Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Rambles

"Same as it ever was, same as it ever was..." -- Talking Heads

Often after reading the worst of the day's news in the morning (to give just a few examples, the state of the war in Iraq; the attack on the young Black woman by members of the Duke lacrosse team; the increasing social and political marginalization of African-American men; the utterly simplistic, nativist, racist rhetoric in which the discussions around immigration are couched; the newest twist in the Abramoff scandals and anything having to do with the Republicans in Congress or with the Bush administration; the most recent, dire predictions about global warming and the environmental crisis that the earth faces; the political crises in Uganda and Belarus; and on and on), I almost feel incapable of typing a word. I rarely think my responses are adequate...and then I resolve I'll return to posting about more personal things, and then I realize I have other things to do, and the day progresses, and...

≠≠≠

Earlier this morning I'd thought about a longish post that took up the themes of writing and displacement, from a personal perspective, but it's the end of the day and I don't really remember all the interesting stuff (or fluff) that was floating in my head. I had thought about writing about my desire for a certain level of continuity and stability, particularly in terms of spaces and place, particularly when I'm writing, but how I've had to work around it because of the peripatetic nature of my adult working life, which has often required creating contingent, temporary spaces (on trains, planes, in different rooms, etc.) in which to dream, think and create, but also how the themes of mobility and portability, of transition, translation and transportation have appeared again and again in my work, in various forms--as subject matter (I actually wrote a genre-mobile piece years ago called "Transits"), as different formal strategies, as necessary aesthetic and ethical approach, and so on. But now I'm talking around what I'd hoped to write, so I'll break of here and talk about something more practical, and perhaps try to reconstruct the earlier projected thought for an upcoming post.

≠≠≠

Today I sent off something approaching the final version of the text of a book I've been working on for three years, a collaboration with the artist Christopher Stackhouse, which now has a publisher (who hopes to bring it out by May or June), and will have an introduction, we believe, by a fellow writer/scholar. Reading this text still startles me at times, because I cannot believe I wrote some of the pieces, which approach a lyrical and formal strangeness that I'd always wanted to achieve but couldn't in some of my past poetic work. (I usually experience this more with poetry than with fiction, where a word, phrase, sentence or two may have this effect, but not an entire piece.) The project itself still startles me as well, because neither Christopher, an excellent poet in his own right, nor I initially had sat down together and decided to work on it. Its genesis lies in the hand and eyes of another poet, Veronica Corpuz, who had, without our knowledge, combined poems of mine with drawings of Christopher's, to create an impromptu textual conversation. As things go, it was a daring gesture on her part, because neither of us knew about it at first, but we both quickly agreed that it was a good idea, and though the work has changed substantially and though she's no longer associated with the work, I will always appreciate the initiatory role she played. Another poet and artist will be bringing it to bookstores, so I'll say more about this when the time approaches

≠≠≠

I still have not finished watching parts two (Un Couple Épatant/An Amazing Couple) and three (Après la vie/After the Life) of Belgian director Lucas Belvaux's Trilogy, which are out on Netflix. When the films first appeared in the US at festivals, I wanted to catch them but couldn't, though my friend Tisa B. did and described their very interesting thematic architecture to me. Belvaux filmed a thriller (Part 1), a comedy (Part 2), and a drama (Part 3), in which six main characters, or two sets of male-female pairs, reappear, though each work focuses on a different pair. I chose to watch the films in the order Belvaux suggests, beginning with the thriller, Cavale (On the Run), which stars Belvaux himself as an escaped, violent former revolutionary who eventually makes his way to a chalet, and then.... Well, you have to see the unexpected ending, which is the high point of the film. I've been watching (or trying to watch) the comedy for months, but I end up watching a little bit and then going on to something else. It's not bad; it's actually a tighter movie in acting and formal terms than the thriller, but for whatever reason I can't seem to finish it. Then there's the drama, which looks interesting enough, but I want to finish the comedy before I watch it. As I've been watching these movies, I started to wonder why more independent filmmakers don't try things of this sort, or why writers don't. Usually writers will continue with one protagonist over a series of works, but not utilize different, sometimes marginal characters in one work and then elevate them to chief status in another, while shuttling the protagonist from one work to the background of another. Faulkner is one example of someone who did this with both novels and stories (I'm thinking of Quentin Compson, for example, in Absalom, Absalom versus The Sound and Fury versus his minor role in a story like "That Evening Sun"), though sometimes the different, related narratives don't fit together exactly. It takes a certain obsessive, multidimensional--not in spatial terms, that is, but in narrative terms--imagination to pull it off, I think, with great attention to details, which is probably why it happens so rarely. But the possibilities are fascinating.

≠≠≠

Here's a photograph I took today in Greenwich Village with my cellphone (click on it to enlarge it):



Captions?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

MLB Season Begins Next Week + NCAA Basketball Final Fours

Baseball Classic BracketEarly next week will mark the beginning of the 2006 Major League Baseball season. The ongoing steroids scandal, which has been an issue nearly two decades, overshadows this year's campaigns. One of baseball's greatest hitters ever, San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds, may break the lifetime home-run record set by Hank Aaron, 755 round-trippers, later this season, but Bonds is accused of having used steroids and has admitted to using other problematic (though not banned) supplements, and so one chief question will be whether Bonds' achievement is valid at all. The US Congress, as if it doesn't have enough to do, has said it will investigate the steroids problem, as will MLB, but both are years too late. MLB enacted stricter testing rules and penalties last year, but this does nothing to address the past problems or the potential for future abuse, with designer drugs that may take years to be detected.

For the first time ever, a truly international baseball tournament, the World Baseball Classic, preceded the season. Sixteen teams from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia competed, and the final game featured Japan's squad defeating Cuba's 10-6 in a thrilling game. At one point, Cuba, a team some sportswriters suggested couldn't compete the with the other star-packed squads from the Americas, pulled within a run on a spectacular home run by outfielder Frederich Cepeda, but then couldn't make up the one-run difference, which quickly became four. Japan's pitching was superb, and MLB single-season hit champion Ichiro Suzuki got 2 hits, scored 3 runs and batted a robust .364 for the tournament.

As was widely reported, the US players couldn't score in the clutch and often looked listless. In addition to losing to neighbor Mexico, the US also fell to (South) Korea, eventual champion Japan and a Canadian team made up mostly of minor leaguers. Future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. hit an amazing .524, which included 3 homers, but he couldn't drive in runs all by himself. Team Dominican Republic was expected to reach the finals, but fell to the Cubans in the semifinals. The Cubans, who almost were not allowed to participate by the current US administration, face a quandary, as they cannot keep their second-place prize earnings and wanted to donate it to the Hurricane Katrina survivors, but may not be able to do so.

Overall viewership and game attendance exceeded MLB's expectations, so it appears that the WBC will return for at least a second time four (or two) years from now

VirgilOne fascinating note I came across on Dominican Today, by following a link, via Anthony Montgomery's Monaga blog on Luis Llosa's upcoming film version of Peruvian author and conservative former presidential candidate (his cousin/brother-in-law) Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, was that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Dominican player in the major leagues, Ozzie Virgil Sr. (at right, Topps) who debuted with the New York Giants in 1956.

For whatever reason, I'd always thought that there'd been a Dominican player before Virgil Sr.; there were Cuban players going back to the early 20th century, and Puerto Rican Hi Bithorn had played in the 1940s, but most Latino players, no matter what their nationality, weren't allowed to compete in the major leagues until after Jackie Robinson broke the racialized color line in 1947. (I think one of the first Afro-Latinos to play was Cuban Minnie Minoso.) Since Virgil's 9-season career, over 400 Dominicans have played in the major leagues, including stars like Hall of Famer Juan Marichal; the Alou brothers, including Felipe Alou, the first Dominican manager in the major leagues; Sammy Sosa; and current stars Pedro Martínez, Manny Ramírez, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodríguez.

