Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Intellectuals

Staying Human

Felicia Langer, An Age of Stone (Quartet Books, 1988) Trans. Isaac Cohen

It is my simple belief that whatever happens to [the Palestinians], their future and their fate in the last decades of the twentieth century must be the concern of everyone.

A Gazan: Inside or out, this whole place is a prison. We have nothing left to lose.

‘The ones who did not know, did not want to know.’

I register the event. I record the facts.

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An Age of Stone is an account of attorney Felicia Langer’s work  from 1979 to  1988.    Published almost thirty years ago, the book reveals what commitment entails in the day to day life of the author: accompanying the Palestinians, defending them in an  absurd and unjust court system, not averting her gaze from the daily horror these people endured, weeping with the families, raging as a spiritual practice, and resolving never to give up.

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1.

There are pictures that stay in the memory as if carved with a fine chisel.

Of the thousands of demolished homes I remember one house in Silwad.

Of the hundreds of torture victims I see the burnt eyes and the crouched back of Sulaiman.

Of the countless smiles in the darkness there is the smile of Sami.

Of the hundreds of hunger-strikers I see the tiny Mehdi.

Like a great sea reflected in a tiny drop. 17 Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked In 1968

Within a short period of time there will be no Jewish workers in Israel. The Arabs shall be the workers; the Jews shall be the managers, inspectors, officials, and policemen and mainly secret service men. A state governing a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners is bound to become a Shin Bet state, with all that this would imply to the spirit of education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy. This corruption, characteristic of any colonial regime, would be true for Israel. The administration will be forced to deal with the suppression of an Arab protest movement and the acquisition of Arab quislings. We must fear that even the army and its officers, a people’s army, will deteriorate by becoming an occupation army, and its officers, turned into military governors, will not differ from military governors elsewhere in the world.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Israeli philosopher and scholar
Yediot Ahronot
March 1968
Quoted in George Baramki Azar, Palestine: A Photographic Journey

Yesh Leibowitz

 

Arundhati Roy: The Right To Be Sentimental

Right around the time in spring 2012 I finished Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine for Nima Sheth on the occasion of her graduation from medical school, I came across a book of interviews with Arundhati Roy, and particularly appreciated the following:

I’m not here to tell stories that people want to hear. I’m not entering some popularity contest. I just say what I have to say, and the consequences are sometimes wonderful and sometimes not. But I’m not here to say what people want to hear. 61

Failure attracts my curiosity as a writer. Loss, grief, brokenness, failure, the ability to find happiness in the saddest things—these are the things that interest me. 75 Read the rest of this entry »

Know Thyself

There are many intellectuals who call the world into question, but there are very few intellectuals who call the intellectual world into question.

–Pierre Bourdieu,  Sketch for a Self-Analysis Read the rest of this entry »

Elie Wiesel and Worthy Remembrance

See, Wiesel has often made this claim quite explicit:  I am above politics, my message is so precious and pure it cannot afford to be sullied by compromise. Such is the transcendent dignity of the murdered Jews of whom I am their delegate and spokesman.  My task is to show, au contraire,  how and why he’s (unconsciously?) political, that is to say, not as independent as he thinks he is, not as distant and detached and free from the determinations of the “political” as he would like to think.  For to reap the symbolic profits that he has himself reaped, he has had to cover a lot of distance in the move from a space of  relative in cognito to one of major publicity and prestige.  And yet, I need to attend to the subtleties involved in his case, because he is often quite deliberately political in the case of Sanctuary for example, even if he in the same case contradicts himself.

Another issue worth investigating  is whether by his own efforts, Wiesel has assisted in the process of transforming the Holocaust from a perennial warning to a political fashion statement [which affords him plenty of symbolic profits, and which he himself already denied in his memoir about “capital”]. Read the rest of this entry »

Bourdieu on Algeria

The somewhat exalted libido sciendi that drove me, rooted in a kind of passion for everything about this country, its people and its landscapes, and also in the dull but constant sensation of guilt and revolt in the face of so much suffering and injustice, knew neither rest nor bounds.

Sketch toward a Self-Analysis

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A Writer and His Readers

And nothing would make me happier than having made it possible for some of my readers to recognize their own experiences, difficulties, questionings, sufferings, and so on, in mine, and to draw from that realistic identification, which is quite the opposite of an exalted projection, some means of doing what they do, and living what they live, a little better.

–Pierre Bourdieu, Sketch for a Self-Analysis

pierre-bourdieu

Lifelong Learning

I used to say to my classes that the ways to get insight are: to study infants; to study animals; to study primitive people; to be psychoanalyzed; to have a religious conversion and get over it; to have a psychotic episode and get over it; or to have a love affair with an old Russian. And I stopped saying that when a little dancer in the front row put up her hand and said, “Does he have to be old?” — Margaret Mead

The Way It Looked in 1970 (Pessimism of the Intelligence, Optimism of the Will)

What can we do to affect the events that are to come? First, we must not make the mistake of placing trust in the government. The large upsurge of antiwar sentiment can be an effective device for changing national policy if it is sustained in continuing mass actions across the country. Otherwise the administration can ride out the storm and continue as before to systemically demolish the society of South Vietnam and Laos. It is difficult week after week, month after month, to sustain a high level of protest against the war. American society becomes more polarized and the true, familiar Nixon emerges in the person of Mitchell or Agnew, as the threat of repression becomes more real, it will be hard to maintain the kinds of resistance and protest that the Vietnam catastrophe demands. As the reports of massacres and automated murder becomes routine, the impulse to respond by violence may become more difficult to stifle, despite the realization that this can only have the effect of bringing the mass of the population to “ignore resultant atrocities.” Continued mass actions, patient explanation, principled resistance can be boring, depressing. But those who program the B-52 attacks and the “pacification” exercises are not bored, and as long as they continue in their work, so must we.

–Noam Chomsky, “After Pinkville,”  At War with Asia, 83-84

 

Viet Cong Youth Volunteer La Thi Tam counts bombs dropped by American bombers. This was to enable delayed-fuse bombs to be located and deactivated. 1967

Viet Cong Youth Volunteer La Thi Tam counts bombs dropped by American bombers. This was to enable delayed-fuse bombs to be located and deactivated.

A Second Bible by Melech Ravitch

Why shouldn’t a second Jewish Book be put together and edited and canonized, on the lines of our Bible? 377

A Bible is not an anthology, nor a history, nor a collection of documents. It is all of these together. The most important thing in a Bible is the bold, courageous, manly, human idea—the flowing line, not the precise dot. And the line is that man is good, and that absolute justice does exist, and that it will one day prevail; and that the Jews work for it and suffer for it, and though they often suffer more for it—for absolute justice— they don’t stop working for it, work more for it, in fact. But all this must not be said, must not be brought out apologetically. 379

A Bible is an undefinable literary form of its own. And part of its indefinability is its absolute truth, once it has been put together and canonized….A Bible is a Book of absolute sincerity, like life itself. A Bible is not written. It is put together of elements that already existed previously. 383 Read the rest of this entry »