. Mandi appears to wonder at the same point of involuted expressive complexity in Emerson. She writes "Isn't there something to be said for succinctness? Clarity? Oh dear, shall I be struck by the English powers that be for saying such awful things?"
The death penalty for dispraise of Emerson? Whatever the 'couldn't he have said this more simply?' reaction, what carries Emerson along with such force is the planning and organization of his argument. To review several pages of Emerson reading is to realize that he has not been babbling on with intellectualism, but rather that there is definite argumentative progress in his writing. Too, we might want to ask whether contemporary culture and politics really benefits from succinctness and boiled-down images? Nothing that Emerson argues can be expressed as an advertisement or campaign slogan, can it? Resistance to simplification and efforts to wrestle with complexity seem forgotten virtues. If current-day high school students could take up and argue the concept of education expressed in 'American Scholar,' one imagines we all might be rather more pleased with the quality of secondary education. And given that McGuffey's Readers a century ago routinely included selected passages of Emerson despite -- or because -- of the complexity, we do know that this level of school reading achievement is quite feasible. Shush me...sounding like Old Foggy the traditionalist here...
Summer has been blogging along quite happy to find herself ensconced in Emerson and Thoreau. She provides a quite useful brief discussion on Transcendentalism, which can be recommended. Rather interesting to discover that John Robbins has been working through Emerson too, and no surprise given the attraction Emerson exercises for non-conformists seeking to mainstream their ideas. Emerson very much aimed at presenting mass audiences with complex and critical ideas.
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Ah! Christina is laughing heartily, whether at women's dress reform or their belief they could obtain the right to vote if they manifested their demand for social reform through dress.
Hmmm.....I complimented Ewa this morning on her grey jacket and neat-looking jeans, which would have had her before a magistrate in the 1840s for disturbing public order by wearing men's clothing. And she just graduated law school and is studying for the bar exams, which she could never have taken prior to the Civil War. The first woman to pass bar exams and enter law practice in the United States was Arabella Mansfield in Iowa in 1869.
We do tend to forget this gender history, no?
Social radicalism and experimentalism consist as much or more of attempts to join social power structures as to oppose or dismantle them. So if bloomers lightly emphasize a masculine potential, they would seem to be making a statement about obtaining the same privileges that men had in mid-nineteenth-century US society. Similarly, if black abolitionists are citing the Declaration of Independence in the antebellum writings, they are pointing to the privileges of white generated by racism and slavery. The legal structures of race or gender inequality were often opposed by adoptive and adaptive language and social behaviors, where one might adopt a dress as well as a text to argue for equality.
Although we are reading on women's literature this week, readings of US social history too often tend to separate out one movement -- like women's suffrage -- or another. That's inaccurate because it tends to privilege one movement over competing movements of the period, rather than view them as inter-related social change. The generation prior to the Civil War experienced a prolonged interest in social experimentalism of various kinds, which headed many different directions. The same 'burned-over district' of western New York that gave rise to women's suffrage, for example, also gave rise to the religious apocalypticism of the Millerite movement, who by the tens of thousands sold their worldly goods and stood in white shrouds on a New York hillside in October 1844 awaiting the Final Day's dawn. When that did not happen and their leader William Miller died in 1849, the remnant believers became the Seventh Day Adventists and, among other advocacies, promulgated vegetarian diet reform and a new-fangled idea called 'breakfast cereal.' That Special K you ate this morning before going to cast one woman's vote (remember to vote?) are both lineal descendants of social experiments that flowered, for better or worse, in the 1840s and '50s. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; evangelist Charles G. Finney and early Pentacostalism; the Fox sisters, Spiritualism and table-tapping. Together with those suffragists wearing those bloomers and attending the Seneca Falls conference in 1848, they were part of the spectrum of social experiment.
Monday, November 03, 2003
As I read the posts on Thoreau, all caught up with his politics, I remember that he was a gentle man, one who communed with himself, his words, and the simple features of his world. I do not think that we should always remember Thoreau only for his prose, since he tucked wonderful poetry into his journals:
On fields oer which the reaper's hand has passed
Lit by the harvest moon and autumn sun,
My thoughts like stubble floating in the wind
And of such fineness as October airs,
There after harvest could I glean my life
A richer harvest reaping without toil,
And weaving gorgeous fancies at my will
In subtler webs than finest summer haze.
Thoreau was and should be known as a profoundly religious man, but not in an ordinary sense of churchgoing and public prayer. Rather, there is a spiritualism hanging over his prose descriptions of the natural world, which served as an entry to a metaphysical world. But more on this later, as I begin to respond to some of your points.
The Lily, edited by Amelia Bloomer, featured regular contributions from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other early suffragists. It joined a wave of reform, antislavery, and African American newspapers established in the late 1840s and throughout the 1850s. Note the appearance of temperance in the journal masthead. The temperance, antislavery and women's suffrage causes were heavily intertwined. Also note that this journal, like others of its sort, served as a venue for literary publication. Source: Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Rochester Library.
Amelia Bloomer, modeling 'bloomers,' which she neither invented nor particularly liked. This half-dress, half-pantaloon costume was invented by Lilly Smith, who was Elizabeth Cady Stanton's cousin and the daughter of Gerrit Smith, a former New York congressman and one of the leading abolitionists. The Rational Dress movement, which advocated bloomers, was short-lived but part of a constellation of reform movements that had enormous political and cultural effect. Still, it took substantial courage for a woman to wear such dress on the street.
In reading this week's texts, we might consider the relationship between the fashion statement of 'bloomers' as a dress that reduced bodily confinement and enabled greater physical freedom for women, and the larger sense of a suffrage movement that sought expanded opportunities for women. It's thought-provoking to note, too, that the Rational Dress movement promoted this dress style with arguments that it allowed women greater freedom to work and gain incomes for self-support. However, working-class white and black women had always been working and dressed for their work roles without inventing a special fashion. So to what extent are we discussing, whether in fashion or American literature, an emphatically middle-class reform movement?
To illustrate that middle-class quality, here's a song from the period:
The Bloomer's Complaint (1851)
Dear me, what a terrible clatter they raise,
Because that old gossip Dame Rumor
Declares, with hands lifted up in amaze
That I'm coming out as a Bloomer,
That I'm coming out as a Bloomer.
I wonder how often these men must be told
When a woman a notion once seizes,
However they ridicule, lecture or scold,
She'll do, after all, as she pleases.
