essay

Theodicy

Theodicy

The only genuine theosophy is one wherein participants contribute toward the upgrading of three creature world so that it more closely approximates   a world where no theodicy is necessary. The only genuine theodicy is one wherein one creates out of our “best of all possibility worlds" an even better world. 

Cries and Whispers

Cries and Whispers

In light of the month-long centennial retrospective of Ingmar Bergman’s films at Film Forum, I am excited to share a piece I wrote as an undergraduate on Cries and Whispers as seen through a prism of Feminist Literary Theory.

The Past reviewed by Donna Honarpisheh

A Review of Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Oscar Nominated Film: The Past (Gozashte/Le Passé)

Released: 19 June, 2013 in Iran.

Unlike his other films, set in Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s latest award winning film (Cannes, The Prize of Ecumenical Jury), Le Passé (The Past) is set in Paris and almost entirely spoken in French. In talking about whether The Past is representative of Iranian cinema, Farhadi explains that the geography of his film does not change who he is as an Iranian filmmaker. This sentiment proves true as The Past maintains many of the stylistic and thematic elements developed in his previous films. Those familiar with Farhadi’s works know that the Past, even though it is not entirely in Persian, is a part of a continued story we have followed with the films: Chaharshanbe Soori, About Ely, A Separation, and now The Past. The filmmaker continues examining the powerful themes of family, divorce, and migration.

When The Past opens, we see a couple communicating through thick glass at the airport. They can’t see each other but they understand the gist of what the other is saying through mouthed words and gestures. However, as in most Farhadi films, the immovable piece of glass serves as an object that prevents them from fully understanding one another. This beginning sequence sets the tone for a series of misunderstandings, hidden feelings, and a “dark secret” that will unravel as the plot unfolds.

Farhadi creates a narrative about the past entirely set in the present. Without obvious flashbacks or even a glimpse into the incident that causes the drama we watch unravel, we enter the lives of four individuals in turmoil. It begins when, after four years of separation and living in Iran, Ahmad (Ali Mostafa) returns from Tehran to Paris to finalize divorce papers with his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) so that she can ostensibly move on and marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), a father with a comatose wife. What appears to be a new beginning actually exposes various elements from the past that weigh heavily on each character.

Marie, at the center of the drama, has been involved with three men in her lifetime. Her family dynamic is a constant reminder of these failed experiences. Marie’s eldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) beautifully expresses deep rebellion towards her mother’s life choices, while coldheartedly rejecting Samir. Ahmad comes to realize that this hostility isn’t simply a rejection of a new family member. It originates in an event before Samir’s wife had fallen into her coma, in the midst of her mother’s affair. Lucie alludes to the cause of Samir’s wife’s suicide attempt, but until the very end we remain unsure of what happened and in what order. Like Farhadi’s last masterpiece, we keep returning to the same seemingly tiny event, but unlike ‘A Separation,’ the event is off-screen and its consequences ripple in the opposite direction, eventually leading up to the final scene. Ahmad, ignorant of the “drama,” finds himself entrapped into the position of moderator. He looks straight into the camera and asks Marie: “Why did you bring me here, now, in the middle of all this drama?” Thus begins a heavy film with not a moment of serenity for its viewers as it ruthlessly untangles each character, forcing them to reveal their true selves.

the past

As soon as Ahmad arrives, we see that he too has lingering threads from his departure four years ago. The more involved Ahmad gets with his past family, the more we see that not only the camera, but the characters are drawn to him. The scene in which he cooks ghormeh sabzi (a traditional Persian dish) for his former stepdaughters, Lucie and Lea (Jeanne Jestin) feels almost too comfortable. It recalls another scene from the past. Again, as Ahmad digs into his suitcase in the garage, we are reminded of a past life with a photograph of the former couple, still curious about what tore them apart. The more Ahmad is invited into the day-to-day life of Marie and her new family, the more we feel Samir falling out of the picture. At one point Marie asks Samir: “Why are you here?” He responds: “What do you mean? Does someone have a problem with me being here?” This direct confrontation further establishes the characters’ disconnect with Samir. But this trajectory would be far too simple. Farhadi shows empathy for his characters, regardless of their actions. Even Samir’s character, that seems somewhat neglected by the camera opens up later in the film. Scene after scene we become more wrapped in what seems to be a complex whirlwind of relationships, lies, and truths rooted in the past.

In the final scene of the film, Farhadi makes a sudden turn and brings us to the hospital room where Samir’s wife lies in a coma. She is an underdeveloped piece in the mosaic of lies, arguments, and failed marriages that Farhadi has intricately put together. It is through Farhadi’s attempt to bring us closer to the couple whose issues remain unattended for most of the film (Samir and his wife), that we fully comprehend his ability to make every moment of life critical. These final moments, among others, shine with subtext. Humanity shows itself as each character grapples with his or her own personal plight, and nostalgia overflows their minds and memories. The film is a series of authentic moments with authentic people that allows us to sense the discrepancy between action and identity. Farhadi trusts his audience. Rather than explaining the lattice of emotions between characters, he allows us to sense them. There are whole worlds of feelings that linger between his characters’ lies, confessions, and even in silences.

 

The Past opens in select US theaters on December 20th, 2013.

Reviewed by: Donna Honarpisheh

Donna had the opportunity to view The Past in Tehran’s Cinema Mellat.

 

CRUCIFICTION

    by

    Bonny Finberg

    While the bombs fell between the 20th and 21st of April 1944, people prayed at the feet of the Crucifixion at Sacre Coeur. Montmartre was spared. I can’t help but feel it was their collective prayer that saved them rather than the stilled heart of a dead man, as full of grace as he might have been. There was no one then to pray for his salvation. He was betrayed. No one saw it coming.

I followed the Stations of the Cross, its brilliant mosaic transforming what must have been a messy business into a spectacle for the eyes. From the gleaming dome above, Le Seigneur, all cleaned up and risen from the tomb, bestows his blessing, substantiating triumph over death.

Once a year his betrayal is re-enacted. We all know what’s going to happen but we can’t do anything to reverse it. We can elevate it to sacrifice, feel better about the comparatively small betrayals we commit. We are all Judas. Only Jesus is the savior. His message was simple: Save yourself. But a game of telephone was in operation, and the road to dogma is paved with competing intentions.

Did he really die for our sins, or was he merely being consistent? Here, you can own another’s pain without having to really suffer it. You can be protected and forgiven. All human misery is swept under the shade of an ancient oak whose acorn happened to fall on good soil. 

A martyr chooses death. Jesus’ Passion might have been an unfortunate political accident. Or else Judas helped to ensure He carried out his destiny. Most of us die for no reason. Insight might come early or not at all. We may live rich, complex lives that are woven into a larger, ongoing narrative. Or we may be easily forgotten. How many bibles have gone unwritten?

    *

    Asylum

    At the entrance, security guards scan the crowd. A man directs people to the side aisles or the pews, depending on whether they’re coming to pray or coming to look. He repeatedly puts his finger to his lips—sshhhh! They have lots to see and say. Some are in awe. Some are making arrangements for later when they’ll go for moules frites.  Scowling, he continues shushing, pointing to his head to remind them to remove their hats, shaking his finger at the one-eyed monsters to put their cameras away. He protects the Sacred Heart with the authority vested in him by the Holy Fathers who take his confession and hand him the Eucharist. The end is always near. You try to see it coming.

    *

    Passion

    I thought the services would start at 5:30, so I was seated in the second row by 5:25. But this is Good Friday not a routine Vespers service. After an hour, a nun in a white robe and black wimple walks out to the front of the apse and sets up a microphone. She moves like an actress playing a nun. Men in lab coats come out and place the sacred objects and texts. A short, plump woman in a white lab coat appears with a rag and feather duster and tidies up. They have a brief conversation and walk back behind the apse. A handyman walks on, front left, with keys and a tape measure hanging out of his pocket. He looks around and walks off, leaving behind an odor of lubricating oil.  Another half hour goes by. The pews are filling up.

    A Black priest in a white robe comes out. There is anticipation, especially in the first two rows, where those who came earliest have been sitting longest. But then, behind the priest is the cleaning woman again. They file off to the right. Some people are talking, others are praying. Some of the ones praying tell the ones who are talking to be quiet. An irritable exchange erupts between the two women next to me, who have been chattering away, and the woman behind, who chastises them. A woman many rows back is talking loudly. People are trying to quiet her. She becomes increasingly belligerent and it slowly becomes apparent that she is not in her right mind. A few people smile indulgently. Two nuns come out and hand out the texts for the mass. Another ten minutes pass. The nuns come out and take their seats on the sides and the noise subsides a little. Another twenty minutes pass.

    I read the whole four pages of the mass. My eyelids fall closed and I drift into a mild state of meditation. The woman next to me stands suddenly. I jump up from my seat, surprised at my own reflex and realize that, although I never thought it possible, I have been hypnotized.  The procession has begun.

    A cardinal and three priests are in front. One of the priests is old and feeble. All kneel down and prostrate themselves before the marble Crucifix. When they stand, the two on the outside pull the old one up by his elbows. He stumbles to his feet, a tuft of white hair sticking up from his head. The angelic voices of the nuns sing about the Royal Kingdom of Heaven. I sing along, following the printed text, in exalted French. The Passion is read by three priests. The cardinal speaks the words of Jesus in a deep, commanding voice. We all stand and the nuns sing, in crystalline harmony, the adoration of the Wooden Cross:

    Voici le bois de la Croix

    qui porte le Salut du monde,

    Venez, Adorons!

    Here is the wood of the Cross

    that carries the Salvation of the world,

    Come, let us adore it.

    The Wooden Cross, carved in olive wood, is carried from the back by a procession of robed men.  When they reach the apse they hold it vertically so the priests and altar boys can each in turn come forward to kiss it. After each kiss, a priest wipes the spot clean with a handkerchief. 

    Then the nuns line up. They kiss the naked Jesus all over his stretched out body, under his ribs, his armpit, his thighs, his hands, his feet. They know how much he suffered for them, how much he loves them. And they love him back. The priest swabs each kiss with his handkerchief.

    After this the pews empty into the aisles. The line is slow and as I come nearer my eyes are ineluctably drawn to the loincloth. I sense a nudge from the devil but head for the foot. The priest points to the blank surface of the cross, indicating where I must kiss it, shouting, “Le pied! Le pied!”—and I begin to think my eyes have betrayed me. Or the priest has read my mind. I am convinced he is able to see transgressions before they happen. I walk past his finger and put my lips to the exquisitely carved toe, the tendons strained in agonized submission.

    The nuns sing:

O Croix, buisson ardent de la Revelation,

Vigne au Sang vermeil, Olivier de benediction,

O Croix, bois d’ombre et defraicheur ou murmure L’Esprit, nous t’adorons!

O Cross, burning bush of the Revelation,

Vineyard of ruby Blood, Olive Tree of benediction,

O Cross, dark and faded wood where the Spirit whispers, we adore you.

    Words so holy even the metaphors are Capitalized.

