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Topic: ArtsThe new items published under this topic are as follows.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Why Kathryn Schulz despises "The Great Gatsby"
Baz Luhrmann's new film remodels The Great Gatsby for the present day. Below are discussions of the original novel.
Against Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s classic is not elegant, bold, or morally acute. It is condescending, self-serious, and among the most overrated books around. So says Kathryn Schulz. Schulz's article originally appeared in the May 13, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.
Why I despise The Great Gatsby
Kathryn Schulz Vulture USA Webposted May 6, 2013
The best advice I ever got about reading came from the critic and scholar Louis Menand. Back in 2005, I spent six months in Boston and, for the fun of it, sat in on a lit seminar he was teaching at Harvard. The week we were to read Gertrude Stein’s notoriously challenging Tender Buttons, one student raised her hand and asked—bravely, I thought—if Menand had any advice about how best to approach it. In response, he offered up the closest thing to a beatific smile I have ever seen on the face of a book critic. “With pleasure,” he replied.
I have read The Great Gatsby five times. The first was in high school; the second, in college. The third was in my mid-twenties, stuck in a remote bus depot in Peru with someone’s left-behind copy. The fourth was last month, in advance of seeing the new film adaptation; the fifth, last week. There are a small number of novels I return to again and again: Middlemarch, The Portrait of a Lady, Pride and Prejudice, maybe a half-dozen others. But Gatsby is in a class by itself. It is the only book I have read so often despite failing—in the face of real effort and sincere intentions—to derive almost any pleasure at all from the experience.
I know how I’m supposed to feel about Gatsby: In the words of the critic Jonathan Yardley, “that it is the American masterwork.” Malcolm Cowley admired its “moral permanence.” T. S. Eliot called it “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James.” Lionel Trilling thought Fitzgerald had achieved in it “the ideal voice of the novelist.” That’s the received Gatsby: a linguistically elegant, intellectually bold, morally acute parable of our nation.
I am in thoroughgoing disagreement with all of this. I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains. None of this would matter much to me if Gatsby were not also sacrosanct. Books being borderline irrelevant in America, one is generally free to dislike them—but not this book. So since we find ourselves, as we cyclically do here, in the middle of another massive Gatsby recrudescence, allow me to file a minority report. ...
Related audio: The questionable greatness of Gatsby: A debate
"Day 6" CBC Radio One Canada May 10, 2013 (aired May 11, 2013)
This page contains embedded links. It also has a pop-up link from which you can listen to the debate (11:39).
Much like Baz Luhrmann's new film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the latest article by New York Magazine book critic Kathryn Schulz is being met with both praise and scorn. In "Why I Despise The Great Gatsby," Schulz argues Fitzgerald's famous story isn't anything special--in fact, she finds it quite shallow. Is Gatsby, perhaps, not so great? Brent moderates a friendly debate between Schulz and Anne Margaret Daniel, a professor of literature at New York's New School and an F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar. You can also read Anne Margaret's in-depth review of Luhrmann's adaptation here.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Chronicling wars of the recent past with eyes and minds wide open: Reviewing two maverick reporters, George Orwell (Spain) and Nick Turse (Vietnam)
Below: Revisiting George Orwell’s classic account of the Spanish Civil War, 75 years on.Posted at: Sunday, May 05, 2013 - 02:30 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Homage to Orwell
Review essay by Mick Hume spiked review of books UK May 2013
George Orwell could have been killed twice in the Spanish Civil War. Once when he was shot in the throat by General Franco’s fascist forces; then when he was hunted by official Communist agents who, with the backing of Stalin’s Soviet Union, stabbed the revolution in the back and imprisoned, tortured and killed leading leftists and anarchists who were ostensibly on the same Republican side. Orwell learned the hardest way that the war against fascism in Spain was also a civil war against Stalinism.
Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s famous account of his time in Spain from his arrival in Barcelona on Boxing Day 1936 to his escape in June 1937, has just reached its seventy-fifth anniversary. Like its author, the book almost didn’t make it either. The radical journalist and author’s usual publisher, Victor Gollancz, turned the book down without even seeing the manuscript, insisting that he would not publish anything ‘which could harm the fight against fascism’ by criticising the Communists.
Most of those from Britain and Europe who went to write about and fight in the Spanish Civil War took a similarly one-eyed view and followed the pro-Soviet line. What was unique about Orwell was that he hated fascism, but also stood apart from the official Stalinist-dominated left of his time. The radical maverick wrote about what he saw in Spain, rather than simply what he was told was true – although he also warned his readers to ‘beware my partisanship’ when seeking an objective account. He questioned the ‘official’ Stalinist-dictated account of events in Barcelona and elsewhere that was accepted around the world. This heresy made him the subject of a hate campaign when Homage to Catalonia was finally published in 1938, a campaign which continued well into the 1980s.
Orwell’s brilliant firsthand account of the conflict stands apart from and well above the I-was-there school of emotive, narcissistic war reporting we witness too often today. He also attempts to put his personal experiences into some proper political context, in two chapters now removed (at his request) from the narrative text and published at the end as appendices.
Here, Orwell closely interrogates and challenges the ‘official version’ of events in Barcelona, put about by the Communists and their many international apologists to justify their brutal repression of the non-Stalinist left. As he unravels the twisting of truth by propaganda organs such as the CPGB’s Daily Worker, you can almost see the ideas he was soon to express in his novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is also cutting about the way that the Communists simply branded their opponents as ‘Social-fascists’ and ‘Trotsky-Fascists’ to avoid engaging in important political arguments. Many who express their admiration for Orwell today have yet to absorb his point that screaming ‘Fascists!’ in the faces of those you disagree with is not the same thing as making your case. ‘Libel’, as he concludes, ‘settles nothing’.
The likes of Orwell and the International Brigades who went to Spain have also often been cited in recent years by those demanding British and Western intervention in international crises, from the Balkans to the Middle East. But Orwell and his comrades-in-arms in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s were no laptop bombardiers, demanding that their governments bomb the world to freedom. They went to fight for what they believed in. Orwell himself observed with suitable scepticism the presence of Royal Navy warships off the coast during the height of the Barcelona crisis: ‘It is at least inherently likely that the British government, which had not raised a finger to save the Spanish government from Franco, would intervene quickly enough to save it from its own working class.’
Orwell may not always have been right. However, he was willing not only to fight fascism on the battlefield, but also to speak out almost alone in Britain against the pro-Stalinist consensus on the European left. ...
Related: The review article below originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.
America's shameful history in Vietnam finally revealed
Gerald Caplan rabble.ca Canada May 4, 2013
For weeks Nick Turse's new book has been rattling around in my head. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam is not just another history book. Its implications for today are both profound and unnerving. It will haunt you every time the United States launches yet another military adventure somewhere in the world in the name of American idealism.
How to convey 260 meticulously documented, explosive pages of horror stories? On every page there's a new one, barely believable, that demands to be shared. Maybe you begin with My Lai, the scandal we still all know about, the one that has borne the burden as America's shameful bad apple in Vietnam. Until now. ...
My Lai was no aberration. It was how the American brass military chose to conduct their war against Vietnam. It was just another American operation, as the archives Turse burrowed in and the eyewitnesses he tracked down all confirmed. He found a letter from a vet to President Richard Nixon, warning him that "the atrocities committed in My Lai are eclipsed by similar American actions throughout the country." It has taken until now for the world to learn that truth.
Forget about those convenient "bad apples." These deaths and casualties were, Turse demonstrates, "the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest level of the military." Whether on the ground or through "the everyday exercise of the American way of war from the air," the killing of civilians was "widespread, routine and directly attributable to U.S. command policies." ...
If My Lai was not an aberration in Vietnam, can we fail to ask whether Vietnam was an aberration among America's never-ending wars? In fact, we already [have] some answers. ...
Why does all this matter so profoundly? It's not that Americans are more brutal than other soldiers; that's a contest with no winner. It's that America fights so many more wars than anyone else, often with our blessing
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Toronto cinema: Dramatic fiction or 'Art imitates Life'? Documentary film concerning a designated KIA American soldier allegedly discovered living in Vietnam raises many difficult and unanswered questions
Photo: APA/Getty Images via Maclean's
Forty years later in a village in Vietnam
Brian D. Johnson Maclean's Canada April 29, 2013
John Hartley Robertson was a ghost of history, an American soldier who vanished in a war that was not supposed to exist. And for 44 years, neither did he. Robertson was shot down over Laos on May 20, 1968, as part of a mission by a special forces unit waging a secret war beyond the borders of Vietnam. The U.S. military listed him as MIA, then in 1976, presumed dead. ...
The documentary raises as many questions as it answers: it suggests Robertson’s case is cloaked in an elaborate cover-up by the U.S. military. Jorgensen says the U.S. government first became aware of the man claiming to be Robertson as early as 1991, and tried to verify his identity in 2006. But Robertson’s siblings were not informed. Then last year, before the reunion, the filmmaker says he was summoned to a meeting with an official from the U.S. military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), who told him Robertson’s sister and brother (then deceased) had offered up their DNA for testing. Jean, however, insists no one from the agency ever contacted the family.
And as the plot has thickened, this family of apolitical, devout Baptists have become unlikely whistleblowers. In a tragic twist, two weeks after embracing the man she has no doubt is “Johnny,” and proclaiming “a miracle,” Jean, along with her husband, was seriously injured in a car crash. Her daughter Gail Metcalf, who now represents the family, told Maclean’s they still haven’t heard from the government. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” said the retired kindergarten teacher and born-again Christian. “I love my government. I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m not looking for money or attention. But I don’t like being lied about.”
Metcalf plans to attend the April 30 premiere of Unclaimed at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival. And among the 205 titles at the festival’s 20th-anniversary edition, it’s one that festival organizers expect to make serious waves. Already it has drawn fire from the Pentagon. Contacted by Maclean’s, a Pentagon spokesperson said the JPRA never contacted Robertson’s siblings or claimed to have their DNA. He says a JPRA official met with Jorgensen only at the ﬁlmmaker’s request.
Jorgensen’s ﬁlm began as a portrait of Faunce, the Vietnam war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who found Jesus and vowed to devote his life to humanitarian work. Tipped off by an ex-soldier who knew Robertson, Faunce led the filmmaker to the story. Together they made two trips to Vietnam, with a team that included interpreter Hugh Tran, an Edmonton police officer whose family had fled Saigon in 1981.
The man they discover in a remote village seems so transformed by his ordeal, and four decades of living another life, he no longer looks like an American. His gracious, humble bearing seems more like that of a Vietnamese peasant. He tells his story, via an interpreter, of being captured immediately after jumping from a helicopter that crashed during a firefight on a Laos mountaintop. “They locked me up, high in the forest, in a cage,” he says. “I was in and out of consciousness from torture and starvation. The North Vietnamese soldier hit me on the head with a stick, shouting, ‘American!’ Then he would hit me even harder; I thought I would die. I never said anything, though they beat and tortured me.”
He says he escaped after four years, hid in the woods and was found in a field by a woman who nursed him back to health and would become his wife. She registered him as a French-Vietnamese resident named Dan Tan Ngoc, borrowing her late husband’s surname and birthdate. Robertson’s special-ops unit was so clandestine, its soldiers wore no ID or dog tags, so his old identity evaporated. As for losing his ability to speak English, that’s called “second-language syndrome,” according to Martin Mrazik, a psychologist at the University of Alberta interviewed in the film. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “The only way he could make sense of the world around him was by talking in Vietnamese.”
During the five days the family spent with their emotionally fragile visitor, his comprehension of English began to come back. And there were dramatic flashes of recognition. On meeting Jean’s husband, Henry Holley, Johnny remembered his brother-in-law “worked in the drug store;” no one on the team knew Holley had spent 15 years as a pharmacist. In Vietnam, when shown photos of Robertson’s two American daughters, he wept. (According to the filmmaker, the eldest daughter agreed to help confirm his identity after seeing video of him, but a week later, following talks with Gen. Ed Reeder of the U.S. special forces, she changed her mind.) ...
Metcalf’s family, like that of any MIA, receives annual updates from the military. She says they’ve included 32 bogus claims by men who said they were Robertson—“people in Vietnam trying to making money off this man”—but she says Ngoc’s claim was not among those reports, which she finds “kind of odd.” ...
Tom Faunce walks along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Image from the film
Unclaimed: Controversy erupts over man claiming to be missing Vietnam veteran
Linda Barnard Toronto Star Ontario Canada May 2, 2013
Visit this page for its short video (1:50) and embedded links (including a 16-page statement by the US DoD Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office).
