Unglaublich. cosmoproletarian solidarity schreibt

Im Juli dieses Jahres hat das deutsche Innenministerium mit der Republik Kosovo die „Zurücknahme“ von als „überflüssig“ empfundenen kosovarischen Flüchtlingen vereinbart. Bis zu 24.000 Menschen, unter ihnen etwa 10.000 Roma, sollen bis Ende des Jahres abgeschoben werden. Unter den Augen der KFOR-Soldaten sind Ende der 1990`er Jahre zehntausende Roma von den nationalistischen UÇK-Banden gewaltsam zur Flucht gezwungen worden, insgesamt haben in jenen Jahren 150.000 Roma den Kosovo verlassen müssen. Diejenigen, die blieben, sind etwa in Lagern der UNHCR auf mit Blei, Cadmium und Quecksilber verseuchten Industriehalden einquartiert worden. Bis heute leben sie in ständiger Angst vor erneuten Pogromen in von der Majoritätsbevölkerung abgegrenzten Armutsenklaven, nahezu hundertprozentig vom legalen Arbeitsmarkt ausgeschlossen. (…)
. September steht in Düsseldorf die erste zentrale Sammelabschiebung von Roma in den Kosovo an. Auch der niedersächsische Innenminister drängt darauf die 4.000 Roma-Flüchtlinge aus seinem Standort-Gehege zügig abzuschieben.  (…)
Nähere Informationen hier. Verwiesen ist des weiteren auf eine Petition der VVN/BdA und des Flüchtlingsrats.

Die Taz schreibt

Der Europarat habe stets einmütig die Auffassung des UNHCR geteilt, dass eine Rückkehr für Roma in den Kosovo derzeit nicht in Frage komme. Doch bei einer Konferenz in Sevilla im Mai dieses Jahres habe die deutsche Delegation “von vornherein klargemacht, dass sie sich auf gar keinen Fall das Abschieberecht streitig machen lassen wird”. Daraufhin hätten auch die Schweiz, Schweden und Österreich erklärt, nun Roma zurückzuführen.

(Bild stammt von reflexion)

via classless kulla

Poem of the Day (Lowell)

Robert Lowell: Waking in the Blue

The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare’s-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the “mentally ill.”)

What use is my sense of humour?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbert and ginger ale–
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean’s;
the hooded night lights bring out “Bobbie,”
Porcellian ’29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig–
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.

These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.

In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor’s jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.

Christine Su-Chen Lim: Hua Song: Stories of the Chinese Diaspora

Lim, Christine Suchen (2005), Hua Song: Stories of the Chinese Diaspora, Long River Press
ISBN 1-59265-043-0

The phrase ‘Hua Song’ means ‘in praise of the Chinese community’, the book claims. This well describes the intent and basic thrust of Christine Suchen Lim’s book (or Su-chen Christine Lim), which is wonderful and disappointing at the same time. The book is a large C-format paperback, with 264 thick, multicolor pages containing countless photographs and illustrations. In fact, these are the main reason to buy Hua Song: Stories of the Chinese Diaspora. The texts are short burst of information, of brief biographies of particularly remarkable individuals of the Chinese community throughout the past centuries. Among the little text that is provided in the first place, more than half consists of long quotes from historical accounts that, in turn, quote witnesses, letters, speeches and poems. Lim provides the order and the basic historical narrative, but her voice blends into the background so that the voices of Chinese immigrants and of eyewitnesses to the development of the Chinese diaspora function like subtitles to the photographs. We as readers are invited to acquire a feeling for these events, for these people, for their hardships and the resilient spirit that made them overcome these hardships.

The brevity of the text and the intent stated in the title, which is to praise the Chinese community also means that the book is intensely affirmative. It asks for your feeling, not so much for your brain. Any questions you might have, any questioning of the dull “if you want something badly enough, you’ll achieve it”-toss, the resilient spirit fairy tales, any question about how many people were left by the wayside, died of poverty and of similar, decidedly harsh causes, run into a nicely decorated wall here. Questions like these miss the point of this celebratory book yet the sheer expanse of the book’s historical narrative invites these questions all the time, which can make for a frustrating reading experience. As with some novels or movies, it is best to completely suspend disbelief or further questions in order to enjoy what is actually offered here, the warmth of Lim’s vision, the gritty, grainy, blown-up images of Chinese immigrants in the American Wild West, in the streets of Saigon, Vietnam, shops in Milan, Italy and Paris, France, a vision, that ends with a few high profile contemporary members of the Chinese diaspora, such as the French-born Yo-Yo Ma.

