Wednesday, February 8, 2017
The little boy in this picture is my maternal grandfather. (I wrote about him a while back in Still.) He was born in 1906. His older sister here was born in 1905, and the baby entered the world in June 1908, so judging from their apparent ages, the photo was most likely taken in the late summer or early fall of 1909. William Howard Taft was sworn in as President that year. Joan of Arc was beatified and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as BP) was incorporated. Nelson Algren and Eudora Welty were born. Geronimo died, and so did vile Leopold II. And speaking of vile things, if you'd like to see a reminder of the deep roots of our present crisis, check out Taft's inaugural address. It's all there. Pay special attention to the remarks about immigrants and voting rights. Taft lacked 45's flare for the apocalyptic and was much better at doublespeak, but they share some favorite themes.
I hide myself behind simple objects so you may find me,
if you do not find me, you will find the objects,
you will touch those objects my hand has touched
the traces of our hands will mingle.
~ From "The Meaning of Simplicity" by Yannis Ritsos, who was born in 1909. See the rest of this translation by Rae Dalven at Poetry Foundation.
Monday, February 6, 2017
I volunteered to participate in one of those Facebook art memes, and my good friend Jennifer (an awesome fiddler) assigned me the work of Paolo Uccello. I dutifully spent part of my afternoon googling around for a suitable choice from his oeuvre, but for some reason I just wasn't feeling it. Late Gothic portraits and religious subjects do not speak to my present mood.
But I kept googling and—after dipping briefly into many wonderful rabbit holes—was rewarded with the image above: Lady Godiva by Remedios Varo, 1959. It really hits the spot, and no wonder. Our girl looks exceptionally badass, riding along on her own hair, breasts on full display, making like Diogenes with that lamp perched in front of her. There's not an honest man in sight, but notice that Peeping Tom is lurking in the window. I'm not sure what that fish is doing down there at her feet. Perhaps it's a bit of Christian symbolism, along with the cross LG is holding. And the crescent-moon morphing of her face? Your guess is as good as mine. But all interpretation aside, Varo's Lady speaks to me in all her ferocious, vulnerable, sexually-charged weirdness. She's an ideal woman for this menacing, surreal time.
*Read about Remedios Varo here, and reacquaint yourself with the legend of Lady Godiva here.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
Political movements worthy of the name are invariably messy and burdened by conflict. There’s never been one yet that didn’t have to grapple with serious ethical, tactical, and ideological disputes. Internal argument is part of the process. Try to keep that in mind when you see people doing or saying stuff that strikes you as wrongheaded or counterproductive. Unity isn’t everything, and perfect unity isn’t possible. Speak up, but resist the urge to attack allies or accuse them of bad faith. Likewise, don’t take disagreement personally. We are all on the same side, at least in this cause. Forest, trees, etc.
That said, agents provocateurs and appeals to extremism are real concerns for any political movement, and it’s important to be wary of them. You can certainly justify breaking a bad law, but rhetoric that encourages unethical or malicious behavior in the name of a higher good is suspect, always. Gut check everything.
Don't let the Creep or his apologists silence you by saying one of his outrages is “just temporary.” Softening resistance to repressive edicts by claiming they’re temporary is one of the oldest tricks in the authoritarian handbook. Egypt declared a state of emergency after Sadat’s assassination in 1981, legalizing censorship and indefinite detention, among other things. That state of emergency remained in effect for 31 years. Closer to home, the most intrusive and controversial elements of the Patriot Act were originally supposed to expire in 2005, but they were first reauthorized under Bush the Younger and then replaced in modified form in the Freedom Act, with the support of President Obama. Nothing is more permanent than the temporary, as the poet said.
Never forget the humanity of the ordinary people on the other side. This is the hardest task. There are no monsters. Demonizing fellow citizens is a good way to win battles while losing the war.
Femme écrivant, Ferdinand Lepcke (1866-1909)
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
You poor malign narcissist
I fear you and pity you
I am determined to escape you
I cannot allow you to destroy
my sanity, my career, my
capacity of service, my decency
I am in control
I control myself
I am in control of the situation
I will avoid you tomorrow—
somehow, or resist you
or slip away from you
you are dangerous, destructive
vindictive, mean, cruel,
cunning and wholly solipsistic
inhabiting a false private
narcissistic world, destructive
of this real world of me.
~ An undated, untitled poem* by Dennis Brutus, a South African poet who was imprisoned and banned from publishing because of his anti-apartheid activities. He came to the U.S. in 1970 and was granted asylum as a political refugee after he successfully fought an attempt by the Reagan administration to deport him.
* This poem can be found in Poetry and Human Rights: Poems by Dennis Brutus, a collection gathered from his papers at Worcester State University in Massachusetts. Since Brutus died in 2009, the malign narcissist in question is not our current Creep-in-Chief. I like to think it's the Gipper, but the possibilities, of course, are endless.
Photo from South African History Online.