Cultural Analysis, Volume 5, 2006
Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. By Patricia Hill Collins. (New York: Routledge, 2004. Pp. ix + 374, introduction, notes, glossary, bibliography, index.)
In Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, sociologist and black feminist critic Patricia Hill Collins challenges African-Americans to "start from scratch" and create a progressive black sexual politics in the age of a "new racism." Drawing upon diverse fields of critical social theory (feminism, sociology, critical race theory, queer theory, cultural studies), Collins presents a work that is intent on being accessible across disciplines and beyond the academy. She engages with a rich variety of examples from black popular culture and mass media, and these, along with her glossary and extensive notes, give her study greater value and should also appeal to undergraduates, in particular African-American students, who, according to Collins, rely heavily on radio, film and other media sources for information on gender and sexuality. For her, mass media is the primary technology through which dubious claims that "racism does not exist" are constructed, manipulated, and distributed for international public consumption (54–55). From Tupac Shakur and Lil' Kim to Booty Call and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Collins's deft analysis of diverse media also provides key and compelling evidence for her theoretical arguments concerning the contours of culture, domination, and black cultural resistance.
Capitalism and the disparate distribution of resources structure this "new racism," which is "new," Collins argues, because it is global: racializing wealth and poverty on a global scale, while situating people of African descent at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. For her, the new racism is also transnational, hence, racial inequality transverses borders in ways that circumvent local and national governments' absolute power over shaping racial policies. Throughout the black diaspora this idea continues to prevail as black populations experience social and economic powerlessness. A key function of the new racism, she asserts, is to undermine social protest against anti-black racism within nation-states.
Black diaspora scholars such as Paul Gilroy (There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: the cultural politics of race and nation. London: Routledge, 1987), Edmund T. Gordon (Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an African-Nicaraguan Community. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), and Asale Angel-Ajani ("Italy's Racial Cauldron: Immigration, Criminalization, and the Cultural Politics of Race," Cultural Dynamics 12:331–352, 2000) have also theorized the new lexicon of race and racism (class, nation, culture) that has emerged in recent decades. What distinguishes Collins's work is the basic theoretical tenet that frames her ideas: any progressive black racial ideology cannot be based on gender subordination. Black Sexual Politics builds on Collins's former books, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990) and Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998) in which she developed the idea that black women's intellectual traditions are the foundation for a distinctive black feminist standpoint. As with her previous works, Black Sexual Politics pushes for a broader critique of racial, gender, class, and sexual oppression and shows Collins's ongoing commitment to the global struggle for social justice. Whereas in previous works Collins privileged black women's experiences, Black Sexual Politics focuses on women as well as men's experiences as deeply racialized in gender-specific ways. Collins affirms that "talking about gender does not mean focusing solely on women's issues," (6) as gender ideology must encompass ideas about both black masculinity and femininity.
Black Sexual Politics is divided into three parts that include nine chapters. Part I, "African Americans and the New Racism," introduces the conceptual framework for analyzing black sexual politics in the United States, recognizing the crucial link between black political economy and gender relations. For example, in chapter three, Collins suggests that the metaphor of the "prison" and the "closet" might illustrate how oppressions of race and sexuality are interwoven. The prison may be likened to racism and the closet to sexual oppression. Both systems use state-sanctioned mechanisms of social control such as segregation to maintain racial and sexual hierarchies and to subjugate black people. "Coming out" of the closet or attaining freedom from the prison reflect resistance to racism and heterosexism. The three chapters in Part II, "Rethinking Black Gender Ideology," examine how the mass media globalizes class-specific images of black women. These demonizing images of "bitches" and "bad mothers" influence local public policies such as welfare programs in the U.S. One particularly striking image Collins describes is the "new" image of the middle-class "Educated Black Bitch," which, she suggests, illustrates how black women's financial success is devalued, pathologized, and perceived as a problem for black social and economic progress (184). As Collins writes, these images of black women "help to justify and shape the new racism of a desegregated, color-blind America" (147).
Part III, "Toward a Progressive Black Sexual Politics," broadens the definition of state-sanctioned violence as a form of political and social control of black men and black women's bodies. The new racism reveals the "past-in-present" aspect of racial formation whereby traditional and colonial ideas of racial domination persist today with real material effects such as the widespread violence of unemployment, incarceration, and environmental pollution. One of the most striking statements in this section is Collins's bold acknowledgement that "Black people may be bombarded with gender-specific images that deem black bodies as less desirable if not downright ugly" (283). Collins calls for a new body politics that promotes the "honest body," or rather an "ethic of honesty and personal accountability within all relationships that involve sexual contact" (282). This approach to gender and sexuality within the African American community breaks the silence surrounding intra-community sexual violence as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS. The very real possibility of disease, physical suffering, and death underlies the urgency of non-oppressive forms of sexual practices.
