Posts Tagged ‘Debra Satz’

A day in the life of Stanford: onstage, in half-an-hour

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

photo 2How often do you see volleyball team chatting with deans, Taiko drummers mingling with landscape gardiners, medical researchers in a tête-à-tête with major donors?  “It was what a university community should be.  That, to me, was moving,” said dancer Aleta Hayes, one of the performers for last night’s The Symphonic Body (we wrote about the event here.) And she was right.

When a live mic was stuck in front of my face two days ago, I asked the performers what they got out of the experience.  During and after the performance last night, I found out, without any explanation needed.  The sense of Stanford community was joyously evident, at the Bing Concert Hall event, and at the reception afterwards.  Although about 75 “performers” were onstage, choreographer Ann Carlson  worked through about 1,000 recommendations to get to the final cast – a lot declined or dropped out.  So even more people were involved in the experience than might have been  apparent last night.


Hayes with her dance troupe, Chocolate Heads (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Here’s how Carlson worked:  she followed the chosen performers around for a day, watching their gestures, listening to their phrases –  “then telling us how to act like ourselves,” said Matthew Tiews, Executive Director of Arts Programs.  Onstage, landscape workers pruned invisible trees, Continuing Studies dean Charlie Junkerman removed and cleaned his glasses over and over again, Philippe Cohen, executive director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, stood up repeatedly and pointed to something on the invisible horizon.

“It touches my bone-deep and dead serious belief that all movement is dance movement,” said dancer Diane Frank.  “It means that every moment of movement might be transformative, might refresh our senses, if we attend to it wholeheartedly, alert to its qualities in the doing.  Real dancing is an embodied attitude toward movement, not a training regimen.”

Philippe Cohen with project manager Laura Goldstein

Cohen on the job. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

She added, “Besides, I like to connect with other people and to laugh a lot – both were large parts of the rehearsal process.”

During the question-and-answer period with the audience afterwards, one viewer noted the ephemeral nature of the project – nearly a year of work for a single, one-night performance.  Was the ephemerality part of the nature of the night?

“Definitely.  Absolutely.  I’m not doing this for a career,” said Cohen. “It was incredibly meditative.  At the end of the day, we had to put everything out of our mind.  That was absolutely wonderful.”

TonyDid anything surprise the cast about the performance?  “I was surprised that I was in it,” admitted Associate Dean Debra Satz, to laughter.

As usual, Mary Nolan had the last word.  When someone asked the performers “What comes next?”  Her reply was instant:  “the Tony awards.”

Elena Danielson: The scintillating world of an archivist, and “a masterpiece”

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

She's more bubbly than this picture suggests

In April, I commented on Stanford’s “A Company of Authors” event, “a warm and friendly gathering of about 100 or so booklovers at the Stanford Humanities Center,” in which Humble Moi participated:

Particularly memorable: Elena Danielson‘s breathy presentation of the ethical issues of archiving.  Don’t think that sounds exciting?  You have to hear Elena tell about it.  The author of The Ethical Archivist has been privy to billets-doux of the long-dead and recently dead, and all the burning secrets held in donated letters and memorabilia.

Archivists aren’t usually considered to live scintillating lives, but Elena sure makes it look like hot stuff.  I recounted her vivid tale of the Martin Luther King, Jr., legacy here.  (She also wrote a guest review for Debra Satz‘s  Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale, and is a regular commentor on the Book Haven.)

So we were pleased to see praise for her work in College & Research Libraries, in a review by W. Bede Mitchell:

“The reader cannot help but come away … impressed with how deeply entangled is the archival profession in ethical dilemmas. …

She [Elena, that is – ED] is invariably thorough, sensible, and sensitive when analyzing ethical challenges that can arise when acquiring or deaccessioning materials, providing equitable access, protecting the privacy of patrons and donors, authenticating materials, and determining the circumstances in which displaced archives should be relocated. In addition, her writing is clear, engaging, and imbued with a devotion to her professional values. No doubt her many years of experience have tempered idealism with realism, but not to the point of cynicism. When she convincingly demonstrates at many junctures that establishing ‘a standard of integrity that inspires confidence in the documentary record’ is neither easy nor safe, Danielson goes on to argue eloquently why ensuring such integrity is what the archivist profession should be about. …

It is difficult to imagine a better written or more thorough and thoughtful work on such thorny issues. ‘Masterpiece’ is an appropriate description.”

