Listening some this week to this recent talk for non-academic audience by Sarah Hammerschlag, professor of religion & literature at the divinity school of note down the street. I’m listening not because I know about Levinas and broader ‘continental thought’ but because, on the whole, I don’t.
Goes together well with Sam Aronow’s history series as developed over the course of this year, roughly — the episode I mention in a longer post a few weeks ago with the rest covering Europe and the challenges of Jewish emancipation in wider Enlightenment, revolution and nationalism contexts. There’s good food for thought, here in Hammerschlag’s snapshot of Levinas in address to Paris Colloques colleagues in the ’60s, about what persists and what doesn’t, what the turn comes to, in the move from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the latter part of the twentieth in European / Western societies.
I’m afraid I generally haven’t found Mike Mignola very interesting on the subject of his own work when I’ve had occasion to read an interview or listen to him talk a bit. It’s a while since I’ve bothered. And I guess the Cartoonist Kayfabe fellas’ chats with comics personalities only have much appeal for me, for various reasons, maybe half the time. As soon as I noticed it, however, this episode with Mignola as guest, run last week, struck me as a promising thing, and in retrospect I can say I don’t think the time taken with it at all a waste. It’s not that he’s really more articulate or penetrating, talking here, than he ever seems to me in address to what he does and to this oddly compelling modest edifice of story material accumulated around the Hellboy character over 25 + years. It’s just that he’s very much at ease with these guys, I expect, and that the conversation maintains good energy wherever it wanders. Together — for the listener who has a degree of familiarity with the territory, at least — they pull off something nicely filled-out and thoughtful.
My slow-progress dwelling on liberal and fascist ways of understanding and producing social / political order in connection with each other has found some juice lately with a series of short online lectures, a public-access version of an ‘American Ideologies’ course for undergrads, given by Pepperdine political philosophy prof. Jason Blakely.
Blakely is visible in circles of my acquaintance in part by way of his criticism of figures of the ‘national conservatism’ gaining notice in the last few years alongside Trump’s rise — as for example in an Oct. 2020 article for Commonweal, ‘The Integralism of Adrian Vermeule,’ where among other things he remarks on Vermeule’s appeals to Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt.
One thing Blakely’s about in this course is introducing the case for, and offering illustration of, an approach to the political drawn from the school of thought he identifies as his own philosophical home, known as hermeneutics — a school strongly associated, it has to be noted, with another Nazi, Martin Heidegger. The Nazis are always close at hand for us, I reflect (with no strong conclusion) in a longer post last year; no running or hiding from them, only confronting. That isn’t Blakely’s subject in these talks, but I would say that calling one another to courage to meet pasts full of ominous meaning is the spirit, at least, of his guidance through a catalog of perhaps falsely familiar terms for speaking of political existences in the modern period. It’s helpful material, prompting rather than settling questions.
Learned last night, courtesy of social-platform feed and a 2-min. CBS news bit from a couple of years ago, below, of the curious fact of the survival deep into the 21st century of grandchildren of John Tyler, single-term U.S. president in the first half of the 1840s. As of this summer, according to Wikipedia, the last of these grandchildren remains with us. His brother died last year, age 95.
Under Tyler, John C. Calhoun — about whose large unwholesome presence in the national life I posted brief items in March and May — held the second top-level federal appointment of his political career, as Secretary of State.
Anyhow, nice occasion for dwelling on something frequently on my mind, expressed in longer posts e.g. last October and in January: our tendency to think of events a century or two removed from the current moment as more distant than probably they really ought to be perceived. Here you have the whole timeframe of existence of the U.S. as a state, from the year after ratification took effect right to present, described in three-lifespan generational sequence within a single family.
Sometime earlier this year the YouTube algorithm plied me with an item from a channel devoted (mostly) to a two-years-running series of short presentations stepping through Jewish history, survey-style, by Sam Aronow, a youngish American-Israeli. I got hooked with the middle ages (Muslim Iberia particularly) and have since listened to all the entries added so far, just jumping around in the timeline a bit according to whim. The pieces get better (which is partly to say longer, the longest at nearly half an hour now) as he’s built the series.
