Oil and Plume: On Habitat

by Mara Jebsen


It came to me at the hairdresser’s. A sort of image-idea about birds and goodness. Karen had me in one of those retro-space-age bubble-things and the air was roaring around my ears, drying. “I grow blonder as I speak,” I kept thinking, though I wasn't speaking. Just thinking loudly through the rarified air.

Over by the window, Karen, all wrist, was erasing wings of silver-black from the temples of her client. The client’s beautiful beak-like nose grew ever more defined in the sun of the windowpane; the tufts drifting like feathers to the linoleum floor, mixing as they fell. They landed silver-brown in sunlight, like tree-bark in winter, like strokes of pencil-lead . . .

There were many women in the room: another client with hair like my sister’s (dry clouds springing from the skull; tall as an outstretched hand). I saw the hairdresser press a little piece between the knuckles of two outstretched fingers, and scissor a bit off. The girl’s eyes gleamed joyfully towards themselves in the mirror. Her hairdresser's own hair was similar, but oiled down to shaped curls. The women seemed ambivalent about this act of 'taming’; were more intent on the power of the raw material. And in its cutting, the space between them filled with camaraderie so palpable, it was nearly communion.

Read more »


On Seeing Bahadur Shah Zafar
The Last Mughal Emperor
1775 – 1862

ScreenHunter_20 Feb. 27 11.16The king is a subject—
A world

Son of a pig—
A viceroy will take pleasure
In a king exposed

Bolstered on a charpoy
Gaunt in white kurta;
Block-printed pajamas?

Long stem of a hookah—
A humid verandah
A garrison in Rangoon

EScreenHunter_21 Feb. 27 11.16xiled—
O, Delhi,
The Red Fort

Yesterday –seems ages ago–
Court painters painted
His portrait for posterity

Slithers of their brush—
A halo “God’s Shadow”

Cross-legged regalia—
Woven gardens
Blooming beneath his feet

Subjects trembling—
In front of him as they had
In front of his father and his

The garden ravaged—
Zafar, a memory of his splendor
Restraint of his sigh, itself a sigh

Rafiq Kathwari is a Monday poet at 3Quarks Daily.

Red Moon Rising


by Maniza Naqvi

“Life, Madam is full of little, little inconveniences.” The receptionist, in a soothing tone, wearing the uniform of a friendly welcoming smile had said. “I do apologize for the delay but please give us half an hour and your room will be ready. In the meantime please enjoy our hotel lobby café and complimentary welcoming tea.” He suggested, with a wave of his hand towards a space behind her. “It will only be a half hour.”

The white noise of the in house music tinkled in the background and beckoned her to be understanding and on good behavior. There was nothing to be done but wait. Her room wasn’t ready, her predecessor had left it in a mess apparently—hence the delay—and by the explanation given, she imagined that, floors had to be disinfected and so on.

Sleep deprived, she sits nursing her second cup of jasmine tea, struggling not to fall asleep in the armchair which was placed near a large potted fern.

“I thought it was you! What are you doing here?”

She starts and looks up, she hasn’t seen him in over a year—he looks the same—bloated belly, bloated face–too much whiskey. His mane of once, grey hair now white and thinning. The trade mark denim shirt still in place, the urban legend, himself.

Read more »

Pakistan Predictions 2012

by Omar Ali

Punditry without predictions is like a fish without a bicycle and who would ever want that? But if one does make predictions, one’s predictions can be checked. That, perhaps, is why no paid pundit makes too many predictions. But, with nothing at stake, I will not only make predictions, I will also recall predictions from 3 years ago for criticism. And dear socialist friends, please remember these are not prescriptions, they are predictions. I don’t like them much either. Reiki-crystal-ball1

In March of 2009 I took a road trip across the Eastern United States and asked several generally well informed Pakistani friends what they thought was likely to happen in Pakistan in the days to come. I am reproducing that article unchanged below; the first few theories are what my friends proposed would happen, followed by my own predictions from 2009. I consulted two of the same friends again this week and their current predictions and my own 2012 predictions follow. It is, of course, a very small and unrepresentative sample, biased towards liberals, infidels and leftists with no other input. And it is not expressed in University-Speak. So please, be gentle.

