Feelings of Structure

How places, objects, fantasies, histories, and memories get under our skin and how we understand their affective connections.


Sweatsuits and the apocalypse, the demands of a sofa, a life recalled through window frames, whale watching through cancer, the serendipity of geographical names … in Feelings of Structure, these are just some of the spaces and places, memories, and experiences addressed by the authors in writings that are multilevel explorations of the tangled-up nature of feeling and structure.

Inspired by Raymond Williams’s classic essay “Structures of Feeling” and influenced by the current discussion of affect studies, this collection inverts Williams’s influential concept to explore the ephemerality of feeling as working in concert with the grounding forces of materiality and history.

Feelings of Structure is a collection of twelve original texts that explores the weight of diverse encounters with a variety of configurations, be they institutional, spatial, historical, or fantastical. Featuring writers from a range of disciplines, this book aims for textual evocation in subject matter and approach, with essays that encompass multiple methodologies, writing styles, and tones.


Much looking forward to this unusual set of writings, out this fall from McGill-Queens University Press.  Contributors include Craig Campbell, Michael Daroch, Lindsey Freeman, Christien Garcia, Mark Jackson, Adam Lauder, Adam Kaasa, Kimberly Mair, Lee Rodney, Joey Russo, and Lesley Stern.  More details and pre-order here.


archive fever

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The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has acquired more than 150 boxes of papers, photographs, pamphlets and other material that span Angela Davis’s life.

Professor Davis’s archive, reports the New York Times, “ranges from her childhood in segregated Birmingham, Ala., where she was born in 1944 to activist parents; to her studies with the Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse (who recalled her as his most brilliant student); to her more recent activism with groups like Critical Resistance, the prison-abolition advocacy group she helped found in 1997.”

The archive also includes the typescript of Davis’ 1974 autobiography, complete with handwritten queries and comments from her editor, Toni Morrison.

“Its richest vein concerns the tumultuous period that began in 1969, when then Gov. Ronald Reagan ordered [Davis] fired from her teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles, because of her Communist Party membership, before she had even taught her first class …

In 1970, she was charged with murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy charges after guns she had purchased were used in an attack on the Marin County Courthouse that was aimed at liberating the Soledad Brothers, but instead left four people, including the attacker, dead.  The trial that followed — in which Professor Davis participated in her own defense — sparked an international campaign, turning ‘Free Angela’ into a global rallying cry.”

And today, nearly half a century on, a white supremacist sits in the White House and the prisons are fuller than ever with black bodies.  Progress, y’all.


field notes from liberal America

Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church

“Long before Trump came along to capitalise on it, Islamophobia was building in the US, bubbling up like swamp gas from the depths. Often, racial conflict would manifest itself in small, seemingly isolated local planning fights over proposals to build mosques …

There is, literally, an anti-mosque playbook. Tactics were once unwritten, spread through websites and word of mouth, but more recently they were set down in a book titled Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight. Written a Texas attorney, it was published by the Center for Security Policy, an organisation headed by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who has long espoused the theory that Muslims are engaged in a secret plot to impose sharia law on the US. Gaffney writes in the book’s introduction that it is a ‘how-to manual for patriotic Americans who are ready to counter the leading edge of Islamic supremacism.'”

Well-researched, informative, and decidedly chilling long read from the Guardian.


field notes from Trump country

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“Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they’ve identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

‘This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,’ says Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist involved in the study.

‘We’ve gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen,’ he said.

The clinics are operated by Stone Mountain Health Services and assess and treat coal miners mostly from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, a region that includes what have historically been some of the most productive coalfields in the country …

PMF, or complicated black lung, encompasses the worst stages of [pneumoconiosis], which is caused by inhalation of coal and silica dust at both underground and surface coal mines.

Miners gradually lose the ability to breathe, as they wheeze and gasp for air … Lung transplants are the only cure, and they’re possible only when miners are healthy enough to qualify.”

Beautiful, clean coal.


Polish. Death. Camps.

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BBC reports that “Poland’s Senate has approved a bill making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.  The bill provides that ‘whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.’

President Andrzej Duda says Poland has the right ‘to defend historical truth.'”

Alternative facts, anybody?


 

little local library

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Heartening to read that while President Erdogan fires academics and imprisons journalists, “Turkish garbage collectors in the country’s capital city of Ankara have opened a public library that is full of books that were originally destined to be put into landfill. The workers began collecting discarded books and opened the new library in the Çankaya district of Ankara. News of the library has spread and now people have begun donating books directly to the library, rather than throwing them away.

