Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hugo Drochon's "Nietzsche's Great Politics"

Hugo Drochon is a historian of nineteenth- and twentieth-century political thought and a postdoctoral research fellow at CRASSH, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, at the University of Cambridge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nietzsche's Great Politics, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explains that it is in the space between master and slave that “pity and similar sentiments can find a place” (BGE 260), and in his discussion of the Laws of Manu he observes that “when an exceptional person treats a mediocre one more delicately than he treats himself and his equals, this is not just courtesy of the heart–it is his duty” (AC 57). I therefore find myself more in agreement with Ansell-Pearson’s alternative view of what Nietzsche’s society could become: a “peaceful coexistence between different human types (say, between the overhuman and the human), in which the former pursue artistic self-creation and self-discipline, and the latter preoccupy themselves with mundane and material pursuit”. I do so, however, with one caveat: the relationship between the two spheres that I have sketched above has to be retained–there remains a degree of slavery and pathos between the two spheres–instead of Ansell-Pearson’s more completely separate, and consequently apolitical, vision.
Is Nietzsche a liberal? That seems counter-intuitive for someone who made an infamous comment about needing a whip around young girls, although that comment is often taken out of context (it isn’t pronounced by Nietzsche’s mouthpiece, Zarathustra, but instead by an older women giving advice to him, if you must know). But Nietzsche is known to have frequented the leading feminist thinkers of his time, and to have voted in favour of the admission of women to the University of Basle, where he was teaching in the 1870s, even whilst his intellectual mentor at the time, Jacob Burckhardt, voted against.

But is Nietzsche a political liberal? His background was in the German liberal-nationalist tradition, which had supported Bismarck’s rise to power. If Nietzsche had been able to vote in the first elections held in Northern Germany in 1867 (the age limit was 25, he was 22), he would have voted for them. But what of his vision for his future ideal society?

This is what I start to get at on p. 99. For Nietzsche, his ideal society would have to comprise of two spheres: one dedicated to culture (‘artistic self-creation and self-discipline’), and the other happy to continue the process of democratisation he had witnessed in his time (‘mundane and material pursuits’). But that democratic process, grounded in ‘herd morality’, claimed that it – and only it – was the only possible mode of life. This is what Nietzsche fought against. Not for the total victory of his own ‘good European’ cultural elite (‘threat a mediocre person with delicacy’) – that would have been to reproduce the same mistake the democrats were falling into – but so that both could have their respective spheres of existence. The question to resolve then was how those two spheres were to coexist, and that is to turn to the question of politics (‘relation between the two spheres’). But in seeing that in modernity different communities needed to be both defended and made to live side-by-side, Nietzsche opened the door to a liberal and pluralist understanding of society. How to balance those two demands – protecting different modes of life whilst at the same time making them inhabit a common political community – remains the challenge to liberal politics today.
Learn more about Nietzsche's Great Politics at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gareth Dale's "Karl Polanyi"

Gareth Dale is senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Brunel University, London. His books include Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market (2010), Karl Polanyi: The Hungarian Writings (2016), and Green Growth: Ideology, Political Economy, and the Alternatives (2016).

Dale applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, and reported the following:
Of the several twentieth century phenomena that this book re-visions through the biography of the Austro-Hungarian sociologist, Karl Polanyi, the most prominent is the story of social democracy. It is no surprise, then, that page 99 finds our protagonist immersed in the theory and actuality of Red Vienna.

Following his childhood and youth spent in Budapest, Polanyi returned to Vienna, his place of birth in 1919. It was a momentous year, in which conflicts roiling European politics merged with his own private hell. The First World War had spat him out—injured, typhus-ridden and perilously depressed—before its end. His move to Vienna was motivated by medical need, but any prospect of return was ruled out when Admiral Horthy’s fascists assumed power in Budapest, following the demise of the short-lived socialist ‘Commune.’

In this cauldron, Polanyi’s worldview underwent an abrupt transformation. He found God and converted to Christianity. He diagnosed the traumatic events on the world stage as symptoms of a spiritual crisis, but one with a secular root: the corrosive and relentless expansion of the market economy. This leap required a change in political outlook, too. He moved away from his earlier Smithian ‘liberal socialism’ and engaged with more radical currents: British ‘guild socialism’ and its Central European cousin, Austro-Marxism.

