Friday, March 30, 2007

The Next Wave, and don't forget to bob

Hannah McGill in today's Guardian shines a spotlight on from where will emerge the next wave of world cinema filmmakers... the successors to Cuaron, Del Toro and Inarritu. Nigeria she maintains.

With Africa having become such a modish backdrop for big-budget English language thrillers - Shooting Dogs, The Constant Gardener, Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Catch a Fire - it seems only fair that wholly indigenous cinema should flourish concurrently. And there's a great deal to discover: we are talking, after all, about hundreds of filmmakers working in 1,000 languages across more than 50 countries. Nigeria's domestic industry alone produces around 1,000 films a year, and ranks as one of the world's most prolific film-producing nations. Established directors such as Dani Kouyaté, from Mali, Abderrahmane Sissako, from Mauritania, and the veteran Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal, are attracting new interest, as emerging names such as Burkina Faso's Fanta Regina Nacro and Mali's Salif Traoré find festival acclaim with fresh titles.

On a facing page, Patrick Goldstein offer developing world filmmakers a cautionary tale.

And the US state department helpfully tells our citizens that scary things can happen abroad in other countries. So stay on your couch and watch those films. No. On second thought, go places and see for yourself.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal

Only March but it's like beach season in NYC. If I were headed to the beach this weekend I'd be taking William Dalrymples's "The Last Mughal," the ambitious and definitive account of the 1857 uprising in Dehli. Just begun, the writing brilliant, a volume of great heft. Even more appropriate for a beach in Kerala.

A Bengali friend in Delhi writes me about the response there to the book:

"The big deal in India was that he claimed that he was the first person to look at all the material sitting in the delhi archives and really use them properly in a book - he was right and of course lots and lots of prickly Indian historians were up in arms. Their objection was that you shouldn't touch an archive unless you could read the stuff yourself, and who was will, just an upstart English travel writer who had got himself a translator. But as he said, not being able to read urdu and old urdu, shouldn't stop you from using the most amazing archival material. And that the problem with Indian historians is that many of them are caught up in these finer matters and thus miss out on the gems of material all around them. That it took an upstart foreigner to uncover some of them... Its hit a huge nerve but whats interesting is that the change this book has made here...people are actually beginning to talk about writing narrative history now which they would have scorned for not being serious enough in the past."

also Paris - Radio Nova

... best radio on the internet...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

London Liberty Girl

... dinner last night with the anony-blogger Londonlibertygirl, the Brit culture reporter masquerading as a NY fashion journalist (her link to the right). Bibimbop at Doksuni in the East Village, then drinks in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel. The BH is very strange... the lobby all Spanish parador, the bar a Highlands pub. Looked fake but was somehow pleasant.

LLG reports: "I wore: denim mini. black leggings, patent ballerines, DKNY black jacket, TSE cashmere sweater. Big silver hoops. Ponytail."

I can confirm all, except the labels.

Janine DiGiovanni: Paris Notebook

Like all my Parisian friends, I’ve been exhausted for years. Our reasons vary from small children to an abundance of mistresses. Indeed one recent study shows that one third of the French population does not sleep enough. According to one psychiatrist, insomnia is “the language of distress.” And this being France, the government has decided to step in.

Earlier this month, Xavier Bertrand, the Health Minister, launched a seven-million-euro campaign to study the link between chronic fatigue and job performance. People should nap more, he says, even during the work day. His view is backed by the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, which says even three naps a week after lunch reduce the chances of dropping dead from a heart attack.

“Why not nap at work?” Bertrand says. “It can’t be taboo.”

Only in France. This is a country that already has a 35-hour work week and plenty of vacation. The French also have a higher absentee rate at work than the British or Americans. So how will imposing a siesta change their laziness?

In the Mediterranean or parts of Central America, the siesta is the norm. It is proven they have lower rates of heart disease. But these are cultures which don’t multi-task, don’t do Blackberries while walking down the street and eating lunch at the same time, and don’t produce Richard Bransons or Warren Buffets.

Years ago, a senior hack at my Wapping office gve me a tip. The nurse’s office had a couch. You could feign a migraine and go to relieve your hangover for five minutes. I did it once, but felt tremendously guilty.

But the French, as my friend Jean-Jacques often tells me, “suffer no guilt.” It’s not that they are shameless - they just have a different code. The right to sleep is linked to the French culture in the same way that food and good wine, good medical care and good schools are.

Workers would be annoyed if they did not get their employer-provided luncheon vouchers. And now workers will be annoyed if they don’t get their naps.

