Russell Shorto

Russell Shorto's website


Monthly Archives: October 2012

I Have Suffered Much

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My latest Dutch discovery is Multatuli. For those who don’t speak Latin (“I have suffered much”), that is the histrionic pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker, who in 2002 was declared by the Society for Dutch Literature to be the most important writer in the country’s history. His magnum opus, “Max Havelaar,” is wildly fresh and modern in its language and humor–almost postmodern. At one point, for example, the narrator actually hands the reader his business card. Which is all the more striking considering it was published in 1860. Multatuli’s fame derives from this book, which had an impact on the world that few novels not written by J.K. Rowling have had. Dekker shipped out to the Dutch East Indies at age 18, and rose in the colonial administration until he reached the point where he saw the nature of that system. It was built on a complex web of abuse and corruption, which involved Dutch officials enmeshed with Indonesian aristocrats, and which repressed local peasants so as to ensure the supply of trade goods to Europe–even at the risk of famine for the locals. Dekker wrote his novel to expose the system. The back story is complicated by the … Continue reading


Blank Slaters

Sunday, October 21, 2012

As the third presidential debate looms, people are wondering how to process the fact that Mitt Romney got a big boost out of his performance in the first debate while President Obama did not get much of a boost out of his performance in the second debate. I think there is a very plausible theory. The vast majority of likely voters long ago made up their minds. Of those who had not as of a few weeks ago, most seem to fit a certain type. According to Reuters, most of them lack a college education and earn less than $25,000 a year. They had not been tuned into the campaign, had not partaken deeply of the Republican primaries, and thus had not felt that they had been properly introduced to Mitt Romney. Yet they were, by definition, people who had made the decision that they would vote. In other words, they want to vote, but don’t have the time or inclination to study the candidates and issues deeply. Their determination, presumably, was that they would wait for the debates to tune into the campaign, and make up their minds then. These blank-slaters, as one might term them, approached the first … Continue reading