Category Archives: Books

THE AMBIGUOUS CLARITY OF THE OXYMORON

 

Today’s guest blogger is author Lyudmila Parts. Her new book In Search of True Russia: The Provinces in Contemporary Nationalist Discourse is published this week.

The oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. It brings together (near) opposites, say, “open secret” or “new tradition,” and reveals the complexity of the thing through the layering of its meaning. It creates a paradox, and, paradoxically, makes complex things easier to understand. In working on the subject of the Russian provinces I had to address a great deal of opposites: center and periphery, Self and Other, past and future, spiritual and material. What makes this particular cultural myth so fascinating is not only how it operates by reversing the hierarchies inherent in these binaries, but also how it often collapses them into that clearly ambiguous entity, the oxymoron.

Rather than canceling each other out the opposites thus brought together create a thesis-antithesis-synthesis trajectory: by themselves the concepts of the center and periphery might mean little in today’s world, but a statement such as “the capital of the provinces” blends some of the old meanings into a new model.

As long as we imagine the map of our world in terms of the center and its opposite we live in the world defined and limited by binary thought. Elimination of the symbolic borderlines creates a new synthesized entity and moves us toward a fresh world vision. When the liberal media project Snob designates its target audience “Russian Europeans,” or the “global Russians” they create an oxymoron based on the readers’ deep-seated understanding of Russia and Europe as opposites. Were this oxymoron to cease to be perceived as such, were such thing as a global Russian to exist, it would put to rest old nationalists’ grievances and signal a more harmonious vision of the world. My book is about the kind of cultural and ideological situation that allows such paradoxical statements, the oxymorons, to become straightforward descriptions.

In the post-Soviet situation, these key concepts – Russia, the West, the center, and the periphery – enter into new configurations, both literally and rhetorically. Just like Russia and the West, the capital and the provinces always stand in opposition and can only be defined against each other: if one is the locus of meaning and goodness, the other is its reverse, the place of void or corruption. Can a place or a nation become a kind of third entity, taking only the positive connotations from the old binaries? If it ever happens that “the capital of the provinces” or “global Russians” do not sound controversial and oxymoronic, it would mean that Russian cultural imagination overcomes its reliance on opposites and binaries together with the conflicts inherent to them. The new nationalist thought might be willing to consider new versions of the Self and a new map of the world. How the new conceptual models are perceived, as oxymoronic or as straightforward, would determine Russia’s vision of itself and its relationship to the world.

Lyudmila Parts is an associate professor of Russian and Slavic studies at McGill University in Montreal. She is the author of The Chekhovian Intertext: Dialogue with a Classic and the editor of The Russian Twentieth-Century Short Story: A Critical Companion

 

 

LGBTQ+ Books to Read and Feel Proud

Pride month might only last 30 days, but you can read these books by LGBTQ+ authors all year long!

States of Desire Revisited: Travels in Gay America
Edmund White

The Village Voice calls Edmund White “the finest stylist working in candidly gay prose”

States of Desire Revisited looks back from the twenty-first century at a pivotal moment in the late 1970s: Gay Liberation was a new and flourishing movement of creative culture, political activism, and sexual freedom, just before the 1980s devastation of AIDS. Edmund White traveled America, recording impressions of gay individuals and communities that remain perceptive and captivating today. He noted politicos in D.C. working the system, in-fighting radicals in New York and San Francisco, butch guys in Houston and self-loathing but courteous gentlemen in Memphis, the “Fifties in Deep Freeze” in Kansas City, progressive thinkers with conservative style in Minneapolis and Portland, wealth and beauty in Los Angeles, and, in Santa Fe, a desert retreat for older gays and lesbians since the 1920s.

In the Province of the Gods
Kenny Fries

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies

A beguiling adventure in Japan

Kenny Fries embarks on a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, a society historically hostile to difference. As he visits gardens, experiences Noh and butoh, and meets artists and scholars, he also discovers disabled gods, one-eyed samurai, blind chanting priests, and A-bomb survivors. When he is diagnosed as HIV positive, all his assumptions about Japan, the body, and mortality are shaken, and he must find a way to reenter life on new terms.

Self-Made Woman: A Memoir
Denise Chanterelle DuBois

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies

For decades I kept Denise in the closet. Then I kept Dennis in the closet.

Denise Chanterelle DuBois’s transformation into a woman wasn’t easy. Born as a boy into a working-class Polish American Milwaukee family, she faced daunting hurdles: a domineering father, a gritty 1960s neighborhood with no understanding of gender nonconformity, trouble in school, and a childhood so haunted by deprivation that neckbone soup was a staple. Terrified of revealing her inner self, DuBois lurched through alcoholism, drug dealing and addiction, car crashes, dangerous sex, and prison time. Dennis barreled from Wisconsin to California, Oregon, Canada, Costa Rica, New York, Bangkok, and Hawaii on a joyless ride.