They know very well that their own fashions change
With each little change of the season,
But Oh! it is "monstrous' and "dreadful" and "strange"
And "out of all manner of reason",
If we take a fancy to alter our dress,
And come out in style "a la Bloomer",
To hear what an outcry they make,
I confess is putting me quite out of humor,
Is putting me quite out of humor.
I'll come out next week, with a wide Bloomer flat
Of a shape that I fancy will fright them,
I had not intended to go quite to that,
But I'll do it now, only to site them,
But I'll do it now only to spite them
With my pants "a la Turque",
And my skirts two feet long
All fitting of course, most completely
These grumblers shall own after all, they are wrong,
And that I, in a Bloomer, look sweetly
And that I in a Bloomer look sweetly...
We'll Show You When We Come To Vote!
Back after a weekend away from work, just when a lot of you were working up energy to blog about Emerson and Thoreau. It was very peaceful to drive into the Superstition Mountains and then on into the Tonto National Forest, listening to Arvo Part's compositions. Some listeners find that Part can have a lugubrious aesthetic, but his sparer work suits a mountainous desert landscape very well. Even scrambled up a steep hillside along Devil's Canyon before noticing the oncoming showers and asking why we were doing this anyway? Later I spent two hours reading Bernard-Henri Levy's Who Killed Daniel Pearl? in a coffeehouse, with a nagging knowledge that I have yet to finish reading papers for this class. Well, the escape is finished...
I'm very impressed by the argumentative energies that Emerson and especially Thoreau prompted in the class blogs over the weekend. One of the reasons that both of these writers still find such close readers is that they are so amenable to argument from a multiplicity of social perspectives, as I indicated last week and which the assembled class blogs bear out. If Katie can read Thoreau from one political perspective, at the same time from a very different perspective Christina can find both positive and negative in 'Resistance to Civil Government.' Neither reads Thoreau 'incorrectly'; rather, different thematic threads are available for argument in Thoreau.
Gender is never far away from readings in this course, and this week we'll focus on literature from the early women's suffrage movement in the United States. These readings include Sarah Moore Grimke, from Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and on the Condition of Woman; Angelina Grimke, 'Letters to Catherine Beecher'; Sojourner Truth, 'Remniscences by Frances D. Gage,' 'Speech at the New York City Convention,' 'Address to the First Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association' (HA 2012 - 29); Fanny Fern, 'The Working Girls of New York' (HA 2030 - 2031, 2037 - 2038); Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, and Declaration of Sentiments (HA 2038 - 2044). There is an accompanying slide show on Women Creating Literature that is briefly indicative in nature, rather than a reading guide.
The crucial point of argument here is that, emboldened by the antislavery movement, where women were the primary organizational force through uncountable local committees, there is a new assertiveness in public spheres that characterizes women's culture in the United States. This translates into demands to participate in school board elections, where women won voting rights in various states for a half-century or more before the 19th amendment; obtain legal control of their property and income; and attain equal citizenship, which the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments will not provide to women.
This same culture sustains the rise of women in American literary production, since women represented the overwhelming majority of fiction-writers and poets. Hawthorne would complain famously about "the damn mob of scribbling women" who wrote sentimental fiction and made authorship a 'feminine' pursuit. Melville would fail financially as an author and become a customs inspector, whereas Fanny Fern and other women peers would make a living from their pens. Women's fiction, which was routinely overlooked in critical literature until the last thirty years, constitutes the great bulk of antebellum American literature. Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1850), a novel about a young girl rescued from oppressive circumstances and friendlessness in the world through her pious selflessness, becomes the first runaway bestseller in the United States. Women historically have used American literature as a rhetorical field to assert women's rights, but often that narrative argumentation has been via indirection and covered over by stylistic and plot devices to render the message more palatable (via Foster's The Coquette).
So this week's readings provide an acquaintance with an emergent class of writings (and oratory, in the case of Sojourner Truth) that are part of this cultural shift of the mid-nineteenth century.
Friday, October 31, 2003
And a lovely scare for Halloween for all!
Paula notes the barbarism of the torture tape that has emerged from Iraq. I encountered this today at CNN.com, where I pick up headline news in the middle of my workday. What was quite interesting to note was that when you click on the video, up comes a CNN advertisement that channels viewers through a subscription site in order to view the video. Thus in order to witness, one must be a consumer first. I declined.
I have interviewed a few torture victims in the past, and find that it's actually much more horrifying if left unvisualized. The inner eye is far more suggestive, as you'll likely note when reading Frederick Douglass' description of his aunt being hung up naked and whipped. Other antebellum writers attempted to visualize these scenes of slave torture, and one result was occasional 'torture poetry' published in newspapers and journals. Or then there's the description from poet and newspaper publisher William Cullen Bryant (HA 2811-2821) of witnessing the execution of a slave in Cuba via a metal band around his skull, where a screw increased the pressure continually, to the delight of cheering crowds in the Havana square, including many children. Early American literature has many good exemplars of this sort of despicable human behavior.
Today I'll discuss Henry David Thoreau, the other half of the Transcendentalist duo that we are reading this week. Thoreau's 'Resistance to Civil Government' is a text about which I have mixed feelings, since a small scent of the poseur accompanies the undeniable power of his political argument. Let's put it this way: suppose that this were Henrietta Thoreau, she disliked the Mexican War and slavery and refused to pay a small tax, then was arrested by the sheriff and taken to prison in consequence. Unlike Henry the childless bachelor, however, Henrietta has four children at home who need dinner, supervision and help getting to bed. Henry can afford to spend the night in Concord Jail on grounds of principle and then write about the social rights and wrongs of the situation. Henrietta has another choice entirely, one where the balancing tests of rights and wrongs are no longer so simple. Their citizenships and duties of civic conscience are equal (in the contemporary conception), but their circumstances are not. Henry has a social privilege that the hypothetical Henrietta -- and the very real women of Concord -- do not. Status issues such as gender and class spread a great deal of moral fog over the intellectual and political territory that Thoreau covers, one where he posits an implicitly male model citizen.
This initial point noted as a caveat, 'Resistance to Civil Government' is one of the most powerful political texts of the mid-nineteenth century. While this was always a well-noted text, it rose to new popularity and intellectual prominence in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam protests. It was a best-selling item for years in the Dover Thrift Editions, which still sells cheap editions of most of Thoreau's works (Dover's 'Civil Resistance' reprint costs about $1.50 these days, up from about 50 cents when I first started noticing Thoreau). The influence of Thoreau on Martin Luther King, Mahatmas Ghandi, and Leo Tolstoy is well-known and documented. He carries great weight with Libertarians today who think taxes a terrible idea, but fail to notice that Thoreau did not oppose taxes in 'Resistance to Civil Government.' Like many complex writers -- especially including Emerson, who housed Thoreau in his home as a quasi-family member for lengthy periods -- Thoreau's work often attracts readers searching for confirmation of their own ideas rather than an understanding of the intrinsic ideas of his texts. Thus we often end up with Thoreau sound-bites printed on calendars, office hangings, political literature, etc.
