28 July 2014

"The Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence"

Israeli novelist David Grossman offered this essay at The New York Times today. It is nice to see signs of sanity among Israelis showing themselves here in the US.

And, at Haaret'z,  reports of anti-war protests of anti-war protests in Tel Aviv and of resistance among IDF veterans.

Labels: , , , ,

Re-Imagining Palestine: Ariella Azoulay

Some time ago Ariella Azoulay published this post at Verso in which she recommends a collaborative re-imagining of Palestine. As she makes clear, the word collaborative as I just used it is deeply problematic in context. But Azoulay has produced this film based on images rescued from official archives that aims to prompt just such collaboration. It seems like a good time to revisit her enterprise.

Labels: , , , ,

Parfit and Photography

Here is a passage from this portrayal of the immensely influential - and personally quite peculiar - British philosopher Derek Parfit - it appeared in The New Yorker a few years back.

"Sometime after he gave up the idea of being a poet, Parfit developed a new aesthetic obsession: photography. He drifted into it—a rich uncle gave him an expensive camera—but later it occurred to him that his interest in committing to paper images of things he had seen might stem from his inability to hold those images in his mind. He also believed that most of the world looked better in reproduction than it did in life. There were only about ten things in the world he wanted to photograph, however, and they were all buildings: the best buildings in Venice—Palladio’s two churches, the Doge’s Palace, the buildings along the Grand Canal—and the best buildings in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building.
I find it puzzling how much I, and some other people, love architecture. Most of the buildings that I love have pillars, either classical or Gothic. There is a nice dismissive word that applies to all other buildings: “astylar.” I also love the avenues in the French countryside, perhaps because the trees are like rows of pillars. (There were eight million trees in French avenues in 1900, and now there are only about three hundred thousand.) There are some astylar buildings that I love, such as some skyscrapers. The best buildings in Venice and St. Petersburg, though very beautiful, are not sublime. What is sublime, I remember hearing Kenneth Clark say, are only the interiors of some late Gothic cathedrals, and some American skyscrapers.
Although he admired some skyscrapers, he believed that architecture had generally declined since 1840, and the world had grown uglier. On the other hand, anesthetics were discovered around the same time, so the world’s suffering had been greatly reduced. Was the trade-off worth it? He was not sure.

He believed that he had little native talent for photography, but that by working hard at it he would be able to produce, in his lifetime, a few good pictures. Between 1975 and 1998, he spent about five weeks each year in Venice and St. Petersburg.
I may be somewhat unusual in the fact that I never get tired or sated with what I love most, so that I don’t need or want variety.
He disliked overhead lights, in which category he included the midday sun, but he loved the horizontal rays at the two ends of the day. He waited for hours, reading a book, for the right sort of light and the right sort of weather.

When he came home, he developed his photographs and sorted them. Of a thousand pictures, he might keep three. When he decided that a picture was worth saving, he took it to a professional processor in London and had the processor hand-paint out all aspects of the image that he found distasteful, which meant all evidence of the twentieth century—cars, telegraph wires, signposts—and usually all people. Then he had the colors repeatedly adjusted, although this was enormously expensive, until they were exactly what he wanted—which was a matter of fidelity not to the scene as it was but to an idea in his head."

Labels: ,

23 July 2014

Annals of Narcissism


August arrived here July 12th. Today is July 23rd. This evening his mother announced that she had reason to think he brought with him an infestation of head lice. The question is why it took mommy dearest nearly two full weeks to disclose her suspicion. She is not at home - having set off for a Yoga retreat at a fancy new age joint here in NY state. And she has spoken to August numerous times since he arrived. So, that suggests that she suspected the infestation pretty much all along and just didn't bother to mention the problem. 

Of course, this delay meant the vermin had lots of time to reproduce. That means August's infestation was really bad. The top picture is a small sampling of what I combed out of his hair. The bottom one is a close up of one little vermin.

And the lice had lots of time to spread too. For instance, August and I shared a bed (pillows) for a week in Ann Arbor and a hair brush then and since. He has been hugging his nine month old sister repeatedly each day. He has been in camp with other kids pretty much every day. And so on ...

August spent much of the night in tears. In part, he is upset because he feels guilty for infesting our household (especially his sister). In part he is in pain because I've been pulling a lice comb through his long thick hair. (That is an experience we will repeat daily for a week or so.) Susan has been gathering up pretty much anything August has rested his head upon so that we can wash it all.

