Sasha Marianna Salzmann: Ausser Sich

Salzmann, Sasha Marianna (2017), Ausser Sich, Suhrkamp
ISBN 978-3-518-42762-0

This was not, strictly speaking, the next review I wanted to write, but after I finished it this morning I was so impressed, so genuinely stunned by this book that I decided to review it right away. This is one of the best books I read all year, and almost certainly one of the best three books I read that were published in 2017. Sasha Marianna Salzmann wrote a torrential novel about abuse, history, identity, sexuality, family, I mean God knows what. So it has a few edges that could be sanded off, and maybe it’s a 600 page novel trapped in the body of a 400 page novel, with the author maybe rushing things too much at times, but those are minor complaints faced with such accomplishment on so many other levels. In Ausser Sich, Salzmann tells a story of fluid identities, of twins who lose each other, of gender and sex, of what it means to be Russian, Jewish, German, Turkish. She sketches, with extraordinary skill, the Soviet past of several couples, offering a view of identity that is both broad and delivered with narrative aplomb, and at the same time focused on specific faultlines, lines that connect and disconnect the families. It’s a fantastic book about language, and how language shapes our sense of self, of culture, of history. And all of this written in a style that is just the right amount of uncontrolled, provides just the right measure of disjuncture and madness. This is a book you want, you need to read. And translate.

This is Salzmann’s first novel, but she’s no novice at writing. Her background is in theatre, and it shows in the roiling volcano of language here. The majority of the book would work extremely well as a theatrical monologue. Salzmann wrote most of the book from the perspective of Alissa, twin sister of Anton, children of Jewish Russian immigrants, and that voice basically explodes on the page. The author isn’t as good when switching points of view, other characters don’t sound appreciably different or different enough, but then, the book doesn’t aim for realism, as much as it dances circles around the idea of simple representational realism. In fact, Salzmann masterfully zooms in and out of ideas of realism, and metafiction and magical realism. This becomes clear towards the end. Early in the book, a character reads a novel by Aglaja Veteranyi, and I have noted the importance of that excellent writer for German-language immigrant literature before. Later, we meet a character called Aglaja in Istanbul who gets injured during the Gezi riots. That Aglaja shares many biographical traits with the real Aglaja, but we are never invited to speculate about some overlap – Aglaja Veteranyi killed herself in 2002, while the Gezi Park protests took place in 2013. And yet – the novel connects this Aglaja to all its major characters, and goes out of its way to describe her biography. This comes after a lengthy exploration of gender fluidity, and is in a sense the final nail in the coffin of reading the novel as plain, if energetically told, realism.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that some parts of the novel rely on, and, really, specifically demand of us to read them as realism. Those parts mostly concern the historical portions of the book. Salzmann is very clear about the limits that patriarchy, sexism and antisemitism played in limiting the possibilities of her characters in Soviet Russia. Her history is not disinterested recounting of chronology – almost as a kind of contrast to what she describes in the book’s present, her history is one where paths have to be followed, where roles do not allow for any divergence. And the limits placed on people are twofold – limits we place on ourselves, as men, as women, as gentiles, as Jews. And limits others place on us, in the same roles. There are small shifts that are allowed, brief respite from pressures. There is a kind of lecturing here, or an implied one, and this would not work unless we can rely on the book’s accuracy, broadly speaking, in matters of historical realism. And yet at the same time, Salzmann doesn’t shy away from toying with fictionality. She connects her characters to the broader movements of history, offering snippets of discourse on history as narrative, rather than as iron-clad fact, including the Grand Narrative of Stalinism. What’s more – Salzmann ties in her constant discourse on the role of language on the construction of identity in these sections, suggesting, for example, that the lack of gendered professional nouns helped usher in generations of hardened, tough women in postwar soviet Russia.

All the historical diversions and the comments on language, they are all incidental to the main storyline, they broaden and buttress its concerns but they are not pe se part of it. Sometimes, Ausser Sich reads like a pond of invention. And that fits the main storyline. Alissa and Anton are twins, Jewish-Russian immigrants in Germany. The book isn’t enormously interested in the Russian immigrant experience in Germany, we just get a few broad sketches here and there, mostly about the difference between being seen as Russian or Jewish, and about the barriers thrown up by language. What we do get is the immense sense of isolation the twins feel, and the violence they undergo at the hands of their fellow high school students. This isolation and violence then pushes them to embrace each other in a way that eventually turns sexual and towards incest. Salzmann’s language is at its very best in describing violence and sexuality, enormously so. Another book I read this weekend that I considered reviewing (and still might) is Leslie Jamison’s The Gin Closet, a very mixed kind of book. In it there’s also incest, and it’s noted almost in passing: in a flat tone, using the heavy weight of the term “incest” itself to ground the situation. Salzmann never uses the word, but she describes an unusually tense connection between two people.

And of course, all that leads into the present of the book and Alissa’s search for her twin, a desperate, grasping search that lands her in Istanbul. Indeed, most of the book’s plot is set in Istanbul, which is maybe not what you’d expect from a Russian immigrant writing a novel about Russian immigrants to Germany. Istanbul, pre-Gezi park crackdown, is portrayed as a place of possibilities, of fluidity. This is the present – and it contrasts with the past’s rigidity. Salzmann is very clear that gender is not something inherent, it’s something external, a role that you can take or leave, although in most oppressing situations, you are not, indeed, free to take or leave it. But the Istanbul, as portrayed, does have this possibility, of changing pronouns, of transforming gender. There’s a Turkish man who comes out as being in this process of transformation, and Alissa herself, deprived of her brother, starts taking testosterone shots and take on masculinity. Salzmann shows us the process as a process, as a transformational moment, chosen as an encounter with pressures, with the outside, a negotiation of identity. At the same time, it is no light switch back and forth. It is a transformation of the body into something new, something different. At some point, Alissa discusses her fluid identity as a weakness, her inability to take up a perspective that is truly, unmistakably hers. Identity, she tells us, involves reading – and reconstituting-  signs and narratives. Negotiating reality, narrative and imagination.

And that is what literature does, good literature that is, isn’t it. This brings us back to the way the book uses Aglaja Veteranyi’s name and biography. Veteranyi’s complicated life and heritage are offered as representative of a certain kind of cosmopolitan fluidity, of the way all our heritages are mixed, or not all our heritages, but the heritage of those of us who are immigrants, complicated people, fluid, searching, maybe lost. My own heritage is mixed Russian, Kazakh, German, Hungarian, and Ukrainian. I’ve been writing about my own family for a few months now, and it’s sometimes difficult, and complicated. Who are you, when you’re in between languages and nations? Maybe my own fluid identity is why I find Salzman’s book so compelling. But even outside of personal bias and preference, Salzmann’s novel packs a punch. This is a book about identity and nationality that evades easy answers, or rather that offers multiple answers, complicated by the reality of our bodies and limit. It was up for a German Book Award and it’s honestly inconceivable why it didn’t win. There are minor flaws here, certainly, but this is one of the best books I read all year, and the only way for this author is up. What’s more, it should be a shoo-in for translation. Salzmann’s language is literary and skilled, but almost without any specific Germany idiosyncrasies that would make it harder to translate. Jirgl, among German contemporary novelists, would come to mind as the opposite of that.

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Nobel Prize 2015: My picks.

So originally I planned on mostly just reposting my old 2014 picks (because I, uh, picked wrong, as always), but I did end up modifying them. I mean, look, I have become very impatient with the insistence of the Academy to elect good-but-not-great white or European writers. I always found that the best attitude is not “who should win it instead” – but “has the winner deserved it?” Because the pool of excellent & important writers who cannot all win it, is just too large. And opinions vary. I wrote a longish piece on Modiano in the wake of his win, you can read it here. He’s very good, but he’s just not Nobel material. None of his work really stands out from the larger body of French postwar literature that examines collective and personal memory. The best writer of the bunch is probably Claude Simon, with Jorge Semprún a close second, and writers like Jean Rouaud and Patrick Modiano following behind that. Simon is an undeniably great writer (a very deserving Nobel winner), and while Modiano is not following in his footsteps, following a different literary lineage, I would argue he’s not appreciably different enough to warrant a Nobel Prize while other writers languish. A French Nobel prize – how, after the already dubious (but at least interesting) election of Le Clèzio, could it not have gone to Yves Bonnefoy? Or 91 year old Michel Tournier, whose best work far outstrips Modiano’s best? Or if French language, why not Assia Djebar? She passed away this year and it’s a shame she never won Literature’s most prestigious award.

And while we discuss whether another white or European writer should win it (Banville, Roth, Fosse, Oates are among the names I heard over the past weeks), we hear nothing about writers like Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta, who writes excellent novels about the female experience in a country between colonialism and modernity. She’s smart, good, popular and significant and yet people dare to name Philip Roth as a deserving writer. Or how about Guyanese novelist, poet and essayist Wilson Harris. Harris is 94 years old, and has not won a Nobel prize yet despite having written an important and inarguably excellent (and extensive) body of work that’s insightful, experimental, political and addictively readable. Why wasn’t he picked yet or why isn’t he at least being prominently discussed, especially since it felt a few years ago as if the academy was doing a tour of all the important writers that were on the brink of dying, giving the prize to deserving and old writers like Pinter, Lessing and Tranströmer. They are the kind of significant, excellent writers that we sometimes think must already have won it. In general, as I pointed out last year, the award appeared to settle into a “sure why not” pattern of boring but unobjectionable writers.

And yet, much as I liked my ‘observed’ pattern, Modiano does not fit it. If he died unrecognized there would have been no outcry about it, nor was there a general clamoring for his election, as there was for writers like Vargas Llosa. In fact, a different pattern, less acceptable, emerges now. These selections have been so safe, so European-friendly that I’m hesitant to be happy about rumors that László Krasznahorkai, a truly, deeply, excellent writer may win the award. He would be more than deserving, but at this point, the award needs to look at other continents, at other cultures, at other kinds of writers. And by that I don’t mean Haruki Murakami. In lieu of ranting about him, I direct you to this piece written by my good friend Jake Waalk on this blog. So let’s go on to my picks.

ONE  My #1 wish every year is to give it to a poet, being a poet myself and writing a dissertation on poetry. I also think the genre is criminally underrepresented. So in first place is poetry, and the three living poets that I consider most deserving. I used to put Bei Dao on the list (and not just because he’s charming in person), but two years after Mo Yan’s win, that’s not going to happen. My list of poets tends to be headlined by John Ashbery who I consider not only to be an absolutely excellent poet, but whose influence both on American poetry of his time, and on our reading of older poetry is importand and enduring. Given the circumstances outlined in my introduction, however, if an American poet makes the cut, I would vote for Nathaniel Mackey. Mackey is an African-American poet who has just won the Bollingen Prize, the single most prestigious award for poetry in the US. His work is powerful, experimental, moving and important. He draws from Modernist traditions and from postmodern impulses – but really, at this point, he has become a tradition in himself. Jazz, biography, politics and the limits of poetry are among his topics. There are other influential experimental US poets who are still alive, but few can match Mackey for his mastery of language and his inventiveness in poetry and prose. Mackey would be an excellent and deserving pick. A close/equal second for me is Syrian poet Adonis/Adunis (Adūnīs) whose work, as far as I read it in French, English and German translation, offers poetry that is both lyrical and intellectually acute. He is a politically passionate poet whose sensibilities prevent him from writing bland political pamphlets. What’s more, he is critically important to Arabic poetry as a scholar, teacher and editor. In a region, where weapons often speak louder that words, and words themselves are enlisted to provide ammunition rather than pleasure, Adonis’s work provides both clarity as well as lyrical wellspring of linguistic nourishment. His work in preserving and encouraging a poetic culture in a war torn environment is not just admirable and fantastically accomplished, it is also worth being recognized and highlighted. In a time of religious fights and infights, of interpretations and misinterpretations, his work engages the language of the Qu’ran inventively, critically, beautifully, offering a poetic theology of modern man. A final intriguing option would be Ko Un. I have read his work in English translation, but I don’t read Korean, and can’t really discuss him. I find him intriguing and interesting, but there’s no way I can adequately discuss him. Selfishly, I would root for him winning just to read more essays on his work.