So I'm almost hesitant to say that while re-reading 'Resistance to Civil Government' this morning the contemporary applicability of two sentences from that famous first paragraph came through immediately:
"The government itself, which is only the mode through which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of a comparatively few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people have not consented to this measure."
Thoreau hardly stood alone in these sentiments as a 'liberal' New England intellectual; a certain then-obscure young congressman from Illinois, named Lincoln, used far harsher terms expressing his opinion of the war than even Thoreau, James Russell Lowell, or most other New Englanders. But while lines such as these might be construed as having clear political applicability to currrent US policy -- and to my opinion they certainly do -- they also come embedded within a challenge to the concept of a standing government per se, which is why Thoreau joins Lysander Spooner as one of the founding figures of the native American anarchist movement. Buth then anarchists have to overlook the inconvenience that Thoreau decidedly does endorse government, even as he argues -- in the context of antislavery opposition -- for the superior power of individual conscience over constitutional law. To employ the above-cited lines towards one argumentative appeal to cultural authority is either to overlook or deliberately ignore their context. If such citation obviously risks single-minded pursuit of extractive reading, it cautions against reading as a treasure hunt.
One of the strongest themes in this essay is that of individualism as counter-assertion against the claims of the state. For Thoreau, the state is the machine that deprives individuals of recourse to free conscience. "The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, &c. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever the the judgment or of the moral sense..." (HA 1674) A small class -- "legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders" -- serve the state-machine out of ideological conviction, self-interest, or sheeer cupidity. In the United States, according to Thoreau, the leading moral issue was created by a nation-state that endorsed theft of labor through the institution of slavery, and that deprived black slaves of their right to exercise freedom. The state-machine, for Thoreau, was in its essential parts built on deprivation of freedom. Doesn't this also align Thoreau with significant elements of contemporary conservatism that argue government functions through depriving individuals of free market choice, that freedom arises from an ability to make choices, and that less government intervention enables expansion of social freedom? Further given his emphasis on rustic simplication and an intimate relationship with Nature, might not Thoreau be understood as a quintessential anti-modernist?
The point here is that Thoreau and 'Resistance to Civil Government' cannot be entirely appropriated with defensibility by one political viewpoint or another. His writing contains contradictions and some sheer wrong-headedness. In reading Thoreau, we do well to separate our own projections from his thought.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
In a sense, both Emerson and Thoreau are entirely appropriate writers for a blogsite. Their entire lives might be contrued as blogs, since both were inveterate and perpetual journal-writers. The greatest body of work for both writers consists of the journals, or commonplace books, where they poured out a constant flow of thought, experience, and comment.
As a leading figure of the American Transcendentalist movement of the late 1830s-1850s (essentially a late-blooming branch of British and European Romanticism), Emerson wrote about the formal traditions of philosophic and religious writing; he insisted on the interpenetration of the ideal and the real, of the spiritual and material. His speculations in 'Self-Reliance,' for instance, move between cultural critique and personal experience in a narrative where he uses his own life to test assumptions and proposals. The essays often propose the mid-nineteenth century version of a counter-cultural position, often in the form of an extended metaphor. Emerson's essays adopt a poetic voice to illuminate the contradictions between what 'practical' men might argue and what an insightful cultural prophet might inuit of the world's directions and meanings.
Many of Emerson's essays were initially delivered as lectures, in Boston and during his lecture tours around the country. Nature, his collected essays, and his poems were quite popular bound editions, often given as gifts for a reader to pick up for a reflective hour. Emerson was heavily reprinted in school anthologies and literary collections throughout the nineteenth century, and thus had a profound impact on the self-recognition of American literature. McGuffey's Readers, a staple of the nineteenth-century US schoolroom, relied on abbreviated Emerson essays and his poems to deliver a dose of profundity. For all of the distance that a contemporary readership may feel from Emerson, he remained very close to his readership throughout his literary lifetime. Lucy Larcom, a Lowell, Massachusetts, mill worker who began working at age eight, records copying out passages from Emerson and pasting them to the mill windows in order that she could read them and look out towards nature at the same moment. Readers did not feel that he was writing over their heads, but rather that the complexity of the text made his voice more attractive and challenging to read. Emerson often imagines his audiences as sleeping or resistant, as needing to be awakened and encouraged: this is a central purpose of his writing. He uses natural images and topographies familiar to New England readers at the same time as he introduces audiences to references from a wide intellectual range. Emerson was quite comfortable with and influenced by Eastern religions, for example, although he remained a Congregationalist minister throughout his lifetime. Throughout his life, he evidenced a powerful intellectual plasticity and interest in the new, the changing.
Emerson is deeply concerned with the power of language in constructing an emergent American culture that will be different from the cultures of Europe. His attention to what it means to make something new, together with his concern for cultures of the past, marked him as a particularly useful figure in American discussions of their own 'national' culture. He was especially significant as a 'founding father,' as a literary figure that writers both emulated and challenged. Emerson was the leading figure among that intellectual generation that emerged from Massachuetts during the mid-nineteenth century, one most frequently characterized by their antislavery and reform sentiments. His collaborators and friends included Bronson Alcott, the leading educational reformer of the day (and father of Louisa May Alcott); Margaret Fuller, the outstanding feminist of the era and editor of the Transcendentalist journal The Dial; Hawthorne, and Thoreau. He maintained an intense correspondence for years with his close friend Thomas Carlyle, and was viewed by many in England as an American version of the essayist and poet Matthew Arnold. He remains a figure of major importance in American literary criticism and rhetoric, and served as an intellectual starting point for F.O. Matthiesen's originating work in American Studies during the late 1930s; in poetry both Whitman and T.S. Eliot claimed his inspiration; in philosophy his balance of idealism and practicalism influenced the work of William James, John Dewey, and William Gass; and contemporary American environmentalism traces its intellectual roots to Emerson and Thoreau, then to John Burroughs and forward.
One common feature of American culture is running across Emersonian references and arguments whose origin we have forgotten: when speakers cite a need for 'self-reliance' in debates over welfare reform, arguing that this is a central feature of American national character, they are appropriating -- usually misappropriating -- the thoughts of the gentleman from Concord. He has a tenacious hold on American memory, well illustrated by Ralph (yes, Waldo) Ellison's story of how his invitation to address the Harvard alumni in 1974 came addressed to a much earlier speaker at Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Harvard not only forgave his 'American Scholar' address, they were still hoping for more....
