Thursday, November 29, 2012

Grianghraf na Himíleachaí

Dúirt mé múinteoir eile ar mo scoil faoi a chreideamh. Chonaic sé spárálaíscáiléáin ar mo ríomhaire ag an obair. Taispeántais grianghraf ó sliabh os cionn loch i tSikkim. 

Níl ábalta chóipeáil sé níos mór anseo. Úinéireacht Microsoft é. Mar sin féin, ábalta tú a fhéiceant an imeasc seo níos lú suas. 

Breathnaigh mé ar sé go minic. D'inis múinteoir dom go raibh más radharc a choinneail ar lorg, beidh mé ag dul ann lá amháin. Mhínigh sé go raibh mian ag a bhean a tí ag dul An India. 

Ba mhaith sí ag cur cuairt an Taj Mahal. Bheul, bhí grianghraf de aici. Bhí chuimhne dí de go rialta.  

Ar ndóigh, chuaigh siad a chéile ansiud ag deireanach. Mar sin, chuir mé é ag leanúint ar aghaidh an grianghraf Himíleacha ar an gcúis chéanna. B'fhéidir, is féidir liom dul an Himíleachaí lá amháin.

A photo of the Himalayas.

Another teacher at my school told me his belief. He saw a screensaver on my computer at work. It displays a photograph of a mountain over a lake in Sikkim.

It's not able to be copied larger here. Microsoft owns it. All the same, you are able to view this image smaller above.

I look at it often. The teacher told me that if a view of a sight is kept, I will go there one day. He explained his wife's wish to go to India. 

She wanted to visit the Taj Mahal. Well, she had a photograph of it. She was reminded by it regularly.

Of course, they went together over there at last. Therefore, I continue to put a photo of the Himalayas up for the same reason. Perhaps, I will be able to go to the Himalayas one day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Joan D'Arc's "Conspiracy Geek": Book Review

Talking to an inmate my wife and I visit regularly, we mused about why so many prisoners gravitate towards conspiracy theories and esoteric reading. My wife mused that perhaps they need an explanation that goes beyond themselves and where they've wound up, to explain that more sinister or powerful forces have manipulated or impelled them and those who lack clout in society. I thought about this as I read "Conspiracy Geek" by Joan D'Arc.

Her interviews and articles roam into panspermia; "truther" 9/11 counterclaims; alien probes and a woman who presents herself as a survivor of such; government plots (Pearl Harbor, spies, Freemasons, mafia); hoaxes about the moon landing, UFOs--tying in Giordano Bruno in a typically wide-ranging stretch--; alternatives to Darwin; anomalous radio signals (fascinating); JFK; and her father's WWII experience on a minesweeper in the Italian landings.

While I remain a skeptic by nature and thus one for many of the arguments elaborated herein, I found her explorations entertaining and thought-provoking. She interviews calmly her colorful array of characters, interjecting her own familiarity with the topics, and possessing what seems to me admirable patience and a steady direction, given the material that might provoke those less skilled to either total incredulity or utter acceptance. Her journalistic skill, in my perusal of her work gathered here, remains her forte. (P.S. Great cover art.)

The publisher's information gives you a sample of the panoramic, and microscopic, scope. My favorite piece was her interview with Barbara G. Walker, a feminist scholar of early religion and myth. As a college instructor in Comparative Religions, I found that the aversion to blood among many faith traditions, as opposed to its elevation by some pagan and Wiccan groups, provides a case study that interests some braver students. Walker and Joan discuss "womb envy"--and how the patriarchy's emphasis on logos, seizing control of the means of reproduction, the inversion of the ancient "primacy of blood," the obsession and worship of "seed" all complicated the transition from female to male dominance in this field, when the "secret of conception" had not yet been fully comprehended by the sky-god priests and the powers who wanted to be.

This plays off the other entries on panspermia, by the way--such cross-references are exactly why I wanted more of a framework to match up these inclusions. The reader may make such connections, but if the editor herself had lent a hand, the structure would be easier to comprehend. Those in the know, I suspect, will need less assistance, but for even those versed in such a diversity of topics, I predict some will be totally new.

One aspect that would have strengthened this anthology is her own story. A first-page blurb on her background only whets one's appetite to want to know more. (I note she is my "friend" in the Facebook realm and I requested a review copy.] If there had been an introduction placing these varied entries in context, and if each had been prefaced with her own editorial perspective, this would have enhanced the value of the collection. Interviews follow up with a biographical paragraph on the interviewee and his or her whereabouts, unknown or known. However, if a preface or afterword had been given for each, and the reason they are placed in the order they are, the book would serve as an easier guide. It's challenging to simply open this and plunge in, given the mind-spinning contents and the giant leaps from one obscurity to the next demanded. Maybe that's the point, the fun of the encounter, akin to what you'd find if you opened up what she's co-edited, Paranoia Magazine?

At my technical-business college, I teach humanities. So, I often encounter happily "geeky" students with similarly disparate interests, who listen to Alex Jones or visit Prison Planet types of sites. This book will be a recommended purchase for our library and them, so I can refer inquiring minds of a doubting and skeptical (or believing?) bent hither. And, some behind bars may find liberating thoughts in these pages, too. (Amazon US 10-24-12)

P.S. Speaking of FB, I append this to add the author's comment posted there 11/7 about this review:
Thank you {...}. You know, several years ago my Chinese fortune cookie told me that I had a very unique point of view and that I should share it with others. I usually forget just how unique it is, which would explain my lack of explanation or context. I apparently overlooked the fact that mainstream readers would have no map, no guide, no flashlight, no template, no dictionary, no crumbs on the ground ... And although this was purely an oversight, I think I'd willingly do it again, except perhaps, as another reviewer suggested, including the dates on which the interviews took place or the articles were written. Other than that, I can't explain my point of view. I was advised to share it, not explain it!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Wales Is Our Concern": 2 books on Welsh Nationalism


I examine two titles about 20th century efforts, one by a prominent novelist, the other by a shadowy faction, to rouse English-speaking Welsh citizens to fight, by mostly peaceful but sometimes violent means in the latter case, for their cultural, linguistic, and territorial survival. Originally, this was composed in 2009 for the journal Epona: A Journal of Ancient and Modern Celtic Studies, but as that publication appears in hiatus, I preserve my critique here in the meantime.

(Diane Green, Emyr Humphreys: A Postcolonial Novelist?
Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009.
290 pp. 978-0-7083-2217-8. £19/€20/$25.
John Humphries, Freedom Fighters?: Wales's Forgotten “War”, 1963-1993.
Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008.
228 pp. 978-0-7083-2177-5. £20/€21/$25)

 


Can one "speak Welsh in English?" Embattled cultural and linguistic identities from Wales conveyed through our dominant language capture this novelist's struggle for articulation. Diane Green, basing this on her doctoral thesis on "narrative patterning," stops in 1998, but five decades out of the six that still see him writing provide plenty, given his steady output for a man born in 1919, for her study.

Its postcolonial contexts comprise the theoretical foundations for Green's explanations of how myth-- not only Celtic but Etruscan, set in Wales but also in Tuscany and Benin-- combines with history, often filtered via discontented intellectual males caught between a secularized homeland and relentless anglicization. How can one live in Wales as Welsh? His breakthrough novel, A Toy Epic, (1958) contrasts the rural, impoverished religious pacifist Iorwerth with Albie the ambitious, assimilating, Marxist emigrant, and Michael as uprooted intellectual.

Humphreys given his own status as a teacher and BBC producer may represent a combination of Michael's social mobility with Iorwerth's organic and linguistic allegiances. Learning Welsh as a young man, inspired as a teenager by the Penyberth burning of the bombing station by three Welsh activists in 1936, Humphreys chose to write in English to educate and appropriate the best of what Welsh identity could transmit to a wider audience. Green emphasizes the difficulty of using the "language of the oppressor" (15) to proclaim the "language of the tribe" (12). Fiction offers, citing Humphreys, a "supranatural language which is detached from the cultural problem" as "one of the escape routes" (27). The tension between "his political ideals and his creative talents" energized his long series of novels in which he delved into the same conflicts within his Welsh characters.

This entry in the Writing Wales in English series expects close familiarity with a body of work not well known even within Britain. His books from 1946 to 1991 were printed in London. However, as the 1990s progress his new novels get published only in Wales, and his older ones depend on reissues by the University of Wales Press. Humphreys may have sensed this fall-off in broader support when in 1987 he wrote an essay "The third difficulty."

He explains how he chose the role of "People's Remembrancer." He gives his readers the feeling of Welsh through English. He uses the novel, already feared as giving way to other mass media, as his method of proclamation. He figures that Welsh culture within British society for him can best be transmitted by fiction. Still, confronted with a formidable series of interlinked novels demanding considerable grounding in mythic archetypes, the result of a small-press minimal audience for his works may not be surprising.

Bonds of Attachment (1991) includes episodes from the controversy over the investiture of Charles Windsor in 1969. This novel offers rich material for investigation, but Green prefers to pursue the mythic and historiographic aspects. She largely limits her study to postcolonial theory. Given this book presumably represents a revision of her dissertation and not a reproduction of it, this narrowed focus may not satisfy a reader seeking cultural relevance as well as critical theory.

