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Mar 01, 2016
Mar 01, 2016
it was amazing
The phenomenologists’ leading thinker, Edmund Husserl, provided a rallying cry, ‘To the things themselves!’ It meant: don’t waste time on the interpre
The phenomenologists’ leading thinker, Edmund Husserl, provided a rallying cry, ‘To the things themselves!’ It meant: don’t waste time on the interpretations that accrue upon things, and especially don’t waste time wondering whether the things are real. Just look at this that’s presenting itself to you, whatever this may be, and describe it as precisely as possible. Another phenomenologist, Martin Heidegger, added a different spin. Philosophers all through history have wasted their time on secondary questions, he said, while forgetting to ask the one that matters most, the question of Being. What is it for a thing to be? What does it mean to say that you yourself are? Until you ask this, he maintained, you will never get anywhere. Again, he recommended the phenomenological method: disregard intellectual clutter, pay attention to things and let them reveal themselves to you.
This book changes minds.
I first read Sarah Bakewell when somehow stumbling upon her "How To Live", a book about and around Michel de Montaigne; that book truly changed a lot in me, and made me delve into the facts on how humans are more alike and prone to sprawl within the mind than we may think we are.
Bakewell starts off much like in "How To Live": she's an excellent pointer-outer of interesting philosophical ideas, and she does this while using a sane, simple-to-understand language and style which goes a long way in explaining highly complex, and at times complicated, philosophical stuffs.
This book is inspiring and a labour of love and life, truly. Bakewell hasn't injected herself too much into it, as I feel some writers are prone to as they're keen to get inside their passions so much that they taint the work with their own experience. Instead, she writes succinctly and highly engaging about a plethora of stuffs.
So, what's this book about?
To begin with, it's about existentialism, what that is, and how it's been seen for a long time. Personally, I'd love to see more of existentialism today.
At the core of existentialism, to me, is freedom. What is freedom, really? Is it merely to have the ability to do what thou wilt, to rephrase Aldous Huxley? Well, not really, I say. If conditioned to speak and behave in certain ways, you need to think outside of your patterns in order to see what freedom really can be. From the book, in regards to Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the main existentialist philosophers of the 21st century:
In his novels, short stories and plays as well as in his philosophical treatises, he wrote about the physical sensations of the world and the structures and moods of human life. Above all, he wrote about one big subject: what it meant to be free. Freedom, for him, lay at the heart of all human experience, and this set humans apart from all other kinds of object. Other things merely sit in place, waiting to be pushed or pulled around. Even non-human animals mostly follow the instincts and behaviours that characterise their species, Sartre believed. But as a human being, I have no predefined nature at all. I create that nature through what I choose to do. Of course I may be influenced by my biology, or by aspects of my culture and personal background, but none of this adds up to a complete blueprint for producing me. I am always one step ahead of myself, making myself up as I go along.
"as I go along". Indeed.
Starting from where you are now, you choose. And in choosing, you also choose who you will be. If this sounds difficult and unnerving, it’s because it is.
Bakewell serves up information in steps, from early phenomenological thinkers up to ones that broke off with a lot of the early ones, also putting some history behind things. I mean, being and acting different in 2016 differs a lot from what went down in the mid-20th century. For example:
The institutions whose authority Sartre challenged in his writings and talks responded aggressively. The Catholic Church put Sartre’s entire works on its Index of Prohibited Books in 1948, from his great philosophical tome Being and Nothingness to his novels, plays and essays. They feared, rightly, that his talk of freedom might make people doubt their faith. Simone de Beauvoir’s even more provocative feminist treatise The Second Sex was also added to the list. One would expect political conservatives to dislike existentialism; more surprisingly, Marxists hated it too. Sartre is now often remembered as an apologist for Communist regimes, yet for a long time he was vilified by the party. After all, if people insisted on thinking of themselves as free individuals, how could there ever be a properly organised revolution? Marxists thought humanity was destined to move through determined stages towards socialist paradise; this left little room for the idea that each of us is personally responsible for what we do.
Also, these people lived as they taught, which is kind of the base for existentialism.
When Sartre was offered the Légion d’honneur for his Resistance activities in 1945, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964, he rejected them both, citing a writer’s need to stay independent of interests and influences. Beauvoir rejected the Légion d’honneur in 1982 for the same reason. In 1949, François Mauriac put Sartre forward for election to the Académie française, but Sartre refused it.
Sartre’s experiences and quirks found their way even into his most serious philosophical treatises. This could make for strange results, given that his personal take on life ranged from bad mescaline flashbacks and a series of embarrassing situations with lovers and friends to bizarre obsessions with trees, viscous liquids, octopuses and crustaceans. But it all made sense according to the principle first announced by Raymond Aron that day in the Bec-de-Gaz: you can make philosophy out of this cocktail. The topic of philosophy is whatever you experience, as you experience it.
Sartre read Kierkegaard, and was fascinated by his contrarian spirit and by his rebellion against the grand philosophical systems of the past. He also borrowed Kierkegaard’s specific use of the word ‘existence’ to denote the human way of being, in which we mould ourselves by making ‘either/or’ choices at every step. Sartre agreed with him that this constant choosing brings a pervasive anxiety, not unlike the vertigo that comes from looking over a cliff. It is not the fear of falling so much as the fear that you can’t trust yourself not to throw yourself off. Your head spins; you want to cling to something, to tie yourself down — but you can’t secure yourself so easily against the dangers that come with being free. ‘Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom’, wrote Kierkegaard. Our whole lives are lived on the edge of that precipice, in his view and also in Sartre’s.
Bakewell also inserts a lot of what made the philosophers human, by which I mean that she's made their personalities and non-philosophical choices show and blossom, hence making - I think - them seem more human than just a few oldies on a text book:
Philosophical conversations between thinkers who had invested so much of themselves in their work often became emotional, and sometimes downright argumentative. Their intellectual battles form a long chain of belligerence that connects the existentialist story end to end. In Germany, Martin Heidegger turned against his former mentor Edmund Husserl, but later Heidegger’s friends and colleagues turned their backs on him. In France, Gabriel Marcel attacked Jean-Paul Sartre, Sartre fell out with Albert Camus, Camus fell out with Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty fell out with Sartre, and the Hungarian intellectual Arthur Koestler fell out with everyone and punched Camus in the street. When the philosophical giants of each nation, Sartre and Heidegger, finally met in 1953, it went badly and they spoke mockingly of each other ever after. Other relationships were extraordinarily close, however. The most intimate was that between Sartre and Beauvoir, who read each other’s work and discussed their ideas almost every day. Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty had also been friends since their teenage years, and Sartre and Beauvoir were charmed by Camus when they first met him.
Theories are not only affected by history - perhaps most notably World War II - but also the inner workings of the philosophers, naturally. Bakewell does beauteous work in showing how theories and personalities intertwine and work out, perhaps best in her biographing the lives of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, as they lived, worked and loved for more than half a century.
It was also an extremely long relationship, lasting from 1929 to Sartre’s death in 1980. For fifty years, it was a philosophical demonstration of existentialism in practice, defined by the two principles of freedom and companionship. Lest this sound too earnest, their shared memories, observations and jokes bound them together just as in any long marriage. A typical joke began soon after they met: visiting the zoo, they watched an enormously fat and tragic-looking sea elephant which sighed and raised its eyes to heaven as if in supplication while the keeper stuffed its mouth with fish. From then on, every time Sartre looked glum, Beauvoir would remind him of the sea elephant. He would roll up his eyes and heave comical sighs, and they would both feel better.
Also, Heidegger, the philosophical giant, is very much on display, not at least how he embraced nazism, how this circled his beliefs and philosophy, and what one could make of it. Bakewell doesn't avoid clear-cut analyses of that.
A little part of what makes this book mind-blowing, to me, is how minds are explored, and thought processes are dissected, in - to me - unusual ways. It's utterly refreshing to read about; here's a bit about Simone de Beauvoir:
She had a kind of genius for being amazed by the world and by herself; all her life she remained a virtuoso marveller at things. As she said in her memoirs, this was the origin of fiction-writing: it began at those times when ‘reality should no longer be taken for granted’. [...] Of all the things Beauvoir wondered at, one thing amazed her more than any other: the immensity of her own ignorance. She loved to conclude, after early debates with Sartre, ‘I’m no longer sure what I think, nor whether I can be said to think at all.’ She apparently sought out men who were brilliant enough to make her feel at a loss in this way — and there were few to be found.
To quote popular western culture: boom.
There's also Albert Camus in the book, as a nice cadence.