Controversy surrounding Unclaimed, a Canadian documentary about the quest to reunite a MIA soldier with his family after he was believed found alive in Vietnam, has intensified with the U.S. military declaring him a fraud.
A Department of Defense PoW/Missing Personnel Office statement issued Wednesday afternoon says fingerprints taken in 2009 do not match Robertson’s on-file prints and DNA did not match family samples ( view documents ). The family has said they have never submitted DNA samples.
Meanwhile, the GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C., which will screen Edmonton director Michael Jorgensen’s film May 12 following its world premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs , has posted a disclaimer on its website. It links to another photocopied government document , also obtained by the Star, dated 2009 and detailing fraudulent claims.
The GI film fest will still screen the film.
“Whether fact or fiction, Unclaimed is a fascinating story about a Vietnam veteran, Tom Faunce, who dedicates himself to bringing home someone he believes to be an American GI left behind,” the statement reads.
The online world has been buzzing since the story was first reported last week in the Star, of a soldier supposedly left behind for 44 years, who no longer speaks a word of English. It was subsequently followed by media around the world, spurring passionate debate among PoW/MIA groups and veterans.
An emotional audience gave Unclaimed a standing ovation at its world premiere on Tuesday. (It screens again on Thursday and Saturday.)
But nothing has changed for Jorgensen. Nor has it altered the feelings of Robertson’s family, seen in the film’s climax having a tear-filled reunion in Edmonton with the man they say is Robertson after Faunce made repeated trips to Vietnam to make good on his vow to leave no man behind.
“I don’t need to be convinced one way or another,” Jorgensen told the Star on Wednesday. He has repeatedly said in interviews it doesn’t matter what he thinks; it’s the family who is convinced the man is genuine. ...
The man claiming to be Robertson said he married the Vietnamese woman who nursed him back to health after years of being held captive and tortured in the jungle by the North Vietnamese Army. He took the name of his Vietnamese wife’s dead husband, Dang Tan Ngoc.
Dramatic onscreen proof of his nationality is obtained in Unclaimed, establishing him as American-born.
Eighty-year-old Jean Robertson-Holley believes the man is indeed her missing brother “Johnny” after seeing him again 44 years after his helicopter crashed while on a covert mission in Laos on May 20, 1968.
Fellow serviceman Ed Mahoney, whom the documentary follows to Vietnam to meet the man claiming to be his former mentor, is also convinced the man is Robertson. He knew him on sight. ...
Revealed: Man claiming to be Vietnam veteran Sgt John Hartley Robertson, who went missing and was presumed dead 44 years earlier, is 'exposed as a fraud'
John Hall The Independent UK May 1, 2013
Green Beret Sgt John Hartley Robertson. Image from the film
Had it been true, it would have been one of the most gripping war stories of all time.
But sadly it looks as if the man found living in the Vietnam jungle, who a new documentary claims is ‘long dead’ US army veteran Sgt John Hartley Robertson, is likely to be a fraud.
News of the “discovery” of Sgt Robertson swept the world yesterday, after details emerged of a soon-to-be-released documentary that claims an elderly man living in the remote Vietnam jungle is in fact a former Green Beret shot down and presumed dead 44 years ago.
Although DNA tests had not taken place, tearful “reunions” with a former colleague and the last surviving sister of Sgt Robertson appeared to confirm the man was who he claimed to be.
80-year-old Jean Robertson Holly even went as far as saying: “There’s no question. I was certain it was him in the video, but when I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother”.
That emotional story was shattered today, however, when it was claimed that the found man was in fact a fraudster who the US government performed DNA tests on 20 years ago and whose story had been fully debunked as an attempt to exploit Vietnam’s Missing in Action and Prisoner of War groups and claim military back-pay.
According to a memo sent to a UK news organisation yesterday evening, the man claiming to be Sgt Robertson is in fact Dang Tan Ngoc – a 76-year-old Vietnamese citizen of French origin who has a history of pretending to be US army veterans.
The memo, taken from a Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office report in 2009, apparently says Ngoc first came to the attention of the US military in 2006 when he started telling people he was Sgt John Hartley Robertson.
He was apparently questioned about the claims but quickly admitted he had been lying and was in fact Vietnamese.
In 2008 Ngoc apparently began claiming to be Sgt Robertson once again, and he was taken to a US embassy in Cambodia to be fingerprinted. It was quickly established that the fingerprints did not match those of the missing army veteran.
In the documentary, titled Unclaimed and made by the Emmy-award winning filmmaker Michael Jorgensen, the man claims that he is no longer able to speak English after living in the remote Vietnam jungle for the last 44 years.
The real Sgt Robertson is thought to have died when his helicopter was shot down during a special operation in Vietnam in 1968. His name has been etched on Vietnam War memorials and army records list him as having been “killed in action”.
The man went on to tell a gripping story....
In 1991 Ngoc attracted the attention of former CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer Billy Waugh, who was involved in the capture of Carlos the Jackal and who later tracked Osama bin Laden through the Tora Bora Mountains in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Waugh led a team of investigators into the Vietnamese jungle and was able to take DNA from Ngoc.
After Waugh’s visit, Ngoc’s name became synonymous with conmen impersonating US army veterans that are missing in action. There is still a huge amount of anger among legitimate Vietnam veterans at the deception.
The Unclaimed documentary came about after Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce heard about an “army brother” who’d been shot down 40-years earlier, listed as deceased in action and “forgotten about by the US government”.
Determined to make good on his army vow never to leave a man behind, Faunce teamed up with Jorgenson to track the mystery man down and find definitive evidence that either proved he was Sgt Robertson, or outed him as a fraud. ...
The man who claims to be lost U.S. Vietnam Vet John Hartley Robertson 'is a fraud'
Robert Johnson Business Insider USA May 1, 2013
Dang Than Ngoc. Image from the film
Visit this page for its embedded links.
The subject the new documentary Unclaimed purports to be U.S. soldier John Hartley Robertson, who was lost over Vietnam [sic] more than 44 years ago. But damning evidence suggests the man, actually a Vietnamese citizen named Dang Than Ngoc, has been lying about his identity for years.
That evidence includes FBI fingerprint analysis, a recorded admission several years ago by Ngoc, and DNA testing. ...
Agencies such as the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) - that works through the Office of the Secretary Defense - first received photographs and video of the man claiming to be Robertson in 2002.
Jessica Pierno, Public Affairs Director of DPMO, told us during a phone interview on April 30, "The man in the film is not Sergeant Robertson. He's a Vietnamese citizen and his name is Dang Than Ngoc."
Pierno knows this because she tells us that FBI fingerprint analysis determined Ngoc's fingerprints do not match Robertson's and that Armed Forces DNA samples from Robertson also failed to match Ngoc's. Pierno also states that Ngoc himself admitted to investigators seven years ago that he was lying about being Robertson.
Pierno says that admission was recorded at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City by one of several Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) investigation teams assigned to Ngoc's case throughout the years.
Someone else familiar with Ngoc's story is Lieutenant Colonel Todd Emoto (Ret.)
commander of the Joint Prisoner of War Accounting Command in Hanoi from 2008 to 2010.
"In the two years I oversaw that office there were at least half-a-dozen investigations into the [Ngoc] case," Emoto told Business Insider in a phone interview from his home in Washington.
Even though a case has already been looked into and found baseless, the U.S. government mandates that a fresh investigation be initiated "every single time, no matter what," Emoto said.
"I mean this guy was a frequent flier at our office," the colonel said, his voice rising. "It totally blows my mind that he's gotten this far. He forgot how to speak English and his kid's names? Who falls for that?" ...
As reports have started coming out refuting Ngoc's credibility, and have started calling him a fraud, Jorgensen has begun backtracking by saying that the film is really about Faunce's consuming search for Robertson, and not that he believes they actually found Robertson in Vietnam.
The evidence stacked against him, Jorgensen will have to face many hard questions as to why he would make this documentary in the first place....
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Wagner's dark shadow: Can we separate the man from his works?
Richard Wagner used women, deceived friends and was constantly groveling for money to pay for his luxurious lifestyle. He held only a loose grip on reality. Born 200 years ago, Germany's most controversial composer's music is cherished around the world, though it will always be clouded by his anti-Semitism and posthumous association with Adolf Hitler. Richard Wagner's legacy prompts the question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?Posted at: Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 03:57 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Wagner's dark shadow: Can we separate the man from his works?
Dirk Kurbjuweit (Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan) Der Spiegel Germany March 30, 2013
Stephan Balkenhol is not deeply moved, overwhelmed or delighted. He doesn't brood over the myth and the evil. It doesn't bother him and he isn't disgusted. He rolls a cigarette, gets up, digs around in his record cabinet and pulls out an old "Tannhäuser" by Richard Wagner, a Hungarian recording he bought at a flee market. He puts on the record, and the somewhat crackling music of the prelude begins to play. Balkenhol sits down again and smokes as slowly as he speaks. He doesn't mention the music, and he still doesn't feel deeply moved, overwhelmed or delighted. For him, it's just music.
That makes Balkenhol, 56, an exception, an absolute one among those who concern themselves with Wagner. Balkenhol remains unruffled. He drops two steaks into a pan, and as they sizzle, "Tannhäuser" fades into the background.
Balkenhol is a sculptor who was commissioned to create a sculpture of Wagner. He has until May 22, the composer's 200th birthday, when the new monument will be unveiled in Wagner's native Leipzig. This is the year of Wagner, but Balkenhol is keeping his cool. He isn't worried about creating a realistic likeness of the composer, with his distinctive face, high forehead, large nose and strong chin. Wagner was somewhat ugly, and Balkenhol won't try to portray him any differently.
He won't need a great deal of bronze. Wagner was 1.66 meters (5'3") tall, and Balkenhol doesn't intend to make the statue much taller. He wants to give the sculpture a human dimension, avoiding exaggeration and pathos: a short man on a pedestal. But that wouldn't have been enough, because it would have belied Wagner's importance, so Balkenhol is placing an enormous shadow behind the sculpture. People can interpret it as they wish, says Balkenhol: as a symbol of a work that is larger than the man who created it, or as the dark shadow Wagner still casts today.
Music and the Holocaust come together in that shadow: one of the most beautiful things created by man, and one of the worst things human beings have ever done. Wagner, the mad genius, was more than a composer. He also influenced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, even though he was already dead when the 12-year-old Hitler heard his music live for the first time, when he attended a production of "Lohengrin" in the Austrian city of Linz in 1901. Describing the experience, during which he stood in a standing-room only section of the theater, Hitler wrote: "I was captivated immediately."
Many others feel the same way. They listen to Wagner and are captivated, overwhelmed, smitten and delighted. Nike Wagner, the composer's great-granddaughter, puts the question that this raises in these terms: "Should we allow ourselves to listen to his works with pleasure, even though we know that he was an anti-Semite?" There's a bigger issue behind this question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?
The Nazi years lie like a bolt over the memory of a good Germany, of the composers, poets and philosophers who gave the world so much beauty and enlightenment in the 18th and 19th centuries: Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven, Wagner and the Romantics. Nevertheless, the Germans elected a man like Hitler and, under his leadership, unleashed an inferno. In only a few years, a nation of culture was turned into one of modern barbarians. Is it not also possible that Germany's illustrious past in fact led it irrevocably towards the rise of the Nazis? Could the philosophical abstraction, artistic elation and yearning for collective salvation that drove the country also have contributed to its ultimate derailing into the kind of mania that defined the years of National Socialism? After all, it wasn't just the dull masses that followed the Führer. Members of the cultural elite were also on their knees.
Some were later shunned as a result, at least temporarily, like writer Ernst Jünger, poet Gottfried Benn and philosopher Martin Heidegger. But the situation is more complicated with Wagner, because he wasn't even alive during the Nazi years. Nevertheless, Hitler was able to learn from him. There was a bit of Wagner in Hitler, which is why the fascist leader also figures prominently in our memory of the composer.
It also explains why the shadow over the composer's legacy is so big. Any discussion of Wagner is also a discussion of denatured history, and of the inability of Germans to fully appreciate themselves and the beautiful, noble sides of their own history. ...
