Sunday, December 30, 2012

'90s Industrial Metal at Its Best

'90s Industrial Metal at Its Best: Originating in the late 1980s in Europe and the United States, industrial metal grew from a variety of musical genres, most notably, dance music, noise rock, and heavy metal. Because of this diversity, many industrial metal bands, including Nine Inch Nails (NIN) and Marilyn Manson, have incorporated not only keyboards and synthesizers, but also drum machines and electronic sequencers. Perhaps one of the genre's nearest relatives was '80s synthpop, which included groups like Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and Gary Numan. These '80s synthpop bands elevated the importance of synthesizers, and as a result, essentially laid the groundwork for industrial metal to solidify as a musical genre in its own right. Yet it was also the genre's dark sounds and anger-inducing lyrics that began to set it apart from other emerging genres like alternative rock in the 1990s. The above video by NIN, which was filmed at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, CA (part of the Manson "family" murders), truly captured the essence of industrial metal's dark and disturbing sounds.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On the Computer Revolution

On the Computer Revolution: In 1943, American physicist John Mauchly and electrical engineer John Eckert began working on ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Army, ENIAC was essentially a giant calculator. With 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighing approximately 30 tons, it became the first general purpose digital computer. Prior to ENIAC, however, punch cards were the primary method of collecting and sorting data. In fact, IBM pioneered punch card technologies in the early twentieth century. But what ultimately kicked the computer revolution into high gear was the transistor. Invented in 1948 at Bell Labs in New Jersey by William Shockley and others, the transistor was a semiconductor device designed to amplify and moderate electrical signals. It marked a significant upgrade from vacuum tubes and it even led to the integrated circuit, which contained large numbers of tiny transistors on a small chip. Invented in 1958 by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, the integrated circuit enabled computers to be smaller and more personal. That meant computers would one day be in the hands of individuals, not just corporate types and government officials. Counterculture thinker Stewart Brand saw the enormous potential of personal computing, as he wrote a famous article for Rolling Stone in 1972 ("Spacewar"), which basically predicted the coming of the internet. And capitalizing on this emerging need for digital self-expression was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who in 1976 realized that the personal computer market would be massive someday.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Early Industrial Unionism in America

On Early Industrial Unionism in America: In 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act) as part of Franklin Roosevelt's "Second" New Deal, union membership in the United States grew quickly compared to past decades. Prior to the Wagner Act, unions such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL), mainly focused on crafts such as cigar making or woodworking. Given the rise of large-scale industries like railroads, steel, mining, and automobiles, in the decades prior to the 1930s, it was clear that craft unionism did not meet the needs of industrial workers. One man who demanded fundamental change in the AFL was John L. Lewis, a representative of the (coal) mining industry. By 1938, AFL leaders had had enough of Lewis' calls for reform, so they expelled him. He then founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which focused on organizing mass production workers on an industry-wide basis. The CIO marked the first major not-so-radical industrial union in America, and thus, it rapidly gained credibility and membership. Before the CIO, however, industrial unions such as the American Railway Union (ARU) were too radical to affect change at the federal level, as its leader, Eugene V. Debs, became a self-identified socialist in the 1890s (after the Pullman Strike), and thus, he was the subject of frequent police surveillance.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Early Progressivism in America

On Early Progressivism in America: Progressivism, as a political ideology which developed at the turn of the twentieth century, contained both liberal and conservative elements. Aside from its formal connection to Theodore Roosevelt and the short-lived Progressive Party in the 1912 presidential election, progressivism can be defined as a political ideology of reform that intended to make American society more economically and politically fair. At times, however, there were a variety of unintended consequences which emanated from certain progressive reforms. For example, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol with the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 gave rise to a massive black market controlled by mafiosos like Enoch Johnson and Al Capone. Such a reform, while deemed progressive at the time, was quite regressive in hindsight, as it instigated a high degree of violence. This regressive instinct was also present in the 1916 legislation that created the National Park Service (NPS), which like other environmental initiatives, was partly driven by an underlying elitism. What good were the aesthetics of NPS conservation lands for the urban working classes and underprivileged racial minorities who had limited opportunities to enjoy them?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Genius of Thomas Edison

The Genius of Thomas Edison: For many historians, Edison's greatest invention was himself. Andre Millard was one such historian who concluded that Edison was just as much a marketing guru as inventor. In fact, Edison's career signified the paradigm shift in American business history from machine-shop craftsmanship to large-scale industrial research. Since Edison was one of America's first superstar inventors, a cult of personality developed around him, which helped foster a kind of Edisonian mythology. He became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park" after establishing his laboratory in New Jersey following the sale of his quadruplex telegraph to Western Union in 1874. Essentially, Edison's laboratory became an idea factory where trial and error reigned supreme over any systematic methodology. His famous statement that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" not only diminished the role of genius in the innovation process, but also captured two basic values cherished by most Americans: hard work and self-determination. Even after securing around 1,100 patents during his career, Edison always emphasized the notion of making life more livable. An example of this idea was evident in his 1879 remark that "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."

