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Review of Super Weird Heroes by Craig Yoe

Nov24

by: Paul Buhle on November 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

A superhero riding a lightning bolt with comic panels in the background.

Cover of Super Weird Heroes by Craig Yoe

Craig Yoe is the living definition of the wild and crazy archivist-annotator in the pursuit of the strange, nay, inexplicable qualities of the forgotten pulp culture of the golden age of comics.  That is to say, of the (arguably) Jewish Age of comic art, its creators drew largely from the blue-collar districts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and the poor sides of Manhattan, at work on “Funny Animals” and funnier looking superheroes with the occasional super-heroine. Reader, you may ask what sort of mind is at work in tracking down Cat-Man (and Kitten), The Moth, or one who does not so nearly match his name, Phantasmo, Master of the World, a muscular, none too subtly erotic chap leaping into action against wrong-doers with a dramatically bare butt.

You might as well ask! Happily, the artist-editor who gave us such golden oldie reproductions as hundreds of pages of four-color reprints in The Complete Milt Gross: Comic Books and Life Story, explains his motivations in a recent interview. A keen but twisted intellect is at work here. As a kid, like almost any ordinary comic-reading kid (and in this respect, very much like your reviewer), he lavished attention upon Donald Duck and Little Lulu, intuitively grasping the genius of the art and narrative. At some point, after a natural progression through superhero comics and beyond them, he became obsessed with the “throw away medium” of comic books’ early days—particularly, the sense that something great had been done, evidently by way of artistic inattention. Comic books possessed no known educational or psychological intent, nor did artists and their assistants anticipate critical praise or a career boost. Nothing more than what Yoe calls the “verve and sense of motion” developed more or less spontaneously—no doubt also, a rush to the next deadline—can be understood here. But sometimes, it’s great.


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Love and Power: Standing for Cultural Democracy

Nov22

by: on November 22nd, 2016 | No Comments »

I spent much of last week at CULTURE/SHIFT 2016, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s first national convening, hosted by and cosponsored with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission. It was incredibly powerful to be with artists and allies from all over the U.S. who had joined together in creative resistance to the extreme hate flooding this nation, from the elevation of antisemite Steve Bannon and racist Jeff Sessions to the White House to the appalling escalation of violence against water protectors at Standing Rock—and who understand the importance of working to enact our dreams of cultural democracy even as we resist.

I had the responsibility of giving a talk at the final plenary to mark the official launch of Standing for Cultural Democracy, The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform, offering ten ways to advance toward cultural democracy. Click the link to download a platform summary or the full summary, and to be taken to an online petition where you can endorse the platform. Please endorse it now!

You can also watch the video of the plenary on Facebook.

______________________________________________________

Thousands of Citizen Artists have been working on this platform for a long time. It is based on the USDAC’s ongoing action research, inviting people across the U.S. to share hopes, dreams, and concerns through art and culture. In dozens of Imaginings, in National Actions from the People’s State of the Union to #DareToImagine to USDAC Super PAC, people have told fierce and beautiful stories of a future they want to embrace. With the help of our National Cabinet, we’ve translated these visions into powerful practical proposals.

All of that happened before 11/9.

Many people gathered here at CULTURE/SHIFT 2016 have spent the last ten days in dialogue with friends, neighbors, family members living in fear that families will be torn apart by deportation, internment, forced registration. People fear that now more than ever, their communities will be made sacrifice zones, ravaged to feed the bottomless appetite for profit of the hungry ghosts this system breeds. And in the face of this massive insult to the body politic, people under attack and their allies are rising once again to annihilate injustice and give birth to the beloved community.

This platform proclaims and defends the right to culture: the right to be who we are, to show up in our fullness—in both our rich particularity of difference and our transcendent oneness—and to be valued, honored, and treated with respect as a fundamental human right. Some of the platform points will be immediately doable, especially locally—tools we can use to create sites of true belonging. Others are aspirational, pointing us toward the cultural democracy we deserve regardless of who occupies the White House.

The challenges we face under President Trump—racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, institutionalized greed, state-sanctioned violence, and every other form of predatory behavior—are not new. But the level of response is already astounding. We will be working in countless local communities to build on the courageous action already seen from mayors of sanctuary cities, leaders who have declared their refusal to normalize hate, vast numbers of individuals and groups who have already—less than two weeks after the election—taken action in the courts, on the streets, and in their own lives and communities.

