Wednesday, May 31, 2006

FIFA World Cup Preview

Well, not really a preview of the games, teams and matchups in the FIFA World Cup 2006, which begins next week, but some shots of the players (hotties) going through their final stages of preparation for the world's most watched sports event.

The opening matches?

On June 9, in Munich, the host country and one of the favorites to win, Germany, faces Costa Rica, while in Gelsenkirchen, Poland faces Ecuador.

Brazilian beauty and star Adriano holding a World Cup replica at Tom Jobim Airport, in Rio (Reuter/Domingos)
Ecuador's Valencia stretches during warmups in Austria (Reuters/Granja)
Tunisian midfielder Namouchi at a friendly match against Belarus, in Tunisia, on Monday (AFP/Belaid)
Portugal's Sabrosa signs autographs in Evora, Portugal (Reuters/Ribeiro)
Argentina's Cufre at a press conference in southern Italy (AP/Pecoraro)
England's Aaron Lennon, prancing on the pitch in Manchester (AFP)
The US's Eddie Johnson fights with Latvia's Oskars Klava for the ball (Reuters/Snyder)
Malouda et son equipe
Malouda of France celebrating with his teammates in a friendly game against Mexico (Reuters/Tessier)
French star and Arsenal fixture Thierry Henry looking dapper before the game against Mexico (Reuters/Tessier)
American Oguchi Onyewu (r) moving the ball past Venezuela's Rojas, in a match in Cleveland (AFP/Maxwell)
South Korea's Seol (at right) celebrate with his team mates after he scored a goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina during a friendly match at the Seoul World Cup stadium (Reuters/Kim)
German team member Odonkor's face shot, in Sardinia (AFP/Gilliar)
Mexico's Arellano at a training session in France (Reuters/Pratta)
Saudi Arabia's football player Massad warms up in Austria (AFP/Cizek)
Japan's Brazilian-born player Santos, at a press conference in Saitama, Japan (AP/Kyodo News)
Beasley and team
United States national soccer player DaMarcus Beasley runs with his teammates during training in North Carolina (AFP/Davis)
Costa Rica's Harold Wallace plays basketball in the pool following a sunrise workout with the national team at the Conchal beach resort near Brasalito, Costa Rica (AP/Gilbert)
Costa Rica's national soccer team players Paulo Wanchope (L) and Mauricio Solis stretch during a early training session in Conchal beach resort, Costa Rica (Reuters/Ulate)
England's young Theo Walcott (3rd l) participating in a fitness test with his teammates (Reuter/Keogh)
Korean player Cha during a match with Bosnia-Herzegovina (AFP/Jung)
Ghana's captain Stephen Appiah during the African Nations Cup match against Zimbabwe in Egypt (AFP)
France's Djibril Cisse after a friendly match against Denmark in Lens, France (AP/Ena)

Memorial Day Doings

I hope all the regular and periodic readers of Jstheater had an enjoyable holiday weekend. C. and I were in the infernally hot Chicago area yesterday to attend a small luncheon ceremony at the university, which bestowed on me the E. Leroy Hall Award for Excellence in Teaching. I've posted only a little about my teaching career and experiences on this blog over the last year, and usually I've only done so to praise the wonderful students I've worked with (and both the graduates and undergraduates were amazing again this year), but I do find teaching one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, and I can truthfully say that there are few things more exciting and moving that witnessing my students' intellectual development and growth. Many teachers say that they learn as much from their students as they give, and I eagerly attest to this. I've used the concept of the conversation before, in relation to writing fiction, translations, and other forms and modes of creativity, but I think it's most salient and necessary in the classroom; without dynami,c multivalent conversations, particularly in the humanities and arts, I tend to feel that no real intellectual--and thus educational--exchanges can even (begin to) occur. I've yet to teach a class in which I didn't learn something new, including about myself, and my aim is that my students can leave my classes feeling the same way. My thanks go to my colleagues, and above all, to my students!

The ceremony was brief and lovely, and below is a photo that C. took of the Dean of the College of Arts and Science (at left), my department chair (at right), and me, as I accepted the award.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Poem Excerpt: Alice Oswald

OswaldA few weeks ago, after David and I'd left Reggie's reading with the Baltimore poets, we ran into James O., a fellow writer and Canadian native, who asked me if I'd ever read the British poet-gardener Alice Oswald's long poem Dart (Faber, 2002). James told me in the most enthusiastic terms that I had to read this work, and described Oswald (at right, photo © Kate Mount, from British Arts Council) as the [TS] "Eliot" (!) of the 21st century, or something along those lines. I later said to David that not even Eliot would want to be the Eliot of the 21st century, if that were possible, but the aim of James's comparison was clear enough.

DartI haven't yet found a copy of Dart in the bookstores, and also have yet to purchase it online, but I did come across a packet of information on Oswald, who's variously described as one of the leading younger British poets, a nature "mystic," an heir(ess) to nature poet Ted Hughes, and a versifier who sees "Virgil" and "Homer" in her work. Oh, and fiction writer and critic Jeannette Winterson wrote a rapturous short review of this book. Truthfully, none of these factlets beyond Winterson's critique particularly makes Oswald that appealing or draws me to her poetry, but after James talked her up so fulsomely, I am going to seek out this belauded volume as well as her strongly praised first book, which has one of the most British titles I could imagine, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile (Oxford, 1996).

Given the title of the book, I thought it might be about people "darting" around London or some other metropolis, a poem about the speed, multiplicity and simultaneity of contemporary life, and so forth, but it's a modern pastoral of sorts, or at least at points, about the world around and embodied in a British river from whose name the place names "Dartmouth" and "Dartmoor" derive. One of the bits about her that I found online was her interim report from her funded project to begin the writing of the millennial Dart River community poem that became Dart. She says about the project

Last year [1998], I applied for money to write a poem about the River Dart. My idea was to orchestrate it like a kind of jazz, with various river-workers and river-dwellers composing their own parts. The result was to be a river's story, from source to mouth, written by the whole Dart community.