Green elides a more pressing and less academic application. This analysis lacks attention to the political contexts in Wales at this time when the Penyberth impact, however long delayed, threatened to burst into renewed protests. These continued what Saunders Lewis, at Penyberth in 1936, called upon his countrymen to continue, and they broke his heart when none rose up. This episode was fictionalized in Humphreys' début The Little Kingdom (1946).

The complexities of a peaceful Christian ethos that may have led to the relative marginalization of Welsh republicanism as opposed to its physical-force Irish variety surely must have factored into Humphreys' fiction more than Green's work establishes in a few asides, mostly very early on. While the slow disintegration of non-conformist religious conventions surrounds Outside the House of Baal (1965), the pacifism and Christian idealism Humphreys shared with Lewis and other nationalists appears very muted in Green's critique. For study in literary criticism, her book fills a need. But it may leave an inquirer still wondering about Humphreys' semi-imaginary plots in relationship to the real-life Welsh predicaments faced by his neighbors and colleagues and readers since Penyberth. Three decades of frustration erupted into protests in 1969.

Bombings, jailings, censorship, arson against holiday and second-homes, marches demanding rebellion, calls against terrorism: these rocked Wales if on a small scale the past few decades. This is where the force of myth, after all, lands heaviest. History as lived and not only dramatized must run through Humphreys' work, determined as it is to convey Welsh implicated in postcolonial society. The subject of Green's work deserved more attention as a chronicler of these decades.  The Taliesin Tradition (1989) delves into the place of Welsh nationality within culture and language; Green understandably concentrates on the novels rather than this elegant study, but if she had expanded its role as a summation of Humphreys' ideological evolution, it would have enriched her theoretical and literary bases.

How did Humphreys invest his energy-- not only as mythologized, historically framed, or channeled overseas-- within his fictional inquiries about his native land under such pressures? Did Humphreys weary of protest and step aside into fiction as an escape? Did this "supranational language" succeed or fail him over half a century's output? How did his Welsh colleagues and English critics react to his efforts over these changing decades? What growth or retraction did his readership show? Her book elides such questions; it leaves one wondering the worth of some installments in a long series of demanding novels for an apparently small audience. 


Perhaps more immediacy comes not in novels, but what the news reports, or does not report, as John Humphries' Freedom Fighters?: Wales's Forgotten “War”, 1963-1993 narrates, starting with his walk-on role as a Cardiff Western Mail night-desk editor who took a call one night in 1966 that explosives were set at Clywedog reservoir. These detonations signalled that the spirit of Saunders Lewis would lead to the practical action and symbolic resistance begun at Penyberth. Thirty years on, protests against the British presence would reignite.

Nationalism revived in the early 1960s; postcolonialism proved more than theory. Underdeveloped, made redundant by mine closures, exploited, ignored, Welsh natives resented the English thirst for water. So close to Liverpool, the reservoir at Tryweryn inundated the village of Capel Celyn near Bala. In 1963, three men gathered to detonate the transformers. They represented Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru, the Movement for the Defence of Wales (MAC).

MAC2, for Clywedog slightly reformed after its original members went to ground, continued what the Free Wales Army (FWA) then propagandized as a counterpart to Breton and especially Irish republicans. One of the bombers, Welsh-speaking farmer Owen Williams, had to flee during the mid-1960s to Ireland, to evade police capture. There, the FWA made contacts with Irish republicans. 

This episode has given rise to legendary tales that the Marxist-directed IRA sold off its arms to the Welsh, leaving the Irish ill-prepared to fight back when “the Troubles” returned three years later. Yet, Humphries downplays the actual exchanges of weaponry or explosives. Denis Coslett attracted too much attention to the FWA. He boasted of killer Alsatians ready for suicide missions, and he courted John Summers, a journalist inveigled in the fight for funds for the victims of the Aberfan coal-tip disaster in 1966. Summers appears to have finagled himself on behalf of the FWA to demand redress for the Aberfan claimants. Curiously, Humphries—who reveals Summers informed the authorities about his Welsh activist contacts-- ignores Summers’ 1970 paperback, The Disaster -- slightly revising his 1969 potboiler The Edge of Violence -- which dramatizes Summers’ involvement in Aberfan and sensationalizes the potential of FWA rebellion. 

The media, quick to leap on connections claimed (if satirized by such as Summers) between Fenians and Welsh hotheads, brought the Special Branch, founded to fight against Irish republicans a century earlier, to arrest and jail many innocent nationalists. Both the activists and the authorities stoked the fires that threatened, as the investiture of Charles Windsor as “prince of Wales” loomed in 1969, to kindle militarism in Wales similar to the Irish resurgence.

Humphries cites John Jenkins that Seán MacStiofáin, in 1968 soon to be “the founder of the breakaway Provisionals,” took from Jenkins the concept of a cellular structure for the PIRA. The conversion of the Provos to this non-hierarchical organisation took place nearly ten years later, after MacStiofáin had stepped down from his leadership role. Whatever impact Jenkins’ model had on the Irish campaign appears indirect and at considerable remove. 

This episode of Irish-Welsh contacts remains little investigated in Humphries’ book, perhaps due to reticence from those involved, perhaps out of a legend inflated out of a few casual contacts. This topic merited more attention. The pan-Celtic and Welsh countercultural milieus in which pop and folk musicians along with language activists revived political radicalism likewise gain scant coverage here. 

Any pan-Celtic contentions in Humphries' account stint on the details of what such alliances sought. He barely quotes from Roy Clews' To Dream of Freedom (1980 ed. cited; but rev. 2001). Humphries  glosses over Keith Griffiths (Gethin ap [ab?]Iestyn)  in his roles as propagandist for the Patriotic Front and Cofiwn. (Not to mention his role, recalling Emyr Humphries’ commemorative stance, via Gethin’s spirited website and republican-related archives at Welsh Remembrancer.) 

Such scarcity of firsthand testimony may also reflect a largely more self-effacing Welsh movement determined to avoid infiltration and informers, which had repeatedly weakened their Irish counterparts. The Welsh campaign’s two spokesmen tended towards grandiosity, while its operatives kept hidden. Griffiths, Jenkins, and a few others, perhaps no more than twenty-five identified members of the FWA, fronted a silent majority of grassroots sympathisers. Detectives were clueless about many who fought back. The authorities fumbled and followed many false trails. 

The FWA was “living on a legend of newspaper cuttings,” Griffiths admitted to its “commandant” Cayo Evans. (qtd. 98) Humphries compares their outbursts to a flailing by “a drowning man.” He lashes out in desperation to alert those long assimilated, too long complacent to danger from constant English in-migration and Welsh abandonment of its heritage. (65) 

This small band of Welshmen, some far more anglicized than Welsh-speaking, also split along political vs. linguistic necessities for their strategy to revive their embattled land’s culture. Luckily, a visit from “Red” Rudi Dutschke with MAC2 was aborted; British surveillance expelled him before links between German revolutionaries could be forged. Coslett and Evans, the self-proclaimed leaders, by their love of the limelight brought Griffiths to warn them of their antics. “There is nothing substantial behind us at all,” he warned in a letter found in a police raid at Evans’ farmhouse. (qtd. 98) 

Did these “freedom fighters” valiantly sustain the example of Penyberth’s fire-setting trio against the British bomber station on venerated Welsh land? Or, did they perpetuate the futile gestures of desperate cultural nationalists driven to protest the only way they could for attention, faced with an indifferent audience of those who had surrendered to the English incursion and the Welsh erosion? 

Early on Humphries pins blame. “But while the campaign of violent direct action had its genesis in nationalist virtues and goals, it was the failure of the patriotic foot soldiers to articulate their cause that allowed government to marginalize Welsh extremism as the action of crazed fanatics.” (15-16)

Two activists blew themselves up the night before the investiture ceremony; the bomb went off near the tracks that would carry the royal train to Caernarfon Castle, icon of imperial domination over the Crown’s first colony.  Charles was crowned; as crowds of his countrymen cheered, “MAC2’s chief bomb-maker, Sgt. John Jenkins, providing dental care for the troops on ceremonial duty, “ was the perfect mole, “at other times wandering around Caernarfon and being abused by locals on account of his uniform.” (127)

The next day, July 2, 1969, nine of Jenkins’ FWA comrades were sentenced. Griffiths alone refused what Evans and Coslett promised the court: to distance themselves from militant activity. They kept their word. A year later, Jenkins was captured and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He refused to name his accomplices. 

Faced with these men’s actions, Humphries examines if they were terrorists. He admits that “for all its eccentricities and blurred message,” their restrained response constituted the “only authentic Welsh uprising since Owain Glyndŵr.” (146) However, the caricaturing of Welsh republicans as “mad dogs,” Alsatians aside, contributed to the media’s defeat of nationalist-fueled radicalism. The language issue was left to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, and many who fought for Welsh freedom lacked fluency in a language foreign to their upbringing. The political base, furthermore, never was allowed to emerge, unlike Sinn Féin’s role for the IRA. Republican traditions emerged more from the southern valleys as opposed to Y Fro Gymraeg, the Welsh-speaking northern and western heartlands under cultural assault. 

