Author Archives: uwpress

Language bites: grammar, consensus, and identity

Today we present a guest blog post by Diana Spencer, author of the book Language and Authority in “De Lingua Latina”, a compelling addition to our Wisconsin Studies in Classics series.

When things go wrong, children are often encouraged to solve problems with words, not violence. This is nothing new. Already, over 2,000 years ago, life advice was being framed through comparisons between the relative power of words and weapons.

Chalk wall with graffiti

The political, emotional, visual, and disruptive power of words still packs a punch, but the normalization of declaration (or protest) by graffiti also suggests a containment of its violence.

All languages are systems that enable communication. Long ago, when travel was difficult and communication media more limited, language was a common currency. But even “once upon a time. . .” things were much more complicated.

In the turbulent era when ancient Rome’s Republican governmental system was giving way to autocracy (first and second centuries BCE), investigating and policing of language was at the heart of the shake-down. Some of the dissonance reflected in surviving texts remains strikingly resonant. One study by Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 BCE), de Lingua Latina, specifically tackles the crackling tensions involved in speaking and systematizing Latin during that time of intense cultural change.

In Rome’s expanding empire, the assertion “I am a Roman citizen” (“ciuis Romanus sum”) was spoken by peoples across the Mediterranean and beyond. In an era with increasing need for code-switching and linguistic flexibility—when slaves, tradesmen, intellectuals, soldiers, bureaucrats, and immigrants might speak very different native languages—Varro posed crucial questions: what then did it mean to speak Latin? To speak it “well”? And whose Latin was it?

Through Varro’s investigation, the era’s violence, electoral disruption, and corrupt politicians gained context from their language’s name: Latin. “Latin” embodied history and legends of early military aggression against local peoples (such as the Latins), and Rome’s dynamic assimilation of foreign voices and identities.

It is no coincidence that as Rome confronted new ways of thinking and speaking amongst allies, enemies, and conquered peoples, Latin was also contested. Language offered a testing ground for exploring some of the difficult ideas and challenges to beliefs around ethnicity, value, and identity which became evident when a citizen speaking Latin was no longer “like us”.

Latin inscribed in stone

Modern re-imagining (Piazza Augusto Imperatore, Rome) of Augustus’ publicly inscribed list of his own achievements as Princeps. Photo by Diana Spencer ©2019

Through study and systematization of the structures, intellectual heritage, and patterns of Latin and its cannibalization of local peninsular languages, lessons might be learned. Rome’s elites might, Varro suggested, look not just for a way of expressing consensus on what was important to them as individuals, or to their vision of civic identity, but for a balanced framework within which celebration of tradition and novelty was possible, baked into the structures and etymologies of language in use.

When the streets were running with blood, and gangs were disrupting elections, this solution had recognizable life-and-death potential—in the 20s BCE political evolution and revolution converged in Rome’s weary and relieved welcome for a radical-conservative solution: a reframed autocracy, new frameworks for remembering the past, and a new brand of leader. The “Emperor” Augustus, whose choice of an old title—Princeps, “First Citizen”—for a new role made an open secret of the revolutionary power of words.

Diana Spencer author photoDiana Spencer is a professor of classics and the dean of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at the University of Birmingham (UK). Her Recent publications include contributions to The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Early Medieval Worlds and the Cambridge Classical Journal Supplement 39, Varro Varius: The Polymath of the Roman World.

Silenced Resistance

Today we present an interview with Joanna Allan, author of the book Silenced Resistance, a compelling addition to our series Women in Africa and the Diaspora.

 

Who and what is being silenced in Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea?

In short, I argue in the book that the dictatorial regime in Equatorial Guinea and the Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara (Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa) are committing—and covering up—serious, widespread and gendered human rights abuses with the support of foreign corporations and states, including companies from the USA and UK.  Hypocritically, the responsible parties conceal their crimes with the help of public relations and social responsibility campaigns that claim the regimes and their foreign partners are working to promote so-called gender equality. This is, I argue, “genderwashing.”

 

Saharawi activist Hamadi Zaybour links his son’s disabilities to Moroccan police beating his wife while she was pregnant. He also emphasizes that foreign markets, which pay Morocco to access Western Sahara’s natural resources, have played a role in his family’s suffering.

 

Man looking over Smara refugee camps

Why Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea? 

