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The Uses of Appropriation

Jul9

by: on July 9th, 2018 | No Comments »

Audre Lorde famously said it, “[T]he master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She went on: “They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The essay was based on a 1979 panel presentation responding to a feminist movement dominated by those who opposed sexism but benefited in other ways from the existing social order. She warns a liberationist movement against reproducing the racial, economic, and other privilege-based operating assumptions of the dominant society, lest it fall far short of its potential to catalyze a more loving, just, equitable, and vibrant society.

Sometimes I like to adopt an alien view, to pretend I’m watching from outer space as we humans scurry across the face of the earth, billions of intelligent two-legged ants. What is getting them so excited now? What tools are being wielded with what intentions? And are they shoring up the master’s house or dismantling it?

In our little corner of the planet, my alien self picks up a loud buzz about appropriation. What’s that? In ordinary English the verb can mean many things: to set aside or authorize funds, to seize or steal something. In art worlds, the word has a fairly flat meaning and a heightened one. The flatter version covers things like Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades,” in which ordinary objects are renamed, repositioned, and exhibited as art. His most famous example was the 1917 Fountain, a porcelain urinal set on a pedestal and signed R. Mutt. Ever since, a huge amount of modern and contemporary visual art has included appropriated elements.

Appropriation is so common in popular music that a new word was chosen to represent it: sampling. There’s a nicely detailed account of Biz Markie’s losing a suit over a sample of “Alone Again,” one of many such cases in the early 90s challenging musicians’ right to use snippets of others’ copyrighted songs without prior permission. Rick James sued MC Hammer for sampling “Superfreak” on his hit, “U Can’t Touch This,” to cite one example among hundreds. The most recent cases turn on uses of as little as two words. But mostly, these are financial transactions having less to do with moral rights and more with getting paid. Reaching a financial settlement is almost always the endgame.

The heightened meaning of “appropriation” is cultural theft. The accusation is frequently made against artists—but also entrepreneurs and corporations—adopting and profiting by something emblematic of a culture not their own. “Cultural appropriation” is the full moniker, but mostly it gets shortened by omitting the first word.


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A Review of Tommy Orange’s “There There”

Jul5

by: Frank Rubenfeld on July 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

This is a debut novel by Tommy Orange, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

The book’s prologue gives us the context for the pain Indians inflict on themselves (alcoholism, suicide, drug addiction) and each other (domestic abuse, turf wars). Orange goes into horrific detail (the content of which I had never heard of before) about the treachery, sadistic cruelty, and grind-’em-down racism Indians suffered at the hands of the white colonizers from the time of the Pilgrims until the genocidal “Indian Wars” waged in the late eighteen hundreds.

Tommy Orange reading from his debut novel "There There." Image courtesy of Bank Square Books.

Tommy Orange reading from his debut novel "There There." Image courtesy of Bank Square Books.

The venue is contemporary Oakland, not a “rez”. Many Indians have left the rez behind and become “Urban Indians”. We get to meet more than a dozen of them close-up: Orvil Red Feather; Edwin Black; Tommy Loneman; Dene Oxendene; and the one with coolest name of all: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. Each name heads a chapter (some more than one). Orange dexterously braids the lives of these Indians, and knots them all together in an ending that reflects their legacy. A legacy of both violence and spiritual depth.

As the narrative culminates, we witness a big Powow at the Oakland Coliseum. Hundreds of Indians from the Bay Area and beyond, dressed in Native Regalia, ready to dance to the sound of the big and little drums. Ready to dip, shuffle, and pound their feet against Mother Earth, while the singing counterpoints the beat of the drums; the beat of their feet.

This was the sound of pain forgetting itself in song, the author writes. In that sentence the beating heart of the story lies. And the author, Tommy Orange an Urban Indian for years, is part of that drumbeat. He has created this song of a book. A song of pain redeemed by his artistry.

We the witnesses, implicit in the oppression of his people; occupying what was their land; are given the opportunity to see more clearly and comprehensively the costs the Indian community has paid for our deeds. Tommy Orange has done his job. It is up to us to feel empathy, compassion, anger, guilt, whatever. And to see what we might do with our feelings and our new knowledge.

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Frank Rubenfeld is a Berkeley psychologist who co-founded Psychotherapists for Social Responsibility and authored The Peace Manual: A Guide To Personal-Political Integration. He is an active member of the Gestalt Associates of the Bay Area.

