Rarity in George Eliot

The Stamp of Rarity: Ancestrality and Extinction in Daniel Deronda

by JULIÁN JIMÉNEZ HEFFERNAN

The essay begins:

In chapter 40 of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda we learn that the title character’s “more exquisite” quality lies in his “keenly perceptive sympathetic emotiveness,” his “profound sensibility to a cry from the depths of another.” Earlier on, Deronda is said to have “the stamp of rarity in a subdued fervor of sympathy, an activity of imagination on behalf of others” (178). This is not a casual trope. Deronda is extolled for being “receptive instead of superciliously prejudging,” and “receptiveness” is described as “a rare and massive power” (492). The terms rare and rarity recur in the novel, denoting what is very uncommon or unusually fine. As a modifier, rare is almost invariably paired with the nouns of Jewish singularity—moral “receptiveness” (496), vocal-physiognomic “perfection,” verbal “quality” (809), and “visionary excitement” (513). By the time Gwendolen realizes that her feelings have turned Daniel “into a sort of trust less rare than the fidelity that guards it” (430), the suggestion that moral redemption presupposes rarity is simply overbearing. The rationale of the polysemy is catachrestic because scarcity connotes value. The rare item is precious because its limited currency eludes the wider circulation of commodified objects and persons in liberal-capitalist society:

To save an unhappy Jewess from drowning herself, would not have seemed a startling variation among police reports; but to discover in her so rare a creature as Mirah, was an exceptional event which might well bring exceptional consequences. (378; emphasis mine)

Like the jewels bartered back and forth by the novel’s characters (Gwendolen, the pawnbroker, Daniel, Grandcourt, Lydia), something rare is valuable because it is ontologically unlikely: its ancestrality attests to the value of survival, and its exposure to the risk of extinction folds back on the value. However temporarily coopted by wider trade orbits, the jewels remain an intractable, inassimilable surplus. And so do Deronda’s Jews, always on the brink of an excessive, sacrificial, and sublime self-waste. Even the renegade Baruch Spinoza got “his crust by a quiet handicraft” (472) in lens-grinding before completing his Ethics. The jewels: the Jews: their stamp of rarity.

The contention that “receptiveness is a rare . . . power” involves a twofold implication: first, that receptiveness is a power, and second, that receptiveness is rare. Mesmerized by the range of hermeneutic possibility that the concept of sympathy affords, Eliot’s critics have addressed the former implication while neglecting the latter. Predictably, then, the response to Daniel Deronda has been spellbound by the shine of a familiar faculty (moral sympathy) that, because in principle unrare in Eliot’s narrative world, seems in little need of special examination. Indeed, the near scientific symmetries of a plot conceivably modeled upon the Goethean allegoresis of elective affinities reinforce the impression that everything in the story depends on moral relatedness. On the one hand we have the English characters, with the rich Grandcourt at the extreme of emotional stolidity. Then comes Gwendolen Harleth, an ungenerous dweller in “the border-territory of rank” (Deronda, 23) who marries Grandcourt to allay social anxiety. This doesn’t prevent her from cultivating an interest in Daniel, the character that occupies the novel’s central position. Daniel enjoys the best of both worlds: groomed impeccably as an English gentleman, he can also boast of “the keenly perceptive sympathetic emotiveness” that, in the novel’s logic, belongs to the Jews. Because, it turns out, he is also a Jew. On the other hand we have Mirah and Mordecai—Deronda’s Jews—which I designate as such to distinguish them from the common, money-minded, shop-keeping Hebrews also present in a novel where, let me recall, “there are Ezras and Ezras” (567). Mordecai is placed at the extreme, in figurative opposition to Grandcourt, whom he never meets. He is a concentrated, unproductive version of Jewish rarity: the passionate man who sacrifices his life to dig up the historical grounds of his people’s moral superiority. Grandcourt and Mordecai are both unrealistic, near Dickensian characters who belong in the world of romance (if not romantic farce): significantly, both die before the tale comes to a close. Between Mordecai and Deronda stands Mirah, Mordecai’s sister, a destitute Jewish girl, in a position of structural equivalence to Gwendolen. Like the English girl, she is saved by Deronda and falls in love with him. Unlike Gwendolen, she becomes the object of Deronda’s favor. The end of the novel describes their wedding and trip to Palestine to start a new life devoted to the construction of the nation of Israel.

