The Construction of America, in the Eyes of the English

5 December 2019


When the astrologer Simon Forman went to the theater in 1611, one of the plays he saw depicted a powerful empire moving into the west to conquer—and, supposedly, elevate—a group of barbarians who lived at the world’s periphery. Forman’s thoughts at the Globe Theater may have turned to “no act of common passage, but / A strain of rareness” as he watched this colonial drama unfold. For Londoners, such New World concerns had been top of mind for more than a generation. Jamestown had been founded in Virginia four years before. And Sir Walter Raleigh’s had attempted to establish a colony in what would be North Carolina in 1585, an attempt followed by the infamous “lost colony” of Roanoke, in 1587. Those earlier colonies were part of Queen Elizabeth’s tentative gestures toward American colonization, and though they were largely unsuccessful, the discoveries made, and the imperial justifications proffered, by figures like Raleigh, his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert, and Martin Frobisher, were part of the public consciousness. These themes of conquest would have seemed especially pertinent as the English once again tried to establish a toehold across the Atlantic, under the reign of the new monarch, James I. Yet as familiar as this story of a civilizing empire’s sojourns among a savage people may have seemed to a Jacobean audience, Forman’s basic plot-recounting in his diary about William Shakespeare’s “story of Cymbeline, king of England, in Lucius’ time,” with its tale of faith and culture that “came with the Romans into England,” make it clear that, even then, the conversations surrounding “civilization” and “savagery” could be complicated, nuanced, self-serving, and ironic.

Forman’s is one of the few contemporary accounts of Shakespeare’s staging, and he says little about how the Romans were differentiated from the Britons in Cymbeline. That doesn’t mean that the period wasn’t replete with depictions of the ancient Britons and Picts, as well as their cousins, the contemporary Irish and Scots, against the former of whom the English were engaged in a genocidal campaign. Furthermore, as is made clear by James E. Doan in New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, those colonists (off in distant Virginia, while Forman enjoyed Cymbeline) “made early ethnological comparisons between the Irish and the native American cultures.”

Keith Pluymers argues the same thing in Environmental History, writing that “images of the Algonquians and Virginia’s landscape closely resembled Ireland” in colonial depictions of America. Such language was deployed, in part, because conquerors like Raleigh and Gilbert were veterans of the ethnic cleansing campaigns in Ulster that established the brutal plantation system in Ireland.

. . . .

Such language was also used because of the shared Celtic origins of the Britons and the Irish, and perceived similarities between both to the Algonquin Indians of the Chesapeake and Potomac region. A rhetoric of anxiety supplied self-satisfied justifications for colonization. The English nervously considered their own origins in plays like Cymbeline, asking what the importance was of appearance and culture in the constitution of a people. Clothes are not incidental in Cymbeline, nor were they in the consolidating racial discourses that justified English incursions into Virginia (and Ireland). In Shakespeare’s play, a character switches allegiance from the Romans to the Britons with the declaration that “I’ll disrobe me / of these Italian weeds and suit myself / as does a Briton peasant.” More than perceived phenotypical difference, it was Algonquin clothes (or, as the English saw it, the lack thereof) that reminded them of the Irish, who were the first victims of English imperialism. It also reminded them of their own ancestors, supposedly civilized and Christianized by the Romans. The propagandistic import of the rhetoric that described the Indians as being similar to the ancient Britons was clear: as we once were, so are you now. And as the Romans made us, so shall we make you.

. . . .

“There have been diverse and variable reports,” Harriot writes, “with some slanderous and shameful speeches bruited abroad by many that returned.” A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia is both Harriot’s attempt to correct that record as he sees it, but also to provide incentive for investors to keep funding Roanoke. Not only was Harriot a cagey marketer, he was also a stolid observer of the natural world, having distinguished himself in navigation, astronomy, and mathematics. In its fascination with objective data, his treatise has remained invaluable even today for anthropologists studying the Algonquin at the moment of contact.

