Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why I Don't Worry About Nov. 4, or, My Shallow Politics

by J J Cohen

So you may have noticed that I don't mention United States politics very much here. In part that absence is due to this blog's focus upon all things medieval ... but then again, our recurring thesis is that the past isn't easily separable from the present -- and indeed that the separation itself says more about the desires of an interpreter than it does about how history and temporality work. This palimpsestic notion of time is one reason medievalism hold such promise for medieval studies.

But I'm not a Bruce Holsinger or a Michael Moore. My politics are probably, I admit, too visceral and too shallow. I'm a caricature of a liberal academic, only I'm a living and breathing one, rather than a fellow from one of those university-focused exposés that were so popular in the 1980s. My destiny, I plead, was set by the circumstances of my birth.

You see, I was born on election day in 1964. My mother cast her vote for Lyndon Johnson and went immediately into labor. I imagine that she pulled the lever and the contractions began, but she denies that it happened quite that swiftly. Can I help that I have been a lifetime democrat ever since? (The one exception was a mayoral election in DC, when I voted socialist to avoid voting Marion Barry back into office). I should also admit that the blueness of my blood might owe something to having come into the world at Mount Auburn hospital in Cambridge, MA ... an, um, slightly liberal city. And did I mention that Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank were my political heroes growing up?

So I haven't much to say about politics, since liberal is one of those words I never ceded, even after Mike Dukakis did. But I will point out the following: on November 4 2008 I will turn 44 years old. I am fairly certain that Destiny will be giving me my best birthday present ever, a democrat in the White House. So to all you Barack supporters I say: stop worrying. My mom set everything into motion nearly forty-four years ago, and now we can enjoy the outcome at last.


Anonymous said...

Well happy birthday!

Anyway you prompted me to look up other things that happened on 4 November - the most interesting thing being that almost nothing happened in the middle ages. At least if you look at the main 'on this day' sites found by Google. The one exception was the flood of the river Arno in Florence in 1333 (on wikipedia). The NYT site was almost totally modern US centred and even the more international BBC and History Channel sites ignored most history before the modern.

So - as you keep telling us- we clearly need to reinvent the middle ages for the modern 'on this day' audience. For your birthday (sorry election day .. well whichever) perhaps you should ask us all to contribute some medieval event linked to 4 November?

My thinking cap is going on straight away...

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks, Sarah, for your birthday wishes. As to the challenge you present: here is Carl Prydum's answer, but it is the same as yours. Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

In the end my example was probably too long for the blog, so I have sent it by email instead as an early birthday surprise.

Got Medieval said...

I just use Wikipedia for those calendar entries. November in general was particularly bereft of interesting events.

P.S. It's Pyrdum. From prudhomme, with some long ago metathesis and a more recent ancestor who liked long tails on his U's.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Sorry Scott! I am a notoriously poor speller.

This old world is a new world said...

Happy Birthday! We'll be celebrating in Melbourne tomorrow with a public holiday: this year the 4th is the first Tuesday of November, when we race the Melbourne cup. The whole city (except the universities, natch...) has the day off, and the whole country stops to watch the dear horses run around the track. I'll buy you a ticket in the office sweep.

(Word verification unusually obscene today; mampube)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks Stephanie for the good wishes and the new vaguely obscene vocabulary word!

Anonymous said...

Happy Post-Birthday, Jeffrey.
I am glad that people were willing to hold an election in your honor. A pretty good one, too.

Also, I think that your Mandeville essay is really fine. It has ramifications for our thinking about the imagined space of medieval Europeans and the transition to a so-called "New World".
Michael Moore