“This cornucopia of literature provides hope” –February 18, 2003

Every season brings welcome tidings of the largesse that I am soonto benefit from by way of books sent to me by book publishers. Mostlythis comes in the form of catalogues. Occasionally cleverly or handsomelydesigned, this cornucopia of literature provides hope, at leastin the short term, of an interesting and radiant future. This Spring(it's already Spring /Summer) has not been much different. Manygood books, some by accomplished authors, some by lucky noviceswho have managed to win the publisher's lottery, will be on theirway to me.

One catalogue, in particular, stopped me in my tracks. The NewPress, that honorable house that Andre Schiffrin founded in 1990after he was somewhat unceremoniously ousted from his sinecure atPantheon Books, featured on its cover a harrowing—and to me a physicallynauseating photograph (not credited) of the "prisoners"being held at Guantanamo (ironies abound; this is the military basewe refuse to relinquish to Cuba, the sovereign nation it is partof—instead choosing to pay some paltry rental fee, the check forwhich Fidel Castro has never cashed in over forty years). Here arethe details: a group of about ten kneeling, shackled men in orangejump suits, wearing orange knit caps, gloves, goggles, noise muffsover their ears and masks over their mouths in a chain-linked compoundwith barbed wire on the top of the fences.

I am going to forego the litany of images of atrocities that Iam familiar with—from Nazi concentration camps to post-gassingKurdistan—this photograph of what I assumed were human beingsin the custody of the United States government sickened me. In aninfosphere rife with American exceptionalism, I ought not have expectedthat the functionaries of the government would also be exceptedfrom the cruel demands of the so-called war on terrorism. But thatis what I expected. I don't hold the US government—whose foreignpolicy I have been pathologically critical of since I was introducedto it in my studies and in my life—to be worse than other imperialregimes, but I have never been able to accept perpetrating whatwe condemn in others.

Now that the war drums are beating relentlessly, so much so thateven I, sequestered here in front of my computer, in a well-heatedabode with ample supplies in the larder and the television disconnectedsince August, am subject to their dull pounding. I am discouragedby the public discourse and the rush (I think any sequence thatheads toward armed aggression is too fast) to war and the savagery(both manifest and latent) on all sides. I was reading Imre Kertesz'sNobel Lecture:

… suddenly came to the realization that there existsonly one reality, and that is me, my own life, this fragile giftbestowed for an uncertain time, which had been seized, expropriatedby alien forces, and circumscribed, marked up, branded — and whichI had to take back from "History," this dreadful Moloch,because it was mine and mine alone, and I had to manage it accordingly.

In truth I believe (based on what?) that Saddam Hussein is a warcriminal and that humanity would be well served by his incarcerationat Spandau or some such penal institution. And yet I am not preparedto accept the path and policies of the current administration inprosecuting a war. President Bush and his coterie approach governanceas if it were both the marketing of beer and the proselytizing oftheir rabid and zealous view of the world. A view I certainly donot share. In fact, I rather see it in a way that Kurt Vonnegutrecentlystated:

What has allowed so many PPs [psychopathic personalities] torise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that theyare so decisive. Unlike normal people, they are never filled withdoubts, for the simple reason that they cannot care what happensnext. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves!Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tapeverybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollarmissile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Cluband In These Times, and kiss my ass!

Where (presuming some vestigial sense of connection to the bodypolitic/real world) does this leave me? Disengagement is not a realoption (I believe the word 'idiot' has its origin as a descriptionof the politically uninvolved). At this moment, I have no answer.I do have these thoughts by Kertesz:

I have related this intense moment as I (had) experienced it.The source from which it sprang, like a vision, seemed somewhereoutside of me, not in me. Every artist is familiar with such moments.At one time they were called sudden inspirations. Still, I wouldn'tclassify the experience as an artistic revelation, but rather asan existential self-discovery. What I gained from it was not myart—its tools would not be mine for some time—but my life,which I had almost lost. The experience was about solitude, a moredifficult life, and the things I have already mentioned—theneed to step out of the mesmerizing crowd, out of History, whichrenders you faceless and fateless.

I expect, all hysteria aside, these will not be my last thoughtson this matter…

prisoners at guantanamo

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