Erasing History: A Reconsideration

“In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on to the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square. That was the great turning point in the history of Bohemia. A fateful moment.

“Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing close by him. It was snowing and cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. Bursting with solicitude, Clementis took off his fur hat and set it on Gottwald’s head.

“The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.

“Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history, and of course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on that balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall. Nothing remains of Clementis but the fur hat on Gottwald’s head.”

                                                  —Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgettingch. 1
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Truth, Lies, and Postmodern Possibilities: “Frantz” in Context

Seven years after the Armistice of 1918, Paris-born playwright Maurice Rostand published a three-act play, L’homme qui j’ai tué (The Man I Killed), about a Frenchman seeking forgiveness for killing a German soldier in the trenches of the Great War. Seven years later, Berlin-born Ernst Lubitsch directed an American film version of Rostand’s work, retitled Broken Lullaby to avoid spoiling the open secret of the story’s climax. And now, emerging from the long, century-old shadow of that war, Paris-born François Ozon renames the story yet again and retells it–mostly in German–from the perspective of the family of Frantz, the German pacifist soldier who was killed in Rostand’s titleAll these permutations result in Ozon’s 2017 Frantz, whose complexities take full advantage of the developments in film, in politics–and in philosophy–over the past one hundred years. Continue reading

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My Second-to-Last Conversation with My Father

March 16, 1981

Daddy and me | March 24, 1987

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I know the word penultimate. Yes, I have known since reading Strunk and White  that one word is always better than three, even when the three are hyphenated. But I received my inspiration for this post from a title I passed over fleetingly in the New Yorker daily feed, and I wanted to preserve the diction: “My Last Conversation and so on.” I actually went back and read it, and it was quite good. No, it was dazzling, in its straightforward and understated way.

I am not a journalist covering wars across the globe. And my father was even further from being a law professor. He was just a copper miner from Globe, Arizona (a crusher repairman and sometimes president of the local Steelworkers union), and I am just . . . well, I have been many small things, but mostly a teacher of writing and thinking. Nor was our second-to-last conversation dazzling in its understated but confusing and not-at-all-straightforward way. Continue reading

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Reading, Watching–and Smelling–World War I

More than a year ago, I decided to observe the centenary of World War I by using it as the theme of my English composition classes devoted to writing across the curriculum.  To that end, I have immersed myself in a wide assortment of novels and films about the conflict of 1914-1918, about which David Lloyd George quipped, “This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.” Each of these works has offered me new and profound insights into the atrocity and devastation of trench and tunnel warfare, mustard and phosgene gas, shell shock and disfigurement, loss of faith in the future–and in God. Continue reading

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Graduation Reverie

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Nunie: Words, Pictures–and Music

Milton B. “Nunie” Nunamaker

Since Just(e) Words made its debut more than a year ago, I have shared in its virtual pages my memories of several formative individuals–including a three-post, 5,000-word homage to my mentor at the University of Arizona. I have also noted more than once the central rôle of music in my life, including a full post, “The Many Gifts of Music,”  devoted in part to the people who gave me those gifts. I even called one of those people “the most unforgettable character in my life story” and promised to write an entire post about him.

So why have I never written about Nunie? I have been struggling with that question over the last two weeks, and the closest I can come to an answer is that I simply don’t remember enough to tell a coherent story. I have searched my photo albums from the 1960s and found amazingly few pictures of Nunie. I paged through the Wigwam, our high school yearbook, where few photos even show his face; pictures of Nunie should be pictures of his band, after all. I searched Google and located a written tribute and gravesite photos posted by Christine Marin. I found a few reminiscences on Facebook. And I received permission from fellow Globe High School graduate and band member Robert Cubitto to include his thoroughly researched biography of our shared mentor (see the first comment below). Otherwise, I can offer only a few private glimpses into the life I shared with Nunie. Continue reading

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I Never Saw a Moor; I Never Saw the Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never even had a passport.

But I know the heather because I have walked the moonlit moors with Catherine and Heathcliff. I know the roiling sea because I sailed on the Pequod and clung to Queequeg’s coffin. Continue reading

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50 Years Ago: My 15 Minutes on the Front Page

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Being Martha/Being Peter: The Other Lesson of Maundy Thursday

Jan-Erasmus Quellinus/Adriaen van Utrecht, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” (17th c.)

In November of 1997, I attended North Carolina Episcopal Cursillo, a short course in Christian living modeled after a movement that began in Spain in 1944 to train lay leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. The three-day spiritual pilgrimage alters lives as it trains servant leaders in piety, study, and action through talks, group discussions, a healing service, Holy Eucharist, and lots and lots of eating and praying and singing. We learned that our highest calling is to live the prayer of Saint Teresa of Ávila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.

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Metatext: Memories in the Margins

  • Two weeks ago, on March 18, I saw The Sense of an Ending on the second day of its run at the Cameo Art House Theater in Fayetteville.
  • In 2011–specifically, “Thanksgiving 2011, Lake Mattamuskeet” according to my notation on the flyleaf–I read the novel by Julian Barnes that inspired the movie; it had been released in the United  States just the previous month.
  • On March 19, I reread that slim but densely packed novel in one sitting, including the marginalia–my notes, underscores, asterisks–the metatext by which I expressed my intimate connections with Barnes’s ineffectual and balding narrator.

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