Sideways review of “In Old Narragansett: Romances and Realities”

Read an interesting book about Narragansett. Through the ugly casual racism you can see some interesting stuff. I looked up a lot of details and learned a little about the history of Black Governors in New England and their elections. Written in 1898 with stories about people who lived 100 or so years before, another Alice Morse Earle book. And now for a random history walk through the interwebs!!!

I did find census records of some of the people mentioned including Cuddymonk, who is described as mixed Narragansett and Black (in the 1790 census as Cuddy Monk with 5 in his household; his wife Rosann is mentioned in the book but the census only lists heads of households). I looked him up since he had a distinctive name.

Anyway, the book has a bunch of stories from what is now Bonnet Shores (then Boston Neck) including a mention of the ridge where the Tower is built (The Tower is named after “Unfortunate Hannah” Robinson). (I know the area from (partly) growing up there, and the Tower was and is a really cool landmark.) In Earle’s story, Hannah is an abandoned, sickly, dying young girl returning home to reconcile with her stern, cruel father after eloping with a French dancing-master. In actual life, she had 9 children with him in Providence before she returned to her parents’ house, which kind of messes up the touching fable of her almost innocent girlhood!

Unfortunate Hannah Robinson’s dad was a rich slave-owning plantation owner in Boston Neck, who bought a woman he called Abigail. The local story as told by Earle (I can’t find any other source) is that she was a queen in Africa, and Robinson freed her so she could go back there and find her son and … bring him back to Rhode Island? OK, seems unlikely! Her son Prince Robinson became one of the Black Governors of the area. The Prince Robinson in the census in the 1800s who was a stonemason may be him or may be his son. I feel sure a bit of real research could tell. There was also a woman named Tuggie Bannock who was said to be Abigail’s daughter and who was a witch. I couldn’t find her in the census. Earle makes her sound ridiculous, which is very annoying.

As I was looking through the census I noticed the Champlins and Hazards were also slave owning plantation owners (You will recognize the names if you are from there). And also on the same page as Cuddymonk: a white governor of Rhode Island listed as Gov. Samuel Potter.

My interest is in adding dimension to the people mocked in racist fables and replacing the caricatures with something more respectful. For example the way that (what’s her name) re-wrote Sojourner Truth’s famous speech in southern plantation dialect when she did not talk that way in her life. Alice Morse Earle does the same thing to her “characters”. I think it is part of undoing white supremacy to make our histories and geography more ‘true’ and more known. Now what I mean by that could fill a book. Moving right along…..

It looked also, in my casual reading, like the Hazards and Robinsons intermarried a bunch and one of that family at least became an abolitionist and did some work to gain freedom for a guy from his town who was detained in the south assumed to be escaped slave and this led to around 100 people there getting out of “detention” ie either jail or slavery. His textile business, not unrelatedly, had to switch from cotton to wool consuming and producing since the Southerners wouldn’t deal with him anymore.

Basically over that 150 years or so, the rich white people intermarried and owned all the land, and the Narragansett and Niantic and Black people intermarried and didn’t. I notice it didn’t seem to occur to Rowland Hazard to give the land back to the still extant Narragansett people as a way of settling up.

Another Hazard that Earle refers to: Caroline Hazard who wrote essays, poetry, and biographies and who was the President of Wellesley College for 10 years. I might look for her books in the Internet Archive. Of course Earle casually mentions her as “Miss Hazard” and her incredibly famous writing. Perhaps they were friends.

It is sad that I am at least happy that Morse Earle includes people of color which leaves some clues and tiny bits of truth along with the garbage racist caricatures. Other books do much worse — for example a multi-volume set “The Early History of Narragansett” has hundreds of pages of detail of every (white) family in the area for a couple of hundred years and all their names including details from their wills but never mentions that they are slave owners leaving human beings to their children in their wills. The Black and Narragansett & Niantic people are just left out of the Early (White Supremacist) history completely. You have to work to do that kind of disappearing.

Another example: In the Narragansett Historical Society’s short description of the area’s overall history, there is no mention of the history of slavery, of black residents over the years, or of the ongoing history of the Narragansett tribe’s people.

Here is another interesting collection of info from 1700s and early 1800s on people of color in Rhode Island mentioned in letters and manuscripts: http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/PeopleofColorweb.htm

In case you were wondering about Bonnet Shores, it was mostly Wesquage Farm and Bonnet Point before the mid 19th century, thought to be called that because the shape of the Point looked a bit like the bonnet of a ship’s jib (a small sail at the bottom of the jib).

bonnet point aerial view

OK…. sometimes this is what I do with my evenings… to relax…..

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Racism in the (white supremacist) women’s suffrage movement (and some history)

A couple of years ago I wrote a little zine called Heterodoxy to Marie. Not even sure how I got onto the subject, but in looking up Marie Jenney Howe I got pissed off that she didn’t even rate a Wikipedia article but had a paragraph in her husband’s article. She was part of a group of radical women in New York City who called themselves Heterodoxy. I want to touch on that but in order to lead to the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago, and another group, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority from Howard, along with Ida B. Wells.

