YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 9, 2016

Understanding “Black Lives Matter”

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:33 pm
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Prince obit in Nation

Prince obit in Nation

[Update: 7-12-16: Nothing in this blog should suggest that I agree with the premises of black nationalism, and certainly not BLM. But I do deplore those who underestimate the condition of black persons; though many have climbed the class ladder since the early 20th century (the Niagara Movement, 1905)), the black masses have been left behind.]

It would be very easy to join with conservatives who are indignantly denouncing black nationalism (Black Lives Matter, Nation of Islam, Black Panthers) as controlled by white leftists (or worse). This blog is about my rejection of this political strategy (despite the pervasive antisemitism in these all-black, separatist groups), spiced with my own life experience as a Jewish woman born in 1937.

What prompted this statement was Sean Hannity’s program 7-8-16, where he was covering the Baton Rouge demonstration (live), and kept asking his local Louisiana surrogate to ask the protesters why they were supporting Barack Obama, given the record of black unemployment, etc. or if they were not ignoring “the presumption of innocence” rule that should have led them to understand that their demonstration was inappropriate. He also kept urging the surrogate to denounce Black Lives Matter (for their chant “Pigs in a blanket….”).

The demonstrators (all young and black) were having none of this, and I think I know why, for I found Hannity’s long-distance confrontation with the protesters to be wrong-headed, unempathic, and gross.

My father volunteered for the Medical Corps in 1942, and, as he was a pathologist working at various army bases in Texas, Missouri, and California, we followed him around. In school after school, I was the only Jewish girl amid a sea of white Christians. The teachers took me under their wings, and made me the teacher’s pet, so I was sheltered from the rejection of my fellows.

It was not until after the war when we lived in a veteran’s housing project that I felt the wrath of white boys (and girls?) with Italian, Irish, and Polish names. I bonded with some, but was chased home one afternoon by a gang of Elmhurst boys, one of whom was brandishing a knife. My mother confronted the principal of P.S. 13, one Lillian Eschenbecker (a German name!), who pronounced that I was like a shiny red apple, appetizing “on the outside, but rotten to the core.”

I have forgotten much of my life, but that incident will always be with me, for the rest of my scholastic career, I was most comfortable among other Jews, male and female alike. But I turned my righteous anger against myself, and have symptoms to this day.

For other mature white people lacking empathy with angry, bottled-up residentially segregated blacks, railing against [white] authority or millionaire actors and musicians, may I recommend that you read 20th century black authors, who have turned to fiction to express their maddening rage and longing for solidarity?  I remember reading Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, noting their candor– alongside of wistful desires to be accepted by a larger whole and not just as “gladiators.”

Once, at a big UCLA conference in the humanities, I turned around to face a packed room of faculty and students, pleading for integrated, not just the trendy separatist, classes in women’s and ethnic studies.  Famous honcho Hayden White came up to me to ask (ironically?) if I was on the job market, while other big shots (all white tenured professors) mocked me for imputed racism and un-hipness.

At this point in my life, I have experienced enough injustice to understand the cry of “no justice, no peace.”

I wish that I had had similar instruction when I was young and foolish.

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August 14, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon: a triumph or a disaster?

Trump on the stump in Iowa

Trump on the stump in Iowa

[Update 1/9/18: I now view Trump as a moderate who, in some respects, appeals to conservatives, but definitely not a full-blown fascist, despite the efforts of many (authoritarian) liberals to pin that label on him; their “psychiatric” efforts to make him “unstable” and hence unfit for office, echo postwar diagnoses of Hitler-the-madman.]

[Update 3-16-16: Read this carefully. Trump’s position on Israel has been distorted by his rivals. He has said that he would like to see peace in the Middle East but that it would be the “toughest negotiation” ever. No signs of anti-Semitism in my view, but rather unrealistic views of “Palestinian” objectives.]

[Update 3-10-16: I didn’t compare Trump to Hitler here, but as a populist and nationalist, his campaign did resonate in some respects with the Strasser brothers. I want to distance myself from liberals and even conservatives who are calling him a Nazi. I  have thought of taking this down owing to inevitable mis-readings; I am now supporting him because I believe that the system is terminally corrupt, and that he will be an improvement over Hillary. A reminder: I am an Independent and a scholar, not an ideologue.]

[Update 12-12-15: I agree with David Horowitz that if Trump’s ban on all Muslims entering the US  (temporarily) is unconstitutional, the GOP should find a Constitutional proposal to prevent more terror. (I hope I got that right.]

