Preterition https://preterite.net/blog Sat, 04 Jul 2020 20:30:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 https://i0.wp.com/preterite.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/cropped-edwards_favicon1.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 Preterition https://preterite.net/blog 32 32 61680249 Fourth of July, 2020 https://preterite.net/blog/2020/07/04/america-again/ https://preterite.net/blog/2020/07/04/america-again/#respond Sat, 04 Jul 2020 17:53:19 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=2015 Read more]]> I grew up with Americana as a musical genre. My parents would regularly have bluegrass playing on the radio, and I didn’t find out until much later that the voice introducing the songs, Dick Spottswood, was not only a local DJ and a Takoma Park neighbor but also a prominent researcher of American roots music. Later, in my teens, I got into gogo and hardcore, indigenous American genres that also came out of the Washington DC area. And racial politics were always prominent in DC. That’s part of what comes to mind when I read this poem, which I first encountered a long time ago—in junior high, I think. It feels particularly relevant today.

Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

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And Sowed the Ground with Salt https://preterite.net/blog/2020/03/20/and-sowed-the-ground-with-salt/ Sat, 21 Mar 2020 06:17:48 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1993 Read more]]> The old site at vitia.org is now mostly razed. I put up a custom redirect, partly for my own amusement (take a look if you like; it’ll bring you back here after 20 seconds), and partly to start re-training myself with those long-unused (and pretty minimal to begin with) skills in Javascript, PHP, and CSS3 that the redesign and integration here has lately stretched, even if it’s been largely template-based. I don’t miss using Dreamweaver one bit—it feels a lot more comfortable doing the changes by typing in a text editor.

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Tink Departs https://preterite.net/blog/2020/03/17/tink-departs/ Tue, 17 Mar 2020 17:38:32 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1941 Read more]]> Tink had a good death. As uncomfortable as she clearly was in her last days, she persevered with her characteristic poise and quiet dignity. I was too sad to write anything about it a month ago, and I still miss her as much as I miss her sister Zeugma. Their pictures were the first two pictures on this blog. Here are some more.

Tink at two months old.
Tink the kitten plays with a plush toy.
Tink the cat in a Christmas basket.
The cats Tink and Zeugma beg to lick the dinner plate.
Tink the cat washes herself in the window
An elderly cat rests on a heating pad

That last picture is on her last day, tired and thin, on her heating pad where she had a view of the birds in the back yard.

You were the brave and quiet one. I hope I gave you as many good days as you gave me. Go in peace, dear friend.

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Move Complete https://preterite.net/blog/2020/03/14/move-complete/ Sun, 15 Mar 2020 05:07:26 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1932 Read more]]> I’ve moved the weblog and database over from vitia.org, which will no longer be updated, and in the process I’m updating and tweaking a variety of other things as well. The most significant two tweaks, still somewhat in process but to be wrapped up in the next few days—new email is myfirstname at this domain and anonymous at this domain for encrypted, and putting together a self-hosted webfont stack rather than relying on external—have in common a move away from Google, which is perhaps much more understandable to those who’ve read Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, which has my vote for the #1 most important must-read book of recent memory. On the one hand, I do stuff with digital technologies, and I put effort into using integrated stacks of digital technologies (shell scripting, operating system scripting, URL hooks and scripting, keyboard automations, messaging and file system automations, et cetera) to make my life easier and declutter my headspace, and on the other hand, I teach classes that critically engage with digital technologies in ways (q.v. Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression; John Cheney-Lippold, We Are Data; Neda Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora, Surrogate Humanity; Ed Finn, What Algorithms Want; Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum, Obfuscation; Frank Pasquale, The Black Box Society) that make what I used to think of as paranoia look increasingly like not only usefully cautious skepticism, not even only good common sense, but socially imperative just and caring practice toward ourselves and others. (And I continue to be so much happier having almost entirely abandoned short-form social media: no, Facebook, I don’t miss you at all, and yes Twitter, I’m absolutely fine not seeing you until my next academic conference.)

So now that I’ve got the overhaul done and the tune-up mostly complete, I figure it’s time for me to start putting this blog through its paces again and doing some laps before I take it out on the highway.

