What I’ve Been Reading, February 2018 (Southeast Edition!)

Hey wow, two books published in 2017! I’m only a little late to the party, for once! Also, two books that take place in the US Southeast! I could’ve broken this post into two separate review posts, since I have a lot to say about both books, but they kinda sorta pair I guess not really but whatever here we go!

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard — I happened upon this book just by browsing through my local library’s non-fiction ebooks, looking for something to occupy my time over the winter break, and man am I glad I did. Sunshine State is a collection of essays mainly dealing with events, recollections, and social issues in the Tampa Bay area. Though the title comes from the nickname for Florida, Tampa Bay and Pinellas County are really the central locations of the book.

What I enjoyed most about these essays was Gerard’s ability to pierce through these very specific, or at times very personal, topics, and reveal something more universal, especially in essays like “BFF,” “Going Diamond,” and “Sunshine State.” “BFF” is the opening piece of the book, and is written as an address to an old, unnamed friend of Gerard’s. The writing is visceral, and the description of their painful, years-long parting is captivating. It’s a level of emotional, personal intensity that the collection never really returns to—at least not in full (it would be impossible to sustain anyway.)

This intensity is certainly sprinkled into most of the essays though, like in “Going Diamond,” an essay about AmWay, the direct selling (a.k.a. pyramid scheme) company. The essay describes the history of the corporation, as well as the Gerard family’s time as members of AmWay, interspersed with descriptions of Gerard and her husband posing as prospective homeowners, and touring enormous mansions in South Florida gated communities. The blend of all these elements creates this feeling of surreality around AmWay, a cloying, saccharine vision of country clubs and indoor pools and saving the earth with warm, honest capitalism. The American Way.Read More »

Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This was originally going to be just part of a “What I’ve Been Reading” post, but it turns out I have a lot to say about this book, so now it’s just its own review post.

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Cover courtesy of DAW

The Name of the Wind is the first book in Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, and it describes the early life of the first-person narrator and alleged Kingkiller, Kvothe. To describe the plot generally would paint this novel as clichéd. I guess that’s because it is, in its broad strokes. An exceptionally talented, fast-learning child lives a comfortable life as a player in his father’s troupe of traveling performers. When the troupe takes on an arcanist, young Kvothe is mentored by him in Sympathy—a kind of magic based on intense concentration and mental gymnastics. Eventually the arcanist leaves, and soon after the Kvothe’s father begins work on a ballad involving the mysterious Chandrian—mythical superhuman superevil beings, probably just fables. Then the Chandrian murder the entire troupe, leaving only Kvothe alive. For years Kvothe survives by the skin of his teeth, hitchhiking, begging, stealing, though he eventually determines to go to the University, to utilize its massive archives to research the Chandrian. Demonstrating exceptional intelligence and knowledge of sympathy, Kvothe is admitted to the University, where he spends the remainder of the book having adventures and misadventures, and trying to gain access to the archives.

Yes, with the exception of a few creative flourishes, the book traces a familiar arc. Where it stands out, or at least justifies its position as one of the most popular fantasy novels in the past decade, is in the execution. The book reminds me of a 19th-century serialized novel, like Great Expectations or Count of Monte Cristo—both of which, in their broad strokes, also rely on clichés, despite being terrific works. The pacing is tireless, each chapter lurches into the next as new dilemmas arise and Kvothe sets his sights on new goals. There’s a large cast of characters, but they’re all memorable, and you love to love the ones you love, and love to hate the ones you hate. Name of the Wind manages the great trick of being long and reading fast.Read More »

New Publication: The Wisdom-Goddess Star

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! My novelette, “The Wisdom-Goddess Star,” is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. It has nothing to do with love or romance, but neither does St. Valentine (possibly), so it works out. Here’s the synopsis:

twgs-c-2Alexander Irving. First generation Martian, born to Patricia Irving and Peter Leung. Studied journalism at the newly founded University of Mars, a petri dish for “human journalism,” a new style of journalism to compete with AI reporters. Moved to Phobos upon graduation and joined the staff of The Light, the premier news organization of Mars’s largest satellite. Reported primarily on the working class of Phobos—technicians, repair crew, service workers—and always felt he was missing something. The grit of real journalism, investigative journalism, the kind which humans still do in the mud and shadows of Earth.

2 Pallas. Third most massive asteroid in the solar system, the newest acquisition of the International Martian Program. Its colonization is the first major IMP project to make use of the Per Aspera Ad Astra program, recruiting a thousand new members from working class, low income, secondary education backgrounds. Due to its highly eccentric orbit, Pallas only nears Mars once every 2 years—making it the most isolated colony in the IMP.

Pallas gives Irving the opportunity he’s looking for, to probe deep into a colony from which AI cannot harvest data, as the colony still lacks a long-range communications relay. When Irving arrives, he shortly discovers that Pallas’s isolation may be the intentional work of the local governor, and he endeavors to discover what exactly the governor wants to keep hidden from the rest of the IMP.

In addition, the publication includes an afterword in which I discuss how a school superintendent election, a dysfunctional novella, and a few English classes influenced the creation of this story.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter IX, The Invasion of Rio Grande do Sul

Although the Furtado (1) Cabinet was not yet in power when Rio Grande do Sul was invaded by the Paraguayan army, this event belongs to its administration for the same reason that the events of Yatay and Riachuelo, victories whose glory alone vindicated the cabinet, do. (Address from 13 August 1867.) The cabinet of 12 May (2) did not have time to prepare, from Rio de Janeiro, any kind of resistance to an invasion that had taken place on 10 June in São Borja, the Paraguayans being already on the opposite shore of the Uruguay. They had barely been able to send some order or other to Montevideo. Besides, the President of Rio Grande (Gonzaga), the commander general of the borderlands (Canavarro), the commander of the field army (Osório [3]), the admiral (Tamandaré), and the plenipotentiary of the alliance (Otaviano), had been appointed by the Furtado ministry. To the cabinet of 12 May, in propriety, one should attribute the events that happened after the arrival of General Porto-Alegre, Minister Ferraz, and the Emperor in Uruguaiana. The blame for not having prepared anything within Rio Grande itself to stop the devastation does not belong to it, but its predecessors.