All the spiritual practice in the world does not mitigate the level of self-absorption (perhaps actual maliciousness?) that mommy dearest has displayed here. Many readers will know the person of whom I speak. The rest should count themselves lucky.

Labels: , ,

22 July 2014

Chris Killip

"MA: Your work often has a political undercurrent - if not an explicit acknowledgment of the political situation.

CK: Well, it would, wouldn't it? I mean, I was living in the industrial community of Newcastle, starting in the mid-1970s. I remember the editor of the Saturday magazine of the Sunday Telegraph asking me to photograph the men from the miners' strike. I didn't want to do the story for them because it is such a right-wing newspaper. He asked me which side was I on? I was quite shocked by the question. It had never occurred to me that I could be on anything other than the side I was on!

MA: But including political elements in your work is not about picking sides; it's about openly saying that your work, your worldview, is conditioned by historical forces.

CK: It was natural. I had no wish to deny it. I was also influenced by John Berger's TV program Ways of Seeing. I was so excited by that. I was just trying to understand then that no matter what you did, you inevitably had a political position. How declared it was was up to you, but it was going to be inherent in the work, and it was something you should think about as a maker. I never worried about my position in the art world. I thought time and history would ultimately judge me, that my job was to get on with it, to make the work and to make it wholeheartedly from what had informed me."*
 In The NYRB this week is this brief notice about a new short film - Skinningrove (2013) - made by Michael Almereyda about his friend photographer Chris Killip and his work. You can find the movie in its entirety (approximately 15 minutes) here. I have posted on Killip here several times before. The exchange above, from a 2012 interview Almereyda did with Killip will offer some insight into why I so much like his work.
__________
* From: "The Past and Other Countries: Chris Killip in Conversation with Michael Almereyda,' Aperture  (Fall 2012, Issue 208) [Link].

Labels: ,

21 July 2014

Forget Heidegger (2)

I have, in the past, repeatedly expressed my views here on the dubious claim Heidegger has on our attention. No one disputes your "right" to read the anti-Semitic, Nazi sympathizer. Knock yourself out! But this recent justification for doing so is tortured in the extreme. In the first place, I don't care that the author is a Jew. That identity confers no special status in this matter or any other. Arguments count. And the arguments in this piece are, well, unpersuasive. For instance, I am not advocating censorship. Read Heidegger if you like. Just don't expect me to care if you do. Moreover, while I agree that the charge of anti-Semitism  "is leveled too lightly, thoughtlessly, and therefore without a minimum of respect for the actual victims of ethnic or religious oppression," in this context that sounds like a veiled attempt to discount or sanitize Heidegger's actual, well-established anti-Semitism. Calling Heidegger out for his loathsome views about Jews is not "a tool for silencing dissent;" it is simply quoting from his own writings. Finally, what are we to make of this?
"Of course, none of the recent revelations about Heidegger should be suppressed or dismissed. But neither should they turn into mantras and formulas, meant to discredit one of the most original philosophical frameworks of the past century. At issue are not only concepts (such as "being in the world" or methodologies (such as “hermeneutical ontology”) but the ever fresh way of thinking that holds in store countless possibilities that are not sanctioned by the prevalent techno-scientific rationality, which governs much of philosophy within the walls of the academia."
Having already sought to minimize any concern for Heidegger's anti-Semitism, the best the author can do is intone about his "ever fresh way of thinking?" If you say so, I suppose. But to me this sounds an awful lot like a demand that we sequester the man's Nazism from his philosophy. Indeed, that is pretty much the thrust of the entire essay. But the entire basis for ongoing criticisms of Heidegger precisely is that in his case it is not possible to do that in any plausible way. And if we have to read as extensively as the author's example seems to require (well beyond, by the way, "those minimally versed in his thought") in order to grasp the oh-so-subtle way that Heidegger the philosopher actually was  not anti-Semitic, well doesn't that just suggest how his politics inflects his philosophy?

Labels: , , , ,

20 July 2014

Inequality Within & Inequality Between

Economist Tyler Cowen argues here at The New York Times that we ought not worry our silly heads about increasing political-economic inequality within developed countries because, he claims, inequality between developed countries and developing countries has diminished considerably of late. Then, here, over at his terrific blog Understanding Society philosopher Daniel Little pretty thoroughly skewers Cowen.

