Friday, January 2, 2009

The sight of one of the world's most powerful militaries bombarding some of the poorest and most desperate people on the planet makes me wonder if Craig Murray may be right to compare the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli state to the crimes of Hitler and Stalin.

To counter the distorted view through the window of the West's media outlets, here's an account of life at the receiving end: Gaza Blog.


Kathz said...

When I see pictures from Gaza, I am reminded of the events of the Warsaw Ghetto. I can hardly bear to read accounts (I hardly watch TV so am able to avoid film, which sometimes has a desensitising effect.) The lack of knowledge in the west is typified by the article of newsletter of a well-meaning MP (Nick Palmer) who was unaware that Hamas won the majority of seats in the 2006 elections in Palestine. I'm no supporter of Hamas (apart from anything else, I'm a pacifist) but it shocks me that any legsilator can make public pronouncements on the situation in Gaza without knowing the history of democracy in that area and the subsequent attempts to exclude Hamas from the democratic process.

Alan Baker said...

Sadly, I'm not surprised by what you say about Nick Palmer - he voted for the Iraq war and became quite a sophisticaed apologist for that policy, while appearing to be even-handed. I'm afraid I'm not so sure he's well-meaning. But he claims to be a foreign affairs expert, so I am surprised at his ignorance the Gazan elections.

As for general ignorance, of course you could watch CNN or BBC News 24 non-stop and still have no clue about what it was really all about.

John B-R said...

I think the most apropos comparison is to the genocide the US (Israel's sugar daddy, or course) perpetrated against the Native Americans because, because why? "We" wanted what "they" had: lebensraum. If you want to bring in Hitler, I think the Nazi treatment of Eastern Europeans is more apt,since that was designed to make room for Aryan expansion. Stalin did commit mass murder, of course, as did Mao, as did Hitler in the Holocaust; but those were for different reasons. I think we have to be careful to keep Israel's motives in mind. Otherwise there's no way to think through this nightmare.

Kathz and you talk about "ignorance"; if there's ignorance it's lover down the food chain; our rulers and their media "running dogs" are complicit w/Israel (they are criminals against humanity), not ignorant.

collectedworks said...

Dear Alan, Happy New Year from Down Under, though how far & deep from you I might be I'm not sure I know or want to know in the language of the three recent letters that prompt my subterranean comment here! I write as poet otherwise have no purchase at Leafe, nor but for poetry would Leafe have its place in the world. And as poet I think one suffers from what one's given to see (--"pictures from Gaza" Kathz remarks; and the pictures every day of the year for years from Israel, also given to see?), or, be rude for a change, that I'm given to see. From the vocabulary poetry has given me I'm confounded by K's juxtaposition of "democracy" & "Hamas", unless of course it's the Iranian example of democracy (my poet's humour, thinking of Iran as the region's anti-democratic political sponsor, and whose theocracy banished opposition parties from its electoral process) that's in K's mind. John B-R is right to urge caution in the choice of metaphor to describe Israel's actions, and he might also consider self-preservation & its lexicon as having something to do with it. Certainly it's a mess, but as a poet who reads ancient & modern poetry & literature (&, I confess, a little history & politics too), I wonder that one's not yet able to accept the entire prospect is messy.That is, when was it otherwise? My stance, then, whatever my political opinions, is feet on the ground, head in the air (--recall that great print of Blake's, in which our man's on his knees under the heavens), feet in the squelchy, muddy, actual matter of fact and walking out & along, drawing breath, glimpsing sun or moon through clouds; firmer paths there are, and clear springs (I might even pass Holderlin & Bonnefoy along the way Alan!), and inevitably bog again, storm.... cyclical, eternal...
Not entirely beside the point, may I quote here from a recent poem, number 1 of 7, 14 liners, 12 syllable lines, called Cat, Death & Dorothy, in memorium dear Dorothy Porter, just died here (her cancer returned), aged 54 :
"Distract. Distract me cat from melancholic thoughts. / Instruct. Instruct me butterflies in innocence. / Salute fearless Dot. But how vulnerable we / all are. How inevitable it all is. Take / a message please : This dying's got to stop! For now / at least. Let summer breeze caress soft skin in peace."
Best wishes to you all,
Kris Hemensley

John B-R said...

