Friday, December 03, 2004

the haunted mansion of an underground past

from: Growing Up in the Weather Underground: A Father and Son Tell Their Story Democracy Now!, 3 December 2004:
THAI JONES: Well it starts on a night that my parents were arrested. We were sitting around, it was World Series time, we had just had dinner and the telephone in the apartment rang and because we were underground, no one had that number. That phone had basically never rung in about the six months we had lived there. And Jeff picked it up and it was an F.B.I. Agent and he said, “We have the building surrounded. We have sharpshooters on the rooftops and in a few seconds, the F.B.I. Is going to knock on your door.” So Jeff turned to Eleanor and said, “We are busted.”

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor is your mom?

THAI JONES: Eleanor is my mom. The next thing I knew, there was banging on the door. About 20 fully armored swat, F.B.I. And police officers with M16's and shotguns stormed you this the house. They took Jeff out into the hallway and made him crawl down the hallway. What I remember is that there was a moment in all this sort of craziness when people had forgotten about me and I went down to my little bedroom at the end of the hall and I was sort of looking through my belongings to see if I could find some way to help out. And I just had this feeling of, you know, I had like a cowboy hat, I had some stuffed animals, I had a little pair of child's safety scissors, so I just remember feeling helpless and I went back out and just stood with Jeff in the hallway. And I had no idea what was happening. I had no idea that our family was different. I mean I knew that we had had different names but I had never questioned that. And so this book is sort of about exploring how that came about.

Vineland, p. 114:
So into it and then on Prairie followed, a girl in a haunted mansion, led room to room, sheet to sheet, by the peripheral whiteness, the earnest whisper, of her mother's ghost.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

that duck

Vaucanson's Duck

From The Guitarist Is Metal. No, Not Heavy Metal by Michael Beckerman, New York Times, 30 November 2004:
GuitarBot claims its ancestor not in the golem - which, after all, has decidedly human characteristics - but in the ingenious automated machines of the last three centuries. In the mid-18th century, the Maillardet brothers created an astonishing writer-draftsman that could write poetry and do amazing drawings of ships and buildings. Around the same time, Jacques de Vaucanson created his famous defecating duck, which could eat, digest and all the rest. He also created a flute-playing android, which offered 12 tunes, perhaps an ancestor of the robot that recently conducted Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Tokyo. While audiences may be titillated by the prospect of seeing such devices and their descendants do "human" things, Mr. Singer and Mr. Adamson have something else in mind. Mr. Adamson, in particular, is more concerned with technical issues and the ability of machines to do things that humans cannot accomplish.

Mason & Dixon, p. 374:
"Agreed, you must consider how best to defend yourself,-- wear clothing it cannot bite through, leather, or what's even more secure, chain-mail,-- its Beak being of the finest Swedish Steel, did I mention that, yes quite qable, when the Duck, in its homicidal Frenzy, is flying at high speed, to penetrate all known Fortification, solid walls being as paper to this Juggernaut.… One may cower within, but one cannot avoid,-- le Bec de la Mort, the…'Beak of Death.'"

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


From review of Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experience of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans and African Americans in the Nazi Era by Clarence Lusane:
Lusane investigates Nazi policy towards blacks, the Nazi sterilization program directed at blacks, black captives of the Nazis, Nazi propaganda against blacks, the Nazi response to jazz, their reaction to black athletes, and blacks in the resistance movement. Several recurring themes inform these chapters. First, Lusane stresses the Nazis' differential treatment of differently situated black groups and individuals. Though many blacks tried to leave and some Africans and other expatriates succeeded, the Nazis confiscated Afro-Germans' passports, and the British prevented natives of Southwest Africa from returning because they had fought with Germany in World War I. However, blacks in Germany were never targeted for elimination or even systematic harassment. In general, Africans were better treated than Afro-Germans, since the Nazis foresaw they would need African assistance should Germany regain its colonies. The Nazis also employed Afro-Germans in the German film industry to portray Africans in colonial propaganda films made mostly between 1938 and 1943. Lusane can document the presence of blacks (imprisoned for other reasons) in concentration and labor camps as well as black GIs in POW camps. Otherwise, Afro-Germans were mobilized for the war effort like the rest of the German population. Some even belonged to the Hitler Youth and served in the German army--but were also compulsorily sterilized. Lusane declares, "the preference to address the problem by sterilization of some would be as coherent as the Nazi policies ever got regarding Afro-Germans and Africans" (p. 99). Since Nazi sterilization law, promulgated in 1934, did not allow sterilization based solely on race, the Nazis undertook the sterilizations in secret. At least 385 Rhineland children were sterilized between 1935 and 1937, a gradual strategy that, Lusane argues, nonetheless "sought to erase any future blackness on German soil" (p. 142).