So, this is not a work of fiction, but neither is it a proper work of non-fiction. Its refusal to answer any questions makes it into an meditation, generously loaded with information, on the genesis and development of the Chinese diaspora, focusing on some Asian countries, the United States and Australia, with a few nods to other countries in between. It creates a sense of how that process worked rather than a historiographically sound account of it. A section in the back lists all the sources to the quotes littering the book but at no point are we availed a peek into Lim’s use of sources, into the availability of reliable sources on what clearly used to be a divisive topic at the time, which Lim emphasizes by repeatedly reminding us of the enormous amounts of racist discrimination and hate heaped upon the Chinese immigrants. The focus of the book is on these issues, on the relationships between the Chinese communities and the non-Chinese, the focus is external, not ever internal, there is almost no internal differentiation to speak of, which, again, is due to the basic thrust of the book.

Inasmuch as external relations are concerned, the book does does not make the mistake of creating the image of a Chinese diaspora, eternally linked to a Chinese homeland and intrinsically different from their neighbors. On the contrary. Lim’s narrative is clearly straining to depict the Chinese diasporic communities as trying to fit in, as identifying with their new home countries rather than their country of origin. This is in clear contrast to such cultural stories as HBO’s Deadwood, a TV show about a gold-miner’s town in the Dakota Territories, with Chinese characters clearly marked as ‘other’, beyond even language, let alone culture. The only links established there appear to be between criminal frontiersmen and the local tong. Lim concentrates rather on Chinese immigrants as gold-diggers, as toilers in river-beds, beside or behind their white neighbors. Lim concentrates upon successful communication, upon mixing of cultures and languages, rather than upon the difference between these Chinese communities and the ‘native’ cultures.

However, she doesn’t keep silent about the xenophobic or nationalist movements that have repeatedly pushed Chinese communities out into the periphery of countries where they thought to belong, to be successfully established. Lim’s story, with its photographs of ethnically Chinese men and women, is clearly written against a backdrop of racism, of essentialising nationalist narratives. Lim may be focusing upon mixing and acceptance, but the very project of the book blends this endeavor with a reminder of cultural origins. Becoming part of a society does not mean blending into the established culture and color. As Paul Gilroy has shown in The Black Atlantic, ethnic groups who are integrated into a society change the society by doing so, and despite his speaking out, in this book but especially in a later book called Against Race, against pan-African nationalism among African Americans, for example, his work is a reminder that integration changes identities and not just those of the ones who are integrated. It is a reminder to those who, from a basic feeling of entitlement, wish to scream accusations of racism back at the victims of institutionalized racism, of the structuring of their national narratives and how they create historical facts and about groups within those narratives that are unifying rather than submissive.

Gilroy’s trope for this is the eponymous Black Atlantic, since he shows, among other things, that blacks were not just the passive objects of transatlantic shipping, they actively participated in it, as well as in important political processes. Lim does something eminently similar in her book, although in a much less concise and much less well argued fashion. She presents the reader with little more than a suggestion, leaving it to him to fill in blanks. She also leaves him with a vivid image of people on the edge of important historic developments. The pictures and the voices quoted throughout the book are worth the price of the book alone. It isn’t Lim the writer who shines here. Lim as a writer is as frustrating as she’s illuminating. But Lim, the editor, can regard this book as a great success. I will most certainly return again and again to this book, just to indulge in the visual riches it offers.

Unless, that is, it doesn’t completely fall apart first. I don’t, as a rule, comment upon binding of books, but I will spare a few words for it here. I am a careful reader of books yet this one, before I even finished reading it, came apart in my hands. After having read roughly half of it, the cover was the first to part company with the book it was meant to envelop and shelter from dirt. Various other pages have since indicated their intention to do something comparable. This is unacceptable and although I want to recommend this book very much, I cannot do so since this kind of shoddy quality should not be rewarded. If you find the book done in hardcover or by a different publisher, by all means, go for it, it’s certainly worth your while, but do evade the paperback version I read (see biblio info above), published by Long River Press.

Anna Katharina Hahn: Kürzere Tage

Hahn, Anna Katharina (2009), Kürzere Tage, Suhrkamp
ISBN 978-3-518-42057-7

Anna Katharina Hahn is a young writer, born in 1970, who has published two volumes of stories before putting out this novel which, like Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut novel The Namesake, bears the traces of a mind trained on writing in the short form, but it’s most successful in the last third where Hahn pulls together all the threads of the book to make, no, to force it to cohere. Kürzere Tage (Shorter Days) is a bleak book, a dark book that finds hope in the end, but it’s a hope born of death and destruction, a hope for something different, better, new, a hope that is fed by the utter hopelessness of the present and the past. There has to be something better in the future, in other countries, doesn’t it? And even this is a hope that is only available to a few of the book’s miserable characters. It is one of Hahn’s few strengths that she can make this dark and utter misery into a light enough read, that she uses a language that does not reflect the pain and desperation it depicts. That may be one of the reasons why some people don’t like to read writers such as Jirgl, whose dark subject matter finds expression in a language that is just as dark and violent. That makes for an amazing, convincing reading experience, but it’s also taxing. Kürzere Tage, in contrast, isn’t either of those things.

