YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 7, 2015

The “change of heart” explanation for Dr. Ben Carson’s “redemption”

ben-carson-one-nation_bookThis blog addresses the most effective theme in American popular culture: religiously based sentimentality. It tries to explain how The Kelly File (hosted by Sandra Smith November 6, 2015), attempted to exonerate Dr. Ben Carson from charges of inventing an autobiography, first introduced by CNN, Politico, and the Wall Street Journal, this week: the famed neurosurgeon conquered his urban black rage/poverty through a “change of heart.” (I wrote about Carson’s appeal to many conservatives here: https://clarespark.com/2015/11/06/ben-carsons-appeal-to-republican-primary-voters/. For a related blog noting the meme of “one Nation” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

What follows is the liner notes “About the culture” that I wrote for the Yankee Doodle Society’s first recording, “Sentimental Songs of the Mid-19th Century” (Takoma Records A-1048, 1976; songs by composers Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work and George Root).

[Liner notes:] The music of this recording is the sheet music of the mid-century parlor, songs performed by the genteel family at leisure. The self-improving impulses of these log-cabin graduates found satisfaction in decorous language freed from frontier crudity, boisterousness, and sexual innuendo. Gathered around the piano, the entire family could join in the harmonized chorus, affirming the values and sentiments suited to their new station, and experiencing the reassuring world invoked by the sentimentalists.

For the American Eden had been shaken by the tremors of industrialization. The system of laissez nous faire or unfettered economic competition in an open marketplace had promised both personal freedom and social harmony. Instead, the 19th century witnessed the growth of an alarming gap between rich and poor, with terrifying social strife: depressions, panics, riots, class, race and sex antagonisms. The Puritan’s “heavenly kingdom on earth” had frequently turned out to be “hell with the lid off” — as Dickens described Stephen Foster’s Pittsburgh.

Rather than scrap the entire economic kit and caboodle, as various utopians were urging, middle class Americans tinkered and fussed, relegating hopes and memories of personal happiness to a sacrosanct Home Sweet Home, nestled in benevolent, maternal Nature.

michelle_sentimentality

Protected from the unpleasantness of business, the genteel woman guarded the hearth: priestess to the cult of domesticity.  From her privileged position as the national repository of moral purity, she led the crusade to clean up society, the untiring foe to alcohol and prostitution: home wreckers in whatever guise.

Social evil, all of it, was viewed by the reform-minded gentility as the product of individual corrupt hearts, a coronary lapse in social empathy. Clogged by the polluting passions, the offending heart required purging through exposure to the Noble and the Pathetic, with tears and sighs conferring absolution upon the wayward self.

What constituted the Noble and the Pathetic, the preponderating subjects of sentimental song? They were teen-aged soldiers defending the Flag, “happy darkies” and steadfast maidens contented in service to their masters: doomed draftees and perfect angels consigned to the shadows of public life. Those who were about to die, or who had barely lived, were saluted by the millions…whose own capacities for action were increasingly crippled as wealth and power were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

The sentimental song, like the chaste ministrations of genteel mothers and sisters, served to reconcile ordinary Americans to loneliness and social impotence. Dreaming of curatives, their condition was eased with the catharsis of a good cry, and the glimmer of Union provided by a well-made song in the fellowship of performance. [End, liner notes by CS, emphasis and quotation marks added]

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September 30, 2015

Pacifica Radio and how I achieved a measure of free speech

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

Several Facebook friends have sent me the same Guardian article claiming that the Pacifica Foundation is dying and on its last legs. That Pacifica is on its last legs may be true, but the blog is about how loose organization at the top enabled my own intellectual development and courage.

As I have mentioned in my sort of scholarly Pacifica memoir, Pacifica was a creation of corporatist liberals in coalition with such as the Ford Foundation and many Stalinists or Quakers.

Its glory days were at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement, which is when I got involved with it. From 1969 on, that decade  (the 1970s) was a happy and productive time for me, because I had my own radio program, The Sour Apple Tree, which was devoted to the internal politics of the art world, which few of the radicals then in charge knew of or cared about. These uncensored years were the happiest decade of my life, for management hardly noticed me, and I developed a following of curious listeners, many of them in the arts, academe, or even math or science.

Being connected to a diverse audience willing to put up with long, detailed interviews and an increasing number of essays (all initiated after I had started graduate school in history, 1983-1993, especially during the Bush campaign of 1988) gave me courage to strike out wherever the evidence led me, and I felt loyal to a growing, supportive, audience.

It was not until I became Program Director in 1981 that I learned that free speech at KPFK was sharply circumscribed by Stalinists whose influence till then was unnoticed by me. As I have written before, multiculturalism was enforced at all the stations shortly before I was appointed PD, and I misunderstood it, thinking it to be some kind of inclusive history with no holds barred. (The complete history is laid out in this set of links: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/.)

I have written this very brief blog because many on the internet and Facebook believe that they are, in fact, practicing free speech. I questioned this assumption here: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Two factors enabled my political and intellectual development: lack of editing by higher ups, and connection to an audience that cared about the issues I raised. If my graduate education in US and European history was fraught with conflict and took many years, it was because I had already experienced relatively “free speech” and had no intention of regressing to the docility and ignorance that had marked my young adulthood. Loyal to my audience of autodidacts who expected me to “kick against the pricks,” I spoke up where other graduate students or faculty were silent.

In retrospect, I understand why my blog posts seem to be eccentric or ornery at times. Once you have experienced real intellectual freedom (limited only by your ignorance), you can’t go back to unquestioning deference to individuals or institutions. Luckily, I have found kindred souls (other misfits?) on Facebook and elsewhere.

The Pacifica Foundation has been ruined by underdisciplined anarchists or overdisciplined Stalinists. But I shall ever be grateful for the experiences that unleashed me before it was too late.

free-speech

July 26, 2014

CV as of 2014: Clare Spark, Ph.D.

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:45 pm
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clare early 1970s Ruscha show prankI could have used this for “About Clare Spark” (https://clarespark.com/about/) for the website, but chose to do a different type of autobiography. Here is my CV as of 2008, recently updated. Almost 800 blogs not included, but they are all grounded in prior research; some of the blogs were published or presented to peers at conferences. KPFK and other Pacifica radio experience not included.

DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: August 10, 1937, New York City
UNIVERSITY DEGREES: Ph.D. in History, UCLA; 6/93; M.A. in History, UCLA, Fall, 1984; M.A. in Teaching Science, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 6/59; B.S. with distinction, Cornell University, 2/58.

ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS AND PAPERS:

2014. Review Ben Urwand, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler. Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall.

2008.Forthcoming review of Peter Moreira, Hemingway on the China Front: His WWII Spy Mission with Martha Gellhorn, Journal of Cold War Studies (withdrawn for publication on my website: https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/).

2007. “Arthur Schlesinger’s Missing Vital Center.” History News Network. http://www.hnn.us/articles/36239.html., “Gunnar Myrdal’s A Lot More Complicated Than You Think.” History News Network, March 12.

2006-2008. Regular commentator on the politics of culture for Pacifica Radio Station KPFT (Houston), LivingArts, archived and streamed live on the web.

2006. Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 2nd ed. Paperback).

2004. “What Lies Behind the Multicultural Approach to History?” History News Network. http://www.hnn.us/articles/4533.html.

2004. “Ralph Bunche and the Jewish Problem.” UCLA Bunche Center for African-American Studies, 2-21 Symposium.

2002. “Melville’s ‘Private Faith’: Christian Antisemite or Crypto-Jew?” paper for Modern Language Association meeting, December 28, 2002, New York City.

2002. “Margoth v. Robert E. Lee: Melville’s Poetry and Rival Conceptions of National Unity,” paper for panel “The Nineteenth-Century Artist,” American Literature Association Meeting, June 1, 2002, Long Beach, California.

2002. “Herman Melville: Dead White Male,” History News Network, http://www.hnn.us/articles/665html.

2002. “Chomsky versus Lippmann,” posting on History of Diplomacy discussion group, Humanities Net, January 15.

2001. Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP). [Reviewed in London Review of Books (Oct.31, 2002), Harper’s (June 2002), Southern Humanities Review (Spring 2002), Christianity and Literature (Summer 2002), American Literature ( 2002 ), CHOICE (Nov. 2001), Library Journal (2001). Modern Language Quarterly (June, 2003), Bloomsbury Review, American Literary Scholarship, The Year’s Work in Literature, Leviathan (2003), Minutes of the Charles Olson Society (April 2004), Journal of Cold War Studies (Fall, 2005)

2001. “Race, Caste, or Class? The Bunche-Myrdal Dispute Over An American Dilemma,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society Vol.14, No.3 (Spring 2001): 465-511.

