Notebook: Stanisław Lem and the Holocaust

Barbara Morgenstern, photograph of Stanisław Lem, 1976, Deutsche Fotothek

A new article of mine, “Close Encounters,” is published in the 17 January 2022 issue of The New Yorker. It’s about how the science fiction of the Polish writer Stanisław Lem was shaped by his experience as a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. What follows here is a discussion of some of the sources I drew on for the article—a kind of journalistic “Inside the Episode” featurette—as well as pointers to other Lem resources online. It won’t make much sense until after you read the article—please start there! Or just go there, period. There’s no need to come back here at all, really, unless you like to read footnotes.

As ever, my first debt is to the books under review. Agnieszka Gajewska’s scholarly study of Lem, Holocaust and the Stars, is published by Routledge, in a translation by Katarzyna Gucio. Wojciech Orliński’s Lem: A Life Out of This World hasn’t been translated into English yet, and since I don’t speak Polish, I read it in an easygoing and lively Spanish translation by Bárbara Gill, issued by Ediciones Godot, a publishing house in Argentina. The Godot edition is a beautifully designed little paperback, with lots of photos and illustrations, well worth seeking out if you happen to read Spanish and can figure out a way to order it internationally. The Truth and Other Stories, a collection of Lem’s early tales, many never before Englished, is published by MIT Press, in an excellent translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. In synch with the centenary of Lem’s birth (about which Roisin Kiberd wrote for the New York Times last summer, in an article illustrated with a number of the psychedelic dust jackets that graced Lem’s novels when they came out in Poland), MIT Press has also reprinted in sharp-looking paperbacks Lem’s memoir, Highcastle, and a number of his best novels.

Andrzej Bertrandt, film poster for Tarkovsky's "Solaris" (USSR, 1972)

The Criterion Channel streams the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie of Solaris (1972), along with an interview with Lem about it, excerpted from a Polish television documentary. Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake, meanwhile, is streaming pretty much everywhere. Unsophisticatedly, I like both!

Gertrude Hermes, dust jacket for Stanisław Lem's "Solaris" (Faber, 1971)

While we’re on the topic of differing versions of Solaris, I should maybe explain that when I quote from the novel in my article, I’m using a new translation by Bill Johnston, who’s also responsible for MIT Press’s new translation of The Invincible. Johnston translated Solaris directly from the Polish original, unlike his predecessors Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox, who based their translation on a French intermediary. Kilmartin and Cox’s version is mellifluous, and I very much enjoyed it when I first read the book, but Johnston’s is more faithful to what Lem actually wrote and is also excellent stylistically (though there are a couple of spots where it could have been benefited from a major publishing house’s copy editing team). Unfortunately, though the Lem estate supports Johnston’s translation, his English-language publishers have resisted updating the text of Solaris, and you can only read Johnston’s translation as a Kindle e-book (this is the only time I will be linking to Amazon in this post). You can’t go wrong with either version, honestly, though I ended up preferring Johnston’s, even though I’m a sentimentalist who usually stays attached to the pioneer translation of a classic.

For background about the city of Lviv, formerly Lwów, and about Poland’s history while under the control of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, I consulted Tony Judt’s Postwar, Patrice Dabrowski’s Poland: The First Thousand Years, Norman Davies’s God’s Playground, Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki’s A Concise History of Poland, and Adam Zamoyski’s Poland: A History. For the experience of postwar Poland’s Jewish citizens, in particular, I also drew on David Engel’s article “Poland since 1939,” in the online encyclopedia Yivo, and Dariusz Stola’s article “Jewish Emigration from Communist Poland: The Decline of Polish Jewry in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” East European Jewish Affairs 47 (2017): 169-88. Marcin Wolk’s review of the Polish editions of Gajewska’s and Orliński’s books, “Stanisław Lem, Holocaust Survivor,” Science Fiction Studies 45 (2018): 332-40, provides details about Lem’s reticence to discuss his Jewish identity.