Dear Kris, I'd be happy to consider self-preservation if self-preservation had anything at all to do with Israel's policy towards the Palestinians. But it's probably truer to say that Israel's policy is log-term suicidal rather than preservative. Consider: Israel has already built settlements on 30+% of (UN mandated) Palestinian land. And the settlements keep growing. That generates rage around the world, rage against Israel. Consider: Israel has blockaded the West Bank all throughout the cease-fire, forbidding Palestinians access to basic human necessities. That generates rage, etc, too. This is not self-preservative behavior. This is self-destructive madness. Now, do I think Hamas is the good guys? Do I think it's ok to shoot missiles at Israel's civilian population. No. But I think Hamas is the direct result of Israel's behavior. In effect, it's Israel's creation. Israel, were it to be truly interested in self-preservation, would be working hard to establish a viable Palestinian state. But Israel is inent on enforcing its claim to its "ancient biblical patrimony". That = genocide against the Palestinians. Because they must be eliminated in order for Israel to claim that patrimony. There are Israelis of the right who have admitted as much.

collectedworks said...

hmmm... Must think about your comments... Just home from poets' N Y luncheon/party [ where some of the discussion was how to save an organization that historically was the writers' champion & home but in the last 15, 20 years has become moribund, overtaken by other groupings] ... But do you not think that poet J B-R has a say in this, i mean a responsibility? poet J B-R same-as or what? from reactive-responsive-public opinion-meat in the sandwich etc etc? That actually is nub of my greetings to you all... I appreciate the proposition abt counter-productivity... How careful one must be in one's own life & dealings on that very thing...I mean, to repair "first thought" (contra Allen G's best friends, not always "best thought")--which is the understanding i personally had for both the Clinton & the G W Bush reactions in their respective presidencies to the particular darts & smarts youd know at first hand much better than i... Hmmmm (as Tim Longville wd say, in his marvellous letters as daddy editor at Grosseteste Review late 60s early 70s)... always thinking it through... In transito : best wishes to you & all, mercy to the suffering, in all their various semblances...Love & Peace [my brother Bernard, Stingy Artist Press, Weymouth, Dorset, NOT on the web!!! calls me "wrathful deity"], ever, Kris Hemensley

Kathz said...

As I say, I'm no supporter of Hamas. But election results should not be ignored. Democracies tend to be imperfect and incomplete. Excluding parties from democracy or denying them the chance to win elections or take their place in government seems far more dangerous than the alternative.

And in my experience, much poetry - and occasional progress - is made by uncomfortable juxtapositions.

John B-R said...

Kris, Kathz, Alan ... yes. I think "poet JB-R" has a say, a responsibility. As do the rest of us. Kathz, your insisting on the "uncomfortable juxtaposition" of Hamas and democracy ("as we know it", of course) is one manifestation. I just had the honor to be interviewed by Tom Beckett, and the "social role of poetry" was something we more than touched upon. I will either bore you here by cutting and pasting a significant passage. I'm alpologize in advance for its length, but this way you'll get my best answer to your question.

TB: Let's return, perhaps, to a utopian prospect. What for you is the social value of poetry?

JB-R: I’ll stick to two readings. This is going to take a while. I’ll be as coherent as I can.

There’s indeed a utopian way to read your question: poet or poem as event, intervention, saboteur in the dictionary sense of “any underhand interferer with production, work, etc., in a plant, factory, etc., as by enemy agents during wartime or by employees during a trade dispute.” But there’s also the “what” is instead of the “what should [I’d better say could] be”. I’ll have to pass through the is to get to the could.

I’m going to address them by cutting a few bits out of my Galatea Resurrects 11 review of what I like to call “the infamous Issue 1” and pasting and commenting on them here. I slaved over that piece and, at the moment, can’t explain myself better. Appropriation artist that I am, I might as well appropriate myself. And, to go one better, I got this first bit from Wikipedia:

In “The Forms of Capital” (1986), Bourdieu distinguishes between three types of capital:

Economic capital: command over economic resources (cash, assets).