Sunday, April 14, 2013
"Algerian Chronicles": Cognizant of today's neocolonialism in Africa in general and France's invasion of Mali in particular, a look back at the war between Algerians and their French occupiers
To observe that life is absurd is not an end, but a beginning. - Albert Camus, critiquing Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, as quoted in Albert Camus and the Philosophy of the Absurd published by Vintage, 1970Posted at: Sunday, April 14, 2013 - 04:05 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful. - Albert Camus, "Three Interviews" in Lyrical and Critical Essays by Avi Sagi. Published by Rodopi, 2002. This book is an attempt to read the totality of Camus's oeuvre as a voyage, in which Camus approaches the fundamental questions of human existence: What is the meaning of life? Can ultimate values be grounded without metaphysical presuppositions? Can the pain of the other penetrate the thick shield of human narcissism and self-interest? The quote appears on p. 43
The French government continued to dither. In 1948 it allowed elections for two separate assemblies, French and Muslim, but when it looked like the pro-independence parties would dominate the latter, the colonial administration rigged the elections and began arresting the leaders. Predictably, this led to further Arab protest, which led to further French repression. A National Liberation Front (FLN) formed, demanding complete independence. It was, of course, outlawed. In late 1954, the FLN launched a guerrilla offensive, to which the French government responded by escalating its repression. In August 1955, the FLN massacred 123 French and Muslim civilians, and the French Army (along with paramilitary groups of pieds-noirs) went on a rampage, killing thousands of guerrillas and Arab civilians. The Algerian War had begun in earnest. - George Scialabba
The question of revolutionary violence was one of the most fateful of the 20th century. (As was the fact of the dangerous tendency of revolutions to become tyrannies.) Many got it wrong. Camus got it right. In the preface to Chroniques algériennes Albert Camus complained of “a peculiar French nastiness ...”. In his life, he rejected the equation of justice with revolutionary terrorism. George Scialabba recounts one such instance: "In January 1956, [Camus] traveled to Algiers to give a speech. With a mob of pieds-noirs outside howling for his scalp, barely restrained by almost equally disapproving armed guards from the FLN, which had guaranteed his safety, he delivered an eloquent plea for a civilian truce, a promise from both sides not to attack civilians. It was perhaps his finest moment politically. But the men with the guns, on both sides, ignored him."
People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother. - Albert Camus during a 1957 press conference after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times".
Resistance, rebellion, and writing
George Scialabba Book Forum USA April/May 2013
People expect too much of writers,” Albert Camus lamented in the late 1950s. At the time Camus was writing, the Algerian rebellion had grown into a full-scale guerrilla war for independence, and while his initial sympathy for the uprising led the French Right and the French Algerian settlers to denounce him as a traitor, he also came in for frequent polemical attacks from the French Left for not energetically and unequivocally supporting the insurgents. Criticism also came from the Algerian militants themselves. Frantz Fanon, the best-known Algerian writer, derided him as a “sweet sister.” Sartre, formerly his close friend, mocked Camus’s “beautiful soul.”
Camus’s complaint does him credit. He agonized over his political pronouncements in a way that the more brilliant, mercurial, doctrinaire Sartre never had to. In 1957, as the war ground on and positions hardened on both sides, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Despairing of the Algerian situation but determined to answer his critics and, with the prestige of the Nobel behind him, make one final effort for peace and reconciliation, Camus assembled a short collection of his writings about Algeria, which was published in 1958. It appears now in English for the first time, ably translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Algerian Chronicles spans two decades. In 1939, when Camus was a young journalist in Algeria—where he was born in 1913, to impoverished and barely literate working-class parents—a severe drought struck the region of Kabylia. Camus traveled there to report on it, and was horrified. He wrote a series of vivid and powerful dispatches, with which Algerian Chronicles begins.
Kabylia was a populous province that, like many other underdeveloped areas, derived a large proportion of its income from the remittances of émigré workers. During the Depression of the 1930s, when unemployment soared in France, many Algerian immigrants were sent home and new emigration was discouraged. Kabylia was already economically depressed when the drought hit, and the results were devastating. Hunger and unemployment were general, wages were below subsistence level, and there were few schools for poor children to attend. Some public subsidies and private charity arrived from France but made hardly a dent.
Camus supplied statistics, anecdotes, and indignation, all in generous quantities. He also made specific and sensible recommendations: guaranteed credit for small farmers; experiments with new crops, such as cherries and carob, and new techniques, such as drying houses for figs; the introduction of self-governing Arab communes under the supervision of French colonial authorities. More generally, he attacked the greed of the large colonial landowners, the grands colons, and called on the French government to make good on its long-standing promise to extend the rights of Frenchmen to native Algerians. The latter suggestion was particularly unpopular among his fellow French settlers in Algeria, the pieds-noirs, 80 percent of whom were poor, but not as poor as the natives, and who at least enjoyed the legal and political rights of French citizens. The reports were widely read—first in Algeria and later as a small book in France—but with little practical result. However, France’s Algerian community found that they provided ample cause to vilify Camus, and eventually forced him into exile.
Camus never again lived in Algeria, but it always dominated his literary imagination—The Stranger, The Plague, Exile and the Kingdom, and The First Man are all set there—and haunted him politically as well. (To an Algerian militant, an old friend, he wrote after one of the innumerable atrocities by both sides: “Believe me when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment, as others feel pain in their lungs.”) During the Nazi occupation of France, he became the editor of Combat, the newspaper of the French Resistance, where his (anonymous) wartime writing was widely acclaimed. In 1945, with France newly liberated and political renewal in the air, Camus traveled for three weeks to Algeria and published a series of essays in Combat calling for a new relationship between France and her colony. ...
The problem of revolutionary violence was perhaps the most fateful question of political morality in the twentieth century. Two texts are indispensable to anyone wanting to engage that question: Camus’s “Neither Victims nor Executioners” (1946) and Sartre’s introduction to The Wretched of the Earth (1961), written one year after Camus’s death but clearly addressed to him. As Sartre acknowledged in a generous obituary for his friend and adversary: “One lived with or against his thought. . . . He had to be avoided or fought: indispensable, in a word, to this tension which makes the life of the mind.” That tension is everywhere in evidence in Algerian Chronicles. ...
Related: Nobelprize.org the official website of the Nobel Prize begins its biography of Albert Canmus with this paragraph:
Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a representative of non-metropolitan French literature. His origin in Algeria and his experiences there in the thirties were dominating influences in his thought and work. Of semi-proletarian parents, early attached to intellectual circles of strongly revolutionary tendencies, with a deep interest in philosophy (only chance prevented him from pursuing a university career in that field), he came to France at the age of twenty-five. The man and the times met: Camus joined the resistance movement during the occupation and after the liberation was a columnist for the newspaper Combat. But his journalistic activities had been chiefly a response to the demands of the time; in 1947 Camus retired from political journalism and, besides writing his fiction and essays, was very active in the theatre as producer and playwright (e.g., Caligula, 1944). He also adapted plays by Calderon, Lope de Vega, Dino Buzzati, and Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun. His love for the theatre may be traced back to his membership in L'Equipe, an Algerian theatre group, whose "collective creation" Révolte dans les Asturies (1934) was banned for political reasons.
An English translation of Camus' banquet speech (December 10, 1957) begins:
In receiving the distinction with which your free Academy has so generously honoured me, my gratitude has been profound, particularly when I consider the extent to which this recompense has surpassed my personal merits. Every man, and for stronger reasons, every artist, wants to be recognized. So do I. But I have not been able to learn of your decision without comparing its repercussions to what I really am. A man almost young, rich only in his doubts and with his work still in progress, accustomed to living in the solitude of work or in the retreats of friendship: how would he not feel a kind of panic at hearing the decree that transports him all of a sudden, alone and reduced to himself, to the centre of a glaring light? And with what feelings could he accept this honour at a time when other writers in Europe, among them the very greatest, are condemned to silence, and even at a time when the country of his birth is going through unending misery?
Here is a more extensive biography of Camus.
Jim comment: Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (Les Damnés de la Terre), originally published in France in 1961 and first translated into English in 1963, is an important text on nationalism in North Africa. Frantz Fanon was a Martinique-born, French–Algerian psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer. He died of leukemia in 1961, aged 35. Fanon is buried in Algeria. As one reviewer wrote of his book:
A distinguished psychiatrist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement, Frantz Fanon was one of the most important theorists of revolutionary struggle, colonialism, and racial difference in history. Fanon's masterwork is a classic alongside Edward Said's Orientalism or The Autobiography of Malcolm X.... The Wretched of the Earth is a brilliant analysis of the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation. Bearing singular insight into the rage and frustration of colonized peoples, and the role of violence in effecting historical change, the book incisively attacks the twin perils of post independence colonial politics: the disenfranchisement of the masses by the elites on the one hand, and intertribal and interfaith animosities on the other. Fanon's analysis, a veritable handbook of social reorganization for leaders of emerging nations, has been reflected all too clearly in the corruption and violence that has plagued present-day Africa. The Wretched of the Earth has had a major impact on civil rights, anticolonialism, and black consciousness movements around the world. ...
The personal is political or Adventures in love and war
Born in 1966, I came of age at the dawn of a revolution. The past was gone; we would move on and get over it! Except getting over it, as it turns out, takes more than an ashcan full of bras and access to the pill. It takes years—decades even. My whole life, in fact, and still counting. ... The past is not gone. Or as Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Until it is, we should not be expected to get over it.- Deborah Copaken Kogan, April 9, 2013Posted at: Sunday, April 14, 2013 - 03:34 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War [Trade Paperback] by Deborah Copaken Kogan. Published by Random House, January 2002.
Fresh out of college and passionate about photography, Deborah Copaken Kogan moved to Paris in 1988 and began knocking on photo agency doors, begging to be given a photojournalism assignment. Within weeks she was on the back of a truck in Afghanistan, the only woman–and the only journalist–in a convoy of mujahideen, the rebel “freedom fighters” at the time. She had traveled there with a handsome but dangerously unpredictable Frenchman, and the interwoven stories of their relationship and the assignment set the pace for Shutterbabe‘s six chapters, each covering a different corner of the globe, each linked to a man in Kogan’s life at the time.
From Zimbabwe to Romania, from Russia to Haiti, Kogan takes her readers on a heartbreaking yet surprisingly hilarious journey through a mine-strewn decade, seamlessly blending her personal battles–sexism, battery, life-threating danger–with the historical ones–wars, revolution, unfathomable suffering–it was her job to record.
At the time, January 25, 2002, Publisher's Weekly wrote a review which said in part:
To pursue her dream to cover wars as a photojournalist, Kogan moved to Paris upon graduation from Harvard in 1988. Pretty and petite, with a sharp eye for good-looking, virile colleagues who, incidentally, could help her career, she embarked on a series of adventures that she breezily chronicles with a somewhat disingenuous naïveté. Although her publisher compares her to Christiane Amanpour, readers may find more similarities with Candace Bushnell in these episodic vignettes describing both her far-flung assignments and intimate relationships with colleagues. She traveled with Pascal to Afghanistan and Pierre to Amsterdam; Julian helped her in Zimbabwe, but forbade further intimacies; Doru was with her in Romania. When she met Paul, her husband-to-be, Kogan's commitment to photojournalism waned: she blames her distaste on the wartime horrors she witnessed. Calling photojournalists vultures who feed on other people's misery, she conflates paparazzi with photojournalists, expressing disgust at their role in Princess Diana's fatal accident. Upon her return with Paul to the U.S., she began a new career as assistant producer for NBC's "Dateline", which she eventually left to become a full-time mother. Kogan's swiftly paced story easily holds the reader's interest as she moves from her carefree days as an aspiring photojournalist to the responsibilities and dilemmas facing a working mother. ...
A female war photographer writes a memoir, Shutterbabe. She hates the title. It's a best seller. Welcome to a so-called post-feminist literary career. Deborah Copaken Kogan's latest work is The Red Book. The novel is about a once-close circle of friends at their twentieth college reunion.
My so-called 'post-feminist' life in arts and letters
Deborah Copaken Kogan The Nation USA Webposted April 9, 2013
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My latest novel was just long-listed for Britain's Women's Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize. I cried when I heard. Then I Googled it. Here are a few things I learned: it was founded in response to the 1991 Booker Prize, whose nominees were all men; it is frequently modified by the adjective "prestigious"; and it is controversial. Why do we need a separate prize for women, ask the columnists, year after year, in one form or another, following the announcement of the nominees.
"The Orange Prize is a sexist con-trick" posited a prize-winning male novelist in 2008. "The past is gone," he wrote. "Get over it."
The 2012 VIDA statistics have been out for some time now, so I won't linger over the current and quantifiable inequity—yes, even in this magazine—in the frequency with which male and female writers are reviewed today, five years after the past was deemed "gone." It's a proven fact, backed by simple math even my first grader can understand: the number of reviews of books by men is greater than the number of reviews of books by women; the number of male reviewers is greater than the number of female reviewers. Men, in other words, are still the arbiters of taste, the cultural gatekeepers, and the recipients of what little attention still gets paid to books.
