Arts & Literature

Peter Handke, the Nobel Prize, and the Weight of the World…

Handke, Austria’s (arguably the world’s) greatest living writer, will probably never get the Nobel…and maybe he shouldn’t…or should…

Peter Handke (image courtesy Wikimedia)

For some readers of this piece, the name Peter Handke will probably suggest only controversy. Handke has spent the last two decades of his life under attack for his association with – and inexplicable defense of – the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic. No less a personage than fellow Nobelist-in-waiting Salman Rushdie has called Handke a propagandist for the Milosevic government’s genocidal policies. When Handke received the International Ibsen Award earlier this year, Pen Norway called for the selection jury’s resignation and one scholar called giving Handke the award the equivalent of giving the Immanuel Kant Prize to Joseph Goebbels. Other important literary figures have defended Handke stating that he deserves the Nobel Prize – one claiming that she received the prize when Handke was the more worthy recipient.

All this comes as no surprise – troubling though it is – to me. I’ve been an admirer of Handke’s work since I was introduced to him in undergraduate school. What grabbed me initially was his “anti-play” Offending the Audience. Continue reading

Lucky 13

A 9/11 observance for the disenchanted…

It’s a sunny flag day here in USA Land,

a day when we think that our moments of silence say

that we honor the blood and flame clouds

which were human beings before the towers went the way

of the dodo, and Pan-Am Airways.

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WordsDay: Literature

Ian McEwan’s Atonement: very good – but that gimmicky ending…

 McEwan’s novel is well written and has a fine plot – except for the gimmicky ending…

Atonement by Ian McEwan (image courtesy Goodreads)

This essay about a work from my 2014 reading list looks at one of the most successful novelists of the last two decades. Ian McEwan has had a highly successful run as a commercially successful and acclaimed writer. His 2001 novel Atonement was short listed for the Booker Prize (England’s most prestigious literary award) and was made into a highly successful motion picture in 2007.

In most ways Atonement is a worthy novel. The theme, which examines the results of allowing one’s imagination to overpower one’s reason and senses, allows McEwan to examine the role of the artist in society and issues of class prejudice and family dysfunction. McEwan writes with both authority and skill and has a grasp of language that allows him at times to play with words (especially in his descriptions of the novel’s “writer” character, Briony Tallis, and her early forays into writing).

The plot of the novel owes something to other authors, particularly Graham Greene (one thinks of “The Basement Room,” Greene’s fine story that served as the basis for the excellent Carol Reed film The Fallen Idol). In a reversal of that storyline, McEwan has Briony Tallis, a child of 13 at the time of the novel’s major incident, hold the novel’s romantic lead, Robbie Turner, in a sort of snobbish didain based on his class background. Turner, the son of a Tallis family servant, has been sponsored to both grammar school (English prep school) and to Cambridge by Briony’s father. Briony’s older sister Cecilia, roughly Robbie’s age, has grown up with him – and has attended Cambridge with him as well.  As often happens in novels of class/manners in English literature, the two have long been in love without acknowledging their feelings. Briony’s childishly violent disapproval of their relationship – provoked by her discovery on the two in flagrante in the library of the Tallis home – leads her to commit an act of perjury against Turner that ruins not only his life but her sister’s. To compound the miseries associated with her act, her lie allows a rapist  to escape punishment and have a long, successful career in business – he even eventually marries his victim. Continue reading

Conspiracy

Conspiracies against progress: why the rise of the modern conspiracy theory should concern us all

by David Lambert

Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.

Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain: War and Peace for middlebrows…

Frazier’s historical novel was a great success even though it is rather indifferent both as history and as a novel…

Rivers Parting by Shirley Barker (image courtesy Amazon)

A confessions of sorts.

I have always been something of a fan of the historical novel. My interest began probably with Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in my early teens and has been primed occasionally over the years with the occasionally discovered tasteful or tasteless gem (many courtesy of my late and dearly missed Aunt Barbara). Through her taste for middlebrow lit I wound up reading (without parental consent, of course) Forever Amber which led me to Moll Flanders and then to A Journal of the Plague Year (I’d read Robinson Crusoe years earlier as a child).  So in a weird way, the same woman who’d schooled me in serious lit by constantly forcing me to take another volume from the Harvard Classics each time I visited her (she sometimes had me read from the works to her after I’d finished mowing her yard and was enjoying a glass of lemonade or iced tea) also, in passing along her old book club selections to my mother gave me an introduction into what Middle America found fascinating reading from the 1950s through 1970s. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship IV: Pop Stars and Politics

Q: Should pop stars express their political opinions and take political action? A: Only if they’re informed, concerned citizens…

 

Bono of U2, pop star and political activist (image courtesy Wikimedia)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, herehere, and here.)

For the period covered by the book of essays I’ve been discussing over the last few weeks, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Protest, the “post-Classic Rock Era” we might call it, the political/protest activities of pop stars have not had the same resonance or gravitas as they did during that era of protests against segregation, the Vietnam War, and environmental pollution/destruction (the role of classic rock era stars in the women’s movement is, at best, questionable – unless those stars were women, of course).

This week, in the next to last essay in this series, we look at four essays, all in one way or another related to the idea that, to contradict one of the major singers of that classic rock era, sometimes it’s about  the singer, the song – and something else entirely .

The essay titles themselves reveal much about what their authors think of the last 35 years or so. Deena Weinstein’s “Rock protest songs: so many and so few”; Jerry Rodnitsky’s “The decline and rebirth of folk protest music”; Mark Willhardt’s “Available rebels and folk authenticities: Michelle Shocked and Billy Bragg”; and, finally, John Street’s “The pop star as politician: from Belafonte to Bono, from creativity to conscience” offer us a range of explanations for why pop or rock or folk singers have/have not gotten involved in protests against social or political injustice. Some, like Weinstein, take the long view, others, like Willhardt, look closely at a couple of artists. In all of these essays, however, much the same conclusions are reached: in one way or another protest has, too often, been subsumed or marginalized by the co-option of the protester – especially if that protester is a musical celebrity. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

Open letter to the United States Department of State

Post-Citizens United, if money is speech, then where does the Hedges v Obama case lead?

And by device, I mean government.

Sent via web form this date, August 12, 2014 (san links)

Dear Sir or Madam,

As concerned citizens are prone to do, we discuss matters of world import. Occasionally we come up with ideas, sometimes even good ones. To the extent that a proposal has arisen from one of those conversations, I would like to offer it for your consideration. Pending your response, I’ll postpone contact with the office of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, pertaining to the same proposal.

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CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: “Exit Wounds” by Travis Slusser

The exit wound is always larger than the entrance. Well, not always- bullets don’t obey rules but in my case this isn’t a bullet we’re talking about. This is tens of thousands of bullets. This is tons of ordnance dropped from the sky and buried along roadsides waiting mute and blind and seething for a convoy to roll past. My wound is a tiny white crescent moon on the web of my right hand. The white crescent of Islam, a symbol more powerful and holy and frightening than anything I could wrap my homogenized and X-Boxed American head around. It was a hot shell casing from the breech of the man’s rifle next to me. A Major assigned to train the Afghan police; he emptied all 7 of his magazines within minutes of the engagement beginning. That’s how I came to be out of the truck and in the midst of the dust and chaos of my first firefight. The Major and our squad leader next to him had gotten trigger-happy and were now calling out for fresh mags. I grabbed a bandolier off the back of the seat in front of me and ducked out the armored door of the humvee, hustling the ammo one truck length ahead to them, “exposing myself repeatedly to intense small-arms fire” as the report would later word so eloquently. I joined these two and gave them some covering fire as they reloaded, popping off about 20 rounds. At this point the searing hot brass landed right in the web of my firing hand and I yelled and shook it violently, dislodging the cursed thing, then went back to shooting up the hillside across the narrow valley. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

For your consideration: Jimmy Carter on ending the war in Gaza

An article from Foreign Policy

Ending this war in Gaza begins with recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor

I know. Right off the bat, even the idea of recognizing Hamas rankles. Here’s the thing, though. In 2006, as a result of a thoroughly monitored election, the people put Hamas in power. That is the definition of self determination. That is the definition of legitimate political actor. The hazard of democracy, especially when it works, is that we won’t like who the people put in charge. If we can’t live with those outcomes, then we just need to accept that we really don’t care for democracy at all. Further, that what we do believe in is hegemony of one people, one culture, over others. Naturally, that would mean ours and not theirs. This, in spite of the fact that anyone would be hard pressed to seriously and legitimately make the case that we are one people, one culture, and that our chosen version of that should be the one that calls the shots.

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Old news: the more one looks at the Israel/Gaza conflict, the older the news gets.

As a part-time blogger, it can be difficult to keep up with the vast amount of news out there, especially when some events move so quickly. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. Mainly it means I open more new tabs in my browser than my computer likes, and keep them open for days until I can finally get around to reading them. Today I have two articles that leave me shaking my head in dismay, both from The Guardian.

First, we hear from Dennis Kucinich with Crimes against humanity in Gaza: is it really a ‘buffer zone’ — or a bigger plan?

Look at the region’s maps from recent history. Look at the steady erosion of Palestinian land and the acquisition of land by Israel, and you can understand that the present attack on Gaza is not about solely about Hamas. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s rockets. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s tunnels. It’s about land. It isn’t about kidnappings. It is about land. It isn’t even about meeting a housing crisis in Israel. It is about grabbing land from the Palestinians in Gaza and the natural resources that go with the land, upon the occasion of Israel’s military invasion of Gaza.

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CATEGORY: WarSecurity

How else should a people defend itself when provoked?

