Sunday, January 31, 2010

Zinn/Salinger/Auchincloss + Congrats to Lucille Clifton

What a week: first Howard Zinn, then J.D. Salinger, then Louis Auchincloss. Okay, you may say, I get why Jstheater is mentioning the first two, but Auchincloss?

Let me go backwards and begin by noting that there was nearly a personal link there. When I was in grad school, perhaps my second year, I was reviewing the possible courses I could take for the upcoming term, and I saw that Louis Auchincloss (1917-2010), the extremely prolific chronicler, in prose fiction, of America's northeastern bluebloods, was teaching a class. I thought I might have misread this, as I'm known to do--why on earth was he teaching and how did he have the time, and if I was just imagining it, why him? The man was still practicing law part-time and had also managed to write many dozens of books (I think he was up to about 50 at the time)--so I asked around and was told that yes, he really was teaching an evening class. I'd only read his most famous novel, The Rector of Justin (1964), so I went and looked him up, and when I saw how much he'd published and who he was, I seriously considered trying to slot the class into my schedule. As it turned out, I couldn't and had to pass, but I always wondered what that experience might have been like, given the unlikely pedagogue. Auchincloss briefly mentioned his teaching in the larger stream of this 1997 interview with The Atlantic's Ryan Nally, which gives some sense of his literary accomplishments, and his abiding interest in larger moral questions among his class and milieu, which, as the last 8 years suggest, have gone the way of the dodo bird. Adieu.

As for J. D. Salinger, I tweeted almost instantly after I'd learned of his death about how important The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and the stories in Franny and Zooey (1961) were to me as an adolescent; didn't half the people on Twitter do the same thing? It was instantly a cliché. (I did not tweet, however, about my immediate feeling after finishing the book for class--that's where I first read it--that were I to have tried anything along the lines of Holden's behavior, my parents' response, and those of my much wealthier private school classmates' parents, would have been swift and corrective.) But I hadn't touched his work for decades until last academic year, when my literature honors student, Harris S., decided to write his thesis on Salinger and David Eggers. I plunged back into Catcher, and found myself impressed by its narrative tautness and control. Holden's voice no longer beguiled as it once had, but his author's skill in creating it did, as did Salinger's ability to both encapsulate the particular moment when the story took place and simultaneously write through that moment to create a story that still resonates vividly today with young people and adults. The spectacle of Salinger's public withdrawal equaled a novel itself; perhaps he wrote it down and we'll see his take in the future, though perhaps Arts & Letters Daily has published a mammoth list of links of various writers' and critics' encomia to Salinger, and so I'll reproduce that list here: ... Charles McGrath ... AP ... Stephen Miller ... Elaine Woo ... London Times ... Bart Barnes ... FT ... Telegraph ... Mark Krupnick ... Richard Lacayo ... Tom Leonard ... Martin Levin ... Rick Moody ... Richard Lea ... Malcolm Jones ... Morgan Meis ... Chris Wilson ... Robert Fulford ... Ian Shapira ... Michael Ruse ... Christopher Reynolds ... David Usborne ... Joe Gross ... Stephen King ... John Walsh ... Henry Allen ... Mark Feeney ... Ron Rosenbaum (1997) ... John Timpane ... Alex Beam ... Verlyn Klinkenborg ... Tom McGlaughlin ... David Ulin ... his neighbors ... Mark Medley ... Stephen Metcalf and Slate staff ... John Wenke ... Jeff Simon ... Tom Leonard ... Andrea Sachs ... David Lodge ... Christopher Hitchens ... Lionel Shriver ... Barbara Kay ... Nathanial Rich ... Holden’s heirs ... Lillian Ross ... Adam Gopnik ... John Seabrook ... Dave Eggers ... new photos ... Mark Bauerlein et al. in NYT ... Adam Kirsch ... Colby Cosh ... A.M. Homes ... Martin Amis et al. ... Robert McCrum ... Julian Barnes et al. ... Joan Smith ... Adam Golub ... Jonathan Yardley on “Salinger’s execrable prose and Caulfield’s jejune narcissism” (2004).

Howard Zinn (1922-2010) leaves us as one of the best known and most progressive living American historians. A professor for several decades at Boston University, an outspoken activist, a World War II veteran, and a prolific writer in many genres, Zinn published in 1980 what has become one of the most frequently read books of American history, A People's History of the United States. This thick, polemical volume overturned some longstanding assumptions and approaches in American historical writing, while also aiming directly for an audience outside academe, which it eventually found. It was like and fitting that Zinn produced such a book; before entering academe, he had worked as a pipefitter and ditchdigger, and his first academic job was at historically Black women's college Spelman, in Atlanta, where his students included Marian Wright Edelman and Alice Walker. Zinn was a pillar of courage; for joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNIC) and openly opposed racial desegregation, which led to his firing from Spelman. When he went to Boston University, as this account on the Common Dreams website by his friend and former student William Holtzman, makes clear, nothing dampened his outspokenness and his advocacy of "people power." Here's a video of Zinn on Bill Moyers' Journal that's appeared on a lot of blogs, but I think it gives a great sense of who Zinn was, right up to the end.

Let me also say goodbye to drummer Ed Thigpen (1930-2010), whose syncopation with the Oscar Peterson Trio and many other performers I've often grooved to.


On a different tip, congratulations to the one and only Lucille Clifton, who was awarded the Centennial (1910-2010) Frost Medal, one of the American poetry world's most august awards, by the Poetry Society of America on January 25 of this year. Recent recipients of this award, given for distinguished lifetime achievement, have included X. J. Kennedy (2009), Michael S. Harper (2008), Maxine Kumin (2006), Marie Ponsot (2005), Richard Howard (2004), and Sonia Sanchez (2001). In reading through the PSA site, I missed the Poetry Society's concurrent exhibit, "Portraits of Poets, 1910-2010," at the National Arts Club, which ran through January 15. Did any Jstheater readers catch it? How was it?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Around the World + Helping Prison Libraries in MD + Death of Fiction/Lit Mags + Translation Errors