Predictions? I always hope the St. Louis Cardinals make it to the World Series, and they have the pitching this year to do it. Other top National League teams will include Atlanta (as always), Houston, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox, last year's champion White Sox, the Minnesota Twins, the Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels, and Cleveland's teams should be strong contenders.

•••

I've barely followed the NCAA men's basketball tournament this year, but I wanted to call attention to the fact that this time, a true underdog has made it to the final four. On Saturday, 4th seed LSU faces 2nd seed UCLA, while upstart 11th seed George Mason faces 3rd seed Florida. Three of the 1st seeds (Memphis, Connecticut and Villanova) were knocked out in the round of 8, and George Mason knocked off the Nutmeg State's Huskies. This is George Mason's first NCAA visit, and it would spectacular if they won it all. Meanwhile, South Carolina defeated Michigan in the NIT men's final tonight. In the women's NCAA tournament final four on Sunday, it's nearly an all ACC affair, as Duke, Maryland and North Carolina, along with LSU, will face off for the championship game.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On (not) blogging + BET's DL Exposed + Harmonica Sunbeam

For whatever reason, I've found it difficult to resume my blogging, which I felt was getting a bit ragged and mechanical as approached my year-long/365 post goal (it's now a year and almost a month, and 387 posts). I almost feel as if I used up the last bit of my non-assigned (for my creative work) mental fuel in my end-of-term reading and grading and I haven't yet been able to restore it. My usual methods, which include

  • hanging out with friends;
  • chatting on the phone with friends;
  • reading for enjoyment (sporadically up to the last few days, though I have started my 6-month project of reading notable American novels that I'd either never read, skimmed or basically forgotten with Sinclair Lewis's satire Babbitt, which I hope to write about on here at some future point);
  • listening to music (every day);
  • city strolling (I've only done this a few times);
  • going to look at art or making it (I haven't done this yet, though the Basquiat, Goldin, and many other shows are up now);
  • movie-watching (I have watched Junebug [charming and quite good] and Palindromes [perverse and provocative] so far);
  • gardening (still too cold but I hope to start later this week);
  • avoiding TV (unlikely);

and so on, haven't worked so far. I can talk about things with C., but when I get ready to write about them on this blog, they vanish. But then I also think that in part I'm still trying to readjust to my new sabbatical schedule. It still doesn't seem real (and certain university duties, such as reading graduate students' work, supervising my honors literature student's brilliant essay, and responding to departmental and program projects, continue sabbatical or not). But it is, and while I have been able to resume my creative work (and I do want to say something down the road about the tensions between creative work, teaching and administrative duties), I guess it will take a little longer for me to fully step back into this particular theater.

***

BET SpecialLast night, C. and I cut back and forth between a reality show (The Amazing Race) and a surreally bad one, BET's "News Special," "The Down Low Exposed." Produced by J.L. King, this show, which as C. said is easily several years too late, demonstrated evidence from start to finish of the controversial author's imprint. First there were its numerous sensationally presented, faulty premises, such as

  • that the "down low" is a unique or coherent or uniquely American and African-American phenomenon
  • that the "down low" is a discrete "lifestyle" (or "life style" [sic]), or that there is one bisexual, homosexual, transgender, etc., "lifestyle"
  • that Black men were the only ones on this putative "down low"
  • that Black men on the "down low" were the primary vectors for the spread of HIV to Black women and to everyone else that they had sex with
  • that they were somehow "to blame" for the spread of HIV/AIDS
  • that the spread of HIV/AIDS could be viewed irrespective of any larger social context except the Black church
  • that unprotected male same sex (and in particular, rape) in prison was a central cause of HIV/AIDS seroconversion among Black women
  • that bisexuality and homosexuality were either discrete identities and yet were the same thing

and on and on. So it went with this sorry spectacle, which ignored the larger social context of the closet, the long-demonstrated actuality of complex sexual identities and performances, and the agency of women or people in general. For the most part, it, like King, was interested in pathologizing Black men's behavior and talking in reductive, simplistic, sensationalist terms, which of course sell books and draw viewers. King, BET and whoever else was involved in this mess did have the sense to include voices of sanity and clarity, including Dr. David Malebranche (it was great seeing David puncture the balloon of nonsense that the show kept inflating as soon it started up after each commercial break), Dr. Robert Fullilove, Phill Wilson, an Atlanta sgl preacher whose name escapes me, and several unidentified (would it have been so hard to give everyone on screen's name, BET?) speakers.

But then there was beret-sporting author Terri McMillan, giving what she claimed was her "last" but of course very necessary interview on her failed marriage to Jonathan Plummer. She left out neither her deranged facial expressions nor her spite, and as was the case during her appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show, she made sure that she had to be seen as a victim, underlining the fact she'd been sued by her ex-husband and that for the "last year" she'd been agonizing about her health. Any discussion of the fact her role in marrying a 21-year-old confused, foreign man, her early suspicions about his sexuality, her artistic and financial profit from the story of their lives, or anything else was again absent.

As for King himself, I can't say I got a clear answer on anything from him (not that I was expecting one), except that he still buys into retrograde, heteronormative ideas about sexuality, identities and identifications, and relationships, and was probably laughing all the way to the bank (or his online bank statements) this morning. (After he participated in BET's online DL Chat, that is...please, J.L. King, stop it!) But then did I really expect anything more from BET? Of course not. Instead, I have to ask, can someone please make an accessible TV-ready show or documentary, drawing upon the collective genius and wisdom contained in We'll Take Tomorrow, to counter the crapola that this show represented? Maybe a foundation can even pay (for) BET/Viacom to run it...

***
Harmonica Sunbeam
Frank Léon Roberts
highlights the ongoing health struggles performer and longtime club MC Harmonica Sunbeam is facing these days. Frank links to her blog, where Harmonica notes that she's had to discontinue her tea-dance hosting at New York's La (Nueva) Escuelita because of a recent very difficult 8-month HIV/AIDS-related health crisis.

Sunbeam is one of my favorite club hostesses, and whenever I hear her name, I always recall a night about five or six ago at the Octagon when, to the strains of the remixed theme from Spiderman, she gave one of her unforgettable performances, which included a money-collection moment that was unforgettable. As a plastic sand bucket lowered on a rope from a balcony to the dance-floor level C., friends and I were standing on, Harmonica Sunbeam began rhythmically chanting "That's right, uh huh, uh huh," to the beat, and the coins and dollar bills began flowing, and flowing, and flowing... That same night, she also introduced a skit, performed by denizens of the club, which excerpted scenes from the Steven Spielberg-directed film version of Alice Walker's acclaimed novel The Color Purple! You had to see it to believe it--and only in a Black gay club, chile!

Like many who've enjoyed her humor and distinctively legendary realness over the years, from her days featuring those Coke bottle-bottom glasses (as Sheila Noxema, thanks Larry!) to her recent pastel-wigged glamor, I'm wishing her a complete recovery, and look forward to her return, with even more vigor and fierceness, to the dance floors of New York and other cities across the country and the globe.