As CNN reports, the library was originally created for the use of the employees’ friends and family but, as it grew in size, the library was officially opened to the public in September of last year …  The library now has over 6,000 fiction and non-fiction books and includes a children’s section, an area dedicated to scientific research books, and a number of English and French language books for those who are bilingual.”

Eerily reminiscent of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

 

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“STOP immigrants and Drahoš. This land is ours! Vote Zeman.” Election posters all over the Czech Republic, January 2018.

“This is the order of the moment for every one of us, it is the historical task of our generation … Our new republic cannot be built as anything other than a purely national state, a state of only Czechs and Slovaks and of nobody other than Czechs and Slovaks! Although our land is beautiful, fertile, rich, it is small and there is no room in it for anybody other than us … Every one of us must help in the cleansing of the homeland.” Prokop Drtina, Minister of Justice in postwar Czechoslovak National Front Government, 17 May 1945.

The Bohemian Germans of whom Drtina wanted the homeland “cleansed” had lived in the Czech Lands of Bohemia and Moravia since they were invited in by Czech kings in the 13th century.  The chronicle of František Pražský, written in the 1340s, records that as early as 1315 Czech lords complained of “these foreigners who are in the kingdom,” requesting instead that the king favor “us, who were born in the kingdom …”

Six hundred years later Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald echoed the lords’ complaint in Brno on 23 June 1945, denouncing “the mistakes of our Czech kings, the Přemyslids, who invited the German colonists here” and demanding that Czechs expel “once and for ever beyond the borders of our land … an element hostile to us.”

Between 1945 and 1946 over three million Bohemian Germans (and thousands of Hungarians) were forcibly expelled from Czechoslovakia.  At least 15,000 people, and probably many more, perished in one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing in 20th-century Europe.  Czechs made up 70% of the population of the Czech Lands of Bohemia and Moravia—the present-day Czech Republic—in 1939.  In 1950 they made up 94%.

The Sudetenland was resettled by Czechs and Slovaks, who showed their gratitude by voting in huge numbers for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the elections of 1946.  To this day, the region remains one of the most desolate and depressed parts of the country.  Needless to say the former Sudetenland voted heavily for Zeman in the election of 2013 (in which, astonishingly, the events of 1945-6 became a major issue between Zeman and his liberal opponent Karel Schwarzenberg) and again in 2018.

As I said in my previous post, history is never past.


 

PS.  Before the war Prokop Drtina was a prominent member of the National Socialist Party who became Edvard Beneš’s personal secretary and confidant.   He was a member of the London-based Czechoslovak government-in-exile, familiar to Czechs from his BBC radio wartime broadcasts as Pavel Svatý.  He went on to become one of the “bourgeois ministers” in Klement Gottwald’s communist-led coalition government, whose collective resignation in February 1948 precipitated the coup d’état that led to 42 years of communism in Czechoslovakia.  Drtina unsuccessfully attempted suicide three days later and was imprisoned until 1960.  Later he became a signatory of the dissidents’ Charter 77.  He died in 1980, with no end of communist rule in sight.  His autobiography, published by the émigré publishing house 68 Publishers in Toronto in 1982 and in Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1991, is called Czechoslovakia My Fate.

 

Down the memory hole

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“Thousands of government papers detailing some of the most controversial episodes in 20th-century British history have vanished after civil servants removed them from the country’s National Archives and then reported them as lost.

Documents concerning the Falklands war, Northern Ireland’s Troubles and the infamous Zinoviev letter – in which MI6 officers plotted to bring about the downfall of the first Labour government – are all said to have been misplaced.  […]

A few years earlier, the Ministry of Defence refused to consider a number of files for release under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that they may have been exposed to asbestos.

The files concerned such matters as arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UK special forces operations against Indonesia and interrogation techniques.”


 

and back up again, with 180 degree twist

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“BORNHAGEN, Germany — No one in the village saw it coming, least of all Björn Höcke, a quiet and well-liked local father of four who also happens to be Germany’s most notorious far-right politician.

Last January, at a rally in Dresden, Mr. Höcke questioned the guiding precept of modern Germany — the country’s culpability in World War II and the Holocaust — calling on Germans to make a “180 degree” turn in the way they viewed their history.

Germans were “the only people in the world to plant a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” he said, referring to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin.

And then, one recent Wednesday morning, Mr. Höcke woke up in his rural home to find the Holocaust memorial outside his bedroom window: 24 rectangular concrete slabs, one section of the original monument, rebuilt to scale on the property immediately neighboring his.

The only difference: The slabs had been rotated 180 degrees.”


 

these people

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I even pretended years ago to be an African, a half-caste African, but because of my light eyes I did not get away with it, but I dyed my hair black.

