homeland insecurity

wrest park (1 of 1)

‘Heimat, the evocative German word that loosely translates as ‘homeland,’ is a conflicting term for those to whose language it belongs. Since its earlier, predominantly romantic use, conjuring associations with a love for the rolling hills of Bavaria and the lost utopia of childhood, the term’s cultural associations have shifted often. Not least with it’s adoption and distortion by the Third Reich, prior to its subsequent reclamation in the 1950s.

For Thomas Dworzak this “rejection and search for Heimat” has been a pervading influence in his life. While growing up in a small Bavarian town near the Iron Curtain, the photographer felt suffocated by the overbearing “Catholicism, provincialism, order and calm”, eventually leaving as a young man. Today, Dworzak identifies as having three homelands, one in his native Bavaria, the others in Tbilisi and Tehran.”‘

A beautiful as well as thought-provoking photoessay on homelands from a renowned Magnum photographer, whose father at age six was one of three million people expelled from Czechoslovakia in the 1945-6 odsun (“transfer”), one of the worst ethnic cleansings of the last century.

Both images and text are well worth pondering as the clever hopes of a low, dishonest decade expire with Brexit and Trump.

The photo above is mine, taken last month in the UK, about which I have similarly mixed feelings to Dworzak on Bavaria.  His images are copyrighted, but there are many on his Magnum site.


 

intimate and inconvenient truths

Montgomery-Roth-03-23

“For Roth, literature was not a tool of any description. It was the venerated thing in itself. He loved fiction and (unlike so many half or three-quarter writers) was never ashamed of it. He loved it in its irresponsibility, in its comedy, in its vulgarity, and its divine independence. He never confused it with other things made of words, like statements of social justice or personal rectitude, journalism or political speeches, all of which are vital and necessary for lives we live outside of fiction, but none of which are fiction, which is a medium that must always allow itself, as those other forms often can’t, the possibility of expressing intimate and inconvenient truths.”

Zadie Smith in the New Yorker, by far the best thing I’ve read amid the welter of over-politicized and under-nuanced commentary unleashed by the great man’s death.


 

a mythic, cool America

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Charles Sheeler: Bucks County Barn, 1940

‘Instantly recognizable images dominate “America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper,” the surprisingly arresting new show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: Charles Demuth’s magnetic I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928), inspired by his friend William Carlos Williams’s poem The Great Figure, in which a fire truck speeds through the streets of New York one rainy night; Georgia O’Keeffe’s breathtakingly chilly East River from the Shelton Hotel (1928), the cool, icy blue of the water slicing through the middle of the canvas, separating the snow-topped roofs in the foreground from the smoke-clouded factory chimneys in the distance; three large Edward Hopper oils, From Williamsburg Bridge (1928), Manhattan Bridge Loop (1928), and Dawn in Pennsylvania (1942), not his most famous work, but nevertheless immediately identifiable …’

Lucy Scholes reviews a new exhibition of ‘the mythologies of an “America” that has long inhabited the popular global imagination, from the towering structures of the archetypal modern metropolis to the rustic barns, uniform fields of corn, and white picket fences of prairie farmland,’ whose images ‘speak to a desire for a sanitized version of reality that tries to master the anxieties and ambivalences associated with modern life.’


 

eyeless in Gaza

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Promise was that I/Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;/Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him/Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves … (John Milton, Samson Agonistes)

Borders are conventionally represented as tidy lines on maps.  On the ground things get messier.  Especially in the case of Palestine–Israel–Gaza.

‘Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from and annexed under Israel’s control,’ writes Amjad Iraqi.  ‘It is a purgatory designed to provide whatever answer is most convenient for shirking responsibility and justifying violence at any given time. This has obscured a controversial but perhaps inexorable fact: after 51 years, Gaza can hardly be described as “occupied territory” anymore. It is now a segregated, debilitated, and subjugated part of Israel; a replica of the districts, townships, and reservations that imprisoned native populations and communities of color in apartheid South Africa, the United States, and other colonial regimes. In other words, Palestinians are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state; they are being caged and brutalized inside it.’

Alongside the anatomy of compliance, perhaps we need to reconsider the spatialities of oppression.


 

preserves for life

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The Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has won the Man Booker International prize for her novel Flights.

‘“It isn’t a traditional narrative,” said chair of judges Lisa Appignanesi, pointing to Tokarczuk’s own description of her writing as “constellation novels” to describe an author who throws her stories into orbit, allowing her readers to form meaningful shapes from them. “We loved the voice of the narrative – it’s one that moves from wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture and has the ability to create character very quickly, with interesting digression and speculation.”

The book’s themes – “the nomadic life that we now lead in the world, with our constant movement, our constant desire to pick up and go, whether it’s from relationships or whether it’s to other countries”, and “the limitedness, the finiteness, the mortality of the human body, which is always pulled towards the ground” – collide in Tokarczuk’s “extraordinary” stories, said Appignanesi.’

For those who fancy a sample, Granta magazine has published Tokarczuk’s masterpiece of black humor “Preserves for Life.”


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

signs of passage

Geoffrey James, End of the Fence, looking West, Otay Mesa, from the series Running Fence, 1997, gelatin silver print, 76.3 x 84 cm; image: 46.1 x 57.9 cm, CMCP Collection, National Gallery of Canada  Ottawa. © Geoffrey James. Photo : NGC

“Frontera: Views of the U.S.-Mexico Border brings together a roster of national and international artists, whose works question the very notion of borders, attempt to define their edges, and explore their representation. The exhibition, organized by Luce Lebart in collaboration with the FotoMexico festival, is on view in the Canadian Photography Institute Galleries of the National Gallery of Canada.

