Six Turkish Filmmakers

Today we have the pleasure to announce the publication of Six Turkish Filmmakers by Laurence Raw, our guest blogger. The book is published in the series Wisconsin Film Studies edited by Patrick McGilligan.  

I have lived in Turkey since 1989, so it might seem obvious that I’ve become interested in Turkish film. Or perhaps not: I work in English-language education, communicating in English with trainee teachers and writing about the problems of dealing with students in the classroom.

Watching Turkish films has been a way of distancing myself from work, not only because of the films’ locations, but because of their ideas. I did not expect that these films would be so different from American or British films, despite a similarity of plots.

Consider the filming style, for example. Derviş Zaim photographs many of his protagonists against the background of a vast landscape or the Bosphorus, conveying a sense of human insignificance. He reminds us that humanity is part of that landscape; people return to the earth once they have died.

Semih Kaplanoğlu alerts us to the regular change of seasons that pass inexorably by, regardless of humanity. Sometimes survival is simply a matter of acknowledging those changes and adapting one’s life around them.

Yet these films do not meditate on nature in a vacuum. They are

Semih Kaplanoğlu

often highly preoccupied with what might be described as the contemporary disease, especially in contemporary Turkey—the vogue for building apartments with little concern for their residents. Semih Kaplanoğlu depicts İstanbul as overrun with apartment blocks placed tightly together. It’s hardly surprising that his characters want to return to the relative peace of the country. Yet the countryside can be equally unforgiving, as in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, where the snow-laden hills offer little in the way of shelter.

Perhaps the only way to survive is to make the best of what we have and enjoy it, for who knows what will be around the corner?

Winter Sleep (director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Many of the Turkish films I’ve watched are quest narratives, where the central characters seek something or someone from their past, or perhaps shaping their future. The directors do not look upon this quest with a great deal of optimism. Invariably, the quests end up not working at all, or present further problems that the characters find difficult to resolve. Better to stick to the status quo, these films seem to say; it might not be much, but it provides the characters with a degree of security.

The films are set in both the present and the past. Zaim’s Cenetti Beklerken (Waiting for Heaven) is set in Ottoman Turkey with a distinct look at the present in its analysis of the ancient art of calligraphy. Zaim takes up the same theme in Nokta (Dot). Twentieth-century perspectives on local history are offered in Tolga Örnek’s Gallipoli and Cars of the Revolution, which respectively look at the lasting memory of the Turkey’s War of Independence and the first car produced by Turks for Turks. Zeki Demirkubuz’s Kısmanmak considers the effect of jealousy in the pre-1945 Black Sea region.

Zeki Demirkubuz

The relationship between past, present, and future is highly significant in these Turkish films, as their auteurs advance a view of the world as a living continuum in which past, present, and future affect each other. Characters perceive one long passage of time that will persist after they have passed away. They believe they can change the world, but only temporarily; life in the world will carry on as if nothing had happened. Hence, these characters need to repeatedly assess their relationship to the world. It is this ontology that makes the films compelling, in a way very different from Western cinema.

I invite you to discover Turkish films, including the work of Çağan Irmak, the sixth filmmaker I discuss in my book.

Laurence Raw

 

 

Laurence Raw is a professor of English at Başkent University in Turkey. In addition to Six Turkish Filmmakers, he is the author of Exploring Turkish Cultures and Impressions of the Turkish Stage, as well as numerous books on British and American literature and film.

New Books and New Paperbacks, November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 7, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK

Winner, Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture, American Conference for Irish Studies
PACKY JIM: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
Ray Cashman

“Accessible to a broad audience. . . . A delight to read on many different levels and constitutes a valuable addition to the scholarship on the individual and tradition.”—Journal of Folklore Research

Growing up on a secluded smuggling route along the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic, Packy Jim McGrath regularly heard the news, songs, and stories of men and women who stopped to pass the time until cover of darkness. In his early years, he says, he was all ears—but now it is his turn to talk.

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

November 14, 2017
SIX TURKISH FILMMAKERS
Laurence Raw

“Surprising and innovative. Raw integrates historical research with literary references and personal reflections, using the work of contemporary Turkish filmmakers to discuss pressing issues of identity and transcultural understanding.”—Iain Robert Smith, King’s College London

In analysis of and personal interviews with Derviş Zaim, Zeki Demirkubuz, Semih Kaplanoğlu, Çağan Irmak, Tolga Örnek, and Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Raw draws connections with Turkish theater, art, sculpture, literature, poetry, philosophy, and international cinema. A native of England and a twenty-five-year resident of Turkey, Raw interleaves his film discussion with thoughtful commentary on nationalism, gender, personal identity, and cultural pluralism.

Wisconsin Film Studies Series
Patrick McGilligan, Series Editor

 

November 21, 2017
SEASON OF THE SECOND THOUGHT
Lynn Powell

“Not just written, but wrought. Powell’s new poems deftly combine keen observation with perfect pitch, and their rich chiaroscuro renders them vibrant and painterly as the Dutch masters they often reference. The current running through her lines leaves me shivering with excitement and gratitude.”
—R. T. Smith, author of In the Night Orchard

Season of the Second Thought begins in a deep blue mood, longing to find words for what feels beyond saying. Lynn Powell’s poems journey through the seasons, quarreling with the muse, reckoning with loss, questioning the heart and its “pedigree of Pentecost,” and seeking out paintings in order to see inside the self. With their crisp observations and iridescent language, these poems accumulate the bounty of an examined life. These lines emerge from darkness into a shimmering equilibrium—witty, lush, and hard-won.