After working at this for a couple of months, I began to think it was people's living, unselfconscious voices, not their poems, that were most awake to the river. At any rate, some people were overflowing with poetry and some people had a beautiful, technical way of talking about the river; but the two didn't often coincide.

It includes the following snippet, which has its moments, especially the mellifluous (or, given that it's a river, mellifluent) 10th stanza.... (There is more on the site, and I think I will give the entire 48 pages a go.)

From Dart:

Who's this moving alive over the moor?

An old man seeking and finding a difficulty.

Has he remembered his compass his spare socks
does he fully intend going in over his knees off the military track from Okehampton?

keeping his course through the swamp spaces
and pulling the distance around his shoulders

the source of the Dart - Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor,
seven miles from the nearest road

and if it rains, if it thunders suddenly
where will he shelter looking round
and all thtlt lies to hand is his own bones?

tussocks, minute flies,
wind, wings, roots. ..

He consults his map. A huge rain-coloured wilderness.
This must be the stones, the sudden movement,
the sound of frogs singing in the new year.
Who's this issuing from the earth?

The Dart, lying low in darkness calls out Who is it?
trying to summon itself by speaking...

the walker replies

An old man, fifty years a mountaineer, until my heart gave out, so now I've taken to the moors.
I've done all the walks, the Two Moors Way, the Tors, this long winding line the Dart

this secret buried in reeds at the beginning of sound I
won't let go of man, under
his soakaway ears and his eye ledges working
into the drift of his thinking, wanting his heart

I keep you folded in my mack pocket and I've marked in red where the peat passes are and the
good sheep tracks

Copyright © Alice Oswald, 2002.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bob Wing and Brian Burwell on Bonds Haters and Bonds

Bob Wing on Bonds Haters
Bonds(I'd been meaning to post this five days ago, shortly after I received the link, but now that Barry Bonds has hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth's total of 714 for second place, I think it's especially apt.)

Here's another take (thanks Bernie!), from the Black Commentator website's guest writer Bob Wing, on some sports commentators' and fans' ongoing hatefest against Barry Bonds. I agree with him on many points (and since he didn't try to type his as quickly as possible as I did mine, they're not as crabbed and more comprehensible). I really am waiting for Bonds to hit his 715th home run so that we who follow baseball can pass this particular junction.

Brian Burwell, an African-American sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is having none of this. He views Bonds's plight quite differently and disdainfully, dismissing comparisons between Aaron's experience with racism as he broke Ruth's record with the media criticism of Bonds. His point of comparison is O.J. "The Juice" Simpson; as he believed was the case with OJ, race only became a salient issue once he found himself in trouble. Or as Burwell says:

He's a brother who has basically lived untouched by most of the normal strictures of blackness. Born to wealth, accustomed to privilege, impervious to racism's harmful limitations all his life, Bonds is now what I call a brother of convenience.

He is conveniently casting himself in the role of the persecuted black man being undone by some unseemly plot by The Man, when the truth is, he's nothing but a cheating jerk caught redhanded.

But is all of this true? Wasn't Bonds a target of media criticism, some of it tinged with racism, before the steroid scandal erupted? Hasn't he been singled out for years for "personality" problems (he's "difficult," he's not "friendly to the media," he's "angry," etc.) in ways many of his non-Black peers were not? Also, isn't it possible to criticize Bonds's occasional arrogance, self-absorption and moments of self-pity while also not forgetting the role of racism and racist discourse in American professional sports and the sports media?

Back to the other home run leaders. I wish Ken Griffey Jr., who's never been linked to steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs, hadn't suffered through several injury-filled seasons, or he might be closer to Ruth by now. As it is, of the active batters with over 400 home runs, Griffey Jr. is the closest after Bonds, at 542, putting him 12th on the list; next on the list of active players are Frank Thomas at 457, Gary Sheffield at 453, Carl Yastrzemski at...okay, just joking (he finally did retire!), Bonds HottieJeff Bagwell at 449, Jim Thome at 447, Manny Ramirez at 444, A-Rod at 440, and Mike "Butch" Piazza at 403. Griffey is entering the tail-end of his career, and has struggled to stay healthy, so he should at least break 600 if he can hang on.

Of this others in this cohort, A-Rod has the talent and enough years left, if he doesn't get injured, to catch Bonds-Ruth, and perhaps Vladimir Guerrero (316 after 11 years) and Albert Pujols(223 after 6 years) will also at least break the 550 mark if they keep hitting at their current pace and play for about 20 years. But there's no one on the near horizon who looks set to catch up with Bonds. The anti-Bonds fanatics perhaps should start accepting this fact, though the main effect may be to provoke them go after Bonds even more.

One of the most recent casualties of the anti-Bonds crusade is Albert Pujols, the star first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols, who is leading the league in multiple categories right now, and who's on pace to tie or even break Bonds's single-season home run record, had the independence of mind (gall?) to praise Bonds's talent, act friendly towards him with the Cardinals were playing the Giants, and even tape a segment for an ESPN show.

And as surely as Prince Albert, or El Hombre as he's also been dubbed, was born in Santo Domingo, at least one St. Louis sportswriter and some fans began their criticism. Actually, what most got St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bernie Miklasz's nose in a twist was Pujols's legitimate question, "Are steroids going to make you better? Who knows?" Steroids probably did make some already talented players--including Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi--better hitters, but there are many who haven't really been helped, either for a season or over the long haul at all. Miklasz has a right to his opinion, as Pujols has to whom he associates with, but I wish sportwriters like him would also take a little space at least criticize the very system and those running it that looked the other way about steroid usage for a decade or more.