Baseball Infamy

Jun14

by: Victor Acquista on June 14th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

A Mound Over Hell

by Gary Morgenstein

BHC Press, 2018

A good place to start making our world a better place is to identify current problems and then strategize on how to solve those problems. What about when the problems themselves are hidden, or entangled in a complex web of truth and falsehood and conflicting ideologies? What we often categorize as “culture wars” has roots in the evolution of consciousness and how individuals and groups at different levels of consciousness coexist. Socially conscious fiction helps to shine light upon social ills. In this sense, it helps to raise awareness.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In his novel, A Mound Over Hell, Gary Morgenstein has given us much to think about regarding the current state of modern society. Although the story is set in the future, today’s social problems are on full display. Baseball seems an unlikely place to uncover and expose societal conflict. Yet, Morgenstein reveals it to be the perfect construct for digging deep into the underbelly of a future America where baseball is on the brink of extinction. The seeds of past conflict often blossom into future turmoil. His novel is a far cry from A Field of Dreams.

In these times when people exploit half-truths, fake news, and alternate facts, the book itself is timely. The narrative blends a combination of baseball truths and fabrications wedded together, takes readers through a somewhat unexpected trajectory, and reframes historical elements to uncover an uncomfortable present. Surprise! Not all is what citizens have been led to believe. Lies clearly have the upper hand in this marital union. Despite this foundation of falsehood, the citizens live in a zeitgeist of syrupy contentment.

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Nothing to Say until Now

Jan25

by: Mandy Fessenden Brauer on January 25th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

(Remembrances of a man about his boarding school days)

 

There was nothing to say about it

because who was to care? I wasn’t

the most loveable of offspring nor

one of the most talented, funniest

or outstanding, no doubt just

the sort of boy to be molested

when others were sleeping, or

at least pretending to.

 

I chose never to tell my parents.

They were too consumed with their

own problems anyway and didn’t

care what I did or where, so long

as I didn’t bother them with it,

my mother with her rotgut gin and

my father drowning himself in yoga

and meditation that he picked up

from a wild eyed guru in India.

 

So when the teacher approached

my uncomfortable bed I didn’t even

have enough sense to be concerned.

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Fearless Truths, Ruthless Awareness: Into The New Year

Dec31

by: on December 31st, 2017 | Comments Off

At our Hanukkah party a couple of weeks ago, we asked our guests to each share a way in which they want to bring light into the world in the coming year. Like other festivals that kindle a blaze as the sun’s light wanes—Diwali, Christmas—Hanukkah can be understood as a collective refusal to surrender to darkness, a collective invitation to remember the light even in the darkest times.

My wish was for a pervading awareness, the kind that sees past the conventional categories that constrain thinking. I haven’t been blogging much because I’ve been giving my writing attention to a new book which treats this question as a central theme: why have we fallen so much into treating people and issues as toggle switches—#MeToo, for or against?—and what can we do to open the gates of awareness to multiple truths? My wish was for ruthless awareness, the kind that penetrates the surface of what is, allowing layer after layer to emerge and be explored, side-by-side, not always resolving to either/or.

I thought of this again yesterday. It was my task to offer the kavannot (intentions) for aliyot (Torah readings) in services yesterday morning, drawing out underlying teachings of the Torah portion assigned to this past week and inviting all who wished to connect to those energies to come take part in the blessings before each reading.

It felt like a really auspicious occasion: the last reading in the book of Genesis/Beresheit, the last Shabbat of the secular year. In the reading, Jacob prepares to die, offering parting messages to his offspring and blessings to Joseph’s sons, his grandsons. As the reading comes to a close, Joseph dies too. The Hebrew calendar only occasionally matches up with the secular year in this way. But because this is an annual cycle, because many of us have read it countless times, we know the book of Exodus/Shemot is coming next, the story of the long journey out of slavery. Everything ends, yet every ending is also a beginning.

For the second aliyah, I drew attention to the moment that Jacob offers parting words to his sons in Genesis 49:1-29. He speaks fearlessly, telling it as it he sees it, both what has been and the foundation the past has laid for what may come to pass. The passage is quite remarkable as he speaks very hard truths and very great blessings, equally without hesitation. This same capacity is my new year’s blessing for all of you, dear readers, fearless seekers after truth and wisdom, beauty and meaning, love and justice: that all may be able to see truth despite those who seek to obscure it; and speak truth despite those seeking to silence it.

Today we have new names for lies. The sleep of reason breeds monsters such as “fake news,” a club brandished by the Present Occupant of the White House to beat his critics into submission; and also by his opponents to discredit those who reprint his lies without reservation.

