Hold It All

Category: Intellectuals

Yiddish Writers

H. Leivick

I have often felt that instead of writing my autobiography I would like to write the biography of my poems. I mean, tell the life story of some of my poems…

 

Sholem Aleichem

If you’re looking to buy something, I’m afraid I’m all out of stock, unless I can interest you in some fine hunger pains, a week’s supply of heartache, or a head full of scrambled brains.

Oh, my dear Lord, I thought: they say you’re a long-suffering God, a good God, a great God; they say You’re merciful and fair; perhaps you can explain to me, then, why is it that some folk have everything and others have nothing twice over? Why does one Jew get to eat butter rolls while another gets to eat dirt?

… unless, that is, the Almighty looks down on us and says, “Guess what, children! I’ve decided to send you my Messiah!” I don’t even care if he does it just to spite us, as long as He’s quick about it, that old God of ours! Read the rest of this entry »

Mentshes/1

Dear Shannon,

I enjoyed our long conversation on Saturday afternoon at 6 North Coffee. I appreciate you taking the time to visit on such a busy weekend. After our chats, the strong impression I am left with is of a person of great integrity and commitment to justice. You want to “walk the walk.” In the idiom of your semester in San Salvador, you want your “praxis” to be real, substantial, and serious.

You were curious about Ralph Nader, whom I mentioned I had been reading recently. My friend Andrew Wimmer and current Social Justice student Dan McGinnis have stimulated me in this deeper consideration of Nader. As I look back on it, I knew his name in my early teens, but I didn’t know who Dorothy Day was until I read her autobiography at 21. Nader was a household name in the Seventies because he was the foremost consumer advocate in the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

Inspirations

[A Beggar in Jerusalem] is neither novel nor anti-novel, neither fiction nor autobiography, neither poem nor prose—it is all this together.
— Elie Wiesel

My idea of the ideal text is still the Talmud. I love the idea of parallel texts, with long, discursive footnotes and marginal commentary, texts commenting on texts.
—Noam Chomsky

[Mahmoud Darwish] offers us a multivocal text that resembles a broken mirror, reassembled to present the viewer with vying possibilities of clarity and fracture. On the page different kinds of writing converge: the poem, both verse and prose; dialogue; Scripture; history; myth; myth in the guise of history; narrative fiction; literary criticism; and dream visions. Each segment can stand on its own, yet each acquires a relational or a dialectical meaning, a history, that is contingent upon the context provided for it by all the other segments of the work. … Suspended between wholeness and fracture, the text, like Palestine, is a crossroads of competing meanings.
-–Translator Ibrahim Muhawi, on Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982

That is why I want to use short chapters, each with verselike heading, and very many such chapters; slowly, deeply, moodily unfolding the moody story and its long outreaching voyage into strange space. And to run up a pace of such short chapters till they are like a string of pearls. Not a river-like novel; but a novel like poetry, or rather, a narrative poem, an epos in mosaic, a Kind of Arabesque preoccupation…free to wander from the laws of the “novel” as laid down by Austens and Fieldings into an area of greater spiritual pith (which cannot be reached without this technical device, for me, anyway) where the Wm. Blakes and Melvilles and even spotty, short-chaptered Celine, dwell.
—Jack Kerouac, Windblown World

Noam Chomsky, GTU, Berkeley, April 1994; photo by Mev

This page is part of a book-in-progress, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

A Hierarchy of Human Life?

Nawal El Saadawi, The Essential Reader

In his poem “Cosmopolitan Greetings,” Allen Ginsberg urged: Stand up against governments, against God.  This expresses the life and work of Nawal El-Saadawi.

I am African from Egypt, not from the Middle East. The Middle East is a term used relative to London so that India becomes the Far East. 331

I am a humanist and socialist and I am against classism, racism, all kinds of discrimination and if God is unjust, I am against him too. I cannot abide injustice. I might have been a minister or a dean of a medical college, if I could accommodate injustice. 331

She is intent in her writing in breaking “the cultural chains that imprison the mind” [48].  One fundamental chain is expressed tersely: “God above, husband below,” which means to women and girls: do as you are told. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Footnotes

1.

My idea of the ideal text is still the Talmud. I love the idea of parallel texts, with long, discursive footnotes and marginal commentary, texts commenting on texts.

–Noam Chomsky, Mother Jones interview, 1987

2.

Text from Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, p. 386 (South End Press, 1983):

[On the Sabra-Shatila massacres] There was also a reaction from Elie Wiesel, who is much revered internationally and in the United States for his writings on the Holocaust and on moral standards and has been proposed many times for the Nobel Peace Prize for these writings, again for 1983, by half the members of Congress according to the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.* Read the rest of this entry »

The Goal Is Justice, the Method Is Transparency

For those who would like to know a little more about  the issues surrounding Julian Assange and Wikileaks, please take two minutes to read and ponder the following passages from Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler’s new book, In Defense of Julian Assange (OR Books, 2019).