TWO Like poetry, nonfiction which has not had a winner in decades. So as in the previous case, I will mention more than one here. #1 surely should be Umberto Eco. While he’s also a novelist, and perhaps more widely known as such, his work in the fringes of philosophy and in literary criticism and theory is significant, wide ranging and influential. I don’t think any other writer as important and accomplished and widely read in his field is still alive. What’s more, his work is fantastically well written, at least in English translation. Similar things apply to my other pick in this category, Hilary Putnam. I always thought Stanley Cavell should be considered, with his wide range from philosophy to literary and film criticism, but as long as Hilary Putnam is still around, a nonfiction Nobel that is not awarded to him or Eco would be upsetting, Putnam’s increasingly mystical examinations of reality and language are blindingly well written and incredibly influential, even among the many people disagreeing with him.

THREE Meanwhile, the novelist that I most want to win the prize is Ngugi wa Thiong’o. There’s his literary skill. His early novels written in English, as well as the more allegorical Wizard of the Crow and the recent, clear-eyed and powerful memoirs, all of this is written by an excellent writer. He moves between genres, changing techniques and eventually even languages, all with impressive ease. So he’s a very good writer, but he’s also politically significant. As the literary conscience of a tumultuous Kenya, he highlights struggles, the oppressed and shines a light on how his young country deals with history and power. In the course of his literary and cultural activism he was eventually imprisoned for a while by Kenyatta’s successor. After his release he was forced into exile. Yet through all this, he continued, like Adonis, to work with and encourage cultural processes in his home country. Starting with his decision, in the late 1970s, to stop writing in English, instead using Gĩkũyũ and translating his books into English later. He supported and helped create and sustain a native literary culture that used native languages and interrogated political processes in Kenya. A cultural, politcal and linguistic conscience of his home country, it’s hard to come up with a living writer who better fits the demands of the academy. Of the writers I root for, this one is the only one who would also fit the “obvious choice” pattern of recent decisions. Wilson Harris, who I mentioned in my introduction, is a better writer in my opinion, but would be more of a stretch for the academy.

Four So the fourth pick I am least sure. If a white/European novelist were to win it, after all, who would I be least upset about? There are a couple of excellent/important writers who are too young to win it, among them Romanian writer Mircea Cărtărescu and Russian emigré novelist Mikhail Shishkin. Juan Goytisolo appears to be worthy, but I haven’t read his work enough to have an opinion worth sharing. Similarly, due to accessibility problems, I have only read parts of the work of Gerald Murnane who is unbelievably great. But older parts of his work are out of print, and newer parts have not been published outside of Australia yet. First book, no, first page of his I read I could not believe how good he is, but, again, mostly not been able to read him. So who? Let me pick 2. There’s László Krasznahorkai who is pretty much universally recognized for his excellence. He draws on an (Austro-)Hungarian tradition of paranoia and darkness, but spins it into an intellectually brilliant and musically devastating form that nobody else can achieve right now. But the death of Siegfried Lenz, who was more than deserving of the award, reminded me of the now best German living active novelist: Reinhard Jirgl. A disciple of Heiner Müller, Jirgl rose from being a mechanic and stage hand to winning German literature’s most prestigious award, the Büchner Preis. Jirgl’s work, originally prevented from being published in the GDR, initially was highly influenced by Müller, whose mixture of stark physicality, and strenuously literary, even stiff, language pervades Jirgl’s Genealogie des Tötens, a book that collects his earliest manuscripts that were prevented from being published in the GDR. Another influence on that book, and more, on his later work, is Arno Schmidt. In his later work, Jirgl interrogates impotence and the violence of social relationships and injustice. His language is literary and inventive, and as his work progresses, he increasingly changes and manipulates the limits of the form of the literary novel, by offering Cortázar-like shortcuts through the sequence of the novel (Abtrünnig) or by engaging with the genre of science fiction (Nichts von euch auf Erden). Quietly, he has become part of the intellectual, historical and moral conscience of Germany, a country increasingly unafraid (again) of waging war on others, and a country that is trying to exculpate itself from its awful early 20th century history. Jirgl has won almost every German prize imaginable but his powerful and gorgeously written work has not found recognition outside of Germany and France. (ISBN)

Patrick Modiano: La place de l’étoile

Modiano, Patrick (1968, édition revue et corrigée 1995), La place de l’étoile, Gallimard.
ISBN 978-2-07-036698-9

DSC_1552After Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, French friends of mine expressed their satisfaction on Facebook. Finally! A readable and popular writer winning a prize infamous for rewarding the difficult and thorny. In my opinion, they couldn’t have meant the recent history of the prize (cf. my rant here), but then, writers from other literatures are often regarded as difficult by that fact alone, regardless of how well their books read. And over the past 4 or 5 decades, few literary writers have been as consistently and convincingly French as Modiano, whose vast and somewhat repetitive oeuvre offers small treasures of memory, walking down French memory lane. Small episodes, misremembered, identities hidden and revealed, the past inescapable but sometimes difficult to retrieve. Drawing on such sources as Maurice Halbwachs and Henri Bergson and incessantly commenting upon French literature and culture, he has become more than a mainstay of French literature. There is practically no newspaper that has not run an interview with him, including such venerable literary magazines as Paris-Match. Documentaries follow him through small French streets as he rediscovers places of French memory. He is that rare creature: the literary writer who sells well, gets great reviews and all this without the sophomoric need to shock his audience like Amis fils or Philip Roth do. A comfortable, popular writer, comforting the French audience. Can you feel me slowly dying of boredom?

DSC_0242However, none of these descriptions, apart from those dealing with memory, apply to Modiano’s debut trilogy, and especially to his explosive debut La place de l’étoile, an unbelievable fever dream of history and literature, of memory and invention, of being Jewish and being French, “JUIF français,” as its narrator exclaims near the end of this novel. I have never read a novel like this one, a novel dealing with the aftermath of the Shoah, and with the resulting challenges to identities. The two books that come close in some small way are Modiano’s own follow-up efforts La Ronde de Nuit and Les Boulevards de Ceinture, both of which are less heated and angry, less over the top playful and insistent, but they can be seen as continuations on themes brought forth by La place de l’étoile. Modiano’s debut is not just a postmodern novel that combines parody and pastiche and piles reference on reference, it’s also clearly powered by the pain and the difficulties of Jewish identity after the second world war. Playful novels taking on the Shoah abound, but books both deeply steeped in a knowledge of literature and history, and fueled by a need to belong and to find an identity in a country that participated and supported the murder of Jews. I was not happy with an overall bland writer like Modiano being deemed nobélisable, but his debut novel is truly singular and masterful. It’s so harsh and poisonous that it was not translated into German until 2010. A great book. Read it.

DSC_0225The plot of Modiano’s novel is difficult to summarize, not just because so much action is crammed into ~200 pages, but because much of it is contradictory and strange. As Charles O’Keefe pointed out in his slightly odd study of Modiano, there are “problems of understanding at the mimetic level” – Modiano’s main concern is intellectual, not narratological. There are whole sections whose main purpose is to provide a pastiche of this or that writer, or to summarize this or that cultural phenomenon, sections that pretend to provide a part of the story. The narrator is Raphael Schlemilovich who may or may not have lived during the Occupation of France, who may or may not have worked with famous collaborators and antisemites, and who may or may not have been the lover of Eva Braun. The postwar history of Schlemilovich is more firm. In it, Modiano’s protagonist makes a big inheritance, travels France and Europe with his father, a Jewish-American businessman, opens at least one brothel and traffics white, pure-bred French women to become prostitutes in others. He becomes a student and a teacher, a writer and a collector of books. There’s a lot of life to be lived and in a dramatic turns of events, eventually, he ends up in Israel. Explaining any of the plot or telling you how one thing leads to the other would be to spoil your fun. Trust me, it’s a wild ride – and one not entirely interested in consistency. As Ora Avni has said, “literature, like dreams, is not subject to the same logical imperative to choose from among several contradictory alternatives.” Modiano offers us multiple realities at the same time. Places become mutable, servants to narrative and memory. This is not to say that Modiano’s novel gives us empty intellectual blather that is as unreadable as it is hard to summarize. I may be partial to that kind of book, but La place de l’étoile is not it. The story is gripping, the prose intentionally dips into melodrama and eroticism, as well as into slapstick and more elaborate humor. Reading Modiano’s later work is a sophisticated enjoyment, the dry fun of measured intellect. His debut is more riotous fun, but like the bar in From Dusk till Dawn, it’s fun constructed on an abyss of darkness.

chamissoThere are many literary and historical references, too many to recount. The three main intertexts, however, are Adelbert von Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (there’s a translation into English by Leopold von Loewenstein-Wertheim, published by Oneworld Classics, maybe you should seek it out?), Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s work, particularly the infamous Bagatelle and the more widely accepted and praised Voyage au bout de la nuit. Chamisso’s influence is underappreciated in commentary on the book. While it’s true that Modiano’s spelling puts his protagonist closer to the yiddish word “schlemil”, meaning idiot or fool, Chamisso’s book provides and interesting angle. Chamisso, while publishing his novella in German and exerting a certain influence on German literature (he was friends with E.T.A. Hoffmann, of “Sandman” fame; and the main German award for foreign-born writers is named after Chamisso), was French by birth and kept returning to France. A nobleman, he fled revolutionary France for the more accommodating arms of Prussia, where he worked in literature and botany. His only novella recounts the story of a man who sells his shadow to the devil, manages to keep his soul, however, in a mixed bag of bargains with Satan. It was written to provide a metaphor for Chamisso’s pain of losing his home and living in exile. His character, the eponymous Peter Schlemihl, roams the earth, infinitely rich (the bargain won him a bag of infinite gold), but rejected everywhere he went. For a book that trades as heavily in antisemitic stereotypes as La place de l’étoile, this wandering character offers an appealing mixture of pure-bred French nobility and a character who is close to the antisemitic stereotype of the rich wandering Jew. Not to mention the fact that for parts of his novel, Modiano’s Schlemi(h)lovich constructs himself as being in a sort of permanent exile from France, and being, quite literally, a rich, wandering Jew. Modiano’s novel appropriates and discusses the rich history of French antisemitism, from the middle ages to the French complicity in the Shoah. A character that both fits the stereotype and was conceived of, written and identified with by a French nobleman is such a great fit for this book as to appear an invention of Modiano. Except for the fact that, delirious narrative aside, there’s little that’s actually invented out of whole cloth by Modiano. His method is one that fuses reality and literary history, that uses literature in the same way a historian would employ his sources. And those sources don’t end with Chamisso.

DSC_0221Another source, perhaps the major source, is Proust. This one keeps turning up in the book, as a major Jewish intertext of whose influence the narrator has to be purged. Some parts of the influence are pastiche or parody. Proust’s novel begins with “Longtemps,…” and Modiano begins with “C’était le temps….”. He revises the George Sand scene from Combray by explaining that “Maman me délaisse pour des joureurs de polo. Elle vient m’embrasser le soir dans mon lit, mais quelquefois elle ne s’en donne pas la peine” and in one of the most erotically charged parts of the book, his admiration of a French nobelwoman is a whole glorious pastiche of Proust’s descriptions of the Guermantes in his book, until he breaks off the scene by having the heiress accost him with bare breasts and a hunger for a Jewish lover. This juxtaposition of elegance and description with racist, antisemitic or misogynist crudeness serves to keep the novel organized. Its chaos is anything but. Modiano doesn’t sneak pastiches into the book. He announces them by a change in style and mood, and announces similarly when they have passed. I’m sure there are parodies or pastiches that I’ve missed, but most are rather forward and open, like the parody of Celine’s style in the opening pages. These breaks additionally keep us on our toes. The use of Proust is more than decoration, it’s an active agent. The constant use of Proust is nagging us to read Modiano’s novel in terms of memory, of self creation and décreation, to borrow a term from Simone Weil. Modiano dissolves all involuntary memory in a present that basically co-exists with the past, an effect that transposes an interior mechanism of Proust’s into exterior action and narrative. With Bergson, Proust saw memory as fusing with the present in a creative, if involuntary act. Modiano goes ahead and just fuses everything in a more or less co-temporary plane. For the question of WHY Modiano would do such a thing we could offer different answers.

