I'll have to content myself with the NEA [2002 budget: $124.234 million] & the NEH [2003 budget request: $126.893 million], both of them (full disclosure) having given me generous grants over the years that have enabled me to do that hoo doo that I do (so well).
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:39 AM.
Thursday, June 27, 2002
Salon.com News | Fired for being Israeli June 26, 2002 | "Miriam Shlesinger is not the kind of academic who hides behind stacks of books and papers, happy with a calm career, satisfied with middle-class security, professional perks and a comfortable office chair. Shlesinger is not only an internationally known translator and linguist. She has used her skills to translate for courts that are hearing charges of human-rights abuses and war crimes. She has run the Israeli chapter of Amnesty International. And she is a frequent critic of Israel's policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But now, hoping for a way to stop the senseless killing in Israel and Palestine, a handful of European academics are pushing to punish Israeli scholars. And because she lives and works in Israel, Shlesinger is being shunned from her professional circles. Shlesinger, a senior lecturer in translation studies at Bar-Ilan University, was dismissed from the editorial board of The Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication. Another Israeli scholar, Gideon Toury, a professor in Tel-Aviv University's School of Cultural Studies, was removed from the international advisory board of Translation Studies Abstracts."
I am a member of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA); I am opposed to the current Israeli government's occupation of the West Bank as well as its policies in general; I support the creation of a legitimate Palestinian state. I am also unalterably opposed to the sort of stinking anti-semitism represented by the actions reported above. They are an example of a moral blindness so profound as to defy description. Perhaps I am an idealist--something you'd think I'd have lost by the time I'd grown long in the tooth & attained the privileged rank of Professor in an American university, but I have always thought that academics--for all their faults & petty wars--could be relied on to take the wider, longer, larger view. The view informed by history, philosophy, literature & science. My God, the university might be the one place where we could talk across the divides of race, gender & nationality that the corporate state enforces in order to beter go about the business of business. Apparently, I have been mistaken. Apparently, my trust in the life of the mind has been misplaced. Firing someone from the editorial or advisory board of an academic journal (I am on the editorial boards of two such journals) on the basis of their nationality is an act of intellectual cowardice. It is to be deplored. Interested readers might want to contact Dr. Mona Baker, who is responsible for removing Ms. Shlesinger from her editorial position to let her know their opinion of her act of flabby intellectualism. I will be contacting the board of ALTA, urging them to take a stand against such idiocy.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:19 PM.
I don't usually do food posts here at reading & writing, preferring to leave a stealth post in the comments at Food Blog, but this one is so good I have to make a note of it. My food tends to be a lot simpler than the wonderful things at FB, but I like to think I'm just as sensitive to basic procedures & fine ingredients. Anyway, this story starts with a trip to my dentist for my six-month cleaning. After all the scraping, grinding & polishing was done & I was getting ready to leave, Trish, the hygienist, must have asked me what I was going to do, now that the weather had gotten better. I said something about going home & grilling something for dinner. "Have you tried Chip's Place in Hanawa Falls for meat," she asked? I said that I hadn't & that I'd been looking for a good butcher since Dunn's in Colton went out of business. "Try Chip's," she said. I go through Hanawa Falls every time I drive to work, so on the way home that day I stopped & got some ribeye steaks. They were great, but that's not what I want to talk about. A couple of days later I went back & bought four boneless pork chops, maybe a little more than an inch thick. In the early afternoon--I was getting ready for dinner--I carefully dried off the chops with paper towels & coated them heavily with a dry rub consisting of ground dried ancho peppers (stems removed & some but not all of the seeds shaken out), a tablespoon of oregano, a teaspoon of dried mustard & a tablespoon of paprika. I ground the dried chilies in the blender to break them up, then put everything into a mortar & pestle to work it down to a pretty fine powder. I pressed this mixture into the chops, wrapped them in waxed paper & put them in the refrigerator until about six that evening. I had prepared a maple wood fire in the Webber grill & let it burn down to a very hot bed of coals. I seared the chops for about 90 seconds a side over the hottest part of the coals, then moved them to a cooler section & put the lid on for about six minutes. After resting five minutes, these were the best pork chops I have ever eaten. If I do say so myself.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:12 PM.
It is true, as Mike Sanders says, that he & I have concluded our latest conversation about the Middle East on an amicable note. I really do not want to be uncharitable, but no one should assume because of this that I have the slightest shred of agreement with the article by Stefan Sharkansky Mike quotes this morning. I just don't want to have anything to do with the idea that Islam is inherently totalitarian whereas (the implied but unstated corollary) the secular West is inherently democratic. When Sharkansky begins to talk about Christian authoritarianism . . . well, that's another debate & I'm winding this down to get on with other things: naming, identity, anonymity & why reading the American Poetry Review makes me irritable, among others.
Speaking of the use of names, I want to emphasize that my (temporary) switch to calling Mike Sanders by either his full name or his initials had two components: My sense that greater formality is required in heated debate; and my desire to avoid a creepy false bonhomie that I sometimes encounter in blog exchanges. I prefer civility, but I would much rather read (& write) angry diatribe than phony friendliness.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:45 AM.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Canine Literary Philosophy: Carole got a new road bike this summer & I inherited her old mountain bike. I haven't ridden in a while, but I can use the exercise, so I've been putting it in the back of the truck, with Angel the new dog beside me in the front when I go off to my office in the mornings. At lunchtime, Angel & I take a ride / run on the trails that snake through Clarkson's "back yard," a tract of about a hundred acres behind the campus. Angel is an athelete & running is his greatest joy. Yesterday as I was riding along watching Angel completely in his element, dashing in & out of the woods, stopping to sniff something, then lunging after a chipmunk, I thought, "He's as happy as a pig in shit." Which of course made me happy--until I realized that Angel had literalized my metaphor: I was riding a few yards behind him when I caught a strong scent of something very shit-like. Looking more closely at my trotting dog, I noticed that his right shoulder was matted heavily with what appeared to be mud, but wasn't. I recalled my old professor Nelson Bentley exhorting a girl in our verse writing class to "visualize your metaphors"--she had written a (long) poem with the (frequently repeated) refrain, "Oh, this fucking, fucking rain." (What did she want, we lived in Seattle.) I wasn't about to take Angel back to my office to discuss the the finer points of the relationship between metaphor & reality further--call me a philistine--so we piled into the truck & came home for a bath. A warm day, lovely to be home. The office, with its various demands, would be there the next day, & the next.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:12 PM.
I have just found the first line of the article, "Vietnam in American Literature" I'm writing for one of those Oxford Companions to American Literature: "Of course there was not straight story in the sense of a narrative that began in one place and ended in another." It is from the beginning of Ward Just's novel, A Dangerous Friend. The novel is set in South Vietnam in 1965 and the remark is the narrator's reaction to the call, in letters from home, to be told what's really happening. I keep going back to these early accounts of our American "involvement" in Vietnam, trying to understand what happened. (I've already written about Halberstam's frighteningly good novel, One Very Hot Day; constantly in my mind as I work on this piece is Neil Sheehan's A Bright, Shining Lie; I have also gone back & poured over the two volumes of the Library of America's Reporting Vietnam, which contains a huge sample of the work of journalists who covered the war. Having only come to Vietnam for the first time five years ago, I am trying to figure out just exactly how these two paradoxically idealistic & practical peoples came to fight a war. I have the sense--or at least the vague hope--that if I can crack that nut I'll understand something more about where my own country is going now. I fear it is going wrong. I fear it is heading toward disaster. A disaster bred of idealism--which so easily metastasizes into arrogance.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:44 PM.
Salon.com News | Fiddling while the Middle East burns June 25, 2002 | "George Bush added another chapter to the long history of American ignorance, ill will and condescension toward the Palestinians in his statement about the Mideast crisis on Monday. His plan -- demanding that the Palestinians change their leadership and offering them a provisional state if they do, asking the Israelis to pull out of the occupied territories and stop building settlements -- allows him to say that he is engaged in trying to solve the most dangerous crisis in the world, and it shores up GOP support with two vital constituencies, Jews and right-wing Christians. But it is impossible to believe that anyone knowledgeable in the Bush administration believes that it will bring an end to the vicious ongoing semi-war between Israel and the Palestinians. By embracing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's position that the whole problem is Arafat, -- while making vague, pleasant-sounding noises about a Palestinian state -- Bush paid obeisance to American political realities, and if the votes he gains have to be paid for in Israeli and Palestinian lives, so be it." [Gary Kamiya]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:17 AM.