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

 

November 28, 2017
THE WARS INSIDE CHILE’S BARRACKS: Remembering Military Service under Pinochet
Leith Passmore

“With crisp prose and superb scholarship, Leith Passmore provides a groundbreaking exploration of the lives and memories of military conscripts under, and after, the seventeen-year rule of General Pinochet, South America’s most famous violator of human rights in living memory.”
—Paul W. Drake, author of Between Tyranny and Anarchy

“Few books are able to capture, as this one does, the full complexity of the Pinochet dictatorship’s horror. Passmore leads us, in magisterial fashion, into one of its darkest corners: the tortured memories of thousands of former conscripts transformed simultaneously into perpetrators and victims of the dictatorial nightmare.”
—Verónica Valdivia, author of El golpe después del golpe: Leigh vs Pinochet (1960–1980)

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

New Haunted Heartland book features eerie accounts from 10 Midwest states

HAUNTED HEARTLAND IS PUBLISHED TODAY.

For decades, journalist Michael Norman has been tracking down spine-tingling tales that seem to arise from authentic incidents in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The young woman dead for more than a century haunting a section of famed Sheridan Road along Lake Michigan north of Chicago. A farmhouse in rural Iowa sheltering the ghost of a teenage boy killed in a freak farm accident. A ghostly workman in a plaid shirt playing peek-a-boo with unsuspecting staff at a famed Minnesota theater. The sly, invisible cat snuggling up against overnight visitors to a very old Ohio inn, while perfume of the feline’s ghostly mistress permeates the night air.

Those perplexing events, and over 80 more, are featured in Haunted Heartland, a collection of Midwest stories of the supernatural available just in time for Halloween from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Author Michael Norman has included eerie, entertaining and often baffling tales of ghosts and hauntings; possessions and exorcisms; phantom animals; puzzling, bobbing mystery lights; and more from 10 Midwestern states—Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Norman’s previous books include Haunted Wisconsin, Haunted America, and an earlier best-selling edition of Haunted Heartland that he co-authored with the late Beth Scott. Many of the original book’s stories are included and updated. Other stories are new to this 2017 second edition.

“The line between reality and legend in these stories is imprecise at times,” Norman said. “Some are clearly rooted in the folklore or storytelling tradition of a particular locale.”

He cites the Ozarks as an example of a region known for its storytelling tradition. And in southern Ohio there is the locally known folktale of a ghostly wolf that has been heard for well over a century. He and his mates are hunted until one by one they make their way to the “dying place of the wolves.”

“Some of these ‘true’ ghost stories have been told and retold so many times—each recitation adding its own twists and turns—that it’s hard to know for certain where, when or how each one originated,” he said. “But they all have one element in common: they are said to have originated with an actual event, as far as I can tell.”

Other stories in the book may fall more within the controversial realm of parapsychology dealing as they do with people who claim to have had perplexing encounters with something they consider of supernatural origin.

“That story of the Iowa teenager is an example,” Norman points out. “His sister was one of the sources. She heard his voice and felt his presence in their family home many years after his death. She had very specific, very credible encounters with her deceased older brother. I believe she believed in what happened to her.”

Michael Norman

Norman is an emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. 

He acknowledges that as a writer, as a journalist, one can’t always prove the stories are “true” in the strictest sense of the term. 

“I try to work with the ones that are most verifiable,” he said. “I like witnesses and first-hand accounts, not ‘my cousin’s best friend had a friend who said she saw a ghost outside her window.’”But that can prove to be difficult, not always possible, Norman admits.

“How does one ‘prove’ the existence of ghosts that might walk among us or that a particular place is ‘haunted’ so that skeptic and believer alike are satisfied?”

Although Norman had one encounter with a ukulele that appeared to play all by itself, he said he’s never personally seen a ghost. However, he’s interviewed hundreds of people over the years who say they have.

Norman thinks that by not taking a position as believer or non-believer he can more fairly approach the stories. He also depends on archival research and public sources such as newspaper accounts and first-hand accounts written by observers of the alleged haunting.

In some cases, Norman said, the ghost story is well known locally so there are both a number of witnesses and some written records.

“That’s the case with the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. The ghost of the workman clad in a plaid shirt has been sighted off and on by staff for many years. But who he is and why he lingers still isn’t clear,” Norman said. His research into the theater’s long and colorful history didn’t provide an answer.

“I don’t take a hard position,” he said. “In the end I hope they are compelling stories of events we can’t easily explain or understand in a satisfactory manner, that they are meant to remain mysteries.”

Haunted Heartland and Haunted Wisconsin may be purchased from any local or online bookseller, or directly from the University of Wisconsin Press at the links.

