Friday, June 12, 2009

brief passage from Edward Said

I have been reading a lot of Edward Said since I got back from Gaza.

This is a particularly notable passage I read today (from 'Secular Criticism'):

"The degree to which the cultural realm and its expertise are institutionally divorced from their real connections with power was wonderfully illustrated for me by an exchange with an old college friend who worked in the Department of Defense for a period during the Vietnam War. The bombings were in full course then, and I was naively trying to understand the kind of person who could order daily B-52 strikes over a distant Asian country in the name of the American interest in defending freedom and stopping communism. 'You know,' my friend said, 'the Secretary is a complex human being: he doesn't fit the picture you may have formed of the cold-blooded imperialist murderer. The last time I was in his office I noticed Durrell's Alexandria Quartet on his desk.' He paused meaningfully, as if to let Durrell's presence on that desk work its awful power alone. The further implication of my friend's story was that no one who read and presumably appreciated a novel could be the cold-blooded butcher one might suppose him to have been. Many years later this whole implausible anecdote (I do not remember my response to the complex conjunction of Durrell with the ordering of bombing in the sixties) strikes me as typical of what actually obtains: humanists and intellectuals accept the idea that you can read classy fiction as well as kill and maim because the cultural world is available for that particular sort of camouflaging, and because cultural types are not supposed to interfere in matters for which the social system has not certified them."

...I'm thinking about what this means for me as a "writer"...
But I'm also thinking about Edward Said as trying to "naively understand" something. It's weird. I think of him as this incredibly wise, brilliant man who couldn't possibly have ever been "naive" about anything -
But he too once wondered what could possibly bring a person to order daily bombings.
He probably came closer than anyone to actually figuring it out- by turning away from the psychological question, of course, and towards a systemic, political one...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On Strategy & Humanity...

In Gaza, every step, every potential action taken, alliance built, poem written, essay published, word spoken feels significant. Important. Needed. The desperation is palpable, & therefore contagious.
Now, I question every step that I intend to take. What will have an impact? What matters? How can we really confront Israeli Apartheid? What is the purpose of sharing these stories? Does anyone want to listen? Will anyone hear?

I’ve been crying every day since I returned and I chastise myself for the time I waste in tears.

Then, I come across a website like this:

And I remember: people aren’t strategy. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s strategic or useful to mourn- it’s respectful.
And when the all powerful US-Media-Government-Military-Industrial-Etc-Complex tries to deny a People’s humanity, they deserve a little extra respect from us (regular people) to make up for it.
So maybe crying isn’t strategic. Maybe returning, time and time again, to the look in Farah’s eyes, the sight of her mother’s blood splattered on the wall, the words of the old woman who told us that taking pictures wasn’t enough & asked for food, water, and for their homes to be rebuilt, the grafitti in Hebrew on the wall of the home that warned “next time will hurt more”- all these images & more- maybe returning to them is not strategic.
That doesn’t mean it’s not important.

So yes, let’s take action, build alliances, write poems, publish essays (okay, I don’t know how to do that, but I still think it’s a good idea), and speak words and REMEMBER, whether we’ve met them or not, the stories of the people of Gaza. And let’s do so in a context of strategy & impact. AND also- let’s not forget about respect. Let’s not forget that people are not statistics. Everyone has a name. Everyone has a story.

Monday, June 08, 2009

...I rarely share poetry that isn't polished, and this one's barely been edited once...
but it's the first thing I've written & completed since I came back from Gaza, so I want to share it, not as a poem so much as stream of consciousness with intentional line breaks and a little bit of rhythm.

I also want to share the photo of a little girl whose family's story, to some extent, inspired this not-quite-poem. Of course it wasn't just their story- it was all the stories- but her story stands out to me, for some reason.

The girl's name is Farah Abu Halima. I didn't take the photo, someone else on my delegation did.
Farah is 3 years old. Her body is covered in burns from the white phosphorous that hit her house. She lost many family members. Her mother survived the attacks & the two of them went to Egypt for medical care. Her mother died in Egypt, and Farah returned alone, still not cured of the burns. Looking at her, I could see that she was still in pain. She is the little girl that did not smile. For some reason it makes it all more intense when I think about how the name "Farah" means "joy."
...Farah's mother's blood is still on the wall of the house. So is white from the phosphorous & black from some other kind of burning. At least I think that's what it's from.
It's hard to remember all the details. I'm glad that some people from my delegation wrote everything down. When we were there, at this particular house, I couldn't think about much except for Farah. The way she kept looking at me, but, when I looked back, turned away, every time. The way that at 25, I'm probably about the age that her mother was. The way my maternal instincts (that I've always claimed I didn't have) kicked in & I wanted to care for her. The raw quality to that feeling that helped me understand what people mean when they say things like "It's not Fatah. It's not Hamas. It's not anything. It's just a child and a war." A child and a war and a fractured family, missing pieces that will never be found. And yes, of course, an illegal occupation and an illegal siege and an illegal war and an illegal State and a racist ideology...but mostly, in the moment, it was just this little girl. I still cannot stop thinking about this little girl.

here is the not-quite-poem:
Reality isn't.
Can't be.
Not like this.
In reality, buildings do not crumble,
fields do not bloom with rubble,
little girls smile,
and old men die before their daughters
grandmothers before their daughters' sons
so Reality isn't
Can't be
Not like this.

Or perhaps,
Reality isn’t.
Can’t be.
Not like this.
In reality, buildings do not stand strong,
Fallic and infallible
In reality small stores do not shelve nine types of pasta,
sixteen flavors of yogurt,
or twenty-four varieties of wine,
In reality,
One cannot rely on
The government
Or electricity
To work for them consistently
Reality isn’t
Can’t be
Not like this.

Politicians strive for reconciliation
Speak of two-state solutions,
And draw borders on paper with omnipotent pens,
Make promises in pencil
Erase them later
When no one is looking

I strive to reconcile too:
My life with yours
The children I’ve never had
With the little ones you lost
Here with there
With everyone
And everything

I strive
I cry
My tears
With yours

Video: What We Turn To