Archive for the Reading category

March 16th, 2011

Fascism in Michigan and the Weimar Republic

Provoked by bizarre and anti-democratic events in Michigan — Rachel Maddow (must see) with help from Amy Goodman seems to broken this story nationwide — I’ve been laboring thru William Sheridan Allen’s The Nazi Seizure of Power (1965), a conglomeration of newspaper reports, interviews and other local info that paints the rise of the Nazi party in a single German town, Northeim, during the Weimar Republic’s last years and Hitler’s first two. 1930-35.

The Social Democrats in coalition with the Catholic Center party were the ruling block of the republic and its last defenders as the global depression took root and undermined confidence.

Even so, in Northeim Nazi candidates attracted only a hundred some votes in 1930. But escalated to many thousands and 62% of votes cast by autumn 1932.

Why? It seems, in a nutshell, that the depressed life of the postwar decade left the generation of relatively educated Middle-classers then coming of age resentful of the political power of the Social Democrats — the party of less educated laborers.

Would-be Yuppies, expecting and expected to do better than their comfortable parents, in despair in hard times about getting ahead, are abruptly inspired with hope by a romantic (re German national spirit) vision of violently breaking the status quo left behind by the failed war and now preyed upon by international capital.

And yet the great enemy, as the political battle that put Hitler in power develops, is the party of the lower working class. Destroy that class’s only potent institution (the Soc Dem Party) and … and somehow things would begin to improve.

This of course resembles the new patriotic war of Tea Party governors and legislators on what’s left of America’s unions.

That Germany’s democracy itself would go as the Nazis (or the Communists, who also gathered more votes as things got worse) came to power seems to have been understood by the educated young adults who put Hitler in power.

Apparently their despair was such that it just didn’t seem important. Gilded Age cultural history re the glories of Wilhemine Germany, combined with the republic’s poor economic performance — as it tried to pick up the pieces of King Willie’s failed world war — just left Weimar with no love, it seems.

The Nazi Seizure also makes use of the voting records, which clearly show newly registered voters inspired by and flocking to the Nazi candidates in the early 30s.

This picture syncs perfectly with Albert Speer’s own extended account of how and why he joined the party in his first memoir: Inside the Third Reich.

In both books the generation gap is rather clear. Speer’s party membership was something his successful father never approved, even at the wild height of Albert’s own success. Once, Speer writes, his father agreed to attend an event with Hitler & co — but there refused to make conversation, and to shake the Fuehrer’s hand, and quickly departed.

( Speer’s mother, on the other hand, DID join the Nazi party — in secret, without telling her husband or her son, until she discovered that the latter had also secretly joined.)

Speer’s family had been wealthy during his childhood, but the hyperinflation of the early postwar years forced them to sell off the heirloom family factory and leave their high social place in the city for cheap country living.

Like his father and grandfather Albert took to architecture. But his new single-shingle practice was going nowhere as the Depression took root, and he had to get ahead before he’d be permitted to marry his sweetheart.

He begins teaching on the side, 25 years old circa 1931, and his students are the ones who persuade him to attend local Nazi meetings. Then he sees Hitler speak and immediately signs up, and years later struggles to say why, saying mostly, repeatedly, that Hitler inspired hope when no one and nothing else did.

Viewing it from our distance, it all seems so immature, and blind to the actual causes of distress — Industrialism and high finance badly out of whack in the wake of the first war. It seems the ill-advised reaction of youth — unbridled, gone off half cocked — to a bad time.

The patience of the parents if effective would have better served both Nation and society. Let alone Europe.

January 28th, 2011

Year of the Rat?

Yesterday as I stood waiting in the subway, a rat waddled up, politely sniffing, then climbed upon my bag, as if hoping for something to eat.

An omen?

An image of our society in dissolution?

Upon noticing his approach I’d begun to call Shoo, then did something of a St Vitus dance. Finally he respected my panic and scrammed, taking cover beneath a garbage storage bin.

Days before a rat was found making the rounds on a subway car.