As Collins repeats throughout the text, neither the subjugation of women nor men is acceptable in a just society. This book is a much needed text that pushes for the broader conceptualization of oppositional theories and social action. It is exactly this linking of collective identity formation, community building, empowerment and politics that makes the future of anti-racism resistance movements hopeful. The construction of black men's and women's collective experiences with racial and gender subjugation operates in conjunction with necessary acts of resistance against racism, sexism, and homophobia. No matter how restrictive the structures of racial oppression, black people find ways to resist by organizing uprisings in cities or by just surviving homophobic persecution. Black sexual politics must be grounded in actual social conditions and not in mere abstraction for it to be considered oppositional. Specifically, Collins recognizes that anti-racist and anti-sexist critiques must also address the socioeconomic needs of black people to include their access to adequate health care, habitable housing, personal safety, and other vital resources.
In spite of these significant contributions, Black Sexual Politics still has its shortcomings. As Collins herself admits, Black Sexual Politics is a "diagnostic project" that is "heavy on problems and short on solutions" (9). The text is more deconstructive than constructive and offers little by way of concrete solutions on how to proceed with the global struggle for human rights. Moreover, while Collins characterizes the new racism and social justice as inherently transnational and diasporic, she does not succeed in breaking away from the US-centric perspective that she purports to avoid. Her discussion of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, a reality that resembles the epidemic within black communities in the United States, is the only attempt to illustrate the global implications of sexual politics. Another limitation is Black Sexual Politics' lacks of a critical perspective on the structural constraints of gender difference and sexism in same-sex relationships. As Collins acknowledges, LGBT relationships do not escape racism, but they also do not escape rigid definitions of normative gender behaviors. What then would the new black sexual politics mean for healthy non-sexist relationships between LGBT and heterosexual blacks and for the production of a new body politics that challenges deeply entrenched notions of masculinity and femininity in both communities? An exploration of this question would greatly benefit this work. Despite this, Black Sexual Politics continues the ongoing process of global black liberation for men and women by advancing a sense of community that affirms the inherent self-worth of all black people and encourages political activism aimed at challenging the multiple manifestations of the (not so) new racism.
Keisha-Khan Y. Perry
Tradition through Modernity: Postmodernism and the Nation-State in Folklore Scholarship. By Pertti J. Anttonen. Studia Fennica Folkloristica, 15. (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2005. Pp. 215, preface, introduction, notes, bibliography, index.)
When I was a graduate student in the late Alan Dundes' folklore seminar, he had each one of us select a theoretical topic, get the reading list from him, and then make a presentation for the class. Although I didn't select postmodernism, I was disappointed with the materials available at that time. Later, when I began to write my dissertation research proposal, I included a section on folklore and postmodernism relying in good part on the works of Pertti J. Anttonen. I had acquired my many-xeroxed copy of his research, which had been published in Nordic Frontiers: Recent Issues in Modern Traditional Culture in Nordic Countries (Edited by Pertti J. Anttonen and Reimund Kvideland. NIF Publications 27, 17–33. Turku: Nordic Institute of Folklore, 1993) and passed along for a few years from colleague to colleague before finally landing on my desk. The next year, I noticed a frantic looking graduate student. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that she was to present on postmodernism in the seminar, and Dundes had given her a reference to the article I had used. Unfortunately, it didn't exist on campus, giving rise to her acutely-felt predicament. Future students were destined to follow in her path.
Happily, this unfortunate situation should now be largely rectified with the publication of this important new book by Pertti Anttonen. Not only will this ease the frantic, late-night library searches of graduate students, but it will also bring many scholars to the theoretical scholarship that Anttonen has forcefully tracked and pioneered, by bringing many of his works—both published and unpublished—together in this slim but dense volume.
His focus is on tradition, post/modernity, and the nation-state. "My starting point is that the concept of tradition is inseparable from the idea and experience of modernity . . .", and that ". . . since the concepts of tradition and modern are fundamentally modern, what they aim to and are able to describe, report, and denote is epistemologically modern" (12). Tradition in his view is a creation of modernity, giving the self-imagined nation a claim to the state status. This view turns on its head the more usual outlook in which tradition and modernity are opposed, and also entwines both concepts in a postmodern framework and within the political context of the modern nation-state.