If you want to drop her an inspirational note, you can do so here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Gallery Show: Nan Goldin

A few weeks ago, in the midst of everything else, I received the following invite from French writer Ariel Kenig. Since I was in Chicago I wasn't able to attend the opening, but the show continues until April 22:

Goldin Invitation

From Matthew Marks' Gallery's website:
Matthew Marks is pleased to announce Nan Goldin: Chasing a Ghost, the next exhibition at his gallery at 522 West 22nd Street. This will be the artist’s first show in New York in three years.

The central work in the exhibition will be Sisters, Saints, & Sibyls, a landmark new multimedia installation that focuses on the experience of “women who are trapped, literally and figuratively, in both psychological and mythical contexts.” This three-screen projection was commissioned by the Festival d’Automne in Paris, where it was presented in October of 2004, and it is now being exhibited in the United States for the first time. Thematically, the installation explores Goldin’s personal narrative of her sister Barbara’s institutionalization and suicide at an early age, presented alongside tracings of both the mythological history of Saint Barbara and the artist’s own contemporary history of hospitalization. She writes, “I intend to explore the relationship between the story of my sister, myself, and Saint Barbara, and, more generally, the parallel between saints and modern rebellious women.” Technically, Sisters, Saints, & Sibyls is the first installation by the artist to include moving pictures and a fully narrative score and voiceover; it is thus the first significant foray into cinema that the artist has made in her career. This new form is a natural development of her slideshow presentations, like The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, for which she first became well-known.

Goldin will also be exhibiting over three dozen new color photographs made during the past three years, including a number of new landscapes and a group of pictures that continue to explore the life of the artist’s nephew, Simon. Five large-scale triptychs stemming from Sisters, Saints, & Sibyls will be included as well.

This is the artist’s sixth exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery since 1992. Goldin’s work was the subject of a major touring retrospective exhibition organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the exhibition traveled to the Reina Sofía, Madrid; Fundação de Serralves, Porto; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; and Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw. In addition, Goldin’s work has recently been included in exhibitions at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; the Art Institute of Chicago; and, here in New York, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. This year, her work will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York, and the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco.

Nan Goldin: Chasing a Ghost will be on view at the Matthew Marks Gallery located at 522 West 22nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), through April 22, 2006. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Event: Hip Hop Retrospectives @ NYU

Zulu NationFrom Jason King, via Jennifer Brody, a conference for Hiphop heads:

NYU Skirball Center presents


HIP HOP RETROSPECTIVES
A three-part discussion series that takes a look back at the road paved by pioneers and a look forward at a culture that some feel has yet to realize its greatest potential.
Produced by JASON KING
Co-sponsored by the Tisch School of the Arts



MONDAY APRIL 3 @ 7 PM
THE MAKING OF AFRIKA BAMBAATAA AND THE SOUL SONIC FORCE'S 'PLANET ROCK'
A discussion of the making of the most famous recording in hip hop history, bringing together the original creators more than 20 years after its release
Speakers:
ARTHUR BAKER, Producer, “Planet Rock”
FAB 5 FREDDY, Hip-Hop Pioneer, Author, Filmmaker
MONICA LYNCH, Former President, Tommy Boy Records
JOHN ROBIE, Keyboardist, Programmmer and Writer on "Planet Rock"
TOM SILVERMAN, Chairman, Founder and CEO, Tommy Boy Music and Special Guests

Moderator: DAVID TOOP, Author, The Rap Attack series, Musician

SATURDAY APRIL 8 @ 7 PM
THE FUTURE OF HIP HOP
Music's sharpest minds get five minutes each to offer three wishes for the future of hip hop


Speakers:
TA-NEHISI COATES (Village Voice, Time)
JALYLAH BURRELL (Pop Matters, Prefix)
RICHARD GOLDSTEIN (Former Editor, Village Voice)
MARGO JEFFERSON (New York Times)
SACHA JENKINS (Ego Trip)
BAKARI KITWANA (Why White Kids Love Hip Hop)
CRISTINA VERAN (Voice, One World)


MONDAY APRIL 10TH @ 7 PM
EXECUTIVE DECISIONS: 30 YEARS OF POWERFUL WOMEN IN HIP-HOP
Pioneering women in hip-hop who have worked as record label CEOs, presidents and senior execs reflect on the challenges they faced climbing to the top of a male dominated industry

Speakers:
CARMEN ASHHURST, Former President, Def Jam Recordings and Rush Communications
DENISE BROWN, Attorney, Former Head, Black Music Division for Warner Bros. Records
ANN CARLI, Film Producer, Former Senior Vice President, Jive Records
LISA CORTES, Film Producer, Former President, Loose Cannon Records
MONICA LYNCH, Former President, Tommy Boy Records
Special Tribute to SYLVIA ROBINSON, Founder of Sugar Hill Records

Moderator: DANYEL SMITH, Author, Former Editor, Vibe


WHERE
All events are held at
THE SKIRBALL CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
566 LaGUARDIA PLACE (south side of Washington Square Park) between Washington Square South (4th Street) and 3rd street
A,B,C,D,E,F,V to West 4th Street


TICKETS (PER RETROSPECTIVE EVENT)
$15 general public, $10 nyu faculty and staff, $7 nyu students or buy a full festival pass
Tickets: www.skirballcenter.nyu.edu
Box Office: 566 LaGuardia Place
Ticket Central, 416 West 42nd Street, 212 279 4200

These Retrospective events are part of FEST FORWARD: HIP-HOP UNBOUND a two-week hip-hop festival at NYU, April 3-15 featuring performances by and events with THE COUP, ROB SWIFT, UNIVERSES, DECADACE THEATER + FULL CIRCLE PRODUCTIONS, DUJEOUS, MC AKIM FUNK BUDDHA, BI-TRIP, POP MASTER FABEL and many more!

GET YOUR TICKETS NOW! Festival passes are available.

Festival curated and produced by Rika Iino, Jason King and Wiley Hausam
Media Partner: The Village Voice??
This event is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), a State Agency

Please see WWW.SKIRBALLCENTER.NYU.EDU for more information

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Animated Gif: Summit 2002

This is one of those animated gifs I created back in 2002. I am trying to recall exactly what summit or nadir provoked it, though I think the buildup to the War in Iraq amidst so many other social and political problems at that point was central to what I was trying to get across.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Drawing: Man Sleeping

Another from the archives:


"Young man sleeping, Rotch Library, MIT"
© John Keene

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Drawing: Overhead

From the archives, an overhead drawing:

"Overhead sketch, Rotch Library, MIT"
© John Keene

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Drawing: Student Studies

From the archives, several studies on the same page (the heading has the same title as one of my favorite Cecil Taylor pieces):

"Student studies"
© John Keene

Monday, March 20, 2006

Drawing: Darcy Prather

It's spring break week and I've just come off an industrial-strength quarter, so I'm reaching into my old Website archives for stuff to post these days.

This is a drawing of Darcy Prather, whom I didn't know, though his brother Dax and I are the same age and graduated from different, rival high schools in St. Louis. Darcy was an undergraduate at MIT when I drew this, and I sketched him at a public event there. I later realized that he was Dax's younger brother, and at some point after this drawing, he went on to become a Rhodes Scholar.

"Darcy Prather"
© John Keene

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Roberts-White Anthology Now Out + NBCC Award Winners

TomorrowFrank Léon Roberts sent me the following email today about the wonderful new anthology that he's edited with award-winning poet Marvin K. White:

Friends:

I just wanted to give you a quick heads-up on the release of my co-edited book with Lambda Literary Award-winning poet Marvin K. White, If We Have To Take Tomorrow: HIV, Black Men & Same Sex Desire. The book has just been published through an important collaboration between the Institute for Gay Men's Health Crisis, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Black AIDS Institute, Gay Men's Health Crisis, New York State Black Gay Network and the National Black Justice Coalition. A full copy of the book in the pdf format is available at http://www.blackaids.org/.

