Corruption might be just as Chicagoan as Mike Ditka’s chain of steakhouses (“We heard that the pork chops were the best in Chicago—not true. Overpriced for an adequate meal.”—Menupages)—the premise didn’t quite originate here, but the vibe is omnipresent, and its consequences are more or less our mise-en-scène. In Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago’s Last Harbor Boss, R. J. Nelson tells the tale of his rise and fall as the city’s last director of Harbors and Marine Services. A recent profile of Nelson at the Chicago Tribune delved into some juicy tidbits, which follow below. You can read the piece in full, here, too. *** Nelson recalled numerous, colorful bribery attempts — with boaters hoping to take advantage of the old way of doing things at Chicago’s harbors. One boater who wanted a slip in Belmont Harbor showed Nelson a glossy brochure with pictures of a penthouse condominium in Acapulco — saying Nelson could use it for a couple of weeks in exchange for his help. When Nelson responded “Absolutely not,” the boater added. “It’s fully equipped and includes a companion — gender of your choice!” Other boaters attempted leaving hundred-dollar bills on the counter, gift certificates to Marshall Field’s or sending boxes of Fannie May . . .
Below follows an excerpt from a recent profile in the New Yorker about The Daily Henry James: A Year of Quotes from the Work of the Master, first published as a limited edition in 1911, and back for the masses in the new year, with a foreword by Michael Gorra, c/o the University of Chicago Press. Read the original, in full, here. *** In his preface to the New York edition of “Roderick Hudson,” James wrote, “Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw . . . the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.” In “The Daily Henry James,” relations begin nowhere: the fragments have no connection to one another, and don’t add up to any meaningful narrative. The result is that the book offers Jamesian atmosphere rather than Jamesian plots: flicking through the anthology, you experience the elements that make up James’s novels in the way that you might experience them in real life. You see characters briefly, as at a party or in the street; virtually every page provides an observation on the American character, a description of the grounds of an English country house, a fastidious young man reflecting on the character . . .
Critic, writer, and playwright John Berger (1925–2017), one of the twentieth century’s most important art critical voices (linking to the Guardian piece, as its the most thorough) died on January 2, 2017. Best known for the four-part BBC series Ways of Seeing (1972) and its accompanying critical text, Berger there offered a Marxist response to another (banal and apolitical) take on the history of culture, also produced by the BBC, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969). Hyperallergic was first with a tribute, which includes this anecdote: Speaking to Kate Kellaway, Berger explained his interest in labor and social issues. “The connection between the human condition and labour is frequently forgotten, and for me was always so important. At 16, I went down a coal mine in Derbyshire and spent a day on the coal face – just watching the miners. It had a profound effect,” he told her. When she asked how it made him feel. He responded quietly. “Respect. Just respect. There are two kinds. Respect to do with ceremony – what happens when you visit the House of Lords. And a completely different respect associated with danger,” he said. “This is not a prescription for others, but when I look back on my life I think it’s very significant I . . .
It’s a new year, and our free e-book for January is Dori Katz’s Looking for Strangers: The True Story of My Hidden Wartime Childhood. Download your copy here. *** Dori Katz is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who thought that her lost memories of her childhood years in Belgium were irrecoverable. But after a chance viewing of a documentary about hidden children in German-occupied Belgium, she realized that she might, in fact, be able to unearth those years. Looking for Strangers is the deeply honest record of her attempt to do so, a detective story that unfolds through one of the most horrifying periods in history in an attempt to understand one’s place within it. In alternating chapters, Katz journeys into multiple pasts, setting details from her mother’s stories that have captivated her throughout her life alongside an account of her own return to Belgium forty years later—against her mother’s urgings—in search of greater clarity. She reconnects her sharp but fragmented memories: being sent by her mother in 1943, at the age of three, to live with a Catholic family under a Christian identity; then being given up, inexplicably, to an orphanage in the years immediately following the war. Only after . . .
Over at Steve Reads, Steve Donoghue from Open Letters Monthly recently counted down his top ten reprints of the year. Number one? Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah: A Novel, a fictional take on the rise and fall of a mid-century Irish-American politician and the unstable democratic machine that lifted him up and plopped him back down, inspired by the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley. As Donoghue writes: “The absolutely winning production of this, the best reprint of 2016 includes a rollicking Introduction by Jack Beatty, an understated, smile-inducing new cover design, and of course the main event, O’Connor’s utterly masterful dark comedy of American politics, which is as funny and insightful today as it was the year it was written.” Still time to tuck this one under your menorah, tree, or secular mantelpiece. . . . in the meantime, we’re taking a week’s hiatus—see you on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017. To read more about The Last Hurrah, click here. . . .
