Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Assorted, uncategorized, adrift
"I fell in with some drifters
Cast upon a beachtown
Winn Dixie cold cuts and highway hand me downs
And I wound up fixing dinner
For them and Boston Jim
I well up with affection
Thinking back down the roads to then." (Joni Mitchell)
Getting ready for another long drive tomorrow, preceded by an outflow of cash that is guaranteed to feel like desanguination. House two weeks away. Odd class responses to recent readings. Manifest Destinies turned out to be a little on the controversial side, which I found surprising. It was primarily a legal history, which led to some negative comments about sources. My contention, I think, is that court cases, legal documents, policy reports--they are all legitimate primary sources. But I think people wanted to see sources from around these things--so as to gauge the public opinion behind the decisions. The sources may or may not exist--but I see the point of asking for them. Also raised the question of whether using historic (primary) sources that reference another document (which may or may not be available, like a 19th century report that mentions a letter received) is appropriate, and how often can it be done? I had hoped for HR and JH to weigh in, but no such luck. HR did have some issues with factual weakness in the book, as well, but I'm not sure how we're supposed to be able to assess that without more extensive background.
We talked briefly about the school of "whiteness studies," (mentioned in an earlier post about Roediger) and to some degree I have the same response to that as I do to gender studies. There's no question that [socially constructed] gender, and [the creation of] race have a tremendous amount of influence on the world. But I have an issue with framing an entire history that way. In the case of race, I find the argument overly simplistic. As with Roediger, I can't find a history that chronicles Southern and Eastern European immigrant transformation to whiteness either provocative or exciting. A legal history of Mexican American conflict in NM in the 19th century is interesting without tying itself to "whiteness studies." And I find I can't quite articulate my problems with using gender as a category of analysis. Joan Scott goes to great lengths to provide reasons and templates for doing this using literary deconstruction, and it drives me crazy. Maybe my problem isn't with "gender" (except that it is, sort of) but is a problem with "category of analysis." I feel like my thoughts here are too many and too confused to be contained in this one paragraph, so moving on...
Odd responses to Rivers of Empire too. I was fascinated by the connection to Wittfogel, particularly since Worster readily admits to Wittfogel's failings. And Worster's case studies about the utopian communities in Colorado (ie. Greeley, which is Centennial, by the way), and about the Mormon land and water use in Utah were fascinating examples of hydraulic societies. But I think I was in the minority here. I do admit that Worster's description of the Central Valley was spot on, but when he calls it unpicturesque, disjointed, corporate--I have to admit my jaw dropped. From the old woman selling okra by the side of the road all the way to the pesticide billboard and the migrant workers, I saw... beauty. I saw people living outside a corporate, capitalist order against all odds. For me, it was a perfect picture of how humans live so messily in and outside an imposed structure. And through Worster's description, all of it shines in the golden sun on the golden hills and in the shimmering desert fields--but that is me the poet, the romantic.
And I didn't have enough to say today, about Crimes Against Nature. Feel like crap as a result. Wish we'd talked more about policy here. When we talk about nature as secular religion, I feel like it is a kind of dead end. Yes, clearly the nation (the western world, perhaps) sees something holy in nature, particularly in grand natural formations, regardless of whether they identify as religious individuals. We can easily take nature as a national religion in a country where we at least give lip service to religious freedom: Yosemite speaks equally to Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Wiccans, et al. I assume. I have a hard time finding something to grab on to here. The connection between historical and current policy is sort of interesting to me, though, and in particular, I was curious to find out how likely it might be that this particular work could be used as a defense for deregulation on federally-owned lands. It was a criticism of the book itself, and while I realize the policy changes are realities we face right now, I want to know how much of a responsibility an individual author needs to feel about his contribution to the potential problem.