Protecting and defending are urgent, essential priorities. The USDAC stands with all who are endangered by policies that deny belonging and further threaten the people. We stand to support and assist all those who are affected by the repression of rights. We will work with you to co-create a network of connection and support, to share skills in planning and executing creative resistance, and to bring as much attention as possible to your courageous work in kindling a shared vision of cultural democracy and putting it into practice.

And while this massive outpouring of creative resistance unfolds, we can’t surrender our dreams because we awoke on 11/9 to this funhouse nightmare of democracy.

A platform is a compendium of ideas for policy and action. Ideas are essential to reveal and explore the true depth of demand for cultural democracy which has been increasingly evident over the years as artists and allies show up everywhere, investing creativity in social and environmental justice. Ideas are essential, but without action they are stillborn. To create the conditions for action, we need a national conversation bringing the right to culture to the fore as a foundation for belonging without barrier, belonging that knows no borders and needs no papers.

A tall order, you may say—noticeably taller than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Yes.

And no.

Never once in all the time this platform was in development did I think, “Oh, we’ll release the platform and the new Clinton (or Sanders) administration will adopt it. Mission accomplished!”

What I did think about while the platform was taking shape was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s August 1967 speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?” delivered on the tenth anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In it, he paraphrased something that had been said by abolitionist Theodore Parker a century earlier:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Both Dr. King and Parker, as with Moses whom Dr. King alluded to in the mountaintop speech he gave the night before he was murdered, never lived to see the fruits of their labor. Parker died in Italy, of overwork and tuberculosis, a year before the start of the Civil War. A quarter-century later, when Frederick Douglass visited Florence, he went straight from the train station of Parker’s grave.

There is a line of continuous transmission that pumps like a drumbeat through all those who love justice, who see the moral grandeur and culture of possibility that is the best of humanity.

If you put your hand on your heart, and you will feel it pumping now.

We have to be in it for the long haul if we are in it at all. But we are not in it alone.

Just about every worthy social initiative has been a long time coming. Plessy v. Ferguson, establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine that legitimated racial segregation, was decided in 1896. How many court cases, years of legal research and strategizing, decades of activism, eons of fundraising did it take to end that doctrine? Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954, 58 years later, and that is when the struggle began.

It took just as long for the idea of social insurance, introduced by progressives and unionists, to become law as Social Security in 1935. It took 70 years after the mid-19th century Seneca Falls Convention for women’s suffrage to be ratified by the 19th amendment. The struggle for LGBTQ legal rights persevered for decades before same-sex marriage began to be legalized.

Changing these laws has been just one part of these movements for social justice, and it couldn’t have happened without changing the story first.

History’s pendulum swings. Tearing down can be very fast: a symbol of social progress disappears overnight, generating a tidal wave of disappointment and anger. Building is what takes time. Good parents and teachers know the painstaking investment required to nurture a young and promising life; good farmers and foresters understand permaculture and sustainable harvest; good healers are prepared for the long haul of preventive care; good organizers understand the cultivation that democracy requires.

When the pendulum swings away from justice, what sustains our perseverance?

Cultural organizers and transformative arts workers know this: whatever engages the whole person—body, emotions, intellect, and spirit—the work that braids pleasure and purpose, is the most powerful, the most sustaining, and the most likely to accomplish the great awakening needed now.

That work feeds us because it is love in the service of justice and healing—personal, political, and planetary.

Dr. King’s remark about the arc of the moral universe came late in a long speech recounting the SCLC’s progress and the work that remained to be done. I want to share some things he said first:

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Then he called for a much-needed program that is now point number 10 in our platform. This is 1967, mind you, a few months before he was murdered:

We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income.

He went on to say:

[O]ur country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.

If he could be here, Dr. King might say that the United States government has spent 8.3 million dollars per hour since 2001 on war—that’s $20 billion not in one year, but every 10 days. A universal Basic Income Grant would cost much more today, but it would save a significant amount compared to spending on means-tested and often punishing social service programs.

For the last five years, I’ve been quoting something Van Jones said in the midst of 2011 protests against the union-busting of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: “Don’t adapt to absurdity.” He was making the point that over time, if we let it, even what seems preposterous becomes normalized—as was clear on #11/9. Flexibility is one of humanity’s best qualities, enabling us to adapt and advance. But it’s also one of our worst: it can be just as easy to adapt to harm, going along to get along until what has been imposed feels “natural.”