Reading it isn’t as much of an exhausting emotional and aesthetic experience, but despite being light and readable it is still able to transport content that is serious and important. That is, clearly, another reason for the huge critical success of the book (Ingo Schulze’s strange critical and popular success can be chalked down to similar reasons, although Anna Katharina Hahn is a far, far better writer than the curly-haired hack). The issues it raises, like nationalism, racism, sexism, as well as gender and class issues and the newly popular and, by now, well-explored fate of German refugees after WWII (‘Germans as victims’ is perhaps the most popular new topos in German fiction and non-fiction in this decade) assure it’s ‘significance’ in the wide field of recent publications.To cut a long story short, it is an ok book. Not great, certainly, much of the writing is sub-par and the characters are flawed as literary creations, but now and then the writing soars (or hops) and, after all, the characters serve their purpose, which is illustrating certain ideas, well enough, and the writer’s perceptiveness in regard to the city she writes about is incredible. The major flaw of the book is its cowardice or laziness: almost all of it reads as if the writer held back, tried to keep to a certain convention, to keep her book from any kind of excess, make it dark, but still pleasant, but she’s too good a writer not to show the possibilities of the book, to display what could have been.

One of the most interesting yet also most disappointing aspects of Kürzere Tage is its use of local color. The book is set in Stuttgart, a large city in south-west Germany, the capital of one of the largest and most prosperous of Germany’s 16 states, Baden-Württemberg. Politically and culturally, Baden-Württemberg has a strange mixture of progressivism and conservativism, and it has always been that way. It is the state where the first post-French Revolution revolution in what we today call Germany (Germany is a very young country, first established in 1871) has taken place, but that revolution marks also the birth of a particular insidious and persistent brand of nationalism. It is the only state where regularly mayors are elected who are members of the Green Party (Bündnis 90/ Grüne), but it is also the state that is firmly, on a statewide level, in the hands of the Christian Conservatives and was once governed by a former Nazi judge (who used to sign death warrants for deserters) and, until his death last year was a venerated and well-respected figure in Baden-Württemberg’s political culture. It is the state where rebellious and genius writers like Hölderlin, Wieland and Schiller came from, and it is the state where the staging of a play critical of Christianity raised death threats and such a furor that some cities declined staging it at all, afraid of the public reaction (death threats can have that effect…).

The state is dominated by two different (but very similar) cultural groups who even speak different (but actually very similar) dialects. Stuttgart is part of the ‘Württemberg’ part of the state which is, in many ways, more conservative than its brother, ‘Baden’. As any major city here and in the world, there is a big, traditional part of town, where the established families live, crime rates are low and rent is high, and the abandoned quarters for the poor and the immigrants. Anna Katharina Hahn makes heavy use of this briefly sketched background, and it is one of the strengths of the book that she rarely explains herself, that she uses, uncommented, words only used in the local dialect and local reference and these words, another strength, are not marked as dialect, either. This subtle, unmarked use of localized language is very interesting, but Hahn displays a very different use of dialect in other places. None of her characters habitually appear to use dialect in their everyday speech except for a few choice times when Hahn, orthographically, marks dialectical pronunciation. Since this is not always used to mark out stressful situations or particular words or anything else, the reader only associates a certain cuteness with it, a nice quirk. This is the first of many instances where Hahn reduces an interesting possibility in her writing, one which she had already been using, to an easily palatable gimmick.

Much more consistently interesting is the way Kürzere Tage employs local social structures and how they pattern Stuttgart’s citizens’ behaviors. Anna Katharina Hahn, born and raised in Stuttgart, has a fine sense of how living in the city influences issues of class and gender, but at the same time she manages to elevate these issues to a level that makes them relevant to others as well. Her characters are carefully constructed to achieve this. There is Judith, who studied art history, fell in with a student of medicine, Sören, who took her into his life of parties, debauchery and addiction, from which she tried to extricate herself, which she didn’t manage to do until it was too late, and she was made to drop out. Subsequently, she married a dull neighbor of hers, Klaus, who went on to become a university professor, while she became a stay-at-home mom. She became part of a conservative yet vaguely progressive part of society which is among the biggest support groups for the state’s Green Party. Her two sons are not sent to private nor public school, but to Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf schools. They are not exposed to television nor are they allowed any kind of excess. Just very few sweets, controlled but wholesome periods of playing in the garden and little contact with non-Waldorf kids, so as not to poison them with the unhealthy tendencies of today’s tv-based education. Those are very happy kids. No irony. It is their mother who has lapsed into a depression that seems to know no bounds. She takes medication but Klaus appears to neither know nor care. Being a housewife and not having any vigorous intellectual exercise and not working devastates her on a daily basis and has done so for the past decade. She is profoundly unhappy, yet, to outsiders, she appears to be the most happy woman on the block.

