Friday Poem

The world I lived in had a soft voice
and no claws.
Lisel Mueller

Curriculum Vitae 2015

1) Three months before he was born the Romanian dictator and his wife were executed before a firing squad. To this day his mother still talks about it.

2) When he was a boy he fell from a tree. Ever since, his earliest memory of his father was himself in school uniform, squatting on the toilet. The roots lay in his first day of school—he was five and right before they set off he told his father he needed to poop.

3) The first thing he learned at school watching all the girls during recess was that there was a girl inside him. He thought when he grew up his penis would dissolve and her breasts would sprout.

4) He didn’t say much and only learned to read when he was finishing second grade. In front of a friend of his mother’s, the mother of one of his friends called him “the stupid one.” His mother’s friend told his mother and when he was grown up his mother told him.

5) He was bad at making friends and spent most of his time reading and playing Nintendo and Sega. The first book he read was a book of Japanese folktales.

6) Some parents in his neighborhood refused to let their children play with him and his brothers because their family was Bataknese and Christian.

7) He had no friends and didn’t realize how sad this was.

8) His father beat him regularly. One day he eavesdropped on his parents—his father was concerned about the way he acted which he said was girly. He looked in the mirror, to the little girl within, and saw it was good.

9) One time his father kicked him and sprained an ankle. His father didn’t go to work. His mother said he was the source of all the problems in their household.

10) One Sunday morning his father took him and his brothers to jog and play soccer on a badminton court nearby. “You faggot,” his father screamed in front of everyone.

11) He accepted that he was a failure. His first suicide attempt occurred the day before he started middle school.

12) He got into the best high school in the city where all the government officials sent their children. His friends from middle school started avoiding him. The bud of loneliness blossomed into first love.

13) Not long after he graduated from college he discovered the rest of the Bataknese community called him “the faggot” behind his back.

14) When he was twenty-two depression hit. One night he lost his memory. His brother found him at a gas station near the shopping mall.

15) He ran away from home and found a book by Herta Müller in a bookstore in Jakarta. Herta wrote about Ceauşescu’s Securitate. It reminded him of his mother. He then read every English translation of Herta’s books and loved them all.

16) As he approached his twenty-third birthday, for reasons he didn’t understand, he felt he was male. And he saw it wasn’t bad.

17) He moved back in with his parents.

18) He went back to work and began writing again. In a novel-writing class he met you, the man who loves him.

19) His father sold the motorbike he was leasing from his workplace to marry his mother. He hoped to use the royalties from his books to marry you.

20) He will grow old. You will grow old. You both will grow old and be wed before the Three-Branched God—the tree-like God—and have a child named Langit. Your descendants will fill the Earth so that whenever anyone is walking in the dark by themself they will hear, from every window on every building on both sides of the street, voices reaching out—“Salam!” “Salam!” “Salam!”

by Norman Erikson Pasaribu
from Asymptote Journal

translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

Does Journalism Still Have a Future?

Oset Babur in Harvard Magazine:

FON_Collage_wbAnn Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, began the lively discussion by noting, “We are, in all our media, a nation screaming past each other”—making it difficult to listen to dissenting opinions, and almost impossible to understand where people on the other side of the aisle are coming from. That divide helped make the 2016 election cycle one of the most polarizing in this nation’s history. Lydia Polgreen, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, said, “We’re seeing a collapse of empathy in journalism…the problem this election cycle wasn’t that we didn’t write about them [Americans who voted for Donald Trump], it’s that we didn’t write for them.” Polgreen emphasized the need for journalism to remind readers of its blue collar roots by explaining its methods and goals more clearly. Only then, she argued, will the industry seem less like an elite club that caters only to small, affluent subsets of New England, the tristate New York area, or the Bay area of coastal California.

All the panelists talked about the importance of truth-seeking in quality journalism — and acknowledged that this kind of work requires resources that many outlets don’t have. The challenge, then, is to find a way to get well-endowed publications with relatively greater reporting resources like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to capture subscribers who have been flocking to smaller, more partisan outlets for their news, because they haven’t found a voice that represents them in major outlets. Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal said, “Over the last few decades, we’ve been watching an erosion of trust in so many institutions of civil society, including government, big business, church, and journalism…almost every institution, except for the military.” While it’s unlikely that journalists will ever enjoy the kind of sustained popularity that the military has, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt talked about the value of gaining subscribers over mere online clicks, as well as the importance of forming trusting relationships with readers by putting reporters on the ground, where they can do extensive legwork and reporting to get a piece right. Optimistically, Leonhardt argued that this kind of hard work is what readers crave and need to start trusting the news again.

More here.

Things come together: African novelists, who write about the experience of migration,

Fiammetta Rocco in The Economist:

AfricansAn advance of $1m for any novel is extraordinary; when the book is an unfinished first novel by a young, out-of-work immigrant from Cameroon, something big is happening. Imbolo Mbue (above), whose “Behold the Dreamers” came out recently, is part of a wave of new literature from Africa, much of it written by immigrants to America. “I wanted to write about what it’s like to be working class,” says the author, who was employed in market research in New York until she lost her job in the financial crisis. “To be struggling with poverty, to be barely getting by in America. I wanted to write about what it’s like to be an immigrant. I wanted to write about me.”

Great African literature has come in waves. The first was in the 1950s, led by Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, which was published in 1958, has sold more than 12m copies and has never been out of print. The experience of colonialism spawned some extraordinary writing; and, as colonial guilt took hold, there was a receptive audience in the rich world. A second wave began after the end of the cold war, when the West’s interest in foreign parts shifted away from proxy wars and moral politics. A far more personal engagement with individual countries and their peoples began to take hold. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer, is the most celebrated of this generation: her “Purple Hibiscus”, which came out in 2003, made her famous. Just as Gabriel García Márquez led the surge of interest in Latin American fiction in the 1970s, so too have Chimamanda and her fellow writers from Africa done today.

More here.

The Rise Of The “Super Firms” And Inequality

Ronald Janssen in Social Europe:

Related work from the OECD reveals itis indeed suggesting a new and complementary narrative besides the usual skills biased technology one.

This starts from the observation that for some countries (the US primarily but also Germany and Sweden), the overall increase in wage inequality appears to be caused by wage differences between firms and not by different wages being paid within firms. “Inequality, to quote (at page69) the OECD, “has risen because some firms now pay all their employees more than other firms, not because top managers have increasingly been paid more than support staff”.

So, why have some firms raised wages for (all or most of) their staff more than other firms? Here, the OECD comes up with another phenomenon which is that some firms (the so-called ‘frontier’ firms, the 100 or 5% most productive firms in each sector across the world) have apparently been able to systematically increase their productivity performance whereas productivity growth for the rest (the ‘laggards’) is dwindling (see graph below).

‘Frontier’ firms are thus able to increase pay for their workforce substantially, whereas ‘laggard’ firms find it quite difficult to do so. In other words, rising wage inequalities are to be explained by the rise of a group of ‘super firms’.

This narrative, however, sounds pretty familiar: It resembles the old neo-classical theory where the marginal productivity of individual workers determines their wage, with the theory on productivity divergences between individuals transformed into a tale of productivity divergence between firms. The practical effect of this is that the focus firmly remains on productivity performance (in this case the productivity of firms, not of individual workers) while the question of how value added is distributed remains in the background. This in turn allows one to revert to traditional policy recipes such as ease of firing to ‘liberate’ workers otherwise locked up in ‘zombie’ firms while overlooking pre-distribution policies such as robust collective bargaining that can give wage earners a fair share of the value added…

The new OECD narrative is, to large extent, based on research for the US (with one paper fittingly called ‘firming up inequality”). The International Labor Organisation’s 2016/2017 Global Wage report focusses on Europe. Using similar techniques to those used in the US research, it reveals that there is a significant degree of wage inequality in Europe that is explained by wage differences within firms.

More here.

I say, damn it, where are the beds?


David Trotter in The LRB:

Alex Woloch’s purpose is to remedy the relative neglect visited on an ‘iconic political writer’ by ‘literary theory and criticism’ – despite, or perhaps because of, their increasing preoccupation with politics. Whereas Sutherland prefers to stay out of disputes about the kind of socialist Orwell was, Woloch attributes to him an explicit and more or less unwavering political intention. The horizon of his argument is established by Orwell’s remark, in ‘Why I Write’ (1946), that ‘every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly and indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.’ Some, at least, of literary theory and criticism’s long-standing antipathy to intention will have to be revoked. Still, it was not so much the ‘for’ and ‘against’ that needed explaining as the medium of their expression. ‘Why I Write’ insists that, however polemical its intention, a book or magazine article must constitute an ‘aesthetic experience’ if it is to have any effect. ‘What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.’ The art of political writing lay in the effacement of personality: ‘Good prose is like a windowpane.’

Woloch is by no means the first critic to take Orwell’s political writing seriously as art, or to doubt that it ever resembled a windowpane. He has, however, raised the debate to a new level by the originality and scope of his analysis of the books and essays Orwell published in the ten years up to 1946, and by his attention to detail. His argument rests on two propositions. First, ‘experience’ and ‘reflection’ confront each other dialectically in Orwell’s political writing, to the extent that its subject is as much the ‘dynamic and mercurial process’ of thought provoked by a particular topic as the topic itself: a bold claim, given our settled conviction that he sought out reality as a matter of pride (Seeing Things as They Are is the title of the Penguin ‘Selected Journalism’). Second, continual thought about thought, far from disabling the political will, is the best way to put it into practice: any politics worth having – any democratic socialism – is a struggle, an aspiration. In Woloch’s view, the art of Orwell’s writing about politics lies in its scepticism concerning ‘any final, stable or permanent expression of political belief’.

More here.

Why upgrading your brain could make you less human


Michael Bess in Aeon:

Within the lifetimes of most children today, bioenhancement is likely to become a basic feature of human society. Personalised pharmaceuticals will enable us to modify our bodies and minds in powerful and precise ways, with far fewer side-effects than today’s drugs. New brain-machine interfaces will improve our memory and cognition, extend our senses, and confer direct control over an array of semi-intelligent gadgets. Genetic and epigenetic modification will allow us to change our physical appearance and capabilities, as well as to tweak some of the more intangible aspects of our being such as emotion, creativity or sociability.

Do you find these ideas disquieting? One of the more insidious effects of such self-editing is that it will blur the boundary between persons and things.The reason is simple: bioenhancements are products. They require machines, chemicals, tools and techniques that develop over time. They become obsolete after a number of years. They are likely to be available for purchase on the open market. Some will be better than others, and more expensive than others. Some – like cars or jewellery or your house – will confer a greater or lesser degree of prestige.

But if we’re not careful, we ignore the fact that these ‘products’ are altering key aspects of a human being’s selfhood. Without realising it, we drift into an instrumental mode of thought, which would reduce a person to the sum total of her modified or unmodified traits. We could lose sight of the individual’s intrinsic value and dignity, and start comparing people as if they were used vehicles in a car lot.

More here.

Britain Jumps Into a Brexit Wonderland


John Cassidy in The New Yorker:

It would be uplifting to report that since the referendum, in June, which the Leave side won by fifty-two per cent to forty-eight per cent, the pro-Europe forces had been making a vigorous effort to persuade the public that it made a disastrous mistake. That hasn’t happened. Under the leadership of the hapless Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, the main opposition group in Parliament, has come around to toeing the pro-Brexit line. In advance of Wednesday’s vote, Corbyn ordered Labour M.P.s to support the Brexit bill, and most obeyed his edict—though fifty-two defied Corbyn and voted as their consciences dictated.

To be fair to the Labour Party, it is in a tough spot. Like U.S. Democratic congressmen and senators from districts and states that Donald Trump won, the Labour Party’s M.P.s can’t afford to ignore the views of their electors. Many represent working-class constituencies that voted for Brexit, and the rise of ukip represents a serious threat to them. Corbyn’s edict reflected a fear that if the Labour Party were seen as trying to overturn the result of the referendum, it could get wiped out in the next election. But for all this cold political logic, it was a sorry sight to see Labour, a party with a long tradition of internationalism and standing up for minorities, lining up alongside the Farages of the world.

Political self-interest also played a big role on the Conservative side, where loyalty to May and the Party leadership overcame the qualms about Brexit that many centrist Tories still have.

More here.

Europe after Brexit and with Trump

BrexitPaul Taylor at Eurozine:

The European Union is a half-way house of states and peoples, built on a cliff. It has never been and is unlikely in our lifetime to become a full, viable federation along the lines of the United States – which took more than a century to construct in its current form. Yet it is more than a mere international organization like the United Nations or NATO, since it has important elements of supranational governance. Rather, it is a unique and unstable edifice that former European Commission President Jacques Delors aptly called a ‘federation of nation states’.

With Britain’s vote in June 2016 to leave the EU, for the first time a wing has fallen off the house. Even before diplomats begin to disentangle the wreckage in exit negotiations due to start in 2017 and last two years, the surviving 27 tenants are arguing over whether to add additional floors, to all lean in the opposite direction, to try to strengthen the foundations, or to cut back the condominium’s central amenities to a minimum. So far, they have only been able to agree on minor repairs, not fundamental structural improvements.

more here.

The Best Snow Story Ever

1590177649.01.LZZZZZZZNick Ripatrazone at The Millions:

First published in 1961 and later collected in In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, a handful of unusual stories set in the Midwest, “The Pedersen Kid” is suffused with snow — as solemn as Joyce’s tale but somehow more claustrophobic. Gass began writing the story “to entertain a toothache.” That’s an appropriate anecdote. A philosopher by training and a critic by practice, Gass has always been in love with language. Words are his God.

“The Pedersen Kid” is his finest offering. Unlike other stories — like Joyce’s — that include snow at opportune moments, Gass’s novella is suffused with snow from start to finish. Set in North Dakota, a quirky Swedish-American family makes a horrific discovery: a snow-covered child from a neighboring farm on their front steps. “The sun burned on the snow” as they rush the Pedersen kid inside and put the child “on the kitchen table like you would a ham.” They take off the child’s frosted clothes and try to resuscitate him.

“Resuscitate” might not be the best word. The child appears dead, and they seem to resurrect him with a Gass-appropriate Holy Trinity of whiskey, dough, and slapping. The child soon retreats into the background of the story, as the Segren family is more concerned with understanding why, and how, the child made it through a blizzard to their home.

more here.

Cy Twombly, the postmodern painter

3c395fa6-ee12-11e6-8d68-d0e249a86942Marjorie Perloff at the Times Literary Supplement:

The later twentieth century can boast of many avant-garde poets and visual artists – think of Augusto de Campos or Ian Hamilton Finlay or Carl Andre – who really do treat linguistic signs as figural elements, who fuse the verbal and the visual. But Twombly isn’t one of them. He mines the poetry in his library – poetry whose aesthetic, as in the case of Rilke or Seferis, seems far removed from his own syncretic collage composition – for thematic material. And in responding to this process, Jacobus inevitably engages in what is traditional source study. She assesses with great acumen what Twombly’s aims were, and shows brilliantly how he combines the various poetic motifs in his painting. But the question remains, to paraphrase Clark, whether the inclusion of handwritten copies of specific poetic passages does anything to the normal art-ness of picture space. Since, for that matter, the poetic material is almost invisible – we have to take the critic’s word for its presence as well as for the further citations with which she often enhances her material – how much does its existence actually affect the space, structure, and scale of a given painting?

Jacobus makes much of the “O” of Rilke’s “Once”, relating it to those other Os that meant so much to Twombly, including the O ofOrpheus. But “Once” is of course not Rilke’s word; his is “ein Mal”, which gets two stresses rather than the one of “Once” and has its own connotations of “once upon a time” fairy tale. But then for Barthes, words, when they are fully visible, as in the case of VIRGIL, function not as pointers but as semi-parodic signs of displacement. VIRGIL, as Barthes pointed out, has its own set of witty references, but surely Virgil’s poetry is not among them.

more here.