Each person here stands for thousands who have the capacity, conscience, and talent to change the story, refusing to adapt to the absurdity of a system that lavishly underwrites war profiteering, energy corporations that poison the environment, and a massive prison-industrial complex, then tells us it is too broke to underwrite creativity, equity, and justice.

Each person here is a storyteller and a truth-teller for love and justice. The earth-shaking power of our collective energy cannot be weakened by a little thing like an election.

Believe me, I am not underestimating the might of our opposition when I say that our greatest obstacle is the risk of internalizing the oppressor’s voice, allowing ourselves to be overtaken by fear and self-doubt, and believing the propaganda that since there is no chance our aims can be realized immediately, we should postpone them again.

Given that risk, I want to ask you a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, especially when I feel vulnerable to the self-ratifying propaganda of the far right, which 24/7 broadcasts the message that resistance is futile.

When I was paralyzed with doubt, a wise friend asked me this: What would it look like to take yourself one hundred percent seriously?

“What do you mean,” I asked, “you want me to take myself more seriously than this?”

He was asking me to resist the temptation to identify with the world as it is, to reject the world in which we are expected to assimilate the unspoken assumptions and agreements that sustain an absurd order. We are expected to treat that order as normal, even natural, and in some sense right and proper. We are expected to learn our place in it, following the path others have laid for us. If we are in conflict with this received version of reality, we are expected to adapt to absurdity rather than ignore or demolish it.

Forget that!

How seriously can we take ourselves? Taking ourselves one hundred percent seriously not only means fighting back, it means knowing and representing our deepest truths, what matters most, our heart’s desires. Taking ourselves one hundred percent seriously means releasing our identification with the absurd world because it is blocking our view of how things could be. It means freeing our minds to see what is really present, rather than whatever others say we should see. It means embracing and inhabiting one hundred percent of our potential as artists and organizers and owning fully the value that holds for ourselves and the world.

This platform is not a plea to some all-powerful ruler who can decree it with a pen-stroke. It is for everyone seeking a response to the fact that in this nation, the right to culture is under attack. We have experienced a long, painful stretch of punishment and persecution by a system that treats identity as a crime: driving while Black, protecting sacred lands and waters, walking in one’s own city, dancing in a public club. Now fear abounds of more and worse to come.

In asserting the right to culture enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the platform stipulates that rights are only as real as the actions and resources used to protect, express, and extend them.

In a few moments, we’ll say more about your power to advance these claims, joining to build a world of beauty and healing, freedom, love, and justice. Right now, I ask you to listen to ten amazing thinkers and doers as they offer the ten points of Standing for Cultural Democracy: The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform. We may not be able to fully realize this vision for some time—as Adam said last night, quoting “Crazy He Calls Me” by Carl Sigman and Bob Russell, famously sung by Billie Holiday, “the impossible will take a little while.”

As you consider these ten points, I invite you to put your hand on your heart, feeling the beat that connects us to the ancestors who inspired us and the generations who will benefit from our love.

[Download the Platform to discover and endorse the ten points that Judy Baca, Tunde Ogunfidodo, Martha Richards, Lily Yeh, Roberto Bedoya, Jack Becker, Amelia Brown, Dave Loewenstein, Dana Edell, and Daniel Banks shared at the plenary.]

* * *

We ask you to take this platform home—download the full text to read about the tools and examples we’ve shared and take steps to put them into practice, making cultural democracy real.

Let us stand together with the most vulnerable and the most courageous. Let me say it again: We have to be in it for the long haul if we are in it at all. But remember, we are not in it alone. The USDAC is here for you in every way possible. Talk to us, take part in USDAC actions, let us help you figure out how to put the platform into practice in your own community. Let us help each other resist normalizing absurdity.

Earlier, I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now I want to quote another great figure of twentieth century history, Che Guevara, a doctor, revolutionary, writer, and diplomat who famously said, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

You’ve heard people talk about love a lot here at CULTURE/SHIFT 2016: Adam Horowitz in his opening plenary, Carlton Turner in yesterday’s plenary. We did not orchestrate this beforehand. I did not know what either Adam or Carlton planned to say. Speaking for myself, love is a word I use in public contexts with that same slight reservation Che expressed. More than once, I’ve written something about cultural democracy and been told that the piece is good, but if I want to be taken seriously, I need to choose a different word than “love.”

Right now, coming off the recent election, with hate looming so large in campaign rhetoric, I see no alternative. The antidote to despair is to glimpse the world we are trying to help into being, to glimpse the beauty and meaning emerging from the gifts of artists of social imagination and to know what is possible. The antidote to hate is love as the always-brilliant James Baldwin defined it in The Fire Next Time:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

Our task now is to live into that love so that everyone we meet understands that though we are many, we are one. This is beautifully expressed in a few lines I will leave you with by the 15th-century poet Kabir, whose work is a converging stream of Hindu and Muslim cultures:

This love between us goes back to the first humans; it cannot be annihilated.
Here is Kabir’s idea: as the river gives itself into the ocean,
What is inside me moves inside you.

Thank you for your caring, courage and grace. For all you have done and will do. Know that you are loved.

Percy Sledge: “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.”

Dystopia Chronicles, Part Two: What Will We Do For Freedom?

Nov14

by: on November 14th, 2016 | No Comments »

I often ask myself how seriously we Americans take our freedoms. It’s a good question, because for each person who risks standing for the full freedoms promised in the Constitution, there are many who allow them to atrophy from disuse. If that tendency takes over, it would be quite easy for extreme-right Supreme Court judges to deliver the death of a thousand cuts that could render freedom a nostalgic memory.

There’s a tremendous ferment of discussion and activity among progressives right now, some still hoping to head off a Trump administration, others to ameliorate its likely excesses, others to support anti-Trump demonstrators and protect them from persecution, others to explore the possibilities that remain for negotiation with an administration without clear or congruent positions on many policy issues.

I blogged right after the election about the meaning of the shock I felt. Many people responded that they were feeling something similar. But just as many posted their own criticisms of the naivete of the left, saying that outcome was predictable: the racism of white voters had virtually guaranteed Trump’s election. Sometimes these points are generalized: voters of color, I’ve been told this week, knew Trump would be elected. This would definitely be news to friends of mine who are deeply involved in the electoral system and were certain right up to the election that Clinton would win. In short, I’m never interested in engaging an argument that turns on who predicted the future more accurately: especially when the argument takes place after the election.

No, the conversation banging on a door in my head right now, begging to be let out, is in the title of this blog: what will we do for freedom?

Here in Santa Fe last night, I moderated a panel with members of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band/performance art/human rights group. (There’s a ton of information online about them, but two documentary films will give a picture of some of their origins and actions: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer; and Pussy Riot: The Movement. Just google them for videos, press conferences, and statements galore.)

What impresses me most about the group is the over-the-top courage its members have displayed in defying Russian authorities, at enormous personal cost, to stand for the right to dress in multicolored balaklavas, shift dresses, and tights, thrashing guitars and punching the air as they burn an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or crash Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to call on the Virgin Mary to embrace feminism. Masha Alyokhina was on last night’s panel. She and Nadia Tolokonnikova spent over a year incarcerated under conditions worse even than U.S. prisons following her conviction for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in the Cathedral protest. Amnesty International, Madonna, and countless other artists and human rights groups came to their support, training the eyes of the world on Pussy Riot and thus helping to ensure members’ survival.

Her incarceration inspired Masha to protest prison human rights violations, winning an unheard-of three lawsuits against the system. Although Pussy Riot the activist art group cultivates a punk aesthetic of chaotic outrage, members’ response to the repressions that smother Russian civil society have also been highly organized, including the creation of MediaZona, an astoundingly popular independent news agency that focuses particularly on the court and prison system, represented last night by a passionate young journalist and editor, Sasha Bogino.

To moderate the panel, I read as much as I could about the situation in Russia, and found myself engaged in the pre-election question of similarities and connections between Trump and Putin. The Russian-American writer Masha Gessen (who is interviewed in Pussy Riot: The Movement) wrote back in July about the two personalities and what they may mean post-election, well worth reading for its indictment of the failure of imagination:

“I just can’t imagine Trump becoming the nominee,” many said at the time. But a lack of imagination is not an argument: it’s a limitation. It is essential to recognize this limitation and try to overcome it. That is a difficult and often painful thing to do.

But it is Gessen’s post-election rules for surviving autocracy that stick in my mind now, holding the line against the inane good sportsmanship that offers the autocrat an invitation to prove he is not one, allowing precious time to pass while his true colors flood the nation. Especially this rule:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.

I am not in the futile business of making predictions. To me, it seems just as likely that Masha Gessen’s cautions must be urgently heeded as that Alex Young’s “The Pendulum Swings Both Ways,” reminding us that this too shall pass—and more quickly than we imagine—if only we open our eyes and use the power we have, describes what is to come.