What I will do, however, is open my kimono and make it personal, though I've been warned not to do this. It's career suicide, colleagues tell me, to speak out against the literary establishment; they'll smear you. But never mind. I'm too old and too invisible to said establishment to care. And I still believe, as Carol Hanisch wrote back in 1969—when I was having my then three-year-old feet forced into stiff Mary Janes—that the personal is political.
So. Let's rewind and take a look at my so-called post-feminist life in arts and letters. ...
Fast-forward to 1988: I am raped by an acquaintance the night before my graduation from college. The next morning, before donning cap and gown, I stumble into the University Health Services building to report the crime. I'm advised not to press charges. "They'll smear you," I'm told by the female psychologist assigned to my case. I don't want to be smeared. I've got a life to live. ...
Let's head on over to 1989. I'm a 23-year-old war photographer, on the eve of my first professional exhibit at the inaugural Visa Pour l'Image Perpignan photo festival. I share this honor with photojournalism heavyweights Sebastião Salgado and Jim Nachtwey. They and all the other men—except the identical Turnley twins, who are paired for obvious reasons—are given solo exhibits. I share mine with another female on the slate that year, Alexandra Avakian. Ours is called "Les Deux Femmes Sur le Front," which translates as "The Two Women on the Front Lines." Of the twenty-six photographers featured in that first festival, we are the sole women.
It's now 1998. I am the mother of two young children. I am my family's primary breadwinner, working full time as a producer at NBC. I have an Emmy, but it's no big deal: work in TV news long enough, you eventually get one. Returning to work after my second maternity leave (which left my family broke, as it was unpaid), despite my specialty in international news I am assigned three stories in rapid succession: "Putting Your Kids to Bed"; "Fussy Babies"; "Picky Eaters." I am one of the few mother-of-small-children producers on the show, but there are plenty of father-of-small-children producers in our ranks. I punt the "Picky Eaters" story and take a leave of absence to try my hand at my first passion, writing, which my (male) freshman expository writing professor had once dissuaded me from attempting, though I'd previously been a young columnist for Seventeen.
It's 1999. I sell my first book to Random House, a memoir of my years as a war photographer, for twice my NBC salary. I'm thrilled when I hear this: a new job; self-reliance; the gift of time to do the work I've been dreaming of since childhood. The book is sold on the basis of a proposal and a first chapter under the title Newswhore, which is the insult often lobbed at us both externally and from within our own ranks—a way of noting, with a combination of shame and black humor, the vulture-like nature of our livelihood, and a means of reclaiming, as I see it, the word "whore," since I want to write about sexual and gender politics as well. Random House changes the book's title to Shutterbabe, which a friend came up with. I beg for Shuttergirl instead, to reclaim at least "girl," as Lena Dunham would so expertly do years later. ...
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Anti-modernist impulses: Extremely previous lifestyles
The New AntiquariansPosted at: Sunday, March 31, 2013 - 02:54 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Penelope Green New York Times USA July 29, 2009
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For many, it seems, the smooth surfaces of modern design have lost their allure.
Hollister and Porter Hovey, sisters age 30 and 26, used a chain from Home Depot to lash a crystal chandelier to a crossbeam in the ceiling of their loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But it is one of the few contemporary objects in a habitat that embraces, among other cultural touchstones, W. Somerset Maugham’s last days of colonialism, Victorian memento mori and the Edwardian men’s club. There are also apothecary cabinets, fencing masks and pith helmets, stacks of antique luggage and a taxidermy collection that would make Teddy Roosevelt proud.
Hollister Hovey has been blogging for two years about what she considers a personal passion for this “new vintage” style. Yet the sepia-toned and “extremely previous lifestyle” that she and her sister lead, in the words of Megan Wilson, 43, a book designer and blogger with a similar world view, is one that is gaining traction beyond the Hoveys’ living room. ...
“My interests are old things from different periods,” said Sean Crowley on a recent steamy Friday night. ...
Mr. Crowley, 28, is a neckwear designer at, in fact, Ralph Lauren, and his apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, looks like its rooms were plucked whole from the National Arts Club. (His cellphone ring tone is Mouret’s “Rondeau,” the old Masterpiece Theater theme song, and his e-mail address is mrwooster, a nod to the P. G. Wodehouse character.) But the link between Mr. Crowley’s objects and his impulse to acquire them isn’t nostalgia, he said. It’s “the draw of authenticity, whether it’s an aesthetic, a recipe or a technique.”
That is how he explains a voracious interest in, for example, the restoration of English and French umbrellas from the 1930s and ’40s (his collection numbers 16). “Finding the right black silk with the right selvage was a whole saga for me,” he said.
Mr. Crowley lives with his girlfriend, Meredith Modzelewski, 26, who works in public relations for sustainable brands and corporations, and a collection of arcane cocktail ingredients, including seven kinds of bitters, that threatens to colonize half their apartment, which is already chockablock with Edwardian-style portraits, heraldic devices and mounted antlers.
“I like to cook, I like to sew, I can fix things with my hands,” Mr. Crowley said. “There’s so much to learn. I am curious — ravenous, really — about everything.” ...
It was probably inevitable. Consider the example of new-vintage merchants like J. Crew Liquor, the men’s wear store housed in an old TriBeCa bar. Or Freemans Sporting Club, the “gentleman’s” clothing store created by Taavo Somer, the architect and restaurateur responsible for Freemans, the taxidermy-bedecked hot spot on the Lower East Side. The recently opened bar at the Jane hotel, created by Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson, is a mash-up of an English country estate, the set of “The Royal Tenenbaums” and an interior landscape imagined by Joris-Karl Huysmans, the author of Against Nature, the 19th-century decadent’s manifesto. ...
Many, in fact, point to Mr. Somer’s restaurant, open since 2004, as the catalyst for the latest round of interior decay and decorative revisionism, and for making taxidermy, as Caroline Kim, editorial director for LX.TV, a lifestyle division of NBC, said recently, “a hip-yet-comforting decorating trend.”
Mr. Somer seemed bemused by his role as a tastemaker but gamely explained the thinking behind Freemans, which began life as a party location. “The idea was to make this clandestine Colonial tavern,” he said, “the sort of place the founding fathers would have conspired in.” The look, he added, reflects his assumptions about their tastes, as refined Europeans living in a rough new world: “Taxidermy was a symbol of that wildness.”
Asked why Freemans has a look that young Brooklynites like the Hovey sisters might want to replicate at home, he suggested that his own anti-modernist impulses may be shared by many others. “I look at all the glass buildings and think, who wants to live like that?”
Mr. Somer, who grew up in a Swiss-modern household and once worked for the architect Steven Holl, said the perfectionism of modernism had begun to grate. “I got fed up and rebelled,” he said.
Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, offered a different explanation. “It’s way more than anti-modernism, this sort of deep spelunking into the past,” she said. “It’s not aspirational and it’s not nostalgic. It’s a fantasy world that is almost entirely a visual collage. It’s a stitched-together, bricolage world, an alternative world.”
“Authenticity is such a fed-up idea,” she continued. “But collecting these old things, it’s like there is an aura attached to them. It’s not some prepackaged product being foisted on you by a big corporation. Too bad it’s going to be commodified. Everything in the fashion world gets hoovered up.”
Marketers, in fact, are already paying attention. ...
Related: A British pioneer of what the New York Times has dubbed the ‘New Antiquarian’ movement, Kristjana S Williams' complex illustrations leave Katie Treggiden questioning what she thought she liked.
Design Geekery; Kristjana S Williams
Katie Treggiden We Heart; Lifestyle & Design Magazine UK November 25, 2011
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Sometimes you see something so absolutely the opposite of your usual style that it stops you in your tracks and makes you smile. And perhaps even makes you question what you thought you liked.
I am a minimalist and a modernist, I like calm; I like grey. I like simplicity; I like the understated; I like quiet clean lines and white space.
But then along came Kristjana S Williams.
I was visiting graphic art gallery, Outline Editions, where Kristjana currently has her first solo show, featuring two large-scale murals of her “brilliant and daring Victorian engraving mash-ups,” which is tipped to seal her reputation as “a British pioneer of what the New York Times has dubbed the ‘New Antiquarian’ movement”.
Entitled ‘Dyragardur’ (‘animal garden’ in Icelandic) the show features her trademark style; interweaving fragments of Victorian prints with contemporary illustration and colour creating “delirious, magical landscapes, filled with impossible, exotic creatures.”
Its sheer complexity intrigued me; drew me in for a closer look, and richly rewarded my curiosity. This puzzled me, so I backed away, but the intricacy of the images and constant contradiction of their meaning pulled me in again, and rewarded me again, with layer upon layer of colour and detail.
So I decided to find out more. ...
Below: The author begins her introduction to her blog: "I'm Vivi-Mari Carpelan, a Finnish-Swedish artist resident in Wales, U.K. since 2010, and married to visual artist Martin Herbert. I have practised art since 1991, always interested in the deeper layers of the human mind and spirit and devoted to the use of symbols in my art. Please read more about the value of symbols in art in this blog post! ..."
"THE NEW ANTIQUARIAN MOVEMENT"
Vivi-Mari Carpelan storms in a tea cup UK April 28, 2012
New York Times has coined the term "The New Antiquarian Movement" in response the the increasing presence of a demand for artefacts that are reminiscent of times passed. The vintage style is here to stay for a while, as many people are tired of sterile, anonymous and mass produced modern buildings and objects human surround themselves with. This also goes for art, as the use of found imagery in the form of old engravings (copyright free, of course) inspires an increasing number of artists. My style has a name now! We shall see if this takes off or not. What is important within the context of art is to make a very clear distinction between vintage style collaging that has more to do with crafts than art, and more serious minded art that is technically advanced (whether done digitally or by hand) and carries meaning beyond the fluffy fairies with crowns on their heads that fill collaging groups on Flickr. This article picks up on this and calls Kristjana S. Williams "A British pioneer of what the New York Times has dubbed the 'new antiquarian movement'..." - I wouldn't go as far as to call her work pioneering since others, myself included, have been indulging in old engravings for over ten years, and sometimes even more. I don't even think her work is that fantastic. ...
I thought I should in this context show a few photos of Martin and myself as we dressed up for a Victorian/Edwardian themed party last week. Martin has received from me a host of accessories and clothes in a vintage style for birthdays and Christmases, and I think they suit him fantastically well. At the party, I especially admired the way men had dressed up, because it doesn't take that much to transform them from boring T-shirt dressed men in Nike sneakers to something much nicer to look at....
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Considering Edna St. Vincent Millay. The greatest female poet since Sappho?
Jim comment: Hair-bobbing, heart-breaking Edna St. Vincent Millay conquered Greenwich Village with her looks and lyrics. The greatest female poet since Sappho? I fell under her spell many decades ago. When I was living and travelling in Europe, I always had a volume of her verse with me. After a fire destroyed my library, she was the second poet (William Butler Yeats was the first) whose works I replaced.Posted at: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 07:57 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
All I could see from where I stood
Kate Bolick Poetry Foundation USA February 12, 2013
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It isn’t easy to even think about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s body of work without also thinking about her—well—actual body. This is entirely her doing. Born in Maine in 1892, she was blessed with not only uncommon genius but the romantic Gibson Girl looks prized by her era—winsome face, comely curves, heavy masses of auburn hair—and she wasn’t afraid to use them. In the spring of 1912, just 20, she put the finishing touches on her epic poem “Renascence” and submitted it to the prestigious Lyric Year poetry contest. When the editor, a man, responded with a letter praising her verse, she replied with a photograph of herself. He asked if he could keep it.
Let’s just say Millay placed fourth in the Lyric Year poetry contest but won the war. Published alongside the victors in a commemorative anthology, her poem incited a public sensation that biographer Daniel Mark Epstein ranks on par with that of “The Waste Land” and “Howl”: readers fought the verdict in letters and newspaper columns; the winner recused himself from the awards banquet. In 1917 Millay’s first book, Renascence and Other Poems, made her the muse and celebrity of Greenwich Village bohemia, and as fans of her poetry are well aware, she took so effortlessly to the neighborhood’s progressive sexual politics that she fast became its emissary. Millay wasn’t the first woman to tell a lovesick man to just get over it (“And if I loved you Wednesday, / Well what is that to you? / I do not love you Thursday— / So much is true”), but she may have been the first to publish a poem in a respected literary journal saying so. Indeed, she had so many lovers that she hardly took the time to differentiate them in her poems, much to the disgruntlement of her conquests, who’d hoped for at least a compensatory brush with immortality. Those brave or foolish enough to propose marriage—most famously Edmund Wilson—consoled themselves with her friendship, and even learned to return it in kind; it was Wilson who bankrolled Millay’s European sojourns, on Vanity Fair’s dime.
