Friday, June 21, 2024

Matthew D. Morrison's "Blacksound"

Matthew D. Morrison, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a musicologist, violinist, and Associate Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Blacksound: Making Race and Popular Music in the United States, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[African Americans were largely seen as] property, unable to claim rights for their own bodies, unequal in producing work deemed worthy of property claims (as they were also viewed as subhuman through the systematization of slavery). Under these conditions, the very aesthetics they produced became sources of property to be copyrighted and claimed by white music industrialists through sheet music, through other publications, and in their own performances within the exploitative models of the developing popular music industry.

Blackface effectively established the commercial industry between the United States and United Kingdom, and it provided the aesthetic/sonic basis of popular sound and culture in both nations, albeit to differing degrees. The theatrical form created scripts of black performativity (developed within Blacksound) that became racialized as “authentically” black and often degenerate when taken up by black people. For white people, the same scripts were thought of as “othered,” through which they could freely express and imagine/construct their own self identity. Blackface allowed white performers to take blackness on and off at will, both on and off the minstrel stage, and their audiences bore witness to the transformative acts within their own imaginaries, safely distanced from having to actually be and experience blackness.

(White) Europeans/European-Americans had the ability to simultaneously insert themselves into the ruse of the blackface mask and, in turn, blackness, while being able to remove the minstrel mask and/or reassume more proper performances of citizen in their public selves. Blackface performance allowed white people to negotiate their bodies, personhood, and construction of whiteness by reveling in blackness under the rules of Victorian and antebellum societies. At the same time, this culturally homogenized group vis-à-vis blackness was able to carefully and effectively manage the commercialization, circulation, and absorption of the very aesthetics that were exploited in the performances of the black musicians from whom they originated. The following chapter considers how the aesthetic of intellectual performance property became even more subtly embedded into the formalization of blackface minstrelsy and the amalgamation of Blacksound through Stephen Foster, one of its most prolific composers, known affectionately as the “Father of American Popular Song.”
As it turns out, page 99 provides a snapshot into the larger thesis and political stakes of my book, Blacksound. This page happens to be the last page of Chapter 2, which is also the end of Part I of my book. The book is organized chronologically: Part I addresses the development of commercial music through blackface minstrelsy during the antebellum era under slavery, while Part II considers how blackface’s commercialization throughout the nineteenth century shaped the emergence of the commercial music industry and music copyright at the turn of the twentieth century in the establishment of Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville, Broadway, film, and the popular recording industry–all taking place during the Jim Crow segregation era.

Because page 99 is essentially the end of a conclusion, it directly lays out my study of the legacy and impact of blackface minstrelsy on the making of American popular music, its industry, the construction of race and race-relations, anti-blackness, culture and politics. It also foreshadows the discussion in the following chapter/Part of how we begin to develop notions of intellectual property (in music) during slavery, as mostly white blackface performers, producers, and audiences took up ephemeral black performance aesthetics in sheet music and in live minstrel acts.

Blacksound is defined most simply as the sonic complement to blackface minstrelsy that serves as the foundation of American popular music, its industry, culture, politics, and entertainment. One thing that the page misses is that a major aspect of the book is deep musical and cultural analysis of mostly non-recorded music performances (both commercial and folk) throughout the nineteenth century to support the thesis and demonstrate how Blacksound is constructed and shifts over time. But overall, if someone read this one page, they would have a general (though not nuanced) understanding of the overall book and concept of Blacksound.
Learn more about Blacksound at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Stephen Schryer's "National Review's Literary Network"

Stephen Schryer is Professor of English at the University of New Brunswick. He is the author of Maximum Feasible Participation: American Literature and the War on Poverty (2018) and Fantasies of the New Class: Ideologies of Professionalism in Post-World War II American Fiction (2011).

Schryer applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, National Review's Literary Network: Conservative Circuits, and reported the following:
Page 99 recounts a key moment in the history of National Review’s literary network, when two literary critics – Hugh Kenner and Jeffrey Hart – argued over Governor Ronald Reagan’s proposed cutbacks to the University of California system. Before 1968, Kenner had been a conservative stalwart who supported National Review’s attempts to push the Republican Party to the right; he wrote an article supporting Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential run. He believed that Goldwater, if elected, would promote a cultural revolution in the academy, one that would benefit conservative intellectuals like himself. However, faced in 1968 with the practical consequences of electing a populist conservative, he became disenchanted with National Review’s brand of politics.

Kenner also lost faith in his ability to create a conservative cultural renaissance. Throughout the 1960s, Hugh Kenner used National Review as a venue for bringing highbrow literary culture to the American right. He published poems by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, and other experimental writers, and he published essays testing out ideas that would make their way into his ground-breaking study, The Pound Era (1971). However, when Kenner criticized Reagan, the standard-bearer of movement conservatism, National Review recruited fellow literary critic and Reagan speechwriter Jeffrey Hart to rebut him. Echoing Reagan’s anti-intellectual rhetoric, Hart ridiculed Kenner’s multi-syllabic prose style, depicting him as an out-of-touch liberal. Deeply disillusioned, Kenner temporarily withdrew from active participation in the magazine. “After painful thought,” he wrote to his close friend Guy Davenport, “I have formally but not publicly severed all connection with NR . . . the ideologues have gotten control.”

Readers flipping to page 99 will get a good sense of my book’s argument. I’m interested in the network of writers who gravitated towards National Review in the 1960s: figures like Kenner, short-story writer Guy Davenport, novelist John Dos Passos, historian and new journalist Garry Wills, and novelist and new journalist Joan Didion. Especially in the early 1960s, National Review was a great place for up-and-coming writers to make their mark. However, this upwelling of conservative writing didn’t last. By the 1970s, most of the high-profile literary figures associated with the magazine in the 1960s had drifted away, publishing in liberal magazines and sometimes embracing political positions that were unpalatable to movement conservatives. After 1970, it became increasingly difficult to find literary critics or highbrow writers openly affiliated with conservative politics.

Kenner’s debate with Hart highlights a crucial reason for this leftward drift. Kenner was drawn to National Review because of his friendship with William F. Buckley, Jr. He was also drawn to the magazine’s critique of what Buckley and other editors called the liberal establishment: left-wing ideologues whom conservatives believed had taken over the academy, the media, and the federal government. Kenner wanted to use his public writing to differentiate himself from this establishment, fashioning himself as a maverick anti-academic critic whose prose style echoed the experimentalism of modernists like Pound and Williams. When conservatives were political outsiders, he was able to overlook the populist anti-intellectualism that was always implicit in the idea of the liberal establishment. After 1968, this selective blindness became increasingly difficult. Kenner realized that the conservative attack on the liberal establishment threatened the very possibility of institutional expertise – the lifeblood of his career as a literary critic.
Learn more about National Review's Literary Network at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Matthew Kadane's "The Enlightenment and Original Sin"

Matt Kadane is a professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is the author of The Watchful Clothier: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Capitalist.

Kadane applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Enlightenment and Original Sin, and reported the following:
This is in many ways two books in one, a macro- and a micro-history, with one tending to ebb when the other flows. So it is not surprising to me that I only partly pass the test. Page 99 captures just one “book.”

Missing from that page is, for example, the big argument. I maintain that the Enlightenment can be defined by its opposition to original sin, as that doctrine was understood theologically. People at the time recognized that the Enlightenment entailed a new view of human nature that threatened a major premise of Christian orthodoxy, which was the Augustinian view that humans are naturally depraved and dependent on Christ for salvation. But if that’s where the coherence of the Enlightenment began, it ended, I also maintain, in the eventual debates enlighteners had about human nature on their own terms. Some wanted nothing to do with religious orthodoxy but, still convinced of Augustine’s psychology, anchored their worldly vision to the belief that people are irreparably self-interested. Against these anthro-pessimists, more optimistic enlighteners instead held that a society restructured would in turn improve human nature and set people on a more benign path. Original sin has the capacity, then, to explain where the Enlightenment was both consistent and contradictory.

