Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finally, a Hitler that's Really Soft and Cuddly

As historians know, Nazi imagery proved to have immense power as a mobilizing force for a mass movement. Nowadays (perhaps we should be grateful for small things), its sinister power is evidently confined to deluding the witless into thinking they are clever, and tempting many otherwise well-mannered people--who would never tell a racist joke, much less commit a fashion faux pax--into the most stupefying lapses of taste. 

What else could account for the latest manifestation of the blessings of a consumer society?

The Sun reported from London:
IT’S A-doll Hitler.

A TRENDY designer has sparked outrage with a set of knitting patterns to make woolly models of the world’s most evil dictators.
Rachael Matthews — who has kick-started a celebrity knitting craze — calls the grotesque Nazi doll Knitler.
Her new book has designs for a dozen dictators, with a photo of Hitler doing the Nazi salute on the cover.
Other tyrants featured are Iraqi monster Saddam Hussein, Uganda’s brutal Idi Amin and Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.

A spokesman for the Jewish Network said: “You would hope people would have more sense than to take a cuddly Hitler into work.”

The ADL was not amused, either:
New York, NY, July 28, 2008 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed outrage that a recently published British knitting book features an Adolf Hitler doll . . . . "We expect that this disturbing marketing ploy will fail miserably in Britain, where 450,000 people died in the war to defeat Hitler and the Nazi regime," Mr. Foxman added.
Sick humor about Nazis: It's not just for royals anymore!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Retro Reading (2)

More from the series in Le Monde:

28 July: Yves-Marc Ajchenbaum, on Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, Les Héritiers (1964)
En 1964, un fils de cadre supérieur a quatre-vingts fois plus de probabilités d'entrer à l'université qu'un fils de salarié agricole, quarante fois plus qu'un fils d'ouvrier, deux fois plus qu'un fils de cadre moyen... "Pour les classes défavorisées, constatent Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) et Jean-Claude Passeron, il s'agit purement et simplement d'élimination."
29 July: Nicolas Weill on Louis Althusser, Pour Marx (1965)
Dès qu'on évoque aujourd'hui une oeuvre qui touche de près ou de loin à la sphère du marxisme, on croit de bon ton de préciser aussitôt qu'il s'agit d'un "continent disparu" dont l'exploration n'aurait qu'un intérêt archéologique. C'est passer un peu vite sur la vitalité nouvelle qu'a acquise, au cours des quinze dernières années, la philosophie inspirée par Marx et Engels. De nombreuses tentatives d'actualisation et de réévaluation ont transformé cette jachère en un domaine singulièrement actif. Une telle réappropriation aurait-elle été possible sans le rafraîchissement du marxisme par la philosophie opéré plusieurs décennies plus tôt grâce à l'austère travail de Louis Althusser (1918-1990), dont Pour Marx, en 1965, sera la spectaculaire révélation ?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

27-28 July 1794 (9-10 Thermidor II): The Fall of Robespierre and his Faction

Robespierre: Aquatint portrait by Levachez;
vignette of Robespierre lying wounded after his arrest:
engraving by Duplessi-Bertaux, from a series of portraits of
major figures of the Revolution, 1798/99.

This year, as it happens, the Gregorian and Revolutionary calendars are close. Today, 27 July 2008, is 8 Thermidor, Year CCXVI.  

On 27 July 1794--the 9th of Thermidor, Year 2, by the new Revolutionary calendar--Maximilien Robespierre and his faction (notably, Georges Couthon and Louis-Antoine Saint-Just) were denounced and arrested.  They were guillotined the following day. For their opponents, most of the contemporary world, and much of posterity, it was a victory.

In the National Convention, Jean-Lambert Tallien proclaimed:
This is one of liberty's finest days: the conspirators' heads have just fallen on the scaffold.  (Loud applause.)  The Republic triumphs, and the same blow shakes the thrones of the tyrants of the world.  This example will convince them, if they could still doubt it, that the French people will be never governed by a master.  (Renewed applause.)  Let us go and join our fellow citizens, let us go and share the general joy; they day of a tyrant's death is a festival for brotherhood.
from Richard T. Bienvenu, ed., The Ninth of Thermidor: The Fall of Robespierre (NY: Oxford University Press, 1968), 239.
In fact, the historical truth is far more complex.

Robespierre  (who was not head of government and held no official position at the time) was overthrown by an unholy alliance of radicals and reactionaries, which his personal failings and political miscalculations had helped to forge.  Part of Robespierre's mistake lay in his attempt to ratchet up the so-called "Terror"--which he defined simply as severe and inflexible justice, a response to the crisis of foreign invasion and domestic counterrevolution--at a time when military success seemed at last to have rendered it superfluous.  The Terror had saved the Revolution, and the nation was exhausted.

Some of his opponents sought to end the Terror, while others, who had been responsible for its worst excesses, feared that he was about to call them to account.  At bottom, both acted primarily out of self-interest. 
Tallien, for example, was a notorious participant in the Terror, who, as Representative on Mission in Bordeaux enthusiastically urged revolutionaries to "feed the 'holy guillotine.'"  After becoming romantically involved with the aristocratic Thérésa Cabarrús, he opportunistically tacked to the right.  Recalled to Paris to account for his bloody policies, he helped to overthrow Robespierre out of fear for his own safety, and in order to save his recently jailed mistress.

Unlike the self-serving Tallien, Bertrand Barère, another member of the group that overthrew Robespierre, later (1832) thought better of his actions:
'He was a man without personal ambition, a Republican to his fingertips,' said Barère; 'his misfortune was to have aspired to a dictatorship, which he believed to be the only means to arrest the spread of evil passions. . . . we also knew that he would have sent us to the guillotine as men opposed to his projects; and so we overthrew him.  Since then, I have thought much about this man.  I have seen that his dominating passion was to establish a Republican government and that those whom he wished to bring to justice were the men whose opposition stood in the way of such a government.  Would to heaven there were in the Chamber of Deputies today someone to point to point to those who conspire against our freedom!  We were then in the middle of a war, and we did not understand this man.  . . . .  His was the temperament of many great men, and posterity will not refuse him this title!'
. . . .
He was a man of purity and integrity, a true Republican.  It was his vanity, his irascible sensibility, and his unjust suspicions of his colleagues that were the cause of his downfall . . . . It was a great calamity!'

--recollections of Barère, in George Rudé, ed., Robespierre,  Great Lives Observed (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Spectrum Books, 1967), 121-22.
Historian George Rudé, though acknowledging that Robespierre's missteps and "vanity" and "irascible sensitivity" contributed to his downfall, goes on to assert:
these . . . are relatively minor matters and, in terms of the role he played in history, do little to alter the score.  The French Revolution was one of great landmarks in modern history.  No other single event did so much to destroy the aristocratic society and absolutist institutions of Old Europe and to lay the groundwork for new societies--both bourgeois and socialist--that, on every continent, have risen from their ashes since. To this transformation Robespierre made a signal contribution:  not only as the Revolution's outstanding leader at every stage of its most vigorous and creative years; but also as the first great champion of democracy and the people's rights.  And this, essentially, is what establishes his claim to greatness.
George Rudé, Robespierre: Portrait of a Revolutionary Democrat (NY:  Viking Press, 1975), 213.
The so-called "Terror" was not coincidentally the most progressive period of the Revolution, which achieved many of the objectives that we now take for granted: universal male suffrage, national public education, and the abolition of slavery. When Robespierre died, an essential element of the Revolution died with him.  Tallien declared in 1794, "the French people will be never governed by a master," but only 5 years later, Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in a coup d'état, and 5 years after that, crowned himself Emperor.