I will never forget the day my husband, who works for a major television network in Paris, took me to his newsroom. Then he showed me a unmarked door down the hall, which opened on to a double bed made up with paper sheets.

The room was “officially” for exhausted reporters pulling all-night shifts. “But unofficially, come on, you know what it’s used for.” He then recounted two graphic stories about reporters and their trainee journalists. “It’s better than using the loo, isn’t it?” he shrugged.

This, I fear, will be the future if M. Bertrand gets his way: government-approved naps and a new vogue for workplace affairs. It will be quite exhausting.

Friday, March 23, 2007

POEM: A Day More Like the Next Than Like the One Before by Mark Bowen

The sun raises itself, tired and unsteady,
into a sky tilting with the insolence
of an uninspired painting. It's a mild day,
the temperature of a gentle acid-trip
as experienced by shy, quietly
self-aggrandizing people. I have always
admired the way they look at me
when they can't think of anything
more to say, the way I admire a sword
for the damage that it can do.

posted to The Main Point, with the author's permission, by the heroic Jeannie Vanasco

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

the Web and Ms. Wurtzel

UPDATED... see conclusion.

This morning I was reading Glenn Reynolds, the sharp and prolific web commentator/aggregator, on his Instapundit site, where he writes:

"ELIZABETH WURTZEL COMMENTS ON AUTOADMIT, something we've all been waiting for. I think her attitude is colored by this savage Jim Treacher parody on her narcissistic reaction to the 9/11 attacks."

Please excuse, but I'm too web-clumsy to link to the piece. Nonetheless, he's right in that Elizabeth Wurtzel's attitude about the web-smearing of her fellow classmates is undoubtedly colored by Treacher's savaging of her; but Reynolds also perhaps demonstrates the very phenomenon EW points to. (An early, unedited version of her piece can be found on this site as a guest-post, from Monday. Disclosure: EW has been a pal going on fifteen years, during which I've enjoyed her talent for always saying or writing something remarkable, remarkable in one way or another.)

Backing up… a few months after the attacks of 9/11 a Toronto journalist gave to a New York tabloid column an account of her interview with Wurtzel in which Wurtzel allegedly was unmoved by the human cost.  Was the Toronto journalist's account of their conversation reliable? Was the NY tabloid columnist's?  I don't know… but after the fact she did protest to the tabloid that she had said no such thing.  Her protests fell on deaf ears.  The Toronto journalist's account proliferated, and presumably led to the aforementioned savaging by Treacher that still lurks in a corner of the web. Wurtzel's  9/11 quotes are a canard that still trail her, as evidenced by Reynolds, even now when as a budding attorney she writes on more substantive matters.

Did she say to the Toronto what she was quoted as saying?   I don't know… but I strongly doubt it. I was actually with Wurtzel for a good portion of September 11th. We met up in the early evening at the friend's apartment where, after being forced from her own apartment, a block and a half from ground zero, she'd taken over the couch.  That day, I myself saw more, and I lost more, than I hope I ever have to again. I had to deliver some sad news, but on the other hand I got to share a beer in the late afternoon with my brother, whom my family had been convinced all day was a goner. Enough said. Elizabeth, on the other hand, saw something that no person should ever have to see. That she’s never written about what she actually saw and, so far as I know, never mentioned it to more than one or two people, including me in the immediate aftermath, I respect. This of course would be a rare instance of her not saying whatever popped into her head. Part of what she said to me that night, in one version or another, over and over, as she wept hysterically for hours was “I can’t think about it. I can’t believe what I just saw. I can’t think about those people. I can only think about my cat. My cat is still in my apartment. I can’t bear to think about those people. I can't think about what I saw, what just happened.” What part of this was trauma and somewhat impersonal, and what part grief sprung from sympathy from those nearby? Let's say it was a mixture. In any case, it was perfectly clear, even to her, that she was trying to hold on to her mind by blocking out an overwhelmingly horrific vision and concentrating on one small living thing in her world. Another close friend, older, was hundreds of miles from where we were that day, and simply following her natural inclination tried in her mind to embrace as much of the experience and feeling as she could. And, soon enough, her circumference expanded around her fairly miserably. A year later she descended for some time into her first ever, and only, bout of mental illness. If a week later Elizabeth, who has since she was a teenager struggled periodically with her own mental illness, was going to travel from being swamped by constantly re-envisioning what she's seen to instead mostly speaking about her cat, I for one was not going to begrudge her.

