25 September 2007

Erik Prince, Duncan Hunter, and political cynicism.

I should be working, but two newsy bits have caught my eye today.

1) According to a story on NPR, Erik Prince, who runs Blackwater USA (you know, the company whose contractors were accused of opening fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq?) has solid ties to Conservative Evangelical Christian groups and the Republican Party. Since 1998, he's given about $200,000 to conservative political candidates.

As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise.” Sorry--Gomer was a Marine, Prince is ex-Navy.
Anyway, the AP reported yesterday that

Blackwater's ties to the GOP run deep. [Prince's contributions to GOP politicians presents] a pattern of donation followed by other top Blackwater executives. The company's vice chairman is Cofer Black, a former CIA counterterrorism official who is serving as a senior adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Members of Blackwater's legal team have included former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and current White House Counsel Fred Fielding. The company tapped a GOP-connected public relations firm after the grisly 2004 deaths of four Blackwater employees who were ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah. Their remains
were strung from a bridge.
Sheesh. What more can you add? It's all so, so cynical.

2) And fresh in the "academic freedom" department, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is mad at Columbia University for letting the nutjob M. A. speak yesterday (9/24). He’s so mad, in fact, the he appeared on “Fox News’s Your World With Neil Cavuto and promised to introduce legislation ‘to cut off funds to Columbia University’” (Chronicle of Higher Ed).

I think what he’s really mad about is his poorly-polling presidential candidacy. Could he be any more obvious (or desperate) in trying to appeal to patriotic zealots? Does he actually imagine this will gain votes? A cynical, silly ploy.

I think it's great that M.A. spoke at Columbia because he revealed himself as an absolutely batsh*t lunatic; the man's lost any credibility he had with Americans sympathetic to Iran's struggles (except, perhaps, for those whacky folks on the fringe).

Moreover, as the Chronicle points out, even if Hunter and his buddies did succeed in pushing some speech-restricting bill through the Congress, chances are it “would probably be struck down by the courts. “Viewpoint-based” allocations of public subsidies are generally unconstitutional [. . . .].” Eugene Volokh, over at the most excellent Volokh Conspiracy, discusses the ramifications of such legislation.

I should think a little something like the first amendment might cause some problems here. What idiocy.

Should I also mention that Hunter has made the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s most recent list (9/18/07) of the most corrupt members of Congress? Why not.

* Admittedly, the Iranian people have a point in complaining about how their president was treated at Columbia. Couldn't Bollinger have waited to lambast A. M. at least until after M. A. had spoken, or even the following day? We'd have had right fits if the same had occurred to Bush while at home, much less overseas. Remember how even Charlie Rangel got into a right state after Hugo Chavez made his ridiculous comments about Bush and "the devil" at the UN?

17 September 2007

UC Irvine & Chemerinsky: Resolution

U C Irvine has re-appointed Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of the university's new law school.

Apparently, Chancellor Drake flew out to see Chemerinsky at Duke this weekend, and the men successfully hashed out their problems. In a joint statement published at the UC Irvine website this morning, Drake and Chemerinsky write:

We resolved to put recent events behind us and immediately begin to focus on our shared vision of creating a law school dedicated to providing the best education for future lawyers, to producing the finest legal scholarship, and to helping to address the legal needs of Orange County and the nation. The law school, like all great educational institutions, will be a place of great diversity, where differing viewpoints are nurtured, debated and cherished. Our goal is to create nothing less than one of the finest law schools in the country. We believe that together, and with the many talented faculty and staff at the University of California, Irvine, we will succeed.
I'm happy for Professor Chemernisky, and I'm glad to see that reason (and academic freedom) has triumphed over ideology.

As this case has closed, I'd like people to recall that the the media frenzy surrounding this situation was not due solely to liberal academics and reporters (as the Orange County Business Journal claims). Yes, Chemerinsky's case was fought in the press, but numerous conservative legal scholars and media figures joined in the fray to support Erwin Chemerinsky. The media fight over Chemerinsky's deanship can't be reduced to the cartoonishly polarized "liberal" vs. "conservative" positions. Sadly, the American public has been well trained to see the world in this simplistic binary. Too many people fail to detect shades of grey where the positions overlap, and where human concerns override ideological ones.