Usually of course they’re shy of the Big Folk.

In The Plague, it’s the rats who play harbinger on both ends of the disaster.

They are the first to die in agony on the streets, filling the inwoners with wondrous dismay. And then their reappearance on the streets, going about their business, is the first sign that the pestilence itself is dying out.

So yes, If rats all over New York are suddenly behaving in a sociable manner, why, I wonder what it means.

Years ago, while living on the expanding eastern edge of Chinatown in Manhattan, I was walking home from Wall Street late at night and rats must have been busy at work because as I strode along I was thinking about the portentous rodents of THE PLAGUE …

And suddenly a rat scurried out across my path, directly beneath my foot as it fell — and screamed as his spine snapped with a crunch then bounced straight toward heaven a yard and fell dead.

Perhaps as we are told the Evil flee where none pursueth, but see here too the innocent, the poor fool, mind boggled, who in panic was just trying to get out of the way.

I still recall the crunch of his spine and his scream.

Needless to say I felt terrible, and wondered what it meant.

A friend says the Chinese view rats with great favor.

For it is said that when all the animals raced across the river, the rat with its genius won out — by riding upon the oxen’s back and then at the last moment leaping from its head to reach the bank first.

So it is that to be born in the Year of the Rat is deemed a blessing.

How good of the Chinese to honor the rat. And how interesting to hear that the rat won the race …

The whole Get A Job business always struck me as futile, a poor expense of spirit.

Friends suggest that my encounter with this favored creature yesterday means that I’ve been forgiven for crushing, in my distraction, his ancestor during the 80s on a greasy Chinatown street.

Well and good. But why as a race are they behaving so sociably?

Perhaps the season’s record snowfall — the lack of accessible garbage on the streets — has them desperate?

Or does their frank boldness bode some eruption to our state?

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January 21st, 2011

Pasternak’s granddaughter loathes the new translation of
Doctor Zhivago

asdfasd

October 24th, 2010

The eBook Cometh

Nice bit from the brit Prospect:

Do writers need paper?

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Let me eblaborate if I may:

Does the technological civilization need books?

Modernity and the novel were coeval. (Hamlet was the first novel, I like to say.)

What happens to that civilization when the novel is cut off like a dead limb?

Will it still be able to walk and talk? Will it go mad?

The 21st century in America so far suggests no, no and yes.

October 13th, 2010

John le Carre:
Big Banks & Money Laundering
The Iraq War, etc

October 4th, 2010

Allen Ginsberg Moment:
An old cool interview
and a magical new film
about the Genii of the City

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Recollections and thoughts about the new film HOWL are on the way.

Meanwhile peeps can comment on the man and the poem and the movie — and a very local interview from 1988 — here below.

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September 25th, 2010

Curious George Goes
to the War

Curious George Goes to the War

I don’t want the war
Don’t want the war I
Want the war I know
The war I know what
War I know what wars
I know what wars are
Know what wars are like.
I know the destruction and
Know the destruction and death
The destruction and death that
Destruction and death that comes
And death that comes with
Death that comes with them.
I am the one who
Am the one who has
The one who has to
One who has to comfort
Who has to comfort mothers
Has to comfort mothers and
To comfort mothers and widows
Comfort mothers and widows of
Mothers and widows of thee
And widows of the dead.
Of course for us that
Course for us that would
For us that would be
Us that would be the
That would be the best
Would be the best solution.
Besides it would save us
It would save us fifty
Would save us fifty billion.

September 22nd, 2010

Warhol was able to collapse

Posted in Painting, Reading, Writing by ed

Warhol was able to collapse
Was able to collapse high
Able to collapse high serious
To collapse high serious art
Collapse high serious art and
High serious art and low
Serious art and low pop
Art and low pop culture
And low pop culture making
Low pop culture making the
Pop culture making the art
Culture making the art of
Making the art of painting
The art of painting into
Art of painting into a
Of painting into a part
Painting into a part of
Into a part of pop
A part of pop culture
Part of pop culture he’s
Of pop culture he’s an
Pop culture he’s an incredible
Culture he’s an incredible genius
He’s an incredible genius but
An incredible genius but he’s
Incredible genius but he’s the
Genius but he’s the devil.

