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Place d'Armes, in the heart of historic Montreal, location of the Bank's first headquarters (1850).

Horatio Gates: An American in Montreal

By | McGill-Queen's University Press

By Laurence B. Mussio

Note: This excerpt from Laurence B. Mussio’s Whom Fortune Favours, published earlier this year by McGill-Queen’s University Press, introduces Horatio Gates – one of Bank of Montreal’s early founders. Dr. Mussio’s two-volume history of Bank of Montreal, a boxed set with 100 color photos (available in English and French), provides a fascinating glimpse into North American history through one of Canada’s most enduring institutions. Founded in 1817, 50 years before Canadian Independence, Bank of Montreal played a key role in the development of the city and country (such as providing funding for crucial infrastructure projects of the 19th century – the CPR Bridge and Lachine Canal in the 1820s, the Magnetic Telegraph Company in the 1860s and the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s) and establishing Montreal as a major player on the international stage. As Niall Ferguson writes in the Foreword, “History does indeed matter – and Canadian financial history turns out to matter a good deal more than most people suppose. It is in this spirit that Laurence B. Mussio has written this exemplary history.”

CEO emeritus William A. Downe will join Laurence B. Mussio for the virtual launch event for Whom Fortune Favours next Tuesday, July 7 at 12:00pm EDT, in Zoom webinar format. Register here and receive a discount code to purchase the book directly from the publisher.

Horatio Gates is another founder whose career, relationships, and connections exemplify the kind of reputational capital so crucial for the success of the Bank of Montreal project. Gates was an American by birth (born in Barre, Massachusetts in 1777) who, by his early twenties, had become involved in the marketing of agricultural products from Vermont and New York to Montreal and the St Lawrence valley. In 1807 he moved to Montreal and established a store with Abel Bellows, a fellow American, on St Paul Street. The War of 1812 provided Gates with an opportunity to connect the sudden spike in British military demand for provisions in the Canadas with American supply in meat and produce. His American connections and Canadian clients in a time of war required nimble diplomacy and reliable intelligence on both sides of the border. Gates was ready to sell his holdings and leave Lower Canada should the circumstances warrant it. He reluctantly took the oath of allegiance but obtained an exemption from taking up arms against his home country.

Gates’s business interests flourished in the aftermath of the war, as he became a major supplier of provisions to Lower Canadian garrisons below Quebec. He engaged in multiple business partnerships, from provisioning to the importation of British and American finished goods, to the exportation of potash, wheat, flour, pork, and staves. In this extensive range of business activity, Gates developed an impressive network of contacts through which passed hundreds of transactions involving bank notes, cash, and bills of exchange. As the Lower Canadian economy moved away from the fur trade and toward participation in a more diversified, continental, and transatlantic economy, payments, transactions, and matters of credit became increasingly urgent matters. Gates’s sophisticated grasp of the need for financial intermediation was only part of the story, however. He also understood the relationship between credit and information flows about commercial, trade, and general conditions affecting business. His biographer notes that he published correspondence and circulars on the subject of Canadian trade in the United States, especially on prices, crops, and inventories, as well as vital credit information.

The contribution of Horatio Gates to the establishment of the Bank of Montreal was indispensable. As a prominent Montreal merchant with continental networks, as an agent for the New York bank of Prime, Ward and Sands, and as the founder most able to access American capital and shareholders for the venture, he played a key strategic role. His deep involvement in the first decade of the bank’s activities underscores his conviction that properly functioning, effective banking institutions would be vital for the future prosperity of the colony. Indeed, he was so convinced that he also participated in the foundation of the Bank of Canada, a bank established to specialize with the United States trade in 1822 and which was merged with the Bank of Montreal in 1831.

Gates’s social standing in Montreal, his cultural and philanthropic commitments, and his active participation in church affairs placed him among the leading citizens in the city. At the same time, his conciliatory disposition allowed him to serve as a bridge between his fellow Montreal merchants and the Parti Canadien. As Jean-Claude Robert notes, Gates’s career closely parallels and intersects with Montreal’s rise as a metropolis in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Starting from a position of economic weakness, the city was able to become, thanks to the efforts of its middle class, the pre-eminent economic power in Lower Canada.

CEO emeritus William A. Downe will join Laurence B. Mussio for the virtual launch event for Whom Fortune Favours next Tuesday, July 7 at 12:00pm EDT, in Zoom webinar format. Register here and receive a discount code to purchase the book directly from the publisher.

Laurence B. Mussio is a senior Canadian business historian, special advisor to senior executives of North American financial institutions and public commentator. He has taught in the undergraduate and graduate faculties at several Canadian and American universities. Dr. Mussio is also CEO of SIERC — a Toronto, Canada based consultancy specializing in mobilizing context for decision-making. Dr. Mussio is also a co-founder of the Long-Run Initiative (LRI), an international not-for-profit forum for academic experts, business leaders and public policymakers applying insight from hindsight to contemporary grand challenges.

Sharon Dolin with her sister (1968). Courtesy of the author.

Conversation with Sharon Dolin on her memoir Hitchcock Blonde

By | Terra Nova Press

By Claudia Acevedo

Virtual Launch Event: McNally Jackson, Monday, June 15, 7pm EDT, with Jacki Lyden. Register here.

I was introduced to Sharon Dolin’s work by my thesis advisor while completing an MFA last year, so I was already a fan of her poetry before reading Hitchcock Blonde: A Cinematic Memoir (Terra Nova Press). A poet myself, I was particularly interested on seeing how her story unfolded in prose. It was an intense, yet rewarding, experience—seeing the similarities between our lives’ big catalytic absences, especially those brought on by a mother’s mental illness, dealt with such grace and emotional poignancy.

It’s easy to fall in love with this book. Ten Hitchcock films serve as the book’s framing device. She ingeniously weaves his filmography–a formative part of her childhood–and leading women into her own narrative, helping her paint a picture of what it was like to grow up in 1960s Brooklyn with a schizophrenic mother and traveling salesman father, and work through romantic and creative turmoil in her adulthood. Despite the difficult themes, Hitchcock Blonde is well-paced and engrossing, a vivid attempt at getting to the bottom of the “memory-wounds” that have shaped her art and who she is.

Amid this terrible pandemic and publisher deadlines, Dolin made the time to correspond with me via email earlier this year to discuss the memoir, the power of metaphor, and the relevance of Rear Window to our current way of living and connecting with others.

When the idea for writing a memoir through the lens of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies occurred to me, I leapt at the creative challenge it presented.

1. What called you to write a memoir at this particular moment in your career and life?

I have been writing poetry for many decades and I always like to set myself new challenges. When I began writing this memoir seven years ago, I was looking for a long-term project for writing about my life, but one that would, as Emily Dickinson advises, “[t]ell all the truth but tell it slant.” When the idea for writing a memoir through the lens of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies occurred to me, I leapt at the creative challenge it presented. I see my use of Hitchcock as akin to metaphor, where two things are compared that have similarities as well as differences. Of course there were formal challenges involved. How much should I switch back and forth between my discussion of the movie and my discussion of my life? I wanted to give readers two kinds of experience: intellectual as well as immersive. First, there is the aesthetic, intellectual experience of seeing, for instance, Miss Froy in The Lady Vanishes, as a metaphor for my vanishing mother. But then, I also wanted to give the memoir reader the emotionally immersive experience of being along with me the one time, as a child, I visited my mother in the psychiatric ward of a hospital and felt as though the mother I knew had vanished. Here, of course, both the aesthetic and the emotional should converge in the reading if I have been at all successful.