The strengths and weaknesses of the Austro-Marxist project are encapsulated on page 99. Vienna on Polanyi’s arrival
was in the throes of a popular renaissance. Thanks to the assumption of municipal power by social democracy a remarkable shift had occurred. Kindergärten, libraries and adult education programmes were expanded, and a plethora of cultural associations were established. On any given day, a worker might read a socialist newspaper, take part in mass calisthenics or attend a lecture on the socialist implications of the theory of relativity, while her husband attended a socialist chess club or gardening group. Polanyi was particularly impressed by Red Vienna’s initiatives in the fields of culture and educational reform. When a young activist in Budapest he had been engaged in workers’ education, and in this respect the Austro-Marxists spoke his language. Education was central to their project, which has been described as one of transforming the working classes into ‘a socialized humanity through a politics of pedagogy.’
Whereas Polanyi’s eye was on the mass appeal of social democracy, that of his wife, Ilona Duczynska, was on its elitist propensities, as social democratic parties evolved into the managerial agents of a profoundly elitist system, capitalism. The upshot, discussed in the book’s epilogue, has been a detachment of social democracy from its traditional base, punctuated by occasional upwellings—as witnessed most recently in the Sanders and Corbyn phenomena.
Learn more about Karl Polanyi at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "Seinfeldia"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where she spent most of her time putting on shows in her parents’ garage, studying TV Guide, devouring Sweet Valley High books, and memorizing every note of every George Michael song. This finally came in handy when she got a job at Entertainment Weekly, where she worked for a decade. She’s now the TV columnist for BBC Culture and also writes for several other publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, New York‘s Vulture, The Verge, and Dame. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing that Changed Everything and a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. She now lives in Manhattan.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to Seinfeldia and reported the following:
Bill Masters spent the better part of a year on the writing staff at Seinfeld, helping make scripts for episodes such as “The Movie,” in which the main characters—Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer—keep missing each other at the theater. It was the show’s fourth season, just as it was starting to rise in popularity. And then, near the end of the season, in the spring of 1993, Masters even got to be in an episode.

He was terrified. He had to play a shuttle van driver picking Elaine and Jerry up at the airport, and he had to actually hit the gas of a real van on location, with crew members standing just feet away. What if he hit it too hard and killed them all?

This is the dilemma Masters faces on page 99 of my book Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything. It’s a very specific little anecdote, but it works pretty nicely as an indication of the book, which is built on specific little anecdotes from those who worked on and were affected by the hit ‘90s TV show, which remains outrageously popular today in reruns.

Some of the best parts of the book hinge on these behind-the-scenes stories from the show’s writers. And a lot of them are at least this stressful, if not far more so. Another writer around the same time, Andy Robin, came to the show as a young man fresh out of Harvard who was already a fan of the show—he was sure he’d somehow end up ruining his favorite show. And he was, in fact, sure he did when he wrote the episode “The Junior Mint,” in which Kramer drops a piece of candy into the body of a guy getting surgery. (If you haven’t seen it, you’re too far behind for me to start explaining now.) He thought the episode was ludicrous; his bosses, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, loved it. So did America. Others struggled to get David and Seinfeld to approve their story ideas so they could write scripts. All of them felt the pressure of a show gaining in popularity and brilliance every week.

Masters did not end up hurting anyone. He did end up off the show, however, at the end of the season. David and Seinfeld usually let most of their writers go at the end of each season, keeping only a few mainstays. Writers tended to use up most of their own interesting, story-worthy experiences within a year. Then David and Seinfeld would bring in a new crop the following fall to pick over.

Masters felt grateful for his time on the show. He went on to write for another sitcom, Grace Under Fire. He’d have Seinfeld on his resume for the rest of his career, and that was no small thing.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Analiese Richard's "The Unsettled Sector"

Analiese Richard is Associate Professor of Anthropology and International Studies at University of the Pacific.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Unsettled Sector: NGOs and the Cultivation of Democratic Citizenship in Rural Mexico, and reported the following:
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have taken on an increasingly important global role as both representatives of “civil society” and providers of humanitarian aid and social services. In Mexico, the NGO “boom” of the 1990’s and 2000’s was hailed as an indicator of democratic change. But what does the growth of this “third sector” comprised of NGOs mean for the future of citizenship?