Estigarribia (4) crossed the Uruguay River on 10 June 1865, without encountering any resistance other than that of a 370-man contingent of the National Guard, with which the 1st Battalion of the Voluntários da Pátria were joined. This small force could not stop the enemy. São Borja was occupied on 13 June and systematically surrendered to the soldiers. From São Borja the invading army marched through Itaqui, completely devastating it. Parallel to that army, Commander Duarte’s (5) column marched on the right bank of the river. On 7 June Itaqui, abandoned by its inhabitants, was occupied and immediately sacked. Between Itaqui and Uruguaiana runs the Ibucuí, a river that the enemy crossed without opposition after doubts and disagreements between Caldwell and Canavarro. On 5 August the Paraguayans enter Uruguaiana, where only the day before our generals’ decision to not defend it had been announced, producing an indescribable panic.

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Map of the action described in the above paragraph. Source.

Serious condemnations of the Empire’s administration can be deduced from the state of helplessness on our side of the Uruguay. The basis for these criticisms was quite old because the government had known the invasion plan, put into effect in June, since January. In five months no effective measures were taken, nor was any defense plan drafted to impede the invasion. If a person wants to figure out to whom belongs the responsibility for having allowed the free and open crossing of the Uruguay by the enemy’s army, it is unclear how to cleanly place the blame.

The Furtado ministry defends itself by saying they trusted in the assurances that the president of Rio Grande do Sul province gave them, and above all, by claiming that they didn’t find a single thing prepared for them, because of which they had to improvise everything, and that even so, with the things that they hurriedly gathered together, we were victorious in Riachuelo and Yatay.

For his part Gonzaga, president of Rio Grande, defends himself by asserting the insufficiency of the resources that existed in the province, the simultaneous requests of Canavarro and Osório, and the assurances that the commander of the borderlands gave him that he would defeat the enemy, eventually wanting to go to Candelária in search of him.

Canavarro, for his part, defends himself by saying that his complaints were not attended, that he lacked the resources on which he had counted, and that after the strength and aims of the invading army were known, he employed against it a tactic with which he managed to destroy it completely, bringing about the best result that could be desired.

Osório excuses himself from not having run to the aid of São Borja or Uruguaiana, and from having disregarded Rio Grande, explaining the situation in which the Concordia army (6) found itself, and the necessity of not weakening it—it was the alliance’s base of defense—to which he added that, to his mind, any Paraguayan column that penetrated Rio Grande would be irredeemably lost.

Until, in January, López requested permission from Argentina to cross through the province of Corrientes, it was reasonable to consider the invasion of Rio Grande as improbable, given the fact that this region found itself defended by the neutral territory that lay in between it and the supposed invader. With that request made, now there was no such improbability in supposing López capable of the madness of crossing Argentine territory, creating a casus belli. It was still not probable, but protecting the border against any possible surprise was imperative. After the invasion of Corrientes, in the middle of April the likelihood, the almost certainty of an attack on Rio Grande was discovered, and since then the advisability of defending the Uruguay’s fords was evident.

Meanwhile, the ministerial crisis in Rio de Janeiro was happening with all the consequences that the change of governments always brought, all the more so since the transition of power from the hands of the historic Liberals to the progressives, had affected in Rio Grande do Sul (where each group or party had their own general) a radical change, or at least, a profound shake up of the military command.

Translator’s Notes

1. Francisco José Furtado, Brazilian Prime Minister 1864-65.
2. That is, the Olinda Cabinet, which took power on 12 May 1865.
3. Manuel Luis Osório, field marshal of the Brazilian army from 1865-66.
4. Antonio de la Cruz Estigarribia, Paraguayan Lieutenant Colonel who lead the invasion into Rio Grande do Sul.
5. Pedro Duarte, Paraguayan military officer.
6. Concordia is a city in Entre Ríos, which served as a rendezvous point for the allied armies. At the time that Estigarribia entered Rio Grande do Sul, Osório was already in Concordia, though the entirety of the Brazilian army had not yet arrived, and divisions from the other allied nations were on their way.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter VIII, The Argentine Alliance

Mitre had been maintaining the most well-considered neutrality in the fight between Brazil and Montevideo, and he had no motive to intervene in the war with Paraguay. “We don’t know if at the end,” he writes to Sarmiento, in Lima at the time, on 10 December 1864, “we will be engulfed by that tempest that more than a year ago we were avoiding, despite the fact that I’m working with perseverance and willpower to prevent it; I don’t know if I will achieve this.” However his sympathies were not in doubt. Whatever the thinking was about the platine enemies of Brazil, civilization’s best interest lay in the destruction of the new power that, with an incalculable force and threatening character, supported by the complete servitude of its people, soon arose in the Alto Río de la Plata (1).

Lopez’s victory over Brazil would’ve been a disaster of greater consequence for Buenos Aires, or at least for the liberal order (in its infancy at the time), than it would for Brazil, which, sooner or later, would’ve ended up imposing its law over Asunción with its battleships. Perhaps neutrality was the Argentine Republic’s political duty; but because they also had a genuine interest in maintaining it, they had to be sure of the Empire’s ultimate victory; and even so it’s likely, in this case, that that interest lay in allying themselves with Brazil, for a new Battle of Caseros, against a tyranny worse than that of Rosas. The destruction of López could not have been a natural desire of the free nations of the Plata, before the use that that man decided to make of militarizing the Paraguayan people was known; but once known, all the countries bordering Paraguay were equally interested in tearing that terrible weapon from the tyrant’s hands. Mitre instinctively felt that the whole Río de La Plata would find itself invested in Brazil’s victory, which would be at the same time civilization’s victory.