15 September 2007

More Chemerinsky

Professor Chemerinsky published an op-ed piece in the L A Times today commenting on the recent UC Irvine kerfluffle. In the article (which I suggest you read in full), he writes:
As has been widely reported, on Aug. 16 I was asked to be the founding dean of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine. After a couple of weeks of negotiations, I formally accepted the position and signed a contract on Sept. 4. It always was understood that the job was contingent on approval of the University of California Board of Regents, and it was to be on the agenda for the regents' meetings on Sept. 18-20. I was tremendously excited about the possibility of being part of starting a new law school at an excellent university.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11 [note: before the regent's meeting], however, the chancellor at UC Irvine, Michael V. Drake, withdrew the offer. He told me that I had proved to be "too politically controversial." Those, by the way, were the exact words that he said I could use to describe the reason for the decision. He told me that he had not expected the extent of opposition that would develop.
Later, he adds:

Chancellor Drake initially asked that I simply say that we had mutually agreed to end my prospective deanship. I refused and said that all I wanted was that the truth be told. We live in such ideologically polarized times. It is important for those on both sides of the ideological spectrum to realize that their common commitment to academic freedom is far more important than blocking a particular faculty or dean candidate based on ideology.What now? I have enormous fondness for the many wonderful people I met at UC Irvine, and I hope they find a terrific dean and create a great law school -- a school that, like all schools, should be committed to a rich diversity of ideas and views.
And Chancellor Michael Drake still denies that political ideology had anything to do with his decision.

In his op-ed piece, Chemerinsky asks people to stop with the McCarthy comparisons (guilty!) because he hasn't lost his job at Duke, "and [he] can continue to teach and write and handle legal appeals, as [he has] for the last 28 years."

But, ah, wait!
The L A Times says that Irvine is in the process of rehiring Chemerinsky. So, if he's re-offered the position of dean, should he take it?

Erwin Chemerinsky: Academic Dishonor, Academic Disgrace

It's an absolute disgrace. That is, if newspaper reports and blog accounts truly reflect what’s going on at UC Irvine.

In August, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V Drake approached a Duke University law professor named Erwin Chemerinsky and offered him the post of dean at the new Irvine law school. This week, Drake rescinded that offer.

Chemerinsky is a well-known, highly qualified Constitutional legal scholar; he’s represented Valerie Plame and a GitMo detainee, written numerous op-ed pieces in national newspapers, and participated in radio and television debates. He’s well-respected among his peers. So why did he get the sack? Allegedly, because he’s liberal.

As The Washington Post reports, Chemerinsky claims that “the UC-Irvine chancellor [Michael V Drake] told him on Tuesday that he "knew I was liberal but didn't know how controversial I would be." The chancellor also said "some conservative opposition was developing," and the University of California regents would have "a bloody fight" over approving him.” If an ideological conflict was Drake’s concern, why did he select a well-known liberal as dean in the first place? The Washington Post suggests that a recent op-ed piece by Chemerinsky, published in the LA Times, prompted Drake’s decision to sack Chemerinksy. (the op-ed piece “urg[ed] Californians to reject a plan by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that would, he argued, make it harder for those on death row to have their cases reviewed in federal court.”)

Others aren’t so sure.

Professor Bainbridge, a Conservative legal scholar, writes: “my guess - and it's just a guess - is that Donald Bren may have had a hand in this development. Bren gave $20 million to UC Irvine to finance the law school, which is to be named after him.” Bren is conservative.

But while Bainbridge’s theory is just that, we do know that a conservative LA area politician may have helped muddy up Chemerinsky’s deanship. From SF Gate:

A conservative Los Angeles County politician asked about two dozen people in an e-mail last month how to prevent the University of California, Irvine from hiring renowned liberal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as its founding law school dean, a spokesman for the politician said Friday. Making Chemerinsky the head of the law school "would be like appointing al-Qaida in charge of homeland security," Michael Antonovich, a longtime Republican member of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a voicemail left with The Associated Press.