Most evocative of all in this respect are the illustrations that accompany Harriot’s text. While White’s original watercolors (an unusual medium for an illustrator to work in at the time) were only first exhibited in the twentieth-century, readers would have learned about the Algonquin from de Bry’s engravings. The Flemish lithographer had never actually been to America himself. Charlotte Ickes argues in American Art that, as a result, “De Bry’s engravings… [were] informed by certain European aesthetic conventions as well as the taxonomic logic of nascent ethnographic inquiry.” Consider an image of an Algonquin brave made by de Bry:

Ickes writes that de Bry’s “figures often stand in a generic no-place, and several of their stances derive from earlier sources.” Despite Harriot’s meticulous observations concerning North Carolina’s terrain, de Bry has opted to place his figure in an idealized and recognizably European landscape. The rolling hills and pines evoke the Scottish midlands as much as the Carolina Piedmont. Even more stylized is the brave himself, who in his affected position and with his seemingly winged helmet, bears far more similarity to the pagan god Mercury than he does to an Algonquin youth. If not for the fringed loincloth, a viewer might assume that they were looking at an image of Hermes.

Or examine both an original by White and de Bry’s version of that same image, both of which depict an Algonquin religious ritual:

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However, Harriot shouldn’t be thought of as advocating any kind of modern multicultural tolerance. Writing in The North Carolina Historical Review, Michael Leroy Oberg explains that Raleigh’s reason for sending Harriot and White to Roanoke was not knowledge for its own sake, but rather to “accumulate enough information about Algonquian culture and society to incorporate the natives into the Anglo-American, Christian New World empire that he hoped to plant in Virginia.” Harriot’s purposes, in other words, were imperialistic, and his study was to aid in colonization, writing that whereby “it may be hoped, if means of good government be used, that… [the Indians] may in short time be brought to civility and the embracing of true religion.” (In this respect, as Karen Ordahl Kupperman notes in The Historical Journal, some advocates for English imperial expansion “felt the Indians would be easier to civilize than the Irish.”)

Early relations with the Algonquin were relatively peaceful at Roanoke and Jamestown, yet as English aggression toward the natives increased, the language used to describe them became increasingly similar to that used against the Irish.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

Do We Have Minds of Our Own?

4 December 2019

Not exactly to do with writing and being an author, but perhaps a writing prompt.

From The New Yorker:

In order to do science, we’ve had to dismiss the mind. This was, in any case, the bargain that was made in the seventeenth century, when Descartes and Galileo deemed consciousness a subjective phenomenon unfit for empirical study. If the world was to be reducible to physical causation, then all mental experiences—intention, agency, purpose, meaning—must be secondary qualities, inexplicable within the framework of materialism. And so the world was divided in two: mind and matter. This dualistic solution helped to pave the way for the Enlightenment and the technological and scientific advances of the coming centuries. But an uneasiness has always hovered over the bargain, a suspicion that the problem was less solved than shelved. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Leibniz struggled to accept that perception could be explained through mechanical causes—he proposed that if there were a machine that could produce thought and feeling, and if it were large enough that a person could walk inside of it, as he could walk inside a mill, the observer would find nothing but inert gears and levers. “He would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain Perception,” he wrote.

Today we tend to regard the mind not as a mill but as a computer, but, otherwise, the problem exists in much the same way that Leibniz formulated it three hundred years ago. In 1995, David Chalmers, a shaggy-haired Australian philosopher who has been called a “rock star” of the field, famously dubbed consciousness “the hard problem,” as a way of distinguishing it from comparatively “easy” problems, such as how the brain integrates information, focusses attention, and stores memories. Neuroscientists have made significant progress on the easier problems, using fMRIs and other devices. Engineers, meanwhile, have created impressive simulations of the brain in artificial neural networks—though the abilities of these machines have only made the difference between intelligence and consciousness more stark. Artificial intelligence can now beat us in chess and Go; it can predict the onset of cancer as well as human oncologists and recognize financial fraud more accurately than professional auditors. But, if intelligence and reason can be performed without subjective awareness, then what is responsible for consciousness? Answering this question, Chalmers argued, was not simply a matter of locating a process in the brain that is responsible for producing consciousness or correlated with it. Such a discovery still would fail to explain why such correlations exist or why they lead to one kind of experience rather than another—or to nothing at all.

. . . .

One line of reductionist thinking insists that the hard problem is not really so hard—or that it is, perhaps, simply unnecessary. In his new book, “Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience,” the neuroscientist and psychologist Michael Graziano writes that consciousness is simply a mental illusion, a simplified interface that humans evolved as a survival strategy in order to model the processes of the brain. He calls this the “attention schema.” According to Graziano’s theory, the attention schema is an attribute of the brain that allows us to monitor mental activity—tracking where our focus is directed and helping us predict where it might be drawn in the future—much the way that other mental models oversee, for instance, the position of our arms and legs in space. Because the attention schema streamlines the complex noise of calculations and electrochemical signals of our brains into a caricature of mental activity, we falsely believe that our minds are amorphous and nonphysical. The body schema can delude a woman who has lost an arm into thinking that it’s still there, and Graziano argues that the “mind” is like a phantom limb: “One is the ghost in the body and the other is the ghost in the head.”

. . . .

I suspect that most people would find this proposition alarming. On the other hand, many of us already, on some level, distrust the reality of our own minds. The recent vogue for “mindfulness” implies that we are passive observers of an essentially mechanistic existence—that consciousness can only be summoned fleetingly, through great effort. Plagued by a midday funk, we are often quicker to attribute it to bad gut flora or having consumed gluten than to the theatre of beliefs and ideas.

And what, really, are the alternatives for someone who wants to explain consciousness in strictly physical terms? Another option, perhaps the only other option, is to conclude that mind is one with the material world—that everything, in other words, is conscious. This may sound like New Age bunk, but a version of this concept, called integrated information theory, or I.I.T., is widely considered one of the field’s most promising theories in recent years. One of its pioneers, the neuroscientist Christof Koch, has a new book, “The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread but Can’t Be Computed,” in which he argues that consciousness is not unique to humans but exists throughout the animal kingdom and the insect world, and even at the microphysical level. Koch, an outspoken vegetarian, has long argued that animals share consciousness with humans; this new book extends consciousness further down the chain of being. Central to I.I.T. is the notion that consciousness is not an either/or state but a continuum—some “systems,” in other words, are more conscious than others.

. . . .

Another term for this is panpsychism—the belief that consciousness is ubiquitous in nature. In the final chapters of the book, Koch commits himself to this philosophy, claiming his place among a lineage of thinkers—including Leibniz, William James, and Alfred North Whitehead—who similarly believed that matter and soul were one substance. This solution avoids the ungainliness of dualism: panpsychism, Koch argues, “elegantly eliminates the need to explain how the mental emerges out of the physical and vice versa. Both coexist.”

. . . .

Like Koch, Graziano, when entertaining such seemingly fanciful ideas, shifts into a mode that oddly mixes lyricism and technical rigor. “The mind is a trillion-stranded sculpture made of information, constantly changing and beautifully complicated,” he writes. “But nothing in it is so mysterious that it can’t in principle be copied to a different information-processing device, like a file copied from one computer to another.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker


How to Be a Dictator

29 November 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘Naked power has an expiry date,” writes Frank [Dikötter]. This is no doubt true. But lest you find the observation overly reassuring, remember that Joseph Stalin stayed in power for 31 years, Mao Zedong for 27, Benito Mussolini for 23, and Adolf Hitler for a hideous 12. So for all the apparent precariousness that can beset a strong[man who seizes control of a state by thuggery or violence, the absence of genuine popular support doesn’t always result in his imminent toppling.

In fact, writes Mr. Dikötter in “How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century,” by relying on “military forces, a secret police, a praetorian guard, spies, informants, interrogators, [and] torturers,” a tyrant can remain at the helm for decades. Yet oppression alone is seldom sufficient. There is, he explains, another ingredient to despotic longevity: “A dictator must instil fear in his people, but if he can compel them to acclaim him he will probably survive longer.”

The paradox of the modern dictator is that he must “create the illusion of popular support,” and the autocrats featured in this book all strove to do so in varying degrees. Mussolini, for example, “fostered the idea that he was a man of the people, accessible to all.” At the height of his fascist glory, he received up to 1,500 letters a day. As Mussolini told his ministers in March 1929: “Every time that individual citizens, even from the most remote villages, have applied to me, they have received a reply.” Il Duce boasted that he had responded to 1,887,112 individual cases. (Imagine what he could have done with Twitter!)

Mr. Dikötter, a professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong, has been a peerless chronicler of the destructiveness and delusions of Maoist China.

. . . .

There were, Mr. Dikötter writes, “many strategies for a dictator to claw his way to power.” These included such obvious ploys as purges, manipulation of information, and a dividing of potential rivals to rule them better. But in the long run, “the cult of personality was the most efficient.” It was not enough, for instance, that Hitler be in undisputed control of Germany. He also had to be seen as a paragon. In this effort, the state republished an old Nazi Party photography book titled “The Hitler Nobody Knows,” in which he is, Mr. Dikötter writes, depicted as a man who “cultivated simple, spartan habits and worked ceaselessly towards the greater good.” Germans were told that their leader read voraciously, boasting a library of 6,000 books—“all of which he has,” a caption in this book of hagio-photography said, “not just perused, but also read.”

The cult of personality was soul-destroying. It “debased allies and rivals alike, forcing them to collaborate through common subordination.” By compelling them to acclaim him in public, says Mr. Dikötter, “a dictator turned everyone into a liar. When everyone lied, no one knew who was lying, making it more difficult to find accomplices and organise a coup.”

Stalin was the high priest of this method; and Mr. Dikötter tells us that the phrase “cult of personality” is the English translation of the Russian “cult of the individual,” the literal words that Nikita Khrushchev used in 1956 when he denounced Stalin’s reign of terror in a speech to the party congress.

Stalin had died in 1953. His body was found lying on the floor of his bedroom, “soaked in his own urine.” Medical help, Mr. Dikötter tells us, was delayed “as the leader’s entourage was petrified of making the wrong call.” The tyrant, one might say, was killed by his own climate of fear.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you hit a paywall)

Care About Journalism? Maybe You Should Cancel Your Newspaper

27 November 2019

From Politico:

It’s not a popular thing to say, but journalism may be approaching the point where dedicated news consumers might take a hard look at their local newspaper and—in the interest of better journalism—cancel their subscriptions.

For much of the past week, media pundits have been reiterating their warning calls about the dire fate, and the value, of local news. Fueled by a bleak new study about “the hollowing-out” of local news from PEN America, and prodded by two recent newspaper company merger deals, the pundits have become as agitated as Extinction Rebellion activists. Their worries are buttressed by the newspapers industries’ waning financial numbers.

. . . .

Newspaper circulation has fallen almost in half from 1994 highs and advertising revenues have dropped from $65 billion to less than $19 billion in 2016. With dwindling payroll cash to dispense, publishers have cut newsroom employment by about half since 2008, and nearly every newspaper has shrunk its coverage footprint. For example, Peoria Journal Star journalists once reported from 23 counties. Today, just three. Some newspaper chains have reduced their print schedule to three or four days a week. To avert bankruptcy, the McClatchy chain has dropped the Saturday edition from all of its papers. Meanwhile, most newspapers are charging more for less: Between 2008 and 2016, seven-day home delivery subscriptions at 25 big-market newspapers doubled, on average, and weekday single-copy prices tripled.

This collapse hasn’t gone unremarked. According to the New York Times, the newspaper apocalypse has caused a “national crisis.” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan frets about a nation without local newspapers. Academics have charted the expansion of news deserts, communities where no newspaper is published. Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton co-frets with Sullivan, as does Brookings Institution research analyst Clara Hendrickson, who has given her study a title—“Local Journalism in Crisis: Why America Must Revive Its Local Newsrooms”— that perfectly sums up the zeitgeist.

Every media guru has an idea to roll back the apocalypse. Nonprofit newspapers. Philanthropists to the rescue. Government subsidies. Ad tech subsidies. But everybody insists that readers—the end users, after all—must subscribe, subscribe, subscribe.

. . . .

It’s heresy for a journalist to ask readers to consider dropping their newspaper. Beyond the obvious self-interest, reporters and editors consider a subscription to your local newspaper as a paramount civic duty, a view shared by academics, politicians, and activists. Local reporters hold government and corporations accountable, the refrain goes. They keep an eye on school boards and polluters and their stories boost voter turnout. They uncover corruption. They knit the weave in the social fabric. They foster democracy!

. . . .

But when you pay for a newspaper, you’re also making a decision to send money to whoever owns it. And if you really care about local news, you might want to think twice about continuing your subscription to one of the 50-plus dailies operated by Alden Global Capital under the Digital First Media nameplate in Denver, Detroit, Long Beach, San Jose, Boston, St. Paul, and other smaller cities. Good journalism still gets done at these newspapers because reporters care. But less and less of it gets printed, because Alden owner Randall Smith and his right-hand man, Heath Freeman, don’t care about the news.

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Deliberately starving its newsrooms and shriveling its news pages, Alden’s “milk-it business modes” is designed to extract the value of a newspaper over time until the day—poof!—their papers vaporize and Smith and Freeman climb into their Scrooge McDuck vault to count their riches. For example, in the 1990s, the San Jose Mercury News newsroom employed 440. By 2018, Alden had cut its newsroom headcount to 39. At Southern California’s Orange County Register, Alden reduced the newsroom from 180 journalists to about 70 in two years. The newsroom at the Denver Post once stood at 300-strong. Alden has shrunk it to about 75.

. . . .

Alden isn’t the only bad moon on the newspaper horizon. At the beginning of the year, Alden bid on the Gannett chain, which forced the company into the arms of the GateHouse Media chain, resulting in a merger that produced the nation’s largest newspaper publisher. Wall Street didn’t much like the deal, cutting about $265 million from the combined companies value ( 7.5 percent of its total expense base) when the deal was announced in August. Both GateHouse and Gannett have experience in cutting staff and quality, and will rely on those skills at the 260-daily strong combined company called Gannett. The front office has pledged to reduce Gannett costs by $300 million a year in the next two years.

. . . .

Could a reader strike even be organized? Most newspaper subscribers hail from the senior side of the demographic divide. Seriously habituated to their newspaper, they keep subscribing no matter how flimsy it becomes. There’s also the chance that the strong medicine of a subscriber strike might kill the patients rather than leading to their revivification.

Link to the rest at Politico

PG says canceling your subscription to send a message to the paper’s owners is unlikely to cause the owners to mend their ways. It is more likely to cause additional layoffs. PG suggests the action is primarily virtue-signaling, particularly when you write an article about it.

PG has read and subscribed to newspapers for about as long as he’s had a front door to which the paper could be delivered. Prior to that event, he bought at least two newspapers per day, one for his morning train ride and the other for the evening ride.

That said, a printed newspaper is far from the only way to access quality news and writing. Other than the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal, PG is very close to 100% digital for his information needs. When he wants information, he does not pick up a printed document (and on more than a few occasions, he reads the weekend WSJ online instead of in its printed form).

PG suggests that a local newspaper is probably better off going entirely digital as soon as possible. The overhead of a physical newspaper is delivering value to a smaller and smaller group of people every year.


The Pilgrims in Flesh and Spirit

27 November 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

If we want to encounter the first Thanksgiving as the Pilgrims experienced it in the fall of 1621, “we must put aside our images of great wide Puritan collars and large buckles (never worn by the godly of early Plymouth, who rejected all jewelry), roast turkey (absent from the earliest record of the event), and cranberry sauce (quite unknown in the early colony).” So writes Martyn Whittock in “Mayflower Lives,” an incisive series of biographical and historical essays on the Mayflower’s passengers.

All we know about the original Thanksgiving, Mr. Whittock explains, comes to us from 115 words in a document known as Mourt’s Relation, written to persuade London investors not to give up on the colony. We know that the original feast lasted three days and was attended by the Pilgrims and about 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe. It featured a meal consisting of venison, supplied by the natives, and fowl, supplied by the English. That’s it.

. . . .

Myths aside, the striking quality about the Mayflower’s trans-Atlantic journey—and this emerges beautifully in Mr. Whittock’s narrative—is just how archetypally American the whole affair was. The settlement’s mission, like the nation it began, needed both “saints” and “strangers,” to borrow the term historians use to distinguish the Puritan separatists from the rest of the Mayflower’s passengers: fervent Calvinists seeking freedom to worship God as they believed right but also economic migrants and seafarers seeking profit or adventure.

A comparison with the colony of Jamestown, founded in 1607, makes the point nicely. Jamestown was the project of merchants in search of a quick payday, and it was carried out by rugged soldiers and well-to-do settlers unaccustomed to hard work. Within a few years, Jamestown’s inhabitants had mostly either died or fled. The godly among the Plymouth settlers, by contrast, were transfixed by a vision of the New Jerusalem. In the minds of Pilgrims such as William Bradford and William Brewster—the latter had studied at Peterhouse, Cambridge, for a time a hotbed of Puritanism—the cause of Reformed Protestantism was dying in Europe. The New World beckoned, and no measure of physical hardship could divert them from achieving their end.

But a band of theologians and pious congregants, however dedicated, wasn’t likely to survive privation, disease and hostile natives. They needed what a former age would have called men of action, which is why they hired Myles Standish, a diminutive but accomplished soldier. Standish knew how to hunt, how to fix the settlement’s position in order to make it less vulnerable to attack, and what to do about deadly threats. In March 1623, hearing that a group of warriors from the Massachusetts tribes had determined to wipe out a nearby English settlement, Wessagusset, Standish set up a meeting with the Massachusetts sachem or chief. At the meeting, Standish and his men waited for an opportune moment and killed their adversaries with knives.

Standish has been judged critically for this act of premeditated bloodshed, and not altogether unfairly. But the Plymouth Colony, as Mr. Whittock rightly notes, would likely not have survived without the aid of such a man. Here and elsewhere, Mr. Whittock, an English author of several books on European history, is refreshingly reluctant to judge his subjects harshly. Gone are the usual snide remarks about the Puritans’ narrowness and grimness. He notes, for example, that the Puritans regarded monogamous sex as a “joyful expression of love,” an outlook their non-separating Anglican neighbors regarded as “very edgy, if not downright alarming.” With an infection wiping out half the colony in its first year, the little Calvinist company’s edginess probably kept it from oblivion.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)


We Lived Here

16 November 2019
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From The Paris Review:

I’ve never owned a house or a refrigerator, never had to think about knobs for cabinets. The cabinets in our apartment don’t have knobs, and it’s not for the sake of sleekness or simplicity. It’s cheap, functional. Lately, every time I open the front door, I wonder how many strangers have closed it for the last time. I wonder what might have caused the painted-over dents on the wall in my bathroom. And I wonder if someone else stared at the gap between the front door and the foundation the way I do, saw the sunlight sneak through during the day, felt the cold scuttle in across the floor at night.

Every time my daughter and I have moved, I’ve rented a place sight unseen, because I can’t afford to make the trip to the new town to scout rentals, walk room to room, peek in closets. I’m easily swayed: I said yes to the house in Utah when the landlady on the phone said, “It’s on a corner,”; yes to the duplex in Oklahoma because a Craigslist photo showed a built-in bookshelf in the living room; and yes to this apartment complex because the website showed black appliances, and we’d never had black appliances before.

Last year, I decided to rent a house. I wanted to give my daughter, Indie, two things for her last year at home: one, a place to practice trombone without worrying about the neighbors, and two, her own bathroom, which she’s never had.

Not long before my mother died, she worried about my inability to make decisions. She told me it had been her fault, hers and my father’s, that they had made all my choices for me when I was growing up. I suppose that’s true.

. . . .

Indie and I contextualize our lives, the years, by cities: “We were in Canton, so you were nine, ten”; “That last year in Stillwater, so it would have been 2011”; or “You remember a mirror on the back of the bathroom door? Cedar City.” We can pack boxes and run tape across them and keep track of the Sharpie pen through the span of a few viewings of Tootsie, our moving movie. The one that plays while we pack and fill garbage bags, the kind of bags meant for leaves.

When we had only a week left in our lease, I went to tell the apartment manager we’d be staying. He pulled out a black binder, flipped to a spreadsheet, told me our apartment had been rented. The receptionist, it turns out, had been let go weeks before, and someone was scheduled to move in to our home, our rooms, our kitchen, our bathroom, in eleven days.

Indie and I have a tradition: on our last day living somewhere, after a truck has backed up and hauled away the U-Box, when the rooms are empty and the shower curtainless, we leave pennies. I give Indie a few, grab some for myself, and we disappear into our own spaces, leaving a penny on a windowsill or on the floor where my writing desk had been or on a shelf in her room. We only tell each other where we placed them, and why, after we’ve gone.

When the apartment manager offered us a two bed, two bath apartment across the parking lot for the same rent, I went out to the storage closet on the patio and started pulling out empty boxes, the same ones we’ve always used for all our moves. Cue Tootsie. Sharpie on the kitchen counter, packing tape, a box of black bags. We kept thinking how we had lived in this apartment longer than we had lived anywhere. With every pull of tape, every BOOKS written on a box, every time Indie dragged a bag from her room across the floor, I thought, This is the last time we’ll move together. The next move will be hers alone.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Veterans Day

11 November 2019

Today is celebrated as Veterans Day in the United States.

