The link below is to an article that considers one bookbinder’s ongoing relevancy and legacy.
I first encountered Toni Morrison during my undergraduate years at Rhodes University in South Africa where her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved (1987), was taught as part of an American Literature course.
It moved me in ways that no other academic account of transatlantic, African American slavery had. Beloved is set in the 19th century. It tells the story of a runaway slave who commits infanticide rather than seeing her child returned to slavery. As with Morrison’s entire fictional oeuvre, the novel profoundly embodies and humanises black life.
In her Tanner lecture series delivered at the University of Michigan in 1988, she defiantly stated, in defence of a generically marginalised African American presence:
We have always been imagining ourselves … subjects of our own narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience … We are not, in fact, ‘other’. We are choices.
The inspiration provided by her fictional writing and critical scholarship around the ideological, artistic and scholarly place of black literature helped carve out an imaginative and actual space for the likes of me – a black African female – within a predominantly white and male, largely Eurocentric literary and intellectual establishment.
Today, I teach at the same university where I first read Beloved and discovered this remarkably talented, intellectually formidable African-American woman novelist. And her work continues to echo. Not just for me, but for the new generation of literature students who cross my path each year.
A complicated place in the canon
In some ways, perhaps Morrison is even more relevant in South African universities today than she’s ever been. Race is a topic that’s simultaneously sanitised and amplified in the country’s everyday discourse. Morrison’s determined refusal to shy away from race reverberates across the Atlantic, resonating with students who still live the enduring political and economic legacies of racial colonialism and apartheid.
On the face of it, the country’s demands for social redress would seem to align with Morrison’s thinking. But a closer reading shows how her fiction strains against the confines of parochial societal interpretations and exercises. It makes the demand for more than superficial change implemented along purely racial lines. It insists on an interrogation and re-imagining of the entire architecture and workings of race.
This reveals how Morrison’s place in both the African-American and global literary canon is quite complicated. It also makes clear why it is that she appeals to so many of my students, across the (proverbial) divide. Each year I watch students from varied racial, social, cultural, economic and gender (or gendered) backgrounds engage with her novels in my classroom. Their readings are intuitive and discerning. This yields often interesting and vigorous discussions, and even heated debates, that reflect the complexity and applicability of her experiences and intellect – and theirs.
Take her debut novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). It provides a delineation of racial self-hatred, incest and familial violence that critiques the deleterious effects of white hegemony. But it also controversially explores and confronts the internalised delimiting contours of black counter-narratives.
The book’s feminist focus on the sexual abuse of women speaks to the damaging effects of patriarchal ideologies and practices within black communities. It resonates with all people in South Africa – a country with incredibly high rates of gender violence.
Jazz (1992) is another Morrison novel whose complex existential narratives require equally complex interpretations. Structurally, it mimics the musical genre’s polyvocal, sometimes cacophonous, intonations to trace the lives of African Americans across time and space. It’s a tough read for two reasons.
First, it requires that students have an appreciation of the technical workings of the artistic cultural form that is jazz. Second, the novel demands from them a critical inquiry into and participatory reading of the experiences of “a people”; of histories that are both outside of and intersect with their own.
This is particularly important at a time when calls are rampant in South African higher education circles for the “Africanisation” of curricula. These calls appeal to contemporary nationalist demands and are in direct contrast to Morrison’s stated intolerance of “lazy, easy, brand-name applications”. Instead, she and her work insisted on the painstakingly “hard work” of non-prescriptive and interrogative, “border-crossing” analysis.
The measure of a life
In her 1993 Nobel Prize speech, Morrison stated:
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
And that is the measure of Toni Morrison’s life. Her dense, demanding prose reflects our continued need – in post-apartheid South Africa’s university classrooms, and elsewhere – to meditate critically and consciously upon our own fragile and imperfect existences. Her narratives put forward morally responsive and socially transformative ways of being in the world. Morrison’s legacy, then, is not just to literature: it is to the imperatives of social justice and to the ideals of humanity not yet realised.
It’s exactly 80 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, when General Francisco Franco’s populist forces finally overcame the leftist resistance and plunged the country into full-blown dictatorship. Decades after his death, Franco continues to cast a long shadow over Spain, from the rise of the far-right Vox party to the hundreds of mass graves of people who died in the war that are still waiting to be exhumed.