The other day, in the midst of more hairpulling over the current US political paralysis and continuous series of bad choices that the administration and Congress keep making, as if they're trying to crash through a 2010 looking-glass version of 1994 but with potentially far more disastrous outcomes, I asked myself: what else is going on in the rest of the world, in addition to the terrible post-quake situation in Haiti, which has gotten a great deal of attention.I began to catalogue some of the things I was somewhat aware of, just off the top of my head, and am listing them here. What am I missing?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Danticat on Family & Haiti + Saints & Colts to Super Bowl

Edwidge DanticatHaitian-American Edwidge Danticat (at right, one of the most talented writers of her generation, writes in this week's New Yorker about the death of her cousin and one of his daughters, in the house she called home on her visits to Haiti, and how family members there are dealing with the tragedy. It's a brief yet powerful piece, made ever more so by Danticat's prose, with its casual unfolding, precise observations and gentle humor, appropriate here despite such a terrible tragedy. A snippet:

By the time Maxo’s body was uncovered, cell phones were finally working again, bringing a flurry of desperate voices. One cousin had an open gash in her head that was still bleeding. Another had a broken back and had gone to three field hospitals trying to get it X-rayed. Another was sleeping outside her house and was terribly thirsty. One child had been so traumatized that she lost her voice. An in-law had no blood-pressure medicine. Most had not eaten for days. There were friends and family members whose entire towns had been destroyed, and dozens from whom we have had no word at all.

Everyone sounded eerily calm on the phone. No one was screaming. No one was crying. No one said “Why me?” or “We’re cursed.” Even as the aftershocks kept coming, they’d say, “The ground is shaking again,” as though this had become a normal occurrence. They inquired about family members outside Haiti: an elderly relative, a baby, my one-year-old daughter.

The entire piece is available at the New Yorker's site. Also on the site, George Packer's article on rebuilding Haiti.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Congratulations to Eula Biss

I've been a bit bogged down of late, but I wanted to post a congratulatory note to my university colleague Eula Biss, whose second, splendid book, Notes from No Man's Land (Graywolf, 2009) was just named a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Eula is a tremendous writer, teacher and mentor, and though she's only been at the university for a few years, has been instrumental in getting the undergraduate creative nonfiction track up and blazing. You can read one of the essays, "Relations," here. Congratulations, Eula!'

The rest of this year's National Book Critics Circle Award finalists are here.

Jeff Marlin Paintings Show

My practice assumes the wreckage of history, both artistic and cultural, and is in no sense "pure." - Jeff Marlin

On Friday evening, though I wasn't feeling especially social, I headed out to Jeff Marlin's show at Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery, in Chicago. Marlin (1969-2009) was a Chicago native and School of the Art Institute graduate who'd been close to a wide array of figures in Chicago's visual arts and literary worlds. (I never met Marlin, but periodically heard about him from a number of local poets I know.) His early works, some of which were on display here, explore dot-matrix disintegration of images (mushroom clouds, UFOs, fascist architecture), using scanned and Xeroxed photos and stencils. As if under a zoom lens or microscope, the imagery of these paintings shift as you shift your position and distance from them. Later works on display play with various kinds of grids, patterns, and layered monochromes, towards an often sombre but illuminating minimal abstraction that also represents a grappling, as I far as I could tell, with the legacy of Abstract Expressionism and its aftermath. The Corbett vs. Dempsey writeup of the show notes that some recent "paintings are clearly about surface and working process." I was put in mind of different abstractionists I admire from Agnes Martin, Robert Rauschenberg and Ad Reinhardt to Robert Ryman and Chris Stackhouse (especially in one particular grain-oriented painting, which was redolent of what Chris was also up to about a decade ago).

According to someone who knew him well, Marlin hadn't had a gallery show in years, and was looking forward to this show, which was in the planning stages in 2008, when he tragically came down with leukemia last year. Corbett vs. Dempsey's own press release says the following about the preparations for the show

Before he died in October, Marlin's CvsD show had been rescheduled for this winter (still hoping he would be able to attend), and together with Marlin work had been chosen for the exhibition. En route to hospice from the hospital, Marlin made a final stop at the studio to put the finishing touch on a last painting and feel the energy of the workplace one final time. The intensity of his commitment to his work, his passion, and his artistic achievement are great sources of inspiration, and CvsD is honored to show Jeff Marlin's outstanding paintings.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

iPhone Drawings

It's been a while since I've posted any iPhone drawings, though I've done a few since getting back, but since I seldom ride the CTA trains or buses in Chicago, and am usually reading work-related material when in a coffeehouse, the opportunities for sketches are few.  Here are four, one from Chicago and the other three from New York and New Jersey.

iPhone drawing - Man @ Barbershop
Man in barbershop, Chicago (the way I drew him, he ended up looking a lot like Haile Selassie; maybe I have the late Ethiopian emperor's image buried somewhere in my consciousness, or maybe it's just the dreadlocks....)
iPhone Drawing - Man on train (leaving MLA)
Man on train, Amtrak ride back from MLA in Philadelphia
iPhone drawing - Man on PATH
From my PATH series, I think I drew this on one my final December 2009 rides into Manhattan to head to my beloved New York Public Library
iPhone drawing - at B&N, Union Square
Trio, Barnes & Noble, Union Square - the first picture drawn in 2010 (The guy at back right looks like I pulled him straight out of Alex Katz painting. I am a huge fan of Katz's work)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tea Partier Brown Wins Massachusetts Senate Seat

Brown_CoakleyWhen will they learn? Just a few days ago I posted on how President Barack Obama is governing like a moderate Republican.  The Democrats in Congress, to their detriment, also have decided to cast their lot with their corporate masters rather than the people. At no point have the leaders (except Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, on rare occasions) made any attempt to defend this approach, or liberalism or progressivism in general, leaving a void that has been amply filled by the tiny minority of the country that agrees with the Tea Party activists, and exploited by the GOP, with their corporate media allies. And now we see the tangible result in tonight's Massachusetts special election to fill Teddy Kennedy's former seat. By a 52%-47% margin, Bay State voters installed a Tea Party-identified, Birther-linked, pro-torture, anti-LGBTQ, sexist, right-wing corporatist Republican masquerading as a "independent" everyman named Scott Brown. (I guess that means Marco Rubio will not be the first Tea Party Senator if he's elected.) He defeated establishmentarian Democratic state attorney general, Martha Coakley, a lackluster campaigner who wasn't helped by the situation in Washington. Brown's election seriously endangers the seriously flawed health insurance reform bill, echoing the debacle of 1993-94. If they fail to pass this bill, the damage to Obama and the Democrats will be incalculable.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day + Rebuilding Haiti + Ray's Candy Shop + Jets Win!