Page 99 nevertheless does manage to capture the microhistory told in the book. This relates to a recovering Puritan alcoholic named Pentecost Barker, who rejected original sin in his early forties and, with the zeal of a convert, embraced the Enlightenment. On page 99, the reader finds Barker describing his late-life view that “God” is tantamount to what the ancient Greeks called “Nous,” or pure intelligence. On the same page, Barker characterizes Jesus as a mere man and recounts an argument he once had with a religious “bigot” who he “stunned…with a few plain texts, indeed: God so loved &c that He sent &c.” The language is cryptic. But here, as elsewhere, Barker wrote in shorthand to a fellow traveler, the Unitarian minister Samuel Merivale, who knew well the anti-Trinitarian argument Barker was referencing: God could not send Jesus to earth if the two beings were folded into the same entity. The Trinity was therefore a contradiction in terms, not to mention being absent from the Bible.

At the bottom of page 99, Barker then tells Merivale that there are two types of Christians. Some recognize “how fine and beautiful are the sermons of X on the Mount.” But others, who Barker snidely calls the orthodox, “run to Paul’s Epistles…transub[stantiation] Confession Absolution etc etc makes Deists in France. The ∆ [Trinity] and Satisfaction [predestination] makes em [deists] in England. But tho I am censur’d for the Rational, nothing but Reason will make reasonable xtians.” The language is again obscure. But Barker was unmistakably dividing Christians (much as in an adjacent frame of reference we could divide enlighteners) into two general camps. One was animated by the hopeful idea that people still reflect the divine image in which they were made. The other, rooted in the Pauline and Augustinian tradition, rested on an accretion of doctrines and ceremonies that had the intended effect of keeping people in check. Barker was further convinced that this latter tradition made “deists” out of reasonable people. In this and in other passages in his writing, he drew on his own experience to try to answer one of the vexing questions in European history. Why, for some people, did traditional religion stop making sense?
Learn more about The Enlightenment and Original Sin at the University of Chicago Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Watchful Clothier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

"Assembling Tomorrow" by Scott Doorley, Carissa Carter, et al

Scott Doorley is a writer, designer, and the creative director at the Stanford He has overseen everything from books to workspaces to digital products and initiatives focused on the future of learning and design. He co-wrote the book Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration and teaches courses in design communication. His work has been featured in museums from San Jose to Helsinki and in publications such as Architecture + Urbanism and the New York Times.

Carissa Carter is a designer, geoscientist, and the academic director at the Stanford She's the author of The Secret Language of Maps: How to Tell Visual Stories with Data, and teaches design courses on emerging technologies, climate change, and data visualization. Her work on designing with machine learning and blockchain has earned multiple design awards, including Fast Company Innovation and Core 77 awards.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known as the, was founded at Stanford University in 2005. Each year, more than a thousand students from all disciplines attend classes, workshops, and programs to learn how the thinking behind design can enrich their own work and unlock their creative potential.

Armando Veve is an award-winning illustrator whose drawings have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, National Geographic, Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, and Wired, among others. He studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and currently resides in Philadelphia.

The authors applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, Assembling Tomorrow: A Guide to Designing a Thriving Future from the Stanford, and reported the following:
A bee. Softly but realistically rendered in graphite and resting at the bottom of the page. That’s what you’ll see on page 99. It doesn’t necessarily belong there, but bees come up a couple of times in the book and, because of their repetition, they became a sort of symbol for the clash between nature and technology. Bees helped us to ask the question: How far is too far when tinkering with the natural world? For a book concerned about the future, and how humans, technology, and nature are colliding, it felt like a good metaphor. And so this page 99, while it contains no text, offers a nice, concise (though perhaps obscure) metaphor for the book. However, what is wonderful about page 99, beyond the image, is that it sits as a bridge between two distinctive aspects of the book: a short piece of speculative fiction and a deep exploration on the qualities of design.

If you turn back one page you’ll be at the very end of a “History of the Future”—a fiction story tucked among the book’s nonfiction passages—titled “Compassion School.” In it we imagine a time when empathy and compassion are the core curriculum at K12 schools, and high achievers in social-emotional learning are lauded as being the best future leaders. How would the world change if capacity for compassion was the driver of success?