The value of the central characters (Gwendolen, Daniel) is a measure of their ability to relate to characters standing—or seeming to stand—across the Gentile-Jew divide. Understandably, critics have been less interested in the dynamics of that ability than in the origin and function of Eliot’s sympathy toward the Jews. This sympathy most critics take for granted. I argue, however, that the overdetermined specificity of the cultural-ethnic division dramatized in Deronda forces Eliot to depart from the more generic-universal treatment of moral sympathy at work in her other narratives. And she certainly knows it: “Nothing is here narrated of human nature generally” (Deronda, 91). It forces her to realize, somewhere in her narrative unconscious, that sympathy is a passion not exclusively based on receptivity (the ability to receive the other), since it also depends on the givenness of the other. And her novel, I contend, construes the Jew as a poorly given, if not ungiven, alterity. The reason for Jewish ungivenness is rarity, a quality that stands in direct proportion to receptivity within the group: the higher your receptivity to those of your group (race, nation), the less chance you have of being received—even by the people inside the group whom you are most willing to receive. The “unpleasant” grabbing of Deronda’s arm, an action performed twice, first by the white-bearded Joseph Kalonymos in the Frankfort synagogue (368) and second by the consumptive Mordecai in the secondhand bookshop (387), testifies to the dilemma of ethnical-cultural asynchronicity and moral interruption that my article sets out to explore. The fact that rarity is bound up thematically and rhetorically with the parallel notions of ancestrality and extinction calls for biological considerations that Eliot may have discovered, as I will argue, in Charles Darwin. But insofar as these notions (ancestrality and extinction) map out a deep time without human time, Eliot’s depiction of Jewish rarity in Deronda raises the kind of metaphysical challenge that Immanuel Kant aimed to meet in his first Critique: What is the ontological status of nonhuman time? And what kind of epistemic (narrative, rhetorical) processing does it demand?

My attention to the rhetorical effects of this thematic focus on rarity may result in a corrective to standard accounts of George Eliot’s philo-Semitism. Although this is not the primary goal of my article, I do not disown it as a hermeneutic corollary. The fact that readers with a stake in Eliot’s philo-Semitism unfailingly overlook the existence of deconstructive approaches to the novel shows that disregard for the novel’s complex rhetorical texture can foster belief in versions of Eliot as a utopian ideologue, a champion of either proto-Zionism or cosmopolitanism. My interpretation, by contrast, draws on extant deconstructive and rhetorically focused readings of Daniel Deronda by critics such as Cynthia Chase, Catherine Gallagher, and Ian Duncan and yet seeks to reach beyond them by putting into play the metaphysical question of time that instigates the rhetorical-narrative processing of temporality.

When Deronda’s friend Hans Meyrick boasts that “there is really little difference between me and—Maimonides” (642) he is wrong in ways that go beyond—and against—his intended irony. In the novel’s moral-lexical economy, difference-making rarity is the exclusive property of the Jewish people. But they pay a great price for this distinction. They reach the present from an immemorial past—David Kaufmann has stressed “the enigma of their marvelous preservation”—and have limited hope of reaching the future. Compared to some of the substantial English people dwelling in the novel’s present, they seem hardly real. The figural etymology of rare underpins this unreality. Since the mid-fifteenth century, the adjective rare has meant both “unusual” and “thin, airy, porous.” The more specific implication of rare as “few in number and widely separated, sparsely distributed, seldom found,” can be traced back, via Old French rere (“sparse”), to the Latin rarus, meaning “thinly sown, having a loose texture; not thick; having intervals between.” Thus Jewishness and rarity concur in a shared implication of dissemination or diaspora. Thinly sown, airy, and scattered, Deronda’s Jews are inexorably disembedded, whence their paradoxical status as archaic ultramoderns. They roam the narrative as dialectical images of an Urgeschichte (prehistory) whose discrepancy in and for the present might harbor a utopian future. Alienated from the English community, they also risk losing touch with their related particulars: Deronda nearly missing Mirah, Deronda on the verge of discounting Mordecai, Mirah close to overlooking her family, Deronda, of course, forgone by his mother. The existence of these singularities is, moreover, steadily encircled by a void. If their future is dizzily open, their past is a riddle and a mire. Daniel, described at one point as a “yearning disembodied spirit” (365), ignores his origins; Mirah flees from them and attempts suicide; Mordecai tumbles into them and dies. Remote and obscure like Mordecai, elusive and unfocused like Daniel, fragile and fugitive like Mirah, these Jews cherish nonetheless a gift—a rare talent—of moral receptiveness that is at odds with the utilitarian lifestyle of most of the English. Hence the paradox: the differential aspect (the stamp of rarity) that deepens their unrelation—with the English, at least—is precisely their ability to relate, their extraordinary receptivity. This doesn’t mean that the problem is an English incapacity to receive them. In the novel this is less a problem than a fact. The problem—and Eliot makes it very clear that there is a problem—lies with the Jews, who cannot be received because, however fit to receive others, they themselves posit an unacceptable otherness. Though explicitly perspectivized through English prejudice—Deronda’s, the Meyrick women’s—the first forthright depiction in the novel of a Jewish person (Mirah) answers no other purpose than to uphold the racist preconception, denounced by Kaufmann, of the Jews as “a peculiar people.” Recall that, in its extended meaning, rare also means anomalous. Or that no English character wishes to keep the diamonds: the jewels end up “scattered around [Gwendolen] on the floor” (359). Just like the Jews at the end, shipped toward the uncertain. The jewels: the Jews: their stamp of diaspora. Continue reading …

