How Slaves Reacted to Their Appraisals: Traumatic U.S. History

Daina Ramey Berry in AlterNet:

Average Appraised Values:
Females: $517 ($15,189 in 2014); Males: $610 ($17,934 in 2014)
Average Sale Prices:
Females: $515 ($15,131 in 2014); Males: $662 ($19,447 in 2014)

On the eve of the Civil War, an abolitionist attending the auction of 149 human souls in New Orleans, Louisiana, was intrigued by the bid caller’s excitement over a seventeen-year-old field hand named Joseph who was on the auction block. “Gentlemen,” the bid caller exclaimed, “there is a young blood, and a capital one! He is a great boy, a hand for almost every thing. Besides, he is the best dancer in the whole lot, and he knows also how to pray—oh! so beautifully, you would believe he was made to be a minister! How much will you bid for him?” The opening bid for Joseph was a thousand dollars, but according to the enthusiastic auctioneer, Joseph was worth more, considering his value over time. “One thousand dollars for a boy who will be worth in three years fully twenty-five hundred dollars cash down. Who is going to bid two thousand?” the caller asked his audience. As the price for Joseph increased to $1,400, each interested party eagerly made eye contact with the bid caller. Standing on the podium with a wand in hand, he tried to increase Joseph’s price by assuring the audience that $1,400 was “too small an amount for” him. “Seventeen years only,” he added, “a strong, healthy, fine-looking, intelligent boy. Fourteen hundred and fifty dollars!… One thousand, four hundred and fifty—going! going! going! And last—gone!” As the caller slapped his hand on the platform, just like that, in less than five minutes, Joseph was sold “to the highest bidder.”

More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)

kafka, a life

StachEarly-199x300Robert Minto at Open Letters Monthly:

Kafka’s swimming is a perfect example — a small thing, it might seem, a mere recreational tributary to the torrent of a life. But Stach begins by exploring its somatic and symbolic dimensions:

Swimming is an archaic activity that taps into deep, preponderantly unconscious realms of experience. It is an exceptionally intense and multi-layered, yet easily achievable physical and mental state of being, comparable only to sexuality.

From such lyrical abstractions, Stach circles in to mention virtually every major passage in Kafka’s texts that pertains to swimming (his story about a man who wins an Olympic medal for swimming despite not knowing how to swim, passages from his letters). He speculates on the psychoanalytic explanation for Kafka’s love of floating. He briefly summarizes Kafka’s prospects for swimming-places over the course of his life. Then he continues to weave appropriate references to Kafka’s aquatic disporting through the whole of his narrative. All of this sets up the moment when Stach will address one of the most famous sentences in Kafka’s writings, a line in his journal with which he commemorated August 2, 1914: “Germany has declared war on Russia — went swimming in the afternoon.” This passage has been held up as an illustration of Kafka’s self-absorption and unworldliness. Stach touches it lightly, and merely notes why it has been over-quoted. But in the context of his tender inquiry, the reader of this biography understands at once how profound a response it was for Kafka to swim on the first day of the war. Stach lays the groundwork for such epiphanies everywhere. When you consider how long it took to write the volumes of this biography, and that they were written out of order, such an architectural achievement becomes truly remarkable.

more here.

on ‘The Sound of Music’

SoundofmusicKate Guadagnino at The Paris Review:

The Sound of Music hasn’t tarnished over time; it was always dated, always reviled by the learned. Rumor has it that Pauline Kael was fired from McCall’s for her withering review of it (“the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat”) and that Joan Didion was fired from Vogue for hers, which described it as “more embarrassing than most, if only because of its suggestion that history need not happen to people … Just whistle a happy tune, and leave the Anschluss behind.”

She’s right that the film hints at the limits of art’s power in the face of real danger. “Believe me,” Billy Wilder said at an industry party when he heard of Fox’s production plans, “no musical with swastikas in it will ever be a success!” Of course he was wrong—this was three years before The Producers—though the film might have contained more swastikas than it does. Before Robert Wise could be convinced to sign on, William Wyler was meant to direct. He’d lost relatives in concentration camps and was angling to add a military scene showing tanks decimating Salzburg. Instead, the film treats Nazism as little more than a vague threat to the Austrian aristocracy. At the same time, it capitalizes on a villain everyone can get behind, rendering the Third Reich a least favorite thing. Who among us doesn’t love siblings, lakeside villas, and grandma-chic floral prints—and who wouldn’t root for a Nazi-sympathizing boyfriend to get dumped?

more here.