If you move ahead two pages, you’ll be at the beginning of chapter 4, which is titled Make-Believe: Our View Is Limited (Yet We Think We See the Full Picture). At the start of this chapter we introduce the idea of Umwelt (“surround-world”), a quirky word used to describe the quirky ways individuals experience the world through the limits of their senses. All creatures have enhanced senses in some area(s), and diminished senses in others. For example, butterflies can see more of the electromagnetic color spectrum, cockroaches are more sensitive to vibrations, and dogs have a tremendous sense of smell. But all of us–including the butterfly, cockroach, and dog–are stuck in our own sensory bubbles, forever unable to see the full picture. Yet we’re not really aware of what we’re missing. And the point is this (and more): “If we can learn to love the search for what we don’t know and can’t sense as much as we cherish what we think we do know, we may find our way to a thriving future.” Much of the book is about getting comfortable with, and finding opportunity within our own limits.
Visit the Stanford website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 17, 2024

John Strausbaugh's "The Wrong Stuff"

John Strausbaugh is a well known author of history books. His titles include Victory City, City of Sedition, and The Village. A former editor of New York Press, he has written about history and culture for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Evergreen Review, the Wilson Quarterly, and other publications.

Strausbaugh applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Wrong Stuff: How the Soviet Space Program Crashed and Burned, and reported the following:
The Wrong Stuff is a history of the surprisingly ramshackle Soviet space program, and how its success was more spin than science. Driven by propaganda-crazed political leaders, Soviet rocket scientists achieved great feats of make-do ingenuity against bedeviling odds – except when they failed. The government trumpeted the victories and hid the failures, which only became public knowledge after the Soviet Union fell.

A good part of the book is about the young cosmonauts who risked life and limb in jerry-rigged space vehicles, and sometimes died in them. Page 99 is about one of them, Gherman Titov, as a young recruit. Like most cosmonauts, he had grown up dirt-poor in a poor country. From that page:
By February 1960 an initial field of three thousand cosmonaut candidates was whittled down to a group of only twenty. Korolev called them his “little eagles.” [Yuri] Gagarin emerged early as one of the front-runners. His chief competitor was Gherman Titov, who came from a similar background but was of a very different temperament. Two years younger than Gagarin, Titov grew up poor in an isolated, often snowbound Siberian village in the region called the Altai Krai. His father, a schoolteacher, built the family’s one-room log cabin. Gherman slept on a shelf above his mother’s narrow bed. A sister would later say that maybe it was sleeping up near the ceiling that gave him his first dreams of flying. His father filled the little home with books, and Gherman grew up to be unusually literate for a fighter pilot. He wrote poetry and recited Pushkin at length. An uncle who was a World War I flyer inspired him to join the air force. He earned his wings on his twenty-second birthday. Where Gagarin was a middling pilot, Titov was an ace. Unlike Gagarin, who always looked like his uniform was a little too big for him, Titov looked sharp, natty, well-tailored. And while Gagarin could be friendly as a puppy, Titov could be argumentative to a point that nearly derailed his career more than once when he popped off at superior officers. He and Gagarin admired each other the way opposites do. When it grew clear that they were the stars of the group, they engaged in a fierce competition to be the first human in space.
Except for a small hint of what the rest of the book is like, I don't think a single page can possibly give a sense of the scope of the story. It begins at the end of World War II and follows the Soviet space program through decades of triumphs and defeats to the end of the USSR and its legacy in the equally cash-strapped and slapdash Russian space efforts today. Page 99 is just one step on a much longer journey.
Visit John Strausbaugh's website.

The Page 99 Test: Victory City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sandra E. Bonura's "The Sugar King of California"

Sandra E. Bonura is a historian, researcher, and writer. A retired professor of education and school counseling, she is the author of Empire Builder: John D. Spreckels and the Making of San Diego; Light in the Queen’s Garden: Ida May Pope, Pioneer for Hawai‘i’s Daughters; and An American Girl in the Hawaiian Islands: Letters of Carrie Prudence Winter, 1890–1893.

Bonura applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Sugar King of California: The Life of Claus Spreckels, and reported the following:
From page 99 [footnotes omitted]:
The transaction caused a huge uproar with cries of “land grabber.” In 1880 the going rate for land in Maui was about $1.50 an acre, making the crown lands worth around $1.5 million. Princess Ruth’s claim to a half interest in the lands would then be estimated, not at the paltry $10,000 Claus paid but at $750,000.29 The sale was hotly contested and legally questioned throughout the Hawaiian kingdom. First and foremost, members of the ruling monarchy believed that Princess Ruth’s legal claim to the crown lands was debatable because she “had no estate, right, title or interest of any description in the crown lands.” Liliʻuokalani was angry: “Mr. Spreckels paid the Princess Ruth $10,000 to release her claim to a small tract of these lands, although she had never ascended the throne.” It was true the princess herself never took the throne, and some royals, behind her back, questioned her self-claimed close genealogical relationship with the Kamehamehas.