    *

    Walking back from the church I notice signs hanging outside many apartment windows that read, Vendu. The word ‘vendu’ means ‘sold.’ It also means ‘traitor.’  This seems serendipitous. We find ourselves inhabiting a world where the structures we’ve trusted to protect us have betrayed us. Time and space have become commodities beyond our means—The weak may inherit the earth, but the traitors have the best real estate. So at least here, in Paris, you’re safe from traitors if you pay attention to the signs.

              © Bonny Finberg, 2005, Paris

Latino Torelli, painter

photo-1-25.jpg Recently, while visiting the Los Gatos Museum of Art, I came across the work of Latino Torelli, an Italian painter now residing in Oakland, Ca.. The museum in association with the Los Gatos Art Association produces the Annual Open Juried Show, an organization comprised of bay area artists, Torelli’s painting, “Alley by the Portal, Oakland”, caught my eye, tucked neatly as you please, in a downstairs corner of the museum’s gallery; not a large painting , 24” by 24” , but one reminiscent of De Kooning’s work with its loose abstract qualities, buttery soft pinks and beigey palette . In following up my intense interest of this relatively unknown painter’s work, I contacted Torelli to arrange a meeting. He was very accommodating and personable with a slight no nonsense edge. Not suffering fools easily, Torelli grilled me to see what I was about and then we got down to business.  Born in 1939 in Tuscany, Italy, Latino Torelli started painting in his teens. Influenced by his country’s rich heritage, Giotto, the 15th century painters and his aunt’s urging, at age 13 he tried his hand. Suggestable and not too involved with painting in his youth he went on to study geology and hydrology earning a PH.D from the University of Illinois in 1973. After working for a water resources company in Italy, Torelli did some sheep farming in Umbria, 20 years to be exact. Torelli resumed painting in 2002 after the death of his first wife, his daughter’s urging and a relocation to the US.

Latino Torelli received an award for “The Columbia River At the Bridge of I-97” in 2007 from LGAA and when interviewed by newsletter editor, Kevin Kasik, Torelli  answered with  “how do I respond to the juror’s (Marian Parmenter) calling me a serious painter? – I guess that’s the best part of it. I just think of myself as a guy who paints, not a painter. After this prize maybe they can call me a painter.”  Torelli, no different than any painter worth their weight in paint, states: “The only thing is it must be coherent, always coherent.” Torelli, an interesting combination of philosopher and scientist spouts Spinoza’s theory of intuitive knowledge: to see things sub specie aeternitatis. Torelli also likens painting to transubstantiation: “In painting, space, light and time are the holy trinity. In a given painting we can only address a particular configuration of this truth. But if we do it right we hint to its essence, Eternity.” 

Torelli tells me he paints quickly as he says he can only paint for 2 hours at a time; the tension is too much for him.   “When I’m done with that one, I never put my brush on it again. Never on a dry surface; only in the moment, wet into wet.” “I try to be as free of  intentions as I can in order to make a good painting. When your intent is to make a good painting you never do.”  Torelli uses a light effortless coat of paint, not much struggle.  At first glance the paintings appear to be thick, dense but on a closer look they have an almost transparent quality, veils. Torelli exhibits some of Matisse’s qualities of an unbroken line of ease especially in his rare figurative piece such as, “Soon’s Garden” from 2004. A charming painting of a friend with his signature creams, beiges and peachy pinks as in her jacket with black hair and pants for contrast. The whitish yellow surface where Soon sits in her little garden chair bring to mind Van Gogh’s lively brushstrokes. Torelli paints on masonite, all 24 “ by 24” for the no nonsense reason that that is the size of the masonite sheets when divided into 8 squares. Torelli states that in Italy the sheets are a little larger so his paintings are 28 “ by 28” there, but of course! He states that the square gives him the right ratio between height and depth. “I mostly paint from the tip of my feet”, he quips and  “rectangular paintings are rare, only for self portraits”. Torelli works out of his apartment in Oakland , Ca in a cramped space but then for an artist space is a state of mind. I witnessed his new body of work, which is an extreme departure from the landscapes. But Torelli informs me it is all of the same thing to him and done simultaneously in his search for unity, unity coming in different colors and styles. The new work being of a flat coverage of one color each with a small tilted square strategically placed. For Torelli this tiny square afloat on a bed of color represents mankind’s struggle with dualism and perhaps his own, linking his disparate styles and ideas or subject/object together and presenting them as one. Torelli has an ongoing wrestling match or should I say fascination with dualism. Sounds pretty Human, All Too Human, to me. Torelli suffers the pangs of guilt over yearning to show the body of his work in a retrospective and then he says he will ‘hang it up’; I hope he quashes those demons.

Torelli tells me he paints only on the spot and “Red 23rd” from 2003  “spoke to him of mortality”. A dilapidated piece of land between Potrero Hill and the S.F. bay; a whitish gray street atop an undercoat of pink, an oft used starting point for so many of Torelli’s paintings; stark whitish grey posts standing firmly atop the pink . The painting has a filled up luscious quality in spite of its bleak subject matter. 

Notable for me ,“Pine Trees at Albinia”, also from 2003; a forest of windblown trees with delicate bluish grey sky and one large pine tree in the foreground sitting atop a bank of creamy tan with dark brown overlaid every which way giving an energy to the scene; askew posts alongside  keeping the picture upright. Torelli adds a clear green to his beige palette in this one.     “ Painting is just being there. When you’re somewhere painting, what you see makes you live and you make live what you see. “   Latino Torelli

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Neila Mezynski

Max Bond Memorial

Max Bond Memorial / Cooper Union / May 12, 2009 /Remarks by Alice M. Greenwald

_________________________________________________________________________

I am deeply honored to speak today on behalf of my colleagues at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, in celebration of the life and legacy of Max Bond.

When I arrived in New York in the spring of 2006 to take on the directorship of the Memorial Museum, I found myself surrounded by architects.  We had architects for the Memorial, landscape architects for the Memorial Plaza, architects for the Museum Pavilion, and architects for the below-grade Museum.  Even a disproportionate number of my colleagues at the Foundation had been trained as architects, had long worked on various architectural projects, had parents and siblings who were architects, or were married to architects!   And, I’m not exaggerating!

As I began to orient myself to the many challenges of this project and tried to become fluent in the language of “architect-speak,” one individual stood out among the many impressive characters in our midst.  And, that was Max Bond.

At that time, we were all deeply involved in the Section 106 process: a conscientious effort to hear from a variety of consulting parties regarding this project’s proposed approach to the Federally-mandated preservation of landmark-status historical and archaeological assets at the World Trade Center site.   To say that these meetings were intense, passionate, and contentious, is putting it mildly.  But, inevitably, in the midst of the fury and the debate, Max would speak, and in his soft-spoken, gentlemanly manner, would zero in on the key issues, elevate the discussion, and move it forward in a productive fashion.  His was the voice of calm and reason, and when Max spoke, everyone listened.  This project is the better off for it.

Max’s personal commitment to our effort was palpable.  My colleagues speak of the gravitas with which he accorded the Museum program; how he could envision – even early on – the potential power of the visitor experience in this space; and, how he consistently rose above conflicting priorities of the multiple design teams to advocate for the greatness of the project as a whole.  Max had an unpretentious but keen and powerful intelligence.  He simply commanded your respect without demanding it.

When people speak about Max, they inevitably use words like “gentlemanly,” “courtly,” “gracious,” “elegant.”  And, these are all accurate descriptors.  But, I want to focus on another aspect of Max’s persona:  his fierce advocacy for the interweaving of civil and human rights into the social fabric of a city; his fundamental commitment, through his art and chosen profession, to the promotion of social responsibility.

Eighteen months ago, in conjunction with a nationally-touring exhibition about the Memorial, I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, where I spent the better part of an afternoon at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  There, an elegant building designed by Max Bond houses powerful exhibitions, a library, and meeting spaces dedicated to the history of the American civil rights movement, all meant to spur reflection on the imperative of fostering civil and human rights worldwide.

At the BCRI, you walk through a comprehensive exhibition that takes you from the Jim Crow South, through the violent suppression of the non-violent marches and anti-segregation protests that took place in Birmingham, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Baptist minister and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.  Eventually, the path of the exhibition leads to a moment of powerful immediacy, with the screening of the historic film footage of Dr. King’s exalted “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

As you exit the core exhibition, elevated by the resounding words of promise you have just heard, you come into a light-filled room whose windows look out across the street to a city park on one side, and a church on the other.  The park, it turns out, was the location of the incredibly brutal treatment of young protesters at the hands of the Birmingham Police, who used high-pressure water jets and police dogs to attack hundreds of school students participating in the “Children’s Crusade” of May 1963. 

And, the church is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where on September 15 of that same year, four little girls attending Sunday School were murdered when a bomb ripped through the church basement.  Within a year of that act of terror, President Johnson would secure passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In a surprising and understated way, the very building at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute becomes a lens onto the world:   admonishing us not to forget, and demanding that we place memory at the heart of our commitment to making change in the world.

The great Civil War historian, David Blight, has written about a conversation he had with Rev. Shuttlesworth some years ago, when they were both part of a committee planning the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.  Rev. Shuttlesworth, who listened quietly to an impassioned debate about how and whether a museum about slavery might be progressive and uplifting, spoke up at the very end of the meeting and only when asked what he had been thinking about so intently.  He said, matter-of-factly, “if you don’t tell it like it was, it can never be as it ought to be.”

I believe that Max Bond told it like it was…so that we might not just build impressive buildings, but so we might all continue to build a world defined by justice, inclusion, and mutual respect.  And, he told it not only in Birmingham, but in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and someday soon, right here in New York, at the National September 11 Memorial Museum. 

These buildings bear the stamp of the man who conceived them.  They are never strident, but always insistent.  They are not loud, but they are always on point.  They demand our attention and focus us on what matters.

And, they remind us of the privilege – and it has been my privilege – of having shared challenges and achievements, tragedy and triumph, with a true and gracious, one-of-a-kind gentleman: Max Bond.

*******

Max and Me by Jean Carey Bond

___________________________

Before I was Jean Bond, wife of a master builder, I was Jean Davis Carey, an only child born in Harlem at the Edgecombe Sanitarium on 164th Street -- which, today, is a low-security correctional facility. 

I grew up in two worlds: the multifaceted world of Harlem, where African American intellectuals, artists and professionals lived side by side with the black working people of many talents who had fled the South's lynching fields and led what’s called the “Great Migration” northward. The North was a place of continued struggle, to be sure, but also, hopefully, a place of greater opportunity.

 

My other world was Greenwich Village, where from ages 5 to 18 I spent most of every week in a cocoon of radicalism called The Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School.  These were the golden years of “progressive education.”  A handful of our extraordinarily gifted teachers were black – for example, the legendary Charity Bailey, who taught us folk songs in Yiddish, Spanish, French, you name it.   But many more were the children of a nearly bygone subset of European immigrants: socialist visionaries and revolutionaries.  Emerging from Little Red/E.I. – and even before I got “finished” at Sarah Lawrence – I thought I was the best educated person in town.