[Abstract: Few observers doubt that Gunnar Myrdal and Ralph J. Bunche had sharp methodological disagreements and differing approaches to tactics for ending “the Negro problem.” Myrdal has been criticized as a statist liberal and utopian moralist by recent cultural historians defending “progressive nationalism” (multiculturalism), while Bunche has been characterized as a vulgar Marxist, and, with Myrdal, a denigrator of “black culture.” Inspection of An American Dilemma in contrast with Bunche’s research memoranda suggests that Myrdal represented himself as a Burkean conservative, while Bunche’s analyses transmit the radical puritan libertarian tradition, but without rejecting social democratic remedies en route to working-class control of industry. Their shared emphasis on class-based remedies to end poverty and powerlessness, however, renders them similarly unassimilable in a period where the progressive left has generally embraced racial or ethnic “identity,” not class power, as the source of individual emancipation, mental health, and economic betterment.]

2000. “Moderating Melville.” Conference paper, American Literary Association, May 27, Long Beach, California.

1999. “Klara Hitler’s Son: The Langer Report on Hitler’s Mind,” Social Thought and Research, Vol.22, No. 1/2, pp. 113-37.

1998. “Hunting Captain Ahab: The Dark Side of the Melville Revival, 1919-1998,” September 25-26. Symposium in honor of Alexander Saxton sponsored by UCLA.

1996. “From Light Into Darkness: the modern artist as Promethean, explorer, psychoanalyst, moralist and materialist–the case of Melville’s Isabel.” Paper for session “Femme Fatale as Subversive Icon,” Conference on “Love and Politics in Literary Perspective,” March 1 and 2, sponsored by Departments of Classics and Comparative Literature, California State University at Long Beach.

1991. Enter Isabel: The Herman Melville Correspondence of Clare Spark and Paul Metcalf, ed. and annotated by Paul Metcalf (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press).

1991. Commentator, two papers on Pierre. Melville-Whitman Conference, Siena College, Oct. 4.

1991. Other talks on Melville and modernism vs. fascist and protofascist reaction delivered to the History Department, University of Connecticut Oct. 21, Undergraduate English Association, Fordham University, Oct. 29, WBAI-FM, New York City, November 1.

1991. “Who’s Crazy Now? An Essay Dedicated to Christopher Hill,” UCLA Historical Journal Vol. 10, 1990. Winner Theodore Saloutos Award, $500 annual prize for best essay. [Originally a Sermon delivered to the First Unitarian Church, 1/8/90: the legacy of radical protestantism, institutional double-binds specific to modernity, anti-Semitism as antimodernism directed against the Reformation and empiricism; organicism versus materialism on the Left, romantic anticapitalist movements in Anglo-American culture, and the significance of recently declassified government documents from the Psychological Strategy Board (1951-53) regarding government psychological warfare. Contrary to expectation I found no evidence of a U.S. plot to magnify the Soviet threat.]

1990. “Call Me Isabel: Herman Melville as Feminist,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of The American Studies Association, Nov. 2, the panel on “feminist perspectives.”

1987. “Pacifica Radio and the Politics of Culture,” American Media and Mass Culture, ed. Don Lazere (University of California Press).

1987. “Good Jews, Bad Jews, and Wandering Jews in Herman Melville’s Clarel,” Lecture co-sponsored by UCLA Department of History and the Program in Comparative Literature, April 23.

1986. “The Battle for Pacifica Radio,” Paper delivered to California American Studies Association, April 25, panel on Culture and Dissent: Women in Politics.

1982. [on the recent controversies within the Pacifica Foundation and KPFK], sponsored by the radical caucus of The Modern Language Association, annual meeting.

1981-82. “The Sour Apple Tree,” KPFK Folio: a monthly column on the theory and practice of alternative media; proposals for new directions in programming.

1978. “The Rescue” (a montage concerning ideology in the public sculptures of Horatio Greenough), Journal of the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, June/July.

1978. “Masochism Builds Character,” in Education; Papers in Honor of Fletcher G. Watson, ed. Leo Klopfer (Harvard Graduate School of Education).Education in Science and Science

1976. “About the Culture,” (jacket notes), Sentimental Songs of the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Takoma Records, A-1048).

1975. “The Politics of Feminist Art,” member of panel chaired by Carl Baldwin for the annual meeting of the College Art Association.

SCHOLARSHIPS, GRANTS, HONORS: Post-doctoral fellowship, Williams Andrews Clark Jr. Memorial Library, “The Artist as Hero, 1680-1800,” (a seminar directed by Robert Folkenflik, summer, 1989; I studied the ongoing conservative response to Milton, and romantic anticapitalism in William Blake, William Morris, Eric Gill, D.H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley); Rosecrans Fellowship, UCLA Department of History 1987-1988, 1988-89; Graduate Division Fellowship, UCLA 1986-87; Distinguished Scholar Award, UCLA Alumni Association 1985-86; Carey McWilliams Fellowship, 1985-86; Alfred P. Sloan National Fellowship, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1958-59; New York State Scholarship, 1954-58.

The National Endowment for the Arts (1974: to produce 39 radio programs on the politics of the art world; 1977: to produce, write and direct a series of montages on the social roots of popular music in the age of Jackson); The National Endowment for the Humanities (1976: to write radio scripts on the politics of middle-class music 1820-1860); 1979-80: to direct the development of a radio series exploring unity and conflict in postwar America as documented in the Pacifica Archives); California Council for the Humanities (1982: to direct a series of symposia establishing social contexts for twelve contemporary plays originated at KPFK). 1972 Major Armstrong Award for FM Broadcasting (second place in educational documentary, for Jim Morrison: Artist in Hell). Appointed to Academic Senate Systemwide Affirmative Action in Hiring and Academic Programs Committee by UC Student Lobby (1984-86). Appointed to ASUCLA Communications Board by Graduate Students Association (1984-85). Nominated for membership on California State Council for the Humanities by Kathryn Kish Sklar, 1982.

EMPLOYMENT: Spring Quarter 1985, Field Studies Coordinator for UCLA undergraduate seminar in history of mass media; helped teach class and developed syllabus and bibliography for critical media studies with grant from UCLA Office of Instructional Development.

February 1981-August 1982, Program Director, KPFK-FM (Pacifica Radio, Los Angeles). It was my objective to clarify the identity of Pacifica Radio as alternative institution and to build credible programming and empathic relations with the audience consistent with Pacifica’s stated ideals. Significant progress toward the creation of an desegregated radio station, sensitive to the historical experience of women, people of color, and labor, was achieved. Subscriptions increased by 20%, I planned and organized the three most successful fund-drives in KPFK history to that date, listener-support was at a new high. The new direction in programming (critical and historically informed) attracted unusual and laudatory press coverage. I produced and/or developed 35 new regularly scheduled programs and numerous symposia: 6 “Teach-Ins” (on El Salvador, the arms race, Southern Africa, reproductive rights for women, Northern Ireland, and Reaganomics); 2 day-long Peace Festivals (involving every peace organization in Southern California and numerous artists and poets), and Peace Week (in support of the June 12, 1982 NYC demonstration).

The Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors unanimously adopted a resolution that I authored: Pacifica programming would encourage critical thought in culture and politics alike, adopting a principled opposition to racism and sexism. The controversy which erupted over implementation of this (“illiberal”!) resolution eventually drove me out of the station and back to graduate school (where I had started work in U.S. intellectual history, Fall, 1980). The history of “ethnopluralism” (which I traced while in graduate school) suggests that “multiculturalism” as currently practiced is a piecemeal and ineffective conservative liberal strategy to contain and redirect the unpredictable energies of postwar anticolonialism and antiracism, inducing further fragmentation/ghettoisation of the hitherto oppressed and excluded. In 1981 I viewed integrated programming simply as balanced history, comprehending the experience of all groups without idealization; some programming would deal with issues of particular relevance to specific groups, such as women, non-whites, etc., but these would be understood as part of a larger picture of political, economic, and cultural (i.e., institutional) conflict, often global in character. Our explorations would not presume any particular political outcome: our analytic method would be grounded in inductive, not deductive logic; the question would remain open as to what kind of social/economic organization would best encourage the release of human creativity and development. In its populist zeal to “smash capitalism” (without critical reflection), however, an unreformed Pacifica tends to promote separatism, alienation, and despair.

