Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Foucault in the Contemporary Archive

Professor of art history, visual art, and theory at the University of British Columbia

Last spring, I was in Paris as a Visiting Researcher at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, with a beautiful office just steps from the “old” Bibliotèque Nationale de France (BnF), newly renovated and now containing virtually the entire national collection of art books and manuscripts. I was given access to this unparalleled repository of materials on European art and culture and the privilege of a desk in the Salle Labrouste, memorable for its newly restored ironwork arches and painted landscape lunettes. It was in this reading room that Walter Benjamin had labored on the citations that he collected in The Arcades Project, writing, “nothing in the world can replace the Bibliothèque Nationale for me.” Foucault might have said the same. This place surely fulfilled the art historian’s desire for inspiration for a new research project.

Just before I left California in mid-March I had completed the copyediting of my new Minnesota book, Foucault on Painting. I thought I was prepared to begin a fresh research project concerned with “expressivity” in art over the long 20th century, a topic in which both Paris and the BnF play central roles. But unexpectedly and as it turned out, fortuitously, Foucault continued to occupy me.

I suppose that after having written a book about Michel Foucault’s views on the history and theories of painting, I should not have been surprised by the “discovery” of more of his autograph thoughts on painting in the form of unpublished documents recently deposited in the BnF. I had spent more than six years reading and researching Foucault’s extensive work on everything related to the visual arts, which included essays as far-ranging as the piece on the poet Raymond Roussel, the books on sexuality and aesthetics, and the late work on subjectivity, all of which deal with painting to some extent. I had spoken to Foucault experts across the world, including Daniel Defert, Foucault’s partner and an expert on the complete corpus of his writing who had remarked on the philosopher’s “dedication” to painting. I had arranged a conference at the Institut d’Études Avancées de Paris on Foucault and the arts and letters, which brought together an international group of scholars from many disciplines (see now C. Soussloff, editor, Foucault on the Arts and Letters: Perspectives for the 21st Century, Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). I had lectured on Foucault and painting at the Collège de France, where the comments by students and other listeners allowed me to realize the profound sympathy the philosopher had had with the in-depth visual analysis common in art history but rarely found in other disciplines. Even as I had continued to read Clare O’Farrell’s frequent posts on Foucault News, Foucault’s writing on painting at the BnF astonished me. This new addition to the archive became a lesson in the nature of scholarly investigation itself.

The BnF arranges its manuscripts in Fonds according to author. Boxes of related manuscripts are found within each fond. Boîte 53 - La peinture in the Manuscrits de Michel Foucault NAF28730 came to the BnF in 2013, three decades after the death of the author of its contents, according to Laurence Le Bras of the Département des Manuscrits. That would be some five decades after Foucault began the research on painting found there. Again, according to Le Bras, the documents “remain in the order in which they were found on the desk or the bookshelves of Michel Foucault.” Not only do these unpublished documents in the archive apparently correspond exactly to the state of a work in progress on painting, which can be further delineated by the folders in which they are found, they also give valuable insight into the ways that Foucault’s research proceeded and the problems he identified as significant. Perhaps these newer topics of interest also indicate a more recent date for the provenance of this research than Foucault’s last published essay on painting, which had been in 1975 for the catalogue of the exhibition of paintings by his contemporary Gérard Fromanger, but this is not yet sure. Whatever the dates of this newly deposited archive on painting, the research in it provides extensive and further insights into the depth of Foucault’s interest in the theory and practice of painting.

In Foucault on Painting, I cover chiaroscuro, the meaning of painting in modernity, the definition of painting when compared to photography, and many other topics. But when I examined Boîte 53 thoroughly other areas emerged as relatively unknown interests. For example, although Foucault had written on the related topic of illumination and darkness in his lecture on Manet, the comprehensive notes on color provide evidence of a thorough examination in exact chronological order of virtually every book on color published in France since the seventeenth century, and included major studies in English and German as well. The history of color is a notoriously difficult field of study for both art historians and cognitive scientists alike. The literature on color that Foucault examined manifests the close proximity of science and art theory in the study of the topic. Indeed, the lack of disciplinary differentiation in the substance of that literature may well have contributed to the philosopher’s fascination with it.

The research on painting found in Manuscrits de Michel Foucault NAF28730 also calls for yet another reassessment of Foucault’s use and understanding of the archive itself. Both Benjamin and Foucault had addressed the nature of the archive in relationship to the history of modernity. For Benjamin’s research on nineteenth century Paris, the archive required replication in the form of direct citation from the sources using a method of montage interspersed with comments and commentary. For Foucault, on the other hand, the archive presented a level of knowledge, whose significance could only be understood critically using an archaeological method reliant on comparison and description within the larger topic of which it is a part. In spite of these differences, both Benjamin and Foucault had attempted to teach us about the infinity of the archive in modernity and its ubiquity in historical representation since then. These points about the archive in modernity gave the French filmmaker Alain Resnais cause to critique the entire project of the BnF in his documentary on the library, Toute la mémoire du monde (1956).

Benjamin’s and Foucault’s respective methods for the archive’s use in their own research were designed as critical tools for dealing with the impossibility of the archive’s finitude. They both provided a critique of how the archive had been used in the production of historical knowledge, while simultaneously recognizing its necessity for the historian in the present. I think that the approaches to the archive taken by Benjamin and Foucault on the material culture of modernity have allowed contemporary curators, artists and art historians to conceptualize other relationships to the archive and by extension, to historical representation in the twenty-first century. Some examples come to mind. In the exhibition Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (2008, International Center of Photography), curator Okwui Enwezor relied on both Foucault and Benjamin to formulate his understanding of the use of the archive that he saw in a number of recent photographic practices. In the photographic series Disco Angola (2012), artist Stan Douglas mined the archive for hundreds of “reference images,” as he calls them, in order to inform the fictional history represented in composited digital images (see Soussloff, “A Proposition for Reenactment: Disco Angola by Stan Douglas,” in The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Reenactment, Ed. Mark Franko, in press). The artist Walid Raad explicitly references the archive and methodologies derived from the historical work of Foucault and Benjamin in his on-going text and photo-based explorations of existence in Lebanon since 1972.

As an art historian, who somehow had felt that my book on Foucault was “complete” until I found the new research on painting by Foucault in the BnF archive, a question remained. How had I failed to grasp the magnitude of the points about this very archive made by the author himself, by Walter Benjamin, his predecessor in that same repository, and by the contemporary artists whose work I have found so compelling? The reason for my forgetting of the lessons about the archive taught by theorists and artists alike since the middle of the twentieth century must be built into the very nature of the disease of which the “archive fever” can be termed a symptom. Art history references images—whether paintings, photographs or other visual media—in order to understand the past. But the discipline reveals that these references are not enough. The work of art history must be accompanied by research into the archive, which itself serves as the basis of the explanatory function of history writing. One might well argue that the very inadequacy of the visual material to signify completely requires the infinitude of the archive for this explanatory framework. In terms of Foucault on Painting, at least, there is more work to be done at the BnF and further interpretations to be made.