My curiosity in the two countries was provoked, in a large part, by the lack of information about either of them. My undergraduate studies were in the field of Hispanic Studies, and yet my university was, as far as I know, the only one in the UK to include Western Sahara on the syllabus. Equatorial Guinea did not feature on the course at all. Equatorial Guinea and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic are the only Spanish-speaking African states. I therefore wondered why these countries received next to no academic attention in my discipline (or in most other disciplines for that matter).  Actually, referring back to the title of my book, missing whole countries from our syllabi is one way we collectively silence Equatoguinean and Saharawi women.

Occupied El Aaiun, Western Sahara’s largest city

I remember the first time I heard of the conflict in Western Sahara. It was around the time of nonviolent activist Aminatou Haidar’s second imprisonment. I was astonished that Saharawi women seemed to lead the pro-independence movement in occupied Western Sahara. This contrasted with the Equatoguinean case, where the opposition to the ruling regime seemed, according to information available at the time, male-dominated. I was therefore compelled to explore the reasons behind this divergence in the gendered make-up of resistance movements. Actually, Equatoguinean women are very much involved in resisting the dictatorship, but their contributions—for a range of gendered reasons that I explore in the book—have attracted less attention.

Pro–independence poster at a demonstration in the Saharawi refugee camps

In the book, you also explore resistance to Spanish colonialism in the two countries.

Yes. Historical resistance movements have shaped the gendered dynamics of today’s resistance efforts, I argue. For example, in the Saharawi case, black Saharawi women’s historical internal struggles against racism and sexism have resulted in the egalitarian principles of today’s pro-independence movement.

Housing in Equatorial Guinea

Also, with regards to who is silenced and whose stories are told, I wanted to ensure that women’s contributions to Equatoguinean independence were recognized in the book. During my fieldwork, woman after woman in Equatorial Guinea recounted memories of women’s activism against the Spanish colonisers, but lamented that these women had not been taken into account. Women will remain silenced until we make the effort to listen to them.

 

Joanna Allan is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Northumbria University.

Remembering the Hometown Boys

Today’s guest-blogger is Brad Larson, director of the Oshkosh Public Museum and author of All the Hometown Boys.

As a boy in the early 1960s, I seldom saw my grandfather. He had divorced from my grandmother in the early 1930s, remarried, and moved away. His relationship with his two young sons was strained, to put it nicely. Yet, as he and my father aged, they occasionally came together to heal wounds. On one such instance, he led my brother and me to the trunk of his car to show us his old army boots.  He told us those heavy, hob-nailed boots still had remnants of encrusted mud in a few small places. “Boys,” he said, “that is the dirt of France.”

I stood there in the summer sun next to his Pontiac, just a ten year old boy, transfixed as he revealed abbreviated stories of his experiences as a teenage National Guardsman in what seemed to be a distant land and an overlooked war. Strange as it might seem in hindsight, those old boots and the stories he told made everything seem genuine. I came to realize that my grandfather, white-haired and old, was once a courageous soldier.

Brad’s grandfather, Martin Larson

My desire and determination to resurrect the stories of Wisconsin’s 150th Machine Gun Battalion might have had its roots in the stories of my grandfather. Indeed, even as a boy it seemed that I was aware that memory is a fickle thing. As I describe in All the Hometown Boys, the 150th was a household name after its creation in 1917, for it was part of America’s celebrated 42nd “Rainbow” Division, a National Guard division that brought together men from 26 states. The nation was justly proud of the exploits and victories of the “hometown boys.”  In welcome home parades, the men were esteemed heroes.

But 100 years later, who remembers the 150th Machine Gun Battalion, or America’s soldiers who released France from almost certain defeat? If 30-plus years of museum work have shown me anything, it is that remembrance of our past is weak, perhaps even fading. I think that impression is especially true for World War I, for the soldiers of America’s first world war do not even have their own national memorial in Washington, D.C.

Memory is what we make it. To honor and remember someone, or some event, requires time, dedication, and effort to ensure we discover and perhaps even pass on the story. True reverence for our past comes not from brief media coverage close to an anniversary, but rather grows in the hearts and minds of everyday Americans. They make the decision that men like my grandfather, or the men of the 150th Machine Gun Battalion, soldiers who gave of themselves, lost their youth and in some cases their life, deserve to be remembered.  We should take joy in discovering their stories.

 

Brad Larson has been the director of the Oshkosh Public Museum since 1989 and has been researching and presenting public programs about the 150th Machine Gun Battalion for many years. He is the author of Voices of History, 1941–1945.

Starvation Shore

Today’s guest blogger is Laura Waterman, author of Starvation Shore, a compelling tale based on a true story of polar explorers fighting for their lives.