One might easily see how modernity views and promotes tradition, but Anttonen goes further, saying instead that tradition does not exist, at least for his purposes, outside of modernity. While Anttonen does state at one point that "This does not mean that the phenomena regarded as folklore do not ontologically exist" (57), he nonetheless talks not about their ontology but only their discursive elements, leaving the curious impression that traditions do not exist outside of modernity's gaze. Of course, this is a hallmark of a deconstructionist, postmodernist approach. Can we talk about reality, or can we only talk about talking about it? Is there a reality outside of jargon, outside of viewpoints? Common sense would tend to say yes, but postmodernist outlooks like this tend to say no, or at least de-emphasize this aspect until it effectively disappears from the argument. This is a work which talks about talking about things.
But for a folklorist, talking about things can easily be seen as a thing in itself, and here Anttonen lays bare a master narrative of how states (especially in Europe, and especially Finland) came to think of themselves as epic-sharing kinfolk. In this Anttonen excels, recounting the involvement of modernity and tradition (including language) in the rise of the new political configurations. The book speaks with great authority on the development of folklore theory from its inception, but with a focus on the changes wrought in the 1960s and on through the 1980s and '90s, providing an incisive and useful overview of many of the core concepts and writings around which the field of folklore currently revolves.
Among the newer works mentioned is the somewhat related Locating Irish Folklore: Tradition, Modernity, Identity in which Diarmuid Ó Giolláin traces the entwinings of tradition and nationalism in Ireland (Cork: Cork University Press, 2000). The two countries have their similarities in many ways, and both have produced some of the most important works on folkloristics. Nonetheless, whereas Ó Giolláin states that "[t]he modern age is inherently destructive of traditions" (2000, 12), Anttonen replies that although often used as semantic opposites ("such as old and new, right and left, warm and cold, north and south, east and west, raw and cooked, etc." ), tradition and modernity "must not be seen as oppositional, since modernity contains traditionality" (37). In a similar vein, Anttonen asserts that the folkloristic gaze "does not only find historicity and collectivity in human communication and social life; it makes it folklore, that is, folklorizes it" (57).
In addition to the sweeping main thrust of the book (post/modernism, nationalism, and folklore) are also smaller forays bristling with possibilities into such areas as political identity, media, and globalization. These hold implications for all students of culture and politics.
The last 56 pages are dedicated to discussing the particular case of Finland. Often viewed as a good example of a "homogenous" nation-state, Anttonen shows how this homogeneity was constructed, and the effects on the ground in different parts of the region flowing from this conceptualization: how the Saami were excluded, the Karelians exalted, and the Swedes forgotten. Also interesting is the mixed reception that the scientific category of a Finno-Ugric language family has received, with some seeing links to a greater Finno-Ugric ethnic group, but with many people wary of establishing links to people in a territory belonging to the Soviet bloc. As throughout the rest of the book, Anttonen presents convincing, well thought-out logical arguments, with implications far beyond Finland's borders.
Given all that this volume has to offer, it is somewhat disappointing that the book is not a smoother read. Anttonen states in his introduction that "[d]espite the fact that most of the chapters are based on previously published articles, this book is not an anthology. The chapters are meant to form a monographic entity . . ." While that may have been his intention, it does not read like a monographic entity—we are told numerous time the role that the Fennomans played in the development of state of Finland, for example. This sort of thing could have been rectified by a thorough, comprehensive editing. And while most of the book is international in scope, we suddenly on page 124 find ourselves talking about Finland exclusively, without much context or explanation. All in all, it reads about halfway between an anthology and a monograph, which is an uncomfortable mix.
Also, while Anttonen's mastery of English as a foreign language is complete, his sentence-building can at times be overly abstract and dense, producing such cumbersome humdingers as:
"So, when folklorists such as Glassie and Dorst in the late 1980s disassociated themselves from antimodernist postmodernism, they associated themselves with antimodernist modernism, which, paradoxically, is quite promodern in its antimodernism." (75)
While this can be frustrating even for the native English speaker, it can provide a serious obstacle for those with English as a foreign language.
Still, these quibbles are over presentation, not substance. During her presentation at the American Folklore Society conference in Atlanta in 2005, Outi Lehtipuro commented at one point that good books are those which provide a pleasurable reading experience and smooth read (in the sense of "curling up with a good book"), while great books are books which significantly advance our conceptual understanding. There are many good books that are not great, and there are some great books that are not good. For example, Lévi-Strauss' Elementary Structures of Kinship is a turgid and interminable read, yet is undoubtedly a great book, shattering the previous notions of kinship as a strictly social arrangement based on descent, and giving rise to the understanding of the cultural aspects of kinship, including its links to myths, rituals, and gender. Likewise, Tradition through Modernity does not provide the smoothest read. It does not flow along a pleasant story, nor entice one with sugared prose. But, and I do not say this lightly, I do think it may be a great book, one which will become a hallmark of theoretical folkloristic research while also touching upon many other areas as well, perhaps most especially postmodernism itself.