The journalist and short-story writer Albert Camus, who had come to the city from his home in Algeria, holed himself up in a room and listened to the street sounds outside his window, wondering why he was there. ‘Foreign, admit that I find everything strange and foreign’, he wrote in his notebook in March 1940. ‘No future’, he added in an undated note. Yet he did not let this mood stop him from working on literary projects: a novel, L’étranger (The Stranger or The Outsider), a long essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, and a play, Caligula. He called these his ‘three absurds’, because they all dealt with the meaninglessness or absurdity of human existence, a theme that seemed to come naturally during this time.
Also, there's Merleau-Ponty:
Merleau-Ponty arguably left the most lasting intellectual legacy of all, not least in his direct influence on the modern discipline of ‘embodied cognition’, which studies consciousness as a holistic social and sensory phenomenon rather than as a sequence of abstract processes. Merleau-Ponty gave philosophy a new direction by taking its peripheral areas of study — the body, perception, childhood, sociality — and bringing them into the central position that they occupy in real life. If I had to choose an intellectual hero in this story, it would be Merleau-Ponty, the happy philosopher of things as they are.
Every philosopher's great works are examined, as are the impacts. Bakewell does a great job at this, without involving her own ego, it seems to me. It's a very easy read, despite the mind-blowing contents. Yet again, yeah, I use the term "mind-blowing", but to me that's what's up!
All in all, this book is grand, epic and pretentious - in the very best sense of the word! I've bought this, and I will cherish having it with "How To Live". I recommend this to all. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 09, 2016
May 03, 2016
Mar 09, 2016
Jan 01, 2015
Apr 21, 2015
really liked it
Åsne Seierstad has managed to interview a lot of people: survivors from Utöya, people who are family and friends and enemies of both survivors and the Åsne Seierstad has managed to interview a lot of people: survivors from Utöya, people who are family and friends and enemies of both survivors and the perpetrator, Anders Behring Brejvik.
What I like best about this book is, first, the space and pace at with the book feels around and grows; there's little room for drama-making, alotted by Seierstad. Breivik's thoughts plod as he's dreamt them up. Naturally, his retelling of events is flawed and quite possibly lied-up, due to his narcissistic traits, the flaws inherent to human memory, et cetera.
This is a beautifully told and recounted human tale, which swerves somewhat from Breivik's youth to just after the court case was finished.
Of his youth:
He was so intense, and he was cruel to animals. For a while he had some rats in a cage and would poke them with pens and pencils. Eva said she thought he was hurting them, but he took no notice. Anders caught bumblebees, dropped them in water and then brought them up to the surface in a sieve so he could watch them drown. Pet owners at Silkestrå made it clear to their children that Anders was not to come anywhere near their cats or dogs. Anders was often the only one not invited to come and stroke other children’s new puppies or kittens.
It's the perennial thing about many a serial killer - although Breivik was not a serial killer, but a mass murderer - and it's also found here.
It's interesting to see that Breivik fraternised freely with people from different backgrounds in a slew of ways, before turning into a self-proclaimed hater of "multiculturalism". He tried to be successful in the graffiti world, but disobeyed their illegal laws, tagging over other artists' works and also screwed up at home:
Is there anything worse than being rejected by your friends? Yes, perhaps there is. Being disowned by your father. After his third arrest, Jens Breivik made it clear to Anders that he wanted nothing more to do with him. His son had broken his promise to give up tagging. The decision was final. Anders was fifteen. He would never see his father again.
There is a long history of trying and failing miserably in Breivik's past; where other people learned from it, he often felt the faults were with society, not with him.
He was rejected by those who mattered. He did not fit in. He was patient and persistent, but he never made it to the top of World of Warcraft. He was never among the Top 500 on the servers that mattered, and thus was never ranked. He acted like a king, when he was only a toy.
As with most xenophobes, xenophobia provides an unparalleled, unabated way for him to expunge himself of self-hate:
Criticism was reserved for others: the state, feminists, Islamists, socialists and politically correct Western leaders. It was the injustices inflicted on Europeans in the past, it was the mass immigration in the present; it was beheadings and castrated knights, mass rape, the destruction of the white race. The massacre of the European people had to be stopped! He had found his niche. Again.
Breivik's manifesto, a mixture of plagiarism and craziness, goes against feminism quite some, for some reason:
One of the prominent features of cultural Marxism is feminism, wrote Berwick. It is ubiquitous and all-consuming [...] He went on: ‘The man of today is expected to be a touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.’ It was great to sit there cutting and pasting. Lots of the stuff he had been brooding about, but had not put into concrete form, was all thought out for him. ‘Who dares, wins,’ he wrote at the end of the introduction.
His relationship with his parents, his father having left for France, is interesting. Some words on his relations with his mother, about the time that Anders Breivik discovered World Of Warcraft and isolated himself from the real world even more, that is, also physically speaking:
Some days she dreaded going home. Her son had started suffering from wild mood swings and he sometimes reacted so violently to little things, or he would be distant, abrupt and surly. He accused her of talking to too many people who could ‘infect us’. When he was like that he did not want to eat in the kitchen but asked her to bring his meals to his room, putting the empty plate outside his door afterwards. He put his hands over his face when he needed to leave his room to go to the toilet. At times he even wore a facemask. But then he would kiss her cheek all of a sudden. Or he would sit down so close to her on the sofa that she found it hard to breathe. At times like that she felt he was suffocating her, like when he was a child, when he was so clingy and could never leave her in peace. It was as if he was never really sure where to sit on the sofa and was sometimes too close, sometimes too far away. Wenche was now single again. She had thrown out the retired captain. When Anders found out it was over, he bought her a vibrator. ‘That’s taking consideration a bit far,’ she said, and told him her sex life was behind her now. But Anders kept on asking her if she had tried out the gift. Wenche often wondered if he was going to move out soon, but she never said anything. She put up with him. He put up with her.
There are glimpses of crude humor in all of this:
‘I just love Eurovision,’ he noted in the log on Saturday 14 May, awarding himself a night off to watch the final of the song contest. He had watched all the semi-finals. ‘My country has a crap, politically correct contribution as always. An asylum seeker from Kenya, performing a bongo song, very representative of Europe and my country … In any case, I hope Germany wins.’ Azerbaijan won.
At this time, Anders Breivik buys a farm and starts making a bomb. A big bomb, with instructions from the Internet. He paused by watching "The Shield" and also "Rome", "Dexter" and "True Blood":
Saturday 4 June. Six bags. Sunday 5 June. Four bags. Two more blenders fell apart. Monday 6 June. Bought two new blenders. That afternoon, he reached the end of the third sack. He had now crushed 1600 kilos of fertiliser pellets and soaked them in diesel. There was fertiliser dust everywhere. His green workwear had turned grey. ‘Surely I am going to die from cancer within twelve months as I must have gotten a lot of this crap into my lungs even though I used a 3M mask…’ he wrote in the log, adding: ‘Watching The Shield, a couple of episodes a day on average. I downloaded all seven seasons at the beginning of May.’
Some of the descriptions of the actual murder-spree at Utöya will stay in my mind:
Elisabeth ran along by the wall; she was calling her father again. Freddy Lie answered, and heard nothing but screams. His sixteen-year-old daughter was huddled down against the wall, crying into her phone, when Breivik came into the room. Freddy, who only a few minutes earlier had offered to come and get Elisabeth and her older sister, was in his car. He couldn’t do anything but listen. What was happening? Was she being attacked? Was she being raped? The line went dead. When he rang his daughter back, he got a message to say the phone was switched off or had no signal. The bullet had hit Elisabeth’s ear canal, seared through her cranium and gone right into her brain and out the other ear. Only when it got to the pink phone cover did the bullet stop. The girl fell sideways and Breivik shot her twice more. She lay there, no longer moving. Her long, wet blonde hair turned red with blood. Her grey jogging bottoms, her white T-shirt, everything was stained red. Soon her fingers would stiffen in their grip on the pink phone against her head.
Andrine felt sudden pressure against her chest. Her neck, her throat, her mouth were filling with blood. A bullet had entered her breast and stopped a few millimetres short of her spine; her lung was punctured. She lay in the shallow water, unable to breathe. She was drowning in blood. Her eyes were wide open. If I close them I shall die, she thought, fighting for air. She saw the man shoot everyone who had stayed by the pumping station. He went over to every single one of them and held his pistol a few centimetres from their heads. And fired and fired and fired. Then the killer stopped. He looked round. Surveyed the prone bodies, turned and went up the slope. Then suddenly he swung back round. He stopped, smiled and raised his weapon again. He aimed at her. He looked right at her. The shot went through her wellington boot and her foot. Bullets splashed into the water and ricocheted off the rocks all about her, sending chips of stone flying into her face. He took aim at her again. Now I’m going to die, she thought. It’s over. Breivik pressed the trigger.