Did that Canadian reporter report honestly what Elizabeth had said? Quite simply that quote doesn't fit with Elizabeth's experience on the day, nor with the things she was saying to me and other friends at the time of the interview, so I seriously doubt it. And when the Canadian journalist later called a NY tabloid to dish on EW... did she recount their conversation faithfully?  Well, I think she simply wanted a headline and a Page Six mention.

Did Jim Treacher in his savaging of my friend, admit that he himself really had no sense of what she'd said in interview, and knew nothing about the reliability of the Toronto journalist who’d offered his account?  Well, no.  But he read it on the internet from a trusted news source!  But when we come to now that journalist's account does have a kind of authority by virtue of its continued presence on various sites on the web, including Wurtzel's Wikipedia and IMDB entries.

I've long suspected that since Elizabeth is so forthcoming about her own bad behavior that journalists feel the normal rules don’t apply to her. Long ago I took her to a book party where she bumped into a New York Times journalist whom I like very much. On seeing him, she exploded, “How could you have written that! I said nothing like that at all.” Apparently the NYT journalist had quote her in a self-damning way in a Style section article. To my astonishment he actually admitted to her that she was right, and he reluctantly apologized... then reversed himself by adding, “But come on, you’re laughing all the way to the bank.” That ("I lied, but it was to your benefit to get a headline") is not the proper attitude a writer should have toward their subject, even if their subject is another writer, a self-dramatizing one at that.

So, in her essay about people smearing others on the web, Elizabeth has a point. Civility, like history, doesn’t always find its ideal spokesperson.

Updated 15 June 2012 to correct spelling, bad grammar, missing words. 

Also, should be noted that both Jim Treacher and Protein Wisdom have linked to this post, offering it as a caveat to their making fun of Wurtzel.  I still believe they've bought into a libelous distortion, but kudos to them for this.  Lord knows I've seen major newspapers and television networks behaving less responsibly.

Lastly, for people like Wurtzel, whom reporters seem eager to misquote, it is a good idea, as so often said by Glenn Reynolds, to make your own recording of any interview.  That's good advice for political candidates too.

Kurosawa's Stray Dog

Am re-watching Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog (1949) on the excellent Criterion Collection DVD. The mini doc recounts a stir over the opening shot of a dog panting feverishly. The film premiered during the American occupation of Japan, and a busybody American woman associated with the ASPCA accused Kurosawa of having injected the dog with rabies to get that wild-eyed effect. This was in the wake of post-war revelations about "scientific" experiments performed by the Japanese imperial army. Apparently this woman was persistent, obsessed even, and brought suit. Was the one blot on an otherwise happy production.

Of course, to get the shot Kurosawa simply had his team take the dog on a run for a few minutes on a hot day.

"The Juniper Tree" by "Philip Glass"

Trouped last night to Lincoln Center for the New York premiere of a Philip Glass opera, "The Juniper Tree"... or perhaps I should say a "Philip Glass opera" because it was very much a PG-branded work and event, performed by the Collegiate Chorale, conductor Robert Bass. It was, I should say here, the work by Glass I most liked-- based on a tale from the Brothers Grimm (Will never forget the gruesome refrain, repeated ad infinitum: "Mama killed me. Papa ate me"), with an accessible melody, and rear-projection of Maurice Sendak illustrations. Co-author of the music Robert Moran, the librettist Arthur Yorinks. There were Glass's signature arabesques of sound... but well I kept wondering if the catchy tunes that overlaid the swirling background came from his collaborator, but I've since read that the composers alternated scenes in this short two-act piece.

The concert's program notes reveal that Glass studied composition in Paris in the 1960s with Nadia Boulanger and made pocket money transcribing Ravi Shankar's sitar pickings. That explains everything.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Carnival of Mixology II

... and this recipe for piscos sours, from Chile:

"Three parts pisco, one part lemon, a drop of bitter, not very much sugar (powdered), and lots of ice. That's the way Chileans have it. Have it in Peru, it will also have some egg-white in it."

new to me

... last night met friends at Lucky Strike on Grand Street downtown. the bartender, a hipster from Veracruz, Mexico, suggested and made a gosling's dark rum, with a squeeze of lemon, and a splash of pineapple juice. new and delicious and needs a name.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elizabeth Wurtzel: A Web of Trash Talk

Some lawyers-to-be should exercise their right to remain silent.

Monday, March 19, 2007

New Haven, Conn.

It's hard out there for a law student. All the stuff to stumble through on the way to that J.D.: torts, property, contracts, evidence, civil procedure, AutoAdmit.

