Benjamin Matveevich

That is the first name and patronymic of my great-great grandfather, the immigrant. His dissertation director was Alexander von Humboldt.

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Suture

I love theory yet do not understand structuralism, semiotics, poststructuralism or Lacan in any adequate way. (Literary studies are said to have been ruined by “theory” but it was theory that attracted me to them.) I wish I understood suture, as I know it is important in all the texts that interest me. Where is suture in Vallejo, and what kind of a signifier is the character Cecilia Valdés?

Also, I became interested in language at the moment I experienced suture. As Magrini explains:

The psychological concept of “suture” begins with Lacan and the notion of subject formation, i.e., the psychical “junction” of the symbolic and imaginary realms. . . .

That is the beginning, and there is far more to study.

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Des articles, des livres

Rereading the literate Andean past. Then, Manigot on Haiti:

Library shelves sag under the weight of books on Haiti, old and new. Many were written by Haitians in the nineteenth century. They are exceptional studies challenging racism, but they also probe and dissect with honesty and candor the causes of Haiti’s repeated failures at sustained development and good governance. Few areas were left unstudied: French colonial slavery and the demand for reparations, European and American racism, domestic failures to plumb the island’s “culture of poverty,” ecological devastation, and endemic corruption. Haitian elites, of whatever color and class, never seem to stop searching for solutions. Foreigners have also contributed well-documented tomes on the island’s labyrinthine economy and politics.

There is really interesting commentary on C. L. R. James and Laurent Dubois in that piece.  (I am clearing shelves, and I had kept the paper issue of a journal for these few pages.)

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Synopsis of Postman, “The end of education”

The “school problem” has two dimensions, as he sees it. One is the engineering aspect: the means by which young people acquire an education. The other is the metaphysical aspect: the underlying purpose or mission — the “end” — of education. Postman believes that the debate over the future of America’s schools focuses too much on engineering concerns — curricula, teaching methods, standardized testing, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. As the title suggests, he feels that “without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better.” For education to be meaningful, Postman contends, young people, their parents, and their teachers must have a common narrative. Narratives are essential because they provide a sense of personal identity, a sense of community life, a basis for moral conduct, and explanations of that which cannot be known. The idea of public education requires not only shared narratives, but also the absence of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. “What makes public schools public,” writes Postman, “is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods.” As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public. But in order to do that they depend on the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.

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Postman on the intellectual vacuum in which a Trump arises

But television is a speed-of-light medium, a present-centered medium. Its grammar, so to say, permits no access to the past. Everything presented in moving pictures is experienced as happening “now,” which is why we must be told in language that a videotape we are seeing was made months before. Moreover, like its forefather, the telegraph, television needs to move fragments of information, not to collect and organize them. Carlyle was more prophetic than he could imagine: The literal gray haze that is the background void on all television screens is an apt metaphor of the notion of history the medium puts forward. In the Age of Show Business and image politics, political discourse is emptied not only of ideological content but of historical content, as well. Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, remarked in his acceptance speech in Stockholm that our age is characterized by a “refusal to remember”; he cited, among other things, the shattering fact that there are now more than one hundred books in print that deny that the Holocaust ever took place. The historian Carl Schorske has, in my opinion, circled closer to the truth by noting that the modern mind has grown indifferent to history because history has become useless to it; in other words, it is not obstinacy or ignorance but a sense of irrelevance that leads to the diminution of history. Television’s Bill Moyers inches still closer when he says, “I worry that my own business . . . helps to make this an anxious age of agitated amnesiacs. . . . We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the last sixty centuries or the last sixty years.” Terence Moran, I believe, lands on the target in saying that with media whose structure is biased toward furnishing images and fragments, we are deprived of access to an historical perspective. In the absence of continuity and context, he says, “bits of information cannot be integrated into an intelligent and consistent whole.” We do not refuse to remember; neither do we find it exactly useless to remember. Rather, we are being rendered unfit to remember. For if remembering is to be something more than nostalgia, it requires a contextual basis—a theory, a vision, a metaphor— something within which facts can be organized and patterns discerned. The politics of image and instantaneous news provides no such context, is, in fact, hampered by attempts to provide any. A mirror records only what you are wearing today. It is silent about yesterday. With television, we vault ourselves into a continuous, incoherent present. “History,” Henry Ford said, “is bunk.” Henry Ford was a typographic optimist. “History,” the Electric Plug replies, “doesn’t exist.”

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I will write this

I have been thinking hard about what to do with all my prison material and knowledge and realized, I am not really in a position to increase activism in a truly meaningful way, and/but I should write a series of Atlantic-type (perhaps) articles on what I know. I never feel I know a great deal but it has been pointed out to me more than once how much I do know, and someone did say recently I should write it down — although that suggestion is not how I came to this conclusion tonight.

All my novels freeze in their tracks as life changes, but this would be a piece of creative or journalistic writing I could sustain. I was born to write. This story begins, like all stories, with a chance encounter. “Debo a la conjunción de un espejo y de una enciclopedia el descubrimiento de Uqbar. El espejo inquietaba el fondo de un corredor en una quinta de la calle Gaona, en Ramos Mejía; la enciclopedia falazmente se llama. . . .”

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No es fácil

I want to say that for 25 years I have been visiting a death row prisoner in Louisiana. This started as an offshoot of some activism — it was never my intention to become sole emotional support for a condemned man — but it has happened.

It has been pointed out to me that my position in this is unusual in a number of ways I am at this moment too tired to write out. One of the points I raised, in the call I made on the matter, was that when all of this began there was a community of support for persons in similar positions and that community has since evaporated. One of the ways in which my position is new is that, in the current climate this person, who is now 60 and has been on death row as long as I have been a professor, is more likely to die on death row than to be executed.

Being on death row is not the same as being in a punishment cell but it does mean 23 hour cell restriction. This is not good for the mental health of anyone, and specially not over decades.

If I had someone in town to talk to about this relationship, this activity, this experience, it would be easier. By “someone” I mean someone also doing what I am doing. There is so much to say about all of this.

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