The 2009 scenarios:

1. Things fall apart: This theory holds that all the various chickens have finally come home to roost. The elite has robbed the country blind and provided neither governance nor sustenance and now the revolution is upon us: the jihadis have a plan and the will to enforce it and the government has neither. The jihadis have already captured FATA and most of Malakand (a good 20% of NWFP) and are inevitably going to march onwards to Punjab and Sindh. The army is incapable of fighting these people (and parts of it are actively in cahoots with the jihadis) and no other armed force can match these people. The public has been mentally prepared for Islamic rule by 62 years of Pakistani education and those who do resist will be labeled heretics and apostates and ruthlessly killed. The majority will go along in the interest of peace and security. America will throw more good money after bad, but in the end the Viceroy and her staff will be climbing rope ladders onto helicopters and those members of the elite who are not smart enough to get out in time will be hanging from the end of the ladder as the last chopper pulls away from the embassy. Those left behind will brush up their kalimas and shorten their shalwars and life will go on. The Taliban will run the country and all institutions will be cleansed and remodeled in their image.

Read more »

Vienna and The Modern World

Snowy-benches-along-a-bou-007William Boyd in The Guardian (Photograph: Irene Lamprakou/Getty Images/Flickr RM):

Why do certain cities haunt the imagination? Not just the city itself but the city in a particular historical period. In my own case I can identify four such cities – Los Angeles in the 1970s, Lisbon in the 1930s, Berlin in the 1920s and Vienna in the years just before the first world war. Thus captivated, I wrote fiction – short stories, chapters of novels – set in each of these cities long before I ever visited them. This is the mark and measure, I suppose, of their allure – it's vicarious, it works at a great distance – but it must be some conveyed sense of atmosphere, the spirit of place, that prompts the fascination. Perhaps the most telling factor is a powerful feeling that you would like to have lived there yourself.

One of the amazing aspects of Vienna – or certainly the central city, the Inner Stadt bounded by the great circling boulevard of the Ring, is how easy it is to imagine living there – not just in the early years of the 20th century but in the 19th or even 18th century as well. It's so beautifully preserved and maintained that you can turn a corner and draw up with a shock, imagining that Mozart or Brahms could have seen the identical view. But Vienna in its fading pomp, in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian empire (1867-1918), is present before you in almost every street scene or vista. Freud's Vienna, Wittgenstein's Vienna, Egon Schiele's Vienna.

It was Egon Schiele who started my Vienna obsession. Schiele and Klimt. Up until the 1970s – when Rudolf Leopold's catalogue raisonné of Schiele's paintings and drawings appeared – Schiele was a virtual unknown. I can remember while I was at university in the 70s the sudden outpouring of postcards and posters, books or reproductions that occurred. Suddenly everyone loved Schiele and was enthralled by his short, tormented life. Schiele's angular, mannered, brilliant draughtsmanship, the blatant near-pornography of his nudes, male and female, were a thrilling revelation. I went to Vienna for the first time to write a piece about Schiele, or to be more precise to write a piece about the Leopold Museum that contains the world's biggest collection of his work. Even after decades of familiarity the actual canvases and drawings retain their power to shock and disturb. In some ways, Schiele is the perfect symbol of the Viennese antithesis – namely that this small, safe, solid, beautiful, bourgeois capital city should have housed in the early years of the 20th century such a contrapuntal, boiling ferment of modernism in every art form.

Race Finished: The Debunking of a Scientific Myth

Jan Sapp in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_18 Feb. 26 19.36Few concepts are as emotionally charged as that of race. The word conjures up a mixture of associations—culture, ethnicity, genetics, subjugation, exclusion and persecution. But is the tragic history of efforts to define groups of people by race really a matter of the misuse of science, the abuse of a valid biological concept? Is race nevertheless a fundamental reality of human nature? Or is the notion of human “races” in fact a folkloric myth? Although biologists and cultural anthropologists long supposed that human races—genetically distinct populations within the same species—have a true existence in nature, many social scientists and geneticists maintain today that there simply is no valid biological basis for the concept.