Monday, June 24, 2002
The last installment: It does appear that the exchange I have been having with Mike Sanders has reached a point of diminishing returns. I just want to make a couple of final comments, not so much about the politics of the Middle East, about which MS & I are never going to agree, but about the quality of the discourse. I'm on record as having thanked Mike for his "civility" a while back, so I was distressed to read that he thinks the discussion was a "waste." It was particularly troubling, since MS contrasted my posts with the "worthwhile" ones he lists following his comment about our discussion. Some of those worthwhile links called for days of prayer & etc. The rhetoric is pretty clear & to maintain it in his follow-up MS ignores my assent to his call for prayer, because, I can only suspect, of my statement that in prayer we are all equal. Prayer that consists of special pleading for a particular political point of view is disgusting; it is not even prayer, but some sort of supernatural political mumbo-jumbo. Prayer that doesn't pray for everybody is a fraud.
A couple of days ago I realized that I didn't like referring to Mike Sanders as "Mike." I call my friends by their first names, but I feel the need for greater formality when expressing strong disagreement with someone I don't know. So I have employed the convention, when not referring to him as Mike Sanders, of using his initials, MS. My motive here is to avoid a phony bonhomie that makes my skin crawl, but also to make clear to any readers I have attracted that MS & I are on opposite sides of a pretty fundamental divide. MS suggests that if I feel like continuing our discussion, I take it backchannel. He has already called the last couple of weeks' exchanges a "waste," so I wonder why he would think I would find it profitable to enter into a private exchange with him. My weblog is a public space & what I write here is public. There is great benefit, I think, when discussing controversial issues, to be on the record--in a Google cache for all time. I write privately to my friends of course, whether I know them in the meat world or the cyber world; but I confess that I have no interest in having a private conversation with someone who has characterized our past exchanges as "a waste of time." Naturally, I reserve the right to comment in my weblog on anything that MS posts in his weblog--he can respond or not, as he sees fit. He's been writing in a public space, so I'm not sure why he suggests that we go "private" (bold type in original).
Oh, hell. I told myself I wasn't going to deal with the politics, such as they are, in MS's last post, but I just can't keep from making a couple of remarks: MS responds to my request that he describe what he thinks a Palestinian state might look like with a set of preconditions for such a state. But the key to understanding this arguement in the notion that Israel is in a position to "reward" the Palestinians with a state (of undetermined borders) for ceasing thier struggle against the occupation. The Palestinians have been living in Palestine for millenia; Israel was (rightly) created by international agreement after WW II; unfortunately, the Palestinians were left out of the equation, an oversight that has now come back to haunt the world. Today's speech by the President partakes of the spirit of MS's notion of a Palestinian state--it is an imaginary state, located in the land of "hope" rather than reality. It is a political crock of shit. Most of the world, in fact, recognizes a de facto Palestinian state, but Israel--the beneficiary of a similar international agreement--refuses to acknowledge the obvious rights of the Palestinians to exist as a people, with a state. The PA--admittedly corrupt & incompetent--has gone on record as recognizing the right of Israel to exist; Israel has acted, especially since Sharon came to power, to consistently undermine the existence of a Palestinian state. To oppose Sharon's policies is not to oppose the right of Israel to exist or to take legitimate measures to defend its citizens against terrorism. The current reoccupation of the West Bank & Gaza, however, guarentees only that Israel will be prepetually at war. There are Palestinians & Israelis who have called for peace. Palestinian intellectuals have signed a letter calling for the cesdsation of suicide bombings. Perhaps we could look to build upon these frail & fragile political movements rather than assenting, as President Bush has now clearly done, to an endless cycle of violence that will bring no one security--not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the US. Makes me long for someone like Nixon, who was at least a competent bastard.
Since MS & the warbloggers in general are concerned with the terrorist history of the PA, perhaps they would be interested in the news that Israel supported Hamas in the 70s as a counterbalance to the PA & is now suffering the blowback from that policy of realpolitik. [Related US military analysis] As for the claim, assumed by MS & other warbloggers, that Israel does not attack civilians, please consider this story from the Washington Post & this one too. Oh, let's not forget this one. The Post is hardly Counterpunch; what, I ask with MaxSpeak (from whom I got several of these links) will the jingoistic warbloggers say in response?
I'm sorry to see that Mike Sanders believes we've been wasting our time discussing the Middle East. I never expected to change his mind about the politics of the current situation, so I'm not disappointed. I undertook the discussion mostly for my own benefit--having to articulate one's positions clearly to someone who is critical of them can be a salutary exercise. And in fact I would say that I have come to a fuller understanding of the position Mike is defending; in the future, it will be more difficult for me to caricature conservative positions on Israel & Palestine. I think that's a good thing. But speaking of caricatures of others' positions, how come the day after MS calls me--rightly--on making an unwarranted assumption concerning his position re: a Palestinian state, he comes up with this: "After almost two weeks discussing the Middle East situation with Joe Duemer I believe we both wasted a lot of time. I am no closer to understanding how people can intentionally kill innocent men, women and children and believe they will receive eternal reward for it, and he seems no closer to understanding the Israeli position of self-defense." First, I understand "the Israeli position of self-defense"--I even have sympathy for it, in the sense that I have been using that word. But as I said yesterday, I honestly think that the best self-defense that Israel could mount right now would be the creation of a legitimate Palestinian state. One can surely disagree with this position, but it is also clearly an idea based in a careful reading of the facts. It is not rooted in ethnic mythology. MS has not responded to my suggestion that he elaborate his ideas about what kind of Palestinian state he envisions. Second, I am not at all happy about the collocation of the two clauses in MS's second sentence above. There is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand in the phrase "believe they will receive eternal reward for it" to which I must object, on two grounds: 1) MS is associating me with the murderers in a way that any honest reading of my part of this discussion should preclude. I have no patience with fundamentalisms of any stripe. Intentional or not, such a grammatical construction constitutes an act of intellectual dishonesty. 2) MS presumes to know what is in the minds of the Palestinian young people who become suicide bombers. Such a claim is philosophically dubious, at best; at worst, it is an attempt to demote the enemy to something with less than human status. MS ends his weblog entry with a call to prayer. It is a call to which I, a socialist-animist-anarchist-peacenik, heartily assent. In prayer, we are all equal before creation. We all inhabit the same uncertainty.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
One of the nails I've been trying to hammer home in my discussions with Mike Sanders is that it is a fundamental mistake to lump all Palestinians together under the rubric "culture of martyrdom" & etc. Please read carefully: ". . . Yasser Arafat and his circle of associates who have suddenly discovered the virtues (theoretically at least) of democracy and reform. I know that I speak at a great distance from the field of struggle, and I also know all the arguments about the besieged Arafat as a potent symbol of Palestinian resistance against Israeli aggression, but I have come to a point where I think none of that has any meaning anymore. Arafat is simply interested in saving himself. He has had almost ten years of freedom to run a petty kingdom and has succeeded essentially in bringing opprobrium and scorn on himself and most of his team; the Authority became a byword for brutality, autocracy and unimaginable corruption. Why anyone for a moment believes that at this stage he is capable of anything different, or that his new streamlined cabinet (dominated by the same old faces of defeat and incompetence) is going to produce actual reform, defies reason. He is the leader of a long suffering people, whom in the past year he has exposed to unacceptable pain and hardship, all of it based on a combination of his absence of a strategic plan and his unforgivable reliance on the tender mercies of Israel and the US via Oslo. Leaders of independence and liberation movements have no business exposing their unarmed people to the savagery of war criminals like Sharon, against whom there was no real defense or advance preparation. Why then provoke a war whose victims would be mostly innocent people when you have neither the military capacity to fight one nor the diplomatic leverage to end it? Having done this now three times (Jordan, Lebanon, West Bank) Arafat should not be given a chance to bring on a fourth disaster." [Edward Said]
Mike Sanders emails the following: "I am just curious where in any of my bloggings did I say that I feel that the Palestinians are not entitled to a state. If you say that is the difference that divides at least give me the courtesy of pointing to where I actually said that."