DSC_0220Some would touch on the basic concept of memory being important in literature after the Shoah. The Shoah, with its wholesale destruction of culture and living witnesses is a hazard to the production of memory as outlined by Halbwachs and others. This is why writers like Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub spoke of a “crisis of witnessing”. Personal, individual memory is not enough. It needs to be infused into culture, into cultural memory. In one of the more ‘outrageous’ moments of the book, a friend of Schlemilovich’s explains that, “[n]on content de débaucher les femmes de ce pays, j’ai voulu aussi prostitué toute la littérature française [et la] [t]ransformer.” This transformation, on the face of it, is an act of vandalism, of “vengeance”, as his friend says. But on a broader level, it also describes what needs to be done for the memory of the Shoah to survive and for the horrors of it to be contextualized. It didn’t come out of nowhere and tirelessly, Modiano drags out ancient and modern instances of French antisemitism. Another use of Proust could be suggested if we read Beckett’s famous and masterful study of Proust. In a summary of a particular episode, Beckett tells us

But this resumption of a past life is poisoned by a cruel anachronism: [Marcel’s] grandmother is dead. For the first time since her death […] he has recovered her living and complete, […]. For the first time since her death he knows that she is dead, he knows who is dead. […] This contradiction between presence and irremediable obliteration is intolerable.

Modiano’s book, with its turns and quirks, its changes and challenges, can be seen as a recovery of a presence, that of Jewish life in France, of French Jews, “un JUIF français,” as Schlemilovich throws out defiantly towards the end of the book. This reading is supported by the fact that the further we burrow into the book’s madness and the closer we get to its end, the more loudly Modiano speaks of the Shoah. In a scene towards the end, a drunkard on Vienna’s streets yells loudly “6 Millionen Juden! 6 Millionen Juden!”

DSC_1554There is also a movement towards a more precise sense of place. In its early goings, Modiano’s book mixes real and fictional places. A womanizer early on tells him stories of women he’s been with, and that list contains famous prostitutes, as well as “Odette de Crecy”, the courtesan from Proust’s novel. Modiano makes Bardamu, the WWI veteran and doctor of Celine’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit, into a real person, who Schlemilovich interacts with, just as he interacts with Freud, Himmler, Eva Braun and a veritable who-is-who of the French collaborator scene, including complicated figures like the Jewish collaborator (and Catholic convert) Maurice Sachs. At the end of the book, however, we get a genuine sense of place, as the Gestapo sites in Paris are named one by one:

31 bis et 72 avenue Foch. 57 boulevard Lannes. 48 rue de Villejust. 101 avenue Henri-Martin. 3 et 5 rue Mallet-Stevens. 21 et 23 square de Bois-de-Boulogne. 25 rue d’Astorg. 6 rue Adolphe-Yvon. 64 boulevard Suchet. 49 rue de la Faisanderie. 180 rue de la Pompe.

This is a sudden return to reality, to what Pierre Nora called “Lieux de Mémoire”, places of memory. If you want to get a brief but succinct summary of Nora’s role in creating a postwar political and historical memory in France, I recommend Hue-Tam Ho Tai’s essay “Remembered Realms: Pierre Nora and French National Memory” – overall, suffice it to say that France has been particularly enganged in gauging the workings of cultural and public memory and that places, be they monuments or remembered, enshrined or described places, play a central role in this. But to get back to Chamisso and Proust: Modiano’s project is private as well as public (and I don’t mean odd ideas like O’Keefe’s theory of fratricide). It’s about the identity of being a French Jew. A Jew in a France that, as reactionary intellectuals like Maurras have said, can only be understood by those whose roots are deep in French history, excluding the “wandering Jews” – Jewishness can be an involuntary identity, as many German and French Jews learned during the Third Reich, when it was declared that everybody’s a Jew who has Jewish ancestry – not only those who openly identified as Jews. There’s a sense in which Jewishness is circumscribed by writers about Jewishness, that’s it’s defined by others – and Modiano’s Schlemilovich takes on the role of those who do the defining for parts of the novel. This leery attitude towards history writing is also one of the ways in which Modiano sets himself apart from later, lesser works. The bloody, overly sexualized reality of Jonathan Littell’s barnburner is anchored to an idea of reality that equals or exceeds historiography (see my review of HHhH). No such pretense makes it into Modiano’s pages.

DSC_0219The book’s furor and inventiveness – as well as the age of its 23 year old author – preclude it from tying up its issues in a neat knot. Echoing many readers, its last lines are a declaration by Schlemilovich: “Je suis bien fatigué”. The followup novel, published only one year later, La Ronde de Nuit, doesn’t neatly continue the book’s trajectory, but does elaborate on its themes in a language not far removed from the debut. It’s about a double agent in Vichy France, but it does not name and use places as heavily as the latter third of La place de l’étoile. Les Boulevards de Ceintures, the third novel, is more explicit in naming places and dealing with the occupation. Like the debut, it delves deeply into issues of Jewish identity, of guilt and collaboration. At its center is a father/son relationship, which doubles as an analogue to the French/Jewish identity conflict. How, as a writer in a France that persecuted its Jews, do you construct a Jewish identity that is also a French one? The conflict is overwhelming, and the dark and involved language of Modiano’s first three books, especially of his debut, is testament to those difficulties. Boulevards de Ceintures ends with the exhortation by a barman lecturing the young Jewish son, researching his past (and by implication, France’s Vichy past) that, in the protagonist’s words, “je ferais mieux de penser à l’avenir”. If we look at the rest of Modiano’s work, it’s as if Modiano’s passion and the pain powering those books burned itself out. There are book that work as reprises of smaller themes, such as the research at the heart of Dora Bruder that recalls the search in Boulevards de Ceintures, but the pervasive search for memory and identity is more anodyne in the later books, more personal, less political. Mind you, it still puts Modiano heads and shoulders above writers like Paul Auster, who was inspired by books like the 1978 novel Rue des Boutiques Obscures to create his New York Trilogy, but doesn’t invest it with any of the historical urgency that Modiano still drags through his books, even if it’s in a reduced, backgrounded way. It’s a disappointment if you come to later Modiano after being introduced to him through his amazing debut, but at the same time, knowing how Modiano framed and discussed the cultural and personal stakes of postwar identity helps read his books in a deeper context.

lacombe_lucienPart of my reading of Modiano’s work as one of diminishing returns includes the fact that all his best work happened within his first ten years as a writer, with La Place de l’Étoile and Rue des Boutiques obscures as standout milestones at each end of it. I have already explained that I consider his debut to be his best work, but there is another text that comes close, and it, too, was written in that early period. This work is the script for Lacombe Lucien (1974), which he co-wrote with Louis Malle. Now, while I am hesitant to proclaim the greatness of Modiano, I would suggest it’s fairly agreed upon that Louis Malle is among last century’s greatest directors. Lacombe Lucien is a transcendent movie, excellent from start to finish. From casting to script and cinematography, there are few faults to find with this movie. The story is centered around the eponymous Lucien, a strange boy living in a French village during WWII, who wants to join the Résistance to indulge his taste for violence, but is rebuffed. Instead, he ends up joining the “German police” or rather a French militia that resides in a villa and hunts down members of the Résistance. Immediately, he informs on his old school teacher, of whom he knows the role in the Résistance. Many of Modiano’s topics recur in the movie: the guilt during wartime France, the historical burden of French antisemitism, the lies and secrets. And as in much of his work, the focal character is a boy. And while in most of Modiano’s work after the debut, stories of wartime France are cushioned in a framework of memory and remembrance, sometimes aiming, but obviously missing, for the poise, elegance and urgency of Proust, Lacombe Lucien‘s effect is immediate and stark. Much of the movie’s tension comes from its viewers (and secondary characters) never really knowing where this story would take them. Lucien is an unpredictable character, cold, cruel, yet at the same time possessed of a queer innocence. The movie reclaims much of the strangeness and oddity of Modiano’s debut. The characters in the villa are not meant to be realistic – there’s a famous bicycle champion, an actress, a small, angry antisemite, a horny, mildly disloyal servant with a lazy eye, a smooth black gunman, dressed like a Chicago mobster and the head of the operation, who employs his mother as a secretary. They might look like a joke, but they proceed with violence and efficiency, terrorizing the whole countryside.

220px-LacombeLucienThe slightly surreal quality that much of the movie has, the sometimes dreamlike sense of unreality is something that Modiano already perfected in his debut, together with the sexual politics of wartime antisemitism. There’s a blonde Jewish woman, who Lucien falls for immediately; she tells Lucien, in an intoxicated moment that she’s tired of being jewish. There are German Nazis in the movie but the only actual German we hear, apart from one phone call, is from the dialogue of a Jewish tailor who hides in the area. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job explaining the excellence of how the scenes and characters are constructed. The movie has an odd way of dealing with realism. It’s not just the strangeness of scenes and characters, sometimes Malle will keep the camera on a scene for long enough, that a sense of alienation creeps into the scene despite nothing odd having been added. One great example of this is an early scene, where a horse dies, and the villagers drag it onto a cart. This, already, takes quite some time, but then, Lucien is left behind with the horse, and he looks at it quizzically, caressing its face. It’s a frightening scene, it’s an encounter with animal physicality and death that shows us a clearer and deeper look into the desolation of Lucien’s soul than any other scene. To be clear, the movie is strange, surreal, but also highly realistic. Like Modiano’s other work, it becomes part of a process of collective memory, a contribution to critical debates about history, about the French role in WWII and so on. Yet, much as I might like to talk about this movie in terms of Modiano’s work, I don’t actually know how involved Malle was in the script. After all, Modiano, who was born in 1945, never lived through this period that was so important for his work. Modiano’s commitment is to cultural memory and its workings, not personal memory. Louis Malle, in contrast, was born in 1932, and has memories of being a boy in wartime France. I’m obviously more focused on Modiano here, but as a whole, it feels as if it’s more of a piece with Modiano’s work than Malle’s and yet given his novels, Modiano was no longer able to produce this kind of work. Maybe he needed Malle to return to the heights of his debut. Lacombe Lucien is truly extraordinary.

DSC_0228I keep saying this about books I admire, but my reading has barely touched on the complexities of La place de l’étoile. It’s a truly great book, and it rewards reading, rereading and analysis. I might even be wrong about it, and I suspect had my reading of Deleuze’s Proust book and Halbwachs’ work on memory been more recent (or if I had more time to reread them, as well as Proust and Céline) I could have made a better case in my arguments on memory. There is a whole line in French collaboration history that’s connected to homosexuality that, in the novel, can be read to tie into its discussions of Jewish sexuality (Otto Weininger might be apropos), as well as Proust and Céline, but I don’t have the room here for that nor do I have time to go back into research on this. I encourage everyone who made it to this part of the review to not only read the novel but to also use it to research at least all the names and places of it, reread their Proust and Céline, maybe some famous antisemites like Weininger. I know that it made me personally want to reread Gilles by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, which, given the appropriate amount of leisure, I will do. If you want to support me in buying/reading books, there are ways to do so, too 😉


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How surprised should we be?

A very readable, short essay called One Mean Jewish Settler, by Judah Ben-Yosef who gives tours for German tourists and journalists in a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank. I like this section especially:

A not unattractive lady journalist asked me how I feel when I read the kind of things that are written about Israel. The question was not especially provocative, but maybe I was just in a bad mood. Maybe my advancing years had made me lose my patience. For whatever reason, on that day, I didn’t feel like playing games. For once I’d say what I really felt.

“It reminds me of the story of the man who comes home unexpectedly one day to find his wife in bed with the neighbor. He was shocked! He was shocked….. but he wasn’t surprised. (laughter – timing the punch line is everything.)

Am I shocked? Am I shocked when I read the reports? Of course I am. Who could read such lies and not be shocked?