But how might the Emersonian tradition be comprehended better in contemporary political debates? Here's an example from an essay entitled 'Faith and Firepower' by Charlie Bertsch (mentioned in this blog previously) and Joel Schalit, good friends and co-editors of Bad Subjects, quoted here in its first three paragraphs for the sake of brevity:
If there is such a thing as an "American Ideology," it must be reflected in the way Americans think about religion. Americans are a people notoriously unconcerned with the nuances of philosophy, but just as notoriously concerned with religious issues. When the questions of secular philosophy are discussed, they are usually filtered, not always consciously, through a religious framework. Even when Americans are distancing themselves from religion, they do so in religious terms. The motto "In God We Trust" on the dollar bill of the first secular state of modern times is no anomaly. When we consider religion in the United States, however, we are confronted with a field of intense contestation. The battles between the United States' innumerable sects are the backdrop for a more basic conflict. In discussing the role of religion in public life, there are two competing points of view. The "American ideology" delimits not a unified body of concepts, but the no-man's-land that divides two warring perspectives. American liberals have traditionally regarded religion as a private affair concerned only with the health, stability and well-being of the individual. This is the perspective that informs the foundational documents of the American nation, the transcendentalist writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and William James' highly influential turn-of-the-century treatise The Varieties of Religious Experience, in which he self-consciously brackets all considerations of community and politics in order to get at the supposed "essence" of religious feeling.
This liberal perspective contrasts sharply with the example set by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Far more concerned with the politics of religion, the Commonwealth was a theocracy before it became a secular unit of the United States. Throughout U.S. history, religious minorities have advocated abolishing the separation of church and state in the same theocratic spirit. Although the liberal perspective on religion has remained hegemonic, over time this theocratic perspective has put enough pressure on the state to give secular American life a religious aura that disturbs people from elsewhere in the so-called 'first world', even if they come from countries with official religions. Whenever periods of religious decline have made it seem that complete secularization was imminent, new religious movements have sprung up to ward it off.
What is unique about the American ideology is that it fosters the illusion that America was the first country to have been liberated from the tyranny of tradition and history in order to create a truly free republic. The nation's 'founding fathers' imagined it would be a republic would consist of inherently democratic, egalitarian individuals capable of following Kant's axiom that all men must become their own self-legislators. The constitutional separation of church and state has done a great deal to promote this belief. This is not lost on the Religious Right. In fact this assumption forms the very basis upon which Evangelicals have chosen to question the legitimacy of the contemporary American nation-state. Today the tensions in the American ideology are brought into sharpest focus by the Religious Right which has exposed America's liberal ideologies of tolerance and freedom to be smokescreens which conceal hidden interests and sectarian agendas. The problem with this kind of reasoning becomes obvious when we consider what kinds of solutions the Religious Right advocates imposing on the American polity.
The use that Bertsch and Schalit make of Emerson is one of historical invocation, as part of a line of transmission of humanistic Enlightenment traditions from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. Emerson and Thoreau get valued here as part of a tradition that seeks to value and uphold the claims of individual conscience against the state or the oppressive religious traditions of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. For Bertsch and Schalit, Emerson is a central figure in a thoughtful oppositional tradition to theology-driven claims on the US polity. But like many, theirs in an over-gentle appreciation of Emerson and Thoreau. For this was the same Emerson who passionately condemned the expansion-driven Mexican War, who wrote to oppose confiscation of Indian lands by the US government, who joined the Underground Railway, who personally hosted John Brown and defended his actios, and who damned slavery saying "Language has lost its meaning in the universal cant...Manifest Destiny, Democracy, Freedom, fine names for an ugly thing. They call it otto [attar] of rose and levendar -- I call it bilge- water." Emerson viscerally believed in a social equation holding that if one had freedom, all should have freedom. "America" he wrote, "is the idea of emancipation."
Reading back over some of the posts generated by the discussion of Judith Sargent Murray and 'appropriate' gender roles, I remembered a moment some years ago. My five year-old son was playing 'house' in his room with Kimi, a girl who was to remain his 'girlfriend' thoughout childhood, while I stood sipping coffee in the kitchen. After arranging the room together, Kimi stood up and said "I'm ima (mother), so I'm going to the kitchen to cook for us." Immediately, David stood up and said in a slightly offended voice, "I'm the abba (father) and cooking is my work." Standing there quietly laughing in the kitchen was one quite pleased father.
So much for the 'natural' gender-role debate.
Anonymous midterm class evaluations have arrived, and thanks to Christina for providing them. They appear to be generally quite favorable to this blogging format, although 2-3 students did not favor the 'all in the open' transparency of the format. Interestingly, almost no one thought that a blog set-up lab to begin the course would have been a good idea (there's a different view from my perspective as instructor). A midterm evaluation report will be posted at the Blackboard website in due course, after papers have been graded.
There is still a silence hanging over the class blogs, which likely reflects a collective struggle (and possibly some exasperation) with Emerson. Don't quit! Even if you can't remember what Emerson was saying in that last paragraph, the paragraph that you are reading now is very rich and rewarding. There will be some suggestive notes on Emerson and Thoreau going up this afternoon on my blog. I hope they are helpful. Also, consult the quote selections in the slide presentation, since these identify some of the central points in 'Nature.' Teaching and learning Emerson online is a tough deal and requires -- appropriating his own essay title -- a good deal of self-reliance. One of Thoreau's favorite stories was about meeting an old farmer on the road coming back from Concord where, he told Thoreau, he had been to listen to Dr. Emerson's sermon "and I understood it too!"
Recommended music for reading Emerson's 'Nature': Aaron Copeland's 'Appalachian Spring.' It's got an Emersonian spirit. Here's a National Public Radio program on 'Appalachian Spring' (requires RealPlayer).