He was not available for further comment on why he was getting involved in the situation at a campus located outside his jurisdiction in Orange County.
Drake has denied that any political dealings interfered with his decision to fire Chemerinsky. In a letter published on the UC Irvine’s website, In fact, Drake claims, his own ideology is akin to Chemerinsky’s; Chemerinsky just “was not the right fit” for the law school. The vague justifications fall flat. And, although he claims to have discussed Chemerinksy’s deanship with the California Board of Regents, “several board members — including California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles — have said they were not consulted on Chemerinsky and didn't oppose him” (SFGate)

Rather than supporting the university’s decision, several prominent conservatives have leapt to Chemerinsky’s defense and charged Drake with serving a blow against academic freedom. Among them, Hugh Hewitt (yes, the Evangelical Conservative legal expert), who writes in his blog at townhall.com:

Erwin is a man of the left, of course, but a remarkably distinguished and accomplished scholar who enjoys the esteem of professors, jurists and practioners across the ideological spectrum. [. . . .] This is an astonishing and disgraceful episode, which, if perpetrated against a conservative, would rightly lead to a massive outpouring of outrage directed at the university that had allowed such a purge to occur.

Likewise, Douglas Kmiec, another conservative scholar, writes in the LA Times that:

Erwin Chemerinsky is one of the finest constitutional scholars in the country. He is a gentleman and a friend. He is a gifted teacher. As someone who participates regularly in legal conferences and symposiums, I have never seen him be anything other than completely civil to those who disagree with him.

So the news that UC Irvine had selected him to be the first dean of its new law school was welcome indeed. And the subsequent news -- that it withdrew the offer Tuesday, apparently because of Erwin's political beliefs and work -- is a betrayal of everything a great institution like the University of California represents. It is a forfeiture of academic freedom.
Many of Chemerinsky’s peers, both liberal and conservative, have written, in op-ed pieces and in blogs, that U C Irvine--and Drake--should be ashamed. A fine, fine scholar has lost a job merely because of his political tilt. Hewitt is right: if this had happened to a conservative, the outrage would be massive. This reminds me of a story I heard recently from a professor who had attended a Florida university in the 1950s. There was a purge of liberals, and the entire drama department got the sack. While you might expect this of a school in the middle of McCarthy’s Red Scare, you certainly don’t expect this kind of activity now--especially when schools are acutely alert to accusations of distorted academic freedom and the country’s current ideological divide.

Whether Drake made is decision from a fear of controversy, or whether he did it to comply with conservative donors’ demands, he’s indicated his own lack of backbone and critical thinking. I shouldn’t be surprised if he faces a vote of no confidence from the faculty of UC Irvine in the near future.

Aside: As far as I know, David Horowitz hasn’t yet chimed in. I wonder how the activist for academic freedom, who often charges universities of indoctrinating students with liberalism, and who claims that all universities should hire and fire professors according to merit, views the situation?

Update: I owe Horowitz an apology! Two days ago he published a response to the Chemerinsky case at Students for Academic Freedom, writing:

The firing of Chemerinsky is itself an outrage. It is a violation of the principle of academic freedom and should be protested by anyone who cares about American higher education. I have myself debated Professor Chemerinsky, whose politics are in the Alan Colmes mode. Needless to say we don't agree on most things. But Chemerinksy is an intelligent legal mind and well qualified for the position, and his politics should not be a criterion for hiring or firing him.

Wow! Go Mr Horowitz!

But then he qualified that show of support after receiving an email--a comment left on The Volokh Conspiracy that discussed Chemerinsky’s involvement with the Rachel Corrie / Caterpillar case. It’s a bit confusing as he doesn’t indicate what is quoted from the email, so Horowitz’s ideas and the email’s content get kind of tangled up. He also argues that the UC Irvine law school was to be “built around” Chemerinsky. To be honest, I’ve not done enough research to comment on that claim, nor do I entirely understand (without forcing assumptions) why Horowitz objects to this. His final conlusion, that "[w]hat UC Irvine should have done is said, we will hire you as a professor (however reprehensible your politics) but we can't build a law school around you" indeed bows towards academic freedom, but it still limits it because of Chemerinsky's ideology. "Oh, you're good enough for a professorship, but we can't have you as dean, despite your many qualifications, accolades, and the deep respect your conservative, liberal, and moderate colleagues have for you, but we just can't have you as the law school's founding dean.

Still, Horowitz's intial support of Chemerinsky does illustrate that he has some true committment to academic freedom. It's not all anti-liberal fear-mongering (a right relief after that Ahmad al-Qloushi debacle and the Academic Bill of Rights conflicts).

14 September 2007

More Giallo!

And after writing an entry on Giallo.....