After the invasion of Corrientes by Robles’s army, an attack that could already seem to be an act of dementia, there only remained for the Argentine Republic the choice between these two resolutions: To make war with Paraguay on their own, or to ally with Brazil. It is clear that they should prefer the second option; and in effect, the treaty of alliance is made official on May 1st, with the new government that, thanks to us, had triumphed in Montevideo being represented in it.Read More »

Review: Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

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Cover of the first German edition, courtesy of Campus Fachbuch

I heard about this book around the time I was starting to form my own ideas about why people identify themselves as Americans, Porteños, Quebecois—and why other people don’t. Essentially, what does it take to convince people that they belong to a group? Why did US citizens identify more with their states than their nation, in the early 19th century? When does state building fail, and when does it succeed? Imagined Communities does not examine those specific questions, but it effectively answers them, and provides a whole bunch of tools for understanding nationalism, and, I ‘unno, separatist movements like the one that is happening right now. Might be worth picking up now for that reason.

The central conceit of Imagined Communities is that nationalism, even the concept of clearly delineated nations as the ultimate form of legitimacy, is recent, and that it was only possible with the rise of print capitalism. When reading newspapers based in Venezuela, inhabitants of the country could imagine other “Venezuelans” reading the same text as them, reading about the same political appointments, the same market changes, the same marriages of nobility. This “imagined community” is the nation. Of course, there are other imagined communities (Anderson describes religious community as the greatest precursor to national community), but because of the insularity of nations, and a host of other factors which he delineates in the book, this imagined community becomes one that people are willing to die for.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter VII, Character of the Paraguayan War. — López.

The Paraguayan War had such decisive importance in our destiny and in that of the whole Río de la Plata region that it can be considered a dividing line between two periods in our contemporary history. It signals the apogee of the Empire, but also within its origins are the principal causes of the decline and fall of that dynasty: The alluring force exerted by the Argentine Republic’s appearance and development, its military prestige, connected by the working-class spirit to exalted names, and united by the ties of camaraderie that war creates; Americanism; the very emancipation of slaves, an act that in many ways is tied to the war—thousands of Brazilians residing in foreign countries without slaves, constant insults from the enemies of the Brazilian alliance because of its practice of slavery, effective military inferiority for that reason, freedom conceded by the Count of Eu (1), husband of the heiress to the imperial throne, to the slaves of the defeated nation; and republican propaganda—partly of platine origin, a product of the influence of the institutions and the men of the Plata, during the campaign, over Quintino Bocayuba (2) and others, and political influence of the allied camp over our officials, principally those from Rio Grande.

This war’s history, whether military, diplomatic, or political, is yet to be written. It’s difficult to set out the military truth clearly because of the manifest bias of the war’s historians, each in favor of their respective countries. The diplomatic truth waivers not only under that same prejudice, but also under the secrecy of foreign offices, and the reservations of the characters controlling the conduct of the countries involved in the conflict. The political truth, that’s to say, the attitude, the motives, the culpability of the parties, in each one of the belligerent nations, is obscured by the sympathies felt by each writer. Writing a new version of this war does not enter into my purpose, nor would it be within my scope, nor could I even reconcile the three common versions: Brazil’s, Argentina’s, and Paraguay’s.

As far as the military angle, the criticism of any of these derivations comes down to affirming that it would have been better to do what was not done, that is, what was not tested on the touchstone of reality (3). Each time it will be more difficult to obtain the truth from such a critique, since, to arrive at truth, a kind of face-to-face confrontation, impossible today, would be necessary, between those that served as commanders of the opposite camps. It is certain that criticisms of this type lack force, because upon proving that this or that should have been done, instead of what was done, it would remain to be proven whether or not knowing what should have happened was only possible by virtue of knowing what did happen; and what’s more, it would remain to be proven that every military operation would have been more fortuitous if the campaign had been taken in a different direction. The Paraguayan War will always be an unsolvable problem, because its critics, fundamentally, will always make mistakes, the historian lacking the knowledge of the conditions and circumstances of the moment.

Above the criticism of all those military operations rises the truth contained in the words of the Duke of Caxias, in the Senate, more than once quoted: “Nothing easier, after events have occurred, after the enemy’s territory, forces, and tactics have been familiarized, than criticizing from afar—with total calm and sangfroid, with the official reports available—the management of the campaign, and indicating the most advantageous plans. But it doesn’t happen the same to the person who finds themselves in the theatre of war, walking in the shadows of an entirely unfamiliar country, bristling with natural obstacles. It’s essential that the senators recognize that the Paraguayan War was done blindly, by feeling our way through. There were not maps of the country to serve as a guide, nor reliable pilots. The only terrain that was known was what we stepped foot on. It was necessary to do reconnaissance and scouting missions in order to take a step.”Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter VI, López’s Intervention. — End of the Uruguayan War. — Invasion of the Argentine Republic by the Paraguayans.

By fortune, no darkness shrouds the origins of the Paraguayan War. In June, with López’s aid solicited by the Blanco government after Saraiva’s mission arrived in Montevideo, López offers his mediation to the imperial government; in August and September he protests Brazil’s threat of reprisals and the aid Tamandaré lent to Flores’s invasion. Seeing his mediation rejected, his protest scorned, in November he captures the steamer Marqués de Olinda, which was bringing to Mato Grosso the new governor, Carneiro de Campos, charged with organizing the defense of that western Brazilian province against any sudden attack from Paraguay. One month after the attack on the Marqués de Olinda, López invades Mato Grosso, his troops having the same orders to pillage and destroy, the same objectives of plundering and raping with which we later saw them cross into Uruguay. It was not a civilized war, this war which caught us by surprise. It was like an invasion of barbarians, a horde of Huns suddenly launched into our defenseless populations.

The Marqués de Olinda lost, Carneiro de Campos imprisoned, and Mato Grosso invaded, we had to force the pass at Humaitá and go on until Asunción. By our luck, a great obstacle was going to disappear from our way. Through the agreement of 20 February (1865), Montevideo was surrendered to Flores, and since that day, not only did we not have to sustain two wars, but we also could count on the Eastern State as an ally instead of an enemy.

Nothing is more likely to be true than the theory that attributes the abrupt resignation of Paranhos (Viscount of Rio Branco) to the emperor, because of that pact: however it is impossible to imagine that the emperor could have asked him to do anything else. And what could be expected to come from the forcible taking of a trading city, in great part foreign, European, such as Montevideo, even supposing that it could not defend itself? Or what could be expected to come from the city’s bombardment, the unavoidable preliminary action of such an assault?

The total deadlock in resolving the war with Montevideo, after the attitude taken by López, had been a catastrophe, and if the delay did not make an impression on our government, it’s because no one expected what happened: the invasion of Rio Grande do Sul, after that of Montevideo. In Flores’s complete victory, López sees the hand of the Argentine government, an accomplice to the invasion according to the Blancos, and he suddenly turns against Buenos Aires with the same violence with which before he turned against Brazil, repeating on 13 April what he did in the waters of the Paraguay with the Marqués de Olinda, only now with canister shot and soldiers boarding the other ships, by which method the Gualeguay and the 25 de Mayo were taken over, two small Argentinian warships that were caught unawares in the port of Corrientes. The following day General Robles (1) occupies the city and invades Argentinian territory, if not for which Paraguay could have claimed some pretext for their actions.

Translator’s Notes

1. Wenceslao Robles, a Paraguayan general.

An Imperialist Writing Policy — How

Now that I’ve explained what an “imperialist writing policy” is, and why it might be useful, here’s how to actually do it.

Compiling Your Curriculum

So you’ve got some reason for enacting an imperialist writing policy—what do you fill it with? What are your imperial holdings? As I said, with Suggest the Empire I initially began with plays I was already aware of—Shakespearean histories. However, Stuff Happens I only learned about by doing some research, looking up contemporary history plays. After finding these materials, I just continued with my life, and kept on the look-out for any books or shows or movies or podcasts that seemed like they could be useful, adding them to my curriculum as I found them.

I’d recommend the same—start with works that you are already aware of, or that you have already been wanting to read. If you have enough, great! If you don’t, it’s time to do some research. This is essentially how I determined what plays to read for Play Time (which was a literal curriculum, since it was an Honors project.) I started by looking at some plays dealing with time which I already wanted to read—We Are Proud to Present …, Strange InterludeTop Girls, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—then did some research. I pretty quickly found out about J.B. Priestly’s time plays, and stumbled upon a review of a few short Beckett plays staged together because of their similar treatments of time. The internet is an incredible thing.

If this seems overwhelming, start with Wikipedia. Look at the external links on the article, look at the references. Look up what resources your local library has, or, if you’re a college student, check out your university library. Find people who are experts in whatever you need to immerse yourself in, and see what they’ve written. See what they recommend. If you personally know anyone who has some experience with the topic, ask them to give you some recommendations—or, if they’re willing to give you their time, ask them questions about the topic and make note of the answers. Sift through your personal library, see if there are any old books you forgot you even had that might be useful (this is exactly how Top Girls made it onto the list for Play Time.) And if you’re really hitting a wall, just start reading whatever you have found. More likely than not (and especially if its non-fiction) that work will lead you to other works. You’ll start to get a sense of what the foundational texts in the field are, which authors keep coming up again and again, which authors have written stuff very similar to (and therefore very useful for) what you’re planning to write.Read More »

Public Domain Day 2018: Now, Don’t Fucking Touch It

Today is Public Domain Day. That effectively means nothing in the US, where for the past 49 years, no published works have entered the public domain. However, next year, finally, finally, this half-century of starvation will be over.

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Woman Chocolate Vendor by Paul Gavarni. Painted ca. 1855, totally in public domain. Isn’t it pretty!

A work that is in a country’s public domain is a work that anyone can modify, sell, or incorporate into a new work, with no permission needed from anyone. There is no copyright holder for works in the public domain. Originally, US copyright law stated that a work—like a book, a painting, a piece of software, a song, etc.—had to be registered for copyright, after which point the right to copy it would rest solely with the author, for 14 years. The author could renew it for another 14 years after that, if they wanted, and then it would enter the public domain. In 1830, this law was modified so that terms were 28 years, again with the option for renewal.

A century and more later, in 1976, copyright term was dramatically increased to the life of the author plus 50 years. Additionally, the 1976 act set a term of 75 years for any work of unknown origin, or any “work for hire”—a term which would be applied to new works, and works published before 1978. A work for hire would be like a photo created by an employee as part of their job—or, it could be a movie created by a group of people (most movies are works for hire), who all sign a contract to designate the movie as a work for hire. As well, this dumpster fire piece of legislation extended the maximum copyright term of works created before 1976 from 56 years to 75 years.

This is a lot to take in, so let me break it down. Suppose I write a book in 1930, and I’m 30 years old, and I publish it that same year. I would hold the copyright until 1958, at which point I would renew it. I’m still alive after all, might as well make sure people are buying it from me and not anyone else. Then I would hold the copyright term until 1986. Now in 1976, I hear about this new copyright act, which allows authors to retain control of their works for as long as they live—and then grants their estates control of the work for 50 years after their death. Well, that doesn’t seem fair to me—I’ll still be alive (possibly) when my copyright expires in 1986, and I still want that money. Good news—the 1976 Copyright Act grants my work a copyright term of 75 years, meaning it will expire in 2005—when I’m 105 (or probably dead.) Hooray! I suppose this is a good scenario, but here’s what could also happen:

Suppose I write a song when I’m 30 in the year 1930, publish the song, and die instantly. Well, my estate would then get to reap the benefits of that song for 75 years. Or, maybe I don’t have an estate—maybe no rightful heir can be found, in which case, this song is stuck in limbo, with absolutely no one benefitting from it, for the better part of a century.

Suppose I write a song in 1922 and it doesn’t matter how old I am. The song remains in the public domain until 1978, at which point the 1976 act goes into effect. It would be among the last batch of published works to enter the public domain, before the 50-year drought that we’re finally reaching the end of now.

But whatever. That’s just some weird bit of business to try and bridge the gap between old copyright law and new copyright law. Let’s see how this would work for an artist working in 1980.

Suppose I make a movie as a work for hire in 1980. A corporation would probably be the copyright holder, and they would hold the rights to the movie for the next 75 years—or, if for some reason they waited a long time to publish it, 120 years. The 1976 act granted copyright for 120 years after creation, or 75 years after publication—whichever comes first. Potentially, a company could wait 119 years to release a movie, and then have it enter public domain the next year. Weird. Anyway, here’s how this works for an individual author:

Suppose I draw a self-portrait in 1980 and die instantly. (I think I would have to publish it too, but I’m not sure. I’ll address how unpublished works are handled in a moment.) My estate will then hold the copyright until 2030.

So this is really bad and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but hold onto your butts for right now because in 1998, the term of copyright was increased to the author’s life plus 70 years, and 95 years for works published before 1978. The term for works for hire was also increased to 95 years, or 120 years after creation (at least they didn’t extend that, I guess.)Read More »

An Imperialist Writing Policy — What and Why

A year and a half ago I returned home for the summer break knowing that, whatever else I worked on for the next few months, by the end of the summer I wanted to have finished the rough draft of Suggest the Empire. At that point I’d already been wanting to write this play for a year or two, though I’d previously put it off because I knew it would be massive, strange, and demanding in multiple ways. How did I know this? Well here’s my short description for the play:

A history play about an invented history, exploring the theatrical nature of nationalism and empire.

So yeah. Massive strange demanding. And I had never read or seen a history play (in the Shakespearean sense of the term) back then at the beginning of summer 2016, so I decided that would be a top priority. I determined to read seven of Shakespeare’s histories—Richard IIIRichard IIHenry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V, and Julius Caesar—before beginning to write the play. I also added Stuff Happens by David Hare to my reading list, a history play about the lead up to the Iraq War. These were the works that I felt I had to read before beginning work on STE. Obviously I planned to write other stuff in the mean time, but I wouldn’t start Suggest the Empire until I’d finished those eight plays.

As I progressed into the summer I came across more and more works which I thought could in some way inform the writing of STE—youtube channels like Historia Civilis, documentaries like Secrets of Great British Castles, movies like Waterloo, games like Mount and Blade and Reigns—which I’d add to the list. Some of these I’d already been meaning to get around to, others I stumbled upon and decided to look into because of STE, and others I was already engaged with anyway, just by happenstance—the greatest example being The Absolute at Large. Just by luck, that very summer I was recording an audiobook of The Absolute at Large, a satirical novel which is heavily critical of nationalism and fanaticism. I came to think of this body of plays, movies, books, tv shows, and whatever else, as the product of an imperialist writing policy. I was not solely consuming, and working on, Suggest the Empire, though almost everything I consumed and worked on fed back to that play in some way.

SuggesttheEmpire-c-2The result was that, when it finally came time to write Suggest the Empire, it was a breeze. Over the past months I’d become fluent in the language of empire, of nationalism, of history, of historical drama, and I had no trouble plotting out the story or sketching out the world, or, as I actually wrote the thing, sprinkling in realistic military, cultural, or political details. I’m incredibly proud of Suggest the Empire, and you can now buy the play! Ha ha you fool, I tricked you, this is all just an ad, ho-ho I got you!

Just kidding. If you have no interest in reading Suggest the Empire (which you can get on Smashwords or Amazon, or read the first act of free) this post, and the “How” post which will be up next week, should still be useful to any writer (or creator of any kind, I suppose) who wants to design their own imperialist writing policy. This isn’t the Only Way, or the Correct Way, to prepare for a piece of writing, but it is a method that I’ve found useful, which may prove useful for others. Alternately, if you’ve just read, or plan on reading, Suggest the Empire, these two posts should be a good look into my process in preparing for that play. I talk about it some in the afterword, among other things, but here I’ll be breaking down just that specific, preliminary part of creating the play.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 2, Saraiva’s Mission. — The Uruguayan War

One cannot deny that this was an intervention into eastern politics, but it was a disinterested intervention, according to the interests of the Republic and the desires manifested by it in the past; but not even this offered support was enough to become an effective intervention, remaining on offer to any government that would assume the responsibility of accepting the intervention to pull together the parties and reorganize the country. And this was not the case only with Brazil’s support—the impartial candor with which it was offered elicited support from the Argentine Republic and commanded the respect of Great Britain, engaged in the mediation. What Saraiva really wanted was to infuse Aguirre with validity. “I am, however, convinced,” he told the imperial government, “that if the president reforms the ministry he will not request nor need to request a single soldier from Brazil. The Eastern State needs order, and its inhabitants yearn to see it reestablished by a government of men who are sincere, active, and upright. A new administration with these characteristics and with the moral support of the other powers will have sufficient strength to establish order and impede revolts.”

Atanasio_Aguirre
Atanasio Aguirre ca. 1861

That negotiation was aborted. Aguirre promised to constitute a new ministry, but with elements still more factional, and with Leandro Gómez (14) figuring in it. The mediators put forth the names of Castellanos, Villalba, Andrés Lamas, Martínez, Herrera, and Obes. Given the impossibility of coming to an understanding, the representatives of the three nations brought the mediation to an end on 7 July.

Saraiva went to confer with Mitre in Buenos Aires. In that Republic the dominant political attitude was hostile to the Blanco party; all sympathy was with Flores, and because of that Brazil’s intervention, at a time in which it was equivalent to insuring victory for the revolution, was considered by the Argentine government to be an act of providence, an unexpected gift of fortune. Saraiva and Mitre got along from then on, and from this perfect accord resulted the new Brazilian doctrine in the Plata, which from 1864 to today governs the relations between Brazil and the Argentine Republic. For that reason, perhaps by having known Mitre’s government’s intentions, and having penetrated their desires with regards to Montevideo, Saraiva is still more convinced that peace is the most agreeable policy for Brazil, and from Buenos Aires he even tries to attract Aguirre to his ideas, meeting up with his confidential agent Reguera.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 1, Saraiva’s Mission

Note: This is a really long chapter, so I’m splitting it into two parts. This won’t be a regular thing though—I think there’s only one other chapter, maybe two, long enough that I’ll want to split them up. Also, see this post for background info.

When the old brigadier Netto (1) came to Rio de Janeiro, at the beginning of 1864, to excite our government against Uruguay’s, presenting, as the new leader of the eastern campaign, a portrait of the long-standing abuses committed against Brazilians, it produced a fury of opinion, and from this violent impulse was born Saraiva’s mission. We had suffered the humiliation of English retaliation at the Rio de Janeiro bay entrance, and the ideology of democracy, with Teófilo Ottoni (2) at the head, showed itself to be of as bellicose a humor as the emperor himself was said to be. Given these circumstances, Netto’s presence inflamed spirits predisposed to acts of imprudence and senselessness. The conservative party took the initiative to make interpellations in the Chamber of Deputies about the state of the campaign.

From this so-called patriotic attitude of the opposition and the majority, in the session of 5 April what resulted was war, unless the Blanco government would completely yield to the demands and grievances of the Brazilians enlisted under Flores’s flag. Today it would not be possible to investigate whether or not our complaints were founded. The Brazilians residing in Uruguay (3) should have suffered the fate of the easterners themselves, or abstained from any interference with those factions which always devastated the countryside. Neither should the Brazilian government have forgotten the chronic anarchy of the Republic. Order, peace, and calm in the Eastern State were only possible if Brazil and Argentina united for many years to uphold the healthy elements of that country; but since Brazil and Argentina could not do so and did not want to do so, they lost the right to demand responsibility in the eastern government, whatever it was, because of acts that almost always resulted from the state of disorder in the border regions. It is unnecessary to examine the claims and complaints one by one to be sure that the ministry of 15 January 1864 made a mistake in yielding to their first impulse and allowing themselves to be commanded by the clamor of Flores’s supporters, who demanded immediate intervention in Montevideo.

Jose_antonio_saraiva
José Antônio Saraiva, Brazilian Foreign Relations Minister 1865-1866.

If our country had the luck to not be immediately engaged in a war with this Republic, it owes it only to the circumstances of having conferred to Saraiva the role of inspector. Succeeding events have proved that if others had found themselves in his position, the mission would have begun with the occupation of Uruguayan territory, followed by the bombardment of Montevideo, and a war against the entire Río de la Plata.

Saraiva arrives in Montevideo on 6 May 1864. His instructions are to address to the eastern government “our last friendly intimation,” concluding by demanding, with regard to the crimes and abuses against the lives and property of Brazilians, “1st That the government of the Republic put into effect the necessary punishments, if not for all the criminals, then at least those that, being recognized as such, go unpunished, and even occupy some posts in the eastern government or work in state offices. 2nd That the police officers that have abused the authority they exercise be immediately dismissed, and held accountable. 3rd That those Brazilians that have been dispossessed of their property by military or civil authorities of the Republic be compensated justly. 4th Finally, that the Brazilians forced to take up arms in service of the Republic be completely released.”Read More »

New Publication: Suggest the Empire

Awhile ago I wrote a post about learning from Shakespeare’s histories. The reason I read those plays was to prepare for writing Suggest the Empire, a full-length play which is now available on Smashwords and Amazon! And you can read the sort-of-self-contained first act for free! (See below.) Here’s the synopsis:

SuggesttheEmpire-c-2To Prince Oht, heir apparent of the Olisan Empire, all the trappings of nationhood seem as skeletal and artificial as the trappings of theatre. War chants to suggest fraternity, court language to suggest royalty, flags to suggest ownership—all are equal to flimsy poles to suggest spears, colored cloth to suggest flags, three men to suggest an army. All his cynicism is of little consequence while his father, the charismatic Alita Tolkash, still rules as emperor, but the time will come when Oht has to step up. And when Tolkash is injured in battle, and begins to have his own doubts about what the empire truly is, it looks like that time of responsibility is drawing sooner and sooner.

Suggest the Empire follows in the Shakespearean tradition of history plays, though it tells a completely invented history in a completely invented world. Relying entirely on representational sets and costuming, the play portrays a centuries-old empire caught at a momentous crossroads, with conflict brewing in all quarters.

Run time is 160-180 minutes. Cast is 26 (no gender restrictions), with potential for double casting.

If you read We’ll Tell Happy Stories, this play is set in the same world as that one. There’s hardly any crossover at all (completely different characters, different settings), but Suggest the Empire has the same kind of world-building and treatment of language as in We’ll Tell—so if you liked the one, you’ll probably like the other.

The publication also contains an afterword in which I discuss the origins of the idea, my imperialist writing policy, and my method for writing court Olisan.

If you want to get a sample of the play, you can read the first act, which is sorta self-contained, for free in the following formats:

PDFEpub — Mobi

What I’ve Been Reading, December 2017

Another one! Already! Well, I’ve been reading a lot, and honestly the fact that this is being posted in December has more to do with when I got around to writing it all of it than when I read the books. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading, more or less around this time:

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison — Tar Baby is one of the most focused books by Morrison. The majority of it takes place in one house, on one island, with a core cast of just six. With long passages of just dialogue, the book often feels like a play. It’s also a break from Morrison’s typical MO in that it spends a lot of time focused on white characters. Those white characters are Valerian and Margaret Street, and the book starts out following them, a husband and wife, Valerian being the heir to his family’s massive candy business, Margaret a beauty queen twenty years her husband’s junior. Now retired, Valerian lives in what was once just his summer home, a manor on the caribbean Isle des Chevaliers, tended to by Sydney and Ondine. Christmas time is nearing, and Jadine Childs is visiting the manor—a successful young black fashion model, raised by Sydney and Ondine, and put through college by a generous sponsorship from Valerian. That’s five of the core cast I’ve just mentioned. The sixth shows up when Margaret finds him hiding in her closet—a black man named Son, a fugitive who jumped ship in the Caribbean and managed to swim to Isle des Chevaliers. Inexplicably, and to Margaret, Sydney, Ondine, and Jadine’s horror, Valerian decides to invite Son to stay with them, as a guest.

The majority of the book is the action that plays out between this major disruption in the house—the disruption of Son’s arrival—and the disruption which occurs around the Christmas dinner (right from the beginning its clear that Christmas dinner is not going to be the perfect gathering that Margaret is planning for.) Watching the reactions of these characters of all different social and racial backgrounds is fascinating, a thorough study in social hierarchy and perceived social status, and what people do when they feel their status is threatened or challenged—and the build up and eventual explosion of all the anxiety and pressure Son’s arrival has caused is masterful. It’s also great to see Morrison flex her considerable dialogue muscles here—dialogue is something she’s terrific with (is there anything she’s not terrific with?), but in this book it’s featured prominently, as the main means of propelling the story along.

A great book to read for Christmas! (jk jk jk i mean its great for anytime but lol this aint rudolph or whatever)Read More »

2017 Holiday Sale!

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Merry whatever and joyous thingummy everyone! All of my ebooks are on sale on Smashwords for the month of December! Most of them are 50% off, and the newer releases (19 and 19, “A Clash at Grozny Airfield,” and Suggest the Empire once it’s published later this month) are 25% off. And “Just Dig” is 34% off. Cause it wouldn’t let me do 50%, cause the price is already almost at the minimum.

Happy solstice y’all!

The War of Paraguay: Chapter IV, Antecedents to the Uruguayan Issue

This chapter and the next focus on Uruguay, and the civil unrest there from 1850-1865, so I recommend you first read this supplemental post about the Uruguayan War if you haven’t already. Also, a more general note, though I’ve decided to include some translations of footnotes from the original text, in places where I would have to add my own translator’s note otherwise. Why write a translator’s note when I can just translate a note that Nabuco wrote for me? “Footnotes” are Nabuco’s, “Translator’s Notes” are mine.

Since the war against Rosas the Argentine dictator (1), when we prevented Montevideo from falling under Oribe’s control (2), the matter of the Eastern State of Uruguay was the most important and dangerous foreign policy problem. We had no ambitions on its annexation, nor did we want to mix ourselves up in its internal affairs, our sole purpose being to have a peaceful and secure border, for which the complete independence of that state was an essential condition. “The foreign policy,” writes the Baron of Rio Branco, a supporter of this thinking, “created by the conservative party and principally by Paulino de Souza, Viscount of Uruguay, consisted then, as it still does today [1875], of maintaining the independence of the two states threatened by Argentinian ambitions: Paraguay and Uruguay.”

The years have greatly modified the Argentine Republic’s aspirations, as measured by that primitive platine sentiment becoming different on both sides of the Río de la Plata; but it can be said that not even today is the old hope of re-forming the former viceroyalty (3)—if not in its entirety, then at least in the Plata basin—completely dead for Argentine patriots. Many sons of Buenos Aires still dream of the United States of South America, sons on whom the tradition of the past and a common literature still weigh heavy, with the same force as they did on the mid-century generation, contemporary to the siege of Montevideo. Back then, however, this sentiment was more alive and more broadly asserted.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Supplement 2, The Uruguayan War

Not to be confused with the Uruguayan Civil War, the Uruguayan War, or Brazilian Invasion of 1864 [Invasión brasileña de 1864] as it is known in Spanish, or War Against Aguirre [Guerra contra Aguirre] as it is known in Brazil, was the the conflict that set the Paraguayan War in motion. With some chapters coming up that deal heavily with this conflict, it’ll be useful to know the broad strokes of the thing, before Nabuco sketches in the details of Brazil’s involvement in it.

The Conservatives’ Rebellion

Venancio_Flores_circa_1865
Venancio Flores ca. 1865

In the wake of the Uruguayan Civil War, Blancos and Colorados alike pushed for a new political culture of cooperation, closing the divide between the rival factions. One take on how to achieve this cooperation was fusión—proposed by the widely respected statesman (though he was an old Colorado, Blancos admired him as well) Andrés Lamas, the idea was to rebuke the old titles of Blanco and Colorado, and move forward without these partisan distinctions, unified for the good of the country. In August of 1855 he published a “Manifesto addressed to my compatriots” [“Manifiesto dirigido a los compatriotas”], which introduced the idea of fusionismo, and was harshly critical of the caudillo sects of both parties. Shortly after this, a group of Colorados continued with this criticism, focusing their vitriol on the Colorado caudillo president of Uruguay, Venancio Flores. Things only worsened when Flores demanded that La Libertad, the mouthpiece of these dissidents, cease publication. On 1855 the dissidents formed the Conservative Party, and took up arms against Flores. Flores fled the capital, and the Conservatives established Luis Lamas as president of the country. During this time, Flores’s minister of Foreign Affairs requested intervention from the Empire of Brazil, which was less than eager to get involved in another civil war in the Eastern State.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, November 2017

I’ve been reading all kinds of Toni Morrison and all kinds of mystery books, because those are the two English classes I’m in this semester. So you can expect more Morrison and more mystery in the next What I’ve Been Reading post—but that’s actually What I‘ll Be Reading. Let’s get into the ‘ve Been.