Welsh saboteurs lacked the popular if again reticent support afforded those a decade later. After the momentous defeat of devolution in 1979, shadowy guerrillas, as Meibion Glyndŵr, rallied under cover of darkness. For a third time this century, a few Welsh asserted themselves. Their linguistic heartland faded. Wealthier English bought its quaint dwellings, “Sons of” this leader (who resisted Westminster for fifteen years after declaring himself in 1400 Prince of Wales), decided to fight back with fire.  

Contrasted with those who took the fall for the pipeline bombings and attacks on buildings in the 1960s, why were any arsonists undetected for another ten years? They had clandestine backing, Humphries reasons, from the people. Folk heroes rather than incendiaries, they were not feared-- as were the 1960s bombers-- for importing leftist revolution.  Invented for Northern Ireland, the Prevention of Terrorism Act brought down its force upon Welsh suspects; again many were taken in without cause. The perpetrators eluded the law. Over two hundred holiday and second homes (often turned permanent residences, thus undermining Welsh culture even more) were burned over twelve years. 

Dignity despite destruction permeates this story. Imagine protests during the 1960s elsewhere with such polite signs as Capel Cefyn’s residents carried to Liverpool in vain: “Your homes are safe. Save ours. Do not drown our homes.” Or, “Please Liverpool, be a great city not a big bully.” (17) After the first attacks on homes in 1979, a note written in ballpoint pen was found:

“The houses were burnt with great sadness. We are not ferocious men. It was an act of despair. The rural areas are being destroyed all over these islands. Wales is our concern. These homes are out of reach of local people because of the economic situation. We call upon individuals of goodwill to take action before these sorry steps take place.” (qtd. 163) 

Emyr Humphreys sought to escape by fiction his homeland’s strife but his mythic models revived within his novels’ depictions of his neighbors and colleagues, caught in an anglicizing land that meant the author himself had to use “the language of the oppressor” to speak on behalf of his Celtic tribe. For a second author with nearly the same surname, also raised in an assimilated Welsh home and working for London’s mouthpiece, the “paper of record” in the Welsh capital, a similar journey back to the heartland occurs. Humphries does wander, during the 1980s, into his own entertaining but digressive stints abroad as a foreign correspondent, but he comes back to his homeland in 1988 aware that swerves away from the anglicized complacency of the Anglo-Welsh establishment may represent renewal. Under Margaret Thatcher’s closing of the mines and privatization of steel, the Welsh workers capitulated, as despair fueled reaction vs. resignation. One-third of North Walians are English-born.  Cohesive communities-- to where Lewis and Humphreys as young men had left their cities to learn Welsh-- have dispersed. 

Humphries closes his study integrating his own reflections. His own transformation from editor for a pro-British, anti-Walian Cardiff newspaper into a critic of Westminster demonstrates a telling shift. He supports Welsh autonomy and welcomes his grandson, raised speaking Cymraeg. He critiques the pacifism of Plaid Cymru’s Gwynfor Evans as “fundamentally incompatible with Welsh freedom.” (191) Whereas Emyr Humphries shared with Evans and Lewis the traditional non-conformist avowal of a Christian socialism (an aspect deserving here as with Green more than a cursory nod) refusing to countenance rebellion by armed means, Humphreys allies himself with those tired of Plaid’s careful retreat into quietism. He backs (if for awhile) Cymru Annibynnol/ Independent Wales Party and its refusal to support the 2001 census which denied Welsh their ability to tick a box for their identity. 

This editor, now retired from the fray, ends with a recapitulation of flashpoints for Welsh resistance. In-migration from England, the concomitant reduction of the Welsh-speaking heartlands, and the recurring water demands from its larger, thirstier neighbor add up. They summarize grim assurances that the seven million sterling spent to crush a few dozen rebels in the 1960s may pale before the costs accrued by those complicit in cultural, linguistic, political, and ecological destruction of a long-exploited nation.

Slightly revised and altered for Amazon US 8-14-12:Freedom Fighters and  Emyr Humphries

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Mebyon Kernow + Cornish Nationalism": Book Review

Unlike Scotland and Wales, Cornwall represents ambiguity as a Celtic nation. Formerly Celtic-speaking, its last native speakers having died before the nineteenth century, for five centuries it remains an English county. This paradox, accepted by many of its residents, introduces this study by Bernard Deacon, Dick Cole, and Garry Tregidga. (Cardiff: Ashley Drake-Welsh Academic Press-Griffin Press, 2003. ISBN: 1-86057-075-5.) Mebyon Kernow & Cornish Nationalism sums up, concisely and dispassionately, the formation of the 'Party for Cornwall' in 1951, its revivalist and antiquarian predecessors, and its inspiration for wider Cornish Solidarity pressure groups and Cornish Assembly campaigns now agitating for de-evolution in the wake of SNP and Plaid Cymru's successes over the past decade.

The language had faded well before industrialization took full hold over Cornwall. Contrasting with Welsh and Scots nationalist efforts in the early 20c, Cornish progressives took the momentum that erosion of agriculture as a basis for most of its residents provided, and celebrated the spread of the machine. Yet, by the end of the last century, the last tin mine having closed after millennia digging and refining the metal that made Cornwall famed, the trust placed in mechanization had crumbled. Instead, the influx of second-home owners from 'up-country' loomed, along with the relegation of Cornwall as a touristed but otherwise neglected backwater by Westminster, as larger threats. Reasserting Cornish Celtic identity has both played into the hands of those vacationing or retiring there, and tricked those predicting that cultural nationalism could never lead to political activism among those once again proud to be Cornish, not English.

The second chapter surveys the early 20c language movement. The Celtic Revival, as elsewhere in the Atlantic archipelago, remained mired too often in antiquarianism. Garbed druids were picturesque, but failed to use their powers to halt emigration of the land's youth. Many who sought to resurrect the language fought against any accompanying radicalism, paralleling the Gaelic League-IRB Hyde-Pearse contentions. Henry Jenner is here quoted in 1926 as claiming 'no wish on anyone's part to translate the Irish political expression "Sinn Féin" into Cornish, [or] to agitate for Home Rule for Cornwall [or to] foment disloyalty to England's King or the British Empire.' (16) Jenner's assurances of an apolitical revival showed how fearful many of the elder generation could be about any revolution, given the scale of Ireland's recent wars.

Only at mid-century, in the postwar British reassessment of conventional pieties, did nationalists form a constitutional party, Sons of Cornwall, MK. Even tiny nudges towards what was perceived as a call for federalism or regional representation aroused mainstream culturalists' fears echoing Jenner's jitters. Under Richard Jenkins and other committed activists, change began, however small. The competition, the content, and the compromises could be tiny: unable to select among three vying canonized candidates to be Cornwall's patron saint, it was agreed to consecrate the Duchy to their care as a trio.

But, by the early 1960s, more substantive rather than symbolic considerations loomed. Although the authors make no mention, the parallel with Sinn Féin in the Wolfe Tone Society ginger group of the mid-60s sharpens the depiction of what confronted a miniscule cadre. Young Cornish patriots, like their Irish and other Celtic counterparts, longed for not nostalgia but real advance into a politically relevant and economically practical terrain upon which the recovery by Celtic nationals of their land, their subsistence, and their citizenship could be contested and won. For MK, the enemy emerged after the Greater London Council was formed. The GLC proposed-hidden from local scrutiny-that their metropolitan overpopulation problem could be alleviated by the relocation of thousands of its urban millions to rural areas such as Cornwall. This 'overspill' would flood whoever and whatever remained of a native, regional, and Celtic culture, the MK argued. Inspired by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, MK fought back through conventional elections. Like the Welsh and Scots (and the Irish parallel again of Official SF-The Workers Party, unmentioned again by the authors), such methods sputtered and few gains were kept in the invader's Parliament. Powers of resistance again slipped away from Celtic control.

Three splits, in 1969, 1975, and 1980, weakened MK. Two of these led to splinter parties. The complaint reminded me again of that leveled against the Provos more than once. The older organization, restless youth and militantly minded veterans complained, was too broad rather than too narrow a place for Celtic action. If everyone from soft-focus language lovers to conservative ruralists to itchy leftists belonged to MK, it could not move forward into grasping and holding onto meaningful gains, politically or practically.

By the 1970s, opposition did coalesce around one main enemy: housing. Holiday homes and the rising prices that tourism spurred combined. They undermined the ability of native Cornish to afford to remain in their homeland.

