Friday, July 31, 2020

Beauty in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye"

When Pauline in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye goes to the movies, she "succumb[s] to [...] dreams": "Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another – physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion." The destructiveness of these ideas thus involves comparison and self-judgement. Pauline compares herself to Jean Harlow and judges herself as inferior, especially when she loses a tooth to the cinema candy. But even before that, she has already absorbed a cinematic standard of white beauty that she cannot see herself, as a Black woman, as living up to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 July)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

"A two-million-dollar snuff film" and a seventy-million-dollar action film: "The Old Guard"

The first fifteen minutes of Gina Prince-Bythewood's "The Old Guard" introduce Andy (Charlize Theron) and her three friends, immortals whose wounds always heal quickly. The movie's first action scene is first an experience of the characters, but then it's a video watched by ex-CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who later shows it to Merrick (Harry Melling), a pharma executive interested in the immortals. Yet for Merrick, the video is just "a two-million-dollar snuff film": he wants their bodies – and their DNA. Merrick's right, of course: Andy is not immortal; it's all makeup and special effects in a seventy-million-dollar action film that makes its heroes' invulnerability into an element of the plot. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 July)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

On Richard Russo, the Flitcraft parable, White Americans, and the George Floyd protests

Richard Russo's "Will White People Forget About George Floyd?" recounts a story from Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon: having almost been killed by a construction accident, a man named Flitcraft abandons his life, only to be found elsewhere five years later, with a similar job and family. Russo wonders whether, with time, White Americans might also return to their old lives after George Floyd's murder. But Flitcraft's story is individualist and masculinist: he could have changed his life by spending more time with his family, working with homeless people, or even investigating construction-site safety. Russo's Flitcraft parable suppresses the social and inclusive elements of protest that change the lives of participants. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 July)


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Women, power, and the pandemic

As Nicholas Kristof wrote in June, the apparent correlation between female leadership and a country's success controlling the pandemic might be "about the kind of country that chooses a woman to lead it." Further, a new study points out that countries with female leaders generally score better in equality indices. So women aren't necessarily the better leaders; rather, countries that elect women are generally in better positions to handle a public-health crisis. But I would also add this speculation: since misogyny blocks women's advancement to positions of power, women with power are seldom mediocrities. And unfortunately for the countries led by them, mediocre men have trouble dealing with such a crisis. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 July)



Monday, July 27, 2020

Talking about race is not in and of itself racist

Some respondents to my recent posts about race have suggested that discussing race is itself racist. Even me calling myself "White" would thus risk being racist. But while race is a "social construct" with no biological basis beyond melanin levels in skin, that doesn't mean "race" doesn't exist. It's not a biological "thing", but it's still a social thing. Nor does race as a "social construct" mean any given individual can decide which race to belong to. It's not an individual choice but a social determination. It's a construct with very real effects that need to be discussed, and discussing its construction and effects is not essentially racist – or even anti-racist. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 July)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Political opinion and right-wing "political correctness"

In "Political Correctness Is Destroying America! (Just Not How You Think.)", Jon Schwarz's examples of right-wing political consensus in the United States include the public pressure that led Jon Stewart to retract his 2009 statement on "The Daily Show" that Harry Truman was "a war criminal" for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I had a similar, private experience in the 1990s: in a discussion with relatives born before the war, I argued that even if Hiroshima might be defensible, I found Nagasaki to be at least bordering on a war crime. I was shouted down; the idea was unthinkable to them. Unlike Stewart, though, I did not retract my statement. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 July)


Saturday, July 25, 2020

My result on an implicit-association test

Following a link from Bajour, I took the race test at Project Implicit, and the result of the test differs from my sense of myself: while I see myself as not preferring Whites to Blacks, the test says I have a moderate preference for Whites over Blacks. This doesn't surprise me: as a White American, I grew up immersed in racism (even though my parents were Civil Rights activists). In Ibram X. Kendi's terms, the point is not to say "I'm not a racist" but to recognize and combat racist ideas in myself and others. Kendi's book is "How To Be an Anti-Racist"; for me, it's how to become an anti-racist. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 July)