Social capital: resources based on group membership, relationships, networks of influence and support. Bourdieu defines social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.”

Cultural capital: forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person has, which give them a higher status in society. Parents provide their children with cultural capital by transmitting the attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the current educational system.

Later he adds symbolic capital (resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition) to this list.

In the is, the social value of poetry (I’m interpreting social here in the widest sense, as the “human natural”) is largely capital accumulation. Admittedly, not much economic capital changes hands, unless we’re talking about salaries connected to university positions. But there’s plenty of social, cultural and symbolic capital in circulation. They get you published. They get you prizes. They get you distributed. They get you collected (in two senses: they get you onto personal and library shelves, and they enable if not insure the eventual publication of big fat books of your stuff). They allow you to establish lineages, however suspect. And so on.

I’m not saying that this is entirely wrong. I’m not saying that some poets aren’t more talented than others. I don’t begrudge anybody anything. The problem is gross inequity.

One of the great things about Issue 1 is that it brought capital accumulation to the fore, and revealed how attached poets can get to their little pot (attachment’s, as the Buddhists say, where inequity, not to mention iniquity, begins). I hope you don’t mind if I quote you again.

Issue 1 puts all four types under temporary erasure. How? In the words of Tom Beckett (personal communication), “all the texts collected in the anthology appear to be the equally bland productions of a poetry-generating software program (the writing equivalent of, was it, Jorn's paintings which were sold by the length) …” The equality of “product” associated with each name has, then, a leveling effect. If the poems are equally whatever (bland, brilliant, it doesn’t matter (though I will add that I tend to admire Erica T Carter [note: the text generator] more than Tom does), then the capital inhering in (adhering to?) each name is also equalized. For a moment, at least, no one has more command over economic resources than anyone else; no one has a better place in the pecking order based on their group membership(s), relationships, networks of influence and support than anyone else; no one demonstrates forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that give them a higher status in society than anyone else; no one has any more honor, prestige or recognition than anyone else.

As my friend Jared Schickling wrote me,

In this light, it’s interesting to examine the anthology’s title. “Issue 1” of course signifies a first issue of some rag, but it also signifies “Issue #1,” the issue of primary interest raised by this anthology, or the beginning, first-order concern the anthology raises …

Let’s forget a moment that I’ve just implied that the poetry world needs to clean its own house, and take that world instead as a model for the world at large. As Jared hints, to bend the is towards a could the real intervention would be to delegitimate gross inequities in capital distribution. How does poetry do that?

There are as probably as many ways as there are poets.

But, I’ll enumerate a few:

I think of Dale Smith’s Slow Poetry movement here, and its concerns.

I’m also reminded of a review I got, of my little book OTAGES. OTAGES was written in real time as the last Israeli-Hizbollah war unfolded in Lebanon. The book takes its title and much of its imagery from Jean Fautrier’s series of paintings, portraits, so to speak, of civilian victims of the Second World War. This bit of ekphrasis intersects with the words I lifted from the blogs of two Beirutis, Mazen Kerbaj and Laure Ghorayeb, who were reacting to events as they happened: e.g. the bombing of their neighborhoods, friends and family they couldn’t get in touch with, the mounting number of deaths, the waiting between attacks … There’s some other stuff mixed it: quotes from Vallejo, etc. I didn’t have to editorialize. I just collaged.

Anyway, here’s a taste of the review:

"Now, I could not find an entry in the OED for “otages”. But after reading John Bloomberg-Rissman’s collection, it will forever remain in my mind as being synonymously linked with discomfort. There is something excruciatingly painful about Otages. The words, their placement on the page, the way these forces combine to make it impossible to read them any way other then haltingly, the relentless preoccupation with death and displacement, with fear…I think you get the idea. It is dark, damn dark, and that darkness wafts off the page and into your aura like Furies. …

I confess to feeling I am being punished. Punished for living in a town where that level of violence cannot even begin to be imagined. Some days I will feel like having my social conscience dragged out of its self-imposed exile, other days I will enjoy living in ignorance. Does this make me a bad person? Maybe, maybe not. I fear Bloomberg-Rissman would say yes. Intentionally or not, this collection comes across as very judgmental, and that helped it be an uncomfortable read."

