Every season brings welcome tidings of the largesse that I am soon
to benefit from by way of books sent to me by book publishers. Mostly
this comes in the form of catalogues. Occasionally cleverly or handsomely
designed, this cornucopia of literature provides hope, at least
in the short term, of an interesting and radiant future. This Spring
(it's already Spring /Summer) has not been much different. Many
good books, some by accomplished authors, some by lucky novices
who have managed to win the publisher's lottery, will be on their
way to me.
One catalogue, in particular, stopped me in my tracks. The New
Press, that honorable house that Andre Schiffrin founded in 1990
after he was somewhat unceremoniously ousted from his sinecure at
Pantheon Books, featured on its cover a harrowingand to me a physically
nauseating photograph (not credited) of the "prisoners"
being held at Guantanamo (ironies abound; this is the military base
we refuse to relinquish to Cuba, the sovereign nation it is part
ofinstead choosing to pay some paltry rental fee, the check for
which Fidel Castro has never cashed in over forty years). Here are
the details: a group of about ten kneeling, shackled men in orange
jump suits, wearing orange knit caps, gloves, goggles, noise muffs
over their ears and masks over their mouths in a chain-linked compound
with barbed wire on the top of the fences.
I am going to forego the litany of images of atrocities that I
am familiar withfrom Nazi concentration camps to post-gassing
Kurdistanthis photograph of what I assumed were human beings
in the custody of the United States government sickened me. In an
infosphere rife with American exceptionalism, I ought not have expected
that the functionaries of the government would also be excepted
from the cruel demands of the so-called war on terrorism. But that
is what I expected. I don't hold the US governmentwhose foreign
policy I have been pathologically critical of since I was introduced
to it in my studies and in my lifeto be worse than other imperial
regimes, but I have never been able to accept perpetrating what
we condemn in others.
Now that the war drums are beating relentlessly, so much so that
even I, sequestered here in front of my computer, in a well-heated
abode with ample supplies in the larder and the television disconnected
since August, am subject to their dull pounding. I am discouraged
by the public discourse and the rush (I think any sequence that
heads toward armed aggression is too fast) to war and the savagery
(both manifest and latent) on all sides. I was reading Imre Kertesz's
… suddenly came to the realization that there exists
only one reality, and that is me, my own life, this fragile gift
bestowed for an uncertain time, which had been seized, expropriated
by alien forces, and circumscribed, marked up, branded and which
I 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 war
criminal and that humanity would be well served by his incarceration
at Spandau or some such penal institution. And yet I am not prepared
to accept the path and policies of the current administration in
prosecuting a war. President Bush and his coterie approach governance
as if it were both the marketing of beer and the proselytizing of
their rabid and zealous view of the world. A view I certainly do
not share. In fact, I rather see it in a way that Kurt Vonnegut
What has allowed so many PPs [psychopathic personalities] to
rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they
are so decisive. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with
doubts, for the simple reason that they cannot care what happens
next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves!
Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap
everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar
missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club
and In These Times, and kiss my ass!
Where (presuming some vestigial sense of connection to the body
politic/real world) does this leave me? Disengagement is not a real
option (I believe the word 'idiot' has its origin as a description
of 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 somewhere
outside of me, not in me. Every artist is familiar with such moments.
At one time they were called sudden inspirations. Still, I wouldn't
classify the experience as an artistic revelation, but rather as
an existential self-discovery. What I gained from it was not my
artits tools would not be mine for some timebut my life,
which I had almost lost. The experience was about solitude, a more
difficult life, and the things I have already mentionedthe
need to step out of the mesmerizing crowd, out of History, which
renders you faceless and fateless.
I expect, all hysteria aside, these will not be my last thoughts
on this matter…