Vroom, vroom.
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Maintenance and Moving https://preterite.net/blog/2020/01/06/maintenance-and-moving/ Tue, 07 Jan 2020 05:46:46 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1914 Read more]]> I’m moving I’ve moved vitia.org to a new hosting provider, and I’ll soon be changing changed the URL to integrate with my professional site at preterite.net. That means vitia.org will be mirrored at preterite.net for a while. This URL (vitia.org) should be good at least for the next few months, and I’ll have more details as I get the move finalized. Please consider the blog vitia.org now defunct and reincarnated in updated form at preterite.net/blog/.

Short explanation: I started this weblog as a graduate student way back in the early social media days of 2003 (!), when fabulous beasts like the Invisible Adjunct and Culture Cat and the Happy Tutor roamed the green hills of Academic Blogistan. In those days of MySpace and Friendster and LiveJournal and Movable Type 2.6, my default mode was that of grad student critique-ish-ness. The blog’s title, Vitia, indicated that splenetic mode in Latin, and its tagline translated the second declension neuter plural noun: “faults / sins / abuses.”

I like to think I’ve mostly moved away from that splenetic mode, especially with sobriety and being a dad. Thomas Pynchon fans will recognize the reference to preterition, which for me intersects with praeteritio, the rhetorical device (like occultatio) associated with saying something by not saying it or explicitly “passing over” it, as well as with the notion of grace.

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Halloween Playlist https://preterite.net/blog/2019/10/31/halloween-playlist/ Thu, 31 Oct 2019 18:33:04 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1890 Read more]]> Shared on Apple Music.

SongArtistLength
1Koyaanisqatsi Philip Glass 3:27
2Tubular Bells (Opening Theme) Mike Oldfield 4:18
3I Put A Spell on You Marilyn Manson 3:37
4Dedication (Dark Trap Beat Mix) Nesyu Beats 1:36
5Ghostface Killers Offset & Metro Boomin (feat. Travis Scott)4:29
6Rivers Skinny Puppy 4:49
7Orgasmatron Motorhead 5:27
8The Pink Room Angelo Badalamenti 4:06
9Dream Song Ministry 4:48
10Somebody’s Watching Me Rockwell 3:58
11Black Wings Tom Waits 4:36
12Aerials System of a Down 6:11
13Floor 13 Machine Gun Kelly 3:15
14Gimme Back the Night Brodinski 4:14
15Cauterization (Instrumental) Dark Angel 7:18
16Every Day Is Halloween (Razed In Black remix) Ministry 4:55
17Ghosts (Comaduster) Front Line Assembly 4:59
18Seasons in the Abyss Slayer 6:34
19Night Is on My Mind Oliver 4:22
20A Daisy Chain 4 Satan My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult 5:31
21bury a friend Billie Eilish 3:13
22Peter Pan Death Wish Melkeveien 4:50
23Red Right Hand Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 6:11
24Fade Holly Herndon 6:29
25I Put A Spell on You Natacha Atlas 3:41
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The Small Hours https://preterite.net/blog/2019/10/27/the-small-hours/ Mon, 28 Oct 2019 05:48:53 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1888

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Warren Zevon’s Continuing Relevance https://preterite.net/blog/2019/10/26/warren-zevons-continuing-relevance/ Sat, 26 Oct 2019 22:35:32 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1885 Read more]]> Warren Zevon died a little over 16 years ago, and while he’s mostly known today for his AOR hits (“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Ah.” “Ah who?”), his deeper cuts (“Desperadoes Under the Eaves,” “The Hula Hula Boys,” “If You Won’t Leave Me I’ll Find Somebody Who Will”) are among my all-time favorite songs. There were a couple bits of recent news that made me cue up the playlist.

Seminole Bingo

I’m a junk bond king
And I’m on the run
Me and a friend of mine
We were headed for the sunshine

I got my hands on the wheel
I got gas in the tank
I got a suitcase full of money
From a Luxembourg bank

We didn’t stop ’til we got to Big Cypress
Wandered in to the Legion Hall
The sign outside said “Seminole Bingo”
Fell in love with the ping pong balls

And the SEC is far behind
Down in the swamp with the gators and flamingos
A long way from Liechtenstein
I’m a junk bond king playing Seminole Bingo

And my Wall Street wiles
Don’t help me even slightly
Cause I never have the numbers
And I’m losing nightly

I cashed in the last of my Triple B bonds
Bought a double-wide on the Tamiami Trail
I parked it right outside the reservation
Fifteen minutes from the Collier County Jail

And the SEC is far behind
Down in the swamp with the gators and flamingos
A long way from Liechtenstein
I’m a junk bond king playing Seminole Bingo