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
A view of downtown Concord, from J.W. Barber's engravings in Historical Collections (1840). This would have been an everyday sight for Emerson and Thoreau. Two observations come quickly to mind. First, looking at the town scene one understands how close nature lies at hand, even though Concord was settled about two centuries prior to this engraving date. Emerson and Thoreau were both great walkers whose favorite sport was a weekend-long hike that would cover tens of miles at a brisk pace. Reading 'Nature,' it's useful to reflect on this proximity between town and natural scenes that infuse themselves into New England settlements. Second, Emerson and Thoreau both had a philosophical disdain for 'travel abroad,' meaning travel in pursuit of knowledge. They argued that knowledge could be obtained entirely at home, especially through the spiritual uplift of proximate nature, if observational faculties were employed fully. "Travel is a fool's paradise," to quote Emerson. Although I have close familiarity with quite small New England towns and their daily life, I have always thought this a rather perverse Transcendentalist pride in necessity -- it was very hard for most folks to get much further than the next town down, so Emerson and Thoreau elevated this travel limitation to the status of epistemological virtue. And it's worth noting that Emerson's life as a self-supporting public intellectual -- the first in American cultural life -- eventually made him one of the better-traveled men in the country.
And yes, Paula, I do appreciate Emerson. He's crucial to readings of the American nineteenth-century, and supplied a great deal of phraseology for the twentieth. It's worth the slog.
There are almost no blogs yet on Emerson and Thoreau. It would be preferable to blog early on these essays, given that they represent a complex set of ideas. Leaving it all to the last minute likely will result in some superficial readings of Emerson in particular. And Emerson resists any simplification, as those now reading him can attest.
Tess Caiter, the previously-mentioned lecturer and friend at University of Halle in Germany, saw the photo of Anjie's infant son and wrote, together with appreciation of the newest student, the following observations:
"You know, I sometimes wonder, if the students in my classes would not have a far better access to literature if they got down into life in the first place. These guys have by and large not taken responsibility for their life yet and they act accordingly on the one hand, while on the other being unable to understand why concepts such as 'guilt' feature so largely in drama, for instance. What guilt when it's all none of your business or fun & games anyhow?
[....We do not have] people who come from working experiences, already have families etc... The German university system actively discourages (very efficiently, too) girls from pursuing studies should they have become mothers. Long-distance courses are nearly unheard-of. There is no organised campus child care. Period. The student population that we have, in consequence, is a bunch of slightly overgrown school-kids, out in the city on their own for the first time (having just moved out from home) and ready to party."
First comment: gee, it sounds like German students would fit in perfectly at ASU! The second and more serious reaction concerns the critical importance of making sure that universities offer curricula and degrees that are accessible to working people through a variety of means, including courses such as this one. Despite the origins of 'open universities' in Europe, state university systems throughout Europe remain heavily focused on an elite student population. State universities in the United States, like ASU, do a vastly better job in providing democratic access to higher education. Much of the originating philosophy behind this educational development lies in the politics generated by successive waves of European immigrants in the nineteenth century who wanted their children to have access to higher education that they could not obtain in Europe. Much like the distinctions that American writers tried to draw to distinguish their works from European literature (viz. Melville's 'Hawthorne and His Mosses'), the nineteenth-century American educational system functioned with a very visible need to emphasize its own differences from Europe. The transatlanticism that we've been watching throughout this course functions throughout American culture, not only in literature.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
This week we are reading through the heart of the Transcendentalist batting order. We're beginning with Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Nature', 'The American Scholar,' 'The Poet,' and 'Self-Reliance' (HA 1512 -1587), and then continuing with Henry David Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government (HA 1669 - 1686).
To help in dealing with Emerson, here is a slide presentation that outlines his life and then respective chapters of 'Nature.' It provides central pull quotes that can give you reading clues. The final slides deal with 'The American Scholar' and ask what made this a controversial essay. 'Self-Reliance' is a critical and often-cited Emerson essay, and unfortunately one sometimes abused to advocate an extreme individualism that Emerson did not advocate. Henry David Thoreau's Resistance to Civil Government, often published under the title On Civil Disobedience, is a fairly quick read that generates discussion on its own.
Monday, October 27, 2003
For the several who have asked, thanks, I'm back to my old self and usual tapdances. Only now I'm suspicious of the treason that can be perpetrated by a body.
In the lucidity of post-5am waking hours, when the drugs had ebbed and was I relatively clear-headed, I finished a re-reading of Southworth's The Hidden Hand; or, Capitola the Madcap. It's the opening text of a graduate seminar that I'm teaching next semester, and I love entering into a good story and hiding away there for awhile. I recommend it to those of you who are looking for a very readable nineteenth-century romance -- in the older sense of the word 'romance,' a novel where a daring character goes to a faraway or exotic place and has great adventures. It was one of the most popular novels of the 1850s and one that survived in many editions until the early twentieth century.
Like the totality of popular novels from that period, modernist criticism swept Southworth's work away as so much contemptible trash. These days possibly a grandparent who remembers the book and wants to give their grandchildren a 'safe' read might buy a copy as a present. However, this is a novel that is anything but safe; in fact, it's altogether subversive of gender norms. Capitola, its protagonist, is a street urchin from New York City brought to a Virginia plantation by a kindly old colonel, and who through pluck and serendipity discovers that she is the scion of a great inheritance. The novel's popularity came about through Southworth's modeling of Capitola, and there was a brief vogue for it as a birth name. Capitola's character is one of great independence, quick wits, rapier-like repartee, and bravery. A social demand for female equality virtually busts through the covers of this novel, but it remains a diplomatic demand. Like much literature of the period, the narrative works through indirection.
Would love to go on, but that will have to wait for tomorrow.
Heather B. prefaces her blog by stating that her Hawthorne readings are individual interpretations and "may have absolutely no academic value..." Well, other than accomplishing coursework and getting a grade, I hope that they have no academic value whatsoever. Unless you happen to be a member of the English profession -- and most English professors cheerfully admit it more resembles a lifelong illness than a profession -- then academic value is a questionable pursuit. Rather, achieving that individuality of interpretative discussion is a core purpose of reading and writing here. There is no right answer in this class, only better or less-achieved discussion.
And Mandi thinks that reading Hawthorne is like doing drugs. Hmmm, try 'Rappaccini's Daughter' (it's in the anthology). That's a weird, dreamy and frightening story. It makes the mysterious streets of colonial Boston seem utterly illuminated by comparison.
The handsomest blog this semester is definitely from Anjie. An utterly sweet little guy! Thanks for posting that photo!
And I do hope that Paula, sniffling in LA, feels better.
Intellectual and argumentative fervor are rarely out of place, Katie, coming somewhere just after kindness and the loveliness of good humor as human graces. And to watch them all join together in a discussion has been a memorable treat and one reason I love teaching.
