NOTES ON LIVING AND WRITING IN AMERIKA PT. II




I’m not of the Frankfurt School. One must live a life of relative privilege these days to be so dour about domination, so suspicious of resistance, so enchained by commodification, so helpless before the ideological state apparatuses to conclude there’s no conceivable end to late capitalism’s daily sacrifice of human life to the singular freedom of the market.

— Ruth Wilson Gilmore (1993)

And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers standing around the racks invent, refine, discuss.
People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: "How strange! But never mind-it's Nazism, it will pass!" And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.
Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the "coolies" of India, and the "niggers" of Africa.
And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been—and still is—narrow and fragmentary, incom­plete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist.
I have talked a good deal about Hitler. Because he deserves it: he makes it possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of all men, just as it has proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics. Whether one likes it or not, at the end of the blind alley that is Europe, I mean the Europe of Adenauer, Schuman, Bidault, and a few others, there is Hitler. At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. At the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there is Hitler.

— Aimé Césaire (1950)



As for the great tut-tutting and anxious concern about the supposed anti-Semitism of second-generation Arab, South Asian, and African immigrants, nobody wants to state the obvious: to the extent to which it exists among them, which it certainly does, this anti-Semitism is a sign of their having become fully European. The particular stereotypes evoked by the torturers and killers of Ilan Halimi, for instance—you Jews are rich, so pay up—are a fundamental part historically of the European social imaginary, not some Arab, Islamic, or African one. This supposedly “new” anti-Semitism is not an import into Europe from some other less enlightened region of the world. The European anti-Semitic tradition has been dusted up and moved from the shoulders of one set of social actors within Europe onto those of another, from the older, national traditions to the newer minority communities, given a new shape this time in relationship to the anger generated by Israel’s brutal and ongoing destruction of Palestinian society. This shift in definitions is part of the burden of being an “immigrant”—second and even third generation—in Europe today. So complete is this transformation that even those conservative forces that are the traditional source of Jew hatred as a force in politics and society can now wield the charge of anti-Semitism against the immigrant communities at large without batting an eyelid and without generating even a whimper of protest from the liberal mainstream at this at least highly ironic turn of events.

— Aamir Mufti (2007)

What you think can put you in jail
what you say may be used against you
whatever you do to protect yourself will be
Seen as a strike against the patriot act which
will strike you down for being patriotic to yourself

— Jayne Cortez (2009)

NOTES ON LIVING AND WRITING IN AMERIKA




Criticism is active class struggle…

— Amiri Baraka (2010)

What I have been calling contemporary "Left" criticism is vitally concerned with various problems stemming out of authority: such problematics as that of the "return" to Marx, Freud, Saussure and others, the issue of influence and intertextuality, the questions of  l’impensé and the undecidable in deconstructive criticism, ideology as a factor in literary creation and dissemination. Yet hardly anywhere in all this does one encounter a serious study of what authority is, either with reference to the way authority is carried historically and circumstantially from the State down into a society saturated with authority of one sort or another, or with reference to the actual workings of culture, the role of intellectuals, institutions, and establishments. Furthermore if the language of magazines like Critical Inquiry, Glyph, and Diacritics is brimming with sentiments of depth, radicality and insight there is never so much as a paragraph expended there on what in the way of ideas, values and engagement is being urged; nor, for that matter, will one ever stumble on a serious attempt made to characterize what historically (and not rhetorically) it is that we advanced critics are supposed to be opposing. One's impression is that the young critic has a well-developed political sense, yet close examination of this sense reveals a haphazard anecdotal content enriched neither by much knowledge of what politics and political issues are all about nor by any very developed awareness that politics is something more than liking or disliking some intellectual orthodoxy now holding sway over a department of literature.

— Edward Said (1979)

English Department Skull & Crossbones
New Critic Klansman is
Deconstructing the day
Name for night slaughter
They laugh, They soul they do not have

— Amiri Baraka (1993)



The Passagen-Werk, Benjamin's great unfinished work on Paris in the nineteenth century, includes several quotations from Lotze's Microcosmus, a book which was very popular in the late nineteenth century and is now forgotten. Lotze played an important and so far nearly unnoticed role in Benjamin's thought. One of the  central themes  of Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History," the urge to "brush history  against the grain," developed Lotze's remarks on the redemption of the past within the  framework  of both Judaism and  historical materialism. "Like every generation that preceded  us," Benjamin  wrote, "we have been  endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim."

These words were written in 1940. In the light of what happened since then one is tempted to say that the last two generations have been endowed, on  the contrary, with a powerful, albeit  negative, messianic power. The end of history-not in the metaphorical sense, which became fashionable recently, but in a most literal sense—has been for the last half century a technical possibility. The potential self-destruction of humankind, in itself a turning  point in history, has affected and will affect the life and the fragmented memories, respectively, of all future and past generations—including "those that are past or future, ten thousand years backwards or forwards," as Aristotle wrote. The realm of what Aristotle called "general law" seems to have expanded accordingly. But to express compassion for those distant fellow humans would be, I suspect, an act of mere rhetoric. Our power to pollute and destroy the present, the past, and the future is incomparably greater than our feeble moral imagination.
— Carlo Ginzburg (1994)

Racist and sexual violence are practices that are not only tolerated but explicitly—or if not explicitly, then implicitly—encouraged. When these modes of violence are recognized—and they are often hidden and rendered invisible—they are most often the most dramatic examples of structural exclusion and discrimination. I think it would be important to go further developing that analysis, but I am going to conclude by saying that the greatest challenge facing us as we attempt to forge international solidarities and connections across national borders is an understanding of what feminists often call “intersectionality.” Not so much intersectionality of identities, but intersectionality of struggles.