The book is a collection of essays by some of the brightest new voices in black gay America on the politics of masculinity, sexuality, and black gay identity in the age of HIV/AIDS. It features beautiful essays by Dr. David Malebranche, Thomas Glave, Tim'm T. West, Kenyon Farrow, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, E. Patrick Johnson, Jason King, Reginald Harris and Charles Stephens, among many others. The photography of Luna Luis Ortiz and Gerald Gaskin is also featured throughout the text. It's a tiny little book with a big heart.

There are several ways for you to order free hardcopies of Tomorrow. First, you can contact Regina Kines at the Black AIDS Institute. You can also contact Patrick "Pato" Herbert at the AIDS Project Los Angeles. In the upcoming weeks, the publication should be available on Amazon.com and at select bookstores in New York City, Los Angeles and throughout the country.

Please take a moment to help "promote" the book by posting information on blogs, websites, and email list-serves. Community based, political publications such as Tomorrow go a long way with the support of people such as you. You can find a write up about the book on my personal weblog here.

Some others links about Tomorrow:

Keith Boykin's comments
The Black AIDS Institute
AIDS Project Los Angeles

Much love,
Frank


I know many of the writers in this collection very well, and am really looking forward to their pieces. I also recommend the 2003 anthology that this serves as a follow-up to, Think Again, which was edited by Colin Robinson and Steven G. Fullwood.

‡‡‡

DoctorowI've been meaning to post a note about this year's National Book Critics' Circle Awards, which were announced two weeks ago. The NBCCs general stand as the third in a trio of the most prestigious annual US national literary awards given for a particular work (the other two being the Pulitzer Prizes, which also include awards for journalism and are announced in the late spring, and the National Book Awards, which are announced in the fall). Unlike the other two major prizes, they come with no cash awards, their currency being the prestige and honor of receiving the award.

This year's winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction is E. L. Doctorow (photo above, from The Villager), one of the writers I most admire, for his Civil War novel The March. I think this book is one of his best works in years (and among his best ever); he'd previously received the very first NBCC award for fiction, in 1976, for his landmark novel Ragtime, and again in 1989 for Billy Bathgate (another very good novel). He is one of the most acclaimed American fiction writers never to have received a Pulitzer Prize, so perhaps that organization's fiction committee will do the right thing and give him the prize for The March, which unlike some past make-up Pulitzers, definitely deserves it. According to Hillel Italie's article in the Washington Post, Doctorow said

"I've wondered for many years if awards are good for literature....But I find when I'm offered an award I tend to accept it."

The article continued:

"The independent witness of book writers I think provides the deepest and profoundest ... form of communication in our society," said Doctorow, 75, who observed that books are written in silence and read in silence, a "soul to soul" bond unique in the modern world.

The NBCC Poetry award went to Jack Gilbert, a senior poet who received the 1962 Yale Younger Poets Prize and has received numerous other poetic honors over the years. I haven't read his book of poems, but I did read a number of really great books of poetry, by younger poets such as Tyehimba Jess, A. Van Jordan, Richard Siken, and others, that could easily and should have won. (No writer of color has ever received the poetry award, I think.) In the General Nonfiction category, Svetlana Alexievich was lauded for her oral history, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Disaster, which was published by a small but very distinguished press, Dalkey Archive, in Normal, Illinois. I'm very excited by this award and hope that it means increased sales and recognition for Dalkey, which continues to be one of the main publishers of formally experimental prose from across the world.

The other winners (none of which I've had a chance to read yet) were:
(Autobiography) Francine DuPlessix Gray, Them: A Memoir of My Parents
(Biography) Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
(Criticism) William Logan, The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin
(Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award) Bill Henderson, founder of the Pushcart Press
(Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing) Wyatt Mason

One other comment stuck out in the Washington Post article, concerning the notoriously finical critic Logan:

Logan, an NBCC criticism finalist in 1999, acknowledged Friday that his demanding assessments have caused hard feelings, saying that one poet threatened to run him over and another poet to threaten assault by hand.

Now that's what I call provoking a reaction! Who said poetry's stakes were low?

He then joked that his wife, herself a poet, was relieved to be married to him because "I could not review her."


Thank the gods for small favors!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Voting Fraud in Ohio + O'Connor & Ginsburg Speak Out

One of the greatest travesties of the 2004 election was Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's failure to challenge the problematic results in Ohio, a state controlled by Republicans who are under multiple investigations for a host of outrageous financial improprieties, including grand theft, fraud, and money laundering to support the Bush-Cheney campaign. (There's even a bizarre, murder-tinged angle involving Florida governor Jeb Bush and his state's Toll Authority!) There were many indications that the voting process and counting went awry, but Kerry didn't ask for a recount, thus giving his imprimatur to the idea that Bush had been legitimately elected. (Matt Taibbi wrote a great piece in the New York Press on how strange the 2004 Ohio results were. As he pointed )

BlackwellDespite Kerry's indifference or timorousness, take your pick, local politicians and parties decided to challenge the count (and recount). The Libertarian and Green presidential candidates (though not Kerry and Democrats) sued to require a legal recount which--are you ready--has yet to take place! Two years later, and no one still knows what the official, legal count in Ohio was! Oh, yes, there was a recount, but it violated state law, not that that stopped Bush-Cheney Ohio Re-Election Co-Chairman, Secretary of State, and now ultra-right-wing Christianist candidate for governor J. Kenneth Blackwell (a Black man, pictured at right, who recently decided to address and trumpet the fact that he'd addressed, then conceal that he'd a addressed a secretive far right organization, the Council for National Policy, whose members include a notorious White supremacist and far right crackpots; okay, I could easily be talking about the Republican Party in Congress, but you get where I'm coming from). The Libertarians and Greens haven't given up, though.

In populous Cuyahoga County, whose seat is Cleveland, a range of shenanigans were alleged to have taken place. Two county Election Board officials had already been charged, and now, according to BradBlog, a third, Jacqueline Maiden, has been indicted. Quoting the AP report, BradBlog says

The third highest ranking employee at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has been indicted on charges of mishandling ballots during the 2004 presidential election recount.

Jacqueline Maiden is the third board worker charged with six counts alleging that Ohio laws were not followed in the selection and review of ballots for the recount.
...
Maiden, now the board's elections coordinator, was the director of the elections division during the recount in December 2004.

Two other board workers, Rosie Grier and Kathleen Dreamer, were indicted in August and scheduled for trial May 8. Dreamer was the manager of the board's ballot department and Grier was an assistant manager.

(I know, but it's not that Rosie Grier. I think.)

The three employees continue to work at the Elections Board, however, despite their indictments, just as Ohio's Republican Governor Bob Taft remains in office despite having been convicted of an ethics violation related to the larger state and federal investigations of the Tom and Bernadette Noe-GOP financial scandals.

Last year, Ohio posted highly unusual--statistically problematic--results in its ballot referendums, bucking a Democratic tide all across the US. But do you think anyone is going to look into what happened in November 2005 by the time this fall's election rolls around? They still haven't had a legal recount of the 2004 election! The media simply don't give a damn because they support the status quo and above all want to provide Bush, the best friend megacorporations ever had, with legitimacy. The Republicans surely don't care, and if Blackwell was able to "game" the recount this past time, Lord knows he's going to do all he can to ensure he waltzes into office later this year.

As for the Democrats...oh well, you recall what they did to Paul Hackett, right?

