Devil's Tale Posts
Today, March 24, 2016, marks the fortieth anniversary of the Argentine military coup that ushered in one of the Western Hemisphere’s most repressive regimes. Seeking to quash “subversion” and liberalize the economy, the coalition of military and civilian leaders who seized power in March 1976 instituted a vicious, secretive system of kidnapping, torture, and killing that claimed tens of thousands of lives and damaged countless more.
Each March 24, now deemed the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, Argentina honors these victims and energizes the ongoing struggle for accountability. Yet this year’s commemoration has assumed an unusual character, as President Barack Obama’s ill-timed visit to Argentina has focused the lion’s share of attention on the U.S.’ own role in first encouraging and later opposing the dictatorship. The involvement of the U.S., however, is far from the whole story. Indeed, focusing on this topic alone obscures the pioneering work of the coalition of Argentine human rights groups that fought, at great personal risk, to denounce the dictatorship, demanding justice for its victims and punishment of its crimes.
In this post I turn away from the presidential-visit frenzy to focus instead on one of the less-heralded members of the anti-regime coalition, the Movimiento Judío por los Derechos Humanos (MJDH, or Jewish Movement for Human Rights). Founded in August 1983 by Argentine journalist Herman Schiller and U.S.-born Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, the MJDH served as a pole of Jewish anti-regime activism. Yet despite its significance, the MJDH has received little attention in Spanish and virtually none in English. Fortunately, though, the Rubenstein Library’s Marshall T. Meyer Papers contain a wealth of documents that shed light on Meyer’s role in the organization and on its broader efforts on behalf of truth and justice in Argentina, enabling this brief and timely overview of its work.
The dictatorship that seized power on March 24, 1976 was a product not only of Cold War anti-communism, but also of Argentina’s long-standing nationalist ideology, an anti-modern vision of the world that combined ultramontane Catholicism and anti-Semitism with a violent desire to quash all opposition. Many within this movement saw Jews a key root of subversion in Argentina and the world at large (powerfully illustrated in the “tree of subversion” illustration below), so it is unsurprising that the country’s large Jewish minority found itself a disproportionate target of state violence. Yet the major institutions of the country’s Jewish establishment—including its umbrella organization, the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA, or Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations) took a cautious and even cooperative approach to the dictatorship, leaving regime victims and their relatives with few places to turn for support. At the same time, international Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee fought valiantly to denounce the dictatorship, yet in centering their activism exclusively on the Jewish community, these groups at times divorced the Jewish-Argentine experience of repression from those of other regime victims.
Building on Schiller’s ongoing anti-regime advocacy and Meyer’s longstanding work to support both Jews and non-Jews subject to the dictatorship’s terror, the MJDH came together in mid-1983 in order to advance a holistic vision of social justice that tied the defeat of anti-Semitism to the protection of human rights across all sectors of Argentine society. By this point, the country’s dictatorship was fast approaching the brink of collapse, having been fatally weakened by its humiliating defeat in the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands War with the United Kingdom. It was a moment, Schiller and Meyer understood, when a united opposition reaching across Argentine society could both extract real concessions from the regime and help to shape a most just democratic future.
The MJDH’s first public activity, as described in a November 1984 summary of its first year of organizing, was to convene a Jewish continent to participate in an August 1983 march against the military’s attempt to bestow amnesty upon itself for its many crimes. The success of this act emboldened Meyer and Schiller, encouraging them to plan their first independent rally for October of that year. Amid the political and economic tumult of late 1983, a new wave of anti-Semitism was washing over the country. While DAIA and other community leaders quietly lobbied the dictatorship to combat rising anti-Jewish sentiments, the MJDH took to the streets of downtown Buenos Aires. Despite DAIA’s attempts to derail the event, thousands of supporters gathered at the city’s iconic Obelisk to hear Nobel laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, denounce anti-Semitism and state terror as interlinked assaults on Argentines’ basic human dignity.
The MJDH’s work continued past the free election of civilian President Raúl Alfonsín on October 30, 1983. Throughout the transitional period, Schiller and Meyer organized rallies, speeches, conferences, and teach-ins, working with the Mothers and other human rights advocates to denounce ongoing threats to democracy and to demand the judicial punishment of regime crimes. Together with the efforts of other Argentine human rights groups, these efforts culminated in the precedent-setting 1985 Trial of the Juntas, which sent the dictatorship’s generals and torturers to jail and helped consolidate a new norm of criminal accountability in Argentina and in post-dictatorial societies far beyond. While the MJDH’s activities have diminished in subsequent decades, even today the MJDH continues to push for a full accounting of dictatorship-era abuses and for open discussion of the Jewish community’s complicated role in these difficult years. Spanning these decades of activism is a commitment to the plural vision of Jewish well-being, tied inseparably to universal rights, to which Meyer dedicated his life.