Monday, October 15, 2012


D O U B T: When French philosopher René Descartes published Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641, he helped establish the rationalist ideology of foundationalism. As a distinct school of thought in Western metaphysics, foundationalism purported that all beliefs must be justified in order to be considered valid. And justification of a belief only occurred in two ways: first, by existing independently of other beliefs, i.e., a belief that falls outside the realm of existence, and second, by being derived from other preexisting basic beliefs. Perhaps the most famous basic belief that Descartes derived from his methodology of doubt was Cogito ergo sum or "I think, therefore, I am." As a self-evident axiom, this phrase effectively captured the true essence of Cartesian doubt, which by definition, meant ridding oneself of all the opinions that one had acquired over time and starting anew with a basic (foundational) belief system. Like Immanuel Kant, who came about 150 years later, Descartes primarily concerned himself with how human beings acquired knowledge (epistemology). Was it merely through sensory perception (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch)? Or was there something more empirical to the knowledge acquisition process? In his Philosophical Fragmendts (1844), Kierkegaard criticized Descartes' Cogito as presupposing the logical idea of existence. In short, he believed the phrase should be reversed: "I am, therefore, I think."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rachel Carson: Reacting to Experts

Rachel Carson: Reacting to Experts: Much to the American chemical industry's dismay, Carson published Silent Spring in 1962. Trained as a marine biologist, she voiced concern about the effects of DDT (and Dieldrin) on birds and fish (anything that laid eggs). Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, DDT and Dieldrin were widely used by American farmers as insecticides. They especially killed fire ants, gypsy moths, lice and mosquitoes (which carried diseases like typhus and malaria). In fact, these insecticides proved so effective that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ("the experts") began large-scale aerial spraying programs over American farmlands. Carson believed the potential downsides (long-term consequences) of these insecticides had not been properly studied. Having worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, she witnessed the negative impact of DDT firsthand. And because birds and fish were turning up dead in areas that received aerial spraying, the Kennedy administration's Interior Secretary Stewart Udall began to pay serious attention to the controversy that Silent Spring had caused. But the mammalian toxicity of DDT was actually quite low, as its effects on humans were not overly noxious. The primary problem with DDT was its bio-accumulation, which meant it remained in the soil (and sat on crops as a residue). Therefore, Congress banned DDT in 1972, yet other insecticides with lower bio-accumulations simply replaced it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On James Baldwin's Artistic Confessions

On James Baldwin's Artistic Confessions: When Baldwin wrote "All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique" in Esquire magazine in April 1960, he captured the essence of the artist's soul. But being black in mid-twentieth-century America certainly challenged Baldwin's artistic intellect. First, how was he to be taken seriously as an African-American writer? And second, did the United States even have a future purpose for African Americans? The last question, in particular, haunted Baldwin, as he could not envision an America where blacks achieved full democratic equality in the midst of a modern industrial society, i.e., affordable (suburban) homes, good (integrated) schools, middle-class jobs with fringe benefits, and access to public accommodations. In his 1963 essay collection The Fire Next Time, Baldwin offered his diagnosis of American race relations, which contained many elements of Du Boisian integrationism. He stated, "And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it." And although the prospects for racial integration were slim under Jim Crow, a black acceptance of whites (and their history) seemed the only plausible path toward equality. For most middle-class whites were still trapped in a history that they did not yet understand.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On the Early Black Church