Another character, living in the same neighborhood, is Leonie, who is a working mother, with two daughters and a husband, Simon, who also works and supports her working (although his support for this is waning fast). Their marriage is interesting in a different way from Judith’s. Her husband, while rich now, is basically nouveau riche, he worked his way up from the bottom, coming from a poor neighborhood. He has since honed his speech and appearances to hide his provenance, but Leonie, who is from a rich and well-established Stuttgart family, aus gutem Hause, is still disgusted by his signs of the proletariat. There are two basic tensions in that family. One is the class tension, with Leonie constantly on edge about signs of her husband misbehaving; the other is her own background, in the sense that she is constantly racked by guilt over her working, not being ‘a good mother’, a worry that becomes even more prominent when she meets Judith and sees her well-behaved kids, which contrast with her own unruly brats. Leonie’s break with traditional gender roles is focused on as such, which already says a lot about how strict and traditional the background here is. The book itself further implicates Leonie in such issues as sexuality, adultery and even, but subtly, pedophilia, thereby casting her in the role of morally unsound, at least potentially.

These two modern women are offered a third woman by means of comparison late in the book, where, for two chapters we slip into the pov of an older woman, a neighbor of the two, someone, actually, whom we’ve already, glancingly, met. In those two chapters Hahn connects the present with the past by telling us the old woman’s story, a story of emigration from the East, marrying different men and the like. She isn’t a working woman nor has she ever been but the issues plaguing her are not much different from modern issues. She, broad-hipped but childless, has also, always, had trouble with gender expectations, she’s every bit as unhappy as the two younger woman. Her chapters are the two best chapters of the whole book. Here Hahn allows herself to indulge in her language and the result is moving, sumptuous, amazing. Although I would have embraced this kind of writing from the start, I understand the effect that Hahn aimed for in pulling out that character so late. At this point, we know so much about the two younger characters and their issues that every info here, every remembrance in from the older woman strikes the reader as a necessary insight, and it speeds up the book in surprising ways. A similar, but more pronounced effect is achieved by introducing a character called Marco, a young German from a poor background, beaten and clubbed regularly by his stepfather, a nationalist, broad-shouldered macho. Since his character and his actions provide a surprise of sorts, a change of pace, that make him a catalyst for this book’s attempt to achieve a resolution, I won’t go into many details here, but it is amazing to what extent the final third of the book calls up many issues of the previous sections of the book and connects them with other issues, like racism, and nationalism, and builds on them by introducing literary references (Sören turns out to be “Dr. Sören Rönne”, clearly a reference to Benn’s immortal creation Dr. Rönne) or by letting some emotional, cerebral issues find a concrete, direct embodiment.

Now, I do think that the last third is the best section of the book, but the end, when it comes, is terribly weak. Hope is a mere gesture for Hahn, at least in this book. The logic of the book doesn’t allow for light, or even hope. This extends even into the language Hahn is using. Apart from the two outstanding chapters I mentioned, the writing is very weak, mostly because Hahn usually employs a third person personal narrator, but shows no intent to make an aesthetically ore realistically satisfying use of this. Instead she lets slip words of a slightly different register, words that in German journalism are frequently supposed to mark colloquial speech, but are actually nothing like colloquial German speech. This lack of aesthetic determination amply reflects the way of life that the two women are trapped in. It fits the book in interesting ways, one could go into further details here, but sadly, this doesn’t make for great reading. This is the lack of resolve to think or work things through I mentioned earlier: the book could be so much better and Hahn demonstrates that she, in fact could do it better, but for whatever reasons, she doesn’t, which is a big disappointment. Language, and the ending, is its weakest point but I’m not awed by the other sections either. The ideas are good, her perceptiveness and her understanding of the milieu she writes about is great, but as a novel, Anna Katharina Hahn has not made it work.

Poem of the Day (Marcus Jackson)

Found a poem today by an extraordinary young poet called Marcus Jackson in an oldish edition of the New Yorker (July 21, 2008). Typed it up and here it is

Marcus Jackson: Mary at the Tattoo Shop

She counted her money
before we went in,
avenue beside us anxious
with Friday-evening traffic.
Both fourteen, we shared a Newport,
its manila butt salty to our lips.
Inside, from a huge book
of designs and letter styles,
she chose to get “MARY”
in a black, Old English script
on the back of her neck.
The guy who ran the shop
leaned over her for forty minutes
with a needled gun
that buzzed loud
as if trying to get free.
He took her twenty-five dollars
then another ten
for being under age.
Back outside, the sun
dipped behind rooftops,
about to hand the sky over to night.
Lifting her hazel hair,
she asked me to rub
some A&D ointment
on her new tattoo;
my finger glistened in salve
as I reached for her swollen name.

It also said he was preparing his first book for publication. I’m looking forward to it.