Reading from what happened, at the trial:
It brought no relief. Amputations. Projectiles in the body. Injuries to internal organs. Damage to the optic nerve. Extensive tissue damage. Cerebral haemorrhage. Open fractured skull. Removal of the colon. Removal of a kidney. Projectile fragments in the chest wall. Skin transplant. Fractured eye socket. Permanent nerve damage. Shrapnel embedded in the face. Stomach, liver, left lung and heart damaged. Removal of fragments from the face. Arm amputated at the elbow. Amputation of arm and leg on the same side.
The day after the mass murder:
[It] sucks to take human life,’ Breivik said suddenly. ‘But it sucks even more not to act. Now that the Labour Party has betrayed its country and its people so categorically over many years, there’s a price to pay for that kind of treachery, and they paid that price yesterday.
Ending statement via two psychiatrists at the trial:
This pair of psychiatrists concluded that Breivik suffered from dissocial personality disorder with narcissistic traits. He had a ‘grandiose perception of his own importance’ and saw himself as ‘unique’. He had a vast appetite for ‘praise, success and power’ and was totally lacking in ‘emotional empathy, remorse or affective expression’ vis-à-vis those touched by the acts he had committed.
All in all, this is a laudable piece of journalism, in a tidy book; Seierstad is the only person who has been granted interview time with Breivik, who actually commented on her "good looks" while e-mailing her, sneaking in a ";-)" all the while.
He'll most probably never be released from jail. From what I know, his latest tantrum is thrown over not being allowed an expansion pack for a PlayStation game. The irony here, being that last sentence is quite the analogy for his entire life. ...more
Notes are private!
Dec 02, 2015
Nov 30, 2015
Jul 10, 2014
Jan 01, 2013
The introduction to this book snared me - as well as an endorsement of the book, courtesy of Noam Chomsky:
INTRODUCTIONThe introduction to this book snared me - as well as an endorsement of the book, courtesy of Noam Chomsky:
Well. This is quite the contrast to the current reports of ISIS (Islamic State), another horrid, squalid terroristic band.
Blum is good at making us remember history, not merely as told by the so-called victors.
Also, his best talent in this book, is displaying propaganda as what it really is by contrasting it. An example:
All countries, it is often argued, certainly all powerful countries, have always acted belligerent and militaristic, so why condemn the United States so much? But that is like arguing that since one can find anti-Semitism in every country, why condemn Nazi Germany? Obviously, it’s a question of magnitude.
Also, letting persons of interest display their own thoughts is often an extremely interesting thing:
Future president Theodore Roosevelt, who fought in Cuba at the turn of the last century with the greatest of gung-ho-ism, wrote: ‘It is for the good of the world that the English-speaking race in all its branches should hold as much of the world’s surface as possible.’
Apropos why the USA is being attacked:
The American people are very much like the children of a Mafia boss who do not know what their father does for a living, and don’t want to know, but then wonder why someone just threw a firebomb through the living room window.
On what the duality of the two main political parties of the USA really mean:
One reason for confusion among the electorate is that the two main parties, the Democrats and Republicans, while forever throwing charges and counter-charges at each other, actually hold indistinguishable views concerning foreign policy, a similarity that is one of the subjects of this book. What is the poor voter to make of all this? Apropos of this we have the view of the American electoral system from a foreigner, Cuban leader Raúl Castro. He has noted that the United States pits two identical parties against one another, and joked that a choice between a Republican and Democrat is like choosing between himself and his brother Fidel. ‘We could say in Cuba we have two parties: one led by Fidel and one led by Raúl, what would be the difference?’ he asked. ‘That’s the same thing that happens in the United States … both are the same. Fidel is a little taller than me, he has a beard and I don’t.’
Some background info on why the Marshall Plan is to be considered not entirely about help and altruism:
Suppressing the left all over Western Europe, most notably sabotaging the Communist parties in France and Italy in their bids for legal, non-violent, electoral victory. Marshall Plan funds were secretly siphoned off to finance this endeavor, and the promise of aid to a country, or the threat of its cutoff, was used as a bullying club; indeed, France and Italy would certainly have been exempted from receiving aid if they had not gone along with the plots to exclude the Communists from any kind of influential role.
On Yugoslavia, and the Clinton administration's record-breaking bombing:
Bill Clinton bombed Yugoslavia for seventy-eight days and nights in a row. His military and political policies destroyed one of the most progressive countries in Europe. And he called it ‘humanitarian intervention.’ It’s still regarded by almost all Americans, including many, if not most, ‘progressives,’ as just that. Propaganda is to a democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.
Speaking of NATO, a clear-headed thought:
If NATO had never existed, what argument could be given today in favor of creating such an institution?
Another clear-headed one-liner:
Capitalism is the theory that the worst people, acting from their worst motives, will somehow produce the most good.
What do the CEOs do all day that they should earn a thousand times more than schoolteachers, nurses, firefighters, street cleaners, and social workers? Reread some medieval history, about feudal lords and serfs.
The more you care about others, the more you’re at a disadvantage competing in the capitalist system.
Communist governments take over companies. Under capitalism, the companies take over the government.
And on the Obama administration:
As we’ll see from State Department cables in the WikiLeaks chapter, the Obama administration renewed military ties with Indonesia in spite of serious concerns expressed by American diplomats that the Indonesian military’s human rights abuses in the province of West Papua were stoking unrest in the region. The United States also overturned a ban on training the Indonesian Kopassus army special forces – despite the Kopassus’s long history of arbitrary detention, torture, and murder – after the Indonesian president threatened to derail President Obama’s trip to the country in November 2010.
It was recently disclosed that an Iraqi resident of Britain is being released from Guantánamo after four years. His crime? He refused to work as an informer for the CIA and MI5, the British security service. His business partner is still being held in Guantánamo, for the same crime.
About Iraq, it's interesting to read facts as opposed to prejudice about what life was like, before and after the first American invasion:
Women’s rights, previously enjoyed, fell under great danger of being subject to harsh Islamic law. There is today a Shiite religious ruling class in Iraq, which tolerates physical attacks on women for showing a bare arm or for picnicking with a male friend. Men can be harassed for wearing shorts in public, as can children playing outside in shorts.
On Julian Assange and Sweden:
One further consequence of Assange’s predicament may be to put an end to the widespread belief that Sweden, or the Swedish government, is peaceful, progressive, neutral, and independent. Stockholm’s behavior in this matter and others has been as American-poodle-like as London’s, as it lined itself up with an Assange accuser who has been associated with right-wing anti-Castro Cubans, who are of course US-government-supported. This is the same Sweden that for some time in recent years was working with the CIA on its torture-rendition flights and has about 500 soldiers in Afghanistan. Sweden is the world’s largest per capita arms exporter, and for years has taken part in US/NATO military exercises, some within its own territory. The left should get themselves a new nation to admire. Try Cuba.
However, Blum's sexist approach to rape charges against Assange make for a very, very sad read:
There’s also the old stereotype held by Americans of Scandinavians practicing a sophisticated and tolerant attitude toward sex, an image that was initiated, or enhanced, by the celebrated 1967 Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow), which had been banned for a while in the United States. And now what do we have? Sweden sending Interpol on an international hunt for a man who apparently upset two women, perhaps for no more than sleeping with them both in the same week.
By quickly googling some, ending up at, for example, The Enliven Project, one quickly finds that there's greater risk of being hit by lightning than being falsely accused of rape. The two women did not know each other, and have rendered quite similar stories of how Assange purportedly assaulted them. Blum's "no more than sleeping with them both in the same week" is as tragic as reading how he deals with the US government's downplays, for example, when writing about Guantanámo inmates.
So, sadly, there is a waft and complete shame about Blum's writing on women. It's really beyond sad.
However, his humanitarian views beyond that seems OK, which feels tainted to say.
‘We came, we saw, he died.’ The words of US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, giggling, as she spoke of the depraved murder of Muammar Gaddafi.
This also really happened: Jay Leno on his August 7, 2006 television program: ‘There’s news of a major medical crisis from Cuba concerning Fidel Castro. It looks like he’s getting better.’ Think of a US president battling a serious ailment and a broadcaster on Cuban TV making such a remark.
Like I stated, Blum’s way of contrasting statements by displaying how they’d look through someone else’s mouth is one of his his fortés.
On the "Cuban missile crisis", which shows the necessity for Iran to acquire nuclear arms to preserve their peace:
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, historian and adviser to President Kennedy, termed it ‘the most dangerous moment in human history.’ But I’ve never believed that. Such a fear is based on the belief that either or both of the countries was ready and willing to unleash their nuclear weapons against the other. However, this was never in the cards because of MAD – mutually assured destruction. By 1962, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither superpower could entirely destroy the other’s retaliatory force by launching a missile first, even with a surprise attack. Retaliation was certain, or certain enough. Starting a nuclear war was committing suicide. If the Japanese had had nuclear bombs, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been destroyed.
Also, on that "crisis":
John Gerassi, professor of political science at Queens College in New York City, wrote a letter to the New York Times: To the Editor, In his ‘A Spy Confesses’ (Week in Review, September 21, 2008), Sam Roberts claims that folks ‘fiercely loyal to the far left believed that the Rosenbergs were not guilty…’ I am and have always been, since my stint as a correspondent and editor in Latin America for Time and Newsweek, a ‘far leftist,’ and I have never claimed the Rosenbergs were not guilty. Nor have any of my ‘far leftist’ friends. What we always said, and what I repeat to my students every semester, is that ‘if they were guilty, they are this planet’s great heroes.’ My explanation is quite simple: The US had a first-strike policy, the USSR did not (until Gorbachev). In 1952, the US military, and various intelligence services, calculated that a first strike on all Soviet silos would wipe out all but 6 percent of Russian atomic missiles (and, we now know, create enough radiation to kill us all). But those 6 percent would automatically be fired at US cities. The military then calculated what would happen if one made a direct hit on Denver (why they chose Denver and not New York or Washington was never explained). Their finding: 200,000 would die immediately, two million within a month. They concluded that it was not worth it. In other words, I tell my students, you were born and I am alive because the USSR had a deterrent against our ‘preventive’ attack, not the other way around. And if it is true that the Rosenbergs helped the Soviets get that deterrent, they end up among the planet’s saviors. John Gerassi It will not come as a great surprise to learn that the New York Times did not allow such thoughts to appear in its exalted pages.
Some thinking words on sexuality and US politics:
‘Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?’ was the question posed to presidential candidate Bill Richardson by singer Melissa Etheridge. ‘It’s a choice,’ replied the New Mexico governor at the August 9, 2007 forum for Democratic candidates. Etheridge then said to Richardson, ‘Maybe you didn’t understand the question,’ and she rephrased it. Richardson again said he thought it was a choice.6 The next time you hear someone say that homosexuality is a choice, ask them how old they were when they chose to be heterosexual. When they admit that they never made such a conscious choice, the next question to the person should be: ‘So only homosexuals choose to be homosexual? Heterosexuals do not choose to be heterosexual? But what comes first, being homosexual so you can make the choice, or making the choice and thus becoming homosexual?’
Blum delivers very severe and well-deserved critique to Obama. Examples:
When, in 2005, the other Illinois Senator, Dick Durbin, stuck his neck out and compared American torture at Guantánamo to ‘Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings,’ and was angrily denounced by the right wing, Obama stood up in the Senate and… defended him? No, he joined the critics, thrice calling Durbin’s remark a ‘mistake.’
Since taking office in January 2005, he has voted to approve almost every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward. He also voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state despite her complicity in the Bush administration’s false justifications for going to war in Iraq. In doing so, he lacked the courage of twelve of his Democratic Party Senate colleagues who voted against her confirmation.
[...] keep in mind that as a US Senate candidate in 2004 he threatened missile strikes against Iran[...]
Another prominent Obama adviser – from a list entirely and depressingly establishment-imperial – is Madeleine Albright, who played key roles in the merciless bombings of Iraq and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Is anyone keeping count? I am. Libya makes six. Six countries that Barack H. Obama has waged war against in his twenty-six months in office. (To anyone who disputes that dropping bombs on a populated land is an act of war, I would ask what they think of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.) America’s first black president has now waged war in Africa. Is there anyone left who still thinks that Barack Obama is some kind of improvement over George W. Bush?
I could go through the Cairo speech and point out line by line all the political and moral shortcomings, the plain nonsense, and the rest. (‘I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States.’ No mention of it being outsourced to various countries, likely including the very country in which he was speaking. ‘No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons.’ But this is precisely what the United States is trying to do concerning Iran and North Korea.
All in all, Blum is bitter, yes, but he's got his head where it should be, apart from where women are, apparently, being dealt with. His words on the Assange affair taint the entire book, but other than that, it's a good book, although more fractured than, say, a Chomsky book would be. ...more
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Sep 30, 2015
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Sep 29, 2015
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really liked it
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Oct 04, 2015
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Sep 29, 2015
Aug 17, 2015
Aug 17, 2015
really liked it
Many of my favourite books cover many areas, especially where non-fiction is concerned. I wish this collection of essays and articles, all written by Many of my favourite books cover many areas, especially where non-fiction is concerned. I wish this collection of essays and articles, all written by Noam Chomsky (except for the one where David Barsamian interviews Chomsky), were -fiction, but it's not.
This collection covers many areas, ranging from a short description of anarchy to Obama's drone-wielding terrorist campaign, over climate change, into the more-than-apartheid campaign of Israel against Palestine. It's a lot, but it's so well written, and so thoroughly researched, that it's impossible to withstand, even if one tried to.
From the introduction:
The commentaries presented in this book are a collection of columns penned between 2011 and 2014, distributed to the international press by the New York Times Syndicate, and widely published in newspapers abroad. Few, if any, are published on the op-ed pages of American papers, and U.S. military censors even banned distribution of an earlier collection of his commentaries, INTERVENTIONS.
That's right. That book wasn't allowed into the reading list at Guantánamo Bay.
Chomsky's writing is, as always, simple and plain, even providing insight that extraterrestrials would find easy to get (not that we're hard to crack as a species, despite our wont to deplete ourselves):
To gain perspective on what’s happening in the world, it’s sometimes useful to adopt the stance of intelligent extraterrestrial observers viewing the strange doings on Earth. They would be watching in wonder as the richest and most powerful country in world history now leads the lemmings cheerfully off the cliff.
Chomsky's "Anniversaries from 'Unhistory'" is great, so much that it deserves a chapter of its own in this review. Instead, I will link to some highlights of mine, from that chapter: https://www.highly.co/hl/55ffa39b6c69...
Naturally, Chomsky delves into the concept of terrorism, what it actually means, not only the word, but how terrorism is defined by the UN, and how the USA continually deceive its population and the rest of the world on that note:
In three years we may—or may not—commemorate another event of great contemporary relevance: the 900th anniversary of the Magna Carta. This document is the foundation for what historian Margaret E. McGuiness, referring to the Nuremberg Trials, hailed as a “particularly American brand of legalism: punishment only for those who could be proved to be guilty through a fair trial with a panoply of procedural protections.”
Chomsky's tips are always interesting:
In his penetrating study IDEAL ILLUSIONS: HOW THE U.S. GOVERNMENT CO-OPTED HUMAN RIGHTS, international affairs scholar James Peck observes, “In the history of human rights, the worst atrocities are always committed by somebody else, never us”—whoever “us” is.
Also, his views on companies and corporations that go hand-in-hand with government seldom disappoint to shock:
Joining the Vietnamese appeal against Dow are the government of India, the Indian Olympic Association, and the survivors of the horrendous 1984 Bhopal gas leak, one of history’s worst industrial disasters, which killed thousands and injured more than half a million. Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for the disaster, was taken over by Dow, for whom the matter is of no slight concern. In February, Wikileaks revealed that Dow hired the U.S. private investigative agency Stratfor to monitor activists seeking compensation for the victims and prosecution of those responsible.
His words on Israel, on the perennial US support for Israel, are always clarifying:
The possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons arises in the electoral campaign. (The fact that Israel already has them does not.) Two positions are counterposed: Should the U.S. declare that it will attack if Iran reaches the capability to develop nuclear weapons, which dozens of countries enjoy? Or should Washington keep the “red line” more indefinite? The latter position is that of the White House; the former is demanded by Israeli hawks—and accepted by the U.S. Congress. The Senate just voted 90–1 to support the Israeli position.
His words on how the USA perceive Iran as "a major threat", or, indeed, "the biggest threat", are also crystal clear:
As numerous polls have shown, although citizens of Arab countries generally dislike Iran, they do not regard it as a very serious threat. Rather, they perceive the threat to be Israel and the United States; and many, sometimes considerable majorities, regard Iranian nuclear weapons as a counter to these threats.
