Sunday, February 07, 2016
Ghazal for White Hen Pantry
beverly be the only south side you don’t fit in
everybody in your neighborhood color of white hen
brown bag tupperware lunch don’t fill you
after school cross the street, count quarters with white friends
you love 25¢ zebra cakes mom would never let you eat
you learn to white lie through white teeth at white hen
oreos in your palm, perm in your hair
everyone’s irish in beverly, you just missin’ the white skin
pray they don’t notice your burnt toast, unwondered bread
you be the brownest egg ever born from the white hen
pantry in your chest where you stuff all the Black in
distract from the syllables in your name with a white grin
keep your consonants crisp, coffee milked, hands visible
never touch the holiday-painted windows of white hen
you made that mistake, scratched your initials in the paint
an unmarked crown victoria pulled up, full of white men
they grabbed your wrist & wouldn’t show you a badge
the manager clucked behind the counter, thick as a white hen
they told your friends to run home, but called the principal on you
& you learned Black sins cost much more than white ones
by Jamila Woods
from Poetry Magazine
The scale of the universe is amazing – but more astonishing still is the science that lets us understand it
Oliver Morton in More Intelligent Life:
In the far reaches of the sky there are sun-bright discs as wide as solar systems, their hearts run through by spears of radiation that outshine galaxies. The energies that feed these quasars beggar all metaphor, and their quantification seems all but meaningless. What does it serve to know that they are converting matter to energy at a rate that equates to the complete annihilation of a planet the size of the Earth ten times a second? Or that all the fires of the sun, from its birth to its death, would be a few weeks’ worth of work to one of them? No human sense can be made from so inhuman a scale. Boggle, and move on. Or stop, and appreciate that for all their grandeur, quasars are actually rather hard to see. Not one of them is close enough for the naked eye to pick out; even through the largest telescopes their mighty discs are but points of light. Again, the numbers are incomprehensibly enormous: billions of light years, when the longest trip taken by humans, to the Moon and back, is just a few light seconds. Yet here is a human connection that makes something wonderful of the spectacle. The billion-year journeys of the quasars’ light end at human telescopes. And there this far-flung light is not merely absorbed, but also understood.
...In 1960 no one had knowingly observed a quasar in any wavelength whatsoever. By 1969 hundreds were known, and a detailed theory of black holes had been developed which accounted for the quasars’ remarkable properties. Matter pulled towards a large black hole is heated to extraordinary brightness by friction; from the swirling disc thus formed a constant stream of matter passes into the hole’s oblate “ergosphere” whence some is squirted out with even greater energy in jets that protrude from the quasar’s poles. That men and women can, in a few short years, take tiny smidges of data from often ill-behaved instruments around the world and judiciously combine them with a wide range of physical theory – including the demanding mathematical subtleties of general relativity – to form an account of something not only unimagined but unimaginable to anyone without the new mental equipment this joint endeavour provided: that seems to me a source of wonder greater than the vastest of astronomical numbers.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The New York Times:
In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois, the leading scholar of the first half of the 20th century, defined the urgency of black social responsibility in his famous essay “The Talented Tenth” — 10 being the percentage of the African-American demographic needed to lead the race into an integrated, equal America. In “The Talented Tenth,” Du Bois called for “intelligent leadership” directed by “college-trained men” devoted to a “thorough understanding of the mass of Negroes and their problems” for the purpose of solving these problems, still so deeply entrenched a half century after the abolition of slavery.
Forty-five years later, Du Bois would lament, this call had been largely ignored. He worried aloud about the growing class divide within Black America and how the consequences of that divide might affect the task of “lifting as we climb,” the motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, describing the privilege and burden of the middle class to facilitate black upward mobility. Indeed, by 1948 Du Bois felt that the new black middle class had forgotten this noble calling. There had been, even during his college days at Fisk, troublesome warning signs: “sharp young persons, who received the education given very cheaply at Fisk University, with the distinct and single-minded idea, of seeing how much they could make out of it for themselves, and nobody else.” Du Bois knew, of course, that any black person at that time had to struggle to tear down barriers just to lift oneself and one’s family. But that was not enough: Successful black people, he said, must recognize that their place in life was merely a matter of opportunity. “If such opportunity were extended and broadened, a thousand times as many Negroes could join the ranks of the educated and able, instead of sinking into poverty, disease, and crime.” Du Bois also knew that Black America had never consisted of one social or economic class. Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, about 11 percent of Black America was free, some born into families that had been free for generations. And in 1899, when Du Bois published his seminal sociological study, “The Philadelphia Negro,” he was already noting that these two classes had morphed into four: the middle class and above, working people (“fair to comfortable”), the poor and, in terms his Victorian contemporaries would have approved of, the “vicious and criminal classes.”