There are patterns of continuité discontinu (Derrida) in the figural transactions between human groups and between humans and animals in George Eliot’sDaniel Deronda that remain underexamined. By emphasizing ironic incommensurability and difference, this essay seeks to reveal the logic of ungivenness organizing human interactions in a novel haunted by images of deep time and species extermination. Eliot’s interest in ancestrality and extinction was fueled by her readings in geology and biology (Darwin), but it also evinces a metaphysical concern with uncorrelated time (Kant) that is inseparable from her fascination with the idea of moral rarity.

JULIÁN JIMÉNEZ HEFFERNAN is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Córdoba, Spain. He is the co-editor (with Paula Martín Salván and Gerardo Rodríguez Salas) of the volume Community in Twentieth-Century Fiction and publishes on Victorian literature, modern fiction, narrative theory, and deconstruction.

New Issue, Representations 144

NOW AVAILABLE

Number 144, Fall 2018

WHITNEY DAVIS 
“Reading-In”: Franz Boas’s Theory of the Beholder’s Share

ROGER MATHEW GRANT 
Music Lessons on Affect and Its Objects

EWAN JONES
Thermodynamic Rhythm: The Poetics of Waste

JULIÁN JIMÉNEZ HEFFERNAN 
The Stamp of Rarity: Ancestrality and Extinction in Daniel Deronda

KATHRYN L. BRACKNEY 
Remembering “Planet Auschwitz” During the Cold War

Plus:

FIELD NOTES 
Robert H. Sharf: What Do Nanquan and Schrödinger Have Against Cats?

Upcoming in Representations 145, a special issue, Visual History: The Past in Pictures, edited by Daniela Bleichmar and Vanessa R. Schwartz: Billie Melman on the archaeological site of Ur between the two world wars, Randall Meissen on Francisco Pacheco’s Book of True Portraits, Evonne Levy on eyewitness accounts and the Renaissance media revolution, Allan Doyle on Géricault and the production of visual history, and Aaron Rich on role of the Hollywood “research bible” in creating cinematic recreations of the past. With an introduction by the editors. (Coming in February.)

Translation/Transduction at Berkeley

Sawyer Seminar on Linguistic Anthropology and Literary and Cultural Studies: Translation/Transduction

This first of seven two-day seminars exploring the potential of a set of concepts, tools, and critical practices developed in the field of linguistic anthropology for work being done in the fields of literary and cultural criticism takes place Wednesday and Thursday, September 12 and 13, from 5-7 pm in 370 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley. With presentations by Susan Gal (Chicago) and Elliott Colla (Georgetown) on September 12, and by Mairi McLaughlin (Berkeley), Saul Schwartz (Berkeley), and Toby Warner (Davis) on September 13.  For information on the seminar’s working group and background readings, please contact Michael Lucey (mlucey@berkeley.edu) or Tom McEnaney (tmc@berkeley.edu).
For more on language-in-use, see our special issue Language-in-Use and the Literary Artifact, edited by Michael Lucey, Tom McEnaney, and Tristram Wolff.