Sharon Dolin in 1981. Courtesy of the author.

2. What were some of the most challenging and surprising aspects of writing this book, both during the thick of it and after having a completed draft?

I was most challenged and surprised in the act of writing this memoir by those parts of my life I had avoided facing: the infidelities of my father, for instance, and the cocaine use of my fiancé. In working on Rear Window, the challenge of having to face the truth of my dad’s infidelities shocked me into awareness when I realized that there were similarities between Thorwald the travelling salesman and my father the travelling salesman. It took the writing of the chapter for me to make these chilling connections, regardless of how many times I had seen this movie before. The same was true for Spellbound, where I had to face my fiancé’s cocaine addiction as being much more pronounced and probably responsible for what I had previously never understood as psychotic behavior. It was through watching the threatening, violent, unpredictable behavior of Dr. Edwardes that I was able to reach this unhappy realization.

After completing the book and in revising it, I also came to acknowledge how much my being the daughter of a schizophrenic mother had shaped me and had influenced my relationship choices. Of course, these moments of discovery are what every writer is in search of, no matter how painful. I write to discover what I had not noticed or known before. And it was through the lens of Hitchcock that I was able to make these discoveries. Oddly, I doubt I would have been able to see my life as clearly if I had only looked at it directly. I cannot overstate the power of metaphor (the slanting gaze) as a way to make us see clearly.

3. Did you share sections of the book with family or people you wrote about? What is your policy for writing about people close to you?

As a writer, I have always felt that I had the right to write about anyone, even the people closest to me. I have always exercised that level of freedom in my poetry, for instance, writing poems about my mother’s schizophrenia in my first poetry collection Heart Work. I don’t go out of my way to show my writing to anyone, or to get their permission. The most I have done for this memoir is ask if they would prefer a pseudonym and I have changed almost all of the names, aside from my parents’, to protect the living and the dead. Most people have a narcissistic streak, I have found, and feel flattered to have themselves appear in my writing, even if it is not in the most flattering light.

Dreams are gifts to us from the subconscious mind, just as poems are. And when a dream recurs, I take it as a sign that something particularly potent wants to communicate itself to me.

4. Who is Hitchcock to you now? Has your perception of him/his work or anyone else featured in the book changed after writing the memoir? 

I have had to learn, over and over again in my life, that there is a huge difference between the person and the creator. I think Hitchcock is a genius when it comes to filmmaking, but I think he was a deplorable man, particularly in his behavior towards certain women, such as Tippi Hedren, which I mention in my chapter on The Birds. I don’t think my attitude toward Hitchcock the filmmaker has shifted. I love his movies. I have always loved his movies, and even after repeated viewings, I can return to them in the same way I return to certain paintings and songs that I love.

My favorite movie remains Rear Window. And now that we are all caught on Zoom or Webex or some other on-line platform where our hunger for human connection has all made us voyeurs to some extent, the movie seems as contemporary as ever. Here I am, sheltering at home in New York City, where I find myself peering into the windows of those in the same meeting with me—very much the way Jeffries, caught inside his apartment with his broken leg, peers inside the rooms of his neighbors across the way. I don’t expect to witness a murder, but I do acknowledge the minor titillation of catching someone slightly off-guard as I am watching. Of course, if my video is live, I continue to have to grapple with that somewhat uncomfortable feeling that eyes are also upon me.

5. Dreamwork and recurring nightmares are featured prominently in the book. Could you talk about the importance of these subconscious patterns and their role in your work as a whole?

Dreams are gifts to us from the subconscious mind, just as poems are. And when a dream recurs, I take it as a sign that something particularly potent wants to communicate itself to me. Thus, it became a natural when I had hit upon the idea of writing a memoir using Hitchcock that I return to the recurring childhood nightmare I used to have in which Hitchcock’s truncated body figured. Writing that opening section, “Hitchcock in Brooklyn,” allowed me to do dreamwork on that childhood nightmare, and to make the connection between Hitch’s truncated body and other kinds of truncated and partial views in my childhood, as well as to suggest the larger point about memory itself always being a truncated and partial view.

And of course there is something dreamlike—or, rather, nightmarish—about many Hitchcock movies. So I am doing dreamwork on Hitch as much as I am doing dreamwork on my own dreams and, by extension, on my own life. Life is a dream, wrote Calderón, as the memoir reminds us.

In the Spellbound chapter, I record the poem that emerged out of a dream, another gift from my subconscious mind, where my mother and dead lover were connected. I think the poem, more than prose, is better able to gesture at the rudiments of desire: first for the mother and then for the lover.

At this point in my life, I don’t often remember my dreams, so I was thrilled when, after working on this memoir for so long, and right after completing a draft of Vertigo, the final movie I discuss in the book, that I should gift myself with a dream—a rather positive one—which I describe in the coda “Hitchcock in Manhattan.” Like most memoirs, mine does not focus on the moments of joy in my life, so I am particularly happy that my dream allowed me to end on a note of hope.

6. Where do you go from here? What is your next project?

Aside from working on poems, my next prose project will be as different in style and tone from this Hitchcock Blonde as possible. My next project is a memoir about dogs, which I began working on last summer, with the growing awareness that my 14-year-old dog was nearing his last days. It is a book with much greater levity—one that allows me to write about my life with dogs and my life as a parent and to draw some unusual—even amusing—parallels.

Sharon Dolin is the award-winning author of six poetry collections, most recently Manual for Living and Whirlwind. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, the Gordon Barber Award from the Poetry Society of America and her translation work has been supported by Institut Ramon Llull and the PEN/Heim Translation Fund. Her fourth book, Burn and Dodge, won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. Follow her on Twitter @SharonDolin and for more information visit her website: sharondolin.com. She lives in New York City.

Flyer for a show featuring The Dicks and Whoom Elements in Houston, TX (1982).

Pressure’s On: Ten songs about the police from 80s punk bands

By | Oxford University Press

By Kevin Mattson

Editor’s Note: We met Kevin Mattson in 2008, when Rebels All! was published, and then collaborated again the following year on the publicity for What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President? His latest, We’re Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of the 1980s, will be out this summer – his first new book in eight years. During the 80s, he played in bands, wrote for zines, and worked with the organization Positive Force at the time of its founding. This past weekend, after protests spread throughout the United States in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless more, he prepared this playlist with 1980s punk songs about the police – long after the hippie 60s and before rap and hip hop dominated the theme in 90s. As Mattson writes on his blog, where this originally appeared, “I’m surveying the tragedies we’re going through right now, and I’m thinking about how many 1980s punk songs focused on suspicions about the police….I’m not sure it’s right to say “enjoy,” maybe flex your anger muscles.”

Dead Kennedys, “Police Truck” One of the best. Not just anti-police but anti-macho.

Black Flag, “Police Story” “A war we can’t win…”  Which was proven when the LAPD practically shut down every show they could.

The Dicks, “Anti-Klan” This song has the great opening line: “I see that you’re a policeman, I know you’re in the Ku Klux Klan.” The Dicks were started in Austin, before moving to San Francisco in 1983. During protests, I remember the chant: “The cops and the Klan go hand in hand!”