Not pretty. But well-deserved.
________________________
P.S.: Dan also posted a link to this (now decade+ old) article by Robert Wade at The Economist.  Punch Line? "Many analysts apparently take it for granted that global inequality is falling. Others think it sufficient to focus on poverty, and ignore inequality as such. Both these views need to be challenged. New evidence suggests that global inequality is worsening rapidly." Unless things have really turned around in the past 10 years, the basic empirical premise of Cowen's essay appears to be false.

Labels: , , , , ,

16 July 2014

Annals of Human Perversity (2) - There is No Such Thing as an Unintended Civilian Casuality

So, I wonder if this is what the Israelis sitting in their lawn chairs munching popcorn watching the bombardment of Gaza were hoping to see? And I wonder if the editors at The Times will draw the connection between the story accompanying this photo and this one which prompted the post to which I just linked.

I heard on the radio recently that Manhattan has a population density of roughly 65,000 per square mile while the comparable figure for Gaza is upwards of 400,000 per square mile. And of course, residents of Gaza essentially are locked in. You might call civilians there sitting ducks. But then you might seem as callous as the Israelis in their lawn chairs.

Labels: , , , ,

My boy August is 8 years old. This photo makes me nauseous.


 A Border Patrol agent reads the birth certificate of Alejandro, 8 -- the only thing he brought with him as he and others crossed the Rio Grande near McAllen recently. Alejandro is one of more than 52,000 minors traveling without parents who've been caught crossing the border illegally since October (Dallas Morning News).

Labels: , ,

Not a PR Problem! - HWS Doubles Down

What do you do when a young woman is sexually assaulted on your campus and you proceed to bungle the subsequent investigation process? Well, apparently, you act defensively, engage in copious amounts of ass-covering, and continue to justify your every action. Here is the latest missive from Mark Gearan, President of my alma mater ('77) Hobart & William Smith Colleges. I know Mark to be a smart and decent man, which makes this all the more stunning to me. He refers to a letter written by the Chair of the Board of Trustees to The New York Times. You can find it here

I suppose the fact that virtually everyone who reads about the case finds the precipitating assault as well as the Colleges' response totally outrageous should not be seen as an indication that something truly is amiss on campus? 

Both President Gearan and Ms. Zupin seem to miss the real problem. The problem here is NOT the article in The Times. The problem is a sexual assault and a deeply flawed institutional response to it. And the response should not involve invoking "best practices" (typically little more than a ploy to limit legal exposure) but an effort to change the culture on campus. 
___________ 
PS: Here is the Change.org petition signed by 3000+ people criticizing the Colleges' handling of this matter.

Labels: , ,

Annals of Human Perversity - Bombardment as a Spectator Sport


The day before yesterday The New York Times ran this story about Israelis gathering in lawn chairs and eating popcorn as they watched the bombardment of Palestinians. It turns out that this was a reasonably common occurrence.  And it is not new. (As I recall this is the same spectatorship captured in the cover photo of Ariella Azoulay The Civil Contract of Photography [MIT Press/Zone Books, 2012].) While this practice speaks volumes about the political degradation of many Isrealis, I doubt that it speaks much about Israelis in particular. They are not, in other words, uniquely callous.

Labels: , , , ,

14 July 2014

Passings ~ Nadine Gordimer (1923~2014)

 ''I happen to be white, but I'm not a liberal, my dear. I'm a leftist.'' ~ Nadine Gordimer

South African writer - and Nobel laureate - Nadine Gordimer has died. You can find an obituary and this remembrance at The New York Times.

Labels: , , ,

Passings ~ Charlie Haden (1937-2014)

Sadness. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden has died. I missed the news when it was actually news. As I have noted here before, I found Haden, who mixed politics and music seamlessly, remarkable. You can find obituaries here at The New York Times, here at The Guardian, and here at npr.
__________
P.S. (26 July 2014): Here is a post consisting of recollections and tributes by Haden's fellow musicians.

Labels: , , ,

13 July 2014

Shame on Hobart & William Smith Colleges

I am a Hobart College alum (Class of '77) and am totally outraged by this report at The New York Times on of sexual assault and subsequent investigative disaster at the Colleges. Even before seeing it I'd received this damage-control missive from the President of the Colleges stating (in part): "In response to inquiries, HWS officials met with the Times reporter for two lengthy interviews and answered numerous questions via e-mail and phone, all in an effort to fully explain our approach and philosophy regarding sexual assault cases. Regrettably, these responses were either ignored or downplayed in the article." Note that this statement says nothing about the precipitating assault or the actual performance of either the College investigators or Geneva PD. This is shameful.