You can download Heterodoxy to Marie here, it’s a fairly small PDF. Print it double sided, & cut and fold, for a tiny 8 page book.

In one sprawling tentacle of my reading I ended up with descriptions of the 1913 Suffrage Parade (or Procession, or March) in Washington, D.C. with Inez Mulholland at the head on a white horse and hundreds of women marching behind in fancy sashes and amazing hats. There were contingents of representatives from many U.S. states. The atmosphere in DC at their near daily protests was brutal. People would crowd around and assault the picketers and marchers. My impression is that there was an attempt to create a spectacle of dignity and legitimacy in this march.

Anyway, part of the story of the march is that Ida B. Wells was there from Chicago, and was told not to march with the delegates from Illinois, but to go to the back of the march. Wells then sprung out from the crowd and joined the Illinois delegation anyway, flanked by two of her (white) comrades. This is the photo that shows up to illustrate the story, showing Wells with a starry sash, turban-like starry hat, and flag and one that says “Illinois” in front of a banner that reads Women’s Party, Cook County.

Ida Wells at 1913 march in sash

That story varies from source to source, and even varies when told by the same people at different times. I found it a worthy subject of investigation. One telling is that Alice Paul (or “her organization”) found out about Wells’ participation at the last minute, and that some of the southern state delegates objected, saying they’d pull out from the march if Wells was allowed to appear with the Illinois women. Other stories spin it differently, naming various other women in NAWSA who put the black women at the back of the march flanked by white Quaker men for their protection. There are a lot of small variants, and it would take serious work to straighten them out. That’s why I haven’t written about this yet: I was making a small zine about Wells to follow up on the one about Marie Jenney.

It is in some ways lovely to picture Wells bursting into the Illinois delegates and in other ways so perturbing. She would have had to struggle through an extremely hostile crowd just to get to the edge of the march. At least a hundred women were hospitalized after the DC march. How did she fight her way through that crowd? How would it feel, I have some inklings of how it would feel, to proudly march with her sash on, in her elegant hat, amidst the banners, knowing the extra armor you would have to wear inside your soul. She is a compelling hero.

I think of how bad ass Wells-Barnett was in general. If you have not read her 1895 book The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, you should really give it a try. It’s very grim and horrifying. She also tears into Frances Willard’s racist poisonous remarks on lynching and “dark-faced mobs”… So you can see right in Wells’ work that it’s not like feminist activists in Britain weren’t aware of what was up. You can be all like “oh they were just ‘of their time’…” since we know there were awesome anti racist activists among the super gross white supremacist feminist ones like Willard.

One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” — Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Another dimension to the miniscule zine on Jenney is that I read some of her propaganda, including a play called Telling the Truth at the White House (1917) in which two white suffragists go to jail and then to court. Their adventure with the law is framed by two drunk black women providing comic relief, and then having the vote consdescendingly explained to them. They are presented as incapable of understanding anything about suffrage movement, but agreeing that surely they would trust these nice white ladies to go ahead and vote. This little play is truly, truly vile. And it isn’t alone, if you poke around in the propaganda fiction, plays, and speeches of white suffragists there are many examples where white women point out, mock, and revile the ignorance of black men and women, as a deliberate counterpoint to white women being denied the vote. It was part of many white suffragists’ strategy to appeal to racism. This filled me with cold fury as I thought of the many African American women who were their contemporaries who were fighting for their rights. It is such a blatant disrepect, that they rhetorically make the black women and men disappear from the public debate except as unworthy of participating in political life. If you think to Frederick Douglass’s deep involvement and the entire abolition movement’s years of being intertwined with suffrage movement across the U.S. and England (look it up… I can’t write a dissertation here… ) it is such a cruel and repeated slap in the face by the white women, I can’t even. It’s not even just stupid and ignorant like those tshirts; it looks very deliberate. They are trading on the currency of white supremacy to scrabble for a scrap of power. Like I said, vile.

Have a look at the books “Treasonous Texts” and “On to Victory: Propaganda Plays of the Women Suffrage Movement” for some interesting food for thought.

Back to Wells and the 1913 March and the complicated story. Some stories say Wells fundraised with her black women’s club in Chicago, the Alpha Suffrage Club. Some say that 35 or so members of the Alpha Suffrage Club went to DC and marched. (But where? At the back?) I’ve seen descriptions that say Wells was the only black woman at the march, a lone hero bursting in…. Refusing to stay (or go at all) to the back of the march, supported and protected by white women friends from her home town. Then, I read that the National Association of Colored Women sent several delegations to the march, joining the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. I’ve also seen claims that the Delta Sigma Thetans were the only black women at the march, or that Wells was part of their sorority group. IN short, history is confusing, and people write terrible little summaries of “what happened”. Another tantalizing detail: the staging area for the black women was separate from the main march’s staging area. I can find no description of them marching or their position, and no photos.