The 9th of Thermidor has given rise to the term, "Thermidorian reaction," as a characteristic phase of political retrenchment in Crane Brinton's celebrated typology of revolutionary behavior.


• Robespierre, Discours et histoire
• Robespierre's last address to the National Convention, 8 Thermidor (from the Bibliothèque Nationale)

Retro Reading

Le Monde has been running (in French, of course) a very stimulating series of concise "Rétrolectures," offering current re-readings of influential books of the postwar era.   

Some of the texts are mainly of French interest, while others (e.g. Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex) achieved worldwide renown and even popularity.  Some marked the beginnings of auspicious careers or at least breakthroughs to celebrity.  Some are brief, others massive.  Most are complex: easy to caricature, harder to characterize.

Virtually all of the appreciations are written in a characteristically French lapidary style:  a concentrated yet lucid manner that at once introduces the book to the novice and engages the interest and commands the respect of the connoisseur.

What is it, the critics, ask, that allows some books to engage us so intensely even after the original issues and their passions have long faded? (It is of course a question that one can apply to many classics, from Swift to Orwell. Marx posed a similar question with regard to the aesthetic appeal of the ancient Greeks.)

Perhaps most intriguing are the musings on works that were once celebrated and have retained their classic status without remaining a living intellectual presence for most of us.

One category is the classic that everyone talks about but few have actually read.  Gérard Courtois makes a point that many historians will immediately appreciate when he says that it is high time to "re-read"—"or rather, read"—Braudel's history of The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II.  Although the massive work is always cited as a masterpiece and taken as the epitome of Braudel's contribution to the Annales school of total history and one of the foundations of modern global history, Courtois goes on to note that, judging from the small pressruns of the early editions, it is likely that readers in most cases never got far into the book, or indeed, beyond the preface.  (Steven Hawking's Brief History of Time would doubtless qualify for equivalent treatment in an Anglo-Saxon listing.)

A critical re-reading of a different sort is required for works arising from controversies that now seem as alien or dated as those between Guelphs and Ghibellines or Jesuits and Jansenists.  This is particularly the case for books dealing with communism:  It can be hard for some nowadays to understand the appeal of Marxism, not to mention the nuanced shadings of doctrine that were life-or-death matters (in some cases, literally) for the insider, the agony that could be occasioned by apostates (many, such as Edgar Morin, used the religious analogy) who attempted to square the demands of a dissenting conscience with a feeling of loyalty to the grand faith.

What is one to make of a daunting work such as Merleau-Ponty's Humanism and Terror?   He asserted that it was justifiable to kill the innocent for the sake of the revolution, yet realized that the violence of the USSR was a police terror that lacked even this pretense of cruel utility, and agonizingly concluded, "one cannot be a communist, and one cannot be an anticommunist"? And how does one then measure this work against The Rebel of Camus, who clearly concluded that one could not be a communist, while charging that utopian movements of both right and left became forces of oppression rather than liberation.  Can his "third way" of "neither victims nor executioners" be a practical program for political action in a dangerous world?  Is it possible to treat two such authors critically yet historically, that is, without reducing their ideas to cardboard cut-out positions of Stalinism versus liberalism?

Still another reading strategy is required for Sartre's Reflections On the Jewish Question. Is the book still relevant?  Nicolas Weill asks. Some, identifying the essential and most dangerous form of contemporary antisemitism in jihadism, will answer in the negative, concluding that the Christian and western roots of the traditional historical phenomenon are less pertinent, if at all.  Some may find Sartre's philosophically derived, abstract typology of social actors and critical categories dated.  And yet, despite or because of his avowedly anti-empirical approach, his focus on otherness achieved an insight, a philosophical and social truth that seems to transcend changing historical conditions.  Weill calls it a "Copernican revolution" that is as relevant today as when it was written shortly after the Liberation:  The source of antisemitism has very little to do with Jews and everything to do with the antisemite.  In Sartre's words, the "prelogical archaism" is "not a Jewish question: it is our question" because "The democrat has much to do:  he concerns himself with the Jew in his leisure time; the antisemite has but a sole enemy, he can think of him all the time; it is he who sets the tone."

14 July:  on Jean-Paul Sartre, Réflexions sur la question juive (1946)
Alors que l'antisémitisme est resté - ou est redevenu - un problème en France, n'est-on pas en droit de s'interroger sur l'actualité de Réflexions sur la question juive (Folio/Essais, 6,80 €), publié en 1946 au sortir de la guerre et de l'Occupation, à un moment où Jean-Paul Sartre était un auteur à succès et un philosophe à la mode ? Non, certes, pour ceux qui considèrent que la haine antijuive a changé de nature à la fin du XXe siècle et qu'il faut désormais la désigner d'un autre nom (la "judéophobie") et l'attribuer à de "nouveaux acteurs" fondamentalistes musulmans, voire anciens colonisés, et non plus exclusivement aux chrétiens ou Occidentaux. Mais pour les autres ?

[. . . . ]

La thèse, exprimée avec tout le tranchant du style sartrien, peut se résumer comme suit : la source de l'obsédante "passion" antijuive (pour la distinguer d'une "opinion" ou d'un simple "préjugé") ne doit pas être recherchée dans les faits et gestes des victimes juives, mais dans l'étude de leur persécuteur - l'antisémite -, dont la première partie propose un "portrait". Cette révolution copernicienne, qui retourne l'objectif sur l'acteur et non plus sur l'objet de la haine, demeure un des grands acquis des Réflexions.

[. . . . ]

Un antisémitisme qui, contre toute attente, perdurait après la Libération. C'est cette redoutable capacité de survie et d'adaptation que reflète l'appel final à considérer que cet "archaïsme prélogique" "n'est pas un problème juif : c'est notre problème".

Voilà bien qui conserve à ce texte plus que sexagénaire une réelle fraîcheur. Les juifs, remarque Sartre, ont dans les antisémites des adversaires acharnés et dans le "démocrate" un tiède défenseur. "Le démocrate a fort à faire : il s'occupe du juif quand il en a le loisir ; l'antisémite n'a qu'un seul ennemi, il peut y penser tout le temps ; c'est lui qui donne le ton", écrit Sartre. Tant que ce déséquilibre persiste, l'injonction sartrienne en faveur d'un libéralisme vigilant, qui tient compte de la spécificité "concrète" de la question antisémite au lieu de camper sur les abstractions de son propre idéal du Bien, donnera toujours matière à réfléchir.

15 July:  Jean-Louis Andréani, Jean-François Gravier, Paris et le désert français (1947)

• 16 July:  Roger-Pol Droit, on Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Humanisme et terreur (1947)
"Le communisme est-il égal à ses intentions humaines ? Voilà la vraie question." C'est en ces termes que le philosophe Maurice Merleau-Ponty résume, en 1947, dans la préface d'Humanisme et terreur (Gallimard), l'objet de son livre. Il ne s'agit pas, il y insiste, de confronter seulement le discours libéral et le discours marxiste - ce qui a été fait mille fois. Pas question non plus de se contenter de la critique inaugurée par Marx des politiques libérales : les principes et les droits affichés masquent la réalité sordide de la domination et de la violence.