But the radical action of another group of Mebyon, the Sons in Wales, the Free Welsh Army, and other shadowy contingents was not the acceptable face of Cornish nationalism. As the paper Cornish Nation became radicalized by such Celtic guerrillas in the early 70s, protests were lodged about its 'increasingly sympathetic coverage of Irish Republicanism.' (61) And in a media climate that loved the global warming of fist-pumping wild youth, the Cornish staged their own performance art. Posing as, inevitably, the 'Free Cornish Army,' students from Plymouth Polytechnic, among '40 fully trained units' as they claimed, marched and were duly photographed and publicized before the trick was spoiled. (62) The heated atmosphere of the decade did, however, lead to another substantial storm, albeit contained within the confines of the Cornish nation. The Cornish National Party broke away from a too-timid, so they charged, MK in 1975. Two years later, the CNP leader left, lamenting its 'infiltration by communist elements.' (67)

By the 1980s, then, MK languished. As with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the authors explain, the Thatcher years hastened MK's retreat into 'internal reflection about its philosophical role.' (75) Restless younger members, often with socialist ideological support, formed into pressure groups for more immediate action. Ties with leftists and Greens were sought. An elusive An Gof entity threatened violence. MK and nationalists consistently rejected physical-force efforts. They preferred backing up anti-nuclear grassroots efforts. They fought 'Devonwall,' in which the Crown would consolidate Cornish with Devon's services after its 1974 reconfigurations of the British counties.

The new European Parliament, later that decade, inspired calls for local representation, but the Cornish constituency was deemed too miniscule.

With the 1990s, the anti-Poll Tax protests sparked a novel legal defense. It was deemed illegal under a treaty, never repealed or superseded it was argued, that was signed by England with Cornwall-in 1508. Allied as Cornish Solidarity, many resistors to the Crown expanded regional resistance. Although only as a fill-in line under a newly placed box marked 'Other,' the Cornish could present themselves to the rest of Britain as a distinct ethnic group for the first time. In 2000, ten percent of the Cornish electorate, or 50,000 voters, signed a call for a local Assembly. At the time this book went to press, this effort met with stalling by Westminster, but the authors cautiously conclude that such a renewed pride in Cornish regionalism signals a sea-change from ingrained attitudes dominant as late as the 1970s that diminished cultural heritage, belittled local tradition, or condemned political activism among the Celtic remnant at the tip of the British island.

Their summaries make instructive reading. Deacon is a lecturer in Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter. Dick Cole currently leads MK. Dr Garry Tregidga serves as the Deputy Director for the Institute for Cornish Studies (at Exeter). They hold that the language activists have been often 'over-defensive'. (114) This may, they suggest, reflect decades-and centuries-of malaise in Cornish society. So long marginalized as the Celtic Fringe colonized within England itself, its natives lack confidence that its leaders can produce change and decide actions on the local level. Yet, the authors add, the cultural agenda derided by many as nostalgic decades ago now proves that results can be measured. The Celtic manifestations may be more displayed as kitsch in souvenir shops than before, but the Cornish flag flies, signs reflect bilingual heritage long suppressed, and resistance to the Anglophonic juggernaut can be seen more immediately than before by locals and tourists alike. (Compare my review of Marcus Tanner's "The Last of the Celts", which has a pessimistic chapter on this heritage industry in Cornwall and considers all six Celtic nations as doomed to extinction as the language erosion in turn eliminates any ground upon which natives can survive with any indigenous culture or self-governing polity.)

Still, the visual recovery of a Cornish nationalism, the authors warn, does not wrest territorial security. The Cornish flag was forcibly removed from flagpoles after the 2002 death of the Queen Mother, they note. This symbolizes how fragile are the symbols.

Flag-waving, they concur, may make Cornish prouder, 'but it has not fostered a clearly and consistently pro-active nationalist political activism.' (115) But, the druid-garbed revivalists of a century ago could never have predicted how fluid Celtic identity could become. Rather than looking back to antiquated slogans, the authors remind us, the newest Cornish symbols may be heard in music-and emblazoned on surfboards. (Amazon US 8-14-12; in slightly edited form to The Blanket 30 Nov. 2005)

P.S. See the New York Times, 17 November 2005. Sarah Lyall's 'Saving Cornish: But Stop. Isn't That Spelled With a K?' About 200 can converse in Cornish. But four competing versions contend, and any e-mailer, Lyall claims, rather than selecting the 'wrong' version and so incite the recipient's hostility, had better write only in English.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jose Saramago's "Raised from the Ground": Book Review


This chronicle of most of the last century opens long before, when the vast "inland sea" of southern Portugal with its "fish-sheep and predators" was first divided up. Warlords divided the natural from the man-made, as "the future shape of this present land was decided, and by very crooked means indeed, a shape carved out by those who owned the largest and sharpest knives and according to size of knife and quality of blade." 

The Great War begins, beyond these borders of provincial Alentejo, early in the narrative. While it effects the fate of its weary peasants and resigned workers only indirectly, the power of its force, in Jose Saramago's telling, reiterates his judgments, delivered implacably: "War ate a great deal and war grew fat and rich. War is a monster who empties men's pockets, coin by coin, before devouring the men themselves, so that nothing is lost and all is changed, which is the primary law of nature, as one learns later on, and when war has eaten its fill, when it is sated to the point of vomiting, it continues its skillful pickpocketing, always taking from the same people, the same pockets. It's a habit acquired in peacetime."

This passage demonstrates José Saramago's accumulative tendencies. Time subsumes plot. Characters emerge among the Mau-Tempo (their surname denotes "bad-weather") clan, wear themselves out, and die off after generating their hardy offspring. Nature dominates, and man-made imposition of wages and laws and force contends against a perpetual order attuned to the seasons and the crops. To capture this rush of sensation, its lassitude and its propulsion, this author's characteristic prose eschews capitalization and quotation marks and indentation. He inserts whenever a new speaker comes in a capital letter, but otherwise, he prefers a headlong dash of words carrying dense paragraphs along. 

For instance, workers who dare under the Salazar dictatorship to strike (even if they don't know what that concept means, only that they weary of threshing and quit) find this implicit warning: "Mend your ways while there's still time, and swear that you've taken twenty beatings, crucify yourself, hold out your arm to be bled, open your veins and say, This is my blood, drink it, this is my body, eat it, this is my life, take it, Along with the church's blessing, the salute of the flag, the march past, the handing over of the credentials, the awarding of the university diploma, thy will be done as it is in heaven.

As in this Nobel laureate's daring retellings The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Cain, Raised From the Ground even by its own title evokes enduring myths. The Three Wise Men make a cameo appearance at a baby's birth, suitably adapted for Mr. Saramago's anticlerical sympathies. Here, the protagonists do not battle an angry and jealous God, but their own predicament within the class system. As a libertarian Communist, Mr. Saramago leaves the reader with no illusions as to his stolid humanism. While he nods to the duty of the policeman or priest, he cannot take their side when justice cries out and mercy goes unheard.

"Who gives the orders, who gives us life, well, that's a good question, the boss gives the orders, and as for life, what's that." This counter-narrative voice battles against the commands a peasant is given as he and his comrades are herded to an anti-communist, pro-Salazar rally. Throughout this febrile but readable novel, the Mau-Tempo family seeks to survive in the ancestral terrain of Mr. Saramago's grandparents. Here, the feudal system continues amid cork trees and wheat fields, and the twentieth century unfolds with barely a notice by those bound to the land and the nation taken over by the supposed republic under the Salazar regime. World War Two comes and goes with barely an aside; isolation and ignorance attain the status of virtues by those ruling this far corner of Europe, next to another dictatorship over the rest of the Iberian peninsula. 

When peasants and workers fight back, by striking, by organizing, they are hunted down. From the perspective of an ant, we witness one man beaten to death in a bullring. "Even freedom is a slap in the face, a crust of bread thrown to the ground to see if we'll pick it up." Out of this relentless setting, the Mau-Tempos try to rise up.

The narrator speaks in "we" usually, but sometimes leaps to "I" for a moment, before assuming the voice of omniscience, yet a puzzled one bemused, angry, or resigned to the ages. The teller of this family saga appears not to know all the answers, either. "Our problem is that we think only the big things are important, and so we talk about them, but when we want to know how things really were, who was there and what they said, we're in trouble." 

Mr. Saramago seeks to give a voice back to those from whom his family came. But, he searches within the uncertain vantage point of a narrator also stymied by how to give back to the illiterate and barely literate a fluent tone, a steady consciousness, worthy of them: "if only we could tie up all the loose ends, the world would be a stronger and better place." 

The bulk of the novel settles into resistance against the landowners, followed by repression. An eight-hour day and a minimum wage assume revolutionary potential, as such basic demands meet suppression by a determined oligarchy. Meanwhile, Portugal holds back the outside world, fearing liberalism, imposing censorship.  Margaret Jull Costa's translation of this 1980 novel conveys the contexts of this era with helpful and necessary footnotes filling in what English-speaking audiences will miss about veiled allusions to despots, rebels, puns, and poems from Portugal's recent and distant past.  

The pace slows, as endurance among the Mau-Tempos and their allies dwindles with old age, filtered through the central figures of João and his wife Gracinda in and past the middle of the twentieth century. This novel expects a patient reader, willing to plunge into a detailed, nearly stream-of-consciousness approach played off of Mr. Saramago's unpredictable third-person, yet intimate and off-beat, voice filtered in and out of a variety of heroes and rogues. They yearn for release: "someone caught a glimpse of that much-vaunted freedom, but she is not one to be seen out walking the highways, she won't sit on a stone and wait to be invited in to supper or to share a bed for the rest of our life." However, discontent grows, and rumors of revolt from far off come to hamlets without a radio or a newspaper, with startling results.