The Dicks, “Dicks Hate the Police” Yes they get two, because they were the anti-police band, just as much if not more than MDC. This one lasted, especially when Mudhoney covered it later on.

Red C, “Pressure’s On” Red C was an early political punk group in D.C., with the drummer Tomas Squip, who would later lead Beefeater, also a very political band. This is a great one with its shredded vocals.

Circle Jerks, “Back Against the Wall” The futility of rebellion, much like “Police Story.”

Crucifucks, “Cops for Fertilizer” Get a hold of the album where there’s a recording of the police talking to the band’s leader about an upcoming show.  It ends with the following skirmish, “You guys… shouldn’t go so far out of your way to make fools of yourselves.”  To which, the authority figure on the other side retorts: “Well, that’s a matter of opinion.”  The band’s retort?: “It’s a matter of intelligence.”

The Vandals, “The Legend of Pat Brown” Featured in the movie Suburbia, the quasi-realistic depiction of suburban punk, this one is about a punk arrested for trying to run the cops down in his car.

SS Decontrol, “Police Beat” Slightly obvious, like much of the band’s releases.

MDC, “Dead Cops” Even more blunt than SS Decontrol and clocks in below thirty seconds.

“Firmly establishes American hardcore in the politics of the moment and the economics of the music industry at the time. An essential read for anyone wanting to understand the cultural history of the 1980s.”
–Vic Bondi, founding member of Articles of Faith

“The good news is that Mattson grew up in this scene and he has a clear understanding of it. We’re Not Here to Entertain is a great read that focuses on a vital and largely overlooked time and place in music history.”
–Mark Arm, lead singer of Mudhoney

Oxford University Press | August 2020 | hardcover & e-book
Preorder at Bookshop.org

Andrea L. Dennis presents RAP ON TRIAL in November 2019 at Avid Bookstore in Athens, Georgia. Photo: Alexa Rivera.

Rap on Trial: Conversation with Erik Nielson and Andrea L. Dennis

By | The New Press

By Jeremy Wang-Iverson

Last fall, The New Press published Erik Nielson and Andrea L. Dennis’s Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics and Guilt in America. The book examines a very specific but insidious action on the part of prosecutors over the past three decades: citing rap and hip-hop lyrics and video in court cases to persuade juries to make convictions. Nielson, associate professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, and Dennis, professor at University of Georgia School of Law, offer fascinating legal analysis and cultural criticism in this important contribution to the publisher’s unrivaled list of criminal justice titles. Nielson and Dennis discussed their work, some examples of Rap on Trial in action, how they came to collaborate on this project.

When did each of you first become aware of the extent to which rap lyrics were being used in America’s courtrooms?

Andrea first encountered this tactic in the early 2000s when she was a criminal defense attorney. About five years later the issue landed back on her radar when she was researching connections between hip hop and the law. At that time, she realized the practice was more than just occasional and isolated, leading her in 2007 to publish her law review article entitled Poetic (In)Justice? At the conclusion of the article, she opined that technological advances, such as social media, would facilitate the spread of the practice. She was right. By 2012, it was clear that state and federal law enforcement and prosecutors nationwide were using rap evidence in every phase of the criminal justice process.

Erik has served as an expert witness or consultant in roughly 50 cases involving rap lyrics as evidence. Ironically, his work in U.S. courts began thanks to the work of Eithne Quinn, a British scholar at the University of Manchester, who had begun working on cases in which grime (similar to rap) was being used as evidence in the UK. Suspecting that if the practice was occurring in the UK, it was likely happening in the U.S., Erik began looking. It quickly became clear that it was widespread, but he didn’t appreciate the full scope of the problem until he and Andrea teamed up to begin looking in earnest.

At present they have identified hundreds of cases and suspect that thousands remain hidden from public view.

Rap music is the only fictional musical genre used this way because its primary producers are young Black men, who the criminal justice system happens to target.”

Why are rap lyrics so much more likely to be introduced as evidence than lyrics from other musical genres?

Rap music is the only fictional musical genre used this way because its primary producers are young Black men, who the criminal justice system happens to target. Police and prosecutors highly value statements and conduct by a defendant that can be argued as self-incriminating. Rap lyrics often fit this mold because they are usually written in the first person, and oftentimes focus on criminal themes and use violent imagery. Lyrics that reinforce common narratives and stereotypes that Black men are dangerous criminals are powerful influences on judges and jurors.

Class also plays a factor. Most defendants in these cases are overwhelmingly black or Latino, most of them amateur rappers without the name recognition or financial resources that insulate more prominent artists.

Studies have shown that people perceive the same song lyrics as more damning of the writer when they are told they come from a rap song than a country song—is that because rap is a predominantly African-American genre?

Yes. The lyrics are also perceived as more threatening and in need of regulation. They are also more likely to be read literally. This is thanks to other stereotypes, namely that young Black and brown men are incapable of producing sophisticated art, so their lyrics must be literal. There’s no acknowledgement of their ability to master complex poetics.

Why do prosecutors and juries have so much trouble distinguishing the real and fictional identities of rappers?

Sometimes they’re simply uninformed, or misinformed, about the conventions of the genre, and don’t understand that it is a fictional art form even when based on reality. But in other instances, prosecutors and juries are actually unwilling or unable to accept the idea that an artist—particularly an amateur—is appealing to an audience that craves hyperbole, exaggeration, and realism, and deploying sophisticated artistic strategies to do so. For example, a juror may struggle to reconcile use of the first-person narrative in lyrics with fake personas and false claims of authenticity.

And we can go a step further. In some cases it’s clear that prosecutors and police “gang experts” are knowingly misrepresenting rap music to judges and jurors in order to secure convictions.

What are some of the most common misperceptions about hip-hop that you have encountered?

That it’s all violent and hypersexual. There’s often no understanding that like any major art form, there is variety and rap artists explore a wide range of themes and ideas in their music.

Another is that it’s not music. Another is that it’s definitely not poetry.

For our purposes, the most important misperception—aside from the idea that rap lyrics are autobiographical—is that rap perpetuates violence. The history of rap music, as well as hip hop culture generally, tells a very different story.

You write that famous rappers have found it easier to defend their lyrics in court. Why is that? And should it matter to the court whether lyrics were written by a professional or amateur rapper?

One explanation is that money buys justice. Well-resourced defendants have always fared better in the criminal justice system. Another explanation is that people generally believe that a famous or commercially successful artist is a true creative—not just spinning real life tales in musical form. But up-and-coming amateur artists are perceived as writing lyrics that are simplistic, rough, and crude.

What are some of the ways prosecutors use rap lyrics in criminal trials?

  • As evidence of a true threat directed at someone else. (That’s when the lyrics themselves are the crime).
  • As confessions.
  • As evidence of a person’s motive or identity with respect to a crime.
  • In many, many cases, to establish gang affiliation.

And in a new spin, we’re beginning to see prosecutors who allege that, even though a defendant did not personally commit a criminal act (e.g., homicide, assault, drug distribution), the defendant should be convicted of conspiracy because he wrote lyrics that described, encouraged, or facilitated a gang’s criminal acts.

We hope this book serves as a wake-up call to criminal defense attorneys who are not aware of the issue or how to battle back.”

Have judges set any limits to how rap lyrics can be used at trial?