All Star Game
If you are a baseball fan and haven't yet voted for this year's All Stars, you can do so here, up to 25 times. Just remember to uncheck the two boxes that tell Major League Baseball that you want to be bombarded with spam their and others' offers, or, as I can attest from past years, you certainly will be.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Far Right Attacks in Germany Precede World Cup 2006

Map of GermanyUwe-Karsten Heye, a spokesman in the government of former German Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor Gerhard Schröder, set off a political tempest on Wednesday when he warned people of color visiting the country for the 2006 World Cup, which begins on June 9, not to venture into rural areas of eastern Brandenburg State (the pale blue state on the right in the map at left), which surrounds the federal capital, Berlin, because they might be attacked by Neo-Nazis and other members of the German far right. He told Deutschlandradio Kultur, "There are small and mid-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere where I would advise anyone with a different skin color not to go," and added quite dramatically, "they may not leave with their lives."

Wolfgang Schäuble, the Interior Minister of Germany's current government, headed by the right-leaning Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and chancellor Angela Merkel, however, claimed that Germany would not "tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or anti-Semitism." His counterpart in Brandenburg State, Jörg Schönbohm, asserted that visitors of all colors would feel "safe" and called for Heye to resign from his position a German anti-racist group, Gesicht zeigen (Show Your Face), while the head of the tourism committee for the German parliament denied the Germany "was far from a country" where visitors should fear attacks from far rightists. The premier (governor) of Brandenberg, Matthias Platzeck, a fellow SDU member, decried what he called Heye's "absurd slur of a whole region that is no way justifiable." Berlin's openly gay, Socialist mayor, Klaus Wowereit, also claimed that visitors would be fine.

Yet there have been a rush of racist attacks that have set politicians and Germany's citizens on edge. Last month, an Ethiopian-born German man was beaten so badly he remains in a coma; the attack occurred in Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg state. A few weeks ago, regional assemblyman Giyasettin Sayan (below right, Deutsche Welle) who represents Berlin's Lichtenberg district on the reconstituted-Communist Left (Links) Party line, was brutally attacked near his home by two men who called him a "dirty foreigner," and suffered head injuries severe enough that he had to be hospitalized. SayanJust today, a spate of racially-motivated attacks occurred in eastern Germany: 6 people were attacked in Berlin, including a Turk, a Lebanese man, an Indian, and a Guinean. The police were able to arrest all or most of the attackers. In Weimar, the country's capital from the end of World War I to Hitler's chancellorship, three Mozambicans and a Cuban man were injured when attackers burst into a private party and assaulted them. The police did arrest 8 suspects. In the eastern German city of Wismar, an Indian man was beaten at a flea market. Yet things were localized solely in eastern Germany. In the western town of Würzburg, nine people were detained after shouting Nazi slogans at a birthday party; any promotion or depiction of pro-Nazi iconography or rhetoric is officially illegal in Germany.

Germany's Afrika-Rat (African Council) has published a list of "no-go" places in Brandenburg and other parts of the east for Black people and other people of color. Berlin political scientist Yonas Endrias, a member of the Africa-Rat, ratified Heye's warning by noting that there were places in Brandenburg that he and other Black Germans wouldn't dare take their families, because while he averred that there was racism in western Germany, in the east Black people were more likely to be attacked. The World Cup committee is set to publish an online guide to warn potential visitors about notorious racist hotspots. Between 2004 and 2005, far-right crime in Germany rose by 28%, to more than 15,000 incidents, and of these, 958 were linked directly to Neo Nazis, a 24% increase.

Some figures in the German government, as well as in the German media and intellectual classes, believe that Heye's warning and the focus on the racial attacks are overblown. They also have suggested that Germany's extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NDP) is hoping to gain attention and support both inside and the country from the focus on a rise in far right activism and attacks. It also has planned to stage rallies at some of the World Cup matches, including the one between Angola and Iran, which it has said it will support because of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments against Israel.

The usual explanations for the far right activity in east Germany hinge on the harsh economic disparities that have existed since unification between this still-poor, job-challenged formerly Communist sector and the far wealthier western states that once constituted the Federal Republic of Germany; alongside the east's economic problems, those appraising the Neo-Nazi (and Nazi residue) problem cite the Easterners' issues with economic competition based on immigration, the lack of a liberal and plural democratic tradition (after 40 years of Communism), and the inadequacy of (or indifference by) the unified liberal government and liberalism as an ideology to address the racial and ethnic transformation of the country. Yet I would argue that these issues are as salient in western Germany and other parts of Europe as in Germany's eastern states. In addition, East Germany's particular educational approach to understanding the Nazi past also has received blame. In the BBC article, the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at the University of Leipzig's Dr. Frank Neseman attributes the presence of Neo-Nazism in Eastern Germany to the "authoritarian education systems under the communists...this kind of education was always based on ideas of hatred - anti-capitalism and against class enemies, Zionism, the US, West Germany," as if the long history of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism and racialist thinking in Germany and Austria (and Europe more broadly), particularly on the political right, were also somehow not central. In addition to anti-Semitic appeals going back centuries, anti-Black and anti-foreign sentiment particularly took hold among the Austrian right at the end of the 19th century, and among the Germany right in the 1920s. One of the first governmental policies enacted after the Nazi takeover was the mass sterilization of mixed-raced, especially part-African, children. In Western Germany, numerous former Nazi officials were permitted to serve in the post-War government, which created a smooth transition when the German economic miracle occurred, but did not lead to the sort of ideological break, at least beneath the surface, that did in fact occur in East Germany.

Post-unification economic problems in eastern Germany caused by the reordering of the economy and globalization certainly have fostered resentment against the west, foreigners and people of color, but neo-Nazi groups and far right parties also exist in western Germany (as today's news makes clear), as well as in neighboring countries with a strong economic performance, such as Austria and Belgium. Schäuble's and Schönbohm's denials and laissez-faire approach only contribute to the problem rather than helping to resolve it.

