Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's the annual pro-imperialist anticommunist literary love fest

That's right: it's the PEN World Voices Festival, now and for the next several days on stages throughout NYC congratulating itself for always aligning with imperialism.

I'm not saying the PEN festival doesn't feature some good writers, some worthy writers from around the world. And I'm not criticizing those writers for taking part. Nor am I denouncing those who attend. There are so few such opportunities for writers from other countries to get their work read in this country, and so few opportunities in this country to be exposed to the work of those writing in other languages.

So what's my beef? Well, to start with, here's what I wrote here a few years ago:
It's just that, on balance, it [the PEN World Voices Festival] does not in fact offer anything close to what its title advertises: the voices of the world. Which would be the voices of workers and the oppressed. PEN is a construct of the bourgeois literary establishment devoted to promoting bourgeois literary values. It will never provide a platform for a revolutionary literary voice; in fact it often propagandizes against such voices, for instance those in Cuba. So while the glit-lit crowd wines, dines and opines, let's the rest of us march -- and write -- and organize -- in solidarity with the real world's voices ... on May Day.
In fact, if there were the slightest smidgen of an orientation toward the workers and oppressed, the organizers would not schedule this event to conflict with May Day, which is the workers' holiday in every country of the world. Which would you rather do, shmooze with the gliterati or march with the workers?

Let's be clear. PEN is no more a left organization, no more a force for fairness and freedom, than is Amnesty International. Both are adjuncts of the U.S. imperialist ruling class. Both loyally stand with U.S. imperialism against any and every country that defends its own sovereignty as against the force of U.S. imperialism (Iran, Syria, Libya before the U.S. destroyed it, Venezuela) and especially against any and every country that makes a revolution and tries to build socialism.

In fact, this is not mere commentary, not merely my crazy communist take on things. It is fact, fact in the person of PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. She took the helms in January. Before that, she was executive director of none other than Amnesty International. And before that? Why, she worked at the State Department! She was deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations. She's been a major advocate of the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the Israeli war against Palestine, of the U.S. bombing and invasion of Libya. On and on. It's a continuum. See how this works?

So. Let's take this a step further, as a heckler apparently did last night at one of the PEN festival's opening events with Salman Rushdie at the podium. Leave aside PEN's anticommunist and pro-imperialist work regarding other countries. What about the U.S.? I'm hearing reports that last night this heckler repeatedly characterized PEN as a tool of the U.S. government and challenged PEN and Rushdie to acknowledge the heroism of Bradley Manning. The heckler certainly raised a good point. Where is the award to a true hero right here? It's within PEN's purview--Manning didn't write anything, but he provided documents, he shared information, he exposed the most horrific murderous wrongs done by a monstrous anti-human government--isn't that the sort of thing PEN is supposedly set up to celebrate and defend? 

And what about Mumia Abu-Jamal? I understand that PEN allowed him membership--but where is its spirited organized active embrace of the struggle to free him? Why isn't Mumia the keynote speaker, the main honoree? Why isn't the case of this brilliant journalist and author imprisoned for his activism--um, isn't that there description almost exactly what PEN claims to be all about--why isn't Mumia's case, a case of monstrous injustice right here in this country, a centerpiece of PEN's work?


Well, because the sort of thing PEN is actually all about takes center stage tonight at its one-thousand-dollar-a-head gala. The guest of honor who will be presented with the PEN Literary Service Award is none other than racist misogynist extraordinaire Philip Roth, who will "reflect on his lifetime of literary endeavor and his personal involvement in promoting freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe, a story that he has never told publicly." Oh goody! It sounds like Philip Roth worked on behalf of U.S. imperialism to undermine the workers' states and bring about the counterrevolutions that have transformed the former socialist countries into such fabulous bastions of the good life that standards of living have plummeted; life expectancy has dropped and infant mortality skyrocketed; unemployment, homelessness and poverty are now the rule of the day; and women are trafficked. How did he do it? Via the National Endowment for the Humanities? Voice of America? Directly on the CIA payroll? All of the above, or via some other more subterranean route? Those thousand-dollar-a-plate attendees will no doubt lap it up, whatever the story is. What courage, they'll applaud, what dedication, what a paragon, a champion of literary freedom!

What an anti-communist anti-worker anti-woman racist champion of the status quo. Thus spake PEN.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Here's a terrific poem

by Jacob Rakovan, reprinted as permitted from the Split This Rock Poem of the Week site (see info after poem). Which site is worth checking, well, weekly. Split This Rock is a national network of socially engaged poets.

Hilt's Law 
The bones cast in the field like seed corn grow nothing,
grow briars in the boarded gas stations
brown stalks ready for the fire.
You do not hear our song,
earth thick in our throats, benzene, chromium
cadmium and arsenic
shuttered stores,
hosts of dead in cold-mill towns
the day that does not come though prayed for.

The trains of coal and corpses, the price of power
though wires are stretched like a mandolin on our backs
though the saints bob above us like car-lot balloons
You do not hear our singing.
In electric light the bubble gum machine is full of teeth
the babies' bottles with a slow sweet poison
the air thick with cancer, the rain with
teeth, without flowers, without cease.

