Monthly Archives: September 2012

Rewind: Anti-Capitalism (HUM415)

Ezequiel Adamovsky’s Anti-Capitalism is a pretty straightforward account of capitalism as a social system and the history of movements seeking to undermine or destroy it. What follows is an effort to direct your attention to key passages of this graphic book which should form part of the basis for our conversations in class. As with Marx and Ha-Joon Chang, this text is foundational because it offers both important key concepts and a critical narrative of capitalism.

p. 5 makes the case that capitalism is “an oppressive social system.” You should be able to explain why Adamovsky makes such a claim. It’s necessary to understand capitalist domination not as the direct coercion of a villainous despot, but as the inevitable outcome of a system. In other words, we need to think structurally.

p. 13 addresses the inherent instability of capitalism and the fact that it is crisis-prone. Here Adamovsky introduces the concept of “class struggle,” though not in a way that seems immediately obvious. Power produces resistance to it. The form that resistance takes can vary widely in different circumstances.

p. 15 briefly explores the core institution of capitalism, private property. Remember that property is not so much a thing– a what– as it is a relationship. Private property is basically property of which other people are deprived. The institution of private property lies at the heart of many of the political developments of the 18th and 19th centuries, from its role in the colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, to its ostensible status as the origin point of all political rights (via “natural law”). Yet private property infringes on the public realm. Think of the visual pollution of advertisements, the toxic effluence of factories, the private ownership of the natural world.

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Generation P (HUM415)

Supposedly the film version of Pelevin’s Homo Zapiens will be in limited release on Nov. 16, 2012 with, as Variety writes, “additional markets to follow.” We’ll see. Meantime here’s the trailer:

If you’d like a better sense of the cultural milieu out of which Pelevin is writing, you could screen My Perestroika:

You might also screen The Shock Doctrine:

Berlin 1885 Trailer (HUM303)

I’m looking for a full length English language version of this film. So far no luck In the meantime here’s a trailer.

Notably King Solomon’s Mines was published the very year that European powers met in Berlin to divide Africa into different spheres of colonial power. We can think of the so-called Scramble for Africa as the contemporary backdrop for Haggard’s adventure tale.

Facing East (HUM303/455)

Notes on Facing East From Indian Country (2001) by Daniel K. Richter

“These were not just European but also indigenously North American wars that grew from longstanding, home-grown conflicts. Inter-Indian and Indian-colonial rivalries made them every bit as much a matter of Native Americans involving European allies in their battles as they were of Europeans involving Native Americans in theirs” (Richter 155).

“Direct military confrontation with European powers was suicidal; some kind of diplomatic accommodation was the only route to survival. But an accommodation that relied solely on a single European power was an almost equally certain path to extinction” (164).

“The Native peoples who survived and even prospered into the eighteenth century capitalized on their geographic position, their economic and military value to European governors, and their decentralized political systems to keep their options open, to maintain connections with more than one imperial power, and thus to maintain their cultural and political autonomy” (164).

Peter Wraxall, New York Indian affairs secretary: “‘[T]o preserve the balance between us and the French is the great ruling principle of the modern Indian politics’” (164).

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Updated/ Evil (HUM455)

The reading schedule has been updated. I’ve made a few of the readings “supplemental”– which is to say that they are optional. Of course, I recommend that you read them.

Regarding the “evil” tangent: There is a tendency among some students and scholars to oversimplify history by caricaturing the rise of “the West” as an endless series of acts of racist violence. Certainly there is some truth to this claim as atrocities such as the Mystic River Massacre, Wounded Knee, the slave trade, and recent political theater in Arizona attest. Yet taken to its limits such a view devolves into a theory of history that basically posits “they always fuck us over.” A racial demonology is thereby created, with whites cast in the role of greedy predators and people of color their noble yet doomed victims. This conception of historiography is, at its root, a moral critique– a Manichean, even theological, explanation of change that obliterates the complexities of human history. While moral criticism is necessary, the “they always fuck us over” theory is, in the end, intellectually lax. What is intended as a political corrective to mainstream/dominant versions of history effectively kneecaps itself by locating blame for events in the blind aggression of people of European descent. Crucially, however, it’s not that easy. Motives and the acts they inspire are the product of ideological “common sense” and subject to massive socio-historical forces. In the words of Karl Marx, “[People] make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past” (18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