Eighty-three years ago, in 1935, the German writer Bertolt Brecht published his essay, “Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties.” To urge you on in the spirit of fearless truth, ruthless awareness, I offer a few of his words:

Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons. These are formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also for those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil liberty prevails.

Here’s a live 1974 recording of Link Wray’s groundbreaking “Rumble,” first released in 1958. An essential part of living into truth these days is unearthing what has been suppressed, resurrecting buried truths. You must see Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a remarkable documentary on the Indigenous roots of rock’n'roll, released this year and now available for streaming.

I wonder if Mary––

Dec12

by: Stephanie Van Hook on December 12th, 2017 | 5 Comments »

“The Virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke 1:27

“And the angel said unto her, Fear Not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God.” Luke 1:30

 

 

If we could bring her back

For just a morning,

For a cup of coffee, a cranberry scone,

And the day’s headlines,

To really talk with us,

 

If she would have said

#metoo?

 

She’d remember things

Differently than we were taught

To believe.

 

She’d start off blaming

Herself.

Drunk as she was

On God’s wine that night–

Hearing how He favoured her

“Amongst all women,”

The scent of white lilies, and

Shining with the honey-sweet smile

And soft face

Of an angel.

 

“No, thank you,” or

“I don’t even know you,” or

“I’m in love with someone else.”

She could only accept Him–

All-powerful as He was, and she,

A frightened adolescent, in some ways,

Still a child, alone

In her room that stormy March eve.

She could not push Him off

Or His intentions away.

Predestined, as she was.

Chosen before the World was created,

So they said.

 

Who said that?

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You’re invited: art opening in Berkeley on 12/15!

Dec8

by: on December 8th, 2017 | Comments Off

To readers of Tikkun and Tikkun Daily, please see below for a special invitation from one of our contributors, Meir Rotbard, whose show goes up in Berkeley next Friday, December 15!

 

Courtesy of Meir Rotbard

 

Dear Friends, new and old,

Hope that many special things are happening for you, wherever you are. This is a very special time in history, where we are getting to heal from the baggage of human trauma. I spent many private years, and thousands of hours preparing this work, and am so happy to finally be at a place where I can share it with you. If it resonates with you, please come on down to my opening. I would love to meet you. If you are part of the Tikkun community, you are part of the solution. Thank you for that.

Best,

Meir Rotbard

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48 mm: Film Festival From Nakba to Return

Dec7

by: Olga Gershenson on December 7th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Image of the Zochrot brochure

Image of the Zochrot brochure

Film festival of Zochrot (an Israeli NGO, working to promote accountability for the injustices of the Nakba) at Tel Aviv Cinemateque: probably the best films in the line-up were “Born in Deir Yassin” and “Jerusalem We Are Here” (I’ve written about both of them for Tikkun, in the forthcoming issue). Another important film is “Looted and Hidden,” a new documentary by Israeli curator and art historian Rona Sela. It’s super-dense with images and stories, but basically, it’s about several Palestinian photo and film archives, that were stolen by Israelis in 1948, in 1967, and in 1982, from PLO research center and from a Cinema Center in Beirut. The good thing is that the audience gets to see tons of these documents–family photos, studio portraits, battle snapshots, pictures of atrocities, etc, along with snippets of narrative films, army reports, news footage, and even an excerpt from a Soviet anti-Zionist documentary. This plenitude is both a blessing and a curse–a curse because in 45 minutes, it’s impossible to contextualize all these still and moving images, tell what’s behind them, AND let them speak on their own terms. It took Rona Sela, a Jewish Israeli with a stubborn mind and legal assistance, over 10 years to even get access to these visual documents. All of them are locked up in the Israeli archives, with absolutely no hope for them to ever be open, especially in the current political climate. What a paradox it is, that it takes an Israeli to recover the hidden visual history of Palestinians–a Palestinian, obviously, would not stand a chance in the tightly censored IDF archives.

The biggest revelation for me was an archival screening of the 1972 Syrian film, “The Dupes,” by an Egyptian director Tewfik Saleh. It’s based on a novella “Men in the Sun” by a late Palestinian writer and activist Ghassan Kanafani. The action is set in 1948 and the plot follows three Palestinian refugees who are trying to get to Kuwait to work. Without plot-spoiling, the film ends in tragedy. Besides being a beautiful (although heart-breaking) black-and-white art film, what is so remarkable is that it lets us experience the immediate aftermath of 1948 from the Palestinian perspective. In addition to the narrative plot, it includes also what looked to me like documentary footage: tents, lines to food kitchens, snippets of daily life in early camps. The narrative plot is structured as road film, following the three men, intercut with flashbacks telling their individual stories leading to the lethal journey. That structure, with flashbacks to the stories of characters reminded me of “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” – a 1955 Zionist film that is also set in 1948, telling a parallel, albeit very different story.