Defying all expectations, DuBois didn’t crash and burn. Embracing her identity as a woman, she remade herself. Writing with resolute honesty and humor, she confronts both her past and her present to tell an American story of self-discovery.

The Pox Lover: An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

A testament with a message for every generation: grab at life and love, connect with others, fight for justice, keep despair at bay, and remember.

The Pox Lover is a personal history of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites. In an account that is by turns searing, hectic, and funny, Anne-christine d’Adesky remembers “the poxed generation” of AIDS—their lives, their battles, and their determination to find love and make art in the heartbreaking years before lifesaving protease drugs arrived.

What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood
Rigoberto González

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies
David Bergman, Joan Larkin, and Raphael Kadushin, Founding Editors

A bittersweet chronicle of the bond between Latino brothers

Burdened by poverty, illiteracy, and vulnerability as Mexican immigrants to California’s Coachella Valley, three generations of González men turn to vices or withdraw into depression. As brothers Rigoberto and Alex grow to manhood, they are haunted by the traumas of their mother’s early death, their lonely youth, their father’s desertion, and their grandfather’s invective. Rigoberto’s success in escaping—first to college and then by becoming a writer—is blighted by his struggles with alcohol and abusive relationships, while Alex contends with difficult family relations, his own rocky marriage, and fatherhood.

Descending into a dark emotional space that compromises their mental and physical health, the brothers eventually find hope in aiding each other. This is an honest and revealing window into the complexities of Latino masculinity, the private lives of men, and the ways they build strength under the weight of grief, loss, and despair.

Read an excerpt in The Los Angeles Times

Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History: Second Edition
Edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman

Best Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians
Best Special Interest Books, selected by the Public Library Reviewers
Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBT Anthology
A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

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

Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir
Maureen Seaton

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies
David Bergman, Joan Larkin, and Raphael Kadushin, Founding Editors

Maureen Seaton traces the emergence of her identity in quick, droll, often surprising sketches. She finds herself alternately in the company of winos, swingers, and drag kings; in love with Jesus H. Christ and a butch named Mars; in charge of two children (her own!); writing stories that shrink painfully to poems; and unable to reckon how she landed in any of these predicaments. In her passage from near-nun to suburban mom to woke woman, she shakes herself out of a sloshed stupor and delights in the spree.

The Other Paris

 

Post-Colonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light, a new book by today’s guest blogger Laila Amine, is published this week in the series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

When I meet new people and they hear my French accent, the conversation often veers to Paris, its beauty, its rich culture, or to the dream of one day visiting the City of Light. Their fantasy of Paris (and France more broadly) and my experiences as a child of North African immigrants in government subsidized housing could not be more different. In the cultural imaginary of Paris, there is little room for the working class multi-racial outskirts, unless the subject is Islamic culture and the subjection of women and queer subjects.

The Paris imagined in Maghrebi, African American and French immigrant cultures was both invisible in the scholarship and hypervisible as the “Badlands of the Republic” in French mainstream media. Like the city of the Francophile tourists, this other Paris is largely an imagined territory, albeit associated with crime, unbridled patriarchy, and violence.

Un-shackling the sensational and the Paris outskirts, this book chronicles everyday life in the impoverished sectors of the French capital in various contexts and cultural traditions. We find versions of Postcolonial Paris in post-World War II Maghrebi and African American expatriate fiction, 1980s beur fiction and cinema, and contemporary French immigrant cultures. Together, works by Driss Chraïbi, Mehdi Charef, William Gardner Smith, Faïza Guène, J.R., and Princess Hijab register the shifting politics and grammars of race in a nation where it does not appear on the census and where the public overwhelmingly condemns it as an Anglo-Saxon importation.

Spanning 1955 to 2015, authors of African descent have pondered the French tyranny of universalism and interrogated the myth of Paris as a space of liberation for the African diaspora. Some of the most well-known Francophiles, such as James Baldwin, also wrote about a French capital marred by colonial exclusion. By desegregating the cultural study of Paris to include its impoverished outskirts, the book reveals that writers and filmmakers have deployed Franco-African intimate encounters to articulate the political exclusion of racialized subjects. In the colonial and contemporary eras, their narratives of intimacy can help us better understand the ways in which gender and sexual difference work(ed) to construct, maintain, or challenge racial boundaries.