Am I surprised? Am I surprised that the grandchildren of the monsters who dragged by great-grandfather into a gas chamber or buried him alive write articles that are critical of Israel? How surprised should I be?”

(a conversation I had last Saturday when I exercised a great deal of restraint, reminded me of this bit, and so I took the opportunity to put it up.)

Ein bisschen wie Klezmer

Malte Lehming, der ein Tor bei der Fussball-WM augenzwinkernd auch mal als “Deutschlands inneres Auschwitz” bezeichnet, ist ein bisschen genervt von den Juden.

Deshalb wird der Antisemitismusvorwurf oft nur noch als Teil der jüdischen Folklore wahrgenommen, ein bisschen wie Klezmer-Musik. Der Papst warnt vor Kondom und Pille, die FDP vor “anstrengungslosem Wohlstand”, ein Marxist vor dem Privatbesitz an Produktionsmitteln, und die Juden warnen halt vor dem stets zunehmenden Antisemitismus. Ohne viel Gefühl für Relevanz und Proportionen ziehen sie in symbolische Schlachten, auto-immunisiert gegen die Realität. Frei nach Asterix lautet das Resümee: Die spinnen, die Juden, jedenfalls einige, jedenfalls manchmal.




Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.

“That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”

“Null Punkte aus Israel”

Bei Jörg Marx eine schöne Darstellung von selbstbewußten Deutschen, die gestern im Freudentaumel (so etwa)über die “nationale Leistung” sauer auf die unbotmäßige Benotung aus Israel waren. Unter anderem postet er diesen Auszug aus dem #esc twitterfeed (click on image to enlarge or go directly to Marx’ blog).

Oh yeah? Yeah!

“Ellis” of The Barbaric Document fails to understand something.

Atwood is well known as an outspoken campaigner for human rights, the environment and social justice

gushed Green MP Caroline Lucas in last Saturday’s Guardian.

Oh yeah?

Neither the Tel Aviv University that developed the DIME bombs used against civilians in Gaza, nor the state of Israel whose commitment to cultural openness does not include allowing Atwood’s books into Gaza, were taken to task, but the letter campaign asking her to refuse the prize was the target of her moral outrage. How noble!

The answer to the question in the middle is: oh yeah. Follow Ellis’ links and you end up on the homepages of people who want to abolish Israel, who want an Arab state to take its place. Thankfully neither Atwood nor Ghosh ceded to their pressure. Atwood’s own statements, which I only found on a page I will not link to, are remarkably clear-headed, careful and nuanced. They show a moral writer who has not ceded to today’s hot climate of fanaticism. The same writer you also find in her marvelous novels and good poems, which I fully recommend to any and all of you.

“Is the pope saying this shit for a bet?” (edited)

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, second only to Pope Benedict, has *found* the reason for the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests:

“Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have demonstrated, I was told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. That is true. I have the documents of the psychologists. That is the problem.”

While this may just sound incredibly stupid, that kind of thinking (yes, the sad thing is that I think they do believe this nonsense) may lead to more problematic policies by the Church:

He added that some “surprising” initiatives regarding the sex abuse scandal would soon be revealed but did not elaborate.

Come to think of it, it may also just be another brazen assertion, such as other claims lanced by other Catholic officials during the past month. As one twitter said:

Vatican forgets that when you’re in a hole, you should stop digging

Or, another one

Is the pope saying this shit for a bet?

edit. We might be glad that none of the officials have so far succumbed to the typical Catholic theological (historically documented and recently revived by, oh, what a coincidence, the current pope) urges w/ respect to Jews, as this sickening example by a retired Italian bishop shows

We’re living in the Age of Globalization, and it seems that chutzpah, like latkes, isn’t just for Jews any longer. Last week, retired Bishop Giacomo Babini of the Italian town of Grosseto told the Catholic Pontifex website that the Catholic pedophile scandal is being orchestrated by the “eternal enemies of Catholicism, namely the freemasons and the Jews, whose mutual entanglements are not always easy to see through… I think that it is primarily a Zionist attack, in view of its power and refinement. They do not want the church, they are its natural enemies. Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God-killers.”

You might think that the 81-year-old Babini had already said more than enough for one day, but once some people “pop,” they just can’t stop. “The Holocaust was a shame for all of humanity,” the good bishop told the world, “but now we have to look at it without rhetoric and with open eyes. Don’t believe that Hitler was merely crazy. The truth is that the Nazis’ criminal fury was provoked by the Jews’ economic embezzlement, by which they choked the German economy.” He concluded that the Jews’ “guilt is graver than what Christ predicted would happen to them, saying ‘do not cry for me, but for your own children.'”

‘Kauft nicht beim Juden’

This, sickeningly, in the Guardian. Jesus.

Britain has acted to increase pressure on Israel over its West Bank settlements by advising UK supermarkets on how to distinguish between foods from the settlements and Palestinian-manufactured goods.

The government’s move falls short of a legal requirement but is bound to increase the prospects of a consumer boycott of products from those territories.

Until now, food has been simply labelled “Produce of the West Bank”, but the new, voluntary guidance issued by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says labels could give more precise information, like “Israeli settlement produce” or “Palestinian produce”.

Fair and Balanced?

Some of these days it hurts to look at the paper or at message boards I usually frequent, especially when the name ‘Israel’ crops up. I’m glad there’s some sanity in the world still, though. There’s Max Boot, bitter and flippant but sadly correct in saying this in the Commentary

After reading the Goldstone Report on human-rights abuses committed during the Gaza War (December 27, 2008–January 19, 2009), all I can say is, it’s a good thing that the United Nations wasn’t around during World War II. I can just imagine its producing a supposedly evenhanded report that condemned the Nazis for “grave” abuses such as incinerating Jews, while also condemning the Allies for their equally “grave” abuses such as fire-bombing German and Japanese cities. The recommendation, no doubt, would have been that both sides be tried for war crimes, with Adolf Hitler in the dock alongside Franklin Roosevelt. Actually, that may be giving the UN more credit than it deserves. To judge by the evidence before us, the likelihood is that the UN in those days would have devoted far more space to Allied “abuses” than to those of the Axis and would have recommended that FDR stand alone before the world court.

and on the more careful side, Dan Kosky, in a very considered, well argued article in the Guardian states, among other things

Grave doubts over the investigative process have been realised by the mission’s conclusions. … The report is replete with dubious statistics and sources. Casualty figures are quoted from the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), a politically motivated organisation, which consistently refers to terrorism as “resistance”. PCHR’s faulty statistics include senior Hamas military figures such as Nizar Rayan and Said Siam, as civilians.

Reading the report, one would be unaware of Hamas’s human-shield strategy, a significant contributory factor to the civilian deaths in Gaza. … Although he states: “Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas”, he avoids the logical conclusion of the massive use of human shields. … Yet, rather than state the inconvenient truth, the report reinforces preconceived Israeli culpability.

Goldstone is similarly evasive over the unreliability of key “eyewitnesses”. … The report applies entirely illogical reasoning, failing to elaborate on “a certain reluctance by the persons … interviewed in Gaza to discuss the activities of armed groups”. This observation provides a glimpse of the dangers faced by those speaking out against the regime in Gaza, yet Goldstone omits to mention how Hamas intimidation undermines witnesses and with it the very foundation for his conclusions.


If you didn’t notice, currently, there’s the Durban II conference in Geneva, which promises to be as much of a sham as Durban I. I’m somewhat happy that my government (however reluctantly) is not taking part. Here’s a look at one of the participants: a member if Ahmadinejad’s entourage calls Elie Wiesel a Zio-Nazi.

It’s somewhat surprising that the British government would go through with the conference even though the outcome is predictably nauseating.


A recent online discussion has reminded me that I wanted to post a reference to a blog post of Yaacov Lozowick’s. It’s funny how knee-jerk many reactions to Israel are, screeching unconfirmed (and partly proven wrong) facts as soon as they are out there, indicting Israel and Jews. The farce with the UN school (oh, the bile!) is a case in point, but far from the only occurrence. Lozowick’s point is well made and worth making:

Jews argue among themselves loudly and stridently, while their haters listen in, indifferent to any context, and choose the choicest quotations with which to damn the Jews.

Though I’d note this describes a dynamic, but doesn’t explain the decision to use it. The determination to hate the Jews precedes listening in to their conversations. The reason Haaretz’ website is world-famous while the Irish Times’ isn’t, has to do with the fodder for Jew-hatred one can cherry-pick from Haaretz.

Discussing Israel with older lefties often means ducking so the antisemitic spittle from foaming mouths doesn’t hit you. At least these immediate reactions are honest, and revealing.

Churchill, third

My third and last post (#1 and #2) on Ward Churchill’s trial, who has correctly won his suit against the University of Colorado, but I want to draw attention to Fish’s nuanced account of the affair on his blog.

How did a garden-variety academic quarrel about sources,evidence and documentation complete with a lot of huffing and puffing by everyone get elevated first into a review of the entire life of a tenured academic and then into a court case when that academic was terminated. How and why did it get that far? (…)

It was the jury’s task to determine whether Churchill’s dismissal would have occurred independently of the adverse political response to his constitutionally protected statements. In the ordinary academic course of things would his writings have been subject to the extended and minute scrutiny that led to the committee’s recommendations? (…) The answer seems obvious to me and it has now been given authoritative form in the jury’s verdict.

Little Goebbels

Been drunk for too long. Forgot this. I recorded my anticipation re: the Ward Churchill trial a few days ago. Now the verdict has come through and “A jury found on Thursday that the University of Colorado had wrongfully dismissed” him. Correctly, I may add. They awarded him, however, damages in as high an amount as $1. And he may not, after all, get hired again. For in-depth coverage of the trial and the aftermath, I recommend this blog.


NY Times this morning:

After a four-week trial, a jury in Denver is deliberating the case of Ward L. Churchill, a former University of Colorado professor who says he was fired because of an essay he wrote in which he called victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks “little Eichmanns.”

The university says Mr. Churchill plagiarized and falsified parts of his academic research, particularly on American Indians, and cited this as grounds for his dismissal in July 2007. Mr. Churchill brought a wrongful termination suit against the university, seeking monetary damages for lost wages and harm to his reputation. He also wants to be reinstated to his job teaching ethnic studies. […]

Throughout the trial, the university maintained that it fired Mr. Churchill solely “for his research misconduct, for taking other people’s work and making it his own, for fabricating research, for falsifying research,” as Steven K. Bosley, a university regent, told the court.

“It was not one time, not even one time on purpose,” Mr. Bosley added. “It was a pattern of misconduct.”

Boycott & Bankruptcy

Stanley Fish, while providing one of the more balanced statement on the unbelievable and odious call for a boycott of Israeli academics, opts for moral bankruptcy in his column.

The American Association of University Professors ties itself up in knots explaining that while its own history includes “support for divestiture during the anti-apartheid campaigns in South Africa,” it nevertheless opposes this boycott. The rationale seems to be that South Africa was a special, one time case — “South Africa is the only instance in which the organization endorsed some form of boycott” — but that is hardly going to satisfy those who are prosecuting the “if-you-protested-injustice-then–you-should-protest-it-now” argument.

The better course would be for the AAUP and other boycott opponents to accept the equivalence of the two situations, and repudiate what they did in the past. Not “what we did then is different from what we decline to do now,” but “we won’t boycott now and we were wrong to boycott then.”

Whether or not divestiture and other actions taken by academics were decisive in, or even strongly contributory to, ending the apartheid regime is in dispute. What should not be in dispute is that those actions, however salutary and productive of good results, were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them.


Wieso lese ich eigentlich noch SPON-Artikel? Das hier in einem Artikel über die Gaza-Geberkonferenz. Mal abgesehen von den anderen problematischen Sachen – das hier ist doch fast unverschämt.

Zahlreiche Politiker wirkten auf der Konferenz ungewohnt frei in ihren Aussagen – womöglich weil Mubarak keine Delegation aus Israel eingeladen hatte und die israelische Presse dem großen Treffen fernblieb.