 

At a women’s college in the ‘50s, the M.R.S. degree still loomed large for most, though not for me.  This classmate wanted to wed a doctor, that one a businessman or lawyer.  I wouldn’t marry until I was at least 30, I said, after going to Paris to write.  And if I did marry, he would be an architect – my idea of the perfectly balanced man: earthbound and practical (after all, the buildings have to stand up) and on the other hand, arty and a dreamer.  A year after graduation, I met Max.  Chuckling, Tom Dent told beret-wearing, French-speaking Max: “I know you’re gonna hit it off with this woman 'cause she’s as phony as you are.”  Weeks into our courtship, I decided he had passed what for me was THE most important test: He wasn’t just smart, he was smarter than I was … or so I felt at the time.

 

After several months, I proposed.  His reaction was classic Max: “Marriage….” he said, to no one in particular, “that’s a big move, putting your life together with another person.  I mean, you’re a full grown, developed human being even if you do wear little bitty clothes.” I took that as a "yes."

 

The point of the above summary is this: Max was the world’s foremost practitioner of unconditional love. I was a piece of work, definitely not your day at the beach. Yet he embraced all of who I was -- not without complaint or challenge -- but those things always within the context of his irrevocable love and respect.  He parented our children the same way and never in 48 years gave us a moment’s doubt that he was totally committed to our family.

At home and out in the world, Max was wise, patient and a natural peacemaker.  He was the love of my life.  Although Sandy Grymes says, speaking for The Girlfriends, “The love of your life?  Max Bond was the love of all our lives.”

Br-er Rabbit in the Brier Patch

My first encounter with LeRoi Jones was through the brother in law of Marzette Watts, Bobby Hamilton.  He told me that Roi was organizing a meeting at his home on East 14th Street to discuss what was happening in terms of race relations at that time.  This was back in the ‘60s around 1962 and 1963. The last time I ran into Baraka was here at Tribes when he came to read here from his latest book of short stories Out and Gone.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and now.

The meetings were held at Roi’s apartment.  At that time he was married to Hetti Jones and they two little girls. The sessions amounted to nothing more than bitching and complaining, ranting and raving.  And the target of our art was discrimination, jobs and housing, etc.  The in charge members of the group were writers, artists and a few musicians.

People who stand out in my mind are the likes of Archie Schepp, the saxophonist, Charles Charles, the writer, Joe Johnson the poet and many others.  The group amounted to about twenty. 

The idea of the sessions was not to bitch and complain, but to figure out what concrete actions could be taken by the group.

Unbeknownst to us, similar groups were being formed in major cities around the country. 

Roi would hold court and all of our rage was aimed at the chair. 

But on a personal note, I was homeless at the time and moved to Boston for a year and then returned to New York’s Lower East Side.  By that time things had changed drastically. 

I found myself involved with poets like Ishmal Reed, David Henderson, Tom Dent, Lorenzo Thomas-the umber group.  On the sidelines were people like Calvin Hicks and his wife Nora.  By that time Roi had formed something called The Black Arts Movement and was in transit up to Harlem from the Lower East Side.

Half the poets, because of ideological conflicts, joined forces with him and moved up to Harlem with his group, while others stayed on the Lower East Side. It was around that time that Roi issued The Black Arts Movement Manifesto, calling on Afro American artists to take political action. And it was at this same time that Ishmael Reed issued the Neo HooDoo Manifesto, calling on Afro American artists to adhere to their tradition-pre-dating the blues.

Roi, who by this time had changed his name to Baraka, and his group were labeled Black Nationalists (Separatists).  And those in the downtown group were known as integrationists.  For the most part they were focused on diversity and inclusivity.

By this time I had resettled in New York on East 10th street and Ave B and was working at a printing factory.  The poet Larry Neal who was part of the up town group would come down from time to time and keep me up to date with the events of the black arts movement uptown. 

From time to time I would go to their fundraisers where they would have the likes of Pharaoh Sanders and other musicians and poets to perform.  At other times I would visit the Truth Coffee Shop in Harlem, one of their hangouts. 

I was busy holding down a 9 to 5 and only free on the weekends.  I only kept tabs on what they were doing from time to time and in bits and pieces.  Larry Neal was my contact and he would come down to put everything into perspective.  They would update me on the ins and outs of the Black Arts Movement.  In other words, who was doing what to who, their conflict, etc.

But it was when Baraka published the essay On Revolutionary Writing and Afro American History that the shit hit the fan.

A forum was put together at Joel Over streets Gallery-Kenkeleba House on East 2nd Street.  The members of the panel were asked to take positions as to whether they agreed or disagreed with Baraka's essay.  The problem with this essay is that it left out such important writers like William Wells Brown and Ralph Ellison, among others.  Then again, Roi did not think of these artists as revolutionary but rather too “conservative” for his tastes.

Keep in mind the ‘60s was a rather riotous and noisy era.  A lot of shouting and screaming was going on at that time.  There were folks people accused of not being revolutionary enough and assassinations happening across the board.  Even Larry Neal ended up being fired upon. 

This was years after Baraka had his play Dutchman produced downtown, which caused quite an up roar.  He himself was always controversial and constantly ended up on the news.  For example, his poem Arm Yourselves or Harm Yourselves, which he published in the Evergreen Review, got him into trouble with the authorities.  And not mention his poem Who Blew Up America?, reflecting on the collapse of the twin towers, which caused a worldwide controversy.

Even the Jewish novelist Philip Roth made him one of his protagonists in the novel American Pastoral.  In the novel he is the instigator of the riots in Newark at that time.  If you were to ask Baraka about that period he would say they were busy going around picking up the wounded and taking them to the hospital.  Baraka himself was beaten up by the cops as well.

The Black Arts Movement dissolved in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s and Roi hid himself away in Jersey, which is now the base of his operation.

I only see him from time to time.  For the most part, I would go to Jersey for specific celebrations, poetry readings, and on evenings when we would celebrate his and other poets’ birthdays.   Over the years I lost contact with Baraka and his group in Jersey.

It was at a birthday party for poet Cruz at Baraka’s house that I encountered Max Roach.  After Larry Neal’s demise, Roi had taken it upon himself to write Max’s biography. 

Those were great moments because being in that environment I was able to catch up on the gossip of what I was missing.

And it was the funeral for James Baldwin where Baraka was the keynote speaker that he blew the audience’s mind.  Especially the part when he mentioned that James Baldwin was our man even with the knowledge of his sexual preferences. 

The most important thing that I loved about Roi then and now was that he has always been true to his convictions. And has shown passion in his endeavors. 

Thoroughly knowledgeable about Afro-American music and equally knowledgeable about contemporary American poetry, he’s never lagged or been sloppy in his analysis of the above.

Over the years, he’s proven himself to be a true poet who speaks the truth to power.  He has never been afraid to say exactly what is on his mind.

He is one of our rare geniuses and should be celebrated for his accomplishments.

Happy 75th birthday!

          Steve Cannon (the blind guy)
          Executive Director of A Gathering of the Tribes

Observation Point

Observation Point

By Ava Chin

It happened on a walk. Like most transplanted New Yorkers, I did not understand Los Angeles and tried walking every place I could around my neighborhood—a shabby, rundown section of Koreatown, perhaps five years on the cusp of gentrification. It was there that I confused the neighborhood drunk, often asleep on the next door’s lawn, for a hard-working, down-on-his luck itinerant worker seeking shade from the too hot sun. It was there, whenever it rained, and I particularly sought out any relief from the oppressively perfect weather, that I would put on a well-worn hat and take to the streets.

It was on such a gloomy day that I headed north towards the hills—the kind of day where the snails emerge from the semi-arid Angeleno soil to rest on hedges like wild mushrooms after a storm. I was depressed then, having left a boyfriend in Brooklyn who did not want to make a commitment, a recently published book that I was having trouble promoting in my new town, and having arrived to a new academic department where the politics were as confusing as the publishing circles I left back home. I had just received the news that the sublettors in my Brooklyn apartment had tipped off the landlord, and I could already visualize the machinations of the eviction process starting to roll. I was living off of a school stipend, which while generous as free money goes, had pushed me right back down the economic ladder. I was officially considered by the utilities companies as being “low-income.”

All these things weighed down on my mind. I was having a melt down, but did not realize it. All I knew was that I was unhappy and my friends felt like they were thousands of miles away, as indeed they were. I was so immersed in my own thoughts that I did not realize that I had arrived, winded, in a new part of my neighborhood, on a slight hill near a palm tree (I was continually surprised by the fact that I lived in a place that had palm trees, even if they were, like most things in L.A. imported), and when I looked up, I saw it. There in the distance, sitting on the hillside like a painted backdrop, as if pasted by the hand of some invisible god, white and coppery and luminous from my vantage point, was the mosque-like dome of the Griffith Park Observatory.

*

The first time I saw the Observatory was as many did, in the 1955 film, “Rebel Without A Cause.” In my mind the domed, palace-like structure, which I confused at first for a Hollywood mansion, is inextricably linked to drag racing, James Dean, and the slouching, ready to spring look that only teenagers can convincingly pull off. I was a teenager myself when I saw the movie, and I watched fascinated by the scenes with cars, guns, and a quaint, vaguely innocent kind of violence that didn’t remind me of anything I’d seen in the neighborhood in Queens where I grew up.

In “Rebel,” the Observatory, situated by itself atop Mount Hollywood, surrounded only by dense shrubs, winding paths, and the lesser hills around it, is a site of both refuge and despair. Who can forget when James Dean and Natalie Wood take on the role of loving parents for Sal Mineo as they make a home in one of its cavernous hallways? When the police, those well-intentioned, dim-witted adults, arrive and Mineo races out onto the wide steps shooting, desperately trying to protect what small semblance of family the teenagers have built, who didn’t shudder, especially a teenager who considered herself as misunderstood as the ones portrayed on screen?

So perhaps it comes as no surprise, that the very first time I saw the Observatory, years later, as prospective graduate student on a campus visit, it seemed immediately familiar to me. Familiar the way many things in L.A. seem familiar because you’ve seen the image or heard the name mentioned a thousand times. I knew of Wilshire and Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, of Burbank and the Galleria and Hollywood High, long before I learned that the Sunset Strip was on the Westside and that Ventura was in the Valley, and that the Valley wasn’t cool the way that coming from Queens wasn’t cool.

That day, my cousin and I arrived at the summit of the Observatory only to learn that the landmark was closed for renovations. We walked around the plaza in front of the wide, open face of the building, surrounded by so much sky and panoramic views of downtown, the Westside, the ocean—the majestic Old Baldy in the background. Horizontal and flanked by two smaller sentinel-like domes, the Observatory was a palace, a mythic place like Xanadu, except through the years since it was built in 1935, the city had encroached upon its perch, obscuring the sky with light, rendering it virtually useless as a place to view the cosmos. Instead, the Observatory was a site to see Los Angeles, and became the kind of cultural icon the city celebrates and is ultimately enamored of: beautifully constructed, made famous by the movies, no longer serving its original function, a relic.

