What makes Handke exceptional is his willingness to engage us as well as himself in the difficulty of telling our truths, sharing our sorrows, interpreting our dreams….
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke (image courtesy Goodreads)
For the last (well, perhaps next to last) work from the “world literature” segment of the 2015 reading list, I return to an author who has decidedly influenced me in the way I write, in the way I think about writing, in the way I assess writing, particularly the writing of literature. I have written before about the great Peter Handke, the brilliant and controversial Austrian novelist, playwright, and filmmaker and about the power of his work to force the reader to reexamine his/her ways of looking at literature and at life. No author of our time has been more relentless in his search for truth, nor has any author been able to say more with fewer words than Handke. For those few of you who know my work, a light bulb has probably just come on. For those of you not familiar with my work, please go buy it so that I can become a rich, vapid celebrity and lose all this delicious artistic integrity I’m always on about.
Handke is relentlessly brave, sometimes foolishly so, in his pursuit of what it means to be alive and writing about being so, so it should come as no surprise that he is equally as brave and equally as relentless in his examination of death and what it means to be so. His brilliant short meditation A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, written in the weeks after his mother’s suicide in early 1972, is vintage Handke: his search for the meaning of, in this case not simply the death of his mother but her death by suicide and the reasons behind her decision to end her life, as well as his search for what her death means to him, is a tour de force: terse, sometimes curt as a news item, sometimes poetic as a Heine lyric. The result is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius that actually is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Continue reading →
There’s much to like about Bernie Sanders, but can he really help us kick the war habit?
Occupy Democrats and US Uncut have a handy macro going around that highlights Bernie’s 11 point economic agenda. It’s big. It’s important. It’s to be lauded. And if we’re not to have Bernie, it’s to be emulated. But we’ve also seen the devastating effect war has had on our economy, to say nothing of the lives lost to our wayward military adventurism. Below you’ll find my own reasons for supporting this 11-point economic plan as well as some serious consideration of his missing 12th point. Continue reading →
AK-47s kill more in a year than nuclear weapons have in all of history. But NRA lobbying against the Arms Trade Treaty helps keep the pipeline of death flowing.
by David Lambert
In the isolated northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sits a small town called Dungu. Not too far away from the borders of South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Dungu is in one of the poorest, most volatile regions in the world. A few years ago, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a psychopathic band of predatory rebels notorious for kidnaping children, began regularly tormenting villagers, prompting the international humanitarian community to take a fleeting interest in Dungu.
But the residents of Dungu are tragically familiar with this sort of thing. Even before the LRA moved into the neighborhood, a particularly high number of child soldiers, under the command of feuding warlords in constant, slow burning conflict, lived throughout the area. Continue reading →
Honoring those who died in service doesn’t mean forgiving those who put them in harm’s way.
Today America honors its war dead, those who gave their lives in the service of freedom – not only ours, but in many cases they died to save innocent people in far-flung corners of the globe. This isn’t idle rhetoric, either. Ponder what the world might have been like had the Allies lost World War II.
Unfortunately, in recent years I have grown more cynical about “freedom” and those who died for it. Continue reading →
What Forbes is after is not easily achieved: he seeks to portray both a society in crisis and the life of a person who, in crisis himself, still strives to draw public attention to the social crisis in hopes of saving, if not himself, at least that society. Derail This Train Wreck is a ray of light in a world going dark.
Derail This Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes (image courtesy derailthistrainwreck.com)
Derail This Train Wreck is a book of our times. It has elements of the near future dystopian tale so popular in our times. Its political satire veers between the somberly apocalyptic vision of a Truthout piece and the tongue in cheek irony dripping humor of an article from The Onion. And its domestic/romantic plot line (a failed relationship and the struggle of the parties to reorient their lives) is the stuff of which our lives and those of many we know is made. That Daniel Forbes has been able to weave these disparate elements into a narrative that is not simply cohesive but compelling is to his great credit – and the reader’s delight. Continue reading →
Wherein I “prove” logic can be fun, for me at least.
Welcome to Day 1 of Logic 101. Don’t worry. It’s a one-day class. Actually, the “class” is only as long as it takes you to read this post. Homework may take anywhere from 0 seconds to a lifetime, depending on one’s tolerance for such exercises. Continue reading →
Sanders’ presidential campaign needs to detail specific measures to bend a corrupt, self-centered Congress into effective action on his agenda
Bernie Sanders, he who regularly tilts at NSA windmills and shouts at the hot air emitted by billionaires, says he’s running for president. In his 10-minute announcement, he displayed the media acumen of an irritated porcupine — prickly and impatient. He didn’t even have red, white, and blue balloons soaring patriotically into the sky.
