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Archive for March 2005

Illiberal Interventionism

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For all the banterers on the topic of liberal interventionism recently, here’s exactly what some of us were worried about… The fact that the cart led the horse, that the interventionism by far outpaced the liberalism… From Newsweek this week:

Prewar Iraq was a brutal dictatorship, but it had a good record on women’s rights, at least by the standards of the region. Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party professed equality and, on many social issues, practiced it. Women could divorce their husbands, inherit property, even keep their children after a breakup. Women commonly held professional jobs, even high-ranking ones. They had equal educational opportunities, and rarely wore head coverings in the cities, except in heavily Shia areas. But the Baath Party was largely a Sunni Arab institution, and the progressive status of women wasn’t shared in Shia areas to nearly the same degree. The Shia, though numerically greater, were largely disenfranchised under Saddam; now they’ll dominate the government. "The Baath regime, despite their thuggery and terror, they did well by women," says Iraqi-American Amal Rassam of Freedom House, an advocacy group based in the United States.

Already activists have seen changes for the worse that they hadn’t
imagined possible. Attendance by female students at schools and
universities is in decline, according to a upcoming report by Freedom
House, which will be released in May. "Women I’ve met in Baghdad tell
me they now have to wear the higab [Islamic headscarf] when
they go out, for fear of harassment," says Rassam, who wrote the Iraqi
section of the report. Dalia, a married 28-year-old, describes how she
was walking home about six months ago in Baghdad when three men pulled
up beside her and berated her for wearing jeans and a T shirt. "I am
Christian and not Muslim," she told them. One of the men jumped out and
tried to rip her T shirt off, shouting, "Saddam’s time has changed.
Everyone must respect Islam." Fortunately, bystanders intervened. "In
Iraq we’ve lived a modern life for more than half a century," says
Yannar Mohammed, head of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.
"This is not a conservative Islamic society like the West portrays us.
We’re surprised by the rise of political Islam."

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March 5, 2005 at 12:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

James on Wells on the Lower Middle Class

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Found all this interesting stuff in a excerpt from David Lodge’s intro to a new edition of H.G. Wells’s Kipps in today’s Guardian.

From a letter to Henry James upon publication of the novel:

You have for the very
first time treated the English "lower middle class", etc. without the
picturesque, the grotesque, the fantastic and romantic interference, of
which Dickens, eg, is so misleadingly, of which even George Eliot is so
deviatingly, full. You have handled its vulgarity in so scientific and
historic a spirit, and seen the whole thing all in its own strong light.

Lodge thinks that James must not have read the novel all that carefully. But maybe he did. Lodge cites the following passage from the novel…

‘The stupid little tragedies of these clipped and limited lives!

I think of them lying unhappily there in the darkness, my vision
pierces the night … Above them, brooding over them … there is a
monster, a lumpish monster … It is matter and darkness, it is the
anti-soul, it is the ruling power of this land, Stupidity. My Kippses
live in its shadow … I have laughed, and I laugh at these two people;
I have sought to make you laugh … But I see through the darkness the
souls of my Kippses as they are … as things like the bodies of
little, ill-nourished, ailing, ignorant children – children who feel
pain, who are naughty and muddled and suffer, and do not understand
why. And the claw of this Beast rests upon them!’

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March 5, 2005 at 12:25 am

Posted in literature

On Leaving New York II

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When I was in high school, we would read the Village Voice
classified ads and talk a lot of crap about how we were going to forget college
(never an option, really) and get one of the $700 a month places in the West
Village and write poetry or whatever.


By the time I got back in the area, after college, there
weren’t any $700 a month places left. Not by a long shot. The Giuliani era had
begun… The streets were suddenly clean and safe… The City had changed.


My wife and I lived at first outside of the City, in a
distant suburb, because that’s where I was going to grad school. We’d go in to
look at the museums, hang around a little bit. And then we started to have
friends that lived there… A fellow grad student’s dead grandmother was a famous
artist in her time and had a retrospective at the Whitney, whose opening we
were invited to, whose after-party we attended. A brighter life than we’d ever
imagined – we were jealous, determined. We’d head in and have dinner and drinks
but had to make the last train home. Everything was so tempting. And so we
moved to Brooklyn… A tiny little apartment not far from
the Brooklyn Heights promenade, where, just as I had in my youth, we’d stare at the City from afar,
but also from the City itself…


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March 4, 2005 at 2:30 am

Posted in Personal

On Leaving New York I

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I grew up in New Jersey. New York City is harder to get to than you might think from Jersey, especially when you’re a teenager. Chicago’s got no rivers to cross, and Boston’s rather quaint. In Los Angeles, there’s no there there, so I imagine that the deal’s rather different…

You can’t – or at least don’t – drive into the City. Parking is outrageous, and anyway, you’re intimidated by the traffic patterns, the difficulties of navigation when you’re used to a relatively sleeply small town and the interstates that run to other sleepy, small towns.

