Thursday, December 31, 2009

Authors@Google

Harold Jaffe will present at the Google Authors Series on Friday, Feb 19, at noon, in San Francisco. Rushdie, Chomsky, Zizek, and other heavyweights have presented at Authors@Google.

Anyone who wants to attend should contact Hal so that he can give your name to Google; his guests will then be invited to lunch (on Google's tab).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Boys and their toys. Girls too.

Teachers know how difficult it is to persuade administrators to "allow" the use of technology in the classroom. It's perhaps a mark of envy that when I read "Don't knock blogging - it's an answer to our literacy problems" I knew it couldn't be about a high school in the U.S.A.
According to all the data, Daniel Moseley and Rahil Thobhani ought to hate writing. Educational research shows that many British schoolchildren are struggling with this basic skill, and that secondary school boys from poorer city areas are among those who flounder most.

But these two 11-year-olds sit in their school library talking passionately about letting their imaginations run riot, and how you can use suspense and dialogue to craft a good story.
Fortunately, we can assign blog writing to college students - who are also "struggling" with mastering writing. At the very least it will ensure they know how to do something other than play online games and copy-and-paste a research paper: Don't assume because they are twenty they are internet-literate (and don't assume because I'm fifty I'm not).

By the way, writing - online or offline - is a lifelong struggle for us all, which is as it should be.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Death in Texas

A pair of Amsterdam researchers, Andreas R.T. Schuck and Janelle Ward, published a study in Discourse and Society (Vol 19(1): 43–62) concerning the final statements of death row inmates in Texas.

Last statements of death row inmates represent a genre of discourse characterized by an acute situation in which to express final reflections. This article describes how Texas death row inmates give meaning to their situation by examining their last statements. Between December 1982 and November 2006, 379 offenders were executed on the Texas death row. Through the inspection of 283 last statements made available on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, we identify strategies of self presentation.
Harold Jaffe's statements of Texas death row inmates, "Death in Texas," examines the variety of such statements, suggesting the differences in facing one's death. Not many people have a chance to sum up their lives, and these men and women are given a rare, privileged gift.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eduardo Galeano on Brecht

From Century of the Wind, the third volume of a three volume tome of the history of the Americas, called Memory of Fire.

1942: Hollywood

"Brecht"

Hollywood manufactures films to turn the frightful vigil of humanity, to the point of annihilation, into sweet dreams. Bertolt Brecht, exiled from Hitler's Germany, is employed in this sleeping-pill industry. Founder of a theater that sought to open eyes wide, he earns his living at the United Artists studios, just one more writer who works office hours for Hollywood, competing to produce the biggest daily ration of idiocies.

On one of these days, Brecht buys a little God of Lucky for forty cents in a Chinese store and puts it on his desk. Brecht has been told that the God of Luck licks his lips each time they make him take poison.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Walls Around the World


On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, BBC Mundo looks at barriers, which are still standing -- or have gone up since -- around the world.






From Northern Ireland to South Korea to Cyprus -- walls once embedded take on a life of their own -- dividing countries, social economic classes, and in some cases, family members.



Since the beginning of the year, Rio de Janeiro has been building walls around its favelas -- shanty towns on the hills around the city -- which will eventually be surrounded by concrete with a total length of 8.6 miles.



At the end of the 20th Century, Spain began constructing barriers in Ceuta and Melilla, to prevent illegal immigration from Africa. The people of Ceuta and Melilla have paid the price of living in a fortified city.



Designed as a temporary measure to keep fighting Protestant and Catholic communities apart, many "peace walls" are stills standing. The most recent wall was built as last year at a primary school north of Belfast.


The border between Mexico and the United States is 1,988 miles long. The US government has built a metal wall along a third of it, at an estimated cost so far of $2.5 billion to prevent the arrival of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Checkpoint 303 Beats Drum for Resistance

Checkpoint 303 composes activist breakbeats and middle-eastern electronica to promote peace, human rights and justice in the middle-east.

Their music is available for free download at http://www.checkpoint303.com or Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/checkpoint303.



Here's a piece the band recently wrote for Common Ground News Service (CGNews) available at: www.commongroundnews.org

Tear down the wall and dance!
06 March 2008

EAST JERUSALEM and LYON, FRANCE — We had nearly finished getting our gear off the stage when someone from the audience came up to congratulate us on our show. After telling us how much he enjoyed the music and video projection, he added, with a slightly troubled look on his face: “…but I have a problem. Isn’t it somehow wrong to dance to music that deals with the Palestinian cause?” He explained that while he found himself dancing to some of the more up-beat songs, he could not help asking himself whether it was okay to dance to the message our music embodies.

We were pleased to hear about his ‘dilemma’. This is precisely what our band, Checkpoint 303, is all about. Instead of telling the audience what to think about the issue of Palestine, which would be a ridiculously naïve attitude, we try to trigger a reflective process in our listeners.


This same question is put to us every now and again. Obviously there’s no universal answer. Every individual has to discover what they consider to be right, that’s the point; it’s ultimately all about the process of figuring it out. But for those who feel guilty grooving to the sound of a serious humanitarian issue, we have one consolation: silly I-love-you-baby lyrics need not be the unique criterion for danceable music.

This said, Checkpoint 303 is not a dance music band. The songs we consider successful are ones that involve the listener in the artistic process, songs in which the listener participates in creating the statement, as opposed to passively consuming a message. This can only be achieved by avoiding music with a ready-to-go, prêt-à-porter, take-away message.


How can this be achieved from a practical point of view? By contrast to other forms of musical activism, we do not rely on lyrics to convey our message. Checkpoint 303’s music is primarily based on field we record throughout the Middle East, and Palestine in particular—covering a large spectrum of predominantly urban sounds: people talking in the old city of Jerusalem, a traffic jam in Ramallah, excerpts of a local Bethlehem radio station, the sound of an identity control at an Israeli checkpoint, the chanting of a demonstration in the west bank, etc. We then transform the audio material into loops, onto which we add electronic beats, riffs and melodies played on oud (oriental lute), keyboard or guitar.


When our ‘sound catchers’, SC Yosh or Cheikh Julio, are on the street with their recording gear, they are not looking for a specific sound to convey a pre-defined impression or statement. The essence of our music is to capture, fragment, and reconstruct the soundtrack of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet we don’t restrict our music to only portraying the suffering and hardship of life under occupation. The media is doing a fantastically wrong and biased job of exclusively depicting the negative aspects of life in this tormented region of the world. By contrast, our music includes rhythms of “normal” life, the supposedly insignificant things that never make headlines, but help make possible the very idea of “hope” in Palestine.