After reading that, I felt like a fine interventionist!

I think the trick’s to get rid of the gross inequities. The unnecessary suffering. We’ll never get rid of all inequity, or all suffering. I’m going to quote my review of Issue 1 again:

In his trilogy The Information Age, Castells has developed three notions of identity (I quote from Felix Stalder’s review at The Information Society: An International Journal):

1. Legitimizing identity: introduced by the dominant institutions of society to extend and rationalize their domination over social actors. Legitimizing identities generate civil societies and their institutions, which reproduce what Max Weber called “rationale Herrschaft” (rational power).

2. Resistance identity: produced by those actors who are in a position/condition of being excluded by the logic of domination. Identity for resistance leads to the formation of communes or communities as a way of coping with otherwise unbearable conditions of oppression.

3. Project identity: proactive movements which aim at transforming society as a whole, rather than merely establishing the conditions for their own survival in opposition to the dominant actors. Feminism and environmentalism fall under this category.

I think today’s dominant institutions are too often perpetrators of what Adi Ophir calls superfluous evils.

[Superfluous evil occurs when anything one does pushes] others into category 2. To quote Ophir’s The Order of Evils: Toward an Ontology of Morals (trs. Rela Mazali, Havi Carel), “What guides moral judgment and the intention of a moral act is the care for those others whom evil befalls.”

I’d never want to limit how poets work, or force them to be saboteurs. But to the degree you and I are talking about poetry as intervention, as care, this legitimizes the following: What poets can do is to work on noting and addressing and struggling against unnecessary evils. Those are anything and everything that push people into category 2’s “position/condition of being excluded by the logic of domination.”

Alan Baker said...

To Kathz and John BR

Hello and thanks for your contributions

To Kris:

Hello and Happy New Year - nice to hear from you. But are we really so far apart on these issues? I hope not...

I write also (in this space) as a poet, and agree that we should not be reactive-response-public-opinion-meat. But we should also be aware of the propaganda war, which Israel, with all its resources mobilized, is winning hands-down. My 12-year-old, who (for her age) is interested in "the news" said to me, when the radio mentioned this conflict "Hamas are the bad guys, right?".

I've just been discussing Geoffrey Hill, who uses Old Testament imagery to invoke a mystical vision of England, complete with references to Biblical plagues for peoples who misuse their promised land. The use of language in that way creates an atmosphere in which ideas like 'sacred ground' become normalised, and rational discussion goes out the window. On the other hand, you couldn't use John Ashbery's poetry to stir up nationalist expansionism... So poets bear some responsibility here.

I know that there are many Israeli citizens who strongly oppose their government's policy, and that, without knowing too much about Israeli politics, it seems that the state of Israel has been hijacked by extremists every bit as crazy as Hamas, and as vicious. The Gaza Strip is an open-air prison, and an appalling slum, and the Gazans voted for Hamas in the same way as the northern Irish catholics voted for Sinn Fein. what else would you expect? But give people the prospect of self-determination, freedom of movement... even perhaps sanitation, decent health-care and education, and they won't turn to extremists to represent them.

On the subject of education, the university of Gaza has been severely damaged in the current attacks.

yours in the spirit of open debate


John B-R said...

Alan you re right of course. Many Israelis HATE what their country is doing (as a USA American I can certainly identify with them). When I say Israel I mean the (as Alan puts it) hijacked state.

Ernesto said...

"The problem is gross inequity". I totally agree with the way John sums it up.

Without the need for comparisons with other crimes against humanity (because each have their own specificities and all deaths are unique and incomparable) it is true that what's going in Gaza is atrocious.

Alan Baker said...

You're right of course Ernesto - there's a danger of dimishing events by such comparisons. But I can't help seeing the similarities between the Gaza Strip and the Jewish ghettoes of the 1930s.
To quote Auden:

Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.