Lincoln: Clarissa’s Review

I have now watched the movie Lincoln and can tell you that every review I have read of it is stupid. Except Charles Rowley’s. I think that is a very good reading of the film.

There is this disturbing trend where people confuse the depiction of racism as it occurred throughout history with racism and the depiction of sexism with sexism. The other week, there was this huge scandal in Russia where a journalist was accused of anti-semitism because of saying that somebody was a Jew. Which he actually was.  It got to the point where people perceive the very word “Jew” as offensive. Before you laugh at the silly, confused Russians, read this story about my students who resist saying the word “black” because it scares them.

The movie Lincoln shows an unpleasant, tragic, painful reality and refuses to cutesify it as much as many people would like. The most poignant scene in the movie was, for me, when the black people are watching from the balcony while a bunch of white men decides whether they will be legally considered human. This is the most anti-racist thing the movie could have done because it shows you how horrible, unnatural, and disgusting racism is. What is happening on the screen is so obviously wrong that you have to be dead and buried not to feel it.

Another important aspect of the movie is how well it portrays the tragedy of women’s oppression. While Lincoln is changing history and accomplishing something incredibly important, his miserable wife goes nuts because of boredom, because there is no meaning to her life, because there is nothing whatsoever for her to do. She is descending into the abyss of hysteria, and who wouldn’t? Just like the film’s anti-racist message consists in the way it makes racism so palpable that you can barely breathe, the movie denounces the tragedy of oppressed women by showing what their stunted lives were like. In the movie, Lincoln actually spends time with his sons, playing with the youngest, arguing with the oldest. Mrs. Lincoln, however, is hardly ever around her children. Her growth as a human being has been frustrated to the degree where she has nothing to offer to them.

I liked the movie because it shows that progress comes at a great price and is achieved very slowly and painfully. Yet it does come. It might not be fast enough for our liking, it might not arrive in as uncomplicated way as we would like, but it does arrive, and that is what matters.


A quote from a review of Lincoln:

To those who insist that it would have required a PBS miniseries or a wholly different feature film to portray black characters with more complexity and to suggest that African-Americans played a role in their own liberation, I offer the following dreams and fantasies of my own. Thaddeus Stevens could have talked about politics at home with his common-law wife, Lydia Smith, who was African-American. They might have discussed the tension between Stevens’s idealism and the president’s pragmatism; Smith could have given Stevens advice about how to handle himself during the House debate over the 13th amendment.

Yeah, after which she went to her office on campus to prepare her tenure dossier while he did the dishes and drove the kids to soccer practice. Because that is totally how black women lived in the XIXth century.

People expect to be babied at every step of their lives, even at the movies. History is so upsetting that it needs to be cutesified for consumption by these overgrown infants.

Modernism, Part I

It is next to impossible for us today fully to understand how painful, traumatic, and confusing the advent of modernity was to the people who witnessed it. We are the product of the enormous tectonic shift that occurred at the end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth century. Everything we are, do, think, and believe is defined by that watershed moment in history. All of the major conflicts in the world today – both on the global stage and within individual countries – are defined by the tensions between those who have managed to absorb the transformation and adapt to it and those who are still either struggling to do so or resisting modernity altogether. Two world wars have been fought over this, and we are not out of the woods yet in terms of the possibility of a third one fought for the same reason.

Artists were warning us way ahead of time that the shift was coming. Art tends to be very sensitive to these transformations, which is why artists begin to produce the kind of art that corresponds to the changes in the existing reality long before individuals and governments catch up. The price many of these artists paid for their creative prescience was that of being excoriated, persecuted, ridiculed, and then glorified and worshiped after their deaths.

The technological progress made profound transformations in art inevitable. The photographic camera and later the cinematographic camera changed art forever. It made absolutely no sense any longer to create a painting that would strive to depict reality as faithfully as possible. A painter could not hope to win a competition with a photographic camera. This is why artists needed to learn to do something different. They had to offer more than a representation of reality. When they started doing that, however, the rejection of their art was swift and brutal.

impression soleil levant

 “A draft of a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape,” said journalist and critic Louis Leroy about the painting “Impression: soleil levant” by Claude Monet that you can see on the left. The new sensibilities that this kind of art addressed were menacing and confusing for many people. With so many changes occurring in the world around them, they found it hard to accept that art would now be completely different from what they were used to, as well.

The advent of modernity was more painful for some countries than for others. In 1914, a clash between the countries that were at different stages in their absorption of these transformations erupted. The clunky, old, outdated empires that were finding it impossibly hard to modernize were not going down without a fight. The Great War of 1914-1918 would show everybody, once and for all that modernity came at a price.

P.S. My blog, my posts, my vision. Feel free to offer your own, of course, but don’t question my right to express mine.

I Love This Country

Today: dinner at a Japanese restaurant and a movie with my husband.

Tomorrow: grocery shopping and household chores with my husband.

Monday: a meeting with other faculty members where we begin to take charge of running the university and curbing the authority of bureaucrats. Lectures on Spain and the EU. Presentations by my independent researchers.

Tuesday: Chairing a subcommittee that distributes research grants to our scholars. Printing out the syllabus for my new course on Spanish literature. Receiving a package with the most recent novels by my favorite Spanish writers.

6 a.m.

One thing that bugs me beyond belief about blogging is that I can publish any number of very interesting, well-planned, well-written, and engaging posts during a day, yet the post that will invariably get the most hits is the one published between 6 and 7 am. This post can be as trivial and boring as ever, but it will get the most hits.

This is a mystery I haven’t been able to solve.

Do you have a similar experience with your blog?