Friday, July 24, 2020

"Terms that didn't exist at the time"

In his review of Walter Johnson's "The Broken Heart of America" in The New Yorker of May 25, 2020, Nicholas Lemann absurdly criticizes Johnson for his use of "terms that didn’t exist at the time to describe the motivations of historical actors: 'genocide,' 'settler colonialism,' 'ethnic cleansing' [...]." "Genocide" was coined in 1944 to describe ongoing events, but Lemann's logic implies that any discussion of Nazi mass murder prior to 1944 should avoid the term. And the distinction between "settler colonialism" (no matter when it was coined) and other types of colonialism can be usefully made as far back as classical antiquity. Lemann's criticism is thus both linguistically and historiographically ridiculous. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 July)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

If baseball were like soccer

As the shortened baseball season gets started in North America, I wonder again: what if baseball was organized like soccer? Each team would play 1-2 games a week; the season would consist of home and away games against each other team in leagues with 18-20 teams; tiered leagues would exist with first, second, third, and lower divisions, with promotion and relegation at the end of each season; and a single-elimination cup competition would involve teams from all the leagues. With fewer games, teams would need only one or two good pitchers, so historically, one of the greatest teams might have been the historical Washington Senators when their ace was Walter Johnson. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 July)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Ted Yoho bites his thumb, sir

After "a brief but heated exchange" with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on the Capitol steps on Monday, Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) was heard to mutter "fucking bitch". In response to criticism, Yoho's spokesman Brian Kaveney said that Yoho "did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in 'The Hill' or any name for that matter. Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away [...].” Or, as Sampson says to Gregory in the first scene of "Romeo and Juliet", "No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir." Ocasio-Cortez turned the insult around, tweeting that "'b*tches' get stuff done". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 July)



Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Four "lost" texts by Franz Kafka

The June 29 "New Yorker" features "The Rescue Will Begin in Its Own Time", Michael Hofmann's translation of four texts by Franz Kafka that will be published by New Directions in September in "The Lost Writings". I recognized the first as "Prometheus", but I assumed I just knew it in German and that it had never been translated before. Online, however, there is an interview with Hofmann and Barbara Epter of New Directions with an addendum at the end: all four of the stories have actually been translated before, and the Muir translation of "Prometheus" is even in "The Complete Stories". "First translation"; "lost writings" – all that is nothing but marketing. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 July)

Monday, July 20, 2020

A Klan sign on a Palo Alto street corner in 1946

In "Driving While Black", Gretchen Sorin provides a number of examples of 20th-century road signs that warned African-Americans when they were about to enter towns where their presence was not welcome. One came as a surprise to me because it referred to a town I spent part of my childhood and early adulthood in: "In Palo Alto in 1946, California's Klan painted KKK in red letters three feet high on the road at the intersection of Homer Ave and Ramona Street, to make sure motorists saw it." Though the article Sorin cites is not online, its author, Matt Bowling, has a website on Palo Alto history where he includes the story. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 July)


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Stateless in Switzerland

For a brief period in May and June, I was a stateless person. In April, I discovered I'd mixed up the expiration dates of my American passport and my daughter's: mine was expiring in May; hers in October. Due to coronavirus, I could renew my passport at the American Embassy in Bern in mid-May. When Switzerland's borders were opened in mid-June, I still hadn't received my new passport, so I couldn't leave Switzerland. This is nothing compared to what actually stateless people experience, but until my new passport arrived a few days later, I had at least an inkling of what it is to be without papers in the globalized world. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 July)

Saturday, July 18, 2020

"Reverse Self-Segregation"

Gretchen Sorin's "Driving While Black" includes two examples of "reverse self-segregation". The first took place at the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, which was "the first black golf club in the nation" and "a gathering place for the black upper class". Duke Ellington and other jazz greats played summer concerts there to two sets of dancers: African Americans inside, white locals in the parking lot. Similarly, Prince's in Nashville served their "hot chicken" to African Americans who came in through the front door while the whites entered through the back. In each case, the white desire for African American culture inverted segregation for a moment. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 July)