Thursday Poem

Wait a Minute

I open my eyes in the morning.
For a minute
I am neither here nor there.
Then in the next minute
I am here but starting
to be there.

The day has begun.

I will get up
and start to seek,
and continue starting,
so that every minute of this day
will begin with an anticipation
of the promise of the next one.
All day long and into the evening,
every minute of my waking hours,
I will not be here
because I am seeking
to be there.

I tell myself—
a pill will do it,
a walk in the fine fresh air will do it,
a Villa-Lobos prelude will do it,
a message on my telephone answering machine will do it,
a good library book will do it,
a glass of white wine at five o’clock will do it,
a good dinner will do it.

I close my eyes in the evening,
and I say to myself,
with relief at the day’s ending:
a good night’s sleep will do it.

Every day is the same.
I never stop to ask:
“Do what?”
I never think to look for
what it is
that lies between the
beginning of the minute
and the end of it.

by Betty Freydberg
from Poems From the Pond
Hybrid Nation, 2015


Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker:

Mishra-VaclevHavelsLessonsonHowtoCreateaParallelPolis-1200The recent political earthquakes have found us intellectually and emotionally underprepared, even helpless. None of our usual categories (left, right, liberal, conservative, progressive, reactionary) and perspectives (class, race, gender) seem able to explain how a compulsive liar and serial groper became the world’s most powerful man. Turning away from this unintelligible disaster, many seek enlightenment in literary and philosophical texts from the past, such as Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” George Orwell’s “1984,” and Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here.” It may be more rewarding, however, to turn to Václav Havel: a writer and thinker who intimately experienced totalitarianism of the Orwellian kind, who believed that it had already happened in America, and who also offered a way to resist it. Born in 1936, Havel came of age in Czechoslovakia, whose Communist rulers repeatedly imprisoned and continuously surveilled him while suppressing many of his writings. Defiant right until 1989, when he engineered the fall of the Communist regime, Havel came to be celebrated in the West as a “dissident,” a word commonly used to describe many in Communist countries who valiantly struggled against a pitiless despotism. However, his major prose writings, from the late nineteen-seventies onward, took a mordant view of the self-righteous Cold Warrior from the West who sought to turn the dissident into a distant object of pity and admiration. In one of Havel’s most famous essays, “Politics and Conscience,” from 1984, he asserted that dissidents like him, with their “flawed efforts” for freedom, were engaged in a universally necessary endeavor. He insisted on a “shared destiny” with people in Western democracies, presenting his fate as “a warning, a challenge, a danger, or a lesson” for them.

The problems before humankind, as Havel saw it, were far deeper than the opposition between socialism and capitalism, which were both “thoroughly ideological and often semantically confused categories [that] have long since been beside the point.” The Western system, though materially more successful, also crushed the human individual, inducing feelings of powerlessness, which—as Trump’s victory has shown—can turn politically toxic. In Havel’s analysis, politics in general had become too “machine-like” and unresponsive, degrading flesh-and-blood human beings into “statistical choruses of voters.” According to Havel, “the sole method of politics is quantifiable success,” which meant that “good and evil” were losing “all absolute meaning.”

More here.

Restoring Black History

Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The New York Times:

BlackFor years, the issue was whether black people were fit to be more than slaves. “Never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” The connection between humanity and history was central to this debate, and in the estimation of some Enlightenment thinkers, blacks were without history and thus lacked humanity. The German philosopher Hegel argued that human beings are “human” in part because they have memory. History is written or collective memory. Written history is reliable, repeatable memory, and confers value. Without such texts, civilization cannot exist. “At this point we leave Africa,” he pontificated, “not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit.” Black people, of course, would fight back against these aspersions by writing histories about the African-American experience. In the 1880s, George Washington Williams, whom the historian John Hope Franklin called “the first serious historian of his race,” published the “History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880”; he confessed that part of his motivation was “to call the attention to the absurd charge that the Negro does not belong to the human family.”

