I’m watching this installment of Mark Anthony Neal’s Left of Black, in which he interviews Columbia sociologist Alondra Nelson about her forthcoming book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. Although my copy of the book hasn’t yet arrived (I pre-ordered it!), I saw Nelson speak at Temple last spring about her work on genealogical testing and African American identity, and her thinking on race, medicine, and the human body is really interesting, and speaks to my own work on black AIDS activism. Check it out, and when the book arrives I’ll try to write more about it here.
I was in the SF Bay area for the past two weeks, attending the Regional Oral History Office’s week-long summer institute on the theory and practice of oral history. I got some great practical tips, a more solid theoretical grounding for the oral history portion of my dissertation (which still remains theoretical, as in, unrealized), and I met some great folks from around the country and the world with varying levels of experience with oral history method.
One of those fine folks was Sally Ninham, author of the new book Cohort of Pioneers, about the first generation of Australian scholars to take the post-graduate education in the United States, and what that meant for Australian culture thereafter. It’s sadly not available in the U.S., although she was nice enough to give many of the other participants a copy at the end of the institute. Anyway, she also has a blog, mum loses licence, which I’m adding to my blogroll. Check her out–she has a really wonderful sense of humor, and she rowed for the Australian lightweight women’s team!
You know when you run across something in the intertubez that makes you want to grab the person sitting nearest to you and shake them because it’s just SO EFFING AWESOME and you want someone to share it with right away, even if that person happens to be the unfriendly coffee shop hipster at the next table who has been giving you the side-eye for ostentatiously mouthing Kylie Minogue lyrics for the past 45 minutes while they try to read Crying of Lot 49? No? Because that was totally the reaction I had to this article from the New York Times about The Decemberists’ new video for the appropriately-titled “Calamity Song.” The video dramatizes what is probably the best single scene from David Foster Wallace’s massimum opus Infinite Jest, in which the students at a Massachusetts tennis academy simulate nuclear war through a game called Eschaton that involves lobbing “5-Megaton” tennis balls at athletic gear representing the combatants’ (AMNAT, SOVWAR, IRLIBSYR, SOUTHAF, and IRLIBSYR being more or less self-explanatory) strategic targets, all laid out on a map encompassing several tennis courts. We get Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy as Michael Pemulis/The Peemster, grand don and progenitor of Eschaton, drummer John Moen as aspiring sportscaster Jim Troeltsch, and keyboardist Jenny Conlee as a pink-wigged Ziggy Stardust cum DFW himself, as well as child actors playing Otis P. Lord, who runs the Eschaton show from his computer cart, Evan Ingersoll, who brings on the real chaos by launching a ball at Ann Kittenplan, who in the video looks quite a bit more diminutive than the novel’s steroid-addled version. Director Michael Schur opted not to end the video with Otis P. Lord’s head inside of a computer monitor because “They’re all flat screens, and you can’t put your head through a flat screen.” I only wish he had included the jockstraps re-purposed as MRVs.
Short as it is, this post involved a lot of Googling since I don’t have my copy of IJ handy. In the process of searching, I came across this massively detailed diagram of the book. Regular readers of this blog (hi, Grandma!) know that I have an abiding, albeit pedestrian, interest in maps and cartography, which perhaps explains part of my affection for IJ, given DFW’s extensive use of motifs of maps and mapping. Also, here’s a link to the io9 post that originally led me to the Times piece. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put my head through the monitor.
This month, University of Chicago Press is offering David K. Johnson’s excellent The Lavender Scare for free download as an e-book. You’ll need Adobe Digital Editions to view it, which you can also download for free. Links to both can be found on UCP’s site.
In The Lavender Scare, Johnson details the largely hidden history of the gay men and women fired from federal employment for being “security risks” during the Cold War. He begins during the 1930s, when Roosevelt’s New Deal drew many young men to Washington, giving rise to a gay subculture in the capitol. Moving on to the well-worn territory of the McCarthy-era red scare, he describes the close association in the public’s mind between the State Department and homosexuality, and the purges of federal employees who moved somewhat openly in gay Washington, sought out same-sex partners at the city’s cruising spots, or were merely suspected or accused of having same-sex desires. Although the ostensible reason for their firing was that they would be susceptible to blackmail by foreign agents, Johnson unpacks the anxieties about gender, sexuality, and invasion that inhered in the gay panic on Capitol Hill. In this atmosphere, simply having been fired from the State Department cast aspersions on one’s sexual proclivities (see above cartoon). Furthermore, he shows that this “lavender scare” outlasted what we think of as the red scare by about a decade, lasting well into the 1960s, and that this persecution in part fostered the homophile activism that predated the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969.
If you like Johnson’s book, you might also want to check out Lee Edelman’s playful essay “Tearooms and Sympathy, or, the Epistemology of the Water Closet,” which offers a more cultural studies-inflected take on the meanings behind police surveillance of gay cruising spots in Washington, D.C. The PBS website also has a copy of a committee report on the employment of homosexuals in federal government from 1950, which gives you a sense of officials’ slippery reasoning for the firings.
In “Traumgedanken,” art student Maria Fischer uses different colors of thread to represent the connective themes in a book comprising different approaches to the study and interpretation of dreams. The resulting tome is a meta-text whose hypertextual elements (those would be the threads) represent the non-linear and often impenetrable nature of dreaming itself. It’s also gorgeous to look at:
Tangentially, this reminds me of a readings seminar I took at Berkeley with Maria Mavroudi, based on her dissertation research. She was able to trace intellectual genealogies in dream interpretation from ancient Greece to the Arab world and back to the Byzantine empire because of her fluency in both Greek and Arabic. They don’t give out the MacArthur “Genius Award” for nothing. Anyway, this would have made for a much cooler final project than the paper I wrote on one of Bismarck’s dreams in about twelve hours after I had already walked in the department’s commencement ceremony. It was the last paper I wrote as an undergrad–sue me.
It’s been a horrendously long time since I posted anything here, but not for lack of false starts. In any case, sharing something that I thought was beautiful or fascinating is a lot easier than news analysis or criticism, so I’ll think of this as me easing back into it. In the meantime, here are links to some newish blogs from my friends:
MOB Cycles Africa: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Megan O’Brien continues to be “unemployed and moderately homeless,” and we continue to love her.
Fat for Winter: Ruby writes about her adventures in cooking and eating, which are legion and delicious. Also, her post on her grandparents had me practically rolling on the floor. Sometimes I get mentioned here in passing, as our gastronomies often intersect.
Megan, Ruby–get ready. My grandma is about to blow up your comments section.