By examining the work of civil society groups like the MJDH, we can help to move beyond decontextualized visions of the dictatorship that present it as a narrow conspiracy, imposed on the country with aid from abroad. The experiences of leaders like Herman Schiller and Marshall Meyer, together with those of the MJDH’s supporters and opponents alike, help us to recover from Argentina’s recent history a measure of the nuance and complexity with which it was lived.
Post contributed by Paul Katz, PhD Candidate in History, Columbia University.
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While processing the Slade Family Papers my colleague came across several delightful pamphlets from the US Department of Agriculture on economical and nutritious foods. One in particular caught my eye, “Do You Know Oatmeal?” which was published in 1917. Conveniently, it had already been digitized and was available through the Internet Archive.Do you know oatmeal?
As a long time fan of oatmeal, I was thrilled to see it get the government promotion it deserves. There were several recipes to choose from, and in a change from some past test kitchen experiences, all the recipes seemed edible to this oatmeal lover. Finally, I decided on “Spiced Oatmeal Cakes” which seemed to be a cross between a cookie and a muffin, and “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts.” As a vegetarian, I was especially intrigued by the direction “Instead of meat, cook this appetizing dish for your family.”Part cookie, part muffin? Savory oats
According to Wikipedia oatmeal can refer to ground oats, rolled oats in various forms (instant, quick cooking, “old fashioned”, etc.) or steel cut or Irish oats. The recipe did not specify a type, but the long cooking time given on the front page (1 hour in a double boiler) suggested the “old fashioned” variety rather than instant or quick cooking. However, I never cook my oats longer than 10 minutes on the stove top so I was a bit skeptical. In the end, I went with what I had in my cabinet, Quaker Old Fashioned.The Face of Oatmeal
I started with the oat cakes. All the ingredients were things I already had in my pantry. The only oddities in the recipe were 3 tablespoons of unspecified fat and the lack of oven temperature. I chose canola oil and 350 degrees.Mise en place
These were very easy to assemble, even with the extra step of precooking the oatmeal. The dough/batter was very dry and I had to add ¼ cup water in order to reach a stir-able consistency. I also did not get 12 cakes.Into the oven they go! Thirty Minutes Later!
Verdict: They were super tasty warm from the oven. I ate 3. They also smelled delicious while they baked.
The “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts” was equally as easy to assemble. Sadly, this would not feed 5 people, despite what the recipe says. I regularly cook 2 cups of dry oats for 2 people for breakfast, and then add fruit, flax seeds, and sugar. 2 cups already cooked oatmeal, split between 5 people would be a snack at best, even with the addition of peanuts and milk.
I used apple cider vinegar, and I used soymilk instead of regular milk. I also reduced the salt to 1.5 teaspoons. I also accidentally added ½ teaspoon pepper instead of ¼ that the recipe calls for. Since the oven was already preheated, I stuck with the previously decided upon temperature of 350 degrees.Ingredients for Baked Oatmeal and Nuts The Final Product
Verdict: This was fairly tasty, although a little bland. I would also bake it longer than 15 minutes if I were to make it again.
Post contributed by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger
The post Oatmeal Cakes and Baked Oatmeal (1917) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
There are many “firsts” in the Lisa Unger Baskin collection, and this early work is one of my favorites. It is one of the first books we know to be typeset by women.
Incominciano Le uite de Pontefici et imperadori Romani [Lives of the Popes and Roman Emperors] was published by the press at the Convent of San Jacopo Di Ripoli in Florence in 1478. The Baskin Collection includes two copies. They are incunabula [cradle books], a term traditionally used to indicate works that were printed before 1501, when printing technology was still in its infancy.
Over the course of nine years (1476-1484), the Ripoli press issued around one hundred different titles, half of which were secular. The convent’s diario (daybook) notes that the Dominican sisters received modest wages for their labor, which were contributed to a common fund to support the convent.