Fine words … but it’s all so stuffy compared to the real-life Elena, her eyes sparkling, confessing the secrets she’s collected over decades with barely contained excitement.  Or, more recently, telling me that nine months after the book launch, only 73 copies of the book are left.  Is there a second printing in the works?

Brava, Elena!

Tomorrow: Meet the authors, and celebrate birthdays with Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Nabokov, and St. George

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

“Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

Tomorrow, April 23, is William Shakespeare‘s birthday.  It’s also William Wordsworth‘s birthday, and Vladimir Nabokov‘s birthday – and St. George’s Day, to boot.

It’s also the 8th annual “A Company of Authors” celebration at the Stanford Humanities Center, an all-afternoon gig celebrating the variety, richness and importance of the books produced by the Stanford community.  (More on the event here.)

This year’s auspicious date is not entirely a coincidence.  George Orwell biographer Peter Stansky, who founded the event along with the late, lamented Associates of the Stanford University Libraries, was particularly pleased by the possibilities offered by the juxtaposition.

Peter will open the event by reading a poem by George Steiner about the wisdom of choosing one’s birthday – you see, it’s Steiner’s birthday, too.

The event was inspired by the Los Angeles Times Book Fair and the annual Humanities Center Book party.  There’s a difference, however: the books will be available for sale at a 10 percent discount.  The fête kicks off at 1 p.m., and it’s free at the Humanities Center on Santa Teresa, and the company will be excellent, if I do say so myself.

“It is open to all who wish to come and learn more about the authors’ thinking behind their work, would like to chat with the authors in the periods between sessions and have the opportunity to purchase their books,” he said.  It has another purpose – “and that we can all feel that somehow we are in the tradition of Shakespeare!”

Authors include:  Charlotte Jacobs, Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin’s Disease;

Birthday boy

Susan Krieger, Traveling Blind; William Kays, Letters from a Soldier; Gabriella Safran, Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator: S. An-sky; Abbas Milani, Myth of the Great Satan and The Shah; Ian Morris, Why the West Rules—For Now; Karen Wigen, A Malleable Map; Elena Danielson, The Ethical Archivist; Jack Rakove, Revolutionaries; Karen Offen, Globalizing Feminisms; Myra Strober,  Interdisciplinary Conversations; Stina Katchadourian, The Lapp King’s Daughter; Dan Edelstein, The Enlightenment: A Genealogy; Herbert Lindenberger, Situating Opera: Period, Genre, Reception; Debra Satz, Why Some Things Shouldn’t Be for Sale.  And you guessed it, Humble Moi – Cynthia Haven for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz.

No RSVP needed

According to Peter, “Most importantly in my view, the books reflect the most important aspect of the University: the life of the mind which sometimes gets forgotten in the many day to day events that take place at Stanford. In my view, this event represents the essence of the University.”

It is also J.M.W. Turner‘s birthday as well as Shirley Temple‘s, which he doesn’t mention.  “Perhaps you can arrange for Shirl ey Temple to come,” he suggested to me.  Do you think?

Postscript:  I know, I know … Shakespeare’s birthday is conjecture, based on his April 26 christening.  Usually, in the 16th century, a birth was followed post haste by a christening in anticipation of instant death.  And, given that he died on April 23, and that April 23 was St. George’s day, and, after all, he did need a birthday – the world fixed on April 23rd.  Good enough for me.  Hope for you, too.  See you tomorrow.

Postscript on 4/23/2013  We mistakenly reported that Alexander Pushkin‘s birthday is on April 23.  Wrong!  It’s June 6, 1799 (what a pleasant way to usher in a new century!)  The error has been corrected.  Thank you, Tatiana Pahlen, for pointing it out to us.

Tracy Kidder, Anne Fadiman, Joyce Carol Oates, and “the enemies of chaos”

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Fadiman, Oates, Kidder ... demonstrating a high tolerance for noise (Photo: Rachel Altmaier)

Goodness, what a sourpuss I sounded yesterday!  Chalk it up to my low threshold for cacophony. The article on yesterday’s event with Tracy Kidder, Anne Fadiman, Joyce Carol Oates is online here.