Mr. Bad Example

I started as an altar boy working at the church
Learning all my holy moves, doing some research
Which led me to a cash box labeled “Children’s Fund” —
I’d leave the change and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store
Laying tackless stripping and housewives by the score
I loaded up their furniture and took it to Spokane
And auctioned off every last naugahyde divan

I’m very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
I’m proud to be a glutton and I don’t have time for sloth
I’m greedy and I’m angry and I don’t care who I cross

I’m Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt —
I like to have a good time and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me —
I’ll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy

Of course I went to law school and took a law degree
And counseled all my clients to plead insanity
Then worked in hair replacement swindling the bald
Where very few are chosen and fewer still are called

Then on to Monte Carlo to play chemin de fer
I threw away the fortune I made transplanting hair
I put my last few francs down on a prostitute
Who took me up to her room to perform the flag salute

Whereupon I stole her passport and her wig
And headed for the airport and the midnight flight, you dig?
Fourteen hours later I was down in Adelaide
Looking through the want ads sipping Fosters in the shade

I opened up an agency somewhere down the line
To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines
But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut
And whisked away their workman’s comp and pauperized the lot

I’m Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt —
I like to have a good time and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me —
I’ll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy

I bought a first class ticket on Malaysian Air
And landed in Sri Lanka none the worse for wear
I’m thinking of retiring from all my dirty deals
I’ll see you in the next life, wake me up for meals

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An Oration https://preterite.net/blog/2019/07/04/an-oration/ Thu, 04 Jul 2019 23:40:43 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1878 Read more]]> (via Jacobin)

AN ORATION delivered at Greenville, Headquarters of the Western Army, North-West of the Ohio, July 4th, 1795, by the Reverend Morgan J. Rhees.

Illustrious Americans! Noble Patriots! You commemorate a glorious day—the Birthday of Freedom in the New World! Yes, Columbia, thou art free. The twentieth year of thy independence commences this day. Thou has taken the lead in regenerating the world. Look back, look forward; think of the past, anticipate the future and behold with astonishment the transactions of the present time!

The globe revolves on the axis of Liberty; the new world has put the old in motion; the light of truth, running rapid like lightning, flashes convictions in the heart of every civilized nation. Yes, the thunder of American remonstrance has fallen so heavy on the lead of the tyrant that other nations, encouraged by her example, will extirpate all despots from the earth!

. . .

Citizens of the United States: Be not frightened in beholding so many emigrants flocking to your territory. If all the inhabitants of the world were to pay you a visit, you can compliment each of them with half an acre of land. But, sirs, look forward and behold with transports of joy this vast continent from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, forming one grand Republic of Brethren.

At present it is impossible to calculate on the rapidity of revolutions. What formerly took a century to accomplish is brought to pass in a day. If the snow ball as it rolls, multiplies its magnitude, the torrent being checked for a season, runs with greater rapidity. So the cause of truth and liberty, being opposed by despots, will gain greater energy, and will eventually, like a mighty deluge, sweep every refuge of his from the earth.

. . .

Citizens of United States: Whilst you commemorate a glorious resolution, call to mind your first principles of action — never forget them nor those who assisted you to put your principles in practice.

. . .

Citizens and Soldiers of America—Sons of Liberty: It is you I address. Banish from your land the remains of slavery. Be consistent with your congressional declaration of rights and you will be happy. Remember there never was nor will be a period when justice should not be done. Do what is just and leave the event with God. Justice is the pillar that upholds the whole fabric of human society, and mercy is the genial ray which cheers and warms the habitations of man. The perfection of our social character consists in properly tempering the two with one another, in holding that middle course which admits of our being just without being rigid and allows us to be generous without being unjust.

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Slavery and Composition: Some Economic Context https://preterite.net/blog/2019/03/29/slavery-and-composition-some-economic-context/ Sat, 30 Mar 2019 06:17:16 +0000 https://preterite.net/blog/?p=1832 Read more]]> My current book project, still very much in the early stages, examines the interrelationships among the American 19th-century slave economy, the technological and economic advances of the Industrial Revolution and the corresponding expansion of literacy, and the growth of American higher education and the emergence of composition as a discipline. That means for right now I’m pulling together threads from a whole bunch of different sources and disciplines and noting correspondences while trying to resist the urge to assign direct causality—but even so, there are multiple intersecting narratives, and they feel like they have a shape to them that’s been emerging from the way I’ve looked at composition and economics in other contexts.

