The first thing that always strikes me about Jelinek's work is how she manages to use such "dirty" language. I naturally don't mean cursing, but I do...moreThe first thing that always strikes me about Jelinek's work is how she manages to use such "dirty" language. I naturally don't mean cursing, but I do mean her inexplicable ability to always use the exact word in a situation that leaves the reader feeling as if they need to shower after her writing. This characteristic comes across to me, even a non-native German speaker, and seems intrinsic to her writing style. That said, this ability is a very good once since she writes about "dirty" things. Not necessarily inhuman, but certainly nonsocial, the darkest parts of human interaction. Perhaps the most striking part is that she does so as if a passive observer, merely telling the facts and actions as they occur, with little speculation as to the motivations of the reader (a technique which only works for her in light of the fact that almost all books these days explore the internal landscapes of the protaganists) and ultimately leave the reader feeling very ambiguous about their narrator.
Also, without giving away any spoilers, it is my personal belief that this book is about change, and the dangers of being unable to do so in light of darkness.(less)
This short book was incredibly useful when studying for my qualifying exams. Not only is it a great refresher on the events of the French Revolution i...moreThis short book was incredibly useful when studying for my qualifying exams. Not only is it a great refresher on the events of the French Revolution itself, but the chapter on its repercussions and the historical debate surrounding the revolution were very useful in putting the books on my list into a framework of understanding.(less)
I expected to like this book much more than I did, what with the high ratings from some of my friend and overall from Goodreads. I did enjoy the plot...moreI expected to like this book much more than I did, what with the high ratings from some of my friend and overall from Goodreads. I did enjoy the plot of this book, and I enjoyed the fast-paced story. I read this in an afternoon, in one sitting.
That said, I felt the world-building suffered somewhat for the plot's speed. There is really no reason why the characters in this book need to be vampires; they could just as easily be magic-users and it would make no real difference to the plot. Moreover, I did not get the sense of immersion in a parallel or otherwise fantastical world that I want from my fantasy/paranormal stories. I am unsure if this is because the plot was so self-contained at the academy, or if it's because it just exists in our current world.
Ultimately, I did not hate this, but I have not yet decided if I will continue the series or not.(less)
Ruth Klueger’s Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered is a powerful book that is difficult to describe. The work is divided into four sections a...moreRuth Klueger’s Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered is a powerful book that is difficult to describe. The work is divided into four sections and an epilogue. “Vienna” recounts Klueger’s early childhood in the city. “The Camps” discusses Klueger’s time spent as a twelve- and thirteen-year-old in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the labor camp at Gross-Rosen, and on a death march throughout Germany. “Germany” discusses time spent in the country after running away from the death march until Klueger’s emigration to America, while “New York” discusses Klueger’s experiences of immigration and, more generally, the rest of her life spent in America. The book is difficult to describe for a few reasons. First, the book covers nearly 70 years of experiences. While the impacts of the Holocaust are at their heart, the book covers a great deal more of Klueger’s life than simply her time spent in the camps. Relatedly, Klueger’s background as a poet shines in the ways that she destabilizes the chronological backbone of her narrative by interjecting things that happened long before or long after key events in question. In this way, I would describe Klueger’s work as more of a “meditation” than an exact chronological account.
“But a meditation on what?” remains the difficult question to answer. The answer seems to be the ambiguity and dilemmas surrounding a life after the Holocaust, expressed particularly through the themes of childhood and gender. On one hand, Klueger demands that the reader accept her childhood as just that, a childhood not unlike anyone else’s. On the other hand, Klueger reasserts the particularities of a childhood endured during the Holocaust and the ways it has transformed and continues to transform her life. For instance, Klueger recounts her hatred for an aunt who lived with them before the camps, because the aunt constantly told her to be more ladylike and punished her by taking away a collection of tram tickets she kept as a hobby. Although this aunt died in the Holocaust, Klueger says she still feels no real pity, just a lingering sense of outrage toward her aunt. This causes Klueger some distress, because of the "bad fit between facts and feelings, between actual, normal, petty sentiments and the horrendous suffering to which childhood is innocent." (33) Klueger's feelings are typical feelings for a slighted youth, but they cannot change or transform because of her aunt's demise in the unforeseeable Holocaust. What does one do with such feelings? As another example, Klueger contends her entire life with a mother who, among other mental problems, suffered from paranoia. While her mother’s harsh words and behavior hurt Klueger deeply, Klueger is clear that it might be that very paranoia that got both of them through the camps. How does one deal with the ambiguities surrounding these competing facts and emotions? Klueger does not provide clear answers to any of these questions. What she does do, however, is show the reader that Holocaust survivors (and perhaps people in general) must be understood within the full breadth of their experiences, which are complicated and convoluted. Holocaust survivors cannot be reduced only to their Holocaust experiences, but neither can the impact of the Holocaust on its survivors be denied or easily accounted for. Historians must be willing to face ambiguities, rather than search for easy answers.(less)
**spoiler alert** I read this for Felicia Day & Co.'s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout bookclub.
This was a fun read and I certainly did not hate this book,...more**spoiler alert** I read this for Felicia Day & Co.'s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout bookclub.
