Hold It All

Month: May, 2019

Arousing Enthusiasm: Allen the Talker

for Laura Lapinski,
who makes me laugh while lunching at Medina Grill,
walking around the CWE, and hanging out in Left Bank Books

There’s 15 to 20 Allen Ginsberg poems I’ve loved, and shared with friends over the years. Examples: Cosmopolitan Greetings, War Profit Litany, Yiddishe Kopf, Yes and It’s Hopeless. Sure, I acknowledge that Ginsberg’s poetic influence has been world-wide, and I do reread Howl from time to time. But I esteem him even more for being a talker! This is principally because of one book, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996. What follows are some excerpts which have informed, encouraged, challenged, and delighted me.

On Cuba: The Marxist-oriented people said ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be complaining – look at the advances the revolution has made.’ This was true and I said, yes there have been certain advances here, and I’m on your side and that’s why I’m complaining – don’t fuck up your revolution. 535

People are beginning to see, like household, as a tea ceremony. People begin to do kitchen yoga when they’re washing dishes. People begin to sacramentalizing all relationships, because the purpose of art is to sacramentalize life, I think. That’s a reasonable statement that I heard Swami Bhaktivedanta say recently. He said he thought the purpose of art was to bless and make sacred everything, so that people could see it that way. That is, to reveal the feeling in things, so they become more of a ball. 75

An artist by very definition means penetrating into the heart of the universe, i.e., your own heart, going beyond depression or exuberance. 446

[Since the 60s ] [t]here is a permanent change in civilized consciousness so that it includes the notion of one world, fresh planet, the awareness of the fragility of the planet as an ecological unity, the absorption of psychedelic styles in dress and music into the body politic, the sexual liberation movement, the black liberation movement, the women’s liberation movement, all of those slight, affirmative, permanent alterations in all lifestyles. 462

On meditation: you’re aware of your thoughts and you just observe them: acknowledging them, taking a friendly attitude toward them, not participating, just letting them go by. That tends to lead to a kind of equanimity or peacefulness and, at the same time, some sense of observation of the situation around you in a kind of nonjudgmental peacefulness. 482 Read the rest of this entry »

The Irresistible Power of Natural Powers

Having recently perused Jim Forest’s biography and memoir of Dan Berrigan (Playing in the Lions’ Den), I returned to Berrigan’s collection of poems, And the Risen Bread. If I can find five poems in such a collection that speak to me (and which I can pass along), I’m pleased.

The poem that still stands out for me, above all the others, is his “Zen Poem,” which I cannot help but think was influenced by his time with Nhat Hanh in France after the Vietnam War. However many times I read it, it remains fresh, like Book 6 of The Brothers Karamazov.

The early poems in the book are Christocentric, abstract, Latinate. The middle poems are still mostly pre-political. Like Vatican II brought the Church into the modern world, in the Sixties Berrigan, like so many others, finally got with it. “Certain Occult Utterances from the Under Ground and Its Guardian Sphinx” retains its spiritual relevance after fifty years. The Georgetown Series includes “The Trouble with Our State,” which also speaks to what is called the Age of Trump. (It would be pertinent if Ms. Clinton was president.) Read the rest of this entry »

The Essential Edward Said–Summer Class 2019

Edward Said was a voice of sanity and courage for literally millions of people around the world and made a brilliant contribution to modern culture and understanding. He was the most eloquent, knowledgeable, and thoughtful spokesperson for Palestinian emancipation. His death was a loss for international intellectual life, for the suffering and oppressed all over the world, and for universal principles of justice and freedom.
—Noam Chomsky

I began reading Edward Said’s political works in the early 1990s after traveling to the West Bank and Gaza during the first intifada. His writing was an invaluable resource for people questioning U.S. foreign policy with Iraq as well as Israel. Even in the early 1980s he was a lucid critic of U.S. political and cultural propaganda on Islam. His probing work on intellectuals and Palestine informed my first book, Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership, published in 2001. My 2015 novel Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine was an attempt to meet a challenge posed years earlier by Said: “The major task—I say this actually without any qualification whatever—the major task of the American or the Palestinian or the Israeli intellectual of the Left is to reveal the disparity between the so-called two sides, which appear rhetorically and ideologically to be in perfect balance but are not in fact. To reveal that there is an oppressed and an oppressor, a victim and a victimizer, and unless we recognize that, we’re nowhere.”

In this summer class we will make good use of the recently published book, The Selected Works of Edward Said, 1966-2006. We will read one or two essays for each session, discuss with each other the enduring relevance of Said’s perspectives, and reflect on their implications in our journals during class and throughout the week. Primary emphasis will be given to Said’s investigations of Middle East political and cultural issues. But we will also reflect on such topics as activism, the canon, contrapuntal reading, identity, music, remembrance, and solidarity.

Our class will meet weekly on Wednesdays beginning June 12 and finish on July 31. We begin at 6:30 p.m. and go until 8:00. Andrew Wimmer will host us at his home at 4400 Arco Avenue (park around 1077 Newstead) 63110.

Tuition is $175.00 payable to me by check or Paypal.

Email me if you are interested: markjchmiel@gmail.com.

What Rachel Corrie’s work in Gaza recognized, however, was precisely the gravity and the density of the living history of the Palestinian people as a national community, not merely as a collection of deprived refugees. That is what she was in solidarity with. And we need to remember that that kind of solidarity is no longer confined to a small number of intrepid souls here and there but is recognized the world over. In the past six months I have lectured on four continents to many thousands of people. What brings them together is Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian people, which is now a byword for emancipation and enlightenment, regardless of all the vilification heaped on them by their enemies.
—Edward Said, 2003

Both/And

Joe Brainard, I Remember

I read Joe Brainard’s classic in 2002 as I was finishing up a draft of what was published as The Book of Mev in 2005. In many writing classes I’ve facilitated since 2012, I encourage people to read and enjoy Brainard’s book, and generate some of their own recollections.

