Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Order of Things

Here comes a very nice blog post on change, ideology, security, and if you wish, Foucault. The difference between 1972 and now is that this song was proposed and also allowed be sung at Ossining, New York.

(I doubt any prison in the US would allow that refrain to be sung now; I am not sure it was kind to sing those depressing verses; this performance seems dated to me; Baez is so maternal, I want to wince.)

When the song came out I thought it had come too late.  It was sentimental, stylized, commercial, I thought, a commodity; it seemed like something a museum shop might fashion in the style of the previous decade. But it is we who are late now.


A few years after that song came out I declined the opportunity to visit San Quentin, but did visit a prisoner in the city of Rio de Janeiro. His leg had exploded under the electric shocks because he had a metal plate in it due to an earlier accident.

He was in a cage with an exploded leg when the priest walked by. The diocese was contacted, as were the civil authorities and the family. They lived in a different South American country. Could I go and see him?

I was allowed in the prison on the basis of showing identification. We had no background check, we were barely searched, and we brought food in. It is much more difficult to visit a prisoner in the United States.


I need to visit a prisoner and I have been putting it off. It costs some money — mileage, canteen food for two or three, a gift perhaps so they can buy aspirin and thing. It is a long, interesting but also sad day, and I have done it before. But the reason I am putting it off is the pressure.

I  will refuse multiple requests for small, yet time consuming errands (please go through all the telephone books in my parish and find my cousin…), and listen politely to a large dose of not quite applicable fatherly advice. Conversation with this prisoner is all too much like  conversation with a department chair.


Nonetheless I think you, too, should sponsor a prisoner, or their wife or child. Realize what it costs to accept a phone call from a prison what it costs to visit and how difficult that is if you go by bus, and that life in prison is not free — a lot of basic things like xeroxing cost money, just as they do elsewhere.

About 4% of Louisiana adults are incarceratedour rate of incarceration is the highest in the nation. If you think of the impact that has on families, and you realize that these people are poor, and you then look at exactly how poor you must be to qualify for any kind of aid, you can see that this is a real need.



Filed under Banes, Movement, News, Songs

Clifton Chenier

This is Clifton, 25/VI/1925 – 12/XII/1987. Here is another great video with short explanations of the music, partly by Clifton himself: “I’m from New Orleans, I’m a Frenchman….”

Finally, for people interested in the dance, here is a good clip from one of the festivals I have never been to, but promise to attend next year.



Filed under Songs

A vida passada a limpo

Amor é privilégio de maduros
estendidos na mais estreita cama,
que se torna a mais larga e mais relvosa,
roçando, em cada poro, o céu do corpo.

É isto, amor: o ganho não previsto,
o prêmio subterrâneo e coruscante,
leitura de relâmpago cifrado,
que, decifrado, nada mais existe

valendo a pena e o preço do terrestre,
salvo o minuto de ouro no relógio
minúsculo, vibrando no crepúsculo.

Amor é o que se aprende no limite,
depois de se arquivar toda a ciência
herdada, ouvida. Amor começa tarde.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “Amor e seu tempo,” in A vida passada a limpo (1959)


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San Juan

This is St. John’s Day and I’d like to have been in Recife seeing the quadrilles and dancing forró, or at a bonfire far enough north to see the northern lights. Next year I should actually go to a beach on St. John’s Eve and have the Danish celebration. I am glad Clarissa reminded me how important this day is, since I need some powerful magic — as well as a much larger measure of order, beauty, luxury, calm, and pleasure.

This morning after day and a half dealing with broken things of all kinds and many varieties of shoddy work — why does my life involve so much of this, what can I do to increase the levels of luxe, calme, et volupté I experience daily —  I followed and participated in a very interesting discussion on feminism on Historiann. Here are some things I learned:

Feminist Avatar:

Motherhood has been used to give women authority for nigh on 300 years now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this continues. Firstly … women in the late eighteenth century used motherhood to claim citizenship. They made male citizens in the home through their child rearing and so were contributing to the polity. This contribution also made them citizens. We see this argument made in the US, the UK and France from the American Revolution onwards.

