Umberto Eco Rings My Bell

March 7, 2011

I remember seeing a movie on the documentary channel, when I was 12, about the rise of Fascism in Italy. Everything I saw and read about totalitarian regimes of this kind or another, was intriguing. However, there was a divide between me and the stories. I didn’t feel them. I didn’t personally relate to them like I would to events in Israel’s history.

This is why I’m currently overwhelmed. After having just finished reading Umberto Eco’s ‘Five Moral Pieces‘, I realize that for the first time in my life, reading an Italian’s thoughts on fascism just isn’t out of the ball park anymore. Almost everything he mentions hits close to home and reminds me of things I’m reading in the local news, or even things I have personally experienced.

I’ll paste some excerpts from “Ur-Fascism” (eternal fascism). For Eco- thoughts on the definition of Fascism. For me- a disturbing realization of the state Israel has reached.

There can be no advancement of learning. The truth has already been announced once and for all.

(He explains, as part of the first point ‘Cult of Tradition‘. Referring to the original “grain of wisdom” traditionalism surrounds).

Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism… the age of reason was seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense, Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action is beautiful in itself, and therefore must be implemented before any form of reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes.

For Ur-Fascism dissent is betrayal.

Fascism grown…by… exacerbating the natural fear of difference. Ur-Fascism is therefore racist by definition.

…at the root of Ur-Fascist psychology lies the obsession with conspiracies, preferably international ones… The easiest way to construct a conspiracy is to appeal to xenophobia.

The disciples must feel humiliated by the enemy… but… must nonethless feel they can defeat the enemy. Thus, thanks to a continual shifting of the rhetorical register, the enemy is at once too strong and too weak.

For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, a “life for stuggle”… life is a permanent war.

Ur-Fascism cannot do without preaching a “popular elitism.” Every individual belongs to the best people in the world…

… everyone is trained to become a hero… heroism is the norm. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, it should be noted, he usually manages to make others die in his place.

For Ur-Fascists individuals have no rights, and the “people” is conceived of as a monolithic entity that expresses the “common will.”

I’ll finish with another quote:

We must make sure that the sense of these words is not forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in civilian clothes.


Prelude to a Book Review

March 1, 2011

An introduction to what will be (in posts to come) my thoughts on Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’.

Naomi Klein is a name I’d heard around but never quite looked into. That changed a month ago when I randomly caught a 20 minute lecture she had given on TED, titled: Addicted to Risk. I was so enthused by it that I immediately typed http://www.naomiklein.com into the URL-bar, and the first thing I saw was a quote by Rachel Maddow (whom I love!): “The only book of the last few years in American publishing that I would describe as a mandatory must-read. Literally the only one.” Well, that settled it. Next thing I know I’m staring at an “auto-confirmation” receipt from http://www.amazon.co.uk and 3 days letter the mail-lady is standing at my door with “The Shock Doctrine” in her hand (and 4 other books. I’m a junky).

Then, when sitting on the most boring train that exists in Europe (Szeged-Budapest, not recommended for life-lovers), I opened the book, peeped into the author info, checked what year it was published, who it’s dedicated to, what quote she chose to open with. So far, I wasn’t impressed.

After all that, there’s the Forward, which I elegantly skipped. There are 466 pages to read you know. And anyways, the only reason to ever read a Forward is if Alan Alda wrote it.

So, anyways, there I am on the train that hasn’t left the station yet, it’s snowing outside and ice is dripping on me through the window, the heat (located under the seat) is already making my calves sweat, and I have my iPod running on Lady Gaga (no, I am not ashamed to say that!)

Finally, I open the first page, my eyes fall on the very first words, and my dear readers- life will never be the same for me from this moment on.

Dramatic Pause.

Funny enough, though the book contains the word Shock at least 500 times, including in its title, this book did NOT shock me. Perhaps because I had already lost all faith in mankind  (be advised to read- MANkind) before I even squirted out into this world (tales of my late delivery can be heard from my mother. often.).

Anyhoos, to get back on track I will open with this statement: if you take all of the history books you’ve ever been taught at school and drop them off at your local illegal settlement to be used as lighting material for setting Palestinian cars on fire, and instead read these 466 pages- you’re good to go. To go to sleep. To go to work. To go on with your life. To go wherever it is you go, only this time- paranoid and able to prove it!

If reading the 900 page biography of China’s Mao gave me nightmares for a week, this book gave me a WTF feeling for a month. By page 7 of this wonder, I had already pulled out a pen and started marking down things that I am now able to divide into 3 categories:

(1) Unbelievable!/Wow!/I can’t believe they did that!/I can’t believe that actually happened!

