December 24, 2009


A small island in the Solomon Sea east of Papua New Guinea. Discovered, isolated, embattled in World War II and then torn up again in a 1990s secessionist war. Behind Lloyd Jones Man Booker Prize winning novel, Mr. Pip, is that island of Bougainville.

In Jon Lewis's images, the faces of the inhabitants seem far from the novelistic lessons that Jones suggests through the tale of Dickens' 19th-century Pip; lessons of coming to be morally cognizant, of coming to bear the responsibility of (human) rights. The idea that such ideal inscriptions might so nimbly take root in the soul, and that the price for articulating the moral ideals presented in this literacy project is a savaging of the human body, is a familiar story in the era of human rights. Such hopes, of course, have little to do with the brute inheritances of that island, becoming yet another veil of a worn language that shrouds its actual wars and their aftermath.

December 12, 2009

Resisting the Call

When the Stoics counsel removal from radical investment it is is easy to feel the intimate bonds of family and love being dissolved by the rational.

There are, however, moments when claims made for the sake of the Other rekindle that the Stoic call for the chilling of the passions: the charioteer harnessing a horse gone wild with circumstance.

From last month's Haaretz:

"Just weeks after the arrest of alleged Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank rabbi on Monday released a book giving Jews permission to kill Gentiles who threaten Israel.

Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, who heads the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement, wrote in his book "The King's Torah" that even babies and children can be killed if they pose a threat to the nation.

Shapiro based the majority of his teachings on passages quoted from the Bible, to which he adds his opinions and beliefs.

"It is permissable to kill the Righteous among Nations even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation," he wrote, adding: "If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments - because we care about the commandments - there is nothing wrong with the murder."

Several prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Yithak Ginzburg and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, have recommended the book to their students and followers."
That is not what New York Times columnist David Brooks had in mind when he also wrote last month, with his signature style of accusation and peculiar sense of measure ("most" and "fringe"):
Most people select stories that lead toward cooperation and goodness. But over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged.
That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.
This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics.
Stories enter the imagination and shape perceptions of the world, some selected and cultivated others not. There are some used as shield and others that invade like festering cancers. Both kinds can shape the readings of representations, are shared, repeated and repeated and repeated, whether in extractions from ancient texts or the rancid circulations of the myth of The Protocols, each distilled into a "blood-dimmed tide" where the "worst / Are full of passionate intensity." The only call that makes sense is the calming lure of reflection unburdened, thought apart from the Righteous.

December 6, 2009

Piece and Piece Perceived

piece and piece
piece and piece
moving still trippingly through
through the morningmist

long after the engine
has fought by

and disappeared

in silence
to the left
--William Carlos Williams, The Descent of Winter

Lithographs: Louis Lozowick

December 3, 2009

More Drones of History

Standing in front of the cadets in gray, his head shifting back and forth with such rapidity and practiced cadence that it was as if he were man trying to escape his own skin, and therefore at times almost impossible to watch, the President announced what had been expected: there would play out the myth of leadership, control, liberation, and the completion of the right war, the just war.

More men and women would be sent. Not enough for anything but some slim tragedy, but enough of a symbol, so he must think, just enough of a symbol, to suggest that he is not an "architect of surrender."

At this time of year it is easy to imagine Afghanistan as a hellishly cold place. But there was little talk of the place as it is today. Instead there was the parade of grand abstractions that recalled Hemingway's famous passage about inflated in A Farewell to Arms, in which int he end the dead smell not of some grander purpose but like the unburied death rotting in the Chicago stockyards. Instead there was an argument about how to read history.

Obama's argument for the distinctions between Afghanistan and Vietnam only worked to drive home their similarities. With contractors and cadets instead of the drafted he is in part right about differences. But as he trafficked in a tired language of necessity and America's altruistic gift to the world, one could clearly hear Lyndon Johnson 's famous Minneapolis declaration to the farmers that the US seeks "no wider war."

There was not talk of austerity, though, only of an "honest" accounting of trillions.

And just under the surface, like the phantoms of Tonkin, there seemed to be the message that there is always at the ready

and the necessity of plunging headlong into destabilization by the compelling force of history.