September 10th, 2010

Counsel
from Nissim Ezekiel

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COUNSEL
For Shri Hariji, Who Said It

Whether you believe or not
Think as if you do
Stop the blind effort

Ask yourself what you need
Success as the moment
Is not in your interest

Turn to silence, nothingness
Where you are
Is where you have to be

Know, you are not wise
This is difficult
Grasp your folly

And you grasp yourself
What you have eaten
Is merely unripe fruit

So, now, learn to fast
Do without, be absent
Keep the eyes closed

Keep the mind steady
What you will see
You will also understand

No visions, except in darkness
Listen to the voice
That is not your own

Then move again
Without remorse or guilt
Love is more concerned

About your fate
Than you have ever been
That is why you have survived

Express your gratitude
By giving what you have to give
You may get nothing in return

And bear your restlessness with grace

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Nizzim Ezekiel
Latter-Day Psalms, 1982

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Nissim died in 2004. Here are two brief memorials.

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June 26th, 2010

Lawrence Durrell and
the Workings of Abel

As poet, publisher & old friend David Abel, long gone from New York, breezes thru this weekend with a reading on Sunday the 27th at the Zinc Bar, I find myself reading TUNC by Lawrence Durrell from 1958 …

A pheasant stuffed with nominal chestnuts, a fatty wine disbursed among fake barrels in a London cellar — Poggio’s, where people go to watch each other watch each other. I had been trying to explain the workings of Abel — no, you cannot have a computer with balls; but the illusion of a proximate intuition is startling. Like a buggerish astrology only more real, more concrete; better than crystal ball or divining rod.

“Here we have lying about us in our infancy” (they clear their throats loudly) “a whole culture tied to a stake, whipped blind, torn apart by mastiffs. Grrrr! And here we are, three men in black overcoats, ravens of ill omen in an oak tree.” I gave a couple of tremendous growls. Heads turned toward us in meek but startled fashion.

“You are still drunk, Felix.” This is Nash.

“No, but people as destinies are by now almost mathematically predictable. Ask Abel.”

“Almost.”

“Almost.”

“You interest me strangely,” said Vibart dozing off for a second. Emboldened Charlock continued.

“I call it pogonometry. It is deduction based on the pogon [then in Greek], a word which does not exist. It is the smallest conceivable unit of meaning in speech; a million pogons make up the millioneth part of a phoneme. Give Abel a sigh or the birth cry of a baby and he can tell you everything.”

March 19th, 2010

Birthday greeting from Arabia
via Orson Welles and
the other Richard Burton

Friend and poet Michael Gushue reports this alleged lost scene from the Citizen Kane script:

Kane stands with his butler/factotum, Raymond in the family tomb. His only son, Charles Foster Kane II, is dead at the age of 31. The year is 1938, and workmen are setting a slab on the grave.

After they leave, Kane looks at the simple inscriptions on the crypts of his father, mother and son.

Above the blank space reserved for him, is an inscription on an ornate, ancient wall imported from Persia.

Kane translates for Raymond (bored and couldn’t care less):

The drunkenness of youth
Has passed like a fever
And yet I saw many things
Seeing my glory in the days of my glory

I thought my power eternal
And the days of my life
Fixed surely in the years
But a whisper came to me
From Him who dies not

I called my tributary kings together
And those who were proud rulers under me
I opened the boxes of my treasure to them, saying
“Take hills of gold, mountains of silver
And give me one more day upon the earth”

But they stood silent
Looking upon the ground
So that I died
And Death came to sit upon my throne

O sons of men
You see a stranger upon the road
You call to him and he does not stop
He is your life
Walking towards time
Hurrying to meet the kings of India and China

O sons of men
You are caught in the web of the world
And the spider
Nothing waits behind it

Where are the men with towering hopes?
They have changed places with owls
Owls who lived in tombs
And now inhabit a palace

We live in affluence
And are blind to where we are

Our concerns and feuds
Fill our time every day

You must ask yourself
What is the worth?

January 14th, 2010

Kierkegaard:
The destruction of Jerusalem

Posted in Death, Reading by ed

He weeps over Jerusalem.

And yet the city was still standing in its glory, and the temple still held its head high, higher than any structure in the world.

And Christ Himself says, “If thou hadst known in this thy day the things which are for thy good!” But to this he adds, “Now they are hid from thine eyes.” In God’s eternal counsel its destruction is determined, and salvation is hid from the eyes of its inhabitants.

Was the generation then living more wicked than the foregoing generations to which it owed its life?

Was the whole nation corrupt, was there none righteous in Jerusalem, not a single one who could check God’s wrath?

No, its destruction was determined. In vain the besieged city looked in anguish for a way out, the army of the enemy crushed it in its mighty embrace, and no one escaped, and heaven remained shut and sent forth no angel except the angel of death which brandished its sword over the city.

Is this the jealousy of God, that He visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation, in such a way that He does not punish the fathers but the children?

What answer should we make? Should we say:

“There have elapsed now nearly two thousand years since those days. Such a horror the world never saw before and never again will see. We thank God that we live in peace and security, that the scream of anguish from those days reaches us only very faintly. We will hope and believe that our days and those of our children may pass in quietness, unaffected by the storms of existence. We do not feel strong enough to reflect upon such things, but we are ready to thank God that we are not subject to such trials.”

Can anything be imagined more cowardly and more disconsolate than such talk?

Is then the inexplicable explained by saying that it has occurred only once in the world?

Or is not this the inexplicable, that it did occur?

And has not this fact, the fact that it did occur, the power to make everything inexplicable, even the most explicable events?

If once it occurred in the world that man’s lot was essentially different from what it ordinarily is, what assurance is there that this will not recur?

What assurance that this is not the true thing, and what ordinarily occurs is the untrue?

Or is the true proved to be such by the fact that it most often occurs?

And does not that really often occur which those ages witnessed?

Is it not what we all of us in so many ways have experienced, that what occurs on a great scale is experienced also in a minor degree?

“Think ye,” said Christ, “that those Galileans whose blood Pilate commanded to be shed were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered these things?” It was a providential dispensation, you will say, not a punishment.

But the destruction of Jerusalem was a punishment, and it fell with equal severity upon the innocent and the guilty …

EITHER/OR – The Ultimatum

January 1st, 2010

2009 in review

“A London taxi driver tied one end of a rope around a post and the other around his neck and drove away, launching his head from the car.
Sarah Palin published a book and Sylvia Plath’s son hanged himself in Alaska.
Scientists in San Diego made a robot head study itself in a mirror until it learned to smile.”

From the Yearly Review in Harper’s.

November 27th, 2009

Israeli scholar re Nation’s dubious distinction

Posted in Israel, Reading by ed

NY Times review of The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand.

September 28th, 2009

Daily Shakespeare sonnet
delivered fresh

Posted in Reading by ed

One can sign up here to have one of Shakespeare’s sonnets delivered daily. Sometimes works to dispel clouded days, or seed them with perspective.

But perhaps you protest: Some of the sonnets are inpenetrably personal and … well, whiny. But even so, I find, the dish often serves, for one without a wife, to flesh out an automated day.

September 26th, 2009

Dylan’s poem for Woody Guthrie

Posted in Death, Music, Reading by ed

Dylan’s first (only?) reading of this lovely thing is on the first Bootleg Series CD (where every track’s a winner).

But I’ve never seen the poem in print before. Came to my attention by way of this gent.

Worth filing away for rainy days.

April 11th, 2009

Ralph Nader’s
Recent History Reading List

Posted in Geopolitics, Money, Reading by ed

People who were on the money about big money.