So here’s a very brief and partial early version of some aspects of those intersecting narratives, arguing that the origins of composition studies flows directly from the value of the labor appropriated in the early American slave economy.

I’ve summarized before how land, labor, and capital, the classical economic factors of production, are the elements the capitalist applies to raw materials in the production of commodities. Marx critiqued classical economics, detailing how capital reproduces itself through the commodification of labor and the appropriation of its value. In Marx’s scheme, capital controls labor and controls how the surplus value of the labor inputs of the production and distribution cycle get reinvested into its own ever-expanding regime.

The United Sates for Marx represented the frontier for the ever-expanding circulation of capital. Karl Polanyi’s extension of Marx’s arguments asserts that land and labor and money were in earlier times not regarded as commodities, but embedded in socially networked relationships. They were the factors of production rather than the raw materials or commodity outputs, and became as such because capital expands not only its geographic domain but also its commodifying practices to domains previously thought of as resisting commodification, including that of the human body.

In fact, commodified forced labor as capital operating on the deterritorialized American frontier was the realization of what Polanyi uses Marx’s concept of alienation to name as fictitious commodities. And commodities can be securitized, as Edward Baptist (The Half Has Never Been Told) details in his account of slave mortgages: “a bank could now sell an investor a completely commodified slave. . ., a bond that was the right to a one-slave-sized slice of a pie made from the income of thousands of slaves. . . in the early 1800s, government credit based on slavery provided the foundation for the westward expansion and. . . broadened the slave trade.” The capitalist reinvested in slave capital and created slavery’s “whipping-machine” (Baptist) to increase the productivity of that capital, and used the tropes of white supremacy to justify the whipping-machine’s torture in the name of economic productivity.

Race became culture, and racialized culture became Ham’s mark of exclusion as it emerged from the racist historical justifications for slavery. The later incursion of previously excluded black students into white enclaves of higher education became the perceived spur for current white cultural resentment fueled partly by economic anxiety around the modern shift to post-industrial economies of networked and affective capital, wherein the labor of affect and intellect, literacy practices, the comparative value of racialized cultural practices, and the networking of sociality are all commodified, following the 19th-century path of the commodification and securitization of human bodies and financial debt.

Such commodification occurs in the circumstance observed by Marx by which the reproduction of productive capital requires the reproduction of the means of production, and so “the capitalist mode of production is conditioned by modes of production lying outside its own stage of development,” but its “tendency” is “to transform all possible production into commodity production. . . by drawing [all] production into its circulation process” (David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital Volume 1). In the late 1820s, securitization of slave mortgages helped pump credit onto slavery’s frontier, where it was used to purchase large numbers of enslaved people. These securities based on bundled slave mortgages in the 1820s and 1830s were bundled into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to reinvest in further slave purchases or diversified means of production.

At the beginning of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, “almost 50,000 native people still lived on and held title to 100 million acres of land in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. . . By 1836, Jackson’s administrations forced all the surviving Indian tribes across the Mississippi” and federalized their land to augment the slave economy (Baptist). “More than $600 million, or almost half of the economic activity in the United States in 1836, derived. . . from cotton produced by slaves,” to the point where “cotton was the most important raw material of the industrial revolution that created our modern world economy” (Baptist).

Coincident with this economic expansion was the reinvestment of surplus value into other sectors, including higher education, which had been connected to the slave trade from the outset. Enslaved black people were brought into the Massachussetts Bay Colony by governor John Winthrop starting in 1638, and “the ‘Moor’ who served Harvard’s earliest students. . . [was] the first enslaved black person documented in the colony” (Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivy 29). In Connecticut, the slaveholder Reverend George Berkeley deeded his property to Yale, and “the rents from this small slave plantation funded Yale’s first scholarship. . . and its first graduate-level courses” (Wilder 95). Reverend Dr. John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had established the early American colleges’ “intellectual freedom upon human bondage, [and] it was the security that human slavery provided free men, the wealth that slave traders and slaveholders could generate, and the social networks of plantation economies that . . . carried the American academy into modernity” (Wilder 111), so that “human slavery was the precondition for the rise of higher education in America” (Wilder 114). In those institutions of higher education, “As a body of information, written rhetoric was brought into being between 1800 and 1910″ (Robert Connors, Composition-Rhetoric 6).

So there’s the shape of something there. There’s a lot more I’m putting together from a variety of perspectives, especially on the 19th-century economics of slavery, but the history of higher education readings have been illuminating as well.

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