In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, Michael Tesler (author of Post-Racial or Most Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era) analyzes public opinion data that corroborates an account of the 2016 election that looks beyond the white-working class neglect narrative and concentrates instead on the role played by racial prejudice. As he summarizes, “Racially resentful beliefs that African Americans are getting more than they deserve were so strongly linked to support for Trump, in fact, that their impact on both the 2016 Republican Primary and the general election were larger than they had ever been in before.” Read an excerpt from Tesler’s research below, which runs the numbers and frames the context in which they were generated. *** Such different portraits of white and non-white Americans’ grievances have their origins in what social psychologists call “ultimate attribution error.” This error means that when whites struggle, their troubles are generally attributed to situational forces (e.g., outsourcing); but when non-whites struggle, their plight is more often attributed to dispositional traits (i.e., poor work ethic). Consequently, whites are considered “more deserving” than blacks. To quantify this double standard in deservingness we embedded an experiment in a new HuffPost/YouGov survey. We asked half . . .
From a recent review of Althea McDowell Altemus’s Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America, at the Chicago Tribune: This professional typewriter and her trusty typewriter give the reader tales that are of immense social, historical and feminist significance. Of the flagrantly discriminatory hiring practices faced by female job seekers, she writes, “Whatever crime it is for a woman … to wish to earn her own living and keep her child with her, I do not know — but crime it seems to be.” Yet so, too, are her tales dishy, witty and a ton of fun. Of one of the many decadent poolside parties Deering threw at Vizcaya, Altemus writes, “Only the tropic moon could ever know what the philanderers and their filomels found so satisfying in this pool and even romantic moonlight couldn’t penetrate the awning roofed cabanas in the pines.” Her situation — a bright, driven woman required by circumstance to support herself financially — was not atypical. But her famous employers were, including such men as Samuel Insull, president of Chicago Edison; New York banker S.W. Straus; real estate developer Fred F. French; a Swiss architect; and a jeweler whose primary clients were prostitutes. In doing . . .
Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory posits Hegel as the world’s ur-critical theorist, accounting for the origins of his dialectic as a theory, and situating the thinker’s unconventional (for modern philosophy) turn toward the medieval and premodern realms, which ultimately embedded Hegel in its long tradition, and suggested “that it is precisely Hegel’s engagement with medieval modes of thought that make his work a productive source for Marx and the later thinkers who develop dialectical thinking into theory as we know it today.” Cole’s work was previously reviewed by the likes of Qui Parle (“The Birth of Theory is filled with illuminating and often counterintuitive readings. . . . Cole’s argument touches on an array of important avenues of inquiry, offering counterproposals that should unsettle the doctrinally comfortable and reinvigorate theoretical discussions in a variety of connected fields: Hegel scholarship and the history of Continental philosophy; Marxist and post-Marxist analysis of culture, ideology, and commodity fetishism; literary criticism, whether historicist or not; and contemporary discussions of new vitalisms, materialisms, and speculative ontologies. . . . The Birth of Theory offers a set of tantalizing and highly original arguments.”) and the Review of Metaphysics (“The Birth of Theory is an ambitious, original, lucidly-written, scrupulously-researched, . . .
Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, editors of Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery, recently sat down with the hosts of NPR’s Weekend Edition to discuss their pathbreaking anthology, which makes use of the longstanding and complicated relationship between creativity and addiction to offer a resource for the seventeen million plus adults living afflicted in the United States alone. *** From the transcript: SIMON (host): Let me ask you, Neil, what’s the thinking behind this anthology? STEINBERG: Recovery is difficult. And it’s hard enough just chemically giving up the substance you crave, but it’s also hard intellectually and emotionally. You’re giving up something you love, and you have to replace it with something. And I wanted to try to replace it with a story, with a narrative that recovery is the path of the hero. And Sara and I try to use that by using quotes from poems and songs and stories and letters from these writers throughout time who faced the same challenge and wrote about it. And the purpose of the book – we call it a companion so that it goes with you and helps you on this very difficult journey. SIMON: . . .
From a recent Chicago Reader review of R. J. Nelson’s Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago’s Last Harbor Boss, the story of one city employee’s rise and fall as Chicago’s director of Harbors and Marine Services: Dirty Waters, a fine chronicle of Nelson’s tenure as a city employee, begins with his first day on the job and concludes not long after he was ignominiously terminated by Forrest Claypool, then the Park District’s general superintendent. What Nelson encounters during that time will be familiar to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of local government: parks department supervisors who demand permits for their personal boats, inept public-sector employees who receive high salaries due to political connections, and obfuscatory paperwork designed to deaden the enthusiasm and limit the geographic and civic access of ordinary boaters. t a play-by-play account of Nelson’s time as harbor boss, Dirty Waters might get bogged down by inside-baseball accounts of bygone local politics. But there’s a certain Chicagoness to Nelson’s storytelling that’s highly entertaining—the book reads like a series of anecdotes being told by a lifelong resident of the city. Nelson can veer off on tangents, sometimes excessively so, but more often than not the asides keep the narrative interesting, provide valuable context, . . .