There are countless demonstrations being planned, including a massive Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration. There are many petitions circulating to abolish the Electoral College, head off Trump’s announced determination to circumvent the blind-trust anti-self-dealing rules that seek to prevent Presidents from making policies that directly benefit their personal fortunes. There will be powerful new organizing campaigns of every type.

And then there’s this question for each of us, individually and together: what will we do for freedom?

Here in the U.S., we still have access to the means of democratic dialogue, protest, and action that enable a truly mass movement, as we have been reminded most recently with Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Bernie campaign, and more. In the case of Pussy Riot, protest in Russia is necessarily sustained by brave individuals, many of them artists, standing up in the secure knowledge they will be punished for their courage in the service of liberty. The risks have outweighed the possibilities of mass mobilization thus far. But here we still have a degree of freedom that—if we fight to preserve it—can turn the tide.

I can’t begin to aspire to the fearlessness and determination of Masha Alyokhina. But I can be inspired by her example to avoid tumbling into the ocean of fear and despair that awaits those who abandon hope in the face of a Trump presidency. This is a spiritual challenge as much as a political one, a cultural challenge even more than a political one. And so I am adding a fourth question to my litany:

Who are we as a people?
What do we stand for?
How do we want to be remembered?
What will we do for freedom?

“Nothing Without You,” Fantastic Negrito.

Now, some of us may need a reason
and some of us, we can fake the truth
and you and I, you and I are so pissed off
at the way this world has treated us
so tell me what you’re gonna do

The Great Comic Book Heroes

Nov10

by: Paul Buhle on November 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

A man in a suit is talking on the telephone under an electricity pole and wire. Another man in a suit stands behind him.

Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel by Jules Feiffer

To begin to introduce Jules Feiffer, to any reader of cerebral comics older than fifty, is probably absurd.He has been around so long and played a handful of roles so central to the development of an evolving American comic art that it would be almost easier to define Feiffer without comics than comics without Feiffer. But the strange contours remain fascinating.

So let us try. Comic art took a considerable leap forward with The Spirit, a strip “packaged” by its creator, Will Eisner, for the daily press, and joined through the same creator to the firm Eisner and Iger, which similarly packaged (i.e.,actually did everything but print) comic books for a dozen or more firms during the apex of the field in the 1940s. Teenaged Jules Feiffer worked in this little factory setting, and has, in his way, borne the signs ever since. The Spirit was politically bland and reactionary, but its form was pretty revolutionary, cinematic, and theatrical (Eisner’s father was at times a set-designer for the Yiddish theater in the U.S.), with flowing motion and intriguing backdrops.


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Review of After One-Hundred-and-Twenty by Hillel Halkin

Nov10

by: Paige Foreman on November 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Photo by Tom Hilton. Source: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/).

Berkeley recently decided to take a break from the drought – it rained all day on Friday, and I remembered asking my father why the rain falls when I was a little girl.

“The angels are crying – someone just died,” my father replied.

“Really?”

“I don’t know,” my father shrugged. “But it sure is a nice idea.”

In the final chapter of After One-Hundred-and-Twenty, Hillel Halkin describes a long midrash about the death of Moses. The Torah is silent about how Moses reacts to his death, but the Rabbinic commentary fleshes out Moses’ humanity. The way Moses reacts to his impending death is not all that different from how most humans react to death. Moses argues with God, evades angels, and begs to live on as an animal. In the end though, Moses’ life is taken by God with a kiss and within sight of the Promised Land that Moses never reaches. After the death of Moses, God wept, and I wondered if it rained that day.

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Community Horror? American Artists at Work

Nov3

by: Paul Buhle on November 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »

Two hands holding a black box over a table.

Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery,’ The Authorized Graphic Adaptation by Miles Hyman

Dread seems to have become the unitary emotion of the day, reinforced by stern warnings of insecurity all around, interrupted mainly by pharma ads offering relief of almost every non-lethal dread. Perhaps life (and death) were once simpler, or perceived to be simpler. “The Lottery,” an allegorical or non-allegorical short story by Shirley Jackson exquisitely touched the Dread button almost seventy years ago – at the time, the most popular story in New Yorker history – and comes alive today, if “alive” is right word, in a notable graphic novel adaptation.

For those interested in the history of comic art, this rings a certain bell or perhaps two or three. The saga of a village choosing, once per year, to stone to death a villager chosen by lots, might be in the horror vein, although personally, I see it as much more sci-fi. Horror comics, driving sales of comics skyward in the later 1940s and early 1950s, also led to suppression by way of a Comics Code that would be enforced through concerned (mostly Catholic) threats of boycotts. If sometimes well crafted, horror comics were certainly not cerebral. Sci-fi comics, given to themes of post-nuclear civilization, or of bitterly disappointing space travel, never sold so many, but had a more artistic touch, not to mention progressive sentiments. Both genres reached a peak in EC Comics, the backdrop to Mad, with some of the key artists carrying their talents over effortlessly to brilliant satire.


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“Fighting in the Captain’s Tower”: In Defense of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

Oct21

by: Rodger Kamenetz on October 21st, 2016 | 5 Comments »

When I was 15, in the spring of 1965,I found myself marching on the old Baltimore Washington Highway with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. We were on our way to Washington, D.C., to protest the murder of Reverend James Reeb in Selma.

To keep myself occupied for the long miles, I recited “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” out loud, a poem I greatly admired and had committed to memory.

Now I don’t know why at 15 I found this love song so compelling. Maybe I took pleasure in knowing Prufrock was even wimpier with women than I was. I could mock his waspy tea party social life, his gentlemanly repression. It’s odd considering that a Jew-hater wrote it, but Eliot’s poem made me proud to be down to earth, frank, and Jewish.

That’s why I liked the “Love Song” – but I also loved it. I loved the music and the drama, the precision of the imagery, the magic of the rhythms, and the overall architectonics. I never realized before how a poem could be not just a lyrical statement, but an entire world. The raw modernity of the diction was refreshing: “like a patient etherized upon a table” sounded new to me compared to the poems I’d read in school. I liked the mix of high and low culture: “sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” and “In the room the women come and go/talking of Michelangelo.” But especially the ending as the meter returns to iambic bedrock and bursts into song:

We have lingered by the chambers of the sea

By sea girls wreathed in seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us and we drown

Eliot met me at the beginning of my lifelong love affair with poetry, and the mermaids (or were they sirens?) were inviting me from the flats of suburban life into the ocean of the archetypal.

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The Box: Solitary Confinement Takes Center Stage

Aug9

by: Sarah Asch on August 9th, 2016 | Comments Off

The Box , a play directed by Michael John Garcés and written by Sarah Shourd.

A white supremacist with a swastika tattooed above his left eye addresses the audience: “People without hope are fucking dangerous.”

One of six characters in The Box, a play that debuted at Z Space theater in San Francisco in July, Jake Juchau (played by Clive Worsley) presents one image of life in long-term solitary confinement. The play was written by Sarah Shourd, an American journalist who spent 410 days in solitary in Iran after being accused of espionage, and then returned to the U.S. and began conducting research about the domestic uses of solitary confinement.

“Years of research went into this play,” Shourd notes in the playbill. “I traveled to visit prisoners in solitary confinement in 13 facilities across the country.” Shourd also explains that the six prisoners in her play are fictional combinations of the real life stories she gathered. “The characters in The Box won’t allow us to sit comfortably in our own skins,” Shourd writes. “They force us to ask questions: Why are we torturing people in lieu of rehabilitation? What are we going to do about the violence plaguing our society? How does change happen? How do we connect our own suffering to something larger?”


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The Master of the Good Name

Jul20

by: Rodger Kamenetz on July 20th, 2016 | Comments Off

 

The Master of the Good Name

who only lived for prayer,

trembled by the holy ark

because a Name so pure

was more than a body could bear.

 

The Master of the Good Name

saw each word in his prayer

as another Noah’s Ark,

of wings, wild cries and tusks

that he entered in his fear.


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The Need for a More Radical Solidarity in the Work for Justice based on Spirituality, Mindfulness, and Self-Care.

Jul19

by: Victor Narro on July 19th, 2016 | Comments Off

You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.

Do not be daunted
by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.

- Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers)

For the past few years, I have ended my classes at UCLA with a reflection with my students about this excerpt from a poem by Rabbi Tarfon and its significance for them. Many of us who work for social justice often work on organizing campaigns with short timelines, with little resources, and moving on all pistons at a grueling 24-7 pace. This extreme pace can consume the important things in life that contribute to a person’s well-being. It’s a kind of martyr’s code that measures a person’s commitment to justice by their willingness to sacrifice personal time, health, and relationships.

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