One instructive example would be the role of Native Americans in the Seven Years’ War, which could not with any accuracy be flattened out into a simple case of white supremacist violence against local human groups such as the Hurons and Delawares. Both of these latter groups had an active role in the events that transpired, using political calculation and military intervention to gain as much power as possible. The peoples of the North East were, in general, quite adept at playing the European empires against one another. In some cases their motives in doing so were less than unimpeachable. The men and women who fought English and French imperial armies were not simply tragic victims. They made their history, though in a harshly overdetermined situation.

Take home assignment (HUM470)

If your name appears below OR FALLS ALPHABETICALLY BETWEEN THE TWO NAMES then the chapters listed are your responsibility. See the last post for HUM470 for the details of the assignment. Due date: Oct. 1. Any questions? Please address them to this post.

1. Ali- Barnett: Chapters 1-6

2. Bingham-Bullard: Chapters 6-11

3. Chen-Copetti: Chapters 11-16

4. Daryanani- Fetsch: Chapters 16-21

5. Gaza-Huiberts: Chs. 21-26

6. Kline-Nakamura: Chs. 26-31

7. Nourse-Roberts: Chs. 31-36

8. Sarginson-Tisell: Chs. 36-41

Partus Sequitur Ventrem (HUM470)

PSV– (the child shall follow the condition of the mother) was “the first statutory provision on status [to be] adopted by Virginia in 1662: ‘all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only on the condition of the mother'” (Morris 43). This, in distinction to English common law concerning bastardy which maintained that it was the father who determined the status of children.

Incidents is not historiography. Nor is it fiction, though certain of its elements have been fictionalized– such as names– and other of its details suppressed. Yet like both history- and fiction-writing, Incidents depends for its power on narrative conventions– the use of formal literary elements. One distinction we can make immediately is the difference between story and plot. The story is ‘what happened.’ The plot is the order of those events. We should pay attention to the overall structure of the text, particularly those points when HJ deviates from a straight chronological account. What happens at these moments in the text? What is their content and their function?

We can use the basic vocabulary of literary criticism to assess Incidents (ex. plot, character, setting). We can play close attention to apparent gaps in the text. What is not mentioned? What questions does the text leave unanswered?

Today’s group assignment:

There are 41 chapters in this text. Groups will take 6 chapters each. They will produce a thumbnail synopsis of their chapters, noting deviations from strict linear chronology. In the process the groups should think about the formal elements used to create HJ/LB as an autobiographical subject and how this textually-created personal identity is connected to a larger, more collective identity. Were does the text position its readers? HJ’s view is fundamentally subjective, yet there are places in the text where a wider view, one that extends beyond her immediate perceptions, is engaged. Think about themes, repeated phrases, patterns, and gaps.

Week Five/ Adventure Notes (HUM303)

Week 5 includes our final meetings on The Last of the Mohicans. We’ll also be discussing “American Eve.” Week 6 we begin King Solomon’s Mines. The 1937 film version, which deviates considerably from its source text, is available in its entirety on youtube. Of particular note is the presence of Paul Robeson, one of the most significant African American film actors (and radical public figures) of the early 20th century.

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Meek’s Cutoff (HUM303/455/470)

I don’t think I’ve seen a Western this original since Silent Tongue. Meek’s Cutoff cuts directly against the grain of the Hollywood Blockbuster, unspooling at a deliberate pace that achieves an unusual level of realism. All films are in a sense about time, but Meek’s Cutoff uses the temporality of a journey along the Oregon Trail to encourage its audience to contemplate profound themes about hope, hate, and survival. Above all, for the purposes of HUM455, it remaps the geographical imaginary of the frontier which lies at the heart of US American identity. For students of HUM303, it raises questions about the nature of adventure and its constituents: the elsewhere, the speed of action, the hero transformed by experience. Those taking HUM470 might screen it with an eye on the manner in which director Kelly Reichardt establishes the interiority of her characters. Given that the film is based on an actual event, the issue of historical and biographical truth is unavoidable.