In 1904, a young Danish woman met a Sami wolf hunter on a train

Today we are pleased to announce the publication of Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer by Barbara Sjoholm. It recounts the fascinating life of Demant Hatt, a young Danish artist and ethnographer who went to live among the Sami people of Lapland starting in 1907. Sjoholm also investigates the boundaries and influences between ethnographers and sources, the nature of authorship and visual representation, and the state of anthropology, racial biology, and politics in Scandinavia during the first half of the twentieth century.

It was more than idle curiosity to begin with, but not much more.

Up in the far north of Norway, on a lamp-lit day in December 2001, the Norwegian writer Laila Stien told me the story of Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi. Or, at least, the little that was known then of their story: In the early twentieth century, a Danish woman artist had visited Lapland and encountered a Sami wolf-hunter, by chance, on a train. Later she inspired and helped this man write a book—Muitalus sámiid birra (An Account of the Sami)––now considered the first classic work of Sami literature.

Johan Turi

I immediately had questions, but for a long time, few answers. Who was this woman, Emilie Demant Hatt? How did she end up in Lapland, or Sápmi, as the region is now called? What kind of artist was she? And what was her relationship with Johan Turi?

I read her engaging travel narrative in Danish from 1913, and Turi’s equally marvelous book in its 1931 English translation, Turi’s Book of Lapland. And I included what I knew about the pair in my own travel narrative, The Palace of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland. Each time I went to Scandinavia I made time to do more investigation.

I visited the museum in Skive, Denmark, that owned some of Demant Hatt’s artworks, and the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which held a collection of fifty of her Expressionist canvases of Sápmi, all painted when she was in her sixties and seventies. The Nordic Museum archives possessed many of her papers, including intimate letters from Turi, and her field journals from the ethnographic trips she made to Scandinavia in 1907-1916. In Copenhagen, I visited the Ethnographic Collection at the National Museum and pored through eight boxes of letters, sketchbooks, and photo albums. But not until 2008, after the Danish State Archives had put records of their holdings online, did I realize how much more there was: several dozen boxes of material by and about Demant Hatt were available. I’d suspected the woman was something of a packrat, and now I knew that for certain.

By the time I realized the extent of Demant Hatt’s archives, it was too late for me to feel properly frightened or inadequate. I was enthralled. Each challenge—deciphering her handwriting in letters and journals, learning all I could about Sami history, and culture, meeting scholars in many fields, walking the same streets Demant Hatt had walked––led me further. I translated her book With the Lapps in the High Mountains and wrote an introduction. Then, because I was deeply fascinated with another of her relationships, an adolescent romance with the composer Carl Nielsen, I wrote a novel, Fossil Island, and a sequel, The Former World. Eventually I felt I knew enough to begin a full-length biography, a project that would lead me deeper into the same questions I began with years ago but which grew increasingly complex.

Who was this woman, Emilie Demant Hatt? How did she end up in Sápmi? Who was Johan Turi, as a writer and artist? How did Demant Hatt represent him and promote him as an indigenous author? Was their work together ethnographic collaboration or something else? How was Demant Hatt affected by the racial biology movement, much of it directed against the Sami, in Scandinavia? How did her year in the United States with her husband Gudmund Hatt, in 1914-15, and their contacts with Franz Boas and other Americanists shape her ethnographic thinking? Why is her pioneering fieldwork among Sami women and children, and her folktale-collecting, so little acknowledged? What was the impact of Sápmi on her visual art and how were her Expressionist paintings and graphic work received in Scandinavia?

Every life has its mysteries, and one of the roles of the biographer is to dig them out through the careful reading of letters and the charting of personal connections with other historical figures. But even more important in writing a person’s life, especially a life that is both significant and neglected, is a biographical approach that looks at the context of the subject. Demant Hatt, born in 1873 in a rural village in Denmark, traveled widely in her lifetime, not only to Northern Scandinavia but to Greenland and the Caribbean. She was a self-identified New Woman, one of a generation of women artists allowed to study at the Royal Academy of Art. She took advantage of changing times to travel alone far off the beaten path and to marry a much younger man. She lived through two World Wars, including the occupation of Denmark by Germany. Her historical time period, particularly as it relates to changes in Sápmi, is a crucial aspect of her life. She came to know Sami nomadic herders during a time of transition, and she bears important witness to the injustices the Sami suffered from their neighbors and respective states and to their efforts to claim agency over their lives.

Demant Hatt didn’t live outside her era and some of her attitudes may strike us now as patronizing. She was both insider and outsider in Sápmi. Her friendship with Johan Turi was both loving and conflicted. Yet it’s also possible to understand how unwaveringly admiring and actively supportive she was of the Sami. In lively, insightful narratives, in fieldwork notes, in folktale collection, and in her paintings, she’s left an important record of a nomadic people and a northern world that continues to educate and enchant.

Barbara Sjoholm

Barbara Sjoholm is the editor and translator of Demant Hatt’s narrative With the Lapps in the High Mountains. Her many books include novels about Demant Hatt’s youthful romance with Danish composer Carl Nielsen: Fossil Island and The Former World.