Overwhelmingly, judges have set very few limits. They’ve uniformly rejected constitutional arguments that would preclude using these lyrics as evidence and rarely bar their use during trails. Defendants generally prevail only in extreme cases such as when prosecutors violate court rulings or make highly inflammatory arguments based on the rap lyrics being used as evidence.

What can defense lawyers do to fight back against the use of rap lyrics to prosecute their clients?

We hope this book serves as a wake-up call to criminal defense attorneys who are not aware of the issue or how to battle back. Luckily, there are many tools available to challenge the practice in criminal court. One of the easiest approaches is for a defense attorney to use an expert to counter the often- demonstrably-false narratives of police and prosecutors, who generally know next to nothing about rap music.

But alongside litigation, attorneys must work to draw public attention to the practice and the injustices it causes. We believe that they can play a significant role in educating judges and citizens, i.e., potential jurors, of the extent and perils of the practice.

Are there any potential legislative solutions to the problems you outline in this book?

We call on legislatures nationwide to rely on the First Amendment to enact rules shielding rap music, a form of expressive speech, from being used against artists to impose criminal penalties on them. We call these protections rap shield rules.

Buy the book from Bookshop.org.

Erik Nielson is an associate professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, where he teaches courses on African American literature and hip-hop culture. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and Brooklyn, New York. Follow Erik on Twitter: @ErikNielson

Andrea L. Dennis holds the John Byrd Martin Chair of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law and was formerly an assistant federal public defender. She lives in Athens, Georgia. Follow Andrea on Twitter: @ProfALDennis

Anu Bradford at Columbia's Morningside Heights Campus (2020) | Photo by Michael Skoglund

The Brussels Effect: How EU Regulations Help the Environment

By | Oxford University Press

By Anu Bradford

Anu Bradford’s The Brussels Effect received a warm reception upon its publication this month, including Andrew Moravcsik writing in Foreign Affairs: “This may well be the single most important book on Europe’s global influence to appear in a decade.” This week, she launches her UK and European book tour, including stops in London, Oxford, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Helsinki. For more information, please visit the book’s website brusselseffect.com. Below we’re pleased to offer a short excerpt from Chapter 7, on Environment.

Environmental protection is one of the policy areas where the EU’s dedication to protect the global commons and willingness to promulgate stringent regulatory standards in this regard is well known. However, in the public discourse the EU is often best known for its commitment to multilateralism and active backing of global environmental treaties. While the EU plays an out-sized role in multilateral environmental cooperation, in fact its environmental goals are often most effectively accomplished through the Brussels Effect ­– three examples are noted below.

1) Hazardous substances and electronic waste. The EU’s regulatory efforts in this area culminated in the adoption of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS Directive or RoHS 1) in 2002. The RoHS Directive bans the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, with the goal of preventing these substances from leaking into the environment when many common products such as household appliances and computers reach the end of their useful life. The Directive applies to all products placed on the market in the EU regardless of whether they are produced in the EU or in non-EU countries. In 2011, the Directive was extended to cover all electrical and electronic equipment, including medical devices and monitoring and control instruments (RoHS 2). The EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), first adopted in 2002, complements the RoHS in that it is aimed at removing e-waste from landfills and redirecting it to recycling. Both sets of directives impose upon the manufacturer the responsibility for product management throughout the life cycle of the product. These directives have therefore had a dramatic impact on the entire electronics industry.

2) Animal welfare. The EU has also taken decisive regulatory measures to advance animal welfare. The first such provision in 1974 focused on governing slaughterhouses. Regulation in this area was expanded in a 1998 Council Directive that lays down general rules on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, incorporating the “five freedoms” for animals as declared in the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming. The 1999 Amsterdam Treaty contains a Protocol on animal welfare, declaring that animals are sentient beings, a position confirmed by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. From the Lisbon Treaty’s affirmation that animals feel pain and pleasure grew the EU Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012–2015. This Strategy implemented new welfare standards around housing, feeding, transportation, and slaughter while also targeting the competitiveness of European producers. Another prominent example is the EU’s decision to ban animal testing for cosmetics. Since 2013, no cosmetics tested on animals can be marketed in the EU.

3) Climate change. The final example discussed concerns climate change—in particular the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS). Known as a “cap-and-trade” system, ETS imposes a limit on overall emissions and, within this limit, allows companies covered by the scheme to buy and sell emission allowances as needed. The ETS comprises 11,000 power stations and manufacturing plants in the EEA area, reaching a total of 45% of EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Initially, climate change emerged as a policy concern at the member-state level, including in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The EU had first opposed flexible market mechanisms such as the ETS during the 1997 Kyoto climate negotiations. However, after realizing the significance of the issue for the European integration, the Commission changed its course and argued that an EU-wide ETS was necessary to avoid market distortions after the United Kingdom and Denmark had introduced national ETSs. Further, once the EU undertook to fulfill its own Kyoto commitments regarding the reduction of GHG emissions by 2008, it became a priority to convince other countries outside the EU to do likewise, both to protect the global commons and to retain the competitiveness of the European industry.

These examples ranging from electronic waste to animal welfare and climate change are illustrative of the EU’s stringent environmental policy. They have also provided a foundation for the EU’s global influence as they have subsequently been externalized through the Brussels Effect.

Anu Bradford is the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School. She is also a director for the European Legal Studies Center and a senior scholar at the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business. This is adapted from her new book The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World, published by Oxford University Press.

Stephanie Taylor, mother of three, reading I Can Change Everything with her two youngest daughters. (Photo by Steven Mansour).

I Can Change Everything by Stephanie Taylor

By | Strong Arm Press

By Jeremy Wang-Iverson

Strong Arm Press recently published Stephanie Taylor’s first children’s book I Can Change Everything. This charming picture book, with illustrations by Laura Brenlla, encourages young kids to use their imagination to change their circumstances in life – both big and small. The wish to imagine change for a better world has driven Taylor throughout her professional career – first as a union organizer in Appalachia, and later co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an organization with over a million members. Her organization, which has supported over a thousand local, state, and federal candidates, is well-known for running the Draft Elizabeth Warren for Senate effort in 2011 and were the first national organization to endorse Warren for President. (Along the way, Taylor earned an MFA in poetry from Columbia in 2007 and a PhD in American History from Georgetown in 2017.) In a Reddit AMA last December, Taylor answered a few questions on the upcoming election, our current political situation and how to talk to children about the difficult issues facing us today. An excerpt from that conversation is below.

What would you say to my parents who are voted for Trump because they feel like the Democratic party has forgotten about the cultural values of rural America?

I live in Pennsylvania, and also have family in rural parts of Oregon and Missouri. When I think about our shared values, I think about kindness and sharing with our neighbors. My uncle wouldn’t hesitate to pull his neighbor’s truck out of the mud if it got stuck. So how do we develop a political language that equates the values we hold as progressives — lending a helping hand, making sure everyone can see the doctor when they get sick, making sure kids can go to college even if they can’t afford it — with that culture of kindness, sharing, doing right by your neighbor. I don’t think they are incompatible, but I also don’t think that most Democrats have done a good job developing the right political language around this yet.

“The young climate activists are the ones who give me the most hope for the future.”

With the ever-growing threat of climate change, how do you feel we should prepare children to live in a world that doesn’t resemble our own?

I think about this all the time with my own kids. It’s one of the reasons I wrote my book for them, to help prepare them to use their own resourcefulness and imaginations to change the world. I try to encourage their empathy, and imagination, and inner reserves. The massive social and climate upheavals are going to require humans to either cooperate or fail together. Right now the young climate activists are the ones who give me the most hope for the future.