About a decade later, W.E.B. Du Bois became the first black person to earn a Ph.D. (in history) at Harvard, followed by Carter G. Woodson, a founder of Negro History Week, who wanted to make history by writing it. “If a race has no history,” he wrote, “it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Arthur A. Schomburg, the famous bibliophile, posited a solution: “The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future.” History “must restore what slavery took away.”

More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)

To Kill A Mockingbird

Lisa Lieberman in Deathless Prose:

To_kill_mockingbird_1962_11_-_h_2016I recently listened to Sissy Spacek’s narration of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was simply wonderful. We’d been assigned the novel in a ninth grade English class—not the ideal circumstances for encountering a work of literature. Laboriously, we dissected the book’s message, extracting solemn truths like that line of Atticus’s: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The injustice of a white jury in Alabama convicting a black man, Tom Robinson, on false evidence for the crime of raping a white female was awful, but not surprising. I was more shocked when Bob Ewell attacked Jem and Scout. It was 1970 and George Wallace was running an ugly, racist campaign for governor of Alabama. Calling his opponent names, showing ads depicting a white girl surrounded by seven black boys alongside the slogan, “Wake Up Alabama!” He won the election in a landslide and entered the presidential race the day after his victory, gaining momentum in the primaries until an assassination attempt forced him to withdraw.

No, Tom Robinson’s conviction was expected, and I didn’t need to have all of Harper Lee’s foreshadowing pointed out to me by my English teacher. I knew what was coming.

More here.

Physicists address loophole in tests of Bell’s inequality using 600-year-old starlight

Jennifer Chu in

ScreenHunter_2580 Feb. 08 18.31Quantum entanglement may appear to be closer to science fiction than anything in our physical reality. But according to the laws of quantum mechanics—a branch of physics that describes the world at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles—quantum entanglement, which Einstein once skeptically viewed as "spooky action at a distance," is, in fact, real.

Imagine two specks of dust at opposite ends of the universe, separated by several billion light years. Quantum theory predicts that, regardless of the vast distance separating them, these two particles can be entangled. That is, any measurement made on one will instantaneously convey information about the outcome of a future measurement on its partner. In that case, the outcomes of measurements on each member of the pair can become highly correlated.

If, instead, the universe behaves as Einstein imagined it should—with particles having their own, definite properties prior to measurement, and with local causes only capable of yielding local effects—then there should be an upper limit to the degree to which measurements on each member of the pair of particles could be correlated. Physicist John Bell quantified that upper limit, now known as "Bell's inequality," more than 50 years ago.

In numerous previous experiments, physicists have observed correlations between particles in excess of the limit set by Bell's inequality, which suggests that they are indeed entangled, just as predicted by . But each such test has been subject to various "loopholes," scenarios that might account for the observed correlations even if the world were not governed by .

More here.

Cardiac surgeon, Buffalo lifesaver, on travel ban: ‘Not the America we know’

Lovely article about my brother Syed Tasnim Raza by Sean Kirst in the Buffalo News:

ScreenHunter_2579 Feb. 08 18.19I reached Dr. Syed Raza by telephone last week. I was trying to find the man who saved my father’s life.

Was it Raza? Neither of us could be sure.

What is beyond question is that Raza extended hundreds, even thousands, of lives in Buffalo.

He is a cardiac surgeon. He speaks with awe of the feeling when you operate upon a human heart, when you see a heart that was stilled for surgery resume beating again, when you watch as that beating “becomes stronger and stronger.”

It is a miracle, the gift of life itself.

Raza, 70, is with the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Most of his career was spent at what is now called Buffalo General Medical Health Center. He learned from Dr. George Schimert, his teacher and mentor, the man Raza describes as the father of open heart surgery in Western New York.

“I love Buffalo,” said Raza, a Bills fan whose children grew up in Cheektowaga and Snyder. He was a surgeon at Buffalo General from 1972 to 2005, when he left to start a new heart program in West Virginia. He is now at Columbia, where he manages postoperative cardiac surgical patients. He enjoys the chance to learn about their everyday lives and priorities.

Over the years, he met some 8,000 other patients in the most intense of ways: He caused their wounded hearts to beat again.