 

Vietnam, Laos, and the American War: A Reading List

 

Understanding and Teaching the Vietnam War 
Edited by John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin

The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History
John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

Honorable Mention, Franklin Buchanan Prize for Curricular Materials, Association for Asian Studies and the Committee for Teaching About Asia

“Delivers useful material for anyone teaching the Vietnam war, and for Vietnam veterans and others interest in how the war is being taught in high schools and colleges.”—Vietnam Veterans of America

 

Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life under an Air WarSecond Edition
Edited by Fred Branfman with essays and drawings by Laotian villagers
Foreword by Alfred W. McCoy

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

During the Vietnam War the United States government waged a massive, secret air war in neighboring Laos. Fred Branfman, an educational advisor living in Laos at the time, interviewed over 1,000 Laotian survivors. Shocked by what he heard and saw, he urged them to record their experiences in essays, poems, and pictures. Voices from the Plain of Jars was the result of that effort.

“A classic. . . . No American should be able to read [this book] without weeping at his country’s arrogance.”
—Anthony Lewis, New York Times

 

Vietnam Anthology: American War Literature
Edited by Nancy Anisfield

This anthology includes some of the most memorable personal narratives, short stories, novel excerpts, drama, and poetry to come out of the Vietnam War. Study questions at the end of each section, plus a time line, glossary, and bibliography make this an indispensable coursebook.

Novel excerpts include: Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, David Halberstam’s One Very Hot Day, and Jeff Danziger’s Lieutenant Kitt. Short stories include Asa Baber’s “The Ambush,” Tobias Wolff’s “Wingfield,” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Drama excerpts include David Rabe’s Streamers and Lanford Wilson’s The 5th of July. Poets include: Denise Levertov, Jan Barry, E. D. Ehrhart, Basil T. Paquet, Stephen Sossaman, Bryan Alec Floyd, Bruce Weigl, and Trang Thi Nga.

Originally published by the Popular Press and distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960
Mai Na M. Lee

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, and Thongchai Winichakul, Series Editors

“The messianism of the Hmong rebellions, the fractiousness of the Hmong clans, and the opportunism of Hmong relations with other forces mystified colonial powers and have puzzled historians. . . . But Lee, herself a member of the Hmong diaspora, makes sense of these behaviors as she deciphers the community’s myths, symbols, lineage ties, sexual politics, and rituals, with the combined skills of a historian and an anthropologist.”—Foreign Affairs

 

Viêt Nam: Borderless Histories
Edited by Nhung Tuyet Tran and Anthony Reid

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

“Vitally important not only for Vietnamese studies, but also for broader efforts in Southeast Asian studies to recover the pluralities and fluidities of the past. This volume makes a convincing case for the emergence of a real generational and analytical shift in the field.”–Mark Philip Bradley, Northwestern University

 

With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics
Dale Van Atta
Foreword by President Gerald R. Ford

In 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, centrist Congressman Melvin Laird (R-WI) agreed to serve as Richard Nixon’s secretary of defense. It was not, Laird knew, a move likely to endear him to the American public—but as he later said, “Nixon couldn’t find anybody else who wanted the damn job.” The first book ever to focus on Laird’s legacy, this biography reveals his central and often unrecognized role in managing the crisis of national identity sparked by the Vietnam War—and the challenges, ethical and political, that confronted him along the way. Drawing on exclusive interviews with Laird, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, and numerous others, author Dale Van Atta offers a sympathetic portrait of a man striving for open government in an atmosphere fraught with secrecy.

 

The Government of Mistrust: Illegibility and Bureaucratic Power in Socialist Vietnam
Ken MacLean

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

“An ambitious text, both for its creative use of mixed methodologies and its temporal thematic and range. . . . The richly descriptive text will be of value for graduate students and other scholars who are interested in the dynamic power relations that infuse the innovation and accumulation of state bureaucratic processes, as well as for Vietnam specialists interested in the history of Vietnamese governance, agricultural collectivization and economic policy since independence.”—Pacific Times

 

Hmong in America: Journey from a Secret War
Tim Pfaff

Hmong in America tells the dramatic story of one of America’s newest groups of immigrants, the Hmong, told through the voices of the people who lived this contemporary history. Their journey begins in the scenic, rugged highlands of Laos, travels through the Vietnam War, pauses in the over-crowded refugee camps of Thailand, and ends with the challenges of resettlement and a new life in America.   Distributed for the Chippewa Valley Museum

 

The Mekong Delta: Ecology, Economy, and Revolution, 1860–1960
Pierre Brocheux

By draining the swamps and encouraging a particular pattern of Vietnamese settlement, the French cultivated a volatile society, bound together by lines of credit and poised at the brink of social revolution. From the cutting of the first canals in the 1880s to the eruption of the Viet Cong’s insurgency in the 1950s, this book illuminates the subtle interactions between ecology and social change in a tropical delta.

“A major contribution to Vietnamese studies and to the socio-economic history of Southeast Asia.”—Hy V. Luong, Pacific Affairs

 

 

Into New Territory: American Historians and the Concept of US Imperialism
James G. Morgan

As the Vietnam War created a critical flashpoint, bringing the idea of American imperialism into the US mainstream, radical students of the New Left turned toward Marxist critiques, admiring revolutionaries like Che Guevara. Simultaneously, a small school of revisionist scholars, led by historian William Appleman Williams at the University of Wisconsin, put forward a progressive, nuanced critique of American empire grounded in psychology, economics, and broader historical context. It is this more sophisticated strand of thinking, Morgan argues, which demonstrated that empire can be an effective analytical framework for studying US foreign policy, thus convincing American scholars to engage with the subject seriously for the first time.