March 19th, 2009

Birthday Twitter:
Cut the Idle Shit

Posted in Death, Reading, Writing by ed

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IT OCCURS to me to mark if not celebrate my birthday with Twittering reports from the frontlines of life across this March 19.

Also: to add a sub-category — Writing — to the Conversation database under Arts & Private Life.

Why didn’t I think of that before?

Because I never write about writing here, it would seem.

Right, then. Well, at the moment:

Going thru paper markup. Best readings are on paper, not screen — as this afternoon, sitting in the 58 degree sunshine on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, overlooking the tail end of the East River and the harbor, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street melting, melting …

What can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemmed Manhattan, river and sunset and scallop-edged waves …?

The current screenplay, set in Brooklyn, stars Walt Whitman: The heroine, a fifty-year old black woman, shares his surname, his spirit, and perhaps his blood. 

This darn script is dear to my heart, being about facing death, which a number of close people have done in recent years. No one ever wins. The story is about not losing.

“Great, great … Sounds like an art film. Black and white? Great, great …”

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I’ve never worked on a script longer than four months before.  But this one, the seventh, since … August 2006. Many drafts, each greater spiritually, and now materially, by the latter which I mean the deadly page count, now less than 130, which puts it in the realm of things sendable to strangers in the movie biz.

All the other scripts: Political stories.  Character-driven low-key thrillers, one might say.  Graham Greene stuff, one might dare.

Was told re these stories in 2003 — when my fine Old School agent, so proudly acquired with much time and labor, threw up his hands and retired to Paris in response to the invasion of Iraq …

I was then told to stop writing novels, and write screenplays again instead, the novel being dead.

Now it seems they all say nobody anywhere reads an unsolicited screenplay — so write it as a (crummy) book first.

To their credit, they don’t say “novel.” As if to acknowledge in tacit passing, hey, it’s not like we sell novels. We sell books. To movie producers.

When asked in the 80s to name America’s important writers, Gore Vidal replied that it was no longer possible for a writer to be important.

This may have something to do with why I rarely read American novelists my age or younger.  Rarely can I bear to.  (I do mean the real novelists, not the schlock-meisters.)  No, I find even our writers of their generation pretty intolerable and at best tolerably interesting.

Television’s to blame, of course, not only for writers’ lack of facility and style and gravitas, but also for a kind of sophisticated naivete that has made high-brow literature, once again, an art of Consent. 

I was born roughly on the cusp, in 1958.  TV was thin in the 60s, esp early on. And almost all of it was made for adults. 

Today the Tube baby talks. And teaches infants and children how to be people. Shallow Consenting chatterboxes. Who go on to produce the crudest blockbusters. The Alienist. The Lovely Bones.

When Klatuu came to visit, he didn’t sit with a great novelist to talk turkey about the fate of mankind. He sat with a technologist. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on our writers. That they’re no longer competent intellectuals. No longer interesting. No longer capable of speaking with Klatuu. Nobody is. And so he talks with the generals.

But all that aside, I think I don’t read neighboring novelists because novels are about worlds.  This is why they’re so important and thrilling when one is young. They introduce us to the worlds. 

But by 50 one has met the world one shares with neighboring writers.  Knows its irritating little habits. Very hard at that point for a neighbor to interest one in his bemused account of growing up in an artistic family on the Upper West Side.

So one flees to the foreign writers, whose worlds are still largely unknown, even if one has been travelling and reading there for decades. 

And one flees to the past.  The wealth of novels in English from prior centuries is …

Yes.  My greatest treasure.

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booksfallingbig.jpg

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Before this past Thanksgiving the Brooklyn script was 160 pages. A sperm whale beached. Didn’t matter, however, since the sworn intent was to produce it myself.  Late 2006. Before Wall Street, where I tend to make my living, blew itself to bits.

So now the page count does matter. Cutting back to the 120s, oi … Wasn’t easy.