The Unsettled Sector examines the contradictions that emerged as NGOs became institutionalized within the complex terrain of Mexican politics. Through a multi-sited ethnography of rural development NGOs in the Tulancingo Valley of Mexico, it contextualizes their role in helping rural people to claim their rights as citizens, highlighting the complex relationships between these new organizational forms and earlier historical models of civic action and social solidarity. Each chapter tells the story from a different angle, beginning with the history of rural cultures of citizenship, and moving through the perspectives of NGO workers, rural project participants, international funding partners, and so on.

In the 1990s, poor Mexican farmers came to be regarded as iconic victims of structural adjustment and free trade policies. The countryside was losing its traditional political importance as both a source of votes and a symbol of national identity, at the same time that NGOs were becoming more involved in both development and civic engagement projects in rural communities. In recent decades, cycles of drought and flooding driven by climate change have combined with the effects of North American economic integration and the privatization and corporatization of Mexican agriculture, to create new forms of political, economic, and social risk for participants in the rural development projects.

Page 99 describes the way political subjectivities in rural Hidalgo have been affected by these changes:
The disaster is interpreted locally through a discourse of desiccation, which diagnoses the premature death of the countryside as a result of human failures to maintain systems of reciprocity. This perceived rupture of a total system has produced a cataclysmic consciousness among many campesinos. Although they resist government attempts to naturalize the disaster by pointing out its origins in changing strategies of rule, the erosion of collective rural institutions leaves them to confront an uncertain future as individuals all the same.

It has become commonplace for Mexican journalists, political commentators, and activists to refer to the countryside as a disaster area. Some have even christened a new category of crisis: the governmental disaster. This term has been used to highlight the social and political implications of recent natural disasters, as well as to provoke discussion around the role of national and local governments in precipitating them. Contrasting governmental disasters to natural ones, Carlos Montemayor of La Jornada emphasizes the increasing use of public power to secure private profit in ways that cause harm to citizens and violate national laws. He suggests that “the disasters occurring within Mexican territory continue to stem not only from natural forces, but from the irresponsibility of the authorities” (Montemayor 2005). Hence misuse of political power and public authority is categorized as a hazard, alongside natural forces like hurricanes and droughts. Rural society is constantly referred to as suffering catastrophic crisis, but the popular mobilizations in 2003 and 2006 demonstrate that many Mexicans reject the notion that the demise of the countryside is simply the result of backwardness or inefficiency on the part of campesinos.
Far beyond a failure of state agencies to prevent or manage natural catastrophe, governmental disaster entails an active reordering of subjectivities and forms of rule. This quote from page 99 shows how at same time that Mexican NGOs were trying to organize rural communities for economic improvement and foment new forms of collective political consciousness, national-level political and economic reforms were eroding the collective basis for rural life. This not only made the work of development harder, but also contributed to the vulnerability of this new sector and of the forms of active citizenship it sought to cultivate.

The “Page 99 Test” is a partial success in that this passage describes the changing political consciousness in rural Hidalgan communities at the beginning of the 21st century. The perspectives of other key actors, however, remain out of view due to the structure of the book.
Learn more about The Unsettled Sector at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 15, 2016

Evan Braden Montgomery's "In the Hegemon's Shadow"

Evan Braden Montgomery is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan public policy research institute focused on national security strategy, defense planning, and military investment options.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In the Hegemon's Shadow: Leading States and the Rise of Regional Powers, and reported the following:
In the Hegemon’s Shadow tackles a straightforward but surprisingly understudied question: how does the leading state in the international system respond to rising regional powers? Although the appearance of new great powers has received far more attention, the emergence of new regional powers can also impact world politics in significant ways. Consequently, debates over whether to accommodate or oppose these regional powers have weighed heavily on leading states in the past.

For instance, at the turn of the 20th century, policymakers in Great Britain were trying to manage an increasingly capable Japan. Just a few years earlier, this island empire in East Asia fought a successful war against China, which was not only the stronger power on paper, but was also an informal British ally. Now that Tokyo had supplanted its rival, however, London faced a dilemma. On the one hand, Japan could be a very useful partner against Russia, which was expanding into the region. On the other hand, Japan was also an expansionist power in its own right, and could provoke a conflict that Great Britain was not prepared to fight.

