The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

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JUL-AUG 2013 Issue

History and Memory: The Velocity of Extinction

History has never succeeded at teaching a lesson, not once, not even the 20th century, whose colossal pedagogical commitments dwarfed the scholarly efforts of any previous hundred years. The century showed itself willing to split the world as a clump of dirt frankly in half, if that’s what was needed. Just short of that, it devoted its tenurable, monomaniacal labors to the repetition of two bulletable and unprecedented points: first, to demonstrating that society could definitively shift in a single flicker from civilization to barbarism, as if the difference between the two were nothing more than the angle at which the same artifact were tilted under the light, one way and then the other; and second, to demonstrating that those who stood closest to this drastic flickering, who even pulled the levers, turned the dials, and watched it happen right there in the streets, would afterward insist, “We never saw a thing.” “Who could be positive?” “Our hands were roped to the galley oars, and we were pulling with all our might, heads down.” “Don’t you see? The truth was never true enough.” “There was a flickering.”

These two bulleted truisms of a previous century are of course long documented, heavily impressed on our minds, and easily repeated. But, we no less easily see what is characteristically wrong with this pedagogy: history is strong on demonstration, no doubt, while the thinking goes missing. It makes one point and then the next, when what is needed is the reflection on them, as in this instance, in which it would be understood that the dynamic of primitivization—what, similarly, commentators now remark with casual euphemism as the “coarsening of American culture”—was itself what blocked the possibility of knowing what was occurring. Had this been history’s lesson—continuing with the example—our own baggy, numb obliviousness right now to what we all know perfectly well without being able to know it in the slightest, as if, even when we speak about it, we are still immersed in a sworn secret to be kept carefully from each other and at every cost from us all, would be tearing at our guts.

So, ladies and gentlemen, especially if you already know it, note: We are the last generation of human civilization that will have had the experience that the end of a storm means its passing; that the balmy return of sunshine and the familiar sound of birds is the genuine promise of how it ought to be and might well always be, as if everything we had ever feared were a misunderstanding and exaggeration; rather than the hiatus prefacing the arrival of a next storm, which is what our experience increasingly is of what were once called the seasons. The tint of the sky has shifted; the winds no longer seem to know where they belong, and when the clouds vanish, the sun blisters. Whether we are one or a number of years away from catastrophic, worldwide crop failures, famine, and chaotic migration; whatever sits unknown in what is next in human history, what is certain is that humanity will never again live in a stable climate.

Thus we arrive at the Brooklyn Rail’s fourth, traditionally apocryphal “Suggested Summer Readings.” This year, Phong and I have asked contributors to select five works of broad historical study, on one hand, and of personal memoir on the other—combined in any proportion—to present a group of readings that, without their needing to be read, implicitly display in their titles the configuration of the antagonistic image of the one and the many, of history and memory, of society and the individual. The wish is that the titles, just by being on view, would set a heavy finger, even bear down emphatically with a knuckle or an elbow, on the difference between one’s own life and the society we somehow produce, in such a fashion that society as a whole is inimical to each life that functions within it without, however, anyone being much tempted to imagine that we are some part of making it what it is, and not least of all because our capacity for imagination has no alternative but to perceive being “no part of it” as the sum total of our experience of freedom.

The fact that the list of books, of course, has no expressive capacity whatsoever, not even of expression through non-expression, is historically accurate. It may help, however, if anything at all is to be seen in this assemblage of titles, to regard it from the perspective in which the dialectic of the one and the many tosses up its coefficient as that of history and memory in the known velocity of extinction. Its rough measure has recently been calculated by the distinguished climatologist, Dr. James Hansen. He estimates that by 2050, 1 million species will have vanished. In other words, on any next day, whichever day it is, another 74 differentia specifica are gone. As a point of reference, it might be kept in mind that when Dr. Hansen was asked during a recent discussion of this calculation—just this April—what, then, “remains of the ancient human longing for utopia?” he answered, pausing and looking at no one, “Well, that those million species not disappear.”

—Robert Hullot-Kentor

1. Babette Babich (philosopher)
The Past is a Foreign Country byDavid Lowenthal
Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity by Stephen Toulmin
America By Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism by David F. Noble
On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life by Friedrich Nietzsche
In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh’s Didascalicon by Ivan Illich

2. David Kleinberg-Levin (philosopher)
Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama
Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc by Gustaf Sobin
Museum Memories: History, Technology, Art by Didier Maleuvre
The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt
Diaries: Volume 1, 1939-1960 by Christopher Isherwood

3. Amy Sillman (painter)
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies by Thomas McEvilley
The Roots of Romanticism by Isaiah Berlin
Feelings Are Facts: A Life by Yvonne Rainer
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

4. Richard Foreman (director, playwright)
Romantic Paris: Histories of a Cultural Landscape, 1800-1850 by Michael Marrinan
Journals 1 to 4 by Mircea Eliade
The Meeting of East and West by F. S. C. Northrop
The Ruin of Kasch by Roberto Calasso
The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

5. Meghan Roe-Mesenbourg (writer)
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini by Benvenuto Cellini
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
A History of Private Life by Phillippe Ariès and Georges Duby
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

6. David Simpson (distinguished professor of English)
None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture by Joshua E. S. Phillips
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 by Jörg Friedrich
The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes

7. Sam Lewitt (artist)
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
Berliner Kindheit by Walter Benjamin
Rosa Luxemburg by Paul Frölich
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker
Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future by W. Olaf Stapledon

8. Robert Hullot-Kentor (philosopher)
Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 by Harry Kessler and Laird Easton
Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker
The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution by Charles Woodmason
Porneia: On Desire and the Body in Antiquity by Aline Rousselle
The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldūn

9. Christoph Hesse (social critic)
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
From My Life: Poetry and Truth by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg
The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir by Claude Lanzmann
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx

10. Jasper Bernes (poet, writer, teacher)
Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 by Mahmoud Darwish
Souvenirs et aventures de ma vie by Louise Michel
Zong! by M. Nourbe Se Philip
Testimony: The United States 1885-1890 - Recitative by Charles Reznikoff
In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary by Ngo Van

11. Joshua Freeman (historian)
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant
Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman
Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880 by W. E. B. Du Bois
The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America by Elliott J. Gorn
Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson

12. Iris Dankemeyer (thinking entity, political activist)
The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle edited by Zoe Beloff
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life by Eric Hobsbawm
Till We Can Keep an Animal by Megan Voysey-Braig
Alban Berg and his idols, memories and letters (in German) by Soma Morgenstern

13. Anouk Driant (psychoanalyst)
Purge by Sofi Oksanen
Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld
Climate Wars by Harald Welzer
Revolutionary France 1770-1880 by François Furet
Bach by Marc Leboucher

14. Rachel Price (professor of literature)
I Remember by Joe Brainard
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C. L. R. James
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt
Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 1964-1987 edited by Chris Villars
Complete Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys

15. Eduardo Maura (philosopher)
The Confessions of J. J. Rousseau by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici

16. Bettina Funcke (writer, teacher, art critic)
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
My Last Sigh by Luis Buñuel
Mountain of Truth: The Counterculture Begins – Ascona, 1900-1920 by Martin Green
How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell
Anti-Memoirs by André Malraux

17. Jeremy Cohan (sociologist)
“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” and Other Stories by Delmore Schwartz
The Agony of the American Left by Christopher Lasch
Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring
Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge
Untimely Meditations by Friedrich Nietzsche

18. Denyse Montegut (textile conservator)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Making of John Ledyard: Empire and Ambition in the Life of an Early American Traveler by Edward G. Gray
The Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art by Harold James Plenderleith and A. E. A. Werner

19. Jack Flam (art historian)
The Shape of Time by George Kubler
Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari
1776 by David McCullough

20. David Carrier (art historian)
Kant: A Biography by Manfred Kuehn
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius by Leo Damrosch
Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political Space by Wu Hung
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann

21. Madina Stepanchenko (founder of Phenomena Project and journalist, anchorwoman)

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin
End of Art by Arthur Danto
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

22. Amy Newman (art historian)
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (and I have to agree with Paul Taylor about Ada!)
The Brothers Ashkenazi by I. J. Singer
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

23. Elizabeth Baker (writer, editor)
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo)
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

24. Bud Shulman (lawyer, art lover)
Munich by Telford Taylor
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 by Benny Morris
The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
The Franco-Prussian War by Michael Howard 
The Path to Power by Robert Caro (the first volume in his Lyndon B. Johnson biography)

25. Jim Melchert (artist)
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Francis Steegmuller
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Makers of Rome by Plutarch
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

26. David Little (curator, writer)
Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists by Raymond Williams
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes
Night by Elie Wiesel

27. Phong Bui (publisher, artist, curator)
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
Memoirs of the Second World War by Winston Churchill
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
The Other America by Michael Harrington
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro

28. Cameron Gainer (artist, publisher)
Telling Time by Stan Brakhage
Endgame by Samuel Beckett
Morphic Resonance by Rupert Sheldrake
War, Evil and the End of History by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Foundations of Psychohistory by Lloyd Demause

29. Mark Lilla (essayist, historian of ideas)
On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life by Friedrich Nietzsche (every artist must read this)
The Past is a Foreign Country by David Lowenthal
History and Memory by Jacques Le Goff
Memory, History, Forgetting by Paul Ricoeur
Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting by Harald Weinrich

30. Sam Sachs (former museum director)
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Lee Krasner: A Biography by Gail Levin
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

31. Chip Lord (artist)
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Saturday by Ian McEwan

32. Sharon Corwin (curator, art historian)
Traces on the Rhodian Shore by Clarence J. Glackens
The Writings of Robert Smithson, especially “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” by Robert Smithson
The Legacy of Conquest by Patricia Nelson Limerick
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Landscapes by J. B. Jackson

33. Elizabeth Finch (curator, art historian)
Twenty-Two Days or a Half a Lifetime by Franz Fühmann
The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard edited by Ron Padgett
All the Strange Hours by Loren Eisley
Where I Was From by Joan Didion
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

34. Peter Kubelka (filmmaker)
The Evolution of Culture and Other Essays by A. Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers
Gesture and Speech by André Leroi-Gourhan
The Golden Bow by James Frazer
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin
The Old Testament (Jewish editions recommended)

35. Diana Cooper (artist)
On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

36. Martha Schwendener (art critic)
Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s by Barbara Epstein
Asia’s Unknown Uprisings Volume 2: People Power in the Philippines, Burma, Tibet, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia 1947-2009 by George Katsiaficas
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin
Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson
Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid by Frank B. Wilderson III

37. Cary Levine (art historian, writer)
Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Maus by Art Spiegelman
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

38. Jeff Whetstone (photographer)
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie
Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama
The Long-Legged House by Wendell Berry
The Social Conquest of Earth by E. O. Wilson

39. Eric B. Martin (novelist)
Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński
The City of God by St. Augustine
A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley
Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

40. Stacy Lynn Waddell (artist)
John James Audubon’s Journal of 1826: The Voyage to the Birds of America by John James Audubon
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
White by Richard Dyer
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
A Stranger in the Village by James Baldwin


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

All Issues