Friday, July 17, 2020

Aunt Jemima challenged in 1943

Recently, Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima brand would be taken off the market, and as usual, there were claims that an image and name that had not been seen as offensive in the past were suddenly being treated as racist. But in 1943, as Gretchen Sorin writes in "Driving While Black", David J. Sullivan, an African-American market researcher, advised white businessmen and advertisers aiming at African-Americans to avoid blackface, racial slurs, images "exaggerating Negro features", and such stereotypes as Uncle Mose and Aunt Jemima. That is, the Aunt Jemima brand, the associated "mammy" image, and racist brand names and logos have long been seen as offensive by African Americans. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 July)

Thursday, July 16, 2020

On the suspension of intercollegiate sports in the US

Last week, the Ivy League universities suspended all sports until January 2021, with the most prominent suspension, of course, being the football teams. Given the current trends in the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, this decision is entirely reasonable. But as an American who has lived in Europe since 1991, held teaching jobs at a German and a Swiss university, and watched my son play youth soccer for eight years, I think American colleges and universities should not even have sports teams, or at least no intercollegiate competition. In Europe, higher education doesn't provide amateur minor leagues for professional sports; the clubs themselves provide training and competition for young athletes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 July)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Women as "rational creatures" in Austen and Wollstonecraft

When Elizabeth Bennet rejects Mr. Collins's proposal in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", she urges him to believe what she says: "Do not consider me now as an elegant female [...], but as a rational creature [...]." That same phrase also appears in "Persuasion" when Mrs. Croft chides her brother, Captain Wentworth: "[...] I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures." This marks Austen's women – and Austen herself – as readers of Mary Wollstonecraft's "Vindication of the Rights of Women", who calls for society to educate women and allow them to be "rational creatures, and free citizens". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 July)

Poems by Andrew Shields published online in 2019

I had occasion to produce this list the other day (for the Basel English Department's annual report), so I thought I'd share it here to as an anthology of poems I published in 2019).

Poems published online in 2019

Andrew Shields


Bonnie's Crew: 23 Resolutions for the Old Year

Bravearts Africa: Sand Castle

Cabinet of Heed: You Ful I

Crossways Magazine: A Few Quick Lines

Dodging the Rain: A Walk Along The Shore, Itinerary, Satisfaction

Eunoia Review: Almond; Choir Boy; Driftwood; Getting Yahweh's Goat;  Emergencies; Save the Tigers

Hypnopomp: Crosswalk, Menetekel

Ink, Sweat and Tears: Rhine Swim

Inverse Journal: Hearsay; Pick a Card; Pit Bull on the Twelfth Floor

London Grip: Numerology; Sidewalk

Marias et Sampaguitas: Grasshopper; Late For A Very Important; This One's On The House

Picaroon Poetry: Stop, Look, Listen

Poetica Review: September Street

Poetry Pacific: Poet Spam, Two Small Snowmen Discuss the Skiing Conditions

Rasputin: Bench, I Dreamed Tom Waits Killed His Brother, Thunder

Runcible Spoon: At A Loss, Eggs

Street Light Press: Detour, Face Paint, New Life Stories

The Drabble: October; Neither Nor

The High Window: Quarters

The Poetry Village: Wings

Unlikely Stories: Does It Take A Village?; Jesus Confetti; Wherever You Are

Wellington Street Review: At Least That Moment

Yes, Poetry: Conditions

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"No means yes" in "Pride and Prejudice"

When Elizabeth Bennet rejects Mr. Collins's proposal in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", he responds that "it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept." And though she never gives in, she does counter his claim that his patroness Lady Catherine de Burgh would approve of Elizabeth. That is, she offers him a reason for not marrying him, and he thinks that Elizabeth would say "yes" if it weren't for that reason. In other words, "no, because" means "yes, but" – and that's why men, to this day, produce variations on his ridiculous claim that "when she says no, she means yes." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 July)