Readers, I am now having to confront regular spammers who, I assume, are paid to post ad, phishing or malbot links on the blog. If these continue, I may have to move to a moderated comment approach, though I've always wanted to avoid that because I want it to be easy for people to post directly to the blog. I've been flamed on here only a few times; one of the most memorable to me was during the middle of George W. Bush's second term, when I posted snarkily on the Disaster-in-Chief and a pro-Bushite posted to defend him and slam me. Another came when I gave a mixed review of John Adams's opera Dr. Atomic (great music, muddled, undramatic libretto). But I'm willing to live with respondents, even negative, vituperative ones. Spammers are in a completely different category...


It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it strikes me that the Reverend Dr. King Jr. (1929-1968), who gave his life so that we could be free, would have had some profound things to say about our current era, including our first African-American president, Barack Obama, whose election he made possible; the ongoing and proliferating wars and imperial projects, promoted by said African-American president, that the US is involved in; the terrible financial situation wrought by conservatives and neoliberals, and the struggle, by millions of Americans and American immigrants, for a decent and sustaining wage, a roof over their heads, an affordable education, and the ability to live in dignity and be treated with respect; the continuing cancers of racism, sexism and misogyny, classism, and, I believe, homophobia and heterosexism; and the situation in our Hemisphere and continental neighbor, Haiti.

Jack & Jill Politics is already on this meditation, so I'll link to their post from several days ago, on Rev. Dr. King Jr.'s actual birthday (January 15), called "What Martin Luther King Would Say About Haiti On His Birthday." What they note is that Rev. Dr. King Jr., as is well known, spoke out about the Vietnam War and American imperialism, and they quote his speech on this topic to extrapolate on how he might respond to the multiple challenges Haiti is facing. One noteworthy issue, which I hope our government notes, is the discrepancy between the billions being blown on military engagements (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Colombia, etc.) and support of dictatorial regimes (Egypt, Uzbekistan, etc.) and the comparatively paltry $100 million the US pledged towards Haitian relief. Many of those billions, of course, ought to have been and should be spent rebuilding the US ECONOMY, which was effective nuked by the conservative-neoliberal fantasists of the last 25 years, instead of being funneled into a for-profit military-industrial machine whose actions and accounting most taxpayers will never know. But I know that I'm talking about a fantasy of recognition that won't be happening. Instead, we will keep pouring money into "war on terrorism" phantasms, which is to say, the military industrial complex, and scolding Haiti when it doesn't turn things around fast enough, or pay off the onerous debts and financial burdens that so terribly weakened its foundations, and those of numerous other countries around the world, before the earthquake hit. Now, to quote the incontrably more eloquent Rev. Dr. King Jr.:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Obama Really Colin Powell? + Teddy Pendergrass RIP + Noam Chomsky on Haiti

Some weeks back, perhaps at the start of the new academic quarter when I had a smidgeon of time and was feeling thoughtful, I tweeted about a hypothetical situation which had struck me that day: what if instead of electing Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 we had elected Republican Colin Powell to the presidency, and how, in practical terms, would a Powell presidency be different?

What prompted me to ask this was a year's worth of reflection on Obamatude, and how, in so many ways, instead of a true, clean break with the last administration, what we've gotten, and what's become a source of distress for many progressives and independents not bound by hero-worship of the President, is a continuation of the Bush's and the GOP's policies, just in slightly attenuated form. This thinned yet still toxic broth we're being served daily has led me to wonder where Obama, who ran as an agent of "change"--even if his own record hovered between post-partisan beliefs and neoliberal policies relabled as "pragmatism," and sometimes impressively progressive symbolism and rhetoric--has differed from what a counterfactual Powell administration might have looked like. Comparing the record of the real administration with the fictive one, I cannot see where there is much difference, except perhaps in the nomination of someone like Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, though even in this instance, I would not have put it past Powell, with a nominally Democratic Congress, to make such a symbolic, if politically risky, move.

Barack ObamaLet me begin by saying that I was happy that Barack Obama and Joe Biden defeated John McCain and Sarah Palin in November 2008. Like many Americans, and almost every black person, American or otherwise that I know, I continue to be both amazed and proud that we now have an African-American president in the White House. I am also proud of my fellow Americans for making this choice. In terms of Obama's first year of governance, I do not agree that he hasn't accomplished some substantive things, but I continue to be disappointed that he has repeatedly backed away from pushing the status quo, that he will not make a more sustained public case for his policies or politics, that he will not push the Congress more to do the proper thing, and that he appears to be more effective as a symbol than as a leader. This, in a sense, is his great triumph so far: symbolic leadership. It led to the premature Nobel Prize; it continues to garner him adulation in this country among elements of his base, as well as across the globe (and I saw this this year in Cuba and Italy); and it endows what leadership he does demonstrate with something extra, a value-added spark and cachet. I try never to forget the importance of this symbolic element of Obama's tenure, and am always urging that he use it more. (Drew Westen's excellent piece on Obama explores this and related issues.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Remembering Jacmel Too

Today's New York Times has a Lede blog post about a Miami Herald report on the situation in Jacmel, Haiti, the country's arts capital, which sits to the southwest of Port-au-Prince. Jacmel/Jakmèl also suffered considerable damage during Tuesday's earthquake, whose epicenter lay between the two cities. While the media have focused a great deal of attention on the situation in Port-au-Prince, the people of Jacmel are suffering as well. To give one example, an estimated 100 students and teachers were crushed to death when the building housing the Eunasmoh Institute, a technical college, collapsed. Further complicating matters, the road north to Port-au-Prince remains blocked by debris, making it very difficult for rescuers or supplies to get through.

The Times blog post points to this page, set up by students at Jacmel's Ciné Institute, that documents the devastation in that city. Ciné Institute is reportedly Haiti's only film school. According to the Times, the school's building and many of its cameras were destroyed, but all but one of the 60 students survived, and when they returned to the rubble that had been their schoolbuilding, they found six cameras, which some have been using to report on the situation in Jacmel. Its Flickr site, with post-quake images, as well as many photosets of school projects, is here.

