Épater les Bourgeoise…?

I do no speak or read French. Many years ago, however, in undergraduate school, I had a professor of English literature who was inordinately fond of the French phrase épater les bourgeoise—as he would translate it on a regular basis, “to shock the ordinary human being out of his [or her] lethargy.”  That is, there are those works, persons, events to which ordinary human beings, most of us, can only react in shock, sometimes in dismay; other times in paralysis.  One such event historically is the Holocaust (Hebrew, Shoah), the systematic, organized and planned murders of more than six million Jews—children, women, and men—and others: Sinti/Roma; homosexuals, primarily males; the physically and mentally challenged; and, lastly, so-called “asocials”, those whom the Nazis deemed unworthy of place in their present and future society. Even today, more than seventy-five years after the end of World War II, its power to shock, dismay, frighten, disorient shows no signs of abating.  Concomitantly, those most associated with this “crime of crimes”, this paradigmatic genocide—Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Rudolf Hoess, Alfred Rosenberg, and others in the upper echelons of the Nazi hierarchy—still retain their power to amaze and disgust us as the very embodiments of evil personified.

Closely associated with them and their murderous agendas are the words which also retain their power: Auschwitz death camp (symbolic of the entire system of death); the Warsaw Ghetto, symbolic of Jewish incarceration and Jewish resistance and other unsuccessful efforts at extermination; Six Million, symbolic of the Jews murdered; and the like. Continue reading

History, Identity, and Memory: The ‘Melting Pot’ is Bubbling Over!

The recent flap over the January 27, 2017, official White House Press Release of President Trump’s Statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and its egregious omission of the primary victims of the Nazi genocide—the Jews—instead identifying and honoring “the [unnamed and unreferenced] victims, survivors, and heroes” beggars logic.  Coming as it did on the heels of the “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States”—and attempting to temporarily ban legitimate refugees from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries [Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen]—only compounds the absurdity of the Statement and reveals the astounding ignorance of those seemingly hard at work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  More to the point, however, one may also perceive the Statement as part of an overall commitment to whitewashing—yes, the word is pointedly chosen! —religious, ethnic, historical, and racial differences and diversities which remain unique to this experiment we call the United States in favor of a false homogenization whereby we are all alike, even though we are not.  Taken to its absurd extreme, it may yet prove to be but one more example, early on, of the President’s pandering to his own electoral base of primarily disgruntled white males on the economic fringes (both the haves and the have-nots) as a not-so-thinly-disguised attempt to re-paint American society in only one color and only one set of identifying labels (white, male, citizen, hard-working, Protestant, and/or what have you). Continue reading

The Rhetoric of Exceptionalism

Picture 3The other day Inside Higher Ed posted an article that has now been re-posted at Slate. It’s one among many recent blogs that chronicles the longstanding difficulties of the academic job market, making evident the personal, social, and economic prices many people pay while trying to find work after earning their Ph.D.

A much quoted line when friends post links to it on Facebook, from its second paragraph, reads as follows:

Yet of all the machines that humanity has created, few seem more precisely calibrated to the destruction of hope than the academic job market….

Reading that lined stopped me dead in my tracks. Continue reading