We stared for some time at the bronze bust of James Dean—Dean’s face an expression of ambivalent agony. I was impressed. Only in L.A., where even the poets were gorgeous, could you find a monument to an actor at a place of scientific inquiry. Later, when I had moved to the city and I was expressing doubts about having done so, my cousin said, “But don’t you just love the weather?” “It’s so great here, you can go to the ocean any time of year,” and “But what about the weather?” Having left my boyfriend and having lost the apartment in Brooklyn, my answer was blunt. No, I did not care about the landscape and the good living and the clear skies and the good weather. I thought of Dean’s bust and my own anguish. You see, I was already beginning to understand the dual metaphors of Los Angeles, the shadow to the sunshine, which anyone who lives in the city for any length of time begins to experience. The only solace I could take was that I could visit the Observatory, like a high point in a novel, and that by the time I was ready to graduate, the renovations would be finished and its doors wide open.

*

Nine months into living in Koreatown, I moved, saying goodbye to the drunk on the lawn, the sidewalks that turned into weekend Plazas where women sold old clothing and half-used bottles of dish-washing liquid for under a dollar, and headed north to a Melrose-style apartment with palm trees and birds of paradise. If I walked a half block or so along the avenue of my new neighborhood, I could see the Observatory, from this perspective larger than a postcard and now shroud in black scaffolding. A five minute walk, and I could be at the mouth of Griffith Park, where Armenian men stretched in jogging outfits and Korean ladies walked by in visors and long sleeves. Things had taken a turn for the better, I could feel the veil being lifted off my depression and I was no longer questioning if I’d make the right decision to leave New York. On my walk, I would smile at Latino families. The Armenian men and Korean ladies who passed me by. I would smile at everyone.

Though the zigzagging path up to the Observatory was officially closed, like many others I would wend my way up Fern Dell Road, passed the picnic stands and the dog park, on up to the dirt path, the where the silky soil got trapped in my sneakers and the rolled up hems of my pants. On days that the sun beat down on me, I would stop exhausted, until I learned to hike only early in the morning and with a hat. I would walk alongside the canyon, under the shadow of the hills held together by small trees and tall grasses. Along the steep climb, I often saw rabbits, snakes, and lizards the size of sugar spoons. Throughout it all, the Observatory was my main goal, and it peeked in and out along the path like an architectural version of peek-a-boo, growing ever larger in my approach.

I climbed the path nearly twice a week for the next three years, the white structure of the Observatory my goal as I arrived huffing and puffing up the mountain. When I was studying for my written and oral exams, before I left for trips to New York, whenever I’d return to L.A., I’d hike up towards it, always elusive, in sight one moment, hidden behind a shrubby hill the next. It started to take on the symbolism of remoteness, a metaphor for the city itself—changing, ever-fluctuating, always out of reach.

I discovered things about myself on those walks in the shadow of the Observatory that I never could back home surrounded by family and a slew of friends and acquaintances. Whether this was because of L.A.’s famous spread-out, suburban-supersized sprawl—indeed the other side of town felt like a different state, and I rarely saw my friends on the Westside—or because I was alone so much or simply because I wasn’t at home, it is difficult to tell. In “Letters to a Young Poet,” Rilke advises writers to embrace their isolation. I had never felt so isolated as I had those early days in L.A. and it allowed all the things that I was harboring from the past, which I had carried thousands of miles from Brooklyn to the East side, to finally come to the surface.

*

As the years went by, and I ascended further and further up the hill daring myself to climb higher, until I finally came up the Observatory construction gate, and could hear the shouts of the workers inside, I had many experiences along that path, even some crises—most of them valuable, all hard-won.

Once, having spent a long weekend with a poet I was in love with but barely knew, we hiked up the path together, and an hour after the walk, after learning he did not want to take the relationship further, I came home and burst into tears. That weekend we had walked around Venice, watched a film at Mann’s, and had dinner at Yamashiro where we watched the city glow in a blanket of fog. That morning, as we walked towards the Observatory, he talked non-stop about how great L.A. was, about applying for a screenwriting fellowship, how much he liked my neighborhood. But when it came time to leave, as we walked down the mountain towards Franklin Avenue, he didn’t want to talk about continuing things further. The crisis I entered after he left—a relationship that was so short, so brief, and which put me in touch with a grief I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager—was so disproportionate to what had gone on that I knew it didn’t have anything to do with the poet and everything to do with me and the extreme loneliness I felt living in L.A.

That night, I met a girl at the Dresden Room, a neighborhood bar featured in the film “Swingers.” She had been studying martial arts with an old, female master who berated her over her self-esteem issues. “You need an ‘I am important’ stick,” she told me. “What’s that?” I asked, envisioning corporate executives taking team leadership workshops. She explained that it could be any found object (in her case, a stick she’d found on a walk), which you imbued with the power to make you feel important. I thought it sounded too West-Coast hokey, but this girl was a former New Yorker with a no-nonsense attitude and not to be denied, so I turned the idea over in my mind. That weekend, I hiked up to the closest I could get to the Observatory, to an outcropping that over-looked Los Feliz, Downtown and Koreatown—the kind of dizzyingly steep drop upon which television directors like to stage fight scenes. There under a tree, I found the gnarled, section of a branch, shorter than a half-pool stick but thicker than my arm. I am important. It’s been with me ever since.

In my third year living in Los Angeles, I experienced my first encounter with peyote with a group of poets from Arizona and Texas. I swallowed a ball of “medicine” the size of a bead and a quart of peyote tea that one of the poets had brought off a reservation. As the night progressed, we carried a water drum and prayer beads on our way up the now-familiar dirt path, under the shadow of the hills, the Observatory obscured in darkness.

We sat to the high rise where I had found my stick, talking and singing with the glistening fabric of the city below us, the Observatory at our backs, while coyotes howled back and forth to each other across the hills. Later that year, one of us would die. But that night, we were all young and fresh and vibrant, and very high off the medicine. Someone wished me a happy birthday, and I thought of how lucky I was to be in this strangely wild city, where people traveled in search of fame and glory, only to find canyons, skunks, helicopters, waitresses. Perhaps it was the peyote, perhaps it was knowing that I had finally grown roots, but I was suddenly overcome with the feeling that everything was going to be alright. I was a New Yorker who had discovered parts of herself in L.A., and that was worthy of any novel or song I could send to my friends back home.

I carried this feeling with me as we walked back down the mountain, where we saw a snake; a disabled man lying on the ground, who refused our help. Later, as we neared the road, there were coyotes—one slouchy and red, the other brown, fleet-footed. The reddish one looked at us—its face caught in the lamplight—with an expression of assessment and terrible acceptance, before following its mate up the hill.

*

I became visually closer to the Observatory when I started dating a man I grew to love very much, a “legend” in late-night television writing. Being an outsider to the largest industry that fuelled the city, I had fun with him as a couple of reluctant New Yorkers-turned-Angelenos exploring a side to L.A. that I had never experienced before. Drives up the PCH. Weekend getaways in Malibu and Cambria. “White-Attire Only” parties where we were the only ones dressed in white. Steve had a penchant for funny, anthropomorphizing voices, saying things like “San Luis Obispo” and “Albuquerque” as we drove up unfamiliar stretches of road. He had a stunning view of the Observatory that I fell in love with on the first night I saw it. From across the canyon, I watched the Observatory in the twilight, dark under its scaffolding like a chrysalis in its cocoon.

Two months into our relationship, I landed an academic teaching job in New York in an out of the way borough. I asked Steve if he wanted to come with me. He said he thought that if we did that we should be married.

“Yes, and?” I asked.

But he felt it was too soon to say.

*

A job is a great impetus for finishing a dissertation. That Spring, in a state of ever-panic, I worked feverishly on my manuscript, got shoulder aches and pinched nerves, and took breaks from freaking out to hike up the now familiar path to the Observatory. Some days, I drove along the winding road up to the very top of Mount Hollywood—in this case, the most direct path really was the most oblique—and parked behind the landmark, by the George Harrison memorial. I would stand against the chicken wire gate (“Construction Workers Only”), fingers looped into the wire, my nose poking through, and peer past the trucks and Port-o-Sans to the Observatory, now polished and white and liberated from all its scaffolding. For those moments, I could pretend I was back on the plaza like when I first visited L.A., standing in front of the wide façade, open to all possibilities.

*

The truth is, I would never get further than that gate. The Observatory never opened later that spring or even that summer. I moved back to New York and Steve didn’t come with me, staying home with his funny voices, his deck, his white parties where people didn’t wear white.

If an observatory’s function is to observe its surroundings, for me, it was important in its inverse. Each year, as I became more and more acclimated to L.A. feeling like I understood it—I once described it to the public arts director at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as a city that was like a beautiful child that had gotten into its mother’s make-up and then stolen her SUV—I looked at the Observatory and saw new things, rather like an artist observing a famous cathedral. How white it gleamed in the morning. How it seemed to absorb the light in the late afternoon. How picturesque and quaint it seemed from the parking lot of the 99 cent store.

Now, from some three thousand miles away, the leaves have already turned with the weather, and I travel several times a week to Staten Island across the drape of the Verranzano Bridge. These days, when I think of the Observatory, it’s as dream-like as the Taj Mahal. I know that it has long shed its scaffolding and temporary gates, has been lauded by the Mayor and the City Council at its reopening, and visited by journalists and photographers and sightseers who take advantage of its new façade. Recently, it was nearly engulfed in one of Southern California’s famous fires. But I can only imagine it from this end of the country, and remember the person I was when I first arrived in L.A., so new to the city, looking out from my perch in front of the open face of the Observatory, wondering about the lives down below and all the myriad possibilities.

NEW PARADIGM BLUES

New paradigm blues are what happens in between changes. Changes are what nobody wants because while they are happening there is massive disorientation. New paradigm euphoria is what happens with the sort of hope generated election night. This sort of hope engenders possibilities for change. This writing is about my hopes for art’s possibilities in the coming times.

