Saturday
Dec012012

I take heart

Oh, Borges would have blushed. This just in: While mapping the planet via satellite and special camera trucks, all-knowing Google finds an island in the Coral Sea—not large, but large enough—15 miles long and three wide, somewhere midway between Australia and New Caledonia. Explorers (okay, “academics”) take sail, but find no island there. They are “really puzzled,” they say. Their charts show no island either, only deep, deep waters—not land but its opposite, 4,620 feet of empty (“empty”) sea. “It’s quite bizarre.”  Just a mistake, the explorers shrug, a smudge on the satellite’s radar, a Google burp. So they sail home and tell their tale. Word gets around. Unsatisfied, a librarian in Auckland—for kicks, let’s call him Tlön—shakes the dust off some old maps and, on a 1908 British Admiralty chart based on the 1876 voyage of the whaler Velocity, finds the island, right where it’s supposed to be. Sandy Island, it’s called, not all whalers being as gifted with names as St. Melville. Someone else (we’ll call her Uqbar) soon locates the island in a Times Atlas of 1897. “It's great to see it has been there for so long," says Tlön, and concludes that perhaps the whalers, in their velocitous haste, misrecorded its location (but then how could Google find it there?). Or perhaps, Tlön says—and you can see him smiling—it's just “a mystery of the sea.” Others suggest, at least semi-preposterously, that when the whalers saw it, the island was perhaps a sandbar that has since been washed away. And perhaps they’re almost right. So many things disappear—why not islands? But again: how did Google spot it then? I can’t help but wonder: If Tlön had consulted his charts, and Uqbar her atlas, prior to its appearance on Google's maps, would they have found that sandy island in the Coral Sea? Isn’t it equally possible, more likely even, that the seas did not shift and the island neither appeared nor disappeared, that it was only the maps that changed, our maps, and that once it appeared on one, it began, retrospectively, to appear on all? Isn't that the way things work?

 

Tuesday
Nov272012

Even Better

"…art isn’t structure, but the conflict of structures. Art is the catastrophe of structures. And if one can say that the imagination is better than reality, art is even better, because it’s the dream of every structure’s collapse and at the same time the dream of the construction of new structures.”

—Viktor Shklovsky, interviewed by Serena Vitale, December 1978

Monday
Nov192012

Rushdi Tamimi

Earlier today, Rushdi Tamimi, age 31, died of a bullet wound sustained on November 17 at a protest against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. According to tweets from his cousin, Manal Tamimi, Israeli soldiers hit Rushdi repeatedly with rubber-coated steel bullets and, after he had fallen, shot him in the side with a live round. (For a more detailed and disturbing account, see this report.) Beginning just before the four-minute mark, the video above documents events that transpired after Rushdi was shot. He left behind one daughter, four years old. He was the brother of Neriman Tamimi, in whose home I stayed for several weeks in June and July of this past summer. Neriman’s husband, Bassem, has been confined to an Israeli prison since October 24. Rushdi was the second resident of Nabi Saleh to be killed in the last year, and the first Palestinian to die in the protests that have swept the West Bank since the Israeli assault on Gaza began last week. (Another, 22-year-old Hamdi al-Falah, was shot and killed in Hebron later in the day.) I did not know Rushdi, but I know Nabi Saleh well enough to understand how enormous and painful a loss this is for the entire village. My heart goes out to his family and to those who loved him. 

Sunday
Nov182012

Ongoing moment of silence

Sunday
Nov112012

O L.A., you foul temptress, I think I might even miss you.

I wanted to go to Los Angeles, but I knew no one there capable of organizing my meetings. The few German anarchists I had corresponded with in that city had advised me not to come. Certain of my lectures, especially the one on the sex question, they wrote, would militate against their work. I had almost abandoned the idea of Los Angeles when encouragement came from an unexpected quarter. A young man whom I knew as Mr. V., from New Mexico, offered to act as my manager. He was to be in Los Angeles in business, he informed me, and he would be glad to help me arrange one meeting. Mr. V., who was a fine Jewish type, at first attracted my attention at my lectures: he attended every evening and always asked intelligent questions. … He was a likable person and I agreed to have him organize one lecture.

In due time my “manager” wired me that all was ready. When I arrived, he met me at the station with a bunch of roses and took me to a hotel. It was one of the best in Los Angeles and I felt it inconsistent for me to put up at such a fashionable place; but Mr. V. argued that it was mere prejudice, a thing he had not expected from Emma Goldman. “Don’t you want the meeting to be a success?” he asked. “Of course,” I replied, “but what has it to do with me staying in expensive hotels?” “Very much,” he assured me; “it will help advertise the lecture.” “Such matters are not considered from that viewpoint in anarchist ranks,” I protested. “The worse for your ranks,” he retorted; “that’s why you reach so few people. Wait till the meeting; then we will talk.” I consented to remain.

The luxurious room he had reserved for me, filled with flowers, was another surprise. Then I discovered a black velvet dress prepared for me. “Is this going to be a lecture or a wedding?” I demanded of Mr. V. “Both,” he replied promptly, “though the lecture is to come first.”

He had rented one of the best theatres in town, and surely, my manager expostulated, I must understand that I could not appear in the shabby dress I had worn in San Francisco. Moreover, if I did not like the gown he had chosen, I could change it. It was necessary that I make the best possible showing on my first visit to Los Angeles, “But what interest have you in doing all this? I persisted. “You told me you are not an anarchist.”  “I’m on the road to being one,” he replied. “Now be sensible. You have agreed to have me as your manager, so let me manage this affair in my own way.” “Are all managers so solicitous?” I inquired. “Yes, if they know their business and they like their artists a little,” he said.

The following days the papers were full of Emma Goldman, “under the management of a wealthy man from New Mexico.” To avoid the reporters Mr. V. took me out for long walks and rides in the Mexican quarter of town, to restaurants and cafés. One day he induced me to accompany him to a Russian friend of his, who turned out to be the most fashionable tailor in town and who talked me into letting him take my measurements for a suit. On the afternoon of the lecture I found a simple but beautiful black chiffon dress in my room. Things appeared mysteriously, as in the fairy-tales my German nurse used to tell me. Almost every day brought new surprises, happening in a strange but unostentatious manner.

—from Emma Goldman, Living My Life*

 

*The events described in this passage took place in 1898.