 

My novel, Starvation Shore, is based on the Greely Arctic Expedition of 1881–1884. Also known as the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, this three-year saga of a little known American Arctic expedition can be equated with the Franklin Expedition for daring and horrific disaster.

This is the story of 25 men who find that surviving in the Arctic requires cooperation to the point of selflessness. But as darkness, vicious wind, and gelid cold confines them to what feels like a prison sentence, what gets laid bare are the fatal flaws and staggering misjudgments.

I began work on this novel in 2008. Researching and writing it has been an epic journey itself. I was drawn to this story because of the hardships that bring us face to face with our true selves. I was curious to join with these men, to see how I would react in a setting that made such physical demands, that required moral, ethical, and spiritual courage.

A group photo of the explorers

This expedition grew out of a desire to counter the enormous loss of men and ships in the Arctic over the last three centuries. In 1881 the United States was part of the International Polar Year that established stations around the icecap. Lt. Greely’s men were there to take meteorological observations and so learn about the Arctic.  They were expected to set a new Farthest North, long held by the British. The U.S. Army was in charge. The equivalent today would be a manned trip to Mars.

Sgt. David Brainard

I used the men’s diaries, particularly Sgt. David Brainard’s, the portion he wrote at Cape Sabine after the men had left the fort they had built at Discovery Harbor, farther north and only 500 miles from the North Pole. The promised resupply by ship had failed because of pack ice. The men had spent a second winter, and as the third winter drew near, Lt. Greely ordered the men into the open boats, a controversial move. They had had supplies enough to make it through a third winter, if they had stayed.

Pvt. Charles B. Henry

That this was an unhappy expedition from the start fascinated me. What was going to happen? Dr. Pavy and Lt. Greely were a mismatch of temperaments. Lt. Kislingbury wished he’d never come.  His senseless acts of insubordination caused Lt. Greely to break him. Sgt. Brainard was sure they had a murderer along, namely Pvt. Charles Henry. Lt. Lockwood, brave, strong, a gifted leader of men—he set the Farthest North record—was prone to depression.

On the other hand, Pvt. Shorty Frederick was there when you needed him. Their young astronomer, Ned Israel, took infectious delight in the mystery of an Arctic night. Photographer George Rice’s glass plates showed a frigid black and white beauty not seen before. Eskimo Jens Edwards died in his boat catching seals for them.

The six survivors on their way home in 1884

When the rescue party arrived in 1884, two thirds of the men were dead. What George Rice had feared, and Sgt. Brainard had tried to prevent, had happened: cannibalism.

I grew up reading about adventure; most children do:  Doctor Doolittle, Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons. When I read Annapurna, Maurice Herzog’s account of the first 8000-meter peak to be climbed, I wondered, had I been along, could I have made it to the top? I began climbing on my homeground. The White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Presidential Range in winter, and learned about winds that can knock you down, visibility so compromised you’re relying on all your senses and your internal compass, and frightening subzero cold. I drew on this experience for writing Starvation Shore. I learned, as Greely’s men did, that we are often capable of more than we had thought possible.

 

 Laura Waterman is an author, environmentalist, and outdoor enthusiast. Her books include The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and CampingA Fine Kind of Madness: Mountain Adventures Tall and True, and Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage.

The Lost Lives of Greek Vases

Today we present an essay by guest blogger and author Sheramy D. Bundrick, whose book Athens, Etruria, and the Many Lives of Greek Figured Pottery is featured in our series Wisconsin Studies in Classics.

 

Research for Athens, Etruria, and the Many Lives of Greek Figured Pottery included an unexpected foray into scholarly detective work: recapturing the long-forgotten archaeological contexts of Athenian vases collected in the nineteenth century.  Preparing a chapter on vases used as Etruscan cremation urns, I mined volumes of the Bullettino dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica and Notizie degli Scavi for documented examples, and I discovered four whose descriptions matched vases in American museums but which had somehow been orphaned from knowledge of their findspots.  All were sold at the time by the private landowners who oversaw their excavation.  One is now in the Harvard University Art Museums (Figs. 1–2): in the 1876 Bullettino, an amphora of exact description—down to the gestures, garments, and attributes of figures—is recorded as being from Tarquinia, found in a pit tomb where it served as a cinerarium.  Harvard curators Susanne Ebbinghaus and Amy Brauer confirmed that this was new information and suggested I consult papers of the amphora’s donor, Henry Williamson Haynes (1831–1912), at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Archaeologist and Harvard alumnus, Haynes bequeathed his antiquities collection to the Classics Department, which passed to the art museum years later.  Haynes’ travel diary and a letter to his mother state that he visited Tarquinia on 21 May 1876 and met the Marzi brothers, who owned the land where the amphora was discovered.  No mention of buying it, but paired with the Bullettino, these documents permit confirmation of the amphora’s journey from Athens, to Tarquinia, to America.