I simply assumed, given the sources Mike usually quotes, that he is hostile to the idea of a Palestinian state, especially a viable state. If this is not the case, as he has now stated on his weblog, I am glad to hear it. One can see how I might get that impression, though, given the attitude of the War Right, at least some of whom are on record as supporting the expulsion of the Palestinians from the West Bank. Certainly, Ariel Sharon considers expulsion a legitimate option: The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier in the year that "Mr. Sharon appeared to endorse mass expulsions of Palestinians in October. In a Knesset speech, he lauded assassinated Tourism Minister Rehavam "Gandhi" Zeevi of Moledet, whose career was based on the transfer idea, as a true heir of Zionist founding fathers and vowed: "Gandhi, we will be victorious." Elements within the Bush administration have at least tacitly endorsed this notion. Finally, the supporters of Sharon's policies have repeatedly insisted that actions speak louder than words & have routinely dismissed statements from at least some elements of Palestinian society calling for peace & an end to the bombings. As a consequence, there appear to be no circumstance under which the War Right could envision a legitimate Palestinian state coming into existence. Making absolute statements about Palestinian society--"culture of martyrdom," etc.--effectively preclude the existence of a state, even if they do not technically do so in principle.
Perhaps Mike would like to elaborate more fully his vision of how a Palestinian state might come into existence & what it would look like.
Pragmatic morality: Mike Sanders again asks me to make an either / or decision. I refuse. On both moral & pragmatic grounds. I've already covered the moral elements of my arguments. But even if you reject those out of hand consider the pragmatic point of view. When Oslo got going the first Intifada died out; when Oslo & Camp David II failed to move toward the creation of a Palestinian state, the Second Intifada heated up. I think the difference between us is that I believe the Palestinian people are entitled to a state & Mike Sanders does not. That distinction colors all our discussion. I also think that Sharon & Arafat are equally morally bankrupt, whereas Mike considers one a war criminal & one a defender of his homeland. If Arafat has always worked toward the destruction of Israel, even while saying he had renounced that goal, Sharon has consistently worked for the destruction of any hope for a Palestinian homeland outside of a fragmented & water-starved series of bantustans on the West Bank Surrounded by Greater Israel. Morally & practically this is a non-starter. Which leaves us exactly where? It leaves us exactly where we are: Arafat today again condemned the latest murders & the Israeli government immediately rejected the statement as insincere posturing. Mike also asks me whether I think the that Israel ought to be able to defend itself. Yes, I think it should defend itself under the only formula that has brought even a little peace to the region: Land for Peace. If Sharon were a statesman instead of an ideologue, he would call the Palestinians bluff & bring the settlers home & allow the creation of a state. He would then be in a position to use military force to defend the nation of Israel; & the Palestinians might discover that statehood brings with it very heavy responsibilities to the community of nations.
I am still reading & digesting Edward Said's column, "Palestinian Elections Now." I'll probably post a fuller reaction tomorrow or Saturday, but on first reading I would say that it is a clear-eyed & honest attempt to find a way forward. Snaders quotes Krauthammer, I quote Said. There you go.
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Identity & anonymity: When I read weblogs I treat the voice as a construction, whether the name given to that voice appears to be an actual person's name or something obviously pseudo. I've chosen to write under my own name (even that is a complicated story) probably because I have also published poems, articles, & books in non-cyber media for more than twenty years. That experience, though, has taught me that the "person" in the books is a grammatical person rather than a human person. A construction of language. Such constructions allow the writer to tell truths that he / she might not be able to tell in other modes; even writing in the first person, then, I am creating a character--I am taking on a certain degree of anonymity, which in turn allows me to inhabit situations I may not have inhabited in "real life." Most of my poems & some of my essays make use of this sort of license. "Every poet would prefer to publish anonymously," wrote T.S. Eliot. I'm not sure the poets I know would agree, but what Eliot was getting at was that the poem itself must matter more to the poet than the poet's name / reputation. One must be willing to write even that which casts a bad light on the actual person of the writer, if necessary. Another Eliot--George--published her first novel, Scenes from Clerical Life, anonymously & her second novel, Adam Bede was published under the pseudonym George Eliot. Her given name was Mary Anne Evans. When word leaked out that the well-regarded author George Eliot was in fact Mary Anne Evans, who was living with but not married to George Lewes, her publisher initially balked at taking on her third novel, The Mill on the Floss. When he was finally prevailed upon to publish the book, it was a success. George Eliot's anonymity launched her career as a novelist at a time when "lady novelists" were not taken seriously. Some more interesting history over at UFO Breakfast.
When I read Baraita, I know certain things about the writer, or at least think I do: She is female, an academic, middle class, etc. These things are enough to place the writer in a world & to allow me to make judgements about what she says. Could I be completely wrong? Could Baraita be a 22 year old male Cockney ditch digger? Not likely, but possible; but in literary texts--which is what we're talking about here, I think--isn't Aristotle's notion of plausibility the main point to be resolved? Even if Baraita is not who I think she is, she has presented me with a convincing fiction to which I can "relate." How different is that from what I do under my own name?
I have had one experience with what I would call disruptive anonymity. A while back I was a member of an international email discussion group called Poetryetc. It may still be in existence, for all I know, but I gave it up when I began blogging. Anyway, there was one member of the list who was in the habit of creating new email accounts & logging in to the discussion as someone else. Her linguistic mannerisms were fairly transparent & so before long someone would out her as E just playing her usual tricks. Often, however, new list members would be taken in & would post in good faith to what was for E an "intervention" (her word) in the discourse. E, I think, was in the grip of a kind of postmodern psychosis that allowed her to believe that all discourse is a legitimate target for such disruptions. Even when we all "knew" who a particular poster to the list was "in reality," she would persist on pretending, often using her mask to attack people with whom she disagreed or who were just trying to get on with a particular discussion. What we had in this case was one person posting as many--often with the particular goal of causing confusion or discord. The list members tended to fall into two camps: One that thought such play was just play & another that believed the purpose of the list was not to enact roles but to talk about poetry from the perspective of more or less stable selves. The division had not been clearly resolved when I left the list.
Also a member of that list for a while was the poetry culture-jammer Kent Johnson, who created (by all accounts) the Japanese poet Araki Yasusada & published poems under that name. The debate over the identity of Yasusada continues under various guises to this day & I'm not going to recap them here. [The linked interview should provide plenty of information for anyone who wants to do a little Google slamming.] I will also just note here the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote & published under many nyms. Johnson makes frequent reference to Pessoa in his polemics, though it must be said that Johnson, in several of his guises, uses the anonymity of a persona to viciously attack literary figures with whom he has aesthetic differences.
Anonymity can be used against civility, against the idea that discourse among persons ought to be communicative; it can be employed in order to turn ordinary communication into dramatic enactments. At the same time, anonymity can ensure the protection a person needs to speak honestly & authentically, so anonymity can also underwrite the assumptions of what I have been calling civil discourse. Go figure.
Sympathy for the Devil: Mike Sanders suggests that the "liberal heart" has hardened toward Israel. For the record, I awoke yesterday to the news of another suicide attack in Jerusalem & was sickened & appalled. To the extent that a stranger far away can have his heart broken by the deaths of innocents, my heart is broken. No one should have to endure the suffering that the families & friends of these children will suffer. I believe most "liberal" bloggers & other commentators would join me in these sentiments. (Scare quotes around the word liberal, because I think of myself as left-of-liberal.)
Mike Sanders writes: "The continued understanding and sympathy that these cold blooded murderers receive from liberal voices is just one example of the hardening of the liberal heart. Why is this unfortunate turn of events occurring?" First off, I'd want to see some examples of the "understanding & sympathy" in order to understand better what the writers' are talking about in context. For myself, I would say that understanding of the suicide bombers is of crucial importance. I think it vitally important that all of us, regardless of political persuasion, understand the bombers. To understand them is not to condone their behavior. To dismiss them, however, merely as murderers, is to insure that the cycle within cycle of violence that is the Middle East will be perpetuated far into the future. In fact, with the announcement that Israel will re-occupy large parts of the West Bank & Gaza, this process now appears to be accelerating. There is no military solution; there are only political solutions.
Again: "I sometimes feel that the liberal voices would sooner ally themselves with Al Queda then with a conservative voice in America." This is a calumny & it is based on a false dualism. To seek to understand the motives of our enemies is not treason; even to suggest that those who range themselves against us have real grievances is not treason. If that is what Mike Sanders thinks, then he is simply wrong. Who, on the left, has "allied themselves" with Al Queda? While we are about the business of characterizing political philosophies, I might suggest that the intellectual abilities of the American right have hardened into a rigid structure of Us versus THEM & equated that with good versus evil. Bill Bennet has dressed this doctrine up recently & given it the name of "moral clarity." But until the West can come to terms with & begin to address its political & moral failings, we will be vulnerable to exactly the kind of violence now being directed against us.