Page 99 finds British policymakers wrestling with this tradeoff:
As an emerging regional power, Japan was also a revisionist power, whereas Great Britain hoped to preserve the status quo, or at least prevent it from deteriorating any further. Admittedly, Tokyo shared many of London’s objectives in China, specifically, restricting Russian influence to Manchuria and preserving what remained of the Open Door. Nevertheless, British policymakers feared the possibility that Japan might instigate a conflict with Russia to secure its dominant position in Korea, where London had few interests beyond preventing St. Petersburg from acquiring a naval base.
Ultimately, Great Britain opted to sign an alliance with Japan—a very capable but potentially very dangerous new partner. With China suffering from both internal and external threats, it was no longer able to withstand Russian aggrandizement. Tokyo, therefore, would take its place as a barrier to St. Petersburg, or so policymakers in London hoped.

Perhaps more importantly, this case is not unique. Leading states have had to choose between accommodating and opposing new regional powers on a number of occasions. Sometimes regional powers have presented significant opportunities. At other times they have presented great risks. And in cases like the rise of Japan, they have presented a complex mix of the two. The central goal of In the Hegemon’s Shadow is to explain how leading states navigate these situations.
Visit Evan Braden Montgomery's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jason M. Barr's "Building the Skyline"

Jason M. Barr is an associate professor of economics at Rutgers University - Newark. His areas of interests include urban economics, New York City history, and computational economics. He has published many articles in top peer-reviewed economics journals, and is one of the leading scholars on skyscraper economics.

Barr applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan's Skyscrapers, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss the history of the Five Points neighborhood in Lower Manhattan (modern Chinatown). Though not the main focus of the book, my aim is to argue that we need to reevaluate how we think about, and investigate, its history, especially in light of the growing body of social science research that has studied the benefits to society from dense, urban living.

In 1800, Five Points was an industrial district of tanners and slaughter houses adjacent to the Collect Pond, Manhattan’s largest body of fresh water. By 1811, the pond was filled in and the neighborhood emerged as a working class residential district. Starting in 1845, because of the Potato Famine, Irish immigrants began to arrive in great numbers, making it arguably one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. Sanitation and housing conditions in the neighborhood were woefully inadequate and Five Points gained a reputation as an infamous slum.

Charles Dickens toured its streets in 1842 and, in his American Notes for General Circulation, he offered this, “Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright instead of going on all-fours, and why they talk instead of grunting?” In 1890, reformer Jacob Riis, in How the Other Half Lives, wrote, “Where Mulberry Street crooks like an elbow within hail of the old depravity of the Five Points, is ‘the Bend,’ foul core of New York’s slums.”

The history of Five Points was defined and described by writers like Dickens and Riis. They aimed to motivate, and even shame, elected officials and others to address the district’s serious social and public health problems. In the process, these reformers defined the historiography of New York’s immigrant neighborhoods as predominantly negative. Even today, these historical accounts continue to hinder our ability to view immigrant life in Five Points and other enclaves more objectively.

Life in Five Points was certainly difficult, but the social and economic advantages should not be discounted. Residing there would have meant the chance to live among fellow countrymen, as well as have better access to employment opportunities, and greater chances for social and economic mobility. Research focused on the positive aspects of Five Points is very limited, but work by the historian, Tyler Anbinder, shows, for example, that even some of the most destitute Irish immigrants were able to amass sizable savings accounts after only a few years in the neighborhood. My work on Manhattan demographics shows that by 1900, Irish enclaves in Manhattan had expanded upward along Manhattan Island, suggestive of rising incomes and skills. Using modern social science methods, I’m hopeful we can shed more light on life in New York’s most notorious slum.
Learn more about Building the Skyline at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Peter Webb's "Imagining the Arabs"

Peter Webb is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS, University of London. Alongside his first monograph, Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam, he has written numerous articles on Arabic literature and Muslim narratives of pre-Islamic history, and he is also preparing translations and critical editions of three medieval Arabic texts about pre-Islamic Arabia.