Providing information to the citizens of this world has become a dangerous act, but it cannot be stopped, as every authoritarian regime understands. The courageous people who provide this information must be protected.  —Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler, xxvii 

I posed the question of what the most positive trajectory for the future would look like. Self-knowledge, diversity, and networks of self-determination.  A highly educated global population—I do not mean formal education, but highly educated in their understanding of how human civilization works at the political, industrial, scientific and psychological levels—as a result of the free exchange of communication, also stimulating vibrant new cultures and the maximal diversification of individual thought, increased regional self-determination, and the self-determination of interest groups that are able to network quickly and exchange value rapidly over geographic boundaries. —Julian Assange,  212

[Julian] Assange’s agenda is infinitely more noble and infinitely more reviled by the servants of power: to upset the status quo that demands war, corruption, and oppression in order to exist.—Caitlin Johnstone, 195 

As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, [Assange’s] crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them. That explains why he is being punished.—John Pilger  151 Read the rest of this entry »

For So They Treated the Prophets…

Here’s Noam Chomsky–True prophets like Amos — “dissident intellectuals,” in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of. Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert. The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either. Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.

Julian Assange has been despised, imprisoned, driven into extreme isolation; according to Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: ‘we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.’

One of the reasons he and Wikileaks are so hated by the devotees of the war-making state is the release of such material as this on Collateral Murder.

 

 

There is Nothing Jewish That Is Alien to Me

Gershom Scholem, On Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays
Schocken, 1976

Recently I’ve read works that deal with Jews and Judaism in crisis—those in the Yiddish-speaking world in the first half of the twentieth century. Scholem’s journey was from Germany to Palestine some time before the khurbn. I find the interview and essays in this volume thoroughly stimulating, provocative, and moving. To wit—-

What interested me then was to find a way to the Jewish primary sources. I was not content with reading about things. This has characterized my whole life.
There was not a single observant Jew in my family circle.

Judaism interested me very much, but not the practice of observances.

After four or five years of intensive study I found that it was possible to master Hebrew.

As you know, it isn’t popular to say that Zionism has fascists, too. But I think it does, even in Israel.

A direct nondialectical return to traditional Judaism, is impossible, historically speaking, and even I myself have not accomplished it.

It is noteworthy that the only great Hebrew writer with whom Agnon felt perfectly at ease was the poet Haim Nahman Bialik, who in this respect had the same inclination for creative anthologizing. Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking for Oneself (and Then There’s the “More Sophisticated”)

The audience I try to reach, and to some limited extent do reach, is a different one: partly, activists of a less doctrinaire sort than the mainstream liberal intelligentsia and sectarian Marxists, partly the kind of general interested audience that one finds everywhere: around universities (primarily students), church groups, and so on.

I’m not trying to convert, but to inform. I don’t want people to believe me, any more than they should believe the party line I’m criticizing—academic authority, the media, the overt state propagandists, or whatever. In talks and in print, I try to stress what I think is true: that with a little willingness to explore and use one’s mind, it is possible to discover a good deal about the social and political world that is generally hidden. I feel that I’ve achieved something if people are encouraged to take up this challenge and learn for themselves.

There are a vast number of people who are uninformed and heavily propagandized, but fundamentally decent. The propaganda that inundates them is effective when unchallenged, but much of it goes only skin deep. If they can be brought to raise questions and apply their decent instincts and basic intelligence, many people quickly escape the confines of the doctrinal system and are willing to do something to help others who are really suffering and oppressed.

This is naturally less true of better-educated and “more sophisticated” (that is, more effectively indoctrinated) groups who are both the agents and often the most deluded victims of the propaganda system.

—Noam Chomsky,”The Manufacture of Consent,” 1983, Language and Politics, 389

Ale Vázquez

Only Connect (and Hold It All)

Edward W. Said, Power, Politics, and Culture: Interviews
Edited by Gauri Viswanathan
Pantheon Books (2001)

With four friends (from St. Charles, Troy, and Los Angeles), I am reading and discussing  the recently published collection of Edward Said’s essays over the course of forty years.  Among the most powerful  so far are “Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims” and an excerpt from his 1986 work  with photographer Jean Mohr, After the Last Sky.  I’ve also been rereading a volume interviews from the 1970s on, and I have been struck by Said’s strong views on the matter of identity.  Following are some of his reflections over the years…

Musically, I am very interested in contrapuntal writing, and contrapuntal forms. The kind of complexity that is available, aesthetically, to the whole range from consonant to dissonant, the tying together of multiple voices in a kind of disciplined whole, is something that I find tremendously appealing.  99

I think the one thing that I find, I guess, the most—I wouldn’t say repellent, but I would say antagonistic—for me is identity. The whole notion of a single identity. And so multiple identity, the polyphony of many voices playing off against each other, without, as I say, the need to reconcile them, just to hold them together, is what my work is all about. More than one culture, more than one awareness, both in its negative and its positive modes. It’s a basic instinct.  99

There’s  the whole  question of the fractious quality of identity politics.  204 Read the rest of this entry »