The nuns work as typesetters was in keeping with the order’s rules. The Dominican constitutions directed the nuns to copy manuscripts for religious use, and the new technology of typesetting accomplished the same end. I have to wonder what it was like for them to literally retool with this new technology.Handwritten section header
The first copy in the Baskin Collection is complete and is decorated with hand-colored initials called rubrication. Copy two lacks the first six leaves and has not yet had the decorative initials added. It is untrimmed, and over the years comments have been added in several hands and inks. Most interesting is the extensive marginalia around the entry for the (most likely) fictional Pope Joan with its long manicule and notation “papa femina.”colophon
I look forward to sharing these volumes with students and visitors. If you run your fingers gently over the pages, you can feel the impressions made by the thousands of pieces of moveable type the nuns of Ripoli carefully set by hand.
To learn more about the work of the Convent of San Jacopo Di Ripoli consult:
- Melissa Conway, The Diario of the printing press of San Jacopo di Ripoli : 1476-1484 : commentary and transcription, Firenze : L.S. Olschki, 1999.
- Helen M. Latham, Dominican Nuns and the Book Arts in Renaissance Florence: the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli, 1224-1633 (Italy), dissertation, Texas Woman’s University (1986).
Post contributed by Naomi Nelso, Ph.D., Associate University Librarian and Director, Rubenstein Library.
“The Poetic Inflections of a Voice Addressing a Tribe of Men Besieged by Beasts”: Radio Haiti’s Cultural Programming
My very dear Jean, how the years have passed, since that afternoon when I first saw you at Thony Phelps’ house! That was in 1962, I believe. You smoked a pipe at the time. That day, there was talk of a book upon which you would be commenting the next day on the air at Radio Haïti. Ah! How the years have passed!
For Frankétienne, Jean Dominique was both a personal friend and an intellectual interlocutor; the cultural programming he oversaw at Radio Haiti not only showcased Haitian arts and literature, but also influenced them.
Meanwhile, you continue, with ferocity and great faith, in your work as a lucid informant, guiding your listeners, aiding the youth with your advice. And as for me, I was among that number who listened to you, who followed you closely. Your critical analyses were for me an invaluable contribution, as much on the human level as on the purely human level. Your Sunday broadcasts enhanced my love of art, cinema and in particular literature, even influencing my reading and literary research. And, today, now that we have become friends, this remains true. Jean, my brother, you could not suspect or guess how my conversations with you have oriented and enriched my work as a writer. Your insights have been of great use to me, with regard to the material of my last book Ultravocal…
The letter is from 1972, shortly after Jean Dominique bought Radio Haiti; it offers a glimmer of what was to come. In the years that followed, Radio Haiti’s main cultural program “Entre Nous” would become something of an on-air salon, a place where painters, poets, novelists, historians, social scientists, storytellers, playwrights, musicians, critics, and others came together to discuss their work. Émile Ollivier, Mimi Barthélemy, Edwidge Danticat, Amos Coulanges, Tiga, Georges Castera, Syto Cavé, Roger Gaillard, Jean Fouchard, Kettly Mars, Dany Laferrière, Gary Victor, Yanick Lahens, Ralph Allen, Jean René Jérôme…
To listen to these creators of art and of knowledge is to reorient the narrative about Haiti. The standard story of Haiti is dominated by crisis: rare is the mainstream US news article that does not contain the words “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” Haitian people are depicted as either powerless victims or bloodthirsty criminals. For centuries, lurid, racist, deterministic narratives have enabled dominant geopolitical powers to undermine Haitian sovereignty and justify exploitation. According to these tropes, Haiti and Haitian people are organically poor – not only materially and economically, but intellectually, culturally and morally as well. Haiti is atavistic, violent and diseased. Haiti is starving children, “boat people,” ragged people. Haitian suffering is described, exaggerated, and luxuriated over, but rarely presented as anything other than an inevitability.
Radio Haiti presented Haitian narratives about Haitian crisis, exposing and analyzing the structural causes of oppression and political instability. The archive contains the voices of the intellectual elite and of the urban and rural poor alike, for Radio Haiti was one of the few places at the time where the oppressed and disenfranchised masses had lapawòl, the power of speech.
And in its cultural programming, Radio Haiti achieved even more: it decentered the narrative of crisis. It presented not a Haiti of suffering, but a Haiti of beauty and brilliance, one in which crisis is met with and defied by acts of creation. A Haiti in which art, both implicitly and explicitly, is political.