Claus sought legal advice in both San Francisco and Hawaiʻi to ensure he had a plausible claim to the land, and came away with conflicting opinions, but most concluded that his position was “legally weak.” Nevertheless, some haoles in the Hawaiian legislature were more than happy to assert that he had good title to those crown lands: his real estate deal would set a precedent for the sale of prime crown lands, and if he could own some of the best agricultural lands in the kingdom, perhaps they could too! However, those legislators who claimed that Claus had a weak legal case “feared the power of his money to hire the best legal talent and, one way or another, get title to half the crown lands.” Realizing they couldn’t finance a long and drawn- out lawsuit by Claus, the Hawaiian legislature, out of sheer frustration, was persuaded to quiet any subsequent claims of his by passing the contentious Act to Authorize the Commissioners of Crown Lands to Convey Certain Portions of Such Lands to Claus Spreckels in Satisfaction of All Claims He May Have on Such Lands. Since Claus had previously been leasing the land under a thirty-year contract for $1,000 per annum, he settled the case for $30,000 in “lost lease money and the future value of less than .05% of the Crown Lands.” Once this compromise was signed on August 11, 1882, the kingdom finally conveyed the 24,000 agricultural acres to Claus.

Princess Ruth had been suffering from heart disease for some time and likely paid little attention to all the legal commotion surrounding the act. She died at fifty-seven, just nine months later. In her will she left everything, including 353,000 acres of Kamehameha lands, to her cousin Princess Bernice
Page 99 was revealing to me in that it made my biography subject look like a hated monopolist which is dispelled later in the book. So, if I were an average person and asked to look at page 99, I would think …oh here is another rich guy who pushed his way up the ladder with force. I’m not reading it.

The Page 99 Test doesn't work very well for my book. A prospective reader would get a better sense of the book from this take:
Sandra Bonura is the first biographer to give a heart and soul to Claus Spreckels, his era’s [Elon] Musk. Fiercely independent, resourceful, and combative, Spreckels arguably altered the history of California more than anyone in his time. In this deeply researched biography Bonura paints a complete tapestry of Spreckels’s complicated business and family life, wealth beyond imagination, and the incredible drive of a titan without peer.
That's from Victor J. Dicks, author of Forsaken Kings: Emma Spreckels, the Surfer of Asbury Park.
Learn more about the book and author at Sandra E. Bonura's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Andrew M. Gardner's "The Fragmentary City"

Andrew M. Gardner is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. He has focused his research on the places, peoples and societies that interact on the Arabian Peninsula, where he has conducted extensive fieldwork.

Gardner applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Fragmentary City: Migration, Modernity, and Difference in the Urban Landscape of Doha, Qatar, and reported the following:
The 99th page of my new book primarily consists of a description of The Pearl, the man-made island just off the coast of Doha, Qatar. I’ll quote here the first of two paragraphs describing The Pearl:
The final example is the development known as The Pearl, which is the Qatari example of the offshore residential developments for which the Gulf states are renowned. Developments like The Pearl have a symbolic resonance that is unprecedented, for they are visible from outer space. In local parlance, and as if often repeated in writing, these developments have been “reclaimed from the sea.” In this case, The Pearl is a man-made island that occupies the shallow coastal waters once vital to the pearl industry and of great environmental importance (Burt 2014). Construction of The Pearl commenced in 2003. Altogether, the island development contains some 18,831 dwellings intended to accommodate an estimated 45,000 residents. The 400 hectares (985 acres) of reclaimed land are built and arranged to provide more than thirty-two kilometers of new beachfront, and the retail and commercial offerings that suffuse the island development reach for a stylistically cosmopolitan and culturally diverse tenor. Costs for the project were initially estimated at $2.5 billion, but estimates have now ballooned to nearly $15 billion.
This section doesn’t really illuminate the central thesis of my book. But like any ethnography, it’s details, examples, and specifics that lead readers to the overarching theses that undergird the book. In that sense, detailed descriptions like those presented here are threads that one can follow to those central themes. Let’s follow the thread leading from page 99 for a moment!