Monday, July 13, 2020

"Politically correct", "treating people with respect", "being polite to people"

I like replacing "political correctness" with "treating people with respect", as in this altered Donald Trump quote from 2015: "The big problem this country has is treating people with respect." It fits, because his political ascent began with birtherism and thus with disrespect for Barack Obama. Or there's this version: "I think the big problem this country has is being polite to people." Etymologically, the pun on "political" and "polite" doesn't work: "political" comes from the Greek for "citizen"; "polite" from the Latin for "polish". Yet people challenged for being PC are often from disrespected groups, and those challenging them apparently see "PC people" as lacking the "polish" of proper "citizens". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 July)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Revealing comments by Trump supporters after the President wears a mask

After President Trump wore a mask during a visit to Walter Reed Hospital (thus turning the visit into a photo op), his supporters, who mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask and looking silly, are now complimenting Trump for looking good and saying things like this: "Now that Trump finally wore a mask in public, is this the part where liberals CANCEL masks and make the case for how terrible they are?" Nobody's turning against masks because Trump wore one, but his supporters project their reading of everything in terms of Trump onto the "liberals" and call it "Trump derangement syndrome". Such comments make clear who is actually "deranged" by Trump. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 July)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"What one poem meant the most to you as a teenager?"

On Twitter, A. M. Juster asks, "What one poem meant the most to you as a teenager?" The responses are full of passion about poems that we found – or that found us – in our teens. The beautiful list is full of wonderful poems, but it led me to not a literary but a sociological observation: so many of these early favorites are by white men. If we get drawn into poetry at all, many of us first do so in school, so we can only discover our love for poetry through "what is found there" – not only what is found in the poems, but also what poems are found in schools. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 July)

Friday, July 10, 2020

"No man shall suffer for the murder of a Savage": 1765 and 2020

On 14 June 1765, Francis Fauquier, the Lieutenant Governor of the Virginia Colony, wrote a letter to the Board of Trade about "the Augusta Boys", who had recently killed five Cherokee in Augusta County, and connected them to "the Paxton Boys", who had killed six Susqehannock in Pennsylvania in 1763: "I am informed that the Paxton Boys [...] say no man shall suffer for the murder of a Savage." When I recently came across that phrase in Jeffrey Ostler's "Surviving Genocide", it seemed like an observation about the recent American history of police murders of African-Americans, which so often amounts to "no police suffering for the murder of a Black person."  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 July)

Thursday, July 09, 2020

"I will be fine for telling the truth": The bullying of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

In his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on 19 November 2019, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman pointed out that, if he were in Russia, "offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life". Then he reassured his father: "I will be fine for telling the truth." But yesterday, after "a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" (as his attorney said in a statement), Lt. Col. Vindman retired from the military while under consideration for promotion. His testimony may not have cost him his life, but it has cost him his career – just as it has not cost the President his position, despite the damning evidence that Vindman provided. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 July)



Wednesday, July 08, 2020

The illusion of an inclusive "we" in the Harper's letter

The Harper's "Letter on Justice and Open Debate" begins with what is presumably intended to be an inclusive "we": "Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial." This "we" includes whoever it's addressed to: "you (the addressee), I (the speaker), and others". It thus urges others to defend "cultural institutions" from those who threaten them. But that makes this "we" not inclusive but exclusive: it may include addressees who identify with those institutions, but it excludes those who do not as "threats". The figure of "trial" confirms the opposition established by that opening phrase while also turning challenges to the letter into confirmation of the danger of such anti-institutional threats. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 July)


Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The signatories of the Harper's letter defend their paid speech against free speech

Today, Harper's published "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate" with 150+ signatories affirming "robust and even caustic counter-speech" but denouncing "calls for swift and severe retribution." Later, three of the six mentioned types of "retribution" involve people being "fired" or "ousted", which leads the signatories to "fear for their livelihoods" and the potentially "dire professional consequences" of "mistakes". That is, these "professionals" resist those they perceive as "amateurs", whose failure to follow proper rules of discourse threatens their ability to make a living. The letter defends "free speech" but is ultimately more about their own opportunities to continue to get paid for their own speech even if they make "mistakes". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 July)


