Edgar Allen Poe, the man who would later become father of the modern mystery story, was born January 19, 1809. Orphaned by the age of three, he suffered from alcoholism. He gambled heavily, got dismissed from West Point, and completed less than eight months at the University of Virginia. Because of the drinking, he also lost his editing job at the Southern Literary Messenger in 1838, but not before marrying his cousin, Virginia Clemm, two years earlier. He was twenty-seven, she thirteen.
The marriage did not last long. Virginia died in 1847, three years after Poe published what is arguably his most famous work: "The Raven." Her death drove him into deep alcoholism and drug use. He would follow his wife to the grave two years later, at the age of 40. Two days after his death, "Annabel Lee" was published in the New York Daily Tribune as part of his obituary.
"I was a child and she was a child
In this kingdom by the sea.
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
I and my Annabel Lee.
With a love that the winged Seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me."
What's all this got to do with Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita? Reader's of that novel know that "Annabel Lee" is Nabokov's inspiration and provides the rationale for Humbert Humbert's obsession with his so-called "nymphet." The doomed narrator of the 1955 novel believes that Lolita is the reappearance of his own lost childhood love. Without this understanding, Humbert Humbert is merely a pervert, child molester and, yes, murderer too. But with Poe's "Annabel Lee" providing the basis for his disturbed psychological state, readers can at least understand what's driving him to behavior that will lead to his undoing.
For this reason alone, we can refer to Poe as a seminal influence. But there are other reasons too: "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Cast of Amontillado," and many more.
On the anniversary of his birth, then, here is a Storify slide-show presentation on the life and work of Edgar Allen Poe. You will find here readings of "The Raven" by James Earl Jones, Vincent Price, and Christopher Walken. There are also six creepy tales and a couple of animated shorts about Poe from the Peanuts characters and Mr. Peabody from the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show.
Who knew as early as January 16th that 1938 would see Hitler invade Austria, Japan declare war on China, or General Franco declare victory in the Spanish Civil War? There was nothing in the stars to indicate the arrival later that year of Superman, Bugs Bunny, and the first use of a seeing-eye dog. Nor perhaps did anyone realize the Fair Labor Standards Act would get rid of child labor that year and make the 40-hour work week the national standard throughout the United States.
Those were all history-making events. But so was Benny Goodman's appearance at Carnegie Hall on January 16th of that year. Already famous as the "King of Swing," even he had not conquered the legendary hall, which was then home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the leadership of the renowned Arturo Toscanini. When the idea was first brought to him several months earlier, Goodman laughed out loud. It was unthinkable that the august venue of classical music might also find an audience for jazz. Although often referred to as "America's classical music," jazz was nevertheless seen as low brow and undignified.
When he succeeded in bringing jazz to Carnegie Hall that year, Goodman broke down the barrier between the classes - for a while at least.
The concert was a raging, history-making success. Goodman's orchestra included Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Lester Young, Harry James, Johnny Hodges, and Lionel Hampton. Many of them are easily identifiable in the video clip below, which serves up the exceptional Goodman hit, "Sing, Sing, Sing," inter-cut with still images that reveal the life of the time. It all seems archaic now, but the music in this clip steps outside of time to become something memorable. It may be jazz, but it's undeniably classic.
What Martin Luther King, Jr., Told Meet the Press in 1965 after the #Selma March - An Amazing Interview
Now that Ava Duvernay's much-nominated film has brought events from the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march back to public awareness, it may be worth noting that Dr. King appeared on Meet the Press the Sunday after the march. What follows is not an actor re-enacting the interview. It is the man himself, facing a seemingly hostile and even smug panel. What's worth our attention here is the way Dr. King responds. We know that Dr. King, who was born on this day in 1929, would not be alive much longer. Less than three more years. What does he say to NBC after the march is over? Even if you do not spend your present Sunday mornings watching news shows like Meet the Press, this broadcast from 50 years ago may be worth your time.
ON LOVE AND NONVIOLENCE
Perhaps the trouble with having made a famous speech every school child can quote is that we tend to think we know Dr. King when maybe we do not. We know about his dream. We've seen representations of his life in movies and on TV. We use the hard-won holiday if we can. But as with most people, there was a lot more to the man than our cliched memory will allow. Consider the following short interview about love and nonviolence. In it, he speaks of love as an organizing principle, which is strong and powerful. This is a different Dr. King from the one who could move millions with the sound of his own powerful voice. In this interview, everything in his manner is kind, gentle -- loving. Perhaps we still have a lot to learn from this man.
A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT
And finally, in a different voice, there is this moving sermon in which Dr. King tells of a threatening phone call he received at midnight during the Montgomery Boycott.