Because I value intellectual honesty, I refuse to be put inside the Right's political box. I refuse to accept that criticism of US or Israeli policies constitutes a "hatred of America" (a phrase tossed around by conservative pundits or "sympathy for Al Queda" (Mike's phrase). Furthermore, I think that "moral clarity" requires intellectual honesty & that such honesty is sadly lacking when we dismiss those who hate us by lumping them under one-dimensional terms like "cold blooded murderers" or "evildoers." (I suspect the bombers are anything but "cold blooded"; indeed, they seem driven by a passion incomprehensible to those of us not in its grip.) Yesterday's Jerusalem bomber did, absolutely, commit murder. I want to know what drove him to it. I believe that knowledge is crucial to unraveling the horrible tangle of politics & violence in the Middle East. So, my sympathy, for what little it is worth, is with everyone in the region. With the Israelies killed & maimed & with their families; but also with the angry young muslims in the refugee camps--"camps"--that have existed for more than fifty years & with their families, for whom the future has been foreclosed by Sharon's settler movement & the occupation.
Monday, June 17, 2002
A few days ago I posted a note about two narratives I've been reading. Superficially, Heffernan's Mutiny on the Globe & Halberstam's One Very Hot Day have little in common. The first in the story of a rebellion led by a delusional sociopath on a 19th century whaling ship; the second is a novel set in the Mekong Delta during the first years of the US involvement in Vietnam. Both books, however, present the human capacity to commit violence on other human beings in starkly realistic detail. Both books raise more questions than they answer, leaving the reader, not confused but thoughtful, perplexed at our capacity as a species for murder & mayhem.
The Mutiny on the Globe tells the story of Samuel Comstock, who led a mutiny that killed all the ship's officers so that the ship could be taken to Mili Atoll in the Marshal Islands, where Comstock imagined setting up a little kingdom with himself as potentate. His detachment from reality--which began at a young age--is astonishing, but finally boring. Samuel Comstock fails to engage our imagination; as a consequence, the first half of the book, though gracefully written, feels dry. One of the most perplexing things about the Globe mutiny is that it was carried out by one a few men, who apparently cowed the rest of the crew with threats of violence. It is only after the mutiny takes place & after the mutineers begin squabbling among themselves (with several slipping away on the Globe before Comstock can scuttle it) & abusing the islanders to such an extent that they kill most of the sailors, leaving only two survivors on the island, neither of whom took part in the mutiny. The rest of Heffernan's account is taken up with a counterpoint narrative that switches between the survivors on the island & the rescue mission mounted to come & bring them home. It is this part of the story, dealing with ordinary men cast into an extraordinary situation, that is most compelling. One of the extraordinary things about this tale is that it is based on the eyewitness account of Samuel Comstock's younger brother, who, aged 14, was on his first whaling voyage. He did not take part in the mutiny, except, as helmsman, to follow his brother's orders under threat of death. (Heffernan includes George Comstock's narrative in a meticulously edited version as Appendix B in this volume. William Comstock, the middle brother, who was not a member of the crew of the ship Globe on its fateful voyage, later wrote a popular account based on his younger brother's narrative.) The Mutiny on the Globe opens windows on 19th century Nantucket, the ship's home port, but also on the ethnography of whaling at its economic zenith. Particularly interesting is the role played by American Quakers in the whaling industry. We are also given a pretty clear account of some aspects of the indigenous culture of the Marshall Islands just as white visitors were beginning to make regular landfalls there.
Two acts of violence punctuate the narrative, both caused by Samuel Comstock. The first is the murder of the ship's officers. Comstock & two companions did this work as the rest of the crew--almost all teenagers--hung back, intimidated & afraid. Samuel Comstock split the captain's head open with an axe & killed the mates with musket & sword. All the while, he carried the notion around in his head of establishing a little island society with a church as its center. Despite his casual indifference to murder, Samuel Comstock remained a punctilious Christian to the end. Samuel is a peculiar character, finally incomprehensible. His evil lies outside the human world because it lay inside his sealed imagination. The account Heffernan provides of Samuel Comstock's childhood provide enough evidence for us to make a diagnosis: solipsist. He was not one of us.
The violence in David Halberstam's One Very Hot Day, in contrast, is specific & personal. It takes nothing away from Heffernan's good prose to say that Halberstam is quite simply a master of the sentence & the scene. There is nothing showy about Halberstam's writing, but it is the soul of economy & power. It has none of the affectations, but all of the strengths of Hemingway's best writing. Though there is a bit of an overture & several brief flashbacks, the novel is dead simple: it is an account of an operation conducted by the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVIN) with American advisors against the Vietcong in the Mekong Delta in the early sixties. If Heffernan's Globe narrative presents the reader an example of the banality of evil, Halberstam's One Very Hot Day enacts the banality of violence. Evil, in the Mekong Delta of the 1960s was one of the "flabby devils" Conrad remarked upon in Heart of Darkness: "I've seen the devil of violence and the devil of greed and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils that swayed and drove men--men, I tell you. But as I stood on that hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land, I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly." In Halberstam's book, the devil of violence has gone, if not soft, exactly, then psychotic or surreal. The first deaths in battle in the novel are narrated over a field radio. In the deep heat of the Mekong--a heat to which I can testify--the violence is cool, electronic, removed from human agency. Philip D. Beidler, in the introduction to his remarkable 1980 study (now out of print) American Literature and the Experience of Vietnam, sketches a map of this alien territory: "Getting a handle on the experience once it was over, then, was not just a question of "readjustment" of the sort imaged in the story they told in every unity about the kid on his first night home at the dinner table who calmly asks his mother to pass the fucking butter or who gets up after the meal , goes outside the back door, and scrapes off his china plate into the garbage can." 
One Very Hot Day is written the way Hemingway would have written if he had been free of affectation; it is an astonishing piece of art on a par, for economy of expression, with The Great Gatsby. The three central characters--Captain Beaupre, Lieutenant Anderson & Lieutenant Thanh--represent the best & worst of their generations & countries. Beaupre & Anderson represent the extremes of cynicism & idealism in the American encounter with Vietnam; & Thanh, the career Lieutenant hanging on to his integrity, refusing to become "political," embodies the contradictions of the South Vietnamese middle class in the 1960s. Beaupre is always thirsty in the field because he drinks too much in the officers' club on the base; Anderson speaks Vietnamese & does not cheat on his wife with the local whores; Thanh is a "good officer"--too good to be promoted because he cares too much for his troops & not enough for his reputation with the brass in Saigon. I was not in the war, except as a protester in Seattle, but I have since spent a lot of time in Vietnam & (almost) speak the language. I have walked through the brush in the Mekong & around Cu Chi; I know how hot it is & I have tried to read every account of the war & the country I could find--though new ones keep turning up. A reader with a casual interest in the subject, though, could do no better than to run down a copy of One Very Hot Day--the entire psychology of the war is there in a little over two hundred pages.
Violence? I don't know. I fail to understand it. I'm not a pacifist, exactly. I think there are occasions where morally one would be obligated to act violently. I think such situations are relatively rare, however, & are best seen as ultimate last resorts. I haven't been in a fight since I was seven years old, though, so maybe I am thinking here from a position of cowardice. As a kid I loved war stories--at ten, I wanted to be a Marine & storm the beaches of some Pacific island. (Pacific is ironic here, no?) I must have read hundreds of children's book about American wars. I was attracted to them, I think, because they presented me with a world in which it was easy to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong. I grew up among Christians so morally rigid that even a child could see the cracks in the system; but war, now, was something different. War provided the opportunity for an individual to act justly within a larger system of meanings. The Christianity of my childhood was a smothering blanket over any desire for individual distinction. War stories are attractive because they make sense; it is far more difficult to imagine alternatives. It comes down to imagination*. Just as a last thought: the mutineer Samuel Comstock was possessed by a fantasy, but he lacked imagination. The distinction, of course, recalls Coleridge. It is a real & powerful distinction, not a matter merely of literary criticism.**
*Coleridge produces Shakespeare as an example of a writer whose judgement equals his imagination.