That last item is a new development: a Web site of postings for law schools prestigious and otherwise, where students blab about whatever. An awful lot of it is about other students, most of it mean-spirited. This is all extremely weird for those of us born before the Carter administration, who tend to assume that scrutiny about breast implants-there was a whole thread of discussion devoted to whether one Ms. J.D.-to-be was silicone-enhanced-is reserved for celebrities. The flat, affectless sexual bravado of the trash-talk on AutoAdmit is also a bit of a shock, coming from allegedly intelligent legal minds.

The AutoAdmitters were happily going about their gossip, yakking away like yentas pinning laundry on the clothesline, until sometime last week. That's when the Washington Post ran a front-page story about some young women here at Yale Law School whose careers-if not their lives-had been ruined by some salacious postings. The descriptions of them-sluts and whores-and the suggestions about what might be done to them-rape and sodomy-were showing up on Google searches of their names, and had prevented at least one of them from securing employment.

Since then, Dean Elena Kagan at Harvard Law School and Dean Harold Koh here at Yale have sent out open letters, condemning the nasty communications. We've had speak-outs and write-ins, organized blue ribbon panels and worn red outfits for solidarity, and there's talk of legal remedies and media campaigns. There've been long soul-searching messages on our own Web site, The Wall, in which at least one person has used the word "nomic."

Mostly, the young women would simply like the offending postings removed from the site. This is not likely to happen. Not because it shouldn't-of course it should. But because once again, for about the 80th time in my memory and for at least the 80,000th time in the life of this country, here is an issue in which the right to free speech-as opposed to the need for everyone to just shut up-is going to overwhelm us all.

Cybertalk is about as governable as Iraq, and the First Amendment allows for most other expression, making the U.S. a very loud place. For every interest group that says it's being silenced, for all the people who think they're not permitted to talk back to power, there are the real rest of us for whom the din is deafening. The firstness of the First Amendment trumps everything that competes with it.

Clever attorneys know this all too well. In a scholarly article, Professor Frederick Schauer of Harvard notes, "lawyers representing clients with claims and causes not necessarily lying within the First Amendment's traditional concerns have reason to add First Amendment arguments, in the hope that doing so will increase the probability of success." This is particularly so if you're going to take your case as high as the Supreme Court, which has struck down rape shield laws and permitted pictures that resemble kiddie porn-in the name of First Amendment freedom. For all Congress's threats to pass a bill banning the burning of the American flag, even Justice Antonin Scalia has voted for the right to set Old Glory ablaze, because the First Amendment guarantees it. Free expression is an issue that everyone can agree on: old-fashioned conservative textualists, because it's in the Constitution, and new-fangled liberal interpreters, because, well, it's in the Constitution. The Federalist Society and the ACLU all believe the same thing: the First Amendment means that anyone can say just about anything.

And really, short of that old chestnut-screaming "Fire!" on the main floor of Bloomingdale's-there's not a whole lot you can't say in public. Including the word "faggot," as we recently found out. Social norms may force you to go to rehab for your stupidity, but the law can't touch you at all. Likewise, save for the defined defamatory, there's not much that cannot be said about you. "Exposure of the self to others in varying degrees is a concomitant of life in a civilized society," opined the Supreme Court in 1967. This was decades before "Cops," in the century before YouTube.

In such a world, what to do about AutoAdmit? To start with, pray for mercy, because based on the content of its postings, the future of jurisprudence does not look good. Having done that, plead for civility. Just because we can say anything, does that mean we must say everything? While I could never advocate censorship, I would certainly ask for sensitivity. We all have to live in this world, all seven billion of us, brushing closer and closer together, and bristling in this claustrophobia. Maybe we ought to be slightly more careful before we say whatever it is we feel compelled to freely express. Maybe we ought to stop, have a hesitation, before pressing the send button.

Because people are delicate. The neighborhood rumormongers of yore could cause enough trouble in a small town, but the World Wide Web is really a mess. It's unpoliced, which demands that we be better people, gentler and more humane. Because if not we will surely all go mad. As it is we are overwhelmed: It never stops, we don't know how to stop it, we wouldn't want to anyway, and then we relish complaining about it.

This is how we live now. Do we want to add random postings about ourselves, our private selves, that aren't even true, into this volatile mix? AutoAdmit for adults?

In the mean time, the three young women here at Yale Law School who've been most harmed by AutoAdmit-beautiful and brilliant all-deserve a way out of this electronic shock.

Posted with the author's permission. An edited version of this appeared in today's WSJ.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

another excellent thing about French cinema: Isild Le Besco

She's a fine actress, with an intense presence... the real thing.