Eventually, the "Carnation Revolution" of 1974 succeeds with barely any blood shed. The military regime of Salazar and his cronies ends after more than forty years of control. The novel concludes with a burst of energy: "one thousand living and one hundred thousand dead, or two million sighs rising up from the ground" combine "on this unique and new-risen day" as freedom appears to arrive for the Mau-Tempos and their neighbors at last.  (New York Journal of Books 8-16-12)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich": Audiobook Review

Certain stories matter more as we mature, and age. I read this years ago as a student, and found myself remembering its bleak evocations of pain and loneliness. This is a strong story, not for the weak-willed or casual reader. I find it works better, perhaps, for those who've undergone some encounters with those facing death, although it may arouse sad memories.

Now middle-aged, I listened to the Naxos audiobook version with Oliver Ford Davies in returning to the novella. In audio versions, Naxos intersperses classical music from the period deftly. Here, interludes enhance what will prove a harrowing, but necessary, delineation of how one man faces the Biq Question of how death comes, at last, to us no matter what.

Davies captured the officious nature of those around Ivan, colleagues and family, who were faced with the necessary burdens of paying respects and going through the familiar motions we all have, once we've lived awhile, of attending to the impact of death on one we work with or know, but whom we don't feel all that close to. The tedium of funereal arrangements, and the impact of what a colleague or family member's loss will mean for us, will sound all too convincing, for many of us. Tolstoy makes us see, first, Ivan's demise through their perspectives, as ones we recognize with a twinge of guilt.

Then, he shifts to his wife turned widow; we hear her own mixed reactions: she's happy in a way to be free of the torment of a husband she'd grown distanced from, and one whose last hours were but a howl of agony, from the hearing of her, their son, and their household, this being a respectable judge's residence. We understand her weariness with the duties inflicted upon family, and the wish, often unspoken but nearly always felt, by the survivors that the dying one be finally gone.

The doctor is also harried, and we hear from him the routine platitudes and vague assurances that any patient does, no matter how grave the case. It's another day at the office for the medical profession, and what's a case study to solve for them reminds Ivan of his own aloofness as an educated, but detached, judicial functionary, above the reality felt by the troubled man brought before him to be analyzed and sentenced. Again, Tolstoy presents the administrative or familial point of view fairly, and steadily. It's human nature to step away from the messiness of fate and mortality, after all.

Finally, we enter into Ivan's consciousness, indirectly but powerfully. Oliver Ford Davies navigates the gradual move from complacency and self-regard into raw, cold, mental and physical and spiritual brutality. Only forty-five, mostly convinced as most of us that success lies in accomplishments, comforts, a career, and status despite his misgivings, Ivan must confront what we all fear. Davies shows how he moans and contorts, in thoughts and words, as his final moments near. Gerasim, a servant, by his humble commitment to bedside duties helps Ivan find a saving grace of comfort when most needed.

The final moments of this tale moved me to tears as I heard them. I recommend an audiobook version as this takes you away from too quickly skimming over the nuances of emotion and subtlety which Tolstoy brings to this novella. Hearing the prose reminds us of our common fate, and how Tolstoy captures unforgettably the revelation that we can only hope is not an illusion. The delicacy and craft with which he creates the same reactions in us as Ivan undergoes will astonish you. (Amazon US 7-15-12)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Maidin os cionn Nua-Eabhrac


Chonaic mé an péinteáil hiontach seo suas nuair ag cur cuairt Coláiste Vassar faoi deireanach. Phéinteáil Charles Herbert Moore "Maidin os cionn Nua-Eabhrac" i 1859-1860. Bhí maith liom an seo is fearr ina múseam níos scoth sin ann.

Chuaigh Léna, Niall agus mise go Stáit Nua-Eabhrac riamh an stoirm mhór "Sandy" ach mar a bhuail an gaoithe mór, an "nor'easter," go luath ina dhiadh. Bhí muid t-ádh ansin, go fírinne. Chaith muid ag dul mar sin go raibh an agallamh Niall ar an Coláiste na mBhaird.

Shiúil mé an mhaidin dár gcionn ó dheas ar an mBóthar an Réimse in aice leis Baird, ag teorainn ina straidbhaile na Milan. Fhán muid ina teach-óstán beag ag imeall lochán. Shíúil mé ar aghaidh agus ar mar sin gach radharc go raibh álainn: an sciobhál d'aois dearg, coillte tirim tanaí, móinéir leis "cattails," agus lochán eile leis an scardaun bídeach.

Thiomaint muid chugainn triú fhéirmeachtaí d'aois agus bailte an-sean i Connecticut go músaem eile, ó Norman Rockwell ina Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Fhás an aer fuar agus an lá liath. Chuig ar ais ar an Cathair Nua-Eabhrac.

Thug muid cuairt ar an triú agus an ceathrú. D'fhoglaim muid faoi an teaghlach ó Seosamh P. agus Bríd Ó Mordha ina Músaem Tenement agus an oibrithe Giúdach na "sweatshop"; amharc muid an gníomhaígh agus an ghriangraf na saol ar an stráideannái Londáin agus Nua Eabhrac ina Músaem na gCathair fós. Ar ndoígh, d'ith agus ól go maith freisin, shiúil mé na Bowery, bhí amharc agam i oíche toghcháin isteach Sean-Teach Tabhairne na Leann Mhic Somhairle--agus glacadh Niall níos deanaí.

Morning over New York

I saw this wonderful painting above when visiting Vassar College recently. Charles Herbert Moore painted "Morning over New York" in 1859-1860. I liked this best in that wonderful museum.

Layne, Niall, and myself went to New York State after the Superstorm Sandy but as the great wind, the "nor'easter," hit soon afterwards. We were lucky, truly. We had to go because Niall had an interview at Bard College.

I walked the next morning south on Field Road near Bard, on the outskirts of the village of Milan. We stayed in a hotel-house [b+b] on the edge of a pond. I walked on and on and each view was lovely: an old red barn, thin dry woods, meadows of "cat tails" and another pond with a tiny waterfall.

We drove next through old farms and very old towns in Connecticut to another museum, of Norman Rockwell in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The air grew chilly and the day gray. We returned to New York City.

We visited a third and fourth. We learned about the family of Joseph P. and Bridget Moore at the Tenement Museum and about the Jewish sweatshop workers; we viewed many activists and photos of the street life of London and New York in that City Museum too. Of course, we ate and drank well too, I peered into McSorley's Old Ale Tavern, I walked the Bowery election night--and later Niall was accepted. (Painting/Péinteáil: "Morning over New York/ Maidin os cionn Nua-Eabhrac")

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Leo Tolstoy's "War + Peace" Kindle Book Review

I chose the public domain version on Project Gutenberg. Earlier reviewers had mentioned a free Kindle version. While as of this writing, it is not available on Amazon, you can find the Maude 1922 translation to download directly as a Kindle file (pg2600.mobi @ 5.2 mb) from the Project Gutenberg site. (This lack of direct access via Amazon happened to me for Joyce's "Portrait" and suddenly for "Ulysses,", as well as Melville's "Redburn," for example.)

One problem is that Amazon lumps all the reviews for different media and versions and translations if it's a public domain title (this happens for "War and Peace," "Huck Finn," "Don Quixote" and "Ulysses," too), to my discouragement. This lack of finesse can confound those of us trying to evaluate one against another. Audiobooks, e-books, Kindle texts and print all jostle for attention. For instance, the version above is what I enter this under, and apparently despite the credit, it's not Constance Garnett's translation as the Kindle version!

I sampled the first chapters of a few e-book versions. Xanzoc's 1-16-11 review set out the first lines of some translations to contrast; I found that entry and Patrick Crabtree's Listmania one after I had done my own sampling to find what Kindle offered. I wondered how the free version stood up against later contenders.

Constance Garnett (1904) is common, alongside the Maude. These two in word choice did differ more than other versions, resembling more each other, and for me, the Maudes get the nod. Garnett apparently left out some nuance in a quick version that nonetheless tried to keep Tolstoy's voice. I thought I'd favor the Pevear-Volokhonsky (2007), promoted vigorously as faithful to Tolstoy's syntax and repetition, but as with their "Brothers Karamazov," somehow its stiffer if more scholarly pace paled. I compared sections in tandem (troika?) with the Maudes' version and frankly, there's often less difference. Sometimes a more contemporary verve enters, but I'd contend the Maudes' century-old take holds its own. (I review P-V on Kindle version under that translation as catalogued separately on Amazon, 8/24/12. Despite the unwieldiness inherent in footnotes, French + German as is to navigate, and the trickiness of using an e-book to go back and forth from notes to text, they do offer in their edition many annotations and maps.) I had read "Brothers" in college in Garnett's version and recalled it being faster paced and more engaging then. Similarly, the pair's take on "War and Peace" appeared to slow a bit, perhaps for those wanting to sense the Russian itself?