Millay’s untouchability wasn’t a pose. She kept a close watch on her heart, tracking its every surge and plunge, until her deeply felt subjectivity was her most powerful creative instrument. She was fearless with it, tripping up and down the tonal scales to evoke the slightest fluctuation in mood—defiant, wistful, exuberant, indifferent—and as anyone who has spent a significant stretch of time in and out of relationships knows, romantic experimentation is a moody business. “I’ve been a wicked girl,” she confides in “The Penitent,” in which she tries to muster up guilt for some unnamed “little Sin,” fails, decides to “put a ribbon on my hair / To please a passing lad,” and finally concludes that “if I can’t be sorry, why, / I might as well be glad!”
A generation of “new women” just beginning to flex their own personal agency needed exactly such a voice, and her use of familiar, traditional forms—she was partial to rhyming couplets and the sonnet—helped deliver her version of female independence to a public newly ready to receive it. ...
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
There's something about Mary. In this case, Mary sees herself as a victim trapped by men determined to make a story of what she knows is not a story but her life
The Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion.
Audio: The Testament of Mary (Hr. 2)
"Sunday Edition" CBC Radio One Canada December 23, 2012
You can listen to this radio documentary from a pop-up link on this page.
Queen of Heaven. Mother of Mercy. Blessed Madonna. She is the most famous mother in western history.
The Virgin Mary. The Bible has little to say about her. No grand titles. She is simply Mary, mother of Jesus.
But for centuries the faithful have given praise, offered prayers, sought her comfort and petitioned for her help.
Artists from Raphael to Botticelli to Leonardo Da Vinci have found inspiration in Mary. Most famously, there is Michelangelo's powerful and poignant Pietà, Mary cradling the limp body of her crucified son. And, of course there is music. Beautiful music. All celebrating the gentle, loving archetype.
The bestselling Irish writer Colm Tóibín has imagined a very different Mary. Gone is the tender mother, grief-stricken by her Son's sacrifice, but ready to submit to God's greater design for human salvation.
In Tóibín's new novel The Testament of Mary, he presents a woman who is angry, resentful, and guilt-ridden. Set twenty years after the crucifixion of her son, we meet a Mary now living in exile in Ephesus. She is both protected - and guarded - by two men. Though not named, they are followers of Jesus, busy with the task of writing the Gospels. They seek her corroboration of the "greatest story ever told." She is having none of it.
Frank Faulk's documentary is called, "The Testament of Mary".
Related: Publisher's description:
Provocative, haunting and indelible, Colm Tóibín’s portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity.
In the ancient town of Ephesus, Mary lives alone, years after her son’s crucifixion. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospel. They are her keepers, providing her with food and shelter and visiting her regularly. She does not agree that her son is the Son of God; nor that his death was “worth it”; nor that the “group of misfits he gathered around him, men who could not look a woman in the eye,” were holy disciples.
Mary judges herself ruthlessly (she did not stay at the foot of the Cross until her son died—she fled, to save herself), and her judgment of others is equally harsh. This woman whom we know from centuries of paintings and scripture as the docile, loving, silent, long-suffering, obedient, worshipful mother of Christ becomes a tragic heroine with the relentless eloquence of Electra or Medea or Antigone. Tóibín’s tour de force of imagination and language is a portrait so vivid and convincing that our image of Mary will be forever transformed.
Below: A spokesperson/apologist for 'Holy Mother Church' weighs in on the book. (This term is most often used among Roman Catholics as the Holy Mother Church or Sancta Mater Ecclesia (Lat.). It is used as "Designating the whole Christian Church or all Christians collectively.")
Not Your Mother: An Autopsy on "The Testament of Mary"
Mark P. Shea The Catholic World Report USA December 11, 2012
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With zombies all the rage (pardon the pun, 28 Days Later fans) there are all sorts of helpful instructions out there for dealing with them. One illustration of sundry methods for dispatching zombies pictures a man with a gun pointed at a drooling old woman shuffling toward him. His hand covers his face as he weeps in grief and hesitation. The caption reads, “Shoot, you fool! She’s not your mother anymore!”
I think of this as I contemplate the latest piece of Catholic-hating detritus to wash up on our shores from the Emerald Isle. The past 20 years have not been good to Irish Catholicism. The Isle of Saints and Scholars, having withstood Viking hordes and centuries of English oppression and sectarian strife, could not withstand the most insidious attack the devil has sent against the Irish: economic prosperity. Has corruption in the Church aided and abetted the vicious turn against the Faith there? Sure. Abusive and corrupt clerics bear very serious responsibility for the hostility to the Church in large measure.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Sin—very serious sin—has always been present in the Church, and Catholics who knew and understood their Faith did not therefore abandon it. Still less did they try to solve the problem of human corruption by telling lies about God, Jesus, and Mary. Time was when Irish Catholics knew that God, Jesus, and Mary were their best friends in a mad world.
That’s gone now. Ireland sold its soul for a brief period of Celtic Tiger prosperity and got two things in return: a media class that is now totally cloned from post-Christian England’s culture of casual anti-Catholic blasphemy, followed by a bursting economic bubble that has left it with neither man’s friendship nor God’s consolations. All it has left is spite, blasphemy—and profound sadness.
Into the midst of this devolution of the Country That Used to Be Ireland comes Colm Tóibín, the issues-filled author of (ahem) New Ways to Kill Your Mother, to deliver unto us what NPR breathlessly calls “A New ‘Testament’ Told From Mary’s Point of View”: his novella The Testament of Mary. It’s a book that fills a profound void—in the twice-annual need of God-haters in corporate publishing to find some sort of media phenomenon that will insult and blaspheme Christianity for Easter and Christmas. ...
Blessed among women: The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin
Book review by Mary Gordon New York Times, Sunday Book Review USA November 9, 2012
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has given Christianity a good name. None of the negatives that have made Christianity a byword for tyranny, cruelty and licensed hatred have attached to her. She has been free for centuries of the “blame Mom” syndrome, representing endless patience, loving kindness, mercy, succor, recourse.
The problem with all this is that it has led to centuries of sentimentality — blue and white Madonnas with folded hands and upturned eyes, a stick with which to beat independent women. In my youth, stores sold items called “Mary-like gowns,” which meant you could go to your senior prom looking as undesirable as possible in the name of the Virgin.
Colm Toibin’s novella The Testament of Mary never even approaches the swampy terrain of sentimentality. Consider, for example, the elderly Mary’s wish in relation to the Evangelists who persecute her with their insistent visits: “When I look back at them I hope they see contempt.” Traveling by ship after the death of her son, she realizes that she longs for a wreck, a drowning. “I had developed a hunger for catastrophe.” Contempt. A hunger for catastrophe. She’s a lot closer to Medea than to June Cleaver.
The writer who assumes the task of making a fictional character of someone whose life took place in history faces particular challenges. When the character’s life is a part of “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the ante goes way up. His awareness of these complications leads Toibin to make a deft strategic move at the very beginning of his book by weaving the creation of a text into the structure of his tale. It is, after all, entitled The Testament of Mary, and the word “testament,” which we might be tempted to slide over in our association with its biblical meaning, in fact suggests both the act of witnessing and the preparation of a legacy — usually composed near death. ...
Video: Author Colm Toibin talks about his book The Testament of Mary
Washington Post USA December 23, 2012
Author Colm Toibin sat down with The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn to discuss his approach to writing The Testament of Mary and his relationship with the Catholic church. (Video interview, 6:27.)
Sunday, December 23, 2012
The artistic legacy of the Great War
“When the guns talk,” goes a proverb, “the muses fall silent.” Nonsense. War stimulates creativity. The Great War was the great exception. Art and politics, in 1915, were self-selecting elites united in their helplessness in the face of the forces they had unleashed.Posted at: Sunday, December 23, 2012 - 04:29 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The artistic legacy of the Great War
Norman Lebrecht Standpoint. UK January/February 2013
Proverbs can be misleading. The old Russian saying "when the guns talk, the muses fall silent" is generally disproved by history. Wars tend to stimulate a creative response from artists, as well as a public appetite for cultural reassurance. Goethe, Jane Austen and Beethoven flourished through Napoleon's campaigns, Verdi composed during the Risorgimento while Victor Hugo vividly recorded the 1871 siege of Paris. Sales of books and music rise in wartime. Theatres, where open, are packed.
The Great War is the great exception. Amid mass mobilisation, trench misery and millions of fatalities, artists were unable to respond. Between 1914 and 1918, barely one lasting opera was born, the symphony stalled and literature dried up.
George Bernard Shaw, the foremost English-language dramatist, wrote only minor works for the stage between Pygmalion (1913) and Heartbreak House (1919). Thomas Mann, Germany's major novelist, published no fiction between Death in Venice (1912) and The Magic Mountain (1924). Richard Strauss, the pre-eminent German composer, yielded an overblown Alpine Symphony and little else.
Jean Sibelius managed one symphony, his fifth, but it was so flawed that he had to revise it twice after the war. Giacomo Puccini moped in Lucca. Henri Matisse withdrew to a safe style in the south of France. Edith Wharton became a social worker, Maurice Ravel an ambulance driver, Oskar Kokoschka a casualty, Rachmaninov an exile. The painter Max Ernst, conscripted to the German Army, wrote: "On August 1, 1914, Max Ernst died. He was resurrected on November 11, 1918 as a young man who wished to find the myth of his day."
Cultural losses were severe. Spain's most successful composer, Enrique Granados, was drowned at sea in a U-boat attack while returning home from a Metropolitan Opera premiere. The German Expressionist Franz Marc, renowned for blue horses, was killed at Verdun. The inspirational French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska died at Neuville. Saki, the English short-story writer, fell to a German sniper. The British war poets—Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen, who declared "my subject is war, and the pity of war"—earned a posthumous fame.
Poetry turned surprisingly popular, a tendency easily explained. A poem could be written in a trench on a single sheet of paper; a slim book of poetry slipped easily into the pocket of a combat jacket. War was kind to terse verse, cruel to the longer forms. There was no fiction of quality for almost a decade, until Ernest Hemingway, Robert Graves and Erich Maria Remarque published frontline novels of gritty realism. ...
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Election by connection. No, no! Not today but in ancient Rome
Politics in the age of Caesar: “Surround yourself with the right people.” “Give people hope.” “Know the weaknesses of your opponents.” Sound familiar?Posted at: Sunday, November 11, 2012 - 06:15 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Election by connection
Book review by Mary Beard The New York Review of Books USA November 22, 2012 edition
How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero, translated from the Latin and with an introduction by Philip Freeman Princeton University Press, 99 pp., US$9.95
During the British election campaign in 2010, I was asked by BBC radio to interview Boris Johnson—keen classicist, mayor of London, Tory maverick, and not yet rumored (as he is now) to be aiming to replace David Cameron as prime minister and party leader. Our subject was to be one of the most intriguing works of ancient literature to have survived, the “Handbook on Electioneering” (Commentariolum Petitionis in Latin), a short text said to have been written by Quintus Cicero, advising his more famous brother Marcus on how to run a Roman election campaign, in 64 BCE—who to chat up, where to be seen, and what to say.
The BBC is closely scrutinized during elections for any suggestion of bias, and it is bound by a series of rules, which insist that each party get its fair share of airtime (minutely calibrated from the big players down to the special-interest minority groups who field a candidate or two). This was a perfect alibi for talking about politics safely: to have an academic, with no formal political affiliation, talking to an idiosyncratic politician who was not standing for election, about a guide to elections written two thousand years ago.
Predictably, Boris (and he is the only British politician regularly known by his first name) was extremely interested in Quintus Cicero’s advice, and found all kinds of modern parallels. He was particularly taken with the suggestion that a politician was well advised to lie his way into popular favor, or at least that he should promise more than he could deliver. “After all,” as Philip Freeman translates it in his new version of the text, “if a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends.” “Exactly,” said Boris. “That is just how modern politics works.”
In fact, this “Handbook on Electioneering” is rather more complicated than it appears. There has long been some doubt on whether it really was written by the second-rate Quintus, attempting to instruct his much smarter elder brother in how to reach the consulship. Why, after all, would it have been preserved? And why did Marcus need Quintus’ advice? Many critics have suspected that it was a nostalgic fiction—or rhetorical exercise—of the early imperial period, written decades after popular elections had ended under Roman autocratic rule. But at the same time, most critics have imagined that it nevertheless represented much of the reality of Roman political competition; and that’s partly because it can seem so close to our own.
Philip Freeman’s translation of the “Handbook”—How to Win an Election—is a timely new edition for the US 2012 campaign, and it emphasizes the familiar. The introduction pinpoints all sorts of twenty-first-century-style advice in the ancient text. “Surround yourself with the right people”: every politician, whether in the first century BCE or the twenty-first century CE, needs a staff he can trust. Or “Give people hope”: because every voter wants to believe in someone, and to believe that life will get better. Or “Know the weaknesses of your opponents—and exploit them”: rumors of corruption or sex scandals work especially well.
These topical references make the “Handbook” a more popular text than its author (whether Quintus Cicero or some nostalgic academic one hundred years later) could ever have imagined. But the truth is that it is not quite so familiar as it is often made to appear. ...
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Contemporary American novelists: The Theory Generation
theory (noun): A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena ...Posted at: Sunday, October 28, 2012 - 01:40 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking. Depending on the context, the results might for example include generalized explanations of how nature works, or even how divine or metaphysical matters are thought to work. The word has its roots in ancient Greek, but in modern use it has taken on several different related meanings. One modern group of meanings emphasizes the speculative and generalizing nature of theory. For example in the arts and philosophy, the term "theoretical" may be used to describe ideas and empirical phenomena which are not easily measurable. ... - Theory, Wikipedia, last modified October 13, 2012
The Theory Generation. Franzen, Eugenides, Egan, and Lipsyte were educated while Derrida and Foucault ruled the humanities. Their novels reflect this, uneasily. n+1 is a print magazine of politics, literature, and culture published three times yearly. Yhe website is updated with new, usually web-only content several times each week. Nicholas Dames is the Theodore Kahan Professor in the Humanities and a professor in the English Department, Columbia University. Columbia's Department of English and Comparative Literature has played a significant role in the history of literary study in the United States and abroad since its inception in 1910.
British novelists ... often take on Theory and theorists through the question of literary biography after the “death of the author,” as in A. S. Byatt’s Possession or Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child. For most American writers Theory is less a matter of how to think of a writer’s life than how to think of a student’s. - Nicholas Dames
The Theory Generation
Book review by Nicholas Dames n+ 1 USA Issue 14 Webposted October 24, 2012
Teju Cole. Open City. Random House, 2011.
Jennifer Egan. A Visit From the Goon Squad. Knopf, 2010.
Jeffrey Eugenides. The Marriage Plot. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
Ben Lerner. Leaving the Atocha Station. Coffee House Press, 2011.
Sam Lipsyte. The Ask. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.
Lorrie Moore. A Gate at the Stairs. Knopf, 2010.
If you studied the liberal arts in an American college anytime after 1980, you were likely exposed to what is universally called Theory. Perhaps you still possess some recognizable talismans: that copy of The Foucault Reader, with the master’s bald head and piercing eyes emblematic of pure intellection; A Thousand Plateaus with its Escher-lite line-drawing promising the thrills of disorientation; the stark, sickly-gray spine of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics; a stack of little Semiotext(e) volumes bought over time from the now-defunct video rental place. Maybe they still carry a faint whiff of rebellion or awakening, or (at least) late-adolescent disaffection. Maybe they evoke shame (for having lost touch with them, or having never really read them); maybe they evoke disdain (for their preciousness, or their inability to solve tedious adult dilemmas); maybe they’re mute. But chances are that, of those studies, they are what remain. And you can walk into the homes of friends and experience the recognition, wanly amusing or embarrassing, of finding the very same books.
If so, you belong to what might be called the Theory Generation; and it has recently become evident that some of its members have been thinking back on their training. They are doing so, moreover, in a form older than Theory, a form that Theory has done much to denaturalize and demystify (OK, “deconstruct”): the more or less realist novel, which describes individual lives in a fairly linear manner in conventional, if elegant or well-crafted, prose. ...
Why such a low-stakes portrayal of what a humanistic education gives you? Because the habit of diagnostic, symptomatic analysis these characters embody is not defeated by the fiendishly well-encoded secrets of Capital or Power so much as rendered inert by a world without secrets, or symptoms, at all. Who needs to reveal the codes through which ideology speaks when ideology speaks plainly? When power dispenses with alibis? ...
Sunday, October 21, 2012
As he pleased: Plumbing the mystery of the first-person George Orwell
Publisher's description for the US edition (Liveright, August 2012).Posted at: Sunday, October 21, 2012 - 02:24 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
This groundbreaking volume, never before published in the United States, at last introduces the interior life of George Orwell, the writer who defined twentieth-century political thought. Written as individual books throughout his career, the eleven surviving diaries collected here record Orwell’s youthful travels among miners and itinerant laborers, the fearsome rise of totalitarianism, the horrific drama of World War II, and the feverish composition of his great masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984 (which have now sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author). Personal entries cover the tragic death of his first wife and Orwell’s own decline as he battled tuberculosis. Exhibiting great brilliance of prose and composition, these treasured dispatches, edited by the world’s leading Orwell scholar, exhibit “the seeds of famous passages to come” (New Statesman) and amount to a volume as penetrating as the autobiography he would never write. 30 illustrations
George Orwell the anti-Semite. A public advocate of tolerance, he was a bigot in private. His racism was more than an embarrassing tic, more than an emblem of his times. Jack Shafer, who reviews Orwell's recently published (in the USA) diaries below, writes a column about the press and politics for Reuters.
As he pleased
Jack Shafer BookForum USA Sept/Oct/Nov 2012
We know from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four that he thought of the diary as a potentially seditious form. Diaries are not illegal in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four because nothing is—Airstrip One’s legal code has been abolished. But Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, understands the consequences of committing his private thoughts and personal observations to the page well before he lifts his pen to print the words “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER.” “If detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labor camp,” Orwell wrote. As Smith prepares to scribble his first passage, he asks himself why he’s keeping a diary, and surmises that it’s a letter to the future, to the unborn.
Diaries aren’t just generational time tunnels or rebellions against the state—they can also serve as self-dossiers, self-indictments, and confessions, as Smith also comes to learn. Orwell discovered the same during his adventures as a militiaman in the Spanish Civil War when police confiscated a wartime diary (or two) of his from his wife’s Barcelona hotel room in 1937 during a raid. According to Peter Davison, an Orwell scholar and the editor of this volume, the diary may have been forwarded to Moscow—which considered him a Socialist enemy of communism—and added to the archive of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.
Another Orwell diary that appears to be MIA dates from the mid-1920s, when he was working in Burma as a colonial policeman. It has never surfaced and probably never will—though Orwell published a fictionalized account of his Burmese tour of duty in the 1934 novel Burmese Days. The surviving eleven diaries have been collected here under the sensible title Diaries and annotated expertly by Davison.
Fantasize all you want about Orwell’s lost volumes, but you’re probably wasting your time. Orwell produced six novels, most of them loosely autobiographical; three nonfiction books; and hundreds of reviews, editorials, and essays, as well as pamphlets, poems, radio broadcasts, and war dispatches. He was a literary fat-rendering plant when it came to reducing the raw material of his notes and diaries into something more distilled, as well-known works such as Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Homage to Catalonia all attest. Had Orwell turned himself inside out and hauled himself up a flagpole we couldn’t have gotten a better look at him. ...
Davison informs us that Orwell invested little energy in preserving the manuscripts of his published work. The likely reason the Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four typescripts still exist, says Davison, is because Orwell didn’t “live long enough to destroy them.” But he valued these diaries, and made certain they survived, probably, like other literary diary keepers, in case his next novel called for the melancholy sounds of ice clanging, or he needed to wake memories of the Blitz, the souk, or the simple excitement of seeing the gold-crested wren for a new essay. ...
Penguin published Orwell's diaries in the UK in 2010. That edition is reviewed below.
Diaries, by George Orwell
Book review by Nicholas Lezard Guardian UK June 12, 2010
On 27 March 1940 George Orwell, or Eric Blair if you prefer, found it was "still impossible to sow seeds", but applied wood-ash to his onion bed, noted that the tadpoles were almost fully formed and beginning to wriggle their tails, and sold 20 eggs for 2s 10d. That is all. Didn't he know there was a war on?
Of course, he knew perfectly well that there was; his concentration on the domestic is one indication that hostilities had not reached the point where one could think about little else. The war diaries begin in earnest detail on 28 May, with the Belgian capitulation and retreat of the British Expeditionary Force to Dunkirk.
Much in here will be familiar to those who have thoroughly read Orwell's oeuvre. The hop-picking diary is reworked for sections of Down and Out in Paris and London; we have the embryo for The Road to Wigan Pier; the Morocco diary was reworked for his piece "Marrakech"; and the wartime diaries were purposefully written with an eye towards eventual publication.
But that doesn't even begin to make the Diaries redundant, or otiose. In fact, not only do you not have to be an Orwell nut in order to enjoy them: they can be read by anyone who is interested in daily life between 1931 and 1949. There are gaps: the diaries between March 1936 and September 1938 were confiscated by the NKVD and are probably still gathering dust somewhere in their archives; and bomb damage, inter alia, did for the second half of the war. But this leaves us plenty to be going on with. Orwell was a meticulous observer of the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, and there is something pleasing in the fact that he is aware not only of the larger picture (with a few hostages to fortune: in 1940, he wrote: "When you see how the wealthy are still behaving, in what is manifestly developing into a revolutionary war, you think of St Petersburg in 1916." Revolutionary? Well, perhaps, but only if you stretch the definition somewhat) but also of the minutiae of housekeeping. You can actually learn something about gardening, as well as keeping hens and goats; Orwell was a devoted and assiduous smallholder. One of the minor pleasures of the book are the reproductions of Orwell's own sketches of the lathes used by carpenters in Morocco, the stirrups used by Arab horsemen and charcoal braziers – "the charcoal can be started with very little paper & wood & smoulders for hours". Why is this so pleasing? I suppose it is because it makes Orwell, already one of the most human and intimate of writers, even more vivid for us. It is as if we are with him. ...
It's also worth noting Peter Davison's exemplary editorial work. Not only does he do a first-rate job of intercalating (a word I do not think I had hitherto come across, and for which I am very grateful) various diaries to produce a seamless chronological narrative, but he leaves in some of Orwell's misspellings (there is something comforting in knowing that he wasn't perfect), and annotates everything that needs to be annotated. If he errs on the side of inclusiveness, then so much the better. ...
Related:Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, Washington's Pakistan meltdown
Tom Englehardt and Dilip Hiro TomDispatch USA October 18, 2012
Visit this page for its embedded links.
In 1948, George Orwell published his classic dystopian novel 1984, flipping the numbers in the publication year to speed us into a future that is now, of course, 28 years in our past. In that book, he imagined a three-superpower world of regularly shifting alliances in which war was a constant but its specific nature eternally forgotten. As he wrote, “To trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one.”
Of course, predicting the future is a perilous thing. Instead of three squabbling superpowers ruling the globe, we have one (in visible decline), and yet there are some eerie real-world parallels to Orwell’s fiction. ...
These days, how often does anyone remember that a number of our present foes, the evil terrorists who must be destroyed, were our former pals and heroes. ... If this is commonplace history, isn’t it Orwellian, 11 years into our second Afghan War in three decades, how seldom it’s ever mentioned? And given today’s post, toss this into the hopper: there’s an even stranger part of the story that Orwell didn’t imagine, and it concerns neighboring Pakistan, a country that seems eternally to be both ally and enemy (frenemy?), so much so that it’s almost impossible to sort out Washington’s two Pakistans. That’s why TomDispatch called on Dilip Hiro, South Asia expert and author most recently of Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia, to do the job for us and make some sense of one of the stranger relationships on the face of the Earth. ... Tom
The Alliance from Hell
How the U.S. and Pakistan Became the Dysfunctional Nuclear Family of International Relations
By Dilip Hiro
The United States and Pakistan are by now a classic example of a dysfunctional nuclear family (with an emphasis on “nuclear”). While the two governments and their peoples become more suspicious and resentful of each other with every passing month, Washington and Islamabad are still locked in an awkward post-9/11 embrace that, at this juncture, neither can afford to let go of.
Washington is keeping Pakistan, with its collapsing economy and bloated military, afloat but also cripplingly dependent on its handouts and U.S.-sanctioned International Monetary Fund loans. Meanwhile, CIA drones unilaterally strike its tribal borderlands. Islamabad returns the favor. It holds Washington hostage over its Afghan War from which the Pentagon won’t be able to exit in an orderly fashion without its help. By blocking U.S. and NATO supply routes into Afghanistan (after a U.S. cross-border air strike had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers) from November 2011 until last July, Islamabad managed to ratchet up the cost of the war while underscoring its indispensability to the Obama administration.