Postcolonial Paris would not have been possible without the numerous scholars of Postcolonial French Studies, Paris Noir, and Black Europe who paved the way, including Sylvie Durmelat, Anne Donadey, Nacira Guénif-Souillamas, Trica Keaton, Alec Hargreaves, Jarrod Hayes, Michel Laronde, Neil MacMaster, Adlai Murdoch, Mireille Rosello, Paul Silverstein, Tyler Stovall, and Benjamin Stora.

Laila Amine is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and grew up in France.

The Decline—and Rise?—of LGBTQ+ Bookstores

Michael Lowenthal’s acclaimed novel, The Paternity Test, is now available in paperback. Lowenthal is our guest blogger today, the publication date of the paperback edition.

I came of age as a gay writer when LGBTQ+ bookstores were at their peak, with close to 100 in operation across the United States. Now only six such stores remain.

Publishing a novel with a gay protagonist feels entirely different in 2018 than it did when I published my first book, The Same Embrace, twenty years ago. On one hand, so-called mainstream culture has grown much more welcoming to a diversity of LGBTQ+ artists and stories; on the other hand, a once-thriving infrastructure that specifically supported LGBTQ+ literature has been largely erased.

I came of age as a writer—as a gay writer—in an era when the OutWrite conference for LGBTQ+ writers attracted 1,500 participants annually; when most cities in America supported a weekly LGBTQ+ newspaper that published robust coverage of gay arts; when “the Gay Book Boom” was a hotly discussed topic; and when LGBTQ+ bookstores were at their peak, with close to 100 in operation across the United States. Now only six such stores remain.

For her recent master’s thesis “LGBTQ Bookstores: Past, Present, and Future,” Emerson College student Stephanie Nisbet interviewed me about my experiences. On the occasion of the paperback publication of The Paternity Test, I’d like to share some of our discussion:

Stephanie Nisbet: What was the first LGBTQ+ bookstore you visited, and what do you remember about the experience?

Michael Lowenthal: Glad Day, in Boston, which at that time was located on the second floor of a building just across from the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. To get to the store you walked up a narrow stairway, and on the way up I had to squeeze past a man who was on his way down, and that moment of contact set the tone for the whole experience: thrilling, terrifying, full of sexual frisson but also a sort of bookish bonding.

At the time, I was a college student in a small town in New Hampshire, probably 19 years old, recently out of the closet, and I had never been to a gay bar or community center or pride parade. The only public gay gatherings I had been to were my college gay-student group meetings. So I was fantastically nervous (had anyone seen me walk into the building? I felt like I was glowing in neon) and at the same time giddy with excitement.

Once I was in the store, I could barely look anyone in the eye; I mostly kept my gaze glued to the books. But when I did look up, I saw that everyone else was glancing around in a way that seemed both furtive and, shall we say, quite friendly. The store was really small, with not much space between shelves, so there was a lot of nudging past people and close breathing. The back of the store had more porny stuff, magazines and videos, and I was too scared to go back there. Two queeny young bookstore employees were joking at the register, talking too loudly, almost as if they were making fun of the hush-hush atmosphere, and I wanted to get to know them. Or to be them. I think I bought an Edmund White book, The Beautiful Room Is Empty.

When I left I was exhausted from the tension. I couldn’t wait to go back!

SN: Is there any one LGBTQ+ bookstore you feel particularly connected to?

ML: Definitely Glad Day, since Boston was the city I visited most often when I lived in rural New England, and since I moved here in 1994 and have lived here ever since. In fact, when I was moving to Boston, the first place I went was to Glad Day, to look at the big bulletin board in the hallway outside the store, which was where gay guys tacked up “seeking roommate” notices. Answering those ads was the only way I even considered finding a living situation. (Remember, this was before Craigslist, before apps.) So that’s how I found my first place in the city.

When I became a writer, Glad Day was the first bookstore where I ever gave a reading. I became friends with John Mitzel, the longtime manager (who later opened his own gay bookstore, Calamus Books), who was a witty, brilliant (if troubled) old-school raconteur. Because I was a book reviewer, I got sent lots of books by publishers, and I would often bring stacks of them into the store to sell. Wanting to support a young writer, John would pay me way more than they were worth, in cash, and then take me next door to his regular bar, where he would drink me under the table (while discussing politics, literature, and sex, not necessarily in that order), even though he had two martinis for every one that I drank. So, Mitzel, and Glad Day, gave me a big chunk of my gay education.