[Update 10-15-15: I would be very unhappy if this blog was used by anarchists or lefties for anti-Trump propaganda. After seeing the Democrat debate 10-13, it is that party that more closely resembles fascism (for the S. A. was always populistic, hence anti-Semitic). Trump has since been less vague about his policy objectives, and, in my view, is clearly superior to any Democrat, especially Hillary Clinton, the most likely to win the Donkey nomination.]

[Update 9-19-15]: Since writing this, several arguments might be added to my  argument that Trump’s followers resemble the populist members of the S.A. under Hitler. 1. The appeal to national greatness was deployed by Hitler after the defeat in WW1. His followers, many of them humble and feeling crowded out by other rising groups, may long for vicarious “greatness”; 2. Hitler was a Pan-Germanist, calling for an all German-speaking unity. Trump’s nativism echoes such grandiloquent notions; 3. Hitler lifted Germany out of the Depression by remilitarizing, defying the terms of the Versailles settlement. Similarly, Trump calls for a massive military expenditure, which can only raise the fantasy of more jobs for the unemployed and semi-employed; and 4. Trump lies a lot. His mob followers are as cynical as he is. (End update)].

Even Fox News Channel can’t make up its collective mind over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Hannity loves him and O’Reilly subtly pushes him, while Charles Krauthammer, their most respected pundit, doesn’t take him all that seriously (though that may change).

I do.

For most of my adult life I have studied the influence of fascism in Europe and America, in all its manifestations. While others castigate Trump as a bully, a fraud, a celebrity tied to mass culture, a narcissistic businessman allied with dubious companies (such as ACN, see page one story in WSJ (8-14-15), I agree with my son-in-law who nailed him as a street fighter and a primitive. I go even further, for he reminds me of a parody of masculinity, but more, the S.A., Hitler’s populist Brownshirts, led by the Strasser brothers, who made trouble throughout the 1920s and early 30s until they were [partially] purged in The Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934, an event that led William E. Dodd, the US Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, resign his post. (https://clarespark.com/2011/08/14/review-in-the-garden-of-beasts-by-erik-larson/.)

Although propagandists and even historians emphasize “the Nazi seizure of power” the better scholars emphasize Hitler’s coalition with monarchists and conservatives opposed to the social democratic Weimar Republic. Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg in order to destroy communism (a communism that today’s Right frequently associates with the Democratic Party), and the 1933 elections were no Nazi landslide, but garnered only 43.91% of the vote (almost the same plurality that elected Bill Clinton). For my blog on how the Democratic Party has absorbed ideas originally associated with Marxist practice, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/.

Sturmabteilung poster

Sturmabteilung poster

As for big lying to the public, Trump has already delivered some whoppers. For instance, he takes credit for introducing the subject of illegal immigration, when anyone following the records of other Republican candidates is familiar with how and when the views of Bush and Rubio have been modified regarding amnesty. Similarly, in an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump mentioned “health savings accounts” as if he had just dreamed it up. (Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have supported such accounts, but see the idea’s origins here: http://www.afcm.org/hsahistory.html.)

I have my own suspicions of why so many voters are wowed by The Donald. Noting the popularity of The Godfather, The Sopranos, and lately, the wealthy can-do, know-it-all killer played by James Spader on NBC’s The Blacklist, it is not surprising that another larger-than-life character would suddenly capture the imaginations of many populist voters.

So we now have a choice: creeping fascist/populism on the Left with Hillary Clinton/Sanders/Warren/, or creepy populism on the Right with Donald Trump, our latest Knight in Shining, Glitzy, Armor.

[Update: I now believe that our biggest threat of fascism comes from (welfare statist) social democrats. I still don’t like glitz, but understand its appeal to the child in all of us.]

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

September 21, 2014

Spanking, sex, and the NFL fracas

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:00 pm
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Spanking Club, 1935

Spanking Club, 1935

On his Friday “live audience” program, September 19, 2014, Sean Hannity went over the NFL controversy, his attention frequently wandering to child abuse, which he read as part of “Southern culture”; hence the stigmatizing of “child abuse” is  discriminatory toward a region where corporal punishment is the norm. (Hooray for “Southern culture”—that always had a reputation in the North for pseudo-aristocratic conduct, violent manliness, and dueling. I am not fond of theories of regional character any more than I am of theories of national character. See https://clarespark.com/2014/07/20/national-character-does-it-exist/.)