Speaking of Belgium, the recent racist murder of an Malian-born woman and her child (Oulemata Niangadou, 24, and Luna Drowart, 2, were slain; a Turkish woman, Songul Koca, was wounded in the attack) in Antwerp has caused national shockwaves, after Blacks and other people of color had been attacked recently in Brussels. Today, at a "White March" (?), thousands marched through Antwerp's streets to protest the murder and the extremist Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party, to which the murderer was linked. Meanwhile, a surge in racist attacks has plagued Russia, and, after the flareups last fall in France, the leading figure in that country's "moderate" right, Nicolas Sarkozy, has proposed a sweeping, harsh anti-immigrant bill, now passed by the French lower house, that would find much favor among the GOP in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Translations: Eugenio Montale + Oprah's Legends Ball

Translating Montale's mottetti
MontaleMy Italian is rudimentary, but a few years ago, I fell in love with these two poems by Eugenio Montale (1896-1981, at right, Nobel Academy), which first appeared in his collection Le Occasioni (The Occasions), which were written over an eleven-year period and published in 1939. The mottetti (motets) and other poems from this book have been translated in English more than once, especially after Montale received the Nobel Prize in 1975.

One of the things I most love about these tiny poems is how Montale utilizes the aural possibilities, the music of the Italian language to embody the themes, imagery and action of the poems. In the first, we get echoes of the "fiore che ripete," the forget-me-not ("non scordati de mi"), all throughout the poem, along with its swaying at the edge of the fissure, or crevasse--that literal phonic space tossed "tra me e te," between "you and me" that calls out to us, the readers, as it calls out to both Montale and his beloved. It is an actual physical space, but also a metaphysical, an emotional and psychoological one. In the second stanza, we get music akin to the sound of gears churning (the "ch" of "cigolio" and "ci" [note again the echo] the "sf" of "sferra") and again, at the very end, another echo, of long "a"s, but this time borne away by funicular that has brought us to the far side. In the second poem, Montale captures the swooping flight of the swallows, birds whose name in English still retains this up-and-down movement, but it is sharper in Italian, where the vowels literally leap up and down ("balestrucci"), while the long "a"s of half the words in the first three lines are like the air itself, carrying us forward. The poem concludes with the "oo" sound regnant, conveying simultaneously openness and closure; English's cognates allow me to capture some of this, though only some. Dana Gioia, the NEA head, has published an entire book of translations of Montale's mottetti, though to my mind the best English translator of this great poet is Jonathan Galassi, who's also editor-in-chief at Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Il fiore che ripete
dall'orlo del burrato
non scordarti di me,
non ha tinte più liete né più chiare
dello spazio gettato tra me e te.

Un cigolìo si sferra, ci discosta,
l'azzurro pervicace non ricompare.
Nell'afa quasi visibile mi riporta all'opposta
tappa, già buia, la funicolare.

The flower that repeats
from the edge of the fissure
has no hues fairer or brighter than
the space cast here between you and me.

A metal gear grinds, separating us:
the stubborn azure does not hold.
In a cloud almost visible, I am borne back to the other
stage, where already darkness settles in, by the funicular.

Il saliscendi bianco e nero dei
balestrucci dal palo
del telegrafo al mare
non conforta i tuoi crucci su lo scalo
né ti riporta dove più non sei.

Già profuma il sambuco fitto su
lo sterrato; il piovasco si dilegua.
Se il chiarore è una tregua,
la tua cara minaccia la consuma.

Copyright © Eugenio Montale, 1939, 2006.

The rising and falling black and white
of the swallows from the telegraph pole
to the sea
hardly comforts you, perched at the edge
of the water,
nor returns you to where you no longer are.

Already the elder thickly perfumes
above the dig; the small storm dissipates.
If this brightening up is a truce,
your sweet threat consumes it.

Translations © John Keene, 2006

Oprah's Legends Ball
Oprah at the Legends BallReading Anthony Montgomery's Monaga blog today reminded me that C. and I'd watched Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball on Monday night, and also made me remember how much I'd enjoyed it. In fact I almost missed because I hadn't been paying much attention to the hype and rarely catch her TV show. What I most enjoyed was seeing a number of the major African-American female cultural figures and pioneers of the last 50 years--Coretta Scott King, Leontyne Price, Dorothy Height, Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee, Patti Labelle, Gladys Knight, Della Reese, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick, Elizabeth Catlett, Chaka Khan, Diahann Carroll, Roberta Flack, Naomi Sims, and many of their younger successors (whom Oprah called the "young'uns")--together, being celebrated, championed, extolled for what they individually and collectively have made possible, not only for African-American women, but for Black people, women and everyone else. Seeing these women assembled together at the luncheon and then at the Sunday gospel brunch-picnic, which Patti Labelle set off live (I said that if she hadn't passed the mic back to Bebe Winans the entire lawn would have started levitating) naturally, were the real highlights.

While I do question the materialism that was on display (those drop-diamond earring sets were really over the top!), I was actually sort of amazed and delighted to witness Winfrey, one of the most powerful and galvanizing figures in our culture, taking over an hour of prime time to celebrate other Black women and call attention to their achievements. (Of course in the process Oprah yet again demonstrated how important and powerful she truly is, while also celebrating, well, herself.) I wish there'd been more time for her to explore the honorees' accomplishments, even though I already knew about all of them, and less time spent on the glitz, but then it's the glitz (and all the other celebrities who attended the actual ball and the luncheon) that drew a broad(er) range of viewers and advertisers. I also wondered where some other notable figures who were listed as attending were (Toni Morrison, Katherine Dunham, Aretha Franklin, Nikki Giovanni, Lena Horne, Alice Walker), though I assume either health or other reasons (scheduling, etc.) were behind their not being on camera. There are certainly many other major Black female figures, from women in business to science and the arts, to political figures, who also could have been included and honored, but it was Oprah's show, and were she to honor all the legendary figures and many unheralded ones, it would take months--perhaps that's what we need, Oprah's Legends Summer. I also wondered whether there was a male figure who might do the same for African-American men, and about a comprehensive way of honoring and celebrating people outside the mainstream of our entertainment culture who've achieved remarkable things, particularly on behalf of others, across class, gender and other lines.

Clay Cane's colorful take on the show is here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pamuk on the Freedom to Write + On (Appiah's) Cosmopolitanisms?

