Weekend

Required Reading

This week, Kanye designs a new shoe, the warrior librarians of World War II, San Francisco’s hidden monument to white supremacy, translating garbage, and more.

Kanye West’s new foam shoe, named “Ararat,” is a new look for footwear from someone who seems eager to redesign the world in his vision. Made in the USA, they are made with an algae material. Modern Notoriety has more info.

In Information Hunters, Kathy Peiss describes American assumptions about German libraries as the Allies closed in on Berlin in 1945. ‘On its face, the military government’s perspective was simple: Nazi books were akin to a virus or infestation. It required quarantine and elimination.’ And yet, for the American authorities, elimination soon came to mean transfer from the ‘wrong’ hands to the ‘right’ ones, rather than literal destruction. In the first years of the occupation, books and periodicals and official records by the railway wagonload left Germany to be shipped to the United States. Many of these libraries and archives had little or no connection with the Nazi era, but they had existed before Hitler came to power, and were therefore assumed to have somehow cultivated the virus.

Even before war broke out in 1939, American librarians had foreseen cultural disaster in Europe. With the backing of the Roosevelt administration, they sent out missions to copy or buy as much of Europe’s literary heritage as they could, aware how little of it could be found in American libraries. This concern had a history. The Lieber Code, an early attempt to codify the laws of war, passed by President Lincoln during the Civil War, had tried to ensure that captured Confederate documents and records were preserved. In the 20th century, the idea spread that information should be formally recognised as a national asset, and the New Deal recruited librarians to work on a Historical Records Survey. A World Congress of Universal Documentation was held in Paris in 1937, sponsored by the League of Nations and intended to study ‘methods of welding the intellectual resources of this planet into a unified system’. Behind this majestic rhetoric lay a new and crucially important welding tool: microfilm, a technique largely in the hands of American entrepreneurs that transformed the possibilities of cheap mass copying, information storage and retrieval. This was the tool American librarians took with them to Europe.

  • Richard White considers Drake’s Cross in a San Francisco park, which may be the most fitting monument to white supremacy in the country. He writes:

It is an attempt to enshrine Anglo-Saxonism, which is a late-19th-century variant of white supremacy. It carries us back into a putatively Anglo-Saxon America, when, with deep worries about the racial identity of a heavily immigrant city, many Californians became crazed over the long-dead Drake. They enlisted him to shoulder the white man’s burden.

Drake’s Cross actually commemorates a nonevent. Francis Drake neither sailed into San Francisco Bay nor set foot on the site of San Francisco, although he very probably landed somewhere nearby in 1579.

He spent a month somewhere in California (or maybe Oregon) repairing his ship before crossing the Pacific. Californians named things after him and built monuments to him.

Now, along with people in California, Black Lives Matter has made Drake a target in Plymouth, England, where Drake began and ended the round-the-world voyage that brought him to California.

The inscriptions on the cross — those that still can be read — celebrate Drake as part of the beginning of a Protestant Anglo-Saxon America. He was the first Protestant, the first Englishman, the first missionary on “our” coast, in “our” country, on “our” continent.

  • The new wave of support for Black Lives Matter has people reconsidering all types of language, including in the BDSM and leather movements:

I said garbage and I mean garbage; I mean trash piles of words arranged in a sequence that follows no syntactical or logical order. I mean sorting through the offal of language, with endless entrails of run-on sentences, adjectives and adverbs that multiply like spores, paragraphs that are dumping grounds of useless information, crawling with disease-carrying vermin quick to infect you and turn your own writing into a diarrhea of undigested thoughts, sometimes leaving you so addled you forget the basic rules of grammar and have to google which prepositions go with which words.

Regardless, the choices you have to make with awful texts are no less delicate or complicated than with the best. If anything, they are fraught with even more dangers and temptations: the temptation of changing what is before you to make it less awful; the danger of producing something that is less a translation and more a hybrid, a collaboration with someone you’d rather not be in collusion with. For example, when a ministry of interior is answering to charges of abuse of detainees and the violent coercion of confessions, it is imperative to preserve the doublespeak faithfully. “Our laws forbid the mistreatment”—here a distinction is made from the harsher abuse—“of detainees, and therefore it is impossible that we are engaging in such practices as they are forbidden by law.” I might be tempted to omit that final clause, repetitive as it is, and yet that empty insistence is in fact the crux of what is being expressed. Sometimes I am tempted to editorialize, as when another ministry replied to a human rights organization: “Honorable Sirs, you are perhaps aware of the fact that we have been devastated by war and sanctions as of late, and therefore it pains us to point out that the Ministry has jurisdiction in name only and it is in fact the militias who are responsible for the torture of refugees.” I pictured an exhausted bureaucrat sitting in one of those bare, tiled offices with peeling walls, a metal desk, and an ancient desktop computer, a city in ruins around him, and I wanted to add, because he didn’t: “Surely you’ve been reading the news? Surely, even if I’m passing the buck, you understand the futility of this entire effort on your part?”

I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow.

According to the rule of hypodescent (the social and legal practice of assigning a genetically mixed-race person to the race with less social power) I am the daughter of two black people, the granddaughter of four black people, the great-granddaughter of eight black people. Go back one more generation and it gets less straightforward, and more sinister. As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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