Catherine M. Soussloff is professor of art history, visual art, and theory at the University of British Columbia. She is author of Foucault on Painting (Minnesota, 2017) and The Absolute Artist (Minnesota, 1997), and editor of Foucault on the Arts and Letters.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reading for the holidays: Churches of Minnesota

We've got a lot of new titles to be excited about this year, from the oft-buzzed-about The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen to the beautiful early-1900s photographic northwoods journey of Border Country. These books join our already robust collection of beautiful books about Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, and we'd like to take a moment to highlight one particular classic whose presence made one reader very happy. Here's an anecdote from our outreach and development manager, Molly Fuller, on the sidelines of the recent American Institute of Architects' Minnesota chapter meeting in Minneapolis.


A woman picked up a copy of Churches of Minnesota and instantly brought it over to me to share her story. She'd purchased the book years ago to research where to have her wedding, hoping to find a historic church as her "something old" to complement her reception at the Walker Arts Center (her "something new"). When she was still considering her options, she happened upon page 119 IRL: St. Martin's By-the-Lake, a church in Minnetonka Beach built in 1888 by legendary architect Cass Gilbert. She was with her young niece at the time, and the woman pointed out the building and said she might be married there. "I like it," her niece said, "it looks like mint chocolate chip ice cream." That quirky blessing solidified her decision, and she and her husband were married there later that year.


This book is among the 200 titles featured in our Read Minnesota holiday catalog (page 4 on the web; page 36 in the print edition), and can be ordered at a 30% discount using code MN82100.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Before Sigurd Olson, and before Calvin Rutstrum, there was Howard Greene.

Camp scene from 1915 at Lake Vermillion, in the mist.

Because there is a difference between the history we know and the stories we keep, the experience of this book is magical.

from the Foreword to Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906–1916.


Over the course of ten years, Milwaukee businessman Howard Greene, along with his young sons and some friends, would take several month-long journeys to canoe and camp in the north woods of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Canada. The first journey was in 1906. Here is an anecdote, written by Martha Greene Phillips (daughter of Howard Greene), about one of The Gang's last epic trips.


Tower, Minnesota, on Lake Vermillion, was the put-in point for The Gang’s penultimate canoe trip. The trip began on August 14, 1915, with camp the first night at Hoodoo Point. They began the next day’s paddle in rough weather, and when they finally landed for the night, they realized a pair of problems. Their canoes were overloaded, and one of the hired men wanted to quit. Dad returned to Tower the next morning to buy birchbark and to hire a new man.

Dad, middle-aged and balding, with a trim mustache, and still neatly dressed in his fairly fresh camp clothing, would have quickly been noted as an outsider in Tower. He inquired about town, and after hearing of a person he might want to hire, approached Merrill, a clean-cut man of fifty, who had worked as a timber cruiser.

Merrill hesitated.

“Are you a tenderfoot or not?”

Dad replied that he “didn’t know but that I had been in the woods somewhat and that he might consider me a tender-foot but that I thought I could take of myself under ordinary circumstances.”

Merrill asked:

“Have you been in these woods before?”

Dad told him he had gone from Ely to Ranier and from Windidgoostigwan, Ontario, to Ranier.

Merrill negotiated a $4-per-day wage, and shortly after, met Dad at the landing with a pack on his back.

Dad was a Milwaukee businessman, yet chose not to stay in a lodge or to find one of the few guides operating in the Northwoods for his trips. He had field experience during the Spanish–American War, had spent time in the country as a child and young man, and had extensive knowledge of nature. His travel partners, the Doc, Billy Mac, and Bill, were each knowledgeable and experienced outdoorsmen. They knew how to outfit their own trips, which was no small feat during those years. The men they hired were there to help in camp, and often had less knowledge of the proposed itinerary and conditions than the campers.

Howard Greene.

Dad’s descriptions of their apparently effortless planning and outfitting for their trips belie what they had to know and how much preparation went into their trips.A look at the customs documents listing the “Camp Outfit for 1911” tells much more detail about how they camped and canoed in the early 1900’s, and how different it was then. Now people enter a designated wilderness carrying maps, guidebooks, outfitter-supplied convenience foods, Kevlar canoes, pop-up nylon tents, and wearing fleece and Gore-Tex clothing to meet whatever weather conditions one encounters.

What did a group of men take along for four weeks in the woods in 1915? They took their wood and canvas guide canoes; extra paddles for each; white lead and shellac for repairs; large canvas amazon, or "A," tents; 5 1/2 x 8-foot ground cloths; ropes; and poles. They carried pack straps, axes, rifles, provision bags, canvas buckets, a sewing outfit, “doctor shop,” twine, leather conditioner, and a repair kit that included “tools, wire, nails, cloth, screws, tacks, etc.”

The men carried bedrolls made up of wool blankets; their pillows were rolled-up clothing. Dad used his rough gray wool Hudson’s Bay blankets from his Spanish–American War years. Included in the commissary were such provisions as yeast and 100 pounds of flour and other baking ingredients, all so that they could bake bread in camp along the way; a case of evaporated milk; 30 pounds of bacon; many pounds of “dehydro” vegetables and fruits; several dozens of cans of tinned meats, such as deviled ham, sardines, and corned beef; dried beans; and a case of pilot bread, spices, sugar, corn meal, breakfast cereals, candles, and clothesline. The list is quite detailed and extensive, the amounts staggering. Most interesting of all, the lists included foods now a mystery to most of us, like Erbswurst.

Erbswurst, a dried vegetable-and-bean packed sausage casing, dates to the Franco-Prussian War, when it was a protein-packed ration for the soldiers. Later, when in use by outdoorsmen, it was nicknamed “dynamite soup” because of the sausages’ semblance to sticks of dynamite.

Beyond the provisions and supplies that comprised their “outfit,” the Gang had their own personal “tool kits” of survival skills that they had developed over years of experience in the outdoors. Doc was the master canoe patcher, while Dad led the group in orienting and trail reading skills. Each knew how to cook in camp, how to pack through a portage, and how to “rope” a canoe through rapids.

On one of the Gang’s earlier trips, Dad taught one of the hired men how to rope a canoe down a rapids – the man was apparently tickled to learn this skill, a new one even though he had already been in the woods for years.

Before each trip, the men created their own route maps based on USGS survey maps, many of which they later found to lack clear or accurate details and place names. When they came across a new and interesting feature in the landscape it was not something they recognized from a guidebook. The petroglyphs they encountered were a complete mystery and surprise; coming across the petroglyphs is now, to a modern traveler, a powerful experience – I can only imagine what Dad and the Gang must have thought as they saw them and began to puzzle them out.

Along all the rivers and lakes they paddled, the Gang appreciated much of the natural history they encountered. Dad was well schooled in geology, due to his having grown up with a father who was an expert amateur geologist and fossil collector. Doc was the quintessential naturalist, with an excellent sense of flora and fauna. Billy Mac and Bill were well-versed in natural science and in outdoors skills. The Gang brought a pretty full complement of knowledge and skills to each trip.

While they may have been Milwaukee businessmen, they were not amateur outdoorsmen.