Orham Pamuk on the Freedom to Write
PamukOn April 25 of this year, Orham Pamuk, perhaps Turkey's leading fiction writer and a repeated target of governmental oppression, most recently when he was brought up on charges for having spoken openly of the Armenian genocide, delivered the inaugural PEN Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture. The New York Review of Books printed it in the May 25, 2006 issue, and it's worth reading, so I link to it here.

A quote:

I always have difficulty expressing my political judgments in a clear, emphatic, and strong way—I feel pretentious, as if I'm saying things that are not quite true. This is because I know I cannot reduce my thoughts about life to the music of a single voice and a single point of view—I am, after all, a novelist, the kind of novelist who makes it his business to identify with all of his characters, especially the bad ones. Living as I do in a world where, in a very short time, someone who has been a victim of tyranny and oppression can suddenly become one of the oppressors, I know also that holding strong beliefs about the nature of things and people is itself a difficult enterprise. I do also believe that most of us entertain these contradictory thoughts simultaneously, in a spirit of good will and with the best of intentions. The pleasure of writing novels comes from exploring this peculiarly modern condition whereby people are forever contradicting their own minds. It is because our modern minds are so slippery that freedom of expression becomes so important: we need it to understand ourselves, our shady, contradictory, inner thoughts, and the pride and shame that I mentioned earlier.

On (Appiah's?) Cosmopolitanism: Responses to Keguro
In the comments section yesterday, Keguro posted one of his very concise and very provocative responses, so I thought I'd offer some responses. I can't and won't presume to speak for Kwame Anthony Appiah, or even recapitulate his rich and variegated arguments in a nuanced or extensive way, but I loved the issues Keguro posed, so here are my responses.

K: Appiah bothers me a lot. I am skeptical that shared cultural products necessarily have any connection to shared ethical values: that one sees cellphones in Ghana says little about the potential for one's ethical orientation.

J: What exactly bothers you about Appiah? Or Appiah's theorizations of cosmopolitanism. I'm curious to know what bothers. The New York Times Magazine/RSA e-journal article is problematic to me in part because I think Appiah is extrapolating from his particularized, glamorous experiences and views, presenting them (somewhat differently than he does in his philosophical work, which requires more careful theorization and abstraction) as the primary optics (and evidence) for viewing and understanding what's really a more complex phenomenon. The seeming equation of circulating consumerisms and ethics is problematic, but his larger point even in this piece has to do with authenticities and the individual's relation to his various allegiances, his location of self and selves, doesn't it? With cosmopolitanism(s) when very different kinds of contexts and experiences in and between worlds could constitute the basis for an argument on behalf of cosmopolitanism(s). That's why I think the larger defense of kinds and practices of cosmopolitanisms, which Appiah states at several points aren't fixed but fluid--he suggests that they're "challenges" rather than anything realized even by him so far--is interesting, and at times persuasive. So I wonder if the assumption that shared cultural products relates easily or directly to shared ethical values isn't a misreading of his arguments in both books; doesn't he suggest just the opposite, that the assumption of shared ethical values based on consumerist products or even a shared ideology is problematic for establishing one's ethical compass and values?

K: How does one become cosmopolitan? And what keeps one cosmopolitan?

J: These are great questions. My personal take would be that you could point to various routes, or to use Bourdieu's term, various habituses, by which you develop cosmopolitan identities and identifications (and disidentifications), acquire cosmopolitan affinities, and so on, and your particular experiences in the world, your allegiances, the norms and contexts of your experiences, etc., would all affect your sense of, performance of, practices of cosmopolitanism(s). If I were to distill to an extreme degree Appiah's complex arguments, a general shared experience of humanity--this abstracted, shared sense of being part of the human community beyond one's immediate group identifications and not relating solely to the kinds of commercial circulations he cites in the article--pulls (some of?) us towards cosmopolitanism. This lies at the heart of his philosophical exploration of the concept, but also leads to his critiques of universalisms--which some people (wrongly?) read cosmopolitanisms as--both of the local and, well, global kind.

K: Is globalization central to the formation of cosmopolitan identities (as Bruce Robbins and Pheng Cheah might suggest)?

J: I suppose Appiah would say that it's central, or rather , though it has had a profound effect on the formation of contemporary cosmopolitanisms and cosmopolitan identifications because of its role in the process of circulating ideologies, norms, goods, practices and so on. But in the second book, as briefly mentioned in the article, Appiah locates one origin of cosmopolitanism in the beliefs and practices of the Cynics, though I guess you could argue that the Greeks were proto-globalists, at least in terms of how far their technological achievements were able to take them. (I think you could also read the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Chinese, and others' circulatory histories as proto-globalizations.) I haven't read Sloterdijk in many years, but doesn't he come to different conclusions based on his reading of the Cynics?

K: Is cosmopolitanism necessarily opposed to national identities (as Gilroy might suggest and Laura Chrisman disagrees)? Is cosmopolitanism nothing more than moral obfuscation, cultural consumption and literacy taken as an ethical orientation (where, I think, Tim Brennan's early work ends)? (Okay, yes, I have many issues with the term and how academics use it.)

J: From what I gather, Appiah is suggesting that cosmopolitanism isn't necessarily opposed to national identities, but that they might be in tension with certain forms of cosmopolitanism. (This is the case for other kinds of identities as well.) I'm not that familiar with Brennan's work, so I plead ignorance, but I would imagine that Appiah interrogates the place and function of the moral pretty thoroughly, and doesn't link cosmopolitanism so easily or readily to cultural consumption and literacy, but to a more complex and as I said negotiated ethical orientation to one's lifeworld.

K: I wonder what happens to the quotidian in and within "cosmopolitanism."

J: This is a great question. I wonder what exactly the "quotidian" might be--since I'm thinking the "quotidian" could be many things (I know you're familiar with Michel de Certeau's work on this topic, among others), from its basic sense of the everyday, to a particular psychological, philosophical and/or sociological state or location, to an ideologically conditioned, ontological site of subjectivities, practices, etc...and if one were mapping one's own cosmopolitanisms, wouldn't the quotidian factor in(to) its many layers and aspects and be transformed by one's performance of them?

K: But now I'm simply testing out ideas contained in something I've been working on for a while--and will continue to do so for some time.

J: Please do post more on this (here and/or on your blog), and of course do critique my responses as fully as you can.

Random photo

Movie set, West 4th Street and 6th Avenue

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Appiah on Cosmopolitanism + Reggie Harris on BookExpo

Appiah on Cosmopolitanism
AppiahI've been meaning to write something about the brilliant philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah's (left, various books and articles in the popular press on the theme of cosmpolitanism, especially since the topic is particularly relevant as we're witnessing an upsurge in nativism and misplaced nationalism around the issue of immigration, in light of growing religious fanaticism and intolerance of all kinds, and because globalization has for some time been pressing important and necessary questions of identity and identification upon us, but really, to do them justice, even the ones that basically repeat what he's already written, would require a good week's worth of reading and research and, I have to say, I haven't yet found the time or energy. Yes, that's a pathetic excuse, particularly for someone who finds the topic fascinating and considers himself to be at heart a cosmopolitan, in the little "c" sense).

But last summer I did slog through read large portions of Appiah's study The Ethics of Identity (Princeton, 2004), a demanding and excellent philosophical treatise on the themes of identity, ethics and cosmopolitanism, with essays into the topics of nationalism, pluralism and citizenship, morality and rationalism, norms and normativity, racial, ethnic and other kinds of stereotyping, autonomy and solidarity, his concept of "life scripts" (which he broached years ago at a panel, leading to immediate misunderstandings on the part of many in the audience), and a host of other themes relating to the book's main focus. It helps if you are going to pick up this book to have read some John Stuart Mill, since Appiah basically applies a thoroughgoing reading of Mill to ground his central thesis and critiques.

But, if you didn't get to Ethics of Identity, you can always try Appiah's subsequent study, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (W.W. Norton, 2006) which, from several cursory glances at the bookstore and library, strikes me as a boiled-down, more accessible, historicized version of the prior study, with an even greater focus on Appiah's central theme of "rooted cosmopolitanism," which I take to mean an approach to the world that is ethically oriented towards our shared human fate, and open to negotiating the understandable sense of connection to our particularized experiences (his royal Ghanaian ancestry, which we hear quite a bit about in his work, for example) with a broader commitment to others beyond our immediate familial, national and other group-based identifications and filiations (racial, ethnic, religious, national, gender, etc.). As in the earlier book, I imagine Appiah's philosophical interest in ethics and its history comes to the fore, as does his skepticism about any easy or simple moral or ethical precepts (whether religious, classical, Kantian or other) for determining how to act in the world.

One of the leading contemporary philosophical ethicists, Thomas Nagel (of NYU), penned a knowledgeable and laudatory reading of both of Appiah's works in the February 2, 2006 issue of The New Republic. (Like many so many public commentators, he feels he must offer an especial critique of "black identity," as "incoherent," while failing to explicitly question its binaristic antithesis, "white identity," which is normative in this society and thus manages to elude deeper analysis, except by those specifically interrogating it). Nevertheless, I want to quote his concluding paragraphs, which give a sense of his reading and Appiah's book:

What is universal, though immensely important, merely provides a protective framework for the flourishing of individuality. And we can come to agree on certain basic protections in practice without starting from a common theoretical foundation. (Here Appiah invokes Cass R. Sunstein's constitutional theory of "incompletely theorized agreements.") The key to co-existence and mutual benefit from the variety of forms of life is familiarity, and not just reason. We have to get used to one another, and then over time our habits will evolve. Sheer exposure can accomplish a great deal. This, Appiah points out, is how attitudes toward homosexuality have been transformed in our own society. And it may eventually have its effect on the "woman question" that he thinks plays a large part in fueling Islamic hostility to the West.

It is a humane and optimistic vision, eloquently expressed. Disarmingly, Appiah describes his view at one point as "wishy-washy cosmopolitanism," and if these books have a fault, it is that of under-rating the depth of the conflicts that make the spread of liberalism so difficult. Appiah's golden rule of cosmopolitanism is a famous quotation from the comic playwright Terence, a former North African slave who lived and wrote in Rome: "I am human: nothing human is alien to me." Though he acknowledges that pessimists "can cite a dismal litany to the contrary," Appiah believes that the accumulation of changes in individual consciousness brought on by communication and mobility is already propelling us along this upward path. He rejects by implication the "clash of civilizations" as the global drama to which we are all condemned. I hope the future will prove him right, though the experience of our time makes me wonder. Episodes such as the recent widespread and violent reaction to a few cartoon depictions of Mohammed prompt the grim reflection that it took centuries of bloodshed for the West to move from the wars of religion to its present roughly liberal consensus. We may have to wait a long time.

An excerpt from Appiah's second book appeared on January 1, 2006 in the New York Times Magazine; I remember finding the opening sentences so annoying that I really didn't want to continue reading it. ("I’m seated, with my mother, on a palace veranda, cooled by a breeze from the royal garden. Before us, on a dais, is an empty throne, its arms and legs embossed with polished brass, the back and seat covered in black-and-gold silk." You know even more references to the royal house of the Asante are on their way....) It's now a Times-Select article, so it's inaccesible unless you're willing to cough up their monthly fee (or make a one-time archive payment). But wait; the article is accessible, since it's been reprinted verbatim in the RSA e-journal: yes, it's the very same "The Case for Contamination." After getting past the opening, I have to admit that Appiah makes some telling points that draw upon the insights of the earlier book on ethics and identity, and he's nearly convinced me to do more than just browse Cosmopolitanism when I find the time.