The consensus among Western researchers today is that human races are sociocultural constructs. Still, the concept of human race as an objective biological reality persists in science and in society. It is high time that policy makers, educators and those in the medical-industrial complex rid themselves of the misconception of race as type or as genetic population. This is the message of two recent books: Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, and Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. Both volumes are important and timely. Both put race in the context of the history of science and society, relating how the ill-defined word has been given different meanings by different people to refer to groups they deem to be inferior or superior in some way.

Before we turn to the books themselves, a little background is necessary. A turning point in debates on race was marked in 1972 when, in a paper titled “The Apportionment of Human Diversity,” Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin showed that human populations, then held to be races, were far more genetically diverse than anyone had imagined.

More here.

A Scorsese in Lagos: The Making of Nigeria’s Film Industry

Andrew Rice in the New York Times Magazine:

ScreenHunter_17 Feb. 26 19.26Kunle Afolayan wants to scare you, he wants thrill you, he wants to make you laugh, but most of all, he would like you to suspend your disbelief — in his plots, yes, which tend to be over the top, but also about what is possible in Africa. He bristles if you call him an “African filmmaker” — a phrase redolent of art-house cinema, which his work assuredly is not. He wants to make huge, explosive, American-style blockbusters, and he wants to make them where he lives — in Nigeria. His ambitions may sound implausible. Nigeria lacks even a reliable supply of electricity. But it does contain a chaotic creative energy that has made it the world’s most prolific producer of films.

Twenty years after bursting from the grungy street markets of Lagos, the $500 million Nigerian movie business churns out more than a thousand titles a year on average, and trails only Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenues. The films are hastily shot and then burned onto video CDs, a cheap alternative to DVDs. They are seldom seen in the developed world, but all over Africa consumers snap up the latest releases from video peddlers for a dollar or two. And so while Afolayan’s name is unknown outside Africa, at home, the actor-director is one of the most famous faces in the exploding entertainment scene known — inevitably — as “Nollywood.”

More here.

“The candy was seized by the FBI” — Daisy Rockwell’s Little Book of Terror

Richard Booth in his blog:

6074351550_23485aacf0First, go pick up Daisy Rockwell‘s Little Book of Terror. Here. Or at least spend an inordinate amount of time getting lost in her Flickr photos.

Daisy is the granddaughter of Norman Rockwell, and although that’s largely an irrelevant fact, I find something satisfying in the inter-generational dialectic occurring here: my Mormon, Midwestern family adored Norman Rockwell, and had hosts of folksy, wholesome prints of his work adorning the walls of their homes…

…not that Norman Rockwell’s work is bad; in fact, I don’t have any well-formed opinion on the stuff. But in my life it has represented a strange fantasy of pre-1960s American folk, “simpler times,” the kind of “real America” Republican politicians are always going on about, America before The Fall.

So I find great pleasure in thinking that my generation has a Rockwell too, but ours is ironic and twisted, exhibiting simultaneously a kind of melancholy wisdom and carefree cartoon wonder.

More here.

Why are Pakistanis so vulnerable to conspiracy theories?

Omar Ali in Viewpoint:

LazyconspiracytheoristI am saying that people in Pakistan do not just believe in wild conspiracy theories because they are un-informed or illiterate (in fact, that last chestnut is clearly false, the biggest believers are all literate). Neither do they do so just because they are powerless or because their traditional worldview is collapsing in front of their eyes or because they already believe in an all-powerful deity. All those may be factors, but let us not forget one more reason they believe in wild conspiracy theories: because their leaders of public opinion tell them it is so. In other words, the widespread belief in conspiracy theories is itself a conspiracy; a small group of men (it is always men) pick up the juiciest theories from some idiot American website (usually a White supremacist or paranoid brain-dead Leftie website) and spread them far and wide in the land of the pure. They plant them as stories on their websites. Then they get their own “news” outlets to pick up these stories, quoting their own websites as sources. Then they get their opinion leaders to repeat these conspiracies, using the media and the websites as sources if needed. There is, in short, a conspiracy to spread these conspiracy theories.

So it is that we find that large sections of the Pakistani middle class believe that everything that is wrong with Pakistan is due to a Hinjew conspiracy against Pakistan.

More here.

Gwendolyn Brooks: 1917-2000

From Poetry Foundation:

BrooksGwendolyn Brooks was a highly regarded, much-honored poet, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks's works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period. Her body of work gave her, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”

Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, but her family moved to Chicago when she was young. Her father was a janitor who had hoped to become a doctor; her mother was a schoolteacher and classically trained pianist. They were supportive of their daughter's passion for reading and writing. Brooks was thirteen when her first published poem, “Eventide,” appeared in American Childhood; by the time she was seventeen she was publishing poems frequently in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper serving Chicago's black population. After such formative experiences as attending junior college and working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she developed her craft in poetry workshops and began writing the poems, focusing on urban blacks, that would be published in her first collection, A Street in Bronzeville.

“An Interview with Gwendolyn Brooks” in Contemporary Literature 11:1 (Winter 1970).

Q. How about the seven pool players in the poem “We Real Cool”?

A. They have no pretensions to any glamor. They are supposedly dropouts, or at least they're in the poolroom when they should possibly be in school, since they're probably young enough, or at least those I saw were when I looked in a poolroom, and they. . . . First of all, let me tell you how that's supposed to be said, because there's a reason why I set it out as I did. These are people who are essentially saying, “Kilroy is here. We are.” But they're a little uncertain of the strength of their identity. [Reads:]

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

The “We”—you're supposed to stop after the “We” and think about their validity, and of course there's no way for you to tell whether it should be said softly or not, I suppose, but I say it rather softly because I want to represent their basic uncertainty, which they don't bother to question every day, of course.

Q. Are you saying that the form of this poem, then, was determined by the colloquial rhythm you were trying to catch?

A. No, determined by my feeling about these boys, these young men.

Q. These short lines, then, are your own invention at this point? You don't have any literary model in mind; you're not thinking of Eliot or Pound or anybody in particular . . . ?

A. My gosh, no! I don't even admire Pound, but I do like, for instance, Eliot's “Prufrock” and The Waste Land, “Portrait of a Lady,” and some others of those earlier poems. But nothing of the sort ever entered my mind. When I start writing a poem, I don't think about models or about what anybody else in the world has done.

More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).

A Page in the Life: Adonis

From The Telegraph:

Rahim_main_2141044bWe are in the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington, where Adonis – who is annually suggested as a favourite to win the Nobel Prize for Literature – has been reading his poems and exhibiting his paintings. Born near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia in 1930, Adonis learnt both the Koran and classical Arab poetry as a child before studying philosophy at Damascus University. He was jailed for supporting a socialist party and in 1956 left for Beirut, where he founded an influential poetry magazine and wrote his own experimental verse. For the past 30 years he has lived in Paris from where he has continued to write poetry and prose (now more than 50 books altogether) and often makes forceful comments on the state of the Middle East. In person he is small and dapper, with a playful sense of humour. I tell him that in 2006 I spent six months studying Arabic at Damascus University. When I heard him reading at the Mosaic Rooms, I missed a lot but some phrases rang out clearly. Although his work avoids rhyme and logical narrative progression, he still writes in the classical language I studied rather than the Syrian colloquial.

Some have suggested that one reason the Arab world remains so rigidly hierarchical is the huge gap between the formal language used in literature and politics, and ordinary speech. “The colloquial language is still poor by comparison,” he says, adding that using the classical gives the entire Arab world a universal language. Is it relevant that the Koran is the founding text of classical Arabic? Mention of Islam’s holy book brings a glint to his eye. “People talk a lot about the Koran but I doubt very much whether many Muslims read the book at all. I mean the fundamentalists but also most Muslims. In fact, Muslims are now throttling Arabic because of censorship – both social and political.”