This was a fun read and I certainly did not hate this book, but I felt very ambivalent about it in several ways.
First, it was very difficult for me to make the personalities of Chas and Gabriel fit together and make sense. It was hard for me to pair their vulnerability with their strength. I like many elements about Chas and Gabriel, particularly as they were presented early-on. Chas was a kick-ass redhead and Gabriel was mischievous, with the drawl, flippant demeanor and card tricks. But we quickly learn that their relationship is largely predicated on lies (another factor that severely detracted from the romance I would have otherwise enjoyed), some of which are very, very serious and nigh-on abusive. I also found the personalities presented in the latter part of the book, with Chas very fearful and Gabriel incredibly intense and powerful to just not make sense with the beginning of the book. I felt Ren was a much more solid and interesting character.
Second, the author overused many of the same lines. Sometimes this is a good narrative device and is helpful. I loved the line that signified the scary monsters ("The sound that tissue paper would make if it were composed of glass"). But mostly it was irritating because many of the lines weren't that good to begin with, and so they simply stuck out to me. Also, I will hopefully never read the phrase "Chazzy-girl" again.
Finally, the overarching plot apart from the romance was a bit wonky. The plot pacing was a bit off, not in that it moved too fast or too slow, per se, but characters, particularly toward the end, were introduced a bit clumsily. I did not like having to get to know (and being barely able to do so) the characters that appeared toward the end while others disappeared. Also, while I intellectually understood the importance of the mission the characters were on, I had real difficulty feeling the enormity of it. What they were doing was important in a humanitarian way and the reasons it is important in the bigger picture is clear, but they engage and destroy so little in the book the important can be lost.
Ultimately, I don't regret reading it, as there were lots of interesting and entertaining elements. I will likely not continue the series, however.(less)
This book is a deceptively simplistic text. The book is well-written and and enjoyable read, with very interesting anecdotes. It was hard, at the begi...moreThis book is a deceptively simplistic text. The book is well-written and and enjoyable read, with very interesting anecdotes. It was hard, at the beginning, not to find Trouillot's points about history's constructed nature as anything other than a repeat of lessons already learned. The end, however, features a strong message regarding public history and the role of historians as educators. It is here where Trouillot applies his principles to a very thought-inducing critique of history as done by modern historians.(less)
The artwork is really nice. It's a bit wonky in a few panels, but generally awesome. The plot is very loosely held together, though, and could certain...moreThe artwork is really nice. It's a bit wonky in a few panels, but generally awesome. The plot is very loosely held together, though, and could certainly use more cohesion. Ultimately a pretty series so far, but not amazing beyond the art.(less)
Eva Hoffman’s After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust treads many different areas surrounding the fallout of the Holoca...moreEva Hoffman’s After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust treads many different areas surrounding the fallout of the Holocaust. At its most basic level, the book is an exploration of the experiences of the second-generation, or the children of Holocaust survivors, of which Hoffman is herself one. Hoffman’s personal experiences are interspersed throughout the work, and her own process of contending with a Holocaust both intimately near and far away comprise the structural form of the book. On a broader scale, however, Hoffman is relating her own experiences in a loose allegory to the experiences of the first generation of baby boomers as a whole, and the ways that Holocaust scholarship has been shaped and molded during their time. The book is, from the start, undergirded by Hoffman’s insistence that this generation, which was uniquely positioned in that it had both intimate knowledge of the Holocaust as a politically recent event, and yet enough distance to be able to engage with it, is coming to an end. Her main concern, therefore, seems to be how to in some way grapple with the fact that the Holocaust slips ever further back into history, as well as determine what the appropriate legacy of this “hinge generation,” which decided whether “the past is transmuted into history or into myth.” (198)
Hoffman’s first two chapters are perhaps the most explicitly personal, and it is in these chapters that Hoffman positions the second-generation. The first chapter focuses on how the Holocaust, for many children of survivors, becomes a fable, full of both sinister and beautiful places and people, yet lacking in any sense of realism because children simply cannot comprehend it. As she says, “Whereas adults who live through violence and atrocity can understand what happens to them as an actuality – no matter how awful its terms – the generation after receives its first knowledge of the terrible events with only childish instruments of perception, and as a kind of fable.” (16) The ways that this story is told are multifold; often the children do not hear the stories in words but they are transmitted nonetheless as parents awake from horrid nightmares, engage in strange, paranoiac behaviors, or alternate between struggling to show love and smothering their children. Hoffman iterates that this has deep emotional impacts on children’s psyches as well, often resulting in several types of disorders such as fear of constant disaster or intense feelings of insignificance compared to their parents.
It is in the period of adolescence that Hoffman first relates the experiences of the second-generation with society as a whole, claiming that “the so-called latency period, when the Holocaust seemed to recede from public consciousness, coincided with our own developmental latency” in which the psychic problems of the second generation were not dealt with, but are instead buried in favor of dealing with the day-to-day. (77) For most of this generation, this meant dealing with immigration and the silence surrounding the Holocaust, as well as the strange shift in parental roles, as children who were often more easily able to learn new languages and cultural habits, often had to guide their parents through the new landscape.
