Sadegh Hedayat’s THE BLIND OWL

read an excerpt from sadegh hedayat’s “the blind owl” – it’s considered to be one of the classics of iranian (nay human) literature. it’s dark, poetic, layered, circular, intense, nightmarish – full of symbolism and human psychology. hedayat was one of the pioneers of modern iranian literature. check it out.

In life there are certain sores that, like a canker, gnaw at the soul in solitude and diminish it.

Since generally it is the custom to relegate these incredible sufferings to the realm of rare and singular accidents and happenings, it is not possible to reveal them to anyone. If one does talk or write about them, people pretend to accept them with sarcastic remarks and dubious smiles, while adhering either to prevalent beliefs or to their own ideas about them. The reason is that as yet man has not found a remedy for these sores; the only remedy now is forgetfulness induced by wine or, artificial sleep induced by opium and other narcotics. It is a pity, however, that the effect of these drugs is transitory and that after a while, instead of soothing, they add to the pain.

Will it come to pass one day that someone will penetrate the secrets of these supernatural happenings and recognize this reflection of the shadow of the soul which manifests itself in a coma-like limbo between sleep and wakefulness?

I shall only describe one such incident which happened to me and which has shocked me so much that I shall never forget it; its ominous scar will poison my life throughout-from the beginning to the end of eternity where no man’s understanding can fathom. Did I say poisoned? Well, I meant to say that I am scathed by it and will remain so for the rest of my mortal life.

More here.

The Diana/Whore Complex by Lakshmi Chaudhry

lakshmi chaudhry argues that women have come a long way since the lovelorn vulnerability of marilyn monroe and princess diana. now we have the “skank posse” (paris, britney, lindsay) rich and powerful women who r unapologetic about their sexual appetites/need for cheap publicity. ok. maybe celebrities have the right to be skankier now but does that really help real women? is that the slutwalk argument or what?

the word “skank” is itself prejudicial. men who exhibit the same kind of sexually reckless behavior r somehow not categorized as “skanks”. chaudhry uses the word in quotes – she is referring to that social characterization. i’m just not sure that her argument about how we’ve come a long way baby since diana/marilyn holds currency. also, i am not sure that lindsay’s ability to live out her sexuality in front of a camera means anything for the vast majority of women. have sexual mores really changed? do women really have the same kind of freedom as men? is holding women to ridicule better than loving them for being tragic? is that progress? it reminded me of the slutwalks in that some select white women in underwear do not really transform women’s rights generally. or do they?

i think that the problem is that woman is always the object, while man is the subject – hence all this analysis of woman. “woman is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. he is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.” (simone de beauvoir)

read chaudhry’s article in the nation here.

my review: the fighter

saw “the fighter” last night. full of energy, sometimes to the level of camp. christian bale is totally out there, channeling the crack-addicted dicky eklund. mark wahlberg provides a nice counterpoint to his frenetic restlessness. melissa leo is their mother alice – a tyrant in a hair sprayed bouffant, surrounded at all times by 7 bizarre daughters. amy adams is obviously going for something different here – foul-mouthed, tough girl from a blue collar neighborhood. it works.

the fighter

Norway Shooting and Bomb Attack Leaves at Least 91 Dead

interesting coverage by the nyt here. it’s not just that mr breivik is never described as a terrorist. there’s much more. my comments below.

“The police identified him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, while acquaintances described him as a gun-loving Norwegian obsessed with what he saw as the threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.” — no mention of breivik’s support for zionism?

from larry derfner’s article: “OMG: Breivik identifies with the Israeli Right”

In a jab at left-wing Jews, Breivik writes that pre-war German Jews were disloyal to their country, “at least the so-called liberal Jews, similar to the liberal Jews today that oppose nationalism/Zionism and support multiculturalism. Jews that support multiculturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism (Israeli nationalism) as they are to us. So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists?.”

“Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism specialist at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said the manifesto bears an eerie resemblance to those of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, though from a Christian rather than a Muslim point of view.” — so white supremacist fascism and european nationalism/racism were only invented after 9/11? all modeled on al qaeda? now that’s a thought.

“The unclassified versions of the last three Norwegian Police Security Service reports assessing national threats all played down any threat by right-wing and nationalist extremists. Instead, the reports emphasized the dangers posed by radical Islam, groups opposed to Norway’s military involvement in Afghanistan and Libya, and others.” — i thought norway was a completely peaceful country? “military involvement” is such a great euphemism for war i.e. the killing of civilians by today’s military stds.