French Film!

Over the last week, uniFrance and Lincoln Center's Rendez-vous with French Cinema. "La Doublure" (The Valet), with Daniel Auteuil, was funny... about a CEO, disastrously photographed with a model, who arranges for a valet to play the beard, posing as her boyfriend. Complications ensue. Will inevitably be re-made in English, and not as well. We all need to get better at reading subtitles.

Frontline Club comes to NYC

London's Frontline Club is staging its maiden event in NY - 'Talking to the Enemy,' April 16, when participants will discuss whether the western media should give more coverage to the self-proclaimed enemies of western civilisation: the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq. Does failure to give these organisations proper coverage do readers and viewers a disservice? Is truth really the first casualty in the coverage of the war on terror?

About the FLC...

Over the last few years in London, I’ve spoken with a UK envoy about what he saw that week in Basra and Baghdad, with reporters just returned from Kandahar, Tbilisi, Pyongyang, and the northeast of Sri Lanka. I listened while filmmakers offered editing suggestions to documentarians for their footage of interviews with insurgents in Anbar province. An Al Jazeera editor from Cairo patiently answered my questions about the launch of their English-language service. And I watched a senior army officer break bread with a leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. All this under one roof, at the Frontline Club, where they have a dining table with a very big view.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Poem Half in the Manner of Li Po by Charlies Wright

All things aspire to weightlessness,
some place beyond the lip of language,
Some silence, some zone of grace,

Sky white as raw silk,
opening mirror cold-sprung in the west,
Sunset like dead grass.

If God hurt the way we hurt,
he, too, would be heart-sore,
Disconsolate, unappeasable.

Li Ho, the story goes, would leave home
Each day at dawn, riding a colt, a servant boy
walking behind him,
An antique tapestry bag
Strapped to his back.
When inspiration struck, Ho would write
The lines down and drop them in the bag.
At night he'd go home and work the lines up into a poem,
No matter how disconnected and loose-leafed they were.
His mother once said,
"He won't stop until he has vomited out his heart."

And so he did.
Like John Keats,
He died believing his name would never be written among the

Without hope, he thought himself--that worst curse--unlucky.
At twenty-seven, at death's line, he saw a man come
In purple, driving a red dragon,
A tablet in one hand, who said,
"I'm here to summon Li Ho."

Ho got from his bed and wept.
Far from the sick room's dragon-dark, snow stormed the passes,
Monkeys surfed the bo trees
and foolish men ate white jade.

How mournful the southern hills are,
how white their despair
Under December's T'ang blue blank page.

What's the use of words--there are no words
For December's chill redaction,
for the way it makes us feel.

We hang like clouds between heaven and earth,
between something and nothing,
Sometimes with shadows, sometimes without.

Posted with permission of the author
Please note: this poem lacks the author's intended indentations

Friday, March 2, 2007

more from Chilean finance minister, Andres Velasco

JSL: We mentioned that you were away from your country for many years…

Andres Velasco: I was away from the country for many years, because one Friday… August 6, 1976… as I was coming out of a football game at school, someone told me my father had been kidnapped. Chile, then, was a dangerous place. My father was a prominent lawyer and academic, and head of the Social Democratic Party. After the coup, he became very active in the defense of people who’d been arrested. In June of 1976, some foreign delegations were convening in Chile, and he arranged to have a say among them. He and some other lawyers provided the visiting foreign ministers with evidence of killings and torture. This, as you can imagine, caused quite an uproar. Soon after the foreign ministers left, my father was arrested, and taken illegally to Argentina. Argentina, then, under that regime, was not a good place for someone who’d been arrested by the Pinochet government. Somehow, he was smuggled into the Venezuelan embassy, left Argentina on a Venezuelan plane, and eventually made his way to Los Angeles.

JSL: What an awful time. That feels far away.

AV: This is a country with a deeply-rooted tradition of electoral politics. When I was a little boy, on election day, my father would put me on his shoulders and take me to vote. That was part of life here. You go, and even if it's hot, or even if it's cold, you stand in line and you vote. There's been concern recently about why voting has gone down from 95 to more recently 80-something vote, which is still very high. Election day is always a Sunday. The country stops and that’s all you talk about. They’re typically in December, which is early summer here, so the weather's nice, just like today. Some people put on a barbecue, and everyone pulls out their TV, and while you grill your fish, you watch the election results as if it were a sporting event. My father died in 2001, and one of the last things we did together was, when the election came, he said, “Take me to vote.” I wheeled him out, pushed his wheelchair to the school where voting always takes place, and stood outside the booth while he cast his ballot. That's the essence of this country. And that's why it was such a painful shock, at a time when we were the only country in Latin America with a democracy, a country with a democratic tradition stretching back almost two hundred years, to have that taken away… taken away for seventeen years. If you're Chilean that's the one thing that you're allowed to get teary-eyed about.

--Sunday, 14 January 2007, Santiago, Chile

... an edited version of this entire conversation appears in the March issue of Monocle magazine, on newsstands now.

Daniel Pinchbeck: From Ego to We Go

When I was in my twenties, literature was my ruling passion, and my heroes were writers like Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller. I longed to emulate the passionate intensity of their prose, and the “negative capability” which infused their characters with recognizable life. When I passed through the crucible of my own transformational process, I lost interest in novels and discovered a new pantheon of intellectual heroes. These days, I find the same level of electrical engagement that I used to find in novels in the works of thinkers whose central theme is the evolution and possible extension of human consciousness. This varied group is made up of mystics, physicists, philosophers, cosmologists and paleontologists — the roster includes Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Edward Edinger, Jean Gebser, Teilhard de Chardin, F David Peat, Sri Aurobindo and Gerald Heard.
For me personally, most contemporary fiction, like most current film, has an increasingly retrograde quality. In their efforts to make their audience identify with a particular drama or trauma or relationship saga, these products seem almost nostalgic. We live in a culture that continually seeks to entertain or at least distract us with an endless spew of personal narratives, whether paraded on lowbrow talk shows or parsed in literary novels. If you step outside of the cultural framing, you suddenly become aware of the mechanism that keeps us addicted to the spectacle — and, above all, hooked on ego. Our entire culture is dedicated to inciting and then placating the desires and fears of the individual ego — what the media critic Thomas De Zengotita calls “the flattered self.”
Although they use different language to define it, the various theorists on the evolution of the psyche all agree that the crux of our current crisis requires that we transcend the ego. They suggest that the stage of material progress and scientific discovery we attained in recent centuries is not the end of human development, but the launching pad for another stage in our growth. However, this next stage differs from previous phases in one essential way — it requires a “mutation in consciousness” that can only be self-willed and self-directed. According to this paradigm, it is as if physical evolution has done billions of years of work on our behalf, to get us to this point. Right now, it is our choice whether we would like to go forward, or fall by the wayside like untold millions of other species, who over-adapted to one set of conditions, and could not recreate themselves as their environment changed.
In his influential book, Pain, Sex and Time, the British polymath Gerald Heard defined three stages in human evolution — physical, technical and psychical. “The first is unconscious — blind; the second is conscious, unreflective, aware of its need but not of itself, of how, not why; the third is interconscious, reflective, knowing not merely how to satisfy its needs but what they mean and the Whole means,” wrote Heard, who believed we were on the cusp of switching from the technical to the psychical level of development. As we enter the psychic phase, we shift “from indirect to direct expansion of understanding, at this point man’s own self-consciousness decides and can alone decide whether he will mutate, and the mutation is instantaneous.” Originally published in 1939, Heard’s book has just been reprinted in the US; it was James Dean’s favorite work, and inspired Huston Smith to turn to religious studies.
Despite its antique provenance, Pain, Sex and Time remains “new news” for our time. Heard viewed the immense capacity of human beings to experience pain and suffering, and the extraordinary excess of our sexual drive compared to our actual reproductive needs, as signs of a tremendous surplus of evolutionary energy that can be repurposed for the extension and intensification of consciousness, if we so choose. “Modern man’s incessant sexuality is not bestial: rather it is a psychic hemorrhage,” Heard wrote. “He bleeds himself constantly because he fears mental apoplexy if he can find no way of releasing his huge store of nervous energy.” Heard foresaw the necessity of a new form of self-discipline, a training in concentrating psychic energy to develop extra-sensory perception, as the proper way to channel the excess of nervous hypertension that would otherwise lead to our destruction. He thought that we would either evolve into a “supraindividual” condition, or the uncontrolled energies would force us back into “preindividuated” identifications, leading to nationalist wars and totalitarian fervors, and species burn-out.
A sign I saw at last year’s Burning Man put it succinctly: “From Ego to We Go.” As the climate changes and our environment deteriorates, we are being subjected to tremendous evolutionary pressures that could push us beyond individuation, into a deeply collaborative mindset and a new threshold of psychic awareness. Seventy years after Heard’s manifesto, whether or not we want to evolve as a species remains an open question. But the choice is in our hands