Figure 1

Why does this matter?  Historically, it didn’t: the Athenian makers and milieu of vases were believed most important, and their Etruscan ownership a blip in time.  But attitudes and disciplines change, and in today’s more globalized, networked world, the purchasers of figured pottery—often far from Athens itself—earn as much scholarly attention as their producers.  In my book, I argue that the symbiotic relationship between workshops and consumers literally shaped the ceramic industry; knowing the biographies of individual vases encourages a better understanding of that relationship.

Take again the Harvard amphora, attributed to an anonymous potter-painter known as the Affecter for the mannered drawing style.  In her 1975 monograph, Heide Mommsen suggested dates of ca. 550–520 B.C.E. for the Affecter’s career and sorted vases into stylistic periods.  Recovering the Harvard amphora’s findspot reveals that at least three amphorae in the earliest phase went to Tarquinia, all depicting gatherings of gods.  Most of the Affecter’s surviving vases traveled to Etruria, raising questions whether he used information from traders to guide his choices of shapes and subjects.  Some of his vases even feature the apparent logos of traders under their feet.  Back in Tarquinia, knowing the Harvard amphora served as a cinerarium yields more questions.  Did the pictured gods, for example—who all had Etruscan equivalents—act as protectors for the dead?  If the deceased’s remains survived, they could be forensically analyzed for information about age and gender, but as was often the case in the nineteenth century, these were discarded.

Figure 2

Reuniting the Harvard amphora with its lost context provides a somewhat happy ending, but the overwhelming majority of vases lack known findspots, either through early discovery and rare documentation or more recent, illicit looting.  The intellectual consequences are considerable: although much can be said about unprovenienced antiquities of any variety, in missing their contexts, their story remains incomplete.  Writing my book, I often found myself challenged by what I could and could not discuss as a result, and I hope my work serves as a call for awareness as much as a contribution of ideas.

 

Figs. 1–2. Athenian amphora attributed to the Affecter, from Tarquinia, ca. 540 B.C.E. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, bequest of Henry W. Haynes, 1912, 1977.216.2244. (Photos: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

 

Sheramy D. Bundrick is a professor of art history at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She is the author of Music and Image in Classical Athens.

Senegal Abroad

Today we present an interview with Maya Angela Smith, author of the new book Senegal AbroadThis book illustrates the experiences of Senegalese people in Paris, Rome, and New York, and is a part of our series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture.

 

How did you become interested in language in the context of migration, and why did you decide to focus on the Senegalese diaspora?

I first became interested in the relationship between language, identity, and setting as a college student. While studying abroad in Paris and Dakar, I experienced the social nature of learning a language and how this social practice varied with context. For me, learning French in Paris was a more challenging experience than learning French in Dakar. Many Parisians seemed to have little patience for language learners, and I was often self-conscious about my French-speaking abilities, worried about making mistakes. By contrast, while learning French in Dakar, I felt less pressure to speak French perfectly, partially because I was simultaneously studying Wolof, the most widely spoken national language of Senegal. Senegal, however, represented a conundrum to me. While I did not sense the same imposition of standard French as I had when studying in France, there was still a reverence for the French language that surprised me. People I met in Dakar insisted that Senegalese spoke the best French in Africa and even better than many people in France. I had not expected an African country to place so much pride in a colonial European language, all the while enthusiastically championing the various national languages of Senegal.

Furthermore, when interacting with people in Dakar, I realized that so many people had either been abroad, were planning to go abroad, or had family members abroad. Senegal, thus, was a mobile space constructed and managed through various diasporic settings. Many of the students at the university in Dakar had spent time studying in France, and I assumed that this mobility was tied to social class. However, I soon found that people from all social classes had access to the world beyond Senegal. For instance, vendors at the Marché Sandaga, Dakar’s largest market, when realizing I was American would tell me about their experiences living in New York City and about how many of their family members were still there. They would proudly show off the English they had acquired. Others, when learning of my travels to Spain and Italy, would talk about their time in these countries, and we would compare our experiences there especially as it pertained to language. These were not isolated incidents. It seemed like everyone had a story from abroad. These informal conversations I had with Senegalese in Senegal thus became a point of departure for a more formal inquiry into language and migration in the Senegalese diaspora.

 

How does your research inform your pedagogy?