Many Palestinian families heroically try, against all odds, to get along with their lives, educate their children, and dream of a better future—one worth living for. There are positive stories to report from Palestine. Our attempt to make music based on objective field recordings in the Middle East is in itself a challenging intellectual exercise. But, at the end of the day, that is precisely what yields the necessary degree of realism and humanity that is the backbone of our music.
Our aim, then, is to blend the aesthetics of electronic music composition with the social, economical, and humanitarian dimensions of reality in Palestine in a way that actively involves the listener in shaping the message. But does this make our work political? Although it may be perceived as such, our creative intentions are not political per se. They are driven by fundamental humanitarian values. It seems to us that the universality of human rights should in theory be both the common ground and the starting point to achieve peace. Additionally, when it comes to the question of whether our art is politically correct or not, the answer is simple: we do not care as long as it is humanly correct. We are artists, not politicians; this allows us the luxury of being able to tell the truth from a humanitarian point of view with no fear of electoral consequences!

Electronic music and audiovisual experimentation are the tools Checkpoint 303 uses to react to both the virtual and physical walls the occupation has created. These walls are also being hacked by the flourishing Palestinian hip-hop and trip-hop scene (e.g. DAM, Ramallah Underground, G-Town, Arapeyat, etc.) but also international artists such as the British graffiti artist Banksy or the American indie songwriter and political activist David Rovics to name but a few.

###

This article is part of a special series on Art and Conflict, which surveys the work of art in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and examines the political dimensions of art in general.

Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Checkpoint 303 collaborates with film-makers, musicians, and visual artists from around the globe. Its free tunes from occupied territories are an act of resistance and a celebration of hope.

Checkpoint 303 was invited by Massive Attack to be a support band for three shows in the UK in 2007 and in France in 2008. We are also very much into performing in alternative venues and spaces where the aesthetics and meaning of sound/noise and its link to social activism can be reconsidered and explored...

Over the last two years, the band has performed electronic and live sets in several countries (USA, Australia, Canada, France, Palestine, Tunisia, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Japan, etc.) spreading the word for peace and human rights through a blend of twisted electronica, downtempo, break-beats, oriental riffs and field recordings...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Empty Slate

I recently found myself between stories. I had written some long overdue work that now finished left me without any new big ideas. Several days had gone by without an epiphany. Sure, I had some revisions to finish for submissions, but there was nothing new percolating in the pot. It was a strange feeling. Usually my mind is cluttered with unwritten (and unwritable) story lines, but this week I was an empty slate.

There must have been more creative space alloted to those old projects than I realized. I'm glad I got them out, although success was mixed. Some were not all as interesting once written as I hoped. However, the last chapter I think has not been written.

The question now is: What’s next? Where do other writers turn for inspiration: newspapers, cocktail parties, the box of old journals in the garage? Should I play mechanic and weld together spare out-takes? Or should I just relax and let the ideas start trickling back on their own accord.

I've a number of Fiction International volumes whose edgy nature quicken the blood and strike the imagination. I also carry a skinny reporter’s notebook in my back pocket for unexpected thoughts and observations. That eases the burden from the mind to both create and remember.

So my net is cast. The store is open for business. Bring me your tired and your hungry, your ironic, your iconic, bring me complexities, allegories, and metaphors, bring me time travel, self discovery, sex and contempt, bring me redemption, bring me tragedy. Keep it messy, imperfect, and real. Bring me these discordant, beautiful misanthropes with whom I can play life and make music. Just be sure to jostle me if I'm lost in a daydream.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some thoughts on walls. With bonus reference to masturbation.


I work as a hired gun writer in the corporate world, and like everyone in office life, walls are very important to me. Increasingly, due to space constraints, money troubles, or sadism, many companies in recent years have moved employees into cubicles. I call them veal pens. I know from past experience that cube life is awful. Cubicles are designed in part to buffer noise, but they’re typically very ineffective. For six months at previous job I worked one cube away from a woman whose adolescent-Britney-Spears-attired daughter was tethered to her by the virtual umbilical of her cell phone. Apparently the girl had gotten caught smoking pot with one of the school bad boys and this was as close to affixing a Lo-Jack to her child as she could come without Social Services getting involved. She would call several times a day when she knew her daughter was between classes or at lunch, and especially every day after school. I heard half of the conversation about every bit of domestic family minutiae particularly that the girl was NOT TO HAVE BOYS OVER and NO she could not wear a lingerie top to school.

A current coworker told me about one cube-neighbor who had a habit of nervously rocking back and forth in her chair most of the day. "The chair creaked and squeaked. I tried to oil it, but it didn't work. I would complain sometimes but she was a transplanted New Yorker. She’d just say, 'Put on your fuckin' headphones!' I finally swapped chairs with her, but a couple of weeks later that one started squeaking. She was a chair killer."

Maybe worse than sound is smell. In cube life, if your coworker wears too much perfume or passes gas all day, you’re pretty much bathing in their odors. Another cube neighbor in my past was phobic about germs and had a hard-on for Lysol aerosol, spraying it all over his workspace at the beginning of the day and before returning to work after lunch, presumably in case someone had spread anthrax across his keyboard in his absence. Clouds of pine scent would waft over the partition and rain down on me like Agent Orange.

Everyone who's worked in a cubicle has one of these stories. In all of them it seems to me there is an underlying yearning for some solitude and space to yourself, a need which is increasingly disallowed in the modern office, the ethos of which typically prizes surveillance over privacy.

In my current job, there is both more and less privacy than in my cube life days. More privacy in that everyone in my group works in offices rather than cubicles, but less in that since I'm a contractor, I'm roomed with two other members of my team in an office smaller than ones occupied by one full-time employee. I don't mind much at this point because I like my coworkers and they're both women. In prior contracts I've roomed with men: typically tech geeks who were so invested in the virtual world that they neglect almost everything real-world, including and especially hygiene and housekeeping. During these times, I've worked in near darkness (primarily nocturnal creatures, tech geek eyes can only bear the illumination provided by their dim monitors) and a funky blend of B.O. and the aromas of old pizza and coffee. One guy was so gung-ho to get hired full-time that he would sleep in the office to show his dedication to pulling the long hours. With the poor ventilation it filled up overnight with the odors of his nocturnal gas emissions fueled by eating burritos and vending machine fare.