Monday, July 06, 2020

Native Americans in the United States Declaration of Independence

In the United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson includes Native Americans in the list of the "repeated injuries" that characterize the "tyranny" inflicted on the colonies by King George III: "He [...] has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." While accusing the Native Americans of mass murder, he constructs them as failing to make the distinctions that mark Jefferson and the colonizers as civilized, even as he himself makes no distinctions between them or about their alleged actions and thus positions the "Savages" for such "undistinguished destruction" themselves. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 July)

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Hannah Gadsby and the figure of having to laugh when the joke's on you

In "Nanette", Hannah Gadsby brings up the cliché that lesbians don't think jokes about lesbians are funny but adds that they have to laugh at such jokes because if they don't, it "proves the point." This figure of having to laugh to protect oneself also comes up in Gadsby's "Douglas" when she warns anti-vaxxers that they "will not like this next bit": "But if you’ve been laughing [...] and you suddenly stop now, everyone will know." That is, if your group is the butt of a joke, there's pressure to laugh along with it so as to not reveal yourself as a member of that group who "can't take a joke." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 July)


Nanette: What sort of comedian can’t even make the lesbians laugh? Every comedian ever. That’s a good joke, isn’t it? Classic. It’s bulletproof, too. Very clever, because it’s funny… because it’s true. The only people who don’t think it’s funny… are us lezzers… But we’ve got to laugh… because if we don’t… proves the point. Checkmate.


Douglas: if you are an anti-vaxxer, I can guarantee you, you will not like this next bit. But if you’ve been laughing the whole way through the show and you suddenly stop now, everyone will know.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Hannah Gadsby and Picasso

When Hannah Gadsby brings up Pablo Picasso in her comedy special "Nanette", she is dismissive: "I hate Picasso!" She explains that he "suffered… the mental illness of misogyny", as in his seduction at 42 of the 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter. She grants that "cubism is important" because it offers "all the perspectives at once", but she asks, were "any of those perspectives a woman’s?" She later adds that in the reception of Picasso, "our mistake was to invalidate the perspective of a 17-year-old girl." Many might see Gadsby as "cancelling" Picasso, but I see this not as a matter of rejecting his work but of attending to what his work itself rejected. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 July)

Friday, July 03, 2020

Returning books to the Amerika Haus library in November 1989

There was a news item shortly after the East German border was opened on 9 November 1989 that an East Berliner had returned two books to the Amerika Haus Library that he had checked out shortly before the border was closed when Berlin Wall was constructed in August 1961. All the reports and comments on this in the United States made a point of saying that the man was a typical German with his sense of order, but I thought otherwise: imagine how those books had become a symbol to him of the restriction of his freedom of movement, so returning them was a symbol of his having regained that freedom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 July)

Thursday, July 02, 2020

The casting of "Da 5 Bloods"

In Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods", the four African-American Vietnam veterans who return to present-day Vietnam are played by actors ranging in age from 57 to 67 years old, which is slightly younger than the age of their characters. But in the flashback scenes to their time in Vietnam, they are not played by younger actors, nor are they made up to look younger. The flashbacks are their memories, and while their squad leader who died in the war is still a young man, they picture themselves not as they were, but as they are now. The powerful effect will hopefully inspire more directors to make such bold, anti-realistic casting decisions. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 July)

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

20202 words in 2020 so far

My post yesterday made 182 texts of 111 words each, or 20,202 words. That's a lovely number in itself, but it's special in 2020. If it was all one story, it wouldn't be enough for a novel; according to a website I consulted, it's about 50 to 70 pages in a book. That would  make it a novella, or a long essay. But then I never intended it that way – it's an exercise, above all. And if I keep writing such a text every day for the rest of the year (which I'm not sure I will do), then this is the halfway point: the 183rd day of a leap year. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 July)