La vraie question porte sur la violence révolutionnaire et sa dérive stalinienne. Ce que veut le philosophe n'a rien d'angélique ni de bêtement moralisateur. Il admet, somme toute, que l'on puisse tuer des innocents au nom de la révolution. A la condition qu'il y ait, au bout du compte, quelques pas accomplis vers plus de liberté et plus d'humanisation de l'histoire. Pour le dire de manière triviale : si l'on ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des oeufs, encore faut-il qu'il y ait un début d'omelette pour justifier la casse...

Or ce n'est pas le cas. Aux yeux de Merleau-Ponty, l'Union soviétique d'après-guerre n'exerce plus une violence révolutionnaire au nom du prolétariat. Elle fait régner seulement la terreur policière, multiplie les procès de pseudo-espions et de faux traîtres, trompe les travailleurs et ne fait aucun progrès d'aucune sorte en direction des buts qu'elle s'est donnés. Pourtant, ce n'est pas encore assez pour la combattre et faire le jeu du camp adverse. La position de Merleau-Ponty, à cette date, n'est pas des plus commodes : il est toujours marxiste et refuse de condamner les communistes, mais il ne peut malgré tout se taire face aux abus et aux impasses. Ce qu'il exprime en ces termes : "On ne peut pas être anticommuniste, on ne peut pas être communiste."
• 17 July, Josyane Savigneau, on Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949)

19 July:  Gérard Courtois, on Fernand Braudel, La Méditerrannée et le monde méditerranén à l'époque de Philippe II (1949)
Alors qu'une quarantaine de chefs d'Etat et de gouvernement viennent de se réunir à Paris pour exprimer leur volonté de "transformer la Méditerranée en un espace de paix et de prospérité", c'est le moment ou jamais de relire La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II, le maître-ouvrage de Fernand Braudel. Le relire, ou plutôt le lire. Car, à en juger par les tirages modestes des éditions successives, il est probable qu'on n'en a souvent feuilleté que des extraits, voire seulement cette préface de la première édition.
Il est vrai que tout y est dit, dès 1949 : sa passion d'historien "global", rameutant les apports de la géographie ou de l'économie, de la technologie, de l'ethnographie ou de la climatologie ; sa gourmandise affichée pour la "masse prodigieuse" d'archives où il plongea vingt-cinq ans durant ; son "besoin de voir grand" sans craindre de perdre le fil de son ambition. Laquelle n'est pas mince : "essayer de bâtir l'histoire autrement que nos maîtres l'enseignaient", la faire sortir des chancelleries pour découvrir la "vraie vie" et pour mieux faire apparaître la profondeur de champs, de champs multiples, où s'inscrivent ce qu'on a coutume d'appeler "les événements".
19 July: Xavier Ternisien, on Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialisme (1950)

22 July:  Marc Escola, on Albert Camus, L'Homme révolté (1951)
A peine le livre sorti, la critique alimente la houle. L'essai est louangé ou stigmatisé. Nulle indifférence. Des amis ou des ennemis, ou des adversaires parmi ses amis. Il se met à dos Breton et les surréalistes, Sartre et les existentialistes. Le Figaro littéraire y lit un grand texte de l'ère contemporaine, Le Monde encense "l'émouvant essai d'histoire et de morale". "Plus que la prise de conscience d'une époque par un esprit lucide et courageux, on ne tardera pas à y voir une réflexion de l'époque sur elle-même", écrit Maurice Nadeau dans Combat.

Quels sont donc cette réflexion, ce tournant, le ferment du désordre ? Une condamnation des révolutions et des idéologies absolues qui, après avoir tué Dieu et glorifié l'histoire, sous couvert de libérer la communauté des hommes, mènent à l'impasse sanglante de la répression et des violences meurtrières. En pleine guerre froide, à l'ombre de Staline, la portée est d'ampleur. Le sujet électrise la gauche, rompt des amitiés.

Pour sceller cette condamnation, Albert Camus ouvre une longue marche à travers l'histoire de la révolte. Son originalité ? De ne pas séparer la révolte métaphysique de l'homme contre sa condition ("Je me révolte donc nous sommes") du chapelet de révoltes historiques que comptent les siècles, notamment les XIXe et XXe, où échouera "la démesure du temps". Pour armer son propos, l'auteur convoque les figures de Caïn, Sade, Saint-Just, Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Bakounine, Nietzsche et les terroristes russes de la Volonté du peuple.

[. . . . ]
Si les circonstances politiques ont changé - chute du Mur oblige -, il n'est pas certain que les réflexions qu'avait suscitées L'Homme révolté soient pour autant dépassées. Saisie par le terrorisme du 11-Septembre, la question de l'usage de la violence est toujours d'actualité. Il y a plus d'un demi-siècle, Camus ciblait la violence révolutionnaire, quand Sartre voulait, lui, d'abord régler son compte à celle qu'imposent structurellement des systèmes sociaux fondés sur l'inégalité (soutenez la révolution et vous étiez catalogué adversaire de la Liberté, défendez la Liberté et vous étiez considéré comme rejetant le seul projet contestant le capitalisme). Aujourd'hui résonneraient d'un côté la violence suicidaire d'Al-Qaida, de l'autre la domination de l'Oncle Sam conquérant...
23 July: Pascal Perrineau, on René Rémond, La Droite en France de 1815 à nos jours (1954)

24 July:  Roger Pol-Droit,, on Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (1955)

24 July:  Gérard Courtois, on Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)

25 July:  Patrick Jarreau, on Edgar Morin, Autocritique (1959)
Voyant le Parti communiste aujourd'hui, on n'imagine pas qu'il ait pu fasciner quiconque. L'Union soviétique a disparu il y a bientôt vingt ans, et le communisme chinois, s'il est toujours au pouvoir, ne prétend plus incarner une nouvelle ère de l'humanité. On cherche vainement, dans le monde actuel, un échantillon de stalinisme vivant que l'on pourrait présenter comme exemple de ce dont Edgar Morin parle dans Autocritique.
D'où vient alors que ce livre accroche toujours son lecteur?
26 July: Alain Faujas on René Dumont, L'Afrique noire est mal partie (1962)

Stop to Smell the Roses

Rosa gallica officinalis
Old garden rose. Ancient: has been called the most famous rose of all time.
The classic “Apothecary’s Rose,” known for its medicinal and culinary uses

Reine de l’Ile Bourbon
(Bourbon Queen) (1834)

Baltimore Belle (1843)Climber.
Descended from Rosa setigera
(native to America).
Lovely, though with only minimal scent.

Scenes from the Garden (and some random thoughts on nature and time)

As we move into late summer, when, in Thomson's words,
Deep to the root
Of vegetation parch'd, the cleaving fields
And slippery lawn an arid hue disclose,
Blast fancy's blooms, and wither even the soul
it is tempting to think back already with nostalgia to the days of June and early July.

The modern world has brought us many benefits, which I would be the last to deny or reject. However, we may appreciate the gifts of modernity better if we at least recall the contrasts that it has erased. Historians are accustomed to speaking, for example, of the difference in the rhythms of historical time: the wildly fluctuating “feast and fast” cycles of the premodern era, versus the attenuated amplitude of our secular and industial modernity, with its standardized “work week.” We have also lost our sense of the inflexible rhythms of nature.

