Tuesday, November 08, 2011
UPDATE: You can watch the talk here.
Monday, October 03, 2011
I knew it was going to be a sweet year. And it was. But sometimes sweetness becomes suddenly like sand in our mouths.
I traveled from Los Angeles to Boston only recently. For many months now I have prepared myself for potential airport trouble because I refuse to pass through the body scanner and I refuse to submit to the pat down. I have legitimate reasons why I refuse to do so--many of which will be discussed in various entries on this blog over the next month or so. But until this trip I was always given the "option" of going through a metal detector as opposed to the more recent intrusive methods (well, to be honest, I always scope out the line--and there's always one--that doesn't have the body scanner). But this time it wasn't an option: every line had a body scanner.
My travel companion and I both knew that we might not be able to fly, but we had agreed to stand our ground. We were polite, articulate, and compassionate in our refusals, but we were also adamant. The details will be discussed in a future blogpost, but our standoff involved every possible "supervisor" at the airport as well as multiple members of the LAPD. We did fly that night, but with only a few small victories. I was ultimately "forced" to submit to an intrusive pat down.
I was devastated and ashamed of myself--mostly because I knew that I could have let them arrest me rather than capitulate. They only forced me because I allowed them to. I am disappointed that I did not, finally, sit down on the ground and refuse to leave the premises and allow the police officers to, reluctantly, arrest me.
At the end of my trip, as I began the security screening process once again in Boston, I was met with much more hostility and cruelty (in LA, for example, the TSA employees were--with the exception of one man--somewhat understanding and respectful even if they lacked the capacity to articulate themselves; the LAPD officers were surprisingly kind--more articulate and intelligent than the TSA staff). The TSA employees at the Boston airport were inhuman (the men, that is; the women were fairly average in attitude)--some of the most hateful individuals I have ever encountered. Something about sneering, hateful men in uniforms chills me.
But I am equally disturbed by the mass apathy that flanked me on both sides in the form of travelers mindlessly walking through the body scanner and assuming the position. Why? Because someone in a uniform told them to do it. I saw as others watched, horrified, the way the Boston TSA treated us. They were scared.
I have been deeply disturbed for days now. No number of apples dipped in exotic honey can sweeten my disposition. And there is a sense of foreboding for this year to come. But I am also more deeply aware--of exactly what, I am not ready to articulate. But it is an awareness nonetheless.
Responsibility begins with awareness. And I have become aware. I am now responsible for this awareness. It holds me hostage.
And yet I don't know exactly what is my responsibility--to myself, to my community and country, to God. I also know that I experienced something else--something painful. I don't, however, know what it is. And so I've come running back to books and theories and ideas, looking for an answer to what it is I'm experiencing--what can only be described as an existential trauma of sorts. And so, like always, I read for the wound.* But this time I feel it inside of me.
I have yet to find answers to what it is I feel, what it is I want to say, to scream. My first thought was to read Enrique Dussel (yes, this whole thing must be about the philosophy of liberation!). Then Agamben--because of course the space occupied by the TSA is a kind of "state of exception." (I'm not convinced it's not, actually.) And then of course I come back to Levinas, where I feel comfortable. It doesn't give me answers, but it reminds me to ask the right questions, namely: what is my responsibility here?
Maybe I need to get angrier. One of my favorite writers, Alicia Ostriker, has said (with regard to women in the context of the Hebrew bible): "We are not yet angry enough."
I know that I will not be able to forget these incidents or the larger issue of citizens being forced to undergo invasive screening procedures and being treated like animals when they politely question the need for it or request an alternative. And yet, all I can do right now is look for the right questions, continue to read for the wound.
*The phrase "read for the wound" is borrowed from Geoffrey Hartman.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
When a tradition is in good order, it is always partially constituted by an argument about the goods the pursuit of which gives to that tradition its particular point and purpose. --Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue.
Friday, May 27, 2011
I taught Ehud Havazelet's Bearing the Body this week in my Holocaust Film and Literature course. And, like last time I taught the novel, I'm compelled to write about it. When I put this course together I knew that I would have to address the perspective of what we call the Second Generation survivor--the child of a Holocaust survivor, exposed to the terrible trauma by proxy, everything secondhand. A life spent filling in the gaps in an attempt to know the elusive parent, the formidable and perpetually unknowable. Havazelet is not a child of survivors, but he has written an incredible novel that speaks to this experience.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative. –Don DeLillo, Mao II
In between various other projects--finishing my book manuscript, finishing a Woody Allen article, prepping for my German cinema course, creating my new voice over career (Oh, come on--those of you who know me, know how fond I am of incorporating strange voices into every narrative I tell.)--I've started a new project that I'm really excited about.
It's not a form of procrastination. I had to start it because I was thinking through the possibilities for my presentation at the 2011 North American Levinas Society conference in May, trying to write a proposal. I had just finished reading Don DeLillo's Mao II, and was blown away (I know, I'm a bit late on this one.). And it came to me that everything these days--literature, daily conversations, political rhetoric--is either about destruction and violence or it employs violent rhetoric. I just saw an article online today, for example, about how political rhetoric in particular is charged with violent language (political opponents are "demolished," a bill is "killed," "crash and burn," etc.).
But what I really care about is literature--how it looks and feels, what role it plays in our efforts to come to terms with the world around us.
What, I began to wonder, is the new “face” of literature? In an era dominated by senseless brutalities, collective atrocities, and threats of terrorism, how has the face of literature changed both to reflect and respond to these phenomena?
This isn't so different from my book project, which examines the role of non-representational thinking in the context of responses (literary and film) to the Holocaust. But something in the past decade has changed. In a post-9/11 period, it seems that American novelists have begun to forge a path into new ethical terrain. While it may be that the pervasiveness of discussions of violence and terror since 9/11 have colored all of our discourse--social, political, philosophical, religious, etc.--it also might be that the catastrophes of 9/11 gave novelists a new language—a rhetoric through which to address the question of the ethical in our era.
DeLillo’s Mao II in particular highlights the writer’s own anxieties about the place of the artist/novelist in a world dominated by the spectacles of terrorism. “What terrorists gain, novelists lose,” says one character in Mao II. “The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous.”
And, later on, “the more clearly we see terror, the less impact we feel from art” (157).
Hmph. Art vs Terror? What?
So my question, then, is what role do terror and terrorism play in navigating what we might call the new ethical terrain, particularly as it is mapped out in the space of the literary? How can an understanding of the Levinasian “face” open up the kind of discourse necessary (the “discourse whose first word is obligation”) for an understanding of the ethical in the context of the literary (Totality and Infinity 201)? But more importantly, why is such an understanding important, and how might it spur us on to action?
This is what I'm thinking about. I'm really excited.