Certainly, offices represent status in the workplace. They indicate the inhabitant is important and valued and trusted enough to have privacy. The really important people have locks on their doors, a fact that is excruciatingly titillating to the rest of us, because, while it's never talked about, everyone knows that locks on doors mean office sex, either accompanied or solo. When such privacy is not provided, I tend to find it. Whereas some people are drawn to the furnishings or fine decor of a house or office, my eye naturally gravitates to closets, alcoves, and other secluded areas. I’m always wondering, “could I fit in there?” I adopted this practice as a child when I used to hide from schoolyard predators in one of the overturned tractor tires at the periphery of the schoolyard.

Since my jobs for much of my life have been menial and/or clerical, I've often had the luxury of having keys to storage rooms or other lightly trafficked places where I could hide from the Man, read a book, have a little nap, or perhaps indulge in a little stress-and-boredom-relieving office onanism. And let’s face it, sex is sweet, but sex on company time is sublime.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Korean Reunification

On Monday, I saw a documentary as part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival, called Tiger Spirit.
Korean Canadian filmmaker Min Sook Lee intended her project to focus on the elusive and possibly extinct Korean Tiger, which is an important symbol for the Korean fighting spirit.
During filming however Lee's attention turns to the 56-year-old wall separating the two Koreas and millions of family members.
The heavily guarded DMZ was created in 1953, following the 3-year Korean war that ended in stalemate and armistice between the communist-backed North and U.S.-backed South.
At the time, Koreans assumed reunification would shortly follow.
Separation then was 'merely' geographical. It has over the years become a wide cultural expanse. South Korea has opened to capitalism while North Korea of course has grown more isolated.
During the film, we meet former North Koreans who defected south and find themselves strangers adrift in a foreign country. They must attend indoctrination classes to repatriate. They rely on each other. They start families. Get jobs. But when they close their eyes, they still dream of the Korea they know in the North. They can never return.
However, the film culminates with a 3-day reunification event between family members separated during the war. Those who fled to the South are now well into their 70s, 80s and 90s. They are picked by a lottery to attend. Many who have applied discover that their siblings and cousins have died off in the five decades.
The reunions are tightly controlled and observed. Lee doesn't tell us exactly who is observing. We know the North Koreans are under watch, but we must also assume the South Korean government has its own interests in the event. Participants are allowed only two hours of privacy in a hotel room during one of the days.
Those who are selected see old men and women looking back at them. They try to communicate through the barriers of time and dementia. As the last meeting ends, the North Koreans board buses to return them to Pyongyang. Their old family members waving them off can be heard crying and breaking down as they see their siblings probably for the last time.
It's a heartbreaking tale created by one of the most enduring walls of the last half century.
-Ned

Walt Whitman, Ad Man or Mad Man?

Here's an ad agency using Walt Whitman to sell jeans:



Can a poem sell? Of course. Should a poem be used to sell? Well, Walt's dead, so he has no say.

Teachers could see the ad campaign as a teaching tool, to sell students on poetry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In New York? Come to a reading!

A Reading to Honor the Artist in Wartime issue of Fiction International. At The Lounge, Hudson View Gardens, Pinehurst Avenue and 183rd Street, NYC, Sunday, November 8th at 4:00 p.m.

Featuring contributors to the issue:

  • Harold Jaffe "one of our finest literary terrorists / freedom fighters" – Paradoxa


  • Patricia Eakins "intriguing and entertaining" – Greg Boyd, Asylum


  • A Tribute to Daniel Berrigan, S.J. "[Berrigan] deserves a place of honor on this century's highest shelf." - Boston Post


  • Reading in tribute to Father Berrigan: Joel Allegretti, Steve Brouwer, Michael Crosby, Gordon Gilbert, Deirdre Mahoney, and Peter Martin.

    Harold Jaffe is the author of fifteen books of fiction and creative nonfiction, most recently Jesus Coyote (a docu-novel), and Beyond the Techno-Cave: A Guerrilla Writer's Guide to Post-Millennial Culture, a collection of creative nonfiction. Jaffe's books have been translated into Japanese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish. Jaffe is editor-in-chief of Fiction International.

    Patricia Eakins is the author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories and The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste (a novel), which won both the NYU Press Prize for Fiction and the Capricorn Prize of the Writer’s Voice. She is the recipient of two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Paris Review has awarded her the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction.

    Poet, playwright, and biographer Daniel Berrigan, S.J., is an internationally renowned peace activist, a member of the Catonsville Nine and the Plowshares Eight. He was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is also a recipient of the Lamont Poetry Prize, the Thomas Merton Award, the Pax Christi USA Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award, and the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. He has taught religious studies and theology in various universities and has been a contributing editor to Sojourners, a magazine of faith, politics, and culture.

    Suggested donation of $7 includes one free drink and free snacks. Reception after to meet the writers. For more information call 212-923-7800, x1342.

    Meta Roles II

    What is the role of a meta narrative. When is it used effectively?

    Meta narratives, which are secondary narratives outside of the main story line, serve to intentionally disrupt the main discourse.

    Author and SDSU professor Stephen Paul Martin said recently that writers who use meta narratives walk a fine line between annoying the reader – forcing the reader to see the work from a new distance - and losing the reader entirely.

    He said meta narratives are intentionally alienating – a reference to Bavarian playwright Bertolt Brecht’s alienation effect.

    Brecht used meta elements in his epic theater in the 1940s in order to discomfort his audience and wake them from the suspension of disbelief.

    According author and SDSU professor Harold Jaffe, Brecht's alienation effect compelled his audience to think about what they were viewing.

    "That is, it encourages the reader/viewer to be pent rather than purged in the Aristotelian sense," he wrote in an email. "The alienation works like conceptual art where thinking is privileged over feeling."

    Prompted by Dr. Jaffe to delve further into the alienation effect, I reached out to Martin via email and asked him to elaborate on his comments.

    Martin replied that metafiction is often called anti-fiction because it destroys the illusion that a conventional story relies on.

    “Another way to think about metafiction is to think about what we mean when we praise a work for being spellbinding, for being able to hypnotize us so that we believe that black marks on a white surface are actually people in places doing things,” he wrote. “One of the crucial disruptive functions of metafiction is to break this spell, to expose the verbal machinery that allows an author to weave a spell, to show us what the spell is made of, to show us how the magician/author performs his trick, and so destroy the spell's power.”