Fact Meets Fiction in Selma

Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films

by Jeffrey Knapp

The essay begins:

“This isn’t right.” Almost as soon as the man resembling Martin Luther King Jr. has begun to speak, he interrupts himself in frustration. “I accept this honor,” he’d been saying, “for our lost ones, whose deaths pave our path, and for the twenty million Negro men and women motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness.” What does he think isn’t right? Is it the racial oppression he has been evoking? Or is it the felt inadequacy of his words to that injustice? As the man turns away from us, we find that he has been speaking into a mirror, and that he is frustrated in the immediate context by his efforts at getting dressed . “Corrie”—it is King, we now understand, and he’s not alone; his wife Coretta is with him—“this ain’t right.” “What’s that?” she asks, entering from another room. “This necktie. It’s not right.” “It’s not a necktie,” she corrects him, “it’s an ascot.” “Yeah, but generally, the same principles should apply, shouldn’t they? It’s not right.”

This opening to Selma announces the complexity not only of the movie itself but also of the genre to which it belongs—the historical film. First, there is the tonal instability of the scene, which swerves from the tragedy of “our lost ones” to the comedy of the ascot. Then there is the rhetorical switch from King’s earnest and formal speech to the colloquialism of his “ain’t” and the domestic ease of his “Corrie.” As the film reviewer Michael Sragow comments, these transformations seem intended “to signal to audiences that we’re in for an intimate, maybe irreverent look” at King; in general, A. O. Scott argues, Selma is dedicated to “restoring” King’s “human dimensions.” But the start of Selma also briefly confuses us about the meaning of a word that one might have assumed was the last one the movie would want us to feel confused about: “right,” as in “the right to vote,” “the right to assemble, and demonstrate,” “equal rights,” “civil rights.” “I don’t like how this looks,” King says of his ascot: what’s troubling him seems to be an aesthetic, not a moral offense. Another change in emphasis apparently neutralizes that distinction. When Coretta replies that the ascot “looks distinguished and debonair to me,” King clarifies that his objection has all along had a moral dimension to it. “You know what I mean,” he says to his wife: the ascot makes it seem “like we’re living high on the hog dressed like this, while folks back home are . . .  It’s not right.” Just as King wants the language of his speech to match the weightiness of its subject, so he’s concerned that his clothes reflect his social commitments; in aesthetics as in ethics, he believes, “the same principles should apply.” Yet the disorienting shifts of focus in this first scene nevertheless emphasize the potential for principles to become misaligned. Something else “isn’t right” at the start of Selma: the man who speaks these words, the British actor David Oyelowo, is after all merely pretending to be Martin Luther King Jr., and for a moment we might think that he’s expressing nothing more than his dissatisfaction with his performance. The opening to Selma seems, in other words, to anticipate two sorts of skeptical responses to the film: first, that Selma falls short as a historical recreation, and second, that it does so because of its trivializing overinvestment in such merely aesthetic questions as how the recreation “looks.”

These are indeed the very charges that have been leveled against the film, although they have centered less on the portrayal of King than on the representation of another historical figure in the movie, Lyndon Johnson. In an editorial for the Washington Post, the former Johnson aide Joseph Califano Jr. argued that

the makers of the new movie Selma apparently just couldn’t resist taking dramatic, trumped-up license with a true story that didn’t need any embellishment to work as a big-screen historical drama. As a result, the film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.

In Selma, Califano charged, aesthetics “trumped” ethics: the producers, screenwriter, and director felt “free to fill the screen with falsehoods, immune from any responsibility to the dead, just because they thought it made for a better story.” Even reviewers more sympathetic to the film have agreed with Califano about its misrepresentation of LBJ. Though praising Selma as “the best depiction of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s,” Albert R. Hunt nevertheless added that “it needlessly, and erroneously, casts Johnson as a reluctant supporter of the Voting Rights Act”; so, too, Ari Berman characterized the film’s account of Johnson as “unnecessarily one-sided.” What troubled all three critics was how “needlessly,” in their view, the makers of Selma had set their aesthetic desire for dramatic “embellishment” against a moral “obligation” to “the facts.”

Proponents of Selma have by and large declined to defend the historical accuracy of Johnson’s portrayal in the film, instead choosing to criticize the very demand for accuracy as hopelessly naive. “Did ‘Selma’ cut some corners and perhaps tilt characters to suit the needs of the story?” David Carr asked. “Why yes—just like almost every other Hollywood biopic and historical film that has been made.” Differentiating Selma from “a documentary or even a dramatized history,” Jamelle Bouie defined it as “a film based on historical accounts, and like all films of its genre, it has a loose relationship to actual history.” Consequently, Bouie added, “it’s better to look at deviations from established history or known facts” in Selma not as defects but rather “as creative choices—license in pursuit of art.” “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian,” Selma’s director Ava DuVernay similarly maintained in a televised interview with Gwen Ifill: “This is art. This is a movie. This is a film.” According to the reviewer Bilge Ebiri, the only relevant terms for judging the rightness of historical films are aesthetic ones: “These movies are not documentaries, nor are they acts of journalism. . . . They’re narrative works, and just like any other narrative work, they need to be true to themselves.”