Martha Greene Phillips spent several years researching her father’s canoeing and camping adventures and editing and annotating his journals of those trips for Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906–1916. She is also the author of The Floating Boathouses on the Upper Mississippi River and lives near Madison, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

F. Scott Fitzgerald in MN snippets: Thanksgiving, a football captain, and Crocus Hill Pharmacy

In these three snippets, we meet the childhood and teen-aged friends of F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first piece appears in the book F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota (2017). The final two have not been published previously. 


Photograph by Jeff Krueger.

Clark residence (1884)
In 1908 Charles A. Clark, treasurer for the Northern Pacific Railroad, lived at 454 Holly Avenue with his wife, seven children, and five servants. The oldest boy was Robert D., and his sister Caroline M. was just one year younger. By 1919 the Clarks had moved to 96 Virginia Street. Over Thanksgiving in 1919, they hosted a dance for Caroline at the University Club for "seventy-five members of the younger society." It is possible F. Scott Fitzgerald was among them since Caroline was in Fitzgerald's dancing class, and Robert had appeared in a couple of Fitzgerald's juvenile plays.

Although Fitzgerald wrote Robert Clark a reproachful missive in 1920 in response to a letter Clark had sent telling the author he should write for "real people," Clark remained one of Fitzgerald's strongest supporters, telling those who asked that Fitzgerald was not an outsider, but a valued member of their social circle. A couple of years after the postal spat, Clark, along with Fitzgerald, was a member of the Cotillion Club.

In a letter to Marie Hersey Hamm in 1936, Fitzgerald confessed that he still considered Saint Paul his home, "but the people who make it so are not only such a few—the Kalmans, Nonnie [Norris Jackson], Bob Clarke and a scattering of others."

Joe McKibben II.
14 July 1918 Pioneer Press, 3rd sec., p. 2.

McKibbin residence (1887)—razed 1927

Soon after F. Scott Fitzgerald arrived at Princeton University in the fall of 1913, he visited his St. Paul friend Norris Jackson in the latter’s room at 13 Little Hall. Another St. Paulite, Joe McKibbin, who had grown up at in a duplex at 83 Virginia Street in St. Paul, stopped by Jackson’s room to welcome his two hometown acquaintances. A couple classes ahead of Fitzgerald, McKibbin had attended Hill School with his next-door neighbor Laurence Noyes, whose father had built 83-85 Virginia. McKibbin had brought along a classmate and suggested the group go for a stroll. “We walked down through the campus and along a canal, a nice sort of place to walk,” Jackson recalled. Fitzgerald was acting a bit odd. According to Jackson, “ He sort of skipped around….”

A day or two later, Fitzgerald burst into Jackson’s room and asked, “Do you know who that was we were with on Sunday?” Jackson said, yes, it was Joe McKibbin. “But do you know who the senior was?” Jackson responded affirmatively. “Well,” Fitzgerald added, “he’s the…captain of the football team, and I acted just like a damn fool.”

McKibbin’s friend and Princeton football captain for 1913 was Hobey Baker. Fitzgerald’s meeting with Baker is noted in his Ledger. In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald presents an admiring snapshot of Baker, who loved singing, as “Allenby,” the football captain:

Now, far down the shadowy line of University Place a white-clad phalanx broke the gloom, and marching figures, white-shirted, white-trousered, swung rhythmically up the street, with linked arms and heads thrown back [singing “Going Back to Nassau Hall”]. Amory closed his eyes as the ghostly procession drew near. The song soared so high that all dropped out except the tenors, who bore the melody triumphantly past the danger-point and relinquished it to the fantastic chorus. Then Amory opened his eyes, half afraid that sight would spoil the rich illusion of harmony. He sighed eagerly. There at the head of the white platoon marched Allenby, the football captain, slim and defiant, as if aware that this year the hopes of the college rested on him, that his hundred-and-sixty pounds were expected to dodge to victory through the heavy blue and crimson lines. Fascinated, Amory watched each rank of linked arms as it came abreast, the faces indistinct above the polo shirts, the voices blent in a paean of triumph—and then the procession passed through Shadowy Campbell Arch, and the voices grew fainter as it wound eastward over the campus.

Not coincidentally, Fitzgerald named the hero of the novel Amory Blaine, an obvious homage to Hobart Amory Hare Baker. Even had McKibbin not brought Baker by Jackson’s room that October day, Fitzgerald may have still honored the athlete, who was just a couple inches taller than the five-foot-seven-inch Fitzgerald and weighed 165 pounds. However, the encounter certainly was seared into Fitzgerald’s hero-worshipping mind—at least according to Jackson.

McKibbin, Jackson, and Fitzgerald continued to cross paths at Princeton. At one meeting, Fitzgerald told his two hometown friends “that he wanted five good principles to live up to.”

Like Fitzgerald, McKibbin joined the armed services during WWI. In 1923, McKibbin met Dorothy Ann Scarritt, a 1919 graduate of Smith College, in Dellwood, Minnesota. She came from a well-to-do Kansas City family and was visiting friends in in the posh community nestled up against the northeast corner of White Bear Lake. Joe and Dorothy became engaged, but broke their engagement in 1925 after she contracted tuberculosis, a disease which also afflicted Fitzgerald. She went for a cure at a sanatorium near Santa Fe, and after eleven months recovered. Joe and she were married in 1927 and settled down in St. Paul, where he worked for his father’s fur company, McKibbin, Driscoll, and Dorsey, founded in 1886. Joe died from Hodgkin’s disease in 1931, leaving Dorothy with an eleven-month-old son.

Having enjoyed the time she spent in the southwestern United States, Dorothy returned to Sante Fe, where she eventually was offered a job by Robert Oppenheimer. She earned the title of “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos” and became one of the key players in the Manhattan Project.

Coincidentally, Joe’s sister, Allison, who was eleven years his senior, married Charles H. Bigelow, Jr., in 1911 when she was 29. She thus became step-mother to Alida Bigelow, one of Fitzgerald’s great friends, and Joe would become her step-uncle.

Image courtesy of Penzeys Spices, c. 1950s.

678 Grand Avenue
Crocus Hill Pharmacy (1906)

Throughout the years, several people have indicated to me that Edward Fitzgerald, father of F. Scott Fitzgerald, patronized Crocus Hill Pharmacy, a drug store located at the corner of Dale and Grand, for his cigars. However, from the available records, it’s clear that at the time the Fitzgeralds lived in St. Paul the pharmacy was located at the corner of Grand and St. Albans. The 1920 St. Paul City Directory listed the pharmacy at 678 Grand Avenue, as did the January 1922 Northwestern Druggist. Louis Lockwood designed the building at 674-678 Grand Avenue in 1906 as Crocus Hill Market.

In 1915, Wesley St. Clair became sole owner of the pharmacy. According to Joe Watson, who worked at the pharmacy, St. Clair wore a “Billy Goat beard” and was called “Doc.” Watson also indicated that Edward came in regularly to purchase Tom Moore cigars. One day after Scott married Zelda, the author entered the pharmacy with his father. Scott was driving a 1920s Buick touring car, red with a tan top.

“‘Dad, I’m going to buy you a box of cigars,’ Scott told his father,” said Watson. “Edward replied, ‘Forget it. You have a wife and child to support.’ Scott forgot it.”

See also: F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Minnesota State Fair's tunnel of love.

F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and historian Dave Page has been writing about Fitzgerald for years, focusing on his youth and early career in St. Paul. He is author of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: The Writer and His Friends at Home (Minnesota, 2017). He is coauthor of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: Toward the Summit and coeditor of The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of which were nominated for Minnesota Book Awards. He is editor of The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Minnesota, 2013).


This piece draws upon the following sources:
Clark residence
-Year: 1910, Census Place: St. Paul Ward 7, Ramsey, MN. The 1910 Census mistakenly says 454 Summit, but the St. Paul City Directories of 1909 and 1912 list 454 Holly Ave. as the Clark family's address.
-"Society," Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Nov. 26, 1919, p. 10.
-Bruccoli, ed., A Life in Letters, p. 45.
-Clark, letter to Jack Koblas, May 17, 1976.
-"Cotillion Cub Will Give Fancy Dress Ball," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 2, 1922, sec. 6, p. 1.
-Turnbull, Letters, p. 546.

McKibbin residence
-The Dial, 1910, Volume XIV, p. 168.
-St. Paul Building Permits
-Norris and Betty Jackson. Interview of Lloyd Hackl. November 1982, St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Historical Society Library, St. Paul.
-John Davies, The Legend of Hobey Baker (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968), p. 68.
-Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2nd revised edition (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), p. 58.
-Dorothy McKibbin. Interview with Martin Sherwin, Santa Fe, NM, 20 July 1979. Voices of the Manhattan Project.

Crocus Hill Pharmacy
-St. Paul City Directory. St. Paul, MN: R.L. Polk & Co., 1920, p. 282.
-"Twin Cities," Northwestern Druggist, Vol. 30, No. 1. January 1922, p. 56.
-Minnesota Historical Society. "Crocus Hill Market." mnhs.org.
-Hugh Craig, ed. National Association of Retail Druggists Journal, Vol. 20. April 1915, p. 27.
-Watson, Joe. Interview by Jack Koblas. Telephone. 7 July 1976.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Give to the Max Day: Making our books a reality.

Dear Reader,

This week, in preparation for Give to the Max Day on Thursday, we’re celebrating some of our favorite moments this past year. This message that Mike Osterholm shared with a room full of children and adults is one of mine.

Mike was at Red Balloon to celebrate the launch of Creekfinding, a true story chronicling his restoration of a creek that hadn’t run in more than half a century. Decades ago, the creek was filled and buried to create a farm, a common practice in the region during the time but one that displaced the species of plants and animals that relied on this ecosystem. With beautiful illustrations by Claudia McGehee, author Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells young readers about the seven years Mike spent uncovering and repairing the creek bed, planting grasses, and reintroducing fish species, including the brook trout, Iowa’s only native strain of trout. The trout in Brook Creek—the apt name for the restored waterway—are now reproducing on their own.

“Long after I am gone these trout will be there,” Mike said in an article in the Des Moines Register. “When you think of one’s contribution in a lifetime – what we give to our kids and community – this will live in perpetuity.”

“The book will be around for a long time, too,” the article notes.

Books are a legacy all on their own, but this particular book doesn’t just contribute to Mike’s legacy, or even Jacqueline’s or Claudia’s. Its very existence is tied up in the legacy of a philanthropist who wanted to bring books about natural history, environmental science, and conservation topics into fruition. Her name was Margaret W. Harmon, and her gift to the University of Minnesota Press has made possible more than a dozen books for children and adults, including 2008’s The Great Minnesota Fish Book and the forthcoming Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers, a guidebook for the whole family that teaches us how to find and identify our state’s beautiful expanse of native flowers.

I think Margaret would be especially proud to have a hand in making Creekfinding a reality because of the myriad of lessons it teaches us. Without this book, Mike and his inspiring message of environmental stewardship and hopeful promise that damage can be reversed would reach fewer eyes and ears.

Beyond the direct message of the narrative, the beauty of this book is in the way it illuminates the roles we each play in sharing stories like this one. Mike does something worth sharing with the world. Jacqueline and Claudia use imaginative descriptions and illustrations to create Mike’s story. We publish it. Audiences read it. And donors like Margaret Harmon, and donors like you, make that a reality.

This Give to the Max Day, consider where you fit in to this constellation—it may be in more place than one. And if you want to make sure stories like Creekfinding will always be told, give a gift today.

Thank you,
Molly Fuller, Outreach and Development Manager

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

#UPWeek: Knowing the Facts.

 The theme of University Press Week 2017 is #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters.
In today’s political climate—where “fake news” and “alternate facts” are believed by so many people—valuing expertise and knowledge can feel like a radical act. University presses not only believe in facts and knowledge, but traffic in them daily, publishing approximately 14,000 books and more than 1,100 journals each year, read by people around the globe.

In line with this theme, we'd like to alert readers to a few things happening locally. Milkweed Editions, in partnership with PEN America and The Riveter, is hosting Be The Facts You Wish to Read: A press freedom panel discussion with local journalists and authors, 6:00PM on Monday, November 20th, in downtown Minneapolis.
More info  ||  RSVP

At the beginning of 2017, the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul launched a monthly "Book Gathering" series, which spotlights timely topics, community events, local organizations, and relevant booklists. Materials are listed here.

Now, we bring you to an essay by author John Hartigan Jr. about the precarious state of facts and knowledge today. Thanks for reading.

University of Texas, Austin

The current surge in “climate change denial” and “alternative facts” offers an opportunity to reflect on social constructionist arguments about scientific knowledge. Versions of such claims are longstanding but they were critically highlighted in the “science wars,” a series of academic skirmishes over the status of facts—artificial products or realist glimpses of a world “out there”? The polemical contours of that moment are cast in strange relief by recent contests over the disappearance of scientific reports from government websites. An object of knowledge as massively complex and unwieldy as “climate change” is a singular example of the constructedness of scientific claims; yet few who chanted “socially constructed” then seem inclined to do so now. That reaction appears squelched by anxious concerns that such hard-won facts be maintained and promoted.

What happened to social construction, and how does that stance matter now? In broad domains of critical thinking pertaining to race and gender, it never went away and remains a mainstay of classroom lectures and introductory comments in department talks. Even as genetics research created increasingly tangible and realist renderings of racial thinking, “race is socially constructed” stays a mantra for turning attention from scientific claims and towards the social ways that “race matters.” My own work on race and genetics, sometime ago, diagnosed this problem in Latourian terms: race continues to “gain in reality” despite constructivist critiques. Bruno Latour, of course, is a touchstone for these questions; he claims his counsel is now sought by climate scientists nervously contending with the perilous state of their facts. But in this account, what stands out is his glib sense of what was at stake in his previous work: “it felt good to put scientists down a little.”