I then commenced to plotz. For Hannity repeated over and over that his own father had taken the belt to him when he was bad, but he, Sean Hannity, had never laid a hand on his own children. Moreover he had lived in several Southern states where other kids got “whooped” and look how well he turned out, in spite of his childhood travails, which are apparently part of a regional culture, and resistant to change. (For the left-leaning BBC’s view of the controversy, foregrounding black modes of punishment, see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29261462. For an entirely different view see this infographic disseminated by an online psychology degree outfit: http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/psychology-of-spanking/, which I recommend highly.)

Back to the Hannity show. My mind immediately wandered to the sadomasochism collection at UCLA, where I spent two anxiety-ridden weeks looking at the misogynistic and often pornographic collages, photographs, and drawings of Steadman Thompson, a now deceased middle-manager employed by a Pennsylvania corporation. There are 52 boxes of his stuff.

Here is what I learned about spanking from two weeks in another’s sick brain. Children who are spanked cannot have orgasms in adulthood without being spanked by their partners. It was as simple as that—at least in the materials collected by S.T.

Similarly, on the last episode of Masters of Sex, Dr. William Masters gets over his two-year bout of impotence after his alcoholic brother slugs him hard on the jaw. Bleeding, with perhaps a broken nose, “Bill” refuses nursing attentions from his mistress Virginia Johnson, and returns to his former manliness and the performance principle. Meanwhile, his icy wife, Libby Masters is volunteering at the local office of CORE in St. Louis. Let’s see if she warms up after consummating what looks like a budding relationship with a black man.

Image (115)

For more on what I found in the Steadman Thompson collection, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.

December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook, Candide, Melville, and the problem of Evil

Obama tears Candide, chapter 20, transl. Robert M. Adams (Norton, 1966):

[Candide:] “You must be possessed of the devil.

[Martin, the disillusioned scholar and Manichean:] He’s mixed up with so many things of this world that he may be in me as well as elsewhere; but I assure you, as I survey this globe, or globule, I think that God has abandoned it to some evil spirit—all of it except Eldorado. I have scarcely seen one town which did not want to destroy its neighboring town, no family which did not want to exterminate some other family. Everywhere the weak loathe the powerful, before whom they cringe, and the powerful treat them like brute cattle, to be sold for their meat and fleece. A million regimented assassins roam Europe from one end to the other, plying the trades of murder and robbery in an organized way for a living, because there is no more honest form of work for them; and in the cities which seem to enjoy peace and where the arts are flourishing, men are devoured by more envy, cares, and anxieties than a whole town experiences when it’s under siege. Private griefs are worse even than public trials. In a word, I have seen so much and suffered so much, that I am a Manichee.

[Candide:] Still there is some good.

[Martin:] That may be but I don’t know it.

(The late Robert M. Adams, who taught me expository writing at Cornell long ago, is the editor of this edition of Candide, and in his concluding essay, questions Puritan attitudes toward “work.” And yet, Voltaire was a great favorite in the Soviet Union.) Adams is devastating on the subject of Candide’s choice of the garden: “He has never really been with us, and now he is going back where he came from, to some place outside Europe, outside history, outside people, to a cold and lonely garden where the vegetable he cultivates most assiduously will be his own indifference, his own self-sufficiency. He was, is, and always will be, an outsider….” (p.173, 1966 edition. But see Georg Brandes’s two vol. biography of Voltaire, II, p. 145: To cultivate one’s garden signifies “…work [that] keeps them free of three great evils: ennui, sin, and poverty”…it is the consolation he holds out to the human race”. Nobody read Brandes any more (though Peter Gay, Ben Hecht, and I did), but Peter Gay sees Candide’s garden as all of Europe, and Voltaire as a radical activist.)

Adams's  Candide

It is instructive to see how each of us responds to this mass trauma in Newtown, Connecticut, so far away for most of us. We know almost nothing about Adam Lanza and his family dynamics, or even the details of the massacre, but we do know (or don’t know) about our own psyches. How we defend ourselves against such a horrible event is a way to get out of the inner darkness how each of us is put together. I will be watching myself, and hope others will try be self-reflective too.

In the comments that follow, I see each type of response as a defense against grief, seeking some soothing explanation or tactic that will explain what no one yet knows. I would suggest that all the comments, whether they come from Left or Right, tell us more about how we defend ourselves against our own often repressed rage and fears of loss of control than they tell us about Adam Lanza and the so-called ‘tragedy’ at Newtown, Connecticut.