How To Be An Idiot

Haruki Murakami, possibly the world’s most overrated writer, received the Jerusalem Prize and proceeded to spit in his hosts’ face with a hate- and spiteful speech that starts badly:

Any number of times after receiving notice of the award, I asked myself whether traveling to Israel at a time like this and accepting a literary prize was the proper thing to do, whether this would create the impression that I supported one side in the conflict, that I endorsed the policies of a nation that chose to unleash its overwhelming military power.

and gets worse with each paragraph that passes. Read it and cringe.


“Was da wieder gelaufen ist, ist unsagbar pietätlos und ehrabschneidend”, sagte SWR-Rundfunkratsmitglied Theresia Wieland unserer Zeitung. Selbst wenn Pocher womöglich das Ziel gehabt habe, mit seinem Auftritt die Rolle von Schauspieler Tom Cruise in dem Stauffenberg-Film “Operation Wallküre” zu parodieren, sei dies letztendlich gründlich misslungen. “In diesem Moment identifiziert man das doch nicht mit dem Schauspieler, sondern mit der historischen Figur. Und es ist nicht hinnehmbar, dass man den Helden des deutschen Widerstandes so ins Lächerliche zieht”, übte Wieland scharfe Kritik an Pochers Auftritt.

aus den Stuttgarter Nachrichten. Das muß man nicht mehr kommentieren, oder?


Als die ersten Demonstranten die Flaggen erkannten, stand P. mit seiner Freundin auf der Straße, in unmittelbarer Nähe. Er hatte den Zug begleitet, weil er eventuelle Hetzparolen dokumentieren wollte. Was sich angesichts der Flaggen entwickelte, nennt P. “eine Lynchstimmung”. “Tod Israel”, sei von einigen Demonstranten geschrien worden, und “Verrecke!”. Die Polizei erschien ihm überfordert.

“Plötzlich”, berichtet der Student weiter, “sah ich einen Polizisten auf dem Balkon im zweiten Stock”, der zur Wohnung unter seiner eignen gehört. Der Beamte riss die eine Israelfahne, die an P.s Balkon befestigt war, ab. Kurze Zeit später sah P., wie in seinem eigenen Wohnzimmerfenster ein Beamter die innen angebrachte Fahne abmachte.

Die Aktion der Polizei löste bei den Demonstranten Jubel aus.


“Sie riefen immer wieder Parolen wie “Vergast die Juden”, “Ermordet die Juden” und “Steckt die Juden in die Gaskammer”. Ich war erschrocken dass die Kirche so etwas auf ihrem Gelände duldet. Das hat doch mit Meinungsfreiheit nichts mehr zu tun. Man darf doch nicht die Ermordung anderer Menschen fordern.” Die Polizei rief B. nicht – denn die war ja schon vor Ort – zog es aber vor nicht einzugreifen: “Die Polizei stand direkt daneben und muss alles mitbekommen haben. Gehandelt hat sie aber nicht.” Die Aufforderung zum Genozid an den Juden war der Polizei später noch nicht einmal eine Erwähnung wert. In der Pressemitteilung zur Demo heißt es lapidar, die Demonstration sei friedlich verlaufen. Nur ein paar Schneebälle seien auf die Polizei geworfen worden: “Dabei rutschte ein Jugendlicher auf dem glatten Untergrund aus und zog sich eine Kopfplatzwunde zu. Ein Rettungswagen brachte ihn zur ambulanten Behandlung in ein Krankenhaus.”
Auch die Ordner, die Demonstration war von deiner “Parteilosen Wählergruppe Gelsenkirchen (PWG)” angemeldet worden, hätten die Hetzparolen gehört ohne einzugreifen, so B.. Wie gut das keine Israelfahne die zünftige Proteststimmung störte.


Skandalös ist auch das Verhalten der Mainzer Polizei. Während er gegen die anti-israelische Demonstration offenbar nichts einzuwenden hat, äußerte Polizeisprecher Kai Süßenbach gegenüber dem SWR die Ansicht, dass die israelsolidarische Aktion – das Zeigen der Fahne des jüdischen Staates! – eine „Provokation“ darstellen würde, da die Beteiligten keine Israelis waren.

(ak antifa mainz)

O Tempora, O Mores!

New study, somewhat interesting results:

Anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish feelings are rising in several major European countries, according to a worldwide survey released on Wednesday.

The Washington-based Pew Research Centre’s global attitude survey found 46 percent of Spanish, 36 percent of Poles and 34 percent of Russians view Jews unfavourably, while the same was true for 25 percent of Germans, and 20 percent of French. […]

The figures are all higher than in comparable Pew surveys done in recent years, the report said, and “in a number of countries the increase has been especially notable between 2006 and 2008.”

Opinions of Muslims are also dimming compared to previous years with 52 percent in Spain, 50 percent in Germany, 46 percent in Poland and 38 percent in France having negative attitudes toward them. […]

“There is a clear relationship between anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim attitudes,” the report said. “(Those) that view Jews unfavourably also tend to see Muslims in a negative light.”


Blinde Hühner, Körner

Liza hat ausnahmsweise mal recht:

Es ist darüber hinaus bezeichnend, dass kaum ein Kommentator die Arbeitsdefinition des EUMC (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) zum Antisemitismus heranzog, um Hecht-Galinskis Äußerungen und damit auch Broders Einschätzung zu beurteilen. Der Grund liegt auf der Hand: Nach dieser Definition, die den EU-Staaten eine offiziöse Richtschnur sein soll, werden unter anderem der Vergleich Israels mit dem Nationalsozialismus, die Dämonisierung des jüdischen Staates, der Vorwurf, Juden verhielten sich zu Israel loyaler als gegenüber den Staaten, in denen sie leben, sowie die Behauptung einer jüdischen Kontrolle der Medien und Politik als antisemitisch eingestuft – und damit fraglos auch Evelyn Hecht-Galinskis Statements. Als prominente jüdische Kronzeugin hätte sie also ausgedient. Und das wollen in Deutschland nur wenige – schließlich weiß selbst der Durchschnittsleser am besten, wer Antisemit ist. Und vor allem: wer nicht.

Wer Schuld hat

Mögen die Juden nicht, die Ravensburger. Seitdem sie den Kindermordprozeß gehabt haben und ihre Juden gemartert, gebrannt und geplündert, hassen sie uns mehr als das ganze andere Schwaben. Das sind jetzt dreihundert Jahr. Heute hat man humanere Methoden, weniger komplizierte, dem Juden sein Geld zu stehlen. Aber wenn man solches Unrecht getan hat, versteht sich, daß man weiter gegen den gereizt ist, auch nach dreihundert Jahr. Nun, wir werden’s überleben.

aus Lion Feuchtwangers großem Roman Jud Süss

Don’t mess with the Nudnik

i09 on Get Smart

But the original Get Smart comes from a time when Jewish identity, and Jewish humor, were tickled by a very different set of issues in the West. It was an era when Jews in the U.S. were still struggling to be seen as anything other than mouth-breathing nerds or commie spies. Maxwell Smart is a Jew from that era: He’s a total dork who struggles to be a super-agent. In fact, he’s not even openly a Jew, though every Jew who watched that show knew what was up. (Jewish pranksters Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created the show, and a ton of Jewish guys worked on it as writers.) What’s jarring about the movie remake is how little the writers tried to update the humor.

The new Get Smart film’s references to nudniks, and Alan Arkin’s hilarious hand-wavey schtick, seem retro because they are still the covert Jewish jokes of the 1960s. They are straight from an era when Hollywood Jews were closety about their ethnic backgrounds. Despite the fact that the Get Smart TV show featured a robot named Hymie and was packed with Yiddish references, you can bet that most of its audience had no idea they were giggling at Jewish humor. To update Get Smart for a new generation, the writers needed to make all that old-school covert Jewishness into something hilariously overt, or just get rid of it.

In Kölle Am Ring

Was für ein Saftladen. Nicht nur wendet sich zuerst die Kölner CDU gegen einen Ratsbeschluß, die Bevölkerungsmehrheit und die Vernunft, indem sie einen bereits beschlossenen und abgenickten Moscheebau behindert, jetzt gibt es ein ganz ähnliches Schmierentheater um das geplante jüdische Museum. Liza schreibt

Die Reaktionen auf den Siegerentwurf fielen durchweg positiv aus, auch bei den Stadtoberen. „Dankbar und froh“ war etwa Oberbürgermeister Fritz Schramma, dass „an dem historischen Platz, wie es ihn in dieser Konstellation nördlich der Alpen kein zweites Mal gibt“, eine Lösung gefunden wurde. Auch Kulturdezernent Georg Quander („mir fällt mit der Entscheidung ein Stein vom Herzen“) und Städtebaudezernent Bernd Streitberger („genial, eine fast poetische Architektur“) zeigten sich sehr zufrieden. Es schien, als seien alle Hürden überwunden, zumal der Förderverein zuversichtlich war, die Frage der Finanzierung – laut Schramma „eine schwierige Aufgabe, aber eine lösbare“ – schnell und erfolgreich zu klären. […]

Doch nur wenige Tage nach der Entscheidung wollten die politischen Verantwortungsträger Kölns plötzlich nichts mehr von ihrem ursprünglichen Urteil wissen. „Der Entwurf stellt einen Riesenkomplex dar, der so hoch ist wie das Rathaus“, klagte der Oberbürgermeister nun im Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.


Ein Professioneller

Lesenswerter Artikel bei Liza über den Professor für Sportgeschichte und Sportsoziologie an der Uni Göttingen, Arnd Krüger

Doch niemand stieß sich an diesem Interview, und so legte Krüger am 20. Juni nach, als er bei der Jahrestagung der Deutschen Vereinigung für Sportwissenschaft (DVS), Sektion Sportgeschichte, einen Vortrag mit dem Titel „Hebron und München. Wie vermitteln wir die Zeitgeschichte des Sports, ohne uns in den Fallstricken des Antisemitismus zu verhaspeln?“ hielt. „Die 1972 beim Olympiaattentat durch palästinensische Terroristen getöteten israelischen Athleten hätten von den mörderischen Plänen gewusst und seien freiwillig in den Tod gegangen – ‚um der Sache Israels als ganzer zu nutzen’“, fasste unter anderem die Süddeutsche Zeitung, die sich auf Teilnehmer der Tagung berief, Krügers Darstellungen zusammen. „Dieser spektakuläre Opfergang hätte die Schuld (und auch die Schulden) Deutschlands gegenüber dem Staat Israel verlängern sollen. Zudem konstruierte der Professor Zusammenhänge zwischen diesem angeblichen Opfergang sowie einem unterschiedlichen Körperverständnis, das in Israel herrsche. Im Vortrag hieß es, die Abtreibungsrate in Israel sei bis zu zehnmal höher als in anderen westlichen Industrienationen. Die jüdische Kultur versuche, Leben mit Behinderungen massiv zu verhindern.“

"…said the repulsive old Jew"

Adam Roberts in the Guardian on old English translations of Jules Verne

But when I checked the 1877 translation against the original my heart sank. It was garbage. On almost every page the English translator, whoever he, or she, was (their name is not recorded), collapsed Verne’s actual dialogue into a condensed summary, missed out sentences or whole paragraphs. She or he messed up the technical aspects of the book. She or he was evidently much more anti-Semitic than Verne, and tended to translate what were in the original fairly neutral phrases such as “…said Isaac Hakkabut” with idioms such as “…said the repulsive old Jew.” And at one point in the novel she or he simply omitted an entire chapter (number 30) – quite a long one, too – presumably because she or he wasn’t interested in, or couldn’t be bothered to, turn it into English.

And here is a second article, same author, a few days later (for completists)

Schon wieder Broder

Broder spricht sehr eloquent und sehr treffend über Antisemitismus. Transkript bei Liza:

Der Antisemitismus, über den wir immer noch am liebsten reden,[…] ist, um mit Bebel zu sprechen, der Sozialismus der dummen Kerle, die noch immer einem Phantom nachjagen. […] Diese Art des Antisemitismus ist hässlich, aber politisch irrelevant, ein Nachruf auf sich selbst.