First, migrants come from all over the Indian Ocean world to work in Qatar. Those migrants end up living in particular locations and spaces in the city. Consigning foreigners to particular enclaves and specific spaces is characteristic of the contemporary Gulf city. But as I demonstrate in this book, all sorts of things other than people are also consigned to enclaves and to specific spaces in the urban landscape.

It’s this juncture where the description of The Pearl found on page 99 fits: The Pearl is an exceptional space, for it is one of the only places in Qatar where foreigners can own property. Notably, while The Pearl is an exceptional space in that sense, it’s also quintessentially emblematic of the pattern by which Doha has grown in recent decades — a pattern that I refer to as an urban spatial discourse. This urban spatial discourse has deeply shaped the city one encounters there today. Indeed, in this book I contend that the city itself is best comprehended as a conglomeration of these enclaves and gargantuan urban spaces.

While these enclaves and distinctions in the urban landscape have been a lightning rod for much Western critique, in this book I point in another direction. I suggest that the fragmentary nature of the city’s urban landscape has been an integral feature in the preservation of cultural differences amidst such dramatic transnational movements and flows. Simultaneously, I also argue that this urban spatial discourse has been the key tool by which Qatar’s citizen-minority govern the “foreign matter” they host on the peninsula and in the city. In the final accounting, what’s notable about Doha is the superdiverse demography of the city, and the absence of integration as an ideal (or even a desire) by most of its residents. With so much diversity packed into the urban landscape, we should all pay attention to the urban ethos of Doha and cities like it.
Learn more about The Fragmentary City at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 14, 2024

D. Marcel DeCoste's "Professing Darkness"

D. Marcel DeCoste, professor of English at the University of Regina, is the author of The Vocation of Evelyn Waugh: Faith and Art in the Post-War Fiction.

DeCoste applied the Ford Madox Ford inspired "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Professing Darkness: Cormac McCarthy's Catholic Critique of American Enlightenment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Professing Darkness would seem, on the face of it, to offer an instance of a text that fails Ford’s test. Engaged in a detailed reading of the final pages of just one of the dozen McCarthy works that my book considers, it seems far too focused a passage to fairly represent the monograph as a whole. It reads as follows:
result of his denying his own culpability and his embracing Enlightenment dreams of perfection. Yet even years after this grisly climax, Holme is granted another chance to repent of his crimes against charity and community, but while Frye contends that his travels culminate “in a realization, albeit a weak one, of his own error and a muted attempt to correct it” (“Histories” 8), Outer Dark instead concludes with Holme affirming both his refusal of relationship and the guiltlessness of that choice. His encounter with a blind man offers him a moment in which he may both heed the gospel of forgiveness and perform an atoning altruistic act. “Ragged and serene” (239), this sightless itinerant hails the passing Culla, attempts friendly conversation, and extends concern: “Is they anything you need?” (240). He denies the title of preacher, asking “What is they to preach? It’s all plain enough. Word and flesh” (240). He then shares a tale of a failed faith healer and expresses the desire to find that man and relieve him of whatever guilt he may yet feel: “If somebody don’t tell him he never will have no rest” (241). While the blind man offers welcome, models solicitude, and implies that the Incarnation expresses both a duty to succor others and uni­versal access to divine solace, Culla wants none of it. In keeping with his merce­nary outlook, he assumes this evangelist’s overtures are those of a salesman and seeks to move on. Doing so, he finds that the road terminates in an impassable swamp, “a landscape of the damned” (242). Returning, he spies the blind man still coming and passes by him without a word, reflecting “did he know how the road ended. Someone should tell a blind man before setting him out that way” (242). Even here, Holme might be the Samaritan to offer this warning, to recog­nize as his own the duty to extend the same concern that has been shown him. But having spent the novel betraying—in his lies and rejection of kinship—both word and flesh, Holme once again refuses the call to speak truly or forge a saving fraternity. Seeing in this refusal no sin he is empowered to commit or to forbear, he balks at that recognition of moral responsibility for and before others that is the essence of penitence, and persists in his benighted roving.