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley — This was one of the books in my Mystery/Detective Fiction class, and one of my two favorites that we’ve read so far. My other favorite is Big Little Lies, which I’ll discuss below—the two are sort of tied. Devil in a Blue Dress is Mosley’s first Easy Rawlins mystery, and damn if it doesn’t make me want to read the rest of them. In this book, Easy isn’t yet a PI—he’s just a working-class African-American man who’s moved to Los Angeles in the Second Great Migration, after serving in World War II. A day after being fired from his job, a man approaches him offering money for him to find Daphne Monet, a white woman who often visits black jazz clubs. After some reluctance, Easy takes the job—and spends the remainder of the book trying to work his way out of the dangerous web he’s put himself in.

It doesn’t really have the precision and clarity of a detective story, mainly because at various points Easy doesn’t give a shit about solving any kind of mystery. It’s more like what would happen if an ordinary person wandered into the middle of a hard-boiled detective world, bumping into various rackets and intrigues, but not doggedly pursuing any hidden truth. Easy does end up solving some mysteries, and does so well enough that by the end he decides to become a professional PI, but the plot of the book is really about him trying to survive. To that end, it’s a great book. Well-paced, fun characters painted in many different shades of sinister, and a first-person narrator with lots of attitude.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter III, The Abolition of Privateering

Note: This chapter is hardly relevant to the Paraguayan War, but it’s incredibly short, so why not translate it? It’s so short in fact, I also translated the footnote included with it. I don’t normally include translated footnotes in this online version of the book, but I figured I’d do so for some of the shorter chapters that would be just a few paragraphs without them. Maybe you can get an idea of what the footnotes-and-all version of the book is like from this. To be clear: The “Footnotes” are from Nabuco, the original author. “Translator’s Notes” are my own.

In the time of the Paraná ministry Brazil adhered to the four principles of maritime law proclaimed in the Congress of Paris of 1856 (1)—namely, abolition of privateering; inviolability of enemy merchandise under a neutral flag, except contraband of war; inviolability of neutral merchandise even under an enemy flag; and requirement that a blockade be effective to be respected (2).

Congrès_de_Paris,_1856
1856 Épinal print of European sovereigns at the Treaty of Paris.

Brazil’s adherence was harshly derided as entailing the abandonment of the only resource at our disposal in case of a war with any naval power, but it is true that the principles sanctioned in the Congress of Paris mainly benefited weak nations without armadas. That same behavior of the United States was only a diplomatic strategy to obtain what they wanted: complete immunity of private property on the sea (3) (i).

The foreign policy of the ministry also touches on the issue, or better said, as we will see further on, the various issues of the trafficking of Africans, a constant motive for the English legation for interference. (5)

Footnotes

i. In the congressional session of 1857 (15 June) Paranhos defended his ministry’s act in this manner: “The United States did not adhere to the new maxims approved by the Congress of Paris, because they wanted to take the principle of inviolability of non-offensive property to its logical conclusion, and (in the same way that privateering was abolished) for the safety of property belonging to one of the belligerents to stay guaranteed against enemy ships at sea. The United States did not maintain that privateering was a strategy to which one could resort in the current state of civilization, nor did they deny that it could seem a kind of organized and legal piracy … According to the signatory powers of the Paris Declaration, the four principles should be considered inseparable. A partial adherence is unacceptable; one must accept all or none; the power that doesn’t accept this accord will remain excepted from its application. (Doctor Nabuco: “Seconded.”) So that if we had not accepted it, in case of a war in which any of the powers that signed the treaty of 30 March 1856, or any of those that later adopted those same principles, took part, Brazilian merchandise would be easy prey under an enemy flag, and enemy merchandise would not be protected by the Brazilian flag. Now, should we sacrifice peacetime advantages to an expedient in war? Would this be an agreeable policy for the Empire, which in all its foreign relations, as a rule, practices justice and moderation? (Senhor Jacintho de Mendonça: “And it doesn’t even have any standing as a convenience to the Empire. The history of the war in the South could tell you that.” (4) Senhor J. Otaviano: “Seconded.”)
“Would such conduct suit the Empire that has a navy still very reduced and whose exports are made almost totally through foreign ships? I believe not … Senhores, steamships have reduced the services that privateers can lend down to a very little thing, and the nations that have a great maritime force also have a large merchant marine; if they wish to take advantage of that resource, they will surely surpass those nations of lesser naval power.”

Translator’s Notes

1. A post-Crimean-War meeting of European powers.
2. Here’s the full text of the provisions, courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross: “1. Privateering is, and remains, abolished; 2. The neutral flag covers enemy’s goods, with the exception of contraband of war; 3. Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy’s flag; 4. Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.”
3. The US wanted all non-military merchandise to be protected during wartime, even enemy goods under an enemy flag, and they proposed this as a provision at the Congress of Paris. The provision was rejected, so the US did not formally adhere to the declaration, because it did not go far enough.
4. “War in the South” likely refers to the Cisplatine War, a war Brazil fought against Argentina and the nascent state of Uruguay. During this conflict, Argentinian privateers wreaked havoc on Brazilian merchant ships.
5. We will not see this later on. Nabuco here refers to the next section of Um Estadista do Imperio, titled “Trafficking and Slavery,” which was not included in the excerpt La Guerra del Paraguay, because it has nothing to do with the war. There will be later discussion of slavery in this book, as it relates to the Paraguayan War, but not about its relation to trafficking or the Paraná ministry.