    In our modern culture, individuals spend most of their waking hours operating in virtual worlds -- at computers or in front of televisions -- being fed various fictional illusions from politics to consumer advertising. All of these are narrative fictions, said Martin.

    “There are also economic, historical, scientific, anthropological, and personal fictions that cast spells on us to varying degrees, and the combination of these spells creates a consensual hallucination we've been trained to call reality,” Martin wrote.

    Metafiction can help us to break this spell and create enough separation from the language of authoritative discourses for what they are -- thus neutralizing their power, he said.

    "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," Martin wrote. "Metafictions show us what the man behind the curtain is doing, and how he does it. They disrupt the flow of comforting and seductive illusions.”

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    The money wall

    The rich love to create money walls between themselves and "the rest." It doesn't matter if the walls they erect ultimately boomerang and take them down.

    The argument of this fascinating and deeply provoking book is easy to summarise: among rich countries, the more unequal ones do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator you can imagine. They do worse even if they are richer overall, so that per capita GDP turns out to be much less significant for general wellbeing than the size of the gap between the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the population (the basic measure of inequality the authors use).

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    meta-roles

    We're workshopping a story today about a helicopter pilot in Allied occupied West Germany. It's filled with detailed descriptions of post-Nazi Germany, but also a twist which promises to get mixed reviews. The third person character, McKay, is also writing the story, which is being reviewed by his wife Suzan.

    She is making various suggestions to McKay about revising the story. This is a meta approach attempting to make the reader an self-conscious party. The couple also discuss later details in the story, which foreshadows those events.

    At the chapter's conclusion, Suzan asks McKay what she looks like as a character.

    "Are we sitting down at a table? Are we drinking wine? Is it red or white? Do I look lovely tonight? Are you serious about sailing our boat to Hawaii?"

    "Sitting down, red wine, very lovely, quite serious."

    "Oh," she said. "Will you pour me another glass please?"

    Interesting technique. But does it fly?

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Drive In Saturday


    YMO - Cue


    Kraftwerk - Computer Love


    The Clash - Justice Tonight/Kick It Over

    Regarding FI

    Fiction International embraces the unique. That extends to various ways writers tackle narrative perspective. In the Freak issue, "The Dummy of the Ventriloquist's Dummy" is told through a dialogue between a ventriloquist and a pair of rebellious dummies. In "Haunting Your House," the narrator's benefactor is convinced his apartment is haunted by ghosts. We find that his apartment is indeed being visited, but by former Chinese tenants evicted and angry at the gentrification he represents. He just doesn't see them or their hatred, so they may as well be ghosts.

    Thumbing through FI's Pain issue, I'm reminded that narrative can be told through letters and memoir just as well as third-person omniscient.

    This is my first blog for Fiction International. I plan to make various observations on narrative process, which may be of interest to other writers. When I scribbled this out I was in a coffee shop with my reporter's notebook, also thumbing through some midnight story ideas.

    One strikes me: a confrontation between two writers over proprietorship of written work. One is miffed when he learns that his colleague has annexed some of his material into one of his own stories. He essentially wrote through the scene. If one writer constructs a world, are others allowed to 'pass' through? I'll write it out and see how it develops.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Alum: Roland Goity

    Ever wonder what happens to Fiction International assistant editors? Do they wind up sleeping in a dusty corner of San Diego, being harassed and arrested by San Diego's finest? Or worse - sleeping in a dusty office in a university somewhere?

    Worry not more: one alum, Roland Goity, is editor of the illustrious online journal Lit 'N Image - well worth a visit. While you are there, take a look at the gorgeous photographs of John Patrick Ayson, another FI alum.

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Gods and Little Girls

    Gods and Little Girls

    What is worse? To die silently, as life seeps from your wrinkles or to walk panic stricken through the streets worried about the meal for your little chicks? From one side of the river the other looks so enticing. You have a meal in front of you now. Life is good isn't it little chicken? And I can stroke your hair and help you braid it. I can be here with you. Before, I worked while servants prepared your meal on a silver platter and you ate in solitude. Is that better?

    I like that you're here.

    I do too. Tonight I like it. Tomorrow, I will wake up gaunt of worry before the sun rises and roam the streets in fear that there will be no food for you. I will beg in doorways for work and scour the sea floor for crabs with the net of my hands. And I will not rest until there is enough to fatten you like dough.

    And then we can be together?

    Yes, then we can be together again. Beneath the stars, and I can share with you more secrets of life.

    What is the biggest secret?

    The biggest secret is that comfort is meaningless. Comfort is like trying to hold water in your hands. People work their lives to keep the water from leaking through their fingers. No matter how much money they make, or how much comfort they have, they always find more worries. Everywhere they turn, there will be a worry waiting, like a skull smiling at them. The great masters knew this and painted it on canvases that once donned our foyer walls. But some ignore this secret, and they will ruin themselves and the rest of us trying to be comfortable. But no matter how much they toss and turn, their beds will never feel right. They may live longer than I, even though I am old, and they may look young with balms, but they are dying inside as the air seeps from them.

    Do they love?

    You want to talk of love little chick? Everybody should love. Let me tell you a story about love. Your grandpapa and I loved across a thousand years. I think we loved each other before we were born. When our love was already written, and welcomed us to it. That is how old love is. Yes, chicken everybody should love. When we are born, angels wait for us to open our eyes and drape love around us like a velvet robe. And they are happy because love wants nothing more than to share itself.

    Like me and you? Like when we nuzzle each other? Like when you wrap your shawl around me at night?

    Yes chicken. Like that. Are you finished eating? You go ahead and finish. I want you fat. I am old, and have already had my fill. Your grandmother needs just a few morsels, nothing more than a mouthful. Let me tell you more about love. When you were born, I heard angels. They were on either side of my ears, and they whispered over me to each other about your beautiful brown eyes. I said, I know, she has her mother’s eyes. And they said, her smile, look at the dimples her smile makes. And I said, yes, she has her mother's dimples. They said, it’s as if her eyes and mouth smile at once. And I whispered to you, because I didn't want to seem like I was eavesdropping, the world is smiling with you.

    Was mama beautiful?