That this penitent’s hope remains open even to so perverse a figure as Culla Holme might well surprise, but the ultimate fate of Lester Ballard enacts even more forcefully Knox’s Catholic notion that no sinner is irredeemable, provided he takes the path of contrition and surrenders an enlightened insistence on his perfect sovereignty. In his lurking in the shadows and retreat to subterranean haunts, Ballard typically flees the scrutiny and judgment of his community.
The bulk of the page thus offers an interpretation of the fate of one Culla Holme, anti-hero of McCarthy’s second published novel, Outer Dark. More specifically, it argues that, even after this novel’s bloody climax (which sees him play passive witness to the murder and cannibalization of the son of his incestuous relationship with sister Rinthy), Holme is afforded a chance at reform in his meeting with the blind preacher. This, I note, he ignores. I then move on, at the foot of the page, to signal that the even more depraved Lester Ballard, necrophiliac and serial-murdering focus of McCarthy’s next novel, receives and successfully seizes upon a similar shot at redemption.

I say that the test might be judged to fail here, because the claims being dealt with on page 99 are so focused and granular. The larger argument of the book is that Cormac McCarthy’s oft-noted critique of American culture is fuelled by his likewise frequently remarked interest in matters spiritual. The novelty of my study lies, first, in its drawing a clear line between these two currents in the fiction and, second, in its demonstration that the religious concepts that so frame the author’s dissection of American Enlightenment consistently derive from his education and upbringing as a Roman Catholic. Professing Darkness thus makes a case for the centrality to his fiction of such key notions as the sacramental character of creation, humanity’s fallen state, the subsequent need for charitable communion with God and neighbor, and the necessity, and radical availability, of penitential conversion. Page 99 above would seem to address but one of these four ideas as it relates to only part of a single work and with little regard for the study’s concern with Enlightenment thought or American culture.

Nonetheless, this page might also fairly be judged to pass Ford’s test. Certainly, it deals with such dominant themes of the study as sin, charity, communion, and repentance. It offers the reader a representative taste, therefore, of the tone of the work as a whole. Moreover, it fairly introduces the book’s orienting lexicon (Catholic), its methodology (close reading married to a history of ideas) and its approach—thematic, moral, and theological. As such, the browsing reader could use it to make a pretty well-informed decision as to their willingness to undertake a study of the volume as a whole.
Learn more about Professing Darkness at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Justine Firnhaber-Baker's "House of Lilies"

Justine Firnhaber-Baker is Professor of History at the University of St Andrews. A former fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and a graduate of Harvard University, she is the author of The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt (2021) and Violence and the State in Languedoc, 1250-1400 (2014).

Firnhaber-Baker applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, House of Lilies: The Dynasty That Made Medieval France, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…unsuccessful expedition in 1141 to capture Toulouse, which Eleanor claimed by right of her grandmother. Louis’s anger at these failures and Thibaut’s assault, as they saw it, on Petronilla’s happiness and indeed her salvation, grew white hot when it became known that Thibaut was sheltering the pope’s preferred candidate for the see of Bourges. By August 1142, Louis had invaded Champagne, and when his army reached the town of Vitry, whose unarmed inhabitants fled from the violence of his ravaging soldiers, he ordered the massacre that still haunted him years later.

As the war in Champagne dragged on, Queen Eleanor, too, began to have doubts. She had not yet carried a pregnancy to term, a fact which suggested God’s displeasure. Although her influence on her husband’s reign during these unhappy early years is hard to prove – the sources are scant and coloured by knowledge of her later actions – she does seem to have gained some say in the kingdom’s governance soon after her marriage, and many blamed its ‘confused and chaotic’ character on her. Certainly, Bernard of Clairvaux faulted her for Louis’s aggressive policy toward Champagne and his unwillingness to settle with Count Thibaut or to concede to the pope’s wishes for the see of Bourges. When Bernard came upon Eleanor praying for a child during the reopening festivities for Abbot Suger’s renovated Saint- Denis in June 1144, he seized the opportunity and promised her that God would finally bless her womb, but only if she dropped her obdurate stance and worked zealously for peace. She agreed, and his prediction proved correct. Once Thibaut and Louis were reconciled and the pope’s candidate took up the see of Bourges – though at the cost of Louis breaking his sacred oath never to allow it and incurring yet another sin to weigh on his conscience – Eleanor did at long last bear a child, albeit a disappointingly female one.