“This is the Norwegian equivalent to Timothy McVeigh” — not the only other example of domestic terrorism, but i guess they’re both white so it works.

Kari Helene Partapuoli, director of the Norwegian Center Against Racism, said Mr. Breivik did not belong to any violent neo-Nazi groups that she was aware of, and his Internet postings, before those of last week, did not espouse violence. “The distance between the words spoken and the acts that he carried out is gigantic, because what he did is in a different league of what the debates have to do about,” she said. — so i guess it’s ok to keep the neo-nazi/racist debates going. because of the “gigantic distance” and such.

my review: the tree of life

[voice over] The nuns taught us there were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

I will be true to you. Whatever comes.

thus starts terrence malick’s latest film, “the tree of life”. it is one of the most ambitious films i’ve ever seen, it is also one of the most profound and visually poetic. i can best describe it as a broad, panoptic slice of life where malick gets to isolate each layer and collage it back together, in order to partake of its multi-dimensional flavors. an individual life is a series of recollections and malick offers us some beautiful memories – fleeting moments, gestures, visions, sounds and silences merge in random, lyric ways.

this reconstitution of childhood, memory by memory, is mixed with larger questions about life and death, god and the universe. we r treated to spectacular imagery recounting the story of life on earth, from meteoric collisions to volcanic eruptions and cascades of water. pre-cellular life transforms before our eyes into more and more complex organisms until we r regaled with incredibly alive, watchful dinosaurs. this entire sequence is overlaid with hushed questions asked of god:

where were u? u let a boy die. u let anything happen. why should i be good when u aren’t. what r we to u?

it’s a terrific audio-visual blend of metaphysics and the infinite depth and breadth of what we imagine to be god’s manifestation.

the film also explores the binding relationship b/w parents and children and between life and death. there is a moving scene at the end where time seems to collapse – past, present, life, death all come together in a beautiful dance of grace. that resolution provides the final release in the film and the beginning of peace. perhaps that’s malick’s way of warning us about the limits of linear thinking. rather than look at life thru a pinhole and try to establish cause and effect relationships, perhaps it would be useful to open the door and embrace everything at once.

the tree of life

my review: biutiful

ah javier bardem… i love him. he’s one of the great actors of the world. his face is indelible, a monument, a colossal stamp on the human species. yet as an actor he’s hardly a towering icon – he’s emotionally nimble, vulnerable, transparent. in “the sea inside” i was constantly reminded of the physical force of his presence and awestruck at how he had succeeded in taming it, containing it. an incredible feat.

in biutiful, we are treated to many different sides of javier bardem/uxbal – he’s a small-time go-between involved in every aspect of barcelona’s criminal underbelly, he’s a devoted father, he’s still in love with his bipolar ex-wife, he can commune with the dead, he tries to be a good human being (however quaint that might sound these days). oh yeah, he’s also dying of cancer. in his characteristic style, alejandro gonzález iñárritu gives us multiple threads that r all woven into one dynamic tapestry. characters and storylines abound, some more developed than others, yet uxbal ties everything together.

day by day, he jumps thru hoops in order to survive. he is surrounded by people who r equally trapped by their own circumstances. it’s a mean and miserable side of life where deprivation can turn morality into a luxury. it is grating to watch after a while. one wishes for less – fewer, longer shots, less hectic editing, fewer side characters and sundry drama, more quiet, more time for uxbal to articulate his essence fully, uninterruptedly.

but there r some beautiful moments in the film – when damaged people manage to connect deeply, when a father comforts his son in the dark, when a grown man sees his 20 year-old embalmed father for the first time, when a man confronts his own death and shares that certainty with his young daughter. there is such truth at these moments, such raw emotion, such honest physicality. the movie is shot handheld for the most part. the colors r grim with sudden bursts of radiance. the film has an impeccable artistic look. and javier bardem is magnificent.

watch trailer here.

javier bardem in biutiful

happy violence by mara ahmed

i found this apparently innocuous, happy-go-lucky article, celebrating navy seals and their killing of osama bin laden, disturbing in its glorification of violence and murder:

The Coolest Guys in the World; America’s quietest killers, working anonymously and without public recognition; can also make some noise—as they did when they killed Osama bin Laden last week with a point-blank shot to the left temple; a semi-legendary bunch; Swagger; agonizing combination of brain and brawn; hunter-killer teams; The men toasted fallen comrades, ogled action shots of each other “blowing things up, skydiving, attacking ships,” and took turns with slide shows of their major kills.

yes, it’s published in mainstream media but how else are we to gauge a nation’s popular culture? i don’t read newsweek, in fact i wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole, but sometimes i come across the magazine in waiting rooms. the entire issue on osama’s execution is frightening, including the accompanying photo – men stripped of their identities, their judgment, their humanity and turned into indistinguishable bodies that kill at someone else’s command – the entire idea behind the military of course.

not only was this particular piece alarming, in many ways, but also other articles, in the same issue.

salman rushdie: pakistan is a “terrorist country” — how does that work when pakistani civilians r being droned by us and not the other way around?

elie weisel: A Death Deserved: Normally, I would respond to such scenes with deep apprehension… This time is different. –- talk about moral relativism.

Bernard-Henri Levy: jihadi infiltration, pakistani bomb, most dangerous country in the world, etc – typical zionist conspiracy theory that barely tries to mask an islamophobic rant.

andrew sullivan: As a Christian I am asked to pray for the soul of Osama bin Laden, not to celebrate his death. And this prayer I have spoken, as I am bound to. But this is also true: the joy will not leave me either, and I am not ashamed in the slightest. –- ok, good for u.

fatima bhutto: osama’s death is irrelevant to pakistanis — she’s right but again, no outrage at extrajudicial murder.

no mention of the 1 million iraqi civilians dead, the civil war, the refugees, the depleted uranium, the comprehensive destruction of a country.

no mention of the obscene war in afghanistan, the second poorest country in the world, most threatened not by the taliban but by malnutrition.

no mention of ongoing drone attacks that kill pakistani civilians on a daily basis – 2,000 killed in the last two yrs alone, under obama’s stewardship.

it’s all tied together. it’s not just about perpetrating violence on “them.” that’s why SWAT teams r now being used to break into people’s homes and arrest them for missing student loan payments.

i don’t watch tv but i come face to face with it at the gym. frequently, all the major tv channels highlight their programming with a roundup of clips from their most successful shows. there’s no sound at the gym but the visual loop of people prancing around with guns, pushing in doors, committing violent crimes, and dissecting dead bodies is quite dizzying. the editing is choppy, the camera work nervous (for a handheld, reality-based feel), the pace relentless. the stories seem repetitive, banal, mind-numbing. there is no space for exploration, analysis, comparison or evaluation. the images r violent or sexual, fragmented, compressed together, looped interminably. it’s scary. and happy-go-lucky.

The Coolest Guys in the World

Sorrow and Joy – Elie Wiesel, Fatima Bhutto, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and Andrew Sullivan reflect on the end of Osama Bin Laden

SWAT Team Busts into Home over Student Loan Default

u.s. navy seals

my review: white meadows – a film by mohammad rasoulof

just saw iranian film “white meadows”. directed by mohammad rasoulof and edited by jafar panahi, the introduction itself was sensational as both men have been arrested by the iranian govt. the film is described as an allegorical poem rooted in persian literature and contemporary politics. the cinematography is stunning. the film was shot on the salt islands of lake urmia. scenes are bare, mostly devoid of color or texture, and stark in their black and white contrast. men and women dressed in black, moving quietly across still, panoramic shots reminded me of shirin neshat’s video work.

we go on a journey with rahmat, a professional tear collector, who travels from salt island to salt island, listening to people’s heartaches and collecting their tears. the visualization of the expression of grief and ritualistic human endeavors aimed at resolving it, living with it, are poetic indeed. in one village, people take turns whispering their sorrowful secrets into small glass jars and shutting them tight. after they have their tears gathered by rahmat into a small glass vial, all the jars weighed down by guilt, pain and remorse are attached to the body of a man small enough to climb down the well. he happens to be a dwarf who was recently married. he is asked to leave the jars at the bottom of the well and climb back up before sunrise. the man is apprehensive about being able to move that fast but he accepts his fate. when he is unable to resurface on time, the rope is cut condemning him to death, to the lamentation of his young wife. rahmat encounters many such stories.

altho i appreciate the symbolic import of each fable and i am not one to complain about abstraction, i was disappointed by many of the stereotypical images used by rasoulof. the stoning of a young lover, the ceremonial sacrifice of an underage virgin, the torture of dissenters – these are not ground-breaking allegories but mainstream platitudes that the west is already v cozy with. they don’t tell us anything new about iran, but reinforce the propagandist summation of iran as cruel, mysterious, incomprehensible. the reaction i heard most often in the theater, throughout the film, was “jeez” – an expression of shock and self-righteous dismay. any fox news report on iran can produce that reaction, any time of the day.

of course i am all for freedom of speech, especially artistic expression. rasoulof’s film is visually complex and humane. yet i fear the reaction of many magnanimous americans who might be tempted to think that we have something to teach other cultures. and another question: when do we get to see an allegorical film about american oppression and ritualistic sacrifice? symbols could include images of scalping and branding people, waterboarding and dark pools of thick sticky oil. any takers?

white meadows

Poetry – a film by Lee Chang-dong

saw a terrific korean film called “poetry.” it’s about women being much put-upon, it’s about how the finest, tenderest of human feelings cannot find expression in a world that doesn’t care, it’s about lives that become irreversibly intertwined, it’s about finding one’s voice.

this is a subtle film – it’s quiet and lyrical, yet full of violence – violence we don’t see but can read as subtext. what struck me most is how women r so socially imposed upon – it’s something we accept, irrespective of culture.

man with baby by larry clark, 1971

read a most excellent essay on photography by abigail solomon-godeau. it’s called “inside/out.” she starts with susan sontag’s critique of diane arbus’s photography as being voyeuristic and touristy because it does not produce sympathy or compassion for her subjects thru engagement – her view is always from the outside. martha rosler looks at this phenomenon in more political terms: “imperialism breeds an imperialistic sensibility in all phases of cultural life.” in other words, photography colonizes experiences associated with the other.

solomon-godeau tackles this binary of inside/outside by looking at photography produced by so-called insiders – larry clark and nan goldin. both claim to be immersed in the subcultures they photograph – goldin is emotionally invested in the cross-dressers and transvestites she photographs and clark identifies with his male adolescents subjects who embody his own teenage experience of growing up in tulsa. the private moments they r privy to, the closeness of the camera and the intense collaboration between photographer and subject r obvious in their work. however, does this insider position change the way their photographs r received or consumed by the viewer?

since all photography that deals with sexuality, will inevitably intersect with the viewer’s own sexuality, isn’t such work always located on the inside? by default? i would venture to say that this argument can be made for all photography, in fact for all art – viewers will always approach art from the point of view of their own experience. from cubism to minimalism, artists have relied on the viewer’s memory images to assimilate the various parts of an artwork and achieve some cognitive unity. the essay ends with the apt conclusion that “reality is always mediated thru representational systems” and therefore maybe the inside/outside rubric is problematic to start with.

man with baby by larry clark

met marc grossman, special envoy to “afpak” after holbrooke

april 14, 2011: heard marc grosssman (the new envoy to afpak, after holbrooke) speak in rochester yesterday and got a chance to talk to him.

his entire presentation had nothing to do with reality. he said that obama’s “surge” had worked, that afghanistan was doing much better now, that it was secure, that 85% of women will soon have access to healthcare. wtf. afghanistan is more insecure today than it was under the taliban. it is the 2nd poorest country in the world. more women try to commit suicide today than ever before. it’s a humanitarian catastrophe!

he kept talking about bringing peace to the region and resolving the “conflict” and being interested in afghans taking the lead, but never once did he mention the occupation!!! so that’s what i asked. the “conflict” is the occupation. until we leave there can never be a resolution – just like in vietnam. he talked about an economic surge and a diplomatic surge (after iraq, surge has become such a horrific word – he should work on his terminology) which would complement the military surge. yes, they wanted to draw down american troops and be out by 2014, altho some forces would stay behind to train etc. lol. as if we’re falling for that. they have no intentions of getting out – they r building elaborate “bases” protected by huge, steel-reinforced concrete walls in pakistani cities as we speak.

my husband asked him if he could provide one example, in human history, where terrorism was defeated thru military means. he asked why intelligence and police work and negotiation and integration, which have worked in other places at other times, couldn’t be used in afghanistan. but grossman insisted that he needed all three “surges” for the taliban r not just going to listen to us (he made a joke), they will have to be forced militarily. of course he didn’t mention the fact that the taliban control most of afghanistan – they r not a tiny fringe group that can be “forced” to do anything. another question: why r we even fighting the taliban? they have no links to intl terrorism.

someone asked about whether the u.s. can afford all of this financially. he replied that we only spend 1% of our budget on intl aid. he didn’t even mention the cost of the occupation. it’s not about economic aid, it’s about military spending – what percentage of the budget is that?

someone said who r we to set the world straight. he answered that our lives are at risk. we cannot repeat 1989 – when the u.s. abandoned afghanistan, after soviet military withdrawal. what he didn’t mention was that the present puppet govt is composed of the same drug traffickers and warlords who wreaked violence on afghanistan in 1989. the taliban were a response to that mayhem.

my husband asked him about kashmir. since the unrest in south asia is about pakistan and india, why isn’t he the envoy to afghanistan, pakistan and india? he said that had been holbrooke’s plan but india said no. that’s it? india said no? i guess that makes sense.

finally i asked him about drone attacks. i told him the number of civilian casualties last year and the year before – more than 900 people per year. he said that he was not allowed to comment on drone attacks. he said that if he could explain we would understand that the civilian casualties r not that serious. a continuation of the same policy of classifying every lie as secret information and refusing to comment or, god forbid, produce evidence.

personally, grossman seemed to lack depth. i don’t know if this was his “stupid talk” for the general public or if he actually believes all the lies that he was dishing out. he seemed shifty. he didn’t make any eye contact with me the whole time we were talking. it was impossible to get thru – his programming was just too thorough. his entire presentation was bland, generic, mendacious. it was an alternative reality presented to a media-managed audience (including a good number of educators). those r the kind of speeches they must have given to american audiences 45-50 years ago, to justify vietnam.

marc grossman

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol, 1962

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol, 1962, silkscreen painting.

andy warhol’s marilyn diptych is not just a comment on the commercial peddling of image, the impersonal processes involved in mass production or the banality of modern day media culture, i think that it also explores the nature of public grief. if we look at this artwork in the context of the “death and disaster” series (repetitive prints of graphic automobile crashes) or the “tuna fish disaster” (images of tuna fish cans along with images of two american women killed by food poisoning from canned fish, arranged in a grid) or “sixteen jackies,” it seems to me that he was trying to walk the line between private and public disaster, private and public grief. a fatal car accident is much more real to us, much less consumable. yet warhol approaches this disturbing material with the same rules of ruthless media bombardment we expect for celebrity images and sound bites. the celebrity drama that we take for granted and consume daily, is terrifyingly real to those actually involved in it. can’t help but apply this idea to our present wars and occupations – perhaps repetition, meaningless bullet points and information overload have distracted us enough to take emotion and compassion out of the equation? at the end of the day, it’s just consumable news.

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol

surrealism and freud

rené magritte, je ne vois pas la [femme] cachée dans la forêt (i don’t see the [woman] hidden in the forest), 1929. surrealism was intimately linked to freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. surrealists were inspired by freud’s delineation of the unconscious as a realm quite apart from the conscious, yet integral in informing conscious thought and behavior. the unconscious became a way for surrealists to explore the underside of modernity (the erotic, the bizarre, the incongruent) and woman became the organizing metaphor of their creative philosophy. woman was a sign for desire, for what is hidden, for the “other”. for surrealists, woman embodied psychic force and therefore she represented “the most beautiful protest” against the rational, functional, repressive order of modern society. in magritte’s painting/photomontage, woman is at the center of male dreams. she is surrounded by photographs of the surrealist group with their eyes closed. she is also plainly a sign for latent fantasies as she replaces the word femme (or woman) – she personifies that which is not manifest.

rené magritte, je ne vois pas la [femme] cachée dans la forêt

the house of mirth

finished reading edith wharton’s “the house of mirth” in florida. as i had just read “the age of innocence,” i can’t help but compare the two books. i found “age” to be more polished in a sense – a perfectly proportioned work of art, meticulously observed, beautifully crafted. “the house of mirth” has more abandon to it and requires more emotional engagement. rather than having the luxury of observing a society constrained by arbitrary conventions, we are thrown headlong into the stuffy parlors of new york’s elite and we can’t help but live lily bart’s struggles as she tries to make her way around the serpentine maze of hypocritical upper class etiquette. lily’s gradual fall from grace is difficult to experience as it underlines the paltry set of choices available to women in societies where they are mostly meant to be ornamental. this frustration is further heightened by lily’s doomed relationship with lawrence seldon, the only man who makes her feel like a complete human being. the sense of suffocation that one feels throughout the book changes to much sadness as we reach the final denouement of lily’s tragic fate.

the house of mirth