Der moderne Antisemit dagegen tritt ganz anders auf. Er hat keine Glatze, dafür Manieren, oft auch einen akademischen Titel, er trauert um die Juden, die im Holocaust ums Leben gekommen sind, stellt aber zugleich die Frage, warum die Überlebenden und ihre Nachkommen aus der Geschichte nichts gelernt haben und heute ein anderes Volk so misshandeln, wie sie selber misshandelt wurden. Der moderne Antisemit glaubt nicht an die „Protokolle der Weisen von Zion“, dafür fantasiert er über die „Israel-Lobby“, die Amerikas Politik bestimmt, so wie ein Schwanz mit dem Hund wedelt. […] Oder er dreht kausale Zusammenhänge um und behauptet, die atomare Bedrohung gehe nicht vom Iran, sondern von Israel aus […].

Der moderne Antisemit findet den ordinären Antisemitismus schrecklich, bekennt sich aber ganz unbefangen zum Antizionismus, dankbar für die Möglichkeit, seine Ressentiments in einer politisch korrekten Form auszuleben. Denn auch der Antizionismus ist ein Ressentiment, wie der klassische Antisemitismus es war. Der Antizionist hat die gleiche Einstellung zu Israel wie der Antisemit zum Juden. Er stört sich nicht daran, was Israel macht oder unterlässt, sondern daran, dass es Israel gibt. […]

Denn der moderne Antisemit verehrt Juden, die seit 60 Jahren tot sind, nimmt es aber lebenden Juden übel, wenn sie sich zur Wehr setzen.

Common Sense (Blathery Rant)

I have talked to people recently who extolled the virtues of disagreeing with academic opinion, regardless of the soundness of yr arguments against the old position. They appeared to be entirely unfazed by the fact that the argument in these books seems to rely entirely on common sense, not on thinking or careful reasoning (for example this book).

Last night it occurred to me that the funny thing about most of these ‘rebellious’ attacks against the academic establishment is that they only work for a reader who is rather roughly or not at all acquainted with the ‘facts’. While it is true that many of these ‘facts’ are created by academia (and I would be the very last person to defend something like ‘objective historical facts’, indeed I think that to posit the existence of knowable objective historical facts means almost always a shoddy methodological framework) and that there is a strong intolerance against alternative theories, the carefully reasoned book that would actually have an impact on the generally accepted theory is rare. The only thing it actually does is stir up the uneducated masses without educating them first. It’s pure demagoguery, and not in a nice way.

This is anti-intellectualism at its worst. It may not look like this sometimes but take a closer look at the premises and you’ll see it. And Common Sense, as the instrument of such arguments, appears to me sometimes to be downright evil. I am not very firm on English etymology, but the German equivalent, “gesunder Menschenverstand”, which, roughly, awkwardly, translates as “healthy human reasoning”, shows how Common Sense works. It attacks things which are outside of a given societal norm, which, of course, reflects strongly the dominant anti-emancipatory ideas of a given society. Small wonder then that, say, in the realm of philosophy, books, nay, pamphlets abound which are bashing Feminism and any strain of postmodern/poststructuralist thought that is not in agreement with the dominant norm. The sick elements of society, if you will, channeling Agamben and Foucault here.

Thus, Common Sense often surfaces in the most evil of contexts. Antisemitic, racist literature is built on a foundation of ‘common sense’. The whole insidious concept of political correctness is built on ‘common sense’ as well, the idea being that, if we were really honest, we would admit that what is perceived as ‘pc speech’ is really only pc mumbo-jumbo. There is, as to modern antisemitism, an aspect of down-to-earth, almost agrarian, simplicity to the whole thing. Small wonder that both concepts can often be found in nationalistic ‘Blut und Boden’-contexts and in anti-cosmopolitanist arguments. It does not, though, usually make an appearance in islamophobic contexts, as the stereotypes directed at that particular minority are others. Debauchery, decadence, yes, but Islam is so strongly identified with a particular ethnic group that the particular nexus described above is never really activated. Islamophobia is, currently, a rather obvious affair, and so widely and fundamentally accepted, that it has had no need to hide behind a rhetorical veil yet.

The strangest aspect of this, though, is that even intellectuals, and those who are very much in favor of emancipatory movements, tend to view ‘common sense’ and the gesture of rebellion as an acceptable ally in the battle against orthodoxy and then proceed to attack nilly-willy those who work within orthodoxy, who urge others to try to read and understand what you are criticizing before you go off on a 200page commonsensical rant (or at least to be open to arguments from orthodox academia). Happened to me once here and several times in person. And no, this is not about left-wing antisemitism (think anticapitalism, think usury). And no, I have no answer to this, really. It baffles me, honestly. Did I mention that they are all really, really smart, some of them way, way smarter than this blog’s dim-witted excuse for an author? They are. You see me throwing my hands up. I have no answer. Do you have one? I’d love to hear it. A book you can direct me to?

Have a great week, btw., folks.

Pope Benedikt XVI has a field day

*sigh* This Pope should get a Nazi medal or something. In the Post’s On Faith columns

But in condemning Nazi antisemitism before that Jewish congregation in Cologne, Pope Benedict defined it univocally as having been “born of neo-paganism.” That was true, a reference to the odd mysticism that underwrote the Teutonic myths on which claims for Aryan racial superiority rested. But Nazi hatred of Jews was born of two parents, and the other one – the long history of Christian anti-Judaism – the pope did not mention. This was not a slight omission. It is urgently important, in going forward into the 21st century, that the context out of which the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people grew, and within which it nearly succeeded, not be forgotten. The crimes of Hitler were not the crimes of Christianity, but the Final Solution depended, both for the recruitment of active perpetrators and for the passivity of a continent’s worth of bystanders, on the ingrained anti-Jewishness of Christian theology, liturgy, and tradition. You would not know that from what the pope said in the Synagogue in Cologne. […]

Benedict went to Auschwitz, he said, “as a son of the German people, a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation.” In Germany itself by now, there is an established tradition of a much fuller recognition of national complicity in the Nazi project. For a generation, Germans have declined to portray themselves as mere victims and dupes, and German church leaders in particular have been forthright in confessing their sin in relation to the Holocaust. In his portrayal of the past, both at Cologne and Auschwitz, Benedict is becoming a German apart.

And as a Christian? Here is how he defined the Nazi aim in murdering Jews: “Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people…by destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the tap root of the Christian faith.” As if to dramatize this astounding claim that the “ultimate” Nazi target at Auschwitz was the Church, Benedict greeted 32 camp survivors, all but one of whom were Polish Catholics. A lone Jew represented the more than one million Jews who died there. With no apparent embarrassment, the pope prayed, “Why, Lord, did you remain silent?”

[…] the dark legacy of Christian antisemitism began to be redeemed when the Second Vatican Council both repudiated the “Christ-killer” charge against the Jewish people, and affirmed the on-going validity of Jewish religion. The days of scapegoating Jews, and seeking their conversion are over. Or are they? When Pope Benedict meets with Jewish leaders in New York this week, the cordial greetings will be heartfelt, but so will an undercurrent of wondering. Why, under his authority, has the Vatican recently restored the pre-Vatican II Good Friday prayers for the conversion of Jews? Does this pontificate represent a retreat from Christian moral reckoning with the Holocaust? Does it intend to restore the lethal Christian conviction that God’s only plan for Jews is baptism?

Here is the complete English transcript.

Und hier ist die deutsche Version seiner Rede.

Catholic Conversion

More on the Pope’s outrageous behavior. Susan Jacoby wrote last week

Benedikt has taken less trouble […] to conceal his dedication to a theology that regards other religions (not to mention secularism) as inferior. The pope’s personal baptism, at a widely publicized Easter vigil service, of an Egyptian-born Muslim, Magdi Allam […] is a case in point. Allam, in a column discussing his conversion, wrote in his newspaper that the “root of all evil is innate in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual.” […]

Allam, who once attended a Catholic school in Egypt, is persona non grata not only to most Muslims but to a great many secular Italians, who tend to view his conversion as an exemplary “out of the frying pan, into the fire” move. […]

Does anyone seriously think that the Vatican finances mission schools around the world because it does not hope to gain converts? In this regard, it should be noted, the Catholic Church does not differ from other proselytizing Christian churches that offer a wide variety of social services along with a strong dose of religious indoctrination. […]

The Catholic emphasis on conversion has remained remarkably consistent throughout history. Pope John Paul II’s canonization of the Carmelite nun Edith Stein, a German Catholic convert from Judaism who died in Auschwitz, is a prime example. Stein was sent to Auschwitz for one reason: she was born a Jew, and for the Nazis, no religious conversion wiped out the “racial” stain of Jewishness. Yet the church considers her a Catholic martyr–a position as offensive to many Jews, and as impervious to the fact of who was targeted for extermination during the Holocaust–as some of Benedict’s statements about Islam have been to many Muslims. Stein was murdered by the Nazis because of her Jewish “blood,” not her Catholic faith.

Of course, Benedict can get away with offending Muslims more easily at the moment than he can with offending Jews. Much of post-Christian, secular Europe is terrified of the Muslim immigrants in its midst and would probably love to see a population of Muslim converts to Catholicism.

Going to the movies

Hm. In der Dutch News dies

Entertainment entrepreneur Harry de Winter has taken out a page-wide advert on the front page of Monday’s Volkskrant newspaper accusing MP Geert Wilders of racism.

‘If Wilders said the same about Jews and the Old Testament as he does about Muslims (and the Koran) he would have been long picked up and sentenced for anti-semitism,’ the advert reads.

Zusammen mit der überwältigend negativen Berichterstattung von Publikationen wie Spiegel Online, die sonst eigentlich recht zuverlässig das Abendland verteidigen, es scheint, als ob Broder mal recht hat? Er schreibt nämlich

Geert Wilders mag vieles sein – selbstbewusst bis an die Grenze der Eitelkeit, borniert bis an den Rand der Selbstaufgabe. Ein “Rechtspopulist” ist er nicht. Erstens ist er ein radikaler Liberaler, zweitens ist das, was er gerade macht, extrem unpopulär.

Das und das was folgt, muß Broder natürlich schreiben, damit er sich selbst eine Rechtspopulismusfreiheit bescheinigen kann. Aber trotzdem: hat er nicht recht? Selbstverständlich hat er nicht recht, denn, wie eine von Broder selbst verlinkte Besprechung des Films feststellt:

Doch wie soll sich ein westliches Publikum, das mit den aufwendig inszenierten Bilderwelten Hollywoods groß geworden ist, mit dieser dilettantisch inszenierten, antiquierten Hauruck-Ästhetik politisch mobilisieren lassen, die Wilders in “Fitna” bietet?

Es ist die Form des Produkts, die Geert Wilders Film auf solche zurückhaltende und -weisende Reaktionen treffen läßt. Längst gibt es populärere und besser gemachte filmische Formulierungen der selben haßerfüllten Idee, etwa Edward Zwick’s Film The Siege. All das ist längst ein gängiges und beliebtes Element der Populärkultur und nur das dumpfe Vorgehen Geert Wilders ist es, das die Leute zurückstößt. Inhaltlich liegen sie voll auf seiner Linie, und es ist keine wilde Zusatzannahme, daß Wilders, wie schon beim Streit um den EU Beitritt, diese ‘Volksmeinung’ seinen Parolen zugrunde legt. Das würde ihn tatsächlich zum Populisten machen, ob Herr Broder das glaubt oder nicht. Der andere Aspekt, das mit dem Rechtspopulisten, da liefert Broder selbst die besten Gegenargumente und ich kann nur auf den werten Herrn zurückverweisen.

Islamophobie in den guten Kreisen (Update)

Der Soldat vergaß nicht zu erwähnen, daß Manöver und Rüstung entbehrlich wären, sobald die Ausbeutung des Menschen durch den Menschen in allen Ländern abgeschafft wäre. “Und die Ausbeutung der Frau durch den Menschen.” sagte Beatriz. “Wie”, sagte der Soldat. Sein Unverständnis erklärte sich Beatriz mit den idealen Zuständen seiner Heimat.
(Irmtraud Morgner)

Es ist mir ein Rätsel, nicht nur mir, aber ich bin ja der mit der großen Klappe, also rede ich von mir, daß Menschen, die in bestimmten Belangen zu einer guten und kleinteiligen, sorgfältigen und ausgewogenen Analyse fähig sind, diese Fähigkeit in anderen Bereichen völlig vermissen lassen.