My scholarship broadly focuses on the intersection of racial and linguistic identity formations among marginalized groups in the African diaspora, particularly in the postcolonial francophone world. As someone trained in sociolinguistics but who has always been housed in French departments whose primary interest is literary and cultural scholarship, my practice of bringing close textual readings to ethnographic interviews allows me to tell something new about the human condition. In my courses, I give students the tools to think critically about how we as humans engage with our environments and how we act, react, and interact with others. My goal is to help them articulate not only what they experience in their own lives, but to thoughtfully analyze how different communities and societies make sense of the world. In addition to the various forms of cultural production that we analyze in class—language, art, film, music, literature—I often have them grapple with the data I collect. I find that my interview data offer a productive space for students to comprehend the larger social and cultural phenomena that become visible in the themes we explore in class.

 

Speaking of your data, do you have a favorite anecdote from your research?

For my most recent book, Senegal Abroad, I interviewed over 80 people of Senegalese descent across Paris, Rome, and New York as they convey a variety of illuminating experiences on language, blackness, and migration. While it is hard to pick a favorite, I have a tendency to gravitate toward the anecdotes that showcase multilingualism, creativity, and humor. For instance, in winter of 2010, I was eating lunch with some Senegalese acquaintances at a restaurant in Rome. Although Wolof was the most common language used among this group, a regular patron named Idi abruptly switched into Italian to announce that he was discarding his Senegalese identity and claiming an Italian one instead. One of his friends then retorted that if he were so Italian, he should drink his water in Italian, to which Idi replied that drinking was not part of the Italian language. While the group began to argue playfully in Wolof and Italian about national identity and what constitutes being Italian, a man named Bachir exclaimed in French that he was proud to be Senegalese. As the only use of French in the whole exchange, I wondered why he would use French to profess his Senegalese heritage, especially considering the negative position he had taken in previous discussions concerning the role of the French language in Senegal. The linguistic intricacy of this exchange conveys the complexity surrounding where the Senegalese fit in discussions of Italian identity, the role of French as the former colonial language in current articulations of a Senegalese identity, and the agency that people have in negotiating these and other dynamic identities. Importantly, this exchange was happening over laughter and playful teasing as they shared a meal, demonstrating the cultivation of joy even in what many of them view as hostile spaces.

 

Why do you think the work that you do matters?

I place a lot of importance on representation. In this moment where political discourse and the media provide such a skewed and myopic view of immigrants and where their stories are usually told by those in positions of power and privilege, I wanted to find a way for the most marginalized among us to share in their own words the complexity of their lived experiences. Furthermore, in academic scholarship, most of the work on transnationalism depicts African migrants succumbing to economic temptations as the sole reason for migrating and creates a depressing picture of their existence in host countries. While I do not minimize these motivations and difficulties, I go beyond political economy and also concentrate on the pride, passion, and happiness that the people in my research achieve through their reflections on language. Their stories blur the lines between utility and pleasure, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of why and how Senegalese move.

 

Maya Angela Smith is an assistant professor of French and Italian studies at the University of Washington.

History You Didn’t Learn in School

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Urbikas, author of the book My Sister’s Mother, a finalist for numerous awards including the Midwest Book Awards.

With the publication of my hardcover book in 2016, I’ve had many opportunities to present a much under-reported history of World War II Poland and eastern Europe, which has reverberations even today.  Most people, especially Americans, are not aware that not only did Hitler’s Nazi Germany attack Poland on September 1, 1939, but so did Soviet Russia under Stalin just a couple of weeks later, on September 17, 1939.  I’ve learned that that history can be much distorted today when it occasionally emerges from Russia.  Most Communist-era Russians will say that they “liberated” Poland from the Germans, reluctant to mention, if they even know about it, that Russia and Germany had a secret protocol to their Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 23, 1939, better known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact, in which the two aggressors agreed to divide up Poland.  The following graphic, courtesy of author Wesley Adamczyk (When God Looked the Other Way, University of Chicago, 2004), depicts that division.

That secret protocol was a terrible sentence for my mother and my then five-year old half-sister and the hundreds of thousands of Poles and others living in the eastern borderlands of what was then Poland, known as the Kresy. Taken at gunpoint by the Soviet secret police in the middle of the night on February 10, 1940, my mother and sister were deported to a labor camp in Siberia, traveling long hard weeks by cattle car and sled.  Today, those lands where they lived in Poland are Belarus. 

My mother’s arrest and the aftermath of her ordeals surviving hard labor, saving my sister from hunger, diseases, and the sheer harsh climate, impacted my life many years later.  It was only after I became a mother myself could I begin to understand my mother’s war trauma.