Looking back over the last couple of decades of generative work in science and technology studies (STS), two things are apparent. First, the task and motivation initially seemed animated by a desire to assail the inaccessibility of science and to rupture the implacable visage of its singular facts. Indeed, the challenge, especially for ethnographers working in labs, was to gain access to the sites of knowledge production; additionally, there were hurdles of being taken seriously by scientists, who saw little to gain from (or comprehend in) considering a cultural perspective on their labor. Second, such accounts perhaps mimicked the orientation of their subjects’ fixation on the end results, the artifacts of scientific production. There was not much attention to knowledge base from which these were generated, the slowly assembled, largely reliable understanding of how the world works.

Today the situation is different—STS scholars are approaching scientific knowledge with an altered sensibility and orientation towards how their accounts may matter. Simply, we too are engaged in a process of knowing the world, not just critiquing certain authoritative claims about its operations. And it’s increasingly apparent that navigating our world requires multiple forms of expertise; questions and contests over access are generating an alternative approach. That is to use ethnography to tap the expertise of scientists and make it accessible to publics contending with the challenge of knowing our complex world. This is evident in Lisa Messeri’s Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds. As cultural critics like Gayatri Spivak and Paul Gilroy promote “planetarity” or “the planetary” as means of conjuring an anti-racist solidarity for our species, Messeri suggest these efforts might learn something from her ethnographic subjects, planetary scientists. These researches have honed and realized a “planetary imagination,” “one that has been professionally productive for scientists and perhaps can also be meaningful for social scientists and humanists who similarly grapple with planetary phenomena” (2017:12). That is, rather than just deconstructing their facts, there’s something of value to learn here. That ethnography is an excellent means for making that knowledge base accessible is further borne out in Priscilla Song’s ethnographic account (Biomedical Odysseys) of “how an alternative form of biological knowledge is reshaping human relations and futures” (2017:4). As well, Candis Callison use ethnography (How Climate Change Comes to Matter) “to excavate climate change as a multiply instantiated fact, with varying scientific, political ethical and moral contours” (2014:22). In her account, climate change is “an emergent form of life,” one we are struggling to know and understand; such efforts are not advanced or enhanced by regarding it as “social construction.”

My own efforts to assail the social constructedness of race (Care of the Species) eventually led me to a national plant genomics institute in Mexico, where researchers were studying “razas de maíz” or races of corn. Initially, I seized on fluctuating assessments of how many such races exist—59, 62, or 48, depending on whether you ask breeders or geneticists—to conclude that the razas are social constructs. Before long, though, I realized such a tart finding kept me from learning much about maize in all its varieties. Once I moved past treating these geneticists as ciphers for racial ideology, they were able to teach me to recognize how these distinctive life forms are reflections of the huge climatic and geographic variation in Mexico, and that biomes worked together with ethnicity to generate morphologically distinctive plants. This does not suggest “race is real” in any simplistic manner; “raza,” in Spanish is used on domesticated species, not natural ones, reflecting the history of the concept, which predates its application to humans. As well, when I then ventured into the botanical gardens in Spain—first to learn this history, then to regard these sites ethnographically—I initially fixated on tumultuous points of uncertainty within taxonomy; again because I trained to analyze social constructions. Gradually, I grew more impressed with taxonomists’ capacity—despite the constructedness of species—to discern and recognize botanical forms. And as I thought about the devilish predicament of rapid extinctions of both plant and animal life forms, their expertise warranted a better accounting than social construction affords. Fortunately, botanical gardens are designed exactly with this end in mind, to introduce people to plants they’ve never met before. I encourage you to visit one soon.

As we think about the precarious status of facts and knowledge today, we need to reconsider the tendency toward critique that dominates in the humanities. The world we live in requires manifold forms of expertise; a critical consciousness isn’t sufficient. We need to devise ways to combine both in addressing enduring problems of access to science. Our accounts of natural science research are means, certainly, to foster a critical stance on facts, but also to promote the fundamental forms of scientific literacy required of understanding something as complicated as climate change.

John Hartigan Jr. is author of Care of the Species: Races of Corn and the Science of Plant Biodiversity and Director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies, University of Texas, Austin. Hartigan is on Twitter @aesopsanthro as Aesop’s Anthro.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Judge Miles Lord: Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keeper

Miles Lord: Minnesota's Maverick Judge will air on TPT/Twin Cities PBS
on Sunday, Nov. 19. Here's a preview.
More about the book.


There was once a generation of young Minnesotans who, imbued with a social-gospel populism, set out to make their state, their nation, and their world a better place for all. Especially in today’s times, the legacy of these men so dedicated to the common good—and who loomed so large on the national scene—is well worth remembrance.

They were a remarkable crew with strikingly similar backgrounds: growing up poor in small towns, forged by the Great Depression and hard work, and embracing a commitment to the least fortunate. “The moral test of a government,” as Hubert Humphrey would say, “is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

Hubert Horatio Humphrey was the leader of these coming-of-age young men who banded together in the 1940s, when he was first campaigning for mayor of Minneapolis. Humphrey was initially little known, but he transfixed students and other young volunteers—who became known as “the diaper brigade”—with his message that, together, they could create a better world.

“He inspired us and taught us,” Miles Lord would say, “and bent us like tender willows in a nursery.”

Lord, a college student at the time, was among the youngest of the group. From his threadbare beginnings on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, he would go on to become a one-of-a-kind maverick on the federal bench, a judge who believed that the deck was stacked in favor of the rich and powerful and who set out to balance the scales of justice for “the little guy.”

Others among this group included Walter Mondale, who would become widely credited for redefining the vice presidency, and Orville Freeman, who would initiate the federal food stamp and school breakfast programs for the poor while serving in the Kennedy and Johnson cabinets. And there was also Eugene McCarthy, who got his start organizing for Humphrey and first ran for Congress in 1948, borrowing a ramshackle Chevy from Hubert as a campaign sound truck.

In 1964, Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy were the two final contenders for LBJ’s vice presidency, and they appeared back-to-back on Meet the Press. “Senator, it strikes some of us that you have an embarrassment of riches in Minnesota,” one of the panelists said. “How do you account for this? What is there about Minnesota?”

What there was about Minnesota was that, in this era, the state bred public servants with an extraordinary devotion to the common good. For Miles Lord, that began when he was a young boy growing up in one of the poorest families on the Iron Range. During those years, he was deeply moved by the sermons in church. He listened to the story of Cain and Abel and envisioned the two brothers on the Range, with Cain pushing Abel into an iron ore pit that Abel could not escape. “I never wanted to repeat Cain’s mistake and have God ask me about it,” he would later say.