Ich dachte immer, es gibt sowas wie eine Fähigkeit zum kritischen Denken, die man entwickeln kann. Wenn man sie hat, wendet man sie an. Oder so. Dass ich seit einiger Zeit über die blogroll von classless kulla an den blogs verschiedener, entweder der gleichen Szene wie Kulla (ich bin mir unsicher. Ich sach mal: antideutsch. Das sind aber auch mindestens zwei verschiedene Szenen, habe ich bei der Kloppe, die Antideutsche untereinander manchmal verteilen, den Eindruck. Eine Klarstellung fänd ich hilfreich. Schreiben: mir!) oder einer ähnlichen Szene angehöriger Menschen, mitlese, desillusioniert mich da ein bißchen. Da findet man ausgezeichnete Analysen des Antisemitismus und freut sich schon und dann schlägt der Dorn-Effekt voll zu (hier im ersten Satz beschrieben.).

Denn, lo and behold, es stellt sich manchmal plötzlich heraus, daß man es mit einem islamophoben Menschen zu tun hat. Und zwar mindestens auf dem Dämlichkeitsniveau eines Herrn Broder. Aber was ist denn mit den anderen Sachen? Was ist denn plötzlich passiert? Mit einem Mal findet der bestürzte Leser Analysen auf dem Niveau einer knapp bestandenen mittleren Reife. Etwa hier, wo jemand die offensichtliche Islamhetze in den Medien so vom Tisch wischt:

Zwar mühen sich ausnahmslos alle etablierten Medien damit, den Islam vom „Islamismus“ und die (angeblich oder tatsächlich) friedlichen von den terroristischen Muslimen zu trennen; zwar beruft der Innenminister „Islam-Konferenzen“ ein, von denen dezidierte Kritiker der selbst ernannten Religion des Friedens ausgeschlossen bleiben; zwar wird allenthalben vor einem „Generalverdacht“ gegen die Anhänger des Propheten gewarnt und auf die kulturellen Leistungen des Islams hingewiesen –

Das, meine ungläubig schauenden Lieben, ist wirklich ein Argument der Autorin. Da kommt nichts mehr. That’s it. Das war’s schon. Man könnte nun glauben, gut, diese Autorin ist leider etwas oberflächlich, nicht interessiert, zum Beispiel an der Tiefenstruktur, die rassistischen Argumenten meist zugrunde liegt, etwas in der Art, bitteschön. Das hätte ich auch fast geglaubt. Aber nur wenige Zeilen später findet sich diese Bemerkung:

Rether merkte entweder gar nicht, welches antisemitische Klischee er da bediente, oder er nahm es bewusst in Kauf; die letztgenannte Möglichkeit ist bei einem, der Israel auch schon mal als „ganz normalen Apartheidstaat“ bezeichnet, zumindest nicht auszuschließen.

Ach? Auf einmal gibt es also die Möglichkeit, Klischees zu bedienen? Wohl gemerkt, Rether hat Juden nicht einmal erwähnt. Selbstverständlich hat die Autorin recht in ihrer Analyse, aber das hier ist ein völlig anderes Maß, das hier angelegt wird. Und wieso? Zeigt ihre Analyse, zum Beispiel auch in diesem völlig angebrachten Artikel, nicht, daß sie es kann? Daß sie es besser wissen müßte? Bei der Auflösung dieses Rätsels greift vielleicht ein Vorwurf, den sie dem armen dummen Kabarettisten vor seine kabarettierenden Füße wirft:

das könnte Rether wissen, wenn er es denn wissen wollte

Ja eben. Sie könnte es besser wissen und sagen. Nur mit dem wollen, da hakt es etwas. Es ist, als sei es unbewusst eine so große Überwindung, nicht antisemitisch zu sein, daß man ein Ventil braucht, um den Hass loszuwerden. Und wieso sollte das nicht der Islam sein? Den konnte man schon immer ganz gut hassen, alte Islamverunglimpfer wie Bernard Lewis, denen ihre Unwahrheiten Mal aufs Mal nachgewiesen wurden, erfreuen sich noch immer einer hohen credibility, aber versuch du mal, Weininger zu zitieren. Lewis geht immer noch runter wie Öl. Und das Beste ist, daß man sich beim Islam, im Gegensatz zum Antisemitismus, bei dem man sich zwar keine neuen Klischees ausdenken mußte, aber durchaus ‘neue’ Leute, denen man sie anhängen konnte, man konnte mit einem Mal zB nicht mehr einfach ‘der Jud’ sagen, wenn man den Jud meinte, gar nichts neues ausdenken mußte. Früher meinte man genau die gleichen Leute, die man heute meint, man verwendet exakt die gleichen Klischees, exakt die gleiche Argumentation und auf deutsch kann man auch immer noch sehr schön ‘Araber’ sagen, mit starker Betonung auf dem ersten A.

Ich würde ja sagen: whatever gets you through the day, aber traurig macht mich das schon. Wenn schon die, die eigentlich auf der ‘richtigen’ Seite stehen, dies nur deshalb machen können, weil sie mit einem Bein eigentlich noch auf der anderen Seite stehen, um dem kinderschändenden Ziegenficker einen Tritt zu verpassen, da kriegt man bloß wieder Kopfweh. Und damit schlagen wir den Bogen zum Eingangszitat aus einem Roman der großen Irmtraud Morgner. Natürlich, so stellt sich heraus, hat das Unverständnis des jungen Soldaten einen anderen Grund. An diesen Aspekt hat er nämlich gar nicht gedacht. Oder nicht auf die gleiche Art und Weise.

Übrigens. Das mag mir auffallen, weil ich gerade den prison break/doctorow artikel umgeschrieben habe (die Änderungen sind noch nicht online), aber daß die Autorin des hier zitierten blogs ausführliche Artikel über die Fußballbundesliga schreibt, ist vielleicht nur ein blöder Zufall. Hm.

Ps. Daß ich hier diese spezielle Art der selektiven Blindheit gewählt habe, heißt nicht, daß es nur die gibt, ein ganz anderes Beispiel aus einer anderen Richtung hätte ich mit Arne Hoffmann gehabt, der u.a. auch für den watchblog islamophobie schreibt, und der ganz eigene blinde Flecke entwickelt, wenn er wiederum über Antisemitismus oder Feminismus schreibt.

Nachtrag Lange bevor ich diesen post geschrieben habe, hat sich übrigens Herr Broder zu Wort gemeldet, was ich beinahe übersehen hätte (via):

“Wehe uns, wenn hier demnächst die Moscheen brennen, dann wills WIEDER keiner gewesen sein”, orakelt der Dhimmi und meldet sich freiwillig zum Dienst bei der Leibstandarte “Osama”.

Das Wort Dhimmi ist übrigens von seiner Wucht, Brutalität und Menschenverachtung heute im bürgerlich einigermaßen akzeptierten Vokabular kaum zu übertreffen. Es findet sich zum Beispiel auch unter den Fittichen von classless Kulla, bei dem Kommentare stehen wie

Deine Argumentation ist inhaltlich eher die eines Dhimmi

Dieser Kommentar, wohlgemerkt, steht unter einer simplen religionshistorischen Auslassung eines anderen Kommentierenden und wird von Kulla gebilligt, anders als das bloße Anführen von Personen übrigens, die in einem völlig anderen Bereich antisemitismusverdächtig sind. Kulla selbst schreibt über Rassismusvorwürfe etwa an Adresse der bahamas, die ich oben an einer signifikanten Stelle zitiert habe

Wenn es jemand für rassistisch hält, wenn sich zugunsten von Israel und von nicht-ethnisierten Migranten ausgesprochen wird, weiß ich auch nicht, warum ich mit ihm unbedingt diskutieren muß.

Nein, ich auch nicht. Und das ist auch nicht das Problem und das wissen wir alle. Duh.

Das schließt wieder den Kreis zum Artikel, unter dem dieser Nachtrag steht. Wäre diese Argumentationsweise an anderer Stelle, etwa bei Arne Hoffmanns Antisemitismusverteidigung, so aufgetaucht, ich glaube Kulla hätte sich (zu Recht) nicht einmal damit befaßt. Also wieso…? Wieso hält er solchen islamophoben oder zumindest antiislamischen Rassismus für eine “offene Frage”? Ich weiß es nicht. Ich weiß es einfach nicht. An der Blödheit kann es nicht liegen, blöd ist nämlich weder Kulla noch Liza. Noch Broder. Aber woher kommt das? Antworten nehme ich gerne an, obwohl zum Beispiel individualpsychologische Begründungen à la wojna (“du kommst mit deinem Leben nicht klar”) natürlich Unfug sind.

Apocalypto: McGyver fights depravity in the Jungle

Oh there are many things to complain about in Mel Gibson’s latest movie, which, given my curiosity about it, I really took my time watching. I admit, I was still nonplussed by The Passion of the Christ. The line from Braveheart to The Passion was less than promising. However, to say this first: I found Apocalypto hugely entertaining. Not good, really, colors and angles were sometimes, how do I put that, less than appropriate and whoever did the cuts was obviously drunker than I am now, but, his irritating oscar nonwithstanding, let’s face it, we always knew Mel Gibson is not a particularly good director. He is a great entertainer though, and Apocalypto proved it again, if we still needed any proofs for that.

The other thing he’s great at is hating. After having watched any one of his movies, it’s overwhelmingly clear what and whom he hates and, three movies in, he has now made a movie that in a way can be said to sum up his concerns. In my usual muddled way I will eventually arrive at them. First I will, however, talk about that, which might or might not be racism, but which obviously is hate, at the Mayans or at what they represent. I am not sure myself. Typing up notes in a vodkafied state of mind after having watched a movie only once is a method that might (watch the conjunctive!) not be very precise.

So. At a quick glace, what have we. The whole idea of Maya writings, Maya science, is all, of course, generously glossed over. We see rather gruesome drawings but, as these are shown to be the only means of conveying meaning of their doom to the prisoners which are led through a dark tunnel in a pyramid (no, this is not the place to talk about historical inaccuracies. Yes, we all know the pyramids belong to a different era than the one portrayed but we know it’s allegorical so be done with it), they might as well be stone-age pictures of slain mammoths on cave walls, for all that it concerns this point. Also, the language that the Mayas with the pyramids, which I will proceed to call only “Mayas” while calling the wood-dwelling tribe of Mayas “the tribe” (this suits my rhetorical purposes best, if you need to know), use is a sort of language gone bad. It is shown to be only good for stuff like haggling, screaming, threatening, and making evil religious speeches to the orgiastic populace, which are less like speech and more like shouts. Goebbels comes to mind. The antagonists, the tribe, use their language for all kinds of ‘natural’ things. Joking, flirting, and above all, expressing myth. There is the obligatory scene with a wise old storyteller who tells the village a story about creation, the Ur-scene of storytelling and the epitome of an oral tradition. We don’t need Saul “Show me Tolstoy of the Zulus” Bellow to know that we will not find writing here.

History, with a capital ‘H’, however, will be recorded via the decadent Mayas, which meet the incoming conquistadores at the beach. The Mayas may have destroyed themselves, as the quote at the beginning of the movie “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it is destroyed from within” (The gall of using Durant! I was really astonished) seems to say. In the movie, however, nevermind history, the Mayan civilization is ailing but still at the peak of its powers when the conquistadores arrive. The conquistadores, having for a long time in cinematic history been used as an announcement of the doom of the indigenous civilizations, are obviously a hint of what will be happening to the flourishing, violent, plentiful Mayan civilization we’ve just encountered. Destruction. AND THEY DESERVED IT. That’s what the movie, Gibson’s protests nonwithstanding, is proclaiming. (And this is almost as fun a claim as the current Pope’s claim that the indigenous people actually in a way WANTED to be christianized.) Not loudly, but perceptibly enough.