“Every year,” the film scholar Jeanine Basinger wearily complained when asked to comment on Selma, “I know someone is going to call me about distortion of history when we hit the Oscars.” But there’s a reason that the objection keeps recurring. If it’s a mistake to look for accuracy in historical films, then why do historical films bother with accuracy at all? Although DuVernay rejected the label of documentarian in her interview with Ifill, that is exactly how she began her directorial career, with the hip-hop documentary This Is the Life (2008)—and her next project after Selma was a documentary on the US criminal justice system, 13th. What’s more, historical verisimilitude mattered enough to DuVernay in making Selma that she meticulously reproduced the look and feel of the sixties in her film, chose actors who bore an uncanny physical resemblance to the figures they played, and even spliced actual documentary footage of the final march to Montgomery into Selma’s recreation of it. In the same interview where she claimed that she was no more of a historian than a documentarian, DuVernay expressed her dismay at the “jaw-dropping” ignorance of moviegoers regarding the events her film “chronicled,” and she hoped that her movie would help Selma “resonate with people in the way that it should as being just such a cornerstone of democracy.” Prominent participants in the march have indeed championed the film as historiography. “Everything” except the film’s “depiction of the interaction between King and Johnson,” Andrew Young has said, “they got 100 percent right.” But then how could historical accuracy not be an issue for a film that ends with King’s proclaiming, “His truth is marching on”? The tensions between fact and fiction in Selma are anything but incidental to the movie: they instead reflect the irreducibly hybrid nature of the historical film.

Is it possible to argue that a mix of fact and fiction is necessary to Selma and to historical films generally? Continue reading …

Every historical film must contend with the possibility that its viewers will be scandalized by its mixture of fact and fiction, but no recent historical film has faced such pressure to justify its hybrid nature as Selma has, in large part because no recent film has taken on so momentous and controversial a historical subject: the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The renewed urgency of the issues Selma dramatizes, along with the film’s own commitment to the “moral certainty” of the civil rights movement, helps explain why Selma wavers in a self-defense that links the fictionality of its historical reenactments to the purposely theatrical element of the marches themselves. But politics are not the only problem for fiction in Selma, and to show why, this essay compares Selma to an earlier historical film, The Westerner (1940), that openly flaunts the commercial nature of its fictionality.

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Faculty Affiliate of Berkeley’s Film and Media Department.  He is most recently the author of Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published in 2017 by Oxford University Press.

Cuban Corals in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum, 1967–74

Cuban Corals in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum, 1967–74

by Manuela Bauche

The essay begins:

On October 7, 1974, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) turned twenty-five. Among the events commemorating this anniversary was a temporary exhibition that opened within East Berlin’s Natural History Museum, the Museum für Naturkunde. The show, entitled Forschung im Museum (Research at the museum), aimed to give an overview of the diversity of research conducted at the GDR’s most important natural history museum during the first quarter-century of the republic’s existence. Included was an impressive exhibit: a coral-reef diorama. The exhibition occupied one room on the ground floor of the museum. Depending on which side visitors entered, the diorama would be either the first exhibit they encountered or, after a long row of glass cabinets bearing information and evidence of the museum’s research activities, the last. The diorama’s plain chipboard wall was three meters high and five meters wide. In its center, a glass window invited visitors to peek inside. Within could be seen a submarine landscape: a slope of sand-colored coral rock, which, while slightly rising up toward the surface of the water, disappeared into the depth; ball-like corals with delicately grooved yellowish and brownish surfaces strewn about the sea floor; in the foreground, a group of bright blue fish, all heading in the same direction, eyes seemingly fixed on an invisible goal; and a small black and yellow fish coming toward them. On the lower left, a gaping hole in the rock formation revealed a glimmering blue, foreshadowing deeper waters and allowing yet another fish entrance into the coralline world.