My father also suffered as a result of that secret protocol when he was called to duty as a Polish Army officer to fight against the German and Russian invaders.  He was later captured by the Russians and sent to a prisoner of war camp near the infamous Katyń forest where over 20,000 Polish officers and other imprisoned Polish educated men were murdered by the Soviets.

When the mass grave sites were first discovered in 1943, the Soviet Russians blamed the Germans for the murders. Only in 1990/91, with the fall of Communism, did Russia admit their crime, but have since retracted from those assertions.  With the current regime in Russia, it is uncertain whether they will ever take responsibility for such atrocities, invasions, and deportations.

I was born several years after the war ended when my parents were re-united in England, both afraid to return to Communist Poland.  Shortly after, we immigrated to America and my life became far different from my sister’s childhood, thus we had very different experiences of the same mother.

Our mother never really left Siberia and Russia mentally as she relentlessly told her stories. I grew up with World War II as if I had been through it all with them.  Trying to assimilate in America was difficult enough without having to relive the war.

My book is that story of growing up with a mother so impacted by the war that she could not reconcile what had happened to her and my sister.  It is more importantly a good history lesson within a family story of surviving war and its after effects, prevailing over the dark forces of war by not only surviving but thriving.  Thus, it is a story of perseverance in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

 

Donna Urbikas’ website for more info:  www.danutaurbikas.com

Click these links to access the audiobookbook trailer, and a US Holocaust Memorial Museum interview with Donna’s sister, Mira

 

Donna Solecka Urbikas was born in Coventry, England, and immigrated with her parents and sister to Chicago in 1952. After careers as a high school science teacher and environmental engineer, she is now a writer, realtor, and community volunteer. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

 

 

A Reader’s Guide to Andrei Bely’s “Petersburg”

 

Today we present a piece written by Leonid Livak, editor of the book A Reader’s Guide to Andrei Bely’s Petersburg

 

Few artistic works created before World War I convey the sensibility, ideas, phobias, and aspirations of Russian and transnational modernism as comprehensively as Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (1913), whose place and importance in cultural history have been often compared to those of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). Yet Petersburg has not received its due attention from the Anglophone public and is rarely taught within the framework of literature and humanities courses, because like other hermetic modernist classics, this novel presents serious challenges to nonspecialist readers as well as to instructors in literature and general humanities. The essays collected in our volume strive to make Petersburg more accessible. They have been written with a broad audience in mind in order to help the Anglophone reader gain a better understanding of Bely’s novel and to facilitate its study in the college classroom. The volume’s contributors have been asked to refrain from new interpretations of the literary classic and to summarize instead what we already know about Petersburg, explicating it in the intellectual and artistic context that informed the novel’s creation and historical reception.

Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev (1880–1934), who used the penname Andrei Bely, was an intellectual omnivore drawn to the most diverse practices in art and thought. Petersburg is a virtual encyclopedia of European philosophical and aesthetic currents between the turn of the century and World War I. This makes Petersburg—originally written for an interpretive community that shared the author’s cultural knowledge—all the more difficult to understand today. Hence the structure of our book: each essay explores a particular aspect of Bely’s novel.

The first part treats Petersburg’s rapports with Russian and European intellectual life in Bely’s day. Lynn Patyk elucidates the historical circumstances informing Petersburg’s terrorist intrigue, with an eye on the range of meanings that intrigue had in Bely’s modernist circle and in contemporary Russian society at large. Maria Carlson draws attention to Bely’s fascination with Theosophy and with its offshoot—Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical doctrine, which freshly captivated the writer midway through his work on Petersburg. Bely’s interest in Friedrich Nietzsche’s iconoclastic thought predated his work on the novel. The formative role in modernist philosophies of art and life of Nietzsche’s intellectual heritage all but assured that Bely would engage with it in Petersburg, as Edith Clowes illustrates. Neo-Kantianism is yet another philosophical current informing the novel. As Timothy Langen explains, it shaped Bely’s thought in the decade preceding his Petersburg project, and it is present there as one of the novel’s competing philosophies. Henri Bergson equipped Bely with polemical tools for a critical reexamination of Nietzscheanism and Neo-Kantianism, whose philosophical virtues, Hilary Fink argues, the writer no longer took for granted during his work on Petersburg. Judith Wermuth-Atkinson shows that Bely’s modernist search for alternatives to the materialist understanding of the world and the human being led the author of Petersburg to heed the new science of psychology, as elaborated by Sigmund Freud. A special place in Petersburg’s imaginative universe is occupied by racial theories, whose narrative manifestations are explored by Henrietta Mondry. Closing the book’s first part, David Bethea demonstrates the centrality of eschatology—speculation about the end of history, framed as the demise and rebirth of the world and humankind— in Petersburg’s narrative and stylistic economy.