Image Credit: AP

While I felt particularly connected with Glad Day, I will note that I have also been to gay bookstores in New York, DC, Baltimore, Rehoboth Beach, Norfolk, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Toronto, Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid, Taipei . . . and probably many more that I’m forgetting. In many of these stores, I gave readings. But in others I was just a visitor. It used to be that when I was traveling to a new city, the first obvious stop would be the gay bookstore, to meet locals who could tell me all the right places to go and things to do. The bookstore was a community center, travel agency, pickup spot, and so many other things, all rolled into one.

SN: As of 2016, Boston no longer has an LGBTQ+ bookstore. Do you believe there is still a place for another Calamus, for example, in the city?

ML: I do think there’s room for an LGBTQ store in Boston, but the concept would need to be adjusted and updated, I imagine. I think LGBTQ people are hungering for community right now, because there are so few places/occasions for us to gather. Most of the bars have closed, and with some of the key civil rights battles won (for now), there are very few public marches or demonstrations, aside from our once-a-year pride parade, which is now mostly reserved for banks, politicians, and churches. Most people don’t read a weekly LGBTQ newspaper, the way we used to. So there’s an empty spot where we used to share a common ground. Folks feel isolated, or connected only to their own small circle of friends. If there’s an upside to the Trump era, I think it’s that it’s reminded people of the power, solace, and joy of gathering together with likeminded strangers and neighbors in relatively public places. I think people are looking for spaces and ways to harness the kind of spirit that we see at the Women’s Marches and trans-rights marches and anti-Muslim-ban marches and anti-gun-violence marches and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. I think a new LGBTQ bookstore that not only sold books but also offered, say, a coffee shop and an evening events venue for story slams, would attract a lot of people and energy.

Michael Lowenthal is the author of three previous novels: Charity Girl, Avoidance, and The Same Embrace. He is a core faculty member in Lesley University’s MFA program in creative writing and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

 

 

New Books & New Paperbacks, June 2018

We are pleased to announce the following books, which are being published this month.

June 7, 2018
Now in Paperback
The Paternity Test: A Novel
Michael Lowenthal

“Credit Lowenthal with taking what could have been a safe, sweet story and turning it into something knotted and barbed. . . . [He] is aiming for something truer to life.”Washington Post

“What matters here is love. Sure, it’s a complicated, messy, and somewhat dysfunctional love, but it reads and feels like the real thing.”Lambda Literary Review

“Readers—both gay and straight—will come away from Lowenthal’s novel with a deeper understanding not only of the ethical issues surrounding surrogacy, but also of the ever-evolving gay community.”Publishers Weekly

June 7, 2018
Now in Paperback
Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir
Maureen Seaton

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies

“Stories of marriages, divorces, alcoholism, motherhood, and coming out that are like little newsflashes, little bursts of light, little puffs of smoke.”Chicago Free Press

“Compellingly narrates her passage through a host of roles—pious adolescent, Stepford wife, recovering alcoholic, sexual adventurer, and bi mom—on the way to discovering her identity as sober lesbian poet.”Pleiades

“Stands beside important memoirs by lesbian poets including Eileen Myles’ Cool for You and S/He by Minnie Bruce Pratt.”Lambda Literary Review

“I was swept away with the feisty zeitgeist. . . . Reading Sex Talks to Girls jolted me to a fuller state of awareness.”The Rumpus

June 12, 2018
Postcolonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light
Laila Amine

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

“Effectively demonstrates how racialized stereotyping and ethnocultural marginalization of citizens of North African descent have long betrayed the French idyll of equality and integration. Perceptive and groundbreaking.”—Adlai Murdoch, author of Creolizing the Metropole

“A powerful, highly relevant, and innovative study of the cultural and political role of France’s largest ethnic and religious minority.”—Jarrod Hayes, author of Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb

June 19, 2018
Tito and His Comrades
Jože Pirjevec, Foreword by Emily Greble

“An enlightening, enthralling biography of Yugoslavia’s leader Tito.”Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“Skillfully navigating the complex terrain of history and memory that Tito evokes, this biography is both respectful to his complicated legacy and sensitive to the emotionally charged questions of history that have fueled discord in the region. . . . Pirjevec does not take sides, nor does he ask his readers to do so.”—Emily Greble, from the foreword

“Tito’s life is an extraordinary story, a series of theatrical coups and ruptures on a stage with many of the great figures of the last century. [Pirjevec] shows all the paradoxes and ambiguities of this fervent revolutionary who nonetheless enjoyed luxury, entertaining Hollywood stars or the Queen of England with equal splendor.”Le Monde

June 26, 2018
In Search of the True Russia: The Provinces in Contemporary Nationalist Discourse
Lyudmila Parts

Russia’s provinces have long held a prominent place in the nation’s cultural imagination. Lyudmila Parts looks at the contested place of the provinces in twenty-first-century Russian literature and popular culture, addressing notions of nationalism, authenticity, Orientalism, Occidentalism, and postimperial identity.