Aronow’s merely whetted my appetite, I guess. Waiting for his next to drop, not long ago, I got to looking for something else in similar vein and was happy to find a channel maintained by an historian at what looks like the top of the arc of a very productive career, Henry Abramson, featuring (alongside other series and a lot of one-offs) a series he names ‘Jewish History Lab,’ covering much the same ground Aronow’s does. In this case, I’ve started at number one and am working through them in order.
Differences between the two men’s perspectives are good for some reflection. Aronow is non-religious and regards Israel, his adopted home, with some ambivalence; he’s moved evidently by fascination with the breadth and peculiar connective-tissue tenacity in a collective Jewish experience diversely realized across centuries and continents. He’s an advocate speaking from strong sense of ethnic identity, certainly, but one conscious, at the same time, of inviting viewers along on a personal journey without clear destination. I find that appealing. Abramson is more straightforwardly a believer, it seems fair to say, as both a religious person and someone committed, from the position of North-American-diaspora and academic-profession security, to an idea of the importance of a somewhat linearly unfolding story of Jewish culture and thought. For me this feels familiar and accessible, which reflects perhaps my relative closeness to Abramson generationally as much as the conservatism of my background.
Both combine passionateness for their subject with caution, a pluralist sensitivity to the difficulties taking it up in public dialogue in our era of shaky Western-Christian world dominance entails.
My phone is a 6-year-old iPhone SE. Battery has been iffy for a while, in recent months acutely so. Not that occasion to be very far from home is common for me these days, but this worry that I’d have to regret being out with no way to charge the thing after a few hours’ sustained use was overdue for being dispelled.
I don’t want — and even if I did, right now couldn’t well afford — to replace the phone. Options naturally include taking it to a local repair operation. I am curious about the market in these services, really, and wouldn’t mind an excuse to become better acquainted. My default path is to tackle a problem like this with my own hands if I can, though, and in this case I did that.
I’ve gone to iFixit for help with issues with my Macs (memory upgrades, say, back when that was still a thing you could do with an Apple product) in past. Don’t recall that I’ve needed to do anything to a phone before. I have to say that I appreciate how developed iFixit’s resources are for somebody in my situation.
Right to Repair has been building steam. It’s a hot topic of the moment — lots of recent published items addressing it. The current White House wants to be associated with it. Better late than never, they say.
Very quickly scratched out sketchbook head of Jack Kirby’s Big Barda from a couple of days ago (prompted by remarkable Russian Artyom Trakhanov’s tweet). Quite like it in spite of sloppiness. I can’t pretend to any great devotion to this or any other comic book character, but Barda is for me on the whole a favored woman superhero of the era. Managed here subtly — by decidedly not thinking hard, I guess — to catch something of what in the character appeals to me. Would be happy to find time to play with this further.
I have to be honest with you guys, I love painting, and I’m completely attached to traditional painting history, but whenever I have the chance to just — not put that to the side, because I think that all of art, all of painting, all of comic books, all of illustration is just one big history, if you really think about it, if you let it be, it’s just one big thing and it’s an amazing place where you can just gather so much information, and you can collect so much knowledge and inspiration, that — whenever I feel that I can tap into the things that I loved when I was a little kid, and that are obviously things that have remained to be true — even though I’m not a comic book artist, even though I’m not an illustrator anymore . . . — when I can combine all the things that I love about the history that I have with these fantastical characters and with amazing visual storytelling and images and illustration: if I can combine all of that into doing paintings like this — oh, I adore this, I think it’s a blessing, I think these are the moments where this doesn’t feel like a job . . . .
(It is a job, feel like it or no. But that’s another conversation.)
It’s a pleasure to listen to Uribe dilate on the various subjects painting leads him to. Watch the whole thing, below, if you have time, or play from the timestamp I’ve set it to start at to hear just the bit transcribed above.
For a barrier-free immersion in what for a large (western) segment of today’s visually-literate media consumers stands as the most resonant chunk of that ‘one big history,’ Manchester UK cartoonist and YouTuber Pete Beard offers hours and hours of material confined, nominally, to the not very cleanly delineable category of illustration, but inevitably folding in all sorts of ‘fine’ and ‘design’ visual arts history as well along the way. As historiography his accounts often leave something to be desired individually, but that’s by no means to suggest that Beard fails in his mission to inform. Unless you’re already a period expert, merely encountering all these contemporaneous ‘golden age’ figures together, many of their once well-known names now long fallen out of currency, will have some intensifying effect on your feeling for the decades of Europe’s over-stretched, warring global dominance and high-industrial-age media-culture profusion. (Beard’s a good deal more relaxing than is Uribe, happily, to listen to at length.)