The great cultural historian Johan Huizinga described those contrasts masterfully in the lyrical opening passages of his Waning of the Middle Ages (1919):
To the world when it was half a thousand years younger, the outlines of all things seemed more clearly marked than to us. The contrast between suffering and joy, between adversity and happiness, appeared more striking.
. . . .
Illness and health presented a more striking contrast; the cold and darkness of winter were more real evils. . . . We, at the present day, can hardly understand the keenness with which a fur coat, a good fire on the hearth, a soft bed, a glass of wine, were formerly enjoyed
Since then, fluctuations in daily experience have grown more blurred still. Far from worrying about the nocturnal gloom, we attempt to reclaim the natural darkness lost to “light pollution.” We have become accustomed to the availability of fruits and vegetables out of season in any locale. If we do not like the winter cold or summer heat, we take a vacation in search of a more pleasant clime. Formerly rarefied experiences such as concerts, theater, and film are, thanks to new technologies of recording and storage, like many other pleasures and commodities, potentially available everywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We are all familiar with Ronsard’s famous carpe diem poems, which, in floral metaphors, warn us of the fate of youth, beauty, and love in the face of age:

See, Mignonne, hath not the Rose,
That this morning did unclose
Her purple mantle to the light,
Lost, before the day be dead,
The glory of her raiment red,
Her colour, bright as yours is bright?
Ah, Mignonne, in how few hours,
The petals of her purple flowers
All have faded, fallen, died;
[. . . .]
Gather the fleet flower of your youth,
Take ye your pleasure at the best;
Be merry ere your beauty flit,
For length of days will tarnish it
Like roses that were loveliest.

(À sa maitresse, 1550)


regretting my love, and regretting your disdain.
Heed me, and live for now: this time won’t come again.
Come, pluck now — today — life’s so quickly-fading rose.

(Quand vous serez bien vielle, 1578)

We take it as universal philosophical advice, but may forget or not even realize that the reference to roses in particular also reflects a very concrete horticultural reality.

One of the easiest and most satisfying ways to practice sustainability and historical preservation in one’s own backyard (literally) is to cultivate native and heirloom varieties of plants, which increase biodiversity and tend to require less care and suit the environment better. If one is willing to meet them on their own terms, they also reveal charms that modern hybridized varieties, bred for reliable display of a limited number of traits, such as continual bloom, lack.

One of the greatest pleasures of the early summer is the rose season. Those familiar only with hybrid tea roses of the sort that one encounters in the typical formal garden and the proverbial long-stemmed bouquet from the florist may not be accustomed to thinking of roses as having a season, but thereby hangs a tale. Most traditional European roses were shrubs that flowered only once and briefly in late spring or early summer. The introduction of the China rose (Rosa chinensis) in 1789—coincidentally, the same year as the French Revolution—began what has been termed a “rose revolution,” as Western breeders (though before genetics was fully understood) sought to incorporate and favor the traits of exotic Asian varieties: new colors and growth habits, but above all, repeat flowering. It culminated in the form of the hybrid tea—1867—which marks the boundary between old and new roses.

Unfortunately the selection of these traits generally came, in the words of Graham Stuart Thomas, “at the expense of hardiness and scent.” Eventually, as Thomas Christopher puts it, modern roses “were all bred to the same set of criteria, to win the same prize, and as a result they lack character.”

The development of the modern rose trade in many ways therefore parallels that of the brewing trade: Advances of a specific sort in one area inadvertently paved the way for a bland standardization that has only recently been overcome as devotees rediscovered the virtues of diversity and older varieties. To continue the analogy: The typical tight-blossomed, scentless florist’s rose is to an old rose as Anheuser-Busch’s so-called Budweiser is to the original Czech beer from České Budějovice after which it is named. For the non-beer drinker: Anyone who has appreciated the difference between a summer vine-ripened tomato grown at home or on a local farm and the impalatable “hard-ripe” tomato that fills grocery-store bins in winter and cohabits with iceberg lettuce at the institutional salad bar will know what I mean.

Old roses more than compensate for their more limited color range and flowering season by virtue of having a more subtle (I would also say: tasteful) color range, and in many cases, producing more blooms per plant. Above all, they exude the intoxicating scent for which the rose has been prized for millennia, in the words of Alice Morse Earle: “irresistible, enthralling, . . . a magic something which binds you irrevocably to the Rose.”

And for those who cannot be satisfied with a single blooming period, there is a fine compromise between the oldest varieties and the bland hybrid teas: Many of the early hybridized garden roses—such as the Bourbons and hybrid perpetuals, combine classic scent with the ability to flower again.

This warm, sunny weather of the early summer produced a beautiful bounty of roses this year. Random scenes from the garden:

Rose de Rescht
Old garden rose (Portland Damask).
Reportedly brought from Persia in the mid-20th century.

Zéphirine Drouhin (1868)
Old garden rose (Bourbon).

Rosa carolina (1826)
Species rose, native to America;
also known as Pasture Rose.

Great Maiden’s Blush (pre-15th century)
Alba. An ancient variety, one of the most beautiful and seductive (Thomas calls the fragrance “unequalled for pure sweetness”). The French names—which include La Virginale, La Séduisante, and Cuisse de Nymphe (thigh of the nymph)—are far more evocative than the English (hence the name Cuisse de Nymphe Émué—thigh of the aroused nymph—when the flowers develop a more intense color).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Preservation Success Story: Town Hall Restoration Proceeds

(a very few of) Your Tax Dollars at (very productive) Work:

August 2007:
Townspeople were so picky about building a Town Hall in 1889 that it prompted this observation in an 1890 edition of the former Amherst Record: 'We should bear in mind the fact that the architect of the Cathedral at Milan, backed by the wealth of the universe, could not have designed a village horse-shed that would meet with universal favor at the hands of the citizens of Amherst.'
Not for naught was their vigilance: The Amherst Town Hall, designed by famed architect H.S. McKay of Boston, and constructed in the Richardson Romanesque style, has held up well over the years.

'People have walked in and asked what kind of a church this is,' said Jonathan Tucker, the town's planning director.

It is time to 'repoint' the masonry, though, a $457,000 project that is expected to take about six months and caps the $3.2 million in renovations undertaken in 1997. (more)
Amherst Town Meeting appropriated Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds from the historic preservation rubric of the budget for repairs to one of the exterior stairways and the clock tower, as well as debt service on overall masonry repairs of the Amherst Town Hall. Work began last summer and resumed with the return of clement weather this year.

The architectural consultant explains that "The masonry was first cleaned with "material-sensitive chemicals that are neutralized by agricultural lime prior to effluent from washing entering the soil."

The mortar is of "a pre-mixed variety that subscribes to a historic mortar analysis provided by a testing laboratory in New York . . . who matches the characteristics of the sand composition (grain size and color), and prepares a dye solution that is added to the mixture to simulate the original color (which was provided through the addition of brick dust."

Replacement bricks are "specially molded" "to match the size and color of the existing bricks."

Tools and methods conform to standards sanctioned by the National Park Service.

Press reports:

Amherst Bulletin, 31 Aug. 2007 (beginning of facelift); Hampshire Gazette, 27 Sept. (authorization of funding request by Select Board); Amherst Bulletin, 9 Oct, (CPA deliberations on funding).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Does Society Have the Right to Kill the "Ugly"? (On Preserving Modern Buildings)

The evolving discussion of whether to assess and preserve modernist architecture at the University of Massachusetts echoes debates taking place around the country.