August-September 1980, Producer and Host, “The Afternoon Air,” KPFK. Researched and produced a daily (weekday) three-hour montage of news, public affairs features and documentaries, music and interviews. (I continued this assignment while Program Director, 2/81-10/81)

1971-73, Faculty, School of Critical Studies, California Institute of the Arts; taught Radio Workshop, Mass Media and the Audience (critical tools for analysis).

1972, UCLA Extension, Coordinator: “The Arts and Social Change.”

1971-72, Co-Director, Drama and Literature, KPFK.

1958, 1959-60, Chemistry, biology and general science teacher, Jamaica High School (Queens, NY), Los Angeles High School.

CONSULTANCIES, PUBLIC LECTURES, CONFERENCES:
1979, Consultant to Executive Director, Pacifica Foundation (long-term program development and fund-raising)

1978-80, Consultant-expert, The National Endowment for the Arts. I served twice on the radio panel (Media Arts division) and represented all of radio at the policy review panel (Media Arts) in 1980, leading the protest against cultural imperialism in arts funding at the NEA.

1972-82, Public lectures/demonstrations, slide shows on the politics of alternative media, censorship in the arts, sex and violence in recent feminist art and photography. Sponsored by Berkeley University Art Museum, Aspen Design Conference, Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, UCLA Women’s Resource Center, UCLA Department of Art, UCLA Extension, AAUW of Los Angeles, etc. Also, lecture/demonstration classes at UC Irvine (Moira Roth), School of Visual Art (Joyce Kozloff), Cooper Union (Hans Haacke), The New School for Social Research, NYU Film School, and Otis Art Institute.

A featured speaker at invitational conferences, including Community Arts and Community Survival (American Council of the Arts in Education, 1972); Women in the Arts (University of Wisconsin, 1973); Women in Media (UC Berkeley, 1974); The Artist’s Survival (Associated Councils of the Arts, 1975); Critical Communications Conference (Stanford University, 1978, San Diego State, 1979); and attended Independent Radio Producers Conference, Markle Foundation, 1979).

RADIO PRODUCTION: 1969-1994. Hundreds of critical commentaries (closely analysing politics and structures in museum exhibitions), documentaries, “performances,” and interviews, many nationally distributed by Pacifica Program Service. Guests have included Herbert Marcuse, Anais Nin, François Truffaut, John Kenneth Galbraith, Dennis Brutus, Ntozake Shange, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard Foreman, Roger Angell, and Harold Rosenberg. Long documentaries treated Jim Morrison and Nietzsche, Picasso’s politics, De Kooning’s patronage, “bad taste” in popular culture, authoritarianism and protofascism, artistic and cultural freedom, psychosurgery, etc. From 1988-98, I wrote and presented my series “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” that compared analyses of “fascism” before, during, and after World War II, and continued my study of the transmission of twentieth century European and American history in the major museums. Recent 90 minute programs presented Herman Melville’s suppressed annotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost, with readings of radical Melville passages by Roscoe Lee Browne, August 1, 1990, arguing for Melville’s oscillating identifications with both Ahab (a left-wing puritan) and Ishmael (a romantic conservative).

OTHER ACTIVITIES: In 1974, composer Joseph Byrd and I founded The Yankee Doodle Society, a production group of artists and scholars whose advisors and endorsers have included Julian Bond, Roscoe Lee Browne, David Brion Davis, Herbert Gutman, Michael Rogin, Roger Shattuck, Kathryn Kish Sklar, and Richard Slotkin. I have co-produced four narrated concerts of nineteenth-century popular music, two sets of recordings (4 disks: Takoma A-1048, Musical Heritage Society 834561) which reconstruct middle-class music of the early and mid-nineteenth century; and have produced, written and directed A Change of Tears: Sentimental Song and Purity Reform in the Age of Jackson, a 10 1/2 hour collage of dramatized documents and music from antebellum America demonstrating contradictory themes in the emerging industrial culture, for instance: “family values” can be seen either as conservative nostrum for social and economic ills or as the bulwark of democratic opposition to illegitimate authority. Actors included Hershel Bernardi, Roscoe Lee Browne, Beatrice Manley, David Birney and William Schallert. These activities have been funded through private contributions, NEH, NEA, and TOSCO. The collage was broadcast in its entirety on July 4, 1994, KPFK-FM, Los Angeles, rebroadcast Thanksgiving 1994 and Labor Day 1995.

DISSERTATION TITLE: The “Melville” Revival, 1919-1953: An Unclosed Case Study in Conservative Enlightenment.

DOCTORAL COMMITTEE CHAIR AND OTHER MENTORS: Alexander Saxton (Chair: intellectual/cultural/social/labor history); Gary Nash (colonial history); Margaret Washington Creel (slavery and reconstruction); Kathryn Kish Sklar (women and nineteenth-century reform movements); Robert Brenner (English history during the transition from feudalism to capitalism; attended all sessions of the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History under his direction, 1988- ); informal study with other professors including Saul Friedländer (representations of the Holocaust), Simon Schaffer and Roy Porter (history of science and medicine), Albert Boime (18th-20th Century European and American art history, the recent controversy over NEA funding).

READING COMMITTEE: Alexander Saxton, Saul Friedländer, Carolyn Porter (UC Berkeley), Albert Boime, Robert Brenner, Katherine King.

DISSERTATION SUMMARY: Utilizing ignored or newly available sources (the papers of Raymond Weaver, Richard Chase, Charles Olson, Jay Leyda, and Henry Murray), I reconstructed patterns of censorship in “the Melville Revival” and challenged current interpretations of Melville and Melville criticism since 1919; the relevant context is the institutionalization of psychological warfare before, during, and after World War II, with Melville’s character Captain Ahab increasingly characterized with hostility as bearer of Radical Enlightenment. In the rhetoric of New Dealers and their left-wing allies, Ahab (a savage Hebrew prophet) is an “anticipation” of Hitler and Stalin: the ideological thrust of this Conservative Enlightenment tendency is explicitly antimaterialist and antidemocratic. I have contrasted Burkean conservatism, romantic anticapitalism, Christian Socialism, organicist Left and New Left thought, with the libertarian thought of Locke, Mandeville, Adam Smith, etc. Melville’s approach to biography is seen as alternating between (family-splintering) “British” empiricism and (family-reunifying) “German” Romanticism.

Archival research in the papers of leading Melville scholars disclosed widespread physical and emotional distress while writing about their subject, also ambivalence and/or hostility toward Melville in the published writings; moreover there has been widespread suppression of biographical and textual evidence in Melville studies since 1919, the year “America’s greatest writer” (1819-1891) was ostensibly rescued from philistine contemporaries. My account of the making of the “Melville” [ruin] is correlated with the varied endeavors of antifascist liberals in American Studies, social psychology, and the Committee for Economic Development (socially responsible capitalists adopting Keynesian economics in the early 1940s). These were pragmatists and ethnopluralists who nervously defined themselves against both Marx and Freud in the 1920s and 30s. I suggest that the periodization of “Cold War culture” (as the creation of “fascist” Republicans after 1947) is a disingenuous construction of the moderate men, organic conservative supporters of the New Deal; we do better to examine antidemocratic narratives and myths (Narcissus and Icarus, the apocalyptic sublime) extant since the emergence of science and democracy in ancient Greece, intensified after the Reformation and the invention of the printing press and the popular revolutions that followed.

For the moderate conservatives, Melville was the charismatic specter of the artisan autodidact/the romantic Wandering Jew, bearer of empiricism, freethought, dissent, republicanism, and internationalism. During the 1930s, at the same time that Hitler was constructed by scholars and journalists as a failed artist, narcissist, materialist and clown (the freak of mass culture), crazy Ahab (formerly recognized as abolitionist/Chartist/artist/Melville by many readers) was separated from his creator. New Left critics have tended to follow this conservative nationalist (Jungian) explanation for both fascism and Melville’s downfall; i.e. feminized bourgeois sentimental culture, not the right-wing coalition directed against modernity/the labor movement, explains “totalitarianism” in the twentieth century and Melville’s “crash” after Moby-Dick.

I account for censorship in Melville studies in this context: acting against fanciful “subjectivist” 1920s Melville critics who allegedly conflated autobiography and text, life and art, “objectivist,” fact-finding Melville scholars publishing in the mid-1930s and after have cast doubt on his veracity by (apparently) elevating his status as the “artist” who skillfully transformed plundered “literary sources”; crucially the “second wave” Melville critics have usually rehabilitated the later work (Clarel and Billy Budd). This ploy undermines his accuracy as a reporter of 1. structural antagonisms between the interests of naval officers and common sailors (White-Jacket) and 2. double-binds in supposedly benevolent institutions transmitting incompatible expectations for both truth and (conservative) order (Pierre). Here are potentially irreconcilable conflicts that may not be compromised or moderated; their perception is a threat to the legitimacy of the corporatist liberals; hence explosive issues in the Melville biography (family violence, imputed insanity, the possible existence of an illegitimate half-sister) have been uneasily managed, perhaps to protect the notion that Melville attained genuine (conservative) Enlightenment in his old age after his protracted narcissistic adolescence, his “pathological puritanism” (quoting Henry A. Murray). He could not have been responding to betrayals and structural antagonisms in the real world. In sum, the terms of enlightenment (history, science, progress, facts) have been co-opted by moderate conservatives in the humanities to discredit the radical Enlightenment embodied in the empiricist Melville, who has been reconstructed as a sadder-but-wiser ex-romantic, progressing from destructive Captain Ahab to the prudent Captain Vere.

WORK-IN-PROGRESS: 1. At the request of Pacifica listeners, I have compiled a syllabus and book-length illustrated reader, “Eros and the Middle-Manager,” consisting of radio talks from my series “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” (1988- ), essays on Melville’s ambivalent identification with the Romantic Wandering Jew (showing the dynamics of his oscillation between fully feeling, freethinking, incorruptible historian/sociologist and melancholic ex-radical), and a monograph that challenges postwar scholarship on Hitler’s psyche, suggesting that conservative nationalist psychoanalysts and political scientists (the progressives), in a distortion of the textual evidence, have disseminated the image of Hitler as an Ahab-ish Bad Jew, the Big Liar: crazy, sadistic, cynical, domineering, contemptuous of the masses, and protean. The gullibility of The People, their bad taste and susceptibility to demagoguery (not economic crisis, class position of the squeezed petit-bourgeoisie, the growing working-class movement, and Left sectarianism, the continuity with Wilhelmine expansionism and imperialism), is held to be the major cause of the Nazi rise to power. (Hitler, however, constructed himself as effective fatherly communicator, not Liar; the Jews, like Filmer’s People, were the Big Liars.) The Reader is evolving into a handbook for democratic communicators. My work suggests new directions for cultural studies, intellectual history, psychoanalysis and counseling, situating personal troubles and family interactions in the broader context of history and politics in the twentieth century, specifically in the social sciences and humanities as managed by “the antifascist liberals,” the moderate men, who, since the mid-1930s have attempted to forge a middle way against the extremes of laissez-faire capitalism and Nazism/Bolshevism (the latter sometimes understood as jacobin democracy/anarchism). Tracking the subtly antidemocratic social relations constructed by “vanguard” corporatists (presenting themselves as genuine liberals) and directed against artists, intellectuals, and autodidacts, is central to the project.
I also have numerous unpublished manuscripts, including a long article on the historiography of Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1636-38). All my work is focused on the teaching of the humanities and how ethnopluralism and other irrationalist ideologies have tended to undermine the independence and self-understanding of citizens.

May 10, 2014

Why I left “the Left”

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:25 pm
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Lefties.another-perfect-day-four-songs-for-the-left-behind-2012Although I share many of the more libertarian proclivities of social democracy, readers of this website must have noticed that I am a fierce, obsessive critic of social democrats—a passion that may be found on either the neoliberal Right or the Marxist-Leninist Left. Today, under the Obama administration, it is almost impossible to separate social democrats (New Deal liberals/conservative reformers) from any of the Marx-derived sects that dot the landscape of liberal-leftist dissent. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, for the source of confusion.)

In the sense that most readers will understand “the Left” I was never a member of any Marxist or Leninist sect, but my positions at Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles gave me access to leading figures in the arts in Los Angeles and New York. It seemed to me during the 1970s upheavals that the leftist intellectuals were by far the best educated and incisive on the ills of society that I addressed on the radio in my coverage of the art world and its institutions. Indeed, while Program Director of KPFK-FM I put as many as possible on the air.Then, when I was fired by the manager, Jim Berland, and I lost “power” nearly all of them drifted away, or perhaps I left them.

This blog is about some of the incidents that bothered me while I was in that milieu, and that still disturb me. One reason I went to graduate school in history was to understand my own prior attachments. I will not name names, but assure the reader that my contacts were with leading figures in the arts and scholarship. Many of these nameless ones are superstars in their fields.

On Archives. One critical theorist of great note, up there with Jacques Derrida, asked me to write him a memo on “the archive”. I love archives as I do all research in primary source materials, and I did not know that “the archive” as such was under attack from both Left and Right. (Leftists claim that they are elite-controlled, hence exclude the good stuff—daily atrocities suffered by ordinary people– while one biographer of Joe McCarthy, M. Stanton Evans, is also suspicious, claiming that key documents have disappeared, owing to political hanky-panky from his enemies.)
After reading my memo in praise of archives, my friend confessed that just entering a library gives him panic attacks.

On Hitler. One Leninist read my original work on Hitler’s psyche and we met for coffee to discuss it. He excitedly told me that he agreed with Hitler on many points, but then telephoned me after I got home to deny that he had ever said such a thing. He sounded panicky, so I didn’t argue with him.

On lawlessness. I was advised (almost ordered) by one figure in the arts, to steal from some wealthy art collector so that I would have the experience of rejecting bourgeois rules and morality. This sort of duplicity was advocated by more than one lefty I knew, trying to draw me into opposition.

On fighting to win. I intuitively knew ahead of my firing as PD that it was about to happen as I would have nothing to do with the commandments of multiculturalism and populism, and warned my anti-imperialist supporters at KPFK on a Friday night that we should prepare to defend my job. Sure enough, I was fired the following Monday afternoon; we could have shut down several of the news rooms at Pacifica in protest, but the most action in the defense of the direction I was pushing the station was a letter-writing campaign. The President of the Pacifica station begged me to test the administrative procedures he had put in place, and, naively, I complied, but he still upheld “at will” firings–a no, no among labor activists. (It is interesting that this was in the midst of fund drive preparation in which the theme for the Fall Fund Drive was to be science versus myth.) I concluded that “the Left” at Pacifica was weaker than I am on my own. It was then that I went back to school to study witch hunts and the history of multiculturalism as social policy.

On switches. I had been a Democrat all my voting life, but as I read the critiques of academic neo-orthodoxy by David Horowitz and Peter Collier in the 1990s, I found their observations to be exactly accurate and in line with my own experience in graduate school—where I found myself highly critical of most of the lines handed down by senior faculty—most of whom were somewhere on the Left, either as left-feminists or as anti-Americans. Graduate school was no different than Pacifica Radio or other “liberal” institutions. I ran into David Horowitz on the street in Pacific Palisades where he was then living, and we struck up an acquaintance. When David H and his wife came to my book signing party in Brentwood (shortly after 9-11-2001), one former very prominent lefty faculty friend of mine was present and interrogated my sister regarding the anomaly of David H’s attendance. Sometime during that same period, another academic of the Left asked me if it was true that David H was a friend of mine. Neither of these scholars is speaking to me today. You can’t leave the mob.

Along these same lines, I unwarily told a mentor and close friend, a liberal, that I had voted for Bush in 2000 (on the theory that Al Gore was unstable and that “Dubya” was an acceptable alternative). I didn’t expect him to lash out at me, though, true to his self-image as a liberal, he did call me the next day to apologize for his harsh criticism. Things were never the same after that between us.

On schematic explanations for everything bad. It occurred to me after reviewing my disastrous attachments to persons on “the Left” that the attraction to Marxism and then Leninism on the part of my former friends was the simplicity of Marxist ideology. It was easy to master, and even the most sectarian memberships gave one a substitute family of like-minded individuals, all of whom were, in their own minds, morally and intellectually superior to the rest of America.

Real scholarship is messy, tentative, and you rarely know if your readings of documents or syntheses (narratives) of what really happened are even close to accuracy.

I left the Left because this sort of open-endedness and inconclusiveness is frowned upon. Seemingly, it is imagined by prominent and/or blogging leftist academics that I am either a neocon or a conservative scholar, and a dastardly turncoat. I would rather be known as a scholar with strong pluralist tendencies who never betrays evidence or prematurely draws conclusions—including why I left the Left. This is a partial inventory, nothing more, and is always subject to revision and correction.

[For a more recent blog on internal contradictions within “Marxist Leninism” see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/.%5D

UK politician Ed Miliband

UK politician Ed Miliband

April 26, 2014

The State of the Blog/Irreconcilable Conflicts

Deviant Art

Deviant Art

In the month of April, the Yankee Doodle Society website saw an unexpected drop in visitors. The numbers are still good, especially given the amount of competition in the blogosphere. To date (since the summer of 2009 when the Obama administration introduced much drama into the political culture) there have been 366,029 views, a number that always astounds my family and acquaintances.