The queen was far from alone in agreeing to do what Bernard asked of her. The honey-tongued abbot had a talent for convincing people to do things, and it was he who convinced the kingdom to undertake Louis’s crusade. The dubious nobles at Louis’s Christmas court had promised to seek Bernard’s advice, and he in turn sought guidance from the pope, who was more than happy to have Bernard…
A conflicted king, a powerful queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine, no less!), a saint, a crusade, a massacre of innocents, and a family drama that changes the fate of a nation: It’s all there on page 99. House of Lilies is a history of the Capetian dynasty that ruled France from 987 to 1328. It follows the intertwined stories of this royal family and the nation it ruled – and in many ways built – over these formative centuries in European political and cultural history. When the first Capetian king was crowned, national borders were still fluid, kings were weak relative to their position in later centuries, and iconic elements of medieval life, like chivalry, gothic architecture, and crusading, had yet to be invented. But by the time the last Capetian king died, all those things – and much more – had come into being, in no small part because of the Capetians themselves.

On page 99, we meet King Louis VII, first husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine, as he is trying to get the Second Crusade off the ground, partly to expiate his sin in burning 1,300 people alive in a church while warring against one of his barons. The crusade will be preached by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, whom we also meet on page 99, where he promises Eleanor that if she influences Louis VII for good then she will get pregnant. Eleanor and Louis’s barren marriage – which only produced two daughters in fifteen years – was the reason that Louis eventually divorced her. This proved to be a terrible decision because Eleanor then immediately married King Henry II of England, one of the most dangerous foes France ever faced. Heiress to vast duchy of Aquitaine in southern France, Eleanor brought these lands to Henry, who ruled not only England but also a collection of French lands much larger than the Capetians’ own. (Adding insult to injury, Eleanor then gave Henry baby after baby after baby, five of them boys.) Louis VII’s son and grandson would conquer most of these lands – and even invade England itself in 1216 – but Gascony, the last remnant of Eleanor’s duchy, stayed in English hands until the end of the Hundred Years War (1338-1453), the beginning of which is where my book ends.
Learn more about House of Lilies at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Madiba K. Dennie's "The Originalism Trap"

Madiba K. Dennie is the deputy editor and senior contributor at the critical legal commentary website Balls and Strikes, the co-director of the Democracy Committee of the New Jersey Reparations Council, and was previously a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. Her legal and political commentary has been featured in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, and she has been interviewed on the BBC, MSNBC, and other media outlets. She has taught at Western Washington University and New York University School of Law. Dennie is a graduate of Columbia Law School and Princeton University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Originalism Trap: How Extremists Stole the Constitution and How We the People Can Take It Back, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Originalism Trap falls very close to the end of Chapter 2, “Stealing Our Liberties,” and it includes some direct recommendations for Americans to reclaim the rights they’ve lost to originalism’s takeover of constitutional interpretation. For instance, the first sentence on the page is “Inclusive constitutionalism argues that we should be strengthening rather than shrinking our substantive due process analyses in order to make the Constitution’s principles real for all of us.” And the next paragraph begins with the lines, “Positive rights such as these have been disfavored by the Supreme Court, to be sure. But the Supreme Court is disfavored by the public, and neither the Founders nor the Supreme Court have the final word in the nation’s ongoing dialogue about constitutional interpretation.”

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Page 99 Test worked for The Originalism Trap. The book rejects originalism as a method of legal interpretation and proposes “inclusive constitutionalism” as an alternative. And on page 99, I straightforwardly describe what that would mean with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections. Throughout the book, I aim to empower readers to play an active role in reshaping constitutional meaning. And here on page 99, I remind readers that there is no inherent finality to the Supreme Court’s decisions; without the public’s assent, the Court’s decisions are just words on paper. And, while I think my best jokes are on other pages, page 99 does provide just a taste of the irreverence with which I regard the Supreme Court. Browsers who opened the book up to page 99 would get a decent grasp of the book’s thesis and, importantly, see that they don’t need to be a lawyer to understand it. From both the substance and the style, a casual reader would recognize that this book about the Constitution is indeed for “we the people.”
Visit Madiba K. Dennie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue