Monthly Archives: February 2013

John White

Some recent antics of our Superintendent of Education, a Jindal appointee and charter schools advocate.

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That Discerning Eye: Vision, Race, and the State in Modern Latin American Literature

This series of overlapping essays examines the articulation of race and the state as it appears in literary and cultural discourse in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Authors and works discussed include Brazilian authors Aluízio de Azevedo (O Mulato), Mário de Andrade (modernismo, canonicity and ethnography), Gilberto Freyre (Casa-Grande e Senzala and other writings), and Spanish American and Chicano/U.S. Latino writers from Simón Bolívar through Jorge Isaacs to Gloria Anzaldúa. The title engages a line from Cirilo Villaverde’s novel Cecilia Valdés (1882), whose narrator proposes that it takes a “discerning eye” to see race and color as Caribbean life requires. Errors in perception arise here from insufficiently subtle understandings of racial mixture and hierarchy. The foreign observer fails to navigate his place and loses his footing. The criollo subject understands that race and color must be seen and taken into account, yet realizes that the knowledge which permits effective action within the existing hierarchy is useful only so long as it is concealed.

My central insight for this project is that when at Angostura (1819) Bolívar proclaimed “La sangre de nuestros ciudadanos es diferente; mezclémosla para unirla” he makes a double gesture: the new nations are conceived in racial terms, but are expected at the same time to move, at least at the level of public discourse, beyond race. The mestizaje that would become the signature of many Latin American nations is neither a mixture that dissolves race nor a transgression against racial hierarchies, but a hyperracial strategy to unify the nation and contain the lower classes; it does so by maintaining hierarchies at the same time as it blocks discussion or analysis of these. This double gesture is echoed and struggled with in literary and cultural texts for the next nearly two hundred years. Several studies from the past decade have presented strong critiques of the mestizaje paradigm; this work does not need redoing, but work on race itself has only just begun (Andermann, Lund, Poole, Sanjinés).

Rather than rework now canonical discussions of hybridity and its relationship to national identity, this project examines racial hierarchy and state power as these inform the conflictive terrain on which writers have articulated racial meaning and the idea of the modern. The project considers race as a fundamental element in modern state formations (David Theo Goldberg) and perhaps in modernity itself (Denise Ferreira da Silva). From this perspective hierarchization is not simply a vestige of the past but a structuring axis in current social processes as well. Literary works are not only respresentations or programmatic texts but also interventions pointing beyond the interpretive frames in which they arise. The 19th and early 20th century articulations of race and state may not in fact be resolved by the exaltations of hybridity of the 1920s and 1930s, and a second look at configurations of these matters predating the “reajuste cultural” (Osorio) of modernismo and vanguardia may shed light upon the ways in which race, state, nation, identity, color, and culture rearticulate each other today.

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Mariano José de Larra

My class cannot read Larra and they are seniors. They cannot read him. The vocabulary is too esoteric, the sentences too long, the references too esoteric — but mostly the issue is, these articles are somewhat complex texts. Events are narrated and commented upon and the students would prefer that each artículo de costumbres were separated into two texts: a story, and and explanation of what the story is intended to illustrate. One student said reading Larra was “traumatic” and is causing him to consider dropping the major. Another said Larra was “random” — there is no order in his texts, no clear reason why the characters he discusses might be of interest.

The administration has determined that classes in this university generally lack rigor and that this is a problem. This is a new attitude as they used to say the opposite. I had a colleague suffer serious tenure trouble due to teaching at the college level. My current students are having difficulty with Larra not because of a “language problem” but because they are used to simple reading in all subjects. In the culture class they are frustrated because we are not defining culture, language and nation but interrogating these concepts. The existence of these situations means I am not one of those guilty of teaching courses that lack rigor. It does make teaching harder and my evaluations are not the highest in the college since I am “confusing.”

Surely I would do better in life if I did something for the Larra students like show modern films and put them in discussion groups, but is this not to shortchange them, being as we are in the Peninsular survey? Do you think it would be ethical to skip the 18th, 19th and part of the 20th century in the Peninsular survey 1700-2013?

What I should probably do is create a history and culture course where a few literary excerpts are read. I could lecture on the writers and have students memorize summaries of their works. I could give “objective” tests. This course would take a great deal of study and development, and is not “me,” and would surely not constitute the “cutting corners on teaching” the efficiency experts require.

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We are in April, 2004

I have decided we are in April, 2004, before I got involved with that ex who showed me blogging software and thus, to his great ire, a way to escape from him. In any case I had just written a really interesting essay for this book I am still working on and I was very pleased with it.

I was not being careful and I got kidnapped, so to speak, by my ex, and the entire experience was truly devastating, but without it I would not have understood certain prior experiences, such as Reeducation.

That was when I lost my place in this project and I feel time has stood still since. I remember periods where I did not even remember I was working on this project since all the energy I had, had to go to tolerating the relationship.

I could not leave for the same reasons as I had so much difficulty turning down the honor society this week — I kept being told I was really needed and also that it was a true honor, and I was taught early on that if people love you, you must give them everything they want.

But I felt jubilant in April, 2004 before all these things happened and I think I may start counting time from then. I do not want to go back, though — if I went back in time, I would go further, but I do not want to return to that moment because I am, now, so different from the person who got kidnapped, then.

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Minuit

Doing what one wishes, what one thinks best, always gives the best results. I am not raised to even imagine doing this, but to choose the most interesting thing off a preapproved list or to choose, from the list, what is desired for me. I am still trying to learn to do as I see fit rather than to discard my desires and professional opinions out of hand.

→I wanted to take this afternoon off and I did not allow myself to do so, and this was detrimental.

→I could, in theory, really get into radical pedagogy, and write articles with titles like ¿Qué es una clase? One can do and be interested in so many things if one allows oneself to think on the theoretical side of life. It is just a question of time and the fact that this is not my first interest. Or, I would do this if I did not have so many different classes to teach.

Best use of time today would have been to sleep at the pool. Brilliant ideas would have come to me. I will remember this; that is how I was before.

Axé.

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The Ivor Situation

Vichy State University is so openly crooked it is hard to believe. Here is Raymond Seed in case you do not trust Van Heerden. Note that Voyiadjis and Dokka were elite professors. Bassiouni is retiring with honors and Ruffner has escaped to Georgia.

By Jan. 5, 2006, less than five months after the deadly flooding of New Orleans, it appeared that some LSU officials were preparing to end van Heerden’s LSU career.

George Z. Voyiadjis, chairman of LSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, sent an email that day to Zaki Bassiouni, dean of LSU’s College of Engineering.

“You advised me that you will need my signature on correspondence that the university is preparing for the purpose of discharging Ivor,” Voyiadjis wrote Bassiouni. “I will do as you requested. Let me know when to come to your office for that purpose.”

As van Heerden repeated his allegations against the corps, powerful figures at LSU intensified their expressions of dissatisfaction with him.

Roy K. Dokka, director of LSU’s Spatial Reference Center and Center for GeoInformatics, sent an email Oct. 24, 2005, to Michael Ruffner, vice chancellor of LSU’s Office of Communications and University Relations.

Dokka did not mention van Heerden by name, but told Ruffner: “I have been in Washington several times recently, meeting with the congressional delegation and federal agencies. In almost every contact, I am asked how so-and-so’s irresponsible behavior is tolerated.”

Dokka said, “It is a shame that so many very competent people at LSU who do their business in a professional manner are being sullied by a few.”

Dokka also told Ruffner that LSU “will remain in third rate category unless the ‘cowboys’ are (reined) in.”

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In which I take a great and scary risk, succeed, and improve although I am still unsettled, and exhausted, and worried since it is all I got done.

I spent today dealing with my honor society problem. I mean all day. Realizing I was going to say no, figuring out how, doing it, recovering from it. This is not efficient — especially because the reason I had as much difficulty was that I was so tired, and now I am more tired, and have lost a day of work I cannot afford to lose. But I have been through it.

Advantage of joining: peoples’ feelings are not hurt. Disadvantages: cost, a day wasted at initiation, the expectation of renewal and future service to the organization. I finally decided I would have to join. Then I went to join and found I could not do it. I looked at my list of other things I want and need and I could not do it.

I did not know what to do. I considered asking the department and college whether it were really required and decided that was ridiculous. I spent hours composing the decline e-mail. I wanted to explain what actually valuable professional expenses were and I refrained. I wanted to explain the things I have renounced this year (every year in which inflation rises and salaries remain flat I renounce some things) and I refrained. I apologized for not having been still more direct, sooner.

I had to decline or I would not feel like a person. Once I had pressed send I did not feel free. I felt as though I had closed off a world I should not have closed off.

Walking along the path I then ran into a department chair, not mine but a department chair, and I asked him whether it were a faux pas to turn down membership in this honor society here. He said of course not, and was gratifyingly surprised that I was even concerned. I got e-mail from the honor society directors and despite the pressure to join it is not a serious problem to have refused.

I would get so much more done and enjoy life so much more if I did not have to handle these images.

→We/they love you, so it is your duty to relinquish everything, give all your blood, and chop yourself apart so we/they can eat you.

→If you do not do this you will starve in the cold on the streets. There, anyone will be able to do anything to you, the pretense of decorum we have here will be torn away, and you will die after great suffering.

→Do the right thing, then, take the path that will satisfy us. It is also the least painful of your two possible deaths. Come, give us everything you have and start dismembering yourself now.

These sentences are like ghastly fingers pulling me below ground. I have days where it is hard to keep the images from crowding in. License to be a coldhearted scientist helps a great deal with this.

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Spain in 1830

Look at this book by an English traveler concerned to prove the backwardness of Spain. It is extremely interesting.

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Explicar…

La cólera que quiebra al hombre en niños,
que quiebra al niño, en pájaros iguales,
y al pájaro, después en huevecillos;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un aceite contra dos vinagres.

La cólera que al árbol quiebra en hojas,
a la hoja en botones desiguales
y al botón, en ranuras telescópicas;
la cólera del pobre
tiene dos ríos contra muchos mares.

La cólera que quiebra al bien en dudas,
a la duda, en tres arcos semejantes
y al arco, luego, en tumbas imprevistas;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un acero contra dos puñales.

La cólera que quiebra al alma en cuerpos,
al cuerpo en órganos desemejantes
y al órgano, en octavos pensamientos;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un fuego central contra dos cráteres.

–C.V.

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Hypothesis

A book by Michael Hanchard has apparently now been listed in Brazil as one of the top 10 on racism, but he got into all this trouble there earlier because of it. He was really trashed by Brazilian scholars, that weak-minded lackey of the white elites Peter Fry, and the unsophisticated and supercilious pseudo-scholar Loïc Wacquant. John French wrote the most biting academic piece I have ever seen in response to these and other people and its appearance was a relief.

I will eventually run my book proposal past some Brazilianists but the project is on Spanish America as well and I already know what many Brazilianists working on this topic will say. It is what certain chicanistas also say about some things I, a non-chicana non-Brazilian, have written on their writers: anything that is said must be honorific and laudatory. If it is not, it is because one did not understand and is projecting values they imagine one to have into them.

This is why I sometimes conclude it is better to be in Spanish: Spanish and Spanish American critics actually respect themselves and their work enough so as to see the latter as an academic field that can in fact be studied and not just embodied or received like a mantle. There are some Brazilianists I would rather argue with in print like John French than allow to start suppressing my manuscript now.

We will discuss these issues further at a later point but I woke up this morning thinking about Hanchard. Do people dislike him as they do because he says things that are in fact true, such that he has to be maligned and silenced so dearly held beliefs can be kept in place, and nobody need shed a thing?

It is such a classic abuse structure: Hanchard, a Black man, says he has witnessed and experienced racist practices, to be told by British and French Lusophiles that he, an imperialist because American, only imagined these events or projected upon them an “American” view that “silenced” Brazil (i.e. he called out practices many Afro-Brazilians are not in a position to mention).

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