Following is a typed version of a portion of the diary of Harry L. Frieman, born in Ukraine, served with the United States Army, 313th Machine Gun Company, 79th Division, in the trenches in France from 1917 through Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. These are part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

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Link to the rest at Veterans History Project

The Third Reich of Dreams

7 November 2019
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From The New Yorker:

Not long after Hitler came to power, in 1933, a thirty-year-old woman in Berlin had a series of uncanny dreams. In one, her neighborhood had been stripped of its usual signs, which were replaced with posters that listed twenty verboten words; the first was “Lord” and the last was “I.” In another, the woman found herself surrounded by workers, including a milkman, a gasman, a newsagent, and a plumber. She felt calm, until she spied among them a chimney sweep. (In her family, the German word for “chimney sweep” was code for the S.S., a nod to the trade’s blackened clothing.) The men brandished their bills and performed a Nazi salute. Then they chanted, “Your guilt cannot be doubted.”

These are two of about seventy-five dreams collected in “The Third Reich of Dreams,” a strange, enthralling book by the writer Charlotte Beradt. Neither scientific study nor psychoanalytic text, “The Third Reich of Dreams” is a collective diary, a witness account hauled out of a nation’s shadows and into forensic light. The book was released, in Germany, in 1966; an English translation, by Adriane Gottwald, was published two years later but has since fallen out of print. (Despite ongoing interest from publishers, no one has been able to find Beradt’s heir, who holds the rights.) But the book deserves revisiting, not just because we see echoes today of the populism, racism, and taste for surveillance that were part of Beradt’s time but because there’s nothing else like it in the literature of the Holocaust. “These dreams—these diaries of the night—were conceived independently of their authors’ conscious will,” Beradt writes. “They were, so to speak, dictated to them by dictatorship.”

Beradt—who was born Charlotte Aron, in Forst, a town near the German-Polish border—was a Jewish journalist. She was based in Berlin when Hitler became Chancellor, in 1933. That year, she was barred from publishing her work, and she and her husband, Heinz Pol, were arrested during the mass roundups of Communists that followed the passage of the Reichstag Fire Decree. After her release, she began secretly recording the dreams of her fellow-Germans. For six years, as German Jews lost their homes, their jobs, and their rights, Beradt continued making notes. By 1939, she’d gathered three hundred dreams. The project was risky, not least because she was known to the regime. Pol, who once worked for Vossische Zeitung, Germany’s leading liberal newspaper, soon fled to Prague, and Beradt eventually moved in with her future husband, the writer and lawyer Martin Beradt.

. . . .

To protect herself and those she interviewed, Beradt hid her transcripts inside bookbindings and then shelved them in her private library. She disguised political figures, turning dreams of Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels into “family anecdotes” about Uncles Hans, Gustav, and Gerhard. Once book burnings and home searches became fixtures of state control, Beradt mailed her notes to friends overseas. In 1939, she and Martin left Germany and eventually arrived in New York, as refugees. They settled on West End Avenue, and their apartment became a gathering place for fellow-émigrés, such as Hannah Arendt (for whom Beradt translated five political essays), Heinrich Blücher, and the painter Carl Heidenreich. In 1966, after retrieving her transcripts, Beradt finally published the dreams, in Germany, as “Das Dritte Reich des Traums.”

. . . .

Beradt’s work uncovers the effects of authoritarian regimes on the collective unconscious. In 1933, a woman dreams of a mind-reading machine, “a maze of wires” that detects her associating Hitler with the word “devil.” Beradt encountered several dreams about thought control, some of which anticipated the bureaucratic absurdities used by the Nazis to terrorize citizens. In one dream, a twenty-two-year-old woman who believes her curved nose will mark her as Jewish attends the “Bureau of Verification of Aryan Descent”—not a real agency, but close enough to those of the time. In a series of “bureaucratic fairy tales” that evoke the regime’s real-life propaganda, a man dreams of banners, posters, and barracks-yard voices pronouncing a “Regulation Prohibiting Residual Bourgeois Tendencies.” In 1936, a woman dreams of a snowy road strewn with watches and jewelery. Tempted to take a piece, she senses a setup by the “Office for Testing the Honesty of Aliens.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

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