“A fascinating study of how the internal Other of the provinces has been replacing the external Other of the West in post-Soviet cultural discourse. Useful for anyone interested in contemporary Russian culture.”—Anne Lounsbery, New York University

June 26, 2018
An Anti-Bolshevik Alternative: The White Movement and the Civil War in the Russian North

Liudmila Novikova, Translated by Seth Bernstein 

“”Novikova’s treatment of the Russian Civil War is both original and compelling. It will be an agenda-setting book in the literature on the period. Wonderfully written and well argued, it should appeal to those with interests in Russian history and twentieth-century history more broadly.”—Peter I. Holquist, author of Making War, Forging Revolution

“The White movement in North Russia had a character of its own, reflecting the particulars and peculiarities of the region, as this excellent new study reveals.”Revolutionary Russia

June 26, 2018
Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Model Hydropower Project in Laos
Edited by Bruce Shoemaker and William Robichaud; foreword by Yos Santasombat; afterword by Philip Hirsch

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies

“Extremely insightful and succinct, this volume shows how badly the Nam Theun 2 dam project has failed across the areas of indigenous rights and development, sustaining fisheries and river life, livelihoods of the displaced, protecting wildlife, and forestry and the commons. An important book.”—Michael Goldman, author of Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization

“Offers a new understanding of Laos in a difficult period of nation building and development [and] a vital lesson to policy planners, scholars, and INGOs encountering the illusory success of a globalizing economy.”—Yos Santasombat, from the foreword

Popular Wisconsin author Jerry Apps envisions a dangerous future in his new novel

A new novel from Jerry Apps is published this week: COLD AS THUNDER.

Since the Eagle Party took power in the United States, all schools and public utilities have been privatized, churches and libraries closed, and independent news media shut down. Drones buzz overhead in constant surveillance of the populace, and the open internet has been replaced by the network of the New Society Corporation. Environmental degradation and unchecked climate change have brought raging wildfires to the Western states and disastrous flooding to Eastern coastal regions.

In the Midwest, a massive storm sends Lake Michigan surging over the Door County peninsula, and thousands of refugees flee inland. In the midst of this apocalypse, the Oldsters, a resourceful band of Wisconsin sixty-somethings, lay secret plans to fight the ruling regime’s propaganda and remind people how to think for themselves.

Q. Cold as Thunder is an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?
A. When I was a kid growing up on a farm in central Wisconsin, when times got tough, prices were down, the rains didn’t come, or a cow had been sick, my dad would say, “These times are cold as thunder.” I’ve never forgotten that, and the picture I paint in this book, especially in the early chapters, would clearly fit my father’s comment that these were times “cold as thunder.”

Q. Dystopian fiction is a new direction for you. What are some of the themes in the book?
A major theme is what consequences could be expected if climate change is ignored, and little or nothing is done to slow it down and plan for it. Another theme: what would a society look like if all agencies, services, and institutions such as education, roads, and healthcare for seniors were privatized, all forms of communication were governmentally controlled, and surveillance of all human activity was widespread? The book is set in a fictional future sixteen years after the Eagle Party gains the presidency of the country and majorities in both houses of Congress.

Q. Who are some of the characters you’ve created in this book?
A. There is a former university professor who was forced from her job. She now heads up a group of seniors called “the Oldsters” who secretly work to educate others. There is a teenager deciding whether to go to Canada to train as an undercover agent. A former CIA agent, now a “fixer” for the National Office of Social Responsibility, shows up to infiltrate the local Oldsters group. And there is Bill the Bartender, who works at the Last Chapter Saloon. It was a library before all libraries were closed.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps is the award-winning author of more than thirty-five books on rural history and country life, including his series of Ames County novels. He is profiled in two documentaries aired nationally on public television and is a professor emeritus of education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

He will speak this evening at a launch event at the Middleton Public Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Nazis co-opted German folklore studies

Our guest blogger is James R. Dow, whose new UWP book is published today: Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia.

Traditional costumes, Folk Art Museum, Innsbruck. Photo by Reinhard Bodner.

“Oh, what a wonderful career you must have had, a specialist in German folklore! All those fairy tales and legends, beautiful folk songs, charming costumes , and those delightful buildings we’ve seen in open-air museums.”

Well, it’s more complicated than that. German folklorists and linguists included world-famous scholars, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and continuing well into the twentieth century. As the Nazis rose to power, however, these disciplines were distorted into racist pseudoscience. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Inheritance), folklore became a tool for constructing a unified German realm and a manufactured lineage from ancient and “pure” Germanic and Nordic blood.

German folklorists and linguists were certainly not alone in selling out to the National Socialist regime, but they were called on to provide the ideological base for Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (SS-Ancestral Inheritance). A total of fourteen men and two women, mostly highly educated, became part of cultural commissions sent on a mission to two German-speaking areas: the province of South Tyrol in Italy and Gottschee in Slovenia.

Himmler assigned them to research “the space, spirit, deed, and inheritance of the Nordic races of the Indo-Germanic realm.” The commissions adhered to a belief in a stream of blood, but it proved to be nothing more than a popularized concept of “race,” with everything based on the self-deluding construction of a unified Germanic realm. This was pseudoscience masquerading as hereditary science.

The commissions found pre-Christian tales, ancient Germanic customs, worship sites, architecture, songs sung in parallel fifths, and the last remnants of a Gothic language still very much alive in the mountains, valleys, and villages of the Southern Alps.

Cow decorated with a floral swastika. Photo courtesy of Josef Rainer.

Why is this important? Himmler’s project was arguably the largest field investigation of traditional folklore in history, and the depth of the research carried out on that “Gothic” language, Cymbrian, is unparalleled. But the research was done as part of multiple projects of the SS-Ahnenerbe, which also included conducting medical “research” on prisoners in the concentration camps at Dachau and Natzweiler. When Wolfram Sievers, the business director of the Ahnenerbe, stood trial in Nürnberg in 1946, one piece of evidence brought against him was his collection of Jewish skulls, most likely from Natzweiler. You can view part of his trial on YouTube.

This was state-sponsored research, and some of the researchers were from the same universities where German excellence in scholarship had been unquestioned. The entire undertaking in Italy and Slovenia became nothing less than an affront to honest and responsible scholarship, state-mandated or otherwise. Public sector folklore studies and linguistic documentation today can learn much from this unprecedented and unparalleled occurrence in the annals of the humanities and social science scholarship.

James R. Dow is a professor emeritus of German at Iowa State University. He is the author of German Folklore: A Handbook and The Study of European Ethnology in Austria. He is the editor of numerous books, including The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythologyand Legend and The Nazification of an Academic Discipline.

 

Talking about civilian complicity with the Pinochet regime’s violence

Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet by Michael J. Lazzara is published this week in the series Critical Human Rights. We spoke with Lazzara about issues raised by his book.

Q. Why is it so important to talk about civilian complicity now, more than forty years after the September 11, 1973, coup that put General Augusto Pinochet in power?

A. In the midst of the Cold War, the Pinochet regime (1973-1990) came to power as a violent reaction against democratically elected President Salvador Allende’s “Peaceful Road to Socialism.” Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in the murder, disappearance, and exile of thousands of Chilean citizens who longed to build a more just and equitable society, as well as the torture of tens of thousands more. Throughout the 1990s, the early years of Chile’s transition to democracy, people almost exclusively attributed the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations to the military, the most egregious perpetrators. Yet we know that dictatorships are always supported behind the scenes by a cast of complicit civilians who play roles—major or minor—in perpetuating the violence and who, through complex processes of rationalization, manage to turn a knowing blind eye to the torture and murder of their fellow citizens.

The stark reality is that many of those who supported the Pinochet regime “behind the scenes” in the 1970s and 1980s remain active in politics, business, and other sectors today. Victims, their families, artists, academics, journalists, lawyers, and concerned citizens have struggled for decades to fight for memory and create a culture of respect for human rights. To a great extent, they have succeeded. But we can’t easily forget that memory and human rights constantly find themselves under attack from political and economic forces that still perpetuate certain violent attitudes fostered under dictatorship.

Q. Is the public discourse of these civilian accomplices relevant for thinking about the “post-truth” era in which we’re living?

A. Definitely! My book is not only about civilian complicity in Chile but also about how civilian accomplices remember and justify their past actions and commitments. I use the phrase “fictions of mastery” to talk about the vital lies (or partial truths) that such accomplices spin, both publically and privately, in order to live with themselves or to convince others that they were acting in the “best interest” of the country or out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Clearly, our contemporary scene is full of individuals who spin stories to advance particular agendas or maintain their hold on political and economic power. My book deconstructs and “outs” such self-serving fictions—and actors—while also advocating for a need for accountability (moral, ethical, and even judicial, when applicable).

Q. Your work provocatively suggests a relationship between complicity and complacency. How are these two concepts linked?