Reveiw of Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise by Aaron Hayes

New Yorker music critic Alex Ross's recently released book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30) is an in-depth and entertaining study of 20th century classical music.  It describes the lives and work of composers from Mahler and Strauss all the way to contemporaries such as Kaija Saariaho, Tan Dun, and Sophia Gubadulina, with an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge not only about music, but also about history more generally.  It as been well reviewed (and rightly so) with names of famous readers expounding its greatness on the back cover: if it is promoted by as varied stars as Björk, Osvaldo Golijov, Emanuel Ax, and Richard Taruskin, it must be good.  But with all these reviewers, and the scope of the work, it is hard to figure out who this book is for, why he wrote it, or whether there is anything particularly significant to be found in it.Part of the answer to this question can be seen by the sorts of details Ross centers on.  He makes a great effort to pick out notable pieces of music and tries to describe them with an analyst's attention to detail, translating complex musical ideas into a generally readable instruction.  Overall, these analyses are very astute, approachable discussions of the inner workings of certain compositions, though at times they fall into overly stylized language and the problematic talk of metaphors and evocations without which, admittedly, non-technical music analysis would come to no conclusions.  In this way The Rest is Noise reads like the program notes to the biggest pieces of the century.  But program notes are things to read when the concert itself gets boring.  Is this all Ross is trying to accomplish?  When the music ceases to be clear in its meaning, as is the case with most of the music Ross discusses, the critic must step in and connect it with real people and events, to give it a meaning in the face of its seeming incomprehensibility.  Accompanied by his blog (of the same title as his book) the reader has access to a large discography for his or her "to listen to" lists, and mentions composers along with their most significant pieces, pieces with which to get a proper taste of each composer.  Oriented toward the unspecialized but educated concertgoer, it is written primarily for the same people who read the New Yorker.  In fact, its Manhattan-centric view of the world (though not unfairly; that is where all the interesting stuff happens) only emphasizes the connoisseur-oriented eclecticism which hovers slightly beneath the prose of the book. Central to the story line are the lives and personalities of the 20th century composers, the men (and a few women) of flesh and blood, as Unamuno would say.  Full of History Channel style trivia, the relationships among the composers - who knew who, who listened to who, who taught who, who lived down the road from who - makes an interesting read and also more soberly documents the connections through which the development of the music proceeded.  Usually these peripheral details seem to be meant as tidbits for popular consumption, interesting facts to quote at cocktail parties.  However, the extreme lack of such details in other discussions of music history are equally problematic and so the biographical, day to day anecdotes and connections serve to entertain the reader as well as to ground the ideas and ideologies at work in the practices of the various composers in a more understandable manner. For this reason, The Rest is Noise is also a valuable book for those with more specialization in music.  Musicians and Musical scholars who have been brought up in another musical historical context entirely, in the ‘music appreciation' class or an introduction to music history, which has its own modus operandi and own narratives, will benefit from the critically examining the lives and thoughts of various composers.  Rather that going through the same interpretations and same material, Ross takes a fresh look at many historical stories, with plenty of primary sources (and for that reason a great bibliographic section) while avoiding some of the more worn anecdotes.  It is notable that, while discussing Strauss, we do not read once about his depicting silverware in music, perhaps the first discussion of Strauss in fifty years not to do so.  The ideas about music also come under Ross's discussion, from the alleged historical inevitability of Schoenberg's music to the political content of music in Nazi Germany, the USSR, and the ‘40s and ‘50s US, or even the sacred nature of music in Messiaen, some ideas are tacitly denied, and some are interestingly sustained. Ross escapes a big issue in his title "Listening to the Twentieth Century" since it avoids naming what sort of music constitutes his topic.  Now, if you walked into Barnes and Noble, most of the music which Ross discusses could be found in the "classical" music section, though there is nothing classical about most of it.  And while Ross discusses the Beatles, the Velvet Underground and a variety of other ‘popular' musical artists, this book reinforces that specific realm of music, nowadays abiding mostly in the academy, of historically conscious, self-involved specialty of writing music to be listened to, thought about, and appreciated.  Even this definition seems lacking; still, it is not all music in the twentieth century to be sure, and this limitation is significant.  Jazz is discussed at times, as well as Rock, but the central focus is this music sometimes called "high," "legitimate," or "classical".  It might be described in the broader sense of music lacking self-evidence. But if there are biases in Ross's work, they are not those biases found in the Twentieth Century itself - which are precisely those biases which the Academic study of music inevitably fall into.  This book is an example of popular research which in many ways surpasses scholarly research through its grounded analysis avoiding impassioned commitment to one tradition or one sound.  But the book does this by forsaking the reason why the academics have such a different method: the investments towards certain traditions it seeks to uphold.  Atonality and the Schoenberg tradition is, for most official music history, the continuation of the modernist classicalism of European ‘classical music.'  Ross speaks of it from a distance, and thereby escapes the predominant understanding of20th century "high" music.  On one hand we have the bitter passion of the academy trying to keep alive the dying tradition out of which it arises, and on the other hand, Ross, his level prose situating this rhetoric along with its music and its time.  Hence the analysis in The Rest is Noise presents a high quality study in which nothing is at stake, unbiased and uncommitted. Yet it is clear that Ross is invested in the music he describes, but not because he says as much or commits to a rhetoric of value.  The investment is at once absent from the text and immanent to the whole work.  The project of the book is no less than to establish the canon of 20th century music, to place in encyclopedic detail those composers significant enough to be known by an educated audience.  While this was tentatively accomplished already for the first half of the 20th century, one strength of this book is Ross's astute awareness of the composers of the last 50 years.  Until now, history had been reserving judgment on these new developments, especially since they are so unpopular.  As Adorno, whom Ross has clearly struggled with, says about modern art, "What has terminated tradition can hardly count on one in which it would be given a place."  Still, Ross gives them a place, perhaps not one which they would have liked, but still better than they could have been given by the largely unappreciative and correlatively unwanted audiences. Music criticism has a tradition of producing excessively scathing, bombastic rhetorical tirades about composers and pieces. With both the music, and the ideas about music, Ross maintains a dispassionate- perhaps we could say Kantian-disinterestedness, which is refreshing after two hundred years of grandiloquence about the horrors and triumphs of certain composers. At the same time, these composers, historical events, and pieces of music are still under debate.  The dust has not settled on the Twentieth century, and in contrast to these debates Ross's tone sounds as close to authoritative as one can get these days. Still, Ross really has only nice things to say about the music - he might even convince some people to actually listen to some of it, which would be good - and his authoritative tone is inclusionary and intended for the betterment of people's general musical reception.  For both those who don't know what to think about 20th century music, as well as for those who already have dealt with some of it, The Rest is Noise provides an entertaining read and a nice resource for approaching the difficult music of the twentieth century.

Reflections on John Cage by Aaron Hayes

The first time we encounter John Cage, we think that he is somewhat interesting.   Teaching a music appreciation class to a small group of high school students, I performed 4'33" for them one day outside.  About 30 seconds into the first movement, one of them said, ‘oh, I get it.'  Still, I think there is some legitimacy for the school of gradual enlightenment. The second time we encounter John Cage, we think he is a dilettante.  

Sometimes it is hard to see the extent to which Cage's work participates in the modern Western musical tradition.  But the fact that he studied composition with many big names ("Schoenberg," e.g.) gives him an interesting credence.  In addition to the later compositions which stretch the concept of music to its breaking point, he does have a number of more understandably musical works, which are in their own way very successful pieces.  Percussionists have noted to me that it is Cage's earlier work for percussion, etc. ensembles which are most widely appreciated in their circles, while most of the world thinks of 4'33" as Cage's most famous piece.  In any case, neither his thoughts nor his compositions are the ramblings of one ignorant of music.  The issue of silence in Cage's music, for example, though rich with many non-Western ideas, still maintains its relation to occurrences in more strictly western academic music.  The notion of musique concrète has been a legitimate compositional technique since Varèse.  Indeterminacy, as Cage himself argued, has been around for much longer.  In fact, it was only within a very limited historical period in which all musical elements were completely determined by the composer's dictations as written in a score.  Calling the noise of everyday life a piece of music is merely an additive process using both the notions of sampling and indeterminacy.

The third time we encounter John Cage, we think he is more interesting than we had realized before.

A collection of 91 measures of rest in ¾ meter, where the quarter note equals 60 beats a minute turns out to be precisely four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  A fermata in music can also be dictated with a length of time as needed.  What is the significance of the indication of "tacet" which constitutes the instructions for this piece?  Tacere - to be silent; an excellent mode for listening.  Counting rests keeps the musician's attention in the music.  The trumpet parts for Beethoven's third piano concerto, second movement, indicate tacet-a sense of relief of being able to just take it all in.  Imagine the peace of having all three of the movements indicate tacet. One of the prerequisites for taking Cage seriously is taking Buddhism seriously.  Today, we make a vague connection between hippies and Eastern thought, and for many hippies themselves it was doubtfully any more than vague.  But despite such an association, or perhaps because folks in the 60's popularized it in the West, the philosophical ideas within of Buddhism, Taoism, and other ways of thought from Asia have come to be taken as very legitimate and productive notions with which to work.  But for musicians and composers, the concepts Cage was working with are very difficult to harmonize with traditional beliefs.  Brought up on the concept, however vague, of the genius, of self-expression through music, of pieces of music composed, owned, and appreciated by the subjectivities of individuals, to consider for a moment that there is no self that underlies all of it contradicts the very idea of music.  If I am not metaphysically more significant than the wind in the trees, how could my creations be qualitatively different?  To be sure, we all enjoy the wind in the trees.  People sell CDs of it.  But to say it is the same is to break down every possible barriers of what music is and is not.  A Zen koan is a pedagogical tool, in a sense, but it teaches us very little about Buddhism.  4'33" is a musical composition, and this tells us everything about what music is.  Cage continued to compose music, after he negated the concept - a kind of Bodhisattva. The fourth time we encounter john cage, we think he just copied Marcel Duchamp.

As with a lot of avant-garde art, the initial reaction to much of Cage's work is something along the lines of "well, I could do that!"  Or to be dramatic, one might attribute the ability to something even less intelligent than one's self.  "Well, my dog could do that!"  "Well, my infant could do that!"  When it comes to some works, this is simply not true.  When people mistake technical simplicity for facility, for example in Mondrian, they fail to realize what went into creating such clarity.  With Cage, however, we can write and perform work at a technically comparable level.  True, from 1960 on, we would be copying Cage.  But in contrast to the discourse in the plastic arts, Cage shares with Fluxus a feeling of welcome-that it would be good for us to listen to and ‘compose' some happenings, some chance occurrences, or some periods of silence. The fifth time we encounter john cage, we begin to appreciate his genius.  

We could say that people like Cage, Morton Feldman, and all those others were a product of their artistic era.  But we could also say that the 1950's and ‘60's - as we now understand the time period 40 years later, was a product of these people.  Creativity itself has been changed by what Cage did and wrote, and even though music seems to have continued though nothing has happened, it is as a child who plays in a field even though he has learned to climb the fence.

Tate Modern, made in (Tate) Britain

Tate Modern, made in (Tate) Britain

By Nina Zivancevic

 

 

tate.jpg

What to say about a colossal art project which opened in 2000 housing 48 galleries devoted to the display of its permanent Collection? That it possesses numerous works of art which its mother-house, Tate Britain could not house any longer? That it hides in its vast basement a ghastly amount of art work which will never see the light of day due to an endless number of objects that are already scheduled to be displayed in there through the year 4000? And that in this particular respect it resembles madly the awesome temples of contemporary art such as New York’s MOMA and French Center Georges Pompidou?

However, as the Tate Modern, nested along the Waterloo’s riverside area, opened its doors to the Londoners and the international public not so long ago (in 2000) ago, surprisingly, and in May 2006 it decided to make a major amendment and rehang its permanent Collection around an entirely new concept. The rehang which features four wings (on levels 3 and 5 ) was generously backed by the UBS, British banking investors who enabled their visitors –unlike those who visit Center Pompidou or MOMA- to see the great works of the 20th century art history for free! The four wings correspond to the four periods in history associated with Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism; Surrealism and Surrealist tendencies; Abstract Expressionism and European Informal Art; and Minimalism. Around these focal points a range of displays move backwards and forwards in time, exploring how these movements echo a continuous dialogue between contemporary art and the past. There is an introductory room for each suite bringing together a striking pairing of major works by two artists with different artistic outlooks and from different generations.