For anyone wanting to improve their understanding of the relationship between post/modernity, nationalism, tradition, and folklore scholarship, this will be an authoritative text. It accomplishes this on the one hand by a thorough understanding and explication of post/modern theoretical developments, and on the other by proposing exciting, if at times extreme, theoretical arguments and viewpoints. In this book the reader will find many quotable passages where the author condenses complex ideas into powerfully terse prose. I highly recommend this work to anyone with an interest in folklore theory.
Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice. Edited by Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland. (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 2002. Pp. xiv + 353, introduction, notes, works cited, index.)
As any scholar even vaguely familiar with the critical dialogue on Ernest Hemingway's life and work knows, "Papa's" relationship with and literary treatment of women has, for decades now, been fraught with controversy. His biography reveals a man who, despite four marriages and numerous affairs, found neither stability nor lasting satisfaction in his relationships with women. His short stories and novels likewise reveal an ambivalence toward and distrust of women—sentiments so intensely expressed in some of his works that they have long been considered proof of the author's sexism. Indeed, from Brett Ashley to Catherine Bourne, the "Hemingway Bitch" has become a literary icon, read by some feminist critics as both an embodiment of Papa's misogyny and a reinforcement of the negative female stereotypes that have been perpetuated for centuries. Given Hemingway's seeming inability to portray women as independent, strong, and sympathetic, as well as his iconic status as the quintessential "man's man," why should women continue to read, teach, and write about his work? Why, if at all, should we pay attention to Papa and his patriarchal ways?
The answers to these questions can be found in Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, edited by Lawrence A. Broer and Gloria Holland. Broer and Holland have assembled an impressive array of seventeen critical essays—all authored, as the title suggests, by female critics—that intervene in "forty years of often superficial or misguided interpretations of Hemingway's treatment of women and gender" (ix). Rather than dismissing both Hemingway and his work as sexist, interpreting his female characters as one-dimensional and unsympathetic, or deeming the author undeserving of a female readership and critical base, the scholars included in this volume recognize, address, and grapple with the complexity of Hemingway's relationship with women, both real and fictional. Indeed, by "argu[ing] cogently for the central role of women in the Hemingway canon," the essays in this collection "expand and deepen our appreciation of gender issues in Hemingway's novels and stories, and in his life as a whole" (xiii). It is worth noting, however, that the authors' "appreciation" of Hemingway only rarely borders on adoration; this collection is not an unequivocal, uncritical celebration of Papa. As Broer and Holland note in their introduction, "these scholars do not speak in a single voice with equal sympathy for Hemingway's treatment of women nor do they respond with like readings of Hemingway's life and work" (xiii). What the scholars included in this collection do share is a common aim: to reveal how the conflicts in Hemingway's short stories, novels, and personal relationships—familial, romantic, and professional—"revolve around questions of gender . . . and that understanding these complicated gender dynamics offers vital new ways of interpreting Hemingway's fiction as a whole" (xiv).
Broer and Holland have divided the book into two sections, the first of which, "Heroines and Heroes, the Female Presence," features essays that fall into three groupings. The first grouping explores the role, characterization, and significance of Hemingway's fictional women. By examining major characters such as Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms, and Maria and Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls, as well as minor characters such Nick Adams' sister, Littless, in "The Last Good Country" and the wife in "Cat in the Rain," these scholars provide us with new ways of seeing how, as Gail D. Sinclair insists in her essay "Revisiting the Code: Female Foundations and 'The Undiscovered Country' in For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Hemingway's iceberg principle applies to [these female characters] as profoundly as it does to any other character or novel in the canon" (94).
Sinclair further demonstrates how Maria and Pilar, characters who have been largely overlooked in critical commentary on Hemingway's women, are "not easily reducible, nor should they be, to the traditional polemic extremes critically assigned to Hemingway's fiction" (108). She argues, in fact, that these two women collectively embody the Hemingway code—"living simply within the confines of one's circumstances, but acting courageously under those constraints" (97)—a code heretofore understood as almost exclusively male. Similarly, Kathy G. Willingham, in "The Sun Hasn't Set Yet: Brett Ashley and the Code Hero Debate," asserts that Hemingway's most famous female character "provides a model no less significant, important, or romantic than any of the male code heroes who have inspired or influenced countless readers" (34). Several other essays in this section likewise re-read Hemingway's fictional women, demonstrating how the heroism, depth, and complexity so often attributed to Hemingway's male protagonists and so often interpreted as the exclusive province of men, are traits shared by many of his female characters. In short, these critics reveal not only how Hemingway deals with the matter of women, but also how the women matter in Hemingway's oeuvre.