More here.

Sunday Funny: Saul Kripke Resigns Amidst Allegations That He Faked the Results of Thought Experiments

KripkeWarning, very nerdy humor: over at fauxphilnews (via Feminist Philosophers):

Saul Kripke resigned yesterday from his position as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. While similar allegations have been circulating in unpublished form for years, a team of philosophers from Oxford University has just released a damning report claiming that they were systematically unable to reproduce the results of thought experiments reported by Kripke in his groundbreaking Naming and Necessity. The team, led by Timothy Williamson, first became suspicious of Naming and Necessity after preliminary results raised questions about related work by Hilary Putnam. While the group was initially unable to confirm that water is H2O on Twin Earth, the results turned out to be due to contaminated research materials—one of the researchers’ minds had been contaminated by Chomskyan internalist semantics.

The inability to replicate Kripke’s results could not be similarly explained away, however, as the researcher in question was excluded from the analysis of Naming and Necessity.

A Puritan’s Dilemma

Cult_anderson_615_320_s_c1Theo Anderson in In These Times:

Before his suicide in September 2008, David Foster Wallace published three short story collections, two novels, two essay collections, a book about rap music and another about infinity. His final, unfinished novel, The Pale King, was published early last year. His essay subjects ranged from Dostoevsky to the porn industry to tennis. But for all his output and range, Wallace rarely wrote about politics. The most notable exception was a long article about the 2000 primary campaign of John McCain. A prominent thread in that narrative is Wallace’s exaggerated innocence about all things political, set against the polished professionals of the mainstream press corps.

Wallace had even less to say about religion. His masterpiece, the 1,000-page novel Infinite Jest, is shot through with the quasi-religious elements of Alcoholics Anonymous. It examines recovering addicts’ commitment to a higher power, but traditional religious organizations and formal theology are almost entirely absent. The same is true of his famous 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech, published as This Is Water, which posthumously brought him to the attention of a wider audience.

If rarely his explicit subjects, though, religion and politics were nearly always Wallace’s subtexts. He mostly ignored the hideous spectacle of electoral politics in the United States, and he had no time for the nonsense that pervades much of American religious life. But his work is obsessed with the roots of our religious and political poverty. It’s a sustained jeremiad aimed at America’s spiritual childishness, and it’s a plea for preserving what is most valuable in religious thought and practice. Wallace was a Puritan, not in theology, but in his sensitivity to a set of insoluble questions and tensions that are deeply rooted in the Calvinist tradition – most notably the tension between freedom and determinism.

The Indian Litfest Bug

LitfestFor Gautam Pemmaraju apropos of a conversation last night, Amitava Kumar in Caravan:

A rash of Indian bureaucrats are now authors. It doesn’t bode well, in my opinion. Our host wasn’t a closeted writer, thank God, and was merely satisfied to regard the whole lot of us as delinquents. The writer Ruchir Joshi—maybe this was a critical postmodern antic on his part—was happy to oblige. But the most petulant schoolchild at the festival was VS Naipaul. He accused the American ambassador’s wife of a severe lack of intelligence and requested that she leave the table where dinner was being served. On the last day, Naipaul erupted once again. When Nayantara Sahgal bemoaned the sins of colonialism, he interrupted her, shouting, “My life is short. I can’t listen to banalities. Banalities irritate me.”

Banalities irritate me, too, but if you are so averse to them, you ought to stay away from literary festivals. And besides, not all banalities are created equal. The first year that I went to the Jaipur Literature Festival, I was given the honour of engaging in a public conversation with my early hero, Hanif Kureishi. Hanif is a writer of clean sentences; he has a dry wit, and isn’t afraid to be perverse or provocative. He also speaks just the way he writes, his utterances coming out clothed in elegant perfection, their hair gelled. He was in fine form that morning but quite unprepared for what, best as I can recall, was the very first question from the audience: “Mr Kureishi, are you circumcised?”