A significant chunk of my working life this year, since spring, has been devoted to a modest publishing project called Ownership Matters, a biweekly email newsletter and corresponding website ‘for the founders and funders of the emerging solidarity economy.’ I’m in the role of ‘Design / Content Manager’ (a title I gave myself first in connection with Solidarity Hall, from which in some respects, adjacently rather than subordinately, this new project is a development). At some point, I expect, I’ll have more to say about it here. Enough for now to note that it seems to be a project with solid prospects. I’m hopeful for and about it.
CJR’s latest episode of its podcast The Kicker is a conversation with Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose 1619 Project at the NYT two years ago has been such an enduring occasion for foolish right-wing tantrum-throwing and abuse. Appreciating her thoughts here, addressing decisions she made in response to a big-donor-backed push to deny her tenure at UNC this spring, as I continue to ruminate on problems of organizing and re-ordering / re-centering.
This moment felt like a moment that I could — when people were trying to diminish me — that I could come into my power in a very particular way. That, instead of using whatever power I have to force my way into an institution, I could actually use that power in a way that builds up institutions that already exist to support people like me and students who are like I was. And to send, really, a message. You know, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that reading all of the things that Walter Hussman, the wealthy donor who I think obviously had some influence over what happened with my tenure situation, was saying about the type of journalism I do, what he considers the right way to do journalism — which I’ve long disavowed. It helped me understand that maybe my role was more than just teaching kids in a predominantly white school journalism in a classroom; that there needed to be a larger push-back and a larger effort to weigh in on the values of our profession and what should be our higher calling in this moment.
Someone told me, ‘It seems like the most powerful message you could have sent was to go to Duke.’ I actually think that would have been less of a powerful message, and the most powerful message is to say: At some point we have to stop deriving — as Black Americans, as members of marginalized groups — we have to stop deriving our power from these institutions.
The story of Birobidzhan resonates for Gessen because, born in Moscow in 1967, she grew up in a Soviet Union in which this dream had long been immolated and Jewishness was only a negative signifier — the school she could not attend, the job she could never have, the experience, she says, of ‘non-belonging.’ When her family decided to try and emigrate in the 1970s, she was thrust back into the same thinking about Jewish options that dominated the lives of Dubnow and Bergelson. There was Israel, an ideologically pure choice that appealed to her twelve-year-old self, and the West, which offered the possibility of normalcy, of no longer identifying as different, disappearing, and which appealed to her parents.
What she no longer had, the option that does not exist today, is Birobidzhan. The actual place, the experiment, was a mess. And on a visit in 2009, Gessen found that its Jewish character had long ago been trampled out of existence. Birobidzhan clearly teaches us not to count on dictators for autonomy. What they give, they can take away. It is a lesson that contains in it the rationale for Zionism, and a pretty convincing one.
Gessen doesn’t arrive at this conclusion herself, probably because, like many Jews, she prefers to inhabit a kind of Birobidzhan of the mind — a Jewish identity that resembles nationalism but with an allegiance not to flag or army but to culture and language, not to religion as faith but as the bearer of a long written tradition of thought and disputation and storytelling.
‘Prefers to inhabit a Birobidzhan of the mind,’ Gessen says in the talk in the video below, might be the highest compliment anyone’s ever paid them.
I’ve been (re-)listening to Timothy Snyder’s many recorded lectures on the Bloodlands and Black Earth themes / theses a good deal since posting the longer item here in May, and that’s led me to listening to Gessen as well.
Currently mid-way into the book (in audio format, via Scribd), put out by Schocken in 2016.
Something further — see brief item of March 30 — on John C. Calhoun, that peculiar(ly important) figure of the seven short decades between establishment of the U.S. as a nation and the conflict between South and North, known here as the Civil War, that redefined it.
To be clear, this is an episode much more about the twentieth century than the nineteenth, as you’d expect of Know Your Enemy. But it illuminates helpfully Calhoun’s significance as a theorist and shaper of American modernity.