How do you feel early educators, if at all, can approach and discuss this presidency with students?

My stepdaughter is nine, and we try to make our criticisms of Trump more what he’s done — and why it hurts people — than anything personal. So we talk about kids being separated from their parents, or how kids can’t have school lunches if they can’t afford to pay, and that Trump is allowing that to happen, and we don’t believe that’s right. We try to build our criticisms around empathy.

It looks to me that progressive movements are both in a great position and a terrible position, right now. On one hand, the existence of someone as ultra-right as Trump means the pendulum is more likely to swing further left than normal so progressive gains are far more likely….Especially given that Trump is, somehow, inexplicably, currently favored in a few critical swing states, how do you resolve the tension between long-term gains and the need for immediate relief?

We have a saying that we started using after 2016. “We need voters to run to the polls, not be dragged there.” When you look at Trump vs Clinton, she outspent him 10-to-1 on field. She had organizers out knocking doors everywhere on Election Day. But his voters got themselves to the polls. That’s why we need a candidate who inspires voters to get themselves to the polls — someone voters will believe will put more money in their pockets, help them get health care, and do something real about the crushing problems facing us. And the progressive candidates — Warren and Sanders — are the ones most likely to inspire that feeling in voters!

My wife is much, much more conservative than I am and every time I bring up (with evidence) even a center-left position she shoots it down following her right wing parents ideal except for abortion (which she’s flaked a couple times on as well recently) and religion (both atheist). Do you have any suggestions how I can get her to stop acting offended every time I offer a different point of view?

I think this is one of the major challenges for progressives. I do believe we can build bridges even with folks who disagree with us, but we need to figure out the right political language (see my answer from earlier about rural folks.) For instance, what if we talk about the environment in the evangelical language of being stewards and shepherds of the earth? I think it’s something we have to experiment with, but it’s vital we figure out how to develop a language that speaks (respectfully) to the worldview of more conservative folks, but doesn’t abandon our core progressive and Democratic principles.

The progressive wars online are breaking my heart. And it’s definitely doing damage, it’s dividing us at a time when we need to be united.”

How can progressives best espouse and bring others on board with their political values and opinions while not doing so to the exclusion of others who don’t fit the mold exactly? If you don’t believe this is a current issue, what’s the path to ensuring progressive values gain more traction among those left-of-center?

The progressive wars online are breaking my heart. And it’s definitely doing damage, it’s dividing us at a time when we need to be united. I don’t have a good answer, but I know what my answer is — I’ve tried really hard to be nice, online and offline. This sounds small, and it is, but I don’t spread gossip or lies. I assume good intentions. I’ve started and then deleted many, many comments. And I try to be relentlessly positive in my advocacy for Warren and the other candidates we endorse (and we endorse lots besides Warren! We supported 1100 candidates last cycle!) Basically I just try to do my part not to feed the beast of progressives eating our own.

As to the other part of your question — bringing others on board with us — one of our core beliefs is that we ARE a left of center country. When you poll on issue after issue — expanding Social Security, Medicare for All, ending student debt, universal child care, more unions — a majority of voters, even a majority of Republicans, agree with us. So we need to keep talking about these issues, and we need our candidates to keep talking about these issues. That’s how we win.

Lizzie O’Shea Visits the US for Future Histories

By | Verso Books

By Jeremy Wang-Iverson

Writer, lawyer and activist Lizzie O’Shea, who lives in Melbourne, will visit the US later this month to discuss her recently published book Future Histories. In shortlisting Future Histories for the prestigious Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia, the judges called the book “an intellectual kaleidoscope that sits effortlessly at the crossroads between investigation, history and radical philosophy.” Dates and locations for O’Shea’s tour are below. She also answered a few questions for us on the importance of encryption, what we can to protect our digital rights, and the class divide in how we experience technology.

1/24 Los Angeles           Honor Fraser Gallery (with Sam Dean)
1/29 San Francisco       Green Apple Books
1/30 San Francisco       Mechanics’ Institute Library (with Wendy Liu)
1/31 San Francisco       Another Tech Industry is Possible (SF DSA)
2/4   New York City ­      The Strand (with Alex Press and Meredith Whittaker)
2/5   New York City       The New School (Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy)
2/6   Washington D.C.   Solid State (with Andrea Peterson)

In recent months, US Attorney General Bill Barr, with support from the UK and Australia, has been pushing Facebook to stop using end-to-end encryption in their messaging apps, claiming it could prevent law enforcement agencies from protecting against illegal activity conducted through them, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling. Could you talk about the dangers of going down this road in the name of public safety?  

Encryption has increasingly become standard in digital messaging and communication tools, in the wake of the Snowden revelations. In the book, I track the history of modern policing as a way of understanding why surveillance is such an enormous feature of the digital age. Western liberal democracies are often contrasted with authoritarian regimes in places like China, but the reality is that we have a long history of seeking to manage social division through surveillance, and this is accelerating as technology allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies greater power than ever before. My claim in the book is that we need to approach this political moment with a more sophisticated understanding of privacy and public safety, so we better understand the power dynamics at play, and in doing so, can organise to change them.

One of the few protections we have against such snooping is encryption. When applied to messages, it means that the communication cannot be intercepted and read by someone other than the intended recipient.

My claim in the book is that we need to approach this political moment with a more sophisticated understanding of privacy and public safety, so we better understand the power dynamics at play, and in doing so, can organise to change them.

But encryption is not just about privacy, it is also about security. All sorts of infrastructure, like mass transit, the electricity grid, health systems, rely on digital communications. If those systems are not protected – and encryption is pretty much the only way we can protect such messages as they travel – then they can be intercepted and manipulated by parties with ill intent.

The point is one that Snowden himself has made: we don’t need to give up privacy to enjoy security, quite the opposite, they are complementary. When our messages are more private because they are protected by encryption, then our system is also more secure against external risks.

This is not how state agencies want you to think about the problem. This is why they talk about child sexual exploitation and terrorism – some of the worst crimes we can imagine – to justify their program to stop encryption, or break it when they so desire. They want to prioritise their own interests above those they seek to represent, and they put us at risk when they do so.

In the book you mention data scientist Cathy O’Neil’s observation that machines’ decision-making is more likely to be imposed upon poor people, as it is cheap and efficient, while ‘the privileged are processed more by people.’ Could you expand on the difference between the privileged person’s experience of technology and the regular person’s in terms of decision-making?

There is a common trope that people don’t care about their privacy because they consent to it being violated all the time. I think this fundamentally misunderstand our political moment. It’s not that poor people are stupid or gormless, it’s that an entire economy has evolved around exploiting their online lives, like a parasitic vine choking the tropical ecosystem of human experience. Numerous predatory industries, such as gambling and payday lending, shell out big dollars to place targeted advertisements before segmented audiences. They play on some of the most powerful forces in our psychology—shame, desire, guilt—for the purpose of making money. The base drivers of capitalism strip away the complexities of our personalities and pulp them in the name of consumerism. They redefine our personal history, rendering it into data to be consumed by others, framed around our inclinations to buy. It represents a coup on our consciousness; a takeover of the parts of us that we instinctively believe ought to be under our control.