The one essay in which Lem did reference his Jewish identity explicitly was “Chance and Order,” which appeared in the 30 January 1984 issue of The New Yorker and was reprinted under the title “Reflections on My Life” in the collection Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy (1984). The Microworlds collection is also where I found Lem casting aspersions on science fiction as a genre. Lem’s letters to his American translator Michael Kandel were published as Stanisław Lem: Selected Letters to Michael Kandel, trans. Peter Swirski (Liverpool University Press, 2014). Swirski is the dean of Lem studies in English, and I owe my knowledge of the contents of several early Lem novels never translated into English, including Man from Mars and Astronauts, to his essay “The Unknown Lem,” which appeared in Lemography: Stanislaw Lem in the Eyes of the World (Liverpool University Press, 2014).

John-Paul Himka’s “The Lviv Pogrom of 1941: The Germans, Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Carnival Crowd,” Canadian Slavonic Papers 53 (2011): 209–43, is the definitive account of what happened during the Lwów pogrom of June 30 to July 2, 1941. (An intriguing byway: the disputes on Wikipedia over the facts of the pogrom are explored by Mykola Makhortykh in “War Memories and Online Encyclopedias,” Journal of Educational Media, Memory & Society 9.2 (2017): 40–68.) Published memoirs by survivors of the pogrom include Janina Hescheles, My Lvov: Holocaust Memoir of a Twelve-Year-Old Girl (Amsterdam Publishers, 2020) and David Kahane, Lvov Ghetto Diary, transl. Jerzy Michalowicz (University of Massachusetts Press, 1990). Janina Hescheles’s memoir mentions a cousin of Lem’s, Henryk Hescheles, who was imprisoned for a time in one of the NKVD’s prisons in Lwów and then died during the Nazi-managed pogrom. Kahane’s memoir describes being given shelter in the private library of the metropolitan of Lwów’s cathedral, an episode that Gajewska hears an echo of in Lem’s Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. I’m not going to link directly here to the Nazi-made film footage of the pogrom that I mention in my article, because the material is difficult and upsetting and I’d rather have you think twice before you view it, but it can be searched for at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website by the accession numbers 1991.260.1 and 2009.356.1 (the museum has two different versions of the film).

Communist Party inscription in a Czech copy of the Stanislaw Lem novel Among the Dead

The Fredric Jameson quote about Lem’s novel Eden comes from his Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fiction (Verso, 2007). Lem’s novel Among the Dead was never translated into English, and my knowledge of it comes from Gajewska’s and Orliński’s descriptions and quotations, as well as from consulting the Czech translation, which was published, along with the two other volumes in the trilogy, as Nepromarněný čas, transl. Jaroslav Simondes (Mladá fronta, 1959). Fun fact: in an inscription on the front free endpaper of my copy of this Czech version, a factory section of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia writes that the book is being presented to its first owner as a reward for “good work as a propagandist in the Year of Party Training, 1958–59,” which I am told was a kind of adult-ed class for Communists who wanted to go the extra mile.

Work card for Sever Kahane (7677034), US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Gajewska’s and Orliński’s books are my sources for most of the information in my article about Wiktor Kremin’s Lwów recycling company, which is usually referred to in the sources by the German word for a recycling company, Rohstofferfassung. I also found mention of the company in Witold Wojciech Medykowski’s Macht Arbeit Frei: German Economic Policy and Forced Labor of Jews in the General Government, 1939-1943 (Academic Studies Press, 2018). And there is some discussion of the Rohstofferfassung in a biographical chapter in Peter Swirski’s Stanislaw Lem: Philosopher of the Future (Liverpool University Press, 2015). Intriguingly, I noticed, while poking around the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s online collections, that there’s a record that someone named Sever Kahane was, like Lem, employed by Kremin’s Rohstofferfassung during the Nazi occuption of Lviv. I’m guessing that this Sever Kahane is the same person as Seweryn Kahane, who Gajewska reports lived with the Lems for a time during the German occupation of Lwów (he was later killed on 4 July 1946 during a pogrom in Kielce). Maybe the family arranged at the same time for both Kahane and Lem to be employed by Kremin?

Jerzy Czerniawski, film poster for Edward Żebrowski's "Hospital of the Transfiguration" (1978)

Polish literature buffs may be interested in knowing that in Lem’s novel Hospital of the Transfiguration, the mad poet in the asylum is based on the real-life Polish poet Stanisław Witkacy; cf. these articles by Wojciech Sztaba and Jerzy Jarzębski. Witkacy was a personal friend of Mieczysław Choynowski, the professor at Jagiellonian University who hired Lem to write synopses of new scientific literature published abroad.

Daniel Mróz, dust jacket for Stanisław Lem's "Cyberiad" (1972)

While working on this article, friends have asked which of Lem’s novels they should start with, so here’s a list of some of my favorites, in roughly descending order: Solaris, Return from the Stars, Eden, His Master’s Voice, Hospital of the Transfiguration (not sci-fi), The Investigation (a detective novel), The Invincible, Fiasco, and The Chain of Chance (a detective novel). And I liked the anthology Truth and Other Stories quite a bit, too, if stories are your way in.

Lem made clear his opinion of Nazis in two reviews of imaginary books. In A Perfect Vacuum: Perfect Reviews of Nonexistent Books (1978), Lem imagines a novel, Gruppenführer Louis XVI by Alfred Zellermann, about a Nazi officer who, after the fall of the Third Reich, absconds to Argentina with a trunk full of cash, trailing an entourage of opportunistic lackeys. In Argentina he decides to force his parasites to act as though he really is the French king Louis XVI, and the result is something like the HBO show Succession if scripted by Brecht. Lem responded to Hannah Arendt’s writings on Nazis in another review of an imaginary book, though this time “with complete seriousness and not ironically,” as he explained to his American translator. The essay/”review” was titled “Provocation,” and I read it in a French translation, Provocation; suivi de Réflexions sur ma vie, trans. Dominique Sila (Éditions du Seuil, 1989).

Ryszard Filipski and Jerzy Zelnik in Przekladaniec, directed by Andrzej Wajda, Fototeka Narodowa

The streaming site Mubi is showing half a dozen adaptations of Lem’s fiction in honor of his centenary, including an early Andrzej Wajda short, with costumes and sets so swinging that they make the Austin Powers movies look chaste, about a racecar driver whose reconstructive surgery draws on parts from so many different bodies that it isn’t clear whether he’s himself, his brother, or his sister-in-law. I recommend Ikarie XB 1, a Czech adaptation of an early Lem novel, which Kubrick borrowed from rather liberally when designing 2001. Orliński was the writer for a 2015 documentary, Stanisław Lem: Autor Solaris, directed by Borys Lankosz, which has appeared on Arté and Mubi though it doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere at the moment. There’s an excellent podcast about Lem produced by Poland’s Ministry of National Culture and Heritage, a link on the webpage for which leads to the Belarussian Lem scholar Wiktor Jaźniewicz’s monumental Lem-focused book collection.

Notebook: The Wilmington Coup of 1898

“City Limits,” my review-essay about a white supremacist coup that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, is published in the 27 April 2020 issue of The New Yorker. The online title is “What a White-Supremacist Coup Looks Like.”

What follows is a bibliographic supplement, crediting some of the sources I drew on. It probably won’t make much sense unless you read the review itself first!

As always, my first debt is to the book under review, David Zucchino’s Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. It’s the capstone to more than a century of attempts to bring the coup into America’s consciousness.

As I mention in my article, two of the earliest such attempts were novels by African Americans. Hanover; or, the Persecution of the Lowly was written by David Bryant Fulton, under the pen-name Jack Thorne, and was published in 1900. There’s an electronic text in the online archive Documenting the American South, though I found the scan in the Internet Archive easier to make sense of. (By the way, I’m mad at the Internet Archive right now for using the pandemic as a pretext for giving away the copyright of living authors, even though I appreciate their hosting of scans of 120-year-old books.) Hanover is a fascinating but unstable text. It opens by reprinting an Associated Press news story, and Fulton doesn’t seem to have been able to decide whether he wanted his book to be fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes a person appears in one chapter as himself, under his real name, and in another as a fictional character, under a pseudonym.

Intriguing side note #1: Fulton up-ends the late-19th-century literary conventions for dialect: uneducated black characters speak in dialect, as they often do in novels of the period, but so do some uneducated white ones. “Who ish mine frients?” asks a German grocer, for example, who, as it happens, sides with the blacks in Wilmington, since they’re his customers. The racist “poor white” Teck Pervis, who seems to be a fictionalized version of the real-life white supremacist Mike Dowling, is given a gerbilly, nasal way of speaking that reminded me of the satire of “white voice” in the recent movies Blackkklansman and Sorry to Bother You. Intriguing side note #2: Fulton hints that there’s something unorthodox about the gender identity of one of his characters, Uncle Guy, a dancer and clarinet soloist in a shoo-fly band that used to play during the black post-Christmas holiday known as Jonkonnu: “he was the embodiment of neatness, feminine in build—it seemed that nature intended to form a woman instead of a man,” Fulton writes.

Mounted albumen print of Alexander Manly, in the John Henry William Bonitz Papers #3865, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The second novel about Wilmington in 1898, Charles W. Chesnutt’s novel about Wilmington, The Marrow of Tradition, published in 1901, is better known today. There’s a Library of America volume for Chesnutt, and the Norton edition of Marrow has a great historical supplement in back. Chesnutt’s book has a more conventional novelistic shape and heft. It may conform a little too well to convention; the creaking is audible as the machinery of the love-plot grinds forward, and a child in peril is introduced to force the reconciliation of people who in real life would probably have been irreconcilable. Like Fulton, Chesnutt is at pains to give an accurate representation about the outrage that enveloped the Daily Record, the African American newspaper in Wilmington, after its editor, Alex Manly, breached taboo by writing about white women’s sexuality. In fact, sexual purity wasn’t the point, Chesnutt writes: “A peg was needed upon which to hang a coup d’état.” Instead of attempting a full representation of the racial violence that broke out in the city, Chesnutt draws an em dash and makes an aposiopesis: after noting that on the day of the massacre, armed whites challenged and searched every black they met on the street, he writes, “If he resisted any demand of those who halted him—but the records of the day are historical.” There are too many scholarly articles about Chesnutt to list here! Richard Yarborough compares Fulton’s and Chesnutt’s fictionalizations (and provides keys that identify the real-life figures behind the characters) in a chapter titled “Violence, Manhood, and Black Heroism,” in David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson, eds., Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (University of North Carolina, 1998).

As I note in my article, the third book-length fictionalization of the coup was a white supremacist one, Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The Leopard’s Spots, published in 1902. It’s best-seller garbage, not to put to fine a point on it—a pure indulgence of resentment and grandiosity. Here’s a solid if dated article about it: Maxwell Bloomfield, “The Leopard’s Spots: A Study in Popular Racism,” American Quarterly 16 (1964): 387–401.

'Destruction of the Record Office, in Wilmington Yesterday,' undated clipping from unknown newspaper, in a Manly Family Scrapbook at the Cape Fear Museum of History and ScienceI’m going to jump ahead now to the scholars and other writers who recovered the historical memory. In The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894–1901, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1951, Helen G. Edmonds comes across as a patient, commonsensical person with a sly sense of humor; a reader imagines her armed with a small pick, chipping away steadily at white supremacist gunk that has hardened over the facts. In We Have Taken a City: Wilmington Racial Massacre and Coup of 1898, published by Fairleigh Dickinson Press in 1984, H. Leon Prather Sr. painted the conflict in brighter colors and with a looser hand, perhaps because he was writing after the civil rights movement. (Prather’s book seems to be out of print, but you can find used copies pretty easily.) There are a number of useful essays in the Democracy Betrayed anthology mentioned just above, especially Glenda E. Gilmore’s “Murder, Memory, and the Flight of the Incubus” and Michael Honey’s “Class, Race, and Power in the New South.” I’ve come to believe that for every important historical subject, there’s an indispensable dissertation that should have become an acclaimed book but for some reason never did. In this case, that dissertation is Jerome A. McDuffie’s “Politics in Wilmington and New Hanover County, North Carolina, 1865–1900: The Genesis of a Race Riot,” written for his 1979 degree at Kent State University. The novelist Philip Gerard reimagined the coup and massacre in his 1994 novel Cape Fear Rising (John F. Blair). In an essay titled “Revising the Revisionists,” published on the website the Rumpus, Gerard was interviewed about the role that his novel played in Wilmington’s recovery of its historical memory. The interviewer was one of his students, the novelist Johannes Lichtman (disclosure: a friend, after I raved about his novel Such Good Work in a newsletter last year). Gerard himself wrote about his research process and the ethical questions he wrestled with in “The Novelist of History: Using the Techniques of Fiction to Illuminate the Past,” North Carolina Literary Review, 2015. The original 2006 report of North Carolina’s official investigation into the coup is available for download; LeRae Sikes Umfleet streamlined and revised this report into the 2009 book A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. It’s copiously illustrated with maps and photos. Don’t be thrown by the format, which makes it look like a high school social studies workbook; it’s perhaps the most thorough treatment of the coup, even if Zucchino’s has a bit more narrative zing. Not long after North Carolina’s report was released in 2006, the Raleigh News & Observer published a reckoning with its own legacy of participation in the ordeal, “The Ghosts of 1898,” by Timothy B. Tyson.

'Gentlemen, Day of Race Riot, 1898,' Dr. Robert M. Fales Collection 602, New Hanover County Public Library A number of the primary sources unearthed by these scholars are now available online, thanks to several web projects. In 2007, the curator Nicholas Graham published “The 1898 Election in North Carolina,” an online exhibition for the University of North Carolina libraries, where you can find, for example, the Democratic Handbook 1898, which put in writing the party’s white supremacist platform that year, and racist political cartoons by Norman E. Jennett, also known as Sampson Huckleberry, that Josephus Daniels published in the Raleigh News & Observer, including the one of a black vampire that I mention in my article. For more on the cartoons, see Andrea Meryl Kirshenbaum’s article “The Vampire That Hovers Over North Carolina: Gender, White Supremacy, and the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898,” Southern Cultures (1998), and 
Rachel Marie-Crane Williams’s ” A War in Black and White: The Cartoons of Norman Ethre Jennett & the North Carolina Election of 1898,” Southern Cultures (2013).

Also in 2007, Karin L. Zipf put together the website “Politics of a Massacre: Discovering Wilmington 1898,” hosted by East Carolina University, where you can find in the bibliography section a scan of “The Story of the Wilmington Rebellion,” the perhaps somewhat inadvertently revealing pamphlet that the volunteer white supremacist historian Harry Hayden self-published in 1936, as well as a 1954 typescript by Hayden titled “The Wilmington Light Infantry Memorial,” about the state guard troops involved in the massacre and coup (the site’s internal link to Hayden’s history of the W.L.I. is broken, so use my link here). Zipf’s site also links to “A Statement of Facts Concerning the Bloody Riot in Wilmington, N. C. Of Interest to Every Citizen of the United States,” the Baptist preacher J. Allen Kirk’s narrative of hiding his wife and niece in a cemetery after the massacre and dodging lynchers as he fled Wilmington by train (though the text is hosted by UNC’s Documenting the American South).

In 2012, the Cape Fear Museum of Science and History shared on Flickr a set of images related to the Wilmington coup, including a four-page letter that Caroline “Carrie” Sadgwar Manly, widow of the Daily Record newspaper editor Alexander Manly, wrote to her children in 1954, describing how her late husband escaped from Wilmington after white supremacists made one of his editorials the pretext for a massacre. The museum later shared on its own website a scrapbook of newspaper clippings given by the Manly family.

A couple of other primary sources: I quote a Democratic newspaperman who recalled in his memoirs that the whites in Wilmington had prepared for the coup six to twelve months prior to pulling it off. His name was Thomas Clawson, and the typescript of his memoir is available in the online finding aid to his papers at the University of North Carolina. I also quote a Populist who joked that everyone believed the rumors of a black uprising except those who invented it; his name was Benjamin F. Keith, and his memoirs, published in 1922, are online at the Internet Archive.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Third Person Project, founded by the writers and history buffs John Jeremiah Sullivan, Joel Finsel, and Trey Morehouse, recruited a group of eighth graders to track down as many surviving copies of Manly’s Daily Record as they could find. Thanks to their detective work, seven issues are now online at the website Digital NC, which is hosted by the Cape Fear Museum, UNC–Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Third Person Project went on to hunt through other surviving 19th-century newspapers for articles and squibs that had been reprinted from Manly’s Daily, and then put together what they call a “Remnants Issue” of these shored-up fragments. Sullivan (disclosure: another friend, in this case of long standing) also wrote about the Wilmington coup in his recent New Yorker profile of the folk singer Rhiannon Giddens.

Last but not least, the story of the revival of awareness of the coup and massacre in Wilmington today is traced by Lichtman in the article linked above, and also in Melton Alonza McLaurin’s article “Commemorating Wilmington’s Racial Violence of 1898: From Individual to Collective Memory,” Southern Cultures (2000).

Working-class heroes

In the 26 August 2019 issue of The New Yorker, in an article titled “State of the Unions,” I review two new books on labor, Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor and Emily Guendelsberger’s On the Clock: How Low-Wage Work Drives America Insane. Please check it out!

A few source notes: Very helpful to me in writing the review were Jake Rosenfeld’s wonky deep dive into union data, What Unions No Longer Do (2014), Nelson Lichtenstein’s humane and insightful State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (revised ed., 2013), and Greenhouse’s earlier collection of war stories, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (2008). I also drew on Philip Dray’s There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (2010), Joseph A. McCartin’s Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America (2011), and Kirstin Downey’s The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins—Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Minimum Wage (2009).

Most of the statistics in my review came from the books named above, with a few exceptions: In estimating that the proportion of union members in the labor force dropped from 12.2 percent in 1920 to 7.5 percent in 1930, I drew on Joshua L. Rosenbloom’s data, “Union membership: 1880–1999,” presented as table Ba4783 in Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition On Line, edited by Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch, and Gavin Wright (Cambridge, 2006) and on David R. Weir and Susan B. Carter’s data, “Labor force, employment, and unemployment: 1890–1990,” presented as table Ba470 in the same online sourcebook. In estimating that the proportion dropped from 35 percent in 1954 to 10.5 percent in 2018, I drew on Gerald Mayer’s Union Membership Trends in the United States (Congressional Research Service, 2004), p. 22, table a1, and on Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson’s Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey. In calculating the rate of strikes per decade, I drew on the data in the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart “Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947-2018.”

The researchers, mentioned at the end of my article, who found a link between children’s having union parents and earning more later in life were Richard Freeman, Eunice Han, David Madland, and Brendan V. Duke in their working paper, “How Does Declining Unionism Affect the American Middle Class and Intergenerational Mobility?” (2015, NBER 21638). The researchers who found that right-to-work laws suppress voter turnout and Democratic vote share were James Feigenbaum, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, and Vanessa Williamson in their working paper “From the Bargaining Table to the Ballot Box: Political Effects of Right to Work Laws” (2018, NBER 24259).

Adventures of a copyright troll

In the 20 May 2013 issue of The Nation, I have a review of Unfair to Genius, a biography by Gary A. Rosen of the early-20th-century musician and litigant Ira B. Arnstein. Arnstein started out as a moderately successful composer and music teacher, but as the music business changed, he lost his footing and in desperation turned to the courts, where he made rather wild claims of plagiarism against his colleagues.

In his end notes, Rosen points the reader to recordings of Arnstein’s songs available on the internet. For example, you can hear “A Mother’s Prayer,”  a schmaltzy song that was Arnstein’s first big success, at the Library of Congress. It’s part of a 1913 recording of a medley by the Victor Military Band; Arnstein’s is the first tune in the medley. At Florida Atlantic University’s Judaica Sound Archives, you can hear a 1918 Columbia Gramophone recording of Arnstein’s “Soldiers of Zion,” a Jewish national anthem, as sung by Josef Rosenblatt, a celebrity of the day known as the Jewish Caruso. The Judaica Sound Archives also hosts a 1922 Victor recording of another Jewish tune of Arnstein’s, “V’Shomru.” The conductor at Victor who arranged for the recording, Nathaniel Shilkret, was to become an early victim of Arnstein’s legal attacks.

If you want to judge Arnstein’s cases yourself, head over to the Music Copyright Infringement Resource, hosted by Columbia University and the USC Gould School of Law. There you can listen to the songs on both sides and make up your own mind as to whether, say, Shilkret plagiarized Arnstein, as Arnstein alleged he did (the judge’s 1933 verdict: “there was not sufficient originality in the plaintiff’s eight measures to make it worthwhile for anyone to steal them”). In a case decided in 1936, Arnstein claimed that a CBS music director had taken the gypsy-themed tune “Play, Fiddle, Play” from him; you can listen for yourself to that tune, too, as well as to Arnstein’s supposed original. In Unfair to Genius, Rosen points out that judges of the day applied conflicting rules about how to determine plagiarism in music: there was one standard in Allen v. Walt Disney Productions (1941), and a different one in Carew v. RKO Pictures (1942). The songs fought over in both cases are in the Music Copyright Infringement Resource. As are the songs at issue in Arnstein’s lawsuits against Broadcast Music, Inc. and against Cole Porter. The Cole Porter case is the show-stopper of Rosen’s book; it led to a Second Circuit ruling still used by the courts to determine whether there’s been a copyright infringement. Was a pious song of Arnstein’s degraded into, as Arnstein put it, “a song to a cow,” namely, Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In”?

UPDATE, 6:40pm: At Oxford University Press’s blog, Rosen has compiled a Spotify playlist of fifteen classic American songs that Arnstein claimed had been stolen from him. (Probably better listening than the songs that are indisputably his.)

Václav Havel’s legacy

“Havel’s Specter,” my essay on Václav Havel’s philosophy as manifested in his essays, his plays, and his political career, is published in the 9 April 2012 issue of The Nation.

If anyone wants to know what a Czech shopkeeper’s display window under Communism actually looked like, click on the gallery titled “Prague Shop Windows 1976–96” on the photographer Iren Stehli’s website.

For this essay, I consulted Havel’s plays and essays in English, as well as, in some cases, in Czech as published in his collected works, the first seven volumes of which were published by Torst in 1999. For biographical details, I relied on Havel’s autobiographical books, Disturbing the Peace and To the Castle and Back; Eda Kriseová’s campaign biography of Havel (1991; translated in 1993 by me in an earlier life; don’t blame me for all the typos! its original publisher went out of business before the book went to press and it was never proofread); John Keane’s problematic, tonally off-kilter 1999 biography; and Carol Rocamora’s Acts of Courage, which focuses primarily on Havel’s career as a dramatist. I also consulted the New York Times obituary and the chronologies at the back of Jan Vladislav’s anthology Living in Truth and on the website of the Václav Havel Library. Also useful were Hugh Agnew’s The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and Aviezer Tucker’s The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patočka to Havel. Paul Wilson commented on Havel’s word samopohyb in “Notes from the Underground,” a 2006 article in Columbia magazine. Details of Václav Klaus’s political philosophy are taken in part from his book Renaissance. Klaus claimed that the role of dissidents had been exaggerated in a 15 November 2003 column in Mladá fronta dnes and repeated the claim in a 16 November 2004 interview with Hospodářské noviny as well as in remarks delivered in English in London in 2009. Wilson’s observations about Klaus’s eulogy were published in the New York Review of Books.

Just two days ago, I received in the mail a copy of my friend Jonathan Bolton’s new book, Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism, which I’m eagerly reading and highly recommend! I strongly suspect it will be the definitive account in English of Havel’s ideas about dissidence and the intellectual milieu in which they arose.