Category Archives: politics

wise words from Francisco Goldman

Original text in Spanish here, poorly attempted translation by me below:

I have never felt compelled to give up fiction. Like you, despite that times like these in Mexico aren’t easy, I remain faithful. I’ve dedicated my life to this fucking art that I love and that is in reality a very marginal trade, as it perhaps should be–I hate the solemnity and pomp of certain kinds of “novelists”–and it’s also what I live on. I don’t think that the novel is in itself something useful, that it has or should have a political use. It is the reader who decides what has value. What is the novel for me? A search for something that can only be expressed through writing a novel, and that something includes the search for its own structure, its style, pattern, rhythm and so on. You follow the whispers of intuition and memory, and many times you have no idea what will happen on the next page. I believe the novel turns out better when it’s like that. Of course in some way or another it’s an encounter with yourself, with your most intimate self. There’s a high risk of embarrassment, of failure. Perhaps breaking the silence is always a danger. Pain is fundamental. But maybe, as speculated as much by W.H. Auden in some essay, the first pronunciation by a human was “Ow!” Some caveman stumbled, his foot struck against a stone, hard and sharp, and yelled “Ow”; later another did the same, and so on. Human language began here, the song of experience. Pain is perhaps the seed or start; others have said it’s death and loss. Finally, the wish or desire to search, to understand, to dramatize the pain of others. That is the art of the novel, and one of the few things that the novel has in common with certain types of journalism.

When I don’t write I feel like a useless weakling, I’m good for nothing. When I do write, I know what I’m doing with all my being, with everything I think or believe: in one way or another, that’s where I’ll be… Then came Ayotzinapa and things changed. I’m still working on a novel that has nothing to do with it, a very intimate novel, which is practically the only thing that’s mine in the world, and I don’t regret it. But I am a citizen too. I admit that now my concentration is fragmented and that I have to discipline myself. I need to go out in search of what is happening. I like to observe, ask, listen. It is a privilege to share what I learn.

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Elizabeth Costello

What a provocative, fussy book. I first read in back in high school. I wasn’t a fan then, and I wasn’t exactly blow away this time either–I’ve just read it again it for a class, in which we’re going to discuss things like the Eudora Welty essay “Must the Novelist Crusade?” and questions like what is the correct relationship, if any, between the artist and society? 

I didn’t like the actual experience of reading this book but I respect what it was trying to do and I think it’s full of interesting questions. The biggest issue it grapples with is to what extent (if any) should an artist attempt to grapple with REAL LIFE BURNING ISSUES–i.e., to what extent should a writer crusade.

This is a question that really interests me, especially in light of one of my favorite quotes by George Orwell from one of my favorite essaysit is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally. By “political purpose,” I don’t think Orwell meant a specific ideology, like socialism or whatever. I like to think that he was referring to an engagement with the world, as opposed to a specific political platform.

I experienced a concrete example of this recently when I watched Silver Linings Playbook (a film that I liked way more than I expected). Throughout the film, you get these little references to the economy (people being fired, losing their pensions), racism and health insurance issues. These little touches helped elevate the film out of the typical romantic comedy fantasy universe, in which social realities are typically glossed over if not outright ignored. These references to Real Life Issues were one of the things (among many) that helped make Silver Linings Playbook a great movie to me, because it demonstrated an awareness, sense of life and engagement with the world, as opposed to just trying to gloss the world over for the packaged convenience of the story.

So yeah, I’m down with art engaging, but that still doesn’t really answer the question of whether they should CRUSADE or not (that word sounds so inherently negative to me, bringing to mind pictures of knights with red crosses painted over their chests and big swords). The question of how involved artists ought to be with politics has always been an interesting one to me. Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder makes a convincing argument that in some cases artists should GTFO, with his depiction of Mario Vargas Llosa as a giant fuck-up, meddling where he shouldn’t and creating a giant mess of a trial in Guatemala, despite his (presumably) good intentions. And then on the flipside you have Javier Cercas’ Soldiers of Salamis, in which the Bolaño character/author says “if I hadn’t learned how to write, I’d be firing away with the FARC right now.”