No matter. The liberals and progressives disenchanted with all-but-nominated Hillary have gleefully fled to their new standard bearer. Trouble is, what’s Bernie’s standard to bear? He announced before crafting a website that clearly articulates what actions he would take to address domestic, economic, foreign, military, wealth inequality, and [insert your beef with Obama and Congress here] issues. The site touts only an apparent promise that something will appear soon — “Coming 5.26.15.” All that’s there now is, according to Bernie’s Facebook page, an email sign-up opp for “an unprecedented grass-roots effort.” The site notes that it’s “Paid for by Bernie 2016 (not the billionaires).”
But no matter. He’s got a strategist: “Tad Devine, one of the Democratic Party’s leading consultants and a former high-level campaign aide to Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis.” (Wait a minute: Didn’t those three guys lose?)
There are rising concerns that the Ukraine crisis could lead to nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.
The Ukraine crisis has renewed calls by retired Gen. James Cartwright, former U.S. nukes commander, to wean the United States and Russia from launch on warning. (Photo: D. Miles Cullen / U.S. Dept. of Defense)
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, whose last job was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (nukes, et al) from 2004 to 2007. In recent years, he’s served in capacities as, uh, as diverse board member of Raytheon and chairman of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction. Those of you who follow nuclear weapons news may recall that, in the latter capacity, he called for reducing the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal to 900 warheads with none of them set to launch on warning. Continue reading →
Aggression by a state, once considered just an act of war, ultimately became viewed as a pathological act.
Viewing a state’s aggression as pathology incurred punishment, not the understanding one might expect. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)
I’ve been re-reading Sir Lawrence Freedman’s landmark work The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (Third Edition) for a book I’m attempting to write about the rationalizations and counterintuitive strategies that inevitably attend a state’s development of nuclear weapons. (For his part, Freedman has written around 20 books.)
In the first part of The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, Freedman chronicles the rise of air power during the 20th century. He writes that, in the nineteenth century, the concept of aggression referred to a “‘military attack by the forces of a state against … another state.’” But, even before World War I, “the term had become pejorative, referring to a military attack that was not justified by law.” Continue reading →
“And men will not understand us…and the war will be forgotten – and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves…the years will pass by and we shall fall into ruin.” – Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (image courtesy Goodreads)
It is often called the greatest war novel of all time.
Erich Maria Remarque’s depiction of the horror of an ordinary soldier’s life in World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front, is a work of great power that haunts one long after one has completed it. Like other great examiners of war from Grimmelshausen to Stephen Crane to Norman Mailer to Kevin Powers, Remarque has the skill to give us the psychological horror of being lost on the battlefield – and lost at home.
What sets Remarque’s novel apart, of course, is that it is told from the point of view of an “enemy” soldier, Paul Baumer, a private in the German Imperial Army. (Simplicius, the hero of Grimmelshausen’s novel, is German, too. But since the Thirty Years’ War is only vague European history to Americans, one can safely assume that his nationality is not a matter of controversy.) One of the revelations, in fact, of All Quiet on the Western Front is the discovery that the ordinary German soldier felt much the same as the ordinary British soldier, the ordinary French soldier, the ordinary Russian soldier, the ordinary American soldier: like a pawn being moved – and sacrificed – without regard for his humanity. Ordinary people’s lives don’t count to the rich and powerful who believe themselves masters of history.
“I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” Hermann Hesse
Demian by Hermann Hesse (image courtesy Goodreads)
We turn in this next essay from the subtle, Zen inflected musings of Kawabata to another Nobelist, this one a lifelong yearning seeker of self understanding. In the original 2015 reading list I had chosen Hesse’s novel describing an artist’s search for spiritual fulfillment, Rosshalde, as my selection from the novelist whose lasting reputation owes as much to his adoption as spokesperson by the Boomer generation (a mistaken adoption) as to his literary merit (which is real). Instead, when it came time to pull Rosshalde from the shelf, I took it down and thought about how many times I’ve read Siddhartha which is a better treatment of the same themes as the earlier novel. Instead, I pulled out the Hesse novel next to Rosshalde, the lesser known and equally fascinating bildungsroman, Demian.
It turned out to be an interesting choice. I had not read Demian for many years, at least since the mid-seventies. Like most of my generation, I’d read Steppenwolf and Siddhartha as an undergraduate, taken in by the mystique attached to both books: in the case of the former, the “magic theater” section that suggests psychedelia (though there is no proof anywhere that Hesse ever used drugs) and in the latter its fable like retelling of the life of the Buddha. Both were, of course, very groovy, read in those heady times. But by the time I came to Demian I was a young teacher and part-time graduate student and had learned a bit more about the author Hesse besides that he wrote groovy books. I approached this tale of a youth’s search for self understanding, self confidence, and self acceptance in a more critical fashion. My assessment from that reading was that the novel was simply a quest narrative wrapped up in a bildungsroman.