But given the cultural emergency we find ourselves in, I am disappointed and dissatisfied, especially since I have shortened the blogs to reach an audience that is distracted and possibly frantic regarding the future of our ostensible representative republic, a condition I have represented as proto-fascist. The rest of this blog speculates about the many causes for the April drop. I cannot know, on my own, why I get between 150-250 views/day, compared to the prior record of between 250-350/day. What follows amounts to a meditation regarding the state of our political culture and my own persona as a kind of Nanki-Poo (“A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches….” For a recent rendition see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN6S8g1QrqU.)

First, like the masked Nanki-Poo, I am a misfit, a representation of the “uncanny” or “unheimlich.” Most of us crave for some stable group affiliation. My insistence on irreconcilable conflicts, both internal and external, contradicts the “moderate” tone of much public discourse. Such blogs as “The Illusion of National Unity” may make some of us squirm (https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/), especially as we are taught to respond to identification with “the American people.” True, there are the rulers and the ruled, but the entire discourse of the organic conservatives (i.e., social democrats and various Burkean rightists) offends my sense of reality. As a materialist sharply opposed to mystical bonds, I see disunity within myself, within most families, and certainly within the various ideologies of modern politics: who can readily distinguish between communists and social democrats, or between “ultra-conservatives” and “compassionate conservatives”? Are the dreaded “neocons” easily classified, or do they vacillate? (I am one of them, or so some believe.) I would rather see myself as a striving scholar, living with only provisional judgments and very curious about those archives that remain outrageously sealed to the public.

More than “unity” (a rarely achieved perfect meeting of minds), I value the creative imagination that sees through the “harmony” imposed by the State and by other institutions pushing groupiness (my word) as the route to “social stability” and “cohesion.”

Second, my most popular blogs seem to appeal to those using the internet to vent their intense dislike of POTUS. How many are given to paranoid conspiracy theories, I cannot tell.

Third, when I post my blogs on academic websites, I find that my numbers diminish as readers get to know me. The research or opinions I post often contradict the current line that keeps academics in line and predictable to their employers. One would think that academic readers would value an open mind and be willing to revise their past judgments, but apparently not.

Fourth, I am an unreconstructed feminist; I see the battle of the sexes as interminable and permanent. Men and women are put together differently, which is fine with me, and so are gays. But I cannot go along with conservative nostrums that imagine father-led families as the solution to poverty and crime. Nor do I gasp that American culture has been “feminized” as do the masculinists. The more both genders move toward androgyny, the better. Girls will stand up for themselves and accept leadership roles, while more “sensitive” men might become less patient with subordination to abusive superiors in the various hierarchies that help them defend the nation and/or earn a living.

wanderingminstrel

Fifth, I am quite certain that the culture wars are not only a waste of time, but defy the cultural pluralism for which we supposedly strive. We should be putting more focus on the schools, on the regressive direction of teachers unions, and asking more of our schools, especially in the teaching of critical thought, contrasting theories of economic growth, science, and competing narratives for how we got to the current state of fragmentation and polarization—not only between political parties and “races,” but between rural/small town inhabitants and the large cities.

Sixth, and perhaps most important, I live with ambiguity regarding such basic contradictions as objectivity vs. radical subjectivism, or free will versus determinism. Part of growing sadder and wiser is this ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Most people seem to want unchanging rules and hence relief from doubt, including self-doubt.

Some may see this blog as a tiresome kvetch; perhaps it is. But I am grateful for those thoughtful and courageous readers who have stuck with me. Some are on Facebook, but others come from parts unknown. There seem to be fewer and fewer sadomasochists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis than was the case when I started the blog—surely a cause for celebration.

Picasso seated Pierrot, 1918

Picasso seated Pierrot, 1918

November 30, 2013

Railroading Captain Ahab

Everett Henry's Map of the Pequod's Voyage

Everett Henry’s Map of the Pequod’s Voyage

[What follows is an excerpt from my book Hunting Captain Ahab; it sums up my argument that progressives are incapable of describing this “great book” with accuracy, for they would have to admit their overweening statism as embodied in the White Whale (Leviathan).

Rockwell Kent's Starbuck shielding his eyes

Rockwell Kent’s Starbuck shielding his eyes

[Clare:] One feature of the (reinstated) organic society favored by many progressives is central to the Melville problem. Before the age of science, discovery, and increasing lower-class demands for a fully-realized popular sovereignty, Church and State conducted their affairs in secrecy. Their subordinates, ordinary people, were free to confess their sins to their betters, but without reciprocity; when Ahab fleeced double-talking “liberals,” from one point of view the gesture was tantamount to deicide and fratricide. For many of the corporatist thinkers who shaped the Melville Revival, Captain Ahab was the classic American type: a frontiersman, a “nosey Hebrew” (as D.H. Lawrence would say) whose curiosity must be moderated; similarly Melville’s dubious “character” as husband and father would preoccupy numerous Melville critics in the twentieth century. Much of the history I shall present is derived from published or archival materials long available but hitherto undescribed to students of American literature; literary scholars and curators have examined the astonishing archives of Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and Jay Leyda and biographies of Murray and Olson have been published by the most reputable presses. Many questions still remain tantalizingly unanswered and invite further research, but it is clear to me, if not to previous investigators, that in the unmonitored autodidact Herman Melville, Murray, Olson, and Leyda had an able instructor, a mirror, and an irresistible adversary who, insofar as he was Captain Ahab, must have been nervously deranged, twisted by hate. The isolato Ahab was the paradigm of social irresponsibility and his own worst enemy, while sociable Ishmael was the scholars’ antecedent doctor to society. Here is Ishmael’s ominous blood and soil account of Ahab’s origins in his native habitat: Nantucket was originally settled by peaceful Quakers, but they have been invaded by outside influences, they were “variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous.” (As Melville’s antebellum readers would have known, “…Nantucket Quakers [were] members of a sect notorious for its literally visionary beginnings and its subsequent antislavery zeal.” [i])

[Ishmael as narrator:]”…For some of these Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.

” So there are instances among them Nantucket Quakers of men, who, named with Scriptural names—a singularly common fashion on the island—and in childhood naturally imbibing the stately thee and thou of the Quaker idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless adventure of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with their unoutworn peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not unworthy a Scandinavian sea-king or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters and beneath constellations never seen here in the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature’s sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language—that man makes one in a whole nation’s census—a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.” (73-74).

[Clare:] In Moby-Dick’s pivotal chapter “The Quarter-Deck,” Starbuck, echoing Ishmael’s earlier diagnosis, reproaches Captain Ahab for abandoning his proper search for profits; the quest for vengeance against a “dumb brute” is blasphemous and mad. Ahab reproaches the imperceptive first mate, suggesting twice that he adopt the ways of geology and dig: “Hark ye…the little lower layer.” Then, lest Starbuck or other dense readers remain in the dark, Melville spills it: “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.”[ii] Starbuck is briefly won over, but protests in a chapter that directly follows Ahab’s railroading speech:

[Chapter 37, “Sunset,” Ahab:] “Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”

[Chapter 38, “Dusk,” Starbuck:] “My soul is more than matched; she’s overmanned; and by a madman! …he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me. I think I see his impious end; but feel I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who’s over him, he cries;-aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look, how he lords it over all below!…Oh, life! ‘tis in an hour like this, with soul beat down and held to knowledge,–as wild, untutored things are forced to feed–Oh, life! ‘tis now that I do feel the latent horror in thee! but ‘tis not me! that horror’s out of me! and with the soft feeling of the human in me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim phantom futures! Stand by me, hold me, bind me, O ye blessed influences!”