I must admit I’ve always been intrigued/attracted to politically engaged artists-slash-folks in general, despite being fairly apathetic myself. In college I always got crushes on the type of dudes who ran organizations like the Latino Student Union, boys with scruffy beards who were really good at getting everyone in a room to shut up and listen. I guess I had crushes on them because I secretly wanted to be like them myself. It’s only recently I’ve accepted that I’m not, like, this crusading, trail-blazing leader type person who can get everyone riled up, fired and ready to go. And that’s OK. Because what I do instead is write. I can’t do or be anything other than myself, because then I’m not doing anyone or anything a service. I can only focus on my calling, not someone else’s.

Another idea that was interesting to me in this book was the one discussed in Lesson 6, “The Problem of Evil,” which asks if writers have the right to write about anything they like, no matter how dark or disturbing. Coetzee (oops, I mean Costello) clearly states that s/he doesn’t: She is no longer sure that people are always improved by what they read. Furthermore, she is not sure that writers who venture into the darker territories of the soul always remain unscathed. She has begun to wonder whether writing what one desires, any more than reading what one desires, is in itself a good thing. (160) Costello’s specific beef is with a book that graphically shows the execution of Hitler’s attempted assassins. Her ponderings made me wonder in turn about whether there are some places as an author you just do not have a right to go. Do you have the right to write about a rape scene if you’ve never experienced one? What about from the perspective of an oppressed Pakistani women if you’re a rich white guy? Isn’t one of the supposedly great things about fiction is that it basically do anything, be anyone, inhabit any kind of consciousness? I guess my personal view of the matter is that yes, fiction can and should go places, but it should do so with a tremendous amount of caution and respect. When this caution is not obeyed, that’s when you get that icky feeling in your stomach, what Costello/Coetzee (can I call her Costezee?) calls obscene.

Overall, I really respect what this book was trying to do, but that being said, it was a giant pain in the ass to read. You’re gonna need to take a breath at the end of each chapter and brace yourself for another lecture (whoops, sorry, they’re not chapters, they’re appropriately-titled “Lessons.”) This book is basically a collection of non-fiction, philosophical essays written by JM Coetzee, disguised in fictional form. Ultimately, if you’re going to read this book, you’re going to really need to be prepared and bring your A-game because  Coetzee’s not fucking around.

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Game Change

This book was an entertaining read; it was like watching a really trashy soap opera. I felt like this book was arguably very gossipy in some sections (I must admit though it was still fun to read). It was kind of like the political version of ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com (oh great, now I just came out of the closet as a reader of that site. SHAME!). Ultimately, I am highly suspicious of the authors not providing an appendix at the end to discuss their sources for each chapter, a la Woodward. It’s like, it’s fine if you want to steal Woodward’s free indirect style–I have no complaints with that, it makes it super fun to read, but c’mon: as a reporter, you gotta cite your sources! Especially if you’re writing italicized sentences like “Hilary thought” or “Obama thought.”

This book made me really glad that Obama won the presidency. It was interesting to read the discussion of how many Democrats were afraid of another “poisionous” or “dysfunctional” (a commonly used term) atmosphere of another four-year Clintonian White House reign. This book makes it sound like a lot of Democrats were just plain sick of the Clintons, and were ready for something new.

The best section of the book is in the Obama vs. McCain one, in which McCain suspends his election run to head back to the White House and like, negotiate with Bush about how to deal with the economic crisis. I remember thinking “WTF?” when that happened in real life, and this book reveals how truly ridiculous and incompetent that move was. In many ways this book is a nice walk down memory lane, remembering all these different crazy things that provided a nice distraction when I was writing my undergraduate thesis in 2008.

I also didn’t like how this book used the word “squawked” a lot when referring to how Hilary Clinton talked. Very uncool.

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Obama’s Wars

The last Bob Woodward book I read was “State of Denial” four years ago, also one of the first books I reviewed on this blog (four years ago–my God!! I was just a little BABY in swaddling clouts!). 2008 was a U.S. election year. Since 2012 is obviously another one (as evidenced by my father’s rants at the dinner table), it felt like an appropriate time for another dose of Woodward, despite the fact that I really don’t follow U.S. politics that closely–I guess don’t want to get sucked into the vortex i.e. the black abyss of pain, frustration and despair.

I’m glad I read this book. It made me feel super smart. The book is a VERY detailed (as in memo by memo, meeting by meeting) account of Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, a piece of news I greeted with wearied numbed indifference when it was first flashing across the headlines, back in the day. I think my reaction at the time was along the lines of “oh wow, more death-pain-and-murder in the world, big surprise.

The main thing this book made me think about is that politics and international relations (much like shrimping in Forrest Gump) is TUFF. I would not want to do it. Ever. Not even if you paid me a bajillion dollars. I do not see myself reading 66 page reports every night and then trying to decide to send off a bunch of young people for either death or PTSD in the Middle East.

Another important thing this book made me think about is (to put it bluntly) how much I hate war. From the way Woodward presents it, he makes it seem like the U.S. military was basically totally OK with have an increased military presence in Afghanistan, with NO specific objective about what they’re trying to achieve or a timetable for withdrawal. Like, are you kidding me? Are you seriously–effin’–kidding me. See, now I’m getting all upset; I knew it was a mistake for me to try to review this book. But can somebody honestly tell me what would be the point of hanging out in Afghanistan FOREVER with no GOAL?? That would be like me taking the kids out to recess and just being like oh yeah, we have no plan, no objective and no timetable. I’ll tell you what would happen if I did that consistently–I WOULD BE FIRED.

God, now I’m getting all worked up. Now I’m remembering that story on NPR I heard when I was driving back from Seattle at like 3am, after the Tori Amos concert. The story was basically “Iraq War: THE REVIEW!” The conclusion was basically that Iraqis are unsafer, unhappier and hate the U.S. more than they did under the rule of Sadam Hussein, and the U.S. has spent billions–BILLIONS!!!—of dollars in order to achieve. It makes me sick, it really does.

The last thing I have to say is that for what it’s worth I am glad that Obama is in office. Can you imagine if we’d had some pushover president in office who was like “oh sure military, let’s just do whatever you say!  I won’t question, contest you or challenge you at all! Sign me up!” Boy, it would be horrible to have a president in office be like that!! ….. oh wait, I just remembered eight years of my life.

I know progressives criticize Obama a lot and that people are, like, unhappy with him for being kind of a wimp for imagining that he could actually get along with the insanity that is the Republican party. But man oh man, this book really made it seem like he was in just this IMPOSSIBLE situation. Trying to deal with Afghanistan sounds to me like trying to clean up a carpet where somebody vomited, took a dump, set themselves on fire and then blew themselves up, with no soap and a really crappy sponge. And that is basically the situation that Obama is in, cleaning up Bush’s party. To his credit, he is quoted by Woodward as saying “I can’t let this be a war without end.” So thank you for that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Forget this, now I’m all agitated. Now do you see why I can’t follow politics too closely?! My last comments about this book are the following:

– Woodward’s gossipy observations about the president of Afghanistan is basically manic depressive made me both LOL and feel intensely depressed.

– Biden honestly comes off as the most sensible person in this book. His constant insistence to focus on Pakistan was the smartest thing that anybody says. Biden, run for president! Bring your motorcycles and hot babes with you! (Go read an article about Biden on the Onion if you don’t believe me…)

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Art and Revolution

I really enjoyed this book. It was given to my sister by her friend in Oakland. I’ve never read Alma Guillermoprieto before, but apparently she’s the Latin American correspondent for the New Yorker, a publication I wish I had the $ to subscribe to (even more so now that all their fiction and poetry is subscription-only).

A lot of this book hit close to home for me. I loved Alma’s younger-self narrator: her constant self-critcism, her dislike of her ignorance about politics and Latin American affairs, her love for art, her low self-esteem, her poor choices in men. Even the section where she contemplates suicide is charming. To me, Dancing With Cuba isn’t a good book just because it’s a snapshot of a very specific time and place, or because I learned a lot about Cuba while reading it. More than anything, I liked this book because it powerfully captures the feeling of what it’s like to be young and confused and enamored of art and completely lost in your life.

I really liked the theme in this book about the relationship between Art and Politics. The description of all the delegation of poets and intellectuals coming to Cuba to fiercely debated such as question reminded me of the section in The Savage Detectives, in which one of the main characters gives up art in order to go fight in Nicaragua. There an El Salvadorean poet in Dancing that sums up the dilemma with the following query: “Do I write sonnets or devote myself to studying peasant revolution?” (263) It reminds me of similar questions raised by Bolaño, or of the life of Rodolfo Walsh. It’s a question that young-Alma struggles with quite a bit. My question is, is it possible to combine the two? (Maybe fact that she ended up as a journalist, writing about Latin American politics and writing very openly poetic, subjective memoirs, proves that it is!)

There were lots of interesting questions raised in this book. I liked the part where she talks about stillness vs. consciousness, in terms of modern dance. Apparently in the Merce Cunnigman style of modern dance, the key concept is stillness: “the quiet that things and beings achieved when they have no consciousness of themselves, when they simply are, without intention or aim. Consciousness, however, was Fidel’s key word–self-consciousness, class consciousness, revolutionary consciousness–an in Cuba a human being without aim or intention was inconceivable, unless of course he was a vago–a slacker–who, as Fidel began proposing around the time, deserved to be thrown in jail.” (94)

What is the point of the aritst or intellectual in society? This question is asked again and again. Should they be thrown out into the sugar cane fields, put to work that’s actually productive and useful, work that is concretely measurable via statistics and units? There’s another interesting section that I can’t find right now, in which she talks about how the communist conception of an economy treats it as a machine, as opposed to a living, breathing organism that is affected by lots of different systems, as opposed to a strictly input-output mechanism. I really like this parallel, and think that it would be useful to apply it to a lot of different subjects (I’ve heard similar ideas discussed in trainings I’ve received for one of my non-profit jobs). It really feels sometimes like the knowlege of humanity is moving away from the conception of life as a mechanism, and more towards life (and people, and relationships, and social justice, and so on) as a living, breathing organism, composed of and balanced by many different systems…

I heartily approved of the narrator’s treatment of Fidel, as well as most of the Revolutionary rhetoric that fills the book. I first picked this book up with slight apprehension, mostly due to the subtitle, A Memoir of the Revolution: Oh no, what if this is filled with Fidel love? Thankfully, it’s not, and when it is you can very clearly see how the author is making a point about how seductive that kind of “Viva la Revolucion!” talk can be. As one of the Cubans says early on in the novel, if it weren’t for the Revolution, a lot of Cubans would feel like they had nothing to live for, no purpose in life. I mean, how would you feel if you had to leave your job at the hospital or the university and go cut sugar cane in the fields para la causa for hours and hours, if you had an inkling at the back of your mind that la causa was very, very troubling and problematic?

I also liked Alma’s discussion of Che. I think she does a good job of summing him up and being approrpriately intimidated, repulsed and fascinated by him. Her reaction was similar to mine after reading his massive biography last year, in the sense that good-bad judgements aside, what Che’s life boils down to is that not many people can live like that. They really, really can’t.
 
I’d like to read more of Guillermoprieto’s work, for sure. Here are some other works mentioned in this book that I’d like to check out at some point:
– the film Memorias del subdesarollo
– Poesia en movimento: Mexico 1915-1966 (ed. Octavio Paz) 
– Mario Benedetti poetry
Paradiso by Jose Lezma Lima

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yester/today

Yesterday (…today?) didn’t go so good.

I was nervous during class, so I didn’t do as good of a job as I feel like I normally do. I was snappish with the kids.

While cleaning up at 8:30, the janitor told me that Obama had won the election.

While biking over to my friends’ place, the people whooping in the streets and the fireworks going off served as a resounding confirmation.

We spent a long time in front of the TV and then in the bar.

Now I’m at home, in the armchair, about to get up and make some Sleepy Time tea. I feel strangely melancholy. Just drained, maybe?

I need to remember that I can’t do everything right all of the time.
Tomorrow is a new day.
It’s time to get to work.

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Frustration

Why hasn’t Obama’s speech on trade received more media coverage?

Why isn’t this the #1 most e-mailed story on the NY Times? Why isn’t it the leading story in all media outlets, period?

Why is this world once in which Obama “has to prove to Americans that, despite his exotic background and multicultural looks, he shares or at least respects their values and understands why they would be upset about his associations with the Rev. Wright and an ex-Weatherman”?

Why did it snow today? Why is the house freezing cold? I made a list yesterday of all the things I am frustrated about, in an attempt to expell negative energy, but it turned out so long that I just gave up.

At reader’s request more poetry (from same volume from previous entry, pg. 456, 150, 130, 112-113, 106-107):

Late Fragment
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
RAYMOND CARVER

The Cure
Not the laying-on of hands, healing bones and hearts.
Not flowers, protease inhibitors, pills for the pain.
Not a prayer for the dying, for you, for us, not crying, not yet.

Tonight only the clock, each concentrated second one tiny grain
in a thousand thousand parts
of rain
NICK DRAKE (the singer-songwriter? dunno)

And the Days Are Not Full Enough
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.
EZRA POUND

The Leaden-Eyed
Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly,
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap,
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve,
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
VACHEL LINDSAY

Apologia
My life is too dull and too careful–
even I can see that:
the orderly bedside table,
the spoilt cat.

Surely I should have been bolder.
What could biographers say?
She got up, ate toast and went shopping
day after day?

Whiskey and gin are alarming,
Ecstasy makes you drop dead.
Toy boys make inroads on cash
and your half of the bed.

Emily Dickinson, help me.
Stevie, look up from your Aunt.
Some people can stand excitement,
some people can’t.
CONNIE BENSLEY

Things
There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these minature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.
FLEUR ADCOCK (I’m especially feelin’ this one right now)

The Waking
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
THEODORE ROETHKE [excerpt]

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Politicians as Literary Texts: An Attempt at Interpretation

Can I apply the techniques of interpreting literature to examining life? Is it appropriate to go about struggling to understand the motives and actions of human beings in the same way we might approach a novel? I think so. In fact I think it’s the best idea I’ve heard in ages. If I “read” other human beings the way I do books, that would explain, say, my dislike for Hilary Clinton. She tries to disguise the nature of her fictionality, when any good, sensible, “well-trained” reader would know that any good text is inherently aware (and may even comment directly) on its own status as a work of fiction. She tries to present herself as a basic essence. The very idea that this kind of reduction can be applied to ANYTHING in this world, let alone something as complex as a human being (especially the human being who presents herself to us as Hillary Clinton)–to me, this concept is an absolute travesty and misses what is integral to the act of reading and indeed to life itself. In all fairness, to an extent Obama does so as well. HOWEVER, as I go on to argue, he acknowledges the possibilities of misreadings and ambiguity, very important qualities in any well-written work of fiction!

In contrast, Hillary presents herself within an over-arching framework with an emphasis on locating ‘meaning’. The ‘Hillary-text’ moves solely within the world of knowledge, concerning herself with unification, trying make everything seem clear and understandable (“sleep deprivation” as the excuse for the Bosnian debacle, for example), and in doing so, she reduces everything to atoms. There’s no beauty in it, no signs of willful creativity or joyous energy (even her lies lack subversive energy); for me, everything about her and her campaign presents her as a corpse that can be dissected. Additionally, her reiterated emphasis on her ‘experience’ brands her as a closeted positivist (which, HELLO? is sooo 18th CENTURY). The concept that anything that cannot be verified by direct experience is therefore without value and thus intrinsically meaningless is A VERY PROBLEMATIC NOTION. My bestest thesis friend of late Blanchot would not like Hilary: he saw positivism as a form of modern nihilism, as the positivist does not believe in values or morals or ethics or any of those tricky ineffable things that can’t be verified in the the form of facts or sensory experiences, and thus they do not exist. If that isn’t an accurate diagnosis of the fundamental creepiness that is the Clinton idea of morality…

For all these reasons, the political community of Hilary Clinton is fundamentally apolitical, and this is why she should not be the Democratic nominee. She wants to gather us into a totalizing community in the manner of bees and termites, viewing us voters in terms of our utility value. We’re like pound coins for her to put in a slot: there are certain things that a pound coin can do for her, but essentially they’re all the same and exchangeable. Hillary does not deal with the community of human beings beyond the question of its organization; she concerns herself with the language of community only in order to accumulate and exert power. My problem with Hilary lies with her fundamental attitude of theorizing the world, of taking it as something that can be mastered by her explanations and in turn presenting herself as a constructed totality. This is reflected in her constant referral back to the matter of her ‘experience,’ as if only ‘hard facts’ of her existence (and Obama’s) can determine quality. If we are to speak of the concept of a political community under Hillary, it is a political community defined in terms of production, work and action. Under her, the very existence of community is taken for granted, and instead of rebuilding the American community (the very thing it so badly needs right now), her primary concern is how she is destined to lead it. All rigid structure, no creativity. I resent the gross oversimplification of the theory that humans ‘bond’ and form communities through the anonymous administrative machinery that the Hillary-text embodies. It is misleading to believe that a human community forms through shared knowledge, religion, history, custums, experience, laws, or political institutions. Rather, (and this is probably me remembering Benedict Anderson from Diego’s class completely wrong), community is constructed through language.

In contrast, the ‘Obama-text’ does not give way to such an easily transferable meaning (despite his best efforts at times to reduce himself as such). Instead, what everyone keeps noting about Obama is his plurality, his fragmentary nature, and I’m not just referring to his race (though it’s an appropriate visual metaphor for multiplicity, no?) Obviously the ‘Obama-text’ is problematic and is not by any means a perfect work of art a la Kafka: his “yes we can!” is an attempt to communicate a simple meaning, and yeah, all his talk about being able to “unify” and so on, that can be understood as indicative of him trying to reduce himself into the simple category of “the uniter”, appropriately matching the discourse about Hilary as “the divider.” Unfortunately, when most people ‘read’ (I use the word ‘read’ interchangeably with ‘interpret’, and in this case I mean both books AND politicians), this is the kind of meaning they expect to find: something easily summed up in a sentence, a phrase, or better yet, a single word; the faster, the better. We watch TV, listen to political commentary on the radio, skim the most e-mailed articles of the NY Times, and go to bed with a feeling of fat lazy contentment, without any action actually taking place. Sure, we might remember some facts later (remembering the ransacking of cultural artifacts in Iraq? Or how the purpose of the war was liberating the Iraquis from Saddam Hussein, oops, I mean WMDS?), but these events no longer communicate any real meaning to us. Blanchot writes, “There should be interesting events and even important events, and yet nothing should take place that would disturb us: such is the philosophy of any established power, and, in an underhanded way, of any cultural service.” w.o.r.d. This attempt to erase the meaning of our experiences is the biggest danger to the formation of genuine communities.

That was a long digression, but it was also a build-up. Americans, I am sorry to say, do not want to see a politician who is self-reflective or self-critical. Fortunately, it is not these qualities that will make him president, irregardless of how I admire them. My sister has said it before and I’ll say it here now: in Obama you can find the essence of human community, not just in the way that he represents different races, countries or cultures. To start off, he’s good in the way that all good books are good: on a very simple, primal level, the words of the “Obama-text” are a pure pleasure to read. They’re well-written! They’re coherent! They’re good. At one point in one of his essays Blanchot speaks as a language that is spoken by no one, the ‘murmur of the incessant and the interminable’, citing Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable,, a beautiful passage I will quote in full (as Blanchot did):