I thought I'd scrubbed the excellent local Hollywood Video for horror/suspense titles (it really is a great local HV--they actually specialize in foreign and independent films). But ah! Today I found Crimes of the Black Cat (although I prefer its Italian title: Seven Shawls of Yellow Silk)
A description from xploitedcinema :

A blind pianist overhears a mysterious conversation in a bar. The next day his girlfriend is murdered. The only clue: a yellow silk scarf. This Giallo by the [director] Sergio Pastore is along the lines of Dario Argento and Mario Bava’s early work even if the movie’s most famous scene is ‘borrowed’ from Hitchcock’s legendary shower sequence… Features a haunting soundtrack by Manuel De Sica whose jagged melodies are reminiscent of the best Morricone. Stars Anthony Steffen, Sylva Koscina & Giacomo Rossi-Stuart.
Well, the film isn't all that, but it's intriguing enough for a bit of late-night, post-dissertating catharsis. And the scene "borrowed" from Hitchcock is pretty horrific, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you are a really-truly hardcore Giallo fan.

Giallo! Yes, Giallo!

I've been away working on the Big Project and dealing with existential issues that you certainly do not want to hear about. I've also embarked on a mission to lose some [expletive] weight (which might well be tied to said existential issues--but I've lost ten pounds so wahey!). Rather than go on and on and on about emotional fatness, I give you the Giallo title generator--complete with a director and plot outline!

If you're not acquainted with Giallo, it's an Italian film genre that, at its most basic, might be defined as a stylized, operatic, sometimes brutal murder mystery/thriller; you can usually spot a Giallo via its melodramatic title (e.g., The House With Laughing Windows, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Short Night of Glass Dolls, Don't Torture a Duckling, etc). It's much more than that, though. I recommend Wikipedia's entry on Giallo if you're inclined to know more. And if you want to know more than that, check out this fab blog, Giallo Fever, which is run by a PhD student in Scotland.

If you've ever watched a Dario Argento film (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Tenebrae, Profundo Rosso, or the classic Suspiria, among other titles) you'll have seen a Giallo film. Giallo elements spill into Argento's horror films as well. In fact, you could say that most of Italy's finest horror directors began with Giallo and never entirely left it. (With the exception of Lucio Fulci. He just got gross [The Gates of Hell? Zombi? Sorry. I have some standards, and they end at some woman puking up sheep intestines]).

You glimpse Giallo's influence in spaghetti westerns as well, such as those by Sergio Leone (aside: Ennio Morricone often scored Giallos, such as Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), and much, much contemporary horror (The original Friday the 13th? Say hello to Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve. Carpenter's* Halloween? Well, I think there's much of Profundo Rosso in there, but I think Carpenter cribbed from Italians across the board).

Enjoy the title generator. My favorite one so far:
A Big Green Aardvark in a Woman's Hands. Directed by Romano Pecorino

* I look forward to Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. I enjoy his old-school, USA grindhouse sensibility. Call me sick, but The Devil's Rejects was one of last year's best movies.

01 September 2007

C30 / C60 / C90 Go (online) !

Here’s a London fellow with an intriguing hobby: the Dalston Shopper.

Dalston Shopper visits local charity shops (primarily, it seems, Oxfam) to dig around in the cassette bins. He purchases the more interesting / curious / bizarre collections (be they mix tapes or studio releases) and uploads tracks and images to Dalston Oxfam Shop--one seriously cool blog. Dalston Shopper’s finds include Indian film music, obscure rave tracks, discarded personal collections. . .

I first read about Dalston Shopper's site in The Guardian, which featured the site in an article on MP3 blogs in its 7/7/07 entertainment guide. You can find it online (with links!) here. Enjoy!

And back to my attempt at dissertating (which seems to become more painful and less fruitful every day. I fear for my ABD status--that is, that I'll never move beyond it).

23 August 2007

O Rare Sam Johnson (with apologies to Ben)

I'm a bit behind on some of the news (what with the whole Karl Rove / Alberto Gonzales thing going on), so today I learned that earlier this month some nutjob took a hammer to Joshua Reynolds's portrait of Dr. Johnson at the National Portrait Gallery (you can read The Guardian's story here, and Peter Stothard of the TLS 'blogs about it here).

The portrait, apparently, can be repaired.

I've no comments to add, no laments to shriek. I'm simply saddened.

Added: I've just discovered a notice about Dr. Johnson's cat, Hodge, here. I didn't realize the man's pet was a celebrity, but there you go.

20 August 2007

A Matter of Character ?