Webb applied the “Page 99 Test” to Imagining the Arabs and reported the following:
Imagining the Arabs is a study of Arab origins and Arab identity, investigating the central questions of who are the Arabs, where did they come from, and what did it mean to be an Arab? Cogent answers to these questions have been obscured hitherto by the too frequent and too flippant use of the name ‘Arab’ to label manifold peoples across history. ‘Arab’ can signify all the people of Arabia, the name is also tagged to Muslim Conquerors in the wider Middle East; writers speak of ‘Arab pagans’, ‘Arab Christians’ and ‘Arab Muslims’; everyone in pre-Islamic Arabia is called an ‘Arab’, but so are the first Muslims; and while ‘Arabs’ are often associated with Bedouin, medieval Baghdadids, Damascenes and Cairenes are called ‘Arabs’ too. Middle Eastern history traces a tremendous ebb and flow of change wrought by momentous events across a vast area and long span of time, but ‘Arabs’ are treated as a constant: a community whose existence seems curiously impervious to change. History, in short, has too many ‘Arabs’, and there are too few critical questions as to what the name means and how Arab community evolved. Imagining the Arabs re-opens the case, using anthropological theories of ethnicity and identity to reappraise the vast store of Arabic literature and adduce a new model for Arab ethnogenesis.

Given the complexities of the task, it is perhaps not surprising that page 99 of Imagining the Arabs leads the reader to endnotes of Chapter 2 where technical questions about the early Arabic language are housed. The question of language looms significant: on a theoretical level, do members of one ethnic community need to speak the same language, and/or are all speakers of one language members of one ethnic community, ipso facto? We find that Arabic and the Arabs are somewhere in between. The evidence for early Arabic is also curiously distributed: there are only about a dozen Arabic-script texts datable to the pre-Islamic period, whilst, as note 27 on pg. 99 discusses,
At least fifty-five Arabic inscriptions and graffito (not including the monumental inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock or the vast numbers of coins) are expressly dated to the first century of Islam; a further fifteen undated inscriptions are ascribed to the first century AH. Well over half of the total date from 73/693 to 100/718 ... Islamic-era inscriptions are often longer than the pre-Islamic as well.
Inscriptions closely mirror other evidence, prompting a radical rethink about the emergence of Arab communal consciousness. The first people who called themselves Arabs seem in fact to have been the early Caliphate’s elite who rigorously distinguished themselves from Bedouin. Being Arab did not signify an antique sense of Arabian nomadic origin, but was instead a novel means for early Muslims to express what it meant to belong to their exclusive elite group in Islam’s mostly urban empire. Arabness emerged as an end-product of Islam’s remarkable success whereby the new religion, conquest and reorganisation of the Middle East created new senses of community, and the knotty intertwining of ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ identities which we still apprehend today is a product of Arabness’ rich and multifaceted history traced in Imagining the Arabs.
Learn more about Imagining the Arabs at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 10, 2016

James Wolfinger's "Running the Rails"

James Wolfinger is Associate Professor of History and Education at DePaul University. He is the author of Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love.

Wolfinger applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry, and reported the following:
What if I told you that Philadelphia was the scene of one of the worst racially motivated hate strikes in World War II? A strike that shut down the nation's third largest war production center less than two months after D-Day.

What if I told you that just three decades earlier, Philadelphia was the scene of one of the few general strikes in U.S. history? A strike that saw some 140,000 people walk off the job and two dozen people get killed.

And what if I told you that both of those immense strikes happened at the same company? And the company operated one of the largest public transit systems in the United States, the last big city privately owned public transportation system in the world by the late 1960s, and one that had a remarkably long history stretching from roughly the 1880s to 1968. You'd probably think something important was happening in labor relations at the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company.

I certainly did! And as my research took me beyond these two big strikes, I began to see that Philadelphia's transit system offered an ideal venue to explore the shifting, powerful ways that management employed various techniques to control its workforce. Over the generations, I found that the company used raw violence; company unions and stock purchase schemes; race-baiting; challenges to unionized workers of whether they were truly “American”; and assertions that the profit motive trumped all other reasons to run a transit system. At the same time, I found workers equally creative in adapting to the challenges they faced: organizing unions, going on strikes, and demanding recognition of their right to some control over their work lives.

By examining capital’s efforts at social control over nearly a century, Running the Rails gives readers not just a history of Philadelphia transit workers, but a historically-grounded way to think about issues critical to today: the power of capital in American society, the shifting nature of class relations, the connection between the development of urban space and class conflict, and the problems caused by private ownership of public services, to give a few examples.