Here is a video by student Fritzner Simeus on the aftermath of the earthquake:

Report from student: Fritzner Simeus from Jacmel from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.

And here is one by student Keziah Jean on the post-quake situation:

The Victims In Jacmel : Keziah Jean reports from the field (subtitled) from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.

One person in Jacmel I've been wondering about is an artist named Joanne Florent, whom we met in Santo Domingo several years ago. She was selling t-shirts she'd created featuring Haitian vèvès, along with other handsewn clothing and artwork, and had invited us to visit her in Jacmel. I hope she and her family survived the quake and are doing okay.

Tata Nano Coming + Boulez Becalmed + CC & Kundiman in Bkyn

Tata Nano
A few years back I posted about MDI compressed-air automobile technology, developed by Guy Negre in France, which seemed to me to be an option that US automakers in Detroit or elsewhere might consider investing in. The ongoing problems with US automaking, symbolized at the time by the faltering Chrysler-Daimler Benz deal, were central in my mind. One of the articles I'd linked to said that Indian auto powerhouse, Tata Motors, had leapt on the technology and was going to start producing compressed-air models later that year. Three years later, it doesn't appear as though Tata has gotten that far with the compressed-air technology, but it has produced the least expensive car on earth ($2,500 US), the Nano, which it'll begin selling over here very soon. The Christian Science Monitor writes that Tata is finalizing a European model, which will require changes to the system's engine to meet the EU's much higher auto-emission standards, and is said to be "tinkering" with its US version. The images remind me of some of the tiny cars C and I saw in Sicily and have seen in other parts of Europe. The price, which is expected to come in at about $8,000 US for the EU and US models, would beat the best current offerings on the market, and I'd love to test one out. I also wonder how well they'd sell in the US, where size, safety, and comfort are paramount. Hitting one of the Evanston or Chicago Sheridan Road potholes might twist the tiny car's axles like a pretzel, and the snow and heavy rains in many parts of the country would also pose a challenge. But I'm excited about seeing one of these in the metal, and even taking one for a spin. Just not on Sheridan Road.

Starlite Lounge to Close (Cemetery Map of NY Gay Clubs)

The Starlite Lounge in Brooklyn, one of New York's oldest black-owned gay bars, was set to close last night. I haven't been able to ascertain whether it did shut down, but a friend told me that the bar owner and staff were packing up as of a few days ago. The owner, Dennis Parrott-King, and manager Tim La'Viticus learned late last year that the building had been sold for $455,000 (which still strikes me as low even in the currently deflating New York real estate market). As a result Dennis-Parrott had been pushing for landmark status, which might have slowed the closing of the bar, while La'Viticus had suggested seeking a court order to stop the closing. Crown Heights residents, some of them bar patrons, had set up an iPetition to advocate for landmark status. In addition to being a neighborhood fixture, it was an important venue for Brooklyn's and the broader New York City black lgbtq community. Another friend, Sabdale, had hosted a book party there for his memoir, For Love Alone, just last month.

If the bar has closed (and Metromix says it has), it will join a host of other lgbtq institutions, from bookstores to organizations, that have vanished over the last decade. Bernie T. recently forwarded me the map below (click on link for writeup, map to enlarge) from Next Magazine showing the "cemetery" of New York's gay nightlife. One could easily add A Different Light, Creative Visions/Gay Pleasures and Oscar Wilde Bookstores; the Lure, Spike, Manhole, J's Hangout, and other bars and clubs; HX magazine; and so much more.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Writing in Flight + More on Haiti + Congrats to Jeffery Renard Allen

I'm beginning this blog post with a little test: using's service, I'm connecting to the Net while on my flight. I learned about this from tech guru @karsh (many thanks!), and signed up as soon as I could. From what I can tell, it's available only on certain airlines and certain flights. The American Airlines one I'm on had "Wi-fi on board" signs running along the length of the overheard storage area, alerting me that it was available, but most of the ones I've been on have not had Wi-fi service. It's not cheap, so I probably won't be using it that often, but I wanted to try it out. Given the costs of flights these days, Wi-fi should be free. But that's another matter.


Speaking of Twitter, I have incorporated tweeting into one of my undergraduate classes, and so the brilliant seniors in the required "Situation of Writing" class now have a wonderful feed going at @GetItWrite392 . They are tweeting on various aspects of the writing world and life, publishing, literary culture, and so forth, and have so far linked to some great material, including a witty piece by Colson Whitehead and an article on MFA programs. If you're at all interested or amenable, please follow their tweets, and if you have suggestions for articles, let them know by tweeting to @GetItWrite392 . We're landing soon, so I'll post more later.


Rays of good news amid the ongoing tragedy in Haiti: Chelsey Kivland, the sister (and in-law) of friends of mine, had not been heard from since the earthquake had leveled most of Port-au-Prince. Chelsey is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago, and has been studying and living in Haiti for several years now. Her family in suburban Chicago was terribly worried about her. According to the Consular Section of the US Embassy, she has contacted her family to say that she's alive and okay. I know they are hoping to see her at home very soon. Another friend, Philippe, wrote to say that his grandmother in Jacmel, which was also hit by the earthquake, has been located and alive, and our neighbors, who have an extensive family network in Haiti, have also said that their family members have been reached and are okay.

Philippe also sent this link to Tracy Kidder's very thoughtful New York Times Op-Ed piece on Haiti, "Country Without a Net," which focuses on supporting organizations in Haiti run by Haitians.

In the Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan drops some serious science on France's particularly brutal and venal history involving Ayiti/Haiti. A pretty picture it ain't.

Back in 2008 in the New York Review of Books, Madison Smartt Bell offered an overview of Haiti and Haitian culture via its literature, one of its great gifts to the world.

Foreign Policy offers this rundown of Haitian history, from the French colonial period to today. (Note, FP's slant is right of center, but it's still informative).

We shouldn't ever forget that part of that history includes 750 Haitian troops under French General Lafayette helping the American revolutionary forces to defeat the British at the Siege of Savannah, in 1779.


The most recent news from Haiti, however, is still extremely dire. Estimates of the dead there range from 50,000 to 200,000, with many hundreds of thousands more injured, which would make this one of the most destructive natural disasters ever to have occurred, and one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere as well. Nevertheless, Haitians themselves, along with the search and rescue teams, have continued to pull people from the rubble and debris that now covers Port-au-Prince. Some of these rescues verge on the miraculous, and the more people and equipment that are in place the more possible they are. Another immediate necessity is getting water and food, medical care, clothing, and various forms of mobile shelter, to the living, and according to the reports I've read, this is occurring, though slowly.

In addition to short term medical, financial, rescue, logistical, administrative, resource, and other kinds of aid, the country will need longer-term assistance to help rebuild its infrastructure, its economy, and its civil society, all of which were already severely stressed. It has been very encouraging to see the commitment that other countries, and millions of people in the US and across the globe, have made to help the people of Haiti out, and I hope that the funds and resources reach the people instead of flowing into the pockets of middlemen, crooks and others. If you are unsure about where or whom to donate to, pick one of the traditional organizations, like the Nobel Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders/Médicins sans frontières, who have a proven track record of excellent work. Every little bit counts!


To end on a better note, let me congratulate a friend, Jeffery Renard Allen, whose collection of stories, Holding Pattern, was awarded the 2010 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence! Allen, a Chicago native, sets these sometimes impressionistic, vernacularly grounded stories in play through his poet's ear for language and eye for place, giving them a linguistic texture and richness that's unlike a great deal of what constitutes contemporary American short story writing. (This collection and others of Jeffery's have been among the J's Theater monthly Book picks.) It's wonderful to see that this collection and Jeffery, who teaches at Queens College-CUNY and New School University, being honored in this way, and in the name of one of the important living 20th century African-American fiction writers, whose best known works might be the 1971 novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the 1993 National Book Critics Circle winner A Lesson Before Dying. Congratulations to Jeff, who will be honored in Baton Rouge on January 28, 2010, and do pick up this volume and his other work when you can!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More on Haiti, Ways to Help

The post-earthquake news out of Haiti is very bad. According to President René Préval, many thousands of people may have died, and many more are injured. President Préval, speaking of the "unimaginable catastrophe," is appealing for immediate and substantial international help, and noted that he has stepped over dead bodies and has heard cries of assistance from the rubble of the destroyed Parliament building. (All photos below from the Miami Herald.)

The capital city of Port-Au-Prince, home to around 2 million people, has been largely destroyed, and Haiti's arts capital, Jacmel, very close to the epicenter of the earthquake and the aftershocks, which have continued throughout the night and into today, has suffered serious damage. The head of the UN Mission, whose building was completely destroyed, is presumed dead, as is the Archbishop of Port-Au-Prince, who died in the collapse of the one of the many now-leveled churches, and UN peacekeepers from Brazil, Jordan and China are also said to have died.

Last night, Haiti's Ambassador to the US, Raymond Joseph, stressed that the Haitian government is in control, but he was unable to say anything about the fate of lawmakers or those working in the Presidential Palace, beyond asserting that the President and First Lady were fine. Because of the widespread destruction, Haiti is facing a tremendous civil and humanitarian and civil crisis. Without electricity, drinking water or shelter, many people who have survived the quake risk serious illness or death. As I noted yesterday, the US has pledged unqualified help, as have other nations, and search and rescue, reconstruction and other teams have already begun to depart from Santo Domingo, the capital of Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, and from Florida and elsewhere.

As I appealed yesterday, there are various ways you can help. I know we are all financially stressed these days, but funding is crucial especially in the early days of this horrific tragedy. Options include:

Two very immediate options I've tried and know are working:

You can text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in #Haiti (via Red Cross)

You can text Yele to 510 510 and donate $5 toward #Haiti earthquake relief. (via Wyclef Jean's


You can go to for ways to donate to Haiti.

CNN's Impact has a long list.

Doctors without Borders/Médicins sans frontières does excellent work all over the world, and they are active on the ground in Haiti.

Unicef is always a very good option, and the money is targeted towards children., recommended by actor Hill Harper, is an NGO that works with Haitian young people. (Supposedly 100% of your donation will directly to relief.)'s Appeal:

A Spanish video feed:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Major Earthquake Hits Haiti

My thoughts, heart and prayers go out to the people of Haiti, where, as has been widely reported, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck 10 miles (15 km) southwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, a city of 2+ million people, at 4:53 pm (2153 GMT) Subsequent temblors of 5.5 and 5.9 magnitude also struck the area. According to the reports, there has been widespread damage, with the capital largely destroyed (AP), and huge numbers (many thousands) of wounded people. President Barack Obama has expressed his thoughts and solidarity with Haiti, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged US support.

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(All photos from Twicsy/Twitpics--please note some are extremely graphic, NSFW)

The beautiful Presidential Palace, the main Cathedral, the police station, the World Bank's headquarters, and countless structures, including homes, have been severely damaged or destroyed. (The President, René Préval, and First Lady of Haiti have not been injured.) After the earthquake clouds of gray smoke filled the air, and fires were reportedly still burning across the capital. As noted above, AP is reporting that the capital city is largely destroyed. There is no electricity and no gas. The American Embassy, amazingly, appears not to have been damaged. In neighboring Pétionville, a hospital is said to have collapsed, as has a major hotel, the Montana, and an American official said that homes had fallen into a ravine. (UPDATE: Right now I'm listening to the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, and a reporter based on the north coast, Luke Renner, is saying that north of the capital and in countryside, there doesn't appear to be as much damage.)