One would think it’d be easy to simply sit at computer and type one’s own pen-to-paper comments into Movie Magic Screenwriter.  But no …

This wine actually helps — by dulling sensibilities that otherwise would revolt and insist on thinking better about this next comment upon a sentence that has already been retouched a hundred times …

Amid the thickly marked pages, in the third of the heroine’s four scenes with her Death & Dying shrink, a particularly tricky comment repeats four times. And thrice with a Bang:

“Cut the Idle Shit!”

A familiar sort of comment. Not easy to deal with.  Would prefer something specific and editorial per se.

And what’s with the caps? Who is this ass?

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poet.jpg

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I don’t know who painted this last. Let’s say the Midtown Master.

The first, of course, is by Paul Klee: The Twittering Machine.

Then Death and Fire. Also by Klee.

Then a painting by David Dalla Venezia, whom I met at one of his exhibits years ago, somewhere in Italy.

March 11th, 2009

Online: The letters
of Thomas Jefferson

Posted in Reading, These United States by ed

Great resource. With an effective search engine.

March 10th, 2009

Privatized so-called Intelligence: Legacy of Ashes as
Prelude to Terror

Came across this Times magazine piece by Tim Weiner while musing about Petraeus and Lansdale in Pakghanistan and Vietnam. It’s adapted from Weiner’s excellent CIA book of 1995, Legacy of Ashes, and touches on Lansdale among other interesting things.

And it takes one back to that fled world, post Soviet Union before 9/11, when dreams of Peace Dividends and calls for the dissolution of the CIA were in the air, the latter from the likes of New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan:  The CIA is impossibly inpenetrable and corrupted — ungovernable.  Better to start over from scratch

Fled is that music.

But even way back in 1995 all that was something of a cover story, or, rather, an effect of a cover story — an approach to policy distorted and frustrated by the privatization of America’s covert ops capacity, so to speak.

Journalist Joseph Trento (with whom on points I disagree) touches on this firmly in his book Prelude to Terror – The Rogue CIA and America’s Private Intelligence Network (2005).

The privatization of what had been since the CIA’s founding in’ 47 its bread and butter work (intelligence collection being merely its cover, its day job) was touched off by:

(i) the cashiering by Nixon in 1973 of CIA director Richard Helms, a career spook back to the OSS — the Man with dirty hands Who Kept the Secrets — and

(ii) attempts thereafter to clean the Augean stables, both by presidents — appointing a string of clean-hands DCIs: James Schlesinger, William Colby (who died soon enough in a boating accident) and Stansfield Turner — and by Congress — with the Rockefeller and Church hearings in the Senate, culminating with the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

But when one cleans the stables, what happens to the manure?

( Side Show: An illuminating unintended consequence of the attempted purgation:  George HW Bush’s prez campaign in 1980 was staffed by a lot of retired guys in trenchcoats.

And his victory in 1988 was the first signal failure of US presidential exit polls.  A problem that then slept until … 2000.  And 2004.  Dem Bush boys just don’t poll properly … )

Here’s a recent interview with Trento — worth reading and listening.

To return to Weiner:  The ongoing privatization of the black bag work the CIA did for corporate and other chums in the good old days leaves somewhat moot, even in 1995, the isolated “What to do about the CIA” question. For the problem is now larger and more insinuated throughout the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower’s term now ringing somewhat quaint) than during the days of Gentleman Spy Allen Dulles. 

Post 9/11, instead of following Moynihan’s lead by simplifying (in order to clarify) the National Security Apparat, a stampeded Congress slapped on several more layers of bureaucracy.  And meanwhile the private sector in this growth industry expanded as never before, under Cheney’s guiding hand in particular.

Today’s rather cleansed CIA, then, is something of a front, more akin to the straight-shooting Pentagon than the dirty-tricks outfit of the golden age.

The dirtiest business — the most unpatriotic business — has been outsourced. To small and mid-sized firms owned and operated by ex-CIA, DIA, FBI, ATF and SS agents, ex-Army Rangers and ex-Navy Seals …

Prouty’s Secret Team in teeming blasted bloom.

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