Part 1 also features essays that interrogate both Hemingway's relationship to the feminine and the female reader's relationship to Hemingway's work. In the most convincing and impressively researched essay in the volume, "Santiago and the Eternal Feminine: Gendering La Mar in The Old Man and the Sea," Susan F. Beegel offers a stunning interdisciplinary essay in which she establishes the centrality of the "Eternal Feminine" in Hemingway's novella. Drawing from a remarkable array of sources—mythology, religion, folklore, marine history, and literature—Beegel argues that the sea itself, "gender[ed] as feminine throughout the text" (132), is "a protagonist on an equal footing with Santiago" (131). In "On Defiling Eden: The Search for Eve in the Garden of Sorrows," Ann Putnam similarly explores the presence of the feminine in the most unlikely of places: stories such as "Big Two-Hearted River" and Green Hills of Africa, which feature "a solitary hero journeying across . . . paradisal landscapes" (111). Putnam's desire to elicit the feminine in Hemingway's oeuvre stems from a crucial question that has long haunted female Hemingway scholars: "how do female readers who have always been moved by Hemingway's works . . . negotiate theories that insist upon the exclusionary quality of the Hemingway world?" (110). This critical tension that Putnam identifies—a tension which underlies many of the essays in this volume—is most eloquently and compellingly addressed in Linda Patterson Miller's "In Love with Papa." Combining personal reflection on Hemingway's work with critical analysis of his female characters, Miller acknowledges that "any lover of Hemingway's art who surveys his biography feels a bit betrayed by the man" (40), but ultimately explains that her love of Hemingway stems from "the emotional complexity of his art and of his heroines. . . . His women embody the 7/8 of the iceberg that is down under and carry much of the work's emotional weight accordingly" (6).
Finally, several essays in "Heroines and Heroes, the Female Presence" examine the politics of gender, sexuality, and desire that characterize Papa's work, drawing attention to how his narratives often blur rather than reinscribe boundaries between male and female, masculine and feminine, straight and gay. Nancy R. Comley and Rose Marie Burwell specifically address how these blurrings have been suppressed in Hemingway's posthumous publications. In "The Light from Hemingway's Garden: Regendering Papa," Comley discusses how The Garden of Eden challenges the longstanding image of Hemingway as the representative of machismo, yet argues that the edited, published version of the book—particularly its characterization of Catherine—belies the complexity of the novel and the author alike. Burwell, in "West of Everything: The High Cost of Making Men in Islands in the Stream," voices a similar concern regarding the editing of Islands in the Stream, noting how those involved in the publication process "ignore[d] the complex musings on the problems of gender and creativity that are embodied in the deleted episodes" of the novel (172). Debra A. Moddelmog and Linda Wagner-Martin draw attention to how Hemingway's published narratives—even those posthumously published—often reveal his abiding interest in configurations of gender and sexuality that fall outside the "norm" of society. In "Queer Families in Hemingway's Fiction," Moddelmog maintains that "Hemingway's works are rife with alternative families" (174)—or what she calls "queer" families—which "reconfigure the bonds of belonging . . . [and] target various norms of [the traditional] family—especially norms of sexuality and power" (175). Finally, Martin's "The Romance of Desire in Hemingway's Fiction" examines how Papa's works reflect the sexual ethos of their historical and cultural contexts—"times . . . marked with a nearly obsessive interest in sexuality and erotica" (54). Martin provocatively argues that "Hemingway's real subject was eroticism. And the form he needed to tell that story, to entice the general reader, was the romance" (55).
Thirteen of the seventeen essays in Hemingway and Women appear in Part 1; by comparison, Part 2, "Mothers, Wives, Sisters," is somewhat sparse. The four essays in this second section focus on historical and biographical contexts of Hemingway's work and connect these contexts to his representations of women. Of particular note are the last two essays in this section—Sandra Whipple Spanier's "Rivalry, Romance, and War Reporters: Martha Gellhorn's Love Goes to Press and the Collier's Files" and Rena Sanderson's "Hemingway's Literary Sisters: The Author through the Eyes of Women Writers"—which offer fascinating accounts of Hemingway's relationship with women who were his professional equals: his third wife, reporter Martha Gellhorn, and his literary peers, Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman. Spanier and Sanderson adeptly illustrate Hemingway's complicated relationship with these women—as well as his indebtedness to them. As Sanderson succinctly concludes: "Whether they were adoring (Parker), critical (Hellman), or begrudging (like Gellhorn), they helped to identify and advertise Hemingway's message, style, method, and persona" (294).