Page 99 does not capture the multifaceted nature of capitalist control analyzed in Running the Rails, but it does begin to introduce readers to how management in the 1910s used company unions and a stock purchase plan to control its workforce in ways that remind us of Enron’s machinations not so long ago.
As Mitten gained control over the PRT workforce and cemented his plan, he liked to claim that it was all his own idea and unique in the United States, even the world. “I worked it out of my past experience, which showed the need of cooperation,” he once told the federal Commission on Industrial Relations. “It occurred to me, let us establish that portion of the gross earnings which the company would pay, and then let both work together to get from it the very greatest wage possible for the men. It is the principle, not the percent paid—but the principle.” To the Amalgamated, the plan seemed revolutionary enough that Mahon printed it in its entirety in the union’s journal, with the suggestion that it might offer the next step in industrial relations.

In reality, Mitten’s plan both advanced and captured the broader spirit of labor relations of the time, emphasizing company unions and welfare capitalism that ameliorated the worst excesses of a capitalist economy by giving workers a voice, however moderate, in their work lives and some fringe benefits that went beyond wage compensation. Company unions, as they came to be known, began as employee representation plans (ERPs) in Europe, mostly Great Britain and Germany, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Company unions spread to the United States, beginning, Stuart Brandes found in his study of American welfare capitalism, in Boston at Filene’s department store, where employees joined management in 1898 to form a committee to administer a medical clinic and insurance plan and then established the Filene Cooperative Association Council in 1905. Company unions spread slowly at first, then surged during World War I when the Great War threw American labor relations into turmoil. The United States had 225 company unions in 1919, 725 in 1922, and 814 in 1924. Economists estimated in the early 1920s that some one million American workers had representation from a company union. “It became an accepted axiom of progressive management thought in the 1920s,” wrote Bruce Kaufman in his study of industrial relations, “that an employee representation plan was an essential ingredient of good industrial relations.”
Learn more about Running the Rails at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 8, 2016

Craig A. Monson's "Habitual Offenders"

Craig A. Monson is Paul Tietjens Professor Emeritus of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. His recent books include Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy (2010), Divas in the Convent: Nuns, Music, and Defiance in Seventeenth-Century Italy (2012), and the co-edited essay collection, Music in Print and Beyond: Hildegard von Bingen to The Beatles (2013).

Monson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Habitual Offenders: A True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in Seventeenth-Century Italy, and reported the following:
From page 99:
.... Pamphili followed up with a perhaps equally unwelcome letter to Bologna’s novice archbishop, Niccolò Albergati-Ludovisi. “The enormous crime committed last year cannot be unknown to Your Eminence, which is to say, the flight from the Convertite of the two sisters whose cadavers were lately discovered, displaying manifest evidence of violent death. His Holiness commands that you issue uncompromising imperatives to your ministers to proceed as diligently as possible with the investigation previously undertaken by that tribunal, in order to discover the criminals.”

By July 16 sbirri had tracked down Giulia Santi. Authorities brought the middle-aged spinster not to the archiepiscopal court, as one might expect given Cardinal Pamphili’s orders, but to face the assistant auditor at the Torrone.

“Did you know Count Alessandro Maria Pepoli?”

“I knew him very well, indeed,” Donna Giulia answered, probably with a hint of pride, throughout the time when he was the premier cavalier of this city. For three years before his death I was the woman in charge of his household.”

“Where did the count and his family live?”

“Count Alessandro Maria had his home in the palace of the Lords Pepoli on strada Castiglione. His whole family lived in rooms near Count Roderigo and Count Francesco Pepoli.”

Half a dozen branches of the Pepoli clan shared the massive edifice on strada Castiglione (fig. 5, E; fig. 18; 44.492541° N, 11.346336° E). Since the early 1300s, when the family effectively ruled Bologna, the palace had expanded to include a hodgepodge of large courtyards and more modest corticelle, a maze of passageways, grand staircases and narrow spiral ones, and eventually more than two hundred bedrooms....
It might seem surprising that on July 1, 1645 papal nephew Cardinal Camillo Pamphili would respond so quickly to a letter of June 25, within a day of receiving it. (Some readers may be surprised that the letter from Bologna could reach Rome in the same time it takes today for USPS Retail Ground™.) But Pope Innocent X jumped at this opportunity to implicate his enemy, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who, as Bolognese papal legate, allegedly “tolerated and consented to such wicked and lewd acts to please his intimate familiars.” The pursuit of papal justice masks the means to papal revenge, and a mundane crime against persons of no consequence becomes a matter with international political implications.