***

O'ConnorSpeaking of flawed elections and those who make them happen, it didn't take long. Just a few months after stepping down, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is speaking out about the danger caused by right-wing threats against the federal judiciary. In a March 9, 2006 speech at Georgetown University that both Raw Story and NPR's Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg publicized (the transcript is here), O'Connor specifically singled out comments by former House leader and GOP powerhouse Tom DeLay and Texas's extremist Senator John Cornyn. Such comments, she noted, posed a threat to what remains of the US's liberal democratic republic and, if not opposed and addressed, pave the way for dictatorship. As Totenberg recounted,

I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.


GinsburgBut O'Connor isn't the only Supreme Court judge speaking out. Recently Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a regular target of the far right (along with Catholic Republican conservative Anthony Kennedy), while speaking in South Africa, also pointed out that she and O'Connor had received death threats, including a general call on website for "patriots" to start killing the two of them.

What did the disgraced, multiply indicted former Republican leader (DeLay) say?

The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior. (USA Today, March 31, 2005)

The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state... is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them. (Washington Times, April 14, 2005)

Legislators for too long have, in effect, washed our hands of controversial issues from abortion to religious expression to racial preferences, leaving them to judges whom we then berate for legislating from the bench. … This era of constitutional cowardice must end." (Dallas Morning News, April 9, 2005)

Our next step, whatever it is, must be more than rhetoric. Washington Post, April 11, 2005

What exactly did the junior Senator from Texas (Cornyn) say?
“We seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently. ... I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence.” (Baltimore Sun, April 11, 2005)

The rhetoric that both O'Connor and Ginsburg are decrying doesn't appear to provoke that much concern from the Republican Party or its far-right enablers (or should I say the far right and its Republican Party enablers?). Avowed right-wing plagiarist Ann Coulter openly joked about poisoning Associate Justice John Paul Stevens not long ago. At the April 2005 ironically named Justice Sunday II gathering, which drew religious extremists from across the country like a magnetar, the rhetoric would easily have been appropriate among the Nazi Brownshirts or SA, who didn't hesitate to assassinate liberal or moderate (or even conservative) judges they felt to be a threat to Hitler's rise and rule, or any number of officials in Stalin's Soviet state.

In fact, according to People for the American Way, one of the Justice Sunday extremists, lawyer Edwin Vieira, after claiming that Justice Kennedy's jurisprudence "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law," described his solution for dealing with federal judges, which he noted came from Stalin: "He [Stalin] had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem.'" According to the April 9, 2005 Washington Post, Stalin's exact quote was, "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."

I'm glad to hear that O'Connor, who played a direct role in placing Bush and the corrupt and incompetent circle surrounding him in the White House in 2000 (Bush v. Gore), has decided to speak out, and not simply about the death threats, which are hardly surprising, but about the larger threat to the nation's governance. Ginsberg's comments are welcome as well. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the Yahoo! News article linked above claims that 3/4ths of the over 2,000 federal judges have requested increased protection. (Last year a deranged, disgruntled former plaintiff killed the husband and elderly mother of Chicago-area federal judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow before killing himself.)

The issue is that Congressional leaders, and members of the Republican Party, to which DeLay and Cornyn belong and which harbors the fascist-leaning, theocratic Justice Sunday crowd, denounce these threats--because we're not just talking about strong disagreements with judicial rulings--need to fulsomely denounce these threats. But they won't, not only because they don't want to alienate their base and criticize fellow members, but also because they realize how effect such thuggery is. Just look at the three-decades long extremist rhetoric, coupled with outright violence, against abortion providers and reproductive rights. If they can intimidate the judges and force them to rule according to far right ideological precepts before their fanatical supporters harm them, that would be the preferred route.

One thing I hardly wonder about is whether Gonzales, the Justice Department and the FBI are as concerned about the effects of the Republicans' anti-judicial fanaticism and its possible tragic ramifications as they are about adults accessing pornographic material or anti-war activists. I mean, come on. Are they keeping an eye on the people who were calling for O'Connor's and Ginsberg's deaths? Are Coulter and her diehard supporters under surveillance and warrantless wiretap? What do you think?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Quote: Edward Field

Edward Field"[Robert] Lowell was already unstable and coming out of his Catholic convert phase, but Lowell's eruption [the year before, 1950, when he had a nervous breakdown at Yaddo and telephoned the FBI to say that the artists' retreat was a nest of Communist subversives] has never been properly explained in any of the biographies, afraid to explore Lowell's sexual conflicts. But in his diary, Clifford [Wright] reports that supposedly hetero poet had been seduced by Charles Sebree, a black composer/artist, and it tipped him over the edge. Clifford's diary entry for Dec. 27, 1948, reads, 'Charles Sebree made a point of sleeping with him [Lowell] a couple of times and each time Cal (Lowell)' said the next morning he wasn't that sort of person.' Morning-after regrets are weak excuses. But after having thrown Yaddo in an uproar, Lowell conveniently checked himself into a mental hospital. Lowell was right that we were a bunch of 'subversives.' We were all out to subvert restrictive, conventional attitudes, and in spite of his breakdowns, shock treatments, and loosening up of his disciplined poetry, he remained an uptight bastard."
--Edward Field, from The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag, p. 51 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).

Monday, March 13, 2006

Current Events & Upcoming Happenings

Christopher Stackhouse forwarded this notice about a new exhibit of Basquiat works in Chelsea:

BASQUIAT "HEADS"
Opening reception March 11, 6 - 8
@ Van De Weghe Fine Art
521 W. 23rd St. NY
212. 929. 6633

March 11 - May 13, 2006
Tuesday - Saturday 10 - 6 PM

Press Release PDF

∞∞∞

Sometimes you just got to be right on it, right away, and if not... Today, Mendi and Keith Obadike launched a live stream from the Armory Art Show at 2pm.

The Armory Opera (or Sonus Plexus 40.7673 -73.9965)

From Mendi's email (with the tense changed):

This work used ambient sound from The Armory Art Show combined with onsite conversations (about Brer Rabbit and The Art of War) with visitors to the fair to create an improvised musical narrative.

This work was streamed live from their Armory link. This work was commissioned by the Franklin Furnace Archive and supported by the School of Visual Arts. I'm hoping they captured and will archive it.

∞∞∞

GlaveDeVeauxThomas Glave forwarded me the following information about an upcoming discussion he'll be participating in with Masani Alexis De Veaux:

A Conversation with Thomas Glave and Alexis De Veaux
Dissecting Race, Nationality, and Sexuality in Literature by Black Writers

Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Venue: Skylight Room, CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue (34th and 35th Street)
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Co-Sponsors, Center for Black Literature, Medgar Evers College, CUNY, Continuing Education and Public Programs and Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies, Graduate Center, CUNY

Glave and DeVeaux will engage in a conversation on issues related to race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and politics in the literature produced by black writers. They will draw on their research, scholarship and personal experiences to discuss these issues.

Call 718 270-6983 for more information.

∞∞∞

Rosa ClementeFrom Kenyatta Lovings, I received information about another CUNY Grad Center conference that'll feature a keynote by journalist-activist Rosa Clemente (at right):

The Africana Studies Group of the CUNY Graduate Center presents:

"Any Enemy of the Black [woman and] man is an enemy of mine": Departures and Definitions of Afro-Latino and Afro-Latin American Identity in the New Millennium

Friday, 17 March 2006 8:30am-8:00pm

The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York
365 Fifth Avenue, The Concourse Level
New York, New York 10016

Sponsored by the Africana Studies Group and The Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean

Keynote Speaker: Rosa Clemente

Other participants include: Juan Flores, Lyn Di Iorio Sandín, Miriam Machado-Cooper, Esperanza Martell, Ariel Fernandez, Armonía 4, and the
Ileana Santamaría Orchestra

Conference is FREE but registration is required. Please register through Continuing Education by phone 212-817-8215 or email at continuinged@gc.cuny.edu.

