Suckerpunch - yes, I was stooping that low); writing has been nil. I'm out here for just a few minutes to prove to myself that I can indeed put fingertip to keyboard and write in more or less complete sentences. There's a steadily rising tide of despair, as I think of the two papers that need to be written by April 15 - I love them both, want to linger over both, have core phrases that I want to build around, but it'll probably be the more usual crazed, frantic writing, squelched in between grading and committee meetings. A colleague once said "Do not be deterred." This may be the time to not be deterred. One thing (since I'm free associating and thinking of an essay I'm actually proud of) that's been great in reading the first four short essays of Graham Harman's Towards Speculative Realism is watching Graham Harman move away from being a Heideggerian towards the articulation of speculative realism. Heidegger's thing with Thing is the seed, I realize, to the more materialist approach to art history that we're trying to craft. And it's interesting to me that we're by-passing phenomenology (short version why: identity is too transcendent; not enough about political identity). I want to artfully weave this all in, you see, but I know that it's not ripe enough, and so it won't be what I envision it to be. SO - I will read and think and write, not in the order that I want to, but I am not alone here and I know that summer is not far when these talks can be written up and reveled in.
Wow! That felt good! Unnecessarily angtsy, but good. It's the first time that I've had energy to write anything and it feels great. We've had all three kids come down for warm milk, so this can't last long, but all of us are looking forward to when this Sick lifts. Yeesh. In some feverish state, I was thinking about agency and consciousness again (we were all basically some kind of warped consciousness with all too little agency). Viruses are wild. Alive, intent, invasive, systemic. And when they're gone (or die off, right?) you really do feel that sense of lifting, of being back to yourself. This all makes medieval medicine much more understandable to me - you bet it's going to feel like a miracle to walk without aching oddly.
The comparison between episodic illness and chronic illness is hard of course. I feel like a jerk for even complaining, knowing full well that all of this will go away. Not the same for everyone. My dad's birthday was so so quiet. I watched my mom love him absolutely: say incredibly kind and loving things to him, remind him of their love and their life together. And he just looked at her with this bemused look, a kind of "what's the fuss?" look. With his bright blue eyes, and his beatific smile. I see him fading, though, and it's another urgency I feel: not to capture all of the important stories of his life, but rather to seize the random ones: the picture of the two young boys on an elephant on a beach in Sri Lanka (which Dad now has gone back to calling Ceylon); the Quaker meeting house across the creek from where he grew up (and which a cousin of mine has opened up to an East Carolina University archaeological dig); lots more. I want the summer to come. In the meantime, once more unto the breach and all that - spring break is over.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Magic Tree House; Oliver: Eldest) and just stood transfixed. They're older now: it's really happening. Reading, interiority, knowledge: Iris warning Mac about cobras in India; Oliver playing out moral dilemmas presented by the book. I love to watch them deep into their books, and then also to see them re-emerge into the busy world they create for themselves. They move between heaviness and light so much more easily than we do.
Hmmm - I'm not the only one who loves to linger on images of kids reading. It's been a productive day what with being at home with the three kids, (two articles and half a book read, 9 out of 17 essays graded, and I hope to do the short answers of a midterm before bed), but I couldn't wrap my mind around any writing. Partly, I've undoubtedly doomed myself to a bit of writer's block by inviting my future Kalamazoo audience to spend our time together between the "heaviness of matter and the indeterminacy of meaning" in considering stained glass (but that's exactly where I want to be, as I'd like to work with Chaucer's wild stained glass window in the Book of the Duchess, and the struggles for meaning that the pilgrims have before the Canterbury windows in the Tale of Beryn). Partly, with more time to think it through, the world is rushing in, and I am reeling at news of a bus bombing in Jerusalem (already at the end of a string of explosive exchanges), and I wonder how to even think about Libya.
Enter Mac and his splendiferous Netflix queue. Lion of the Desert starring (incredible) Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, John Gielgud and a cast of thousands from Libya itself. It's splendid to see Anthony Quinn inhabit the role of Omar Mukhtar - the opening scene has him teaching the Quran and you feel like surely you're just seeing him at home, relaxed, natural. Everything else is really hard to watch: another chapter of colonial history complete with concentration camps, rape, barbed wire walls, and all of the other "civilizing" enterprises of occupation. Mussolini is played by Rod Steiger and is portrayed with manic, dogged rage. Oliver Reed plays General Rodolfo Graziani, the 6th governor sent by Mussolini in 1922 to take care of the Libyan "problem" that had been on-going since the 1911 invasion. It would be September 11, 1931 before they would hang Omar Mukhtar; and 1981 before Gaddafi invested $35 million into the movie. The director was Moustapha Akkad (Syrian-American, known for the Halloween movies, and getting ready to film a movie about the Crusades and Saladin starring Sean Connery when he was killed by a suicide bomber in Jordan in 2005). So it looks like people held the Gaddafi funding against the film - and Italy itself banned the movie, showing it one a cable TV show one day that Gaddafi was visiting Rome in 2009. The movie's really surprising as I think about it: splicing footage (devastating footage of the miles and miles of tents that made up the concentration camps tightly bound in barbed wire) with filming, scenes staged from photographs (reading the Wikipedia article while watching the movie was downright weird) and giving full eloquent reign to Omar Mukhtar. Does it make thinking about what's happening in Libya today any easier? Not at all. But I love Mac for this.
blogger; getting ready to celebrate my Dad's 91st birthday tomorrow.
|Fragonard. Girl Reading.1770|
|Lion of the Desert (1981)|
blogger; getting ready to celebrate my Dad's 91st birthday tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
|Cloudgate, Chicago - Sunday|
|The kids helping each other out!|
|Iris and the jellyfish|
Thursday, March 17, 2011
|Tipu's Tiger, 18th c. India|
Speaking of musical boxes inserted in playthings (segue of a lifetime!), I draw your attention to Tipu's Tiger above - a life-size sculpture of a tiger pinning a British East India Company soldier down and sinking its teeth into the man's neck. (Actually, Irish Guys might well be smiling at this scene, having themselves endured the abuses of British colonialism.) It was owned by Tipu Sultan until 1799 when, in the course of the fourth (yes, fourth) Anglo-Mysore War, pitting his kingdom of Mysore against not the British government, but the British East Company, Tipu perished and all of this possessions were seized. Passed over by the Prize Committee (which divided up the booty of these types of conquests), Tipu's Tiger came to rest in the East India Company's museum in London (it is today in the Victoria and Albert Museum). It is the featured object in a chapter of the book by Richard David, The Lives of Indian Images, which is spectacular in its detail (you learn a million cool things). The tiger contains within its body a small pipe organ, playable on beautiful ivory keys - if you hit the right combination of notes you can make the tiger roar, and the man groan.
|Tipu's Tiger, 18th c. India|
Saturday, March 12, 2011
|Digging for Emeralds and Sapphires|
There have been great pleasures (and only one day of the conference thus far!). Walking out into a sunny urban space, making my way to the Steve-recommended Founding Farmers (oh my Lord, that was good - and I sat next to two people working for anti-poverty organizations who were here to do the work of politics with their congressperson - and who had majored in classics). And thinking of Michael Camille, who would have so loved this crowd, and would have had us laughing and rethinking as he brought forth image after image from his hoard, which he always shared so generously. I miss him.
For now - off to play with Baby Henry and then off to think with others!
Friday, March 11, 2011
|Oliver at Beit Shean|
|Baths at Beit Shean|
|Earthquake damage at Beit Shean|
If it weren't late, I'd rehearse Freud's uncanny with you, because it best gets at this strange sensation of familiarity in a far-off land - and a familiarity provoked by ancient Romans! Familiarity that they themselves instilled in their take-over of a Greek town (whose foundation was, by legend, due to Dionysus). We spent a good long time at Beit Shean, and for a minute there, I forgot I was in Israel. It was familiar when it couldn't possibly have been. Where did the Crusaders think they were that it was familiar enough to possess? Where did Columbus think he was?
Thursday, March 10, 2011
|Crusader Column in Bethlehem|
Just about everything about the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is sad. Bethlehem is such a choked place, existing now behind the wall. But these weathered (don't they almost look torn?) marble columns of the Crusaders I find especially moving. Fading witnesses. There are something like 24 of them that line the basilica plan of this old, old church. Their faded glory also bespeaks some kind of crazy experimentation in medieval painting: who paints (in tempera?) on marble??? I need to look up the work of Jaroslav Folda to get the full details. But it's Da Vinci painting in oils on frescoe avant-la-lettre: an attempt to do something grand and new with something old and grand. I don't think that there's any hope of restoration, either technically or financially, and so they're going to keep on fading, these stones, until they will go back to just hewn and unadorned - the smooth surfaces of the Romans that the Crusaders had sought to embellish.
|Sifting at Beit Guvrin|
|Inside a cave at Beit Guvrin|
And so when you're done digging, you go inside one of the undug caves and realize for yourself the unbelievable amount of work that remains (there are dozens of these caves), and the incredible potential for discovery - for more artifacts, more traces of human presence, more evidence of struggles and triumphs. This hallway, for example: incredibly hewn. Carved out not by archaeologists but by the original inhabitants. I spread my fingers out on those marks, too.
|Entrance Gate of the City of Dan|
|City of David, Jerusalem|
There are many stones in Israel - I could keep going (plus, I love to type and say "hewn") and wondering specifically about stones as witness to history that we will to speak through archaeology, through our presence. They move, it's true, because they move us.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
This will be actually be a post about authenticity in the Holy Land, an endeavor both utterly absurd and absolutely sincere, and best evoked, to my mind, by Noel Coward's memorable lyrics. When he wrote the song in 1932, the Garden Tomb, whence the video above was taken, was only 45 years old. In 1883, a British general by the name of Charles Gordon was sitting on the rooftop patio of a friend of his (at midday?) just inside the Damascus gate on the northwest side of Jerusalem. He began to notice that the rock formation across the way looked increasingly like a skull, conjuring up thoughts of Golgotha. Fundraising and digging ensued, and a rock-cut tomb was found, a site was declared, and thousands of pilgrims, especially Protestants, come each year. Never mind that the tomb type is from the First Temple period (800-700 B.C.E.), never mind that nothing else about it adds up - it looks right, it feels right, as one of my students said "I can appreciate it more" [than the Holy Sepulcher]. An affable Anglican leads you through the English-garden precision park, makes quips about how fussy archaeologists are, makes scientific certitude seem petty, and constructs a world of possibilities in which we are to wish fervently that the Garden Tomb is the real deal, even if there's less than no proof that it is. Why does this repel me so? Why am I so willing to give the Holy Sepulcher a pass, and come down hard on the Garden Tomb? Maybe I prefer fervor to complacency; maybe it's the way that authenticity is claimed (the crowded unthinking passion of the Holy Sepulcher, vs. the manicured calm of the Garden Tomb).
What makes a site authentic? What persuades someone who can't possibly know (because no one can possibly know) that they are in the true presence of what they so desperately want to be in the true presence of? Are authenticity and truth the same thing? Etymologically they're not, authenticity being closely tied to authority, and authorship - closer in meaning to original, originary, than truth or truthful. So shall we dispense with truth here, and just deal with authenticity? with that striving for some kind of genuine, original, unique experience that Israel, the Holy Land, seems to make us want? Yes, let's do that. All I can say now looking back on it is that the students craved this authenticity - and were pretty much thwarted at every turn. The student who had written about "walking in the dusty footsteps of Jesus" especially. I think that authenticity is linked to origins, to a sense of the authoritative, the knowing. But the phenomenon extended beyond religion - Israel wasn't Middle Eastern (read, exotic) enough; it wasn't "foreign" (direct quote) enough; it didn't "feel old." I recall being helpless to those accusatory complaints, wanting so much to be able to promote the idea of multi-layered constructions of history - but that never sounding quite right. I remember feeling a sympathy for their desire, because just about everything in their lives is mediated. But then, too, some of their expectations of authenticity are themselves derived from media, from film especially. It gets complicated.
It now strikes me as odd that the sites I want to write about under this theme of authenticity are those that I have the fewest pictures of. Our evening at the home of a Druze community has not a single photograph - the evening was spent seated on low couches, eating from an enormous communal plate and listening to a Druze talk to us about reincarnation, and the Knowledgeable and the Ignorant. There was the sense of being in the presence of something genuine precisely because it was very foreign, very new - even as accommodations were made for the gluten-intolerant student and we had to wonder about how many student groups parade through their rooms. The religion was founded in the early 11th century, and I know that al-Hakim (the slightly deranged caliph who burned down Constantine and Helena's 4th century Holy Sepulcher in 1009) was somehow involved. But that was it in terms of familiarity. So there, with the Druze, it was the utter difference and our complete ignorance that made for authenticity - that left many feeling as though they'd been in the presence of something unique and sincere.
The Bedouin camp, whose landscape you see above, was a different matter. Once you've heard of something (i.e., once you've had your expectation shaped/mediated by narrative) your search for authenticity intensifies. Riding a camel was just so cool that it transcended any self-consciousness about the tourism of it all - we hopped on after the last group had hopped off, and hopped off to make way for the next group. I don't know how many students were channeling Lawrence of Arabia, but it wasn't far from my mind. We had tea, we had coffee, one of our School of Music students sang a wedding song with our host, and then we bedded down for the night in our enormous tents. For the students who hadn't sought religious authenticity, the Bedouin camp was it - was where they were going to feel the "real Israel." What thwarted the authenticity this time was quiet spectacular: a birthright group from Argentina staying in neighboring tents and positively giddy with their youth (i.e. loud), and then, an Israeli software company having a Roman toga party in the main hall. Being about 10 miles from Masada (where in 72 C.E. Roman troops either massacred or prompted the suicide of hundreds of Jews) made it all the stranger. I was secretly thrilled that some students were aghast (they cared enough about Masada to be outraged!). One student, a young Lutheran who is learning Arabic and is about to join the Marine Corps, had had his authentic Israel thwarted one too many times. In the quiet of the night, he took off and walked about an hour out into the sand dunes and sat in the still darkness of the desert very far from the madding crowd (at midnight?).
I get postmodernism, I really do. The constructions of authenticity are more interesting than the authenticity itself. How this young man arrived at the certitude that solitude in the desert (so Lawrence!) was the authentic experience of Israel is fascinating. The meta (the frame, the desire, the talk, the expectation) of authenticity is where I will willingly linger. Does that mean that an authentic response to Israel, the Holy Land, the Holy Sepulcher, the Garden Tomb, the Druze, the Bedouins is impossible? It might mean that it's beside the point - because all of the institutions, histories, and narratives that would make that authentic experience are just so interesting that they will always distract from the abandon and passion that authenticity require. I can distinctly hear a particular friend of mine dubbing postmodernism and its interest in frames rather than centers as a defense mechanism to the Real, the True, and the Authentic. Granted. But granted, also, is the importance of understanding how authenticity is achieved (or thought to be achieved). I think, now, of the Crusaders, and of the feat of certitude and authenticity that they pulled off. For authenticity is also linked to possession - the intimacy it creates with its site avails that site to your possession. And possess the Holy Land they did, those Crusaders. Authenticity, to sum up, connotes origins, authority, the exotic, possession, the familiar, and maybe even truth. It calls for the bracketing off (yes, think Husserl) of distractions and frames and anything that might condition the authentic experience, or make it contingent on anything but an immediate (sensory?) response. It is all center with no margins. (Hmmm, this is starting to sound awfully modernist, and I wonder about medieval authenticity, and its being bolstered by multiple frames of reference, typology (think Kathleen Biddick) and the like.) I do think it can happen: Nature, Sex, Birth, Death (hmm, Lacanian categories of the Real) are all sites of authenticity. But can a land as complicated as Israel yield up an authentic experience of religion? of the divine?
You'll think me irreverent if you follow this link, but this guy makes me (and 25+ million other viewers) genuinely happy (and unsettled, and then happy again). Here's an authentic response if ever there was one. And, for the record, I think he's high on life. It can happen.