Commentaries - March 2011

Modernism & Domestic Help

Bob Perelman and Kristen Gallagher Discuss

Bob Perelman and Kristen Gallagher on domestic help and modernism (audio): mp3 (3:34).

The Killing of the Filreis Family

At Treblinka

From the Yad Vashem archives in Israel, here are names of some of the Filreis family who were killed by the Germans during World War II. Most of them were exterminated at Treblinka:

Filreiss, Benek
Koldra, Lea,  born 1881
Szejnfuks, Manja, born 1907
Akerman, Haya**
Filreis, Genia, born 1915
Filries, Szimon, born 1915
Filries, Max, born 1900
Filries Tauba, born 1895
Filries, Khaia

All were from Warsaw, Poland. I'm guessing that "Filreiss" is a real alternative spelling and that "Filries" is a mistake in transcription at some point (these are just guesses). The names were submitted by Mrs. Idia Kcefner (I don't know who she is) in 1957, by Mr. Moshe' Koldra (ditto) in 1956, and by Zalman Akerman** in 1999. For more about Zalman Akerman's story of survival, go here.

** Haya Filreis, married into the Akerman family, was Zalman's mother. Zalman and his mother lived for a time in the Warsaw Ghetto after the mass deportations from the ghetto had begun. Zalman is alive and well and living in Israel, and is the provider of this information, by way of Steve Filreis (my father's cousin Mel's son) and Ayelet Regev (one of Zalman's grandchildren). Ayelet (currently studying law in the U.S.) is my father's father's cousin's son's granddaugther, a closer relation that that phrasing makes it seem.

Wallace Stevens and his Gay Cuban Correspondent

"Empty of All Possibilities of Adventure"

excerpt from a letter to Wallace Stevens by Jose Rodriguez Feo, from "Secretaries of the Moon," eds. Filreis and Coyle (Duke University Press)

Here's part of a letter Jose Rodriguez-Feo wrote to Wallace Stevens. The two had not met yet at this point. Their relationship, entirely epistolary except for two brief meetings some years after this, was both extraordinarily intimate and formal--both at once. Stevens loved letters from his young exotic friend "Pepe." Rodriguez-Feo was thrilled to be able to get to know this forbidding-seeming poet, the famously icy Stevens. The talk of Hemingway in this letter might have been a signal that the Cuban was interested in Stevens's views of male sexuality, wondering if indeed that was part of Stevens' attraction to corresponding with "a real blood and bone Latino." But Stevens would never, ever nibble on this bait. Now a self-promotion alert: my book, edited by Beverly Coyle, tells this whole story and presents all the letters between the two. Get a copy here. Or ask me for one. I have a few extras at home. If the title of this post is clickable, click on it for a larger view of the letter excerpt above.

Social Media Puts College Teachers in the Hotseat

The site called Mashable / Social Media ran a story a while back with the news of "hotseat," which is being adopted at universities such as Purdue. I quote:

lecture with tweetsStudents at Purdue University are experimenting with a new application developed at the school called Hotseat that integrates Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging to help students “backchannel” during class. People who have attended technology conferences in the past several years are already familiar with this phenomenon, where social media is leveraged to allow the participants in a session or panel to comment and exchange questions and ideas in real-time. At Purdue, Hotseat is used to allow students to comment on the class as it proceeds, with everyone in the class including the professor able to see the messaging as it happens. The Hotseat software allows students to use either Facebook, Twitter, Myspace (MySpace), or SMS to post messages during classes, or they can simply log in to the web site to post to and view the ongoing backchannel. Right now it’s only being pilot tested in two courses, but has already become a fast favorite for both teachers and students. Professor Sugato Chakravarty, whose personal finance course is one of the pilot tests, said, “I’m seeing students interact more with the course and ask relevant questions.” And although it’s been optional for students to participate, so far 73% of the 600 or so in the pilot classes have used the software. We’ve seen Twitter become mandatory for journalism students at Australia (Australia)’s Griffith University to some negative reaction, but this is a less structured implementation which may perhaps account for its more favorable reception. As Chakravarty goes on to note, though, the application is called “Hotseat” for a reason — and professors will have to be resilient enough to take any potential criticism or even corrections from students in real-time. Nevertheless, he cites it as a “valuable tool for enhancing learning. The students are engaged in the discussions and, for the most part, they are asking relevant questions.”