The new exhibit fascinated Berliners. The press praised it as a “gorgeously colorful, lifelike detail of a Cuban bank reef,” at times even omitting the fact that the diorama—made of dried and dead coral specimens, fish casts, plaster, steel, and glass—in fact was a waterless representation of a reef. Indeed, newspapers proudly announced that the Museum für Naturkunde now held “a coral reef with colorful flora and fauna” that showed a “confoundingly colorful life, diverse in terms of both forms and species, in the midst of bizarre coral formations.” But just as fascinating as the diorama itself was the process of its coming into being. Its construction had entailed experimentation with different types of dyes, inventiveness in the face of scarce resources, and, of course, the application of technical skill and patience.

In 1967, even before the construction of the diorama, a team of researchers from Berlin had conducted an ambitious expedition to Cuba to collect corals and make casts of the fish that would form the centerpiece of the exhibit. After an Atlantic crossing of more than nine weeks, two scientists, two preparators from the Museum für Naturkunde, a doctor, and a seaman from the GDR’s Society for Sports and Technology (Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik, GST) reached Havana. With them more than seventy boxes of equipment, several small boats, and a truck were unloaded. There they joined four divers from the GST who had arrived by plane and had already set up an expedition camp on the island’s north shore, seventy kilometers east of Havana, at a spot called Arroyo Bermejo.

The expedition’s aim was to collect enough corals and other specimens from the reef lining the shore to reconstruct a ten-meter-long section in the Museum für Naturkunde’s exhibition. Over the course of three weeks, the GST divers towed a raft to the reef that paralleled the shore at a distance of a few hundred meters, dived into the reef to break corals out of the chalk structure, lifted them to the raft, and delivered them to the expedition camp. The museum staff then scattered the corals on the beach to dry, clean, and gradually pack them into the boxes they had taken care to bring with them from Berlin. In the end, forty-one boxes of approximately six to ten tons of reef material were shipped to the GDR. Seven years later, instead of the envisaged ten-meter-long reconstruction, [a much smaller] diorama . . . was realized.

To understand the significance of the expedition, it must be seen in the context of the diplomatic ties established between Cuba and the GDR in the fields of science and education. In 1962, only three years after the Cuban Revolution, the University of Havana and East Berlin’s Humboldt University had agreed on a joint “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” that allowed for a regular and systematic exchange of students, lecturers, scientists, and publications. Beyond this, a number of other points of collaboration were established between scientific institutions in the two countries: in 1966, the “Tropenforschungsinstitut Alexander von Humboldt” (Alexander von Humboldt Tropical Research Institute) was founded as a joint institute of the Cuban and GDR academies of sciences; and, from 1974 on, botanists from the universities of Jena and Berlin and scientists from Havana’s National Botanical Garden worked, in bi-annual expeditions, toward a comprehensive register of Cuba’s flora. The Cuban side had been particularly interested in establishing these kinds of international collaborations, hoping that they would help to build the scientific capacities urgently needed in the newly founded republic. Among the socialist states with which Cuba maintained scientific relations, the GDR ranked second—after the Soviet Union and ahead of Bulgaria. From a GDR perspective, Cuba was an important partner for activities that needed a tropical environment, as it was one of the few tropical socialist countries and thus politically accessible to the East German state.

Looking at the exhibition—in which only a small portion of the material collected ultimately appeared (in the diorama), and then only several years after the trip to Cuba—it is striking that the museum did not feature the idea and practice of socialist friendship more prominently, especially since Cuban divers, too, had taken part in the endeavor. Indeed, the anniversary of the country’s founding might have provided a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of this political framework. The only hint of the existence of the expedition itself was a map of Cuba, on which the place where the corals had been collected was marked. Apart from this, the exhibition focused solely on educating the public on the biology of corals and the formation of coral reefs, its descriptive panels detailing the museum’s “coral-reef research in Cuba,” in conformance with the exhibition’s overall agenda of presenting examples of the museum’s research. The special Cuban-GDR relation that had provided the foundation for the genesis of the diorama remained invisible.

Why did the Museum für Naturkunde opt to present Cuban corals in this particular manner? What happened to socialist internationalism along the (corals’) way? In their contributions to this Representations forum, Alice Goff and Mario Schulze show that international diplomacy was an important precondition for the transfer of objects across national boundaries, and that both the design and the planning of exhibitions were at times intimately linked to global political realities such as Cold War competition. In what follows, I examine the effect of global politics and diplomacy on both the coral-reef expedition of 1967 and the 1974 display of the diorama that resulted from it. I will show that although bilateral agreements were an important precondition for both projects, informal contacts between players beyond the political field were at least as crucial. I question the assumption that objects that crossed political and state borders during the Cold War for exhibition purposes were always and as a matter of principle intertwined with high-level diplomacy, that they would necessarily carry political meaning or act as “ambassadors” in international relations. Instead, I show that although the appropriation and transfer of objects could not have been accomplished without a diplomatic framework, it could just as easily come about as a result of contacts between players operating beyond the official political field, in this case divers from the GDR and Cuba.