“But a haiku by Buson came into his mind: ‘I try to forget this senile love; a chilly autumn shower.’ The gloom only grew denser.” – Yasunari Kawabata
The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata (image courtesy Goodreads)
Reading Japanese Nobelist Yasunari Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain, one is reminded of the great films of his artistic contemporaries Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa: Tokyo Story and Ikuru, respectively. These two cinema classics, like Kawabata’s novel, deal with the themes of aging, family relationships (particularly parents/adult children and grandparents/grandchildren), and the psychological and philosophical aspects of coming to terms with the end of life. Tokyo Story tells about the trip of an elderly couple to see their beloved adult children and grandchildren and the disappointment they feel when they realize their loved ones have no time for or interest in them. Ikuru (which translates as “to live”) tells the story of an aging bureaucrat who gets a terminal illness diagnosis and attempts to “do something” before he dies that will give his life meaning.
Ikuru appeared in 1952, Tokyo Story in 1953. The Sound of the Mountain was originally published the following year, 1954. This period, short of a decade after the end of World War II, seems to have been a time of bittersweet reflection for members of this generation (Kawabata, Ozu, and Kurosawa were all born within about a decade of each other). Continue reading →
Can nuclear weapons be justified if arsenals are kept small enough to prevent the threat of nuclear winter if used?
Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)
Nuclear war, like a nuclear warhead, is actually multiple threats in one. Of the three greatest, the first is instantaneous — death and destruction from the blast — the second two, time-released: radiation and, later, nuclear winter.
Nuclear winter, as you may know, occurs when smoke from fire set off by nuclear detonations (especially in cities, with their concentration of flammable material) rises to the upper atmosphere. The result, as American and Russian scientists learned in the early eighties, was that the atmosphere would heat up and the earth would cool. More specifically, the smoke burns nitrogen causing ozone depletion, which, even worse than causing skin cancer, interferes with photosynthesis, thus drastically lowers crop yields. Millions will starve (just another way that nuclear weapons give new meaning to the phrase “adding insult to injury”) — not to mention all those who may to a depression induced by the cold and the perpetual dirty gray clouds looming over them. Continue reading →
This is part II in a series of III. Part I, gendered bombs, here.
Mutual outerspace penetration
In July, 1975, the first international docking in space occurred involving the American Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz (meaning “union”). An official news release out of Houston, referring to the mating as “androgynous,” explained that the American ship played the “male / active role” on Thursday, July 17, by inserting its “nose” into the “nose” of the Russian ship. The press release further helpfully explained that the docking operation “was a purely male/female arrangement – a probe that fit snugly into a receptacle.” At the height of the militarism and mutually assured destruction that was the Cold War, however, neither country could be allowed to appear more “male” than the other. And so, the press release explained, on Friday, the Russian craft got to be the penetrator – ta-da, masculinity, understood as male-as-penetrator, preserved for both posturing nations. Continue reading →
Let’s be quite clear where that takes you: Apartheid South Africa.
75% of Israel’s population is of Jewish descent; a little over 6 million people. But the overall population of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is 14 million.
In a unified state, without any prospect for Palestinian independence, Jewish Israelis are instantly a minority group. Netanyahu has to ensure that Jewish Israelis continue to “rule” and so, just as importantly to his manifesto, is that Jewish Israelis must have more rights to protect them from that majority. Continue reading →
Interesting. Tools used by the women’s peace movement to end civil war in Liberia included a sex strike and also a threat to strip naked in front of the male peace conference delegates, since apparently seeing an older or married woman deliberately expose herself is considered a curse in Liberia. Go sisters – use what you got!
Today is also the death date and feast day of Saint Matilda of Saxony, who is my 39th great-grandmother and an ancestor of the Capetian dynasty in France. She was queen then empress of Germany, mother of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I as well as Hedwig (mother of Hugh Capet, first of the Capetian dynasty in France), founder of many monasteries and churches, and known for her charity work.
Women working for peace are always especially near and dear to my heart! Here are some winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since there are seventeen of them, I will present about half today and half tomorrow.
Oh, before I get to that though, I have to mention that Cindy Sheehan really is my peace activist hero. I was at Camp Casey with her where we camped out under the hot Texas sun just outside of George Bush’s ranch. Just as Camp Casey was winding down because Bush was leaving Texas and returning to D.C., Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on my beloved home city. Cindy and I did a press conference together in which I questioned whether the slow response to the disaster had anything to do with the fact that much of the Louisiana National Guard and much of its equipment were off fighting in a nation that had never attacked the United States. Continue reading →
Many are aghast at the treasonous nature of the open letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican senators.
It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)
As you have no doubt heard by now, 47 Republican senators wrote an open letter directed at Iran’s leadership. Its main message:
We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. … The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of an agreement at any time. Continue reading →