Clamor and Roar

It is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort
Gaza is not the most beautiful city. Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities. Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin. Gaza is not the richest city. It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland Because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies. Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort, Because it is his nightmare, Because it is mined oranges, children without a childhood, old men without old age, And women without desires, Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us And the one most worthy of love... — Mahmoud Darwish, excerpt from 'Silence for Gaza' Read More...

Technicolor Tehran

Every news feed item and broadcast want you to forget about the life and activity teeming there.
Beyond purely instinctual attraction, at least two things draw me to street art. The first is that despite international crossings of artists, motifs, and even movements since at least the early 1980s, graphic representations still retain cultural specificity. The all-purpose term visual culture can flatten the differences between what pixacão on buildings in São Paulo signifies versus the constant overlay of work on a single, ever-changing wall in Central Square. Street art inherently demands a comparative perspective. The second is the unfixed, non-predetermined, and non-universalist meanings attached to that activity. Your predispositions are unmoored in a serious way. To give an example of what I mean: when street art in Tehran was taken up as a topic here before, it was in a personal/familial (even anguished) way: graffiti deployed in opposition (and later, punishment) rather than beautification. My uncle's prison sentence after spraying anti-IRI graffiti as a teenager was an entryway… Read More...

The Vastness of the Self in Unpeopled Exile

Anyone staring at my face framed in the little window at that moment would have glimpsed a man filled with shadows of an absent presence. Amidst old Europe one is awash in the idea of America as a new fatherland.
A letter by Henry James to his mother, five months before ending his European travels and moving back to the United States. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional. Siena, Villa Scacciapensieri November 23rd, 1869 My darling Mother, You last heard from me from Firenze and tho' I had not mentioned it at the time I was keen on submitting myself to another train, another town, ripe with Italian memories for the picking. Here I am. The scent of yellow roses wafting around to my small table, carefully ensconced behind a walled garden of ivy, is auspicious. The villa’s owners have hired a gardener to sculpt a large-sized topiary. They asked me—I should only guess they asked me because scarcely any other guests leave their rooms for breakfast—what animal shape it might take. It was a very good thing to be asked,… Read More...

Five Questions with Michael Davidson

When I was younger I took the body for granted; it was just “there” and would always supply the same predictable access to the world. Because it was eternal, it could be abused more generously.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with Michael Davidson, poet, critic, literature professor, and editor of George Oppen's collected works. I read a blurb written by Davidson on the back cover of a poetry volume recently, and it distracted me (in the best sense) from the book itself. He has argued, in lengthy essays and in the book Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body (University of Michigan Press, 2008), for a poetics and politics of disability that 'defamiliarizes not only language but the body normalized within language.' Such a move would go beyond an interest in depictions or themes of disability (Davidson is himself hearing impaired) and 'dependence on ableist models.' It might ask, as Davidson does, 'What would it mean to think of Charles Olson’s “breath” line as coming from… Read More...

Pronunciation as Death Sentence

It was called the Parsley Massacre because the Dominican border guards would conduct a linguistic test of all dark-skinned people to see who was Haitian, asking the people to pronounce the word perejil (Spanish for parsley).
shibboleth |? sh ib?li?; -?le ?| noun. a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people. ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Hebrew ????? šibb?let ‘ear of corn,’ used as a test of nationality by its difficult pronunciation. (From 'The Shibboleth Incident,' Judges 12:6, King James Bible: 'Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.') ?   ?   ? 'Over a five-day period, as many 20,000 Haitians were horrifically massacred by Dominican soldiers and civilians wielding machetes, bayonets and rifles. It was called the Parsley Massacre because the Dominican border guards would conduct a linguistic test of all dark-skinned people to see who was Haitian—they would… Read More...

Hot or Not?

In the dominant U.S. political establishment prioritizing 'foreign' or global policy over domestic concerns is nearly sacrilegious, and that is a main reason why executive privilege on climate treaties gets buried or resurrected as political expediency allows.
1. It seems impossible to carry on as if a hybrid super-storm didn’t just shoot upward from the southern Caribbean across the eastern U.S. seaboard. Save for the damaged trees and blown-up transformers in my neighborhood, the mild weather today bequeaths an unsettled and uncomfortable sense of closure. Since 'only' half a million Massachusetts residents lost power and much of the state appears to have dodged the veritable bullet, most people around me have kept on carrying on. The common experience of going through a weather-related emergency with millions of other people heightens its exceptionalism. It’s an important and necessary pause button on social priorities. I’ve found it difficult to focus on much else, and not for lack of trying (in the immortally sung words of Dusty Springfield, 'I just don't know what to do with myself. Don't know just… Read More...

Infinite Jestice

He had a bad dad, or the Dr. Seuss economy of death.
The Disposition Matrix Yesterday witnessed arguably the most substantial journalistic investigation into the Obama administration's secret 'kill list' program since the May 2012 New York Times article that broke the story (written with the cooperation of the White House). The first of Greg Miller's three-part Washington Post inquiry into the 'kill list' program reveals that not only does President Obama's drone strategy ascribe to itself the interminable and indefinite frontier of George W. Bush's global 'War on Terror,' it does so by centralizing a 'single, continually evolving database' where the metrics of targets in multiple geographies are catalogued wholesale. Targeted killing operations that were once viewed as extraordinary or emergency measures by the government's own legal and political advocates have become so commonplace that their 'efficacy' depends merely on streamlining them. If the baseball-card calculus of kill/capture lists on 'Terror Tuesdays' seemed horrifying… Read More...

Biopolitical Exclusion Starts with a Hug

Where class itself becomes a scientifically-legitimated predictor for social pathologies, it can also become a variable to deny these underclass subjects opportunity to that world.
The following is a guest post by Elliott Prasse-Freeman. A group of people from poor backgrounds are found less likely to smoothly interface with the bourgeois world, a lack of interface which could be responsible both for their objective ailments (rise in heart attack) and social problems ("tangles with the law"). Instead of ascribing this to poverty, a lack of experience with symbolic repertories that would allow them to navigate the bourgeois world, and/or concomitant social alienation and suffering that attends both such poverty and social exclusion, Nicholas Kristof in two columns from this year (January and this weekend), presents a ‘scientific’ (read: more real) solution—something called "Toxic Shock Syndrome"—as the variable explaining lagging outcome indicators for children of this demographic. This research, extrapolated from work done on lab rats, presents the underclass body as pathologized due to improper nurturing contact… Read More...

Forging North-South (Neck)Ties

In 1978 American artist Jeffrey Vallance sent one of his ties to dozens of government leaders with the request that they send back one of their own. By 1979, at least 47 had complied (though Pope John Paul II opted to send back a medal and an autographed picture).
'In the late 1970s members of the US press metonymized Iran's hardliners as turbans and its moderates as neckties.' —Necktie  Western fashion is rarely subject to the same scrutiny as non-Western fashion garb. Rare, too, is the invitation to closely inspect men's fashion as an exhibitor of cultural values, masculine authority, and significantly, capitalism. (If you are a non-American/non-European woman, the chances that your habit will be cause for public and also political consternation is the equivalent of three cherries clocking in unison at a slot machine.) That's why the correspondences pictured above are a delightfully surprising find. In 1978 American artist Jeffrey Vallance sent one of his ties to dozens of government leaders with the request that they send back one of their own, as 'a token of friendship and as a symbol of the cultural ties between our nations.' By 1979, at least 47… Read More...

Pharynx Folie

In my foggy and feverish mental transportations I started wondering about the existence of my own mug shot.
After several days of enduring a solid, nagging throat ache, I took a one-day vow of bed rest. Though I found myself going in an out of lucidity, with shivering, body aches, and all the other concomittant symptoms of acute coryza (a.k.a. the common cold) I availed myself of no drug harsher than a 200-milligram ibuprofen every few hours. And I found that I couldn't speak: every careful attempt at forming a sentence ended in vacuum-filled gasp and a look from interlocutors that mixed pity, concern, and amusement. Why the illness had lodged itself so resolutely in my pharynx was not immediately clear; the medical doctor I consulted after not being able to swallow anything but liquids for those two days took a strep throat test (negative) and handed me a 'Cold/Viral Illness' FAQ that a friend pointed out was… Read More...

Deeper Than Rap: Black Bar Mitzvahs and the New Rick Ross

A black music magnate pops out from a Star of David in an image that seems to slap Al Jolson across the face while simultaneously high-fiving him.
The following is a guest post by Jack Hamilton. Earlier this week the prolific Miami-based rapper Rick Ross released his latest mixtape, pictured above. From a purely musical standpoint it’s pretty good in the way that a lot of Rick Ross’ stuff is good: lively, consistent, generally bereft of risk. But evaluating anything Rick Ross does from “a purely musical standpoint” is a little like evaluating Star Wars based on Chewbacca’s acting technique: Rick Ross isn’t so much a musician as a constellation of interconnected ideas, an concept album in human form. And when that concept album suddenly boasts the title The Black Bar Mitzvah and a cover that scans like Choose Your Own Adventure: Overdetermined Signifier, well, it’s best to begin from the beginning. Rick Ross (pronounced RICK RO$$) was born William Leonard Roberts, taking his professional handle from… Read More...

Little Yellow Boy Giant, Terrorist

The seen and unseen controversy surrounding the Os Gêmeos mural in Boston.
Boston is a city perennially self-conscious about public art. A recent Boston Phoenix cover story examined why so many young artists leave a city ranked in the Top 10 for national arts funding. When it comes to large-scale works in the public domain the city tends to favor exogenous creations rather than home-grown communities that shape or foster artistic breakthroughs. The accusation that the city is risk-averse and WASP-y descends from an 'age-old attitude central to the very culture of Boston itself: a city where philanthropy as historically been dedicated to institutions and fine art, rather than to visual art and artists that push boundaries.'¹  The most publicly discussed art work to happen to the city this year, or at least as long as anyone can remember, is 'The Giant of Boston' by Os Gêmeos. Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo are Brazilian brothers… Read More...

Five Questions with CAConrad

The top five regrets of the dying will either crush your soul because you recognize yourself in the list, or will make you smile that you’re free and clear.
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet CAConrad. If you are dejected or confused or depressed about the place of art in the age of mass technological fuckitallwithery you might consider reading Conrad, who bursts in on that debate from the bitterly frigid outdoors with a warm gust of joyousness, righteous anger, and hard-won self-possession. His poetry is an outstretched hand with a note scribbled inside that says, Art makes the world go 'round. For Conrad, an active questioning of where art comes from and the interpellation of the writer/reader/listener within that enterprise is at the center of things. He shows you the physio-psychological labor behind that work by exposing carefully prepared 'somatic exercises' of which he is a creator and participant—as far as 'teaching' writing goes, it's an egalitarian performance. In… Read More...

My Two Dads

Every few years we get to play a part in choosing the national Daddy.
Every few years we get to play a part in choosing the national Daddy. I see your Tiger mom and raise you an Eagle dad. _____ I've held several jobs considered menial or 'jobby-jobs' but one I have never chosen and would never be able to choose is sewing flags. To thread non-wearable fabric in primary colors would give me nightmares of being BLED THROUGH with them. _____ They hate us because we use money from China to pay for a children's program featuring a giant bird. We have failed in being nuanced and cautious about how we pay for the televisual sighting of our national birds. _____ It is dishonest to call U.S. elections U.S. elections. They are by default world elections. They collapse the concept of 'at home' and 'abroad' in ways that have not even begun to… Read More...

Five Questions with Juliana Spahr

The forum: 'The bedroom, the kitchen, the garden, the oasis, the well, the beach, the forest, the clearing.'
Five Questions with __________ is an experiment with flash interviews. The series on poets continues with poet, essayist, editor, professor, and political activist Juliana Spahr. Have you read her essay 'Metromania: Poetry, Academy, Anarchy'? (I searched high and low for it—at least two library archives carrying the journal in which it appeared skipped that publication year, and I surreptitiously started to give this omission greater meaning—so she has generously allowed me to set it free.) Published twelve years ago, 'Metromania' reflected on the institutionalized American literary establishment, the nature of creation and the larger social fabric, and financial subsidization (or lack thereof). It is as relevant as ever. To see just how relevant, I refer the reader to two places: (1) Spahr and Joshua Clover's jointly-written 'A Job Letter to the Poetry Foundation' (May 2012) nominating themselves for the organization's presidency on the grounds… Read More...

Repetition Without Difference

The mediocrity-machine: what’s “stealing” from another when the game is to produce tripe, churn it out, and witness it flowing out of one mouth or another?
The following is a guest post by Elliott Prasse-Freeman. The meteoric rise of comedian Louis CK’s show Louie reached its zenith during the infamous Dane Cook episode, in which the ostensibly-fictional narrative addresses a real feud: Cook’s alleged theft of CK’s jokes. The viewer can only suspect what kind of wrangling went on in the writing of the scene in which they confront each other, but it produces a remarkable economy of fame: in exchange for accepting that Cook did not intentionally steal CK’s jokes, CK gets to effectively destroy Cook as a comic: You’re like a machine of success, you’re like a rocket, you’re rocketing to the stars, and things are getting sucked up in your engines, like birds, and bugs, and some of my jokes. I think you saw me do them, I know you saw me do them, and I… Read More...