On the Early Black Church: In April 1787, Rev. Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones co-founded the Free African Society (FAS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As two of the earliest African Americans to become ordained Christian priests, Allen and Jones used the FAS as a community outreach organization to help black Philadelphians satisfy some of their basic needs with education and employment opportunities. But after the turn of the nineteenth century, the FAS grew into separate African-American church groups. Jones and many FAS members joined the Episcopal Church, while Allen considered starting an independent Protestant denomination of his own. In 1816, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Pictured above is the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, which served as the first black church in the United States. It specifically appealed to Afro-Christian free men and women who understood Allen's theology as a force of liberation. In other words, Allen saw his purpose in the pulpit as two-fold. First, he advocated abolition in his weekly sermons, and second, he spoke against the vitriol in antebellum race relations, especially in cities such as Philadelphia. Across town at the African Church of St. Thomas, Jones too condemned the evils of slavery in his sermons. In fact, Jones' congregation even petitioned Congress about the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, which kept runaway slaves living in constant fear of being re-enslaved.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Racial Slavery's Capitalistic Contradiction

On Racial Slavery's Capitalistic Contradiction: In 1965, historian Eugene D. Genovese published The Political Economy of Slavery, which uncovered a deep contradiction at the heart of American racial slavery. For the most part, this contradiction entailed the idea of racial slavery as a capitalistic institution. It contrasted the quasi-aristocratic, Southern slave-holding planter class with the emerging laissez-faire spirit of the industrializing American economy. The persistence of Southern slave ownership, which ran counter to liberating aspects (wage labor, cheap housing, etc.) of American industrialization, was central to antebellum conflicts between the North and South. And as Genovese stated, "The essential features of Southern particularity, as well as of Southern backwardness, can be traced [almost exclusively] to the relationship of master to slave." Such a relationship, with its paternalistic dependencies, inhibited the growth of a capitalist market where independent industrialists and merchants would have otherwise flourished. For if antebellum Southern "planters were losing their economic and political cold war with Northern capitalism," then it was the South's failure "to develop sufficient industry" that offered the most plausible explanation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On the Early Black Press

On the Early Black Press: In March 1827, Rev. Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm began to co-edit Freedom's Journal, which served as the first African-American newspaper in the United States. It's founding coincided with the abolition of slavery in New York state on July 4, 1827. Yet one of their primary objectives in co-editing Freedom's Journal was to deconstruct the negative impressions of Africa and African-Americans in the New York press. Although the newspaper only lasted two years, Cornish and Russwurm were able to raise significant doubts in the minds of many whites about the perceived racial inferiority of black Americans. In effect, Cornish and Russwurm were strong believers in the idea that ancient Egypt and Ethiopia constituted bastions of African high culture. That is, ancient Egypt and Ethiopia were on par with ancient Greece and Rome in terms of their contributions to the growth of Western civilization. In the 1820s, however, there was an emerging effort by the American Colonization Society (ACS) to have free blacks emigrate from the United States and recolonize Africa, specifically Liberia. Even though Cornish and Russwurm vehemently opposed this effort, they welcomed pro-colonization opinions on the editorial page of their newspaper. The main problem they saw with colonization was that it appeared to be a panacea for Southern slaveholders who viewed free blacks as an existential threat to slavery.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On the Atomic Bomb

On the Atomic Bomb: When FDR created the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) with Executive Order 8807 in 1941, he directed the U.S. government's resources at producing an atomic bomb. With calls from University of Chicago physicists (Enrico Fermi, Arthur Compton, etc.) in the late 1930s to investigate uranium-235 as a potential source of these bombs, the feasibility of producing a bomb according to the principles of nuclear fission became doable. Even designing an atomic bomb seemed relatively straightforward by the early 1940s, but separating U-235 from U-238 presented the biggest problem to physicists and chemical engineers alike. As an isotope, U-235 made up less than 1% of all naturally occurring uranium in the world (unlike U-238, which constituted 99%). On its own, U-235 was not sufficient enough to initiate a chain reaction, so it had to be enriched to at least 80% purity. The first man-made chain reaction with U-235 occurred on December 2, 1942, in a rackets court under the football field at the University of Chicago. There was no cooling system, no radiation shield, and millions of Chicagoans going about their daily routines above ground. With man-made nuclear fission reactions now possible, everything from nuclear bombs to nuclear medicine to nuclear power appeared in reach. Ultimately, through the process of gaseous diffusion, Robert Oppenheimer, Leslie Groves, and Crawford Greenewalt were able to place about a billion dollars worth of uranium into "Little Boy" (the bomb that leveled Hiroshima in August 1945).