I found a saddening, telling little anecdote about President G W Bush and Karl Rove at The Plank, a 'blog at The New Republic. The tale appears originally in an article titled "The Rove Presidency," by Joshua Green, in September 2007's Atlantic Monthly (subscription only). In the article, Dick Armey, the House Majority Leader when Bush first took office, relates the following:

For all the years he was president," Armey told me, "Bill Clinton and I had a little thing we'd do where every time I went to the White House, I would take the little name tag they give you and pass it to the president, who, without saying a word, would sign and date it. Bill Clinton and I didn't like each other. He said I was his least-favorite member of Congress. But he knew that when I left his office, the first schoolkid I came across would be given that card, and some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president's autograph. I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it." Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition with Clinton and asked the president if he would care to continue it. "Bush refused to sign the card. Rove, who was sitting across the table, said, 'It would probably wind up on eBay,'" Armey continued.

So, what do you come away with after reading this? That GWB and KR seem petty, dismissive, and suspicious? Then again, the five seconds it takes to sign a nametag is a mighty waste of valuable commander time, and, anyway, the only reason a kid would appreciate a president's autograph would lay in its profit potential. So cynical.

19 August 2007

Mark Twain on Ms. Austen

Mark Twain didn’t enjoy Jane Austen very much, declaring:

Jane Austen? Why, I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.

[and from a letter:]

I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

21 May 2007

Americans to play the Bronte sisters?

Admittedly, this is a silly post, but I don’t get it this casting choice.

A new film about the Bronte sisters is in the works. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain), Bryce Dallas Howard (Spiderman 3) and Evan Rachel Wood (13 [or is it Thirteen?]) will play, respectively, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

As The Daily Mail notes:
"The film will be the latest to feature Americans as English writers, following The Devil Wears Prada star Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in this year's Becoming Jane and Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter. "

"Bronte will be directed and written by British filmmaker Charles Sturridge, who recently directed the Lassie remake. "

There are so many wonderful British actresses out there, how is it that these roles go to Americans? Okay, Zellwegger produced the Beatrix Potter movie, but you get the point.

I’d love a Bronte movie, and the players named are solid actresses, but I wonder if the Yanks can carry off a convincing portrayal of the Yorkshire trio.

At the very least, let’s hope the producers turn the glam off.

15 May 2007

The late Dr Falwell

Good-night doctor.
Falwell did some good things, and he did some dubious ones, but both came from the same conviction: he was doing it for God. His God.

He was a devoted evangelical, fundamentalist minister.
He opened up homes for unwed mothers, alcoholics, and drug addicts.
He opened up an AIDS hospice.
He got the Christian right politically involved (even if I disagree with their perspective, it's better to have greater than fewer points of view under discussion--especially in politics.My only wish is that more would base their choices on reason than Christian principles. The two can--and do--go together, but many on the extreme right abjure the former).

But he also helped kickstart the Great Polarization of the 20th century's closing years, the cultural binary that has turned "red" and "blue," "right" and "left" into warring factions, both of which prefer irrational arguments steeped in derision and hatemongering over debate.

He argued against individual rights--prioritizing "family" and "community" values over the personal choices of gay men and women.
He opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa
He funded and distributed "The Clinton Chronicles," which accused the Clintons of everything from drug smuggling to murder. He later claimed that he wasn't sure about the work's accuracy (but he funded and distributed it).
He said the Antichrist is probably here, and he must be Jewish.
He supported segregation in the USA.
He argued against unions (moreover, his idea that those who read their Bibles became better workers and, therefore, earned higher wages, speaks of the bourgeois heresy).
He saw homosexual conspiracies in children's programming.
He called global warming "a hoax"
After September 11, 2001, he said: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

He wanted, in other words, a return to a past that never existed--the golden age where premarital sex never happened, men never found other men attractive, women never desired anything more than motherhood or volunteering in her community as a hobby, and, most chilling of all, he desire for a country controlled by a religious force implies a desire to return to the nineteenth--or eighteenth--century (after all, isn't this when "secularization" began?). Was this "God's" word, or the wish of a man who watched his country undergoing social changes ?

No, I didn't very much like Dr. Falwell (sometimes he said some ridiculous things--Tinky Winky ?--and sometimes he said some hateful things--9/11?), but he was a force in our country, and it will be intriguing to watch how his passing plays out politically. He was a massively galvanizing force. Now that Falwell is gone, will the bloc disintegrate into various sects, or will someone just as powerful emerge to fill the preacher's boots?