Another significant film was a new doc by another Israeli woman filmmaker, Anat Even, “Disappearances,” recovering the memory of a Palestinian neighborhood Al-Manshiyaa, which today is buried under the lawns of beach-side Clore Park and high-rise buildings in Tel Aviv. The story is familiar: in 1948 the neighborhood is “cleansed” of its original citizens, and new immigrants – Holocaust survivors and North African Jews move into abandoned houses. Later, even that proves out as an insufficient erasure of the past, and so the entire thing is razed, with only one old Arab building remaining. Ironically, today it’s a site of the Etzel Museum. The film is quietly political – personal and moving. Anat Even doesn’t tell this story at once, there is no didactic voiceover, instead, she brings in to the site families who once lived there. These include Palestinian refugees, some of whom haven’t been to the place for decades, as well as Jewish Israelis who were relocated to other places, also against their wills. Additional commentary is provided by voices of architects – some who designed the current park, others, who give it a critical interpretation. The Hebrew title of the film, יזכור למלנשייה, is way more successful than the English translation – I think she should have kept the Yizkor there, a word with rich and tragic association in the post-Holocaust world.

I also watched a bunch of predictable shorts, as well as “1948: Creation & Catastrophe,” which is a more standard edition doc, with talking heads, maps, archival footage, and male voiceover. Although not without problems, it can be productively used for education, especially if paired with a documentary presenting Israeli perspective.

Even though the festival presented significant films, there was something provincial and sad about it: announced speakers weren’t always there, the speakers that were there weren’t best prepared, whatever Q&As there were, weren’t moderated, English subtitles promised in the program sometimes didn’t materialize, etc. But most of all – empty theaters. It’s not that Tel-Avivians are apathetic–thousands showed up for the March of Shame to protest Netaniyahu’s corruption. This for them is urgent, political, and personal, whereas memory of Palestinian loss, let alone taking responsibility for the violence that caused it, is not. This for me was among the main takeaways of the festival.

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Olga Gershensonis Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Photo Series, Part III: Ramsal

Nov7

by: Emily Monforte on November 7th, 2017 | Comments Off

This series of portraits paired with interview-based articles attempts to start a conversation about how change makers think about, communicate, and embody their identities; and how this relates to the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. The intention of the series is to explore our differences and what makes us individual so as to underline a common thread of desire for love, non-violence, generosity, peace, and caring about others that I happen to believe lies at the heart of all activist work. In particular this work attempts to focus on the idea that bringing your own story of how your identity interacts with your activism allows for those looking from the outside in to be touched on a human-to-human level, allowing them to feel compassion for you and the goal of the work at large.

Click here to read part I in the series, and here for part II. This is the final installment in the series.

Ramsal

Photo of Ramsal standing in closet wearing headphones

Photo courtesy of Ramsal

 

Ramsal grew up in New Jersey in an “Orthodox conservative insular Jewish community” as they describe it, and for a large portion of their life lived by the values they absorbed during that time. The one they focused on in our interview was the particular relationship they developed to God. “It took me up until about my last year of college to realize that I was interacting with a God that was masculine and domineering and judgmental and separate from me and the tangible accessible world. I realized that because I was viewing God as this separate other domineering judgmental entity, I was practicing my religion from a source of fear where I was scared that if I didn’t do what God asked me to do or what I believe God asked me to do that I would be punished.” This realization was the first step in their process of re-constructing their understanding of God’s relationship to themself and how God exists in the universe as a whole. Ramsal recognized the toxicity in a spiritual life driven by fear, their religion had become an obligation, they walked a careful line, doing as they thought God wanted, for they did not see God as forgiving or understanding of missteps, but as awaiting their mistakes ready to slap them on the wrists. “Finally I had this eureka moment, and I realized the entire universe is God. It’s not this separate entity that I am praying to. I think that words and the way we phrase things subconsciously end up dictating how we…interact with our world. When we constantly refer to our God as a He and as something that we are praying to, we tend to forget that we are part of God, that God is part of us and the universe as a whole, that is where the oneness of God exists… God is oneness, the universe is God. And when I started approaching religion from that space, God had a sex change for me.”