The volume’s second part examines Petersburg in the aesthetic context of Bely’s day. Keenly following the latest developments in Russian and Western artistic theory and practice, Bely poured his erudition into Petersburg as a medium for reflecting on and realizing modernist artistic philosophy. Steven Cassedy explores the role of music in Bely’s novel against the backdrop of modernist musical theories and their implementation in literature. Considering Bely’s novel as an exemplar of modernism’s embrace of performance practices and metaphors, Colleen McQuillen shows Petersburg’s place in the practice of “life-creation,” common among Russian modernists who turned their lives into artistic texts that were lived before they could be written down. Olga Matich treats Petersburg as an expression of Bely’s passion for painting, exploring the ways Bely uses verbal signs to create visual images. Taras Koznarsky shows Petersburg’s contribution to transnational modernism’s intense preoccupation with urbanism. Violeta Sotirova looks at Petersburg as a case study in the larger modernist turn to consciousness as the source of reality, placing Bely’s novel alongside literary experiments by his Western European peers.

Petersburg explores every level of spoken and written language in order to speculate about language as a source of what people perceive as reality but what might as well be an illusion originating in the psyche. That is why we open this volume with an essay by John Elsworth, the author of the most recent English translation of Petersburg, who endeavors to impart to Bely’s Anglophone reader a sense of the challenges inherent in translating the novel; and to give the reader an idea of the inevitable losses and distortions accompanying any such translation project.

Petersburg’s importance for the evolution of Russian prose writing in the twentieth century had no equals. Fifty years after the novel’s original publication, Vladimir Nabokov ranked Petersburg alongside James Joyce’s Ulysses, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in his list of “my greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose.” Like the other modernist masterpieces on Nabokov’s list, Petersburg makes for an intensely enjoyable but challenging read, for Bely expected his audience to actively participate in unraveling the work’s many meanings, narrative strains, and patterns of details. The present volume aims to facilitate that task by recreating for the general Anglophone public the sociopolitical, intellectual, and artistic context informing Bely’s novel.

 

 

Leonid Livak is a professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Russian Émigrés in the Intellectual and Literary Life of Interwar FranceThe Jewish Persona in the European Imagination, and How It Was Done in Paris: Russian Émigré Literature and French Modernism.

The Lasting Impact of Francisco Franco

This week we have a piece written by guest-blogger Stanley G. Payne, co-author of the book Franco: A Personal and Political Biography.

 

The revolutionary movements that provoked the Spanish Civil War in 1936 created the only violent mass collectivist revolution of Western Europe in the twentieth century, but the victor in this contest was Francisco Franco, the most successful counterrevolutionary leader of the era.  He went on to create the first stable dictatorship in Spain’s history, surviving World War II and remaining in power until he died of natural causes in 1975, having defeated all comers for nearly four decades.  In the process he promoted the definitive socioeconomic modernization of his country and created institutions that after his death permitted a peaceful transition to democratic constitutional monarchy, led by liberal Francoists, though this final outcome was not his intention.

Franco was the most powerful individual figure in the more than two millennia of Spanish history, for no king under traditional institutions enjoyed the resources of an organized twentieth-century dictator.  He has been both the most widely praised and the most extensively and vehemently vituperated personality in the annals of Spain.

During the twenty-first century the country has begun to fragment.  The Spanish left, bereft of ideas or a coherent new program, has partially repudiated the prosperous, broadly decentralized democracy of 1977-2018, claiming that it was tainted by Franco’s dictatorship, even though it put an end to the latter. “Anti-Francoism” has become a central banner, crediting a dictator who vanished more than four decades ago with the power to dominate Spanish affairs from beyond the tomb.  In Spain more than anywhere else, polemics about recent history form a major part of current political controversy.

Though most twenty-first century Spaniards do not support the fantasies of so-called “historical memory,” which is neither history nor memory, the ignorance of history is as widespread in their country as in any other Western land.  These circumstances raise anew the question of exactly who was Francisco Franco and what exactly was his historical record.  The literature about him is enormous, greater than that concerning anyone else in Spanish history, but is strongly divided between encomia and denunciation.