In this way, my account of the history of the coral-reef diorama also departs from the popular depiction of political and cultural life within socialist countries, and of exchange between them, as generally being organized from the top down and rigidly controlled. Instead, I join with current research that argues for a more complex idea of what “socialist friendship” meant on the practical level and shows that transnational exchange between socialist countries at times occurred beyond high-level politics. Continue reading …

This essay reconstructs the history of a coral-reef diorama, the outcome of a German Democratic Republic expedition to Cuba, that was displayed in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum in 1967 on the occasion of the GDR’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The essay investigates how the practice of socialist internationalism influenced the diorama’s coming into being, arguing that while official diplomatic relations between Cuba and the GDR were a prerequisite for the expedition, nongovernmental contacts were central to both the initiation and execution of the project. It also demonstrates how the diorama’s display was informed more by national and institutional concerns than by the rhetoric and policies of internationalism.

MANUELA BAUCHE is a historian and postdoctoral researcher at Berlin’s Natural History Museum. Her research interests lie in the global history of life sciences and scientific expeditions in the twentieth century.

 

 

 

New Special Issue, Representations 140

NOW AVAILABLE

Number 139, Summer 2017 (read for free at UC Press)

Special Issue: FALLACIES

Where does the history of fallacies leave the contemporary critic?

It is hard not to see that we are living in in an especially fallacious age; fallacies are evidently psychologically compelling. They appeal to our fear, anger, or pity; to our respect for authority; or to our faith in the power of numbers. A president will be blamed for an economic downturn that precedes him or credited for job growth that is inconsequent to his acts. As mistakes of logic, fallacies are not lies and not exactly nonsense either. Fallacies, in other words, are things that, not being valid, “are susceptible of being mistaken” for valid.

In this collection of essays, eleven scholars of literature, logic, philosophy, film, and art history take up a variety of ways in which, in our disciplines and critical practices, truth appears. The essays, in explaining a few of the well-known fallacies and naming others, are all concerned with ways of reading that bring ideas and experiences to a subject that are not germane to the subject. They ask us to look, as I. A. Richards does, at “instances of irrelevance” in thinking, at what fits and doesn’t fit or is there by accident. They raise our awareness of those “inadequate” revelations that W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, in their famous essay on the intentional fallacy, tried to arm us against and exclude from critical judgment “like lumps from pudding and ‘bugs’ from machinery.”

To return to the question of fallacies in the twenty-first century is to ask what is most material to our arguments if we want them to be practical and satisfying and if, in Beardsley’s words, “we wish to get out of them what is most worth getting.”

Introduction: The Issue with Fallacies
Elisa Tamarkin

“You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong”: On Technological Determinism
John Durham Peters

Fallacy: Close Reading and the Beginning of Philosophy
D. Vance Smith

How to Think a Figure; or, Hegel’s Circles
Andrew Cole

The Interdisciplinary Fallacy
Jonathan Kramnick

The Destruction of Hood’s Ordnance Train: A Love Story
Alexander Nemerov

Compositionism: Plants, Poetics, Possibilities; or, Two Cheers for Fallacies, Especially Pathetic Ones!
Maureen N. McLane

Materialist Vitalism or Pathetic Fallacy: The Case of the House of Usher
Branka Arsić

Reading for Mood
Jonathan Flatley

The Hitchcockian Nudge; or, An Aesthetics of Deception
Rey ChowMarkos Hadjioannou

The Fallacy of “Fallacy” and Its Implications for Contemporary Literary Theory
Charles Altieri

On Race in Art

Black Futures: On Race in Art, Curation, and Digital Engagement 
with Kimberly Drew in conversation with Stephen Best

Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA
Monday, October 16, 6:30pm

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY ART MUSEUM & PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE

2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Kimberly Drew has been dubbed an “international tastemaker in contemporary art” on account of her Tumblr blog Black Contemporary Art and her Instagram @museummammy. As social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she has been pivotal in moving that venerated institution in directions both democratic and dialogical. Drew will discuss curation, social media, race, and institutions with UC Berkeley professor Stephen Best.