**Contra:"Although some Romantic authors, most notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge, did attempt to develop a new philosophy of imagination adequate to its new high status, in fact they relied heavily on Kant and post-Kantian German idealism (and Plotinus, who himself relied heavily on Aristotle), and the results, although suggestive and much quoted, are (from a philosophical perspective) fragmentary and largely incoherent. Nevertheless, for many intellectuals "imagination" remains a term of great cultural significance, but one whose primary association is with aesthetic theory rather than epistemology, and which is most naturally first approached through the study of the ideas of literary figures such as Coleridge."
The reptilian David Horowitz hisses in Missing Diversity"In the fall of 2001, I spoke at a large public university in the eastern United States, which will remain nameless to protect the innocent. It was one of more than 30 colleges I had visited during the school year and, as usual, my invitation had come from a small group of campus conservatives who also put together a small dinner for me at a local restaurant. Our conclave reflected the current state of conservatism in the American university. Not only were our numbers small, but there were no deans or university administrators present, and only one professor. Open conservatives are an isolated and harassed minority on today’s college campuses, where they enjoy little respect and almost no support from institutional powers."
That's because universities are where we do the thinking, Mr. Horowitz. Your first-person obsessed ramblings & rantings are the obverse of thoughtful consideration of issues. Universities in America are not anti-conservative, they're just, at their best, opposed to doctrinaire idiots. You would convert our institutions of learning into the mirror image of the leftist "political correctness" you excoriate. Crawl back into your slimy hole, Sir. Leave the intellectual heavy lifting to those who are more qualified--the sophomores I teach every fall, for instance. [via Eric Alterman's Altercation]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:29 PM.
Friday, June 14, 2002
(AP 6.13.02) "Bush was invited to speak at the Ohio State commencement by representatives of the graduating class. But immediately before class members filed into the giant football stadium, an announcer instructed the crowd that all the university's speakers deserve to be treated with respect and that anyone demonstrating or heckling would be subject to expulsion and arrest. The announcer urged that Bush be greeted with a 'thunderous' ovation." [via Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo]
There was a story a while back about papa Bush giving a speech at UT Austin & when a student yelled "Bullshit!" to something he said the kid was hauled out, arrested & last I heard was being prosocuted by the local DA. Apparently, the Bush family is sensitive to criticism. I guess I'd be sensitive too if I were a member of what amounts to an international criminal cabal. (Cheney-Haliburton is a wholly-owned subsidiary.) God, I am sick to death of the American political elite. Increasingly, America makes me think of Dante & the way he spoke truth to power. We can at the very least put them in hell in our imaginations.
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
I like this gloss on my conversation with Mike Sanders. Makes sense to me & says in a different way what I've been trying to get at. I am particularly grateful for Norm Jenson's reference to politeness, or what I'd call civility. I appreciate it from Mike & I'm astonished at it in myself. I still have angry dreams, alas, & anger has been one of the central themes of my work as a poet; but I am--now in my fifth decade--more at peace with the world than I have been in the past. I welcome debate & passion, but I also celebrate civil discourse. Thanks, Mike.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:33 PM.
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
Terror update: Another Palestinian bombing in Israel. Sickening. Enough, please. Enough. I have some sense of the incandescent anger of Palestinians, but this is not the path to freedom. Gordon Coale: "My efforts in this blog are not to show that one side is worse than the other so that the other's actions are "justified". The concept of "justification" is irrelevent. It is terrible that the Palestinians want the destruction of Israel. But, if the Palestinian's bad attitude is caused the humiliations and brutality of the Israeli occupation, more humiliations and brutality aren't going to improve that attitude. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, is insanity. // We all want the terrorism to stop. Applying more of the tactics that created the terrorism isn't going to work." That's right.
Identity & authenticity: I subscribe to the theory--& it is my theory--of what I would call a functional self, or an evolving self. Is light a wave or a particle? Well, it's both, or at least behaves at different times in such a way that, while we know the identity of light, we must describe it in different ways at different times & under differing circumstances. To return to my theory (which is mine): Like the Brontosaurus, the self is thin at one end then much thicker in the middle then thin again at the other end.
The more things change the more they stay the same. So, one is composed of many voices, some no doubt silent, but the soul remains. I began thinking about this a while back while contemplating our humble chaplain's musings on forgiveness. The funny thing about living a life in the world is that we cannot escape that which we once were--it just keeps hanging around like a shadow, though we may come to different sorts of agreements with the shadow. (This is sounding excessively Jungian, but what the hell.) Sure, we use different voices & even voice-overs in different situations, sometimes creating a complex braid of selves, but that stuff you did, man, that's yours & that's you. Deal with it. The shadow knows.
Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to be whoever we want? Alas, we are constrained by who we have been. We can of course learn & change, but only within the bounds of who we already are.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:21 PM.
Maxspeak on financing the war on terror. Come on warbloggers, let's see you have a go at the titans of international banking. Speaking of warbloggers, I'm not happy about the name: it seems like an attempt to monopolize the discussion of the war. But I get to talk about war(s) too. I'm not a peaceblogger, either, though I have been writing recently about peace. The NY Times offers some thoughts on the blossoming of warblogging in recent months & the reaction of the old-guard tech bloggers who invented & developed the technology. I'm neither a tech blogger nor a warblogger; both modes are foreign to me. I'm an idea blogger or an academic blogger, I suppose. A happy member of U Blog, an institution where I know some of my colleagues better than others & some not at all. I can't & wouldn't need to identify the politics of my fellow-faculty members, but I'd guess that as a group & on average, we do not identify with the great reactionary wave of warbloggers who see the web as a place where they can respond to the liberal media. And what goes for U Blog goes, too, for most of the other weblogs I read regularly. Most of the weblogs I read fall into the category of idea blogs, though I happily consult the techies when I want to know more about the tools I'm learning to use. Short version: I am a writer & a reader; I find the evolving medium of weblogs suits me, as both writer & reader.
In any case, the technology has given me a powerful new medium to use as I see fit. I'm always slightly amused when people get on a soapbox & say what blogging really is. What blogging is is a publishing tool. As with older technologies like books for instance, what you can put in a blog is pretty much an open field. Which is not to say that print technology did not affect writing--quite the opposite--or that blogging has not / will not affect the form of the writing bloggers produce. Blogging is dialogic, for one thing. One interesting development, in fact, is the way blogs seem to encourage a certain level of seriousness & often civility. Civility even in disagreement. (This may seem like a surprising observation to some, but I spent a good deal of time participating in email listserves--mostly about poetry--before turning the the blog. The blog is public in a way that a listserve is not. Public is the key.) This is new & comes I think from the reciprocal, dialogic nature of blogging that is fostered by the ability to link. Bakhtin saw the novel in dialogic terms. Will there be a new novel-like form emerging in the blogosphere? One can hope so.
As far as the overt politics & committments of the blogosphere, Jason Kottke gets it right about blogs & blogging.: "Most webloggers (75%+ at least, in my estimation) are not tech bloggers or warbloggers. They're just the ones that get all the press. LiveJournal has hundreds of thousands of members, a tiny fraction of whom talk about technology or current events. Out of the "10 most recently published blogs" on blogger.com right now, none are tech blogs or warblogs."
Mike Sanders emailed me this morning with the following note: "I just hope you are not going back on your condemnation of suicide bombings from last week. The biggest thing that disturbed me about Gordon's email were not his refutations of my points but his seeming justification for terrorism, i.e. the devil (the Israeli's) made me (the Palestinians) do it. Peace and terrorism don't mix." (Mike responds to Gordon Coale's intervention in our exchange at Keep Trying.)