And, on capitalism:
CAN CIVILIZATION SURVIVE CAPITALISM? March 4, 2013
His human insights and retellings of stories from Gaza are very touching:
While a showcase for the human capacity for violence, Gaza is also an inspiring exemplar of the demand for dignity. Ghada Ageel, a young woman who escaped from Gaza to Canada, writes about her 87-year-old refugee grandmother, still trapped in the Gaza prison. Before her grandmother’s expulsion from a now-destroyed village, “she owned a house, farms and land and she enjoyed honor, dignity and hope.” Amazingly, like Palestinians generally, the elderly woman hasn’t given up hope. “When I saw my grandmother in November 2012 she was unusually happy,” Ageel writes. “Surprised by her high spirits, I asked for an explanation. She looked me in the eye and, to my surprise, said that she was no longer worried about” her native village and the life of dignity that she has lost, for her irrevocably. The village, her grandmother told Ageel, “is in your heart, and I also know that you are not alone in your journey. Don’t be discouraged. We are getting there.”
A few words on Edward Snowden and people like Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning:
Washington has made clear that any country that refuses to extradite Snowden will face harsh punishment. The United States will “chase him to the ends of the earth,” Senator Lindsey Graham warned.
His words on anarchy:
Anarchism is, famously, opposed to the state, while advocating “planned administration of things in the interest of the community,” in Rocker’s words; and beyond that, wide-ranging federations of self-governing communities and workplaces.
On the current drone campaign:
For example, President Obama’s drone-driven global assassination program, by far the world’s greatest terrorist campaign, is also a terror-generating campaign. General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until he was relieved of duty, spoke of “insurgent math”: For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. This concept of “innocent person” tells us how far we’ve progressed in the last 800 years, since the Magna Carta, which established the principle of presumption of innocence that was once thought to be the foundation of Anglo-American law.
I love how Chomsky displays the thoughts of major publications and how they follow the lead of their government:
Recently the NEW YORK TIMES reported the “anguish” of a federal judge who had to decide whether to allow the force-feeding of a Syrian prisoner who is on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. No “anguish” was expressed over the fact that he has been held without trial for 12 years in Guantánamo Bay military prison, one of many victims of the leader of the Free World who claims the right to hold prisoners without charges and to subject them to torture.
A bit more on companies/corporations vs the environment:
It is unfair to omit exercises of “soft power” and the role of the private sector. A good example is Chevron’s decision to abandon its widely touted renewable energy programs, because fossil fuels are far more profitable. Exxon Mobil in turn announced “that its laserlike focus on fossil fuels is a sound strategy, regardless of climate change,” BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK reports, “because the world needs vastly more energy and the likelihood of significant carbon reductions is ‘highly unlikely.’” It is therefore a mistake to remind readers daily of the Nuremberg judgment. Aggression is no longer the “supreme international crime.” It cannot compare with destruction of the lives of future generations to ensure bigger bonuses tomorrow.
Brilliant. Simple. Plain. Insightful. A must-read. ...more
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Sep 21, 2015
Sep 20, 2015
Oct 06, 2015
really liked it
This book is poetic in itself. Patti circles her known ground, her home, while venturing to her local café and abroad, to places she has not visited b This book is poetic in itself. Patti circles her known ground, her home, while venturing to her local café and abroad, to places she has not visited before as well as those known by her. Her way of writing here is familiar to those who have read her seminal book of herself and Robert Mapplethorpe. Here, she writes much of her former husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, who has died.
Theirs is a story of love, friendship and travel; this entire book is focused on travel, and Patti writes well of it. Here is an example, from the start of the book:
IT’S NOT SO EASY writing about nothing. That’s what a cowpoke was saying as I entered the frame of a dream. Vaguely handsome, intensely laconic, he was balancing on a folding chair, leaning backwards, his Stetson brushing the edge of the dun-colored exterior of a lone café. I say lone, as there appeared to be nothing else around except an antiquated gas pump and a rusting trough ornamented with a necklace of horseflies slung above the last dregs of its stagnant water. There was no one around, either, but he didn’t seem to mind; he just pulled the brim of his hat over his eyes and kept on talking. It was the same kind of Silverbelly Open Road model that Lyndon Johnson used to wear.
Cowpoke. I like that non-gendered version of "cowboy".
She writes about her every day, in a way that is not meant to impress; I think so, anyway - if she IS trying to impress, I'm impressed by not being touched that way. Or any other way:
FOUR CEILING FANS spinning overhead. The Café ’Ino is empty save for the Mexican cook and a kid named Zak who sets me up with my usual order of brown toast, a small dish of olive oil, and black coffee. I huddle in my corner, still wearing my coat and watch cap. It’s 9 a.m. I’m the first one here. Bedford Street as the city awakens. My table, flanked by the coffee machine and the front window, affords me a sense of privacy, where I withdraw into my own atmosphere. The end of November. The small café feels chilly. So why are the fans turning? Maybe if I stare at them long enough my mind will turn as well. It’s not so easy writing about nothing. I can hear the sound of the cowpoke’s slow and authoritative drawl. I scribble his phrase on my napkin. How can a fellow get your goat in a dream and then have the grit to linger? I feel a need to contradict him, not just a quick retort but with action. I look down at my hands. I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.
Her words on finding a calm, lone and quiet spot in a café, anyone can relate to.
In 1965 I had come to New York City from South Jersey just to roam around, and nothing seemed more romantic than just to sit and write poetry in a Greenwich Village café.
It's rare to find a language like Patti's, which is so easily read and at the same time poetic, even though she writes of her everyday, which is not so everyday as she covers stuff ranging from her cats to her incessant love for Roberto Bolaño.
Such a sad portion of injustice served to beautiful Bolaño, to die at the height of his powers at fifty years old. The loss of him and his unwritten denying us at least one secret of the world.
I love how she writes of her dead husband, Fred:
My yearning for him permeated everything—my poems, my songs, my heart.
And yes, she's not only flim-flam, I mean, poetic in the sense that she, like many others who try too hard to be poetic, is really good at massaging and churning language, but in a kind of Mayakovsky-meets-Burroughs way. Realistic, but not ongoing in a way that makes you wish it'd end soon. For example:
M—What did you two talk about? I asked.
Without noticing, I slip into a light yet lingering malaise. Not a depression, more like a fascination for melancholia, which I turn in my hand as if it were a small planet, streaked in shadow, impossibly blue.
Goes to show that Patti is a sucker for detective stuff. Partly on Swedish stuff:
On Christmas Eve I present the cats with catnip-enhanced mice toys and exit aimlessly into the vacant night, finally landing near the Chelsea Hotel at a movie theater offering a late showing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I buy my ticket and a large black coffee and a bag of organic popcorn at the corner deli, and then settle in my seat in the back of the theater. Just me and a score of slackers, comfortably isolated from the world, attaining our own brand of holiday well-being, no gifts, no Christ child, no tinsel or mistletoe, only a sense of complete freedom. I liked the looks of the movie. I had already seen the Swedish version without subtitles but hadn’t read the books, so now I would be able to piece together the plot and lose myself in the bleak Swedish landscape.
I like how she weaves in a side-thought of materialism, much like humans think, a bit like Montaigne and people like he have thought and uttered in different ways, since forever:
I did once sit in the chair of Roberto Bolaño when visiting his family’s home in the seacoast town of Blanes, in northeast Spain. I immediately regretted it. I had taken four pictures of it, a simple chair that he superstitiously carried with him from one dwelling place to another. It was his writing chair. Did I think that sitting in it would make me a better writer?
I love her recollection of meeting Bobby Fischer on Iceland:
When I returned I received a call from a man identifying himself as Bobby Fischer’s bodyguard. He had been charged with arranging a midnight meeting between Mr. Fischer and myself in the closed dining room of the Hótel Borg. I was to bring my bodyguard, and would not be permitted to bring up the subject of chess. I consented to the meeting and then crossed the square to the Club NASA where I recruited their head technician, a trustworthy fellow called Skills, to stand as my so-called bodyguard. Bobby Fischer arrived at midnight in a dark hooded parka. Skills also wore a hooded parka. Bobby’s bodyguard towered over us all. He waited with Skills outside the dining room. Bobby chose a corner table and we sat face-to-face. He began testing me immediately by issuing a string of obscene and racially repellent references that morphed into paranoiac conspiracy rants.
Between her marathons of detective TV-series, funny stuff happened:
During a break between Detective Frost and Whitechapel, I decided to have a farewell glass of port in the honesty bar adjacent to the library. Standing by the elevator I suddenly felt a presence beside me. We turned at the same moment and stared at one another. I was stunned to find Robbie Coltrane, as if I’d willed him, some days ahead of the Cracker marathon. —I’ve been waiting for you all week, I said impetuously. —Here I am, he laughed. I was so taken aback that I failed to join him in the elevator and promptly returned to my room, which seemed subtly yet utterly transformed, as if I had been drawn into the parallel quarters of a proper tea-drinking genie.
On William S. Burroughs:
I last saw him in Lawrence, Kansas. He lived in a modest house, with his cats, his books, a shotgun, and a portable wooden medicine cabinet locked away. He sat at his typewriter; the one with the ribbon so used up that sometimes only impressions of words made it to the page. He had a miniature pond with darting red fish and tin cans set up in his backyard. He enjoyed a little target practice and was still a great shot. I purposely left my camera in its sack and stood quietly observing as he took aim. He was somewhat dried and bent, yet he was beautiful. I looked at the bed where he slept and watched the curtains on his window move ever so slightly. Before I said good-bye we stood together before a print of William Blake’s miniature of The Ghost of a Flea. It was an image of a reptilian being with a curved yet powerful spine enhanced with scales of gold.
Dialogue that is pretty:
—You have misplaced joy, he said without hesitation. Without joy, we are as dead.
There are a lot of photographs throughout the book.
And I love how she turns out to have boundaries on what constitutes great writing...somewhat:
There are two kinds of masterpieces. There are the classic works monstrous and divine like Moby-Dick or Wuthering Heights or Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus. And then there is the type wherein the writer seems to infuse living energy into words as the reader is spun, wrung, and hung out to dry. Devastating books. Like 2666 or The Master and Margarita. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is such a book. I finished it and was immediately obliged to reread it. For one thing I did not wish to exit its atmosphere. But also, the ghost of a phrase was eating at me. Something that untied a neat knot and let the frayed edges brush against my cheek as I slept. [...] The truth is that there is only one kind of masterpiece: a masterpiece.
On meeting needs for money:
September was ending and already cold. I was heading up Sixth Avenue and stopped to buy a new watch cap from a street vendor. As I pulled it on an old man approached me. His blue eyes burned and his hair was white as snow. I noticed that his wool gloves were unraveling and his left hand was bandaged. —Give me the money you have in your pocket, he said. Either I am being tested, I thought, or I have wandered into the opening of a modern fairy tale. I had a twenty and three singles, which I placed in his hand. —Good, he said after a moment, and then returned the twenty. I thanked him and continued on, more buoyant than before.
What she always consumes for breakfast:
I poured some more black coffee, reached for some dark bread, and dipped it into a small dish of olive oil.
Some on Plath's masterpiece "Ariel":
I closed my eyes and searched for a stored image of my copy of Ariel, given to me when I was twenty. Ariel became the book of my life then, drawing me to a poet with hair worthy of a Breck commercial and the incisive observational powers of a female surgeon cutting out her own heart. With little effort I visualized my Ariel perfectly. Slim, with faded black cloth, that I opened in my mind, noting my youthful signature on the cream endpaper. I turned the pages, revisiting the shape of each poem.
This is a really good book. Not because it's swift but because it's just great. I hope Patti releases new stuff very, very soon. ...more
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Oct 07, 2015
Oct 07, 2015
Sep 09, 2015
Mar 31, 2015
Mar 31, 2015
really liked it
But Kurt was super-quiet… He was just one of those guys who would walk by and you just wouldn’t notice him right off the bat. One day in school he pas
But Kurt was super-quiet … He was just one of those guys who would walk by and you just wouldn’t notice him right off the bat. One day in school he passed up a note to the girl behind me; she passed it to me and it said, “Will you teach me to play guitar?” I told him, “Yeah, no problem.” But it never happened.
This is really a whole lot of quotes from a lot of different people, bundled together in chapters, all about Nirvana, collected from the beginning until the end (i.e. after Cobain's life ended, up until the recent re-release of "In Utero").
There are a lot of sweet anecdotes from people who actually knew the band.
GILLY ANN HANNER, Sister Skelter/Calamity Jane: I first saw Nirvana when they played my house for my birthday party.
RYAN AIGNER: You’ve seen the “Love Buzz”/“Big Cheese” single? Have you noticed the inscription on the vinyl? Around the label it says “Why don’t you trade those guitars for shovels?” That quote happened during a rehearsal with Robert Novoselic, myself, and a friend called Brett Walker. We were at Krist’s house; we’d gotten together after school … trying to rehearse and learn some cover songs. Krist came home, came upstairs, listened to what we doing, and gave us his opinion about what was going on, helped us out—showed us some guitar leads he knew—then Krist and Robert’s father came home. He was a construction worker and he wasn’t happy about this noise, so he came upstairs to the boys’ bedroom, forced the door open. He was yelling. Krist was yelling back, “Aw, leave them alone! They’re just kids, you know!” Finally they let him in. We didn’t know him well; we introduced ourselves and let him know who we were. And he says with a frown on his face, “You kids, why don’t you kids go sell those goddamn guitars and buy something useful like shovels or something?” That’s where the quote came from—many years later, the story had a mythological life-span and kept coming up. They found it pretty funny so they had it engraved.
LEIGHTON BEEZER: I was invited to play by default, I guess, since it was a record-release party and all the bands were on the bill. But from here on out it’s hard for me to give an accurate answer, since I got very seriously drunk that night and my memory is a little fuzzy … They were really just another band among equals at the time … But here’s what I do remember. Kurt and I used to occasionally have a beer together before he played. He used to stink for some reason … like, really bad BO. And so, one night, as a joke, I brought along a roll of my girlfriend’s deodorant and gave it to Kurt before he took the stage that night. He laughed, and then quickly disappeared. The next thing I knew, I saw Kurt onstage with Nirvana, rolling some of this stuff on, like, in the middle of a song … I can’t remember which one. He then picked it up and showed it to the crowd. The band stopped playing, looking kind of bewildered. Kurt held up the deodorant, Teen Spirit, and said something like, “Leighton Beezer said I stink and gave me this. Now I smell like Teen Spirit.” … A couple of weeks before the Sub 200 show, Kurt stopped by my house on the Hill, just to shoot the shit. He picked up my guitar, a Squire Jagmaster, as I recall, and played these four chords for me. He said he’d been listening a lot to the first Boston album and wanted to use those chords in a new song he’d been working on. I said, “But you’re ripping off ‘More Than a Feeling,’ dude.” He smiled and said nothing.
Also, don't tell me Cobain didn't put his money where his mouth was:
I remember Kurt saying that they wanted to leave Sub-Pop because “they’re sexist.”
Cobain was a feminist, which means he's for equality between genders. The man really was, through and through. Thank Bog.
Nirvana lent weight whenever asked. Cobain dueted with Courtney Love at a Rock Against Rape event. The band played Rock for Choice, contributed to the Home Alive compilation, invited female-fronted bands on tour, and on occasion would chastise male members of their own audience if they spotted them molesting girls in the crowd.
GILLY ANN HANNER: We played West Coast dates, including some in L.A. that were filmed by Lisa Rose Apramian for her rockumentary Not Bad for a Girl, featuring Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland, and dozens of other female musicians. The film was released in 1995, and Kurt and Courtney ended up partially funding it.
ROD STEPHEN, Björn Again: We were doing a concert in Melbourne and Nirvana were playing down the road. They were looking for something to do afterward and stumbled upon our gig. We didn’t know they were there; we were onstage.
Everybody who's interviewed keeps coming back to how uncomfortable the band were with their extreme success, especially Kurt. All the while, they would wield their power in good ways.
Nirvana broke again from the corporate plan, canceling their November US tour. Instead, they were motivated to make their first mainland US appearances since the New Year by their opposition to an anti-gay-rights ballot measure in Oregon and to the Erotic Music Law in Washington. Neither was a topic that endeared them to mainstream audiences, but Nirvana saw fame as valuable only if it stood for something.
JON GINOLI: The only communication we had with Nirvana at the time was through Jello Biafra, who was a fan of ours. He was at the No On 9 benefit that Nirvana played in Portland against an anti-gay measure on the Oregon state ballot. I thought, Wow, how cool! Guns N’ Roses would never do that—a popular rock band had never taken such a pro-gay stand at that point in time. Jello told us he was going to emcee the show, and I asked him to ask Nirvana if they minded us doing a gay version of their song as “Smells Like Queer Spirit.” He said he spoke with all three of them together, and said they were cool with it … We did the song the way we did it for several reasons. Nevermind did not come with a lyric sheet; we couldn’t tell what half the lyrics were. We thought, what if the lyrics were slurred and indecipherable because they were all about being gay? That’s when I came up with the title “Smells Like Queer Spirit” … One reason we wanted to do the song was that even though we loved it, it was so ubiquitous that we were getting sick of it. Cobain spoke of the Pansy Division cover as a real pleasure; his band had been baiting homophobes all year.