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Saturday, February 06, 2016
When Michael Peppiatt, at 21, met Francis Bacon, the 53-year-old artist was already all artifice, well spoken when well rehearsed, his bistro doctrines applauded by clinking glasses. Peppiatt, having taken over a student arts journal at Cambridge, had shown up in London’s Soho. It was 1963, and Peppiatt laid claim to but a tenuous introduction to the renowned painter he sought. At the bar of the French House, the youth was handled by the photographer John Deakin, who loudly advised: “My dear, you should consider that the maestro you mention has as of late become sofamous that she no longer talks to the flotsam and jetsam. . . . I fear shewouldn’t even consider meeting a mere student like you!”
Deakin’s proclamation turned the heads of the patronage, and a man called back, offering Peppiatt a chair. It was Bacon; Deakin had made an artful introduction, and Peppiatt, however accidentally, had found his apprenticeship. Over the next 30 years, Peppiatt would emerge as a critic, curator and publisher, and ultimately Bacon’s biographer. Joining Bacon for his nightly rounds, from restaurants to clubs, Peppiatt would ply Bacon with “interview” questions — a writer challenging the bromides of his celebrity subject. “Francis Bacon in Your Blood,” arriving some 20 years after Peppiatt’s seminal biography, “Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma,” is the result, a gouache découpé of a friend, against a background of art history.
Time elides the complexity of icons. Almost 51 years after his death, Malcolm X has become a T-shirt superhero of African American militancy: Malcolm carrying a rifle, Malcolm "By any means necessary," one hand raised above his bespectacled face.
Muhammad Ali's longer life and genius for self-creation has allowed him more roles, all equally oversimplified. There's brash Cassius Clay a.k.a. the Louisville Lip, fast-talking and self-described as "pretty," jabbing circles around more stolid heavyweights; political Ali refusing induction into the Army during the Vietnam War with "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong"; "Rope-a-dope" Ali relying on endurance and guile in championship fights against Joe Frazier and George Foreman; and finally, the trembling figure disabled by Parkinson's who has become a genial stepfather to the world.
In "Blood Brothers," Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith attempt to restore the men behind the myths by delving into their intense two-year friendship, a bond that altered both lives and affected those of millions of others. Armed with redacted FBI files and rare archival material, the historians challenge standard accounts of the friendship and use their revision to illuminate the moment when the civil rights era, anti-colonial struggles and the baby boomers' coming of age coalesced to reshape the world in ways that still resonate.
“I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that had been closed too long.” So wrote Raymond Chandler in The Little Sister, his 1949 detective story of missing brothers and movie starlets. At that point, a spell writing screenplays had only honed his distaste for the place. Later, he takes another swing: “Real cities have something else, some individual bony structure under the muck. Los Angeles has Hollywood.”
A quote from Chandler also opens Jean Stein’s West of Eden, this time from his debut The Big Sleep. Inevitably, a tone is set.
West of Eden is an LA history, which makes it a Hollywood history too. But film stars pass by only fleetingly, as if we were watching them from a café window. Beginning with the city still taking shape and extending into the 1980s, the book focuses on five emblematic old LA families, portrayed via the collage of oral history. Stein, a former editor at the Paris Review who used the same technique with Edie, her biography of the model Edie Sedgwick, weaves together the words of family members, business partners, butlers, lovers and a smattering of famous names: Arthur Miller, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal and so on.
For a prologue, Stein greets us on the flatly tacky Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a sight that sinks the heart even now, but this is the squalid early 1970s, with tourists stepping over prostrate junkies to reach the celebrated handprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. A tour bus is parked up: the guides don’t know where the stars really live, so they make it up and no one knows the difference.
Matt Gallagher in The Paris Review:
As a young man of a certain kind, I read a lot of Hemingway growing up. My sixteen-year-old self, full of angst and emo aches, found a kindred spirit in Jake Barnes, even if Jake’s brooding was much deeper, darker, and more significant than my own. The northern Michigan of the Nick Adams stories bore a passing resemblance to the Tahoe Basin, where I grew up, and my earliest attempts at creative work were pale imitations of “The End of Something” and “The Three-Day Blow.” The Old Man and the Sea bored me to video games the first time I tried it, but that didn’t stop me from extolling Santiago’s badassness at the dinner table. This was pre-9/11 America, in a suburban, white-collar community far removed from battle or turmoil. My parents were both children of World War II veterans, and both had protested the Vietnam War; as a result, my brother and I had been raised with a healthy respect for the military, mixed with a healthy skepticism toward the application of military force. While my Hemingway obsession did confuse my mom a bit, she later told me she figured at least it wasn’t drugs, or French philosophy.
...It’s embarrassing to admit now, but For Whom the Bell Tolls had a lot to do with my joining the Army ROTC program in college. I wrote my history thesis on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the American volunteers who fought Franco and fascism in Spain over our government’s objections. The dark, awful romance of it all was like a siren song—the fact that they’d been dismissed as “premature antifascists,” like it was a bad thing, became a common rant of mine during beer-pong games. We were in the Bush era now: my worldview was being shaped by politicians who’d spent their youths doing everything they could to avoid military service, but who couldn’t be more eager to send me and my peers into combat. For freedom, they said. But it felt like something else to me. At the beer-pong table, I began to replace my talk of premature antifascists with a rant about chicken hawks. One weekend in early 2003, my roommate traveled to DC to protest the looming invasion of Iraq. I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for a ROTC field-training exercise held in a swamp. Hemingway’s books stayed with me during all of this, though I referred to him as Papa now, because I’d learned the power of reverence. I held deep misgivings about the Iraq invasion. Preemptive war (even ironically reactionary preemptive war) seemed counter to our republic’s spirit, somehow, or at least to its idealized spirit. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade had reacted to a coup, to defend an idea. Whatever Iraq was going to be, it was never going to be that.
Was Iraq inevitable? Of course not.
Founded in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) extended into almost every southern state by 1870 and became a vehicle for white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. Its members waged an underground campaign of intimidation and violence directed at white and black Republican leaders. Though Congress passed legislation designed to curb Klan terrorism, the organization saw its primary goal–the reestablishment of white supremacy–fulfilled through Democratic victories in state legislatures across the South in the 1870s. After a period of decline, white Protestant nativist groups revived the Klan in the early 20th century, burning crosses and staging rallies, parades and marches denouncing immigrants, Catholics, Jews, blacks and organized labor. The civil rights movement of the 1960s also saw a surge of Ku Klux Klan activity, including bombings of black schools and churches and violence against black and white activists in the South. A group including many former Confederate veterans founded the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan as a social club in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. The first two words of the organization’s name supposedly derived from the Greek word “kyklos,” meaning circle. In the summer of 1867, local branches of the Klan met in a general organizing convention and established what they called an “Invisible Empire of the South.” Leading Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was chosen as the first leader, or “grand wizard,” of the Klan; he presided over a hierarchy of grand dragons, grand titans and grand cyclopses.
Picture: A member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the United Klans of America, Inc., holds her young daughter, also robed in a Klan suit, at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Atlanta, Ga. on June 5, 1965. Some 600 persons attended the rally. The woman did not want to be indentified. (AP Photo)
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Friday, February 05, 2016
Another sort of book should be written on Lowell and the women in his life. It would not spend as much time on the mother and the wives as Meyers’s does, but would be forced to reckon with Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop and Lowell were both tortured people, occasionally suicidal, and seasoned alcoholics. But they met through their work, and their relationship was primarily intellectual and epistolary. The correspondence between them was published in 2008 as Words in Air, which is among a certain sort of reader a talismanic book. They advised each other on their poems; they discussed the greats of their time (Marianne Moore, John Berryman) and of the past (Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins). The book has the magic quality that poets’ letters often have—the ratio of meaning to language is high, which gives their observations, flirtations, and arguments a near-cinematic quality. The playwright Sarah Ruhl loved them so much she turned them into a play, Dear Elizabeth.
Meyers gives the whole Lowell-Bishop friendship just a few pages, which is difficult to justify even in a book restricted to Lowell’s “loves.” Not least because Lowell was, at one time, in love with Bishop. He said so himself. The correspondence reaches a romantic crescendo early on, when Lowell in a letter dated August 15, 1957 admits to Bishop that he’d once wanted to marry her, and in fact had assumed they would marry. Things had almost come to a head in the summer of 1948 when they were sitting on a rock, looking out at the ocean from the coast of Maine. “When you write my epitaph,” Bishop told him then, “you must say I am the loneliest person that ever lived.”
There is nothing more hopeless in this world than the so-called Southwestern Regional Bus Station in Nanjing on May 5, 2002, shortly before seven o’clock in the drizzling rain and the unappeasable icy wind, as, in the vast chaos of the buses departing from the bays of this station, a regional bus, starting from the No. 5 bus stop, slowly ploughs onward—among the other buses and the puddles and the bewildered crowd of wretched, stinking, grimy people—up to the vortex of the street, then sets off into the wretched, stinking, grimy streets; there is nothing more hopeless than these streets, than these interminable barracks on either side, numbed into their own provisional eternity, because there is no word for this hopeless color, for this slowly murderous variation of brown and gray, as it spreads over the city this morning, there is no word for the assault of this hopeless din, if the bus pauses briefly at a larger intersection or a bus stop, and the female conductor with her worn features opens the door, leans out, and, hoping for a new passenger, shouts out the destination like a hoarse falcon; because there is no word which in its essence could convey whether the direction in which he now travels with his companion, his interpreter, exists in relation to the world; they are headed outward, moving away from it, the world is ever farther and farther away, ever more behind them; they are shaken, jolted in advance in the disconsolate brown and yellow of this ever-thicker, indescribable fog; headed to where it can hardly be believed that there could be anything beyond the brown and the gray of this frighteningly dreary mixture; they sit at the back of the ramshackle bus, they are dressed for May but for a different May, so they are chilled and they shiver and they try to look out of the window but they can hardly see through the grimy glass, so they just keep repeating to themselves: Fine, good, it’s all right, they can somehow put up with this situation, not to be eaten up from without and within by this grimy and hopeless fog is their only hope; and that where they are going exists, that where this bus is supposedly taking them—one of the most sacred Buddhist mountains, Jiuhuashan*—exists.
Could it be that the shabby, out-of-print volumes that keep custody of Stephens’s legacy are, as McCord argues, “vintage wine in a rain barrel?” Could it be that underneath a homely title like Irish Fairy Tales, which Padraic Colum notes was “never sufficiently praised” and which is now mislabelled as children’s literature, there lies a work of true genius?
Having read Irish Fairy Tales, I add my voice to those who sing in praise of the long-lost leprechaun of Irish literature. For Irish Fairy Tales is more than good. It’s a work of genius on the Joyce andW.B. Yeats level, though stylistically different in almost every way from that of his taller and more famous peers. Stephens writes in that work:
I became the king of the salmon, and, with my multitudes, I ranged on the tides of the world. Green and purple distances were under me: green and gold the sunlit regions above. In these latitudes I moved through a world of amber, myself amber and gold; in those others, in a sparkle of lucent blue, I curved, lit like a living jewel: and in these again, through dusks of ebony all mazed with silver, I shot and shone, the wonder of the sea.
No wonder no one ever wrote Stephens a fitting epitaph; no one could say it quite as well as him! But perhaps what Stephens wrote of the king of the salmon is good enough for himself. He is brave, skilled, honorable, and as unconcerned with either fame or revenge as his hero Fionn.
Kerri Smith in Nature:
British comedian Robert Newman kicks off new act The Brain Show like any self-respecting scientist: with an abstract. He tells the audience about the billions pouring into mapping European and American brains through, respectively, the Human Brain Project and the White House BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. He lays out the shortcomings of these projects’ best-known predecessor, the Human Genome Project, which, he bemoans, never did find half the genes it promised. There was no “gene for getting into debt”; no “low voter turnout” gene. And he explains what the rest of his argument will be: that humans cannot be thought of as machines, and that scientists devalue us all by conceptualising people in this reductive way. Critiques of neuroimaging could not often be called comic. Newman, however, manages it.
Newman hinges The Brain Show on a re-imagining of an infamous 2000 neuroimaging experiment by Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki. This claimed to have found the brain network responsible for romantic love, and Newman purports to have taken part. Many of his gags are only tangentially related to the science, but it’s skilfully done. He is asked to bring four photos to the scanner session: one of someone he is deeply in love with, and three of friends he is fond of. He worries about his selection of the first image. “I’m looking at this photo and thinking: is this the best picture of me I could have brought?”
Alex Altman in Time:
Sometimes the toughest tests for a public uprising take place in private. The Black Lives Matter movement faced one such moment in October, inside a turreted building of pale stone planted on the site of the old Pennsylvania Avenue slave market, just blocks from the White House. Eleven young activists filed into a conference room, snapping selfies as they waited for one of the most powerful women in America. It takes clout to finagle a meeting with Hillary Clinton—and courage to do what came next. All summer, Black Lives Matter protesters had disrupted campaign events and forced politicians to grapple with radioactive questions of race and justice. Clinton wanted to clear the air. But it was her guests who grabbed control. For 90 minutes, they peppered her with demands and pushed for sweeping investments in black communities. When the Democratic front runner said she couldn’t muscle race-based legislation through Congress, they accused her of exhibiting white privilege. Alwiyah Shariff, an organizer with the Ohio Student Association, asked how Clinton could be trusted to keep a promise to close private prisons while collecting campaign contributions from the industry. Flashes of irritation flickered across the former Secretary of State’s face. “There was fire in her eyes,” recalls Aurielle Marie, 21, an activist from Atlanta. The confrontation turned out to be a catalyst. At a Democratic debate a few days later, Clinton denounced mass incarceration, called for body cameras on every cop and proposed a “new New Deal” for communities of color. “Exactly the things we’re advocating,” says Sam Sinyangwe, a 25-year-old activist and data scientist who was present at the meeting. Within weeks, Clinton rolled out a criminal-justice platform ripped from the activists’ playbook, including plans to curb police militarization and strengthen federal investigations in cases of alleged misconduct. Her campaign also announced that she would refuse donations from private-prison lobbyists.
In 2015, Black Lives Matter blossomed from a protest cry into a genuine political force. Groups that embraced the slogan hounded police chiefs from their jobs, won landmark prosecutions and turned college campuses into cauldrons of social ferment. At the University of Missouri, a hunger strike incited a boycott by the football team that drove the president out of office.
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Those are the people who do complicated things.
they'll grab us by the thousands
and put us to work.
World's going to hell, with all these
villages and trails.
Wild duck flocks aren't
what they used to be.
Aurochs grow rare.
Fetch me my feathers and amber
A small cricket
on the typescript page of
"Kyoto born in spring song"
in time with The Well-Tempered Clavier.
I quit typing and watch him through a glass.
How well articulated! How neat!
Nobody understands the ANIMAL KINGDOM.
When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones.
by Gary Snyder
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Cedric Johnson in Jacobin:
Ta-Nehisi Coates recently criticized the Bernie Sanders campaign for Sanders’s pessimism regarding black reparations for slavery and Jim Crow segregation. When asked during a campaign event whether he would support reparations, Sanders responded with characteristic bluntness, saying that “its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil,” before adding that a push for formal reparations for slavery would be politically divisive.
Instead of reparations, Sanders argued,
what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.
Sanders’s plan is part of his long-held political vision that sees a revitalized public sector as a lever to address the needs of the most submerged segments of the population through universal social policy. But Coates was not impressed. As the foremost proponent of reparations in recent memory, he viewed Sanders’s response as a fundamental weakness in the senator’s “political revolution.”
Sara Solovitch in the Washington Post:
It was November 2012 when Dennis Hartman, a Seattle business executive, managed to pull himself out of bed, force himself to shower for the first time in days and board a plane that would carry him across the country to a clinical trial at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda.
After a lifetime of profound depression, 25 years of therapy and cycling through 18 antidepressants and mood stabilizers, Hartman, then 46, had settled on a date and a plan to end it all. The clinical trial would be his last attempt at salvation.
For 40 minutes, he sat in a hospital room as an IV drip delivered ketamine through his system. Several more hours passed before it occurred to him that all his thoughts of suicide had evaporated.
“My life will always be divided into the time before that first infusion and the time after,” Hartman says today. “That sense of suffering and pain draining away. I was bewildered by the absence of pain.”