More here.

reading orwell closely

0fc21824-811f-11e6-8e50-8ec15fb462f4David Trotter at the London Review of Books:

‘Of course he shot the fucking elephant.’ The sharpness of Sonia Orwell’s defence of the authenticity of the event on which her late husband based one of his most famous essays tells its own story. Without the experiences enjoyed or endured by Eric Blair, Etonian, colonial enforcer, schoolteacher, down-and-out, grocer, infantryman, there would have been no George Orwell, writer. But much of what we know about Blair, we know from Orwell. And it’s not just a matter of what he did when and where. It’s a matter of why he did it at all. Orwell exists because Blair was the sort of person who thought little of sticking his neck out in a good cause (when he did just that, from a trench on the Aragón front during the Spanish Civil War, someone put a bullet through it). Like it or not, ‘Orwell’ is a brand: ordinariness, common decency, speaking plain truths to power, a haggard, prophetic gaze. It is surely some or all of those qualities, rather than any particular political prescience, which have been invoked by the remarkable spike in the sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four following Kellyanne Conway’s notoriously unblushing embrace of ‘alternative facts’. Orwell didn’t foresee Trump. But if Trump were ever to find out about Orwell, he would probably tweet against him. ‘Really dumb @AnimalFarm. A total loser – no clue!’ Such a reputation takes a lot of preserving.

Orwell, in short, may have become more important as a symbol than for anything he actually wrote. Both of these books seek to reverse that suspicion, one by tethering the symbol to some distinctly fallible human flesh, the other by subjecting Orwell’s political prose to the kind of scrutiny ordinarily reserved for the novels of Henry James.

more here.

The Alley Cats of Istanbul

3-a-scene-from-kedi-1024x576Darrell Hartman at The Paris Review:

If you love something, you let it go. Cat people understand this intuitively. You never quite possess a cat, and the sooner you acknowledge that, the better. Cats will chase the tinfoil ball, if they are in the mood, but they will almost certainly not bring it back. We forgive them for this because there is no other option.

I have no trouble linking cats to the divine. Chris Marker’s transcendent short film of a sleeping cat is nothing if not an image of Nirvana, pure being, whatever you want to call it. The look in a cat’s eye guides us toward an idea of freedom, as Claude Lévi-Strauss suggested. Having spent a lifetime studying the structures of ancient societies, the French anthropologist understood well the prison cell into which technological man had locked himself. Only at rare moments, Lévi-Strauss posits near the end ofTristes Tropiques, do we see beyond this cell. One of those is “in the brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.”

To watch films of cats (or even merely videos of them) may not carry the same “serenity” as an exchanged glance—and yet it can be, I propose, a road to a better place. Don’t believe me? Go see Kedi, opening February 10 in New York. Directed by Ceyda Torun, an LA-based filmmaker who grew up in Istanbul, it’s a feature-length documentary that profiles, if that’s the right word, seven alley cats in Istanbul.

more here.

On Rae Armantrout’s ‘Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001–2015’

51ZVKeBMuSL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Vidyan Ravinthiran at Poetry Magazine:

“It is easier to think,” wrote Keats to John Taylor, “what Poetry should be than to write it — and this leads me on to another axiom. That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” Bouncing ludically onward, Keats is, in hiscorrespondence, at once the Romantic genius parading his licensed idiosyncrasies and the “camelion Poet” with no identity at all. This famous letter presents us with the drama of consciousness. Reading it, one agrees with Rae Armantrout in her interview with Prac Crit: “objections could be raised to a human consciousness being a unified thing. The present is something that the mind does. They say the subjective present is about three seconds long.” In comparison, Keats’s hotly provisional axiom has turned to marble, his moment of excited phrase-making will last forever. And it hasn’t palled, at least with me, for though we’ve learned cautiousness as to what appears to come “naturally” (especially while reading Armantrout; she makes you contemplate even the back of your hand with bedazzled skepticism), Keats never says that leaves arrive all at once, or without a fight.

Nothing is natural in the work of Rae Armantrout. Our words, gestures, and relationships are conventional, scripted, deformed — or outright produced — by, as she has it, “the interventions of capitalism into consciousness.”

more here.