Modern architecture raises particular issues for preservationists and the general public alike.  The main obstacle is the perhaps understandable reluctance of the average person to consider relatively new buildings "historic" or worthy of preservation, or both.  Skepticism concerning the historicity of the recent is compounded by the fact that modern architecture does not have the popular constituency that venerable buildings do. "Unloved" is a term often applied to both individual structures and the modernist styles as a whole.  It can moreover seem that there is no urgency or clear purpose to preservation because modernist structures are still relatively common and the forces of time have not yet performed their winnowing and sifting.  As one preservation group warns, "We need to separate the masterpieces from the mediocrities before they are all sacrificed for density and infill."

A subsidiary issue is a technical one. Preservationists today shrewdly (and correctly) argue that conservation or re-use of existing buildings can be an important component of "green" and sustainable practices. However, they also acknowledge that many modernist buildings (a counterintuitive insight, perhaps) are less "green" or energy-efficient than older ones, and for these and other reasons, pose significant environmental and financial challenges.

Pointing to the steady disappearance of "resources of all types built within the last 50 years, with little consideration of their historic merit, design importance, or role in creating a sustainable future," The National Trust for Historic Preservation "aims to enhance the public's appreciation for and understanding of mid-20th Century architecture . . . [and] hopes to unite emerging popular interest in preserving the recent past with proper preservation practices through the promotion of continued use and sensitive rehabilitation of these structures."

All of the foregoing issues play a role in a continuing controversy at the University of Wisconsin, which may anticipate what we can look forward to at UMass.  The Wisconsin State Journal reported last year:
My brother visited Madison recently, and he spent a morning photographing a Madison architectural landmark.
The Capitol? No.

A Frank Lloyd Wright design? Definitely not.

No, he was documenting the wonders of the George L. Mosse Humanities Building, the most maligned structure on campus. UW-Madison officials can hardly wait to knock it down; the chancellor himself has joked about auctioning off the privilege of pushing the demolition plunger.

But to my brother, a building engineer and architecture buff, the building at the corner of Park Street and University Avenue is an excellent example of an architectural style known as "Brutalism." It was designed by one of Chicago's revered architects, Harry Weese.
Among Weese's best-known works is the Metro in Washington, D.C.  The Humanities Building, erected in 1968, was named for George Mosse (my undergraduate advisor), one of the most celebrated members of the distinguished history department housed in that building, following his death in 1999.  Its stylistic pendant, the adjoining Elvehjem--I mean, Chazen--Art Museum, including the Department of Art History and Art Library (1970), is more popular and successful.  Thus far, it has avoided the wrecking ball and succumbed only to the renaming mania that plagues our universities and other civic institutions in an age of declining public resources, short memories, and rising donor expectations.

My former fellow student Anne Matthews wrote about the beginnings of the controversy, "Embracing the Brute," in Preservation Online, making an effort to be fair but not to conceal her own loathing for the structure.  As one who spent just as much time in its classrooms and offices, I was as aware as anyone of its flaws, from potentially awkward circulation patterns to construction defects.  Above all, it on bad days seemed to epitomize the triumph of the auteur principle of architectural arrogance over understanding--designed with little regard for how people would actually use it. (Admittedly, it is far from the worst example. One thinks of the controversy surrounding the new Bibliothèque de France.)

The Journal article, citing the judgment of Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning and Management Al Fish, explained:
It's a maze and an "energy hog." The concrete has "spauled,'' meaning it has chipped and cracked from heat and cold. It has leaked since the day it opened. The poor music department is largely underground, where wildly fluctuating humidity and temperatures wreck the instruments.

And, said Fish, "Who would build a building with empty space under the sixth floor, so the floor is always cold?"

The heating and ventilating systems have never worked right, leading those forced to work in the building to refer to it as "Inhumanities."
Fish said UW has spent more money maintaining the building (upward of $10 million) than it did to build it back in the 1960s ($8 million).
Even granting the truth of the preceding, I was nonetheless always able to appreciate (indeed, I felt captivated by) the aesthetic intent of the structure, which had an integrity and a stern, distinctive beauty that our other, generally more anodyne or derivative modernist campus buildings (Van Hise Hall or the Southeast Dorms and Gordon Commons, for example) lacked.  The Humanities Building, for all its practical flaws, always seemed to me a far more successful project than the roughly contemporaneous Vilas Communications Hall, across the street, whose mixture of brown brick and concrete, among other things, rendered it neither fish nor fowl, neither fully satisfying nor capable of arousing real hatred.

For me, the Humanities Building always (or at least since I took Maureen Mazzaoui's course in my sophomore year) called to mind a Renaissance palazzo, another urban manifestation of the symbiosis of art and power, in which a severe exterior both masks and protects a thriving cultural life.  Thriving it was.  The lectures by charismatic teachers such as Mosse or his colleague and activist Harvey Goldberg (not that they agreed on everything) were not just classes; they were events, which seemed at times to attract as many spectators as formally enrolled students.  Those same lecture halls became, on weekend evenings--remember that this was in the days before the videocassette and the dvd--the sites of the screenings by some of the many campus film societies, where, for a buck apiece, one was introduced to the treasures of classic and recent cinema. It was there that I first saw "The Blue Angel," "Casablanca," "Battleship Potemkin," "Kuhle Wampe," and "The Rules of the Game."  The acoustics may have been less than perfect, but pianist, composer, and Artist in Residence Gunnar Johansen nonetheless filled the concert hall whenever he offered his famous "Music in Performance" course, and inspired many a student to return for concerts in the evenings.  Both the Journal and Preservation Online,  citing Mr. Fish or merely the conventional wisdom, refer to the "maze"-like character of the building.  Well, it all depends on your point of reference. To be sure, as Anne points out, the building had no single main door. Does it have to? It has 21 doors on three levels.  It faced several major thoroughfares and patterns of pedestrian movement.  Precisely because it was an integrated humanities building at a key juncture of the campus, it had to satisfy the needs of various clienteles throughout the week, night and day, from students to faculty to concert-goers.  A maze?  well, maybe, if one reaches too readily for metaphors and means simply that patterns of circulation followed the shape of the structure, which was (again, not unlike a Renaissance urban palace) after all built around a courtyard. No, if one means the term in the literal sense of a tortuous path leading to a single, elusive goal.  I always knew where I was going, and when I so chose, I appreciated the distractions of an encounter with music or art in between history classes.  One of the most enduring stray memories of my first year of college is of sitting on a bench alongside the glassed-in lower courtyard: eating a brown-bag lunch while reading Richard Brinsley Sheridan's "School for Scandal," and discovering, to my surprise and delight, that the anonymous pianist behind the door of the practice room across the hall just happened to be playing the Piano Trio in F minor, op. 65, by Dvořák.

To be sure, I had equally memorable intellectual revelations elsewhere on campus--for example, Van Hise Hall, where I spent about as much time in my French and German literature classes.  But that was a soulless building, which is simply to say:  The experience there derived from the brilliance of the teachers and the liveliness of the students and was not tied to a sense of place. It is hard to imagine anyone getting either very enthusiastic or sad about the potential demise of Van Hise (well, maybe a few).  The Humanities Building was truly a humanities center, where one was almost unavoidably brought into contact with a multitude of the liberal and fine arts beyond one's own discipline.  

