Ordinary Intimacies in Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin
This essay reads James Baldwin in conversation with two unexpected interlocutors
from the American nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Ralph Waldo Emerson and W.
E. B. Du Bois. What draws these historically distant and intellectually
different thinkers together, their differences making their convergences all the
more resonant and provocative, is a shared mode of attention they bring to the
social crises of their eras. It is a mode of attention foregrounding how the
often unobserved particulars and emotional registers of human life vitally shape
civic existence; more specifically, a mode of attention provoking us to see how
“a larger, juster, and fuller future,” in Du Bois’s words,
is a matter of the ordinary intimacies and estrangements in which we exist,
human connections in all their expressions and suppressions. Emerson names them
“facts [. . .] harder to read.” They are “the
finer manifestations,” in Du Bois’s terms, “of social life,
which history can but mention and which statistics can not count”;
“All these things,” Baldwin says, “[. . .]
which no chart can tell us.” In effect, from the 1830s to the 1980s these
thinkers bear witness to what politics, legislation, and even all our knowledges
can address only partially, and to the potentially transformative compensations
we might realize in the way we conduct our daily lives. The immediate relevance
and urgency this essay finds in their work exists not in proposed political
actions, programs for reform, or systematic theories of social justice but in
the way their words revitalize the ethical question “How shall I
live?” Accumulative and suggestive rather than systematically comparative
or polemical, this essay attempts to engage with Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin
intimately, to proceed in the spirit of their commitment to questioning received
disciplines, languages, and ways of inhabiting the world.
Lillian Leitzel’s celebrity, agency and her performed femininity
Lillian Leitzel was one of the highest-profile circus celebrities of the 1920s in an industry where women occupied a prominent position, performing in virtually every discipline either as soloists or in mixed troupes. Leitzel became famous for performing an extraordinary feat of aerial endurance in an act that was witnessed by audiences in their millions throughout America and Europe. Not only did she perform as part of a circus, she also used her celebrity status to secure engagements in vaudeville/variety venues. Leitzel’s celebrity was unusual, and this chapter explores the ways in which her performance of femininity reflected concerns regarding the role of women in the interwar period as key to her pre-eminent celebrity status.
Partly by mining the wealth of controversial written material produced by Protestant missionaries and their Catholic counterparts, this chapter attempts to ascertain how clergy believed their churches might be impacted by the substantial loss of population which emigration represented. Historians of the earlier migrations have noted the difficulty of untangling the religious and economic motivations for emigrating, notwithstanding that religious persecution or sectarian violence were routinely considered by Protestant clergy as the root cause. The galvanising idea that 'Ireland is thus the battlefield against Popery for Britain and America and all the world' seems to have taken a firm hold in Protestant missionary circles. For all the allegations of 'souperism' that abounded during the Famine, Protestant missionaries were ultimately incapable of financially supporting and retaining in Ireland even those converts they had acquired before the Famine.
Actresses, female performers, autobiography and the scripting of professional practice
Maggie B. Gale
There are an extraordinary number of autobiographies written by British female theatre professionals working during the period. This generation of actresses and female performers were concerned, in part, with locating themselves in a public culture of self-affirmation and reflection. Their autobiographic writing evidences an awareness of the growing interest in their activities as public figures and practitioners, in a labour market where women were now becoming firmly professionalised. The chapter explores how their ‘autobiographic confessional histories’ can be read as a body of work, as cultural interventions that make an explicit contribution to our understandings of the development of professional theatre practice more generally, during the era.
The creation of spaces conducive to healing is a critical aspect of the provision of good nursing care. The nursing sisters of the British Army, having trained in the British hospital system would have been well versed in the need to create and maintain and environment in which healing could take place. The zones into which they were posted during the Second World War and the spaces they were given in which to care for their patients, were however, rarely either favourable to health or to the ‘serenity and security’ needed for recovery. Extreme weather conditions, limited water supplies, equipment and electricity combined to hinder all aspects of patient care. The often hostile places in which nurses worked demanded that they develop clinical skills and the ability to improvise and innovate in order create healing spaces for their soldier-patients. However, as the chapter argues it was the highly feminised home-maker work that created these spaces, which the nurses themselves credited to be an essential aspect to the healing process in which they were the critical performers.
Despite the imperative for change in a world of persistent inequality, racism,
oppression and violence, difficulties arise once we try to bring about a
transformation. As scholars, students and activists, we may want to change the
world, but we are not separate, looking in, but rather part of the world
ourselves. The book demonstrates that we are not in control: with all our
academic rigour, we cannot know with certainty why the world is the way it is,
or what impact our actions will have. It asks what we are to do, if this is the
case, and engages with our desire to seek change. Chapters scrutinise the role
of intellectuals, experts and activists in famine aid, the Iraq war,
humanitarianism and intervention, traumatic memory, enforced disappearance, and
the Grenfell Tower fire, and examine the fantasy of security, contemporary
notions of time, space and materiality, and ideas of the human and sentience.
Plays and films by Michael Frayn, Chris Marker and Patricio Guzmán are
considered, and autobiographical narrative accounts probe the author’s life and
background. The book argues that although we might need to traverse the fantasy
of certainty and security, we do not need to give up on hope.
This book charts and analyses the work of Oliver Stone – arguably one of the foremost political filmmakers in Hollywood during the last thirty years. Drawing on previously unseen production files from Oliver Stone’s personal archives and hours of interviews both with Stone and a range of present and former associates within the industry, the book employs a thematic structure to explore Stone’s life and work in terms of war, politics, money, love and corporations. This allows the authors both to provide a synthesis of earlier and later film work as well as locate that work within Stone’s developing critique of government. The book explores the development of aesthetic changes in Stone’s filmmaking and locates those changes within ongoing academic debates about the relationship between film and history as well as wider debates about Hollywood and the film industry. All of this is explored with detailed reference to the films themselves and related to a set of wider concerns that Stone has sought to grapple with -the American Century, exceptionalism and the American Dream, global empire, government surveillance and corporate accountability. The book concludes with a perspective on Stone’s ‘brand’ as not just an auteur and commercially viable independent filmmaker but as an activist arguing for a very distinct kind of American exceptionalism that seeks a positive role for the US globally whilst eschewing military adventurism.
From the 1830s, sets of clergy allowed a sober recognition of the economic benefits for individual emigrants to win out over any worries for the spiritual dangers they may have faced. Like Catholic clergy, Presbyterians could therefore identify significant ways in which, despite its losses, their church had profited by emigration. For many Catholic clergymen in Ireland, the much-trumpeted 'spiritual empire' was less the altruistic, divine undertaking of their 'martyr nation' than it was the opportunistic exploitation of circumstance for home benefit: an accidental (spiritual) imperialism. Fears of empty pews or of losing demographic dominance in Ireland, so prevalent among clergy during the Famine, and occasionally during later peaks of emigration, had proved entirely unfounded. In fact, although it was not openly stated very often, mass emigration had greased the wheels of the devotional revolution, helping to increase the Irish church's power and influence both at home and abroad.
This concluding chapter explores the difference between tragedy and hope:
traversing the fantasy that we can know what the world might be with any
certainty, and retaining a dream of a different sort, a hope without
guarantees. It argues that traversing the fantasy and accepting the
inevitability of a lack or an excess does not mean abandoning hope or giving
up on dreams altogether. It examines Lauren Berlant’s notion of cruel
optimism, where what we desire turns out to be an obstacle to our desire,
David Scott’s tragic sensibility, and Les Back’s idea of hope as