I started with Voltaire’s controversial comment (speaking through Martin) on the problem of evil, a preoccupation that runs through the fiction of Herman Melville, who was well aware of Voltaire as a great infidel. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/. Melville invokes Voltaire in his annotations to Book 9 of Paradise Lost  comparing Milton with Voltaire as an “Infidel”.*  These annotations were read aloud by me on Pacifica Radio in 1990, but not published by scholars until years later, and then later detoxified by moderate men and women. It is notable that Lillian Hellman’s orignal play of Candide was watered down in later productions of the Bernstein musical.

Adam Lanza (20)

Adam Lanza (20)

What follows are various conservative diagnoses and advice regarding the ‘tragedy’** at Sandy Hook:

Bill O’Reilly: inexplicable “evil” [and he is expressing learned helplessness: nothing can be done (same as “the poor will always be with us”)]. Same with Hannity. Evil is the devil. A forensic psychologist agrees with Bill. Bill puts on camera a third grader Lebinski and her mother: questions her mother in front of the dazed child. Saturday: Monica Crowley: massacres not preventable [can’t imagine preventable measures and psychiatric interventions] Dr. Keith Ablow is an outlier on Fox: believes that the mental health system has broken down. Geraldo hates this kind of talk.

Family therapist/clinical psychologist; the community is gathering to start the process of healing. Various clerics: the children are angels now and are safe.

Second Amendment male, cited on FB: Obama had faked his tears to start the process of disarming the people.

[Added, 12-17-12: Bernie Goldberg criticizes Right wing for explaining massacre as absence of God in the classroom and abortion. O’Reilly brags that his was the best coverage on Cable (Friday) ignoring that he was intrusive in showing victims and a parent. He is also convinced that Lanza wasn’t a loon.]

Moderates, liberals and left-wing radical diagnostics follow:

The allover liberal explanation has three parts: 1.the shooter and his family; 2.poor security/wide availability of guns; 3. a culture of pervasive violence. All reiterated on Fox News Sunday.

Larry Mantle on NPR radio KPPC, Los  Angeles, interviewed a traumatized teacher and pushed her to divulge her feelings. Later some of her distraught words are repeated on NPR, All Things Considered.

Mental health professionals and other liberals: gun control. (i.e., regulate) (12-15) Dr. Alvin Poussaint from Harvard: a rare event, but gun control, conflict-resolution study should be supported.

Charles Krauthammer (12-14): he killed his mother and those attached to her. [He did not know that she was a volunteer teacher and that his brother claimed he might be autistic or suffer from some unstated learning disorder.]

Lefty on FB: Chicago is worse than this, and no one cares. Rich people get more sympathy and coverage. Lefty (cont.) OR Reagan started this by attacking warehousing of crazies (it was actually Carter’s idea, said one of my FB friends).

Dr. Alan Lipman (mental health professional) all signs were there that he could have had psychotic break into paranoid delusions. The aim is prevention and treatment. (Fox guest 8:20 am Saturday) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Lipman. Founded a Center for the Study of Violence at Georgetown. Followed by Robert Stone, who diagnoses autism and lack of empathy.

Centrist child of divorce: incomprehensible and doesn’t know how he will explain it to his children.

Wall Street Journal editorial: a crushing event: let our emotions run pending further revelations.

*From Hunting Captain Ahab:  [To Mitford’s comment on Milton’s religious wanderings (xcix):] He who thinks for himself never can remain of the same mind.  I doubt not that darker doubts crossed Milton’s soul, than ever disturbed Voltair [sic].  And he was more of what is called an Infidel.

[To Satan’s seduction of Eve, Book IX, Melville double scored: “And life more perfect have attained than fate/ Meant me, by venturing higher than my lot.”(689-690) A partially erased note follows “Why then was this forbid? Why but to keep ye low and ignorant,/ His worshippers?”(also double scored, 703-705):]  This is one of the many profound atheistical hits of Milton. A greater than Lucretius, since he always teaches under a masque, and makes the Devil himself a Teacher & Messiah.  [Leyda marked the word “Fate” with an arrow].

[To Book X (5-11): “…for what can scape the eye/ Of God all-seeing, or deceive his heart/ Omniscient? who, in all things wise and just,/ Hindered not Satan to attempt the mind/ Of man, with strength entire, and free will armed,/ Complete to have discovered and repulsed/ Whatever wiles of foe or seeming friend.”]  The Fall of Adam did not so much prove him weak, as that God had made him so.  From all that is gatherable from Milton’s theology, the Son was created.  Now had the Son been planted in the Garden (instead of Adam) he would have withstood the temptation;–why then he and not Adam?  Because of his created superiority to Adam. [Leyda writes] “M adds, later: Sophomoricus”[1]

[Book X, (41-43): “…man should be seduced/ And flattered out of all, believing lies/ Against his maker…] All Milton’s strength & rhetoric suffice not to satisfy concerning this matter–free will.  Doubtless, he must have felt it himself: & looked upon it as the one great unavoidable flaw in his work.  But, indeed, God’s alleged omnipotence & foreknowledge, are insuperable bars to his being made an actor in any drama, imagined.[2]

NOTES to Melville’s annotations of Paradise Lost.