Clearly, the range of essays in Hemingway and Women is impressive; Broer and Holland have done an admirable job of selecting works that examine Hemingway's work and life from a myriad of critical angles. Like any other collection of essays, however, some of the selections are decidedly stronger than others. In particular, the essays by Beegel, Miller, Moddelmog, Spanier, and Sanderson—whether by virtue of their writing style, their interdisciplinary rigor, or their extensive knowledge of Hemingway's life, work, and historical and cultural contexts—were much more compelling and original than the others. Despite the relative unevenness of the selections, Hemingway and Women is an engaging and important book. By enlisting female critics who are invested in the man, the myth, and the literature—and whose insightful analyses broaden the scope of the field of Hemingway studies—this book offers an invaluable service to Hemingway scholars and feminist literary critics alike.
Ann M. Ciasullo
The Anarchists of Casas Viejas. By Jerome R. Mintz. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004. Pp. ix + 336, foreword by James W. Fernandez, introduction, notes, illustrations, bibliography, index.)
First published in 1982, this classic work by anthropologist Jerome R. Mintz has been reprinted with a new foreword discussing its significance to both its specific subject matter and the field of anthropology in general. It is an enduring example of in-depth ethnographic research, as well as a historical study of complex political and social relations. Mintz examines the small but significant anarchist uprising that took place in the Spanish town of Casas Viejas in 1933, just a few years prior to the Spanish Civil War. He investigates events leading up to the revolt and its aftermath, through official accounts, press releases, and interviews with those who were present. Through these multi-faceted perspectives, Mintz presents a clear picture of the uprising and its place in the larger political history of Spain, and in the process refutes some previously published accounts of events and makes a valuable contribution to historical understanding.
In order to gather his detailed knowledge, Mintz spent years conducting fieldwork in Spain in the 1960s and 70s, gaining the trust of those involved in the uprising, their descendants, friends, and neighbors. Since his research involved an event that took place decades earlier, he had to track down sources who had moved, a task made all the more difficult because Spain was still under Franco's rule at the time of his research, and anarchism was not a safe topic of investigation. After years of oppression, his informants were often wary of talking to anyone, and the government often questioned those who did. Despite these difficulties, Mintz was able to speak to a great many of the surviving participants of the uprising. These interviews, combined with painstaking descriptions of Spanish society and the political climate that engendered the anarchist movement, paint a detailed picture of not only that famous day's events, but also of the social inequality and unrest that led up to them and of the repression that followed.
The anarchist uprising in Casas Viejas took place on January 11, 1933. It claimed the lives of two civil guards, while the brutal government reaction the next day killed 20 villagers, including both anarchists and unarmed townspeople. Although this battle was small in comparison with many armed conflicts, the events at Casas Viejas had a lasting effect on Spanish government and society. It was already a tumultuous time, since the Spanish government had just transitioned from a monarchy to a still unstable republic. Social unrest was rampant among the poor, including a sizable anarchist following. The old monarchical system had allowed the growth of vast social inequality, and a few noblemen or others of the wealthy upper class owned the majority of land. Many of these landowners spent the majority of their time in urban centers, leaving their land to be rented out or worked by day laborers. Especially in southern Andalusia, most of the people were extremely poor landless agricultural workers, while the land and wealth were controlled by a very few. These landowners often left land fallow in order to increase the prices of crops, or charged exorbitant rent if they did allow others to plant on it. Laborers' wages were very low for long days of backbreaking labor, and their families still went hungry.
This extreme inequality sparked great social unrest and, influenced by global movements, ideas of socialism and anarchism became popular among workers. Due to Spain's rural population, the need for communal labor to work the land, and isolation from major governing centers, the philosophy of Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin, emphasizing cooperation and local control, won greater popular support than the state communism advocated by Marx. Anarchism developed into a major movement in Spain, and even small towns, such as Casas Viejas, often had their own anarchist sindicato, where members met to educate themselves and discuss political ideas and revolutionary plans. These sindicatos were nationally linked by newspapers and representative meetings, and they cooperated to declare general strikes that displayed their solidarity and maximized their impact on land and business owners by adding leverage to the workers' demands. One such strike was planned to involve railroad workers, and the more militant members of the anarchist movement decided to take advantage of the lack of access to transportation by government troops in order to begin the revolution in earnest.