No, I continue to condemn suicide bombings; it does not follow, though, that such acts are the result of an abstract & metaphysical evil & thus incomprehensible. I think Gordon Coale is right to seek political causes for political acts. I also condemn the Israeli occupation & settlement of the West Bank as an inherently violent political program. Do I think the occupation & settlements have caused the terror bombings? Not entirely, but they have helped create conditions in which such acts become imaginable. Many threads--political, religious, sociological, military & psychological--have contributed to the current situation; peace will involve unweaving this fabric & reassembling it with a new pattern. Such work is difficult & require great care & patience. So, once again, I underline my distrust of broad political & psychological Truths of the sorts the warbloggers seem attracted to. My skepticism about such pronouncements was honed to a fine edge during my days as a Vietnam anti-war protester & my subsequent reading & many trips to Vietnam have kept that skepticism sharp. These days I keep thinking of the way Bob Dylan concluded his song "Masters of War"--addressed to the master-liars of the Cold War--with what may be the angriest verse in popular American music:
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
[Bob Dylan c. 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music]
Monday, June 10, 2002
No, No, No! I am not a warblogger, nor am I happy to be associated with that party, as Mike Sanders defines it: "A warblogger is someone who strongly condemns terrorism, such as that of 9/11, and is politically committed to efforts focused on the reduction of terrorism." This seems like a reasonable statement until one examines it in the larger sweep of warblogging rhetoric, which defines an innocent US & a terrorist Them. It is this dualism that I reject, categorically. So, no, Mike, I have not chosen one of Norah Vincent's "sides" because the only side I want to be on is the "side" that does not define one group out of existence with phrases like "culture of martyrdom" & valorize another side with phrases like "innocent civilians." When I used the phrase innocent civilians--go back & read carefully--I did not define them beyond that phrase as Palestinian or Israeli or American. They all matter to me. I am sick to death of the shrill voices that proclaim the moral splendor of one position while consigning other views to the outer darkness. Previously in this conversation I have mentioned the Christian doctrine of redemption; though not a Christian, I hold to this statement of human values--that every human is capable of change. Even Arafat, even Sharon.
The self-proclaimed "anti-ideotarians" are simply, as far as I can tell, peddling the dominant ideology, consigning those of us who fail to wave the flag obediently as either unpatriotic, misguided, or morally impaired. I detest their smugness. The lie in the definition Mike Sanders offers above is that one cannot be "politically committed to the reduction of terrorism" unless one accepts the irrational policies of the Sharon government & the settler movement. I've said before that my main orientation--& the main subjects of this weblog--are philosophical & literary; my thinking-out-loud here, when it ventures into politics, seeks to get behind the assumptions of the dominant categories & paradigms. Not that I can ever succeed; I can only keep trying. (By the way, this blog began before 9/11 & I'm not obsessed with this particular marker. Life is short, but art is long.)
Gordon Coale has posted an astonishingly detailed & informed gloss on this blogservation between Mike Sanders & me. I am still digesting some of the sources he draws on, but in the main I want to agree with the general thrust of what Gordon has written. And I feel I need to comment, too, on a remark of mine he notes & properly corrects, about the moral authority of Israel. I felt unsure, as I noted at the time, about my notion that Israel carried a greater moral burden because they are a democracy. What I would say now, is that Israel must bear the greater moral burden because they have the advantages of modern statehood, which they have denied to the Palestinians. I accept Gordon's statement that "The implication here seems to be the Palestinians are not educated and literate and, since they do not have a democracy, cannot take a long view. They have the government they do because that is the government Israel wanted for them. See the above article. By many accounts the Palestinians are among the best educated Arabs."
Sunday, June 09, 2002
Stories about violence: I've just finished Thomas Farel Heffernan's Mutiny on the Globe, an account of a 19th century mutiny that Melville also used as source material for his early novels; & I'm halfway through David Halberstam's Vietnam novel, One Very Hot Day, written when the author was a young journalist & while the war was still going on. My interest in Melville--I've read everything except the second half of Pierre--drew me to the first narrative, my interest in Vietnam to the second. (I've read a good deal of the literature to come out of Vietnam, but this is one I'd missed. Now that I'm working on a reference article for Oxford on the subject, I'm trying to go back & fill in gaps.) I will write more fully in a day or two--the Halberstam novel is short--but I want to note that despite apparent dissimilarities, each book--non-fiction, fiction--offer a kind of phenomenology of violence; that is, each story tries to read meaning into sequences of violent actions. There is a deep connection I'm fishing for between these narratives that I haven't found yet--something about whether violence can have a syntax.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:31 PM.
Saturday, June 08, 2002
Summer's here: Last night there were a few fireflies, but tonight they are out in force. I grew up on the west coast where this particular bioluminescent wonder does not exist, so I am always amazed & "delighted, no end." (That's what the firefly said when it backed into the electric fan.)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:08 PM.
Some of my best friends are Jewish: Mike Sanders has laid before me a large number of facts purporting to prove that the Arabs in the Middle East have always wanted, since its inception, & continue to want, the destruction of the State of Israel. I reserve the right to contest some of his evidence, but in the main I accept it as historically accurate. (Perhaps Mike Sanders is right, Israel has never targeted civilians. But they have let their proxies do so, with full foreknowledge of the results. I know, I know: the facts I like are truth, the facts you like are propaganda.) It is mere personal coincidence, but at about the time these facts were being gathered & organized for my benefit, a very old acquaintance--in fact, a high school girlfriend, now a lawyer in California--looked me up on my birthday & sent me an email to say hello. I wrote back thanking her & asked, "What have you been doing for the last thirty years." Her response was a single word: "Aging." Still had her sweet, wry sense of humor.
The relevance of this anecdote? She's Jewish & we were dating during the Six Day War. We were sixteen years old & I'd grown up among Christian fundamentalists of the semi-Nazi stripe. Thank god for public schools. My family was working class & V's father was a doctor; we lived in an apartment & V's family had a beautiful house on a hill overlooking the small city where we lived. I suppose our dating was tolerated because we were young enough that no one took us very seriously. Anyway, until I met V, the Jews were just some people in the bible--people that Christians believed had taken a pass on salvation & on being God's Chosen. I can't say that dating V for a few months during my sophomore year of high school (my family moved away or we might have kept on together) taught me very much about Judaism, but I got a healthy dose of Zionist politics nevertheless. I also met some of the other Jewish kids at S High School & was introduced to smoking pot & blues music by them. Thanks Les, thanks Sheldon. When the war broke out we were all nervous in the way that kids are who know what they believe, but don't have much historical perspective. We celebrated as Israeli armies pushed back Arab aggressors. I would still celebrate today. Though I completely reject both Christian & Jewish messianism, I believe the modern world, especially Europe & the US, have a moral obligation to insure the existence of Israel. It is a moral obligation that flows from a history of oppression, marginialization, neglect & caricature. For exactly the same reasons I believe the West is obligated to bring into existence a Palestinian state.
It is simple common sense. The nations of Europe & North America emerged as modern states in the 18th & 19th centuries, building civilizations on the backs of colonial peoples within & outside their boundaries. Our national identities as Americans or Frenchmen or Germans or Danes & etc. are partly defined by the exclusion of Indians, Romany, Jewish or other folk. We owe those peoples a moral debt & probably an economic one. In the current discussion, I assert that the West, morally, ought to guarantee the existence of both Jewish & Palestinian states. Of course, we can't do it without their help--& without a cessation of the ancient blood rivalries that continue to taint relations between Arabs & Jews. I'm neither a politician nor a political scientist & I've already admitted that I don't have a plan for resolving the current crisis; the best political minds of three or four generations have not managed to solve the puzzle.
So, while poets, as Yeats notes, have nothing to teach statesmen, perhaps they have something to teach us, poor citizens that we are. When I was a young instructor in Rhetoric & Composition at a university in the Northwest US, I had the privilege of being sent to pick up the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai at the airport. He was coming to town for a reading. On the drive from the airport, I told him that I had read his work & had heard him read previously in Iowa City; he was solicitous about my own work as a poet. Amichai is one of the great love poets of the 20th century. He served as an officer in the Israeli Army during the Six Day War & has written, too, about death:
Is all of this sorrow? I guess so.
"May ye find consolation in the building
of the homeland." But how long
can you go on building the homeland
and not fall behind in the terrible
between consolation and building and death?
As I was dropping the poet off with the family he would stay with, someone asked, "Have you heard the news from Israel?" "What, Begin is dead," Amichai shot back? I have been careful, in this exchange with Mike Sanders, to refer to "Israel under Sharon" & I think it is a distinction that the poet Amichai would approve. He disdained Israel under Begin. One can support the co-existence of Israel & Palestine; morally, it is the only choice. So, yes, the other side are evil bastards; problem is, if we want to get anywhere, we have to deal with them. Worse, if we want to really deal with them, we have to allow them the possibility of change. We can either dig the trenches & pile up the barricades, or we can work to make sense between opposing sides. Mike Sanders quoted the callow Norah Vincent a while back, regarding the Middle East, saying "There are only two sides, take your pick." I'd like to recast that choice: You can either be a partisan of one side or the other, or you can look for a humane & moral solution. There are only two choices--take your pick.
