Deep ThoughtsLife, MiscellaneousPersonal Schmersonal

From Vodka to Uncanny

Manuscript This morning I interred a dead squirrel, and other than a slightly surreal conversation with a neighbour who inquired “what’s in the bag?” (Answer: “A dead body. Wanna see?”)…nothing happened. All went smoothly, with no screaming, shoelessness, canine follies, or feline insanity.

Anticlimactic, ennit? But also strangely thrilling in its own way.

ETA: Since so many have asked, NO, it was most emphatically NOT Beauregarde. It was a lady squirrel from another territory up the street.

In other news, I’m revising the first Gallow book (again, I keep stabbing it and it WON’T DIE) and catching up on some reading.

I finished Mark Lawrence Schrad’s Vodka Politics. The basic premise–that the autocratic regimes in Russia have profited so extensively from vodka–by taxation or in other ways, like Catherine the Great’s marinating a regiment in booze as she asked for their protection, just for example–that what he calls “vodka politics” has infiltrated almost every aspect of governance and has also grown intertwined with the culture, with predictably disastrous demographic results, is intriguing and I found much to bolster it in his sources and footnotes. I especially enjoyed reading about Murray Feshbach, a kickass demographic researcher and scholar, who I had no idea even existed. There were also historical nuggets I could have read all day, from Empress Elizabeth’s ascension to Stalin’s drunken parties, and the anecdote about Nicholas II so drunk he climbed onto roofs and howled at the moon, believing himself a werewolf. Schrad’s careful tracing of the financial consequences of depending on vodka taxation for a significant chunk of the government’s budget and the various Prohibition-esque reforms blowing holes in said budgets and causing unrest was compelling.

Unfortunately, Schrad needed a better copyeditor. The homophone abuse really detracted from an otherwise stellar reading experience. My personal favourite was a passage about people so desperate for vodka they drank “break fluid.” It sounds picky, but the confused homonyms and homophones were so marked I felt like I was reading a poorly-edited college paper, full of great ideas and solid research but crippled by a lack of basic grammar study.

I’m also within spitting distance of finishing Renee Bergland’s The National Uncanny. From Barnes & Noble:

Although spectral Indians appear with startling frequency in US literary works, until now the implications of describing them as ghosts have not been thoroughly investigated. In the first years of nationhood, Philip Freneau and Sarah Wentworth Morton peopled their works with Indian phantoms, as did Charles Brocken Brown, Washington Irving, Samuel Woodworth, Lydia Maria Child, James Fenimore Cooper, William Apess, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others who followed. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Native American ghosts figured prominently in speeches attributed to Chief Seattle, Black Elk, and Kicking Bear. Today, Stephen King and Leslie Marmon Silko plot best-selling novels around ghostly Indians and haunted Indian burial grounds.

Renée L. Bergland argues that representing Indians as ghosts internalizes them as ghostly figures within the white imagination. Spectralization allows white Americans to construct a concept of American nationhood haunted by Native Americans, in which Indians become sharers in an idealized national imagination. However, the problems of spectralization are clear, since the discourse questions the very nationalism it constructs. Indians who are transformed into ghosts cannot be buried or evaded, and the specter of their forced disappearance haunts the American imagination. Indian ghosts personify national guilt and horror, as well as national pride and pleasure. Bergland tells the story of a terrifying and triumphant American aesthetic that repeatedly transforms horror into glory, national dishonor into national pride.

So far the most interesting and intriguing part of the book has been about William Apess; Bergland makes a case for his successful espousal and development of nonviolent resistance during the Mashpee Revolt of 1833 (here’s a good source) spurring Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. I’ll have more to say when I finish it–I am really interested to see what she says about Leslie Marmon Silko–but so far the book has been two thumbs way, way up and I have a list of texts she references that I should probably pick up for my own perusal.

And that’s, as they say, all the news fit to print today. Time to make a cuppa and settle into revisions once more, so I can get this book off my plate before the first of October.

Looking at that, I find myself wondering if wine might be a better bet, but it’s still before noon…

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Christine Hansen

TELL ME the dead squirrel is not Beauregarde…PLEASE!!! (p.s. you have my permission to drink whatever you need to in order to make your deadline…with the strict exception of “break fluid.”)


oooh, books with great references to pick at…


Yes, I hope it wasn’t the valiant Beauregarde!

Justin Gustainis

I would have thought that “break fluid” refers to the copious amounts of beer consumed by students every spring in Fort Lauderdale and other such venues.

Sean Coleman
I tell you this is where a nice Irish coffee comes in handy but however when you wish to make one no more than 30 mls of alcohol in case of emergency and needing to race/drive somewhere or maybe an excellent barista may be able to suggest a coffee centric alternative although I choose Irish coffee every time just keep in mind no more than one every two hours which is good enough to keep me legal in my part of the world not that I am condoning drinking and driving merely acknowledging that at times one does require that… Read more »
molly wyatt

Good morning! I would like to recommend another delightful scholarly text combining alcohol and history: A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. I’ve lately been on a kick of taking my history mixed with food (working through Salt by Mark Kurlansky right now – definitely more enjoyable than the bad movie of no relation but the same name)