Hoffman pinpoints the 1970s as the moment when discussions of the Holocaust began to re-emerge with vigor. It is also at this point that her own narrative becomes broader, as she discusses the trajectory of the study of the Holocaust as a whole. Hoffman discusses her own ambiguous feelings as Holocaust survivors became voguish. (She includes an example of two people at a party attempting to one-up one another with the Holocaust stories of the guests they brought with them.) While she is happy that the Holocaust was able to be discussed and admits that this did provided an excellent space to begin working through the events and several historical insights, she does not see this movement as unambiguously good, either, particularly the shift toward memory and identity politics as they relate to Holocaust research. Both of these elements include a dilution and misunderstanding of what actually occurred in the Holocaust. For instance, on memory, Hoffman states:
This body of thought and the phenomenon sometimes all too smoothly referred to as “memory of the Holocaust” has inspired a body of secondary and tertiary critique, in which it is the responses to the Holocaust (or its “memory”) that are the subject of disputation. In all of this, the Holocaust itself – the Event – can seem very far away, an increasingly abstract point of reference, a pretext for strangely gratifying emotional gestures or curiously abstruse theoretical debates. In other words, in our increasing preoccupation with it, the Holocaust has become a cultural phenomenon. (157)
There is a similar fear that the actualities of the Holocaust are lost in discussions of trauma and identity:
Our rhetoric is ever more pervaded by the professional and sociological vocabulary of victimhood – and in that vocabulary, suffering becomes reified into pathology or aggrandized into martyrdom. Suffering becomes Trauma; a person who has experienced adversity or been treated harshly becomes the Victim. Indeed, it sometimes seems to me that the excesses of identity politics are themselves a kind of displacement, wherein the actualities of suffering are placed at a safe distance and relegated to the sphere of abstract compassion and morality. (276)
Such a belief in trauma and victimization results in what, for Hoffman, are profound misunderstandings not only of the Holocaust, but of present events. For instance, she describes her befuddlement at feelings of many Americans at having “deserved” the 9/11 attacks. She describes this as a form of narcissism, in which Americans are secretly still seeing themselves as the number one aggressor and any one else as their victims, and likewise a result of the “gradual but decisive shift in the postwar decades from the older politics of triumphalism to the politics of trauma, from the belief that victory vindicates to the conviction that victimhood confers virtue.” (259) For Hoffman, the key way to move forward, then, is first, to allow the Holocaust to become something of the past, respectfully minded and available to learn from, but not something acceptable for political use in the present. Historians need to be more understanding of the fact that “even those greatly sinned against are capable of greatly sinning” and it is impossible “to reprieve even those who have been greatly persecuted from the normal responsibilities of life.” (95) We need to be more willing to look closely at Holocaust victims to truly understand them as they were, including their moral flaws. She also says that understanding fanaticism, particularly the conditions under which people are drawn to it, is of fundamental importance in understanding how to prevent such actions in the future. Our key focus should be less about the morality of the Holocaust, which for most people is fairly clearly settled, but in learning what it can teach us about how genocides happen and how they can be prevented in the future.
Ultimately, Hoffman’s account is a masterful account of where research into the Holocaust has been and how it might continue. Although the work is sometimes difficult to follow because it flows so seamlessly between the registers of intense personal account and cultural analysis, this is also one of the strengths of the work. By placing living memory – those children now left to embody the experiences of their Holocaust survivor parents – in dialogue with more abstract broad analysis, Hoffman forcefully shows that just as her own life has changed in complicated and unexpected ways and yet remained intensely her own, so must the research into the Holocaust continue to move forward, all while remembering the real, lived experiences at the heart of it.(less)
This short book provides a lot of insight into the role of women in hip hop culture. Sharpley-Whiting points out that hip hop is built on a paradoxica...moreThis short book provides a lot of insight into the role of women in hip hop culture. Sharpley-Whiting points out that hip hop is built on a paradoxical relationship to women, in which it simultaneously needs women to survive as an industry, but at the same time it exploits women in many ways. The author is sympathetic to hip hop culture and does a great job of examining the nuances of where women's agency fits into this picture. Nonetheless, Sharpley-Whiting is still engaged in a feminist project. She wants to know how, or if at all, hip hop can continue to "keep it real" without being so harmful to women. Particularly, she wants to know what women women who are fans of hip hop can do to make the culture more female-friendly. Although Sharpley-Whiting makes some suggestions, the book ultimately functions more as a rumination on these issues than a piece that provides clear answers to these questions.
From an academic perspective, I read this book for a history class I am CAing for on Black Women in America. Ultimately, while this book was certainly interesting and held my students' interest because of the author's use of slang and topics from modern culture, I do not know that the book was necessarily appropriate for the course, since the piece is much more of a sociology piece or feminist treatise than a historical text. Moreover, some of the slang and the recording artists that are mentioned were a bit before my students' time, and those students not from the time period in question or unfamiliar with hip hop had to use a lot of Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary to understand the text. I would not use this as a primer on feminism and hip hop culture for those unfamiliar with the scene.(less)