Nothing could have been farther from Giulia Santi’s mind, however, when constables brought her before the court on July 16. Her testimony represents the first major break in the case: she had observed the fugitive nuns as they were spirited into hiding within Palazzo Pepoli by “the premier cavalier of this city.” Donna Giulia sends investigators off in pursuit of other household servants, who, it turns out, have observed much, much more. Hence, the chapter title, “Pas devant les Domestiques.”

Giulia Santi’s colleagues are no ordinary housemaids. Two sister servants, one a key witness, have long shared the count’s table—to the consternation of other Counts Pepoli, not to mention other servants. They have also shared his bed (sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both together) and have borne him a string of illegitimate children in that same bed. The more resourceful sister has even convinced the count to settle his estate upon her daughters rather than his natural half-brother. The brother, naturally, murders the count. One sister escapes by leaping out a window amidst a hail of harquebus fire; the other is stabbed in the chest but manages to flee to a convent. All this, before the discovery of the nuns’ bodies, buried in the wine cellar of the sisters’ aunt.

Perhaps “Pas devant les Domestiques” might have served as the title for the book, in fact. The narrative unfolds as much through the eyes, in the words, and in the acts of people of “a very ordinary sort” as through Great Men such as Pamphili, Barberini, and other princelings of the church.
Learn more about the book and author at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Nuns Behaving Badly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Charles Barr and Alain Kerzoncuf’s "Hitchcock Lost and Found"

Charles Barr is Emeritus Professor of Film History at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. His previous books include Ealing Studios, English Hitchcock, and a study of Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo. Barr applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films, co-authored with the Parisian scholar Alain Kerzoncuf, and reported the following:
Page 99 is filled by two very similar film images and a caption that identifies their source: the scene of the crime in Murder! and in Mary (both 1930; British International Pictures). Murder! is a very English crime thriller, Mary is a German version of it. Alfred Hitchcock shot the two films in parallel, keeping identical sets and camera angles for each, and most of the words, but changing the cast and the language shot by shot – the kind of twin production that was common in the early days of dialogue cinema. The page is typical of the book’s strategy of opening up unfamiliar areas of Hitchcock’s life and work, in contrast to the way the majority of the Hitchcock literature goes over ground that is by now well-trodden. Mary is not itself a new discovery, but the relation of the two films has never before been scrutinised in any detail. This section of the book juxtaposes five pairs of stills in all, in order sometimes to illustrate, sometimes to challenge, existing accounts. An example of the former is discussed on either side of page 99, starting with a quote from Hitchcock:
“Many touches that were quite funny in the English version were not at all amusing in the German one… I came to realize that I simply didn’t know enough about the German idiom.”

Some of these ‘touches’ were changed or dropped, others were retained, with awkward results. Immediately after the murder is discovered, Mrs Markham and the landlady bustle around making tea. Hitchcock shoots this in a single elaborate take running nearly two minutes, repeatedly moving right to left and back again as the two women move between kitchen and breakfast room, gossiping all the time. This restless staging wittily mimics, and enacts, the fussiness of the flutteringly anxious landlady, played to comic perfection by Marie Wright. But in Mary, she is replaced by Hermine Sterler, a genuinely great film actress but one who is very different in age, looks and style; she brings no comedy to the role, and the mannered staging of the scene thus seems anomalous, quite apart from the fact that the ritual of the nice cup of tea has less meaning in German culture than in English.
This scene is itself illustrated (page 101) by parallel images: the same kitchen and teapot, different actors. [image below right: click to enlarge]

Co-authorship was a new and productive experience. Alain Kerzoncuf had carried out, and published online, some great research on a range of Hitchcock’s unfamiliar wartime projects, including discovery of a lost short film (The Fighting Generation), and had located a very articulate surviving French actress, Janique Joelle, star of the Anglo-French propaganda short Bon Voyage. He was encouraged by the University of Kentucky Press to expand this work into a book, but felt he needed an anglophone collaborator. His WW2 research has a central place in Hitchcock Lost and Found, including a long interview with Joelle, and he continued to track down obscure films and data from his Paris base, which I was able to exploit and supplement by work in American and British archives.The result is a spread of new knowledge about all stages of Hitchcock’s long career, from his apprenticeship in silent cinema through to the 1960s. There is something apt and satisfying about this happy international collaboration between French and English authors and an American publisher: Hitchcock’s work belongs equally to England and America, and French critics were the first to approach it with full seriousness.
Learn more about Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue