Advance Look: Jeffrey Knapp on “Selma”

In recognition of the speed at which the world and its histories are changing, we’ve just posted an advance version of Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films” by Jeffrey Knapp. The essay will appear in print and online in our Winter 2019 issue, but you can read it here right now.

In the essay, Knapp compares the place of historical fictionality in William Wyler’s 1940 film The Westerner and Ava DuVernay’s 2014 Selma.

“’This isn’t right,’” the essay begins, in the voice of Martin Luther King as depicted by David Oyelowo, in Selma. “Almost as soon as the man resembling Martin Luther King Jr. has begun to speak, he interrupts himself in frustration. ‘I accept this honor,’ he’d been saying, ‘for our lost ones, whose deaths pave our path, and for the twenty million Negro men and women motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness.’ What does he think isn’t right? Is it the racial oppression he has been evoking? Or is it the felt inadequacy of his words to that injustice? As the man turns away from us, we find that he has been speaking into a mirror, and that he is frustrated in the immediate context by his efforts at getting dressed. ‘Corrie’ — it is King, we now understand, and he’s not alone; his wife Coretta is with him — ‘this ain’t right.’ ‘What’s that?’ she asks, entering from another room. ‘This necktie. It’s not right.’ ‘It’s not a necktie,’ she corrects him, ‘it’s an ascot.’ ‘Yeah, but generally, the same principles should apply, shouldn’t they? It’s not right.’” Read full article …

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at UC Berkeley and author of An Empire Nowhere: England and America from Utopia to The Tempest (1992); Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (2002); Shakespeare Only (2009); and Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published this year by Oxford University Press. He is also a contributing editor for Representations.

Fireworks from the Archive

If you need a little respite from neighborhood shenanigans this weekend, consider these two flares from the Representations archive:

Michael Rogin’s “The Two Declarations of Independence”

and

“Glenn Ligon and Other Runaway Subjects” by Huey Copeland

In the former, Michael Rogin asks “What is the bearing of our radicalized national culture on the color-blind innovation of individual rights?” Discussing the American Declaration of Independence in light of the affirmative action debates of the 1990s, Rogin traces the declaration’s legacy through race relations in both the old and the new Hollywoods.

Less well known than Rogin’s other writings on race and film, this short essay appeared in Representations‘ special issue “Race and Representation: Affirmative Action,” edited by Robert Post and Michael Rogin in 1996. The issue quickly went out of print, but is now back in circulation in pdf format.

MICHAEL ROGIN was the author of many books on race, culture, politics, and history, including Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot and Independence Day, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Enola Gay. He taught for many years at the University of California, Berkeley, and was a founding member of the Representations editorial board.

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Am I Not a Man and a Brother? Woodcut, 1837. Courtesy Library of Congress

Am I Not a Man and a Brother? Woodcut, 1837. Courtesy Library of Congress

Huey Copeland’s 2011 essay “Glenn Ligon and Other Runaway Subjects” looks at contemporary artist Glenn Ligon’s multiple engagements with the history of American slavery, particularly as evinced by his 1993 installation To Disembark. As Copeland shows, in casting himself as a runaway slave, Ligon points up the relationships between regimes of power, violence, and resistance that continue to produce black subjects as fugitives in life and in representation.

HUEY COPELAND is Associate Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, where he teaches modern and contemporary art. He is the author of Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America.

The Shape of the Modern Week

Hebdomadal Form: Diaries, News, and the Shape of the Modern Week

by David Henkin

The essay begins:

On a September Saturday in 1846, Alabama medical student Charles Hentz scrambled to account for lost time in his diary. “As I have been negligent for another week, in keeping up my journal,” he wrote, he resolved to revisit the events of the past seven days. “I must make a kind of Hebdomary.” The following May, Hentz again referred to his “regular hebdomary,” excusing his failure to live up to the diary-keeping habits he had undertaken a year earlier with a distinctive lexical diversion and a common practical refrain. “So many things occupy me during the week, that I find it impossible to be regular in my journal.” Hentz was hardly alone among nineteenth-century American diarists in noting that weekly intervals often separated the entries in a book defined around the norm of daily regularity. The diary genre reckoned and homogenized days, but users habitually inscribed additional temporal patterns in their pages.

diaryThe particular weekly pattern that Hentz observed in his own handling of the diary impulse evokes a familiar modern temporality of retrospective accounting. It is utterly commonplace to consider the week in review, to take stock of our lives in seven-day inventories. But the power of that accounting practice reflects a larger and generally overlooked development in the history of timekeeping in the West over the past few centuries. As saints’ days, market days, informal festivity, seasonal rhythms, and other systems and strategies of calendrical differentiation declined in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere, the regularity of the seven-day week became more conspicuous.

The historical significance of this development remains clouded by the week’s status as an anomalous institution in the history of modern time reckoning. The week is in one sense an ancient regime, often invoked by traditional cultural critics as a bulwark against the encroachments of modernity. But it is also a mechanical tracking device, indifferent to natural rhythms, that has proven especially congenial to market relations, capitalist reorganization of labor, the demands of long-distance communication, and the cultural logics of impersonal society—including the oft-cited homogeneity of time associated with the industrial era. The ostensibly homogeneous days of industrializing America, for example, conformed to a rigorously observed seven-day cycle and were marked in complex ways by their placement in that cycle. Even as the image of daily repetition enshrined itself in modern consciousness as a compelling symbol of ordinary activity and uneventful occurrence (expressed in metaphorical invocations of the quotidian and the everyday), seven-day rhythms and seven-day intervals helped organize the modern regime of the day. Modern weekly rhythms are complex historical artifacts, rooted in long histories of liturgy and labor. But they are also entrained in literary practice and encoded in texts. It is worth considering how proliferating habits of reading and writing may have helped confer weekly form upon daily order. Continue reading …

The spread and intensification of seven-day regimes remains a remarkable and understudied feature of the making of modernity. This essay explores the role of written form in that historical process in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, arguing that diaries and newspapers, two literary genres associated with the construction of the day as a measure of temporal significance, also registered and reinforced awareness of the week as a structuring rhythm in ordinary life.

DAVID HENKIN, Professor of History at UC Berkeley, is the author of City Reading, The Postal Age, and (with Rebecca McLennan) Becoming America.