No Ordinary Fanatics:” Islam, Ecstasy, and Respectability in Turn-of-the-Century New York City

Right now, I am work­ing on a project on Sufis who per­formed an ecsta­t­ic wor­ship ser­vice in Madi­son Square Gar­den in 1892, and why and how they offend­ed every­one (from con­tem­po­rary news­pa­pers to the Ottoman con­sul in the Unit­ed States). My next project will be on good sex and direct expe­ri­ences with the divine, and the long tra­di­tion of con­nect­ing sex­u­al, reli­gious and polit­i­cal reform and rad­i­cal­ism in the Unit­ed States.


Previous Projects

My his­tor­i­cal work start­ed with Ambrose Dou­glas. Born enslaved in 1845, he died in 1940 nom­i­nal­ly free, the father of 38 and the sto­ry­teller at a racist reimag­in­ing of a pre-civ­il war plan­ta­tion. I was fas­ci­nat­ed with how Ambrose Dou­glas found mean­ing amidst the vio­lence and suf­fer­ing of post-Civ­il War Amer­i­ca in his sto­ries and humor.

Then, I fell in love with Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, the great abo­li­tion­ist. After the Civ­il War end­ed, with his anti­slav­ery “church dis­band­ed, and the beloved con­gre­ga­tion dis­persed,” and build­ing on his mod­el of an ide­al­ized ancient Egypt, Dou­glass became the prophet of his own vision of an ide­al world. In this world, all false dis­tinc­tions between peo­ple would fall away, as all peo­ple pur­sued “truth” and virtue. He believed that the U.S. Amer­i­can Empire could be reformed to mod­el and ush­er in this utopia for the rest of the world.

Questions for People Looking at Grad School

Here’s a list of ques­tions that I’ve devel­oped for myself, and in dia­logue with a num­ber of friends, fel­low appli­cants and cur­rent grad stu­dents. I’m mak­ing the list pub­licly avail­able and wel­come any and all com­ments or addi­tions. Here’s a link, if you don’t like the oth­er for­mat.


The Minnesingers

Here’s my lat­est trans­la­tion of one of my favorite Heine poems!

I’ve been work­ing on this trans­la­tion, off and on, for a few months now, since the orig­i­nal is so song­like. Min­nesang, or min­nesing­ing, was, accord­ing to Wikipedia, a tra­di­tion of lyric and song in the Mid­dle High Ger­man peri­od, from around the 12th to the 14th cen­tu­ry. Minne, from Mid­dle High Ger­man, means love, which was what most of these songs were about. Heine’s poem is about a fic­tion­al min­nesing­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and the toll that singing of love osten­si­bly demands of the singers.

The Min­nesingers

By: Hein­rich Heine,
Trans­lation: Daniel Joslyn

In the singing-com­pe­ti­tion
Min­nesingers take their place
Oh, what a strange exhi­bi­tion
What a strange show­ing of face

Wild, foam­ing Fan­ta­sy, they wield
Min­nesingers as their steed
And art as their shield is styled
And words are their sword, indeed.

Pret­ty women gaze, they’re mer­ry
In car­pet-clad gal­leries
No true winner’s here to car­ry
As his crown true lau­rel-wreaths

And oth­er kinds of jousters spring
Enjoy hur­dles and their life
But as we singers jump, we bring
With us mor­tal wounds and strife

And the per­son who’s most able
To squeeze song-blood from their breast
They will win, for all their sable
Pret­ti­er praise than all the rest.

Here’s a link to the orig­i­nal.

Excerpt from Heine’s “Reise von München nach Genua. Capitel XXIX.”

But What Is that Great Call­ing of Our Age?

It is eman­ci­pa­tion. Not just that of the Irish, the Greeks, the Frank­furt Jews, the West-Indi­an Blacks and those equal­ly oppressed peo­ples, but it is the eman­ci­pa­tion of the whole world, pecu­liar­ly of Europe, which matured, and now tears itself from the iron strings of the priv­i­leged, the aris­toc­ra­cy. Though some philo­soph­i­cal rene­gades of free­dom may forge the finest chains of log­ic to prove to us that mil­lions of peo­ple are cre­at­ed as the beasts of bur­den to a few thou­sand priv­i­leged knights; yet they will nev­er­the­less not be able to con­vince us as long as they, as Voltaire says, can­not prove to us that those with sad­dles on their backs and those with spurs on their feet were born as such.

Every age has its call­ing and the com­ple­tion there­of moves mankind fur­ther along. The ear­li­er inequal­i­ty, engen­dered by the feu­dal sys­tem in Europe, was per­haps nec­es­sary, or a nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tion to the pro­gress­es of civ­i­liza­tion; but now the sys­tem inhibits the same, it out­rages civ­i­lized hearts. This inequal­i­ty, which col­lides with the prin­ci­ples of soci­ety in the most petu­lant ways, nec­es­sar­i­ly most deeply exas­per­at­ed the French, the peo­ple of soci­ety. They sought to force equal­i­ty into being by sim­ply chop­ping off the heads of those, who thor­ough­ly sought to excel, and the rev­o­lu­tion became a bea­con for the war of the lib­er­a­tion of mankind.

Let us praise the French! They took cared for the two great­est needs of human soci­ety: good food and civic equal­i­ty. Both in the art of cook­ing and in free­dom they made the great­est progress, and when we all hold, at some point, that great feast of atone­ment and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, all will be well — for what could be bet­ter than a soci­ety from Paris at a well-stocked table? Then let us offer our first toast to the French. It will def­i­nite­ly take some more time until we can cel­e­brate this fes­ti­val, until eman­ci­pa­tion can be ful­ly brought about. But it will come, that age, when we will, rec­on­ciled and equal, sit at the same table. Then we will be uni­fied, and will fight as one against the suf­fer­ings inher­ent to life, maybe in the end even against death, whose solemn sys­tem of equal­i­ty at least does not offend us as much as the mock­ing inequal­i­ty teach­ings of the aris­toc­ra­cy.

Don’t smile, future read­er. Every age believes that its strug­gle is the most impor­tant of all, this is the quin­tes­sen­tial belief of the ages. This is the belief with­in which ages live and ages die, and we too want to live and die in this reli­gion of free­dom, which might have done more to deserve the title of reli­gion than the hol­low, extinct specter of the soul, which we tend to so name. Our holy bat­tle seems to us the most impor­tant which has ever been fought on this earth, even if a knowl­edge of his­to­ry tells us that one day our grand­chil­dren will look down upon this bat­tle, with maybe the same apa­thy with which we look down upon the bat­tles of the first peo­ples, who had to fight against sim­i­lar­ly greedy mon­sters, wyverns and giants.

Reise von München nach Gen­ua.” Chap­ter XXIX. in Hein­rich Heine’s sämtliche Werke: 68.

This excerpt comes from Heine’s “Reise von München nach Gen­ua.” (trip from Munich to Genoa) in his larg­er work, Reise­bilder (Trav­el-pic­tures). It is a fun and pen­e­trat­ing look at how 19th Cen­tu­ry lib­er­als and pro­gres­sives saw their world and the great strug­gles with­in it. Heine’s point, in this excerpt, is that every age right­ly feels that their call­ing is the most impor­tant in his­to­ry. Heine right­ly saw that his was the age of Eman­ci­pa­tion. Our age, too, has its wyverns to slay.

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Where to, Now? / Jetzt Wohin?

I just came back from my first con­fer­ence, and real­ly enjoyed pre­sent­ing and meet­ing a ton of peo­ple there! On the flights over and back, I had a fair amount of time, and decid­ed to trans­late Hein­rich Heine’s “Jet­zt Wohin.” Heine wrote this poem after the Pruss­ian state cen­sored his work and he chose to exile him­self to be able to pub­lish and think. This is one of two of his poems that I have found so far that men­tions Amer­i­ca, and in here he offers a scathing rebuke of the coun­try and its alleged lib­er­ty and progress. I hope to make this part of a larg­er project trans­lat­ing Heine’s either untrans­lat­ed or just not recent­ly trans­lat­ed poems.

Where to, Now?

By: Hein­rich Heine,
Trans­lat­ed: Daniel Joslyn

Where to, now? My fool­ish feet
Want to take me to Ger­many
But my mind it shakes my head
And wise­ly seems to say to me

Though the war is over now,
The mil­i­tary courts remain
They’ve decreed that I once wrote
Many a shoot-wor­thy refrain

And it’s true that get­ting shot
Would quite uncom­fort­able feel.
I’m no hero, don’t per­form
Pathet­ic and dra­mat­ic zeal.

I’d glad­ly go to Eng­land
But there is too much smog and coal
And the Eng­lish – ev’n their smell
Is nau­se­at­ing to my soul

Some­times my mind con­sid­ers
To Amer­i­ca to set sail,
To that great Freedom’s sta­ble,
Where­in con­for­mi­ty-flails flail –

But that land, it wor­ries me,
Where the peo­ple tobac­co chew,
Where with­out king­pins they bowl,
Where with­out spit­toons they spew.

Rus­sia that beau­ti­ful land
I could see lik­ing it there
But in win­ter I would hate
Being whipped by the frozen air.

Mourn­ful­ly I gaze on high
Thous’nds of blink­ing stars abound
But my own per­son­al star
On high, it nowhere can be found

In the gild­ed labyrinths,
Of heav’n has he lost his way?
Just as I am lost myself
In earth­ly tumult, midst the fray

Here’s a link to the orig­i­nal.

Emily Dickinson as a Global Figure: A Proposal to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA

Emi­ly Dick­in­son has trav­elled around the world a myr­i­ad of ways since her death. As ear­ly as the 1880s-90s infor­ma­tion about her had been trans­lat­ed, through the Atlantic Month­ly, into Swahili.[1] By 1929, at least four of Dickinson’s poems had been trans­lat­ed into Yid­dish.[2] In between, her works had been trans­lat­ed at least once into the major­i­ty of Euro­pean lan­guages. In all, Dickinson’s poems have been trans­lat­ed into dozens of lan­guages, includ­ing Ger­man, French, Span­ish, Russ­ian, Pol­ish, Chi­nese, Ara­bic, Yid­dish, Turk­ish, Swahili, Por­tuguese, Japan­ese, Thai, Kore­an and even Amhar­ic. [3] Still, only a few few schol­ars have con­sid­ered her as a glob­al fig­ure or her poet­ry across lan­guages. As ear­ly as 1999, schol­ars have dis­cussed trans­la­tions of Dick­in­sons work into Chi­nese, and, as a review of trans­la­tions of Dickinson’s poet­ry into Ger­man notes, “the knowl­edge of Emi­ly Dickinson’s poet­ry in Ger­many, by now, sure­ly extends beyond the lim­it­ed cir­cle of a main­ly aca­d­e­m­ic audi­ence,” as many vol­umes of her poet­ry and even almost a third of her let­ters have been trans­lat­ed into Ger­man in the last two-and-a-half decades.[4] In 2009, Domh­nall Mitchell, and Maria Stu­art edit­ed a vol­ume con­nect­ing Dickinson’s impact around the world. From arti­cles on “read­ing Dick­in­son in Ger­man, Aus­tria and Switzer­land” and on trans­la­tions of her work across West­ern Europe, the vol­ume con­tains arti­cles on trans­la­tions of Dick­in­son into Hebrew, Ukran­ian and Japan­ese.[5] Emi­ly Dick­in­son is a glob­al poet, and she speaks to the needs of a glob­al world. There is already a vast poten­tial read­er­ship and audi­ence for trans­lat­ed mate­r­i­al on Dick­in­son and for infor­ma­tion on Dick­in­son in trans­la­tion.

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