Highlights included New Yorker gossip from Fadiman about the genesis of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down:

In the late 1980s, she had prepared a list of four proposals for her New Yorker editor when an old college friend from Merced called to tell her the story of “the tragic conflicts between Hmong patients and their doctors.”

“I thought I’d add that one as number five,” she said. The editor picked it.

Her work took her into a human catastrophe involving an epileptic Hmong girl. Well-meaning Western medical professionals and a loving family with longstanding tribal traditions clashed about the meaning of her condition and what a cure might be.

“Each side underestimated the other. It made me wonder whether we all underestimate each other most of the time.”

Her New Yorker editor left, and the new editor wanted more of a celebrity focus in the magazine’s features.

“The interest in an epileptic toddler was – to put it charitably – modest.” The letter formally killing the story “managed to misspell my first and last name.”

“I could not let the story go,” she said. In the end, she found that writing 300 pages was “so much easier” than disappointing the people who had shared their anguished stories with her.

Pulitzer prizewinning Kidder was modest, self-deprecating, often seemingly at a loss for words, as he described Strength in What Remains, featuring the story of “Deogratias,” who fled the Burundi and Rwanda massacres in 1994 for the streets of New York City, where he was homeless. He eventually dropped out of Dartmouth Medical School to open a medical clinic in Burundi. Kidder said that Deogratias is now pursuing medical studies at Columbia University:

“I’m surprised in general when I come across people like this,” said Kidder. Reading the newspaper every day, he said, “Sometimes I think chaos and violence run the world.”

People like Deogratias provide him with hope: “The fact that they’re there, as enemies of chaos, I find extremely reassuring – every morning,” he said.

Describing his book, he said, “It’s a story about courage, it’s a story about the kindness of strangers, a story about war and genocide.”

“What I wanted to do is to make you experience those things again, not as truisms, but as parts of our lives,” he said. “This is what all the writers I most admire do. They make the world new. They make it new again.”

Satz, author and moderator (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

The person most shortchanged by my story was Joyce Carol Oates.  Alone of the three (four, counting Debra Satz, the moderator and author of Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale (discussed here)  “The Undesirable Table” was a work of fiction, and also a short story, rather than a full-length novel.  As I was quickly putting together a story on deadline, she seemed a little the odd man out.  I’ve never much cared for her work — and can’t claim to have really given it a fair hearing — but I was moved by her discussion of her family origins that were “working class, perhaps below that.”  I was also moved by her generosity towards the other authors — at times it felt as if she were acting as the moderator:

Oates spoke of the role of writers to “bear witness,” and the need to tell the stories of those who are otherwise voiceless.

“It’s up to you to provide the language and allow their stories to be told” … She urged the audience to grab such stories like a rope: “They pull you someplace you never thought you would go.”

Here are a few quotes that didn’t make it into the article:

“I’m more drawn to tragedy, because I think it mirrors the human predicament … and there’s not that much we can do about it, ultimately.  Even if you love your family, you will lose them, one by one.”

“That is what art does, brings formal structural hope to tragic situations … you rise to an occasion of personal courage and selflessness if there’s an emergency … those are the special, selective areas that bring hope to tragic world.”

Postscript: Something else Oates said that fascinated me.  When asked how she could write something like 80 books she said she lives “conventional life of moderation, regular hours.  There’s no need even to organize my time.”  So how does she manage to do that?

Guest Review: “Is Everything For Sale?”

Friday, July 30th, 2010

A first at the Book Haven:  Elena Danielson reviews Debra Satz‘s Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets (Oxford) — and she takes a Tolstoyan slant.  In addition to being a whiz at Russian literature, Elena, Stanford archivist emerita and a former associate director of Hoover Institution, has been writing about the ethical dilemmas of archival practice for a quarter-century. She published the “Ethics of Access” in the American Archivist in 1989. In 2005, she won the Posner prize for an article in the American Archivist about access to East German political police files. In 2001, she also received the Laurel Award of the Polish Prime Minister for her work with the Polish State Archives. In 2004, she was named a Commander of the Order of Merit by the Romanian government for her work related to archival holdings in Romania.