Time and again I hear this question, a question consistently asked by pro-Israel policy apologists. Hamas is bad. They fire rockets into Israel. What are we supposed to do? The answer, apparently, is to engage in a decidedly one-sided battle, killing indiscriminately, with the mightiest armed force in the region. Shelters are bombed, because Hamas uses human shields. Children die, because Hamas uses human shields. We just need to look back to Golda Meir to learn that there never was a Palestine, and that Israel will never forgive the Arabs for forcing Israelis to kill Arab sons.

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CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Nature versus nurture – peacenik’s child is joining the military

by ceejay

I remember so vividly the very first hint I ever had of her yet-to-be existence. I was in a store with my youngest sister and was suddenly so overwhelmed by fatigue that I was leaning over the shopping cart, unable to stop yawning, too weak to stand up on my own, afraid I would be unable to even drive us home. My sister, who already had two children and who knew that my husband and I had recently deliberately stopped using any birth control, began to laugh merrily and then dance circles around me, chanting “You’re pregnant, you’re pregnant, ha-ha, you’re pregnant….” It took three home pregnancy tests to finally confirm her suspicion.

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Since we’re just supposed to trust Israel every time they make a claim

Israel jumps to conclusions, Palestinians die

Consider this:

The Israeli military said early Sunday morning that an officer thought to have been captured by Palestinian militants during a deadly clash Friday morning, which shattered a planned 72-hour cease-fire [emphasis added], was now considered to have been killed in battle.

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Obama on torture: they were just “folks”

An Iraqi man hugs his brother in November 2005 after being freed from Abu Ghraib prison, a site where some prisoners were tied up, hooded and sexually degraded by the American military. – Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

I voted for Barack Obama twice and would do so again, given his election opponents, but man, he can annoy the hell out of me.

This time, it’s his statement Friday that after Sept. 11, the CIA “tortured some folks.” Here’s the story in The Guardian.

Let’s dispense with the small detail first: That statement is a 10 on the no-shit-ometer. Is there anybody who didn’t already believe this? We’re a long way from “breaking news” alerts from your favorite news websites. Continue reading

Obama-Nope

President Obama thinks you’re sanctimonious for insisting torturers be charged with felonies

The President of the United States still shows no signs of seeking justice against war criminals

The President of the United States, by way of giving the world a Friday heading into the weekend presser in hopes that we’ll miss it and just ignore it to death, finally leveled exactly the kind of allegations we’ve been waiting for for six years now. Then he clarified his position by saying that we shouldn’t be sanctimonious, but let’s see it in his own stammering words:

I understand why it happened. Uh, I, I think, ah, ih-, it’s important, uh, when we look back to recall how afraid people were, uh, after, uh, the tow-, twin towers, uh, fell, and, and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know, ah, whether more attacks were imminent, uh, and there was enormous pressure, uh, on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this, uh, and um, hyuh, i-, i-, i-, it’s important for us not to, uh, feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those have and a lot of those folks, uh, wuh, uh, were s-, s-, working hard, ah, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that repor-port reflects, and that’s the reason why, after, uh, I took office one of the first things I did was to ban, uh, some of the, in-, extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

 

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What if we treated our economy like a triage scenario?

$400 billion down the hole on the F-35, and that’s just one tip of one iceberg

There’s been a horrible accident. One patient has a punctured lung. Another one has a grievous wound at the femoral artery and is bleeding out. Another has a serious spinal injury. Three others are milling about with, between them, a bruise, a splinter, and a hangnail. Quick, what do we do?

To listen to the chatter from a variety of news sources, and especially in comments sections all over the place, we should damned well be focusing on the bruise, the splinter, and the hangnail. That femoral artery guy? To hell with him.

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Iron Dome battery deployed in the field. (Photo: Israel Defense Force / Wikimedia Commons)

The contrails have it: Iron Dome is a dud

The effectiveness of missile defense can scarcely be inferred from the “sound and light show” that is Iron Dome.

Iron Dome battery deployed in the field. (Photo: Israel Defense Force / Wikimedia Commons)

Iron Dome battery deployed in the field. (Photo: Israel Defense Force / Wikimedia Commons)

Contrails, the wake of an aircraft, are usually created by water vapor in its exhaust. When you hear them mentioned these days, it’s usually an attempt to paint them as “chemtrails,” the supposed product of a secret government program for spraying chemical or biological agents on the public to various ends. But contrails happen to be key to the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of Israel’s iron dome mobile missile defense program. Continue reading

Adventures in headline writing, Gaza edition

The New York Times, a division of the Israeli Military.

So something happened in Gaza today, something horrible even by the abysmal standards of that terrible situation. Here’s the headline in The Guardian:

Israeli strike on UN school kills 15

With the following sub-lede:

UN says it was refused time to evacuate civilians before IDF shelled Gaza school, injuring 200

Then there’s The Independent: Continue reading