 

 

Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War
Edited by William J. Searle

Demonstrates that the seeds of war were implicit in American culture, distinguishes between literature spawned by Vietnam and that of other conflicts, reviews the literary merits of works both well and little known, and explores the assumptions behind and the persistence of stereotypes associated with the consequences of the Vietnam War. It examines the role of women in fiction, the importance of gender in Vietnam representation, and the mythic patterns in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Essayists sharply scrutinize American values, conduct, and conscience as they are revealed in the craft of Tim O’Brien, Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, Stephen Wright, David Rabe, Bruce Weigl, and others.

Originally published by the Popular Press, now distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

 

 

The Driftless Reader: a literature of place

Today, we publish THE DRIFTLESS READER, a remarkable anthology of writings about the ancient and unique unglaciated region that encompasses southwestern Wisconsin and adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. More than eighty excerpts from Native people, explorers, scientists, historians, farmers, songwriters, journalists, novelists, and poets, augmented by paintings, photographs, maps, and pictographs, comprise the anthology. In this post Keefe Keeley, coeditor of the volume, writes about the challenges and rewards of creating the Reader.

It never ceases to amaze me that the tops of these hills were once the bottom of the sea. When I see the exposed bluff faces and roadside cuts stratified in layers like haphazard stacks of books, I almost can’t believe that sandstone and limestone is formed of ancient beaches and shells of sea creatures. Lower layers, older oceans, hundreds of millions of years old . . .

Assembling The Driftless Reader didn’t take hundreds of millions of years, but it took a few.  And geology was just the first chapter. Co-editor Curt Meine and I had our stacks of books and papers about Driftless plants and animals, waterways, early humans who hunted mastodons here, the mounds built by their descendants some ten thousand years later, and the sweep of history from fur trading to organic farming, all the way to a fly fisherman musing about the future of the Driftless area.

The publisher told us we had to fit it all in a hundred thousand words.  So we axed Steinbeck.  We abridged Leopold.  We groaned over Twain.  We scoured our bluffs of books, and we gave thanks for poets as we struck gold in the rich thrift of Driftless verse.

Giving fair representation across the roughly 10,000 square miles of the region was another important, if quixotic, goal. In seeking material for the volume, Curt and I crisscrossed the region to meet with friends and colleagues from Winona to Dubuque, Decorah to Baraboo, and a host of points therein. This was one of the most enjoyable phases of the book: broadening our familiarity with the region and making connections with authors, poets, artists, scientists, musicians and others interested in vital expression of our shared landscape and interwoven communities.  I’m looking forward to revisiting some of these places, and new ones, on our tour of events, as we bookend the project by sharing it with others interested in giving voice to our emerging bioregional identity.

Black Hawk. Painting by George Catlin.

Although we searched far and wide, perhaps it is no surprise that Crawford County, Wisconsin, where I grew up, gave rise to some of the most personally meaningful voices of the volume. Chief Black Hawk recounts old men and little children perishing of hunger as his band was pursued through this “rugged country,” the rest of them marching on to what became known as the Bad Axe Massacre. Pearl Swiggum shared her love for living a whole life on Stump Ridge. Ben Logan grew up on a farm, went on to travel the world, returned via remembrances, and eventually came home. Laura Sherry wrote of her memories in Old Prairie du Chien, a book of poetry published in Paris in 1931. Clifford Simak left for a life elsewhere, but his award-winning stories depict alien travelers from other worlds navigating the place he first called home.  And John Muir (although technically the letter we include in the Reader is one he wrote to a friend in Crawford County) described exploring bluffs just across the Mississippi River in Clayton County, Iowa, where my mother grew up.

I wasn’t always so enamored with this place. In my teenage years I thought of the Driftless largely in terms of escape. I wouldn’t say I disliked it. I would say . . . I liked it. But I felt the hillsides hemmed in my ambitions, and sometimes I perceived a shadow of stigma for being a child of long-haired back-to-the-land transplants in Crawford County. As soon as I came of age, I took every opportunity to study and travel afar. In the Reader, others echo my meditations on escape from the confining coulees and isolated ridgetops of the Driftless: Hamlin Garland, Rick Harsch, Bob Wolf.

Eventually, I traveled just about as far away as possible. In rural India, a farmer lent me his copy of Kentuckian Wendell Berry’s book, The Unsettling of America. The situation in his country, this farmer told me, was the same as in the United States: many young people leaving rural areas, family farms becoming scarce, and small-town economies crumbling. Soon after, I moved back near my family, resolved to buck the trend, put down roots, and become a hometown hero.  I lasted about four months, then I was back to traveling.

Before the Heat of the Day. Painting by Kathie Wheeler of Hmong farmers in the Driftless region.