It was home to many of the University's luminaries at the height of their fame, and was a focus of cultural life for the campus and the city as a whole during four crucial decades, from the student revolt of the 1960s to the present. These traits, along with its intrinsic architectural significance, need to be taken into account when determining its value and future.  (Indeed, this is precisely the intent of measures such as our local demolition delay bylaw.)

Architectural historians and preservation advocates argue that the building should therefore be maintained or at least adaptively reused. The campus planners respond that this is throwing good money after bad:
Milwaukee architecture critic Whitney Gould has suggested nominating the Humanities Building for landmark status, saying it incorporates a historical style of architecture that might not be appreciated now, but may be in the future.
Arnold Alanen, a UW-Madison landscape architecture professor, notes that beloved campus buildings such as the Red Gym, the University Club and the dairy barn endured similar eras of disrespect. Humanities is a link to the modernist period . . . . He thinks the university should preserve the best elements of different historical styles as a way of linking generations of students together.

"Especially when it's a building by such a leading architect," he said. Alanen advocates gutting the building and rebuilding it from the inside.

But UW-Madison doesn't think it's worth the trouble.

Fish said it isn't about the style as much as the function. While well-built century-old buildings such as Chamberlain Hall and Education are worth renovating, most of the buildings from the '60s aren't.

"The campus buildings built in the 1960s were built with 20- to 30-year life spans,'' he said. "They were built fast and cheaply, to stay ahead of the wave of Baby Boomers entering college. ... Now it's all falling down around us.
The building is slated to come down within the next decade and a-half.  Aficionados are not wasting time.  The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation is trying to educate the public about modernism, and various private individuals are already calling attention to and informally  documenting the structure.

Get ready for a similar experience when our own Campus Center, Library, and Fine Arts Center come up for discussion.  

As noted in an earlier posting, the University of Wisconsin seems generally to have taken a mature and balanced approach to the question of preservation versus new construction.  Still, a potential or incipient tendency to favor preservation of older buildings--whether for financial or marketing considerations--to the exclusion of modernist ones could tip that balance.  The University of Massachusetts would be well-advised to study and learn from Madison's successes and mistakes alike.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In Memoriam Bronislaw Geremek

Scholars and human-rights activists alike mourn the death of Polish historian and former Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, killed in an automobile accident earlier this month.  Timothy Garton Ash offered a moving tribute in the Guardian:
When a friend dies, a part of you dies too. When Bronislaw Geremek was killed in a car accident on Sunday, a part of Europe was lost as well. I remember him once turning to me in a corridor of the Polish parliament, which he had helped to make again a true parliament, stopping in his tracks, taking his ever-present professorial pipe from his mouth, touching his beard, and saying with sudden passion: "You know, for me Europe is a kind of Platonic essence."

Europe will not see his like again. A bright Jewish child saved from the Warsaw ghetto amid the apocalypse of Nazi occupation, educated in patriotism and poetry by Catholic pedagogues of the Marian Sodality; a wonderful historian of the poor in medieval France; a Communist party member; then, through his pivotal role in Solidarity, an architect of the peaceful transition from communism, not just in Poland but in all of central Europe; his country's foreign minister at the moment it joined Nato; a member of the European parliament after Poland joined the EU. So much of the history that has made our continent what it is today, the worst and the best, ran through his veins and into every fingertip. He wrote some of that history, especially of the 14th and 15th centuries, and he made some more of it. . . . .

Further obituaries:
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Le Monde
New York Times
Gazeta Wyborcza (tribute; announcement of funeral)

Blogosphere: Communication is the natural right of mankind

Blogosphere Context and Comparison, an Occasional Series:

As we all know, we are working in a state of flux, as the coalescence, friction, or collision of traditional and new media and their respective practices reshape our concepts of journalism, freedom of expression, and intellectual property. This is not the first time this has happened in history.

As I indicated at the launching of this blog, many of the critiques of the blogosphere had their antecedents in or could have been taken from earlier centuries, when the periodical press and democratization of reading and writing came into their own.

This rubric of the blog will, to begin with, simply offer short historical passages on these topics. May they add to our sense of perspective, and if possible, further discussion. Sometimes that is enough.

Herewith the first installment, chosen more or less at random:
Communication [is] the natural right of mankind [and] the suppressing of either of these is 'taking away the Children's Bread.' It pleased God in his own time to have dictated to Man the invention of printing. . . [and] though several errors have and will be vented by the occasion of this invention, this is no more an argument against the invention itself than the growing of tares among wheat is an argument against the growing of corn.
--John Asgill, 1712

Scary History

In a new book, One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs offers a fresh look at the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Dobbs says the real risk of nuclear war came not from the American or Soviet heads of state, but from the "chance events that happen when you put the machinery of war into motion."

On what Dobbs calls "the most dangerous day of the Cold War," an American U-2 pilot flying on a routine reconnaissance mission to the North Pole was blinded by the Aurora Borealis and stumbled over the Soviet Union — an event that, Khrushchev told Kennedy the next day, could have resulted in a nuclear exchange between the two countries.
As I listened to the story on NPR and tried to summon up my childhood memories (minimal at best; but that's why we have history books) of that distant event, I did turn to my very fine short-term memory and an episode of the NPR humor/quiz program, "Wait, wait . . . don't tell me" from late last year, in which Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino admitted that, when questioned by a reporter about analogies to the Cuban Missile Crisis, she hadn't a clue as to what it was:
. . .as the introduction gamely puts it:

The subjects are “asked ridiculous questions about completely random topics and then being mocked and punished for your wrong answers.”

And mocked and punished she was, but not for batting 1-for-3 on the subject of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer minutiae. Instead, it was for volunteering up front the kind of canned tale of self-deprecation that is often seen on late-night-television. The Washington Post retells the relevant passage about a recent question in the White House briefing room that uncovered a glaring historical blind spot for her:

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ ”
OK, so he didn't marry her for her mind.

So, which is more frightening: the possibility of accidental nuclear war, or the certainty that the main conduit between the executive branch of our government and the general public is a certified ignoramus??

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nasty Nazi Analogies in Amherst: Gaza is Like the Warsaw Ghetto?

From a flyer distributed to drivers in the center of town, dated 10 May 2008:

"The Amherst Vigil for Peace and Justice in a Nuclear Free World . . . continues to advocate for an end to the arms trade, for an end to nuclear weapons at home and abroad and for social justice around the world."

Evidently, "social justice" does not in this case include doing justice to the historical truth or to the agonizing complexities of contemporary politics.

The perverse and perversely consistent desire of enemies of Israel to identify with the Jewish fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto (whose leaders, incidentally, were left-wing Zionists) is a peculiar phenomenon worthy of further study, though the fundamental tendency is clearly to mobilize support by claiming the ultimate underdog status.

It first became noticeable in the 1980s as the anti-Israel movement entered the mainstream and altered its strategies accordingly, but it gained new prominence during the Second Intifada and again since the Second Lebanon War.

A few examples from what one would have considered respectable voices (examples from the fringe could be multiplied ad infinitum) may suffice:

• In 2006, conservative Sir Peter Tapsell, the longest-serving Tory MP in the British Parliament, called Israel air raids on targets in Beirut ""a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw".

•In 2007, German bishops (what were they thinking?) felt obliged to make the analogy during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority:
the bishop of Eichstätt, Gregor Maria Hanke, remarked during a visit to Bethlehem, 'This morning in Yad Vashem the photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, and this evening we travel to the ghetto in Ramallah. That makes you angry.' The Bishop of Augsburg Walter Mixa then remarked that it was a 'ghetto-like' situation and that it was 'almost racism.'
Israel's Ambassador to Germany put it succinctly: "those who used the term 'Warsaw Ghetto' in connection with Israeli or Palestinian politics, had 'forgotten everything, or learnt nothing, or failed morally."

Jerzy Montag, a member of the left-wing Green Party and Chair of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag
demanded an apology from the bishops and said that these kind of comments did nothing to help the suffering Palestinians, but only 'scorned the victims of the Holocaust and put the state of Israel on the same level as Hitler's Germany.'
Faced with harsh criticism, Hanke then declared, in what was a correct but implausible statement, given his own earlier words: "'Comparisons between the Holocaust and the current situation in Palestine are not acceptable and were not intended.'"

Unfortunately, the false analogies continue to proliferate and those who make them do not show even the token remorse of Bishop Hanke.

Just as unfortunately, one should not have to waste time refuting this sort of drivel. If one needs to do so, however, we can begin with a few basic facts.

1) Although the precise death toll in the Warsaw Ghetto may never be known, the approximate figure (due to deliberately induced starvation, deportation to labor and death camps, and combat) was over 400,000 between 1940 and 1943.

2) To put that figure in perspective, the left-wing Israel human-rights organization B’Tselem puts the maximum death toll, both military and civilian, from the entire Israeli-Palestinian hostilities since the Second Intifida, 2000-2008, at something over 5,300 Palestinians and under 1,000 Israelis.

The difference of course derives above all from the central fact that the Ghetto was an essential element in the tripartite Nazi genocidal strategy of definition, isolation, and extermination. No such exterminationist policy can by any stretch of the imagination be ascribed to Israel, and claims to the contrary say much about the speaker and nothing about the reality.

In any case, for those who may require further proof, Eve Garrard nicely dispatched the canard in 2007:
The claim has been made that Gaza is rather like the Warsaw ghetto. Now this claim is either a legitimate comparison, or it's a peculiarly unpleasant smear, insinuating that Israel is akin to Nazi Germany. So let's see if it's a legitimate comparison. The two main features of the Warsaw ghetto were (1) that it was an unspeakable atrocity, leading to the deaths of nearly half a million Jews and others, and (2) that it was part of a genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Take the first point, and consider the comparison: on the one hand, the number of Palestinian refugees in the late 1940s was approximately 750,000, but it now stands between 4 and 6 million. It would be quite hard to regard this as even an attempted genocide - few genocides end up with an increase in the victim population of the order of several hundred per cent. By contrast, the size of the Jewish population in the Warsaw ghetto after the three years in which it existed was zero. The current life expectancy of a Palestinian woman is 75 years, according to the UN. What was the life expectancy of a Jewish woman in the Warsaw ghetto? Whatever age she was, she had at the very most three more years to live. Not a striking similarity, then.

With reference to the second significant feature of the Warsaw ghetto, which supposedly resembles Gaza, it should be noted that Israel has had control of the skies over Gaza for many years now, and had it wanted to it could have produced the same outcome as the Nazis did in the Warsaw ghetto. The fact that it hasn't done so would demonstrate to most people, even those hostile enough to stand in need of a demonstration, that it has no such aims. People who maintain their suspicion that Israel has genocidal intentions towards the population of Gaza do so in the face of a total lack of evidence to support their view.

Let us now consider whether there is any evidence that Israel is aiming to exterminate the Palestinians in general. Where are the slave labour camps in the Territories, in which tens and hundreds of thousands are worked to death, with a life expectancy of between three and six months? Where are the gas chambers killing thousands every day? Beats me, I just can't see them.

So the comparison is not, to put it mildly, a legitimate one. It is, in fact, a poisonous smear, which derives its repellent quality partly from its exploitation of the terrible history of the Nazis and the Jews. It's hard to know why some people feel the need to paint the swastika on to the foreheads of the Jews of Israel in this way, to covertly suggest that the Nazis have been reincarnated as Israeli Jews and that Israel is the new Third Reich. I think it's unlikely that all boycotters share these views, but insofar as they do, their position is morally polluted by this new version of a very old stereotype, that Jews are secretly planning to kill millions of innocent people.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Finally, some good news about UMass historic resources

At last, some good news.

It had been rumored at the end of May that UMass hired a historic preservation consultant to conduct the required assessment of historic structures. The Springfield Republican and Daily Hampshire Gazette report that this work is now beginning. According to the former:
AMHERST - An architectural and engineering firm with an office in Boston has just begun evaluating historical buildings at the University of Massachusetts.

Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering PC has been hired for $175,000 to evaluate the historical significance and the condition of 113 buildings that are 50 or more years old, said UMass spokesman Edward F. Blaguszewski.

Hiring a consultant has long been the request from Preserve UMass - a group of former faculty and alumni seeking to save historically and architecturally significant buildings.
. . . .
Blaguszewski said the firm is expected to complete its evaluation of historic buildings by the end of the year.

"This is very good news," Larson said. His group gave the university a list "of seven or eight firms and indicated the person (in those firms) we thought would be appropriate." This was one was of those companies, he said. Company representative David Fixler was the company's representative that Preserve UMass requested.
As is often the case, however, the sense of optimism needs to be tempered with caution. According to the Republican:
Larson was disappointed, however, the firm would not evaluate some of the modern buildings.
"We feel the historical buildings are additionally important because they are in the context with the modern architecture. The campus is a living museum of American architecture from 1728 to the present ... But all that said, they've hired the right kind of person, the right kind of firm."
Concerning the scope of the undertaking, the Gazette further explained:
Buildings on a list of 113 UMass edifices over the age of 50 to be reviewed by Fixler include: the Student Union (built in 1957), Worcester Dining Hall (1953), Chancellor's House (1884), the Chapel (1885), the Horse Barn (1894) and Memorial Hall (1920).
[. . . . ]
The UMass study recommended the demolition of 16 buildings, including the Student Union, and the preservation of only one historic structure, the flagship's iconic Old Chapel. It would require $10 million in renovations to keep this building open, the report states.

Most of UMass' buildings will not be subject to Fixler's historic review. Officials estimate 68 percent of the campus' building stock was constructed in the 1960s and 70s. This wave of construction yielded a trove of buildings designed by world renowned architects including: the Campus Center by Marcel Breuer; the W.E.B. Du Bois Library by Edward D. Stone; and the Fine Arts Center by Kevin Roche.
Both Larson's praise and his note of concern are exactly on the mark. As noted in the original posting on this topic, the value of the campus as a sort of living architectural museum lies in its character as an evolving ensemble. The Amherst Historical Commission explained in its statement to MEPA:
Under the policies of the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places, buildings become historic at the age of fifty years. As the Preservation Plan pointedly states:

Architecture constructed in the 1960s, including many newer buildings of the University of Massachusetts, will be considered historic in 2010. If Amherst fails to include contemporary resources [in] its plans for preservation, it may lose these ‘new’ historic resources, and with them a significant piece of Amherst’s recent history.
On balance, though, this is very good news. Let us hope for the best.

June 22, 1941: Nazi Germany Invades USSR

With the commencement of "Operation Barbarossa" (named after the crusading medieval German emperor to whom various legends of rebirth and salvation were attached), Nazi Germany broke its non-aggression pact of 1939 with the USSR, catching Stalin largely by surprise (Soviet goods were still traveling westward to Germany right up to the time of the attack, although Stalin had taken some measures to prepare for eventual war).

As a racial and ideological crusade, the campaign introduced a new degree of barbarism to warfare, carried out not just by the SS, but by the regular armed forces, as well.  In violation of all international rules of war, the Nazis denied the Soviet soldier the right to be treated as an "honorable" opponent. Not only did they refuse to apply the provisions of the Geneva and Hague Conventions, but they also instituted particular measures of persecution, including the notorious "Commissar Order" authorizing summary execution of political officers attached to the Red Army.  Fully 60 percent of Soviet POWs perished in German captivity (the corresponding figure for prisoners from the Western Allied countries was around 4 percent). The racial war extended not only to the Jews (some 1 million dead), but also to the "inferior" civilian population as a whole.  Total Soviet losses between 1941 and final victory in 1945 have been estimated at nearly 27 million dead (well over half of them civilians).  

In 2005, an official Russian website listed over a million surviving veterans within the Russian Federation.

Further reference:

• Barbarossa:  Wiki entry
• Barbarossa: Military History Online
• "The Unknown War" (IMDB entry): massive 20-part film documentary (1978) on the Soviet experience of the War (narrated by Burt Lancaster, with an accompanying book by Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Harrison Salisbury, who also wrote on the Siege of Leningrad). An intriguing product of the era of détente--at once rich in rare archival footage and eyewitness interviews and yet assiduously avoiding most negative aspects and failures of Soviet policy.

Chic from Che to China

We live in a postmodern age, in which "camp" and "irony" are at once refreshing stimuli to creativity and excuses for utter banality or worse. Historical (re)appropriations therefore pose a particularly sensitive problem: We all (well, most of us, anyway) have the common-sense or gut feeling that Nazis, violence, and wanton cruelty are not subjects for such levity or play. But beyond that? Where do we draw the line and why?

The case of leftist icons is therefore an interesting one. Dedicated radicals may find the commercial or humorous appropriation of their heroes a sacrilege. Conservatives, by contrast (though it can be hard to say who is more humorless) tend to worry primarily that the practice masks the "crimes" of the figures, romanticizing individuals whose political practices even their admirers would not accept in real life.

Two news stories, one older and one more recent, address some of these issues.

Last fall marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara. Marc Lacey of the New York Times reported, "A Communist He Was, but Today Che Sells":

SANTA CLARA, Cuba, Oct. 8 -- Aleida Guevara March, the 46-year-old daughter of Che Guevara, says she can bear the Che T-shirts, the Che keychains, the Che postcards and Che paintings sold all over Cuba, not to mention the world.

At least some of the purchasers truly cherish Che, she says. On Monday she was surrounded by thousands of Che fans wearing his image here in Santa Clara, where her father's remains are kept, and where she sat in the front row of a ceremony to observe the 40th anniversary of his death.

Raúl Castro, the acting president, attended. A message was read from his older brother Fidel, who ceded power in August 2006 after emergency surgery, likening his former comrade-in-arms to ''a flower that was plucked from his stem prematurely.''

But amid all the ceremony, what really gets to Ms. Guevara is the use of the man she calls Papi in ways that she says are completely removed from his revolutionary ideals, like when a designer recently put Che on a bikini.

In fact, 40 years after his death, Che -- born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna -- is as much a marketing tool as an international revolutionary icon. Which raises the question of what exactly does the sheer proliferation of his image -- the distant gaze, the scraggly beard and the beret adorned with a star -- mean in a decidedly capitalist world?

Even in Cuba, one of the world's last Communist bastions, Che is used both to make a buck and to make a point. ''He sells,'' acknowledged a Cuban shop clerk, who had Che after Che staring down from a wall full of T-shirts.

But at least here he is also used to inspire the next generation of Cubans. Schoolchildren invoke his name every morning, declaring with a salute, ''We want to be like Che.'' His quotations are recited almost as often as those of Fidel Castro.
[. . . . ]
But Che's mythic status as a homegrown revolutionary does not extend everywhere, even if his image does. When Target stores in the United States put his image on a CD carrying case last year, critics who consider him a murderer and symbol of totalitarianism pressed the retailer to pull the item.

''What next? Hitler backpacks? Pol Pot cookware? Pinochet pantyhose?'' Investor's Business Daily said in an editorial, calling the use of the image an example of ''tyrant-chic.''
[ . . . . ]
Ms. Guevara and her family, too, have tried to stop the marketing of Che's image in ways that they find abhorrent. She says they have reached out to lawyers in New York, whom she would not identify, to pursue companies the family thinks are misusing the image, not to sue them for damages, but to ask them to stop.

''We're not after money,'' she said. ''We just don't want him misused. He can be a universal person, but respect the image.''

More recently, Jed Perl, art critic of the New Republic, laid into an exhibit of contemporary Chinese art at the Guggenheim and the catalogue of similar pieces from the Saatchi Gallery:
There are times when art should be the last thing on an art critic's mind. The thunderous popularity of a number of contemporary Chinese artists compels a political analysis. Much of the work is powered by a startling and completely delusionary infatuation with Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. This is more sinister than anything we have seen in the already fairly astonishing annals of radical chic. We are witnessing a globalized political whitewash job, with artists and assorted collectors, dealers, and sycophants pouring a thick layer of avant-garde double-talk over the infernal decade of suffering, destruction, and death that Mao unleashed on his country in 1966. And as we are also dealing with the house of mirrors that is the art world, I have no doubt that somebody is ready to explain that I am confusing appropriation with approbation or that fascism is just another way of spelling freedom. I must say, the theory people have a lot to answer for. But here is the bottom line: the global art world's burgeoning love affair with Mao and the Cultural Revolution makes a very neat fit with the current Chinese regime's efforts to sell itself as the authoritarian power that everybody can learn to love.

A few weeks ago it was reported that Christie's International, in the run-up to the Summer Olympics, was privately offering for sale in Hong Kong one of the largest of Andy Warhol's portraits of Chairman Mao, with an asking price of $120 million. It is only natural that Warhol would figure somewhere in this sordid scene. [ . . . . ] Thus Warhol set the pattern for the new Chinese art, with its nauseating mix of romantic authoritarianism, ironic leftism, and capitalist realpolitik.
To his credit, Perl also reflects on other ironies of the capitalist market:
And let us also not forget that this grotesque book appears under the auspices of Charles Saatchi, the wealthy art collector who, in an earlier incarnation as an advertising wizard, brought Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives to victory in England with the slogan "Labour Isn't Working." Well, in China the workers never stopped working. One almost doesn't know where to begin, but I am reminded of a recent remark by an architect named Mouzhan Majidi, who worked with Norman Foster on the construction of the new Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport. Majidi was glad to explain to The New York Times how much easier it is to build in China than in England, where there are so many rules and regulations and labor unions. "It evoked what it might have been like to build the pyramids," he commented. The pyramids? They were built by slaves
(Sorry, Jed. You blew it there. The pyramids were built not by slaves, but by free laborers--though that does not materially detract from your essential point.)
After much further analysis, including reference to Saul Friedländer's Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death (1982), he concludes:
By the time they are done with the Cultural Revolution, it will be just another art event, neither more nor less significant than a performance by Joseph Beuys or Matthew Barney. These artists are dishonoring not only art, but life as well. So, too, are the collectors and curators and critics who abet them. What we have here is the most expensive propaganda the world has ever known.
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