Friday, August 30, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Archival futzing"--Adam Gopnik's term for archival research.

“The study of English . . . isn’t a science, and so the “research” you do is, as my colleague Louis Menand has pointed out, archival futzing aside, not really research.” So says Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker blog for 27 August 2013. 


Now that almost no English professors are guilty of “archival futzing,” is there any reason that universities should support English departments? 

I am pleased to know that my years of transcribing and analyzing 19th century documents and trying to make a biographical narrative from them have finally been properly labeled: "ARCHIVAL FUTZING."

Arthur Mathis and his wife, Frances Lovelady

I posted this picture many months ago. Today I received a gmail from a granddaughter of Arthur and Francis. Greetings, second cousin once removed Karen!
The family resemblance is spooky--very pleasantly spooky.

Herman Melville and the Collapse of AMERICAN LITERATURE as a Scholarly Journal

Cathy Davidson in her "New Melville" issue of AMERICAN LITERATURE (March 1994) gave  Paul Lauter lavish space in the lead article to explain why his students' "distaste for Melville" was understandable. He quoted his students sympathetically: "'You really feel belittled when you're reading Melville,' one said. 'I know this is art, and I can't understand it.' 'You feel,' another added, that 'something's wrong with you; that you're missing something.' My students seemed actively to dislike Melville, to feel humiliated by the prose and ignorant before the dense web of Melville's allusive, syntactically intricate style and his convoluted plotting." Melville, Lauter said, had become "a representative of what they hated about their academic training." Lauter concluded: "For them, the modernist preference for difficult, indeed obscure, texts is no virtue; it may, in fact, reflect a process deeply infected by class standards, whose effect is to marginalize them culturally."

Davidson's NEW MELVILLE issue accomplished part of its apparent goal, for a while. At least one female reader announced that she would never teach Melville again.

Davidson's NEW MELVILLE issued what amounted to a ferocious CEASE AND DESIST order against my work on a biography of Melville: "WE ALREADY HAVE FULL-SCALE BIOGRAPHIES OF MELVILLE."

Perhaps foolishly, after the initial shock and dismay at the March 1994 issue of AMERICAN LITERATURE, I gathered up my strength and finished the biography in, it turned out, two volumes, each full of absolutely new episodes in Melville's life and even more revelatory sidelights on many episodes already known.

I worked for many years transcribing documents and trying to make sustained narrative from them.

Here is what AMERICAN LITERATURE did with the second volume, after Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz had already damned me as an unreliable biographer because I had mentioned that Melville finished a book in 1853 (something we had known about since 1960) and finished another in 1860 (something we had known about since 1922). I was not worth slandering any further, not after Delbanco had said that everything in both volumes was suspect. I did, however, merit a "brief mention":

in “Brief Mention”
Herman Melville: A Biography, Volume 2, 1851–1891 . By Hershel Parker. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. 2002. xvii, 997 pp. $45.00.
"What? a thousand-page second volume on four decades when nothing happens?" Hershel Parker imagines this response from potential readers, given that previous biographers have, at best, glossed over this period of Melville's life. Although his turn to magazine fiction produced some now celebrated pieces, the poetry Melville wrote for over thirty years is generally considered unimportant. Nonetheless, Parker asserts, Melville's life and career were far from over in 1851, and he uses his meticulous archival research on family letters and diaries, newspaper articles, and marginalia from books read by Melville to prove it.

Look, look, at how many books on Melville AMERICAN LITERATURE has given substantial reviews in the last decades and look at what AMERICAN LITERATURE has done to real archival work on Melville in that time. Shame, shame.

“The study of English . . . isn’t a science, and so the “research” you do is, as my colleague Louis Menand has pointed out, archival futzing aside, not really research.” So says Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker blog for 27 August 2013.
Now that almost no English professors are guilty of “archival futzing,” is there any reason that universities should support English departments?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What you put on the Internet--well, I know how slander by reviewers stays forever, but so do some "Comments"

Hershel Parker
I am a blue-eyed Okie, looking more Scots and German than Indian, but I have Choctaw and Cherokee ancestors. For a long time, going by the Scott Brown test, I thought I was at least an eighth Indian because my father's mother looked like an Indian, far more Indian than the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation now looks. I thought I was more because her husband looked Indian, and may have been part Indian. The stories I heard about how her people were kept off the Choctaw rolls sound like current Republican determination to suppress voting. Stories about how her people were kept off the Cherokee rolls are recorded in voluminous testimony in the long-running Glenn-Tucker case, where cousins of mine in the 1880s testified before the Dawes Commission about racial makeup of ancestors in the 1830s. I identified with these unseen ancestors, as I did later when the Turnbo Papers were put online and I could read about Uncle Joe Coker being chased by Cherokees for having one too many Cherokee wives. You can identify with shadowy ancestors, as Elizabeth Warren does, without being dishonest. You can, for many reasons, want to acknowledge particular parts of your ancestry. Now, no one is talking about something very ugly that might have pushed Cousin Liz into persistently identifying herself as she did. In the mid 1990s the National Endowment for the Humanities demanded that panelists identify themselves as being of ONE race. You could not check two boxes.When did that racist policy start? I came close to checking Indian or would have, perhaps, if the box had not said the Politically Correct and nonsensical "Native American." As it was, I resigned as a panelist in a letter in which I explained that the NEH policy was racist. Since then, thank goodness, many people, including many celebrities, have talked openly about their dual (or greater) racial heritage. The President has referred to himself as "a mutt"--referred endearingly, I thought. I wish I knew how to post a picture of my grandmother here: even Scott Brown, the infallible discerner of race, might agree that she was Indian. Maybe he could tell me if she was more Choctaw than Cherokee. His comments in the debate were not racial, they were racist. Cousin Liz, go girl!See Less

Reviewers' lies about Melville's POEMS stay up on the Internet (see MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY on Brodhead and Delbanco)--but so do letters supporting Elizabeth Warren

Hershel Parker

So Elizabeth Warren has not documented her Cherokee and Delaware
ancestry! And so the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (pictured on
TV) has been declared by Scott Brown not to look red. Look at him,
Scott Brown said, he's not a person of color! And here Scott Brown has
extended the "Person of Color" category to include us injuns. Well,
that's better than Obama in his inaugural address which mentioned other
colors but not red, to my pained dismay. (I rejoiced that day and wept
because only one person at the ceremonies mentioned Indians.)
let's talk turkey. I always assumed Grandma Parker was half Indian
because she was so very dark and Indian looking. One of her daughters
was always called Blanket because she came out so dark that the family
thought about wrapping her in a blanket and dropping her off at the
reservation. Okie humor. I knew that some of my great aunts as recently
as 1990 were lamenting their failure to be in the Indian rolls, and they
had different explanations which usually came down to people in
Muskogee having to ride a horse or drive a wagon to Waggoner or
Bowlegs--something on the order of what the Republicans are doing in
Pennsylvania this year, where elderly people are being frozen out of the
electorate by arbitrary obstacles which non-mobile people cannot
surmount. I also thought Grandpa Parker was part Indian. He may have
been, but it's not documented at all. Why did his father call his mother
squaw? [I did not learn my highly refined political correctness from
blood relatives.]
Now I know that Grandma Parker had a
white Scots father. One of his daughters told me he was a full blooded
Irishman--presumably a misunderstanding of how so many Scots were in
Ireland before coming to the colonies. I was able (through misspelling
creatively and through an incisive clue in the 1900 census--the name of a
brother) to trace him back to Arkansas and then his parents to
Tennessee. NOT an Irishman who got off the boat in Indian Territory
somehow in the 1880s. NOT. Just another Scots-Irish guy with red hair.
this Scot bowed his head before meals and said the Lord's Prayer in
Choctaw, and one of my aunts irritably said of her clay-pipe-smoking
child-pinching grandmother, "She was a Chockie"--a Choctaw. Well, part
But she was also part Cherokee, who knows how
much? There's on record a story about Uncle Joe Coker being chased in
northern Arkansas by a party of Cherokees because he had taken one too
many Cherokee wives, and some of his brothers must have married
Cherokees. And my Glenns and Tuckers were party to the Jarndyce vs
Jarndyce trial of Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory--a joke to
those who got on the rolls early and often, a joke even in a history
published the year after statehood. The good part, for documentation,
was that cousins of mine testified in the 1880s and afterward before the
Dawes Commission on what they remembered about Indian ancestors in the
1830s and earlier.
I no longer say I am at least an
eighth Indian, but I know that being part Indian was a defining
condition of my early life. Because of Grandma Parker and what I
understood about her I identified with her Choctaw and Cherokee
I'm with Liz.
Scott Brown, I
have blue eyes and look as white as you, but oh my soul, and oh my
body, they are part Choctaw and part Cherokee. Out of the Senate, Scott
Brown! Make way for my Cousin Liz.

Monday, August 26, 2013

William Cocke and his 2nd wife, my GGGG Grandmother, Kissiah Sims Cocke, Widow of Parish Sims

One of the first 2 U S Senators from Tennessee--perhaps they met when he was agent to the Chickasaws after she had been one of the Sims Intruders on Chickasaw lands, before Alabama was opened to white settlement.

Jane Latta of the Latta Plantation--houses remembered

Slightly less primitive was the Latta Plantation, though the glossy "slave quarters" in the present quasi museum would have seemed like mansions to many a white of earlier times. The mistress, Jane Latta, was the daughter of Robert Knox and Mary Ewart and the niece of James Johnston and Jane Ewart Johnston of Oak Grove, whose "primitive" staircase I posted a picture of.

I may have a section on houses. There's the Coker house in Schoolcraft's book with rods indoors and outdoors holding up bear skins. There's Barksville, where strips of bark from old growth trees gave rude shelter. There are Maryland mansions with great names, one on property that seems to have included what became Silver Springs, MD. What a slide down, fast.

Jane Knox Latta--daughter of Robert Knox and Mary Ewart.

Hilariously chic slave condo below, then me in front of the main house in 2007 and then the main house.

In 2007 I tried for a family discount but was rebuffed.