Sunday, July 1, 2012

On the New Industrial Designers

On the New Industrial Designers: In the 1930s, there was a belief among many American artists and architects that they could essentially design the United States out of the Depression. According to cultural historian Jeffrey Meikle, by melding art and industry, these new industrial designers felt they could "reverse the Depression's plummeting sales and create a harmonious environment unknown since the Industrial Revolution." This kind of blind optimism about the possibilities of industrial design was very much in line with the idea that "social change follows technological innovation." If the Depression's fundamental economic problem was an over-saturated market caused by mass production, then industrial designers such as Henry Dreyfuss, Norman Bel Geddes, and Raymond Loewy believed they could incite mass consumption by designing streamlined household products. But on the whole, mass produced objects were considered too plain and ugly for mass appeal, so it would take the introduction of new industrial materials like plastics for designers to create their new streamlined objects. The cultural effects stemming from these new designs and materials were two-fold. First, it became O.K. to consume in America, and second, consumption became a necessary prerequisite for being considered modern. And perhaps there was no better demonstration of this modern consumerist mentality than the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

Friday, June 15, 2012

World War I Reconsidered

World War I Reconsidered: Given Europe's entangling alliances, which developed prior to World War I (Triple Entente vs. Triple Alliance), the isolationist position from a U.S. foreign policy viewpoint was probably more peace-worthy (in the long run) than the interventionist one. If the United States had remained neutral, the prospects of a stalemate would have significantly increased. Under those circumstances, Germany could have potentially negotiated a peace treaty with the Triple Entente to take control of the fledgling Austro-Hungarian Empire, and thus, stabilize Central Europe in the process. In fact, prior to the war, Germany was seeking new colonial/foreign markets for its modernizing economy. And if Germany had the opportunity to secure viable economic markets, albeit through a negotiated stalemate (and a collapsing Austro-Hungary), World War II might never have occurred two decades later. Also, a deep examination of U.S. justifications for entering the war, especially the argument that German U-boats were severely disrupting international commerce, will ultimately push one to become skeptical of President Wilson's war aims, i.e., to make the world safe for democracy by fighting a war?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pragmatism: An American Social Philosopy

Pragmatism: An American Social Philosophy: When pragmatist philosopher William James (pictured above) wrote the essay "What Pragmatism Means" in 1904, he had already been thinking about the topic for about 30 years. In 1872, James and a few of his Harvard-related colleagues (Charles Sanders Peirce and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.) formed The Metaphysical Club, which sought to resolve a variety of metaphysical disputes altogether. Such metaphysical disputes included the purpose of religion, the meaning of reasoned judgment, and the nature of justice. For the most part, early pragmatism developed as a social philosophy with the primary intention of undermining traditional metaphysics. And as such, it can be viewed as the American response to European existentialism. Ultimately, however, pragmatism centered on linking theory with practice. The pragmatic method shunned absolutist thinking (especially ideologies and dogmas) and embraced uncertainty (anti-foundationalism). For James, pragmatism was not a new philosophy. Its roots extended as far back as Socrates. But what was new about pragmatism involved its universalistic impulse toward inclusion (inclusion of ideas, viewpoints, peoples, etc.), which had an array of practical consequences for any modern democratic society.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On "Atlas Shrugged"

On "Atlas Shrugged": Oddly Nietzschean in its prescription for present-day morality, Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) contended that man's only moral obligation (in this life) was to rationality, and not to other people. And similar to Nietzsche, Rand's philosophy (objectivism) has been attacked as both anti-academic and literary, without any serious grounding in empirical thought. Regarding her philosophy, she stated, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Of course, pragmatists like William James shouted "Damn all absolutes!," which itself was a kind of absolute. But like Nietzsche, Rand believed that it behooved man to focus on this life (as opposed to the afterlife), because modern industrial (democratic) society demanded a great deal of responsibility from man. With Christian morality being geared so heavily toward the afterlife, Nietzsche and Rand wondered if Western civilization could ever overcome itself and move beyond metaphysical thinking. In fact, John Galt (the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged) was essentially Rand's version of Nietzsche's "Overman" (Übermensch).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On Jane Addams and Hull House

On Jane Addams and Hull House: When Jane Addams co-founded Hull House in 1889 on Chicago's Near West Side, she intended to reduce the ethnoracial isolation of the city's growing immigrant population. Addams was a firm believer in the philosophy of pragmatism, which cherished America's growing pluralistic culture, and which emphasized practical solutions to societal problems. In effect, she viewed urban immigrants as a valuable asset to American society, especially if they acquired a basic understanding of Christianity and English. Just as the upper class cannot exist without first building on the lower and middle classes, Addams understood the American democratic tradition to be a reciprocal relationship among the social classes. Since immigrants generally belonged to the lower classes, she strove to offer them opportunities for socioeconomic advancement through her efforts at Hull House. And even at the turn of the twentieth century, Addams felt that for all of its economic and technological achievements, American democracy had seldom made definitive headway at improving the social affairs of its immigrants. Her philosophy was part of larger shifting trends in modern liberalism, which increasingly saw the government as a potential tool for backstopping the nation's poor and underprivileged.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Lewis Mumford's Urban Theories

On Lewis Mumford's Urban Theories: For American urban theorist Lewis Mumford, human history has generally hinged on two opposing ideas, movement and settlement. While movement brought adventure, settlement brought security, and Mumford argued that cities have served as unique case studies for historians (and sociologists) who wish to examine these ideas in confined spaces. In 1961, he published The City in History, which sought to explicate how urban growth (through technology) has affected human culture over time, and thus, why movement and settlement ultimately define the human experience in cities. Perhaps Mumford captured the essence of a city best when he stated: "The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. The mind takes form in the city, and in turn, urban forms condition the mind." An ideal city, for Mumford, was one that struck a balance between nature and technology. In other words, a city that relied equally on its waterways and roadways for transporting goods, its parks and stadiums for entertaining and recreating residents, would invariably offer its planners the possibility for true organic growth.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Twenty Pithy Philosophy Quotes

Twenty Pithy Philosophy Quotes: 1.) "Existence precedes essence." 2.) "I am, therefore, I'll think." 3.) "Doubt is the origin of wisdom." 4.) "Hell is other people." 5.) "There are no facts, only interpretations." 6.) "The last Christian died on the Cross." 7.) "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth." 8.) "Irony is a qualification of subjectivity." 9.) "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." 10.) "I must find a truth that is true for me." 11.) "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." 12.) "Can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?" 13.) "When not prompted by vanity, we say little." 14.) "It is a great folly to wish to be wise alone." 15.) "The horror makes the thrill." 16.) "From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step." 17.) "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." 18.) "A specter is haunting Europe; the specter of Communism." 19.) "There is but one coward on Earth, and that is the one who dare not know." 20.) "Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it - that is what you must do."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

McCarthyism and Television

McCarthyism and Television: In the early 1950s, the U.S. government embarked on a witch hunt to cleanse itself and American society of potential communists. Led by Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, the witch hunt developed into a full-fledged ideology, as the -ism that bore his last name became a culture war (Second Red Scare). And it's important not to divorce McCarthyism from its impact on television. For cultural historian Thomas Doherty, television signaled a "cool medium" in the midst of an emerging Cold War, as it was largely a passive activity that required little interaction. But the first televised hearings of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which should not be confused with Senator McCarthy, had enormous ramifications for the entertainment industry. Suspected communists in Hollywood were often brought before the Committee to testify about their political beliefs. And HUAC had help, especially from the anti-communist pamphlet Red Channels, which in 1950 published the names of 151 suspected communists in the entertainment industry. McCarthy, however, focused his attention on identifying potential communists in the U.S. government, particularly in the Army and State Departments. In what became the most famous televised exchange of the McCarthy era (June 9, 1954), he was publicly rebuked by the Army's lead attorney Joseph Welch with the question, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Railroads: America's First Big Businesses

Railroads: America's First Big Businesses: According to business historian Alfred Chandler, railroads became America's first big businesses in the latter half of the 19th century. In general, there were four major socioeconomic outcomes that grew from the emerging American railroad industry, and they included eminent domain for corporations, massive organizational bureaucracies for data collection, the selling of a service instead of a product, and lastly, the standardization of time. Perhaps more than any other industry in the 19th century, railroads proved the most difficult to manage precisely because they required a vast amount of debt financing. With high fixed costs for servicing the debt, determining a fair price for customers became nearly impossible, at times. Railroad managers had to figure out ways to control the operations of a business which they could not always observe in action. Even though Samuel Morse's electric telegraph greatly enhanced communication between railroad employees, the need for large-scale data collection still remained. With hundreds of thousands of workers in the American railroad industry by the 19th century's end, a company like the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had bigger budgets and more employees than the entire U.S. government.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

John Brown and Anti-Slavery

John Brown and Anti-Slavery: Although the above video is largely unrelated to the antebellum history of John Brown the abolitionist, its anti-war message resonates powerfully. Bob Dylan's lyrical talents are unique, as he articulates poignant views on socio-political events in the form of folk poetry. Similarly, the story of radical abolitionist John Brown has undergone a kind of folk transformation. Beginning with his three-day raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, (West) Virginia in October 1859, Brown epitomized the growing intensity of the American anti-slavery movement. The raid's main purpose was to acquire weapons (rifles and pikes) for African-American slaves in the surrounding communities. In fact, Brown believed the raid would be a quick stop followed by a strong push southward along the Appalachian Mountains. He also believed that hundreds of slaves would join. He was wrong. Before Harper's Ferry, however, Brown's interest in abolition had developed over many years. Having been inspired by notions of religious equality and anti-slavery, which emerged in the Second Great Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s, he wanted to be a Congregationalist minister and preach about abolition. But the 1837 murder of abolitionist Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy pushed Brown to radicalize his anti-slavery views. And by 1854, Brown was ready to clash with pro-slavery forces in Bleeding Kansas, which served as a dress rehearsal for Harper's Ferry.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley

On the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley: With the publication of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Phillis Wheatley became one of the first published African Americans. Prominent political figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were even aware of her poetry in the succeeding decades. But what made Wheatley's poetry particularly intriguing was the passion she exhibited for memorializing the dead. Perhaps this passion grew from her conversion to Christianity as a young slave learning to read from the Bible. In effect, Wheatley's "sincere" Protestant beliefs helped legitimize her poetry in the eyes of a potentially skeptical white audience. One example of Wheatley's passion for memorializing the dead included the poem On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, 1770. Since Whitefield was one of the primary preachers in the First Great Awakening, a time of heightened religious fervor during the 1730s and 1740s, Wheatley praised him as a "prophet." Whitefield's central message encouraged a self-driven religious experience, without regard one's position in society, and Wheatley embraced it as such. She ultimately understood his sermons to be theologically liberating (even though Whitefield advocated slavery), which helped assuage the spiritual needs of Christianized African-American slaves (like herself).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kafka's "Metamorphosis" & "Judgment"

Kafka's "Metamorphosis" & "Judgment": Even though the above video refers to what is perhaps Franz Kafka's most famous short story, "The Metamorphosis" (Die Verwandlung), it's another one of his short stories, namely "The Judgment" (Das Urteil), which contains equally profound existentialist themes. Published in 1912, Kafka's "Judgment" embodies the modern psycho-social intricacies that tend to define the father-son relationship. A father's demands often weigh heavily on a son, and that is precisely what occurs in "The Judgment." Since Kafka was familiar with the writings of Nietzsche and Freud, he frequently incorporated a kind of existential psychology into his literary works. In "The Metamorphosis," for example, Kafka uses an absurdist approach to the problems of existential thought and primordial pain, as the story's protagonist, Gregor Samsa, attempts to cope with the morphing of his physical body into a bug. While in "The Judgment," Kafka conveys a personal reflection of the story's main character, Georg Bendemann, on his father's criticisms. These criticisms become so severe that Georg is no longer able internalize them. As a result, he commits suicide by leaping from one of the many bridges that span the Vltava River in Prague.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On Salvation and the End of Time

On Salvation and the End of Time: Two ideological constructs of Christian theology come to mind when considering topics such as salvation and the end of time: soteriology and eschatology. As for soteriology, theologians focus their studies on the Gospels' resurrection stories, which generally concern either Lazarus or Christ. In effect, salvation is a "free gift" that originates from God's divine sovereignty. And depending on one's personal engagement with Faith and free will, salvation can either be accepted or rejected. Regarding eschatology, however, people will necessarily be confronted with the choice of salvation at the end of time. To gain perspective on end times, theologians emphasize the Book of Revelation, which foretells apocalyptic events and Christ's Second Coming. In a historical context, therefore, every generation feels like it's the last one on Earth. But this kind of thinking largely materialized in the 1840s during the Second Great Awakening in Upstate New York. Encouraged by the teachings of Baptist preacher William Miller in the 1830s, people attempted to discern an exact date in either 1843 or 1844 for Christ's return. After questions about which Jewish calendar to use when calculating a date, the Millerites (as they became known) finally decided on October 22, 1844. And when Christ did not return on that date, Millerites labeled the event the Great Disappointment. An intriguing coincidence: Nietzsche was born in Prussia seven days prior to this event.