If you think of demonstrations or marches you have been part of, try to imagine reconstructing how it was planned, what actually happened, and so on! Very difficult! A big event happens in many dimensions. Alice Paul didn’t “plan” the 1913 march, it was organized by

There is very good stuff in the book “African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920”. You can get it used online very cheap.

Both the ASC and Delta Sigma Theta are said to be formed just before the march, in order to support sending its members as a group.

I feel sure that there is more info out there about the Alpha Suffrage Club and its members, and their participation in the 1913 march. The ASC held regular meetings in Bridewell Prison and I believe it included some white women, or at least had some local white suffrage activists as allies.

There is more readily available information on the sorority from Howard though. They formed in January 1913, with 22 founding members; going to the march together was their first public act. I enjoyed looking at the photos of the founders. Their names are listed here and there is an awesome photo of them at http://www.sopalmbeachdst.com/spbcac/national-history/

Founderscrisp1

Here are their names: (First Row): Winona Cargile Alexander, Madree Penn White, Wertie Blackwell Weaver, 
Vashti Turley Murphy, Ethel Cuff Black, Frederica Chase Dodd; 
(Second Row): Osceola Macarthy Adams, Pauline Oberdorfer Minor, Edna Brown Coleman, 
Edith Mott Young, Marguerite Young Alexander, Naomi Sewell Richardson, Eliza P. Shippen;
(Third Row): Zephyr Chisom Carter, Myra Davis Hemmings, Mamie Reddy Rose, Bertha Pitts Campbell, 
Florence Letcher Toms, Olive Jones, Jessie McGuire Dent, Jimmie Bugg Middleton, Ethel Carr Watson.

Anyway, I have a point besides throwing a little perspective on some small specific ways the U.S. white women’s suffrage movement expressed white supremacy and racism. That point is that white women suffragists’ oppression by the police and state didn’t stop quite a few of them from being horrible racists. So let’s not forget that.

But my other point is that in the story telling and history making about Wells as hero we should not lose sight of the 22 young women from Howard who also marched, and Mary Church Terrell along with all the women from the National Association of Colored Women and their different delegations, who also marched.

People came from many countries to march in DC for women’s suffrage, and I don’t know the details there but it would be neat to find out more. I don’t like when a complicated story, even of one incident in one day a hundred years ago, is simplified beyond all possibility.

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Reading some history

This week I read Elaine Brown’s autobiography, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. What an excellent read! It is very dramatic and full of situations that had me screaming with surprise or outrage or sadness, and sometimes with celebration of Brown’s fierceness or laughing with affection for her when she would start describing some guy’s cheekbones and you know she was about to fall into bed with him. A book that led me to look up many events and many different people and to line up more reading. I have so many questions! I’m not going to summarize the events though. I am in the middle of Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton now, enjoying it more than I thought I would based on how mad I got at him from Elaine Brown’s book. Also I have lined up Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy edited by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas as well as Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.

One thing that struck me was the moment when Brown describes her anger at Gwen Fontaine (who has just gotten married to Newton while they were in Cuba) and then how she sees Gwen suddenly as a sister, resolving to respect her mind and work. I noticed this alongside how she describes Kathleen Cleaver — never getting to that point of respecting anything about her but seeing her in that same way she saw Gwen, as a patsy or a sucker following her man and taking abuse unquestioningly. I had to roll my eyes since Brown also is in love with various men in the Party and takes abuse from them too. It just shouldn’t delegitimize any of the women’s work or their politics that they are in a relationship with … anyone. But I also got very curious about Kathleen Cleaver (because Brown disses her so badly – mostly by passing over her). Naturally as soon as I looked it was clear that Cleaver was super legit, was intensely politically active and known as an effective writer and great speaker. As Brown describes her she was just hanging out looking pretty, getting pregnant and smacked around by Eldridge. More than anything else this undermined my desire to trust Brown even halfway.

Now let’s not even go into the level of what the fuck, as Bobby Seale orders her to get actually whipped on her back in a basement of the party headquarters for not putting more of his articles into the newspaper. Seriously what the fuck, all around.

Another thing that left me with a million questions was the book’s ending. What about those other women from the Central Committee? What happened next? After they broke Regina Davis’ jaw in the name of party discipline. It is very ominous. When I look them up (only casually so far) they’re mostly mentioned in paraphrases from this very book. I want to know more about their work together.

And then even more questions about Elaine Brown’s amazing strategic politics in Oakland and plans with the mayor, governor (Jerry Brown) and others and her thoughts on what could happen if she and the Party controlled 10,000 jobs in downtown Oakland. And then the Port of Oakland itself and then having some momentum to get Jerry Brown the Democratic presidental nomination. Super fascinating! What if that had happened? An excellent alternate history to write. I can’t help but admire her grab for political power. Maybe her socialist approach to distributing those jobs would have worked a little better than whatever else was going on.