A comment left this morning by my friend Laura on the last of these brief-item posts has had me revisiting two summer-of-COVID episodes of the Digiday podcast today, interviews with The Dispatch CEO Steve Hayes and Defector operations VP Jasper Wang — separately on the show to talk about their quite differently politics-oriented internet-based publications’ remarkably similar business schemes.
I’ve given a good deal more attention to Defector than to The Dispatch in the past year or so. But there’s no denying that the latter’s case lends the former’s a degree of the vividness and weight it has for me and (I suppose) many others right now, both of them read as phenomena of the moment’s ‘great media unbundling.’
It’s an especially curious thing to hear Hayes speaking, without trace of irony, from the position of a smaller market player concerned to protect the work he’s become invested in from destructive forces hyperconcentration in the financial order generates. Digiday host Morrissey’s repetitions of the expression notwithstanding, Hayes and crew are in no meaningful way ‘small-c conservatives.’ In respect to policy, these guys are simple ideologues of unrestrained capital. They share with a Paul Ryan the dream of a world where everything outside the bounds of an arbitrarily-conceived, always unstable space of ‘the private’ is reducible to commodity — ideal that a recently rising, no less dangerous modern U.S. right has taken, with good justification, to attacking as ‘dead consensus’ American conservatism. (Conflict much on my mind these days.)
Without quite acknowledging the trend they’re part of, these same embattled (for branding purposes, at least) Reagan-Thatcher-gospel believers are building something of a cooperative media enterprise together. It sure is interesting.
‘The impressive thing is the range of conversations he maintains, the catbird-seat view of a diverse and sometimes precipitously-changing small industry with outsize cultural impact. People do just like to talk to him, plainly enough, but I think he enjoys the wide respect and gets to pull so much story together, working alone, in large part because he’s built the thing out in a manifestly serious way. Not just being a swell fellow that’s earned all that trust. Anyway, for my part, this is what I’d love to hear him have occasion to talk about — building that up (and where he thinks he might go with it, insofar as the question applies).’
That’s from my note to Simon Owens suggesting that he invite David Harper, the guy who runs online comics journal SKTCHD and hosts linked weekly podcast Off Panel, to be a guest on his (previously mentioned) podcast The Business of Content.
Well, connection was made, and I indeed got to hear them have that chat. This was a couple of weeks ago, in fact; I’ve just been too busy to get in a post about it here.
There’s a degree of purely private satisfaction for me in listening to them talk, naturally. But it’s good to have a glimpse of Harper’s project through Owens’ viewfinder. Harper is maybe a little unusual as subject for Owens’ journalism — certainly not among the bigger media-pond fish he tackles, anyway. The total media marketplace in our digital age, though, obviously includes an awful lot of strictly organically-conceived and -grown, personality-driven ‘niche’ work that may well only ever amount to modest businesses. Harper’s is what I’d call a sweet example (as also in many respects is Owens’, for that matter). I know I’m far from alone in finding this layer of market ecosystem fascinating matter.
The immediately previous post might lead someone to guess that when it comes to political and economic alternatives, I’m only about the ‘third-way.’ That isn’t really true. I am wary of labels, but I’d be happy to be thought of as a socialist on some understandings of the word, especially if what can be called the ‘early socialism’ of two centuries ago is acknowledged as viable tradition. I’d much rather be lumped in with the left than the right, generally, if we’re being sloppy about it.
This post isn’t for sorting out my views on anything, though, it’s just for observing that the DSA — of which I’m not a member — holds an event on religion and socialism this Saturday and Sunday. (I only learned of it over the weekend.)
Presenters are to include representatives of the DSA Muslim Caucus. I think of this and the previous post as complementaries to a degree.
‘Yes, well, I’m neither capitalist nor socialist, I’m …’
In the circles I’ve moved in, the word you’d expect to follow is ’Catholic.’ The Catholics I know often readiest with something of a developed identity and a line of argument in this vein regard themselves as advocates of distributism, a term with some popularity a century ago, in the English-speaking world particularly, through the influence of G K Chesterton in association with his friend, Manchester M.P. Hilaire Belloc. If you know a bit about the history here, the term’s associations may be troubling. (It’s partly from acquaintance with this history over about a decade now that my own concerns about the problem of pinning down fascism have gradually grown.)