Over the next few years, I bounced between working on farms near home and shoestring trips abroad.  I’d like to say my fresh eyes returning each time helped me realize how remarkable the Driftless is, but who knows?  Maybe I would more truly appreciate the place if I had continued to put down roots throughout the seasons.

I’ve lived in Madison for a spell now, just outside the Driftless. It can be disorienting, to be in an urban environment, pursuing advanced degrees and other accolades of our era, while society seems to teeter, ever more polarized, along the lines of Berry’s Unsettling warning-cum-prophecy. Sometimes I feel like a moth entranced by the charm of the city lights. I am more at home without streetlamps, navigating my way among the fireflies and stars, open roads, and impromptu conversations with gas station acquaintances. Part of me fears that those open roads and rural conviviality will disappear as too many people from “the city” find the Driftless charming and proceed to blanket the land, as the glaciers never could, with floodlit backyard patios.

Farmed Frame. Machinery parts sculpture by David Wells, photography by Katrin Talbot.

My hope is that The Driftless Reader will serve as a sort of antidote to the poisonous polarity fed by fears like these, prompting us instead to fall in love with whatever place we’re in, and to make those shared affections a basis for conviviality and community with others there. In the closing selection of the book, Kevin Koch likens such an antidote to a vow of stability taken by the monks of New Melleray Abbey outside Dubuque. Rather than, as the monks vow, staying forever in the same locale, Kevin suggests for the rest of us, “a call to be in the fields, in the rain, the mud, and the clay no matter where we’re at, no matter for how long. Our dirty hands, wet faces and backs, and sore feet are testimony to our contact and connectedness to the earth that birthed us and will receive us back again.”

Creating this book has allowed me to cultivate connectedness with and within the Driftless, to establish some stability amid the whiplash of modern mobility. Seeing the place through others’ eyes, things quotidian and odd have become more remarkable, personal, and even beloved. Thoreau celebrated redwing blackbirds prevailing on the Mississippi. Robin Kimmerer puzzled out the patterns of mosses on Kickapoo River cliffs. Amish neighbors, normally aloof from politics, rallied via public letter the outcry against proposed low-level military training flights. Truman Lowe, sculpting aluminum lattice into a thunderbird form, linked his Ho-Chunk clan with the mounds that grace the region.  Kathe Davis, who I’m sad to say passed away recently, wrote in the closing line of her poem Things I Love about Where I Am, “All the long-haired men.”  When I was a teenager, my dad’s long hair was a source of untold embarrassment; now, I see things differently.

I hope the rich array of voices in this book can likewise give others a chance to see the Driftless, and any all-too-familiar or otherwise disregarded place, in a new light. For starters, consider that the tops of these hills were once the bottom of the sea.

Keefe Keeley

Keefe Keeley, a native of the Kickapoo Valley, is co-executive director of the Savanna Institute, working with farmers to diversify and perennialize agriculture in the Upper Midwest. He is pursuing a doctoral degree at the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Can we make space for reasoned deliberation?

The University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to release REASON AFTER ITS ECLIPSE in paperback. In this post, historian Martin Jay suggests that, if reason is to thrive in a pluralistic, even fractured world, it can only do so when some space is cleared—that is, institutions and practices are nurtured—in which deliberation can thrive.

Recently reading the stimulating collection of Raymond Geuss’s essays titled A World Without Why, I was stopped short by a casual reference to the distinguished British philosopher Bernard Williams. Williams had been a much- valued colleague of mine at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1990s.

“Williams,” Geuss wrote, “took an extremely dim view of the powers of reason to persuade. He once told me that he had only one time in his life seen a case of a person convinced to give up a deeply held belief by the force of rational argumentation.”

Williams was universally acclaimed as himself a reasoner of uncommon brilliance, whose career had been built on his ability to demolish the arguments of his opponents, so his skepticism about rational justification as a means of persuasion was particularly sobering. It was made even more so against the backdrop of the episode that gave Geuss’s collection its name: the chilling passage in Primo Levi’s memoir of his time in Auschwitz in which an SS officer capriciously ripped a thirst-quenching icicle from his lips, with the cruel anti-explanation explanation “Hier gibt es kein ‘Warum’” (here there is no “why.”)

If the philosophy seminar is the quintessential space of reasons, the concentration camp is its exact opposite: a… Click To Tweet

If the philosophy seminar is the quintessential “space of reasons,” to cite Wilfred Sellars’ famous phrase, the concentration camp is its exact opposite: a space where no justification needs to be given, pure coercion trumps any attempt to persuade, and the better argument is never allowed to be voiced, let alone win.

In a way, the background of the story I tell in Reason After Its Eclipse is the still potent tension between these two models of human interaction. That is, the first generation of the Frankfurt School had fled from a world in which the concentration camp threatened to banish any vestige of reason, save its debased instrumental variant, from the world. The second generation, exemplified by Habermas, sought to rescue reason by identifying it with its intersubjective role in communication. No longer able to believe in an emphatic notion of objective reason, which had motivated many thinkers in the Enlightenment Age of Reason, they fell back on a more modest faith in the power of giving reasons to justify decisions, which had its political correlate in deliberative democracy. It was this hope for an expanded “space of reasons” that Williams’ remark explicitly deflated.

