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Archive for June 30th, 2006

asymmetrical

Via James Wolcott, take a look at Virgina Tilley’s piece in Counterpunch:

Nevertheless, politics should not be the greatest international concern. For over in Gaza, one appalling act must now eclipse all thoughts of “road maps” or “mutual gestures”: on Wednesday, Israeli war planes repeatedly bombed and utterly demolished Gaza’s only power plant. About 700,000 of Gaza’s 1.3 million people now have no electricity, and word is that power cannot be restored for six months.

It is not the immediate human conditions created by this strike that are monumental. Those conditions are, of course, bad enough. No lights, no refrigerators, no fans through the suffocating Gaza summer heat. No going outside for air, due to ongoing bombing and Israel’s impending military assault. In the hot darkness, massive explosions shake the cities, close and far, while repeated sonic booms are doubtless wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: smashing windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults, old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, or laptops (for the few who have them), and so no way to get news of how long this nightmare might go on.

But this time, the situation is worse than that. As food in the refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas. When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking. No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread the staples Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)

And yet, even all this misery is overshadowed by a grimmer fact: no water. Gaza’s public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps, too, are dry. No sewage system. And again, word is that the electricity is out for at least six months.

The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage, due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And people will soon have neither.

Drinking unpurified water means sickness, even cholera. If cholera breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation. And the hospitals and clinics aren’t functioning, either, because there is no electricity.

Finally, people can’t leave. None of the neighboring countries have resources to absorb a million desperate and impoverished refugees: logistically and politically, the flood would entirely destabilize Egypt, for example. But Palestinians in Gaza can’t seek sanctuary with their relatives in the West Bank, either, because they can’t get out of Gaza to get there. They can’t even go over the border into Egypt and around through Jordan, because Israel will no longer allow people with Gaza identification cards to enter the West Bank. In any case, a cordon of Palestinian police are blocking people from trying to scramble over the Egyptian border–and war refugees have tried, through a hole blown open by militants, clutching packages and children.

In short, over a million civilians are now trapped, hunkered in their homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect, within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.

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June 30, 2006 at 10:52 pm

Posted in war

distraction

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So I’ve been writing a ton this summer, and it’s not a new thing but when I write I constantly click open the rss reader to siphon it down as it fills. It is one of my many, many bad writing habits. And unlike some of my bad habits, which are a bit edge-sharpening, give me a little burst of clarity and fixity as I circle and stream along, the feeds are purely distracting. When I’m lucky, it’s a single sweep through, no links followed. When unlucky, I get caught up in it, end up leaving comments somehwhere or ordering books from Amazon etc. When I’m shit out of luck and concentration, I’ll blog about something that I’ve read. (You might notice I’ve been posting way more than usual of late…)

Addictive. I’ve always been a bit of an info-freak, newspaper fetishist, trend gnawer, whatever. But rss is a whole nother story. After, what’s it been, two years or so, my collection of feeds is heading toward some sort of tipping point where I’m provided constantly and instantaneously with everything that I have to read right now. And it takes a toll on the work…

…I mean, I guess it takes a toll. It should, right? I’ve already mentioned my complete inability to read Actual Books this summer. But I’ve written quite a lot, am relatively happy with what I”ve written, etc, etc…

Ok – the point: during my writing time, quite a bit of mental energy is spent holding the world (in the shape of these feeds) out. They have nothing to do with what I’m working on, and I’ve got this reflex developing that

A kind of banally deconstructive question: How is my current work shaped by what I spend so much effort excluding? And what would work that embraces rather than walls out distraction look like?

A few Benjamin cites to help out. On the one hand, from “The Work of Art” essay:

The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed. It cannot be arrested. Duhamel, who detests the film and knows nothing of its significance, though something of its structure, notes this circumstance as follows: “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.” (Georges Duhamel, *Scenes de la vie future*, Paris, 1930, p. 52.) The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind. By means of its technical structure, the film has taken the physical shock effect out of the wrappers in which Dadaism had, as it were, kept it inside the moral shock effect.

But on the other hand, from “The Storyteller”:

Every morning brings us news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it. Leskov is the master at this (compare pieces like “The Deception” and “The White Eagle”). The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the events is not forced upon the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.

(BTW: do you see the funny turn here, so characteristic? We expect the news to be disjointed, not the story, right? But then it is the story that lacks the connective tissue that runs between events….

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June 30, 2006 at 12:38 am

Posted in benjamin, blogs, distraction