That said, the increasing public correlation between questions of race and gender beginning in the late eighteenth and particularly through the mid-nineteenth century is one of the most notable trends in American literature and society. The proximity of readings in Equiano and Murray were no coincidence, for they illuminate the rhetoric of subordinate eighteenth-century subjects: blacks and women. Notice how both Equiano and Murray speak politely to their social superiors, how they phrase their arguments in terms of an equality of spirit, how they argue for their own acceptance. As we progress deeper into the American nineteenth century, this parallelism emerges even more profoundly. When reform-minded women become concerned with slavery, most notably beginning in the 1820s (western New York State and Massachusetts were especially productive of such reformers), they became cognizant of their own situation as women. This created a cross-over effect between abolitionism and the early women's suffrage movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and many other suffragists began their political lives in the antislavery movement. Male abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass supported women's rights, and Douglass attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention (although his post-war gender politics were complicated).
In literature, we witness the rise of the American sentimental novel that expresses a demand by women authors for an independent model of womanhood, leading towards such novels as E.D.E.N. Southworth's The Hidden Hand; or, Capitola the Madcap (1859) or Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall (1855). A woman's novel like Ruth Hall has more in common with the thematic structure of a slave narrative than might occur at first glance. Think of those stereotypical sentimental heroines trying to escape a horrid domestic situation where they are kept under lock and key by an abusive male authority figure; then think of a fugitive slave story where a traumatized slave, with a fractured and dispersed family, flies towards freedom. The parallels between role delimitations based on race and gender certainly occured to nineteenth-century writers, and there is no reason we should disregard them today.
An interesting story on the mainstreaming of blogging...
When CNN does stories and AOL hosts blogs, then blogs are truly mainstream culture.
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Fans of Randall van der Woning already know an article about him is going to appear on this Web site.
That's because they've read about it in his Web log, along with his many other adventures as a "big white guy" living in Hong Kong.
A Web log, or blog, is an online diary that is open for anyone to read.
With more than 4 million blogs out there in cyberspace, the diaries have gone mainstream making it difficult for a single blogger to rise above the noise.
But van der Woning is standing out in more ways than one. He says two million visitors have hit his web log, www.bigwhiteguy.com, since he started it five years ago.
Essentially, the Web log is a scrolling list of whatever comes to mind. In van der Woning's case, that is his observations -- often amusing -- of life in Hong Kong, a city he clearly loves.
For example: "It's very strange from a Western point of view to see someone order a pizza with thousand island dressing. Just the thought of it is rather disgusting. So I wanted to tell people about it," van de Woning tells CNN.
But he insists his site is not just another blog. He scours the city each day for content and even has his own merchandise such as T-shirts and coffee mugs.
The latest include hilariously poorly translated English subtitles from Hong Kong movies.
But the big white guy says he is not in it for the money.
The HK-based blogger often has amusing takes on life in the city.
"Some people write for self therapy. It's like a diary or a journal except you're opening it up for the world to see, he says.
"I do my site because it entertains me and I like to share Hong Kong with the world -- or at least my perspective of it."
And he is not the only one with a story to tell.
There are over 4 million blogs on the net, more than half run by teenagers. Research group Perseus says the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who updates it about twice a month.
Sites such as Diaryland and Blogspot make it easy for anyone to launch one. Even AOL is hosting web logs, a sign that this trend has hit the big time.
There are predictions the net will be littered with 5 million blogs by the end of the year.
But unlike www.bigwhiteguy.com most of them will be little seen, if not abandoned. At least two thirds of the blogs out there today have not been updated in months.
Lauren is unsure whether there is anti-Catholicism embedded in 'Young Goodman Brown.' While the story certainly has very broad interpretive dimensions beyond its setting in the world of Massachusetts Puritanism, I would not suspect it of such sentiments. Hawthorne's last novel, The Marble Faun (1860), is set in Rome and is one of the notable philo-Catholic antebellum American novels, a period that had been characterized much more by Know-Nothingism and popular antagonism to Catholic culture.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Since we're going to be reading further in the literature of slavery, here's an early draft of a review I wrote this weekend of a contemporary slave narrative.
Escape from Slavery
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
The slave narrative never died. Contemporary readers, to the extent that they encounter slave narratives, usually do so in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century writings of Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, or Harriet Jacobs. The concept of �slave narrative� registers as a literary antiquity, one that disappeared with the living memory of slavery. According to the United Nations, there are some twenty-seven millions living in forced servitude today; there were only four million slaves freed by the US Civil War. The question is not why slave narratives continue to emerge; rather, the question is why more slave narratives are not published?
In fact, viewed as a global genre, the slave narrative has been in the midst of a bitter �golden age� during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. There has never been such an international proliferation of slave narratives, emerging into publication in Russia, eastern Europe, Korea, Brazil, Israel, and other countries. In Europe, slave narratives have mobilized sufficient political and legal force to compel German payment of tens of billions of dollars via compensation agreements for forced labor. In Asia, successive Japanese governments have continued to resist explicit apologies and compensation claims based on the slave narratives of Korean, Chinese and Indonesian women forced into military brothels. Africa, where the largest and longest sustained colonial enslavement history provided human capital that fueled New World settlement and the Industrial Revolution, today publishes the fewest slave narratives despite having one of the major remaining slave populations. African slave narratives continue to have the least impact on mass political consciousness, although the Bush administration whose military aggressions are the antithesis of human rights, has proven adept at appropriating such issues as slavery in Sudan and global human trafficking as paper-thin substitutes for a genuine and comprehensive human rights policy.
Slave narratives, published today primarily in journalistic media and human rights reports, project intense political force in large part because readerships believe they should not be reading such reports in the contemporary era, that the act of human enslavement is an historic relic. A similar belief that slavery was an anti-modern offense, for example, caused liberal New York publisher George Palmer Putnam in 1930 to underwrite George Schuyler�s journalistic investigations of Liberian slavery, which resulted in Schuyler�s 1931 novel Slavery Today! So the St. Martin�s Press publicist who blurbs Francis Bok�s Escape from Slavery as a �groundbreaking modern slave narrative� participates in this counter-historical marketing of Bok�s story as a modernist surprise, as a reiteration of nineteenth-century slave stories. More accurately, this quite compelling book is one of proliferating class of neo-slavery narratives; it gains strength from locating individual Sudanese experience within a global context. As Bok himself realizes by the end of his narrative, it is precisely this comparative context that translates personal history into an understanding of its interrelationship with narratives of race, religion, and nation.