Rosemary Edmonds' 1957 translation in an affordable Penguin e-book felt respectable, and this may be a choice for those not enamored with P-V. I confess the different translations seemed more subtly distinguishable than I anticipated. For a bound version, I favor the Penguin 2005 edition by Anthony Briggs (it has maps and notes too, and I like the translation's brisk but slightly theatrical feel a lot). Neither Briggs nor the Maudes keep the French but for a phrase here and there; P-V keep it but translate in the footnotes Tolstoy composed about 2% of his text in French. Without the French blocks of text, both move steadily, if with a British ambiance. Aylmer and Louise Maude worked with Tolstoy on their version, at least for awhile. Americans may not like either version as it puts the lower classes into a register closer to an English/ stage dialect than whatever we'd "hear" from those with broken or lower-class speech.

I wish Briggs' rendering was electronically available. As it is not, I decided for my Kindle given the P-V challenges to stick with the Maude style, which is not as stolid as we nearly a hundred years later may suppose. Of course, a free version lacks the guidance you'll need. I cannot give the public domain version fewer stars for its more venerable idiom, or its lack of editorial additions, as those volunteers labor to give us the best they can out of their own good will.

I read a chapter in Maude. I check in Briggs for endnotes and assistance, as any reader of Tolstoy needs this. But, for a portable e-book, I find myself moving along to my surprise, into a narrative not as difficult as I expected from its monumental reputation. If you read a few chapters past the initial conversations, as with Shakespeare, you will get the hang of the diction and mood. I admired "Anna Karenina" (Garnett) when that too was assigned in college. For both classics, Tolstoy's evocations of dialogue and character merit their acclaim.

(7-24-12 to Amazon US; see my Pevear-Volokhonsky review for more on its comparisons and contrasts via Kindle. Cover image, not "W+P," but Tolstoy's "The Three Bears," Russian still, Yiddish too, CCCP in fact, by "M. Glukhov," which I liked better. #53 of 65 bear images via VintagePrintable)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jillian Becker's "L: A Novel History": Book Review

What if a purportedly progressive, charismatic leader, enamored with self-sacrifice in the manner inspired by Foucault, Bataille, Sartre, and Georg Lúkas, rose to replace Maggie Thatcher in 80s England? Labour, weakened by Tory rule, cannot resist a violent Left which takes its cue from intellectuals and provocateurs advocating a liberating reign by "action art" and extremism in the name of ecstatic cruelty? A celebrity avant-garde writer from a wealthy family establishes the Red Republic of Britain in the late 80s.

While the introduction gives away the fact that only five seasons and two years span the reign of Louis Zander, the range of opinions and witnesses enriches the situation evoked. This recalls for me the multiple sources used by Jack London in "The Iron Heel" with its 1908 extrapolation of epic dystopia, and its pairing of a future scholar's edition of a contemporary's account. Less directly, see Thomas Flanagan in his historical novels about Ireland, and lately, Joseph O'Connor's Irish-American narratives "Star of the Sea" and "Redemption Falls" (I reviewed the latter in 1/08.) I nod to Gyorgy Kepes' "1985" and Anthony Burgess' "1985"--clever follow-ups to Orwell. Becker via Gill's fragmentation of opinions and the attempt of a later scholar to make sense out of varying testimonies engrosses me, and should thoughtful readers.

It favors a calm, steady, academic tone to filter the dramatic events. It does get more brutal, as such novels tend to, once characters revolt against tyranny. As a reader of the above writers myself (and of two earnest neo-Marxian efforts of Terry Eagleton), it's refreshing to see from a more conservative, cautious perspective their idealistic, somewhat seminar-driven and tenured-radical theories put into deadly force, for "moral murder." As I've been interested but cautious about the more heated, less sensible applications of such grand ideas when everyday people are the victims and when the privileged insist upon their elevated status to perpetrate violence upon the innocent, this is an engrossing parable. Reminds me of Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here" (see my review in Aug. 2012) where FDR was replaced by a faux-good ol' boy who put 1936 America under martial law promptly, and worse.

Jillian Becker's alternative history imagines this from papers assembled by the fictional (despite the Amazon heading) historian Bernard Gill's compilation, in 2023. The trouble with such novels of ideas is that characters can turn mouthpieces for ideologies, and while this is not absent here, it's less of a drawback than usual for the genre. I may lean towards folks she criticizes, but I welcome the chance to hear from other viewpoints. I admit a fondness for this subject. My patience with scholarly voices and my acceptance of a denser style through which predicaments and proclamations may be conveyed may mark me as stodgier than readers now preferring a rapid story with less ideology. But, I accept this style.

I'm reviewing this via a Kindle edition for the US market, 2012. N.B.: the Kindle lacks the list of sources, bibliography, and index of the text version. However, it adds an introduction placing the work in tandem with relevant events since '05.

We face our own decisions about expanding government power. We watch disparate protesters in American cities get shut down by police and corporate interests. Abroad, desperate crowds wanting economic redistribution and an end to corporate and political collusion continue via Twitter and Facebook to attempt revolt against despots. As Becker notes, the re-appearance of this is timely, and the fictionalized if fact-heavy medium a fitting one to spread a warning against how appealingly totalitarianism can arise, not only from the conventional suspects and party lines. (Amazon US 8-10-12--just over 1500 reviews there, and this is my 1500th post on this blog.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Karl Marlantes' "What It Is Like to Go to War": Book Review

I recommend reading "Matterhorn" first. This non-fictional companion narrates many of Marlantes' real-life incidents around Christmas 1968 on the Laotian border near the DMZ which inspired that masterful Vietnam War novel. Those who immersed themselves in that epic work's detail and mood will see how Waino Melles stands in as a counterpart for Karl Marlantes--even if a few of the most daring moments of his real life (as in hanging on outside an overloaded chopper so he could make his R+R) service gain in the true telling even more than the fictional fashion.

As previous reviewers noted, this follow-up lacks the seamless quality that at its best (which was often) carried one through six-hundred plus pages of "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War" [see my brief Amazon review in Aug. 2012]. It's much choppier: he integrates recollections of his Oregon coming-of-age among Finnish fishermen, his Yale and Oxford studies, and his difficult re-entry into civilian life. These reminiscences alternate with topical chapters on aspects of warrior culture. These in turn explore in tangents or directions many moments gleaned from his Marine tours of duty, his literary and cultural studies, and his experiences at integration as a man who understands the costs of sending nineteen-year-olds to fight in an era when such duties will be done more and more at a distance, via a drone from a Nevada base and not as hand-to-hand taking a hilltop from the NVA (memorably recounted in both "Matterhorn" and "What It Is Like to Go to War," understandably).

He emphasizes recommendations for rituals that ease the transition from life to death, battle to peace, killing to harmony, which are necessary in an age when compassion for both the fighter and his or her enemy may be more difficult to sustain. Mass killing and not individual duels may add to this societal and cultural switch, and our psyches may not handle the transfer. Marlantes shows how "natural aggression," as with our sexual drive, needs not to be denied or suppressed, but comprehended, cared for, and disciplined. He does not shrink from honesty, and he mingles justice with mercy adroitly.

He draws upon religious analogies intriguingly. He locates the spiritual in combat. He finds "constant awareness of one's own death, total focus on the present moment, the valuing of other people's lives above one's own, and being part of a larger religious community" [loc. 159] in the contrast of the mystic's heavenly ascent and the soldier's hell descent. Both enter a sacred space; respect must be paid. Unless young men and women learn to deal with initiation, the realization of compassion, the balance of justice with mercy in doling out punishment in the field, the shift into this fearsome space and their sudden retreat from it by jet or video, they will not reach healing and wholeness within.

This higher cause appears akin to the "semper fi" commitment he vowed to never leave behind his comrades and to make their needs a priority above his own. Marlantes tells how, in a humble but inescapably dramatic fashion, his first Bronze Star emerged out of such a willingness. He applies Jungian notions of the shadow via Joseph Campbell to explain this imperative.

War ideally is like mercy killing: done out of necessity, but with respect and sadness. Marlantes tackles the "touchdown" cheerleading, the innate reaction we share with apes to kill and take pleasure in it, but he also sees that this alone, the "white heat atrocity" of logically premeditated killing or the "red" of unleashed bloodlust, cannot control those whom we send to fight for us. Evil, as with good, can be summoned out of the energies around us, like we turn on a television.

Transcendence, he boldly argues, can come with frenzy in war. Homer, Cúchulainn, the Bhagavad Gita, video games show this pattern over centuries. We need to channel this energy. Out desire to fight for our side cannot be eliminated. Those who ignore it within our nature do so at a destructive cost. This common drive, as he shows with a vignette from British and Germans pitched against each other in North Africa's desert, can reveal respect that connects the souls of sworn enemies.