Cobain and Nirvana made repeated statements, whether subtle or otherwise, regarding the issue of gay rights; Cobain appeared on MTV in a ballroom gown, Novoselic French-kissed him on Saturday Night Live, the “In Bloom” video dissolved into cross-dressing hilarity, and Cobain accused Axl Rose of sexism, homophobia, and racism … Nirvana helped to bring a downplayed strand of the underground to the fore.
Even further, as a comment to Guns 'n' Roses and the likes:
JON GINOLI: People noticed all right. It was a big middle finger to hard-rock stupidity. Rock stars were not supposed to make fun of themselves and not take their image seriously. They got away with it because they were huge. I remember too when they wore dresses for the “In Bloom” video—that was a gesture that had major impact, to so blatantly fuck with gender. It wasn’t about rock-star cool … Kurt sang, “God is gay” and “Everyone is gay.” Axl sang “Immigrants and faggots, they make no sense to me,” and that they “spread some fucking disease” … I don’t think much pro-gay sentiment was happening in rock until the ’90s—punk rock got more macho as times went on. Originally punk could be aggressive without being macho. Part of the homophobia stemmed from the idea that people thought gays weren’t making or listening to that kind of music, because almost no one playing it was out of the closet. Part of the reason I formed Pansy Division was that I knew that wasn’t true. Our mere presence (along with queer peers like Tribe 8 and Team Dresch) forced the issue out into the open the same way that Bikini Kill did for women and feminism … Someone told me that Maximum Rocknroll magazine were afraid to give us bad reviews because they didn’t want to look homophobic, but because they were the home of hardcore they were never too enthusiastic, either.
GARY FLOYD: If I had just been singing about gay issues only, I would have been pegged as more of a “gay singer” than I am. I think I was more “a singer that was gay” than “a gay singer.” My songs were multi-issue … I’m happy Kurt felt gay topics were part of what was going on. I loved him for that. However, most punks could not care less that Bad Brains did some despicable homophobic bullshit … Never apologized … Never said “We are sorry,” anti-“bloodclot faggot,” crap … They do not care a fucking thing; maybe Kurt did … Most so-called punks don’t give a shit. I didn’t get shit because I didn’t take shit.
Somehow, I get the feeling that Cobain felt isolated. From the book, anyway.
CHRIS BROKAW: I was walking down the hallway and Kurt came up and was saying how we should come to their backstage room more often. He was saying, “You guys should come and hang out with us before shows … it gets so lonely back there.” When he said that, he was looking into my eyes. He looked so sad, and suddenly a group of people came rushing down the hall at us and mobbed him screaming for autographs and trying to touch him. There was this circle of people swarming around him and he was still just looking into my eyes. He looked so alone, so small and lost. He was a sweet person but his fame seemed overwhelming. I just backed up slowly. It was a scary moment. He was surrounded.
About the death:
PAUL LEARY: Dark days that I do not miss … I remember the day I heard on the news that Kurt had died. I was with Daniel Johnston [founder of K Records] in the living room of his parents’ house watching the news. When it was announced, I said, “Oh my God.” Daniel’s mother asked who that was, and Daniel said, “That’s the guy who wore my [HI, HOW ARE YOU] T-shirt.”
At the end, the book itself says what it is:
This book serves as a celebration of Nirvana, but it is as much about the many musicians who made the underground into the home that the superstars never wished to leave. This book is a tribute to what was created and to the people who are still making it what it is.
It's a laudable book, and should be read by anybody not only interested in the band, but in the music business at large, and anthropologically, by anyone interested in seeing how money changes everything. A very human take on the story of a band, well collated by Soulsby. ...more
Notes are private!
Jun 07, 2015
Jun 08, 2015
Jun 07, 2015
Mar 17, 2015
May 19, 2015
This is a book written by Jon Fine, where he is the protagonist. Hell, this is his life, as a musician, joining bands, travelling the world, recording This is a book written by Jon Fine, where he is the protagonist. Hell, this is his life, as a musician, joining bands, travelling the world, recording, suffering, et cetera. To me, Fine comes across almost like the Jack Black character in the filmed version of "High Fidelity", a bit ADHD, very high-strung and obviously dedicated to his shit, especially where his passions lay.
I also love the fact that he often takes his own shit, so to speak, when writing this book. By this I mean that he's almost driven to the point of denigrating his own choices and options, but mostly, he seems straight forward and honest, even though I have no idea whether that's the truth.
However, we do smell our own.
This music was unafraid to color outside the lines unimaginative people thought defined what was acceptable in rock music. Because there were so many things you could do with rock music, once you started ignoring all the rules: What if a song had only one part? What if a song had only one chord? Why do we need choruses? Why not write songs where no parts repeat? What if we never play in 4/4 again? What if we distorted the bass and made it the lead instrument? Why do we need vocals? Everyone’s playing really fast, so why don’t we play really slow? I thought this music was the most important thing in the world. I probably would have died for it.
I mostly like how he writes in a seemingly stream-of-consciousness way, at times pointing out little thoughts inside parentheses, while detailing how near-impossible it was to get hold of music that said something to him, child of the late 1980s as he were:
I mean, if I’d grown up in an earlier era, maybe I could sing some paean to radio, the magic appliance through which you received secret transmissions from your true home planet, the best friend with whom you huddled in the dark, etc., but good God was radio awful in the eighties. Tears for Fears. Debbie Gibson. Billy Idol. George Thorogood. Genesis, after Peter Gabriel left, and Phil Collins’s entire solo career. Corey Hart, the poor man’s Bryan Adams in new wave sunglasses, while Bryan Adams was a poor man’s John Cougar Mellencamp, as if just being John Cougar Mellencamp weren’t brutal enough. Things were so bad we tried to get excited about John Fogerty’s first album in like ten years, even though any chemistry textbook was more exciting and contained no writing as horrendous as the lyrics to “Centerfield.” Survivor. Fucking Starship. Journey played on an endless loop, and no one acted like it was funny or weird. Howard Jones had a huge hit with “Things Can Only Get Better,” and no one called him out for lying. During one surpassingly strange fifteen or eighteen months, the ghastly and bouncy Men at Work was the biggest band in the world. Even the “quality” rock bands—those adored by critical consensus, like Bruce Springsteen and U2—were as wearying as algebra. Dog-faced with sincerity. Groaning with sanctimony. Their endless, applause-seeking urge to do the right thing. The great secret history of music, the stuff with some substance to it—Stooges, Suicide, Leonard Cohen, Can and Guru Guru and NEU! and the entirety of krautrock, Funkadelic, Blue Cheer, Albert Ayler, Magma, Wire, King Crimson, Joy Division, all the great mutant offshoots of disco, punk, hardcore, and psych—was so far out of reach in my suburb it might as well have been buried on Mars. Before breaking up in 1983, Mission of Burma had been desperately setting off signal flares up in Boston, where they practically invented the template for brainy and aggressive underground bands that’s still followed today: unusual song structures; melodic and powerful bass; distorted guitar serving more as sonic sculpture than mere notes and chords; relentless off-center drumming. But the local college radio playlists were still choked with synthy new wave and British imports, so, as with everything else going on with an entire founding generation of American punk rock, we had no way of knowing. [...] Sonic Youth lived and practiced thirty-five miles from my high school. They’d released two EPs and a full-length album by the end of my junior year, but no one around me had any idea.
At times, Fine writes of human stuff that I have seen little proof of, where other musicians have taken pen to paper:
I was learning that the bond between the bullied and the bully is strikingly intimate: odd, deeply sexual, confusing.
There’s a sheer sexual power when you fill a huge room with glorious, massive noise, playing through a guitar rig that behaves exactly as you want it. There’s a magical feeling when you believe—no, when you know—you can wave your hands or a guitar at the amp and the electrons inside instantly respond. Even after all these years it’s still the closest feeling to God that I know. And every time I got the tiniest taste of it, I understood why so many willingly ruin their lives for it.
Band names, playing music, writing songs, everything was completely new and nobody knew how to do it, except they had to:
Mr. Epp and the Calculations was another poster band, formed by a teenage Mark Arm in 1980, years before Green River and Mudhoney. Since they were, you know, in a band, Arm and another member split the cost of a cheap pawnshop guitar. “We didn’t know how to tune it,” Arm admitted and then corrected himself: “We didn’t know what tuning was.”
Speaking of musts:
Lou Barlow, famously and abruptly booted from Dinosaur Jr. in 1989, described that situation like this: “I was kicked out of the band because they didn’t like me.” But his reaction was “Who gives a shit whether you like me or not? The music we play—that’s the most important thing.”
His most known band, Bitch Magnet, were engineered by Steve Albini:
(An engineer recorded your band. A producer rewrote your songs and told you what to play. We learned the distinction after pissing off Albini by giving him a producer credit on the first pressing of Star Booty.)