... in the March issue of Conscious Choice magazine (online at

Noisy in London too

Cartoon History

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Poem: Aglow by Matthew Zapruder

Hello everyone, hello you. Here we are under this sky.
Where were you Tuesday? I was at the El Rancho Motel in Gallup.
Someone in one of the nameless rooms was dying, slowly
the ambulance came, just another step towards the end. An older
couple asked me to capture them with a camera, gladly I rose
about three inches and did and then back to my chair. I thought of
Paul Celan, one of those poets everything happened to strangely
as it happens to everyone. In German he wrote he rose
one pain inch above the floor, I don’t understand
but I understand. Did writing in German make him a little
part of whoever set in motion the chain of people talking
who pushed his parents under the blue grasses of the Ukraine?
No. My name is Ukrainian and Ukranians killed everyone but six
people with my name. Do you understand me now? It
hurts to be part of the chain and feel rusty and also a tiny squeak
now part of what makes everything go. People talk a lot, the
more they do the less I remember in one of my rooms someone
is always dying. It doesn’t spoil my time is what spoils my time. No
one can know what they’ve missed, least of all my father who
was building a beautiful boat from a catalog and might still be. Sometimes
I feel him pushing a little bit on my lower back with a palm
made of ghost orchids and literal wind. Today I’m holding onto
holding onto what Neko Case called that teenage feeling. She means
one thing, I mean another, I mean to say that just like when I was thirteen
it has been a hidden pleasure but mostly an awful pain talking to you
with a voice that pretends to be shy and actually is, always in search of
the question that might make you ask me one in return.

Posted with permission of the author

Memories of Erich Fromm by Michael Maccoby

In 1959 while I was finishing my doctorate at Harvard, David Riesman, the sociologist, introduced me to Erich Fromm who was looking for a psychologist with knowledge of statistics and projective testing to work with him on his study of a Mexican village. In exchange for working with him, Fromm offered me training in psychoanalysis at the Mexican Institute he had founded and analysis with him. That year before leaving for Mexico in 1960 with my wife Sandylee, I participated with Fromm, Riesman and others in two political meetings. One focused on the dangers of nuclear war with the Soviet Union which led to establishing a group called Committees of Correspondence. Riesman published a newsletter, The Correspondent, which both Fromm and I contributed to in the years that followed. The other was a meeting to discuss revitalizing the Socialist Party in the United States. Fromm had written a manifesto which was the topic of discussion. Although I agreed with much of what Fromm had written, I wasn’t convinced that a Socialist Party had any chance in America, a country where class differences are denied. Riesman, who was also at the meeting, and I decided our best hopes were to work within the Democratic Party, and subsequently, we presented a paper to a group of progressive Democratic Congressmen which was published in a collection of essays called The Liberal Papers(1961).

From 1960 to 1970, I was Fromm’s student, analysand, apprentice, and colleague, co-author of a debate on thermonuclear war with Herman Kahn(1962) and finally the book Social Character in a Mexican Village (1970).

It is difficult to summarize a decade of profound learning and experiences with Fromm. The analysis was a deep exploration of self, rich in dreams and insights that woke up sleeping parts of the self and forced me to take full ownership of my life in making critical decisions. At one point, I had a dream of being in a Harvard examination hall with others. In front of us was a map of the world. I started to work on my map but I noticed the others just sitting there, not working. “That’s a good dream,” said Fromm, “We are all given the world as a test, but most people don’t know it’s a test they have to to take until it’s too late and they can no longer decide what they are here for.”

Fromm’s view of the self was like a mansion of many rooms in which most people lived in one or two with the others closed off. Like Freud, he agreed with Horace that “nothing human is alien to me”. One’s ability to experience and contain all the irrational as well as transcendent emotions, from the murderous to the loving and sublime, from deep despair to encompassing joy determined how deep the analysis could go. But to contain this awareness required a philosophical frame of meaning which Fromm had found first in Judaism but later in different forms of Buddhism and religious mysticism. Together with my analysis, Fromm had me read Aristotle’s and Spinoza’s Ethics, Herbert Marcuse’s study of Hegel, Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing, Meister Eckhardt’s stages of development and writings in Zen and Indian Buddhism.