I am not sure I agree with his implied stance that if one is not for one's own side in a war decided by national policy and detached politicians, one is aiding and abetting the enemy, but my experiences have not been tested as have been his and his successors, and to be fair, Marlantes aims this book more at them than me. He concludes with ethical suggestions and ways to blend his idealism into practical programs and rituals for those who fight. I teach many veterans (near a VA hospital). I see young men starting college with physical and psychological damage. As I read "Matterhorn" I discussed it with some students, and I will guide more to this companion volume, and their classmates, for this will benefit them all. (Amazon US 9-3-12)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Paul + Karen Avrich's "Sasha + Emma": Book Review

"Red Emma" Goldman turns out a misnomer. She and her companion, and one-time lover, "Sasha" born Alexander Berkman, shared a defiant commitment to anarchism. Deported to newly Soviet Russia after the newly imposed Espionage Act expelled the pair from a WWI America resenting their revolutionary calls for no government and voluntary cooperation, Sasha and Emma within weeks resented their return to their homeland. Exiled, one came back for only three weeks years later and the other never did. They both died in the South of France, four years apart, as again war loomed.

So, if neither Berkman nor Goldman were communists, how did their anarchism infuse their lives? Paul Avrich, a professor of Russian History and Anarchism at Queens College, CUNY, spent his career interviewing those who knew the pair. His daughter, Karen, completes his project and their joint effort in this dual biography pays tribute to the odyssey of this compelling, angry, idealistic pair, fittingly.

The Avriches fluently transcribe the memories of many who shared their recollections with Paul in the 1970s. As I read this, I found myself intrigued by how deeply anarchists a century ago had entered into their own Occupy Movement, from Puget Sound communities where my father-in-law grew up and less surprisingly the Lower East Side neighborhood where I would stay next month, to a few miles away from my house, where the first Los Angeles Times building was blown up during a pro-union dispute in 1910. Such locations lend themselves to over a half-dozen causes célèbres infusing these four-hundred pages of text with places and names still resonating today, for a few radicals.

The Haymarket affair, the Homestead strike, the Frick shooting, the Ludlow massacre, the McNamara brothers, the Mooney-Billings trial, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Spanish Civil War: at the heart of all these, the energy of Sasha and Emma--and their compatriots who denied the legitimacy of any organization, as Autonomist anarchists dismissing leaders themselves--pulsed. Their outrage at what radicals objected to as violence within the capitalist system and coercive legislation by political tyrants and financial tycoons rankled. Autonomists coalesced internationally after innocent anarchists were sentenced to death for the Haymarket incident. In 1886, a bomb went off as police broke up a peaceful Chicago meeting of those opposed to police brutality. Autonomists (unlike most anarchists) rationalized their violent reaction to such repression by Capital and its political representatives as infinitesimal compared to the death count of millions of lives lost under authority and the state. 

That Haymarket incident indirectly set this saga in motion. Immigrating to New York, at the age of sixteen for Emma and eighteen for Sasha, the Russian pair met a year after Sasha's arrival to Manhattan, in 1889 at a leftist café. The Jewish but atheist couple bonded over a common upbringing in Kovno; both had uncles who were anti-tsarist violent radicals, Nihilists. A tempestuous relationship began; never a romantic couple for long, one cannot say they did not practice free love vigorously. Modska Aronston, Sasha's cousin, formed therefore an enduring ménage à trois

They connected in their common hatred of capitalism, and their united commitment to Autonomists, fueled by the Haymarket incident. In 1892, they had an opportunity to act on their convictions. When manager Henry Clay Frick refused to give in to striking steel workers in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a siege of the giant mill resulted. Strikers battled the despised Pinkerton security guards, with fatalities on both sides. Locked out for five months, the union members and their families dug in, but had to give in to massive force. The union entirely broken by the corporation run by Andrew Carnegie, to drive home the magnate's refusal never to negotiate, his chairman of the board Frick won the battle. 

But he lost a war with radicals. A plot for revenge slowly formed in Pittsburgh. Emma tried to raise funds from a night streetwalking. A kindly gentleman took pity on her hapless attempt, and paid her upfront to go home. Partially financed by this strategem, Sasha bought a grey suit, calling cards with the name of a respectable employment agency, and a cheap '38 revolver. He gained entry to Frick's office. Two bullets met their mark; three stab wounds in the struggle that followed plunged deep.

Berkman confessed a moment of pity which nearly disarmed him, but his devotion returned. He gloried in the thwarted assassination, not because he had not earned a murder charge, but because he revenged the cause of labor. His fanatical devotion put him at odds even with Emma. She had countered regarding their partnership: "I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand denial of life and joy." She danced, flirted, easily won over wooers, and fired up the crowds with a natural gift for oratory. Short, fat, unprepossessing, but once she spoke, she ignited her audiences.

This talent worked against her: promotion of an unpopular cause found the pair and their comrades reviled; the first American war on domestic terror erupted. The Avriches observe: "A populist at heart, Sasha fought to apply Russian solutions to American problems." His love of the gun and his Nihilist and Autonomist bent left him an outcast in his adopted land. After he tried to represent himself in court in a typically headstrong fashion, he went to the Federal penitentiary for more charges than his admittedly brutal case merited, a sentence of twenty-two years. He was twenty-one.

While Sasha learned from the savagery in his Pennsylvania cell the necessity for prison reform, as his later-published memoirs presented an eloquent and expert testimony for such progress, Emma had to survive. She was hated by many. Odd jobs and a year or so underground as "E.G. Smith" proved her fate after President McKinley's unhinged assassin claimed he "was a disciple of Emma Goldman". 

The media backlash drove Emma and her associates into desperation. While most anarchists, then and now, promote non-violent means to social harmony and economic equality, a few court the spotlight for better or worse to incite and irritate. Public reaction, after the death of McKinley, forced Goldman and company to seek a better method to convince the huddled masses. On his release from prison after eighteen years in the pen, Berkman took up the pen. In 1906, he became editor of Goldman and friends' fresh project Mother Earth, a monthly publication. (See my PopMatters review of its contents anthologized as Anarchy!, edited in its 2012 expanded version by Peter Greenglass.)

Berkman stayed true to his habits. He masterminded a plot, after the Ludlow, Colorado, massacre of striking miners, to kill John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1914. He did not involve himself directly. His conspirators in Manhattan failed to get close enough to their target, so they took their bomb back to their Lexington Avenue apartment. There, in proximity with stored dynamite, it exploded; three of the anarchists died, twenty residents in the building were injured. The casualties would have been higher if it were not a holiday finding many occupants on the streets already, for the Fourth of July.

An urn with ashes from the three at their funeral "formed the shape of a pyramid symbolic of the class system, with a clenched fist bursting from the apex." Such details enliven this book. While dense in its accounts of where the globetrotting pair roamed and whose paths they crossed, the narrative moves steadily and downplays even the inevitable ideological feuds and rivalries endemic to any political movement, favoring a careful, objective relating of the pair's actions and writings.

To protest the militarization celebrated at a 1916 Preparedness Parade in San Francisco, Italian anarchists planted another device. Ten spectators died; forty were wounded. The blame fell instead on local labor organizers and agitators. Tom Mooney and Warren Billings were sentenced, as were the McNamara brothers in Los Angeles a few years earlier, in a climate markedly anti-union and pro-business, supported by a vindictive judiciary, corrupt police, grandstanding politicians and sensationalist media. The relevance of such episodes within this study needs no elaboration.

Sasha was not involved, but his determination to defend Mooney led to his indictment. He opposed the draft, so this led the Federal government to apply wartime legislation. This called for his deportation as a disloyal Russian national and his exile, along with Emma and other anarchists, many of whom had emigrated from what was bursting into the Soviet Union there, which fired up the first Red Scare here.

On trial in 1917, Berkman challenged the court: "Are you going to suppress free speech and liberty in this country, and still pretend that you love liberty so much that you will fight for it five thousand miles away?" Goldman followed in her final statement: "Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults." This time Sasha (and Emma) had a competent lawyer, but the jury took thirty-nine minutes to return a verdict of guilty.

After serving time in America, the pair were sent off along with other foreign-born anarchists and Communists to the USSR at the end of 1919. Emma was fifty and Sasha about a year younger. J. Edgar Hoover claimed personal credit for their expulsion. Her private letters, he confided, made for "spicy reading".

Bolshevik oppression of their own party, not to mention socialists and anarchists, almost immediately disheartened them. Lenin summoned Berkman and Goldman to serve their new state by forming a mutual friendship society with America; the couple had resisted assisting the Soviets directly. The Kronstadt rebellion and its savage suppression showed how thousands rather than a handful might be slaughtered by a power who bested that of capitalists in his cynical bloodshed.

A chance for Emma to attend an anarchist's convention in Berlin offered a chance to escape. 1922 opened with the pair fleeing to Stockholm, then Berlin and Paris. Emma wound up in London while Sasha remained in Germany. By now, both rushed to assist the victims of Communist rule along with getting their accounts into print, if in botched form by the publishers. These books reported for the first time the truth about the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

But many purported progressives refused to believe. Leftists hurried to dismiss the pair as traitors, while more moderate readers remembered Berkman and Goldman's strident defenses of violence in the name of an anarchist ideal equally suspect by the majority. Neither book sold very well. However, H.L. Mencken praised them, and intellectuals tended in Britain and on the Continent to regard Emma and Sasha with more sympathy and indulgence for what they had endured in the US and the USSR.