There can, of course, be no questioning of the resilience of deeply held beliefs, such as religious convictions or political allegiances. But in many other cases, beliefs are held more tentatively, a learning process is not impossible, and minds can be changed. Communicative rationality does not assume that all beliefs can be justified rationally to the satisfaction of adversaries in an argument. Nor does it believe that an ideal speech situation can ever be achieved in which asymmetries of power, expertise, eloquence, and so forth are completely effaced. But it does hold out hope that, if reason is to thrive in a pluralistic, even fractured world, it can only do so when some space is cleared—that is, institutions and practices are nurtured—in which deliberation can thrive.

Reason Today

That such a hope is not entirely utopian became clear to me a few years ago when I served on a jury deliberating a case of alleged drunk driving. Initially, we deadlocked six to six. I joined the vote for guilty. But, after several days of deliberation, we concluded that there was not really enough evidence to convict “beyond a reasonable doubt.” What struck me most about how we reached this consensus was that the most powerful arguments made for acquittal were advanced by a juror who was a postal carrier, someone whose station in life might have led one to believe he would be no match for a professor with experience in the often disputatious world of academic discourse. But as the model of the public sphere advanced by Habermas suggested, station meant nothing and the power of the better argument was able to win out. Our ultimate verdict was reinforced when we had a chance to conduct exit interviews with the two competing lawyers. The prosecuting attorney admitted that he had been dealt a weak hand and doubted he could get a guilty verdict. I ended up feeling far more encouraged by the process than disappointed by losing the argument.

Now, of course, it should be conceded that I really had no long-held belief in the guilt of the accused party, nor any interest in the outcome besides a desire to see justice done. But the point is simply that, to a still significant extent, we live in a world in which “why?” needs to be answered and justificatory reasoning can provide at least some guidance for how we should act. The eclipse of reason, in short, is not total, and some light manages to shine through.

Martin Jay is the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of fourteen previous books, including The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923–50, which has been translated into thirteen languages; Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to HabermasAdornoPermanent Exiles: Essays on the Intellectual Migration from Germany to AmericaDowncast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth- Century French ThoughtSongs of Experience: Modern European and American Variations on a Universal Theme; and The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics.

Tanizaki’s Yaichi: A Japanese disabled character as hero, outcast, and metaphor

Today, the University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to publish Kenny Fries’s account of a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, IN THE PROVINCE OF THE GODS. Here he comments on some of the “outtakes” from early drafts of the book.

Fifteen years ago, I first traveled to Japan to look at its historical and cultural relationship to otherness, to difference. More specifically, I wanted to learn about how the Japanese viewed and represented disability. During my first stay in Japan, much of this eluded me for reasons I write about in In the Province of Gods,

Three years later on my second trip, I found what I was looking for. But, as my book’s focus shifted, this research became more background than foreground. Though some of what I found in Japan about representation of disability remains in the book, much of it is now only in what I call the “outtakes.”

I did include in my book observations about the disability representation in Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro’s novel Portrait of Shunkin.  Most notably, I write about the way that Tanizaki’s story of Shunkin, a blind samisen singer, illuminates my meeting two of the surviving Hiroshima Maidens, the twenty-five hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) who traveled from Japan to the United States for medical treatment in 1955.

But another of Tanizaki’s blind characters is not represented in my own book. In A Blind Man’s Tale, Tanizaki tells the familiar story of the siege of Osaka Castle and historical figures Nobunaga and his successor Hideyoshi. He recounts this history through the voice of Yaichi, who like Shunkin is a blind samisen singer. Yaichi is also a masseur. (Samisen singer and masseur are traditional occupations for the blind in Japan.) Yaichi is in the service of Lady Oichi, sister of Nobunaga. She is married to Lord Nagamasa, an ally of Nobunaga until they have a falling out.

Many familiar tropes of blindness attend the tale of Yaichi, especially that of a blind man’s unrequited love. Because of his blindness, he goes unnoticed by the men but is taken into the confidence of a beautiful woman above his station. There is also the unfortunate metaphor of “blind devotion.” But what is singular about this tale comes at the story’s climactic moment.

During a siege of the castle, Yaichi entertains Lady Oichi along with a visitor, the warrior priest Choroken. As a master samisen player himself, Yaichi notices that Choroken’s playing includes embellishments of a tune with “queer phrases, twice-repeated.”   Yaichi informs us,

Now, there is a secret code that all of us blind samisen players know very well. Since each string of the samisen has sixteen stops, the three strings together have forty-eight: when you teach a beginner how to play the instrument you help him memorize these stops by marking them with the forty-eight characters of the alphabet.  Everyone who studies the samisen learns this system; but we blind musicians, since we can’t see the characters, have to learn it by heart, we associate each note with its proper letter quite automatically, as soon as we hear it.  So when blind musicians want to communicate secretly they can do it by playing on the samisen, using this system as a code.

Tanizaki Junichiro

Yaichi realizes Choroken’s “queer phrases” are communicating that the servant needs to save his mistress, and he perceives the plan Choroken is secretly transmitting. Yaichi’s blindness is a crucial asset in this covert exchange.