As with others in Humphrey’s following, Miles Lord’s life was forever changed when their paths crossed. Humphrey led by example, including when, still early in his career, he rocketed to fame at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with his call for an unyielding commitment to civil rights. (“The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”) Later, the Washington Post would call Humphrey, as a senator, “the idea factory for many of the Kennedy administration bills.” The Peace Corps, in fact, was a Humphrey idea. And, of course, Humphrey was at the helm of the effort that broke the historic Senate filibuster on the way to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But the year 1968 brought a sharp schism between Humphrey and his one-time disciple Eugene McCarthy. Humphrey, as the sitting vice president and later presidential candidate, had become beholden to LBJ and the escalating war in Vietnam, while McCarthy embarked on a quixotic mission to rally the antiwar movement with his own campaign for the presidency. (Miles Lord, caught between his two friends, designated himself as the “unofficial envoy” between the two candidates.) Later, Humphrey would put much of the blame for his loss on himself. “I had lost some of my personal identity and personal forcefulness,” he would say. And McCarthy, despite the bitterness of 1968, would come to call Humphrey’s loss “just short of tragedy.”

Indeed, Humphrey became a “forgotten man,” as one historian would lament in the New York Times. “Poor Humphrey could never catch a break,” he wrote. “That such a figure in American history is largely ignored today is sad.”

Miles Lord is also too little remembered today, despite all the trails he broke. During his years on the bench, from 1966 to 1985, he fought battles aplenty on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged, and, as he would say, “the meek,” and his bold rulings—holding big corporations accountable, protecting the environment, standing up for consumers, defending the rights of women, and weighing in on issues ranging from disability rights to education reform to nuclear disarmament—reshaped jurisprudence for decades to come.

“I happen to believe that might does not make right,” he used to say. “I believe that the poor are blessed and we have a duty to help them.”

If Judge Lord were on the bench today, there is no doubt his voice would be heard. Among other things, he would be speaking out against big corporations that abuse the public trust. “Many people denounce crime in the street,” he used to say, “but few examine crime in the skyscraper.” He would also be singing the praises of immigrants; he never forgot his years on the Iron Range, growing up surrounded by hardworking immigrants from dozens of countries, and, once on the bench, nothing brought Judge Lord more joy than swearing in new citizens. (After the standard Oath of Allegiance, he would give an improvised oath more to his liking about the need to be “our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.”)

There is also no doubt that, if he were alive today, Miles Lord would be urging us all to heed better selves. And he would be quoting his favorite poem, which he often used to exhort his audiences to reach out to their brothers and sisters—and to the extended family of man—who were in need of help:

I am only one,
But I still am one.
I cannot do everything,
But I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

“That applies to me,” he said. “And, my friends, it applies to you.”


The documentary Miles Lord: Minnesota's Maverick Judge is a co-production of Twin Cities PBS/TPT Partnerships and the University of Minnesota Press, with funding provided by Ciresi Conlin LLP, and can be seen statewide on PBS stations and streaming at tpt.org beginning November 19, 2017. Here's a trailer.


Roberta Walburn is author of Miles Lord: The Maverick Judge Who Brought Corporate America to Justice. Walburn is an attorney based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she has been named one of the most influential members of the legal profession in state history and recognized by the University of Minnesota for “shaping the legal landscape for the benefit of society.” Previously, she worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Buffalo (N.Y.) Evening News and as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, as well as serving as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Miles Lord.

"An intimate, compelling portrait of a courageous and exceptional man who believed in justice and never backed down."
—Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Linda LeGarde Grover: "Everything that we experience, no matter how small, is a story."


Here in Duluth, not long after my seventh grandchild was born, I began to write short essays about aspects of Ojibwe contemporary life that link to the joy and gratitude that Ojibwe people have for new life and the continuity of our existence. He is a third-generation child of our extended LeGarde family born in Onigamiising, which is the Ojibwe word for “Duluth” and translates in English to “the place of the small portage”—referring to Park Point, the five-mile-long sand bar which, during the days of canoe travel, was a short and easy overland portage between Lake Superior and the St. Louis Bay.

Along the shoreline of Gichigami, Lake Superior, we live our lives on land that is historically significant and sacred. Mewinzhaa (a long time ago), Anishinaabe people followed a vision that led to a journey from the east coast of North America here to Onigamiising, this place of the small portage. European explorers, missionaries and settlers who traveled inland to this area had tremendous and continually increasing impact on the Anishinaabeg; upheaval and loss layered over the backdrop of history have resulted in an intergenerational trauma that has touched the tribal histories, values, and knowledge passed down over the centuries since Euro impact; yet the damages of upheaval and loss do not negate the sacredness and beauty of this place. All that is goodness and truth, the living of a good life that we call Mino-bimaadiziwin, continues as an unbreakable thread.

Examples of Mino-bimaadiziwin can be seen every day, in so many aspects of life: Just today I observed a young waitress conversing with an elderly man who was eating supper by himself as solicitously as if he was her own grandfather; an unhappy-looking driver breaking into a smile and waving at the other driver at an intersection who waved her through; an encouraging Facebook posting on a friend’s page by someone she has never met. We have opportunity to live those values of thankfulness, modesty, generosity and an awareness of our place in the world around us in all that we do, and in the most humble tasks and occasions which are elevated to the honorable and sacred when performed and appreciated in the spirit of Mino-bimaadiziwin.

We Anishinaabeg of northern Minnesota, like other Native people, come from ancestors who shared histories, beliefs and values by teaching generation to generation through storytelling, conversation, and by example. How fortunate we have been that the means by which the survival of our ways, based on Mino-bimaadiziwin, has also been such a source of pleasure and meaning. We are lovers of stories who have learned that everything that we experience, no matter how small, is a story. Here in Onigamiising, this place of the small portage that is also a place of four distinct seasons, each year we live on Earth is a larger seasonal story; cumulatively these become the seasons of our lives: spring is our infancy and childhood, in our summer season we are young, in autumn we are in mature adulthood, and in winter we become elders. Our lives follow the four seasons in the same way as does the Earth, and as a people we are replenished by the creation of new life in the same way as spring brings new life to the Earth.

The stories we live as individuals are filaments of that unbreakable thread upon which are strung the beads that are our collective story, an always emerging pattern of reverence that is Anishinaabe existence. The essays that comprise Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year are one woman’s single bead on that thread: what I have learned and thought about here in Onigamiising and now pass on, an Anishinaabe-mindimoye’s perspectives on contemporary and historical Ojibwe life in northeastern Minnesota. Our existence is a beautiful thing: Onishishin.

Linda LeGarde Grover is author of Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year. Her short fiction collection The Dance Boots received the Flannery O’Connor Award as well as the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize; her novel The Road Back to Sweetgrass (Minnesota, 2014) received the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers 2016 Fiction Award, and her poetry collection The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives received the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and the Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award. She is professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe.

"Reading these essays is like quietly listening to a thoughtful elder telling tales, spinning stories, and subtly offering wise guidance to her descendants, as well as to anyone else fortunate enough to hear."—Foreword Reviews

"A finely nuanced reflection on the spiritual and the mundane, the everyday and the extraordinary, the seasons of the year and the seasons of a life."—Indian Country Today

"Fascinating stuff. Perhaps the best reason to spend 200 pages with Grover, though, is her sense of humor."—Star Tribune

Monday, October 16, 2017

On Being and algorithmic clouds.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

BEFORE BUDDHA INVENTED RENUNCIATION; before Christians invented martyrdom; before Mohammed invented the jihad, before the Hebrews invented monotheism, before Plato invented the dreaded cave in which we supposedly live, blind to the presence of all that is Good, people talked to each other in freer ways. They talked to dead ancestors, to rocks, to trees, to animals, to spirits.