                [1] The word “sophomoricus” was written with a darker pencil and separated from the rest of the comment.

                [2] The two volumes, heavily annotated, with numerous comments erased or cut away, were offered anonymously at auction; Jay Leyda and Hershel Parker were allowed to copy the marginalia; Leyda reported to Harrison Hayford, 3/6/84 that Parker was “hysterical.”  Leyda’s transcription was sent to Harrison Hayford 2/4/85.  In a letter of August 18, 1987, Parker wrote to me “After seeing M’s Milton marginalia I would be more wary than ever about deriving a coherent ideology from M’s texts.” Hayford, at my request, sent me a photocopy 4/3/90. I have analyzed these annotations (and their implications for Melville scholarship) on Pacifica radio (KPFK) to celebrate Melville’s birthday in 1990 and 1991. Their new owner had refused access to scholars, but later sold the volumes to another anonymous collector who subsequently donated the Milton volumes to Princeton University.

A few of the comments have appeared in Robin Sandra Grey, “Surmising the Infidel: Interpreting Melville’s Annotations on Milton’s Poetry,” Milton Quarterly Vol.26, #4 (December 1992): 103-113.  Grey (a Milton scholar, not a Melvillean) finds herself “confronted with a reading of Milton’s ambitions and agenda so curious, indeed perverse, that perhaps only William Empson in Milton’s God and Harold Bloom in Ruin the Sacred Truths would have regarded Melville’s assessments without significant surprise” (110).  She has read Melville as another Satan: “…Milton’s powerful dramatic depictions of Satan’s character have interest for Melville largely as they reveal the tension in Satan between his former glory and virtue and his present degradations and viciousness” (fn 21, p.112).  Her comment on the Devil as Messiah annotation states her preference for “skeptical” Ishmael over “frenzied” Ahab, linking only Ishmael to the masque because of his remarks in the Whalers Chapel.  Cf. David Hume, HE, Vol.7, 337 (year 1660) on Paradise Lost, which he fervently admired despite its not being wholly purged of (Leveller) cant.

Hershel Parker has been reticent about these matters in the first volume of his authoritative Melville biography, Volume I (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 1996).  Of the marginalia I have quoted, Parker has heretofore published only the comment about Milton and Voltaire (618).  (One other annotation is quoted, in which Melville ratifies separation of church and state in Mitford’s Introduction.)  Paradise Lost influenced Moby-Dick insofar as “Melville took some of Ahab’s qualities as Satanic opponent…”Ahab is the “tyrannical captain” likened to Cromwell  (699-700).  Parker does not discuss the mysterious prior provenance of these books.  In the Historical Note to the N/N edition of Moby-Dick, Milton is mentioned, but his battles are aesthetic ones alone, as these sentences hint: “ [While writing the book] Melville’s imagination for many months had unrolled at will a panorama of Milton’s dubious battle on the plains of heaven. The dubious battle being waged in his study was…the most intense aesthetic struggle yet waged in the English language on this continent.” (617).

Parker has answered my query regarding his mental states while copying the annotations, also his intentions regarding their publication:  “I will not write an essay on HM and Milton, ever, but I will refer to the marginalia–esp in the 1860 chapters.” “I wasn’t hysterical, except that Jay and I were at the Phillips Gallery in 1983, not 84, with someone else who simply would not shut up his mouth. It was excruciating. I was not hysterical about the annotations. As usual with me, the excitement came long afterwards—when I was drafting the 1860 chapters of volume two, in 1990 or 1991 or so. I sacrificed myself and led him around the corner so Jay could have some time with the books. By the time the volumes came back on the market I had a set of the same edition and carried that up to NYC and got all I could, in the right place on the pages; the day was very overcast, but I got some erased words, nevertheless, by carrying the volumes to the windows.  Princeton tried some very expensive processes, I understand, but failed to recover erased words….I will quote all the recovered annotations in the LOG, I assume, when the time comes.” (e-mail message to me Nov.1, 1997).

** I questioned the current meaning of ‘tragedy,’ inferring that “in the best of all possible worlds” only hubris or a similar character flaw can bring us down.

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