    She was beautiful. A mother always thinks her children are beautiful. But I have ears too. I heard them say as they walked on the path outside our home that she was the most beautiful girl in the whole valley. Some of the old superstitious ones said she was too beautiful. They came and said a prayer at our doorstep to keep out jealous spirits. You know, some people believe that spirits are easily tempted. Beautiful girls, they say, cause trouble in the heavens between gods. Jealous spirits like that are very dangerous. Some say they will put a scar across a beautiful girl's face to make her ugly, or cast them with disease or lure them into the water and drown them. Then they will try to take the form of the beautiful ones. But they cannot take human form and become even angrier and more jealous. That's why old superstitious women say prayers and light votive candles at the church. They say beautiful girls make spirits even more dangerous which is hard on the village. Don't look so frightened chicken. Those are just old tales. But that's part of life and you should know this.

    Is that what happened to mama? Was she so beautiful that a jealous spirit hurt her?

    No. Your mama died while you were being born. Those are just stories. The only spirits I believe in are good ones: angels who watch over all of us. I told your mama just after you were born that I would look after you. I told her that you would never have to worry. I would make sure you had a full belly, and the rain would stay off your head and the ground would not cut your feet because you would always have a pair of shoes. I told her I would also teach you about life, and teach you how to live a good, rich life that would be meaningful. And when you fell in love and married, that's when I would leave this life, and not a moment before.

    Will jealous spirits hurt me too?

    No, that's enough talk of that. You are beautiful like your mother. There are no jealous spirits, so wipe that worried look off your face. You're through with your plate? Okay, I'll have the rest. Why did you only eat half a piece of bread? You finish this bread, and I'll take the rest of this drumstick. Okay. Besides, there's another tale if you care to believe it, that children who are watched over by their grandmothers are especially protected from jealous spirits. It's one of the most powerful medicines in the world. Grandmothers are the best protection for little girls in the world. So you have nothing to worry about. Do you have enough blanket? Okay. Now let’s go to sleep before you start worrying again. I want to be awake before the household finds us in their doorway. Tomorrow I will find us a better place to sleep and a bed for you my darling chicken. Tomorrow we will have our own dinners and a roof over our heads. There, close your eyes and nuzzle your head in my chest. That's good. Let's dream about angels and love.

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Can we make art with "fortunate failures"?

    In the "Notes From the Underground" blog, James Curcio speculates about "fortunate failures":

    You may set up a class on a div, and check it out in a browser and discover that it did something totally different than you had hoped, or you may apply a filter when producing an audio track, with similar results. Sometimes, those results are undesirable, and you backtrack. But other times, it drives things in a completely new direction.

    That for me, is creativity. Not the intention that got you started in the first place.
    Actually, both are creative. It's not a contest. You now have two potential artworks and are free to pursue both to their conclusions. One is serendipitous and the other intentional, not one good and the other bad or one legitimate and the other false.

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Walking In A Moving World


    ONE HOUR
    SIXTY MINUTE CIRCLE WALK ON DARTMOOR 1984


    English land/conceptual artist/sculpture Richard Long's recent retrospective at the Tate Museum is discussed at Revolutionary Boredom, excerpted here:

    "In terms of artistic production...more interesting....is how [these works] produce an artwork from such immaterial practices. Not only do they attempt to represent a walk, a fleeting experience in itself, but they represent that walk via experiential factors rather than reference (as in a regular map) to solid and identifiable objects like trees or castles or whatever. Most typical of this category is the ‘textwork’, usually a list of observations, feelings or conditions from a walk. The status of one of Long’s textworks is complicated, as it presumably has some personal meaning to Long himself yet remains only suggestive to the observer. Most of the details – including the date and place included on each work – are irrelevant and unverifiable. What these textworks comment upon is not the walk itself, nor the place walked, but the relationship between experiential moment and material representation."

    Beyond the originality of Long's art (and its transitory nature), what interests me here is the notion of a text commenting in some unique and immediate way on "the relationship between experiential moment and material representation." This insight can be generalized to a great many modernist and postmodern practices, and relates to many of the narratives/discourses we might consider innovative.

    In terms of form, Long's "textworks," collected here, can be seen as a form of concrete poetry, (though they also remind one of Francis Ponge's "object" poetry, in their refined consideration for the evocation of specific moment) and could be of considerable interest to students of writing.

    (Note: Richard Long was one of the many sixties artists surveyed in Suzaan Boettger's comprehensive Earthworks: Art and Landscape of the Sixties.)

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Separation as Archaeological Discovery

    The piece below is in response to a recent article reporting the discovery of a wall, 3,700 years old, buried below modern Jerusalem.

    Separation as Archaeological Discovery

    The sensation is the thought (the sheer thought!) that rocks could be stacked so straight and so high without the use of mechanical equipment. The fascination (the sheer fascination!) is to wonder how a people could do this so long ago when the architects and engineers of our time haven’t a clue.

    The lead has been buried. The rocks, stacked eight meters high, have been arranged to form that oldest of structures -- the wall. The desire (the sheer desire!) to separate humankind from one another is more ancient than the City of David. More ancient than that current policy of separation and oppression masked as self-defense.

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Exploited, Forever




    This essay by Joshua Clover in a recent issue of Film Quarterly, is a good example of the sort of thing I feel is important to critical writing--the ability to locate a work (a film, a novel, a record) within a broader context; specifically, the necessity to read a text within a web of definitive social realities. Especially germane here are Clover's comments on Soderberg's The Girlfriend Experience, which move effectively from the purely formal aspects of this film to its (and our) milieu:

    Sasha’s and Chelsea’s affectless affect, the film’s thin
    idea—these are matched by the relentless flatness of the
    film’s style, from the acting to the HD videography, all cool
    surfaces without heft. It’s like a long YouTube clip. Such banality
    may itself be rhetorical, a way to try to understand the
    emotional blankness of the new life made by immaterial
    labor, the truth of which is not the nifty shit forthcoming in
    the future, but the missing experience of now. It’s the world
    that got flat; we’re just working in it. And this may be why the
    immanent economic catastrophe, rifted with hysteria and
    panic, is nonetheless the most charismatic figure in the film:
    a social crisis and vast destruction, at least it’s a kind of
    change, a kind of awakening from the blankness of sleep, an
    awakening whose script might elude the ever-hovering technicians
    . . . the slightest potential for futurity.

    (article was originally cited at the blog Infinite Thought.)