The ‘antidote’ to the destruction might have been, Apocalypto also declares, sticking to “your” forest. The Mayas are shown to have succumbed to the vices of civilization: greed, cruelty (unnecessary cruelty at that), gluttony. The scenes in the Mayan city are full of symbols for that. For instance, in one scene, women are shown in the famous reclining eating pose familiar enough from all sorts of depictions of decadent Rome. These Mayans don’t have writing, really, and as I said, History is going to happen to them. Jaguar Paw, the main character and sole male adult survivor of the Tribe, slips the nets of History and retreats into his own history (note who the catalyzer of even this little history is, who ‘writes it’, within the bounds of what Gibson has written, of course. Ah, the irony), into nature and starts anew. You could say this is a new optimism for Gibson.

Whereas in Braveheart the vicious and evil Englishmen were victorious, here the vicious and decadent party loses to the down-to-earth Jaguar Paw, who, a mixture of Crocodile Dundee and McGyver, uses his forest’s means to defeat the de-natured Mayans. He, painted blue in order to be sacrificed, sheds this very blue so inflammatingly adopted by the mighty displayer of butt-cheeks, Braveheart, and dips into a muddy brownish black, which obviously and immediately raises questions of race. A scene that this rising from the mud of JP’s reminded me of was Martin Sheen’s rising from the waters at the end of Apocalypse Now, a movie that did discuss similar issues, just this time any ambivalence is cut from the image and an image of race is added.

Obviously, both parties involved (no, we’re sorta leaving the Spaniards’ cameo out here) are shown to be archetypes. African tribes and the Mayan tribe are blended, as well as the decadent Romans and Mayans. Most likely, looking at the extent to which this movie is studded with symbols, there are more blendings hidden, on both sides, that I have simply overlooked, having just watched it once. One of these further blendings might well be the purported nexus between Jewishness and decadence that is an old antisemitic staple, one thinks of Weininger‘s seminal and weird philosophical work Geschlecht und Charakter, for example, and in certain scenes, for instance when the Mayans fight scrabble over some coins dropped in the dust, I smelled a possible reference, and after all, the whole history of attacks against decadence, one thinks not only of Weininger but also of ideas in Spengler‘s and Pound‘s work etc. has always had more than just a strong whiff of antisemitism. Sometimes more overt than at other times, and after The Passion, who would complain were I to suspect Gibson of antisemitism or antisemitic references.

Speaking of Weininger, all of this talk of nature entails of course an idea of masculinity as well. From Braveheart who had to oppose the whining, scheming, feminine Englishmen and the overly feminized and decadent The Bruce on his own side, there is a clear line to the strong and simple people of the tribe, who are, or try to be, fearless, without base suspicions. They are early on shown to be at odds with the sneaky Mayans whose first appearance in the movie is that of picture book villains. Looking villaineous, sneaking up to the village and burning the huts. Whereas the tribe believes in fighting to the last, suicide (oooh how awful) is acceptable for the decadent Mayans (again a possible link to Rome).

The whole birth-from-the-earth- and the later occurring birth-in-the-water-imagery underlines the closeness to nature that could of course be channeled through a figure of a ‘white goddess‘ (even though there clearly is in the village, I’d say, a triumvirate maiden/bride/hag) or a woman, but is ultimately shown to be guaranteed only by the male element of the society. It is not only the man who has to save the woman at the end, but it is also the man who turns into the jungle at the end, taking with him a hesitant wife, who clearly would have wanted to meet those Spaniards. Misogyny is rife in that movie anyway. The whole madonna/whore thing is debated repeatedly. In most of the scenes depicting debauchery and decadence, women are placed centrally and the other things have been mentioned before. The repudiation of a feminized masculinity, for example, is of course, also a sign of misogyny, since it implies a clear value judgement.

As I said before, this is an incredibly hateful movie, and by now, it should have become clear at what its hate is directed. Yes its racist, but only incidentally so, the racism in the portrayal of the Tribe is common and barely noteworthy and the racism in the portrayal of the Mayans is not really directed at them, as a ‘race’, but at what they represent. Feminity, depravity, debauchery, decadence. This Gibson’s movie hates and hates with all its metaphorical heart. It’s not alone in that. A very famous book which shares this movie’s hate, is The Lord of the Rings, whose venomous end I consider to be barely, um, bearable. Fitting, isn’t it, that Gibson is planning to shoot a movie on the creation of the OED now, as I read somewhere.

On a final note, I applaud Mel Gibson’s cheek, who apparently “wants to dismiss the popular myth that history “only began with Europeans””. Hmmmmyes. That’s exactly what that movie is very helpful in doing, hm? The gall!

Oh, by the way:

This really great poster more than sums up the movie’s agenda, doesn’t it. Pictures. Amazing stuff.

Marco W. ist frei und die guten Deutschen freuen sich

SPON schreibt

Den meisten Uelzenern ist es gleich, wann Marco in seine Heimatstadt zurückkehrt. “Hauptsache, er ist dort weg”, sagt ein Mädchen von seiner Schule. “Sein Leben hat einen totalen Knick bekommen, den kann man nur ganz schwer wieder ausbügeln.” […] Der Ort zelebriert die Nachricht mit einem Autocorso und einem Hupkonzert wie zu Zeiten der Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft. Doch als der Gottesdienst beginnt, verstummt das Gebrüll. “Da legen wir nach, wenn Marco wirklich hier angekommen ist”, sagen drei Halbstarke mit Stadion-Trompeten an der Eislaufbahn in der Stadtmitte.

Die Solidarität und das Mitgefühl in der niedersächsischen Kleinstadt sind ungebrochen. Jeden Mittwochabend gab es seit Marcos Inhaftierung eine gut besuchte Andacht in der St. Petri-Kirche, die entgegen der üblichen Öffnungszeiten jeden Tag von acht Uhr morgens bis halb neun abends ihre Tore öffnete.

Jubelnde Massen von Deutschen, die sich freuen daß er “dort” weg ist. Das hat mehr als nur ein Geschmäckle. Es hat ein bißchen was vom Friedmann-Fall, sowie verschiedenen Übergriffen Israels auf seien Nachbarn, die wochenlang Antisemitismus als normales Diskurselement wieder eingeführt hatten. Der Fall Marco hat ähnliches für Islamophobie und ganz gewöhnlichen Rassismus geschafft. Solange Marco noch eingesperrt war, konnte man seinen Rassismus hinter pseudogutmenschlichem ‘Engagement’ verbergen. Das war besonders angenehm für solche, die sich für keine Rassisten hielten und halten, da konnten sie mal gut vom Leder ziehen, ohne daß ihnen mulmig wurde. Das ist die alte “Ich hab nichts gegen Ausländer, aber…”-Fraktion. Bezeichnend ist diese Passage, in diesem sonst mäßig geschriebenen SPON-Artikel:

Am meisten freuen sich die Deutschtürken über Marcos Heimkehr. “Ich wurde hier in der Firma täglich von deutschen Kollegen wegen Marco angemacht”, erzählt ein Türke aus Duisburg dem Hürriyet-Forum im Internet erleichtert. “Wenn noch einmal so etwas passiert, bitte schickt den Beschuldigten sofort zurück in seine Heimat. Die Leidtragenden sind zum Schluss doch nur wir und unser Land.”

Immer lesenswert auch classless’ schlaue Kolumnen wie dem Ökonomischen Gottesdienst.

On Paul Gilroy’s "The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity"

(Fußnoten sind in eckigen Klammern in den Text integriert)

Paul Gilroy’s text, “The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity”, the first chapter of his book on the Black Atlantic, struggles to arrive at a clean notion of ‘blackness’. His problems, however are due to the same problems he shows ‘Cultural Studies’ to have, moreover, problems, that most academical writing informed by modernity struggles with. So his own difficulties are symptomatic for the topic he discusses and they might resurface in my own discussion of his text.

There have been many definitions of what would constitute the ‘modern’ or ‘modernity’, but modernity’s roots in the Enlightenment [ Of course, Gilroy oversimplifies how influences worked at that crucial time. How the Romantics resurrected the racialized idea of the nation and used it against ‘scientific’ tendencies, in short, how the Enlightenment as the Age of Reason and the Romantics as the resurrectors of ‘culture’ have worked together to produce Modernity has not been considered by Gilroy, yet these are minor disagreements; they would not have an impact on his thesis.] have always been stressed. The so-called Age of Reason is usually evoked whenever politicians or academics attack ‘intolerance’ and ‘racism’. Yet that same age has not only been instrumental in inventing the modern nation-state, it also helped racializing culture via the “fatal junction of the concept of nationality with the concept of culture” (2). The crucial aspect was the notion of a racial community of members of the same nation. Germans were Germans because they were linked by blood [2 Blood, as a juridical marker of Germanness was kept until 1996, which explains many racialized arguments in this country, but not similar arguments in others. Gilroy’s argument, however, holds true for all of the ‘West’.] and culture. The same applied to Britishness. Thus, Britishness or Germanness took on a transcendent meaning. And British persons and Germans were, racially speaking, considered white [3 And Christians, of course. In the same period of time, modern Antisemitism was born from a cluster of notions similar to the cluster considered by Gilroy].

The racialization of culture is most obvious when the major role of ‘blackness’ (not darkness) as a trope in early 19th century lectures and discussions on aesthetics, which could be said to provide a foundation for most of modern aesthetics [4 This is of course a bold claim, but I think its true, considering the extent to which major claims of Hegel’s lectures in Jena and A.W. Schlegel’s lectures in Berlin keep resurfacing in modern aesthetics.], is considered. Thus, blackness, as the other, has been ingrained in the very basis of modern thought and writing. The idea of the black man as the adversary has long since become part of cultural thought and the identity of ‘Germans’ and ‘the British’ has for a long time been white. To black Europeans or Americans this has been a major problem, as they could not partake of the identity of their nation. As a result the idea of an African ‘homeland’ and of a black history arose that is -examined closely- basically identical to the history of Africa and the history of the Middle Passage. Thus, black empowerment, instead of changing anything about racist attitues, was intrumental in creating a nation for blacks.

However, blacks were not only in so far part of the creation of Modernity as they served as a trope. Gilroy stresses the extent to which blacks have been actively participating in crucial movements in ‘white’ history, from “Columbus’ pilot, Pedro Nino” (16) to the likes of Olaudah Equiano, who was involved “in the beginnings of organized working-class politics” (12). In the realm of whites, blacks were only seen as a victimized people, never as agents. Purportedly emancipated branches of cultural studies which are concerned with the study of blacks, reinforce that impression by reiterating the nation/culture juncture, the nation being, in this case, Africa. The consequence of these studies is the identity, for instance, of the Black American as the exception to the (white) rule. Gilroy’s focus on the Enlightenment makes clear to what extent the racialized notions of nation and culture have informed the tacit racism on Campuses around the world, and how much of it went unnoticed by scholars.

The difference in method in Gilroy’s text is the emphasis on traveling. Instead of focusing on nations as creators of culture, he creates the Black Atlantic as the epitome of travel. The Atlantic, upon which black slaves were carried from Africa to America, but upon which black captains, too, navigated on many routes. From the ships going back and forth several were built by blacks, and books and ideas crossing the Atlantic were -in part- written by blacks. The trope of the Black Atlantic, in other words, serves to destabilize the notion of stable cultural identities.

Gilroy proposes a “theorization of […] hybridity”, which would still (of course) be based on black and white identities, which is where Gilroy’s problems with the notion of ‘blackness’ enter, but focusing on travel and not on the awkward construction of a ‘homeland’ might very well be the way out of the trap set by Enlightenment, which ensured that you cannot dispense of talking about black and white if you do not want to drag these concepts along implicitly. However, using the Black Atlantic as a trope for the inbetween, these identities do not fuse (as this would create only new ‘stable’ identities), but instead, they are disregarded, losing their power in a theory concentrating on the fluidity of identities instead of their stableness.


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