[...] Hitler's failure to shake hands with victorious African American athletes, including Jesse Owens, in the 1936 Olympics was cited by the U.S. press as evidence of racial views that Americans should oppose (though, as the black press pointed out, the black athletes confronted similar racist views in the United States). Though, because they considered it both Jewish _and_ black, the Nazis opposed and prohibited jazz on principle, its popularity compelled various Nazi concessions, including unsuccessful attempts to create more acceptable German jazz and "swinging" German radio music. German swing movements and jazz clubs constituted a form of cultural, though rarely political, resistance to the Nazis. Lusane can also document that jazz was performed at Auschwitz, Flossenburg, and Theresienstadt as well as at some POW camps. Lusane has perused many black U.S. newspapers of the period and reveals the black press's attentiveness to developments in Germany, its concern about the rise of National Socialism, and its condemnation of Hitler's policies towards Jews and blacks.

Finally, Lusane seems committed to saving little-known figures of the black diaspora from historical oblivion by recounting their individual encounters with National Socialism. These figures range from Hans Massaquoi, son of the Liberian ambassador to Germany who survived the Nazi era to become an _Ebony_ editor, to the "enigmatic" (p. 122) Lonnie Lawrence Dennis, mixed-race U.S. writer, diplomat, and businessman, who seems to have admired Hitler, embraced anti-Semitism, and advocated for fascism. William Marcus Baarn, a black nightclub singer from Dutch Guinea, even served as a Nazi spy. Some blacks, like the composer Elmer Spyglass in Frankfurt (perhaps protected by his African American affiliation), lived comfortably in Germany throughout the Nazi period. Other blacks in Germany opposed the Nazis. Joseph Bile of Cameroon published a letter in a black U.S. newspaper pleading for black U.S. solidarity with blacks in Germany. Hilarius Gilgus was an Afro-German labor organizer and an early Nazi victim, killed by the SS in Düsseldorf at the age of twenty-four. Mohamed Husen from German East Africa served with the Germans in World War I, appeared in numerous colonial films, but was eventually convicted of _Rassenschande_ and sent to Sachsenhausen, where he died in 1943. Jean Johnny Voste from the Belgian Congo was active in the Belgian resistance movement and survived Dachau. Joseph Nassy from Surinam, a black Jew, was captured in Belgium and sent to an internment camp in Bavaria where he could teach art and also produce sketches, drawings, and paintings now in the holdings of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Johnny Williams, son of an Alsatian father and a mother from the Ivory Coast, discovered his "splendid voice" (p. 165) in the Neuengamme camp and went on to a successful singing career after the war. Johnny Nicholas, originally from Haiti, was captured as an Allied spy in France and sent to various camps, where he survived by working as a doctor. Lusane regrets he has little information about black women but does try to reconstruct the story of the jazz trumpeter Valaida Snow, who may have been interned in a Nazi camp in Denmark. It is not exactly clear what can be concluded from these disparate experiences, but Lusane has certainly successfully documented a black presence in Germany and Europe during the Nazi era and pointed the way towards many potentially fruitful research areas.

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 62:
We want to talk some more about Boston today, Slothrop. You recall that last time we were talking about the Negroes, in Roxbury. Now we know it's not all that comfortable for you, but do try, won't you.

consider the miserable life of the pig

From A.Word.A.Day today:
There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig -- an animal easily as intelligent as a dog -- that becomes the Christmas ham. -Michael Pollan, professor and writer (1955- )

Gravity's Rainbow p. 555:
William must have been waiting for the one pig that wouldn't die, that would validate all the ones who'd had to, all his Gadarene swine who'd rushed into extinction like lemmings, possessed not by demons but by trust for men, which the men kept betraying … possessed by innocence they couldn't lose … by faith in William as another variety of pig, at home with the Earth, sharing the same gift of life.…

Monday, November 29, 2004

the new temperance

This passage from The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice, by David Wagner, quoted in a MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) email today, reminds me of the way certain reactionary elements on PYNCHON-L critique Vineland, demonizing the novel's portrayal of '60s counter-culture from the same Reagan Administration perspective that the novel undermines so thoroughly:
Demonizing the 1960s

It is not coincidental that advocates of the New Temperance have so strongly attacked behavior that they claim was at the heart of the "excesses" of the 1960s. The war on drugs and on many forms of sexuality has been fought as much for its symbolic value (i.e., as part of a strategy of eradicating the mythologized "60s") as for any of its more manifest purposes. Writing late in his life, Richard Nixon forcefully pointed us back to Woodstock as a symbolic reason for continuing the war on drugs: "Even today, when most of the prestige media have managed to crowd onto the anti-drug bandwagon, they could not help indulging in a revolting orgy of nostalgia during the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock. The smarmy retrospectives glossed over the fact that Woodstock's only significant legacy was the glorification of dangerous illegal drugs.... To erase the grim legacy of Woodstock, we need a total war against drugs."

Similarly, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was fond of attacking the sexual doctrines of the 1960s, holding promiscuity and free love responsible for the AIDS epidemic and the widespread child sexual abuse reported during the 1980s: "We are reaping what was sown in the 1960s. The fashionable theories and permissiveness claptrap set the scene for a society in which the old virtues of discipline and self-restraint were denigrated."

