Lieutenant Weinberg’s Lament

If it makes you feel any better, Americans are not all THAT divided. For example, there’s what NYT’s Frank Bruni called “the recent ugliness at Evergreen State College.” Long story short, student activists invited Evergreen’s whites to report to an off-campus “all-day program focusing on allyship and anti-racist work” rather than going to class. The so-called “Day of Absence,” held this year on April 14, is an annual Evergreen event that usually sees students of color meeting offsite for programs and conversations. This year, organizers opted to flip the script.

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Juan Gelman

When Argentine poet Juan Gelman died in January, 2014—he left behind twenty books of poetry. He is best known for work rooted in the Argentine political repression of the 70s, when military forces brought a reign of terror to Buenos Aires. In 1976, Gelman’s son, Marcelo, and daughter-in-law, Claudia, pregnant with the poet’s grandchild were “disappeared.”

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Michel Foucault is My Favorite Skinhead

Do you remember when we used to go and dance at those punk rock shows/it feels so…long ago/do you remember that night when that skinhead threatened me with my life/ you should have realized right then…that something…something went quite right/we were just teenagers, looking for a scene/based upon simplistic notions of equality/oh ain’t it a fucker when you discover fuck when you discover that it’s all based upon slightly altered versions of the same old crap. —The Casual Terrorist

Nine Theses/Nine Lives

1.  When did the Enlightenment die?   2. What I really mean is, When did the Enlightenment die for the left?  3. (And I don’t mean the so-called “White Jacobin” left, the left of white terror, which takes as a pseudo-Leninist occasion the alt-right mainstreaming of Foucault and the Thule Society to declare themselves the sole bearers of the torch of the Sokal Affair: though naturally there’s always a bridge, a hallucinogenic path, between fascism and the Enlightenment, and that bridge could be called John Locke or Jorge Luis Borges, Vilfredo Pareto or Peter Thiel’s hemophilia).  

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Deep France

Un village français, a French television serial, was first broadcast on France 3 in 2009; the channel began showing the serial’s seventh and final season in October of 2016, and at the end of its run sixty-six episodes had been broadcast.  Around the time it first appeared a Francophone friend recommended it as startlingly good TV, but warned that subtitled versions other than one season with French subtitles had proved impossible to locate.  The belated appearance of a version subtitled in English is a very welcome gift.  Along with the policier Engrenages, which stars several of the same actors, Un village français made even malevolent foreigners concede that French TV, under de Gaulle sometimes pilloried as a medium specializing in documentaries about beehives, had no reason to fear comparison to any televisual culture in the world.

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The Falcon and the Pardon-Seeker

Maybe it is a good time to revisit the story of Christopher Boyce. Certainly Open Road Media, which just re-issued an E-book of Robert Lindsey’s The Falcon and the Snowman (1979), thinks so. I had not read the original, but I’d seen the movie — Timothy Hutton as Boyce (The Falcon) and Sean Penn as Daulton Lee (The Snowman). Now, having mastered Adele’s Kindle, I’m down with ORM’s decision.

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Common Sense

Meredith Tax’s A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State is a book of revelations about life during wartime in Rojava—the autonomous region in Syria led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to (what Tax terms) the “Kurdish liberation movement network.” Readers should be inspired by PYD’s experiment in secularism, radical democracy, pluralism and feminism. Tax’s reporting certainly gave me a lift. Her take on Rojava, though, may be a little too rosy.  In this review, I’ll try to touch on what’s iffy about her positivity without undercutting her effort to cultivate solidarity with Middle Eastern women who fight the Islamic State.

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Jihadism vs. Humanism

Film director Abderrahmane Sissako, best known for Timbuktu, his film about the Islamist occupation of that historic city, spoke about his life and work in a dialogue with film scholar Michael Cramer at the French Consulate in New York City last week. His comments on the vicious killjoys who meant to humiliate Africans in Timbuktu by forbidding music, sports, and irreverence have taken on a new resonance in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris.  But Sissako’s presence would be bracing at any time.  Click on his picture below to see/hear video of the event at the French Consulate.  Be aware it runs on empty for a couple minutes before you begin to hear crowd noise. The conversation starts about 1o minutes in. (And before you go there, you might want to check this memorable scene from Timbuktu, which was also shown about an hour into the discourse at the Consulate.)

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Sissako noted he hoped Timbuktu would uphold the humanism of those in that city “who resisted silently”:  “Those who hid to sing, or listened to the radio under the blanket, or were playing soccer in their minds.”  He averred he lacked such quiet courage, but his modest, yet undeniable acts of imagination make one doubt his self-assessment. What seems most likely is that Sissako’s characters are true to their director’s beautiful core.  You’ll catch a glimpse of it, if you watch the conversation above.

Thanks to Judith Walker, Mathieu Fournet and Cultural Services of the French Embassy for enabling First to embed their video (and to Oliver Conant for steering your editor to the event last week). B.D.

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The Trouble with Charlie

In 2006 Charlie Hebdo republished the Jyllands-Posten cartoons (as did First of the Month), and were sued by three Muslim organizations. This attempted use of the courts to punish speech did not provoke any memorable censure by the people who have recently protested PEN’s decision to honor the courage of the journalists who worked (and then died) at Charlie Hebdo. In that same year Alberta’s Human Right Commission investigated a newspaper (the Western Standard) over its republication of the cartoons; defending itself cost the Western Standard $100,000 (which would have bankrupted First of the Month many times over) and cost the organizations making the complaint nothing—by no means an inefficient approach to suppressing speech. Teju Cole and his allies within PEN seem to have let this episode, too, pass without comment. On November 2, 2011 the offices of Charlie Hebo were firebombed, which seems to have yet again failed to provoke any indignation from Cole, Prose or the rest. On January 7th Islamist murderers shot dead twelve people in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and at this point Teju Cole could no longer keep silent. In a piece titled “Unmournable Bodies”, which was published in the New Yorker a few days later, he attacked the dead journalists.

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Before the War

A few months before her death, Ellen Willis emailed to say pieces by Charles O’Brien and Fredric Smoler on the Danish Cartoon Controversy posted on this site were “good.” (That was high praise from Ellen whose mode of approbation was the opposite of American idolaters.) Struck by how much those pieces “echoed themes” in what she’d written at the time of the Rushdie affair, she wondered if we “might be interested in reprinting the editorial I wrote in the Voice [in 1989] as a historical affirmation of the bad road we are going down.” What follows is the piece of the past that Ellen thought belonged in First. (It was originally titled “The West Betrays Its Principles.”) B.D.

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Who Is Charlie?

I’m going to begin with an olive branch: not all of Sunday’s “Unity March” in Paris was a proto-fascist omen (Marine Le Pen and her National Front goons were, after all, cheerleading and hurling scatological slogans from the sidelines, which is a lot like when coaches of certain national soccer teams keep their divas or sexual predators off the field in spite of their universally acknowledged talent).

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Mission Impossible

Henry Czerny, confident that he has the situation well in hand, sits at table and says, “I can understand you’re very upset.” Tom Cruise, sitting opposite, bares teeth, says, “You’ve never seen me very upset.” And he pulls from his pocket exploding bubble gum, which he hurls at the glass wall of a giant fish tank, and

Don’t ask.

Michael Berube, I gather, is upset. He complains that Benj DeMott read his book carelessly. It’s a wonder he read it at all. DeMott owned up promptly to a mistake, My bad, he said. He forgot to add, Your worse. What DeMott did was overlook a footnote. As bad goes, it isn’t much. Berube wrote the book, It isn’t much. Who would feel obliged to sift through the footnotes?

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