All sindicatos were set to revolt on the signal from leaders in Barcelona, but due to government infiltration their plans were discovered, the planned rail workers' strike was called off, and the anarchists were quickly defeated. However, word of this defeat did not reach smaller towns quickly enough, and Casas Viejas, believing itself to be part of a national movement, declared their town under anarchist control and laid siege to the civil guard barracks, in the process of which two guards were killed. Government retribution for this was swift and brutal. More guards were sent in, and although most of the anarchists had already fled the town, those who remained, along with their friends and family, were attacked. They were under fire throughout the night, and those who still lived were burned to death when guards set fire to their hut in the morning. Not satisfied with this, the guards went through town and chose twelve other men and executed them in front of the hut. The government then combed the countryside for those who fled, and they were sent to prison. A public outcry was raised over the brutality, especially when it eventually became known that many of those killed had been unarmed and not involved in the uprising. The Republican government was widely criticized, which further destabilized the country, ironically leading to a right-wing rebellion, a bloody civil war, and the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. What reforms the Republic had managed to enact were undone, and the anarchists faced decades of further persecution, to the point that some who were interviewed for this book did not want to be named even years later.
The rebellion caught the attention not only of the people and government in Spain, but also of the international community. It was written about by anarchists and scholars, and used to further various causes, but never, until Mintz, was it directly investigated. Although others, including various political inquiry committees and scholars such as Primitive Rebels author Eric Hobsbawm, went to the town, none of them recorded the views of the townspeople, preferring instead to form events to fit their preconceived theories. Because of this, factual errors were made, and then repeated through scholarly research based on these misinformed sources. As an example, Hobsbawm reported Seisdedos, a 70-year old man uninvolved in the anarchist movement, to be the "charismatic leader" required to fit his theory of social movements (274). Seisdedos was in fact killed in the fighting, but only because his anarchist sons were hidden in his hut, and not because of any actions of his own. While villagers did blame him for much of the rebellion, this was only because he was dead and therefore a safe target at which to direct the wrath of authorities. Through his in-depth research, Mintz was able to discover truths such as these behind the often-confused accounts of events. He refutes many previous examinations of events, thus providing a valuable contribution to Spanish political history and an excellent example for the merits of ethnographic study.
The book is detailed to a fault, occasionally losing its direction due to extensive notes on background events, but this is a minor concern and only serves to highlight the well-grounded research of the author. This important work is a classic anthropological study, used to teach subjects ranging from political history to public memory, and definitely deserves to be reprinted. Although left-wing politics are no longer taboo in Spain since the demise of Franco's government, the basic inequality Mintz deals with remains an important topic worldwide.
Rachel Patrick Conover
Disenchanting Les Bon Temps: Identity and Authenticity in Cajun Music and Dance. By Charles J. Stivale. Post-Contemporary Interventions Series, edited by Stanley Fish and Frederic Jameson. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003. Pp. 217, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, works cited, index.)
In a quote that the author borrows from Todd Mouton ("Checking the Rear View", Offbeat, July 1999, 37–41), Zachary Richard articulates the paradoxical sense the term les bon temps, which literally translates as "the good times," has for Cajun and Creole musicians:
The basic contradiction of Cajun music . . . is that you have songs which are about nothing but heartache, loneliness, loss—loss of love, loss of property, loss of stature in the society, all of these things—on this music that is absolutely joyful. So it's this incredible contradiction that is part of the Cajun soul, I think. You know, that even in pain you celebrate. (2)
The author of Disenchanting Les Bon Temps, Charles J. Stivale, borrows the term "disenchanting" from Sylvia Winter ("On Disenchanting Discourse: 'Minority' Literary Criticism and Beyond," Cultural Critique 7:207–44, 1987) to characterize the way in which he seeks to demystify and deconstruct the various facets of cultural representations that sustain the spiritual and mythic force of this term as they simultaneously celebrate it. As Stivale points out, "the constructions of identity and authenticity in the Cajun dance and music arena manifest ways in which contemporary societies and social groups deploy cultural representations for a broad range of strategic and ideological ends" (3). To this end, Disenchanting seeks to explore the intersection of local and global social-cultural activity by demonstrating some of the ways in which the practices of various local cultural agents affect wider global representations of Cajun music and musicians.