The historical events of the "60s" (in actuality including much of the 1970s) have been repainted in dangerous and frightening hues. Consider this vitriolic comment by conservative historian Joseph Conlin regarding the "60s" lifestyle: " [L]ife in the New Age communes of the 1960s and 1970s . . . [was like living in] 'garbage dumps' and 'hells': children smeared in their own filth for days, hysterical under the LSD given to
pacify them.... [V]enereal infection, pneumonia, influenza, and the unprimitive affliction of hepatitis reached disastrous proportions."

For many people alive at the time of the 1960s counterculture, this sinister and bizarre reconfiguration of history has a clear agenda of vilification. Of course, not everything that occurred in this (or any other) time period was positive or worth repeating. But the presence of a few dirty and sick children on a commune somewhere by no means sums up the reality of this period, any more than conservatives of the time were correct in summing up the French Revolution as primarily about terrorism
and guillotine practice. The popular movie Forest Gump similarly portrays 1960s "long-hair radicals" as violent and misogynist, and the movie hero must save his girlfriend from their abuse. Perhaps there were a few more people of this sort than I was ever aware of in the late 1960s, but it is still absurd to portray "60s"-style radicalism in this way. If anything, the image of the peaceful hippie flashing a peace sign would be closer to the mood of the times. In short, the retrospective portrayal of the "60s" has little to do with veracity. Rather, it is an attempt to take the essence of the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s and convert it to one primarily of sin and vice.

[...] I make no claim of originality in drawing a connection between the mandatory drug testing of the current period and the McCarthyism of the 1950s. As early as 1986 a leader of the Civil Liberties Union called drug testing a "form of social McCarthyism aimed at getting rid of people who won't buy the line. It's a step away from an authoritarian society." In addition, writer Ellen Willis has observed a link between the drug test and the loyalty oath: "The purpose of this '80s version of the loyalty oath is less to deter drug use than to make people undergo a humiliating ritual of subordination: 'When I say pee, you pee."'

[...] The urine test - along with mandatory sentencing and other severe behavioral controls central to the drug war is a power strategy that mirrors the "personal is political" radicalism of the 1960s. It takes seriously the proposition that those who resist the dictates of power, whether or not such resistance is framed as "political" in the conventional sense, are enemies and are undermining production, public order, and rationality. Like the loyalty oath and the "naming of names," the policing of everyday lifewhich in schools, for example, focuses on behaviors such as smoking, speech, and sexuality requires Americans, from an early age on, to comply with the norms of the powerful without asking questions, and to accept the right of the state and corporate power to hold their bodies captive. Ultimately, it is not important whether drug testing finds traces of a drug in a student's urine or if locker searches turn up cigarettes or guns or pornographic literature. Rather, it is the policing itself that makes the point about who is in control.

Another key point about the role of the New Temperance in symbolically eradicating the "60s" is its constant use against members of the baby boom generation, particularly those who might be charged with having some relationship to the social movements of that period. It is not coincidental that Democratic Party politicians from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton have come under relentless questioning about their sexuality, prior drug use, and past participation in political demonstrations (although some Republicans such as former Supreme Court justice nominee Arthur Ginsburg have been caught in the net as well). Reminiscent of McCarthyism's "Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?" questions, political leaders (and many potential civic, corporate, and bureaucratic leaders) are now asked "Are you now or have you ever been a '60s'-style person?" That is, did you use drugs, engage in nonmarital sex, attend anti-war rallies, or burn a flag?

As in the ritualized hearings of the 1950s, most members of the 1960s generation either admit guilt and purge themselves of sin or minimize their past guilt ("I didn't inhale") and promise future clean living. To some extent, liberals and former leftists have been forced, far more than conservatives and moderate politicians born before the baby boom, to actively repudiate the 1960s. And like many liberals in the late 1940s and 1950s who dissociated themselves from communism, they have, for the most part, happily obliged. Some sociologists studying the drug war, for example, have observed that, in the election campaigns of 1986 and 1988, liberal Democrats hammered home the attack on drugs far more than Republicans did, and charged government leaders with being "soft on drugs."

The reason that Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gary Hart, George McGovern, Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, and other leaders or public figures must constantly answer McCarthyite questions about the 1960s, and reveal their views on issues like drugs and sex, is that their opinions on these issues and their distance from the tradition of the 1960s are considered a measure of their respectability and readiness to accept political, corporate, and civic leadership. Conversely, there is little reason to question the Bob Doles and Dan Quayles whose loyalty to dominant norms has never been in doubt. But among those who have had any association with the dreaded "60s," only a repudiation of both the politics and the culture of the times is deemed acceptable by the media and political elites as a measure of their potential to serve as responsible leaders.

Novelist Sol Yurick captures the sense of this constant need to repress the 1960s: "[T]he 60s, like some compulsive recurrent nightmare[,] still persists in the consciousness of the ruling elites. They must exorcise and reexorcise it, demand acts of contrition, to ask of its adherents that they confess that they were possessed by the devil.... We are asked to admit, once and for all, . . . [that we] were wrong, to make
penance and obeisance, to hypostatize those sins into those devils now on trial."

Vineland, p. 313:
"Just please go careful, Zoyd. 'Cause soon they're gonna be coming after everything, not just drugs, but beer, cigarettes, sugar, salt, fat, you name it, anything that could remotely please any of your senses, because they need to control all that. And they will."