One other hugely important legacy that few people are aware of is the continuing effect on books, both in Spain and throughout the Spanish-speaking world. To this day, translations of many world classics and works of Spanish literature are being reprinted using expurgated texts approved by the dictator’s censors – often without publishers even realising it, let alone readers. It has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech over the years, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Between 1936 and 1966, every single book published in Spain had to be submitted to a national board of censors for examination. The censors would decide whether the text should be banned altogether or was fit for publication, in which case they would stipulate any necessary changes. After 1966, when a new law that partly liberalised freedom of speech was introduced in the country, publishers could voluntarily decide whether to submit a text for censorship. However, the authorities still retained the ability to withdraw any book from circulation that they deemed unacceptable.
Franco’s censorship laws sought to reinforce Catholicism and promote ideological and cultural uniformity. The censors enforced conservative values, inhibited dissent and manipulated history, especially the memory of the civil war. Sexually explicit material was banned, as were alternative political views, improper language and criticisms of the Catholic church.
Spain abandoned these policies after Franco’s death in 1975, yet most of the same texts are still widely available today. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby is available in more than 20 different Spanish-language editions, for instance, including an electronic one, all of which lack two extended passages that according to the censors glorified Satan. James Baldwin’s Go and Tell it on the Mountain is only available in a version with cuts that include references to birth control and details about the sex lives of the main characters. The publication of this expurgated text is sponsored by none other than UNESCO.
Many literary works by some of Spain’s most important 20th-century writers have suffered similar fates, including those by Ana María Matute, Camilo José Cela, Juan Marsé and Ignacio Aldecoa. In some cases, such as George Orwell’s Burmese Days and Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, censored parts have even survived in retranslated and restored versions.
With no one under the age of 40 even alive during the dictatorship years, few people are even aware of the problem. Public libraries are encouraging people to read thousands of volumes without realising they are censored. Many of these texts have been imported to Latin America, sometimes even being republished in different countries with their censored parts intact. It means that a fairly large proportion of the world’s population is being routinely denied access to literature as it was intended to appear.
Why censorship never ended
It is a well known fact that Spaniards have found it difficult to confront their traumatic recent history. The so-called “pact of forgetting”, a tacit decision among the Spanish political elites not to question or examine the past, was seen by many as vital to make the transition to democracy possible in the late 1970s and 1980s. For years, this included a general amnesia about Franco’s cultural policies: even when books were retranslated to restore censored parts, few people said anything about it.
Spain’s 2007 Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory was a major step away from these years of forgetting. It condemned the dictatorship and established compensations for people who endured political violence during the regime. It also initiated the removal of statues and other public symbols which glorified Franco’s reign. Yet other cultural artefacts, such as books, were overlooked.
The upshot is that Spain’s literary censorship problem is alive and well today. Indeed, it is arguably getting worse: it is easy to release digital versions of these classics, so Franco’s hand even reaches into Kindles and tablets. We are talking about one of the most long-lasting yet invisible legacies of his regime. The effect on culture in Spain and in other hispanic countries is almost incalculable. Censorship has certainly distorted many people’s perception of the civil war and its consequences. Many readers will also be ignorant of writers’ real points of view regarding important social issues such as gender roles, birth control and homosexuality.
The question is how to deal with this complex problem – particularly now that the Vox party, which is expected to do well in the upcoming election, has promised to repeal the Law of Historical Memory on the grounds that it manipulates the past.
The most important task is to raise awareness among the reading public. This needs clear support from the Spanish government, plus serious engagement from the whole literary sector, including libraries, publishing houses, translators, archives, cultural publications and writers themselves. The technologies that are giving new life to the problem could be used to help: a public database of restored texts, for instance, could become an important tool.
The point is that while Spain has increasingly been addressing the impact of Franco’s regime in the country’s social and historical memory since the early 2000s, the process of coming to terms with the past is far from complete. The pact of forgetting has not only marred Spain’s democratic progress, it has severely damaged the country’s cultural heritage. Spain and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world will not be free from Franco’s censorial shadow until this issue is publicly and decisively addressed. With people on the ascendant who would prefer to turn back the clock, there is no time to lose.
The link below is to an article that considers the poetic legacy of W. S. Merwin.
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There’s no question that Michael Jackson changed music history. But how will history remember Michael Jackson?
Since HBO released the new documentary film “Leaving Neverland,” which detailed allegations by two adults who say that they were molested by Jackson as children, the musician’s legacy – already complicated – is up in the air.
But there are other alleged child abusers who have died and whose works, once considered great, have faded into obscurity, in no small part because it is almost impossible to memorialize them without creating the impression of condoning their behavior.
The writer Norman Douglas is a prime example. The subject of a biography I’m working on, Douglas had a reputation for molesting children. After his death, he became an off-limits topic for biographers, and while he had his defenders, he ultimately couldn’t escape historical erasure.
Rumors do little to dim a budding star
During the first half of the 20th century, Norman Douglas was a literary star. Friends with Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, he was best known for his bestselling 1917 novel “South Wind.”
Virginia Woolf sang its praises in the Times Literary Supplement. Graham Greene recalled how his generation “was brought up on South Wind.” When the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” arrives at Oxford after World War I, he brings with him only two novels, “South Wind” and Compton Mackenzie’s “Sinister Street.”
But today Douglas is entirely forgotten.
The reasons why artists’ works go forgotten vary. In Douglas’ case, it’s fair to say that his erudite writing style went out of fashion.
But there’s more to the story. During his lifetime, Douglas was notorious for his relationships with children. In 1912, he lived with a 14-year-old boy in London while he was working at The English Review. Four years later, he was arrested in London for acts of gross indecency with a 16-year-old. After his release on bail, Douglas fled to Italy, where laws regulating sex between men and boys were more lax. He settled in Florence, where his celebrity only grew.
Visitors to the city, like Huxley and Lawrence, would seek him out in the city’s cafés. The radical journalist and heiress Nancy Cunard, who met Douglas in Florence in 1923 and became a close friend, recalled the “aureole of legend” that surrounded him.
Douglas was always attended to by Italian boys who worked for him as messengers or cooks, and endless rumors circulated about Douglas’ relationships with these boys. A diary entry written by a friend of Douglas’ described how Douglas performed fellatio on a boy named Marcello. Brothers Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell warned Cunard that Douglas was dangerous. D.H. Lawrence’s widow, Frieda, told her friend Dudley Nichols that Douglas was “the only wicked man I have known, in a medieval sense.”
Britain’s strict libel laws, the norms of politeness and the power of Douglas’ celebrity seemed to prevent people from writing publicly about his sexual relationships with boys while he was alive.
But you can’t libel the dead.
When Douglas died in 1952, debate about his memory erupted in the press. The first signs of the battle to come appeared in the obituaries. British diplomat Harold Nicolson noted Douglas’ shocking “indulgences” in a death notice for The Spectator.
Nicolson’s article prompted 50 or 60 letters of protest from Douglas’ friends, but there was no holding back the tide. In 1954, Douglas’
former friend Richard Aldington published a book of vicious recollections about the writer titled “Pinorman,” a portmanteau of Norman and his friend Pino Orioli. Aldington didn’t mince words. He called Douglas a pederast whose path in life was “strewn with broken boys and empty bottles.”
Douglas’ friends were outraged. Cunard wrote to Aldington’s publisher accusing him of libel and threatening to wage a “collective protest.” She rallied Douglas’ friends to lambaste the book in reviews. Her own review for the periodical Time and Tide was titled “Bonbons of Gall.” Graham Greene wrote to a friend that he intended to “kill” Aldington’s book, and he penned a review for The London Magazine that was so incendiary it could not be published for fear of libel charges from Aldington, who was very much alive.
Greene maliciously sent Aldington the review and asked for permission to publish it. Naturally, Aldington refused and reached out to friends for help putting together a pamphlet attacking Douglas’ defenders. Frieda Lawrence contributed a story about how Douglas once casually offered her a boy of 14, saying that he preferred them younger. But the pamphlet was so intemperate that a lawyer said it would run afoul of the libel laws and could not be published.
The danger of choosing to forget?
Aldington was forced to retreat. With “Pinorman” disparaged by its reviewers, Aldington was discredited. It seemed that Douglas’ friends had won the battle.
But Aldington won the war. The truth was out there, and Douglas’ reputation was permanently injured.
In the decades that followed many would-be biographers tried their hand at writing Douglas’ story; time and again they failed. Douglas simply could not be remembered as a great writer in the face of the allegations against him. Only one comprehensive biography, titled “Norman Douglas,” has ever been published about him. It came out in 1976, during a rare moment of sexual openness; even so, the publisher almost nixed the manuscript after 10 years of work by its author, Mark Holloway.
Today Douglas is a forgotten writer. When the truth about his sexual relations with children was fully exposed after his death he became an impossible figure to memorialize.
Over time, it’s likely that Michael Jackson’s memory will be similarly eroded. The television show “The Simpsons” has already pulled its 1991 episode featuring Jackson. His name will likely be taken down from public monuments. People will be hesitant to produce new versions of his music. His influence will live on, but it will be difficult to commemorate his work.
Perhaps that is for the best. But maybe it isn’t.
Reluctance to preserve the memory of the extensive history of sex between adults and children leaves society ill-equipped to recognize and handle child sexual abuse today. A culture that is caught up in narratives that identify pedophiles as monsters has a hard time recognizing when beloved figures, like Michael Jackson, are molesting children right before its eyes.
There is need for history to remember abusers and to remember them in all their complexity. If Jackson’s memory is preserved, maybe it will be easier to see the present more clearly.
Non-Indigenous Australian writers face a dilemma. On the one hand, they can risk writing about Aboriginal people and culture and getting it wrong. On the other, they can avoid writing about Aboriginal culture and characters, but by doing so, erase Aboriginality from the story they tell.
What such writers are navigating is the risk of cultural appropriation: the often offensive taking of another’s culture. It is particularly problematic when the appropriator is in a dominant or colonising relationship with a culture’s custodians. Australian literature has a long history of appropriating and misrepresenting Aboriginal culture.
In “Our Dreaming”, a dedicatory poem to the resulting collection Songs of the Songmen, the pair open with a self-aggrandising appropriation. This opening text emphasises their ownership of works that they are merely translating.
Together now we chant the ‘old time’ lays,
Calling to mind camp-fires of bygone days.
We hear the ritual shouts, the stamping feet,
The droning didgeridoos, the waddies’ beat.
An unpublished 1943 revision by Harney, altered by Elkin, even more noticeably emphasises the two authors’ claim on these songlines. The poem is titled “To You My Friend” and the first line reads, “To you my friend I dedicate these lays,” as though Harney is bestowing this culture on Elkin directly.
The pair claim to write:
not of their huts, the bones, the dirt,
Nor the strange far look in a native’s eyes,
As he looks to his country ‘ere he dies.
Rather than this vision of the apparently doomed “native”, Songs of the Songmen would purport to extol the romantic figure of the noble savage. The poem continues:
Tis not of these we muse today:
For the ‘Dreaming’ comes, and we drift away
Into myth and legend where we’ve caught
The simple grandeur of their thought.
The pair’s poetry claims in this way to be able to salvage and recapture the “Dreaming”, represented as no longer accessible to Aboriginal people themselves.
This example shows how appropriation, far from innocent, is bound up with attitudes such as the idea of a “doomed race”. It can also be connected to such projects as assimilation and child removal; Elkin advocated both.
The Jindyworobak group
The most famous literary movement in Australia to be engaged in appropriation formed in the 1930s. They were the Jindyworobak group, their founder Rex Ingamells drawing the word from his friend James Devaney’s book The Vanished Tribes, which included a Woiwurung word list.
Jindyworobak means “to annex” or “to join” in Woiwurung. The practices of its writers were, however, more annexation of Aboriginal culture than any inclusive joining together.
Ingamells’ knowledge of Aboriginal culture came from white translators and not from Aboriginal people themselves. He visited Harney on several occasions. The Jindyworobaks both believed in the myth that Aboriginal people were doomed to extinction and advocated the appropriation of Aboriginal culture.
Another writer who found Harney to be a useful source was Xavier Herbert. Herbert drew on Harney’s notes on the Yanyuwa kinship system (Harney spelled the name Anula) and turned skin names into character names in his 1976 epic Poor Fellow My Country. He had Harney’s permission but not that of the Yanyuwa themselves. Herbert’s novel arguably offers a distorted view of Aboriginal kinship.
Some of Les Murray’s verse can be read as inheriting from Jindyworobak and its legacy of appropriation – notably his 1977 Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle, which presents a non-Indigenous family holiday as sacred to the equivalent of an Indigenous song cycle. Murray’s poetry is often innovative, but its progenitor is also famous for positing a near equivalence between non-Indigenous and Indigenous belonging
Murray has lent his name and ability to publications such as Quadrant, whose editors famously denied the existence of a Stolen Generation. Even where the poetry might be compelling for some, Murray’s reputation is nonetheless associated with Quadrant’s dismissal of Aboriginal perspectives on history and self-representation.
This history of appropriation is dispossession, using another’s culture for gain and without their permission. Yet some have been calling recently for Australian literature to return to and revive these legacies.
Critic and poet R.D. Wood has rhetorically asked, in the context of a discussion about the translation of song-cycles, “what might a Jindyworobak project for the 21st century look like?”. Such a project augurs poorly as a means of engagement for non-Indigenous writers.