What adds supreme distinction to this book, is Fine's own voice. Partly, it's also what makes the book fail, in my eyes, where other books, e.g. Nick Soulsby's "I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana", is much more polished, but lacks the fervent first-person view. And the word is fervent.
Some people want a song to speak to them. I wanted to disappear into the sound. I know, I know, I’m supposed to say that you can’t crescendo at 125 decibels all the time, and there’s supposed to be that blend of light and shade, as Jimmy Page famously wanted for Led Zeppelin. But screw that. Because some of my favorite records, like Minor Threat’s first 7̋" or Slayer’s Reign in Blood or Prong’s Primitive Origins, do nothing but amp up every moment to the absolute max.
What I feel Fine has going for him, is the ability to not stop. It's not an inability to stop, mind you. What makes me feel this book should have been more reined-in is also what makes it carry an animus of its own, Fine's style. I like how he describes ATP, endless touring, gripes and wins, how Bitch Magnet reunites much like "Sugarman", which he plays over quickly (noting how that documentary, for sob-story value, skips the part where Rodriguez is actually famed elsewhere than in South Africa, before the documentary upped his artistic legend), before descending into old age and a tale of how touring and playing live suited him at the time of the reunion.
All in all, this book is a rollercoaster of sorts; you get bored at times, you feel some bitterness itch at you, but mostly, it's anecdote-and-story-packed, in a good way, told by a personal voce who does not seem to edit out too much. It's an intoxicating, fun, tragic and most of all human view of our existence, what makes us tick, what makes us hate, be passionate and love, all at the same time. And be bored, of course. But you won't get bored from this book. ...more
Notes are private!
Jun 03, 2015
Jun 07, 2015
Jun 03, 2015
May 12, 2015
May 12, 2015
really liked it
I put my elbows on the counter to get the clerk’s attention. Mr. Petrović knew me and knew what I wanted, but today his smile looked more like a smirk
I put my elbows on the counter to get the clerk’s attention. Mr. Petrović knew me and knew what I wanted, but today his smile looked more like a smirk. “Do you want Serbian cigarettes or Croatian ones?” The way he stressed the two nationalities sounded unnatural. I had heard people on the news talking about Serbs and Croats this way because of the fighting in the villages, but no one had ever said anything to me directly. And I didn’t want to buy the wrong kind of cigarettes. “Can I have the ones I always get, please?” “Serbian or Croatian?” “You know. The gold wrapper?” I tried to see around his bulk, pointing to the shelf behind him. But he just laughed and waved to another customer, who sneered at me. “Hey!” I tried to get the clerk’s attention back. He ignored me and made change for the next man in line. I’d already lost the game, but I ran home as fast as I could anyway. “Mr. Petrović wanted me to pick Serbian or Croatian cigarettes,” I told Petar. “I didn’t know the answer and he wouldn’t give me any. I’m sorry.”
This book excels at telling of how Yugoslavia was killed in the 1990s, in a lot of subtle ways. As my father is from Yugoslavia, and the high school that I attended in the mid-1990s went on, I learned how Serbs "were" different from Croats, Bosnians, et cetera, and "why". A lot of bullshit went on, and a lot of friendships were uprooted and destroyed.
Nović is very good at noting the little things, as well as the big picture. I knew nothing of her life before reading this book, and appx. 30% in, I was really shocked. It opened my eyes to what some people may feel where PTSD and war is concerned - but there's naturally no way I would ever really know this.
In school we’d been taught to ignore distinguishing ethnic factors, though it was easy enough to discern someone’s ancestry by their last name. Instead we were trained to regurgitate pan-Slavic slogans: “Bratstvo i Jedinstvo!” Brotherhood and Unity. But now it seemed the differences between us might be important after all. Luka’s family was originally from Bosnia, a mixed state, a confusing third category. Serbs wrote in Cyrillic and Croats in the Latin alphabet, but in Bosnia they used both, the spoken differences even more minute. I wondered if there was a special brand of Bosnian cigarettes, too, and whether Luka’s father smoked those.
It's not hard to draw parallels between WW2, the USA and the Yugoslav war:
Our class got two boys who looked close enough to our age to blend in. They were from Vukovar and spoke with funny accents. Vukovar was a small city a few hours away and had never meant much to me during peacetime, but now it was always in the news. In Vukovar people were disappearing. People were being forced at gunpoint to march east; people were becoming hemic vapor amid the nighttime explosions. The boys had walked all the way to Zagreb and they didn’t like to talk about it. Even after they settled in they were always a little dirtier, the circles beneath their eyes a little darker than ours, and we treated them with a distant curiosity.
There's a lot of pitch-black humor in here, which is inherently Yugo:
As a side effect of modern warfare, we had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television.
...and the constant threat crept closer:
After the bombing of the palace, Croatia had officially declared independence, inciting a flurry of modifications that called even the most mundane detail of our former lives into question. Pop singers famous across Yugoslavia recorded dual versions of their hits in both dialects; seemingly innocuous words like coffee had to be replaced with kava and kafa for Croatian and Serbian audiences. Even one’s greeting habits could be analyzed—a kiss on each cheek for hello was acceptable, three kisses too many, a custom in the Orthodox Church and therefore traitorous.
“They’re killing them,” the man said. “Who?” said my father, studying the paper for clues. “Everyone.” “Would you like some soup?” said my mother.
As Nović lives in the USA, she writes about the international connotations:
In America I’d learned quickly what it was okay to talk about and what I should keep to myself. “It’s terrible what happened there,” people would say when I let slip my home country and explained that it was the one next to Bosnia. They’d heard about Bosnia; the Olympics had been there in ’84.
I shan't say more about the book, as there would be spoilers, so to speak. This book has much depth and breadth, and ties in with Nović's current and "former" life. Don't miss this. ...more
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May 29, 2015
Jun 03, 2015
May 28, 2015
May 01, 2006
Apr 30, 2007
really liked it
This is my first trip into Bolaño; I wasn't really prepared for this, what happened to me upon reading this book, but it was a mixed bag: a bit of ADH This is my first trip into Bolaño; I wasn't really prepared for this, what happened to me upon reading this book, but it was a mixed bag: a bit of ADHD, a bit of yanking my chain, but mainly, this was some exciting reading from a very talented writer.
When Paul was gone, Anne and Rubén shut themselves in the bungalow and spent three days in a row making love. Anne's money soon ran out and Rubén went back to selling drugs outside The Frog. Anne left the bungalow and went to live at Ruben's house in a suburb from which you couldn't see the ocean. The house belonged to Rubéns grandmother, who lived there with her eldest son, Ruben's uncle, an unmarried fisherman, about forty years old. Things soon took a turn for the worse. Ruben's grandmother didn't like the way Anne walked around the house half-naked. One afternoon, when Anne was in the bathroom, Ruben's uncle came in and propositioned her. He offered her money. Anne, of course, refused the offer, but not firmly enough (she didn't want to offend him, she remembers) and the next day Ruben's uncle offered her money again in return for her favors. Without realizing what she was about to unleash, Anne told Rubén. That night Rubén took a knife from the kitchen and tried to kill his uncle. The shouting was loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood, Anne remembers, but strangely nobody seemed to hear. Luckily, Ruben's uncle, who was a stronger and more experienced fighter, soon disarmed him. But Rubén wasn't about to give in, and threw a vase at his uncle's head. As bad luck would have it, just at that moment his grandmother was coming out of her room, wearing a very bright red nightgown, the likes of which Anne had never seen. Ruben's uncle dodged the vase and it struck his grandmother on the chest. The uncle gave Rubén a beating, then took his mother to hospital. When they returned, the uncle and the grandmother marched straight into the room where Anne and Rubén were sleeping and gave them two hours to get out of the house. Rubén had bruises all over his body and could hardly move, but he was so scared of his uncle that before the two hours were up, they had packed all their gear into the car.
It's a very good book at times, and at others, e.g. when Bolaño endlessly name-drops authors and books, it gets tedious as hell. At that point I wish he'd had an editor to rein him in a lot.
Some sentences, though, are just great:
One day Anne's love for Tony ran out and she left Seattle.
A lot goes on in very little time:
One night, while they were making love, Bill suggested they have a child. Anne's reply was brief and calm, she simply said no, she was still too young, but inside she could feel herself starting to scream, or rather, she could feel, and see, the dividing line between not screaming and screaming. It was like opening your eyes in a cave bigger than the Earth, Anne remembers. It was around then that she had a relapse and the doctors decided to operate again.
In total: a very worthy read. ...more
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May 18, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 17, 2015