[Clare:] Standing by Starbuck, one Melville scholar has construed these pages as evidence of Ahab’s protofascism:

[Christopher Durer:] “Like Adolph Hitler, Captain Ahab reaches for the “folksoul” of the crew, and manipulates their minds with the sinister skill of Joseph Goebbels. As in Nazi Germany, so on board the Pequod, the excesses of the will play a major role, as is illustrated in the various speeches of Ahab, and her fated course is, in effect, another triumph of the will. Again, paralleling the transformation of the German nation under the Nazis, the crew of the Pequod becomes “a folk organism and not an economic organization,” since Ahab deliberately rejects the commercial advantages of whaling for a collective psychological fulfillment, resulting from the revengeful pursuit of one whale, seen as the enemy of the state…Ahab is in reality a prototype of a twentieth-century fascist dictator.”[iii]

Ahab and Starbuck as imagined by John Huston and Ray Bradbury

Ahab and Starbuck as imagined by John Huston and Ray Bradbury

[Clare:]For many Melvilleans, ineffably tied to their tormentor, the most unassimilable element of Melville’s psyche has been Ahab’s materialism yoked to universal standards of ethical conduct. To the extent that Melville is Ahab, he is mad, self- and socially destructive, tyrannical, and an arch-villain. Such views conform to the terror-gothic scenario, amplified by conservatives since the Radical Reformation, the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the American and French Revolutions, then the intertwined reform movements of the 1830s-1850s, especially abolitionism. In the “tale of terror” brains and mobs are indissolubly merged; the pregnant bourgeoisie, swollen with a new class and its chimerical socialist utopias, has delivered catastrophes from the French Revolution to Bolshevism and Nazism. In two-dimensional artworks, this aristocratic narrative of the drowning Narcissus/crashing Icarus is frozen as the apocalyptic sublime, the style attributed to mass politics and America. Harold Lasswell, political science consultant to the influential postwar Committee For Economic Development, transmitted such neo-classical diagnoses of “romantic Fascism” and urged the adoption of Murray’s projective testing to implement a program of personnel screening and preventive politics, sighting latent radicalism in prospective leaders in government, industry, labor, and education before they succumbed to the blandishments of Ahab, thereby obviating sleazy witch hunts. Threatened or dispossessed elites continue to flood popular culture with identical antidemocratic propaganda, shaping academic disciplines and mental health treatments to blunt the tools of fiery artisans and their radical descendants.

Defining Melville’s mental states, then, was not simply grist for variously voyeuristic or discreet literary historians, but part of ongoing “Cold Wars” to diagnose and delimit normality and deviance. For some Melvilleans, the divisive apostate Melville, like his characters Ahab, Pierre, Isabel, the “Hegelised” German-Jewish geologist Margoth, and other Bad Jews, has been cast out; ‘Melville’ and other Good Jews have been taken in and ‘tolerated’ by ‘the nation.’[iv] The national bedrock is the sanctity of (upper-class) property (i.e., overweening state power: Leviathan), not the republican principle of equality before the law. Melville has been selectively embraced by a reconstructed lovely family–an erasure of conflict evident in the letters of Melville’s mother and wife. In my study of the Melville Revival, I challenge Starbuck’s view of Ahab as totalitarian dictator along with the concomitant argument followed by some Old and New Leftists that the voyage of the Pequod is an unambiguous allegory of capitalist technology and exploitation, Manifest Destiny, and mind-management in its harshest aspects.[v]

Labor Vincit Omnia


[i] 22. Carolyn Karcher, Shadow Over The Promised Land: Slavery, Race, and Violence in Melville’s America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1980), 172.

[ii] 23. Neither statement was included in the dialogue of the movie Moby-Dick (1956); thus there is no way to link Ahab’s quest to Mapple’s Sermon (which in the film does include the imperative to seek and preach the truth in the face of worldly opposition); moreover the interchange takes place in Ahab’s cabin and Starbuck challenges his authority immediately. The director was John Huston; the script writer Ray Bradbury.

[iii] 24. Christopher S. Durer, “Moby-Dick and Nazi Germany,”Melville Society Extracts 66 (May 1986): 8. Constructions of Ahab as Hitler invariably depend upon irrationalist explanations for the appeal of fascism and Nazism; rational political and economic interests have been erased.

[iv] 25. See William Braswell, Melville’s Religious Thought: An Essay in Interpretation (Durham, North Carolina: Duke Univ. Press, 1943). “Melville was aware of the deification of science in some quarters. Henry Kalloch Rowe, in his History of Religion in the United States, writes: ‘Many scientists were so enamored of their facts and hypotheses that they claimed too much. They seemed to take pleasure in the destruction of that which was old. They inclined toward a materialistic explanation of all phenomena to the exclusion of spiritual reality altogether.’ It is scientists of this type that Melville derides in Clarel in the character of Margoth, a Jewish geologist who says that ‘all’s geology,’ and who would do away with the ‘old theologic myth.’ Because of Margoth’s insensibility to spiritual things, the pilgrims condemn him severely, and Melville adds an extra touch by causing an ass to bray after certain of Margoth’s speeches” (111, my emph.). Even more crudely put, see Vincent Kenny on Margoth: “…a geologist, a ‘Hegelised–/Convert to science.’ He calls the Bible a tissue of lies and insists that the so-called Holy Land must be made over in the name of progress. Unlike the Syrian monk with his gentle appeal, Margoth repels everyone within sound of his loud voice.” In Companion to Melville Studies, ed. John Bryant (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), 382-383. Insofar as Melville is seen to espouse these classically Christian antisemitic views, he would be a positive figure to organic conservatives discussed in this book.

[v] 26. D. H. Lawrence (1923) is cited by Ronald Mason, The Spirit Above The Dust (London: John Lehmann, 1951), as characterizing the Pequod as a sign for American industry. (Indeed,  Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature demonized America as a mongrel country that would, aided by the machine, destroy Europe and the white psyche. Ahab was destroying phallic power as epitomized in the White Whale, hence for Lawrence, Moby-Dick was a warning to true aristocrats.) With the exception of the try-pot, however, the technology of whaling ships had not changed for three hundred years when Melville wrote Moby-Dick. The mechanics of whaling partook of craft in hunter-gatherer societies, not the increasingly divided labor and mastery of nature characteristic of industrial processes. The few exceptions to the bad Ahab reading include Raymond M. Weaver, Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic (New York: Doran, 1921); Granville Hicks, The Great Tradition (New York: Macmillan, 1935), 7; Henry Alonzo Myers, Are Men Equal? An Inquiry into the Meaning of American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell Univ.Press, 1955, c.1945), 51-55; Cecil M. Brown, “Through a Looking Glass: The White Whale,”Partisan Review (1969): 453-459; and Toni Morrison,“Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,”Michigan Quarterly (Winter 1989): 16-17. Hicks and Myers see Ahab as reformer; Myers, a pluralist, recognizes Ahab’s driving (but misplaced) intensity; he is the romantic “earnest reformer” (like those 19th C. crusaders assaulting “ignorance, clericalism, slavery, alcohol, capitalism, war”); whereas Cecil Brown sees a heroic revolutionary (contrasted with the “jew-bastard” surviving liberal, Ishmael); for Toni Morrison (a cultural nationalist), Ahab is a great foe to racism: “the only white male American heroic enough to try to slay the monster that was devouring the world as he knew it.” Most recently, Richard C. Doenges presented a paper “Ahab Redux: or Playing the Devil’s Advocate,”at the “Melville and the Sea” Conference, June 19, 1999, Mystic Connecticut. Doenges sees Ahab as both mad and a tragic hero with the whale a representation of Nature in its hostile mode; I view this as a moderated reading, not one entirely favorable to Ahab, who, unlike Ishmael, as the author argues, was blinded by the fire.

Readings by liberals and leftists hostile to Ahab include Charles H. Foster, “Something in Emblems: A Reinterpretation of Moby-Dick,” New England Quarterly (Mar. 1961): 3-35, who views Father Mapple as an ultra-abolitionist the likes of Garrison, Richard Hildreth, and Gilbert Haven, but Ahab as Daniel Webster, an apologist for slavery and a demagogue. Some see Melville, or Ahab (or both) as ineffectual bohemian, consummate narcissist or world-destroying arch-capitalist; or anticipator of Hitler and Stalin: see V.F. Calverton, The Liberation of American Literature (New York: Scribner’s, 1932), 272-273; Henry Bamford Parkes, “Poe, Hawthorne, Melville: An Essay in Sociological Criticism,” Partisan Review 16 (Feb.1949): 157-166; Richard Chase, Herman Melville: A Critical Study (N.Y., Macmillan, 1949), 101; John Howard Lawson, The Hidden Heritage (New York: Citadel Press, 1950): 428; James B. Hall, “Moby Dick: Parable of a Dying System,” Western Review (Spring 1950): 223-226; C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (self-publ.1953), its last chapter (suppressed in a later edition) linked Ahab to a duplicitous Jewish communist named “M.” See also Leo Marx,”The Machine in the Garden,” New England Quarterly 29 (Mar. 1956): 27-42; and H. Bruce Franklin, The Victim As Criminal And Artist: Literature from the prison (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1978): Chapter Two.

June 14, 2013

“Father, dear father, come home with me now”

TennightsinbarroomThere will be many tributes to fathers in the next few days. This one will deal 1. with my own father, and 2. with the efforts by social psychologists of the 1940s to rehabilitate the image of the Good Father in order to advance their moderate conservative agendas.