You can always take the train, and we did sometimes. It seems crazy to me now, but we used to cut school, calling in sick, and take the train to Hoboken (didn’t go all the way to Penn Station back in the day), and then take the PATH train to 9th street in the village. Still brings back memories when I pass the entrance of the 9th street station, and the deli across the street where we used to buy our beer, which we’d drink out of brown paper bags in Washington Square Park (these were the days B.G. – Before Giuliani – when you could do such things…)

We’d hang around the Village for awhile and then head up to Central Park, in particular Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota where (our hero) Lennon was shot and killed. (The other day I found myself waiting for the light to change at the corner of 72nd and CPW standing right next to Yoko and Sean…) When we got there we’d smoke cigarettes or pot if we had any, or drink what was left of our stash from the deli downtown.

Sometimes we’d go to the Met, but I don’t really remember that all that well…

But most of the time we stayed in Jersey. Even so, almost every weekend we’d head out to the overlook in South Mountain reservation in West Orange, where you can see the city in the distance. Sometimes we brought girls with us, sometimes we drank, but we always talked a lot of shit about how soon we were going to live there, in the City, and how we’d never leave once we got there…

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March 4, 2005 at 2:07 am

Posted in Personal

Preemptive Blogging II

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James Wolcott’s got a great example of preemptive blogging up today, where he asks us to watch for an uptick in the chatter of/about Hezbollah in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s your homework assignment, boys and girls. Study cable news in
the coming months, if you can stand the stomach upset, and see how many
segments are devoted to the emerging threat posed by Hezbollah, and
what America must do to protect itself. Particularly what-if scenarios
about Hezbollah obtaining WMDs, and what they could do to American
cities. I suspect we’ll see quite an uptick.

Wolcott seems to see this rolling towards Iran, but I’m wondering about the preoccupation with Syria in the last week or so. What, exactly, does Syria have to gain by way of the Lebanon assassination and the bombing in Israel, just when everything was "going so well"? If you were a mideast pariah state, is this the time that you’d pick to launch a quixotic region-wide terror campaign? Seriously?

Maybe this is what that unnamed Bush aide meant by "we create our own reality."

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality- judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

This dude was right out of Heart of Darkness central casting, no? Speaking of which, I handed out these two passages from Said’s Culture and Imperialism today in class. Think they’re, um, timely.

Let us return to Conrad and to what I have been referring to
as the second, less imperialistically assertive possibility offered by Heart of Darkness. Recall once again
that Conrad sets the story on the deck of a boat anchored in the Thames; as
Marlow tells his story the sun sets, and by the end of the narrative the heart
of darkness has reappeared in England; outside the group of Marlow’s listeners
lies an undefined and unclear word. Conrad sometimes seems to want to fold that
world into the imperial metropolitan discourse represented by Marlow, but by
virtue of his own dislocated subjectivity he resists the effort and succeeds in
so doing, I have always believed, largely through formal devices. Conrad’s
self-consciously circular narrative forms draw attention to themselves as
artificial constructions, encouraging us to sense the potential of a reality
that seemed inaccessible to imperialism, just beyond its control, and that only
after Conrad’s death in 1924 acquired a substantial presence (28-9)

Yet the whole point of what Kurtz and Marlow talk about is
in fact imperial mastery, white European over
black Africans, and their ivory, civilization over the primitive dark continent. By accentuating the discrepancy
between the official “idea” of empire and the remarkably disorienting actuality
of Africa, Marlow unsettles the reader’s sense not only
of the very idea of empire, but of something more basic, reality itself. For if
Conrad can show that all human activity depends on controlling a radically
unstable reality to which words approximate only by will or convention, the
same is true of empire, of venerating the idea, and so forth. With Conrad,
then, we are in a world being made and unmade more or less all the time. What
appears stable and secure – the policeman at the corner, for instance – is only
slightly more secure than the white men in the jungle, and requires the same
continuous (but precarious) triumph over an all-pervading darkness, which by
the end of the tale is show to be the same in London and in Africa (29).

Great stuff…


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March 3, 2005 at 12:15 am

Posted in Current Affairs