(2) Good analysis of something

(3) Information worth remembering

So, since Naomi divided her book into 7 parts and drew conclusions. And since I am now a fan of Naomi (I’m already a twitter-follower and soon enough I’ll probably be “like”ing her on Facebook). I will use the same format for my review.

Easy for me. Easy for you. Not so easy for dear Naomi that wrote 90 pages of original material about each part.

Hence, I dedicate this song to her (replace “Ella” with “Naomi”).


“My Mother with Her Hands as Knives”

January 22, 2011

Eve Ensler, an activist (among other things), famous for “The Vagina Monologues”, published in 2007 a compilation of stories titled: A Memory, A Rant, and a Prayer, which I am currently reading.

Last night I read one of the most disturbing, beautiful, sad, and inspiring true story I have ever read.

I found it online and have pasted it into here with the introduction explaining the background.

My Mother with Her Hands as Knives/ Dave Eggers

In researching WHAT IS THE WHAT, my book about the life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, I traveled with Valentino back to his hometown of Marial Bai, in 2003. There we located his family, whom Valentino had not seen in seventeen years. While in Sudan, I interviewed many women who as young girls had been abducted by militiamen—the same militias who now plague Darfur—and who had been forced to act as servants and concubines in the households of military officers in the north of Sudan. That prompted more research into the experiences of Sudanese women.

The passage below, which was cut from WHAT IS THE WHAT, is an account from a young woman shortly after she was freed. In this passage, I framed her story as if she were telling it to Valentino while they were both living at Kakuma, a refugee camp in northwest Kenya. Because this passage was cut at an early stage of the book, it’s a bit rougher than it might otherwise be.

I was born in Wunrok, in southern Sudan. When my mother was young she was blessed by great fertility. She gave birth to twenty babies, and I was the sixteenth. Most are gone now.
Our father was a successful farmer. He kept 180 head of cattle and raised groundnuts, sorghum, maize, okra, and sesame. There was plenty to feed us, and he traded the rest for luxuries
like mattresses and dresses. When I was very small I had a doll made in China. You know how rare something like that is, Valentino.
In 1983 the war was on and the militias, the murahaleen, came. I was one or two years old, so I remember none of this. The Arabs killed twenty men, including my uncle, my father’s brother. They took most of my father’s cattle and kidnapped three of my siblings—two brothers, five and seven, and one sister, who was eight. I don’t really remember them, just as you said you do not remember your older siblings, Valentino. There were four of us left, all under five except my brother Jok, who had escaped the murahaleen by hiding in the river. He had used a pole to breathe. I don’t know where he learned to do that. When he got home from the river, my mother sent him with the walking boys, like you. She wanted him to be safe and to study in Ethiopia.
Our family moved to Panthou, where there was no SPLA. My father thought we’d be safer there; for a time we were, and my mother was blessed with more children. In 1986, the murahaleen
came again, this time taking my two eldest sisters. They killed another uncle, my mother’s brother, as he tried to defend the family. He threw a spear at one of the Arabs, and the Arabs cut off each of his limbs one by one, and then threw him on a fire. Everyone in the village could hear him screaming. They threw his limbs down the well, poisoning all the water for the village.
My sisters were gone and my father was furious. My father then did something unusual. He followed the murahaleen. He took his spear and all the money we had and he went north, because he knew that very often the murahaleen didn’t travel fast, because they liked to make the Dinka slaves walk.
My father spent a year in the North. He went as far as Khartoum, looking on the streets and in the peace camps for my sisters. He returned a year later, and when he did, he seemed defeated. It appeared that he had aged ten years in one. He spoke to no one. He wouldn’t eat. He had been a prominent man and now he was so skinny he looked like a boy, in his body, though his face was so very old. He died two weeks after coming home.
After my father died, there were five of us left, all girls. My mother used to lament having so many girls. We couldn’t defend ourselves. Panthou was raided four more times as we lived there. We worked the farm with help from boys in the town who had been orphaned. Then the Nuer raided. It was very strange, because we didn’t know to fear them.