The new display also includes a special showing drawn from the UBS Art Collection counting in the specific genres that were not well represented in the Tate Collection- last year, for instance, the show was drawn from their photography stock and this year we are offered a view of their rare drawings collection.

Around 40% of the works in the new display have never been shown at Tate Modern before including such luminary icons such as Lichtenstein’s Whaam! or important pieces by painter Picabia and sculptor Kapoor. Some 20% of works on display are brand new acquisitions by the most recent avantguard representatives such as the Guerrilla Girls or Christian Marclay. In addition, Tate Modern has included in its programme additional events and displays which take their inspiration from both the permanent Collection and the temporary one (located on level 4). The first of these events to celebrate the rehang, took place in 2006- it was a four day festival “The Long Weekend”; and in 2007/2008 there are other major live events scheduled as bi-monthly live performances (as the ones of Cai Guo-Quiang, DV8 and Merce Cunningham) As displays also focus on education and interpretation family initiatives, they allow for the performance of the events to be carried out in dedicated family space, as well as on the public concourses and computers linked to Tate’s online art database.

There are numerous important conferences and symposia related to the temporary shows which are exhibited on the level 2(in Starr Auditorium); among their highlights worth mentioning is the talk on David Smith in the series “Abstraction Across Media”(January 2007) and Sean Rainbird’s lecture on Kandinsky’s works which he himself curated at Tate in summer 2006. Among the most significant travelling exhibitions which have recently taken place at Tate Modern one can count in Wassily Kandinsky’s last year’s show. The Russian artist, who was one of the most significant artists of the 20th century was also considered as a pioneer in the development of a new visual language which is abstraction. The show “Kandinsky:Path to Abstraction” mainly focused on the early, exploratory period of his career when he was moving from mere observations of landscape towards the full abstract compositions. The show could serve as an example in good curatorial taste as it showed special caring for a compilation of the artist’s very beautiful, but at the same time very symbolic and above all, difficult to interpret, work. After Kandinsky’s show was over, the museum organised in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation the big retrospective of David Smith’s work. Widely regarded as the greatest American sculptor of his generation, David Smith created some of the most memorable work in the twentieth century. Characterised by the use of the industrial materials, especially welded iron and steel, and the exploration of an open, linear structure, his work revolutionised the art of sculpture in the United States and elsewhere.

It is worth noticing that the so called travelling or temporary exhibitions which perfectly define the conceptual direction of the museum, always get their original initiative from the most exemplary work displayed in the permanent collection. So, what are the most recent trends in the Tate Modern curatorial policy and what are the possible tendencies in art to take shape in their future shows? “Learn to Read” is the latest exhibition in the Level 2 Gallery series which forecasts themes and trends in international contemporary art. This dense and visually diverse display brings together works by 29 artists which play with text, erasure and miscommunication resulting in the works which remind us of the legacy of early Dada, late Fluxus and conceptual art in general. The display from the UBS Art Collection in the Level 3 encourages the visitors to enlarge their experience of drawing. A vast collection of more than 40 drawings examines this medium thoroughly, both as a personal expression of famous artists and their primary exploration material. The display also includes the highlights of some of the best contemporary American artists such as Chuck Close (his unforgettable self-portrait evoking c lose resemblance with Allen Ginsberg!)and Robert Rauschenberg. We mentioned that the permanent Collection consists of four wings located in the Levels 3 and 5 and that at the heart of each wing is a central part offering an in-depth exploration of key periods in the development of modern art. The wing “Material Gestures” implies the spirit of action and gesture that are characteristic of the Futurists and the Expressionists whose work, created in the 1940s and 1950s, is to be found in this section. It opens into Boccioni’s futurist sculpture and is dominated by the works of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Lucio Fontana and Clyfford Still, along with the most recent acquisitions of Rothko’s immense and quiet “Seagram Murals”, of Guillermo’s Kuitca’s work (“Untitled”) and Douglas Gordon’s short video work (“10ms-1”) from the 1990s. The second wing in this level entitled “Poetry and Dream” is exclusively devoted to the Surrealist movement. Some of the movement’s most important works, including Max Ernst’s “Celebes”(1921) and Joan Miro’s “Painting” are to be found in its central hub. This section, as to its form and content, pays an excellent tribute to the Surrealist movement as no museum or gallery in France does – thus the proverb “familiarity breeds contempt”. As it examines the surrealist revolution in art with all its critical echoes in music , film, literature and theory, the Tate’s display takes a serious approach to this, perhaps the most subversive art movement in the 20th century. However, one gets the impression that the zealous curators of this display often have a tendency to overdo it as their choice of the surrealist works of art overfeed the visitor with the visual information; their choice of objects on display is admirable but as they are placed so tightly together, this sort of art work carpeting of the section’s interior creates a counterproductive effect. The wing named “Idea and Object” in Level 5 focuses on the development of the Minimalist movement during the 1960s. It includes some of the movement's most exemplary works such as Donald Judd's multi-dimensional objects, alongside with the pieces by Carl Andre. There are new acquisitions which put Ellsworth Kelly's work in new prospective as well as the recent work of Christina Iglesias.

Works which acted as precursors to Minimalism can also be seen in this level, as well as certain pieces which attest to the development to the Minimalist aesthetics and ideology. The wing opposite to this one is devoted to the “States of Flux” which explore the historic movements such as Cubism, Vorticism and Futurism. These movements which are often linked if not jumbled together in French museums are exemplified here mainly by the works of Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger and Giacomo Balla. Among the younger artists who have already become classics we can observe the respective presences of Gerhard Richter, Jonas Mekas -with his imaginative documentaries of the New Yorkers- and Steve McQueen. There is an additional series of the original music tracks that go together with the visual pieces, as well as the artists' commentaries and archive recordings made by the leading cultural figures- all contained in the museum's so called Multimedia Tour.

It is worth noticing that all the entrances to these displays are free or if there is a suggested concession it is fairly minimal, up to £1 or £2 which is quite unusual for a European museum of that size and scope.

The famous temporary Level 4 which houses special shows curated for the occasion – and which implies a certain entrance fee- presents us with two different shows this season, Salvador Dali's work related to film and entitled “Dali and Film”, and the work of a contemporary Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica under the working title “The Body of Color”. Salvador Dali (1904-89) is one of the most controversial artists of the 20th century- accused from the Surrealists that he was not imaginative enough to join their crowd, often he was also criticised by other artists and art critics that he was too commercial to be truly artistic. One field where his commercial taste for self-promotion met true art was the seventh art, that is, film, thus this particular show at Tate pays homage to that particular aspect of Dali's work- his attachment to cinema. The show brings together more than 100 works by Dali, including major paintings, photographs, drawings and films in order to explore the central role of cinema in his work. The exhibition also displays collaborations between Dali and legtendary filmmakers and producers such as Bunuel, Disney, Hitchcock and the Marx Brothers including the entire screenings of his early films made with the poet Lorca and Bunuel such as “The Andalusian Dog”(1929) and the “Golden Age”(1930). The symbolic imagery that Dali established in these films as a sort of his own painterly idiosyncratic language had served him throughout lifetime and became his own personal branding and landmark. Dali explored human psychology and his own obsessions in all modes of his practise- the ants that pour out of human body, the dismembered hands, the melting clocks and ancient statues- we find them all in his “Le chien andalou” and then in a repetative manner in all of his paintings. His critique of religions , of a small middle-class life and manners and his love for a Spanish landscape and its peasants are visible both in his and Bunuel's film “L'age d'or” and in all of his early paintings. Very much like in Tadeus Kantor, Roman Polanski or Julian Beck, Salvador Dali saw theater and cinema as the extended painting medium where the so called paintings follow one another with an unprecedented speed but with live actors and settings that change quickly. Film was a major passion throughout Dali's career as he was one of the first artists for whom film was a key influence as well as a creative outlet. It is true though that sometimes he was too creative for Hollywood studios and their standards- Disney studios suppressed the animation “Destino” for which Dali had written the script- his images were simply too wild for Disney's spectators! Fortunately, the 12 minute animation has been restored successfully and is shown in Tate in its integrity. However, Hitchcock had well understood the fact that Dali's motifs had already formed part of our collective imagination so he invited the artist to design a dream sequence for his film “Spellbound” as early as 1945. It is a sequence only 2 minutes long but it has all of Dali in it- his shadows, his chess-tables and his dreamlike atmosphere as a part of a real dream or an imagined psychological nightmare. It is interesting to know that he was also quite a talented scriptwriter, very prolific indeed, but very few of his scenarios were ever realised as the entire process of film-making often eluded him. This particularly clarifying show is at Tate Modern through September 3, 2007.

 

Nina Zivancevic

New Quai de Branly Museum in Paris

New Quai de Branly Museum in Paris

By Nina Zivancevic

 

 