A few days ago, I thought of I Remember as I know several friends who are deeply grieving the loss of a family member. At the memorial gathering, people were doing their own oral “I Remember.” The various appointed and spontaneous speakers were awkward, riveting, candid, eloquent, stammering, goofy, hilarious. So many anguished, happy tears were generated in that space.

The loss of a young person triggers all sorts of overpowering, contradictory, messy emotions. It occurred to me that, even once a day, before, during, or after a wave of being overwhelmed, a bereft person could perform the action of writing one sentence of an “I remember” about the beloved spouse, son, brother, friend. It could take as little as 15 seconds.

In Part Three of The Book of Mev, I invoked Keats’s “negative capability” in light of the desire to remember and to forget. This is related to the book’s epigraph, “Hold it all”—grief and gratitude, laceration and exaltation, blues and bliss. Jews say about the deceased, “May his memory be a blessing.” A writing ritual of accumulating simple “I remember” particulars could be a modest way of continuing the blessing from that memorial gathering.

Beautiful and Toxic Multitudes

Jewish because reading Dostoyevsky at 13  I write poems at restaurant tables Lower East Side, perfect delicatessen intellectual
–Allen Ginsberg, Yiddish Kopf

Prompted by a recent tragedy, I turned again to the conclusion of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I cried as I reread the exchanges between Kolya and Alyosha, thinking all the while of what dear friends have lost. I remembered how, many years ago in mid-May, as a treat to myself after the academic year, I’d reread Dostoevsky’s last novel. Just this morning I began perusing volume five of Jospeh Frank’s acclaimed biography of the Russian novelist. Imagine: An assiduous Jewish academic spending decades of his life writing about the times and life of, yes, a magnificent writer as well as an anti-Semite. This led me to return to Leonid Tsypkin’s novel Summer in Baden-Baden, which shifts quickly back and forth from the narrator going to Leningrad to check out the sites of Dostoevsky’s fans to the Dostoevskys as a married couple going to Dresden (Baden-Baden) where we see the extremes of the Russian writer with his gambling, self-loathing, and self-abasement before his bride-secretary, before the narrator ends up visiting an older friend, Gilda Yakovlevna, after which is how the novel ends, with “Tsypkin,” a Russian Jew reflecting on how and why it is that so many Jews like himself are Fyodorophiles, even though Dostoevsky despised Jews. Frank and Tsypkin forego the “all or none” mentality. Rather, they somehow hold it all, recognizing but not freaking out at the “both/and” of the beautiful and toxic in Dostoevsky the person. Of course, so many of Dostoevsky’s riveting characters—Dmitri Karamazov being an obvious example—are charged with just this gripping interbeing of the noble and ignoble. “I loved depravity, I also loved the shame of depravity. I loved cruelty: am I not a bedbug, an evil insect? In short – a Karamazov!” “I understand now that for men such as I a blow is needed, a blow of fate, to catch them as with a noose and bind them by an external force. Never, never would I have risen by myself! But the thunder has struck. I accept the torment of accusation and of my disgrace before all, I want to suffer and be purified by suffering. And perhaps I will be purified, eh, gentlemen? But hear me, all the same, for the last time: I am not guilty of my father’s blood!” I remember Susan Sontag (another Jew obsessed with Russian literature) on Tsypkin’s novel: “If you want from one book an experience of the depth and authority of Russian literature, read this book. If you want a novel that can fortify your soul and give you a larger idea of feeling, and of breathing, read this book.” But don’t stop there. Solzhenitsyn had his manias; is that a reason to avoid One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich? Is the moral crankiness and dreary dogmatism of the later Tolstoy grounds for passing up Hadji Murad?

Since You’ll Never Hear This on Fox or NPR Programs, Allow Me to Remark…

The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves
The Palestinians have the right to defend themselves Read the rest of this entry »

“Life Must Be Serious or It Can Go to the Devil”

Naguib Mahfouz, Mirrors [Al-Maraya]
Illustrated by Seif Wanli
Translated by Roger Allen

—March 2005

What an odd book! It can be a goad to do something experimental in the future. It is a series of vignettes, portraits of those who’s known at different stages in his life and it covers relations between the sexes, the political crises of the time (like the ’67 catastrophe, remember, this is an Egyptian’s perspective), various affiliations (Muslim Brotherhood, Communists), individuals’ demons (haseesh, alcohol). I read it in two different periods, and so can’t remember all the characters, though I made a list of their names. It’s a kind of non-linear memoir of an old man, portraits of those whom he’s known.

I can’t say that it is full of profundity, like Proust. I can’t say that it is chock full of hilarity, like Roth. I can’t say that I want to reread it, because I’ve missed so much (and knew I was missing something) the first time around.

Still, as Ginsberg counseled, “Notice what you notice.” Here’s some of what I noticed from this book by the author of The Cairo Trilogy, some of which I read in Gaza and Ramallah…

From Roger Allen’s Introduction: The vignettes are indeed ‘mirrors,’ reflectors of a process of rapid change that has radically transformed Mahfouz’s homeland and its people, and not always to its advantage, during the course of this century.

“I challenge Israel to do to us what we’ve done to ourselves!” 35

I recalled Zuhayr Kamil’s words: “I now believe that people are bastards with no ethics. It would be better for them to admit it and build their communal life on that admission. The new ethical issue becomes how to maintain public welfare and human happiness in a society of bastards and scum.” 52 Read the rest of this entry »