Contact us as africanastudiesgroup@gmail.com with any inquiries.

∞∞∞

Also from Kenyatta, at the Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem in two weeks:

Octavia Butler Tribute
March 25, 2006 at 6 PM
Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe @ 2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd, Between 124th and 125th Streets, New York, NY 10027

Event Description: Octavia E. Butler, considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, has passed away at the age 58. Hue-man Bookstore's Octavia Butler Book Club will present a tribute in celebration of her work and her life.

Tel: 212-665-7400
Fax: 212-665-1071
info@hue-manbookstore.com

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Yucef Merhi's Artboom/Poeticdialogues 2.0 + Chicago Bookstore Closing

It's the end of the quarter, so my available time for posting has diminished to almost zero. But I don't want to let a week pass without putting a few things up, so here's something I came across recently, Yucef Merhi's Artboom, which has been around since 1999 and which Merhi periodically updates. The relational, networked aspect of the project really interests me. (Some of the photos, however, are no longer appearing.)

Artboom

From the site:

the artboom is a compilation of images of the art network that yucef merhi has been doing since he started to exhibit in galleries and museums.

this project embodies a genealogical tree where every person has been classified by its profession and connected depending on how was introduced to merhi.

each arrow and vertical line (-> , <-, ^, | ) show a new generation of connections that are linked to the previous image. one person can have multiple connections. the plus sign ( + ) or the lack of symbols mean vertical and horizontal additions. all these pictures have been taken with a wristwatch-camera prototype since 1999 until the present. as an on-going project, the artboom is updated almost every day. another project related to the artboom is called poetic dialogues and it can be experienced at poeticdialogues.com 2.0.


Spencer TunickChad EbonCecilia VicuñaShiva BurgosNoah Wardrip-Fruin
Artists from L-R: Spencer Tunick; Chad Ebon; Cecilia Vicuña (also a poet); Shiva Burgos; Noah Wardrip-Fruin (important hypertext scholar as well)

Merhi's site has a lot more information on his work, links to other projects (including the first version of poeticdialogues) and his books.

===

Left of Center BooksIt's hardly a surprise when one of the increasingly rare independent, non-used bookstore shuts down these days, but it's still disheartening. So I want to mourn Left of Center Bookstore (in the cellphone photo at left), a great little gathering place on Granville Avenue in the rapidly gentrifying Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, just a few blocks from the main campus of Loyola University of Chicago's Lake Michigan campus.

Left of Center had one of the freshest selections of political and theoretical books, and in particular, of left-leaning texts of any bookstore in the immediate area. For a bookstore of its size, it also carried a good stock of works in art history, philosophy, and critical studies. One other area that it excelled in, compared to some of the nearby chains, was obscure graphic novels and local self-published graphic texts.

Now it's gone.

Stopping by today I experienced a feeling similar to what I'd felt when I learned about the imminent closing several years ago (actually six or so years ago!--where does the time go?) of my one of my three favorite small bookstores in New York, Posman's, which sat for years on University Place right across from Washington Square Mews, amid NYU's buildings, and which carried a wide range of books that Barnes & Noble and other chains would not stock without begging and cajoling. It's true that all books are available online, but the pleasure of browsing the shelves without a plan, and the serendipity of coming across a text or two that I hadn't even heard of before simply can't be replicated by combing through Amazon.com's or BN.com's search engines. Posman's also hosted readings and was the spot where I first got to see Sapphire, Elaine Equi, David Shapiro, and quite a few other authors read.

When I asked if there was a possibility of the store reopening, Left of Center's owner said that she was so far in debt she would have to take time out just to get herself financially back into shape. She was sending back quite a few books, including two tantalizing stacks of Dalkey Archive Press novels, which she didn't want to see since she'd be able to get some money for them. A few boxes of novels and books of poetry were for sale, at 5 for $20, so I picked up a handful that I didn't already have: a 2004 collection of recently deceased Lorenzo Thomas's poetry, and novels by Oonya Kempadoo, Edmundo Desnoes, Mia Couto, and fellow St. Louisan Dan Stolar.

When I read each, I'll be thinking of this store--so long, Left of Center Bookstore....

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Brokeback Thoughts

Brokeback MountainI finally saw Brokeback Mountain, and although I usually write up reviews of most of the films I see, this movie has been extensively discussed online, so I'll skip that front and just jump to a few quick thoughts.

1) Overall, it was a pretty good film--and a pretty tragic film at that. It isn't the greatest gay-themed film I've ever seen, but it was one of the better Hollywood-produced films I've seen in a while.

2) It was light years better than Crash, in terms of the script, the cinematography, the acting, the truth of its feeling, everything. At one point while watching it, I thought of scholar and poet Sianne Ngai's concept of "objective feeling" in long narratives, and realized that pretty much from start to finish, Brokeback's was consistently and effectively pitched, while Crash's was all over the place.

3) Everyone raves about Heath Ledger's (at right, on left with Jake Gyllenhaal on right, AP) performance, and it was quite strong, but to me the performances of the two actresses who play the wives, Michelle Williams and Ann Hathaway, were equally convincing. Hathaway's ever-lightening hair and dazed gaze struck me as perfect emblems of the cmoplete emotional disengagement her husband's elusive, closeted (inner) life caused. That final scene in which she appears, where she betrays hints of anger, disgust and grief as she relates her husband's death in an deadpan voice that seeks to keep her tamped down tightly beneath the surface, as well as her badly painted fingernails, platinum hair and severe makeup framing her face, contained more emotional truth and honesty--the tragedy of a lifetime of disappointment--than most Hollywood movies these days even try to muster.

4) There was surprisingly little sex in it, and the film depicts more heterosex than homosex.

5) I nearly fell asleep during the early, glacial sheep-herding (shepherding?) scenes, but I think the slow rhythms were and are necessary, not least for the purposes of diegetic verisimilitude.

6) The Alberta scenery was breathtaking, to put it mildly. That province's tourist bureau couldn't have conjured up a more enchantingly successful set of promotional images if they tried.

7) I had no trouble understanding Heath Ledger's Ennis's accent, so I'm still trying to figure what some critics' comments about this were based on, or do they just never interact with people who don't sound like TV newscasters?

8) I actually was waiting for most of the movie to hear the line "I wish I knew how to quit you!" All of the parodies I'd seen had me smiling until the moment Gyllenhaal's character utters it, at which point its saddening implications became clear.

9) It was fascinating to think about the film's narrative in historical terms, and note how it paralleled the history of gay rights and gay liberation, and how they didn't intersect with the tragic worlds these two men lived in.

10) Perhaps the powers that be, in seeing the success of this movie, will try to create more honest films set in the present day, with multiracial and multigendered casts, that deal with LGBT lives. (Wishful thinking?)

Two movies I'm looking forward to catching soon are Dave Chappelle's Block Party and V is for Vendetta. (There was a free showing of the latter at the university this past Thursday, but I said I'd wait to catch it with C. if I could.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sports Shots

The World Baseball Classic lumbers forward into the second round this weekend. The US team faced a scare after losing to an unheralded Canada before walloping South Africa 17-0 (why did they even start the game?) to make it into the second round. The Patriots face Japan on Sunday, while Puerto Rico faces the powerhouse Dominican Republic. Also in the second round are South Korea, Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela. One of the biggest stories came on Friday when 19-year-old SF Giants prospect Shairon Martis, pitching for the Netherlands, threw a 7-inning no hitter (with no strikeouts). Martis undoubtedly has jumpstarted his chances of making it to the majors. (Below are some AP, Reuters and AFP photos I've culled.)