When Ramsal says God had a sex change for them, they do not mean in the way we have essentialized gender in our society today. What Ramsal means is that “God became this motherly loving figure. In Hebrew the world love translates to the word אהבה (Ah-ha-va) a four letter word, alef he et he, and the root of that word is hav, which means to give. So love to me means giving, and I received this life without having been asked for anything in return, so it’s this unconditional love and unconditional gift which I am eternally blessed and grateful to receive.” God came to embody this ever giving power which Ramsal sees as acutely akin to the type of giving that begins when a mother has a child. In many ways this association with God as feminine manifested itself for Ramsal during their time working on the floor as a nurse in a labor and delivery unit. “I was constantly surrounded by the essence of motherhood, and everyday was watching the intense love and giving that a mother gifts to her child from the moment they are born, just massive acts of giving.”

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Photo Series, Part II: Jacob Klein

Nov2

by: Emily Monforte on November 2nd, 2017 | Comments Off

This series of portraits paired with interview-based articles attempts to start a conversation about how change makers think about, communicate, and embody their identities; and how this relates to the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. The intention of the series is to explore our differences and what makes us individual so as to underline a common thread of desire for love, non-violence, generosity, peace, and caring about others that I happen to believe lies at the heart of all activist work. In particular this work attempts to focus on the idea that bringing your own story of how your identity interacts with your activism allows for those looking from the outside in to be touched on a human-to-human level, allowing them to feel compassion for you and the goal of the work at large.

Click here for part I in this series. Stay tuned for part III!

Jacob Klein

Jacob Klein in a chair in a room

Photo courtesy of Jacob Klein

 

Jacob Klein is a queer activist within the Jewish community, originating from San Diego and currently living in the Bay Area. Their activism for queer inclusion and acceptance within the Jewish community, as well as society overall, began at full speed after completing college at UCLA. Jacob remembers, “I moved up to Oakland about three years ago and that’s when I started working in the Jewish world and that’s also when my activism started coming together and flourishing.”

Jacob’s work highlights a fine line that emerges in identity based activism: how does one share themselves in a manner that is productive and creates empathy, while avoiding putting themself in a position where they may be hurt or drained of strength. As Jacob puts it, “I often struggle with how to contextualize my own identity within this work… For me it’s always a balance between the ways that I experience being an outsider and the ways that I have privilege in the world and I am afforded certain modes of power that other people aren’t.”

People are composed of multiple identities that are inextricable, but can indeed act separately to bring you either belonging or exclusion in different circumstances. “It’s always this careful negotiation between ways that I fit in…and can hopefully leverage that for change, and the ways in which I have never really felt like I’m a part of a lot of different aspects of society, and trying to really tap into that within myself when I’m doing work.” As a queer non-binary individual, Jacob has learned to surround themselves with similar-minded people who make them feel safe when they are not doing activist work. “In my personal life I tend to be very insular. My friends and community in the Bay Area particularly are all pretty much queer, and/or, Jewish Progressive. So then I know that I am putting myself into a space where I don’t have to deal with people who fundamentally disagree with me. Because for me that feels like a safety risk. For me when somebody disagrees with me on one of my political beliefs, if we want to be euphemistic, it often is actually an attack on one of my identities.” Although those incognizant of queer politics may come from a stance of genuine curiosity and the drive to feel compassion for queer people, often this means Jacob uses their own life as the site of teaching and explanation. Jacob is willing to do this work in certain environments, as they have prepared themselves for comments that directly criticize or comment on their body and experience, but this takes mental preparation and a lot of internal strength and, as one could imagine, it can be incredibly exhausting and draining to have to explain your own existence to others.

Thus, it is essential for Jacob to set boundaries for themselves, to have “sanctuary” type communities that re-charge them, reinforce them, pick them up and make them feel strong before they do their work with people who do not always make them feel accepted. Not only do friends provide this type of strength for them; Judaism, particularly in the Bay Area, has been a source of power for them. “I have been able to come to my Jewish spirituality as somebody who is able to find and reinterpret things as they work for me… there has already been such a history of predecessors and leaders and shakers and thinkers who have done so much work already to queer Torah and…activise Judaism, and make it a powerful political text…..but that unfortunately is not everywhere, that’s not all of the Jewish society, even in the so-called progressive Bay Area. There are still many spaces where I don’t feel comfortable, and where I don’t get to access the space in ways others do.”

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