[Also see Lizzie O’Shea’s recent piece in Jacobin from 12/1/19]

Law, technology and politics are all fields that require our attention if we are to make the digital future more democratic. Find what you are good at and push.

What are some of the things people outside of the world of tech and government can do to help control how the digital revolution unfolds? In other words, what could we do at home right now? 

One thing everyone can do is get organised. If you are a tech worker, you could try organising your workplace. If you are a worker in a non-profit, you could ask questions about your organisation’s digital security and the digital security of the people you serve. You could find your local digital rights organisation and offer to help out. The eight-hour day movement, arguably the most successful social movement in human history, started when workers went on strike. Radical and progressive social change often starts at the margins and from below. We need to build a movement that can reclaim our digitals life from corporations and governments, which is every bit as simple and complicated as it sounds.

Of course, there are technical things you can do, like use open source software, using a VPN, using encrypted messaging services. You can download an ad blocker and Facebook Purity, which will make you both safer and happier. You can try to break your reliance on private social media platforms, and practice linking away from them whenever you can.

We can also advocate for better laws that make companies accountable for the quality of the products they sell. There is a full chapter in my book talking about the campaign to make cars safer, including the work done by the consumer lawyer Ralph Nader. The laws he advocated for have saved millions of lives by forcing manufactures to make their cars safer, and stop them from blaming the driver for design flaws. We can run a similar campaign today, which holds companies to account when they design products with the philosophy of ‘move fast and break things’ through well designed laws.

Law, technology and politics are all fields that require our attention if we are to make the digital future more democratic. Find what you are good at and push.

Lizzie O’Shea is a lawyer, writer, and broadcaster. She is regularly featured on national television programs and radio to comment on law, digital technology, corporate responsibility, and human rights, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Guardian, and Sydney Morning Herald, among others. A board member at Digital Rights Watch, O’Shea recently accepted the Human Rights Hero Award for her work campaigning for encryption protection in Australia.

Conversation with Amanda Michalopoulou

By | Dalkey Archive Press

By Claudia Acevedo

In her latest novel to be translated into English, God’s Wife (Dalkey Archive), Amanda Michalopoulou – one of Greece’s most highly acclaimed contemporary writers – deftly straddles the line between literal and metaphorical, producing something that is equal parts love story, fairy tale, dystopia, and philosophical treatise.  Originally published in 2014, and now translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito, the book is an unnamed protagonist’s account of her experiences as the ultimate creator’s companion. The Wife’s open letter tells the story of an impossible marriage—sometimes joyful, often miserable, always sexless, always full of questions. But it also serves as her coming-of-age in writing. As the reader, we are compelled to follow the Wife through time jumps and physical, spiritual, and intellectual travails. So much of her story is about asking the questions that we all spend our lives trying to answer, about the nature of creation and love. When I interviewed Michalopoulou by email this past May, we discussed everything from heretic female mystics, to mind circuses, to how abandonment engenders art. Our conversation is a window into the making of this strange, important novel, written in and about a space that Anne Carson calls “that emptiness where God would be if God was available, but God isn’t.”

How did this concept come to you? Was there an event/text/film, or combination of those that compelled you to write the book as a long letter?

I honestly don’t know. The idea of the Virgin Mary obviously played a role in it, though. From a very young age I was puzzled by the concept of the Immaculate Conception, a woman who is chosen for reproduction through an accelerated, mechanical procedure presented as Grace. I thought that God deserved another kind of woman, one who is probably naive and obedient in the beginning—this is how she is at 17 after all, when they meet in the book—but grows older and stranger because of her peculiar fate to be God’s Wife, and then reclaims her right to happiness ever after.

Were there any written testimonies by women (or men) that you were influenced by or interested in while working on the novel?

Marguerite Porete, mainly, this medieval mystic who was burned for heresy in 1310 after refusing to withdraw her book, “The Mirror Of Simple Souls,” from circulation. And Simone Weil, for her idea that creation occurred when God withdrew. Anne Carson brilliantly spoke about the same thing: “that emptiness where God would be if God was available, but God isn’t.” A frustrating, nauseating idea of abandonment.

Did the structure of the book come first (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso), or was it the other way around?

Structure always comes afterwards for me. In the beginning all is wild creation, a real cosmogony. It was especially the case with this novel because of its subject matter, which is, among other things, our place in the world and how this world of ours is created. This is even when we are talking about a solipsistic world, a concept we create to live and dream within our heads.

I am dreaming of a reader who would play with all of this, someone who is more like a juggler, really. Reading novels is, after all, a daring circus show for the mind and the soul.

Is there one thing that you want your reader to take away from the work? Or is the act of writing the point?

I hope there are many things that work simultaneously, subplots that work in unison in the mind of the reader, the same way an orchestra produces sounds, and, hopefully, a melody. God’s wife wants to write her own version of the marriage and God is terrified by the idea of a testimony being written at all, as He is tremendously introspective and afraid of critique.

I guess a writer will read the book as a metaphor about writing and responsibility, and someone who suffers from a broken heart will read more into the devastation of this archetypical love affair. A feminist would recognize the woman’s oppression, and a psychoanalyst would probably talk about hysterics—who knows? I am dreaming of a reader who would play with all of this, someone who is more like a juggler, really. Reading novels is, after all, a daring circus show for the mind and the soul. You do so many things simultaneously by reading, appropriating, interpreting, enjoying.

Could you talk about the importance of love in the book? Or, if not of love, marriage? In other words, why is the main character God’s “wife,” as opposed to his friend or disciple?

Oh, but this is about love, about falling in love in admiration. I was very tempted to describe this kind of love, which can’t be physical. God doesn’t have a body, He is only soul. If I chose to make the narrator a friend or disciple there wouldn’t be the kind of tension that is created by physical rejection. And then it was interesting to think about how that bitterness and dismay end up creating real existential resentment over the years. The marriage is obviously unhappy, and the wife’s way to survive is to write a book about it. But God has other plans.

Could you talk about the research process for God’s Wife? I learned a lot about astrophysics, philosophy, and literature reading this. It felt very “filling,” and like a lot of work, to put it mildly. Why did you choose the poets you quoted?

During the years I wrote the book I read a lot, as always. Whatever I found interesting, like poems and theories, I set aside to use. I was trying to follow the way of thinking of a woman who is discovering the world through reading. That was her “university course.” It was at first encouraged by God, and then slowly taken away when the Wife became too inquisitive, too “educated” about the nature of the world, the nature of knowledge. I would like the reader to follow her in this education, to ask the same questions, to see her grow as she desperately inquires about the world.

How many years did you spend writing God’s Wife?

I fully read for two years, it was an education! And afterwards, the writing was broken up into two parts. One part was written in Greece and Italy when I took part in the Bogliasco Residency in 2012, and the next one was written in China in 2013, thanks to a Shanghai Writers Association Residency. I mention these places because they are crucial settings in the novel. When God and His wife return to the world they go first to a place that resembles China, and then to a place in the Mediterranean that had a lot in common with the Italian coastline.

I feel as though there are, at least, two ways to read the book. How many are there?

It can be read as a romantic fairy tale for grown-ups, as a thriller of sorts, as a dystopia (a woman imprisoned in her own book, living and ruminating in her story). It can also be read as a bildungsroman about a girl who finally becomes a woman, or as a philosophical novel about the nature of the world. Or as all of the above and more.