Francis Bok begins his story as Piol Buk, the son of a relatively prosperous Dinka farming family in the southern Sudanese village of Gurion. At age seven, having been sent to the nearby marketplace of town of Nyamlell with eggs and peanuts for sale, Bok, his sister, and other Dinka women and children were seized by heavily-armed Arab raiders from northern Sudan in a bloody raid that left dead bodies scattered across the market. Later, Bok was to discover that the same raiders had attacked his home village and killed his parents. The passages describing the raid bear a strong parallel to eyewitness reportage of the invasion of market villages, mass murder, decapitations, and rapes in Mark Danner�s The Massacre at El Mozote, detailing the 1981 depredations of the Altacatl Battalion in the highlands of El Salvador. Like the events at El Mozote, the massacres at Nyamlell and neighboring villages were subsequently covered over with layers of political obfuscation. Although the Nyamlell raid happened only five years later in 1986, it received no noticeable publicity in the Western press and the toll of this and similar violence in Sudan remains a matter of gross estimate. During the Sudanese civil war, an estimated two million have been killed.
Bok spent the next ten years as the herd-boy and property of Giemma Abdullah, a livestock owner who had participated in the marketplace raid. As he quickly learned by observation and warning, the punishment for inattention to the goats or cattle, for disobedience, or escape attempts was amputation of an arm or leg. This new life marked the beginning of immense adaptive changes that continue to characterize Bok�s life, and that typify lives that experience conversion from freedom to slavery, or the opposite. Slave narratives frequently mention the necessity of adaptation in order to survive. Bok writes �This new world I lived in made no sense to me: The people were different, the smells were different, the food was different, the language was different. Quickly, I realized I could deal with the people, survive on the food�.But the one thing I could not take was being unable to understand what these people were saying.� Cut off from social relations with other Dinka slaves, for whom speaking their own language was a risk, mastering the Arabic language without instruction became a means of survival.
Bok, the despised abd (slave), adapts by learning Arabic and nominally integrating himself into the new order of life. Interestingly, these is surprisingly little social description of the new village where Bok found himself a herd-boy, in part a function of spending years in the fields with goats and cattle. For ten years spent in a Sudanese village, a reader learns almost nothing. However, that same absence of descriptions of daily life testifies to Bok�s alienation and distance from the society of his captors. His primary relationships remain familial -- even with Giemma�s wife who hates and threatens him � and no substantive broader social relations emerge in his captivity narrative. �My social life was limited to grabbing a few quick sentences with another slave at the water hole,� he writes. Bok�s true comfort lies with his own memories of his family, particularly his parents. Without location other than in the fields with herds, and without society other than his owner�s family, the years of captivity pass in something of a time warp. Bok, who does not own himself, cannot own even the time of his own story.
Bok�s major preoccupation becomes escape, which entails the risk of capture and the amputation of a limb, or simply death. He makes his first attempt after seven years of captivity, at age fourteen. The escape lasted all of twenty minutes and brought him a whipping. He tries again the next day, with similar results and death threats from Giemma. The inchoate fear of severe mutilation for escape attempts, such as was visible among other slaves, becomes real and directly aimed at Bok. His early transition from adolescence into maturity comes through realization of the proximity of mutilation or death should he pursue freedom. It is this violence-induced fear of the consequences of escaping towards freedom that haunts the fugitive slave narrative tradition. A competition between fear and desire emerges, one that drives slave narrative to decision points. Death outright is not necessarily the worst outcome: �I was confused,� Bok writes, �I did not want to die, but wasn�t living with these people a kind of death?�
After three years spent waiting for sufficient maturity to accomplish a successful escape, Bok fled to a nearby provincial town where the police made him their unpaid kitchen boy � another slavery. Bok emerged from slavery entirely ignorant of all but the most limited local geography, so choosing another direction of flight became an exercise in relying on generosity and assistance from those who had no motivation to assist beyond their own conscience. The geographical imperative, in Sudan and later in Egypt and the United States, became to find other Dinka, to re-locate himself within a familiar culture. What Escape from Slavery emphasizes without outright statement is the imperative towards cultural comfort as remedy to social trauma. As a fugitive slave, Bok joins the global refugee community but the Dinka diaspora defines his life�s geography.
A friendly Arab truck driver helps him escape further north; he also provides the first instance Bok experiences of Arab antislavery conscience. Two months of hiding in the driver�s family apartment substantially alter his perceptions of Arabs, changing his initial fear into an alliance with his host. An escape from slavery is an expansion of experience and cultural consciousness, one that fugitive slave narratives record repeatedly. As Bok later notes in his encounters with antagonistic Arab students in the United States, his escape, shelter, and eventual ticket to Khartoum was the work of Abdah and his wife, who believed that their neighbors had no right to enslave human beings. Like other fugitive narratives, this one provides much more than a personal autobiography; it maps out a politics of respect and ethnic interdependence.
In Khartoum, the Dinka community reappears as a sheltering environment. Another Dinka singles out Bok at the bus station and leads him to Jabarona, a heavily-Dinka neighborhood in the ed-Da�ein shantytown outside Khartoum. Jabarona provides more than another shelter; its refugees from Dinkaland, many of whom had similar stories of raids and captivity, provide an assembly of stories that constitute a collective history. Unlike Bok, who remains a political na�f, other Dinka know that paid informers permeate their refugee camp and that telling stories of slavery attracts hostile government attention. Security police picked up Bok after eleven days in Jabarona, whipped him to force him to deny that he had been enslaved, and released him from prison seven months later without having troubled themselves with charges.
With the aid of fellow Dinka and a black market passport, Bok left Sudan for Egypt, a route used by tens of thousands of Dinka seeking UN recognition as political refugees. It is at this point after arriving in Cairo that Bok�s narrative takes official form in English, the language used by UN officials to record, classify and select between stories in order to decide who will and will not receive the magic designation of �political refugee� that will enable re-settlement in a Western country. The stage is so crucial that �the English teacher,� another Dinka refugee with sufficient English skills to fill out application forms, becomes the key counselor for fellow Dinkas searching for harbor beyond Cairo. This first version of Bok�s narrative, framed together with Franco Majok, whose designation as �English teacher� was more that of cultural guide than language instructor, was the basic draft of the pre-Cairo section of Escape from Slavery.
This process indicates an important feature of the new global slave narrative: not only does it appear in what becomes Bok�s third language, well before he knows that new language, but it comes into being as part of an international bureaucratic document produced by translating the story of a citizen of an under-developed country, a citizen whose enslavement violated nominal legal protections against slavery. English becomes the avenue of access to minimal international protections, a troubling prospect given that human rights cannot be effectively conditioned on knowledge of a specific language if they are to have meaning. While international aid agencies and human rights organizations are producing a new bureaucratic literature of slavery in their English-language interviews and administrative reports, slavery happens in a chaotic multiplicity of vernaculars. The reductive neutralism here is not that of William Still, an African American conductor on the Underground Railroad whose transcriptions of interviews with fugitive slaves for the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee during the 1850s had a crisp and self-protective coolness, but rather the neutralism of many neo-slave narratives derives from an administrative environment where the narrative must fit specific recognizable criteria in order to afford assistance to the refugee. While the English translation has its uses, slaves narratives need publication in their own languages, and as English-language readers we need to recognize the missing emotional depth in translation. How differently might this story read in Dinka?