The collapsed National Palace in Haiti  (found on http://cli.... on Twitpic
The Presidential Palace

A great many people have probably been injured, many gravely. American diplomats are reporting that there are dead and injured people throughout the capital. Already there is an immense need for humanpower, supplies, fresh and potable water, portable hospitals, medicine, and all kinds of other resources. If you can afford to and want to help out, CNN has this list of options. Maddow's links are here. If you have family members in Haiti you are trying to reach, the State Department has set up a toll free number you can call: 888-407-4747.

earthquake haiti latest from haiti right now 18 on Twitpic

There is never a good time for an earthquake, but this is an especially fraught moment for Haiti, the most densely populated and poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is still recovering from the aftereffects of hurricanes over the last several years, and was also beginning to reconstruct its severely damaged manufacturing sector in an effort to jumpstart its economy. For its recovery, the support of the US, Canada, the EU, and many other countries will be absolutely necessary, and as I've noted above, the US has already pledged whatever support Haiti needs.

earthquake haiti latest from haiti right now 24 on Twitpic

On the DR1 forums, people living in some Dominican cities, such as Cabarete and Santiago, reported feeling the quake, but there doesn't appear to have been much, if any damage, on the Dominican side of the border. On CNN, I saw reports that tremors were felt in eastern Cuba. There was a tsunami watch for many of the nearby islands as well as Hispaniola itself, and on DR1 someone linked to a report of a small tsunami.

Maddow's report is below:

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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Case Against Harold Ford + Prop 8 Trial Underway + NFL Playoffs

Harold FordOn Twitter, I posted this link (via Matthew Yglesias), to one of Harold Ford Jr.'s (right, NY Daily News) commercials from his 2006 Senate run in Tennessee, in which he lost to right-winger Bob Corker. In the commercial, as in his run, Ford Jr. is so far to the right that you have to remind yourself he's not a Republican. But for anyone familiar with his prior record, his ideological position in the Senate run was no surprise. As a Congressperson (a legacy, no less, inheriting the seat from his father, Harold Ford Sr., who was more politically progressive and underwent an intensive legal assault by Tennessee Republicans and the Reagan administration), Ford Jr. consistently took right-of-center positions, unapologetically claimed to "love George Bush," and after losing the election, in which he was repeatedly race-baited by the GOP, he soon went to head the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which is to say, the Democrat's GOP-lite annex, and to punditry gigs on Fox and then MSNBC, on which he has repeatedly demonstrated that in addition to having a pretty face, his ideological compass remains fairly rightward. (I.e., he's in the mainstream of the US corporate media.) The combo of post-defeat opportunities, which now include an executive post at bailout recipient Merrill Lynch, landed him in New York.

One thing that Ford Jr., as the son of a prominent and wealthy politician, has always possessed, it seems to me, is confidence, or to put it another way, chutzpah, and recently he demonstrated it when, at the alleged urging of various extremely wealthy New Yorkers, including New York's billionaire mayor, Ford Jr. announced his desire to seek the Senate seat currently occupied by Kirsten Gillibrand (below right, NY Daily News). She, readers might recall, is the not especially popular former center-right upstate Democratic Congressperson picked in haphazard fashion by New York's ineffectual and inept governor, David Paterson, after he directed his staff to trash Caroline Kennedy, the presumptive nominee and early patron of President Barack Obama. Since assuming the seat, Gillibrand has moved noticeably to the left, and approximates her senior colleague, Chuck Schumer, in her voting patterns; yet it would seem that a strong candidate from the left, running against the neoliberal, DLC-ish policies of the current administration, might make a case for replacing Gillibrand and pushing an even more progressive, pro-New York agenda. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, one likely candidate, had thought about it before decided not to run. The case for a right-wing quasi-Democrat, bankrolled by Wall Street types, with a longstanding anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and warmongering record, however, appears more difficult to make. In fact, Ford's record and rhetoric have been so far to the right that I would venture he'd have a hard time be electing in any Northeastern state as a Democrat, let alone a Republican, except perhaps in Pennsylvania. Yet he has been huddling with New York's mayor-by-default, Mike Bloomberg, and the Democratic Majority Leader, Harry Reid, recently came to plead with Bloomberg not to back Ford Jr. As to where President Obama stands on the matter, who knows, though given his tenor of his tenure so far, I could see him backing Ford Jr., whom he repeatedly campaigned for in 2006. (Obama, however, will not be campaigning this week for Ted Kennedy's likely replacement, Democrat Martha Coakley, who is in a tightening race in Massachusetts against Republican Scott Brown. Go figure.)

Kirsten Gillibrand I have read comparisons between Ford's carpetbagging and Hillary Clinton's, or Robert F. Kennedy's (he was born in New York, however), and am aware of the long history of Americans who've tramped from state to state getting elected (cf. James Shields, 19th century US Senator from Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri), but the Clinton comparison in particular focuses more on the political contours rather than addressing the specific ideological and policy cases against him running, and winning, in New York State. What would he bring to this race? Do New Yorkers, and black New Yorkers--which seems to be his hook--specfically, see any benefit from electing someone who has repeatedly supported policies damaging to most of them? Ford notes in the commercial that he supported the Patriot Act, defense spending, and against "amnesty" for "illegals." His record shows that he voted against ENDA and for the Iraq War, the Bankruptcy Bill, and the Federal Marriage Amendment. He supported the candidacy of Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court, and Republican legislation on behalf of Terri Schiavo's parents, against her husband. Ford Jr. did take some mainstream Democratic positions, including standing against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and supported federal stem cell research funding, but had he been elected to the Senate in 2006, his prior record would have placed him at the far right of the Democratic caucus, and to the right even of several Republicans, including Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe.

Despite some recent moderation, which I imagine no one is buying, the main reason I can identify for his candidacy is that his patrons ("executives," to use the New York Times's term) want someone even more compliant with and willing to push even more reliably pro-corporate ("independent"--New York Times) politics from what was Hillary Clinton's and Al D'Amato's (a verifiably right-wing Republican) old seat. This argument mirrors the ones put forward when Mike Bloomberg was mulling a presidential run; I saw no natural mass constituency, only Wall Street and the social and business élites, who quickly coöpted Barack Obama--who made pilgrimage and paid fealty to Bloomberg, don't forget--instead. He has suggested that there needs to be a black person in the Senate (on the grounds of local and national representation and diversity, I would agree, though I don't think it should be him), especially now that Roland Burris will not be returning after this year, and so far no other viable African-American candidate for any of the open Senate seats has emerged. (While I would not to lose a single woman in the Senate, perhaps Barbara Mikulski will decide to step down and Maryland's Lt. Governor, Iraq veteran Anthony Brown, will run for her seat). This is not to attribute bad faith to Harold Ford Jr., but to suggest that there is no convincing case to be made, at least on behalf of the majority of New York voters, or the rest of the country for that matter, for his candidacy for this seat, right now or anytime in the foreseeable future. And I'm not kicking his dog, mind you. Just asking, but at this point in our ongoing national economic and political debacles, how stupid and gullible do the people in power think we are?