13 May 2007

"Brokeback" for 12 year olds?

Something is seriously wonky here.
A 12 year old’s grandparents filed a lawsuit against her school because a substitute teacher, a Ms. Buford, showed students--get this--Brokeback Mountain. In class.

Now, personally I think Brokeback is a pretty exceptional film. Ang Lee, Heath Ledger, and Jake Gyllenhall are to be commended for their work. That being said, it’s hardly an appropriate film for eighth graders. It’s rated R for a reason. At the very least, permission slips should have been distributed and collected.

What the article fails to mention is whether the teacher showed clips or an edited version, which could be both acceptable and appropriate (depending on her purpose in showing it), and I hope that this is the case. I find it hard to believe that someone would be so foolish, so unthinking, so, well, stupid to show an R-rated, controversial film in our current socio-cultural atmosphere. For crying out loud, teachers are losing their jobs for far-less significant matters.

Consider Tresa Waggoner. A music teacher in Bennett, Colorado who was placed on administrative leave because she showed clips from an old video about Gounod’s opera Faust to her class. The video was produced for children (featuring Joan Sutherland and sock puppets). Waggoner was called a devil-worshipper, a lesbian, and lord knows what else.

Or the Texas teacher--Sydney McGee--who was reprimanded and removed from teaching after taking her class to an art museum where, horrors! They saw sculptures of nudes. It was a school-approved field trip, and she’s asked the principal about it beforehand. The school district claimed that McGee’s performance was sub-par, and that the field trip only played a small role in their decision to remove her.

But while these stories exemplify the silliness of so many “protect the children” arguments, Ms. Buford’s actions--if she did, indeed, show the film in its entirety--reinforce those arguments; she’s given more ammo to the curriculum police, which only further “justifies” concerns about “devil-worshipping” music teachers, and “inappropriate” museum trips.

10 May 2007

'Bye Tone. Hello, Gordo

After ten years as Prime Minister, Tony Blair is stepping down at the end of June.

Although this announcement has long been expected and, for many, hoped for, it still comes with a bit of surprise (that he'd actually release the top job) and a bit of sadness (the war and TB's support for it) .

The British people ushered Blair--and New Labour--into office with such great joy, such hope for change and rejuvenation after years of Conservative rule (remember the Blair family marching through the streets, being cheered on by the crowds, [and Cherie Blair in that brown --brown!--suit?).

Pop stars and famous actors began to hang at Number Ten. Blair was part and parcel of the "Cool Britannia" years, but, like Blur, Pulp, and Elastica, New Labour was bound to implode.

New Labour's surrender to petty corruption (donatations for honors), and Blair's loyalty to the Iraq War (and to GWB) has cracked his popularity; he's lost the people's faith. If Blair doesn't go, the people will lose faith in Labour as well.

So, Gordon Brown finally gets his chance at the golden ring. And good luck to him. He'll need it. Look at what he'll inherit.

09 May 2007

Wyndham Lewis: forgotten man

Miles Johnson, in The Guardian's arts blog, notes that the 50th anniversary of Wyndham Lewis's passed recently. It did so without television specials or special anniversary editions of Lewis's work. Apparently, we've forgotten the man, the (ahem) seminal figure, behind some of the early twentieth century's most vibrant, vigourous, and unconventional art. The avant-garde's master at arms.

The silence might well be due to Lewis's regrettable, abhorrent fascism and racism. But if we can recover and "rehabilitate" Yeats and Eliot, for example, why not "recover" Lewis? Let's investigate how his fascism seeps into his aesthetic, and how that aesthetic seeps into "high" modernism.

I wonder, however, what would happen if we excised all of the modernists with fascist inclinations? How many great Anglo-American writers of 1900-1940 would we have left (that, surely, is telling)?

Addendum 5/3/08
And months later, I discover another tribute to Lewis that questions his status as "forgotten modernist"; the blogger also includes a poem he wrote that references the "men of 1914." And Eliot. You can read both items at "My Life."

08 May 2007

Remember "Cool Britannia"?

Blur v. Oasis v.2?

It appears that (by now middle-aged) Britpop relics Oasis and Blur will issue new CDs next spring. Jon Wilde at The Guardian wonders if we’ll be treated to a fresh burst of feuding. Wahey!