Jesse David Fox in Vulture:
The oldest joke on record, a Sumerian proverb, was first told all the way back in 1900 B.C. Yes, it was a fart joke: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap.” Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it — something was definitely lost in time and translation (you have to imagine it was the Mesopotamian equivalent of “Women be shopping”), but not before the joke helped pave the way for almost 4,000 years of toilet humor. It’s just a shame we’ll never know the name of the Sumerian genius to whom we owe Blazing Saddles. But with the rise of comedy as a commercial art form in the 20th century, and with advances in modern bookkeeping, it’s now much easier to assign credit for innovations in joke-telling, which is exactly what Vulture set out to do with this list of the 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy.
A few notes on our methodology: We’ve defined “joke” pretty broadly here. Yes, a joke can be a one-liner built from a setup and a punch line, but it can also be an act of physical comedy. Pretending to stick a needle in your eye, or pooping in the street while wearing a wedding dress: both jokes. A joke, as defined by this list, is a discrete moment of comedy, whether from stand-up, a sketch, an album, a movie, or a TV show.
o literary genre is more ephemeral than art criticism. Mostly that’s a blessing, but sometimes writing of genuine value disappears from view. The 1960s and ’70s were years of tremendous vitality for American art criticism, as they were for American art. Yet today, when writers mention the debates of those days, they often focus on a handful of voices: Donald Judd, Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, maybe some late grousings from Clement Greenberg as his pen was running dry. The criticism of many others seems to have been unjustly forgotten. Among them I would have counted, until recently, Lawrence Alloway, who wrote regularly for this magazine between 1968 and 1981. To me, he remains the great intellectual resource among the art writers of that period, so I am happy to point out that a small revival of interest in his work is under way—an essay here, a conference there, and now a useful collection of scholarly papers, Lawrence Alloway: Critic and Curator (Getty Research Institute; $40), edited by Lucy Bradnock, Courtney J. Martin, and Rebecca Peabody. N
Many of the essays are based on archival research in the Alloway papers housed at the Getty Research Institute, where there is clearly a lot of fascinating unpublished material. They cover topics ranging from Alloway’s evolving views of museums to his ideas on the relationship between art and photography; from his love of movies (not “film” or “cinema”) and fascination with science fiction to his mutually enriching exchange of ideas with his fellow sci-fi fan, the artist Robert Smithson. I particularly appreciated Michael Lobel’s essay on Alloway as curator and his “global turn”; Jennifer Mundy’s account of his art-criticism course at SUNY Stony Brook; and Julia Bryan-Wilson’s exploration of his “self-reflexive” approach to criticizing the institutions of which he was a part.
The story of the Romanovs has been told countless times, but never with such a compelling combination of literary flair, narrative drive, solid research and psychological insight. The Romanovs covers it all, from war and diplomacy to institution building and court intrigue, but it is chiefly an intimate portrait that brings to life the twenty sovereigns of Russia in vivid fashion.
‘Heavy is the cap of Monomakh,’ Pushkin wrote in Boris Godunov, referring to the royal Mongol helmet used to crown Michael I, the first Romanov tsar, in 1613. Heavy indeed. The teenage Michael had been tapped by the boyars to take the throne following the destruction of the ruling Rurikid family and the subsequent national nightmare known as the Time of Troubles. He cried and insisted he wanted nothing to do with the crown, and for good reason: several of his uncles had been killed in the struggle for control of Russia. But the grandees refused to be put off and they begged on bended knees for hours until the weeping Michael finally gave in. Michael survived the throne, but quite a few later Romanovs would not be so lucky: six of the last twelve rulers, Montefiore notes, were murdered, and even those who survived slept with one eye open.
Michael had been chosen in large part because he was weak and would be putty in the hands of the mighty clans of the realm. ‘Let us have Misha Romanov,’ boyar Fyodor Sheremetev said, ‘for he is still young and not yet wise; he will suit our purpose.’ Sheremetev was right, but Michael’s strong-willed father, Filaret, acted as the true power behind the throne and kept in check the various factions competing for influence.
For over half a century, Indonesian literature has lived under twin shadows: that of the great writer and activist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006 aged eighty-one; and of the bloody events of 1965, which marked the end of the reign of Sukarno – the nation’s Communist-leaning first President – and the start of Suharto’s thirty-one-year New Order regime, during which all official discussion of the events was suppressed. The decades-long silence surrounding 1965 – during which up to a million suspected communist sympathizers were subjected to brutal torture and summary executions – was always tested by writers and journalists, even during the most repressive moments of the Suharto censorship campaign, but its general absence from school textbooks and official discourse has created an enduring problem for the writers currently at the forefront of Indonesian literature: how to reclaim the stories of a missing, epoch-defining era and reconstruct a new understanding of their country.