But it’s far from true that such a ‘neither capitalist nor socialist’ preface must come from a Christian perhaps on the slippery slope to one of the many forms of fascistic Western-civilizationism. The world’s more complicated than that.
I’m excited lately about a new podcast called Re-Envision Business, hosted by U.K.-based Sheeza Shah, whose roles include heading operations for the international anti-inequity business network Zebras United. For her most recent guest, Umar Nasser, it’s ‘I’m neither capitalist nor socialist, I’m a Muslim.’ Check out their conversation, which ended up long enough that it had to be presented in two parts.
(Update: See also the post that follows this one.)
Ed Piskor & Jim Rugg, the Cartoonist Kayfabe guys, play host to notable cartoon collector and SPX exec director Warren Bernard in their YouTube chats of the past week. I’m highlighting one here, their ~20-min. review of the history of the publishing business’s long-conventionalized but never very usefully defined category of the ‘graphic novel,’ illustrated with items from Bernard’s collection. You can learn plenty just by visiting Wikipedia’s page on the subject, but this is more fun.
Fueling my ruminations about liberal and fascist forms of social & political order in familial relation, lately, has been Robert Elder’s new biography of John C. Calhoun (1782 – 1850) of South Carolina. Reading the book itself will have to wait, in my case, sadly. Till then, getting to know Elder’s subject and thesis a bit in his own words isn’t hard to do.
I first learned about the book from Elder’s friend and mine, my Solidarity Hall associate Elias Crim. One of the links below is Elder’s conversation with Elias and co-host Pete Davis for Solidarity Hall’s Dorothy’s Place podcast. It’s good.
Until pretty recently, the conventional story about slavery and the states in accelerating conflict in America’s 19th century has set an industrially and societally progress-oriented North opposite a tradition-anchored agrarian South in relatively tidy contrast. That story is itself increasingly folded into subsequent period history now, a new consensus view replacing it. Elder’s Calhoun develops this view and offers, among other things, a sharpened picture of the U.S. alongside its variously urgently-modernizing European sister polities.
Calhoun’s America is a large subject, needless to say. Each conversation here draws out something different in Elder’s approach to it.
It shows how little on top of things I manage to stay that I wasn’t aware, until yesterday, of podcast (and Denver-Boulder-area radio show) Looks Like New, produced by U. Colorado Boulder’s MEDLab, which is directed by somebody I’m happy to know a little bit, Nathan Schneider. If I’d been listening to this show since it’s been on, I’d have known, for instance, of Ampled when I wrote about work and organizing in December. I might’ve learned about Ampled elsewhere, too, were I sharper-eyed, as they’ve gotten some decent press in the past year.
Ampled is a platform-cooperativist project in the vein of Comradery, designed to offer the services of a Patreon but on an altogether different model, one in which the service’s users are its owners. And this one’s up and running, serving a modest but growing number of musicians.
Check out Nathan’s interview with Ampled co-founder Austin Robey. These things aren’t easy to put together (as the Comradery team’s effort toward a yet-to-be-announced launch attests), but it’s well beyond concept at this stage. It’s being done.
CBLDF, the 35-year-old U.S. advocacy org for expression rights in comics publishing, appears to be emerging on its feet from a year in which it faced not only COVID’s wild effects on comics-connected commerce and consumption but a dramatic #metoo-spurred shakeup. Two February webinar events, styled as member meetings, are available for viewing on the org’s site and its YouTube channel. (Another, apparently open to all, is set for Mar. 25.) Both seem to me good for appreciating the state of an industry undergoing a lot of change on a lot of levels. The second, ‘Comics After COVID,’ appeals to me more particularly as something of a snapshot of the business as ecosystem of small-scale producers extensively interdependent and increasingly attentive to a common task of cultivation.
‘When people invest at an early stage in a tech startup, usually they’re looking for an exit. Right? They’re looking for the company to sell, to IPO, to be acquired. And cooperatives really are going in a different direction. The goal is to create long-term ownership within that community, whether that community is workers or consumers or farmers or musicians. We’re not trying to sell the company. We’re trying to bring that company wealth and voice. … Basing the investment returns on appreciation of stock price is really different. So, instead, generally our investments have to be repaid out of actual company cash. … And so, you have to act like a real company. You have to actually generate cash in the business and profits in the business in order to pay back investors. And we don’t think that’s crazy, and neither do our investors.’