Emile Zola, The Dreyfus Affair & Julia Louis-Dreyfus - A Coincidence of Names & Events on January 13
An interesting coincidence marks this day. January 13 is the birthday of TV actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose award-winning sitcom incarnations include Seinfeld and Veep. Her name, though forever associated with comedy, tends also to be a constant reminder of the infamous Dreyfus Affair, which rocked France between 1894 and 1906.
With all eyes on France following recent terrorist attacks against Jews and freedom of speech itself, it is interesting to note that on January 13, 1898, the French writer Emile Zola published his famous open letter, "J’accuse," which set in motion several years of controversy over what turned out to be the framing of an innocent man, Captain Alfred Dreyfus—a Jew, for espionage.
Dreyfus was to spend five years on Devil’s Island before being fully exonerated after several trials and the eventual exposure of high-level corruption within the French army and government. It was an act of free speech – Zola’s "J’accuse" – which questioned the initial verdict, exposing not only errors and inconsistencies during Dreyfus’ first trial and the deep-seated anti-Semitism that made him a scapegoat in the first place.
After publishing "J’accuse," Zola was convicted of libel and had to flee France to avoid imprisonment. Zola eventually died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the poor ventilation of his fireplace. Years later, on his deathbed, a roofer confessed that he had sealed Zola’s chimney, causing the great writer’s death in 1902, four years before Dreyfus was fully exonerated.
It was a very nasty business, all of this. To think about it now is unpleasant. And yet, as France reels over recent tragedies in Paris, one feels that things keep coming round again using different actors wearing different clothes. Which is reason enough, one would think, to appreciate that other Dreyfus, Julia, whose comedic antics take our minds off those things, if only for a moment within which we might breathe some other air - one free of anything save the possibility of humanity to reclaim itself.
There's a lot more to the Dreyfus Affair and Zola's role in exposing it, some of which is included in the Storify slide-presentation below. Click on the link within each slide for more information. Or skip to the end for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose 54th birthday we celebrate on this day.
On Its Anniversary - The Amos 'n Andy Controversy vis-a-vis Cosby, Selma, and the Ferguson Tragedies
Last night's Golden Globe recognition for Selma seems to have brought history full circle in more ways than one. As everyone knows, the film re-enacts the historic crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 during the Civil Rights Movement. But it also brings history around in another way. Eighty-nine years ago on January 12, 1926, the program that became known as Amos 'n Andy debuted on Chicago Radio as Sam 'n Henry. Two years later, the name was changed to Amos 'n Andy. In 1953, the show was canceled after ongoing protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It continued to run in syndication until it was finally withdrawn by CBS in 1966.
If you want to watch that show today, there are many bootleg copies available online. But you won't find it on DVD, and it's not likely to be released by the network any time soon.
The anniversary of the show''s debut arrives during a peculiar and even paradoxical moment. It is part of a temporal configuration that includes the movie Selma, tragic events in cities like Ferguson, and the castigation of Bill Cosby -- all of it occurring during the administration of America's first African-American president.
What are we to take from all of this? What does it mean? What does it say about being black in 21st century America?
I do not pretend to know the answer. Is there some grand conspiracy, as some have suggested, to portray black males in a negative light, thereby justifying the killing of unarmed "suspects"? Was Cosby "taken down" in the court of public opinion to silence his increasingly conservative views just as he was about to make a comeback? Does the current media moment amount to a small-screen replaying of attitudes that go back D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation ? If there is a conspiracy, are these negative images meant to sideline the Obama presidency, casting him as an anomaly? Is Ava Duvernay's Selma a similar exception, which speaks only to the past?
Whatever the answer, the present moment calls to mind dialogue from the movie, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. The Sidney Poitier character is having an argument with his father because he (Poitier) is about to marry a white woman. "You think of yourself as a black man," Poitier says. "I think of myself as a man."
Is how you think of yourself enough, one wonders? Or is there some overarching perception by the larger world that places you always in danger, thereby determining for you that you are "black," regardless of how you think of yourself.
The present controversies surrounding race and even the ongoing one involving Amos 'n Andy have at their core a struggle to create a single narrative about what it means to be black in America.
The push-pull that pits past suffering against present-day injustice or Cosby "Truthers" against his accusers, or the proclivity of white police officers to kill unarmed black men against the undeniable achievements of Barack Obama -- is a struggle that seeks to define black experience within a particular frame.
Could it be that there is no single narrative? Is it possible that the multiple and conflicting storylines about blackness are simply examples that prove how varied we are as a people? Is it possible that buying into this or that storyline gives it power to influence who you are and how you think of yourself -- allowing it to play too great a role in both your destiny and identity?