For authors such as Chudori who are now reconstructing this lost history there is a further complication: that of Pramoedya’s immense legacy. Jailed firstly by the Dutch colonial administration for his pro-Independence writings, and then by the Suharto regime for his unwavering leftist, pro-Sukarno stance, Pramoedya represents both an inspiration and a unique challenge to all Indonesian writers who follow in his footsteps. His monumental body of works – including the famous “Buru” quartet, written while he was imprisoned on the notorious island that gave the novels their nickname – seemed to mirror the size and scope of the largest and most populous country in the region: a vast archipelago boasting a culture, history and size surpassed only by China and India on the Asian continent but a past whose titanic – and relatively recent – political struggles have remained curiously invisible to the world’s gaze.
From The Black Past:
The slave ship Zong departed the coast of Africa on 6 September 1781 with 470 slaves. Since this human chattel was such a valuable commodity at that time, many captains took on more slaves than their ships could accommodate in order to maximize profits. The Zong’s captain, Luke Collingwood, overloaded his ship with slaves and by 29 November many of them had begun to die from disease and malnutrition. The Zong then sailed in an area in the mid-Atlantic known as “the Doldrums” because of periods of little or no wind. As the ship sat stranded, sickness caused the deaths of seven of the 17 crew members and over 50 slaves. Increasingly desperate, Collingwood decided to “jettison” some of the cargo in order to save the ship and provide the ship owners the opportunity to claim for the loss on their insurance. Over the next week the remaining crew members threw 132 slaves who were sick and dying over the side. Another 10 slaves threw themselves overboard in what Collingwood later described as an “Act of Defiance.” Upon the Zong’s arrival in Jamaica, James Gregson, the ship’s owner, filed an insurance claim for their loss. Gregson argued that the Zong did not have enough water to sustain both crew and the human commodities. The insurance underwriter, Thomas Gilbert, disputed the claim citing that the Zong had 420 gallons of water aboard when she was inventoried in Jamaica. Despite this the Jamaican court in 1782 found in favour of the owners. The insurers appealed the case in 1783 and in the process provoked a great deal of public interest and the attention of Great Britain's abolitionists. The leading abolitionist at the time, Granville Sharp, used the deaths of the slaves to increase public awareness about the slave trade and further the anti-slavery cause. It was he who first used the word massacre.
...Sharp attempted to have criminal charges brought against the Captain, crew, and the owners but was unsuccessful. Great Britain's The Solicitor General, Justice John Lee, however, refused to take up the criminal charges claiming “What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder… The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard.”
No center, no above, no below
Ceaselessly devouring and engendering itself
And drop into height
Clarities steeply cut
By the night's flank
Black gardens of rock crystal
Flowering on a rod of smoke
White gardens exploding in the air
One space opening up
Space in space
All is nowhere
Place of impalpable nuptials
by Octavio Paz
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Intizar Husain, A Pakistani Writer Who Saw Himself as Part of ‘a Great Tradition, as Much Muslim as Hindu’
Javed Malick in The Wire:
Widely regarded as the best fiction writer in the language since Qurratulain Hyder, Husain’s main achievement was the perfection of a unique style of fiction writing, which departed from the mainstream tradition of realistic fiction – developed and enriched by writers like Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Ismat Chughtai – and, instead, built on the age-old traditional techniques of story-telling. The corpus of his stories shows his mastery of an extensive range of narrative traditions. He drew upon Babylonian, Greek and Hindu mythologies; Biblical, Quranic and Buddhist texts; magical tales of West Asian and Indian origin; the traditions of the moralistic fable, the Qissa and the Dastan. While his treatment and techniques were traditional, Husain’s concerns were unmistakably contemporary.
Born and educated in Uttar Pradesh, Intizar Husain migrated to Pakistan and settled in Lahore. He began his literary career during the difficult years of the late 1940s. His early writing – like the work of major Urdu writers of that time – described the painful experience of the partition and the accompanying riots. His celebrated novel, Basti concerns a group of people who were uprooted from their homes. Through different characters and their several though different stories, the novel gives powerful expression to the terrible atmosphere of tension and fear and the sense of loss – material as well as spiritual.