How does the new interblending of the organic and the inorganic, of living realities and anonymous algorithms, and of the human and the corporate shape the question of Being? If we exclude techno-optimists on the one hand and techno-despairers on the other hand, where then do we begin the conversation? My book Digital Stockholm Syndrome in the Post-Ontological Age argues that first we must challenge the lingering Enlightenment categories of biology, chemistry, and technology; we even have to move past the cyborgic, artificial intelligence imaginaries of the 1970s. The ultimate drift of the contemporary situation is to create not just a world of pixelated information, but a world that mobilizes information through a process akin to heat—the more heat the better. It is not data that is important in our world but data generation. Humans are the perfect data providers, they move and travel; they get sick, they commit crimes, they listen to music, they go to the gym, they eat, sleep, and walk, and drink and have friends and relatives; there are billions of them. It is the perfect algorithm-friendly environment, the world of Post-Ontology.

Its emergence was not simply the result of changes in technology, but as an unpredicted confluence of a series of historical trajectories: the civilianization of technologies like GPS, the legalization and corporatization of algorithmic know-how, the emergence of the data fabrication industry and finally the creation of a globally scaled, psycho-mediated, quasi-militarized, interdependency of human, corporations governments, and hackers in a grand multi-tiered exploitational system. This is not to say that the old ontology is dead and gone, but to argue that the old-fashioned sense of Being – as dependent on the integrity of the individual, itself a Modern construction – exists only in an ‘as if’ state. Being is now ‘produced’ only to enmesh us ever more deeply in a world of algorithmic clouds.

In the world of data excess, algorithms chop us into digestible/marketable/governable/hackable categories . . . The algorithm represents us, not as complete beings, but as slices through/across our Beings. These algorithmic slices operate on the individual to fulfill a sublimated desire for completion. They are created in our image, and thus the more, the better, as they, in their emerging cumulativeness, fulfill a range of needs from the narcissistic to the epistemological, from the masochistic to the liberational, and from the seductive to the performative.

If ontology and algorithms are no longer distinct, then the questions relating to The Human as well as to the Body and Technology all need a new foundation. Post-Ontology begins with the fusionism of today, rather than seeing some sort of future condition in the history of technology. It critiques the Onto-curmudgeons who try to hold on to the principle of an anthro-centric worldview.

The study of Being is now based on the study of a new type of science in which the human is being pushed to its corporeal / sensate / moral / physical / psychological / political / social / environmental / sexual / bacteriological / global limits. Instead of discussing capitalism as such we should see the data consuming entities to whom we are now beholden – i.e., the major corporations, governments and hackers – as all invested, along with each of us, globally, in the immanence of the new (in)human, a water-and-carbon-base surface that emits the life pulse of data. The glue that holds all this together is a finely constructed type of paranoia that is shared by humans, governments, and corporations. Unlike the modern distinction between health and paranoia, paranoia is the "new healthy."

The data security industry produces insecurity in just the right doses for its self-perpetuation. The system is calculated and legalized in the form of upgrades and contract renewals, patches and defaults, that continuously remind the (in)human—often when they least expect it—of his/her precarious standing in the social fabric. I call it onto-torture.

If there is no fixed ‘outside’ to understand where the individual is to located, how do we then understand the circulatory system that produces the sense of Self? Because the purpose of algorithms is not to produce data, but to mobilize data, we need to change the terms of our understanding from technology and mathematics to thermodynamics. I argue that life in the Post-Ontological Age is governed by three laws.

The First Law:
The physical system (of data) = natural system = human system.

The Second Law:
“Data” = Data Surplus > Data Processing.

The Third Law:
The more the data gods capitalize on order, the more disorder is purposefully/‘accidentally’ produced.

Computation—if one can even use that antiquated word—involves at its core an analytic secrecy for which no external or internal analysis can account. Computation only works if there is more computation. It is a science (to use another strange-sounding word) that revolves around the calculation of instability—the calculation of a calculated instability—leading to the incalculable (but predictably unpredictable), calculation of instability.

In the world of Post-Ontology, my “I” is irrevocably dependent on and complicit in these productive and counterproductive layers of algorithmic activities. This means that the world is now not just fallible, but designed to be fallible – to break down, to be ‘hacked,’ and to need so-called ‘upgrades’ and ever more advanced ‘security measures.’ In the Post-Ontological world, we might be more human than ever before, which makes the promise of Artificial Intelligence ever more comic. Ultimately, the new human is a data-derivative, packaged, formatted, and ‘protected’ for the global stock market of information. It is not the end-point of our speculation, but the beginning point.


Mark Jarzombek is author of Digital Stockholm Syndrome in the Post-Ontological Age. He is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has been teaching since 1995. He specializes in the history and theory of architecture.

"A brief yet stylistically ironic and incisive interrogation into how recent iterations of post- or inhumanist theory have found a strange bedfellow in the rhetorical boosterism that accompanies the alleged affordances of digital technologies and big data." —Boundary 2

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Discovering Fairy-Tale Postcards: The Adventures of a Scholarly Scavenger

University of Minnesota

Once upon a time, when the famous scientist Albert Einstein was teaching at Princeton University, a tiny old woman approached him as he was walking home after a class he had just taught. She was schlepping a skinny young boy of about six who was dragging his feet.

"Mr. Einstein," she called out in a strong Central European accent. "Mr. Einstein, stop your tracks and help me!"

Einstein was taken aback. He didn't know what to do except stop.

"How can I help you?" he responded with a smile as he took out a pipe.

"You shouldn't smoke. It will kill you," the old woman said.

Again, Einstein was taken aback, and he put away his pipe.

"Is that better?"

"Much better," the old woman said as she drew her timid grandson toward Einstein. "Jaky, stop fiddling and listen to this great man."

Now she turned her attention back to Einstein.

"Mr. Einstein, I want you should tell me what my grandson must do to become educated like you. I want he should be a great scientist."

Einstein didn't hesitate with his reply, "Fairy tales. He should read fairy tales."

"All right," the woman replied. "But what then? What should he read after that?"

"More fairy tales," Einstein stated bluntly, took out his pipe, and continued walking toward his home.

The old woman was silent for a moment, but then she grabbed hold of Jaky's hand and began dragging him through the park again. Suddenly she stopped.

"You heard, Jaky!" she pointed her finger at the frightened boy. "You heard what the great man said! Read fairy tales! Do what the man said, or God help you!"

And she whisked her grandson away.

Needless to say, this is a true story, not a fairy tale. I must confess that the boy in this anecdote was me, and I have lived under Einstein's spell ever since my momentous encounter with the great man in 1943. Or perhaps one could call the spell "my grandmother's curse." Whether spell or curse, I can't recall not imbibing fairy tales. They are in my blood. Ever since my grandmother traumatized me, I have constantly collected fairy tales, read them, written them, studied them, and even lived them. Most of all, I have collected fairy-tale postcards for more than fifty years. My wife thinks I am like the golden boy of fairy tales, that is, she thinks that Lady Fortuna watches over me and changes everything I touch into gold.