Cuban infielder Joan Carlos Pedroso gets ready to take batting practice

Future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. after hitting one of his two homers on Friday

Future Hall of Famer and 43-year-old veteran Roger Clemens putting on a pitching clinic against South Africa

Dominican up-and-coming star Wily Mo Peña giving the thumbs up to his team

Baseball great Willie Mays throwing out the first pitch at the US v. South Africa game

Young Curaçao native Shairon Martis, during his spectacular performance

Yankees star and veteran Bernie Williams waving after helping Puerto Rico to defeat Cuba

A Dominican fan getting his critique on of Yankee and US third baseman A-Rod at the Friday game

+++

This is also the the weekend of the World Indoor Track and Field Championships, which are taking place in Moscow. Here are some photos I've gleaned from the web (all are Reuters, AP or AFP).

Panamanian long jumper Irving Saladino, who took the bronze.

Triple jump champions Brazilian Jadel Gregorio, American Walter Davis, and Cuban Yoadri Betanzos

Silver medalist pole vaulter Alhaji Jeng of Sweden

The women's 60m hurdles race, won by Irish racer Derval O'Rourke (in the orange and green)

Americans Terrence Trammell and Dominique Arnold, who finished first and third in the 60m hurdles finals

Japanese pole vaulter Daichi Sawano

Trammell racing Cuban Dayron Robles, who took the silver

The silver medal-winning women's 4x400 team (Russia's team won the gold)

The first place US men's 4x400 team

Thursday, March 09, 2006

International Women's Day Backlash in Iran

Doug Ireland has been one of the stalwart chroniclers of the struggles lesbians, gays, bisexual and transpeople across the globe, and in particular the critical situation LGBT people face under the current Islamicist regime in Iran. He also has focused on the threat to liberal and liberatory politics there and across the globe.

Today he covers the vicious, brutal backlash that some participants in International Women's Day experienced there yesterday by posting commentary by Iranian feminists living in Iran (pictured at right, photo © and courtesy www.kosoof.com), via author and Purdue University-based scholar, Iranian native and exile Janet Afary.

An excerpt:

The peaceful gathering of women's rights activists, women's groups and human rights defenders who had gathered in Park Daneshjoo (Student Park) yesterday, in commemoration of March 8th, International Women's Day, ended in violence, when they were attacked and assaulted by plain clothes militia, special anti riot forces of the Revolutionary guards, soldiers and police.

Approximately 1,000 women had gathered in Park Daneshjoo on the occasion of the International Women's Day to emphasize their stance in support of women's human rights and peace. The ceremony which started at 4:00 pm, and was scheduled to last one hour, was charged by security forces shortly after it began, who relentlessly beat the protesters, in an effort to disperse the group.

The sit-in, which was organized by independent women's groups and activists, was supposed to be carried out silently, with protesters holding signs reading some of the following statements and slogans: discrimination against women, is an abuse of their human rights; women demand their human rights; women oppose any form of forced aggression or war; Iranian women demand peace; injustice means discrimination against women, etc.

Ten minutes into the protest, after security forces had managed to fully film and photograph the protesters for follow-up and interrogations at a later time, the women were asked to disperse, on the grounds that their assembly was illegal and did not have a permit. At this point, the protesters started singing the anthem of the women's movement, which again calls for changes in their human rights status. At 4:20 the final statement of the sit in was read, during which the security forces dumped cans of garbage on the heads of women who were seated in an effort to prevent easy dispersal. The security forces then charged the group and began beating the protesters. Even after the protesters had dispersed many were followed by the security forces and beaten. Some of the female protesters were beaten repeatedly with batons, and some male protesters were beaten severely by security forces who administered the beatings in teams.

The Iranian women ask that international women's groups and supporters, and in particular women's groups and supporters in the region and in Islamic countries, stand with them and protest the violent actions against the women's rights activists and supporters in Iran.

In the US, as far as I could tell, this important day and all that it symbolized met with indifference from the mainstream (and much of the left) media. Or was there coverage that I simply missed?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day + Review: Heading South + Project Runway + Black French TV Anchor

Indian women rallyToday is (was) International Women's Day.

Across the globe, women and their male allies are staging (staged) marches and rallies to commemorate this day of aware whose origins go back more than a century. The first National Women's Day, in conjunction with a declaration by the Socialist Party in America, occurred on February 28, 1909. According to the United Nations:

International Women's Day (8 March) is an occasion marked by women's groups around the world. This date is also commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

International Women's Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for "liberty, equality, fraternity" marched on Versailles to demand women's suffrage.

The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and radical ideologies.


The International Women's Day website is full of information, global messages and useful links.

International Women's Day in pictures (from the BBC site).



Here are some notes on a film I caught part of tonight, Laurent Cantet's 2005 feature Heading South [Vers le sud] (photo at left, © Haut et Court) which was a feature in the European Union Film Festival that's playing in Chicago. (I say "caught part of" because, having had to attend a 4-5 pm meeting in Evanston, I took the El to avoid rush-hour traffic, and it slowed to a crawl once we approached Lincoln Park, and...)

There are foreign films that could be made in the US, and ones that couldn't. Heading South falls in the former category. I say this mainly because of the subject matter, which is sex tourism, and in particular because of several of the film's chief characters, who are three older White women from North America who go to the Caribbean looking not only for love, but for sexual gratification. So maybe I should qualify my previous statement by saying that I cannot imagine a White American filmmaker, not even the most progressive ones, making this sort of film in 2006, and I'm not convinced that a Black American filmmaker could have gotten financing to do it. It's also telling that Frenchman Cantet chose to make the chief characters American and Canadian, and not French White women, and that he set it during the Baby Doc Duvalier period of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Even still, it's not inconceivable that another French (or European) director might make a similar film about European women--and there are films already that address European male sex tourism.

The film, which is based on three stories by Haitian-Canadian author Dany Lafèrriere (author of How to Make Love to a Negro without Really Trying and The Aroma of Coffee), focuses on the triangle that develops between two White women who are visiting a seaside resort in Haiti, Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), a single, haughty 55-year-old British professor of French at Wellesley College; and middle-aged, divorced Brenda (Karen Young) from Savannah, Georgia; and trickster-gigolo Legba (Ménothy César), a reed-thin, handsome young Haitian man who makes love to the women for financial gain but also draws love, against their will, out of them as well. The third member of the trio of North American women is Sue (Louise Portal), a sweet and soft-spoken factory worker from Montréal who's more laid back than either of the two Americans, and has found the affection and companionship she cannot find in Canada with a fisherman named Neptune (Wilfried Paul).

I thought Cantet tackled the complexity of the exchanges--psychological, emotional, political, social, economic--honestly and successfully. He doesn't shy away from showing the middle-aged White (First World) women, who openly admit to not being wanted in their own societies because of their ages, being the objects of desire and subjects of their own self-authored narratives of desirability involving young, poor Black (Third World) men, for a price. Neither Ellen, who rules the roost at the resort hotel and styles herself at peace with the nature of her relationship with Legba and above jealousy, nor Brenda, a younger sad-sack who encounted Legba three years prior and whose desperation and desire for him has only intensified in the interim, are what they at first appear.