Tellingly, in the popular Kabuki theater version of the story, this original element is left out, leaving the story to emphasize the comparison between the “blind” love of Yaichi with that of those who court the widowed Lady Oichi and her beautiful daughter “whose voice sounded just the same” as her mother.  Lady Oichi affections are won over by Hideyoshi, even though he killed her family.  In the end of the Kabuki version, Yaichi is left on stage, remembering his Lady, who appears in the distance playing her koto.  She disappears, leaving Yaichi decidedly alone and crying.

In Tanizaki’s story we are shown how disability can, in certain contexts, be advantageous, as well as how the nondisabled use disability for their own purposes. But, as in much of Japanese culture, the story simultaneously conveys opposing ideas.  In A Blind Man’s Tale, we are given the blind man as hero, outcast, and metaphor.

Kenny Fries is the author of Body, Remember: A Memoir and The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory,  and editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. He teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College and is the recipient of a prestigious Creative Capital grant. He lives in Berlin.

Author’s website: https://www.kennyfries.com/

Finalist, National Book Awards! (Philippines)

The National Book Development Council of the Philippines and the Manila Critics Circle have just announced finalists for the National Book Awards of the Philippines.

Among the finalists in the History category is Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850–1945 by Daniel F. Doeppers, emeritus professor of Geography and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Daniel Doeppers

The University of Wisconsin Press published the book in 2016 in the series New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies, which UWP publishes in collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UW-Madison. The book focuses on how Manila has historically dealt with the formidable challenge of getting food, water, and services to millions of residents, a problem that is increasingly pressing for policy makers, agencies, and businesses who manage food, water, and services for the world’s megacities.

Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet of the Australian National University has called Doepper’s work “outstanding, wide-ranging scholarship that shines in every chapter. He crafts a thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of provisioning Manila and comparable cities. This is a sterling example of how to investigate and analyze such questions, not only for other parts of the Philippines but elsewhere in Southeast Asia and beyond.”

UWP licensed a Philippine edition for the book to Ateneo de Manila University Press, which submitted Doepper’s book for the award competition. Winners will be announced in the coming months.

Hunter’s Best Friend

The University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to publish today a paperback edition of A GROUSE HUNTER’S ALMANAC. In this post, author Mark Parman reminisces about his faithful hunting dogs and their importance beyond mere scenting.

I wrote most of the essays in A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac eight to ten years ago.  That’s a long time in dog years, nearly a lifetime. Gunnar and Ox, the dogs at the center of the book, have been gone almost as long. We live with two different English setters now—Fergus and Jenkins—and on occasion I call one or the other Ox or Gunnar.  Recently a friend called, an English setter fanatic, asking about Ox’s lines and his breeder, and after our conversation, I dreamed of Ox several nights running. Although no longer here in the flesh, these dogs are still very much with me, something I realized even more keenly as I paged through A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac, making a few corrections for this new paperback edition.

Ox pointing a woodcock

In the essay “Dogless,” however, Ox and Gunnar are literally absent from the pages. When rereading it, I was surprised that I didn’t mention them by name, referring to them obliquely as “my dogs.” The essay describes what it was like for me to hunt without a dog one early October day in northern Wisconsin. I hadn’t hunted grouse or woodcock without a dog for several years. Walking by myself through the bright woods and falling leaves, it took just a few minutes for me to realize I would rather hunt with a dog than with a shotgun if forced to choose between the two.
I would rather hunt with a dog than with a shotgun if forced to choose between the two. Click To Tweet
I could get into a rational explanation to justify why a dog improves your hunting chances and ability to bag birds, but for me it all comes down to the fact I have no desire to upland hunt without a dog.

Gunnar with a Sawyer County grouse

I drove home after this fruitless hunt and jumped out of my truck as Gunnar and Ox, released from the house, charged out to greet me. They had seen me leave in the morning with a gun case, and they hadn’t forgotten this slight. They sniffed me all over, trying to fathom where I’d been and why they’d been left behind. It was a new experience for them as well, and they appeared to be at least as unhappy with it as I was. After this, I never hunted without one or the other until they both finally passed on.

Matt Parman (the author’s brother) with Ox

Since then, I’ve kept this wordless pact with Fergus and Jenkins.  On occasion, I hunt them together, but mostly they take turns—one goes out, one stays at home.  As I back out of the driveway, I have a hard time not glancing over at the picture window where the dog left behind stands pressing his nose against the glass, looking as sad as a dog can. Some days, it’s enough to make me roll back down the drive, unlock the door and release whoever was marked to stay home that day. The perfect joy, the happy dance in the driveway, their lust for life cuts me to the heart.

How can anyone live without this?

Fergus and Jenkins with an early season grouse

Mark Parman is a member of the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Loyal Order of Dedicated Grouse Hunters. He has written for Sports AfieldPointing Dog Journal, and other outdoor magazines. In the late spring of 2018, the University of Wisconsin Press will publish a new collection of his hunting essays, Among the Aspen. He has retired from teaching English and journalism at the University of Wisconsin–Marathon County and now lives near Hayward, Wisconsin.

For more of Mark’s writing, visit setterboys.com.