It took me a bit of background reading to wrap my mind around the split in the Black Panther Party(s) Between Huey P. Newton and Elaine Brown and their faction vs. Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. OK so in a nutshell, Newton and Brown don’t like the “revolution right now” style talk of the Cleaver faction or at least of Eldridge himself. The Cleaver bunch were super pissed off that the Oakland BPP had turned reformist. Well, meanwhile Brown along with the women (and men) she appointed to powerful postions were gathering people and power, then Newton rolled back into town and fucked everything up with his macho trip and drug addiction. (& his support for patriarchal power in general despite what he writes… which I want to believe as I read it even now…) Brown accuses Newton of destroying the organization and trust that she built.

And, according to at least the beginning of Kathleen Cleaver’s book, the BPP basically ended in 71 before Brown even was leading. Now that’s a dismissal right back…. how harsh!

Everybody is complicated!

Anyway, Elaine Brown wrote a great book very useful for getting into the mind set of people forming and coming into the BPP but is somewhat unreliable as a narrator and since so many others involved wrote about it all, it’s good to read them too.

The bits of Cleaver’s work that I’ve read so far, she speaks to me pretty strongly,

In fact, according to a survey Bobby Seale did in 1969, two-thirds of the members of the Black Panther Party were women. I am sure you are wondering, why isn’t this the image that you have of the Black Panther Party? Well, ask yourself, where did the image of the Black Panthers that you have in your head come from? Did you read those articles planted by the FBI in the newspaper? Did you listen to the newscasters who announced what they decided was significant, usually, how many Panthers got arrested or killed? How many photographs of women Panthers have you seen? Think about this: how many newspaper photographers were women? How many newspaper editors were women? How many newscasters were women? How many television producers were women? How many magazine, book, newspaper publishers? Who was making the decisions about what information gets circulated, and when that decision gets made, who do you think they decide to present? Is it possible, and this is just a question, is it possible that the reality of what was actually going on day to day in the Black Panther Party was far less newsworthy, and provided no justification for the campaign of destruction that the intelligence agencies and the police were waging against us? Could it be that the images and stories of the Black Panthers that you’ve seen and heard were geared to something other than conveying what was actually going on?

Yes!!! That’s true of just about everything. You look beyond the surface and there are women doing the work (too) and the processes of history formation start to leave them out until there’s just a couple left and then maybe just one —

Honoring the sisters poster

Meanwhile, thinking of this from an epigraph in Newton’s book —

Ho Chi Minh’s “Wordplay”:

A man, once freed from jail, will build his country.
Misfortune is the test of loyalty.
He earns great merit who feels great concern.
Unlock the cage – the true dragon will fly.

or translated another way,

People who come out of prison can build up a country.
Misfortune is a test of people’s fidelity.
Those who protest at injustice are people of true merit.
When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.

Good to have a little grounding as #BlackLivesMatter protests continue and deepen. People try to watch the cops with cameras and report on them more closely, rejecting the bullet for the …. camera and I guess, the ballot. I don’t have any faith in either bullet or ballot. Our images and words will move people or at least speak to the future. This isn’t anyone’s first go-round and it won’t be the last and when it heats up the backlash is horrible. Though the horror is already unspeakable with our daily acceptance of our lives within the prison industrial complex — vile complicity.

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Driving around, I waste more time

This afternoon we drove around searching for the building I’ve seen and wondered about for years. It’s visible from Highway 101, is topped with giant panels of stained glass, and says “STUDIO” on the side in white letters. “Studio” is not very google-able. It’s in a neighborhood in San Francisco called Silver Terrace, just west of Bayview and east of Portola. STUDIO, after we tracked it down and did some sleuthing, turns out to be Church Art Glass Studio owned (or formerly owned?) by Nick Lukas. Above the front door there’s an awning made of the same colors of glass as are on top of the building, throwing intense colored shadows. Framed stained glass panels were in the dusty windows. The hill was very green & lush. I love corners of neighborhoods that are mostly full of industrial buildings and warehouses for floor tile and stuff like that. This area has the added bonus of being mostly underneath a highway.

church art glass studio

The majority of windows at St. Michael [in Livermore, CA] were done by the Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco, which has designed windows for the churches on the West Coast and Hawaii since the turn of the century. The original owner, Edward Lopolka, advertised as “artists in stained glass, German and English antique.” The business was sold in the 1940’s to the father of Nick Lukas, who continues to operate the business in the shadow of the 280 freeway.

I felt like I solved a mystery only to come up with several more mysteries.

Mystery #1: Is the Studio still open? It looked deserted. A post from 2009 says Lukas was trying to sell his entire stock of art glass. It looks like we only just barely missed a very cool art show hosted there, Virtuoso.

Mystery #2: What is the hill of Silver Terrace called? It doesn’t seem quite like it would be named “Silver Terrace” but that’s what I’m going to have to call it. (ETA: I think it’s Mount St. Joseph! Source: How Many Hills are in San Francisco?

Mystery #3: What is that funky deserted building at 432 Paul Avenue that looks like an old school next to an equally funky factory? It’s beautiful!