And on a sadder note, Isabella Blow, R. I. P.

The Amazonian fashion goddess Isabella Blow, she of the magnificently impractical hats and, well, unconventional style, has died at the age of 48 from “cancer and depression” (from that description, take what you will).

07 May 2007

Stephen Joyce v. Carol Schloss

I’m a Jane-come-lately on this issue, but here it is nonetheless.

A few months back, the New Yorker published an article, “The Injustice Collector,” by D. T. Max, which questioned whether Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s grandson, was “suppressing scholarship” with his aggressive attempts to control Joyce-related materials (he even claims to have destroyed family documents). Because of his reluctance to permit Joyceans access to materials related to his grandfather, or to cite such materials, the Stephen Joyce has acquired quite a bitter reputation amongst scholars.

However, Joyce lost a recent case involving scholar Carol Schloss, who has written a biography of Lucia Joyce, James’s daughter and Stephen’s aunt, titled Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. Stephen Joyce forbade Schloss to cite from copyrighted materials (both published and unpublished), which effectively rendered some of her claims insupportable. Schloss, however, took Joyce to court and won. You can read the press release here.

Now, if only Mrs. Valerie Eliot would allow scholars to access and cite TSE’s work without obtaining special permission (which, apparently, she isn’t eager to grant), all would be well. Of course, with Ronald Schuchard's new endeavour (to publish a multi-volume collection containing all of Eliot's prose), and Mrs. Eliot's hiring of a fresh editor for the second volume of letters, that day might not be too far off. Fingers crossed, anyway.

06 May 2007

Reviews of Raine's Monograph on T. S. Eliot

I must admit I've not read Raine's work yet, and I probably won't get around to it for a while, but I found the following reviews fascinating in their foci.

Raine’s Sterile Thunder” by Terry Eagleton for Prospect Magazine.
Eagleton's review, which dismisses Raine as an "acolyte" bearing offerings to the "high priest," seems rather peculiar. Eagleton takes Raine to task for neglecting to address TSE’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, purported homosexuality, etc., but then he reminds us that the poetry itself is what matters.

and a review by Tom Paulin for The Guardian.
Paulin also wonders why Raine doesn't investigate Eliot's private life or socio-political views.

Both reviews evoke, to me, the flamethrowing years of the 1980s and 1990s when any critic worth his or her salt (Gilbert & Gubar, Pinkney, Ellman, etc.) took a potshot at Eliot. Studies of Eliot's misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, sexuality, psychology, etc. triumphed over rather moderate, less-politicized explorations of his work. The tide has, of course, shifted, and scholars are publishing critiques that study Eliot's poetry, drama, and social criticism that illustrate the man's complexity rather than casting him as a strictly reactionary figure.

The impetus for this shift, I believe, lies in the extreme positions that several critics maintained in the latter half of hte 1990s. For example, Suman Gupta wrote an essay for The Times Higher Education Supplement in 1996. Gupta he argued against a “liberal consensus” that admitted Eliot’s numerous personal faults “[did] not make him a bad poet.” Gupta disagrees, for the as the aesthetic remains tightly bound with the social, and “all evaluative acts are social,” then a writer's personal politics should affect his or her literary status. Consequently, Gupta maintains, the canon requires a re-evaluation of “great” writers.

Gupta’s argument focuses on modernists (including Joyce, an author typically excluded from charges of racism and anti-Semitism), and he asserts that their works “should not be given to any students as 'great’ any longer--they provide neither social-cultural nor aesthetic-literary models.” On other words, get rid of 'em.

I found it curious then--and now--that Gupta's critcism focsed on racism alone. Why not misogyny? homophobia? Like I said, curious.

Furthermore, how far back should we take such revisions? Should we eliminate Shakespeare, Chaucer, Swift, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston? If you apply it to one author, you should apply it to all. If we're going to trace out negative stereotypes, we might as well dismiss the canon altogether. Yes, it's a slippery-slope argument, but I do think that Gupta's suggestion crests such a slope and begins a downward slide.

This is not to say that readers should ignore such issues; instead, we might consider how questionable portrayals of human beings--be it a "simple" stereotype (Lydia Languish) or blatantly racist (Bleistein)--informs a work. What socio-cultural or historical context permitted or encouraged such views? And how can we use these works to shatter still-extant myths about human beings? This seems to be the current of contemporary scholarship, and long may its course run.