— Angela Davis (2015)

...one could not be a calm, cool, and detached scientist while Negroes were lynched, murdered, and starved.

— W.E.B. Du Bois (1940)

THE DAMASCUS MEMOIRS — RASHID HUSSEIN



Born in 1936 in the small town of Musmus outside of Haifa and buried 41 years later in that same town, Rashid Hussein was one of the pioneers of Palestinian literature. Though buried in his homeland he died in New York City, where he had ended up after stints across the Arab world including Beirut and Damascus. 

Eqbal Ahmad wrote that Hussein lived in New York as if it were a Palestinian town. He served as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s cultural attache at the United Nations. Ahmad said that Hussein lived against the odds of his environment—too indulgent—too altruistic. Hussein’s life and work deserves far more attention that it has received and his poetic and prose writing in Arabic and Hebrew ought to be translated in greater numbers.  

Below are three poems published in the May 1974 issue of Arab Palestinian Resistance, the magazine of Information Department of the Palestine Liberation Army.   

**** 

Last October, when Israel launched numerous air raids on Damascus, Rashid Hussein, “the pioneer of Palestinian resistance poetry” was in the Syrian capital. As he watched the courageous behavior of the people of Damascus in facing the Israeli aggression, he wrote daily memoirs in Arabic poetry. Excerpts of these poetic impressions are given below. The first of the following three poems from The Damascus Memoirs, was translated into English by the author; the second, “Children of Roses,” and the third, “Letter to Richard Nixon,” were translated by Mrs. Randa Khalidi.  

(1) From The Damascus Memoirs 
 
The greatest of the great loves 
Was this morning in Damascus. 
He walked through the market,  
Bought a rose for a child, 
A candle for a raided house, 
And blessed the wedding that Damascus lived. 
And when evening came, 
The Great Love spent the night in Damascus. 
Damascus is calling, 
Damascus is calling, 
Planes are dancing, murdering, falling. 
All the fire of the earth became a wedding ring 
Around the finger of love I call “Damascus”. 
Her is all the love on earth 
Here are all the fires 
Here are all the wounds wedded to fighters 
Damascus is calling, 
Fire is calling, 
Love is calling from Damascus. 
Oh you who plant stars and wounds in Sinai 
and the Golan Heights, 
With your blood and love our people are restored 
Here Palestine is calling, 
Here Egypt is calling, 
Love is calling you, 
Fire is calling you, 
Damascus is calling you. 

(2) Children and Roses 

They are trying to kill sleep 
In the eyes of the children of Damascus. 
They are trying, let them try. 
They are trying to kill what the youngest child in Damascus 
Has slain long ago. 
They are trying to kill roses in Damascus, 
Let them kill them —  
We can live without roses. 
When old and young are martyred in our country. 
The soil will accept them without rosy wreaths. 
Let them try to kill the roses in Damascus, 
But the roses go wounded 
But the people will remain. 
Oh most beautiful roses of Damascus. 
The fake representatives of the arts 
In New York, 
In Paris, 
In Rome — 
Weep, dance and drink 
To buy a plane 
To kill a child 
And the jasmine youth of Damascus. 
Simone de Beauvoir says that the return of a refugee 
To his home is not liberation. 
Elizabeth Taylor and the last of the divorced wives in Iran 
Have decided that love of country is an aggression 
Oh god, do these represent the arts? 
Do they represent love and literature? 
If those are our enemies; 
Multiply them, God, Multiply them. 

(3) Letter to Richard Nixon 

Mr. Nixon 
Watergate Street 
Washington, Israel 
From my refugee room in Damascus I address you. 
You have sent all you want in Napalm 
But — and thanks for the present – it did not fall in pieces; 
It tore the face of child, destroyed a hospital and the heart of a grandmother 
It kissed a resisting rose. Your Napalm died. 
Mr. Nixon, despite all the Napalm you have sent 
The doves have not flown away from the rooms of resisters in Damascus 
Our doves stayed 
Despite your planes 
Our arms have remained despite your planes 
All our fields are here, all our roses, our stars, 
All our doves are here 
They stayed despite your planes. 
Mr. Nixon 
In our banks we have peace in thousands 
We will send you none 
You wanted war, let it be war, we return it you you 
How did you kill all the poets in your country? 
How did you kill love in your country? 
How did you send fire to kill roses and children in Damascus? 
We are not here a God called Jesus for you to assassinate 
As you wish, crucify as you wish 
We are Jesus rejecting crucifixion, demanding to return 
To the mountains of Nazareth 
We, candidates for crucifixion 
Will not allow you this pleasure
We remain and resist in Damascus 
We remain and resist in Damascus