Reggie H. on BookExpo
Do you wish you could have/had gone to this year's BookExpo in our lovely capital, Washington, to see American publishers and self-publishers hawking their textual wares? Or maybe you just wanted to see New Jersey's (my) ex-governor, Jim McGreevey, brandishing the not very revealing excerpt from his forthcoming memoir (thanks Rod!), that is, the one that describes how he visited rest stops (in New Jersey? did he by chance hit the Walt Whitman Service Area?) for anonymous sex (while he was married and living on the DL in the closet?). Reggie doesn't waste his time on McGreevey, but in his thoroughly enjoyable report he does manage to touch upon the samo-samo "Best American Novel of the Last 25 Years" panel (including his thoughts on the antediluvian better known as Cynthia Ozick), as well as the one that addressed the Canonical Crew vs. Street Lit divide, Queen Latifah's appearance, and a few other delectable impressions that bring the event to life.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dunham Tribute + News from Bloggers

Legendary dancer Katherine Dunham passes
DunhamAs readers of Jstheater have come to fathom, I think it's important to write brief tributes to those who've enriched our lives and experiences, both while they're alive and after they're gone. One person who fits this description in multiple ways is the late Katherine Dunham, who passed away yesterday in New York City after a full and marvelous life at the age of 96. Dunham was a pioneering figure in African-American and African-Diasporic arts and cultural production, and one of the most important choreographers of the 20th century. A native of the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, she attended the University of Chicago (she was one of the first African-American undergraduates), where she studied social anthropology, training that would crucially shape her dance performances for the rest of her life. After traveling on a Rosenwald Fellowship to study the dances of the Caribbean, Dunham served as a director of Chicago's Federal Theater Project before founding her own troupe in 1938. In her work and performances from this period, she began to explore the connections between African-American and Caribbean dances and their African roots, tracing out various retentions and creating new, synthetic, Diasporic forms that also incorporated movements, techniques and rhythms from the South Pacific and other non-European cultures. These innovations would deeply influence both performers and scholars of dance and Diasporic cultural practices. She opened her Katherine Dunham School of Arts and Research in 1945, which extended her training to several generations of dancers, and began touring the globe with her revues, garnering both national and world-wide acclaim. During this period her she cemented strong connections to dance troupes in Haiti, Brazil, western Africa, and Europe. She would go on to choreograph dances for operas and musicals in New York and elsewhere, help to create new dance troupes, and serve as a visiting professor and later ultural affairs consultant and director of the Performing Arts Training Center and the Dynamic Museum at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.

It was in conjunction with her work in southern Illinois that Dunham became more than just a iconic figure to me. The SIUE Dynamic Museum and the Performing Arts Training Center were located in East Saint Louis, Illinois, the sister city across the Mississippi from my hometown, and during her most active years there, from the late 1960s through the early 1990s, as East St. Louis suffered a severe economic decline, transforming it at one point into one of the poorest cities in the United States and one of the most dangerous, Dunham's Dynamic Museum and the SIUE Katherine Dunham Center, later renamed the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities, became one of the few sites providing critical, comprehensive educational and artistic opportunities for the socially and economically displaced young people of East St. Louis. Growing up, I would hear about Dunham's enduring and truly dynamic commitment to this community--because she received as much as she gave--and found it then, as I still do, a model that every artist who can, if and when possible, should emulate. I also should mention her 47-day hunger strike, at the age of 82 in 1993, which sought to call attention to the United States' problematic relationship with Haiti; it undoubtedly played a role in President Clinton's subsequent restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's democratically elected government.

Dunham in Rara TongaDunham received numerous honors for her work, including a Presidential Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, the French Legion of Honor, Southern Cross of Brazil, Haiti's Grand Cross, Chevalier in the Haitian Legion of Honor and its Commander and Grand Officer titles, an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, Lincoln Academy Laureate, the Urban Leagues’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Dance Festival's Samuel H. Scripps Award, and an induction into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the University City Loop. Dance troupes across the spectrum, from the Martha Graham Dancers to Alvin Ailey hailed her contributions to the art of dance. In recent years, like so many pioneering black figures, she had fallen on hard financial times, but according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, her economic situation had recently improved. She did not live to participate in the birthday tribute, scheduled for next month at the Missouri History Museum, which will bring together dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Hispánico and Afriky Lolo, but her spirit will be dancing along with them.

Blog Round Up
I just noticed the news on Rod 2.0's site that the anthology Freedom in the Village: 25 Years of Black Gay Men's Writing (Carroll & Graf, 2005), which author E. Lynn Harris edited (and which contains an excerpt of a novel I've been working on) was awarded a 2006 Lambda Literary Award. Congratulations to E. Lynn, Carroll & Graf, Don Weise, and everyone in the anthology. I went to the Lambda Literary Foundation website, but there was no update on the awards ceremony, which took place last Wednesday, or the winners, so I'll go with Rod's report (he also credits Bernie and Keith, who also points out that Thomas Glave received the prize in nonfiction for his superb new collection of essays, Words to Our Now. Congratulations, Thomas!).

Also on Bernie's site, you can find a great writeup of the International Association of Athletics Federation's (IAAF) revision of American sprinter Justin Gatlin's (right) winning time at the Qatar Grand Prix. It seems his world record time should have been rounded up, from 9.766 to 9.77, thus tying Jamaican Asafa Powell's (left) previous record. I can wait till they race against each other later this year!

Random photo

The skeleton of another new building (condos? corporate? mixed use?), near the Marin Blvd. light rail station, downtown Jersey City

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Nagin Wins in NO + Sorrentino RIP + Bonds Ties Ruth

Ray Nagin reelected
NaginAs has been widely reported, incumbent New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was reelected last night, by a margin of 52.3% to 47.7%, over Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor and political heir Mitch Landrieu. Nagin had been trailing Landrieu in several polls leading up to the ballot, and there were many questions, particularly after a series of comments he made earlier this year, about whether he would or even could receive enough support from white voters to replace the lost votes of New Orleans's large and displaced black population, more than 180,000 of whom still have not returned to the city.

With the win, Nagin will be poised to continue the difficult work of rebuilding the city, particularly the still devastated Lower Ninth Ward, whose neighborhoods suffered some of the worst damage during Hurricane Katrina. I sincerely hope he's up to the tasks and makes the most of this second opportunity. A former Republican and business executive, Nagin moved leftward after the tragedy of the hurricane and its aftermath, and he'll need to draw on all of his charm and connections, from across the political spectrum, to get the reconstruction monies promised to the city and state; I cannot think of anyone who doesn't want to see New Orleans once again vibrant and a cultural capital rather than the ghostly theme park that it's become.