Stivale draws on his extensive personal experience with the community he studies in his effort to pinpoint issues of identity and authenticity as constructions situated in social spaces, inextricably tied to loci of their cultural production. He attenuates this first-hand experience through a combined theoretical lens of cultural studies literature and the scholarly output of theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (cf. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983). Consequently, the work's purview includes a wide variety of cultural contexts in which identities are constructed and authenticity is debated, including personal accounts about the dance floors of various venues, song lyrics, perspectives of various Cajun and Zydeco artists on the trajectory of their performance and recording careers in relation to these issues, and their negotiation and representation in both the motion picture industry and in Cajun dance instructional videos.
In Chapter 1, Stivale discusses the process of his "becoming Cajun" (an identity process many native and non-native Louisianans refer to as "Cajun-by-choice"). In doing so, he reflects on the relationship in this work between the personal, the scholarly, and the disciplinary dimensions, highlighting points of contention as well as complementarity. Stivale also describes in detail two terms essential to the original conceptual framework for his research: "spaces of affects" (arguing that "affective renewal occurs through the dynamic and creative exchange between musicians and fans in multiple dance sites in and outside southern Louisiana") and, using syntax borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari, "becoming-Cajun." Stivale explains the latter term as the creation of a collective enunciation of Cajun music and language in way that contains its own political force and "both a temporal passage through successive experiential phases and an experimental and spatial process of engagement with diverse cultural practices" (21).
In Chapter 2, Stivale considers the concept of dislocation, which he calls (dé)paysement (translated literally as "[un]countrying") in the Cajun music repertoire. The term is used to describe the instability of fixed settlements evoked in song and inscribed through lyrical references. As Stivale writes, "This instability is manifested lyrically as the displacement to, from, and between different parts of the pays—that is the local region understood as a distinct land or territory" (42). Stivale then extends this thematic reflection to the recent poetry and music of Zachary Richard in an effort to understand the ways in which one Cajun artist relates to issues of location and identity.
In Chapter 3, Stivale turns to three visual forms of representation as case studies of the ways in which film has been used to construct Cajun identities. In these films, Cajun cultural agents have communicated various forms of authenticity through self-representation in a variety of capacities. Specifically, Stivale examines two examples of the familiar dominant/dominated dialogue within commercial cinema of the 1980s, Southern Comfort and The Big Easy. In Walter Hill's 1981 action drama, Southern Comfort, for example, National Guardsmen are at war with the residents of rural Louisiana's swamp who are depicted as dark and foreign in an attempt to illustrate the film's larger allegory about U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. Cajun music, musicians, and dance play a significant role in this film's cathartic climax. Stivale also explores the construction of Cajun cultural identity in the documentary genre, focusing specifically on director Les Blank's three films French Dance Tonight, J'ai Été au Bal: The Cajun and Zydeco Music of Louisiana, and Marc and Ann. Stivale concludes the chapter by examining the representation of Cajun identity in three different dance instructional tapes produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Betty Cecil's I Love to Cajun Dance (1988), the New Orleans restaurant Michaul's Cajun Dance Instruction (ca. 1992), and J. Randolph (Rand) Speyrer's Allons Danser (1987) and its 1993 two cassette follow-up with Cynthia Speyrer, Introduction to Cajun Dancing and Advanced Cajun Dancing.
In the remaining chapters, Stivale first draws upon his own experiences in Cajun dance and music venues to discuss how vibrant exchanges between musicians and dancers transform mere physical locales to "spaces of affects." He then considers a number of sociopolitical issues and tensions underlying les bon temps cultural practices that constitute their active construction and expression. Stivale concludes the book with an exploration of ongoing cultural initiatives authored by folklorists, musicians, dancers, and fans that demonstrate the possibilities for maintaining the vitality of Cajun music and dance.
This book is a uniquely theoretical and scholarly-grounded addition to the canon of writing on Cajun music and dance. Though Stivale's adaptation of theoretical frameworks from Deleuze and Guattari will be challenging for readers not familiar with this particular mode of analysis, the rest of the book provides enough rich detail in the form of case studies of specific works, artists, and the author's own experiences to balance and explain these theories, and show how they play out in particular contexts. Stivale provides extensive notes and works cited, though it would have been useful to have a separate discography and videography. Readers searching for a complete ethnography of New Orleans and Cajun culture will be disappointed, but that is not this book's intent, and Stivale provides a clear and cogent discussion of his own positioning in the context of this music and the people that engage in it. Readers should also be aware of the book's tendency to over-emphasize the uniqueness of some of the processes described here involving the negotiation of identity and authenticity on the part of cultural/ethnic minorities.