"French encounter." From the author's collection.

She also thinks that I'm a fairy-tale postcard junky. For years I have spent a good deal of my research time at library sales, auctions, flea markets, postcard shows, garbage dumps, and garage sales and in second-hand bookstores, musty libraries, book stalls, movie theaters, cellars, attics, and museums. My daughter, who has tolerated my tale-telling and fairy-tale postcard obsession ever since she was born, has offered to ship me off and pay for a fairy-tale de-toxication program run by rational, stringent, down-to-earth social workers. Lately, however, she has concluded that I’m hopeless and helpless.

To tell the truth, I may be helpless, but I’m not hopeless. I think it is hope in fairy tales that has driven me throughout my life, and perhaps it was hope that drove Einstein. There is something peculiar about fairy tales, the best of fairy tales, that propels me and, I think, most human beings absorb them as if they were vital food and vital for survival. We simply can't do without them. It is as if we were pre-disposed to lead our lives according to the spells and curses of fairy tales.

"Frog King." From the author's collection.

In my own case, I have constantly learned about the complexities of life through fairy tales and especially through buried treasures. This brings me back to talk about the importance to fairy-tale postcards that have been produced in the millions and yet have been ignored to a large extent by collectors and scholars. I don’t mean to exaggerate the neglect, but quite clearly very few collectors and scholars have written about the history of fairy-tale postcards, and most people who buy the cards are not aware of why they are drawn to fairy-tale postcards.

As a narrative metaphor or metaphorical pattern, a fairy tale, in my opinion, like other short narratives -- anecdotes, jokes, legends, myths, warning tales, and so on -- stems from historically conditioned lived experience that fosters a reaction in our brains, and this experience is articulated through symbols that endow it with significance. Fairy tales are relevant because they pass on information vital for humans to adapt to changing environments. Sometimes they do this through the images on tiny postcards. I do not want to privilege the fairy tale or, more precisely, the oral wonder tale as the only type of narrative or the best means by which we communicate our experiences and learn from each other. But it does seem to me that we are predisposed to the fairy tale whether in a book or on a postcard because it tends to offer a metaphorical means through which we can gain distance from our experiences, sort them out, and articulate or enunciate their significance for us and for other people in our environment.

"Pinocchio." From the author's collection.

Nobody -- not even I -- lives their lives by fairy tales. Over hundreds of years they have come to form a linguistic type, a genre, a means by which we seek to understand and contend with our environment, to find our place in it. There are many types, genres, and means of narration. Our predilection for certain fairy tales reveals something about ourselves and our cultures. Every family and society in the world have developed types, genres, and communicative means that produce cultural patterns and enable people to identify themselves and grasp the world around them. Sometimes these communicative means or media have contributed to the formation of spectacles and illusions that prevent us from understanding our empirical experiences.

I prefer to think that fairy-tale postcards, as startling illustrated memes, have flown and continue to fly magically through the air to enlighten us and give us pleasure. Just one look at the unique images printed on the postcards in my book will give you an idea of how much we revere and continue to revere fairy tales.

"Hansel and Gretel." From the author's collection.


Jack Zipes is professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. He is author of more than forty books, including Tales of Wonder: Retelling Fairy Tales through Picture Postcards; The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World; and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Trumping transparency.

King's College London

The words “Trump” and “transparency” don’t often appear together. Administrative transparency isn’t something Trump promised during his campaign, and it hasn’t been on the agenda in the last eight months. Yet the term has turned up in communications from the Trump camp.

In July, referring to the Commission on Election Integrity, Trump claimed that the “voter fraud panel,” as he called it, would be a “very transparent process . . . very open for everybody to see.” The American Civil Liberties Union begs to differ. It has lodged a legal complaint stating that the commission has violated “the non-discretionary transparency and public access requirements” of the Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding “its first meeting without public notice; without making that meeting open to the public; and without timely notice in the Federal Register.” Trump also used the word “transparent” to describe his eldest son’s response to accusations that he had failed to disclose meetings with Russians during the presidential campaign.

These examples suggest that Trump hasn’t fully understood—or has wilfully misunderstood—the meaning of transparency and what it would take, in practice, to achieve it. However, Trump’s attitude toward “transparency” is, as with other elements of his post-truth presidential style, better understood as a particularly brazen and exaggerated version of rhetorics and techniques deployed by his predecessors rather than as a complete aberration.

Barack Obama, for example, campaigned on the issue of transparency, extolling the virtues of open government. And while it is true that the Obama administration implemented a number of government transparency initiatives such as the provision of open government data and White House visitor logs, its triumphal talk of transparency sat uneasily alongside its overzealous invocation of the State Secret Privilege and punitive approach to whistleblowing.

It’s easy to forget now that the Obama administration was often called out for its attachment to secrecy. According to the findings of the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in 2013, reporters from many major media outlets felt that “the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press,” and that the “aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.” According to Margaret Sullivan of the New York Times, the Obama administration was “turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.”

As a transparency skeptic (that is, as a scholar who looks closely at the less-than-transparent practices supposedly intended to promote “transparency,” not as someone opposed to openness as an ideal), I spent a lot of time during Obama’s term in office pointing out the limitations, and sometimes the hypocrisy, of his administration’s evangelism about transparency. In the face of Trump’s continual tactical use of misdirection, obfuscation, and opacity, I can understand the temptation to feel nostalgic for Obama’s (compromised, circumscribed, tarnished) version of transparency. I wonder if the journalists cited in the CPJ report feel nostalgia themselves now that their role has been so suddenly and thoroughly undermined. A tainted transparency is surely better than no transparency at all.

In a sense, that’s obviously right. Trump’s disdain for facts and expertise, and for the role of administrative transparency and the fourth estate in the democratic process, leaves us feeling disorientated and disempowered. But Trump’s contempt for administrative transparency could offer an opportunity to those who seek a relationship between citizens and the state that isn’t determined and delimited by covert data surveillance on the one hand, and open government data initiatives on the other.

At a time when government seems unseen and unchecked, is it possible that if we can hold our nerve, we too could operate in the shadows to conceive a form of data transparency that is fit for purpose: that elicits political subjectivity rather than disavows or curtails it? Such a version of open government data, for example, would have to not only acknowledge that data is never raw by making clear the circumstances of its collection, but also ensure that citizens are equipped to analyze data without reliance on third party mediators. Even more ambitious, could we use this moment to re-imagine both secrecy and openness in ways that might allow for a more progressive, redistributive political settlement? If the current regime teaches us anything, it is surely that securitizing systems like data surveillance seem even more troubling with an unstable, authoritarian leader walking the viewing station at the panopticon; and that open government data needs to be empowering and meaningful.


Clare Birchall is author of Shareveillance: The Dangers of Openly Sharing and Covertly Collecting Data (Minnesota 2017); Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip; and coeditor of New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory. She is senior lecturer at King's College London.