A brand new Parisian "composite" and "bridge" museum which sees itself as a  French "museographic, scientific and cultural institution dedicated to the dialogue between cultures and civilizations" has barely opened its doors to the public when the series of harsh, critically oriented articles started barraging the international press. The 40,600 square meter colossus, consisting of several buildings, a huge garden, 3 suspended galleries and an enormous terrace, all supported by a powerful metallic megastructure was conceived in 1995 by the French president Jacques Chirac who, following a long pharaonic tradition of French presidents, desired leave a powerful testimony to his 12 year reign of the country. By creating a multi-faceted cultural institution of such scope, Chirac not only wanted to compete with Mitterand's impressive National Library building as well as with Georges Pompidou's Center, but he also wanted to emphasize his political stance which, according to him "desired to see justice rendered to non-European cultures otherwise present in French cultural heritage." By executing the 10 year long works of this new cultural and scientific institution, Chirac had but one idea on his mind -- to put an end "to a long history of disregard by giving just consideration to art forms and civilizations (of Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania and of the Americas), too long ignored or misunderstood." At once museum, cultural center and a body for research and teaching, the museum of Quai de Branly, located just across from the Eiffel tower, was constructed to be a rejection  of any proclaimed hierarchy in the arts as it is meant "to celebrate the universality of human spirit." In the press kit which I got prior to my visiting the museum, it was also announced as "a school of multiple disciplines, that is, an invitation to look upon the Other with greater knowledge, greater respect and with greater openness of mind."  In his presidential preface to the museum's guide, Chirac has also mentioned the fact that "throughout its history, France has always sought to instill universal values, but it has also learned the value of otherness." If these words came from any other politician in France, I admit that I would have been very careful whether to believe them, or simply I would have not. Coming from an ancient communist regime where people such as Lenin and Stalin flashed such lofty words of cultural encouragement left and right but then too readily failed to fulfil their promise, I was always quite sceptical to observe the politicians "eager at establishing the universal values of respect towards the Other." However, as these words were coming from the mouth if not the heart of the president who said "no" to the U.S. intervention in Iraq, I rushed down to the Rue de l'Université, to the most luxurious section of Paris, to see the new architectural wonder designed by the famous Jean Nouvel. I was equally hoping that all the treasures from the ancient Museum of Mankind, those from the museum of Asian art, Guimet, as well as the priceless objects transferred from the previous Museum of Africa and Oceania have found a decent and improved housing in this new climate of mutual respect and improved technology. And although I did not like the overambitious notion of so many "non-European" cultures (read the whole world!) jumbled together in one single space, no matter how large it could be, (out of my own respect for each cultural diversity), I still rejoiced at the idea of going to the place where  according to the architect Nouvel, "everything served to draw  the emotions out of the tribal artefact", the place "marked by symbols of forest and river ... of death and oblivion,  ... vibrant and spiritual", a sanctuary for censored works produced not so long ago in Australia and America. I wanted to reach such a place in France where "the ancestral spirits of those who awoke to the human condition and who invented gods and beliefs ... dwelled and conversed", the place which was both strange and unique, "poetic and disturbing." And finally when I arrived at such a place, I noticed a huge metal colonial building which was surrounded by a lake, African reeds snuggled inside the bush, and I remembered the sight of Kaduna river in north Nigeria where buffalos grazed and Fulani women washed their linen. The colonial building stood in such a contrast with the surrounding lake, no buffalos and Fulani women whatsoever, and I thought that I understood everything, even my desire to quit university where I studied cultural anthropology 20 years ago. I need not enter this building, I said to myself although the architect promised the visitors "a farewell to structures, fluidity, frontage joinery, safety staircases, railings, false ceilings, projectors, pedestals, showcases and wall clocks ... " However, I entered the expensive sanctuary where the artefacts from various continents competed with the photographs of people who were using them, of those faces behind the masks which were exhibited along the corridors of a museum which was, alright, beautiful. In a gaudy glass tower in the middle of the museum comprising of 4 different buildings, there were 9500 various musical instruments, but there were no living people to play them, no griots or poets to tell us stories about the events in which the musicians came to be separated from their instruments. The idea that rules the organized tour of the museum was also gone: a guardian at the very entrance of the museum had warned me that it was healthy for me or any visitor there not to have any curatorial guidance on the premises, "you see," he said, "the idea is for you to feel a bit like an explorer and to lose yourself in a maze with no boards in it." It was easier said that done, as the continents sort of merged together and melted in my brain and I find myself busy trying to sort out African Ashanti dolls  from the American Indian Katchina ones. A small task for a daughter of a former director of Museum of Mankind in Belgrade; but I was just wondering if I brought my children or a larger group of people, where would I start and how would I go about explaining the history of all civilizations in there ... ? Well, I don't know, as much as I don't know if all that investment was really necessary to boost up the curators' ego which was not even generous enough to tell us the primordial story about the birth of each of these respective civilizations ...  There were reminders everywhere telling us that indeed much money  was invested in this building, money which could have been given to the starving people in Asia and Africa. Another artefact of waste: there's so much water  being constantly splashed over the museum's artificial hanging gardens which cover the frontage of the museum ... In this needy "non-European" world which is dying of thirst and hunger, was there a real need to invest more than one million euros of the backers' money into the garden "which covers 18,000 square meters enclosing the museum and creating an impression of wild profusion ... a perfect natural setting for the collections"!!? Is all the money in this world used to create merely an impression of caring for the population and cultures who really need it? I think that the real controversy being created in relation to this, or any other museum lies right there -- in our unwillingness to admit that under the cloak of so called caring about preservation of a certain culture and/or civilisation or so called "Other" we often try to hide our guilt about basic human neglect for  the very phenomenon we pretend to care about. And there is no room in any museum in this world that will exhibit this sort of hypocrisy of a naked human heart.

My Brother's Keeper

by Nicholas Powers

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Photos © Dennis W. Ho

 

 

"C'mon jump," the man yelled to the cop on the roof. It was early Saturday and we were rallying at the 103rd precinct. On the roof, a cop laughed as black people pointed at him. "C'mon pig, jump," the man next to me taunted. Behind the barricades, the police eyed us. We saw our strength in their fear and wanted to take away the power they had over us.

 

It was the power of life and death and on November 25th they used it against three men leaving the Kalua nightclub in Queens. Trent Benefield, Joseph Guzman and Sean Bell were going after two rude-boys tried to push their way into Bell's bachelor party. Threats were traded each saying they had a gun. Bell told his friends it was time to go.

 

As they sat in the car, an undercover cop who heard the threats walked up, hand on his gun. He did not show his badge. He did not say he was police. "He got a gat! Be out!" shouted Guzman. Bell rammed the car forward into a van. Backed up and rammed it again to get away. The cop fired, repeatedly. Soon, other shots echoed in the street.   

 

In the car, glass shattered and their bodies were punched around by bullets. Benefield fell out pleading, "Stop shooting at me!" Inside the car, gasped through a torn neck until he had no more strength to try. The cops had shot 50 bullets at the four men. No gun was found in the car.

 

The next day, New York read about the killings. After hearing how many shots were fired many of us had the same question. Did they enjoy killing him?  Officer Mike Oliver shot 31 times. He shot, reloaded and shot again. When did fear and panic become rage? What did he see in the darkness of the car that needed to be so destroyed?

 

On Friday December 1st, I went to Bell's funeral at Community Church of Christ, where he and his fiancé planned to marry. Church men in dark suits guided us in. "No cameras please," they said and we turned off our cell-phones. A news crew was in line and he shooed them away. "They never came around before," the woman in front of me said. "They don't care about Sean they just here to make money." I hummed agreement.

 

The line going into the church was black. Across the street, the line of reporters was white. They wanted to wrap him in headlines and tell us the meaning of his death. We had a different need, it was not to see the body but make him into a symbol of own. 

 

We entered the rose-scented church and I watched people lay prayer over his face. When I glimpsed him my eyes flinched. It hurt because it was my death too. They shot 50 bullets into the blackness we both share and now, the value of my life depends on the price they pay for his murder. Bell's face was grey and bloated and young. Walking away, I knew whatever is said must bear the weight of his lost life.

 

Next to the church, media trucks glowed as TV anchors waved their microphones like metal detectors searching for treasure. Activists worked the crowed, handing out flyers. I took one and read it but could feel ambition in the air.

 

Faces circled the camera-light as if to audition for the Revolution. Only a few spots were open and activists who never came to the neighborhood were now speaking for it. A white woman held a sign that read People's Organization for Progress over a man being interviewed. "You don't know Sean Bell", a black woman screamed at her. "I live in an African-American community!" she pleaded and touched her chest. "What! Get out my face," the black woman hollered. "You don't even talk black!" The activist hurried away as curses pelted her. Reporters aimed the lens at the heckler and she took out her camera and took pictures of them.    

 

 

It began to rain and everyone opened umbrellas. In that silence, the family came out of the church singing Amazing Grace. The pain they sang stunned me. Behind the fence we chanted, "No justice no peace!" Our rage and their sadness rolled back and forth over his coffin as it was lifted in the hearse.

 

When they drove away, activists and reporters surged into the street. We moved around blindly as if inside a boiling pot. The Bloods showed up and some of us looked at each other with the same question. Finally I asked, "Don't they kill black men?" A black couple raised their eyebrows and shook their heads. "Not all the time," a man scolded me, "They're lost and need direction."

 

A black woman with a camera walked up to the Bloods, "So brothers, what do you have to say about police brutality?" It was her test, if they were tough then what do they say about a death that could so easily have been theirs? The Bloods eyed each other over the red bandannas and stepped back. They had the same awkwardness I had as a boy. In that gesture, I saw how close and far we are from each other.

 

They were kids and we feared them. Are we so broken, I thought, we need Black Nationalist rhetoric to love each other? Next to me, a Rasta-man intoned "Burn the city down." A black girl looked around in wonder, then at him. "We can't burn the city down," she said. "We got to live here."

 

Next day, on Saturday December 2nd, I followed the flyer an activist gave me to the Kalua night-club. The New Black Panther Party called for a rally at the altar for Sean Bell. Many Panthers are ex-Nation of Islam and their national chairman, Maliki Shabazz has used his life to complete Malcolm X's half lived one. Malcolm X wanted to be a lawyer. Shabazz became one. Malcom X died for the Cause. Shabazz would get us to kill for it. 

 

The Panthers used the "Black Power!" war-cry to keep the air warm until Shabazz came.  He held a white bullhorn that boomed out his raspy voice. I wondered if he gave it a little gruff to sell the speeches. Performers can't sustain the flow of feeling without being worn down, so they give us the signs of passions without risking health. Except now, it was us at risk. It was our delicate bodies caught in this struggle for power. "We don't need a permit," Shabazz challenged. "How are you going to ask permission from the very people who are killing you?"

 

We marched down Jamaica Avenue like a river of rage. Shabazz stopped us in the middle of the street. "We have to hit them were it hurts," he pointed at the stores, "50 shots, 50 day boycott! Don't buy from these stores!" People stared from sidewalks, wanting to join but were too weighed down by shopping bags.

 

The power of the march got to some. A Blood turned to a white female cop, "You a bitch yo, yeah you cop, \caps{SUCK MY DICK!}" I saw her eyes lock and arms tighten. Another brother, eyes flashing like knives cursed a black female cop. "You should be ashamed of yourself for wearing that uniform," he yelled. "A woman should not wear the authority of a man. Read Deuteronomy!" I wanted to ask her how she endured this war for her loyalty but I didn't risk being seen as a traitor.

 

We gathered in front of the 103rd precinct. Men took turns hollering through the bullhorn. "Revolutionary greetings," a brother in a leather jacket got up. "We got black men in the army who know how to shoot," he said as his face flushed. "We can get a tank, roll it through here and blow up this police station!" We laughed. He overstepped the line between fact and fantasy and snapped our suspension of disbelief. Shabazz raised his hand. 

 

"If they are more murders," he aimed the bullhorn at the cops, "We will kill you!" It was dangerous theater. Fear and excitement pulsed through us like a heartbeat. No one wanted to get beaten or arrested and no one wanted to seem weak. He pulled us back from the momentary dizziness. "But we are disciplined" Shabazz assured and in the back, I sighed.

 

In the headiness a Blood and a Crip, were hoisted on the shoulders of the Panthers and embraced, their arms like stitches over the wound made by 50 bullets. I put down my pen. The whole day, I kept my hands busy taking notes when they shouted "Black Power!" I knew enough history to be suspicious. Usually, "Black Power" became the personal power of which ever leader called for it. Except now, for this, I held up my fist too.

 

I wondered what permanent good would we achieve? And not just this one but all the marches that began at Bell's death. What would change at the end of it and what would be the price? Later that night, I received a call from the New Black Panther Party secretary. His voice had the eager sincerity of someone trying to catch up to their ideals. We rapped for an hour. I told him dome of the rage was ugly and silly. "I feel you," he conceded "Some of it was ..."

 

He said our people were mentally poisoned but we could recover. "Your melanin makes you morally superior to the white man," he cooed. "It's just not in their nature, brother." I was silent. "Brother man, c'mon," he said, "You know this." I looked at my yellow hand and wondered how prone my body was to sin. I thought about all my wrongs of just the past week and laughed. I thought about the past year and stopped.