That was good, very good, in fact, and amused everyone. Much better than questions like, “Sir, how many books have you read?” that had been posed to me the previous day after my own panel. I’m calling such statements banalities, but I quite appreciate their directness and honesty. It’s important to know where these questions are coming from. The man with the pressing inquiry about Hanif’s foreskin really wanted to ask about Muslim identity; his own grandson, the questioner explained, had recently been circumcised. Why should young children undergo this trauma? Of course, we might want to ask why anyone would consider writers a source of great wisdom on such worldly matters: what exactly makes someone who does nothing but spend a lot of time alone in front of their computer uniquely qualified to answer questions about violent conflicts, or stubborn social customs, or world historical changes?

What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

Diane Ravitsch in the New York Review of Books:

Ravitch_1-030812_jpg_470x418_q85In Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, Pasi Sahlberg explains how his nation’s schools became successful. A government official, researcher, and former mathematics and science teacher, Sahlberg attributes the improvement of Finnish schools to bold decisions made in the 1960s and 1970s. Finland’s story is important, he writes, because “it gives hope to those who are losing their faith in public education.”

Detractors say that Finland performs well academically because it is ethnically homogeneous, but Sahlberg responds that “the same holds true for Japan, Shanghai or Korea,” which are admired by corporate reformers for their emphasis on testing. To detractors who say that Finland, with its population of 5.5 million people, is too small to serve as a model, Sahlberg responds that “about 30 states of the United States have a population close to or less than Finland.”

Sahlberg speaks directly to the sense of crisis about educational achievement in the United States and many other nations. US policymakers have turned to market-based solutions such as “tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate-world management models.” By contrast, Finland has spent the past forty years developing a different education system, one that is focused on

improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.

To an American observer, the most remarkable fact about Finnish education is that students do not take any standardized tests until the end of high school.

More here.

Galileo’s Credo

Paula Findlen in The Nation:

Fd3782c1-85d3-4f6c-a422-d63b25f5bacf.grid-4x2A right thumb, a finger, a tooth. These were the contents of a reliquary acquired several years ago by a collector at an auction in Florence. Little did he know that for centuries the remains had been objects of profane devotion. Last seen in 1905, they had been sliced from the corpse of Galileo, along with another finger and a vertebra, during his highly publicized reburial in the Basilica of Santa Croce in 1737 almost 100 years after his death, and preserved in a slender case fashioned of glass and wood and crowned with a carved bust of the scientist. The reliquary’s new owner consulted Galileo experts about his find, and after the authenticity of its contents had been verified he donated it to the Museo Galileo, which is tucked behind the Uffizi in a quiet piazza overlooking the River Arno. (A dentist asked by the museum to examine the tooth concluded that Galileo suffered from gastric acid reflux and ground his teeth in his sleep.) The rediscovered reliquary is displayed adjacent to a smaller one containing Galileo’s other finger, a prized museum possession since 1927. Nearby are several artifacts of Galileo’s scientific genius: a telescope presented to the Medici and the broken objective lens of the original device with which Galileo sighted Jupiter’s four satellites in 1610.

More here. [Photo of Galileo's finger from here.]

I shit on furniture. I hate houses


“I can’t give up either humanity or freedom,” Joseph Roth announced in a 1935 letter to fellow Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig. Freedom was the right to fit all his possessions into two suitcases and to live in hotels; to move in a single year from Austria to Germany to France to Russia; to have no address and no bank account. He was married, to a woman committed to a mental asylum, and he had a long-term mistress. But he avoided “cooking smells and ‘family life'”. “I shit on furniture. I hate houses.” He nevertheless felt a duty to support these women, along with their parents and children. Roth was often penniless but he still shared what money he had with eight others. On a wider scale, freedom was the license to spurn friends or nations lacking in humanity. Roth was living in Germany in 1933, but the day that Hitler became chancellor he left and never returned. “What divides me from everyone, without a single exception, who is active in Germany,” he told the more accommodating Zweig, “is precisely what divides a human from an animal”.

more from Lara Feigel at The Guardian here.