One could argue the point in any direction, but in the end these are questions that can only be answered individually within the chambers of the heart.
What must be noted about the many nominations for Selma is this: It represents a significant effort by African-Americans to control the frame within which African-Americans will be seen. Of course, others have done this: Oprah, Lee Daniels, Chris Rock, and perhaps most notably, Bill Cosby.
But this brings forth yet another paradox. Does Cosby's tarnished public image diminish Dr. Huxtable? It should not.
The Huxtables were fictional characters on a TV sitcom. Their behaviors were written into the show's "bible." The actors who played those characters are not bound by that script, as Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo showed all too well. In that film, Jeff Daniels' character steps down from the movie screen and falls in love with Mia Farrow. When the real Jeff Daniels finds out about this, he behaves dishonorably in order to set things right. Mia Farrow winds up choosing the real Jeff over the fictional one and is the poorer for it in the end.
Fitting isn't it, that the similarly castigated Woody Allen should provide the best argument for saving Dr. Huxtable, even as Cosby the man takes a nosedive. These two "great" men are in the same boat. Is Annie Hall a bad movie because of anything in Woody Allen's hidden sex life? Of course not. Should we dismiss Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters or Midnight in Paris for the same reason? Neither then should the Huxtable family lose standing in the public mind.
The Huxtables did what fictional characters must always do. They showed us a possibility worth thinking about and even emulating. Regardless of anything that might be happening in your life, that TV show allowed you to think of yourself in a certain way. If they could be a doctor-husband and lawyer-wife raising a family the best way they knew how, then perhaps you could aspire to do that too. Even if you still thought of yourself as a "black man" to return to Poitier and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, at least that idea of blackness was not some low and loathsome buffoon incapable of making a success of anything.
Perhaps that was always the problem with Amos 'n Andy. The original actors were whites pretending to be black. Those actors presented African-Americans through the eyes of whites whose perceptions were shaped during the first half of the 20th century. Although the TV version brought black actors aboard, the show was never able to jettison its origins in the derogatory tradition of "black face."
What follows here are four items of interest with regard to all of this: 1) The NAACP Bulletin on Amos 'n Andy; 2) The documentary called Amos 'n Andy: The Anatomy of a Controversy. 3) The viral YouTube video on racist cartoons; and 4) Harry Belafonte's moving acceptance speech, upon receiving the 2014 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, about the impact of media images on the black psyche and the role Hollywood has played historically in shaping how black people think of themselves.
THE NAACP'S AMOS 'N ANDY CANCELLATION BULLETIN
HARRY BELAFONTE & THE IMPACT OF MOVIES ON THE BLACK PSYCHE
Two Important "Firsts" for Women: Amelia Earhart & Toni Morrison. Will Ava Duvernay Make It a Third?
It is worth noting that on this day in 49 B.C., Julius Caesar took his army across the Rubicon River, setting in motion events that would change the course of history.
Roman law prohibited the Rubicon from being crossed by any Roman Army legion. The river marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north and Italy proper to the south. The law was intended to protect the republic from internal military threat. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army in 49 BC, supposedly on January 10 of the Roman calendar, to make his way to Rome, he broke that law and made armed conflict inevitable. According to the historian Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est ("the die is cast") when he reached this life-changing point of no return.
Suetonius also described how Caesar was apparently still undecided as he approached the river. The author credits the actual moment of crossing to a supernatural apparition. The phrase "Crossing the Rubicon" has survived to refer to any people committing themselves irrevocably to a risky and revolutionary course of action.
This milestone anniversary comes to mind as the film, Selma, makes its way to the Golden Globes this weekend. As the film makes clear, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March of 1965 was the same as crossing the Rubicon. There was to be no turning back. Both events have in common acts of brutality that will always be remembered when they are mentioned. I have discussed Selma elsewhere in these blog pages. Since Caesar's anniversary occurs as audiences wait to see if Ava DuVernay will become the first female African-American director to receive a Golden Globe and possibly an Oscar, it seemed fitting to look again at what actually occurred at the Rubicon 2064 years ago.
Here then are two videos intended to shed light on that history.
Why Simone de Beauvoir (1/9/1908) Became a Feminist, Her "Love Contract" with Sartre & Why Her Ideas Prevail
We know her for her book, The Second Sex, and her lasting relationship with Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. But there is so much more to tell. That's why I've used Storify for this one. Just click on any slide in the presentation below to drill into the content. The video, "Why I Became a Feminist" includes English subtitles. The lecture on her life and relationship with Sartre discusses their "contract," and her quotes are included here and there throughout.
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