My first response was extremely negative: just another use of so-called social media to enable universities to continue rostering huge courses (which is obviously a money-saver). I certainly won't celebrate yet another reason why class size will continue to grow and the distance between faculty and student will increase. But then I realize that the distance I'm thinking of is physical. Programs like Hotseat will tend to make the lecture impossible to maintain, if (for instance) students are not understanding the material, if they have questions they feel the need to pose but can't otherwise break into Filreis sample tweetthe competent super-confident flow of a lecture. So this might shake up some lecturers a bit, might cause them to revise their yellowed lecture notes, and to look up at the tweetflow on the monitor behind them. Well, then, back to skepticism. Do we really need students' tweets projected in the front of the classroom? Can't we all learn, even in large classes, to ask questions, encourage students to speak, lead a real discussion? If a Hotseat-enabled tweet from the otherwise reticent student in row 26 then makes possible an interaction "outside" the social media--if this system becomes a prompt--then I'm fine with it. If it's just another excuse for pedagogical impersonality (not to mention I know/you don't antagonism between teacher and learners), then I'll sit this one out. I'll just repeat what I've written in this blog any number of times. My pedagogy is saturated with uses of digital media and IT (I'm downright gaga about it all), but my classroom itself--the space for our meetings--is for the most part pre-tech: the students and I in the space. Not always, but often, my classroom is the only tech-free experience my students and I will have all day.

Clellon's classic magazine piece on the beats

Generation refusing the label "lost" (1952)

New York Times Magazine
November 16, 1952
"This Is the Beat Generation"

A 26-year-old defines his times.

By CLELLON HOLMES

The wild boys of today are not lost. Their flushed, often scoffing, always intent faces elude the word, and it would sound phony to them. For this generation conspicuously lacks that eloquent air of bereavement which made so many of the exploits of the Lost Generation symbolic actions. Furthermore, the repeated inventory of shattered ideals, and the laments about the mud in moral currents, which so obsessed the Lost Generation does not concern young people today. They take it frighteningly for granted. They were brought up in these ruins and no longer notice them. They drink to "come down" or "get high," not to illustrate anything. Their excursions into drugs or promiscuity come out of curiosity, not disillusionment.

beat poets with Clellon HolmesOnly the most bitter among them would call their reality a nightmare and protest that they have indeed lost something, the future. But ever since they were old enough to imagine one, that has been in jeopardy anyway. The absence of personal and social values is to them, not a revelation shaking the ground beneath them, but a problem demanding a day-to-day solution. How to live seems to them much more crucial than why. And it is precisely at this point that the copywriter and the hot-rod driver meet, and their identical beatness becomes significant, for, unlike the Lost Generation, which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it. As such, it is a disturbing illustration of Voltaire's reliable old joke: "If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent Him." Not content to bemoan His absence, they are busily and haphazardly inventing totems for Him on all sides...

In the wildest hipster, making a mystique of bop, drugs and the night life, there is no desire t shatter the drugs and the night life, there is no desire to shatter the "square" society in which he lives, only to elude it. To get on a soapbox or write a manifesto would seem to him absurd.... Equally, the young Republican, though often seeming to hold up Babbitt as his culture hero, is neither vulgar nor materialistic, as Babbitt was. He conforms because he believes it Is socially practical, not necessarily virtuous. Both positions, however, are the result of more or less the same conviction -- namely that the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable.

In the photo above, Clellon Holmes is standing at far left.