Is Everything for Sale?

Debra Satz’s emphatic title could have come from one of Leo Tolstoy’s moralistic essays.

Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale resonates with both sides of the political spectrum. Even MasterCard admits that some things are “price-less.” Pretty obvious:  humans and human bodies should not be put up for sale or auctioned off.

Certainly the United States outlawed the market in human slaves by 1865 and Russia outlawed serfdom about the same time, in 1861.  However, in the late 20th century, the libertarianism that sparked so much innovation and the globalization combined to produce some unintended consequences. Nearly everything has been swept onto the auction block. Satz reminds us that the clothes we are wearing were probably produced in a Third World country, and it’s likely that indentured, bonded or otherwise involuntary servitude, even child labor, helped produce the garment.

Satz champions "weak agents" (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Immoral market mechanisms are not a new problem. Satz does not go into this long history, but it is the silent backdrop to her work. The issues she addresses have concerned some of history’s most thoughtful writers. Back in the 19th century, Lev Tolstoy was troubled by the legacy of serfdom that had enriched him and his family. Before the official emancipation of the serfs, he tried to liberate his own human holdings, but they were too suspicious or too savvy to take him up on the offer. Even after the Tsar liberated the bonded peasantry, Tolstoy continued to rail against the evils of private property and the ad hoc enslavement that goes with it.

Last winter at a Stanford “Ethics at Noon” brown bag talk, Satz analyzed the sale of body parts, especially the black market for human kidneys. Selling body parts is illegal, right? Well, in the United States human blood is certainly routinely bought and sold. Human eggs are purchased, often for large sums. This creates a “value forum.” A young woman attending Stanford may be able to command a higher price than a high school dropout. All the while the medical consequences for the seller are not yet clear. In Great Britain, such sales are illegal, the “donation” of body parts must be done altruistically without a purchase price. The sale of kidneys is still illegal in the United States, but the pressures are growing to create a legal market, just as there is for blood and human eggs.

He would have liked Project Gutenberg

As a social philosopher, Satz emphasizes the need to identify cases of “weak agency,” the vulnerable in society who will agree to almost anything for subsistence wages. As citizens with less clout, women often fall into the category of “weak agents,” forced into marketing sexual and reproductive labor.

The great Russian moralist was greatly disturbed by moves to detach sexual pleasure from the family-centered rituals of childbearing, making it a marketable commodity. The evils of prostitution in what we might call asymmetrical relationships are the subject of his highly moralistic, and nearly unreadable, last novel, Resurrection.

Satz points out cases of well-educated woman in the United States who have other options, but still sell their attractions to the highest bidder. Tolstoy also knew well that women of means could be caught up in this kind of marketing. The stunning and cunning character Hélène in War and Peace tells her husband she has no intention of having children. She takes up with powerful and wealthy men and then dies mysteriously at the hands of a French doctor after refusing to be treated by a good Russian doctor. The other great beauty in Tolstoy’s work, Anna Karenina, confidently tells her lover she has no intention of bearing any more of his children. She must also have had medical advice. In his essays, Tolstoy rants about the women and doctors who work against the will of Mother Nature. Modern medical technology has further detached desire from childbearing at each step in the process. Imagine what Tolstoy would think of the marketing of human eggs for substantial sums of money, and the use of surrogate mothers, who are often poorer women paid by wealthier couples.

The late 20th century era of great medical advances coincided with a time of great enthusiasm for the “invisible hand” of the marketplace as the best value forum for determining prices for just about anything. That naïve enthusiasm for deregulation has pretty much crashed, along with the market for hugely overvalued junk bonds, derivatives, and junk real estate loans. Satz points out that the same misplaced trust in financial markets crept into other areas of our American experience, and these need to be re-examined. As financial markets get re-regulated, other areas also need moral limits, some as legal measures and some as ethical standards.

Amazon has new copies for $16.47, used for $9.98, and a kindle version in between at $14.27.  I paid list price of $35 at the Stanford bookstore so I could have a copy that had been autographed by the author. Tolstoy, who opposed private property, would have wanted me to check it out of the library. While her writing is much more accessible than his, if you have the time, read both. His work is in the public domain, as free e-text on Project Gutenberg. He’d like that.