At the heart of this acerbic relationship, however, is Pakistan’s arsenal of 110 nuclear bombs which, if the country were to disintegrate, could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, possibly from inside its own security establishment. As Barack Obama confided to his aides, this remains his worst foreign-policy nightmare, despite the decision of the U.S. Army to train a commando unit to retrieve Pakistan’s nukes, should extremists seize some of them or materials to produce a “dirty bomb” themselves. ...
Thursday, September 27, 2012
From the ruins of empire: "A Kipling-esque rhetoric about bringing free trade and humane governance to 'lesser breeds outside the law' has resonated again in the Anglo-American public sphere"
Pankaj Mishra. Photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images. Mishra's book is published by Penguin (Allen Lane) in the UK (August 2012); by Doubleday in Canada (September 2012).
Penguin Allen Lane publisher's description:
The Victorian period, viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. Foreign soldiers and merchants tore apart the great empires which had once formed the heart of civilization. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire, burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, or humiliated the bankrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire, it was clear that for Asia to recover a vast intellectual effort would be required.
Pankaj Mishra's fascinating, highly entertaining new book tells the story of a remarkable group of men from across the continent who met the challenge of the West. Incessantly travelling, questioning and agonising, they both hated the West and recognised that an Asian renaissance needed to be fuelled in part by engagement with the enemy. Through many setbacks and wrong turns, a powerful, contradictory and ultimately unstoppable series of ideas were created that now lie behind everything from the Chinese Communist Party to Al Qaeda, from Indian nationalism to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mishra allows the reader to see the events of two centuries anew, through the eyes of the journalists, poets, radicals and charismatics who criss-crossed Europe and Asia. Sitting in the midst of ruins of the old empires which now seemed doomed to permanent partition by predatory foreigners, these thinkers created the ideas which in turn were to doom the new empires, and which lie behind the powerful Asian nations of the twenty-first century.
The Doubleday descrption edits the last paragraph to read:
Mishra allows the reader to see the events of two centuries anew, through the eyes of the journalists, poets, radicals and charismatics who criss-crossed Europe and Asia and created the ideas which lie behind the powerful Asian nations of the twenty-first century.
Below: The central event of the modern era is Asia's emergence from the ravages of western imperialism. In Britain, meanwhile, Niall Ferguson is an ardent 'neo-imperialist'. Why can't we escape our narcissistic version of history, asks Pankaj Mishra.
The ruins of empire: Asia's emergence from western imperialism
Pankaj Mishra Guardian UK July 27, 2012
Raffles Place, Singapore … 'European withdrawal after the second world war was never in doubt.' Photograph: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images. Visit this page for its embedded links.
The British empire, George Orwell wrote, was "despotism with theft as its final object". So what has made imperialism an intellectual fashion in our own time, reopening hoary disputes about whether it was good or bad? After five years as a colonial policeman in Burma, where he found himself shooting an elephant to affirm the white man's right to rule, Orwell was convinced that the imperial relationship was that of "slave and master". Was the master good or bad? "Let us simply say," Orwell wrote, "that this control is despotic and, to put it plainly, self-interested." And "if Burma derives some incidental benefit from the English, she must pay dearly for it."
Orwell's hard-won insights were commonplace truisms for millions of Asians and Africans struggling to end western control of their lands. Their descendants can only be bewildered by the righteous nostalgia for imperialism that has recently seized many prominent Anglo-American politicians and opinion-makers, who continue to see Asia through the narrow perspective of western interests, leaving unexamined and unimagined the collective experiences of Asian peoples.
Certainly, as Joseph Conrad wrote in 1902, "the conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." Two years after Conrad published Heart of Darkness, Roger Casement, then a British diplomat, revealed in a report that half of the population of Belgian-ruled Congo – nearly 10 million people – had perished under a brutal regime where beheadings, rape and genital mutilation of African labourers had become the norm. Such overt violence and terror is only a small part of the story of European domination of Asia and Africa, which includes the slow-motion slaughter of tens of million in famines caused by unfettered experiments in free trade – and plain callousness (Indians, after all, would go on breeding "like rabbits", Winston Churchill argued when asked to send relief during the Bengal famine of 1943-44).
The unctuous belief that British imperialists, compared to their Belgian and French counterparts, were exponents of fair play has been dented most recently by revelations about mass murder and torture during the British suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. Nevertheless, in one of the weirdest episodes of recent history, a Kipling-esque rhetoric about bringing free trade and humane governance to "lesser breeds outside the law" has resonated again in the Anglo-American public sphere. ...
Audio "From the Ruins of Empire: Pankaj Mishra"
"The Current" CBC Radio One Canada September 25, 2012
You can listen to this interview from a pop-up link on the page.
For a long time, The West has considered itself superior to The Rest. Often ignoring the advances and the thinking of the Orient and Asia. Pankaj Mishra shatters that smugness with his own history of those who have shaped Asia to the point where Asia is now shaping the world. Pankaj Mishra has staked different ground in this debate with his new book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia. Pankaj Mishra sits down with us for a feature interview.
In 1889, when Britain was an imperial power and much of world map was coloured pale pink, Rudyard Kipling wrote, "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."
Colonized peoples often bristled under the grip of the military, economic and cultural might of the European colonial powers. Even now, relations between the west and east don't have to deteriorate very much before historical grievances violently tumble into the present.
The British historian Niall Ferguson stepped into this with a book last year called Civilization: The West and the Rest, in which he argues there were six killer apps that allowed Europe to dominate the world for 400 years that essentially made the West better than the rest. We interviewed Niall Ferguson on The Current last December, here is that interview.
Now, Pankaj Mishra has staked different ground in this debate with his new book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia. Pankaj Mishra is an Indian journalist and author. He joined us in our Toronto studio.
This segment was produced by The Current's Chris Wodskou.
Related: Why you can't just think the West away.
From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, By Pankaj Mishra
Book review by Nikhil Kumar The Independent UK August 19, 2012
The political currents that ran through Asia in the first half of the 20th century and the final portion of the 19th are well known (if not always well understood). Programmes for independence, revolution and reform, where they succeeded, have been elevated to founding lores; the men and women who led them have been inducted into history books. But the intellectual currents – the ballast underlying these thrusts – have been largely forgotten in this myth-making process. From the Ruins of Empire, Pankaj Mishra's survey of the early modern Asian responses to Western imperialism, arrives as a timely corrective, just as these countries undergo fresh – if different – convulsions.
The book is anchored on a clutch of lesser known men who by turns appear intelligent, idealistic, naive and insightful; classic intellectuals, in other words, who attempted to respond to the power of the West, to both its imperialism and its conception of modernity. The author turns to itinerant scholars and reformers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao, whose responses continue to shape and inform political debate across Asia and the Middle East. But, to Mishra's credit, this book is not a celebration of the East and Eastern thinkers in the way that some modern accounts of Western empires are – whether intentionally or not – tributes to marauding imperialists. (For that is what the latter were, regardless of their skill at laying railway tracks in far-off lands.)
Mishra's subjects set out to take on Western imperial power with little more than ideas, and in the process they enriched both their societies and the world at large. But, as the author admits in an essay at the end, "the course of history has bypassed many of their fondest hopes".
Today, it is undoubtedly true that "the spell of Western power" to which the early modern intellectuals of Asia sought to respond has been broken, and the "sense of humiliation that burdened several generations of Asians has greatly diminished". But, as Mishra bemoans, "this success conceals an immense intellectual failure ... no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy, even though the latter seem increasingly febrile and dangerously unsuitable in large parts of the world."
When East met West and lost its way
Book review by Aditya Menon India Today India August 19, 2012
This item seems to deny cutting and pasting, so no excerpt. But it is worth reading.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Neverending stories: The irresistible fairy tale
Fairy tales are memes, told and retold across generations until only the fittest survive to shape the way humans live together. Do fairy tales still have appeal? Perhaps the world’s stubborn refusal to grant our wishes lies behind the sudden revival of old stories.Posted at: Sunday, September 23, 2012 - 02:37 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Review essay by Adam Kirsch Prospect Magazine UK August 22, 2012
"Little Red Riding Hood" (Illustration by Margaret W. Tarrant): Classic fairy tales give voice to the powerless, says the academic Jack Zipes.
The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre
By Jack Zipes (Princeton, £19.95)
Grimm Tales: For Young and Old
By Philip Pullman (Penguin Classics, £20)
Long Ago and Far Away: Eight Traditional Fairy Tales
Introduction by Marina Warner (Hesperus Press, £10)
It has been more than 70 years since Walter Benjamin, in his classic essay “The Storyteller,” declared that telling stories was obsolete. “Less and less frequently do we encounter people with the ability to tell a tale properly,” Benjamin complained. “It is as if something that seemed inalienable to us, the securest among our possessions, were taken from us: the ability to exchange experiences.” For most of us in the western world, our first experience of our culture’s classic stories—Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood—does not come through a wise man or woman sitting before an audience, spellbinding us with words. It is in print or through images that we learn our culture’s foundational stories.
This development has led to a certain nostalgia about the mere act of telling a story. In his novel The Storyteller, Mario Vargas Llosa writes lovingly about the raconteurs of the Machiguenga people, a remote Amazonian tribe that has had almost no contact with modern Peruvian civilisation. By reciting their people’s cosmogonies and myths, by bringing news from one far-flung group to another, the storyteller “remind[ed] each member of the tribe that the others were alive, that despite the great distances that separated them, they still formed a community, shared a tradition and beliefs.” Something of this kind of reverence has always attached to storytellers—just look at the way the Greeks made a legend of blind Homer—but there is a peculiarly modern nostalgia in Vargas Llosa’s feeling, predicated on the fear that this kind of authentic, meaningful, face-to-face storytelling is a thing of the past.
At the same time that storytelling seems an obsolete handicraft, classic stories—the bloody, surreal folk inventions we know as fairy tales—seem to be having a revival. It’s even possible that in a time of economic uncertainty, readers are drawn to the oldest, most familiar stories. What else explains the simultaneous appearance of Grimm Tales: For Young and Old, in which Philip Pullman has translated 50 of his favourite stories from the classic German storytellers; a slimmer selection of tales, Long Ago and Far Away, that draws from French and Italian sources; and the new study The Irresistible Fairy Tale, by Jack Zipes, the dean of academic fairy-tale studies? And that’s just the books: the last few months have seen two movie versions of the Snow White story, Mirror, Mirror, starring Julia Roberts, and the darker Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart. Viewers of American TV can tune in to "Grimm", a show about a police detective with magic powers who is called upon to fight supernatural monsters; and "Once Upon a Time", in which ordinary human beings are revealed to be the avatars of fairy-tale characters like Prince Charming and Rumpelstiltskin. ...
The inside story of a controversial new text about Jesus
What history can do is show that people have to take responsibility for what they activate out of their tradition. It’s not just a given thing one slavishly follows. You have to be accountable. - Karen L. King in conversation with Ariel SabarPosted at: Sunday, September 23, 2012 - 02:16 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. In the world of biblical creeds, will a scrap of papyrus change everything? Karen King believes so. There is much to think about in King's entire body of work and in Ariel Sabar's excellent essay below.
The inside story of a controversial new text about Jesus
Ariel Sabar Smithsonian Magazine USA September 18, 2012
Karen L. King, the Hollis professor of divinity, believes that the fragment's 33 words refers to Jesus having a wife. Photo: © Karen L. King
Harvard researcher Karen King today unveiled an ancient papyrus fragment with the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’” The text also mentions “Mary,” arguably a reference to Mary Magdalene. The announcement at an academic conference in Rome is sure to send shock waves through the Christian world. The Smithsonian Channel will premiere a special documentary about the discovery on September 30 at 8 p.m. ET. And Smithsonian magazine reporter Ariel Sabar has been covering the story behind the scenes for weeks, tracing King’s steps from when a suspicious e-mail hit her in-box to the nerve-racking moment when she thought the entire presentation would fall apart. Read our exclusive coverage below.
Harvard Divinity School’s Andover Hall overlooks a quiet street some 15 minutes by foot from the bustle of Harvard Square. A Gothic tower of gray stone rises from its center, its parapet engraved with the icons of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I had come to the school, in early September, to see Karen L. King, the Hollis professor of divinity, the oldest endowed chair in the United States and one of the most prestigious perches in religious studies. In two weeks, King was set to announce a discovery apt to send jolts through the world of biblical scholarship—and beyond.
King had given me an office number on the fifth floor, but the elevator had no “5” button. When I asked a janitor for directions, he looked at me sideways and said the building had no such floor. I found it eventually, by scaling a narrow flight of stairs that appeared to lead to the roof but opened instead on a garret-like room in the highest reaches of the tower.
