I asked Bon to ask me some questions, following a meme that’s currently
circulating. You can check out her responses to the questions another
blogger asked her here. As part of the deal, I should offer to
interview any reader on their blog. I’m willing to try – and would
enjoy the distraction – but given the state of my life I can’t promise
Bon: what’s one book that impacted the way you see the world, and the good in it?
Me: This shouldn’t be such a hard question for an academic. I’m tempted to
answer in four directions: a book from my childhood, a book from my
undergraduate life, a book from my religious life, and a book from my
life as a grad student. For each of those phases, excluding my
undergraduate life, however, the one book restriction is tough and I
don’t want to wiggle out of that condition by listing a bunch. But to
mention my undergraduate life now seems ridiculously intellectually
immature. I’m sort of embarrassed in retrospect by my idealism and
Nevertheless, here goes. Rhy Isaac’s Transformation of Virginia (the
link is to a 1999 reprinting) made me want to be an historian and
fundamentally changed my understanding of social, economic, race and
class relationships in America when I read it as an 18 year old. He
argues, among other things, that Bacon’s Rebellion was a turning point
in the history of slavery and race relations in colonial North America.
(He wasn’t actually the architect of this idea but I didn’t know that
then.) Colonial officials destroyed any possible alliance between poor
whites and poor or enslaved blacks in the South by codifying race as a
legal category. For me, it was an epiphany – race is socially constructed.
I then became idealistic about how it could be deconstructed – it
seemed so easy back then. If everyone just understood that these rich
planters had created racism, well, people would see how silly it was to
think it exists really in biology and thus how silly it is to be
racist. How nice it would be had that worked out. Alas that’s a glimpse
into my mind 12 years ago. I won’t be cheating if I tell you that
another book, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches and Anxious Patriarchs
by Kathy Brown develops this thesis further with gender also in mind
for Virginia. Or that Isaac’s book is also well-matched with Ira
Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America.
Bon: what place does anger have in your life right now?
Me: Fast and more frequent than before yet not so prevalent as in the first 6
months. It burns out quickly. I find it’s more focused . That’s the
answer right now in any case. Could be different tomorrow. I do have a few people I’m angry at now for how they’ve responded and treated us. I struggle with a lingering feeling that some want to think I’m somehow responsible for Natan’s death – cosmically or practically – and I’m learning to live with that since I don’t think I can resolve it with them.
Bon: will you tell us the new baby’s name, when he is born? do you have one chosen, already?
Me: We are thinking about names but not certain yet and yes we will tell you.
I am torn, however, regarding when because tradition is to hold a boy’s
name secret until circumcision, 8 days after birth. More than that,
actually, it’s traditional to not name a boy at all until 8 days after
birth. I’ve transgressed that tradition, however, already by naming
Natan. I’m not compelled by arguments against naming a child when he’s
born, because having lived a tragedy, I feel left out and even betrayed
by the exclusion of younger babies who may not survive. Without being
too specific, it seems this tradition in part denies my son personhood,
and while I’m not threatened by that, it comes in tandem with the
feeling that some of my more strictly observant friends don’t want to
accept the enormity of my loss.
That said, there’s no point in criticizing too heavily, because our
congregation has allowed us to and helped us in mourning our son. I
just have some surviving issues with particular folks who don’t grasp
how profoundly Natan’s death has affected and changed us.
There are two more questions left for me to answer, and I will. This was just all the thinking/typing I could handle for now.
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