Silver Terrace was in the Rincón de las Salinas and Potrero Viejo Mexican land grants, sold off by the Bernal family in the 1860s. Actually it sounds like General Sherman foreclosed on the Bernal mortgage and then sold it off to J.S. Silver who subdivided it into lots, so it’s a very old San Francisco neighborhood. You can see from old maps that Bernal Hill is on one side of the bay inlet where Islais Creek was, that was eventually filled in to become Bayview, and the mystery hill that isn’t called Silver Terrace is on the other side, just east of Hunters Point Ridge.

San Francisco coastline and crreks

Here is a fantastic history of the area!

History of Bayview and Hunters Point (pdf)

We ended up going through McLaren Park which we had looked up beforehand – making fun of videos of hippies dancing to very boring music at Jerry Garcia auditorium – And pausing to look out over the valley below & trying to figure out what everything was. It was mostly Visitacion Valley, Bayshore, and the Cow Palace. I’ve never been there. We drove through and the most I can say for it is that I plan on going back to the huge Savers thrift store on Geneva. If there was a there there in Visitacion Valley I didn’t find it. I did wonder about what the Visitation was – something like the Annunciation which I do know is when Mary finds out she’s preggers – It turns out it’s when Mary’s pregnant and knows it, and goes off for a visit with another pregnant lady. I could rewrite that in my head to be all about pregnant ladies being supportive of each other instead of all the stuff about creepy babies leaping in the womb because of getting weird telepathic messages from other babies!

Back on Mission in the Excelsior neighborhood we were tempted by the Chicken Coop restaurant which looked amazingly retro. I couldn’t park though so we decided to go home and make omelettes. Signs informed me that Excelsior Welcomes the World. I will definitely return to work my way through all the small grocery stores on Mission. They look great. Anyway, we changed our minds about dinner again a few blocks later when we passed Joe’s Cable Car. Joe’s Cable Car turned out to be not the greasy cheap diner I thought it was. It is more the Dr. Bronner’s of Burgers. Everything at our table was covered in rambling, old-school sales talk and folksy wisdom about the magic of GROUND STEAK from, presumably, Joe. By the time we ordered our food I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “burger” because of the incredible amount of text about GROUND STEAK I had just read and all about the sharp knives, the way they butcher it all and grind it right there practically at your table, and how Joe himself and his jolly butchers were ready to Down-Home-ily bring a cow right to your house straight from the Gold Rush, and grind it up, unlike the evil fast food industry and its evil, evil breadcrumbs and midwest factory slaughterhouses, so please fork over 14 bucks for your Ground Steak while you enjoy the wolf-whistle of the doorbell and the singing santa christmas lights and the giant neon signs shaped like the Golden Gate Bridge, while sitting in something that in 1965 used to either be, or look like, a cable car. I had a great time and the burger was delicious.

The myth of the place and what I was about to eat had completely sold me on the restaurant before I had even sipped my coke. It was overwhelming especially to sensitive, neurotic artists who had gone to look for America and been driving around all day. It reminded me a little of the 1000 mile trip I took around the Southwest where through three states I saw billboards advertising “The Thing!” and then finally got to “The Thing!” roadside attraction and was so freaked out by its Americana-ness that I wrote several chapters of an autobiographical novel about it.

As usual, Oblomovka navigated and looked things up on his G2 while I drove and made a lot of spontaneous decisions which way to go, and we made things up about the stuff we were looking at and tried to imagine everything about all the neighborhoods and imagined our future hacker artist co-ops in all the funky old buildings. I have an especially good time because we can both get passionately attached to some imaginary and pointless goal, like figuring out where the headwaters of some cemented-over creek is, or how to get as close to the top of a hill as we can, but we don’t actually care that much and so are happy to change our minds and do something else as soon as what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.

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Neophile links: Marx, Signifying, Leibowitz, Lezginkas

I read very quickly and am a hardcore neophile, traits that go well together. It makes me super happy to have tons of new information flying into my brain. Take these links, please, to help me close the tabs in my browser!

the internet is more interesting than a research paper cartoon by asher sarlin

  • Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century by Karl Marx. This goes well with the State Department cables of Wikileaks’ #cablegate. Thanks to Oblomovka for the link. This makes good bedtime reading if you download it onto ibooks or a Kindle.

    In perusing these documents, there is something that startles us even more than their contents—viz., their form. All these letters are “confidential,” “private,” “secret,” “most secret”; but in spite of secrecy, privacy, and confidence, the English statesmen converse among each other about Russia and her rulers in a tone of awful reserve, abject servility, and cynical submission, which would strike us even in the public despatches of Russian statesmen.

  • Adina Levin’s thoughtful review of Henry Louis Gates’ The Signifying Monkey. Here is the core of one of her points:

    Gates makes powerful cases that these writers are working in tradition, building and extending and critiquing each others’ work. But it is not at all clear to me that Signifying in this theoretical sense represents a special sort of African-American literary influence distinct from other sorts of literary influence. Writers always build on the work of earlier writers. Later parts of the bible modify earlier parts, and the Hebrew bible reworks earlier Semitic traditions. Dante rewrites and modifies Virgil. Cervantes parodies chivalric romances in Don Quixote. It’s how writing works, and how art works, how culture works. African-American writers respond to other African-American writers, and other predecessors (Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is obviously also in the broader tradition of modern/postmodern literature). Is Reed’s response to Black writers Signifying, and to other writers not? Or is the way that African-American writers respond to predecessors Signifying, as distinct to the way other writers respond?