“So here it is,” King said. On her desk, next to an open can of Diet Dr Pepper promoting the movie The Avengers, was a scrap of papyrus pressed between two plates of plexiglass.
The fragment was a shade smaller than an ATM card, honey-hued and densely inked on both sides with faded black script. The writing, King told me, was in the ancient Egyptian language of Coptic, into which many early Christian texts were translated in the third and fourth centuries, when Alexandria vied with Rome as an incubator of Christian thought.
When she lifted the papyrus to her office’s arched window, sunlight seeped through in places where the reeds had worn thin. “It’s in pretty good shape,” she said. “I’m not going to look this good after 1,600 years.”
But neither the language nor the papyrus’ apparent age was particularly remarkable. What had captivated King when a private collector first e-mailed her images of the papyrus was a phrase at its center in which Jesus says “my wife.”
The fragment’s 33 words, scattered across 14 incomplete lines, leave a good deal to interpretation. But in King’s analysis, and as she argues in a forthcoming article in the Harvard Theological Review, the “wife” Jesus refers to is probably Mary Magdalene, and Jesus appears to be defending her against someone, perhaps one of the male disciples.
“She will be able to be my disciple,” Jesus replies. Then, two lines later, he says: “I dwell with her.”
The papyrus was a stunner: the first and only known text from antiquity to depict a married Jesus.
But Dan Brown fans, be warned: King makes no claim for its usefulness as biography. The text was probably composed in Greek a century or so after Jesus’ crucifixion, then copied into Coptic some two centuries later. As evidence that the real-life Jesus was married, the fragment is scarcely more dispositive than Brown’s controversial 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.
What it does seem to reveal is more subtle and complex: that some group of early Christians drew spiritual strength from portraying the man whose teachings they followed as having a wife. And not just any wife, but possibly Mary Magdalene, the most-mentioned woman in the New Testament besides Jesus’ mother. ...
Friday, September 21, 2012
Gorgeously painted manhole covers add beauty to city streets in Japan
Gorgeously painted manhole covers add beauty to city streets in Japan
Jess Zimmerman Grist USA September 21, 2012
Visit this page for its embedded links and photos.
Sometimes, the difference between a pleasant, livable city and a stressful one comes down to the details, things you might barely even notice but that influence you almost subconsciously. Municipalities in Japan have gotten at least one of these details down pat, by putting intricate and beautiful decorations in one of the city’s most forgotten places: the lowly manhole cover.
The figured and painted manhole covers started in the 1980s, as a ploy to reduce public resistance to new sewer systems. Now, nearly 95 percent of Japanese cities and towns have their own custom, individual manhole cover designs. Sidewalk covers are brightly painted, though the ones in the streets usually boast detailed images but no color. ...
Monday, September 3, 2012
A lesson in disaster: The Vietnam War's tragic prologue
Jim comment: On March 8, 1965, the first wave of Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/9 landed at Red Beach, Da Nang. On the beach waiting for the Marines—the first US combat troops to arrive in Vietnam— was a host of welcoming South Vietnamese dignitaries and local schoolgirls who bedecked the 9th MEB commander, Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, with a garland of flowers. By the end of March 1965, the 9th MEB numbered nearly 5,000 Marines at Da Nang, including two infantry battalions, two helicopter squadrons, and supporting units. And so it began. When the first American Marines waded ashore to Vietnam that March (their sole purpose to provide protection to the American Da Nang Air Base), historical consensus holds, they were there because there was no alternative. President Johnson's hand had been forced by the right-wing hawks and the Communists. The general public at home wholeheartedly supported defending South Vietnam, as did America's allies in Europe. The first official directive was: "The U.S. Marine force will not, repeat will not, engage in day to day actions against the Viet Cong." That initial directive was soon expanded. The bloody 'American War' (1965 - 1973) was on.Posted at: Monday, September 03, 2012 - 03:21 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
In one of the most detailed and powerfully argued books published on American intervention in Vietnam, Fredrik Logevall examines the last great unanswered question on the war: Could the tragedy have been averted? His answer: a resounding yes. Challenging the prevailing myth that the outbreak of large-scale fighting in 1965 was essentially unavoidable, Choosing War argues that the Vietnam War was unnecessary, not merely in hindsight but in the context of its time.
Why, then, did major war break out? Logevall shows it was partly because of the timidity of the key opponents of U.S. involvement, and partly because of the staunch opposition of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to early negotiations. His superlative account shows that U.S. officials chose war over disengagement despite deep doubts about the war's prospects and about Vietnam's importance to U.S. security and over the opposition of important voices in the Congress, in the press, and in the world community. They did so because of concerns about credibility--not so much America's or the Democratic party's credibility, but their own personal credibility.
Based on six years of painstaking research, this book is the first to place American policymaking on Vietnam in 1963-65 in its wider international context using multiarchival sources, many of them recently declassified. Here we see for the first time how the war played in the key world capitals--not merely in Washington, Saigon, and Hanoi, but also in Paris and London, in Tokyo and Ottawa, in Moscow and Beijing.
Choosing War is a powerful and devastating account of fear, favor, and hypocrisy at the highest echelons of American government, a book that will change forever our understanding of the tragedy that was the Vietnam War. - Publisher's description of Choosing War published in 1999.
Below: Reviewer A. J. Langguth is professor emeritus at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California. The author of Our Vietnam: The War 1954–1975 (Simon & Schuster, 2000), he was the Saigon bureau chief for the New York Times in 1965.
The Vietnam War's tragic prologue
Book review by A. J. Langguth The National Interest USA Webposted August 22, 2012
Fredrik Logevall, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (New York: Random House, 2012), 864 pp.)
Visit this page for its embedded links.
When Fredrik Logevall published Choosing War in 1999, he joined the ranks of historians and journalists who have contributed essential books about America’s war in Indochina. Although many writers had covered the years from 1963–1965, Logevall’s approach was distinguished by his wide lens, revealing the war’s repercussions in foreign capitals beyond Washington and Hanoi—in London, Tokyo and Ottawa.
Now, with his huge and engrossing new study, Logevall surveys the less familiar ground of France’s attempt to assert control over its colonies in Indochina after World War II. Again, he writes with an ambitious sweep and an instinct for pertinent detail, and his facility in French allows him to include material seldom available from previous histories in English. If Logevall’s earlier work stood up well in a crowded field, Embers of War stands alone.
The John S. Knight Professor of International Relations at Cornell University, Logevall was born in Stockholm in 1963. He received his bachelor’s degree from Canada’s Simon Fraser University in 1986—eleven years after the collapse of the U.S. effort in South Vietnam—and a PhD from Yale in 1993. As a result, he brings to the subject a detachment that shields him from the surly revisionism of a few younger American-born academics.
These days, any history of Vietnam, no matter how scholarly and objective, will be read for what it teaches us now, a point seen in the title of Gordon Goldstein’s Lessons In Disaster. If the American Century began in Los Alamos on July 16, 1945, why did it come to its end thirty years later on the roof of the Saigon embassy?
Drawing lessons from history is a different exercise from posing counterfactuals—alternatives to what actually happened and the consequences of those imagined changes. Counterfactuals are sometimes dismissed as science fiction for historians. In contrast, lessons proceed from the legitimate “why” rather than a fanciful “what if.” Logevall has acknowledged that counterfactuals can be “tantalizing” and has occasionally indulged in them in his earlier writing on Vietnam. His latest volume, however, remains solidly anchored in the facts themselves.
Although most of the twenty-seven chapters of Embers of War focus on French politics and military operations, Logevall makes a concession to American readers with a preface about John F. Kennedy’s junket to Saigon in 1951. Savvy New York editors advise launching a volume of history with a brand name, and few names from the second half of the twentieth century resonate like Kennedy’s.
Logevall recounts a two-hour discussion Kennedy had with Seymour Topping—then the Associated Press bureau chief in Saigon, later the managing editor of the New York Times—that helped convince him that French troops were unlikely to prevail against Vietnamese nationalists.
Logevall then offers a prologue with another towering American figure. He repeats the story—no less poignant for its familiarity—of the moment in June 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson denied an audience at Versailles to a young Vietnamese man calling himself Nguyen Ai Quoc.
Other writers have remarked on the Chaplinesque image of a spindly nationalist in his rented morning coat, jostling with other spokesmen from Asia and Africa as they sought to persuade Wilson that his global idealism should extend to them.
Since two hundred thousand Asians and Africans had just died fighting in Europe, the colonies could claim that the sacrifice gave them a right to be heard. But the Vietnamese manifesto brought to Versailles made modest demands: representation in the French parliament, freedom of the press and right of assembly.
Focused on the future of Germany and Austria-Hungary, the American president had neither time nor interest in those issues. And as a Virginian indifferent to Jim Crow at home, Wilson was unlikely to be moved by repression in colonies half a world away. ...
Sunday, September 2, 2012
A point of view: Are tyrants good for art?
Warfare, terror, and bloodshed nurtured the Renaissance in Italy. Culture thrives on conflict and antagonism, not social harmony - a point made rather memorably by a certain Harry Lime, says John Gray. John Gray is a political philosopher and author of False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism.Posted at: Sunday, September 02, 2012 - 02:01 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
A Point of View: Are tyrants good for art?
John Gray BBC News Magazine UK August 10, 2012
"In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace - and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
When Orson Welles spoke these lines as Harry Lime, the charismatic villain at the heart of the film The Third Man, released in 1949, Welles can't have realised how they would resonate ever after. Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay, credited the lines to Welles, and it seems clear the actor added them when some extra dialogue was needed while the film was being shot.
The lines became lodged in the mind because they encapsulated an uncomfortable and at the same time compelling idea. His history may not have been factually accurate - the Swiss were a major military power in Renaissance times and the cuckoo clock originated some time later in Bavaria - but the idea that culture thrives in conditions of war and tyranny has an undeniable basis in fact.
We know that art can flourish under despots, but we're reluctant to admit it - if creativity and tyranny can co-exist, the value of freedom seems diminished. Welles's lines seem to express a dangerous truth, one we'd like to forget but can't banish from our minds.
Of course, Lime himself has a dangerous kind of charm. From the safe haven of the Soviet sector of Vienna, which in the aftermath of the World War II was divided into four zones, Lime is trading in diluted penicillin - a racket that leaves its victims horribly damaged.
Yet he can inspire loyalty and even love. The pulp writer Holly Martins, who arrives in Vienna looking for his childhood hero, is painfully disillusioned when he learns of his friend's crimes and finds that Lime, who was believed to have been killed in a street accident, is alive in the Soviet sector of the city.
But Lime's lover Anna never loses her loyalty to him, though she knows he planned to betray her to the Soviets as a refugee with forged papers. In the film's unforgettable last 60 seconds, she walks from Lime's second funeral, slowly passing Martins who had stayed behind to see her, without once pausing or paying him any attention.
With its images of a divided city, The Third Man is an exploration of the ambiguities and deceptions that may be required by loyalty and some of these may have entered into the making of the film. By late 1948, when the scenes of Vienna were being shot, the Iron Curtain had come down and the Cold War was well under way. ...
The arts have often flourished in regimes we'd call despotic. This isn't because artists and writers do their best work when they're being persecuted - a Romantic cliche that doesn't stand up to any careful inquiry.
It's because traditional tyrants left a good deal of freedom in society. Ancient China wasn't anything like a modern democracy, but it produced some of the greatest art there's ever been, while Mao's China produced nothing. Tsarist Russia contained many kinds of discrimination and injustice, but in the late 19th and early 20th Century it was in the vanguard of literature, painting, music and dance. The Soviet Union produced little that was even remotely comparable. The arts flourished in the empire of the Habsburgs, while Nazism produced Leni Riefenstahl's repugnant and much over-rated Triumph of the Will. Whereas authoritarian regimes leave much of society alone, totalitarianism aims to control everything. Invariably, the result is a cultural desert.
Culture may not need democracy or peace, but it can't develop without some measure of freedom - and that requires a diversity of centres of influence, working openly and at times in opposition to one another. ...
Sunday, August 12, 2012
A musical delight: CBC Music's Signature Series
The following series is a delight.Posted at: Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 02:51 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
If A Major were a person, who would she be? (G major: The Trusty Sidekick)
If A minor were a person, who would she be? (A minor: The Faded Beauty)
If E major were a person, who would he be? (E major: Prince Charming)
And so it goes. Just pick one of the many musical keys.
The Signature Series
CBC Music Canada Various dates, May to August 2012
Here is how the Signature Series works:
1. Select a musical key.
2. Gather together the most famous melodies composed in that key over the centuries.
3. Mash up.
4. Meet the person behind the key.
Go to this page and click on the audio tabs to listen.