Both found love separately, and both wound up in the South of France. A paper marriage allowed Emma to travel on a British passport. A campaign by her friends to Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR, enabled Emma to return to the America she missed, if for three weeks in 1934. She managed on her visit, in her mid-sixties, to enter a tumultuous affair with a scholar of anarchism at the University of Chicago. A married man and a father, blind since four months old, he was then in his mid-thirties.

In the 1930s, Berkman chose to settle in Nice and Goldman in St. Tropez. Sasha had fallen for a tempestuous girl in her early twenties who proved difficult. Emma enjoyed her modest villa and visited the syndicalists and anarchists fighting for the Spanish government against fascism. Both authors warned, long before that decade had darkened, how Communism led to fascism, two sides of corporate control and authoritarian imposition upon the individual, whose freedom anarchism proclaimed.

Worn out by poverty, extreme pain, and the effects of poor nutrition and incarceration for so long, Berkman suffered from depression. He took his life in 1936, but as with his attempt on Frick, his shots missed the fatal mark, and he died in agony after the fact. Forty-four years after his first use of the pistol, he had fumbled the final action again.

Goldman lasted four more years. After lobbying in Toronto to raise funds for refugees from the Spanish Civil War and the defeat of her allies, she succumbed to a second stroke. Both are buried in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Haymarket anarchists who first inspired the pair.

This biography, the first to fully interweave their restless lives over six decades of agitation, education, and organization (if voluntary rather than coerced), results in a solid presentation. Paul Avrich gathered this material efficiently. Karen Avrich arranges the research into an objective, yet accessible and direct, prose style. The authors present the lives of two passionate, outspoken agitators in a calm, considered tone. Endnotes list sources (a full index but no separate works cited) for those eager to follow the journey, ideologically and geographically, of this wide-ranging Russian couple. Although Sasha and Emma worked better as partners rather than lovers, their contributions to the history of political upheaval and social change resonate. A few blocks from the sites of anarchist protests and rallies, Occupy Wall Street rose up a hundred years later, as a similar struggle continues. (Amazon US 10-20-12; with slight alteration 10-25-12 to PopMatters)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Peter Glassgold's "Anarchy!" Book Review

Emma Goldman published 5000 pages of Mother Earth, a monthly journal between 1906 and 1918. If it had not been raided and its contents confiscated by Red-fearing Fed agents, how long might it have lasted? Would Occupy Wall Street burst into life from it and not Adbusters just over a year ago?

Peter Glassgold updates his 2001 anthology, which distilled to four hundred pages the bulk of Red Emma's anarchist appeals. Despite the intentions of Goldman and her one-time lover and lifelong comrade-in-arms, chief editor Alexander Berkman, the magazine devoted far more attention to the benefits of voluntary agreement rather than imposed government, freedom rather than coercion, which defined their anarchism, a marriage of Peter Kropotkin's communal/ communist aspirations with Jefferson, Emerson, and Whitman's libertarian American roots. In fact, its founders wanted to name their effort after Whitman's poem "The Open Road" until a threat of litigation by a rival publication forced the name change. After a buggy ride, Goldman noticed in April spring germinating, and this inspired the title.

This collection, as the magazine itself, focuses on anarchism and political messages--these dominated despite the subtitle of Mother Earth as "Devoted to Social Science and Literature". For Glassgold, the relevance of its contents in the aftermath of Tea Party populism and Occupy reformist agitation remains, although a century ago, radicals sought a stateless society rather than student loan debt forgiveness, single-payer healthcare, open borders, passage of the ERA, or a green economy. For this second edition, he adds an appendix a "summary and partial transcript" of the July 1917 trial of Goldman and Berkman under the newly signed Espionage Act "for conspiring against the institution of a wartime draft". (I plan to review for PopMatters Paul and Carol Avrich's Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman when it is released later this year.)

The contents of Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth follow Glassgold's five criteria. Variety and verve; brevity; exclusive publication therein; originating in America with this publication; relevance then and now. Certainly the name of Voltairine de Cleyre with "her elegant but grand style" conjures up another era's airs. But, turn to her "They Who Marry Do Ill": "Nothing is so disgustingly vulgar to me than the so-called sacrament of marriage; outraging all delicacy with the trumpering of private matters in the general ear. Anarchists argued against this status as a property arrangement, a state intrusion into what should have been and could be a choice of free adults.

As we debate birth control availability, foreign policy as eternal war, Wall Street wealth and Beltway corruption, these contents show that the subjects explained do not remain dusty or neglected. They merit revisiting, and application to our own global upheavals. Margaret Sanger, The Mexican Revolution, the shooting of the Ludlow miners, Ibsen and Jack London, the case of Mooney and Billings, the Paris Commune, the death of James Connolly and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington in the Irish rebellion reveal the topical concerns of a restless age not unlike our own, as international revolt and violent unrest challenged bankers and business.

Closer to our own concerns, the six chapters Glassgold arranges emphasize an entry into the anarchist origins and its spirited resistance to the loss of liberty. Rather than the currently common distortion of disorder as an anarchist definition, a cooperative arrangement to advance grassroots interests predominates. "Direct action," attempted by the Occupy movements and last year's Arab Spring, back then depended more on unions and syndicalist workers' associations to swerve around politics into boycotts, slowdowns on the job, and general strikes. Spanish and Russian organizing, the Haymarket affair, McKinley's assassination, and predictable infighting within the labor movement exemplify the issues in this opening section.

Feminism focused beyond the campaigns of suffragettes follows, for the right to vote was but a hollow gesture for anarchists opposed to politics as usual. Morality itself met attack. Marriage, modesty, contraception, abortion, free love, prostitution, eugenics broadened the debate beyond convention.

Literature sought with modernism to overthrow the system, too. A piece subsequently attributed to Eugene O'Neill as his disguised debut in print features (not his best). One cannot argue with his conclusion, that the workers' "efforts help their leaders get the Dough" but a weakness of left-leaning lovers of literature persists here. Some soggy verse or militant prose risks being dragooned into the service of right-thinking if dreary, dutiful devotion to the Cause. O'Neill's unsigned ditty appears alongside reviews of London's Martin EdenThe Jungle, The Brothers Karamazov, and Berkman's Prison Memoirs. Original works enter by talents such as Maxim Gorky, Ben Hecht, and journalist John Reed's companion Louise Bryant.

Bryant returns for part three, along with Berkman and de Cleyre, discussing "Civil Liberties". A fresh contributor, Ben Reitman, Goldman's newer lover, deserves his own biopic. "King of the Hobos," a brash loud doctor, a Chicago slum kid without a high school degree, who gave up his wandering if not his womanizing "which tested Goldman's well-known advocacy of free love to its limits".

"The Social War" tackles upheaval in Paris, Dublin, Mexico, Colorado, Philadelphia among other hotspots; "War and Peace" shifts into how capitalism and its state protections might "wither away," not by a gradual socialist evolution but revolution. Zionism, Italian protests, and the threats to democracy as war fever spread show the range of issues in part six. Kropotkin, Tolstoy, and Errico Malatesta personify the revolutionary caliber of contributors. This moment, however, led to the dissolution not of the capitalist state, but the magazine itself.

The Soviet triumph divided anarchists, who as libertarians tended to side against state-socialism of the prevailing Bolsheviks. Glassgold notes, contrary to the "Red Emma" moniker most associated with Goldman and company, how Mother Earth succumbed. The cause of its termination? Not its support of the Russian Revolution, but its opposition to the Great War and the conscription demanded by the nations who forced its men to fight.

This expanded collection, which originally appeared the year of 9/11, remains crucial for us a decade later. Civil Liberties struggle against surveillance and an endless war on terror. Women's issues return to presidential campaigns and Supreme Court decisions on healthcare reform and insurance coverage. Social wars as street protests in the EU and Middle East flare up regularly. Anarchism itself remains often misunderstood by the mainstream, caricatured by the media, commodified by "punk" marketers, and appropriated by Anonymous and Black Box movements that thrive on secrecy.

With a timely reprint and revision, Peter Glassgold's project to revive the primary sources may find an eager audience. Commentary prefaces some entries, the index and illustrations enrich, and the introduction sets the major players within their unsettled time, not unlike our own decades of uncertainty. For all the bluster and cant along with the genuine encouragement for betterment, part of any socio-political ideology or strategy, those who cultivated the energy within this journal reacted with passion and conviction, facing jail and deportation for their idealism and activity.

Hysteria over subversion and hype over radical threats have not gone away in the century since Mother Earth. Neither have the real opportunities to channel idealism into action to better each others' human condition. As I write this review, my state hosts on its November ballot a proposition against sex trafficking, showing that the horrors of the "White Slave Trade" inveighed against by Goldman survived the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism worldwide. (Amazon US 10-15-12 and PopMatters 10-30-12)