    It’s been a long time since I read The Signifying Monkey ! But I have a bit of a knee jerk response that signifying is one of many lenses to use for looking at intertextuality and shares some characteristics just as people refer to some kind of intertextuality as Talmudic in character. I also had some thoughts of feminist discussions of interrupted geneologies of literary and intellectual influence but couldn’t think who to cite. Direct influence can be hard to prove and it is a bit pointless to try in many cases. But we can say that a writer was writing within a likely context – or can skip that and say that reading them within a particular context we choose has meaning.

  • Verité Parlant from Whose Shoes Are These Anyway? writes about Fran Leibowitz. I also liked her casual but interesting musings on North Korea and South Korea.
  • Got to say the thing I enjoyed the most about the State Department cables was the description of a wedding in Dagestan, well written and totally fascinating. Jet skis! Vodka! Giant water tower reception room with a glass floor that’s the top of a huge fish tank, all very jamesbondian! I went to YouTube to look up videos of what a lezginka dance looks like, Dagestan style and got lost in there for most of Sunday afternoon.
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  • Historical Hipster San Francisco Poetry

    As I was reading up on the controversy about Blue Bottle Coffee putting a generator-drive truck with espresso machines into Dolores Park, I came across this mock documentary by “Kenita Burns” about the battle between Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle coffee hipsters in San Francisco:

    The quote at the end about Joan Baez and the song for the closing credits were the funniest parts to me, because while I love listening to boomer hippies tell stories about the olden days and I admire their many accomplishments, they’re really fun to parody.

    I came into reading about Dolores Park and the coffee controversy from Chicken John’s giant rambling rants on his mailing list. A Blue Bottle employee wrote to him and he went into a full blast of rhetoric on the subject. You know who else promised us solar power? GEORGE BUSH. And probably Hitler. I liked Annalee’s suggestion that Blue Bottle power its espresso machines by bicycle. Earnest park-goers would pedal away helpfully and the company could also hire bikers to generate the power necessary for expensive coffee. This would turn the whole concern from a PR debacle into a total PR win and Blue Bottle would end up beloved of all (except for people who notice, like Chicken John, that it’s still an incredibly bad idea to sell off public park space to private businesses.)

    Annalee and Claire Light and Charlie Jane and Annalee’s friend Lynn sat there for hours in Cafe Petra working quietly, reading, writing, and coding. I was messing around with some problems in Drupal for work, while I think everyone else was writing their novels or blogging for their day jobs. Later that night I read one of Charlie’s stories which blew me away completely. Timmi wrote me really nice email about my long essay about the connections between women writers and thinkers, which made me swoon with happiness.

    Yesterday I also spent some glorious hours reading about Drop City in Colorado, Zome which started as a dome construction thing and has morphed into alternate power systems and Zometool toy construction kits; the Hog Farm and Black Oak Ranch, the Whole Earth Catalog folks, and other utopian movements in Northern California, inspired by my visit to the geodesic domes of Oz Farm (former utopian commune home of SF State computer science professor Lawrence Kroll). Tim Miller seems to have written some interesting books on utopian communities. I ordered some of his books, the TC Boyle Drop City book, and Peter Rabbit’s book which sounds like a very DIY zine style “history”. It is difficult to find much mention of the women of these communes and they often go by pseudonyms and then change their names a couple of times anyway, as with much of my research into women doing — well, pretty much anything. I will be making a list though once I have some books to go on. The web sources suck for figuring out who the women were in these movements and what they might have been thinking. Certainly they were thinking some bitter things about dishwashing.

    dishwashing in the domes

    As I read and researched I thought over some of the poems I have cooking. I’m still on a long-poem kick after 10 years of thinking about long poems and what can be done in them with ideas. I still like short poems, but am not the sort of poet who sits down to look at a lake and writes a poem about a lake. How dreary!!! How middle class! I despise most poets’ aesthetics. They can take their gardens, their analysis of their relationships with their dead parents, their constipated little emotions they applaud as they’re finally pooped out, and their glurgy thoughts about bombs, and shove them.

    Enough with the cranky poet. Here’s what I’m thinking about.

    Anyway, it was pleasant to swim around in the shape of the unwritten poem, with words and phrases popping into my head and going onto the page. The big idea and combination or juxtaposition of ideas and images and things starts to take form. Oddly – this is almost a non-verbal process. The shape or form or echo or feel of the poem, as a poem, forms before there are words to go into the poem (or while there are only a few words or a phrase as the keystone or touchstone.) Poems begin to separate out from each other as it becomes clear what ideas go with which other ideas and how they all interrelate. So before I have much of anything, I know that I’m writing a long big poem about daylighting a San Francisco creek, with a hefty dose of wistful critique of eco-liberalism; or about the Whole Earth Catalog’s history, utopia, the Internet, broken skeletons of dreams and the homes they morph into, Alia and the God Emperor of Dune, and the torturer Autarch Severian and the way we treat (and eat) information and cultural memory.