The present biography seeks to open a new inquiry that is more balanced and objective, or at least less subject to the influence of polemics than its predecessors, based on a broad base of key primary and secondary sources.  It treats the sharply contrasting aspects of Franco’s rule, from the rigorous Civil War-era repression to the positive achievements of later years.  While investigating all the major aspects of Franco’s career over four decades, it also seeks to offer a personal portrait of the dictator, from his early career as a teen-aged infantry officer through his marriage and family life to his eventual demise in the most public (and one of the most prolonged) natural deaths of modern times.

It may be that no other Western country changed more during one lifetime than did Spain during Franco’s eighty-three years, and many of these changes were closely involved with his own biography.  The book grapples with this lengthy process of change, and with the numerous mutations of Franco’s own rule, as his regime evolved from a politics of semi-fascism to Catholic corporatism to modernizing bureaucratic authoritarianism, from associate of the Third Reich to important ally of the United States.  It seeks to provide deeper understanding of a key historical personality, and also of the dynamic evolution of Spain during the twentieth century.

 

Stanley G. Payne (right) is the Hilldale–Jaume Vicens Vives Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of many books, including A History of Fascism, 1914–1945The Franco Regime, 1936–1975; and Spain: A Unique History.
Jesús Palacios (left) is a noted historian, investigative journalist, and adjunct professor at the University of Madrid.

Universal Witchcraft and the Problem of Categories

Today we present a piece written by Douglas J. Falen, author of the new book African Science.

 

In 1935, the British anthropologist Edward Evans-Pritchard wrote, “Witchcraft is an imaginary offense because it is impossible.” Although Evans-Pritchard made a sincere attempt to explain the rationality of African witchcraft, his remark voiced an enduring Western view of the distinction between imaginary witchcraft and scientific reality. Since then, anthropologists have used less dismissive language to address such cultural differences, but this does not automatically mean they accept the reality of other cultures’ magical forces. What is the role of our own reality in our interpretation of other cultures? And what do we make of a society where witchcraft and science are not competing paradigms, but rather are similar forms of knowledge? These are the philosophical and interpretive dilemmas that an anthropologist faces in studying the occult in the Republic  of Benin, West Africa.

Sacred objects used in the creation of a deity’s new shrine

In the course of many years of research, I have come to recognize that my Beninese friends do not feel the need to make a choice between science and magic. For them, western scientific knowledge is a kind of magic that is responsible for fantastic technology, such as airplanes, cellphones, and the internet. This “white people’s witchcraft” as Beninese call it, is often likened to the incredible accomplishments of their own occult knowledge, which they call “African science” – an indigenous force that also permits people to travel around the world and to communicate via invisible waves. Another feature that these two systems share is their moral ambiguity. Beninese people acknowledge that, despite their benevolent potential, technology and witchcraft are similar in that both can result in death and destruction – such as through bombs or invisible soul attacks. This suggests that in Benin, what we might call “witchcraft” (àzě in the Fon language) is a much broader category drawing up ideas about knowledge, technology, and magic. Some informants also suggest that witchcraft is the animating force behind their indigenous deities, Christian churches, and esoteric societies like Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. They regard witchcraft as the ultimate, all-encompassing, and universal force in the world. While people attribute misfortune, illness, and death to the work of malevolent witches, àzě’s incorporative tendencies allow traditional healers to adopt and employ new, often foreign, spiritual traditions in a supernatural arms race to triumph over evil. Beninese witches and healers battle over people’s souls, reaffirming the existence of good and evil in the world.

 A healer, right, engages in an Asian-inspired ritual to protect a patient from witchcraft

Rather than reduce witchcraft to mere folklore, or a naïve belief held by those lacking scientific rationality, I have taken inspiration from my Beninese friends for whom witchcraft is not a traditional belief giving way to modernity. Witchcraft is instead a contemporary, adaptive, and inclusive system that incorporates many domains that westerners regard as distinct – science, medicine, religion, and the occult. Although I do not expect foreign people to accept another culture’s supernatural reality, one of the lessons of anthropology’s “ontological turn” has been to encourage us to take native categories seriously and to let them shape our interpretation of other cultures. Through long-term, intimate ethnographic experience, I have come to appreciate my Beninese friends’ understanding of their world without feeling the need to discount it or frame it terms of my own categories of real, imaginary, science, or myth. Anthropology’s contribution to current social debates is to show us that cultural difference does not have to result in judgment, disavowal, and discrimination. If we make an effort to befriend people who are different from ourselves, we usually find that they possess the same human rationality as we do.

 

Douglas J. Falen is a professor of anthropology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. He is the author of Power and Paradox: Authority, Insecurity, and Creativity in Fon Gender Relations.