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Feared Than Loved

Aug5

by: on August 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

I’ve been thinking about love and fear. Love is a strong force in my life, the thing that heals, the thing that opens my heart to give, the thing that greets me each morning as I open my eyes, grateful for another day. As the Song of Songs – the epic liturgical poem of awe and desire – puts it, “love is as strong as death.”

But love’s opposite – fear, the weapon of the unloved – is swirling all around me.

There’s the ambient fear of racism, violence, poverty, and exploitation, so deeply woven into the fabric of most U.S. cities that it becomes normalized. It takes artists to put a frame around the truth, revealing something of its actual dimensions, actual impact. For a clear-eyed glimpse of the daily fear machine in action and the toll it takes, go see the rich, nuanced, deeply affecting movie Blindspotting, just now in theaters.

There’s the fear that rises in relationship to other threats such as climate crisis. The New York Times Magazine’snew issue consists entirely of a controversial piece, already perceptively criticized by knowledgeable writers such as Naomi Klein and Robinson Meyer for downplaying the economic and power relations behind global scorching. Read all, and do your best not to be overcome by fear.

But my main topic today is another type of fear: the fear that arises in response to extreme state actions, the fear that acts as fuel for fascism.


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Review of Steve Herrmann’s Emily Dickinson: A Medicine Woman for Our Times

Aug1

by: Reverend Dr. Matthew Fox on August 1st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

This exciting and important book is filled with verve and insight that only Dickinson can awaken. With the help of Carl Jung and the inspiration of his own deep work, including his penetrating insights on Walt Whitman’s launching of an American movement of Spiritual Democracy, Herrmann sheds brilliant light on the spiritual genius of Emily Dickinson. Rightly does the author call Dickinson a “medicine woman for our challenging times,” for even today – 130 years after her death – she still brings forth wisdom and insight to challenge patriarchy. The book is filled with insights triggered by James, Jung, Whitman, Emerson, Everson, Jeffers, Melville, Humboldt, and the author’s own well-traveled soul. Herrmann’s acute exegesis of many poems that sometimes seem opaque is sensible and eye-opening.

Herrmann argues that the crux of Dickinson’s struggle was her wrestling with the archetype of vocation. It was her vocation as a poet that charged her with awe and ecstasy as when she wrote: “Take all away from me, but leave me Ecstasy,/ And I am richer than all my fellow Men–/ Ill it becometh me to dwell so wealthily/ When at my very Door are those possessing more,/ In abject poverty – ” (#1640) Yet she had to sacrifice her career as a public poet in her lifetime because she was excluded for the most part from the male-dominated world of publishing. Herrmann believes that Dickinson underwent a “crucifixion of her ego on the cross of her poetic vocation.” After suffering a breakdown she revealed how she rose not as a wounded bird but riding “the Ether into the air or sky as shamans do.”


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The Uses of Appropriation

Jul9

by: on July 9th, 2018 | Comments Off

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 | Comments Off

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 | 4 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.