South African-born, Western Australian poet John Mateer has used Noongar words in poems such as In the Presence of a Severed Head. The Western Australian poet John Kinsella has contextualised Mateer’s poetry thus:
In Kayang and Me, Kim Scott strongly objects to Mateer’s poetic use of Nyungar language at a reading from one of Mateer’s poems when they were both performing at an event in Canada. Scott speaks of the distress he felt at hearing a language that is only just being reconstituted and reclaimed by Nyungar people themselves, being spoken by, as he says, a white South African. There are important issues in this. First, Scott as a Nyungar is in a position to critique what he sees as an inappropriate usage of a language that has been placed under massive pressure by the machinery of colonisation.
On the other hand, his isolating Mateer’s South African origins does not take into consideration that Mateer is, both poetically and in terms of self-identity, as much a part of ‘Western Australia’ as of his birth land.
Mateer in his book Loanwords utilises borrowings and usages from a number of languages in order to reconstitute their original implications, while also building in the agency of new meaning in the language in which they are being deployed. This transnationality is the main drive of his work. Mateer meant no disrespect, I believe, but the issues are at the core of contemporary poetics. What is and is not available to the poet in creating a poetic language that carries its own intactness and its own implications for reading?
As Kinsella also argues, this is exactly where we need to be careful. While such transnational borrowings can enrich the English they emerge in, what is the effect on the speakers of the original language who are still recovering their culture in the face of colonisation?
Kim Scott has said in relation to Mateer’s work:
… there are very few forums for Noongar people to come to terms with the ideas of their ancestors … so it can feel doubly wrong when recent arrivals use those representations for their own purposes.
Others, more globally, have taken umbrage with critiques of appropriation. Kwame Anthony Appiah, for instance, has recently suggested that the idea of cultural ownership is vested in the commodity and not useful for thinking about cultural borrowing. Yet, he does not consider the numerous ways in which Indigenous culture is non-transferable – because it is a form of property grounded in kinship and Country.
Some poets who engage ethically with Aboriginal ways of writing and using language include Phillip Hall and Stuart Cooke. Hall engages with the same Gulf of Carpentaria Indigenous people, the Yanyuwa, from whom Herbert stole, but he does it through a reciprocal and ethical engagement. Hall has permission to write about these relationships. Cooke’s work includes translations of song cycles from the West Kimberley, for instance one written with the permission of George Dyunjgayan.
Non-Indigenous writers, if they wish to engage ethically with Indigenous culture, must learn to respect it as a form of property grounded in kinship and Country.
Michael Griffiths is the author of The Distribution of Settlement: Appropriation and Refusal in Australian Literature and Culture (UWAP).
The link below is to an article that reports on the legacy of Steve Jobs in relation to Apple and ebooks.
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I have now started to read ‘Post War,’ by Tony Judt. The edition I have was published in 2005 by The Penguin Press. It is a massive work of over 900 pages, that includes both photographs and maps.
The period of history being dealt with is post war Europe from the end of World War II to 2005. It includes the immediate aftermath of World War II, right through the Cold War period and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Though I have only just started (yesterday) I have completed about 100 pages thus far, which has taken me through the preface, introduction and the first chapter, ‘The Legacy of War.’ The first chapter deals with the immediate aftermath of the war and its consequences for the people of Europe. It is an horrific picture of post war Europe and the devastation it had on the entirety of Europe – nations, cities and towns, peoples and families. It is the legacy of total war.
As readers of this Blog would know, I have been reading ‘The Reformers and Their Stepchildren,’ by Leonard Verduin. I have now completed this book and maintain that this is a book that should be read by all Reformed believers. It is a brilliant treatment of both the Reformers and those who sought a more ‘radical’ reform, in order to bring the church back to that which was modelled on the New Testament example.
Verduin deals with many of the disputed areas between the Reformers and the Stepchildren, and in so doing shows how the Reformers chose to go only so far in their work of reformation and indeed how some chose to back peddle in some areas. As much as I respect many of the Reformers (if not all), I have always been saddened by their refusal to fully reform the church/separate from it, and to set up a church based on the New Testament model, which was something the stepchildren also sought. The Reformers treatment of the stepchildren will always be a blight on their legacy also.
Read this book without being biased either way and allow the truth of the Scriptures to determine the path on which you walk. There is much food for thought in this book and a real challenge for Reformed believers throughout.