    The stuff I’m writing now and have been writing for the past couple of years is part of a slowly evolving book called “Unruly Islands” and while I know mostly no one else cares what a book of poetry is “about” or how its elements are related, I care deeply about the meta-narrative of a poetry book as a thing in itself.

    The alchemical process of distilling language out of this inchoate stuff puts me into an ecstatic trance. I feel a little bit insane. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to switch gears back into real life, real language, and linear thinking. That switching gears is part of what I feel I’ve learned over the years to let me have a fairly comfortable life in society and still stay a poet. Of course the sleeping pills also help.

    inside the domes

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    Argentinian feminists in the early 1900s

    To give a little extra context for the poem “Feminismo” by Alfredo Arteaga, here’s some of what women were doing in Argentina at the time.

    “On May 10, 1910, the date of the centennial celebration of Argentine independence, the first Congreso Feminino Internacional convened in Buenos Aires, with more than two hundred women from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile in attendance. Dr. Cecilia Grierson presided. Grierson had attendend the Second International Council of Women (I.C.W.) meeting in London in 1899 and had returned to Argentina intending to found an Argentine branch of the I.C.W…. organized by the University Women of Argentina (Universitarias Argentinas) included among its sponsoring groups the National Argentine Association against the White Slave Trade, the Socialist Women’s Center, the Association of Normal School teachers, the Women’s Union and Labor Group, and the National League of Women Freethinkers.”

    – from Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice, by Francesca Miller, 1991.

    Here’s a link to a brief overview in English, by Marilyn Mercer, of feminism in Argentina in the 1800s and early 1900s.

    In contrast to essentialist sexists like Arteaga, some of the great politicians of Argentina like Domingo Sarmiento fought for women to have access to education. Sarmiento thought women needed education to become involved in local politics. Through experience in local politics they would gradually acquire the skills to participate in national politics, voting, running for office, and being part of public life.

    But high schools meant for college prep didn’t open in Argentina until 1905.

    Here are some of the women Arteaga was likely complaining about:

    * Juana Manuela Gorriti, a best selling author. Feminist, teacher, and battlefield nurse.
    * Dr. Cecilia Grierson. Graduated from University of Buenos Aires medical school in 1889.
    * Dr. Alicia Moreau de Justo. A founder of the Socialist Feminist Center. Social worker, writer, human rights activist, and doctor. Graduated from University of Buenos Aires.
    * Carolina Muzzili. Reported on factory working conditions for women in the early 1900s.
    * Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane, another doctor and feminist activist
    * Ernestina Lopez de Nelson. Socialist feminist activist, teacher.
    * Sara Justo. Another socialist feminist teacher.
    * Julieta Lanteri de Renshaw A psychiatrist who graduated in 1906 from University of Buenos Aires.

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    Reunion ho! In which I reminisce, with real names


    my friends under the stairs
    Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

    It’s my 20th high school reunion coming up. I can’t bear to give $39 to THAT WEB SITE OF EVIL which seems to control all information from the past. So, I figured I’d blog the names of people I might actually want to talk to from that time.

    I went to a huge high school in northwest Houston, Cypress Creek. The graduating class must have been at least 500 people. The junior high, Campbell, was also pretty huge and I remember its weird 70s architecture with some fondness; the open ramps with the library in the center were kind of cool looking.

    I was clued into this 20 year reunion thing by Thad Davis, who lived in my subdivision, Champions West. Bear with me for a moment while I provide context. Houston in the early 80s was expanding like a vast horrible pustulent tumor, or like gangrene. Malls, freeways, strip malls, and “subdivisions” which were housing developments of hideous sameness and no city-like infrastructure, were flowing like lava over the scraggly, piney woods and fire-ant-infested cow pastures. There was Huntwick, which was fancy and rich with a fancy country club, and there was Champions, which was marginally less fancy with a less fancy golf club. I lived in basically the scungiest one, Champions West, and by scungy I mean that not all the houses were two-story, I guess. Oh also you could measure scunginess by whether ditches were in the front yard or whether people had paid to put in a culvert and soil over the ditch. We had a ditch, which I played in, and we did not belong to the golf club.

    It seems so exotic and strange, looking back…

    Back to our story! Thad and I rode the bus together, played D&D together, and were in a lot of the same classes. Also in the early 80s, tracking was “in” but was ever so slightly masked. So, if you were regular you were in “L’ level classes. If you were somewhat smarter you could be in “K-level”. And if you were considered “gifted” then you were in “H-level” or “Horizons” classes as well, one extra every year. So in 5th grade I think the Horizons class was… Oh well I don’t even remember. In 6th it was Study Skills (joy…) and in 7th maybe it was English. In Horizons classes you got to be kind of flaky and genius-like and creative, but the main benefit of it for me was that I could tell who the other super smart people were. At any one time there were around 30 of us in this program.