Eminent Outlaws


What makes a book a gay book, or a writer a gay writer? Walt Whitman, for all his sizzling erotic verses about men, insisted to the end that he was interested only in women. Gore Vidal, who has made no secret of his attraction to men, writes sparingly about gay characters and has asserted that there is no such thing as a homosexual, only homosexual acts. James Baldwin’s novels typically repose on bookstores’ ­African-American shelves, rather than their gay and lesbian sections — even “Giovanni’s Room,” which centers on a relationship between two white men. Christopher Bram, who calls himself a gay novelist (his “Father of Frankenstein” was the basis of the movie “Gods and Monsters”), assumes the task of herding the gay American male writers who emerged after World War II into a coherent history, beginning with the coded innuendo of Tennessee Williams’s “Glass Menagerie” in 1944 and peaking with Tony Kushner’s luminescent “Angels in America” in 1991. In between, Bram writes, a growing stream of gay-themed novels, plays and poems, some bolder than others, prefigured or hastened sweeping changes in the culture at large. “The gay revolution,” he writes, “began as a literary revolution.”

more from John Leland at the NY Times here.

Anita Hill

From NOW:

AnitaWhen Justice Marshall decided to retire, a decidedly more conservative political atmosphere dominated national politics. Republican President George Bush was in the White House following the eight-year administration of President Ronald Reagan. President Bush saw Justice Marshall's retirement as an opportunity to appoint a more conservative judge to the Supreme Court. His choice was Clarence Thomas, a forty-three year old, conservative, African-American from Pinpoint, Georgia. Thomas would maintain the racial makeup of the Court, yet would add another conservative voice on decisions involving Affirmative Action and abortion. President Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas was instantly controversial. Many African-American and Civil Rights organizations including: the NAACP, the National Bar Association, and the Urban League, opposed the Thomas nomination. These organizations feared that Thomas's conservative stance on issues such as Affirmative Action would reverse the Civil Rights gains that Justice Marshall had fought so hard to achieve. Women's groups including the National Organization for Women were equally concerned that Clarence Thomas, if appointed to the high court, would rule against legal abortion. The legal community also voiced apprehension about Thomas's clear lack of experience since he had only served two years as a federal judge. Despite these voices of dissent, the Thomas nomination proceeded to the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings. The first few days of the hearings were relatively uneventful. When asked about his stance on legal abortion, Thomas claimed that he had not formulated an opinion and the issue was dropped. After a few more days of outside testimony, it appeared as if the Senate committee would easily confirm the Thomas nomination. The committee split its vote, however–seven to seven, and the nomination went to the Senate without a clear recommendation.

When the nomination moved to the floor of the Senate, it took a sudden and dramatic turn when Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, came forward with accusations that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Hill had worked for Thomas years earlier when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Hill charged that Thomas harassed her with inappropriate discussion of sexual acts and pornographic films after she rebuffed his invitations to date him. A media frenzy quickly arose around Hill's allegations and Thomas's denials. When Thomas testified about Hill's claims before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he called the hearings, “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks.” The incident became one person's word against another's. In the end, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the Supreme Court. To the many people who believed Anita Hill's claims or opposed the Thomas nomination on other grounds, Thomas's appointment was a defeat. Yet, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy had other long-term consequences beyond Justice Thomas's life-term on the Supreme Court. Foremost, national awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace heightened considerably. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings, sexual harassment cases have more than doubled, from 6,127 in 1991 to 15,342 in 1996. Over the same period, awards to victims under federal laws nearly quadrupled, from $7.7 million to $27.8 million. Another repercussion of the Hill-Thomas controversy was the increased involvement of women in politics. The media heralded the 1992 election year as the “Year of the Woman” when a record number of women ran for public office and won. In the U.S. Senate, eleven women ran and five won seats–including one incumbent candidate. In the House of Representatives, twenty-four women won new seats. Many commentators saw this increase as a direct reaction to the Thomas nomination. His appointment dismayed many women, who felt that Anita Hill's allegations were not taken seriously by a Senate that was 98% male.

In the end, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy acted as a flash point that illuminated many of the central tensions of life in late twentieth-century America.

More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).