Today was the first day of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal trial challenging the constitutional validity of Proposition 8, which the San Jose Mercury News suggests may "be the signature civil rights fight of the 21st century." Depending upon the outcome, it could lead to a landmark US Supreme Court ruling, or Congressional legislation down the road, and as it concerns the most populous state in the nation and the popular reversal by referendum and constitutional amendment of rights underwritten by a court ruling, it's particularly significant.

The trial is underway in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Today the presiding justice, Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker, appointed to the federal court by President George H. W. Bush, heard arguments from both sides; Theodore Olson, the conservative lawyer and former Solicitor General under George W. Bush, along with Clinton administration counsel David Boies, are leading the arguments on behalf of the plaintiffs, two same sex couples, Berkeley residents Sandra Stier and the eponymous Kristin Perry, and Burbank couple Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who were denied marriage licenses because of the Prop 8 vote. Prominent attorney Charles Cooper is arguing on behalf of the Prop 8 amendment of California's state constitution. California's Attorney General, former Governor and Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, refused to defend the law, saying it should be struck down, while Governor Schwarzenegger has argued that it raises important constitutional questions that need to be addressed.

As noted above, Should Olson, Boies and the plaintiffs win, the case could then move by appeal to the US Supreme Court. The higher court did stay Judge Walker's decision to permit delayed broadcast of the proceedings on YouTube, so for the duration media accounts will have to suffice.


Mark SanchezHow about those New York Jets, who defeated the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks in a row, this time 24-14 on Saturday. Jets QB Mark Sanchez (right, became only the fourth rookie QB to win a playoff game. The Dallas Cowboys followed the Jets' victory by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 34-14. The Cowboys' defense was out in full force, as was its running and passing game.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens, long known for their defensive prowess, stopped the New England Patriots cold with a 33-14 victory and stupendous running by former Rutgers star Ray Rice (below left,, who racked up 159 yards on 22 rushes, and 2 touchdowns. Later that afternoon, the Arizona Cardinals put on an offensive show and defeated the Green Bay Packers 55-41, in overtime. As the score suggests, there was hardly any defensive play to speak of, though the Cardinals got just enough when they needed it.

Ray RiceThe Jets now play the 13-3 San Diego Chargers, while the Ravens play 14-2 Indianapolis, which was rolling towards an undefeated season until the Jets broke up their mojo. In the NFC Arizona plays the New Orleans Saints, who went 13-3, while Dallas plays the 12-4 Minnesota Vikings. I'm pulling for the Jets, but I see the higher seeds (Indy, Saints, Vikings) all winning.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review: Alexander Sokurov's "The Sun"

The SunIt is appallingly cold in Chicago, but I nevertheless headed downtown to the Gene Siskel Film Center last night to see a screening of Russian director Alexander Sokurov's remarkable 2005 film The Sun, the third in his tetralogy of films on major historical figures. (The first, Moloch (1999) focused on Adolf Hitler, and the second, Taurus (2000), explored Vladimir Lenin's life; the fourth, I've read online, with treat Goethe's Faust, which perhaps is another way of saying he's shooting a film about Richard Nixon.) The Sun, a 110 minute feature, takes as its protagonist Japanese Emperor Hirohito (Emperor Showa) (1901-1989), narrowing in on his life during the final days of World War II, after the US has dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and begun its conquest of the main Japanese islands. I use the word "narrow" purposely, because Sokurov has produced something other than a biopic and instead, almost in keeping with Hirohito's marine biological preoccupations, focused in almost scientific fashion on the this pivotal historical and social moment, when this living embodiment of tradition and spirituality to his people--a descendent of the Sun God--accepts his country's defeat and renounces his divinity to become, as his wife says, both with bemusement and perhaps a touch of resignation, "a commoner" in the service of preserving what remains of his nation. Throughout Sokurov's treatment is more poetic than verisimilitudinous, though it mostly tracks the factual record, but its manipulation of time, its explorations of the spiritual underlining the human, and its immersion in the mise-en-scène, always chief interests of this director, here seem particularly apt. Hours and days, some of the most important in world history, meld into into indefinable time, almost as one imagines they must have for an emperor-deity existing almost outside of calendars and clocks, yet this same expanded, unreal temporality is punctuated with prosaic elements that underline this figurehead's humanness, even if his humanity is ultimately remains in question. In addition to depicting Hirohito, superlatively inhabited by Issey Ogata--down to what appears to have been the Emperor's strange labial tics, hesitant manner of speaking and almost robotic, ceremonial gait--getting dressed in military finery to meet with his war cabinet, Sokurov also shows him examining a hermit crab specimen, writing haiku, querying the astonished leader of a nearly destroyed scientific institute about the Northern Lights, and clumsily comforting his wife, all signs of apparent normalcy yet all amidst the destructive finale of the war he approved and oversaw.

In a sense, Sokurov's theme is the negotiation between royalty and humanity, between the exalted state and national state of the royal body and personhood (and I think here of Ernst Kantorowicz's famous but perhaps forgotten study of medieval European kingship, The King's Two Bodies), and his lonely human individuality, which Sokurov portrays in all their ironies. As Emperor and God, and living symbol and embodiment of Japan, Hirohito is viewed here by his courtiers and servants, like the Japanese people in general, as almost beyond the corporeal, always apart from them, and yet, as a living figure, they must serve his mundane personal needs, down to buttoning him into shirts, bowing deeply and averting their gaze when he is nearby, and opening and closing doors for him. His own negotiation of his status is a central element of the drama; at one point, he demands to be left alone, to think for himself--and make the momentous decision of capitulation and renunciation--yet his elderly servant is by habit almost unable to let him out of his sight, for fear that he might go a second without being properly attended to. It is a serious but comical moment, one of many in the film. Another comes when he agrees to the American military's demand to be photographed. Stepping outside of the laboratory where he has holed up--the Imperial Palace having been heavily bombed--Sokurov shows Hirohito, wearing neither the elaborate morning (and mourning) suit in which he goes to dine with General MacArthur (Robert Dawson) nor a kimono, but a simple tweed suit, with waistcoat and fedora, uneasily and unassumingly approaching the American military press gang, with none of the imperial pomp that might be expected, before he is directed to stand amidst the roses in the nearby garden. This tiny, bespectacled figure, posing with apparent diffidence and pleasure, leads some of the Americans to suggest that he favors Charlie Chaplin, to which he replies, with a tinge of amusement and to the absolute horror of his chamberlain, "Do I really look like that actor?" The shock of the Japanese around him--and perhaps even today for hardcore imperialists--is palpable. But Sokurov has only shortly before shown Hirohito in his beautifully appointed bunker, gazing consolingly not only through his family photo book, which includes snapshots of Hitler and Chancellor von Hindenburg, but through a picturebook of Hollywood stars, including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and none other than the "Little Tramp" himself, Chaplin. Later still he claims not to see popular films at all. The effect is, as I've suggested, ironic by many degrees.