The exhibition takes its title from Frontera, a series of photographs by Mexican photographer Pablo López Luz. Shot from a helicopter in 2014 and 2015, these aerial images reveal the meandering course of the dividing line between the two neighbouring countries. The border, easily identifiable in many of the images, is invisible in others. Along the base of mountain ranges the frontier seems a trail of lacerations in the landscape, while in desolate terrains it merges and finally disappears into a network of lines. In places the border takes the form of different kinds of fencing, while elsewhere it is embodied in architectural structures that are both imposing and dissuasive. Along its entire length, the border is one of harsh landscape that deters crossings.

‘Is this Mexico, or is it the United States?” comments Lebart. “It is often impossible to distinguish one side from the other. But Pablo López Luz’s images systematically reveal a key identifying feature: the presence of a road running along the border, used by the US Border Patrol for surveillance.'”

 


 

an embarrassment at Oxford

 

oxford woman cleaner

The Daily Telegraph reports that “The University of Oxford has apologised after an image of a female cleaner being made to clear a message reading “Happy International Women’s Day” was shared on Twitter by a professor.

Oxford Associate Professor of Political theory, Dr Sophie Smith, tweeted the photograph, writing: “Oxford security makes a woman cleaner scrub out ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ on the Clarendon steps. What an image for #IWD, @UniofOxford.”

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words …


 

South London comes to the Big Apple

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New York was recently invaded by South London, mostly not white.  “The concert – a showcase of British jazz held at downtown club Le Poisson Rouge – was America’s introduction to a small but mighty group of young musicians who during the past three years have helped turned South London into a new jazz epicenter,” reports Rolling Stone.  “There was tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, at 33 the scene’s elder statesman … Also on tenor was Nubya Garcia, whose quartet embraced classic postbop, but with a fiery group interplay that transcended rote chorus-solos-chorus structures …

“It’s a strange word, ‘jazz,'” Hutchings tells Rolling Stone two days after the showcase, when asked if he’d describe his own music that way. Born in London but raised in his parents’ native Barbados, Hutchings picked up the clarinet at nine, practicing it by mimicking the flows of Nas, Biggie and Tupac verses he was hearing on American radio, and the hyper rhythms of the local Carnival, before returning to England to receive a classical-music degree on the instrument … “The people I revere as master jazz musicians have said they don’t want the word,” he continues. “It’s limiting. It tells them more what they can’t be than what they can. So – do I consider myself a musician who is limited?”

Like Hutchings, his younger colleagues – first- and second-generation Afro-Caribbean immigrants, multi-hyphenated in their cultural backgrounds and in their music – uniformly reject a narrow definition of their chosen style. London’s sound is less a riff on classic African-American jazz than a polyglot party music of the city’s minorities – with calypso and dub, grime and Afrobeat as much its building blocks as Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps.'”  Long live multiculturalism.


 

an embarrassment at Cambridge

Oxford’s faux pas brought to mind slightly older news from Cambridge, which I didn’t post here at the time because other things crowded it out that week.

Commenting on the Oxfam Haiti scandal, Cambridge Professor of Classics and well-known media personality about town Mary Beard caused uproar when she tweeted:  “I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain ‘civilised’ values in a disaster zone.”  She made things worse on a follow-up post on her regular TLS blog “A Don’s Life,” where she drew an unfortunate analogy between aid workers in Haiti and the boys abandoned on a desert island in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  She later tweeted an image of herself in tears, saying “I am really not the nasty colonialist you say I am” …

In a public response, Cambridge English lecturer Priyamvada Gopal urged Beard “to rethink the problematic concept of a ‘disaster zone’ (Trump was more upfront — he called them ‘shitholes’) and what that really means in geopolitical terms in terms of who does what and who is responsible for their appearance as spaces of catastrophe. Still more troubling,” she continued, “is your notion that moral bearings (‘civilised values’!) understandably disappear in spaces where people struggle with the worst things that can happen to human beings.”   She described Beard’s tweet as symptomatic of the culture at Cambridge “where there is little direct abuse but plenty of genteel and patrician casual racism passing as frank and well-meaning observations …”

Gopal got a lot of flak for daring to call out “a national treasure,” including a dressing-down from Times columnist David Aaronovitch, who accused her of being “a privileged Oxbridge academic shivving a colleague.”


Update, 15 June 2018.  Mary Beard was made a Dame in the latest Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  Coincidence? Or is it a genteel reminder that the subaltern should keep her mouth firmly shut?  Even if—or perhaps especially if—she is what Niall Ferguson has described in the Spectator as “an obscure Cambridge lecturer.”

 


 

sign the brexit papers!

nottingham trent
Photograph: Fabio de Paolo/Fabio De Paola

Rufaro Chisango, a student at Nottingham Trent University, posted a video on Wednesday in which a group of men can be heard chanting outside her student dorm room “we hate the blacks” and “sign the Brexit papers,” reports the Guardian.

“Words cannot describe how sad this makes me feel, in this, 2018, people think this is still acceptable,” she wrote on Twitter …

In the footage, a group of men can be heard chanting “ooh-aah, fuck the blacks”, “we hate the blacks” and “sign the Brexit papers”.  Chisango said the video did not catch other phrases the men shouted, such as “blacks would go back to picking cotton”. She wrote on Twitter: “I’m the only black person on my floor and they were chanting this outside my door, so don’t be surprised to why I didn’t leave my room.”

Nottingham Trent was named University of the Year in the 2017 Times Higher Education awards, and Modern University of the Year in the 2018 Times and Sunday Times awards.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.