“The words are everywhere, inside me, outside of me… I hear them, no need to hear them, no need of a head, impossible to stop them, impossible to stop. I’m in words, made of words, others’ words, what others… the whole world is here with me, I’m in the air, the walls, the walled-in one, everything yields, opens, ebbs, flows, like flakes. I’m all these flakes, meeting, mingling, falling asunder, wherever I go I find me, leave me, go towards me, come from me, nothing ever but me, a particle of me, retrieved, lost, gone astray, I’m all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their setting, no sky for their dispersing, coming together to say, feeling one another to say, that I am they, all of them, those that merge, those that part, those that never meet…”

This may sound silly, but this image of language as murmuring and rustling makes me think of youtube and facebook, even blogging itself. It makes me think of the folks chopping up the words of Obama’s speeches to make music videos out of them. On a purely sensory level, it makes me think of voices coming together. This is undoubtedly overtly complimentary (sorry Beckett), but I’m even reminded of Obama himself. Reading Obama’s speech on race, it’s tempting to think that the ‘narrative voice’ emerging in the speech is the voice of the speaker, the voice of the individual Barack Hussein Obama, and undoubtedly there are some sorts where the presence of this voice seems very real indeed (his personal anecdotes and heightened degree of self-awareness help, especially in his comments about how he cannot disown the Reverend completely). It is for this quality that I liked the speech, because it reminded me of literature. It reminded me of literature because it expressed language in its own singular way–not in a groundbreaking, innovative sense, but in the way that the main thing the speech speaks of is that of a particular individual speaking. It is the singularity of Obama as an individual that shines through that speech, and through his campain in general, and that, I think, is what is truly hitting a nerve with people, rather than the exact details of his policy plans.

Unfortunately for him, Obama is not a literary text, but rather a man (and a politician, at that!), and thus is obliged to impart certain moral and political messages to please the soundbyte makers. I am realistic in my acknowledgement that Obama cannot subvert this deemand, that to a certain extent the “Obama-text” must be compromised by wishing to “teach” voters what he “stands” for. Books that deliver clear political messages and morals are just plain bad, but that’s just what you gotta do in politics, and ironically enough it’s the main thing that people are going to criticize him for when they view him as the boxed-in message he’s forced to give due to the nature of the game.

However, despite this inevitability, there is a displacement and elusivity about Obama that differentiates him from Hilary. For Obama, communication (the relation that characterizes the community) is not the exchange of information. For Hillary, communication is a tool for the externalization and preservation of Hillary-thought. It is the expression of the potent subjectivity that is the brand name of the CLINTONS and the 90’s and all that disgusting, comfortably familiar nostalgia people find appealing. Obama’s communication, and hence his conception and formation, is different. I think this is reflected in the way Obama’s speeches have been dissipated and disperesed throughout the Internet with a fever that neither Hilary nor any politician (since Kennedy, if I am to believe my father!) has been able to inspire. This is the reason why I think Obama is more literary than Hillary: at the same time that the “Obama-text” presents an idea, he also very much embodies absence. Ironically and interestingly enough, by hinting at exteriority, at inaccesibility, Obama seems more inviting. There is an empty space there that people can place themselves and their own stories (there are no empty spaces in the Hillary book; everything is indexed, cited and cross-referenced). In Obama, I find the kind of quality which I refer to so much throughout my thesis as something ‘unsayable,’ something opaque, mysteriously thick and dense, like cake batter. There’s “just something about him” that people find appealing, something that people can’t appropriately put into words without falling prety to the discourse of celebrity worship (the primary “I-like-Obama” discourse that the media exposes to people). He comes from a position of narrative, rather than knowledge. It is a language that is not governed by its subject; it is language that is aware that it is language. It is a language that speaks of a community that is fully aware and reflective of what makes a community of human beings possible in the first place, as opposed to taking the human community for granted. He wants to ‘rewrite’ the story of the American people. He wants to give money to college students and make them volunteer, encourage parents to turn of their TVs and read poetry to their children. It is a very strange and exciting voice. It feels as though it is coming from outside this world. It makes some people uncomfortable, even if it is only faintly discerned and it is not clear to them what precisely is making them uncomfrotable. It may even cost him the election (the nomination, even–we’re not there yet!). Still, it is a voice that I am glad to have heard during my lifetime, especially in an arena as unexpected as politics.

This turned out way to long.

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refeshingly depression

I highly recommend watching this video. I almost never follow the news, let alone on Iraq. I guess lately I’ve been looking for distraction on my thesis, but what I have been finding instead is perspective.

There’s something really cathartic about hearing these words spoken on a screen (if only my tiny glowing blue computer):

“The Americans in Iraq are like a virus, like a disease. And for us we need to get rid of the Americans, because the Americans just don`t know what they`re doing.”

and

“it’s a crime after five years that electricity is not back to prewar levels, because Saddam Hussein, who was a dictator I detested, was able to have electricity back in 45 days. So, why is the United States not having achieved that in five years? It’s not just miscalculations. The priority was, you know, to make sure that the oil flows. Sorry, but that is true. The only sector that`s working well right now is the oil sector. It`s not the schools, not the hospitals, not the reconstruction. The oil sector is working.

What a mess. It’s telling that this makes me think of my thesis, specifically the relationship between truth and fiction. I was reading excerpts from Ricardo Piglia’s “Critica y Ficcion” today. He’s an Argentine writer and was my advisor’s advisor at Princeton, and has provided me with a good quote on the relationship between truth and fiction:

“Me interesa trabajar esa zona indeterminada donde se cruzan la ficción y la verdad. Antes que nada porque no hay un campo propio de la ficción. De hecho, todo se puede ficcionalizar. La ficción trabaja con creencia y en este sentido conduce a la ideologia, a los modelos convencionales de realidad y por supuesto también a las convenciones que hacen verdadero (o ficticio) a un texto. La realidad está tejido de ficciones.

Reality is woven out of fictions. Hmm.

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Filed under perspective, piglia, politics, truth

obama-ed

I’ve guess I’ve officially become an Obama supporter, in the sense that I’ve gone so far to donate $10 to his campaign. How did this happen? I’m not really sure. I read a quote from him on a NYTimes blog that I liked: “I think it would be a problem if Senator Clinton’s voters disliked me or my voters disliked Senator Clinton [but] I don’t think that’s the case. I think our voters are passionate about bringing about change. My sister keeps asking me, a fervent Obama supporter herself (she went to a rally in Conneticut; you can see her photos here: (http://goodtimes.webshots.com/album/562385124SwFVbz) Part of me wonders if I’m just as much of a bandwagon jumper in politics as I am in sports (ver since the Lakers acquired Paul Gasoul and suddenly looked championship caliber again, my interest has suddenly resparked). I didn’t expect Obama to get this far, but since he has, he’s definitely looking better than Clinton. I’m suspicious and cynical about politicians in general, but as far as these things go, Clinton is definitely more of a politician than Obama, in the worst possible sense.

In other news, things are stressful. I vacillate thinking I’m totally screwed with my thesis and that I’m never going to finish it, verses being absolutely giddy and convinced that I’m a total genius. I am rarely in between, and quite frankly it’s getting exhausting! I’m working in the Catholic Charities immigration office this semester, which I’ve really enjoyed so far, but I had to flake out on going there this afternoon for the second week in a row just because I’m so far behind on thesis work that I’m absolutely panicked about meeting with my adviser with what I feel is very little to show him. Part of this comes from being mildly depressed for the past week and a half, whether from the always gray weather or having the flu or general ennui, I’m not sure. But anyway, I keep forgetting (and then relearning!) that the best way to conquer malaise or writer’s block is to simply get out and do things! I’m at my best, mentally and emotionally, when I’m buzzing around like a little bee, going with grim determination from one appointment or assignment to the next. When I don’t have clear deadlines or goals, I waver. I get bogged down and overwhelmed, like I’m walked through a swamp and my boots get so much mud attached to them I get stuck in a slurpy mess. Onwards and upwards, then.

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Filed under politics, stress, thesis