The SunSokurov's further dramatizes the concept of negotiation, in reference to the relationship between the US and Japan, still complex and ongoing. The Americans we see through its GIs and officers, in their crisp khaki, mostly white, mostly full of boisterous cheer, but also brimming at points with disrespect, yet always in full command of this country on which they have leashed the then-ultimate weapon in a successful effort to win a war. Dawson's MacArthur engages in mental games with Hirohito; he orders him around, cuts him off, commands him to eat, and at one point claims to have a pressing appointment, though we see he has secreted himself away to spy on this "childlike" figure, to use his term, who, he also comes to recognize, is a lot smarter and wilier than he'd imagined. (Sokurov shows this as well earlier when, in the meeting with the War Cabinet, Hirohito commands them to fight on, by way of an inscrutable poem written by his grandfather, the Meiji Emperor, which is to say, in essence to the death.) Hirohito in fact does surprise him, and the viewer; when the Japanese-American translator begs him to speak Japanese, as by diplomatic protocol and because of his elevated station, Hirohito nevertheless speaks fluent if somewhat stiff English, noting to MacArthur that he can also speak French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian, and a host of other languages, noting at the same time that as the defeated party, he will use the language of the victor. When left alone, he examines the wares in the dining room, before waltzing by himself and peering out on the devastated landscape of Tokyo; this, we gather, he realizes is what he's wrought. As such, he commands if not the viewer's sympathy, then perhaps a modicum of acknowledgement that he is something other than a monster or a buffoon, an empty figurehead or a caricature thereof. Hirohito's sense of his and his nation's severely straitened circumstances, particularly in relation to the USA, are clear on Ogata's mobile face, just as MacArthur's sense of his value are clear on Dawson's. The hierarchy of the victor and vanquished is apparent on one level, yet not so much on another.

One of the most interesting moments in the film to me, and which I haven't seen any other reviewers mention, was the Hirohito's repetition, once as a throwaway comment and later as part of a rant, about one of the causes of the war. As Sokurov presents it, Hirohito carried inside him an ember of rage and resentment at the US's racial and white supremacist policies, particularly California's Racial Exclusion Act of 1924, which barred Japanese immigration, and in the film mentions this early on to an elderly servant, who nods it off, but later, as he is seething about his military's failures, he cites it again, specifically mentioning Japan's support for global brotherhood after the First World War and the Golden State's anti-Japanese legislation and US racism, which provoked the military leadership. I found myself wondering whether this was Sokurov's intervention or one of Hirohito's actual hobbyhorses; in fact I think most Americans would be hard pressed to register any of the specifics the history of anti-Asian prejudice in this country beyond the Japanese internment during World War II and more recent attacks, in the 1990s, let alone grasp that this might have been a historical fuel for World War II. Yet I also had to note the irony, very likely intentional by Sokurov, of this excuse for a war that was already a budding possibility after the failure of Japanese civilian government control of the military in the 1920s and Japan's alliance with the most racist regime that has ever ruled anywhere on earth, the German Nazi Reich, and Japan's own extreme brutality, based in part on a feeling of ethnic and cultural superiority, against its neighboring Asian states, such as China, Korea, and the Phillipines, both before and during the Second World War. Sokurov thus pushes the underlying discourse beyond the usual commonplaces, forcing the viewer to take a more nuanced reading of history from a personal and geopolitical standpoint.

I have said little about the technical aspects of the film, but I should note that despite being shot in digital video, the cinematography is often pristine, with the right amount of color bled from the images to render them vivid yet of the past, and a slight haziness enhancing the otherworldiness of the subject matter. Sokurov's uses of long and close shots, and a static camera, repeatedly capture the at-times sarcophogal atmosphere, the mood, of the Emperor's life, its spatial contours, the mise-en-scène unfolding, like the leaves of a chrysanthemum outwards, towards the wider world of which, we soon realize, Hirohito is very much a part. The slow, stately pacing only enhances this. Breaking what could have been too much visual and temporal gravity, however, are several lyrical and fantastic moments, such as when Hirohito imagines the firebombing of Tokyo, and instead of airplanes, we see fish-bird-like creatures zooming through an animated, fiery space before turning into, becoming bombs. This episode manages to link the Emperor's fascination with the natural world to his poetic sense of time and space, and his achronological existence and his chronotopic perception of the war, while also showing both how out of touch and simultaneously in touch he is. He is shown finally viewing the destruction of Tokyo on his car trip to meet with MacArthur; his has been aware of what has been happening, and yet, we gather, unlike the British royal family during World War II, has been studiously kept away from it. In the end, the viewer leaves without an assured sense that Hirohito has fully gotten what he's presided over; when he is told that the engineer who recorded his surrender speech, broadcast over the radio and marking the first time most Japanese had ever heard his voice, has committed hari-kiri, and he asks his chamberlain if he tried to stop him and is told "No," there is a glimmer of the Emperor's recognition, or perhaps the viewer projects one, of the unspeakable chain of tragedies that have occurred in his name and of the radically changed world to come, before he heads off with his wife, the Empress, to reunite with his children, now returned from safekeeping in the countryside. It is, in the end, a strange and riveting portrait of a man and figurehead who, even today, remains, for intentional and non-intentional reasons, a historical and personal enigma.