Kimberly Drew is a writer and curator based in New York City. Drew received her BA from Smith College in art history and African-American studies, with a concentration in museum studies. She first experienced the art world as an intern in the director’s office of the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she was inspired her to start her blog and to pursue her interest in social media as it relates to the arts.

A member of the Representations editorial board, Stephen Best is an associate professor of English at UC Berkeley and the author of The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession, a study of property, poetics, and legal hermeneutics in nineteenth-century American literary and legal culture. He co-convened a research group at the University of California’s Humanities Research Institute on “Redress in Law, Literature, and Social Thought” that led, in part, to the special issue “Redress” in 2005. He is also the co-editor of the 2009 special issue “The Way We Read Now” and the 2016 volume “Description Across Disciplines.”

Advance Look: Jeffrey Knapp on “Selma”

In recognition of the speed at which the world and its histories are changing, we’ve just posted an advance version of Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films” by Jeffrey Knapp. The essay will appear in print and online in our Winter 2019 issue, but you can read it here right now.

In the essay, Knapp compares the place of historical fictionality in William Wyler’s 1940 film The Westerner and Ava DuVernay’s 2014 Selma.

“’This isn’t right,’” the essay begins, in the voice of Martin Luther King as depicted by David Oyelowo, in Selma. “Almost as soon as the man resembling Martin Luther King Jr. has begun to speak, he interrupts himself in frustration. ‘I accept this honor,’ he’d been saying, ‘for our lost ones, whose deaths pave our path, and for the twenty million Negro men and women motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness.’ What does he think isn’t right? Is it the racial oppression he has been evoking? Or is it the felt inadequacy of his words to that injustice? As the man turns away from us, we find that he has been speaking into a mirror, and that he is frustrated in the immediate context by his efforts at getting dressed. ‘Corrie’ — it is King, we now understand, and he’s not alone; his wife Coretta is with him — ‘this ain’t right.’ ‘What’s that?’ she asks, entering from another room. ‘This necktie. It’s not right.’ ‘It’s not a necktie,’ she corrects him, ‘it’s an ascot.’ ‘Yeah, but generally, the same principles should apply, shouldn’t they? It’s not right.’” Read full article …

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at UC Berkeley and author of An Empire Nowhere: England and America from Utopia to The Tempest (1992); Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (2002); Shakespeare Only (2009); and Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published this year by Oxford University Press. He is also a contributing editor for Representations.

Talk About Pleasing Everyone

Berkeley Book Chats
at the Townsend Center for the Humanities
presents Jeffrey Knapp talking about his book

Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

Shakespeare’s plays were immensely popular in their own day yet history refuses to think of them as mass entertainment. In Pleasing Everyone, Professor of English Jeffrey Knapp highlights the uncanny resemblance between Renaissance drama and the incontrovertibly mass medium of Golden-Age Hollywood cinema. Through explorations of such famous plays as HamletThe Roaring Girl, and The Alchemist, and such celebrated films as Citizen KaneThe Jazz Singer, and City Lights, Knapp challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the relationship between art and mass audiences and encourages us to resist the prejudice that mass entertainment necessarily simplifies and cheapens.

After an introduction, Knapp will speak briefly about his book and then open the floor for discussion.

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at UC Berkeley and author of An Empire Nowhere: England and America from Utopia to The Tempest (1992); Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (2002); Shakespeare Only (2009); and Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published this year by Oxford University Press. The chapter “Throw That Junk!” in Pleasing Everyone was first published in Representations 122 (Spring 2013). An advance version of his new essay “Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films” will be posted here in early October.

Practices of Resistance

In her essay in our new issue, Debarati Sanyal analyzes practices of resistance as seen through film and photography set in the Calais’s “jungle” refugee encampments, which were razed last year by the French government. She discusses the interplay of humanitarian compassion and securitarian repression in the destruction of the camps, nuancing the view of borderscapes as sites of total biopolitical capture, and of refugees as “bare life.” Making a profound case for both art and resistance, “Calais’s ‘Jungle’: Refugees, Biopolitics, and the Arts of Resistance” is a compelling and visually stunning read.

Still from Qu’Ils reposent en révolte: Des figure de guerres I, by Sylvain George (2010)

DEBARATI SANYAL is Professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of The Violence of Modernity: Baudelaire, Irony, and the Politics of Form (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) and Memory and Complicity: Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance (Fordham University Press, 2015), she is currently at work on a study of testimony, cultural form, and the refugee “crisis.”