Labels: , ,

11 July 2014

Reflections on Summer Travels

Just finished Ann Arbor-94-96-401-403-QEW-405-190-290-90-ROC (going one way or the other) for the 6th time this summer, heading back Sunday. Pretty boring drive, allowing ample time to ponder a couple of empirical generalizations.

First, Americans are really, really crappy drivers. Invariably, if there is someone sitting in the passing lane at three miles an hour above the speed limit in Canada, it is a car with US plates of some sort. Of course this creates backups and provokes passing on the right, thereby endangering everyone. Difficult to tell whether this is purposeful crappiness or just obliviousness. No behavioral difference. In the US, on both the MI and NY legs, each driver apparently thinks they have a natural right to stay in the passing lane. Infuriating driving. Canadians exhibit the opposite pattern, doing their best to get out of the way of faster traffic. 

Second, US Customs officers are generally pompous asses. No gender variation. They seem sincerely astonished when, having kept you waiting for between forty and ninety minutes as you try to cross the border into your own freakn' country, you are not just brimming with good cheer as they interrogate you. And they seem absolutely startled when, in response to their inevitable query - 'Is there something wrong sir?' - you point out that having had to sit forever waiting for them to do their purposeless searching and interrogating has added an hour or more to an already long tedious trip. On the other hand, it is best not to engage them in debate about how they are protecting your liberty and security by stemming the hoard of invasive Molson-swilling, plaid-wearing, hockey-loving Canadians. By contrast Canadians customs officers are only intermittently arrogant and annoying. The lines entering Canada, where I am not a citizen, are rarely very long.

Labels: , ,

08 July 2014

Annals of Censorship -2014 Edition

According to this report at The Guardian, Leena McCall's Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing is but the latest work to draw the attention of censorious Brits.

Labels: , , , ,

07 July 2014

Local Event ~ Recalling the Riots of 1964

July 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Rochester Race Riots. Joseph Avenue, where the Lincoln Branch Library is now located, was at the center of events that would profoundly affect the city in the course of just three turbulent days. On July 15th, 17th, 29th, and 31st MCC Professor Verdis Robinson will lead a walking tour of Joseph Avenue and discuss the riots and historically significant surrounding the library. Refreshments provided. Call 428-8210 for more information.
_________________
P.S.: You might also - not alternatively, but also - watch Carvin Eison's July '64.

Labels: , , , , ,

Resuscitating Communism?

My own view is that progressive politics need not be held captive either to the renewal of communism or to the assumption that critics of capitalism must be communist.* Indeed, I think that the prospect of communism is a non-starter if, in fact, it requires relinquishing reliance on markets as central political economic institutions or writing off the vicious, violent acts taken in the name of communism over the course of the twentieth century. (Among the the massive flaws of the resuscitation effort, it seems to me, is a more or less total refusal to talk about actual or possible institutional arrangements.) Nevertheless, there are those eager to resuscitate communism - Benjamin Kunkel, Jodi Dean, Simon Hardy, and Alberto Toscano, for instance, who are publishing their advocacy at The European.
___________
* In general terms, I think this assessment (also drawn from the symposium at The European) is on point: 

"But if we are no longer to define ourselves negatively, by our opposition to Capital, what will be the name of our positive project? I don’t believe that the old signifier communism can be revived for this purpose. It is now irretrievably tainted by terrible associations, forever tied to the nightmares of the 20th century. At the moment, our desire is nameless – but it is real. Our desire is for the future – for an escape from the impasses of the flatlands of Capital’s endless repetitions – and it comes from the future – from the very future in which new perceptions, desires, cognitions are once again possible. As yet, we can grasp this future only in glimmers. But it is for us to construct this future, even as – at another level – it is already constructing us: a new kind of collective agent, a new possibility of speaking in the first person plural. At some point in this process, the name for our new desire will appear and we will recognize it." ~  Mark Fisher

Labels: , , ,

04 July 2014

Adieu July 4th 2014

"Unfinished Flag of the United States" (1987) © Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
"and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right"*
__________
* From: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "I am Waiting" (find the entire poem here).

Labels: , , ,

It Bears Repeating

I have posted in previous years links to the Oration, Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, by Frederick Douglass, July 5th, 1852. This is a good enough occasion to publish this link to the entire speech.

Labels: , , ,