Nor is Legba one-dimensional either; Cantet shows us that he is after something beyond money or even a US passport. He wants something much more difficult to attain, that will remain elusive, that most of his fellow Haitians also crave, which is freedom from the political and economic oppression that, ironically, is insuring the social order that ensures the presence of the resort guests. Legba's carefree attitude masks much more turbulent feelings beneath, which events externalize with tragic results, and actor César, who won an award at the Venice Film Festival, does a wonderful job in pulling this off. The 61-year-old and Rampling, who has turned in a series of very fine performances as a sexually active and aware older woman in recent years, in films such as Under the Sand and Swimming Pool, is also superb; she has a way of utilizing her eyes and jaw muscles to convey the breaking of something beneath the façade of her ageing but still striking face. The White women's blindness to the true suffering around them and their self-absorption in their romantic fantasies--which also moved me because of how utterly believable they were--play out in a dramatic moment that is one of the highlights of the film.

Throughout the movie Cantet portrays with deft touches the larger context of the US-supported dictatorship and its effects on Legba and the other Haitians. One way he does this is through the character of Albert (Lys Ambroise), who represents the dignified, hardworking, sovereign yet battered spirit of the Haitians. In a vocalized meditation, Albert lets us know that his family fought against the Americans during the 1915 occupation, and that his father and grandfather had the same low (racist) opinion of Whites that some Whites have of Blacks. He wonders what they'd think about him serving White people as he does for his job. He reserves his strongest venom--and here, though I agreed in part with his critique, I also felt that Cantet was using him as a proxy for French disdain for the US--for America's economic and military imperialism, which he notes has something that trumps than arms: dollars. These dollars have turned "everything they touch into garbage," which leads him to pronounce that "this entire country [Haiti] is rotten." (I am quoting this from memory, so it may be slightly off.) Yet Albert didn't seem oblivious to the role of Haitians themselves, showing his own disdain towards the gigolo Legba, or incapable of empathizing in Ellen's pain and sense of loss.

In terms of criticisms, one thing really stood out, and that was the technique of direct address to the camera, which Cantet might have avoided through other storytelling devices. It just didn't work for me, at least in this viewing. I also was curious to know more about the young Haitian woman in the limo and her relation to Legba. I think I just may have missed the intro bits of the film where this was sketched out. Young and Portal were less convincing at times than the other two leads, but perhaps that was just because I felt more aware of Young's acting than Cesar's or Rampling's. (I also kept remembering her in her role as an FBI agent on The Sopranos. Talk about a scenario that seemed both light years away and also a very believable backstory for Agent Sanseverino...)

I really want to see the film again, to catch what I missed and to see if it comes off as fresh the second time around. It also got me thinking about some of the posts on the Monaga blog, and how Anthony Montgomery has more than once counseled a few lovestruck visitors to DR to add a dose of self-awareness and skepticism to the romances that have developed out of the fast and intense relationships they've formed with the stunning bugarrones. (This applies, of course, to similar scenarios anywhere.) As Rampling and Young demonstrate in this movie, in a direct analogy to what Anthony writes about, and which critics of sex tourism have pointed out, one can easily confuse sex with love--or passionate sex with a thoughtful young lover--with love. Young's character notes that even her friend, Sue, looks at her as if she's crazy or there's something wrong with her, just as her husband and Americans in general had all her life; what she most prizes about Legba is how he "looked at [her]," as if she were normal, which is another way of saying lovely, loveable, desirable. This little bit of courtliness from a beautiful stranger is enough to inspire feelings of love, not only on film, but as we know, in the real world...but I won't say any more, because the film is worth seeing to find out how things turn out.

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I can't believe Bravo TV's Project Runway's second season is over, but it's over. This is the one winter TV show not on PBS that I tried not to miss. As someone who loved to sew, look at patterns and draw outfitted figures as a child, as a longtime follower of certain aspects fashion industry (though I have hardly a fashionable bone in my body, and have been known to throw on mismatched socks, clashing belts and shoes, misbuttoned shirts, unbloused sweaters, and floodwater pants on certain mornings when I'm trying to get out of the house), and as someone who appreciates watching talented people display valuable and valued skills (and sometimes turn into attack dogs when under the pressure of competition), I loved this show.

I thought this season was even better than the previous one, though the designer-finalist's this year were less original. Santino Rice's (pictured below, Bravo), Daniel Vosovic's and Chloe Dao's final runway offerings (one of the best is pictured at right) hardly approached the truly visionary designs of Kara Saun (whom I'd hoped would win) or last year's winner, Jay McCarroll.

A few thoughts:

Santino Rice Although I didn't think Chloe's heavy-fabric, almost 80s-ish designs were the most interesting, I wasn't disappointed that she won. It was good to see a woman win this time, especially an Asian-American (Laotian-American) woman. Chloe has a sharp sense of tailoring and great business savvy, so if she can update and New York-ize her aesthetic, she could have a strong career.

Daniel Vosovic's designs were, as I told C., so elegant, and perhaps he should have won, but it appeared his age and lack of experience (he's a recent FIT graduate) worked against him. He does have great talent, though, and if he sticks with it, which seems likely, he'll go far.

I got a better sense, over the last few shows, of why Santino Rice was so outrageous; it must have been very tough growing with a Black mother and White father in St. Charles, Missouri (it's the racist county just north of St. Louis and one of the larger city-counties in the St. Louis metro area), in addition to being interested in fashion and non-traditional-for-the-Heartland pursuits. But even accounting for the fact that that he's a damaged homeboy doesn't make him any easier to bear.

Santino has publicly declared himself a bisexual person, but I wondered if he ever claims his Blackness, or whether he employed the "mixed"/"biracial" self-identifications or considered himself beyond race. (Under at least a few views, isn't he, despite his outward appearance, as much an "African American" as Barack Obama or Halle Berry?) If he'd won, would he have been fêted as the new reality-show-created celebrity African-American bi designer?

Plus:
  • Michael Kors's designs have yet to impress me--why again is he so famous?
  • Nina Garcia looked so sad at the end
  • Heidi Klum is way too full of herself
I figured I'd gotten over the fashion bug when Elsa Klensch's CNN show "Style" ended years ago--go figure!

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RoselmackAccording to the BBC, France, the land of "liberté, égalité and fraternité" as well as racial and ethnic strife (comme tout le monde), will have its first person of color to serve as TV anchor when Harry Roselmack (at left) a Martinican native, takes over the 8pm broadcast on TF1 this upcoming July. Roselmack is currently a presenter on i-Tele, and previously worked as a journalist for Radio France.

His hiring represents a response in part to a prior call by French President and hack extraordinaire Jacques Chirac, for more journalists of color on TV as a response to the riots that started in the Parisian banlieue of Clichy-sous-Bois and later spread to metropolitan areas across France. Of course, Chirac was previously known for his conservative rhetoric while Prime Minister, and has done very little to address the political, economic and cultural marginalization of the French Muslim population, or of French people, Muslim or not, of sub-Saharan African ancestry. Real political and social change still needs to occur in France.

Thus Roselmack's selection is a groundbreaking step, but it shouldn't be reduced to mere tokenism or window-dressing. For the bands of desperate young brown-skinned French people named Muhammad and Drissa and Cheikh and Lamine, there must be more and better educational and employment opportunities, the architecture of state-sanctioned racism, under the guise of race-and-ethnic-neutral policies must be dismantled, and more community-engaged French people of color must assume positions of leadership at all levels of the society. Félicitations, M. Roselmack, mais j'éspère que vous ne soyez que le premier pas!