A. The question is important because it forces us to ask: Who is complicit? My book answers this question boldly, even somewhat controversially. It asserts that the spectrum of complicity is vast—that it includes not only those who participated directly in the dictatorship’s crimes but also those who knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing. Even more assertively, I argue that the vast spectrum of complicity in Chile may very well include certain people who years ago fought for revolutionary change and social justice and who now, decades later, wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal model that the General and his civilian economists espoused. I call these revolutionaries-turned-neoliberals “complacent subjects” and wonder if their political stance, interested in protecting their own status and wealth, might be construed as a form of complicity with the dictatorship’s legacy.

Q. The Chilean dictatorship ended nearly three decades ago. Many analysts praise the country’s transition to democracy as highly “successful.” Why is it important that we continue thinking today about the legacies of the Pinochet regime?

A. Many people, especially economists outside of Chile, have called Chile an “economic miracle” because its economy did relatively well when compared to other countries in the region. This may indeed be true by some measures. But we cannot forget that Chile’s economic strength has its origins in a dark history of torture, disappearances, and murders. We also can’t forget that, despite its economic growth, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, socioeconomic inequality has sparked massive protests and deep disenchantment with political elites from across the ideological spectrum.

The past does not go away. Anyone who goes to Chile today can see and feel signs of the dictatorship’s legacy everywhere. It’s palpable! The political and economic class that sympathized with the dictatorship is now back in power, and the dictatorship’s constitution, penned in 1980, remains in effect. There are still families who have not located their disappeared loved ones. And despite the valiant efforts of those who have struggled to create a culture of human rights and justice, every so often people in positions of power appear in the media denying past human rights violations or explaining them away. Schools avoid talking about the recent past, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Lots of families remain politically divided. For all of these reasons, it is just as important now as it was in the 1980s and 1990s that we continue the fight for accountability, truth, and justice.

When I began researching Civil Obedience, eight years ago, almost no one was talking about civilian complicity with the South American dictatorships. The topic was complete public taboo. Over the past five or so years, important works of journalism have started to address the subject, and it is now commonplace to hear people in Chile use the term “civilian-military dictatorship” (dictadura cívico-militar). I hope that my book will help fuel an honest debate about the uncomfortable ways in which Chile’s brutally violent past still maintains a hold on the present.

Michael J. Lazzara is a professor of Latin American literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Davis. His several books include Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory and Luz Arce and Pinochet’s Chile: Testimony in the Aftermath of State Violence.

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

 

UW Press & UW Libraries collaborate on Folksongs of Another America

Today’s guest blogger is James Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America. An award-winning multimedia publication, it is now available in a paperback from UWP, with accompanying audio and video online, as explained below. Leary will also be speaking about this project, and related folk music projects, at the annual Great Libraries of UW–Madison event on May 17.

The original publication of Folksongs of Another America (FSOAA) ambitiously combined a hardbound book, five compact disks, and a DVD in an elegant yet bulky single package weighing nearly four pounds. The years of research, writing, sound and film restoration, and overall production that underlay its existence were matched by hard-won grants to bring retail costs within an average buyer’s reach.

The response was exhilarating: stellar reviews from far and wide, awards that included a Grammy nomination, events in Minnesota and Wisconsin featuring new performances of old songs culled from FSOAA, and a sold-out press run before a year elapsed. But with neither copies in the warehouse nor likelihood of new grants for reprinting, we faced the sad prospect of FSOAA’s disappearance just as interest was building.

A new paperback edition of the book with companion website is our best solution. Trimmer in heft and price than its predecessor, the paperback book swaps the accompanying costly disks for free online access to the music and video. Sound files for all five original CDs—plus the film/DVD Alan Lomax Goes North, coproduced with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress—are now accessible online in the Folksongs of Another America Collection through a partnership of the University of Wisconsin Press and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries.

Hats off to Dennis Lloyd, director of University of Wisconsin Press, and Ed Van Gemert, director of the UW–Madison Library System, for partnering to create the two companion pieces. The songs and tunes in Folksongs of Another America had been hidden for too long to let them vanish once again. May their persistence spur new understandings and performances, along with ongoing recognition and appreciation of the many peoples, tongues, and sounds that—whether past or present, from mainstream or from margin, deservedly acknowledged or unjustly ignored—have always made America great.

But wait, there’s more! FSOAA necessarily focused on a relatively small yet representative set of songs, tunes, and recitations from the hundreds collected by fieldworkers Sidney Robertson, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas from 1937 to 1946. I worked with many experts to sonically restore the selected tracks and to transcribe and translated lyrics. From my research, I provided new contextual, biographical, and comparative background. But the rich fund of other recordings by Robertson, Lomax, and Stratman-Thomas have raw sound and spare documentation. They await future researchers who will discover, ponder, and pursue them.