Gilbert Sorrentino RIP
SorrentinoScanning the obits as I'm wont to do, I came across a small death notice today mentioning that author, artist and editor Gilbert Sorrentino had passed away this past Thursday. For nearly 40 years, Sorrentino was one of the leading figures in American experimental prose. The Brooklyn native and military veteran began publishing avant-garde literary journals and magazines shortly after graduating from college in the 1950s and early 1960s. He then served as an editor at Barney Rosset's Grove Press, where he worked on Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In 1966, he published his own debut novel, The Sky Changes, which was the first of almost 20 books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and dramatic literature, including Mulligan Stew (his most commercially successful novel, and a masterpiece), Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things, Splendide-Hôtel, Aberration of Starlight (one of his best and my favorite), Blue Pastoral, The Orangery (poems), and Lunar Follies.

After leaving Grove in 1970, Sorrentino taught at Stanford for more than two decades, and received considerable acclaim for his innovations, which included interpolating the discourse of criticism into his novelistic idioms and a carnivalesque manipulation of genres and forms. An atypical usage of autobiographical materials and emphasis on working-class characters marked many of his novels, as did his profound, humanistic sense of humor. In addition to a Guggenheim Fellowship, he received the Lannan Foundation's Literary Award in 1992 and its Lifetime Achievement Award last year.

Many of Sorrentino's novels are available as reissues from Dalkey Archive Press.
Jacket Magazine's April 2006 Sorrentino feature, with critical essays and tributes, is here.
Alex Lawrence's interview with Sorrentino is available here.
Michael Silverblatt's 2004 conversation with Sorrentino, as well as a clip of Sorrentino reading, is available on the Lannan Foundation's site, here.

Barry Bonds Ties Ruth
So it finally happened: San Francisco Giant outfielder and alleged steroid user Barry Bonds hit his 714th home run, tying MLB icon Babe Ruth's lifetime total, in a game against the Oakland As in Oakland's stadium. Major League Baseball has hypocritically decided that it won't honor Bonds, who's now second only to Hall of Fame near-deity Hank Aaron in lifetime home runs (755), and whose career and achievements lie under the cloud generated by the Balco steroids scandal. The sports media labeled him a malcontent years ago and many of its members have pretty much dismissed every accomplishment of his over the last few years, though his record-breaking 73-home run season even silenced them for a minute. This year opposing fans are again throwing debris at Bonds when he's taking the field in opposing teams' parks, and some opposing players have publicly derided or scorned him, though there's no conclusive proof he knowingly used steroids (though the signs point that way), and he certainly wasn't the only steroid user (star Baltimore Oriole player Rafael Palmeiro tested positive last season, after having testified before a Congressional committee that he'd never used drugs!).

To me the larger issue to me is major league baseball's lackadaisical attitude, for blatantly economic reasons, for years concerning the (rampant?) use and abuse of steroids. One of the players MLB promoted heavily years ago, former Cardinal Mark McGwire, admitted to using androstenedione, a steroid that was later banned, and other supplements, and New York Yankee outfielder Jason Giambi has openly admitted that he took steroids to bulk up and boost his home run tallies. Other players like home run driller Sammy Sosa, have been singled out as well, and the late former player Ken Caminiti not only was abusing steroids, but illicit drugs as well. Baseball kept silent for years, even as rumors and proof surfaced about steroid use, but it was content to look the other way while the homers kept flying out of its ersatz-vintage parks and fans kept packing in, buying league-approved merchandise, and allowing its (chemically assisted-)larger than life stars to become their heroes and shape their dreams. Now that the issue of steroid use and abuse is part of the public discourse and meddlesome politicians have decided to get involved, Bonds is being treated as a scapegoat. In a sense, weren't they following the logic and economics of their profession? Also contributing to the enmity towards him is his bad history with the media and, I think, the basic fact that he's a black man. Would the media's beloved "Big Mac" McGwire, had his body held up and were he approaching Ruth's total, have encountered the same opprobrium? I doubt it. (Aaron, a personable enough player, received racist death threats leading up to and on the very day he broke Ruth's record.) Will he provoke the same brouhaha as he nears Aaron's record? I wonder.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Five MLB Rookies + The Other Big Papi

Five MLB Rookies
Here are five Major League baseball rookies I've been keeping my eye on during the first two months of this season:
Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano (2-0, 2.96 ERA, 37 Ks in 27.1 innings) (AP/Morry Gash)
San Diego second baseman Josh Barfield (.279 BA, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs, 22 runs, 7 stolen bases) (AP/Jeff Robertson)
Milwaukee Brewer Prince Fielder (son of great home run hitter Cecil Fielder), .308 BA, 8 HRs, 24 RBIs, 26 runs, and 3 stolen bases (AP/Morry Gash)

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino (.278 BA, 1 HR, 11 RBIs, his pitching staff has a 3.30 ERA when he catches)
Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima (.289 BA, 5 HRs, 23 RBIs, 20 runs) (AP/Jim Bryant)

Albert Pujols
And then there's Albert Pujols, last year's Most Valuable Player and the star of my favorite team, the Central Division-leading Saint Louis Cardinals. First baseman Pujols, whose amazing first five years are comparable to some of baseball's all-time greats, is having an extraordinary season so far: batting around .320, he's hit 20 home runs, driven in 53 batters and scored 43 runs, all of which lead the majors. Though it's still very early in the season, of he's keeps up anywhere near this pace, there'll be no question about a MVP repeat.
Pujols checking his bat (AP/Tom Gannam)
Pujols singling against Kansas City(AP/Dick Whipple)
Pujols looking pensive on his day off (AP/Tom Gannam)
Pujols hitting a solo homer against Arizona (AP/Bill Boyce)
Pujols receiving high fives from his teammates after his 18th home run, against the Colorado Rockies (AP/Tom Gannam)