Friday, June 07, 2002
The Real World: Real Networks can kiss my ass with their bloatware. I only have them on my computer at all because so many audio files are still in their format, but I have carefully removed all Real software from default or background settings because it keeps opening windows I don't want & forcing me to remake decisions about my computing environment that I have already made. No startup menu for Real stuff, no system tray & I use Zone Alarm to prevent Real from heading out onto the Internet all by its lonesome to bring me crap it wants me to buy. Real software treats me like an idiot; worse, it's very pushy with the idiot it believes I am, hardly a recommendation. I'm very close to scrubbing my hard drive completely: tonight, working along, a little window pops up saying that Real Player is not my default media player. No shit it ain't. The message in the box asks be if I would like to "correct" this situation. All I need at this point is the little x at the upper right hand corner of the window so I can be rid of this annoyance. But it's not there. [note: it has just appeared again, even as I type this.] But my only options are OK or MORE OPTIONS. One of the options is REMIND ME LATER, but there is no button for GO AWAY. Maybe this kind of crap works with web newbies, but it only makes me mad. What a bunch of morons. And apparently, I'm not alone. More info. [copy to Real Networks]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:46 PM.
Very smart essay at Visible Darkenss about metaphor & language on the web with partincular attention to the nature of links. Ricoeur taught me a great deal about the rhetoric poetic language, but it's been years since I've read him. Need to go back. To Kenneth Burke, too. [via Bellona Times]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:23 PM.
No laughing, we're Communists! Vietnam Bans Comedy. I am an admirer of the Vietnamese Revolution & struggle for independence & a lover of the Vietnamese people & language, which I have struggled to learn in recent years, but not of the sclerotic regime currently calling the shots in Hanoi. Yes, elder uncles, comedy does distort reality, but often in the service of morality, or simply of insight. I think Marx had a sense of humor, but I'm pretty sure Lenin lacked this particular human trait. Maybe a little more emphasis on Marx, elder uncles, & a little less on Lenin. You could start by removing that gigantic statue on Dien Bien Phu Street across from the Army Museum; but leave the courtyard lit at night after you cart V.I. off for scrap: It's nice to watch the boys play speed soccer on the marble-paved square & even more fun to watch the grandmas play badminton. They're good; they're Vietnam, not the monumental bronze Communist casting his shadow over the scene.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:21 PM.
Thursday, June 06, 2002
Correction: The phrase "Wars and rumors of wars" that I atributed to the Book of Revelations is actually from the Gospel of Matthew (24:7). But the Christian fundamentalists I grew up among connected the the phrase with the violence of the Revelations. For a little window on the eschatology of Christian fundamentalism, I offer this link.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:32 PM.
In response to my notes here yesterday, Mike Sanders writes, "Well I am encouraged, but not surprised, that you unequivocally condemn terrorist attacks against civilians. But why do all your solutions start with Israel and not with the Palestinians who are making the murderous civilian attacks?"
I had actually wanted to talk about truth v. understanding, a discussion that, for me, is prior to politics; but I will attempt to briefly respond to Mike's question. 1) I agree that the Palestinian Authority must reject the doctrine of the destruction of Israel. And do so consistently. In fact, Arafat & the PLO have rejected it. Was Arafat sincere? Only he knows, but under Oslo, he pragmatically accepted the existence of Israel. Many other groups, Hamas & Islamic Jihad in particular, never did renounce their belief that Israel must be destroyed. Why, then, has Israel under Sharon focused on Arafat? Why has Israel under Sharon simultaneously called on Arafat to stop the terrorists wile systematically dismantling his means for doing so? 2) Taking another tack, offering another sort of answer to the question, I would say that many of my solutions to the puzzle begin with Israel because Israel is a democracy & has an educated & literate populace that ought to be expected to be able to take a longer view; but also because Israel is wealthier & stronger than the Palestinians. Israel has both more moral credibility & more responsibility to find the way toward peace. The Palestinians have been wandering in the wildreness for fifty years, Israel has occupied their Promided Land. The paternalism of this observation makes me uncomfortable, but there you have it. 3) Not all the attacks against civilians have been committed by the Palestinian side, though their acts of terror have certainly been more dramatic because they involve suicide bombers rather than military units. 4) This is not so much an answer to the question Mike Sanders poses to me as an observation about one of the quotations he offers. The article in the New Republic contains the following assertion about Palestine & the Palestinians: "The Palestinian Authority permitted the militarization of these areas and embedded a political culture that worships the killing of civilians." This is an example of the the sort of bogus general pronouncements my--admittedly tortured--philosophy of yesterday was meant to critique.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:28 PM.
Forgiveness: On the exchange between Jeneane & AKMA, I have this to say: It is futile to imagine we might have been different in our youth; to do so is to deny the nature of human being, which is change, development. There is no ideal Joe who I prevented from existing by my transgressions when young. "I yam what I yam," to quote Popeye. Which does not mean that I yam static; the contrary is true. For that matter, there is no perfect Old Joe who I prevent from existing by my current transgressions. We make our souls in every moment, with every act & choice. To imagine that we might erase our pasts is to imagine erasing who we have become in the present & who we might become in the future. As Wordsworth put it, "The Child is father to the Man."* If the Christian doctrine of the Fall means anything, it means that we are all caught up in being, in change & that we cannot escape our pasts. Even the worst bastard can change. If you don't believe that, you don't believe in forgiveness. Interesting test case for this ethical study in the news today: Leslie Van Houten, one of the Manson family, was again denied parole & a judge in California is raising fundamental questions about justice, forgiveness & vengence.
*The "Immortality Ode" presents Wordsworth struggling with the relationship between childhood & adulthood. A great, honest poem. See also "Tintern Abbey."
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:52 AM.
Wednesday, June 05, 2002
Sartre & St. Paul: Yesterday I said that Mike Sanders & I have disagreements about the Middle East. That's true, but one thing we surely agree on is that the continuing string of terrorist attacks against civilians must come to an end. Our differences, I assume, would begin to show as we discussed the best way to bring that about. My understanding of the situation leads me to think that some of the elements would be: no Israeli settlements; an effort to create conditions in which a functioning Palestinian state could emerge; international peacekeepers; security for civilians regardless of race or ethnicity or religion . . . no doubt many other elements as well. How do we get there? Damned if I know, though I thought the Clinton administration was moving things along incrementally, which is the only way things are going to change. The Bush administration is impatient with increments, it seems, favoring grand gestures or dismissal of the problem altogether. These political observations are rooted in my sense that the world requires of us constant course corrections, constant creativity in the face of uncertainty & change. That is, there are no answers once-and-for-all--no truth--but only answers now & here--what I'd call understanding. (For this to work, one cannot be passive; it is necessary, in the words of my old mentor Stan Hodson, to "hustle one's self." No dippy, anything-goes intellectual laziness allowed.) So whenever I hear general pronouncements, however reasonable-sounding, all my intellectual warning signals go off. A nation has the right of self-defense. This seems reasonable & I would probably endorse it under many possible scenarios; but I can imagine cases in which I might not be able to accept this general maxim. Or any others, for that matter. General statements & claims can be very useful, but I think they must always remain provisional. This makes me a thorough-going nominalist. Not to mention an epistemological relativist, if that term is properly understood. (I don't think that epistemological relativism leads inexorably to ethical relativism.)
The question then becomes--& it is a question that I must be able to answer if any of the foregoing is to make sense--What sort of ethics can possibly emerge from such an approach to reality? But before I can begin to answer the essential question, I need to tell you what I did today. I attended a Mass of Christian Burial for the wife of a colleague. I didn't know K well, but I work pretty closely with her husband. Her husband, D, & I have had various disagreements over the course of a fifteen year professional association, but it goes without saying that I wanted to show respect for his grief at the loss of his wife by going into a church for a service for the first time in over twenty years. Though I have no faith in streets of gold, there are responsibilities that transcend belief. Responsibilities of the current situation. Not to denigrate them, responsibilities of the day-to-day. (The service itself was moving: after the homily, people stood up to remember K & several read poems: Frost, Neruda, Stevens. I hope whatever words are said over my poor body will be as fine.) The priest read from Corinthians, the famous lines from St. Paul about love. I have spent a good deal of intellectual energy over thirty years trying to get free of St. Paul, but I have to admit that the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians packs a moral wallop that's hard to argue with. Basically, I'm with Paul up through verse 10, but then, like everyone else in the Western tradition, he wants to ground his uncertainty in a future certainty. That's where I part company with St. Paul, though, for Christians, it is the last few verses that validate all the foregoing business about love. What I want to say is that love is essential even without the last few verses, even without the grounding in a future certainty to which Paul believed he had access. What kind of ethics, then, can emerge from my nominalism & relativism? Sartre's little essay on existentialism in not on the web, so I can't link to it, but, in short, he says that once we let go of the belief in God, we're on our own. [Simple but decent summary of Sartre's thought] Once we accept, in Camus' phrase, "the benign indifference of the universe," it is our existential responsibility to figure out what love means. For now, I will only suggest that love respects silence & restraint. These are Buddhist virtues more than Christian ones, but I don't want to start a sectarian debate.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 3:11 PM.