I had this adventure with these absolutely adorable, special people and to call me racist: it’s a knife through the heart because I really love these people.”

“Princess Michael of Kent” was born Marie-Christine von Reibnitz in Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic in January 1945.  Her father Baron Günther Hubertus von Reibnitz joined the Nazi Party in 1930 and became a member of the SS Cavalry Corps in 1933.  Apple didn’t fall far from the Sudetenland tree.


 

The ungrateful refugee: ‘We have no debt to repay’

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“In many of the classes I’ve taught, my quietest kids have been Middle Eastern. I’m always surprised by this, since the literature I choose should resonate most with them, since I’m an Iranian teacher, their ally, since the civilised world yearns for their voices now. Still, they bristle at headlines about the refugee crisis that I flash on the screen, hang their heads, and look relieved when the class is finished. Their silence makes me angry, but I understand why they don’t want to commit to any point of view. Who knows what their universe looks like outside my classroom, what sentiments they’re expected to display in order to be on the inside.

Still, I want to show those kids whose very limbs apologise for the space they occupy, and my own daughter, who has yet to feel any shame or remorse, that a grateful face isn’t the one they should assume at times like these. Instead they should tune their voices and polish their stories, because the world is duller without them – even more so if they arrived as refugees. Because a person’s life is never a bad investment, and so there are no creditors at the door, no debt to repay. Now there’s just the rest of life, the stories left to create, all the messy, greedy, ordinary days that are theirs to squander.”

A stunningly sad, beautiful, angry essay by the Iranian-American writer Dina Nayeri.


 

Why do stars like Adele keep losing their voice?

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“On 1 July, when news broke of Adele’s cancellations, Paglin sent me a Whatsapp message. She was frustrated by the press coverage. Recalling that Adele’s original surgery in 2011 had proved to be a huge PR victory for vocal-cord microsurgery, she worried that the message from Adele’s latest setback would be that, not to worry, a second or third surgery will get the star back on stage. “What makes matters worse is that the ‘mechanics’ are still convinced that all there is to it is to keep operating, while the singers themselves still talk about air travel, drafts, allergies and ‘stress’. #elephantintheroom could be a good hashtag,” she wrote, referring to what is wrong, as she sees it, with how people are taught to sing in the first place.”

One more for the demented imbeciles of progress.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


 

 

 

 

European right-wing leaders meet in Prague, slam EU and immigration

Le Pen in Prague

Marine Le Pen insisted that none of the parties were xenophobic. “We like diversity.  I like the Dutch to be Dutch, I like the Czech to be Czechs, I like the French to be French, I like the Italians to be Italian.”  A priceless photograph.


 

An everyday story of country folk

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Field Farm fisheries, near Bicester in Oxfordshire, England, which describes itself as “picturesque, tranquil and an idyllic setting” with an “extensively stocked” lake for leisure anglers, has put up a sign saying “No vehicle access. No Polish or eastern bloc fishermen allowed. No children or dogs.”  Nuff said.


 

Puerto Rico Sketchbook: There Are Dead in the Fields

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“A cantastoria is a vagabond fusion of art and music, so old it turns up all over the world.  In each set, a performer displays an illustrated scroll, then, while pointing to each image with a stick, tells a story in song.  The cantastoria first developed in India as a way for itinerant performers to bring the legends of gods from door to door. By the time it hit Central Europe in the sixteenth century, it had mutated away from its sacred roots into a wandering carny show of sex, crime, and political sedition.

After the hurricane, the Puerto Rican puppetry collective Papel Machete created a new cantastoria: Solidarity and Survival for our Liberation …”

Excerpts from artist Molly Crabapple’s sketchbook of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria


 

Sarah Mullally appointed bishop of London

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“Tony Robinson, bishop of Wakefield and chairman of Forward in Faith which does not accept women’s ordination, said Mullally’s appointment in a diocese where so many people rejected the ministry of women would result in ‘a deeper impairment of communion.'”


 

An Intimate History of America

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Voodoo Guitar “Marie” made by Don Moser with debris from Hurricane Katrina

“Exhibitions like these invested me in the museum not only because they tell the story of black America but because they insist that the story of black America is indeed the story of America itself.”

PhD candidate Clint Smith on a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


 

This is an Op-Ed piece I wrote for CEE New Perspectives, the companion blog of the academic journal New Perspectives which is published by the Institute of International Relations (IIR) in Prague.  I reproduce it here with permission.

http://ceenewperspectives.iir.cz/2016/01/08/prejudice-hysteria-and-a-failure-of-political-leadership-of-refugees-and-november-17-in-prague/

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