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Under Occupation

    This passage, from James Meek's recent LRB review of British novelist David Peace's new novel Occupied City, caught my attention:

    We’ve become so used to American and Irish novelists polishing their sentences till they glitter with ingenious similes and wise passions that the notion of another kind of poetic prose, one where the poetry is in the larger structure rather than word by word, seems alien now. But that is what Occupied City is, and perhaps the novel as collection-of-poems-and-prose is where a novelist takes shelter during the periods when the prose can’t seem to take the weight of the stories any more. It doesn’t always succeed, and it is not easy to read, but what it is trying to do is ambitious. The rhythms of its framing passages are poets’ rhythms; its repetitions are choruses.

    Ash for hair, soil for skin, among the flakes and the sod
    We defy the fire and the rake, the spade and the grave
    The grave in the earth, the grave in the sky
    In the abyss of the sky, in the abyss of the earth
    Your earth, your sky. Not our sky, not
    our earth
    not here, not now
    Now into the heights, we
    fall, into the depths . . .

    It seems to me that one reason younger writers might become interested in formal innovation is because often "the prose can’t seem to take the weight of the stories any more." In my case this was, and still is, true.

    I'll leave this topic here, open to discussion.

    (I have seen, incidentally, the film adaptations of Peace's Red Riding Trilogy and they are riveting.)

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    We live in an age where satire doesn't work.

    Satire is soooooooo Twentieth Century, given that it was invented by hippies and librul college professors and can't be understood anyway.

    Satire said greed is good. And behold, it is.

    Satire began with A Modest Proposal, which, if published today, would have inspired sales of cookbooks and a line of cookware suitable for roasting Irish babies.

    Instead it inspired a generation of anti-abortionists, one of whom, while initially an ardent fan of satire, has now come to realize that satire doesn't work.

    Satire, like leadership, is the ability to ignore and subvert the will of the majority while claiming to represent it.

    Today people understand that if everyone in their social circle believes something, then it's true beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    Today people propose modest proposals with a completely straight face, unaware that (once upon a time) a modest proposal was considered immodest.

    And satire is just a synonym for wit.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009

    Can University Presses survive this recession?

    My local newspaper of choice recently printed an AP article about the possible demise of Louisiana State University Press. Seems in an era where universities are being squeezed of funding by their states, one likely victim will be the University Press.

    Chancellor Michael Martin doesn't question the prestige the Louisiana State University Press brings to his school, with Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction and poetry, tomes on Southern history and culture and other noted works to its credit.

    What it doesn't bring in is revenue, and, like cash-strapped colleges across the country, LSU is getting tired of propping up its press.

    The school has said the 74-year-old original publisher of "A Confederacy of Dunces" doesn't generate enough money to independently function.
    Fiction International understands the problem, which is why we began a drive to increase revenue. We applied a few basic accounting techniques to get expenses in line, then started (and continue) looking for subscribers. We created an online presence (including this blog) and went looking for past, present, and future contributors and avid readers.

    The result is a journal that is - for now - making enough money to cover our publishing costs. A journal that is - for now - safe from the university's budget ax.

    Who will be hurt most by this latest cost-cutting move by universities are the contributors, most of whom teach and need the publishing credit to retain their jobs. There are few markets for short fiction and poetry, and most are affiliated with a University, so losing fiction and poetry journals will be a severe blow.

    If a university wants to save their publications, they need to find within their department an administrator who knows both literature and business. Imagine the revenue LSU Press would have if it had - for example - the publishing revenue from A Confederacy of Dunces when it was hot, instead of well after its money-generating days were over. (LSU Press quietly resumed publication of the Larg-Print version, while Penguin Classics publishes the version assigned by literature classes.)

    So could LSU Press or any other university press make enough changes in their way of thinking about literature and the marketplace to increase their revenue enough to survive the recession? Yes they can.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Sartre's Wall

    In 1939, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a short story titled, "The Wall." It takes place in Franco's Spain, and concerns a group of men about to be executed as anarchists - against a prison wall.

    "Something is going to happen to us than I can't understand."

    There was a strange smell about Tom. It seemed to me I was more sensitive than usual to odors. I grinned. "You'll understand in a while."

    "It isn't clear," he said obstinately. "I want to be brave but first I have to know. . . .Listen, they're going to take us into the courtyard. Good. They're going to stand up in front of us. How many?"

    "l don't know. Five or eight. Not more."

    "All right. There'll be eight. Someone'll holler 'aim!' and I'll see eight rifles looking at me. I'll think how I'd like to get inside the wall, I'll push against it with my back. . . . with every ounce of strength I have, but the wall will stay, like in a nightmare. I can imagine all that. If you only knew how well I can imagine it."

    "All right, all right!" I said. "I can imagine it too."

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    The Walls of Israel

    Walls can be used to define Israel. Here's one, using a hole in the wall to suggest a besieged Israel:


    Here's another Israeli hole in the wall, except this one suggests tyranny:



    Jerusalem's Western, or Wailing, Wall is world famous, but how many people have seen its Eastern Wall?


    The more Israeli archeologists excavate Jerusalem, the more walls they find:


    Will anyone have the courage to tell Israel to tear down their walls?

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Still more Anti-Twitter

    Locus Novus just posted a Flash version of Anti-Twitter. Though it contains only six stories (from the 150 in the book), it's "interesting" watching the bird cough to death.

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Wall Poems

    Poets don't write many wall poems - I think because walls sometimes make poets maudlin. Here are a few:

    from Robert Frost, Mending Walls:

    SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall,
    That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
    And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
    And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
    from Heungshan, an Angel Island Poem:

    There are tens of thousands of poems on these walls
    They are all cries of suffering and sadness
    The day I am rid of this prison and become successful
    I must remember that this chapter once existed
    I must be frugal in my dailyneeds
    Needless extravagance usually leads to ruin
    All my compatriots should remember China
    Once you have made some small gains,
    you should return home early.

    from Karla Kelsey, We Do Wall Good:
    One thing we do so good together Is we wall, yes we wall so so good ogether. Like that time. Like that time You held my arms so tight, you held my arms so tight To show me how your love was good, so Good inside your dark green Nova in the rain.

    It's just that we wall and we wall and we wall So good together, Like brother to brother we hit hand to face And your silver ring grazes my lips - A forbidden embrace, a brother to brother Show of love, big hand And show of love.
    from W. H. Auden, Roman Wall Blues:
    The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
    I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.

    The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
    My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.