Secondly, in the nineteenth century, we carry this further by arguing that because women are mothers and homemakers they have a right to be in the public sphere to ensure women’s role is protected and because they have ‘specialist knowledge’ on particular areas. This argument is used to put them on education boards, poor law boards, local government and eventually get the vote. Female citizenship (and so political power) in a western context has been powerfully tied to motherhood.

Now, if you want to follow the single, motherless ladies in the nineteenth century, you can argue your authority comes from your innate mothering instinct and your role in the public sphere is providing this vital ‘female’ contribution, without neglecting your home duties (because you don’t have any)! But, I think this is where feminism impacted on this discourse. We quite effectively argued that motherhood is not an innate skill, but in doing so, we inadvertently allowed the discourse on mothering and citizenship to be connected to the physical act of giving birth, rather than of being female.

Of course, this is why we should all grab our Wollstonecraft and claim our rights based on our humanity!


Feminist Avatar provides a great brief explanation for the history of invoking motherhood as a kind of authority. It actually has a clear feminist genealogy, because at the birth of feminism women had no other sphere of expertise than domesticity and children. It makes perfect strategic sense that feminists 200 years ago made the argument that motherhood authorized women as citizens, activists, voters, and so on.

Much as I believe in patriarchal equilibrium, times for most of us have changed. Moreover, these days it seems to me like many mothers who identify as feminists (or vice versa) are invoking motherhood not as a wedge into the public sphere, but as an excuse to remain enclosed in the private sphere, but of course they say they’re feminists so how dare anyone challenge the politics of their choices….

This is where “choice feminism” leads us, friends. Anything a woman chooses is necessarily feminist because it’s her choice, and it’s bad, bad, bad for anyone to suggest that some choices are more feminist than others, or that some choices are in fact not feminist at all. In fact, we can’t have this conversation because it’s so wrong.

Now it is afternoon already but I have the materials I need to make the evening auspicious, since the June festivals are not over. I hope also to find clear, recent forró videos so Stringer Bell can see how the music and the dance are related to zydeco. Then we might see vallenato, where you also play accordions and dance close — pegadito, collé — tu le ton son ton.



Filed under Da Whiteman, Movement, News, Questions, Resources, Songs, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

Tu Le Ton Son Ton

Tout le temps en temps it is time to listen to Tu le ton son ton. Here it is as played in 2010 by Leon Sam.

This weekend it would be possible to see André Thierry and Corey Ledet in Loreauville. Allons danser. The radio says there will be a special Creole music event in Arnaudville on Sunday.

Here they are in Canada, singing Colinda:

Allons danser Colinda, danser collés Colinda, allons danser Colinda, pendant que ta mère n’est pas là. And these are the best zydeco dancers.

And I live in an exotic place. Last weekend I explained to French visitors the meaning of eh, toi, and eh, (toi) là-bas, but I do not think they got it.



Filed under Songs

Summer Solstice

Summer solstice in New Orleans is today at 12:16 PM, so this post should come up at that exact moment. Now summer begins in earnest, and it begins yet more earnestly on July 4th. Sleeping the other night next to a canoe I dreamed, quite improbably, that I had ascended a large mountain and my student approval rating had risen to 98 percent.


I had thought my house work would be finished by Memorial Day, and then by the solstice; now all I can say is that I am closing in on it and I will definitely be finished by 4 July. The painters are here now, I think for the last time. They had called yesterday morning, desperate — I am paying them by installments and they had had something come up, wondered whether I could pay them now.

I said no, remember the reason I am paying you in installments is that I have no other choice; remember that I have now agreed to double the originally agreed upon size of the installment and that it means I am flat broke the last ten days of every month; accept that this is the best I can do. And I continued to live and work in this house, with all the furniture piled up into one half of it, as has been the situation since before Mardi Gras.

Today at noon they appeared unannounced and said they wanted to finish the job, so they are finishing now. I told them I was not happy with the quality of work in the two rooms in question, and they told me I had New York standards which were out of place in Maringouin. They said their vision was not strong enough to see the flaws and I said they would have to invest in glasses if they expected to continue in their profession.

It is strange: I have noticed, and some Maringouin natives have noticed, that you often have to fight to get anything done, either by the powerful or by the non powerful, in Maringouin, and I really do not like to fight. I am exhausted and this is why I say housework does take a lot of time: it involves a lot more than cleaning and minor repair, although I wish this were not the case.


I hope the painters will be gone in time for me to go to yoga; I hope we will be on decent terms; I will be very relieved to have my space back. I don’t like these painters because they are so invasive — they make too many personal remarks, and ask questions I don’t even want to hear, such as who, since I am not married, I might be sleeping with, where I might do it, whether I might do women, and so on. I am tired of politely telling them that these questions are inappropriate, and tired of having them appear unannounced when I am deep in work.

The wall repair and paint issue has dominated my life since February — I have been displaced within my own house and nothing I need has been within reach. I’ve always been good at doing several things each day, fitting my main work in among other activities, and I actually think that is good for work. At the same time, I need to have a modicum of control over my space and time and I need not to feel harassed.

Since I am often harassed at work and also on the street here in Maringouin, having home turn into a site of harassment as well has been very difficult. I like to allow one major task to take the foreground of the day. In 2011 that task for me has been, of apparent necesity, endurance since we’re under construction both at work and at home. Images of refugee camps have been pervading my novel, and perhaps one can see why.

And it is not the fact of the disruption that so unnerves me — it is the head painter’s invasiveness of my psychological space. I feel violated by this person and I think my instincts are right. I have this vague nausea and stomach palpitations in connection with him. I will be on edge and have difficulty concentrating until the job really is finished and I have my house key back.


Still to do once the painters leave are:
– touch up paint and flooring indoors (yes I have had help with both of these, and I needed it, but no, not everything is done quite as well as I can do it and want it done)
– hang shades and perhaps acquire and hang additional ones
– reorganize rooms, clean
– clean up yard
– do enough exterior painting so that the boards do not deteriorate while I save to have a real job done
– clean computers and physical files in both the house and the office
– do something deliciously academic every day — not just dutifully academic, but deliciously academic, and do that thing first.


I hope to have all that done by 4 July, and I believe it to be possible. Then I will be able to relax in earnest — work and swim and relax and go out of town on weekends. Once again, I will do something deliciously academic every day — not just dutifully academic, but deliciously academic, and do that thing first.

I might read the fascinating blogs I am behind on, including Northern Gaijin, Feminéma, J’s Theatre, Culture Cat, Amanda Krauss, and  A Corner of Tenth Century Europe. I may be able to watch films seriously — as in, see the complete works of Carl Theodor Dreyer and Kenneth Anger, and other esoteric people. But mostly I want to simplify my life and pare my activities down — go swimming and do work, and not have to argue with workers or think any more about the cost of repairs and strategies for funding them. I do not want to replace this last with any other non central duties.

Since Xiuhtecuhtli may not be entirely descriptive of me, I may spend the rest of summer as a Cipatli and then transform into Miclantecuhtli at the Equinox. I am going to start living like a real professor and a real defector, both at once instead of half of each, all the time. And everything you do, you have to do as itself, as blissfully as you do things when at the beach, I have always said. And with authority, and for pleasure, I also meant.


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D. L. Ménard, Alice Fulton

J’ai parti dedans la porte d’en arrière is how you say it, and this video of D.L. Ménard singing his famous song shows it.  I like Louisiana French, with its strange grammars and borrowings.

I feel foreign because unlike the other people in Spanish, my main department, and English, my other one, I study a foreign literature. It is a different kind of personality or mind-set, I find.

The reason I like poetry is that it is always a foreign language. The good strangeness of poetry, someone said.


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Filed under Poetry, Questions, Songs, What Is A Scholar?