    In junior high, I would check out 2 books a day from the library, read them, and return them by the end of the day. And I do fondly remember seeing Thad’s name in many of the books I would read, and wondering what he thought about them and what he was “really like”, but I never found that out. Anyway, the two of us must have read through the entire junior high library.

    The elementary school, Yeager, I only went to for one year. It was major culture shock. People called me a damn Yankee a lot, because I had moved to Texas from “the North” — from Michigan. I found out that the Civil War was not over. Being a damn Yankee basically meant you were accused by white kids of not being racist enough. I was also besieged with demands that I be more properly gendered. Apparently I was doing something right, because they called me “Liz the Lez”. My friend Julie, who was 9 years old, helpfully explained what that meant. One time a howling mob of other 10 year olds chased me around demanding to know all the details of how I had gotten a sex change. What can I say? Don’t raise your kids in Texas!

    What a nasty place! And yet I am curious to go back and to see these people!

    Onward, to list the other people I would be interested in seeing at the reunion!

    Some people, I’d like to see just to see how they turned out, because they were really jerks! Like Trent Wallace! What was up with you, dude? You were a little misogynist and homophobe, always screaming at me that I was a nasty little twat and shoving me around in gym class in 6th grade! I didn’t even know what that meant, but I had a good guess. In retrospect, I wonder how you got that way, so mean, so young. Have you mellowed? Did you go on to work at Enron?

    But most of the people I would like to see were sweet. Or, they always seemed quite decent and yet I never really knew them. Elaine Lamm, Jennifer Lupa, Christy Clark, Sandy Alvarez, Karen Tesch, Kurt Muehlner, Heidi Neumann, Jill Blankenberg, Scott Harris, Jill Adams, Melissa Jones, Peter Duggan, Elisa Dingsdale, Greg Dean, Greg Magyar, Kent Kornett, Lara Rupf, Jeff Darin, Holly Volek, Jeff Gallamore, Tereese Mangaroo, Jeff Smith (who I have heard from, lives in Seattle), and Jack Yee (lives in NYC, was fairly close to ground zero of the WTC on 9/11). Jack and Chris Deeves and Christi Redilla and I were often in competition… who would fail to get a 110 on the math exams… That was fun. Robert Dubose, who I’ve been in touch with, and who was always super nice, and who introduced me to Herman Hesse books at the proper age – 13 or so.

    And then the people I played with when we were younger and yet lost touch with. Pam Berry, Charleen Handzel (we all 3 used to play Breyer model horses, obsessively), Susan Rickey, Julie Carter, and Samantha Medlock.

    That’s it for my list; I’m sure there are more. Now, if any of these people had ever cared to google me, I’m out there, but maybe they will vanity google and find themselves here and drop me a line!

    liz – at – bookmaniac.net

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    Excellent feminist rant on being "of a time"

    I really enjoyed Ide Cyan’s “Timeless” on the Feminist SF blog; it’s a polemic on Time and social change, and was sparked by Ide’s notice of the ubiquity of the defense that a sexist or racist or otherwise annoyingly biased person was a product of their time. This sets up a framework in which “now” is seen as a product of progressive linear evolution with Now and Us ethically on top. I agree with Ide Cyan that this is a false construction, a construction in which Time stands in by a trick of rhetoric for individual responsibility and agency; a construction that is deeply harmful.

    The part has become the whole.

    It’s very, very convenient. It’s very, very easy. And it means the oppressed vanish in a puff of rhetoric.

    Her concluding paragraphs using synechdoche and the body (namely, assholes) was hard-hitting, outrageous, and deeply funny!

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    Women of the Left Bank

    I’m still thinking about Paris Was a Woman and at the moment am listening to Ed Sanders reading “Hail to the Rebel Cafe”. I know a lot of Latin American women were in Paris or visited in the teens and 1920s, and I’ll look through my notes to figure out who. All my biographical information on these writers is going into a wiki, which for now is private while I set up the structure and the skeleton, but will soon be public and editable by anyone.

    I need to get a copy of Women of the Left Bank and add them too.

    Here’s some of the people I can list as literary women in Paris from the documentary: Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Beach, Janet Flanner, Alice B. Toklas, Colette, Janet Flanner, painter Marie Laurencin Berenice Abbott, Gisele Freund, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Gertrude Stein, Ada “Bricktop ” Smith , Josephine Baker, Renee Vivian, Romaine Brooks, Marie Bonaparte, Elizabeth Bowen, Victoria Ocampo, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, Bryher.

    We could also add:

    * Gabriela Mistral
    * Emilia Bernal
    * Léonie Julieta Fournier (Nirene Jofre Oliú.)
    * Comtesse de Noilles – Anna de Noailles

    Of course, what about now? Where are we? Are we documenting this? I’d like to expand my women poets/writers wiki to right this minute and my own hometown. Why not document the moment and ourselves? Think of the riot grrl history that is already lost or slipping away. Let it be recorded on heaven’s unchangeable heart or at least the internets, failing heaven.

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