    Aulus goes hanging around her place,
    I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.

    Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
    There'd be no kissing if he had his wish.

    She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
    I want my girl and I want my pay.

    When I'm a veteran with only one eye
    I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

    Border Walls

    In about a week Fiction International will begin to receive submissions for the theme "Walls." Why walls? Because they are everywhere Politicians love building (erecting) walls. Here are a few:

    There's a wall in China. It was supposed to keep out invaders, but it didn't.



    There's another in England. It was supposed to mark the borders of an empire. But it didn't.



    So why would this wall achieve both purposes?


    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories

    Forthcoming from Raw Dog Screaming Press in February 2010: Harold Jaffe's Anti-Twitter, 150 50-Word Stories.

    Here are a few sample stories:


    Flog

    Pakistan's supreme judge demanded a hearing into the flogging of an adolescent girl, videotaped and displayed on YouTube. The video shows an alleged Taliban flogging the girl with chains while she shrieks in pain.

    US analysts insist this marks an advance.

    Previously, Taliban beheaded females accused of un-Islamic behavior.


    Dead Wired

    Online social networks are crucial to our lives and increasingly crucial when we die.

    An industry has emerged to deal with online contacts after death.

    Through a site called Deathswitch, humans post posthumous emails, announcements on online social networks, and send text messages.

    Current cost: $16 per month.


    Dope

    About opium, Jean Cocteau, himself addicted, suggested chemists modify its toxicity while salvaging the euphoria.

    Were cannabis legalized, it would become, like Marlboros, overpriced, with carcinogenic additives for extended shelf life.

    Meanwhile the real shit, strong and safe, that amateurs grow would remain, like bootleg liquor, subject to prosecution.


    A German

    and his Italian girlfriend abandoned her three children at a cafe in the northern town of Aosta, after ordering them a pizza.

    They left the cafe, supposedly for a cigarette, but never returned.

    Later the German tried, unsuccessfully, to hang himself with his belt in the railroad toilet.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    Truth-telling doesn't always work

    Chris Hedges tells the truth: The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free!

    The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there.

    "As a writer part of what you are aiming for is to present things in ways that will resonate with people, which will give voice to feelings and concerns, feelings that may not be fully verbalized," Ewen said. "You can't do that simply by providing them with data. One of the major problems of the present is that those structures designed to promote a progressive agenda are antediluvian."

    Corporate ideology, embodied in neoconservatism, has seeped into the attitudes of most self-described liberals. It champions unfettered capitalism and globalization as eternal. This is the classic tactic that power elites use to maintain themselves. The loss of historical memory, which "balanced and objective" journalism promotes, has only contributed to this fantasy. But the fantasy, despite the desperate raiding of taxpayer funds to keep the corporate system alive, is now coming undone. The lie is being exposed. And the corporate state is running scared.

    Monday, June 8, 2009

    Harold Jaffe speaks

    Harold Jaffe just gave an interview to Every Writer's Resource:

    EWR: It seems that you are using your writing, your art, as a tool, not just to probe into individual human condition but into the 'collective' human condition. Some artists would argue that the internal world of humans is our true condition and others might argue that it is our interaction, and our relationships that give us better insight into who we are. Do you feel that it is the internal human nature that defines us or the interaction and conflict?

    Jaffe: I've phrased it (borrowing form the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor) as the distinction between art-making that endorses a liberation of nature as opposed to a liberation from nature.

    I believe in the former. That is, like Gramsci ('pessimist of the intellect, but optimist of the will'), I've willed myself to believe that the human condition (not excluding animals, plants and the planet overall) is capable of being modified and democratized and that art can play a role in that effort.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Stories - 140 characters at a time

    Can you distill a story to the size of a phone? That's the idea behind cellphone novels:
    The cellphone grows more wondrous and indispensable to us every day. Talking is the least of it. We text and Tweet our heads off, send photos, watch TV shows, play video games. But in Japan, imperium of the future where all the above is old hat, the keitai (cellphone) has further spawned a wildly successful, populist fiction genre. Keitai shosetsu, the so-called cellphone novel, has been touted (in the pages of the New Yorker, among other places) and reviled (by Japanese literati) as the first narrative mode of the txt msg age -- the herald of a written-word future bent by wireless telecom's powers.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    Dying for art's sake

    Richard North Patterson, prolific writer of thrillers, has written a novel based on the wrongful conviction and execution of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

    Mr. Saro-Wiwa, a popular author who helped create a peaceful mass movement on behalf of the Ogoni people, was executed in November 1995 along with eight other environmental and human rights activists on what many contended were trumped-up murder charges. His body was burned with acid and thrown in an unmarked grave.

    . . .

    Fourteen years have passed. General Abacha has died, and Mr. Saro-Wiwa has had a proper burial, but the circumstances surrounding the nine executions, along with related incidents of brutal attacks and torture, are getting another hearing. This month the Wiwa family’s lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell over its role in those events goes to trial in federal court in Manhattan.


    Fiction International's recent theme, The Artist in Wartime, asked artists to write about war and other opressive acts of tyrants. Mr. Saro-Wiwa died because his writings provoked the ultimate in corporate/polifical tyranny. Can you, as an artist, be as brave?

    Watch an interview of Richard North Patterson as he describes how he chose Mr. Saro-Wiwa as a subject for Eclipse. Oh, and enjoy the Chevron commercial that begins the Patterson interview.

    Friday, May 1, 2009

    Fact or fiction?

    Writing in The Independent, Tom Sutcliffe asks the question: Did you love the whaling bits in Moby Dick or find them a tedious ordeal?

    I found them an ordeal, actually, and tend to skip what Sutcliffe calls the facts in fiction. The reason? Cynicism. I don't read fiction to read a recitation of facts. Details about how to kill a whale don't need to be factual -- plus it might encourage someone to do it, or think it's an activity that's worthwhile to do. Such "factualism" in fiction encourages behavior which ought to be discouraged -- like enlisting in the military so you can accurately describe what it feels like to kill another person.

    Coincidentally, I also tend to skip the fiction in the (supposedly) factual or, as it is known, "New Journalism," which proved to be so successful that some journalists began writing the fictional elements of a story then looked for facts to fit the story -- and we were fed stories about crack babies and a fake addiction.

    Don't get me wrong: I love both fiction and nonfiction writing. I just prefer them "separated," like the food on a child's plate. Otherwise the facts stall the narrative thrust and "journalists" lets words sell lies.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    J. G. Ballard, R.I.P.