Writing is my religion. It shaped my faith in the unknown, in the magical. It reconciled me with life and death. I was an introspective child, and books provided me with hope and solace.

If it’s not too intrusive, could you talk about the ways in which religion and writing intercept and relate to one another in your own life?

Writing is my religion. It shaped my faith in the unknown, in the magical. It reconciled me with life and death. I was an introspective child, and books provided me with hope and solace. Literature is, for me, pure metaphysics; it starts with suspension of disbelief (what a miracle!) and gradually it gives meaning to life, by giving meaning to a certain story. It is a constant ritual and a rite of passage. It has ethics, it has hymns and commandments, fear and gratification; who could ask for more, religion-wise?

Did writing God’s Wife answer any questions you may have had when you started it? If so, which were they?

I believe we write books to ask questions, not to answer them. My intention for writing a novel is to ask better, to ask fearlessly, unflinchingly. In this sense my questions remain and run deeper. How to create as a woman today, how to understand sexuality and passion and rejection and survive it and think for yourself, stubbornly, heartfully.

Amanda Michalopoulou is the internationally acclaimed author of several books of fiction, two of which have previously been published in English: I’d Like (Dalkey Archive Press, 2008) and Why I Killed My Best Friend (2014), both translated by Karen Emmerich. Her work, which has been translated into twenty languages, has been awarded the Diavazo Novel Prize, the Academy of Athens Award, and the International Literature Award by the National Endowment for the Arts among others. She lives in Athens, Greece.

The first mention of LeWitt in the New York Times came in 1961, when he was earning less than $1,000 a year on his art. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times/Redux)

Lary Bloom on Sol LeWitt’s Rebellion

By | Wesleyan University Press

By Lary Bloom

Fifty years ago, Sol LeWitt published his second manifesto, further upending centuries-old assumptions about how art is made. The effect of “Sentences on Conceptual Art” was minimal at the time, as LeWitt and his circle of rebels were dismissed by influential critics, and their practices had yet to spread much beyond the Lower East Side where they lived (in many cases, as with LeWitt, illegally).

LeWitt saw his role similar to that of a composer or architect whose work is largely done when the score or drawing is finished, leaving the completion to others.

Yet over the last half century, LeWitt’s vast body of work (nearly 1,300 wall drawings and hundreds of “structures” as well as other forms) and his ideas about art have become arguably the most influential as those of any 20th century figure. His name is always attached to two movements, minimalism and conceptualism. Though he often decried such labeling, his writings and practices firmly connected him to the latter category. Moreover, he argued often in public that for the contemporary artist, the brain is much more important than the hand.

By the time of his 1978 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, LeWitt had long since farmed out wall drawing installation to assistants. But he joined the crew in this instance. (Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

His worked showed that, as he was seldom involved with physical installations, leaving that to his crew chiefs and the thousands of young artists he hired over the decades. But it also became central to the installations themselves.

For example, just a few years before he died in 2007, he explained to me that he was asked to do a site-specific installation at an abandoned synagogue in Stommeln, one of the few in the country that hadn’t been destroyed by the Nazis, but which in recent years had been home only to art installations.

His idea was not traditional art at all. That is, no painting, no sculpture, no physical element except for one crude construction: a brick wall. The wall was to be placed inside the entrance, fulling blocking the sanctuary from view. But though visitors to the exhibition would not be able to see what’s inside, they could hear voices. These were the recorded “Lost Voices” of German Jews praying, which I translated from Hebrew into English, along with our friend Reuven Clein. So, the effect was to demonstrate a strong sense of humanity inside, even if it was in the form of ghosts reciting liturgy.

Indeed, the project demonstrated LeWitt’s commitment to the end of his career of what he argued in “Sentences on Conceptual Art,” – that art can be art even if never becomes a physical manifestation and that for artists, “Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically,” that “bad ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution,” and that “It’s hard to bungle a good idea.”

After Wall Drawing 370 went up at the Met, it prompted millennial selfies. (Richard Levine/Alamy Stock Photo)

Thus, he amplified what he had written two years earlier, in “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” published in Artforum. LeWitt had focused on inception and inspiration rather than what happens afterward. “The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.” The physical creation of the art, he said, is “perfunctory.” In this, he saw his role similar to that of a composer or architect whose work is largely done when the score or drawing is finished, leaving the completion to others.

In “Paragraphs,” his opening salvo challenged conventional thinking of the time, and challenged his peers to seek their own truths rather than the ones defined by critics or market trends: “The editor has written me that he is in favor of avoiding the ‘notion that the artist is a kind of ape that has to be explained by the civilized critic’ This should be good news to both artists and apes.” And he held the view that critics use a secret language meant to impress each other and bamboozle the public. (“Reading art criticism is like chewing glass,” he said.)

LeWitt wrote “Sentences” in 1969 around the time Paula Cooper, a pioneer in SoHo, produced her first show.

LeWitt used “Sentences” to clarify points made in “Paragraphs” and further push the view that artists, far from being fringe societal figures whose talent is expressed by disciplined hands, can do their best work when hands become irrelevant.

LeWitt wrote “Sentences” around the time Paula Cooper, a pioneer in SoHo, produced her first show at her gallery with the assistance of Lucy R. Lippard, who as a writer on contemporary art that had championed the LeWitt circle. Fourteen artists were chosen to participate in the “Benefit for the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.” Aside from LeWitt and Andre, others selected included Dan Flavin, Robert Ryman, Robert Mangold, Donald Judd and the lone woman, Jo Baer.

Advertisement for benefit show at Paula Cooper (The New York Times via Wikimedia Commons)

At the time, LeWitt was still doing most of the physical work himself.  Cooper told me in 2012: “Sol came [to the gallery], and he picked a freestanding awful wall, you could see my storage was behind it—the worst space, and he came and made a drawing on it. It took him two days.” He drew with black pencil the straightest parallel lines he could, in an arrangement that would pre-figure the ideas in many of his works to come — horizontal, vertical, and diagonal.

All of the works at the show were for sale.  The asking price for Andre’s sculpture was $1,500; for Flavin’s fluorescent light arrangement, $2,000; for Mangold’s trapezoid $2,500, Ryman’s monochrome painting, $900. The price listed next to LeWitt’s wall drawing was “by the hour.” And even then, any prospective buyer (there were none at the time) couldn’t take the piece off of the wall and carry it home.

Indeed, Cooper’s biggest shock came when the show ended, and the artists came to get the pieces that hadn’t sold. She called LeWitt and asked what she should do with the wall drawing. He told her to paint over it. “I can’t do that,” she replied. So, he went to the studio and did the task himself. It was among his first efforts at the dematerialization of art, and the demonstration that the idea is more important than the execution, a view that would manifest in the system of verification; the only value of a LeWitt wall drawing is in the certificate of ownership itself. The physical piece is worthless.

Or as he would eventually say, among his many wry commentaries, “A wall drawing is permanent until destroyed.”

A twenty-five-year-long retrospective opened at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008, featuring a hundred LeWitt works that collectively covered more than 27,000 square feet of wall space. (Randy Duchaine/Alamy Stock Photo)

In all, “Sentences” and its forerunner, “Paragraphs,” words that, according to their author, are not meant to be art itself, have changed basic assumptions that had lasted centuries. At first, as in all revolutions, it was considered fringe. Nowadays, LeWitt’s views don’t seem so extreme.