So I’m delighted that this new FSOAA website complements several three other sites that further reveal the complexity and diversity of

Helene Stratman-Thomas

the Upper Midwest’s folk musical traditions. The first is the Wisconsin Folksong Collection, produced by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mills Music Library and Digital Collections Center, which presents field recordings made by Robertson and Stratman-Thomas.

Alan Lomax

The second related site is the Library of Congress’s Alan Lomax Collection of Michigan and Wisconsin Recordings from 1938, , offering his sound recordings “in their raw form, as full disc sides without speed correction or other digital processing.”

The third site is a digital repository called Local Centers/Global Sounds. It offers post–World War II home and field recordings featuring diverse Upper Midwestern folk/vernacular musicians. It also includes digitized tracks of 78 rpm recordings that were performed by or that influenced regional musicians. This repository is a collaborative project of the Mills Music Library, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and the Digital Collections Center, all at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We encourage readers and listeners to roam these sites. In the realm of 78s, many will be familiar with widely available classic recordings made in the 1920s by performers in the “Race” and “Hillbilly” series of American record labels. Yet we cannot fully grasp the richness of American roots music without also experiencing such stellar Upper Midwestern Germanic, Nordic, and Slavic “Foreign” series performers as the Swedish comic vaudevillian Olle i Skratthult, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Gunleik Smedal, the Finnish accordion virtuoso Viola Turpeinen, the singing Polish mountaineer Karol Stoch, the trumpet-playing Bohemian bandleader Romy Gosz, or the German concertinist Hans “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt.

James P. Leary is professor emeritus of folklore and Scandinavian studies, and cofounder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His many books and documentary productions include Wisconsin FolkloreSo Ole Says to LenaPolkabillyAccordions in the CutoverDownhome Dairyland (with Richard March), and Pinery Boys (with Franz Rickaby and Gretchen Dykstra).

University of Wisconsin Press Welcomes New Sales & Marketing Manager

Casey LaVela. Photo by Victor Nirapienranant.

 

The University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to announce the imminent arrival of its newest staff member: Casey LaVela will be joining the organization as interim sales and marketing manager effective June 4, 2018.

LaVela, most recently publicity director at the University of Washington Press, will oversee marketing and sales strategies for the University of Wisconsin Press books division. She previously held various publicity roles at Princeton University Press and earned her degree in English and American literature, with a minor in architectural studies, at Washington University in St. Louis.

While at the University of Washington Press, she oversaw growth in regional and national exposure for the books program and brand in publications ranging from Seattle Magazine to The New Yorker, TIME, The New York Times Book Review, and The Washington Post. “Casey is the best publicist I’ve ever worked with,” says Rachael Levay, former marketing and sales director at Washington and current acquisitions editor at Utah State University Press.

LaVela succeeds Andrea Christofferson, who is retiring from UWP on June 1, 2018. Christofferson spent 16 years in her position, following more than 18 years working in museum store and museum operations at the Wisconsin Historical Society. “Andrea’s institutional knowledge and connections across the state are unrivaled,” says Dennis Lloyd, director of the University of Wisconsin Press. “We are incredibly fortunate to have found another network builder in Casey,” he says. “Her abilities and accomplishments speak for themselves, and I am very much looking forward to her joining us, and to working alongside her.”

Adds Ryan Pingel, business and operations manager at Wisconsin, “From the moment Casey visited our offices, we could tell she was a singular talent.  It will be exciting to see how she implements her vision for our marketing and sales efforts, and as she works to extend our visibility in new directions.”

Says LaVela, “As a native Midwesterner I am thrilled by the opportunity to serve the University of Wisconsin Press’s regional, academic, and trade communities and build new ways forward in marketing with UWP’s wonderful team. The exciting shifts happening in scholarly publishing present an extraordinary chance to amplify UWP’s reach and role in connecting people and information in the Upper Midwest and the world at large, and I’m excited to collaborate with the new marketing specialist in our journals division, Claire Eder.”

One of LaVela’s first tasks will be to hire a new publicity manager, to replace outgoing communications director Sheila Leary, who is also retiring this spring. Leary has served the press in a number of capacities, including press director, since 1990. Says Lloyd, “Sheila’s dedication to and leadership at the University of Wisconsin Press have been invaluable.  She has been a stalwart advocate for the values of university presses in general, and Wisconsin in particular, over the past three decades. We wouldn’t be where we are today without her significant efforts.”

LaVela can be reached at casey.lavela@wisc.edu.

About the University of Wisconsin Press
The University of Wisconsin Press, one of the research and service centers housed within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.