    J. G. Ballard, author of Crash, High Rise, and The Atrocity Exhibition, among other works, died from prostrate cancer. His works were originally categorized "sci-fi" during the era of New Wave Science Fiction, but when Star Wars killed off the New Wave, his works were adopted by Universities - as were other New Wave writers like James Tiptree Jr., Samuel Delaney, and Harlan Ellison. It's a shame that he (and the other writers) are remembered only within literature departments, because they were - and are - visionaries.

    In the most honorable tradition of writing, he found a seam, planted a mine, and slipped away.

    It's easy, from the perspective of the present, to minimize just how revolutionary all this was - we now live, after all, in Ballard's world. Ballard, though, produced work that not only challenged his audiences but also actively provoked them, in some cases literally moving people to vandalism, as when he staged a 1970 exhibition of crashed cars at a London art gallery. This show, intended to illustrate the fetishization of machinery and violence, was a seminal moment for Ballard: It led to the publication of "Crash" in 1973.

    "The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century," the author wrote in a 1974 introduction to the French edition of the novel, "has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermonuclear weapons systems and soft drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudoevents, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century - sex and paranoia."

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Elizabeth Gilbert and the creative process



    I've never read Elizabeth Gilbert, but I came across her speech about the creative process and wanted to pass it along. Other writers might find her words helpful - even inspiring.

    She gave this speech at a TED Talk. TED stands for Technology, Education, and Design, and a TED Talk is a conference where the world's geniuses and innovators speak to a select group of techies. There are many more lectures on the website; I invite you to sample them since, as artists, this is the closest we will likely get inside a TED Talk.

    Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Reactions To Gaza

    The following is one of several insightful responses to the invasion of Gaza by Israel recently published by the London Review of Books here

    Yonatan Mendel

    It’s very frustrating to see Israeli society recruited so calmly and easily to war. Hardly anyone has dared to mention the connection between the decision to go to war and the fact that we are only a few weeks away from an election. Kadima (Tzipi Livni’s party) and Labour (Ehud Barak’s) were doing very badly in the polls. Now that they have killed more than 1000 Palestinians (250 on the first day – the highest number in 41 years of occupation) they are both doing very well. Barak was expected to win eight seats in the Knesset; now it is around 15. Netanyahu is the one sweating.

    I am terribly sad about all this, and frustrated. On the first day of the operation I wrote an article for the Walla News website and within four hours I had received 1600 comments, most calling for my deportation (at best) or immediate execution (at worst). It showed me again how sensitive Israeli society is to any opposition to war. It is shocking how easily this society unites behind yet another military solution, after it has failed so many times. Hizbullah was created in response to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Hamas was created in 1987 in response to two decades of military occupation. What do we think we’ll achieve this time?

    The state called up more than 10,000 reservists, and even people who had not been called also travelled to military bases and asked to be sent to Gaza. This shows once again how efficient the Israeli propaganda and justification machine is, and how naturally people here believe in myths that have been disproved again and again. If people were saying, ‘We killed 1000 people, but the army is not perfect, and this is war,’ I would say it was a stupid statement. But Israelis are saying: ‘We killed 1000 people, and our army is the most moral army in the world.’ This says a lot about the psychology of the conflict: people are not being told what to think or say; they reach these insights ‘naturally’.

    Since I was a soldier myself ten years ago, I worry I might be called up as a reservist. If I were to refuse now, when Israel is at war, I would be sent to prison. But still, I tell myself, that would be so much easier than being part of what my country is doing. Apparently, every single Jewish member of the Knesset, except one from the Jewish-Arab list, believes that killing more Palestinians, keeping the Gazan population under siege, destroying their police stations, ministerial offices and headquarters will weaken Hamas, strengthen Israel, demonstrate to the Palestinians that next time they should vote for Fatah, and bring stability to the region. I have no words. Only one Jewish member of the Knesset, out of 107, went to the demonstration that followed the deliberate bombing by the Israelis of an UNRWA school being used to house refugees, resulting in the deaths of 45 civilians. Once again, the Israeli slogan is ‘Let the IDF win’ and once again everybody agrees. People have short memories. By 2008, two years after the Second Lebanon War ended, Hizbullah had more soldiers than before, three times more weapons, and had dramatically improved its political position. It now even has a right of veto in parliament. The same could happen to Hamas, but once again military magic enchants Israeli society.

    I have a friend whose brother is a pilot in the IDF. I asked to speak to him. I told him what I thought about Israel’s behaviour and he seemed to agree with my general conclusions. He said, however, that a soldier should not ask himself such questions, which should be kept to the political sphere. I can’t agree. But the second thing he told me was more important. He told me that for pilots, a day like the first day of the war, when so many attacks are being made simultaneously, is a day full of excitement, a day you look forward to. If you take these words into account, and bear in mind that in Israel every man is a soldier, either in uniform or in reserve, there is no avoiding the conclusion that there are great pressures for it to act as a military society. Not acting is damaging to the IDF’s status, budget, masculinity, power and happiness, and not only to the IDF’s. This could explain why in Israel the military option is almost never considered second best. It is always the first choice.

    Ha’aretz too is a source of unhappiness for me, since in wartime the paper is part of this militaristic discourse, shares its values and lack of vision. Ha’aretz did not criticise Israel when its troops deployed to Lebanon in 2006. Nor did it have anything to say when the same soldiers bombed Gaza’s police, schools and people. Even when there was a demonstration against the war, with more than 10,000 people taking part, both Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Ha’aretz website chose to publish a picture of a counter-demonstration, in which a few hundred participated, waving Israeli flags and shouting: ‘Let the IDF win.’

    I have problems speaking to my closest friends and family these days, because I can no longer bear to hear the security establishment’s propaganda coming from their mouths. I cannot bear to hear people justifying the deaths of more than 200 children killed by Israeli soldiers. There is no justification for that, and it’s wrong to try to find one. Usually I feel part of society in Israel. I feel that I am on one side of the political map and other people are on the opposite side. But over the last few days, I feel that I am not part of this society any more. I do not call friends who support the war, and they do not call me. The same with my family. It is a hard thing for me to write, but this is how it is.

    Yonatan Mendel was a correspondent for the Israeli news agency Walla. He is currently at Queens’ College, Cambridge working on a PhD that studies the connection between the Arabic language and security in Israel.