First, my own father, Charles Spark, M.D. My father the doctor was born in NYC, and was the child of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. During the 1930s he was a research fellow in endocrinology at Montefiore Hospital, and before that he had published a pioneering research paper while still in college. Immediately after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, he wrote and directed an antifascist play at his workplace. After Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to join the medical corps even though he was over-age (he may have been drafted, and lied to me). Henceforth, we followed him around the country as he ran pathology laboratories at army bases in Texas, Missouri, and California. His precocity, versatility, and willingness to sacrifice himself for his country was impressed upon me from early childhood. I prayed every night that he would not be killed, even though he never saw combat. That is how children think.

He was shipped off to Guadalcanal where he had a violent allergic reaction to the environment, and was shipped home, claiming later that he almost died. For reasons that escape me, he gave up medical research for general practice and we moved into a veteran’s housing project in Elmhurst, NYC. We had never lived high, so the cramped material surroundings were not deeply shocking. All that mattered was that our family was reunified and my father practiced medicine for enlisted men and their families next door.

So my father assumed the proportions of a family hero. He was not only a high achiever in his field, I was expected to live up to his accomplishments, and later in life when I asked him why he gave up medical research, he wrote to me that I was to be his “greatest contribution to medicine.” What I could not know as a child was that neither he nor my mother had any parenting skills. They were nothing like the elites of Europe, who, early on prepared their offspring to take a leading part in world affairs, to travel broadly, and to imbibe high culture and languages, preferably from tutors.

Call it benign neglect. Both parents assumed that I would be an outstanding student and would find a suitable mate (though he frequently warned me about the duplicity of men, binding me to him in the process: he almost didn’t attend my wedding in 1959). So it was their examples as intelligent individuals with high expectations for me that set me up for the future. I learned nothing from my family about sexuality, the other emotions, and neither of them had an interest in Freud or his followers. But neither indoctrinated me in any religion or ideology, though my mother often mentioned her pride in her rabbinic ancestors (see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/12/i-remember-mama-betty-spark/.) I had the impression that they must be liberals of some kind. Sadly, they are both deceased, and I cannot interrogate them on these interesting questions.

It was not until I was at Pacifica and made the acquaintance of numerous New Leftists that I began to look into masculine versus feminine roles. From political scientist Carl Boggs I learned that paternal authority had been eroded for centuries. From feminists, I learned that there was a furious debate over the status of women: hard left women tended to believe that women had greater status when their labor was visible (e.g. Mary Kelley), while another faction (social democratic, e.g. Kathryn Kish Sklar) argued that domestic feminism leading to the welfare state marked the advance of all women. It was noted that by all that under industrialization, the father was no longer the paterfamilias who distributed resources in the household: father was now out of the house and the role of religious training fell more and more on mothers. (Ann Douglas wrote a best seller, still highly regarded, but controversial: The Feminization of American Culture. Douglas preferred the terrifying Calvinist God, not the feminized Jesus of the 19th century.) Hence the widespread nervousness among conservatives about “the [encroaching] nanny state.” 1970s feminism was the last straw (see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/) .

During my dissertation research, I discovered that social psychologists at Harvard University were frantically attempting to rehabilitate the good father, merging the figures of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, in order, they said, to raise “civilian morale.” Feminization, it was believed, would lead to Marxism, not to the conservative reform that such as Henry A. Murray, Gordon Allport, Talcott Parsons, and their Harvard colleagues preferred as moderate men. Indeed, Talcott Parsons published an article in an anthology edited by Isacque Graeber and Steuart Henderson Britt, Jews in a Gentile World (Macmillan, 1942) that limned the bad father: the Jewish God was nailed as brutal, militaristic, and domineering. Whereas Murray and Allport in their notebooks on civilian morale praised the Leader/ Father/God as loving and committed to democracy, the very embodiment of Eros. (On this topic see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/, also the postwar planning intended to continue this “moderate” agenda: https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ .)

So on this Father’s Day, 2013, we find ourselves in a quandary. Do we want Father to be the stern disciplinarian, the masculinist role model for boys who will divert libido from too-compassionate, radicalizing mothers to [moderately] Democratic fathers (as these social psychologists suggested)? Can women raise children without a husband? Conservatives and liberals are still slugging it out on this question.

As for my own father the doctor, I remain deeply attached to him, notwithstanding his many flaws. Both he and my late mother believed in me, in some ways stimulated me, and in other ways left me alone. Perhaps by default, they encouraged me to be curious and to admire and emulate the most daring thinkers in Western civilization.

Charles and Betty Spark mid-1930s

Charles and Betty Spark mid-1930s

March 24, 2013

The State of the blog (2)

Kidman as GellhornThis is a report to the readers of the Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark blog about our progress and how the readership has ebbed and flowed. But also what themes have garnered the most interest, and which have not.

I did not get serious about the blog until I had finished other academic work, sometime in mid-2009. All told, we have had 256,313 views, about half of which appear to have been visitors, as some came because of one title, then stayed to read more (WordPress is now distinguishing between visitors and views). Those reading “About Clare Spark” numbered 9,163, which I am told is a respectable number. The best year was 2012, probably because of the presidential election, and because Nicole Kidman’s performance as Martha Gellhorn drove several thousand viewers to my blog on Hemingway and Gellhorn’s supposed “spy mission” to China in 1941, partly dramatized in a HBO movie. The readership of several conservative websites were also coming to the blog in considerable numbers. I suspect that the latter were pleased to see my criticisms of Obama, but less pleased to see my constant critiques of populism across the political spectrum. (Even at KPFK, I was called an “elitist” by some young listeners, and recently one anonymous internet comment diagnosed me as “a non-coercive leftist.” For those into classification, you are on your own.)

My family and some friends are staggered when I report these numbers. I am less satisfied: there should be more comments and presumably helpful feedback. Why, I wonder? Though the internet is crowded with blogs, perhaps mine are less predictable, less easily classified or labeled as “conservative”, “liberal”, “moderate,” or “radical”, and are consequently more demanding upon the reader. Perhaps they discomfit some who want echoes, not reconfigurations of old problems and new questions. Since I started writing about Freud’s continued relevance and/or about the culture wars, where I come out as a student of the psyche and am also strongly supportive of the separation of church and state, I have seen the number of visitors diminish. (For my blogs on what is useful about Freud or about the abuse of “Freud” see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/.)

When I was first hired as Program Director of Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles, the News Director Marc Cooper stated flat out that my radicalism consisted in believing that the audience wasn’t stupid. Indeed, one of my core beliefs is that “public intellectuals” are less interested in teaching their readers or viewers to be independent analysts, than in getting paid in money and celebrity with “niche” followers. I was vindicated as PD of KPFK, for our subscriptions swelled by 20%, and I continue to be impressed by the quality and learnedness of comments I get on some blogs and on Facebook.

What themes have I found most vanguard in planning future essays?

  1. Antisemitism is still not discussed in all its manifold forms, in spite of the liberal enthusiasm for studying “prejudice” and “hate speech.” Assimilated Jews want to believe that they are safe in America by hewing to the Democratic Party, and few Americans of my generation recognized that anyone who lived through all or part of the twentieth century has suffered multiple traumas.  So if many are obsessed with Israel (pro or con), it is probably because they don’t feel safe in America, particularly those who are descended from Holocaust survivors. While we study “hate speech” we don’t study why people hate, and I am determined to get to the bottom of “misogyny” in all its forms, and particular, its intertwining with antisemitism. Is Woman the Jew of the Home?
  2. The very notion of the “individual” is under attack, whether it be in the regressive, infantilizing rhetoric of “family” that pervades the discourse of both left and right, or in the general, often well-founded, suspicion of mental health professionals.
  3. Popular culture needs much more decoding, including primitivism and death cults among youth or the military model throughout (think NCIS and its popularity). Lately, I have been studying the “degeneration” narrative that alleges that the modern world necessarily leads to the death of the planet and civilization as we have known it. This pervasive belief is dangerous to political will, and possibly affects all of us, whatever our political preferences.

I will probably continue my offensive against antidemocratic propaganda, doing my best to decode loaded language and images, while remaining detached from any particular politics. Scholarship demands that distance, though my personal feelings toward readers of my work continue to be warm and protective. I love teaching, and always have, even in a war zone.

Gellhorn ca. WW2

Gellhorn ca. WW2

January 7, 2013

Some backstory for Hunting Captain Ahab

MDcomicFirst take a look at this:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reception_theory. Reader-response theory was a postmodern move that contributed to the death of the author, and to the notion that there was no right or wrong way to read a text. Indeed, as publishers circulated my ms. to readers, some accused me of being another Ahab, bossy and doctrinaire, sniffing out miscreants in the profession, though there was little evidence for such a slur.