A few months ago, I found a little piece of ephemera hidden face-down at the bottom of a reel-to-reel tape box. It had been used as scratch paper: on one side is a handwritten list of sponsors from the late 1980s (Parkay Margarine, Kraft Mayonnaise, Breacol cough syrup, and so on). On the other side is this:Raffle ticket, December 1979
By 1979-1980, businesses no longer advertised on Radio Haiti. The station openly opposed the Duvalier dictatorship, and potential sponsors, afraid of reprisal, did not want to be seen as accomplices. During this time, station manager Richard Brisson famously raised some money by using his car as a taxi. And in December 1979, several celebrated Haitian painters donated their works for an art raffle in support of Radio Haiti. Each ticket cost three dollars, for the chance to win a piece by one of these twelve renowned artists. The ticket is a relic, a souvenir of the extraordinary devotion that Radio Haiti inspired. It is also a poignant reminder of the grinding struggle to keep the station afloat day-to-day in the face of economic obstacles and political oppression.
Sometimes it feels as though Radio Haiti’s story, like that of Haiti itself, is eclipsed by crisis — that Jean Dominique’s assassination has become the principal lens through which we understand and remember Radio Haiti. But the loss of Jean Dominique and the injustice of his murder matter because his life mattered, because Radio Haiti’s many decades of work and legacy matter. Before the symbolic weight of memory, before the burden of hindsight, before the doomed prophet, there was the daily work of the station — all of which lives on in this archive.
So much comes before death; so much remains when death is no more.
In his letter to Jean Dominique, Frankétienne outlines the challenges facing the Haitian writer who strives to be accessible.
All writers, at least as far as I’m concerned, would like to be read and understood by their people, by the greatest number of people possible. It is our dearest hope. Yet, if that does not occur immediately, then another story, often macabre, begins. In the case of our country, one must overcome a double illiteracy: 1) obvious illiteracy (the inability to read at all, whether in Creole or in French) and 2) hidden illiteracy (the belief that one knows how to read, but in truth one does not perceive the structure and the possible meanings of a text). Faced with this double difficulty, or rather facing this double obstacle, the Haitian writer has no choice. It is absolutely impossible for him to write for the masses that cannot read at all. And this makes him suffer terribly, especially when, in his books, he reckons with problems that would be of utmost interest to those illiterate masses
Radio was a medium of unparalleled power in twentieth-century Haiti: it enabled people to participate in public discourse, as both listeners and speakers, whether or not they could read and write. And it allowed writers to reach a far broader audience, to be true public intellectuals. For this is what Jean Dominique was: a public intellectual. It was on the radio that his intellect unfurled: analytical and incisive, sometimes staggering.
There is a poet character who wanders, searching through words in a verbal delirium, writes Frankétienne in his letter, describing the themes of Ultravocal.
In the course of his phantasmal voyage, overcome by pain, he discovers that his drama is not entirely personal, that his own rupture is nothing more than one aspect of a far wider tragedy, the great human misery. From that moment on, the text breaks apart, spreading from the individual to the collective, from the subjective to the objective, from the particular to the general… And the poet character, entwined with the narrator, dizzy, speaks. The poetic inflections of a voice addressing a tribe of men besieged by beasts. My voice, perhaps. Yours, or that of either of us. And, when the narrator suggests… that one day, evil will be struck down into the dust with a terrible noise, then begins the final song, that of hope.
A week to the day before Frankétienne wrote his letter, Jean Dominique interviewed the painter Rose-Marie Desruisseau, in which she describes participating in ceremonies as part of her research for a series of paintings on Vodou. (It was revolutionary, at that time, to speak on the radio of Vodou as a topic of intellectual and cultural importance and as everyday practice: Duvalier père had politicized and exerted control over Vodou, manipulating its imagery for his own purposes and power while exercising sanctions on the practice.) Desruisseau describes her interactions with the Gede spirits, who are intermediaries between life and death. They dance provocatively through the cemetery, and shout and sing obscenities. They are lively gods of death. Vulgarity and humor, which transcend respectability and social convention, are the very things that enable Gede to straddle life and the afterlife, to be the master of the crossroads.
Rose-Marie Desruisseau explains:
“J’ai commencé d’abord par les dieux de la mort, tu vois, et puis je n’ai pas trouvé la mort chez eux, j’ai trouvé la vie intense, chez eux… chez les Guédés. Je n’ai pas trouvé la mort du tout.”
“I began first with the gods of death, you see, and it was not death that I found there. I found intense life there… among the Gede spirits. I did not find death at all.”
Radio Haiti’s archive, like a cemetery, like Haiti itself, is a place that could be defined by tragedy, loss and death. The archive, like Haiti’s history, is filled with human rights violations, massacres, impunity, and assassinations.
Yet, listening to artists and iconoclasts, creators and truth-tellers, I recall those same words: It was not death that I found here, in Radio Haiti’s archive. I found intense life here; I did not find death at all.
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist.