Train Reading: London Review of Books, 9 June 2022

Migration is a self-splitting, one note observes; it’s “psychotic to live in a different country for ever.”

— Peter Howarth, in his review of Bhanu Kapil’s poetry collection How to Wash a Heart, “poems addressing the wealthy liberal woman who has taken the speaker, an artist whose immigration status is precarious, into her house.”

Perhaps I can write here again.
A ‘fleeting sense of possibility.’ — K

Guess That’s One Way to Do It

Germany’s World War I siege of Namur, in Belgium, is described in Essay # 2 of When We Cease to Understand the World:

The Germans’ advance was impeded by a mist that rose up without warning, so thick it it turned midday to night. Both sides were shrouded in darkness and unable to attack for fear of shooting their own men.

When We Cease to Understand the World, pp. 50 – 51

“What is it about this strange, chaotic climate of this country that it so doggedly resists our knowledge and control?” the German scientist Karl Schwarzschild, who had been placed in charge of an artillery unit, wrote to his wife.

His superior chose to withdraw the troops to a safe distance and engaged in massive, indiscriminate bombings, firing without care for wasted munitions or civilian casualties, using 42-centimetre ordnance shot from a gigantic howitzer the troops nicknamed “Big Bertha,” until the citadel, which had stood fast from the time of the Roman Empire, was nothing more than a mountain of rubble.

WWCTUTW, p. 51

Shattered: Essay # 1, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand the World

Self finds that so many of the books she’s read this year have a bearing. For instance, the book she started the year with: My Heart, a translation from the Bosnian by Semezdin Mehmehdinovic. The author is one of those displaced immigrants who cannot feel at home, not here in America, even though he has raised a son who is so very American in his nonchalance.

And All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner, about Donner’s great great-aunt Mildred Harnack, who was part of a plot against Hitler and was executed in 1942.

Essay # 1 in her current read, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World, is about Fritz Haber, the brilliant Jewish chemist who directed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry and is credited with the invention of Zyklon.

Labatut:

  • Haber had converted to Christianity at twenty-five years old. He identified so closely with his country and its customs that his sons knew nothing of their ancestry until he told them they would have to flee Germany. Haber escaped after them and sought asylum in England, but his British colleagues scorned him, aware of his instrumental role in chemical warfare. He had to leave the island not after arriving. Thenceforth, he would travel from country to country in the hope of reaching Palestine, his chest gripped with pain, his arteries incapable of delivering sufficient blood to his heart. He died in Basle in 1934, clutching the canister of nitroglycerine he needed to dilate his coronary vessels, not knowing that, years later, the Nazis would use in their gas chambers the pesticide he had helped create to murder his half-sister, his brother-in-law, his nephews and countless other Jews who died hunkered down, muscles cramping, skin covered with red and green spots, bleeding from their ears, spitting foam from their mouths, the young ones crushing the children and the elderly as they attempted to scale the heap of naked bodies and breathe a few more minutes, a few more seconds, because Zyklon B tended to pool on the floor after being dropped through hatches in the roof.

Editor’s Note, ms. aligned 3

There’s still almost an hour before the game begins, so self can squeeze in a few more things. Self’s quote of the day is from Rebecca Thomas, Editor of ms. aligned 3: women writing about men. (Published by El Leon Literary Arts of Berkeley and Manoa Books)

For the past nine years, I have been teaching composition at West Virginia University. I primarily teach freshmen, and one of their first papers is a narrative. In so many of the narratives, students — of all genders — explore issues connected to masculinity, in particular the effects of toxic masculinity. I receive papers about abusive relationships in high school, peer pressure to act a certain way, loneliness in emotionally connecting with peers, and the very real risk and fallout from coming out. My students are young, so it’s natural that they write about their childhood, the childhood moments where they begin to construct their identity. In our class discussions and in their reflections, I see so many grappling with the concept of masculinity. How did it shape their life? How will it shape their life as they journey into adulthood?

In this Me Too era, it’s hard not to think about masculinity and how it can be toxic. Working on a college campus, I know that many of my students have been assaulted. I know that many of them are trying to find the space to talk about it, and I know that many of them are starting to test the waters of self-acceptance, to see if it’s safe to be who they are. Since I am the mother of two young boys, toxic masculinity is something that I have to consider constantly: how do we raise our children in this environment? What conversations do I need to have with my kids?

Contributors to ms. aligned 3, and series editor Pat Matsueda, will be on-hand at an online event hosted by Redwood City Library. Register here.

Rosario Ferré: The Writer’s Kitchen

“I have a sneaking suspicion that this interest in the biographical facts about women writers comes from the hidden belief that women have less imagination than men, and that their works rely more heavily on the unscrupulous plundering of reality than do those by male writers.”

Wednesday Backreading: The Haunted Room, Essay by Carole de Santi (Women’s Review of Books, vol. 26)

  • “Give her another hundred years . . . a room of her own and five hundred a year,” wrote Virginia Woolf in 1929, of the woman novelist. “Let her speak her mind . . . and she will write a better book one of these days . . .” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of Her Own

  • Woolf “knew very well that creative and intellectual freedom depend on material resources, and that women have always been poor . . . Despite bestseller rankings and lifestyle features, big advances, and superstardom, many women writers seem to be living hardscrabble creative lives. Even those whose ‘rooms’ are more like palaces are nailing down the floorboards, putting buckets under leaky roofs, and wondering how to keep the lights on, particularly those of the incandescent mind.” — Carole DeSanti, The Haunted Room

“Beyond the Waters of Death,” Joan Acocella’s New Yorker piece on the making of GILGAMESH (14 October 2019)

  • “A young Londoner, George Smith, who had left school at the age of fourteen and was employed as an engraver of bank notes,” was fascinated by artifacts. He spent lunch breaks at the British Museum and “studied the shards for around ten years . . . it was he who found the most famous passage inscribed on them, an account of a great flood wiping out almost all of humanity, with one man’s family surviving. When he read this, we are told, he became so excited that he jumped out of his chair and ran around the room, tearing off his clothes.”

George Smith died of dysentery in Aleppo, where he’d gone to do research, age 36. But not before he discovered the oldest long poem in the world, Gilgamesh.

Everywhere in the world has an ancient flood story. Even Mexico. Even the Philippines. Self thinks this means there must have been an actual climactic event whose effects were felt worldwide.

Stay safe dear blog readers. Stay safe.

 

The Legacy of George Floyd (The Economist, 13 June 2020)

George Floyd was not famous. He was killed not in the capital of the United States, but on a street corner in its 46th-largest city. Yet in death he has suddenly become the keystone of a movement that has seized all of America. Still more remarkably, he has inspired protests abroad, from Brazil to Indonesia, and France to Australia. His legacy is the rich promise of social reform. It is too precious to waste.

Lexington in The Economist, 18 April 2020

Self will summarize the finer points:

  • The corona virus has killed 31,000 Americans (This number is significantly higher now)
  • Trump is “a human wedge.”
  • The 2000 presidential election was “a watershed moment … the last decided by persuadable voters.”
  • “Even before Trump made factionalism a governing strategy . . . ” (lol)
  • “Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s effort to give it a Chinese face (he reverted this week to calling it ‘the Wuhan virus’) . . . ” (smh)
  • “Infectious diseases like density, which is one of the most reliable predictors of Democratic support there is . . . This makes Republicans more receptive than Democrats to Mr. Trump’s call for a reopening of the economy: an issue that — by pitting the certain tragedy of 17 million unemployed workers against the likelihood of additional infections — could scarcely be more polarising.”
  • The differences between the Democrat and Republican response to the pandemic could not be more stark: Democrats are demanding “better, cheaper health care” while “Republican states including Texas and Ohio have meanwhile used the lockdown to try to ban abortions . . . “

On the last point, a political party that cares only about banning abortions when a virus is killing 10x as many Americans as the number of fetuses aborted annually is surely loco.

The article mentions William Barr and describes him as a “cultural warrior,” self hopes in jest. And refers to Ron DeSantis of Florida as “a Trump proxy with ratings to match.”

Stay tuned.

 

 

The New Yorker, 6 April 2020: Unscientific Method

From The Talk of the Town:

  • Trump’s quackery was at once eccentric and terrifying — a reminder, if one was needed, of his scorn for rigorous science, even amid the worst pandemic to strike the country in a century. Yet his conduct typified his leadership as the crisis has identified: his dependency on Fox News for ideas and message amplification, his unshakable belief in his own genius, and his understandable concern that his re-election may be in danger if he does not soon discover a way to vanquish COVID-19 and reverse its devastation of the economy.

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