It was no miracle, but dumb luck that I came to write my big book on the twentieth century reception of a semi-forgotten Herman Melville, who was strenuously and controversially “revived” during the interwar period, then the Cold War, then again in the 1960s-70s.  This blog recounts the fortuitous conjunction of personalities and events that led to the unlikely publication of my weird and predictably unpublishable study of the Melville industry.

I begin by declaring how utterly boring most works inspired by “reception theory” are. Although the Wikipedia article starts the critical method with a gallery of leftists, historians had long been writing about the reception of major figures, for instance Goethe as received in England and America. I have always consulted such works and found them unreadable, disorganized, and boring. I had the same reaction to Peter Gay’s two volumes on The Enlightenment, which I have just mowed through, most of it unread owing to its lack of any visible method or thesis, though at the very end of Vol.2 (p.567), he brings up the Enlightenment-inspired American “experiment” and advises that the horrors that followed the generally anti-clerical 18th century (unprecedented wars and irrationalism, including class and racial discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries) might have been averted had “the secular social conscience” (p.39) he believes join his subjects, been adopted in the supposedly progressive and exceptional USA.  Surprise, the famous Peter Gay is a liberal and advocate of the welfare state, as his discussion of Adam Smith makes clear.

What follows is a brief account of my good luck in being allowed to write about a major figure (Herman Melville), and then the peculiarities of the most important Melville revivers that led them to hoard scraps of paper that most scholars would never save, thus giving me access to their inner thoughts at the time they were reading and writing about Herman Melville. I.e., reception theory is useless without probing the inner thoughts and emotions of the critics/readers studied.

First there was my good fortune in knowing historian Alexander Saxton (who had written about Jacksonian Blackface Minstrelsy), who would be my dissertation director upon my return to graduate school after the Pacifica Radio purge of myself as Program Director for KPFK-FM (Los Angeles).  I told Saxton that I was quarreling with Berkeley professor of Political Science  Michael Rogin over Melville’s intentions in “Billy Budd,” and (perhaps) since Saxton was getting criticized by Rogin in a left-wing journal, he agreed to let me write about Melville as a history dissertation. (I was told by a Berkeley professor of English that they would never have let a graduate student tackle a major figure! From that conversation, I concluded that I had made the right decision in sticking with history over an English Ph.D.)

Second, the major Melvilleans, many of them young men at the time, complained bitterly to each other in private regarding their distressing physical symptoms while reading and writing about Herman Melville: they blamed Melville for their symptoms and accidents and were often sick of him. Normally, no researcher would have access to such private feelings, but one of my revivers, (the Stalinist) Jay Leyda, was a squirrel and hoarder of literally every letter and note paper (some written on the back of envelopes and library receipts) during his research on a chronology for HM (the Leyda Log), which could have started in 1939, though most scholars would say 1944. Lucky for me, his papers were opened after his death, and most of his Melville work was at UCLA Special Collections, twenty minutes from my house. (Leyda literally dumped his Melville materials on UCLA English professor Leon Howard, who was advised to trash most of it. But Howard too was squirrelish. Most scholars do not have protracted access to an archive, but I did, so could go through every box, and it took months and months, but the pickings were astonishing. Then I found even more material at NYU’s Tamiment Library, where a helpful archivist dug out yet more material of the kind that most scholars would kill for.)

Third, my years on the radio covering censorship in the art world had alerted me to the ways in which institutions ignored the wishes of artists (if they were shown at all), contextualizing their production to fit either the reigning ideology of the moment, or the wishes of wealthy directors and patrons. So I was diligent in reading and rereading Melville and in getting a grip on the total literary/historical output of his revivers, not just the ones who kvetched about HM to Jay Leyda (who had his own feuds and confusions).  I started reading Melville in 1976 and my book was not published until 2001.

Almost no one puts that much time into a single book, but I was obsessed with the “Melville problem” for it illuminated what had been murky about why individual writers were either in or out of the canon. At the same time, I came to see that the double binds and mixed messages that Melville plainly laid out in his fiction were duplicated in supposedly liberal institutions.  That is, there was allegedly no conflict between Truth and Order (i.e., the individual and society), between Science and Religion, between Nationalism and Internationalism. Supposedly, academics in the humanities were free to write what the evidence suggested, without interference from colleagues or superiors. That turned out to be grossly false, but since academic freedom was widely advertised, one could not talk about the backstabbing, departmental politics, hazing of graduate students, and other conspiracies. Unless one chose fiction to tell the tales, and the more avid readers of confessional novels located in the academy will know what I mean.

Finally, it was not until I had been into many archives and secondary sources that a pattern emerged: Melville was an autodidact, and the animus directed against him was directed against all readers who looked askance at authority since the invention of the printing press and the gradual improvement in mass literacy and numeracy.  Once I saw that, everything fell into place, and I could write a book that was logical, organized, and I hoped, readable.

What do I wish to be the takeaway from this short blog? Do not trust historians or any other experts who lack an abundance of footnotes and/or fail to demonstrate humility. It is likely that most professionals have an axe to grind, and are scared. Skepticism in the reader is the appropriate state of mind. Toward the end of my book, I warn the reader that I may be biased in favor of Captain Ahab, and that I ask myself everyday if I am not projecting my own mishegas onto Herman Melville in my insistence that Captain Ahab is speaking in the voice of the Romantic HM (sometimes blending his views with the more cautious Ishmael). The book is hefty because I included long quotes from my primary sources so that the reader could check ME.

Bartleby

For a summary of my startling research, see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/, https://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/, https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/. The third blog explains why everyone should read my book, not just literary scholars. As to how I organized my thoughts on the Melville pseudo-revival, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.

September 16, 2012

Thought Crimes

During the High Holy Days, Jews are supposed to engage in strenuous self-examination. Even as a secular Jew, the solemnity and moral obligation of this time impels me to look inside and make reparations to those I may have neglected or lied to or otherwise misled as to my deep inner beliefs or opinions.

My thought crimes that everyone already knows about:

a. The subject of antisemitism is only partly understood, even by Jews and their friends;

b. The exact techniques of populist demagoguery always rely on an underlying antisemitic set of assumptions about “the money power.” If we knew even the basics of finance and economic history, the bogey man of Wall Street would disintegrate;

c. I enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels with some reservations (masochistic sex), but given her particular history, I brush them aside;

d. Even if there was “school choice” there is no guarantee that students would be prepared for citizenship, given the curricula in vogue, which do not begin to teach freedom of thought, dominated as they are by authoritarian, under-educated, or wimpy progressives;

e. Progressivism and communism are now so interpenetrating that it is hard to tell where Democrats leave off and hard leftists begin. Those scholars who have studied communist influence in the US and who think that the Reds are no longer relevant are mistaken;

f. Although left-wing anarchists and right-wing anarchists would appear to be immiscible, they are both counter-culture and probably acting out rebellion against the rules set by their parents. Anti-capitalism vs. anarcho-capitalism may not be as significant as enjoyment in prolonged tantrums;

g. Much of what passes for high art is primitivist, or at times, expresses nostalgia for an agrarian past that lacked cities, machines, and annoying Jews who make you think too much;

h. The sexual revolution of the 1960s on has been a disaster for most women, who have bought into the regnant masochism and degradation of our gender;

i. Freud is more relevant than ever, yet rarely understood: though a professed atheist, he is still too Jewish;

j. Many workers continue to be exploited and/or have boring, even dangerous jobs.

Thought crimes that nobody knows about:

a. People should not have children if they can’t support them. If marriages break down, the couples should stay together in most cases for the sake of family stability: children hate change and often are caught between parents, with bad life-long after-effects;

b. Some of the authors and artists I most admire are turning out to be either romantic rebels or reactionaries or downright offensive and I don’t care: I will defend their freedom of expression as long as I am breathing;

c. Being at odds with most of the world is downright fun. John Dos Passos admitted this in his old age (see Century’s Ebb), and I recognized my own proclivities. Call me joyfully alienated; (One relative through marriage rightly suspects me of these contrarian tendencies.)

d. As long as I am on hot on the trail of a new (for me) miscreant or set of ‘em, I am happy;

e. Nothing more exciting than changing my mind or reconfiguring a picture of the world: to see with fresh eyes. While I was making radio documentaries, was heard to say that a good edit was way better than sex. Collage will do that for you;

f. I was invited to submit a proposal for a class I would teach in the Los Angeles Woman’s Building. I submitted this title and nothing else: “PUNS KEY TO SECRET ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE.” No one signed up and I didn’t care.

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