Tuesday, June 04, 2002
Afterthought: Seeking is good, keeps us alive; I'd prefer the formulation seeking understanding to the formulation seeking the truth.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:59 PM.
Monday, June 03, 2002
Mike Sanders has asked me about truth. Which has somehow led me to thinking about hallucinations. I'm reading every night, Mike & will respond in due course. Key terms: vision, truth, reality, fantasy, imagination, hallucination.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:00 PM.
I'm not a philosopher, but I play one on the Internet: Mike Sanders believes in the search for truth & in response to my critique--if that's what you want to call it--of this notion, Mike wrote: "Sorry for the intrusion Joe. I know the word truth is loaded and causes extreme discomfort for many, but I hope your philosophy of radical pluralism leaves room for people who believe in truths, whether they be based on ethics, philosophy, theology, or whatever. I do not believe in coercive morality, nor that there is only one correct path to follow, but I do believe in searching for truth. And I bet on closer examination our views are not as different as they might first appear. What I call truth, you might call right and wrong, but I do believe you have a set of principles by which you try to lead you life which are not so radically different from mine. Maybe we can work on finding our common ground and continue with our exciting searches on the journey that we call life, together."
Well, first, I don't consider any thoughtful response an intrusion. In fact, I depend on my friends & correspondents to keep me thinking by presenting me with ideas & problems to think about. Having said that, I think it only honest to say from the start that Mike Sanders & I have fundamental disagreements about the situation currently playing itself out in the Middle East. To be as succinct as possible, I think that Ariel Sharon provoked, to a large extent, the current crisis; he did so, I think, out of a combination of ideological perversity & political necessity. Does that excuse the suicide bombers? No, they too are operating in the ideological darkness bred of political certainty. Finally--because I really want to talk about truth(s)--I think it's pretty clear that years of occupation & second-class status have made the Palestinians very, very angry & intractable. As intractable, say, as Ariel Sharon. Certainty is the issue, I think.
The classical statement of philosophical pluralism runs, No single system of thought is adequate to explain the reality that confronts us every day. It follows that multiple & sometimes contradictory systems of understanding must be applied, depending on particular circumstances. Walt Whitman famously said, "I contradict myself, very well, I contradict myself." He was not being arch, or witty, or evasive. He meant what he said. When the road ends you have to get out of the car & get on a motorbike; when the trail gets too steep you have to get off the motorbike & get on a donkey; when the altitude is too great for a donkey you have to get off & walk; when the air gets too thin, you have to lie down & say a prayer. Which is to say that, yes, I believe that it is part of the human soul to "search for truths," though always with the proviso that truth is a many-splendored thing; that it is by definition multiple. Now, it may seem that Mike Sanders & I are pretty much in agreement here, but if we are, he is going to have to admit the quite radical nature of my claims for the multiple, paradoxical, even contradictory nature of the idea of Truth. Following Wittgenstein, truth (meaning) emerges from the use of sentences in particular situations, not out of some correspondence, however subtle, between words & things / arrangements of things. The fact is that we make it up as we go along. Still, I think we can reasonably ask for justice, though perhaps not with a capital J. Justice involves the practice of restraint, I'm pretty sure; but I need to think more about this on tomorrow morning's dogwalk, so I'll break off for now. Oh, & justice would involve, I think, the recognition that people, even people we regard as very bad, can change. The Christians--I'm not one--have a name for it: redemption.
Weird. So what's wrong with isolationism? It's a serious question. UNDERNEWS: The daily news service of the Progressive Review, reproduces the following from World Net Daily: "The price of empire is terror. The price of occupation is terror. The price of interventionism is terror . . . Before, not after, the next terror attack on this country, America's leaders should start telling the truth: Evil though they may be, Islamic killers are over here because we are over there. They are not trying to kill us because they dislike our domestic politics, but because they detest our foreign policy. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. They did not fly into those twin towers to protest universal suffrage or to advance self-determination for the Palestinian people. As Osama bin Laden said, they want us to stop propping up the Saudi regime they hate, and to get off the sacred Saudi soil on which sit the holiest shrines of Islam. They want our troops out of Saudi Arabia - and if we don't get out, they are coming over here to kill us any way they can. That is reality." [Patrick J. Buchanan]
World Net Daily, which is new to me, also carries a headline regarding the crisis in South Asia: Wars and Rumors of Wars. Unless you grew up among fundamentalist Christians as I did you might not recognize the reference--a quotation from Revelations about the end times. When I was a teenaged member of the Grace Bretheren Church of San Jose, we regularly were regaled by visiting evangelests who trotted out elaborate charts tying the Book of Revelation to contemporary American politics. Apparently this is still a growth industry, though, naturally, the details of interpretation change with the times--a kind of fundamentalist postmodernism seems to be at work. The text means what I say it means, son. Honestly, I speak from experience, there is deep nuttiness out there. Many of my fellow citizens are caught up in the grips of religious fantasies so profound that were it not for the First Amendment, they would be certifiably insane.
I've been reconsidering my thinking on "taking out Iraq" in light of an article by Adam B. Kushner in The American Prospect that fills in many of the gaps in my knowledge & presents the case for sponsoring a coup. Though, honestly, while Kushner's analysis seems more than plausable, the inside-job sceaniro seems like a political pipe dream. (I'm also still skeptical that containment won't work & I'm convinced that the current administration is politically & conceptually more comfortable with well-defined bad guys than with the give & take of international diplomacy.) TAP is a progressive magazine that I would guess condemned the aborted coup against Hugo Chavez. The question comes down to where we draw the lines. I generally evaluate political issues on the basis of abstractions such as nonintervention & on the basis of historical analogy, especially to the Vietnam War, about which I know a thing or two. Two questions form in my mind every time I think about the administration's fixation on Iraq: 1) What are the political motives of the hawks? 2) Granting that the current situation stinks, what will it smell like after we take out Saddam? And I might add a third: Do we really need a Middle East war with South Asia on the brink of incinerating itself?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:21 PM.
Penny says thanks to AKMA for sending the pic of Beatrice, Margaret's Bichon Frise. Cute dog. Cute kid. Dogs are this world's great innocents.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
I share a birthday with the comedian Fred Allen (1894-1956), who said, "A committee is a gathering of important people who singly can do nothing but together can decide that nothing can be done." An apt description of my work on the Liberal Arts curriculum last year. Other May 31st birthdays:
1819: Poet Walt Whitman was born in West Hill, New York
1912: US Senator from Washington Henry 'Scoop' Jackson
1819: Surgeon William Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic
1930: Actor-director Clint Eastwood
1939: Former Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite
1941: Singer Johnny Paycheck
1943: Football Hall-of-Famer Joe Namath
1965: Actress Brooke Shields
But the real reason I am dwelling on my birthday, which was yesterday, after all, is that two old girlfriends have emailed me, out of the blue, with wishes for a happy birthday. (I generally don't pay much attention to my birthdays, but I would note that I turned 40 at Yaddo & I turned 50 in Hanoi--it's been an adventerous life for a kind from the California working class.) Anyway, J has contacted me a couple of times over the years--we were lovers when we were 19; but I have not heard from V, who was my girlfriend when I was a boy of 16 & with whom I kept in touch through my early 20s had completely dropped out of contact. Well, what I want to say is, I was blessed by these two young women, who gave themselves to me despite my gauchness, my selfishness, my solipsism. One short & curvy, one tall & angular--a young man could not have dreamed of greater sweetness, kindness & love. What a lucky boy I was!