Friday, June 30, 2006

Football Politics

James Forsythe's recent post at FP Passport about the effect on Germany's World Cup wins on Angela Merkel's government belatedly reminded me of his similar earlier post titled "Tony Blair's World Cup Dream." (What's more, Forsythe predicted Merkel's success in a post titled "Kicking Off.")

Some highlights:

The good news for Blair is that for every day England are in the competition, there will be less space in the media for—and less interest in—news of the failure to deport foreign criminals, internal struggles, incompetence in the NHS, and the like. Equally the PM can expect to be the indirect beneficiary of any feel good factor and economic bounce created by a strong English performance...

Not only is Merkel getting great publicity with every Germany game (the TV cuts to her even more than it does to Posh Spice aka Mrs Beckham during England games), but she is also using the tournament to push through a series of controversial measures. The Times of London had a great article a few days ago about all the bills that Merkel is sneaking through while the public is captivated by the heroics of Ballack, Lehman et al.

These measures aren't small beer. The other day, she got parliament to endorse a 3 percent increase in sales tax. My friend Andrew Curry, who wrote the World Cup brothels piece for us and lives in Germany, tells me that this is the biggest tax increase since 1949. But there was hardly a whimper of public protest as everyone was too busy watching the football.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Everything Changes. Don't Be Afraid.

It's what has to be the most unexpected (and disappointing) band breakup since The Dismemberment Plan. Sleater-Kinney says goodbye. [Pitchfork]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Joyces and Joyceans

After two schriftless weeks, where's Short Schrift been? I've been teachin' the children -- the ways of Algebra II, the SAT and its subject tests, essay writing, and the history of western civilization. Out on Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs. It's not a lot of hours, but I'm finally getting well compensated for all this useless knowledge. Plus, I've been painting my bathroom, visiting some of my favorite redheads, and well, if you don't know any other big news, give me a call some time. (I've been trying to take Short Schrift semi-anonymous -- so some of the big personal news will just have to remain, for the moment, conspicuous in its absence.)

But I was snapped out of my stupor by a really good New Yorker article on Stephen James Joyce -- grandson of James, probably my all-time favorite writer, and caretaker of the Joyce estate. Scholars need approval from the younger Joyce (now in his seventies) to include quotation of more than a few short passages of James Joyce's published works or any quotations at all from the unpublished writings. SJ Joyce has made this very difficult -- not only for academic writers, but also for fans of the works who want to stage readings, hold festivals, and the like. One of the interesting things about the article are all the general questions it raises: extensions of copyright, the relationship between academics, authors, and publishers, what constitutes fair use, and likewise, what constitutes an invasion of privacy.

Stephen Joyce sometimes has very sympathetic reasons for becoming an obstacle to scholars looking to pry into the lives of the Joyce family. But as Max's article makes clear, he seems to enjoy making the community of Joyce scholars kiss the ring and exercising his will arbitrarily (e.g., a letter he wrote to a scholar at Purdue explaining his refusal for publication permissions by the vulgarity of "Boilermakers," Purdue's mascot) as much as any genuine desire to maintain his family's privacy. He's been quick to sue authors and publishers -- and publishers, especially, have been loathe to fight the lawsuits, even when there's a prima facie case for fair use. Lately, Joyce scholars have started to rebel -- the International James Joyce foundation has begun an inquiry into SJ Joyce's behavior, and Lawrence Lessig at Stanford has mounted a suit on behalf of the Joycean Carol Schloss against the estate, arguing that SJ Joyce's interference constitutes an abuse of copyright.

Between this story on Joyce, Louis Menand's periodic forays, and Janet Malcolm's essays on Gertrude Stein, The New Yorker's gotten very good at covering scholarship of modernism. One interesting point of confluence -- Malcolm's 2005 essay, "Someone Says Yes to It: Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and The Making of Americans" included a profile of another "interfering" figure in modernist scholarship, this one a scholar who has (to date) refused to make public his interviews with Alice B. Toklas.

There's something very funny about scholarship on modernism because of this -- because we're at the margins of copyright expirations, because so many people still living control access to the documents, and because there are, in fact, so many documents that some still haven't been fully explored, the archive work is all over the map. If you're a classicist, or even a Renaissance scholar, you have an entirely different set of problems when you work on a well-known author -- even the manuscript material is (for the most part) entirely available -- you just need the linguistic skills, the critical acumen, and the travel money to get to it and do your thing. One day you might turn up that long-lost manuscript in the stacks somewhere, but I doubt it. As a modernist scholar, it's an entirely different set of negotiations to get your hands on the archive in the first place -- and then you need to figure out what the hell to do with it.

And as the Stein example shows, scholars aren't all great innocents, operating in the public interest. You can make a decent amount of money by editing an author's unpublished writings and putting it out with a trade or university press -- but if you can hold off on that process and keep the archive a (relative) secret until you've milked it for all you can, you can make a name for yourself -- or at least get tenure.

And sometimes, the motivations aren't even as simple as that. Stephen J Joyce and the guy who interviewed Toklas for his dissertation all those years ago (I've googled to death and can't find his name) both somewhat snarkily turned their back on the academic world entirely, turning their sole, self-appointed right to be caretaker of the legacy into a point of honor. It's one crazy world when simple greed doesn't seem to explain it all.