 

"Holiness isn't for everyone," I said. We hung up but the euphoria of togetherness lingered. I shook my head and one of my dreadlocks fell down. Am I my brother's keeper? I tugged on it like a chain. 

 

I went to the Wednesday December 6th at Police Plaza One. Cops set-up a maze of barricades to squeezed people into a pen at Foley Square. Inside, hundreds of protestors shook the air with "Kelly must go!" If Sean Bell became the symbol of black innocence, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly became a symbol of white racism. Neither was the truth of the man but a crime had been committed and we needed a target. Ideas are not as satisfying to destroy as a man.

 

In the crowd, smaller stages were carved out by the camera light. Black Israelites in Egyptian costume talked of the Original Black Man as a man in camouflage yelled repeatedly, "Daniel in da' Lion's Den!" Communists wove through the crowd, holding their newspapers. Most of the audience was youth with no ideological loyalty. Our color was our cause. A man was selling pan-African flags. I bought one and waved it to save my voice from yelling. 

 

"We're marching!" someone shouted as the crowd walked to the street. A wall of police stood grim faced, arms crossed. "Go back to Long Island pigs!" young men cackled. They held a banner with the spray-painted slogan "Police Number #1 Enemy" that tilted back and forth over the police and protesters arguing.

 

The police crumbled and the march moved. A helicopter chopped the sky as we banged drums and chanted "Fuck the Police!" In the light of the helicopter we became black silhouettes indistinguishable from one another.

 

We escaped the maze of police barricades and marched into the larger maze of the city. I looked at the buildings around us, where money traveled through electronic signals far above our heads. In these streets half of Black and Latino children don't graduate from high school and half will be unemployed as adults. Generations have been abandoned by the city and herded by police into prisons. I stared at the lights and remembered Shabazz calling for revenge, Sharpton for a federal investigation and Barron for community control over police. Would any of it change the historical forces that kept these buildings lit and their doors closed?

 

After the march, we gathered near the banner. Barron came out and spoke. "Remember," he said tapping the end of the sentence with his finger. "On December 21st, we shut down Wall Street!" Cameras lit Barron as if he was a statue. While leaving, revolutionaries hollered into microphones, heating up rhetoric to keep the night from going cold with silence. Two men walked by me, one had communist leaflets crumpled in his hand. "How they trying to tell me about the truth," he said. "Nigga, I've been living this for 20 years!"

 

In his complaint, I saw the white Left and black radicals struggling over Sean Bell's name. A new movement was in the streets but the direction it would take is unknown and the divisions within it are already clear. What will happen as the winter comes? Will Bell's murder become layered over by snow and gift wrap?  Or will black people go on a consumer fast and not buy from white owned stores? I held the pan-African flag in my hands and swore to follow the boycott yet a part of me wondered what am really I buying into?

 

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Baraka

 

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Last week was a nutty one, in New Jersey. Bob Torricelli stepped down, and Amiri Baraka did not. Baraka, the poet, dramatist, and activist formerly known as LeRoi Jones, is the state's poet laureate. Why he is the poet laureate is a good question, considering that he's a revolutionary, a Marxist, and a conspiracy theorist, who not only goes around calling people "Nazis" but pronounces it "Nazzies" (as in snazzy).

 

There is nothing neccessarily wrong with any of these inclinations per se, but they would seem to give a politician pause. Still, in August Governor James E. McGreevy courageously or foolishly, proclaimed Baraka laureate, a sinecure worth ten thousand dollars a year, and managed to get in a few quiet weeks before he was made to regret the appointment, on learning that Baraka had written (and read aloud at a festival) a poem about September llth, titled "Somebody Blew Up America. " Baraka's poem suggested, among other things, that four thousand Israelis who worked in the World Trade Center had been tipped off about the terrorist attack and stayed home that day. This, of course, is a version of an insidious hot widely discredited ru- mor that has been embraced in places like Damascus and Marseilles but is beneath the dignity of Trenton and Newark The Anti-Defamation League went bananas and the Governor called for Baraka's resignation.

 

Last week, Baraka used an appearance at an event at the Newark Public Library to respond to his critics. The television reporters, rowdy disciples, and bewildered library patrons who packed the grand panelled hall on the second floor brought a prizefight atmosphere to the musty stacks. When Baraka hunched, gray-bearded, gray-suited, took the lectern, he said, "This is my statement I will not apologize, I will not resign. " There was raucous applause and cries of "Yessir!" Baraka began reading: "The recent dishonest, consciously distorted, and insulting non-interpretation of my poem by the Anti-Defamation League is fundamentally an attempt to defame me and, with that, an attempt to repress and stigmatize independent thinkers everywhere. "

 

There followed a forty five-minute diatribe, in which he defended his work, fleshed out his sources (Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, the Jordanian news paper Al Watan, and other such impeccables), and pressed his case that the terrorist attack, of 9/11 were part of a global white-supremacist conspiracy. While, short on logic, it was long on citation. (He even said "op. cit. ") Distressingly, crowd reaction was split-generally, blacks nodding their heads, whites shaking theirs. He concluded with some words about poetry, citing Keats and Du Bois, Truth and Beauty, and the imperative"to illuminate the human mind and bring light into the world. "

 

Afterward, he made his may out of the hall, greeting well-wishers, State of the Union style, and rode down an elevator with a few associates. ("Ask someone to bring me a barbecue sandwich, " he told one of them. ) Then he stepped out into a garden next to the library, for a press conference. There was some good mayhem in the garden Camera- men jostled and joshed. There were arguments, intra- and interracial, about racial profiling, Zionism, and Ralph Nader. A woman from the A. D. L. offered comment. A black man with a gray beard sidled up to white reporters and muttered, "Watch out, I'll stick a foot up in your ass. " Some activists had ducttaped a banner to the garden wall with lines from "Somebody Blew Up America, " which takes the form of an extended inquiry as to who perpetrated various atrocities and misdeeds:

 

 

 

Who made Bush president

Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying

Who talk about democracy and be lying

 

 

A producer from CNN asked, "Do you know who?"

 

Baraka said, "I don't purport to be a statistician. I don't have a mainframe. If I had a staff, like you do at CNN, I could answer these questions. "

 

"So there isn't actually a known answer to your questions?"

 

Baraka looked at her with some disdain. "No. " After a moment, he said, "It seems to me that the government and the A. D. L. ought to apologize to me. " Then he grinned. "They should also pay me. " His poet-laureate check, apparently was late.

 

It was hard not to wonder, as the crowd dispersed, about the role of poetry in today's fractious world. In 1969, Baraka wrote, in "Black Art, "

 

 

 

Poems are bullshit unless they are

teeth or toes or lemon, piled

on a step. . .

We want live

words of the hip world live flesh &

coursing blood.

 

 

Or perhaps it made more sense to turn to New York's official state poet, John Ashbery. "The true crisis is only now coming to rest," he writes, in "This Deuced Cleverness."

 

 

Birdie, on your tree,

I like you. Can't we be friends?

 

 

--The New Yorker, October 14 & 21, 2002, pags. 66-67

 

 

Welcome to: THELONGERTHEBETTER

      Welcome to: THELONGERTHEBETTER

      Norman Ohler

 

Mandelbrot-like patterns of sweat shine on the right side of the forehead of Maxx Ersatzgestalt. It is night. The blue-pale monitor of his computer moons the room. Sets. Looses. Dominant Light forces its way through the openings of the window shades and spills over the computer and Maxx and the wall against which he leans. His naked torso becomes a screen. Night. Not alone. No stars but abstract city: New York. Emitting so much electricity that Maxx is touched: New York: Emitting jumpy quantums of light which dance on his skin, and his walls. Rays which tell him about communications that are happening somewhere else. Not a spot in his apartment, or on his skin that is not at one point licked by light. No possibility to stay secluded.

 

It is night. Maxx drinks water. He longs for simplicity.( 1} Diffused colors shoot and shimmer like a display of never ending Northern photons. Blues and reds arc and flash and represent: Data moving through space: Telefon/Fax/E-mail: ever-present digital messages. Maxx can feel: the inferiority of individuals in the creation and dissemination of information. Outside, there is an organism, hungry for impulses-

 

Three times a week, Maxx Ersatzgestalt gets paid for his essence. His workplace: all the way on the top. The 71st floor of the Empire State Building, directly underneath the tourist platform. The oldest and biggest sperm bank of New York. From the donation-room, Maxx has a clear view of the scraper-ensemble. All the way down: people like dots who wait for his genetic coding. For his: information.

 

It is night. Flowing crystals on the skin of Maxx Ersatzgestalt. Quiet, soul-less light-wells. Constellations that chanage from moment to moment, with every transaction of data. Maxx feels like being inside a liquid universe.\footnote{2} Night -- doesn't exist anymore.

 

So little and shy and wipeable the letters on the monitor. Maxx sits in front of his computer and starts to write: anxious, disturbed. Sleepless-night-aura. More petting the keys than pressing them. He writes: this story. Then he activates his modem. Connects his computer with the Internet, with millions of other computers, millions of humans. He navigates through cyberspace and leaves this story at several digital crossings: accessible for an uncontrollable amount of people that can read the material and work with it.

 

File Sent proclaims the monitor and Maxx tries to gaze through it. He wants to follow his words, he desires to be a witness of their further destinies. He wants to experience the hidden meanings that are going to bloom. He feels connected with his words which by now may already have changed. He feels connected to his text -- and that's why he sets it free: his semen, his image of reality, or meaning, of life.

 

Maxx Ersatzgestalt leans back, and bathes his eyes in the sea of information that washes through his apartment. He knows: He is part. He is happy.

 

bibliography

 

1 Compare to Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus spoke Zarathustra. The Nightson, Stuttgart, 1964, p. 96.

 

2 Compare to Kristin Spence: Electrotecture. Wired Magazine, August/September. San Francisco, 1993, p. 60.

Gusto de las historias con perras como personajes

La perra de mi vecina, pequeña, blanca, peluda. La lleva en su cartera con su cabecita saltarina mirando a todos en el tren, que ha tomado en la estación West 4. La gente sonríe cuando ven a la peludita. En la estación de la calle 14 un policía se abre paso. Intenta entrar al tren entre medio de la muchedumbre y ¡PAFFFFFF! la macana se suelta y achueca al animal.

Hypertexture

The virtual and partial symbolic representation for and replacement of the physical elements of human life are monumental alterations to the nature in which those with access and or witness to technology interact with and within the universe. As the time members of our species engage in and between simulated and physical realities fluctuates the pictures that our perception forms of the tangible elements of existence change. Moreover then henceforth artists' and viewers' respective expressions and or understanding of physical reality in the fine and applied arts in physical space and cyberspace evolve. Summarily one of the phenomenological progressions in this relatively new inter-dimensional dialectic addressing how both painterly and morphically responsive digital textures emerge with the facility of one paradigm translated into the dimension of another (as well as in what could be termed visually hyphenated hybrid forms) is "Hypertexture".