During the approximately year-and-a-half Bok spent in Cairo, going through processes that eventually took him to Fargo, North Dakota, under sponsorship from Lutheran Social Services, he acquired a familiarity with both English and Black Entertainment Television. This autobiography is not only a slave narrative, but a story of immigration and Americanization. Exploring Wal-Mart�s mystery aisles, doing night shifts in a plastics factory, cheering at televised Lakers games, discovering the meaning of winter in North Dakota and moving to Ames, Iowa. The Americanization of Francis Bok was proceeding with fair normality until the American Anti-Slavery Group in Boston recruited him as a circuit speaker. In a short while, the AASG had arranged the church meetings, media interviews, and congressional testimony that made Francis Bok the best-known ex-slave in the United States.
The AASG has adopted an all-inclusive and bi-partisan approach to its antislavery work; among its Sudan Campaign supporters were the late Jesse Helms, congressional representative Barbara Lee, and the political stretch in between. Since there are no open advocates of chattel slavery in the United States, bi-partisan opposition to slavery is not an accomplishment per se. This approach does have tactical utility in terms of foreign policy advocacy; however, it can also lead to refusal to distinguish between actors and motives. When Bok describes a meeting with Helms, then chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he wonders whether the tears in the senator�s eyes are from compassion for slaves in Sudan or the emotion generated by Bok telling his story in front of a group of Colorado schoolchildren. More experienced readers, who remember Helms as the 1948 States Rights Party presidential candidate for American apartheid, are more likely to wonder whether the senator�s tears were for Giemma Abdullah�s property loss.
Other issues of political and organizational motivation arise in the book, as in the global antislavery movement. There have been strong and unjustified prejudices against some actors in the antislavery campaign in Sudan, principally the Christian Solidarity International organization based in Switzerland, which has purchased large groups of slaves from Arab traders in order to emancipate and re-locate them. UNICEF has heavily criticized the work of CSI and its directors, John Eibner, for redemption payments that, it argues, only encourage the slave trade. However, since UNICEF and other international agencies have fielded no credible antislavery program in the region, it is difficult to see a rational basis for objecting to redemption payments that have liberated over 80,000 Dinka and other tribal peoples. The effectiveness of Frederick Douglass in the abolitionist movement, after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act threatened his freedom, came about in large measure because wealthy British supporters paid his purchase price. The underlying objection to such redemption work appears to lie in the religious motivation of Christian Solidarity International, which does not suit some secular ideological tastes and smacks of prejudice against evangelical Christians. Passages of religious testimony punctuate Escape from Slavery and, as can be found in many other slave narratives, Bok reports that his growing religious faith provided him with sustenance in the face of apparent abandonment. Differences of religious, non- or anti-religious conscience are irrelevant to the work of ending a culture of kidnapping and enslavement, work that must be judged on its practical results. While payment of redemption monies for human beings is deeply offensive, ownership of slaves is vastly more offensive. As for Bok, he appears undecided on the issue: he objects to payment to slave traders, but values Eibner�s efforts and believes the controversy diverts attention and energies from assembling coherent international effort to end chattel slavery in Sudan. Bok�s politics are those of dispute reconciliation in the interests of the larger cause of Dinka slaves, estimated to number over one hundred thousand.
Today human trafficking has become the new human rights mantra in Washington, with significant administrative resources and annual reports now devoted to the issue by the Department of State. The adoption of human trafficking as a leading policy issue, however genuine the outrage and repugnance, has been window dressing for a Bush administration policy shop that daily traffics in the human rights violations engendered by imperial military adventurism. After he finished defending the invasion of Iraq before a cold audience at his United Nations appearance this month, President Bush spent nearly the last third of his speech addressing human trafficking and slavery. Mobilizing the image of the suffering slave is one of the oldest political tricks of post-Enlightenment imperialism, one that proponents of nineteenth-century European empires in Africa and Asia frequently employed in behalf of their projects. This same rhetorical strategy conceals the de-linkage of slavery from capitalism and its systemic demand for ever-cheaper labor, one that culminates in neo-slavery in economies struggling to compete under the terms of free-market globalization. When the New York Times reports on industrial slavery among women factory workers in development regions of China, this is not a phenomenon that official US policy discussions recognize as part of a continuum of slavery. The fact that Bok was a wage-less slave in a pastoralist economy does not significantly distinguish him from unwaged, starvation wage, or sub-minimum wage earners in industrial economies and legal systems that treat labor no differently than did Giemma Abdullah, as a possession at the disposal of capital-owners and subject to control through private, corporate or state violence. Making the link between the inseparable histories and violence of capitalism and slavery is crucial work, but will not be found in either this book or AASG�s carefully framed mainstream message.
Bok�s afterword opens with a pollyanna-ish and slightly worshipful account of his meeting with President Bush at the October 2002 signing of the Sudan Peace Act. He marvels that a once-enslaved herd-boy can shake hands with the president of the United States. Bok�s leading concern has become to mobilize American public opinion and political power in behalf of southern Sudanese peoples, not to criticize the politics of his new country. As an ex-slave, Bok states, he lives under obligation to those who remain slaves and to work for their freedom. To be an ex-slave is to regain a capacity to act upon independent conscience, and Bok is now in the midst of establishing his independence through education.
The unanswered question of Escape from Slavery remains �who is a slave?� There are far more than twenty-seven million in need of emancipation. Who are they? Reading the contemporary literature of slavery is the beginning of an answer to that question.
Published by St. Martin�s Press.
Summer has posted interesting blogs on Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown' and 'The Minister's Black Veil.' While the resonances of Puritanism are quite clear in 'Young Goodman Brown,' I confess that I've always found 'The Minister's Black Veil' quite mysterious and difficult to interpret. The reason I assign it is because it is so open to interpretive possibility, which is a wonderful quality in writing.
Anjie has posted a lovely picture of William Michael Mote, her beautiful son who has just joined the world. We are all so pleased for you and your family, Anjie! That little cry on his face looks like he's saying "But I don't want to read Emerson already, mom!"