Start.coop is about rediscovering the business growth potential of cooperatives in N. America in the 21st-century. Co-directors Greg Brodsky and Jessica Mason explain in this 20-min. interview episode.
Another item on the organizing media freelancers theme — this one a little in advance of the date, for a change. Representatives of the National Writers Union’s Freelance Solidarity Project (of which I’m a member) and the venerable IWW’s Freelance Journalist Union hold a joint online event this coming Tuesday, Mar. 9, titled ‘The Case for Solidarity.’
The shortest month is behind us, but as PW Comics World editor and More To Come co-host Calvin Reid says, ‘We do [Black History] all the time.’ Well, I can’t claim to, maybe. But I am going to note that this week’s More To Come show goes nicely with previous brief item of Jan. 20. Reid talks to the three-person team behind a new graphic-novel account of an unjustly obscure episode of the federal-govt.-enforced — and notoriously short-lived — political overhaul of the American South in the aftermath of 1860s war, with focus on the life on its central figure, Oscar Dunn.
I’ve been a listener to Simon Owens’ Business of Content podcast for a couple of years at least. I don’t get in every show, a lot of his material being outside my zone of more immediate concern, but if anything, I’d wish to spend more time with what he produces.
In November, Owens did an interview that dealt a good deal with Defector, the ex-Deadspin-staffer project figuring in my Dec. 9 ramble here. An interesting conversation, to be sure, but doesn’t go so much to where my thoughts were tending in that post. A more recent interview, up a little over a week ago, does, on the other hand. The guest is Mark Stenberg, whom I hadn’t been aware of but whose stuff I expect I’ll be paying some regular attention to.
Owens’ and Stenberg’s conversation doesn’t get anywhere close to the big question of economic transformation, to be clear. But it’s very interesting still for approaching and naming, in a context where base assumptions are pretty straightforwardly capitalist, problems of ownership and equity. I recommend a listen.
Also recommend checking out Stenberg’s newsletter ‘Medialyte,’ currently paywall-free. His most recent, Mar. 3, is a sort of retrospective intro to the ‘creator economy.’ I’m wary of where the expression seems to lead, I think — something I’ll have to come back to — but I guess we’re going to get used to hearing it.
When I wrote that rambly December post to do with media & publishing, labor conflicts, ‘alternative economics,’ &c., I was unaware of something immediately relevant then in (or close to) inception: a project to convene people, semi-formally, who are dealing with or exploring journalism business and cooperative organization. It’s called simply the News Co-op Study Group. Its only representation on the web right now, as far as I know, is the wiki site indicated below. I was able to join the group’s third session last week. Chances are good that I’ll have more to say about this in future.
Darrell Reimer, online friend of many years, is a great source of provocation and encouragement — by way of example — to keep consideration of the various Christianities of one’s experience (not necessarily to be read ‘adherence’) fresh. Something he gave only glancing mention to over the summer, an L.A. Review look at Tom Holland’s recent popular treatment of Western history as Christian history, has been particularly productive for me in the last couple of months, albeit in a funny sort of indirect way. Having Holland’s book’s appearance on the brain led me to borrowing it from the library (I have it next to me now, renewed several times if still, I confess, mostly unread). Having Holland’s book at hand made me more than perhaps usually attentive when my girlfriend mentioned that her dad was by coincidence just then reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s popular history of Christianity. I’d never read MacCulloch (nor watched the hit BBC series based on that book), so I got to looking into him a bit. That led me to his 2012 Gifford lectures (also tied to a book). I’ve taken in those six talks now several times — he’s great to listen to, obviously finds some real delight in the form — and moved on since to the audio version (via Scribd) of his history of the Reformation / Counter-reformation period in Europe.
Matt and Sam ask, ‘Did it happen here?’ — the ‘it’ in question being fascism, of course. Verging on the glib, maybe, but don’t let that put you off. As usual, they really dive in.
In a nice coincidence last week, I came via ‘social’ to learn about two cases of prominent figures of ‘Reconstruction’-era Black American history whose stories are being told by descendants — the first (below) via Nate’s work bringing attention to Black Catholic experience, the second accidentally, by way of unrelated search inquiry.
Cashin, I want to note, objects, mildly and very reasonably, to Politico’s choice of title.