Thousands of young artists around the world adopted his views and joined his installation crews. They now see LeWitt, who died in 2007, as the artist who has had the most influence, inspiring them to rely more on their heads than their hands. More than 2,000,000 visitors have seen LeWitt’s wall-drawing retrospective (running until 2033) at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art may attest. But as detailed and meticulous as LeWitt’s work and process could be, he was not one to explain the mystery of how or why his art works. When a student at the University of Hartford asked him, “What is art?”, he replied, “It’s a big, fluffy thing.” And, with that, and all he had written down in “Paragraphs” and “Sentences,” he ended his explanation.

 

Lary Bloom is the author or coauthor of ten books, including the biography, Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas, which was published earlier this year by Wesleyan University Press. He lives in New Haven, CT and teaches memoir in Yale’s summer program.

The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm, Sauk County, Wisconsin (Wikimedia Commons)

Insider’s Almanac: Excerpt from Krista Eastman’s The Painted Forest

By | West Virginia University Press

By Krista Eastman

West Virginia University Press published Krista Eastman’s The Painted Forest this month. She will appear at several events to launch the collection of essays, including the Wisconsin Book Festival on October 19 and Boswell Book Company on October 29. More details about the events can be found here. The below is an excerpt from “Insider’s Almanac,” the second essay in the book, followed by a Q&A. “Insider’s Almanac” was originally published in 2012 by The Georgia Review. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, which Krista Eastman considers below.

The girl version of myself, in her search to trace origins, couldn’t get much further than the county line, and so she became first a fixture at the town’s public library, then a traveler. And yet, local girl, avid reader, I never picked up A Sand County Almanac, the classic born just miles from my hometown, and I don’t recall learning about it in school. My copy of Leopold’s book, acquired in adulthood and in the spirit of research, smells of press and crispness, its pages not dog-eared nor tattered nor steeped in the oil found on fingertips. This almanac does not occupy my nightstand, has never been the binding I chose to brush up against in the dark, nor the words I intoned while on pilgrimage through the woods alone. But it has haunted me.

A Sand County Almanac is part lyric manifesto, but it does much more than merely conjure up the natural beauty of Leopold’s farm.

Reading A Sand County Almanac, I learned that Aldo Leopold made another kind of map of this place, providing the vocabulary for another way of looking at the world by transcribing the messages he found written on wind, dew, and pine with poetry and a pithy common sense. “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot,” he begins simply. “These essays are the delights and the dilemmas of one who cannot.” And these words, like much of A Sand County Almanac, twist my thoughts. Arriving a little late to this book, this particular county, I must entertain my own share of new and uncomfortable questions, my own delights and dilemmas. Raised among open fields and cultivated hills, how will I be sure that I can or cannot live without these wild things, which I do not identify and cannot always see? I underline words such as Silphium and bur oak and wonder if these plants are still around. Have they been around all this time? Do they survive in the unharvested corners of farmland whose cultivated verdure most certainly plays me for a fool, prompting me to gaze as one gazes at the back of one’s own hand, carelessly, with few questions?

A Sand County Almanac is part lyric manifesto, but it does much more than merely conjure up the natural beauty of Leopold’s farm. Leopold also takes up the problem of perception, of how we perceive ourselves and the land we make our own—and the ethics of both of those things at once. In the chapter entitled “December,” Leopold writes: “The wild things that live on my farm are reluctant to tell me, in so many words, how much of my township is included within their daily or nightly beat. I am curious about this, for it gives me the ratio between the size of their universe and the size of mine, and it conveniently begs the much more important question, who is the more thoroughly acquainted with the world in which he lives?”

Fueled by local affiliation, I approach this book with the same question, though mine conceals a different kind of curiosity. With sheepishness, I wonder about my mythic Leopold and myself, about the size of our two universes in this same Wisconsin county. I admit that asking the question this way risks placing the book in my hands at a perverse angle, exposing my interest as a brutish desire to defend, or to stake my own claim.

Arriving a little late to this book, this particular county, I must entertain my own share of new and uncomfortable questions, my own delights and dilemmas.

Leopold, measured and wise, continues: “Like people, my animals frequently disclose by their actions what they decline to divulge in words. It is difficult to predict when and how one of these disclosures will come to light.”

Perhaps I should also decline to put into words the insularities of my own habitat. Like the many who’ve come before, perhaps I should brush off clear declarations in favor of physical work, express myself only with silent necessity—with eyes that know but hold back, with a stolid distaste for the process of explaining and, worse yet, of being explained. And yet disclosures have already been made, squatting with imperfection on my page and under my name. That made-up memory of the sweat spot I stood long enough to admire, has emboldened me somehow, causing me to speak almost by accident of another universe, another definition of local, the many ways you can wed yourself to land. Here I admit to animal behavior.

Q&A with Krista Eastman

1. When did you start writing The Painted Forest?

I wrote the earliest essay, “Layers of Ice,” after having returned from working at McMurdo Station in Antarctica and while in my first year of graduate school, way back in 2008.

2. Do you find that your experience of living in many different places, from Senegal to Antarctica, affects you as a writer?

In a lot of ways, I think living and working abroad as I did in my 20s is what got me to commit seriously to writing and to literary nonfiction in particular. I began writing from other places and that experience helped me figure out how to write about home, or to hold the same fascination for the things in front of my nose as for the things I had gone to the end of the earth to find.

3. What brought you back to your home state of Wisconsin?

The official story is that I returned in 2010 when the U.S. economy was in the can because I knew I could get a job here. The unofficial story is that I had a fine case of burn out and wanted to be home for a while.

4. What’s your relationship to revision?

I actually revise as I go so that by the time I finish the “first draft” of an essay it’s usually about 98% done. Since we admire what other people have, I like to bitterly imagine other writers completing first drafts in fits of inspiration and then heading out to revel with each other at the neighborhood bar. What I do is suck on coffee, pinch up my face, and then move the text an inch or two a day until it’s done.

5. How did you choose which influences to explore and name?

There’s not much method to this, I’m afraid. What I love about writing is that I can justify exploring any interest I have. I can check out an embarrassingly broad spectrum of books from the library and not have to answer for it. I have my secret art and I don’t (and won’t) explain it. Some things I write don’t require much research. But for most of it I do read quite a bit, for background or context or to be privy to what experts are saying about X. I’ll read anything, even books I barely understand, because I’m trying to make sense of something. My writing almost always begins with a question of some kind, even if at first it’s barely formed.

6. Have you always been drawn to writing about place and the environment?

I don’t think of myself as someone who writes about the environment, at least not directly. I’ve always been drawn to thinking about storytelling and about how we humans create place-based identities for ourselves. I’m kind of obsessed with how we make the world through perception and that includes concerns about our relationship to the earth.

But of course I am extremely worried about our climate crisis. The challenge for me has been how to capture and make something from the cascading ills of this moment – from the wild precariousness, the cruelty, and the astonishingly unequal distribution of wrongs.

7. Could you tell us about your next work, Pionier?

I don’t really like to talk about work while it’s in progress, but you can read some of it – an essay called “Ancient Inland Sea” – this fall in the “Earth Elegies” issue of Conjunctions.

Krista Eastman‘s writing has earned recognition from Best American Essays and appeared in The Georgia ReviewThe Kenyon Review (KROnline), New Letters, and other journals. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information, please visit her website kristaeastman.com.