But they arrived one day and they raped many of the women and took all they could carry. I hid in a hole under a tree. In 1988 the murahaleen came again. They came straight to our home, three men on horses. They wore white and approached our mother silently. We were hidden among the livestock and they entered the hut as if they knew where we were. This is how they took my sisters and me. Five of us. They told my mother that they had been told by Bashir that all Dinka girls
were to be impregnated with Muslim babies and they were doing their duty. My mother asked them if they intended to rape us there and then. The man said that no, we would be impregnated
on a proper bed, and that the babies would be brought up with the civilization only Islam could provide. They tied our hands and tied us to one another and we waited in a cattle pen until the
next morning, when they were to take us north. My mother came to us that night as we waited with eleven other girls. “I will come to get you girls. Just be patient. I will see you soon and bring you home.”
In the morning we were walked out of the village on the main road. Most of the men had ridden ahead and we were guarded by five young men on horseback. They poked us with their swords when we walked too slowly. When we stopped to rest and for water, they insisted that we show them our genitals. They told us that we would soon be freed of the sinful parts of our genitals that made all of the Dinka licentious. Otherwise they didn’t touch us, and every hour they did not touch us I thanked God.
After four days we stopped at an Arab town, and we were brought into a building that was cool and dark. It was a school. There were desks and chalkboards. We were seated on the floor and left there for half a day. We heard the activity of the town; everything seemed very normal. Sometimes an Arab boy would peek through a window at us and hold his fist up to us or spit on the window.
Men were brought into the school, escorted by one of the young Arabs who had kidnapped us. The men would confer, and twice they left with one of the girls. We didn’t see them pay the kidnappers. But soon there were only fourteen of us. My sisters and I stayed close and argued over the best strategy. We had been told that the Arabs liked to split families, for fear that siblings would conspire against them, so we worried that they would see us together and guess we were related. In the end we split into two pairs.
At the end of the day there were no more visitors. We did not eat that day. We slept there, on the floor, with our heads rested on one another’s thighs and stomachs. In the morning we were made to walk again. There were thirteen of us now. I don’t know what happened to the youngest girl. She was taken as we slept I guess.
We walked for four hours that morning, tied together in a line, following the Arabs on their horses. It was very hot that day, and one girl was very sick, very weak. She could not walk, so she was thrown onto one of the horses and we continued. Late in the day, the Arabs began to trot their horses, to make us go faster. I think they needed to reach a certain town by nightfall, so the pace was now faster. After some time at this pace, when the day was very hot and we were feeling faint, I heard a voice. The voice said “Stop.” The voice was very distant. I turned and saw a figure running to us. It was a Dinka woman, we could tell; her face was uncovered. “Stop!” the woman said again and again, as she ran to us. The Arabs stopped and everyone turned around. The Dinka woman came closer. She ran like my mother ran, with her hands very straight like knives. She ran closer and it was her. The woman was my mother. She had been following our trail. Our stay in that trading town had allowed her to catch up. She yelled at the men. “Give me these girls!” She pointed to us and she wept. “You have taken four others. Four of my children are gone. My husband died looking for them.” The Arabs sat on their horses and said nothing. They were very young, these men. They looked at one another, and then one of them turned. Then they all turned and started their horses again. We walked again, too. She was not finished. She walked with us. She began to walk next to my sisters and me. She said nothing; she only walked while holding our hands, becoming part of our group. She walked for an hour before the men realized she was still with us.
One of them turned and saw her. Then they all began to talk loudly to one another and then to her. My mother spoke some Arabic and she told them that she would continue to walk wherever we went. She held on to the rope that bound us all and said that she was part of the rope now. She said she would walk as we walked, and would always be with us, unless they killed her. One of the men went for his sword but he was restrained. One man, who looked like the youngest, got off his horse and cut the rope. We were the last five on the rope. He cut it and kicked my mother in the stomach. He got on his horse and spit in our direction and then the group walked on without us. They were finished with us. “Fuck them!” they all said and rode off. We ran in the other direction. My mother led us, running with her knife hands. We got off the road and ran through the grass and we slept in holes as we traveled back to the South. We ran for two more days until we saw our village again.

The day we returned, it rained heavier than I have seen in many years and this was God crying with joy. He cried and cried for us, for a full day he cried while my mother danced and sang and ran around the village like she was possessed.

 

**Another beautiful story I warmly recommend is “Dear Ama” (p.24)**


A Birthday Present

January 12, 2011

Those of you that haven’t yet read “The Bell Jar” or “Johnny Panic And The Bible Of Dreams” by Ms. Plath- I warmly recommend them.

Sylvia Plath lived to be 31. In “Ariel”, published 2 years after her death, appears the unique, harsh and very telling poem “A Birthday Present”.

Since it’s my Birthday today, I thought I’d share:

A Birthday Present by Sylvia Plath

What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

‘Is this the one I am to appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it was bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost-column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is?

Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.

Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece in purple,

Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center

Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and too numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.


Book Review

January 9, 2011

My thoughts on ‘Overcoming Speechlessness’ By Alice Walker

Over the past 6 months I have read the following books by Alice Walker:

Meridian, The Color Purple, Third Life of Grange Copeland, Possessing the Secret of Joy, In Love and Trouble, You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, Now is the Time to Open Your Heart, The Temple of my Familiar, By the Light of my Father’s Smile (my favorite of them all!)

Last night I finished reading her short and most recent publication ‘Overcoming Speechlessness“, in which she relays experiences she had while visiting Rwanda and Gaza, mostly though, from her visit to Gaza as part of a CODEPINK mission following the events that took place there 2 years ago- events some will call war and some a massacre- but that indisputably left hundreds of unarmed men, women and children dead.

Ms. Walker’s books have always been a “must read” as far as I’m concerned. You are not fully educated and can not fully and definitively shape your morals without exposing yourself to a vast volume of her writings, in my humble opinion.

Why do I feel this way? Because the beauty of her prose, to me, is the simplicity with which she is able to capture events and relay them compassionately, yet rationally, back to the reader.

But last night, as I was reading ‘Overcoming Speechlessness’ (OS) something changed and I am wondering: was it Alice or was it me? The answer is the latter.

For any Israeli-Jew, regardless of our personal take on the conflict, reading OS, I guarantee, will be a difficult task.

Accepting harsh criticism, from an outsider that doesn’t even take a moment to differentiate between me and my govt. and acknowledge that I personally may in fact be a moral human being, is something that, at least for me, isn’t always easy to accept and let slide by.

So, instead of giving up, I lay down the book many a-time and repeatedly asked myself:

  • did the events she is relating to really happen? yes.
  • is her criticism of them appropriate? yes.

I flip the page.

But, those weren’t the hard questions, the hardest questions lay a level deeper:

  • is she, at times, blowing the events out of proportion? Yes. Writing a book about Rwanda and Gaza, in which you emphasize Gaza much more and paint it in the same light, is something I’m not sure I can fully come to terms with. From my amateur-yet-vast readings on Rwandan history and the genocide and my knowledge of the conflict I grew up in, the comparison of events that took place there, to the ones occurring in Gaza, hardly seems fair to me from either side- the Palestinian and Israeli. Hundreds of thousands of people aren’t being butchered with machetes. Pregnant women aren’t being opened up with knives. Children aren’t being made to watch soldiers rape their mothers and sisters.
  • is she getting all of her facts straight? No. And whilst there’s no point going one by one and disputing them, I’ll just mention one: as mad as one can be at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee camps’ massacre in 1982 during the Lebanon War, and at Israel for it’s role in it- one, out of honesty to one’s morals, can’t solely blame Israel for it, just as one can’t blame the world as the primary murderer of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, even though we allowed for it to happen, fueled it and stood by watching.

Yet, regardless of these 2 points, when finally considering the big picture- do I recommended that others read the book? Yes.

It’s a challenge, its offensive and especially to those of us that don’t support Israel’s policy in the occupied territories, yet are still being grouped by Ms. Walker into the same unethical mob as our Racist govt. is. But, if you can get through it (her writing flows as good as always) and see the big picture, you will find yourself flipping over the last page and realizing that you are once again on Ms. Walker’s side, and you will forgive her for her trespassing into your sacred zone of dignity.


Warmly Recommended Books

December 22, 2009

Women Related:

The Ground beneath her feet/ Salman Rushdie

Nana/ Emil Zola

The Bell Jar/ Sylvia Plath

The Women’s Room/ Marilyn French

Little Women/ Louisa May Alcott

Madame Bovary/ Gustav Flaubert

History Related:

Biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein/ Ray Monk – Wonderful bio of one of History’s most prominent and intriguing philosophers

Tomorrow Morning you will all be Killed with your Families/ Phillip Geurevitch – story of the Genocide in Rwanda

The Blinding Absence of the Sun/ Taher Ben Jalun – About the unrest in Morocco

Mao/ Jung Chang & Jon Halliday – Great bio of China’s former leader Mao Tze Dong

Becoming Madame Mao/ Anchee Min

Generally recommended:

On the Road/ Jack Kerouac – one of the Great Beatniks of the 50’s in the United States

Wuthering Heights/ Emily Bronte

The Secret History/ Donna Tart

Pope Joan/ Donna Woolfolk