This dream of sleep, in hunter's orange
over oil-black in cups, in the hollows under eyes.
The unborn sun in the darkest river, the hollow hills
unsong of un-place, Bloody Harlan, Centralia
the blessed fly over in air conditioned comfort.
Let the bone-fire of your city burn 'till your shadow stains the bricks 
Let the dark come spilling from the mine thick as molasses
Let the end come if it is coming,
Let the rich hang from their ankles,
a washtub full of black blood.
You do not hear.
Let the hills and stones fall on us and cover us
Let those curse us who curse the day, who are skillful
the smelters of iron, and armaments, the hilltop removers.
Though we are dying, though we breath black dust
and blue powder, spit liquor and blood
the black drink, the earth's secret breath.
Though we are toothless, though we are blind
we hear this:
Steady trundle of the train under storm clouds
loaded down with malediction,
the radio tower's Babel-bleat to heaven
with the black stone, with the dead for burning 
song of electric light, and sleeplessness.
Weariest river at the end of all things 
We follow you into the earth.

-Jacob Rakovan   
Used by permission.
Jacob Rakovan is an Appalachian writer in diaspora. He is a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry and recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His work has appeared in numerous journals including The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The James Dickey Review, Anon, Thrush and Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism as well as anthologies by Salmon Poetry Press, MTV Books and The Arsenic Lobster. His manuscript The Devil's Radio was a finalist for the 2012 Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and the Gell poetry prize and is forthcoming on Small Doggies Press. He is co-curator of the Poetry & Pie Night reading series in Rochester, New York. 

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

How dare they

Samer Issawi, the Palestinian political prisoner who has been on hunger strike since August 1, 2012, and whose life is now in grave jeopardy, has called on supporters to do everything possible to demand his release and safe his life.

In his most recent statement, a public letter specifically addressed to Israelis, this brave brother called on " intellectuals, writers, lawyers and journalists, associations, and civil society activists" to visit him in prison and witness his suffering. He noted bitterly that "I have not heard one of you interfere to stop the loud wail of death, it's as if every one of you has turned into gravediggers, and everyone wears his military suit: the judge, the writer, the intellectual, the journalist, the merchant, the academic, and the poet." He concluded: "Israelis: Listen to my voice, the voice of our time and yours! Liberate yourselves of the excess of greed power! Do not remain prisoners of military camps and the iron doors that have shut your minds!"

I find this not only poignant and moving, but incredibly generous, that this freedom fighter who is at death's door should find it in his heart to reach out with nearly his last breath and call on Israelis to open themselves to his words, to "liberate themselves" from the chokehold of the racist monster that is the Zionist state.

So what is the response from the Israeli intellectuals and writers to whom brother Issawi issued this appeal? Did they heed his words? Visit him and pledge solidarity? Take a stand? Did they announce they were joining him in his hunger strike, call on others to do the same, build a mass public campaign to demand that Samer Issawi be freed and pledge that they would suffer along with him until he is? Did they do anything at all, in fact, anything to support this political prisoner their government is murdering?

Quite the contrary. They didn't address the Israeli state at all. Instead, they issued a statement addressed to him, to Samer Issawi, demanding that he call off his hunger strike.

Wow. The arrogance. The arrogance of the oppressor, condescending to instruct the oppressed in how they, the oppressed, ought to proceed.

The statement's writers, including such supposed literary luminaries as Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, expressed their "agony," pronounced themselves "horrified," about Issawi's hunger strike. They accused him, in so many words, of making things worse. And so on.

Damn. Do you wonder why I refuse to read any Israeli fiction, even, no especially, written by ostensible liberals? If this is the best of them, I mean, Jesus H. Christ, come on! How dare these privileged comfortable thieves of the Palestinian homeland presume to instruct one of the dispossessed about what he ought to be doing! How dare they lecture a hero like Samer Issawi!

Such is the state of arts and letters inside the Zionist state. Which should come as no surprise, for what other art could the project of theft, expulsion and occupation, the Zionist project, possibly give rise to but the most distorted expressions based in occupier consciousness?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The colonizer's consciousness

I'm reading The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell. The novel tells the story of an 1857 uprising in India against the British occupiers. It's told entirely from the point of view, in the voice, of those British occupiers--but in a good way! That is, this is a deeply accomplished, subtly effected satire aimed dead-on against the colonialists, exposing their racism, ethnocentrism, and self-serving endless justifications for imperialism.

I may write more about it once I've finished reading the book. In the meantime I've got to give you this. It's from roughly the middle of the novel, a single paragraph with which Farrell manages to pretty much say it all about the brutality, callousness and deeply racist consciousness of the colonialists.
A few yards away, still in the shadow of the church, was another collection of dogs, uncivilized ones this time and dreadful to behold. In spite of the years he had spent in the East the Collector had never managed to get used to the appearance of the pariah dogs. Hideously thin, fur eaten away by mange to the raw skin, endlessly and uselessly scratching, timorous, vicious, and very often half crippled, they seemed like a parody of what Nature had intended. He had once, as it happened, on landing for the first time at Garden Reach in Calcutta, had the same thought about the human beggars who swarmed at the landing-stage; they, too, had seemed a parody. Yet when the Collector piously gave to the poor, it was to the English poor, by a fixed arrangement with his agent in London; he had accepted that the poverty of India was beyond redemption. The humans he had got used to, in time ... the dogs never.