During the time I knew him, including periodic meetings in the 1970s, Fromm significantly changed some of his views. In the early 1960s, his outlook combined a messianic belief in humanistic socialism with a practice of Zen Buddhism, learned from D. Suzuki. He was in contact with the Yugoslavian Paxis Marxist and encouraged me to lecture in Belgrade and Zagreb in 1964 and later to attend the meetings of Praxis in Korcula.
His analytic style at this time was very influenced by Zen and he had me practice Zen meditation every day. Like a Zen master he could be punishing when he thought I was holding back or being inauthentic. When I complained that he was not being helpful, he said “I am not here to be helpful but to analyze”. He repeated the Zen story of the master who smacks his disciple with a stick. “But I haven’t even said anything,” says the student. “Why should I wait?” says the master.

After his heart attack, Fromm became gentler, more sympathetic.He said that one could believe all illness was psychosomatic until you reached your 60s, In 1968, we both were very active in the anti Viet Nam war movement and Eugene McCarthy’s campaign for president. After the election was over, Fromm expected McCarthy to join him in leading a humanistic movement based on his book The Revolution of Hope, but McCarthy let him down, even failing to show up for an agreed-on meeting. Fromm became more pessimistic. The Messiah was not going to come any time soon. The Socialist movement was being buried in the rebellious acting out of the late 1960s, more in tune with what Fromm considered Herbert Marcuse’s distortion of both Freud and Marx than with Fromm’s humanism. He became more interested in individual spiritual development, more in tune with the Buddhist vision of transcendence, of becoming one with nature. In his New York apartment, he lay on the floor and showed me how he was practicing dying. His book To Have Or To Be expressed his conviction about purpose, the aspiration to fully love life and to not be held back by greed and enslaving attachments.

Working with Fromm could be difficult but also extremely enjoyable. Even when difficult, it was stimulating. Never before had any professor ripped my drafts apart and forced me to clarify my thoughts, fully express the logic of my arguments. Fromm had no patience with unfounded disagreements, but when we wrote together, he was open to my ideas and criticisms. One of the most memorable days of my life was when he asked me to critique his manuscript of The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness and we met in his New York apartment, dialoguing and arguing from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm, getting up only to go to the bath room. Food and drink was brought in by Annis, his wife. What intensity and concentration! Yet, at 11:00pm, neither of us was at all tired. We were fully awake, full of enthusiasm from the intellectual journey we had shared.

Fromm’s tough criticism was, I believe, a compliment, for he was equally tough on himself and extremely self critical of what he considered his narcissism. Like Freud, he saw himself as a narcissistic personality. However, in retrospect, I think he overemphasized the negative aspects of this personality type and underestimated the positive side, the lack of internalization of the father, replacing the superego with an ego ideal, giving one the freedom to create, for good or evil, one’s own sense of meaning without being tied to cultural norms.

Fromm and I both loved telling each other jokes. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a joyful laugh. He believed that a sense of humor is the emotional equivalent of a cognitive sense of reality. He especially enjoyed humor that punctured self importance.

Fromm became an idolized figure in Mexico, based on appreciation of his wisdom but also strengthened by transferential idealization. His disciples lacked his knowledge and vision and few questioned anything he pronounced. I once asked him how it felt to be idealized and he answered that it was frustrating in the sense that his followers, with few exceptions, only repeated what he gave them, that there was a lack of creativity in their followership. But this is a problem with many extremely creative thinkers who never finish learning and revising their ideas. It is the reason why the Freuds, Marxes and Fromms don’t want to be Freudians, Marxists or Frommians..

Poem: What Hands Remember by Johanna Ekstrom

What hands remember

arms at sides
seeming to be waiting

the big words
sleep beneath
the palm of the hand

a sweet sucked
to a sliver
words like glass
a splinter under the fingernail

Who died of love?

In the lining all the children sleep
mouths and eyes wiped clean
They have no mouths where mouths should be
no sight where sight should be
Whoever would trust to the injury itself?

From these hands fires can dart
characteristics be burned away

Hands fall like tulip petals
sweep away a facial feature

As hands do in sleep
they remember their loneliness

She places the petals over the children
covers them with the palm of her hand

No-one died of love
There is a contrary wind I have never known

Johanna Ekström, borne 1970, is a writer and artist. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden.


sent on March 2, 2007, to
Steve Kostecke, Editor-in-Chief, ULA
cc: Karl Wenclas, Publicity Director, ULA
cc: Pat Simonelli, Editor, ULA

Dear Mr. Kostecke,

At the prompting of Karl Wenclas, I responded to you one month ago, Feburary 2, regarding the "monday reports" Richard Cummings wrote for the Underground Literary Alliance's website. To date, you've still not posted my response (below), nor publicly acknowledged it on your site. Neither, so far as I can see, has the ULA site publicly acknowledged my earlier response to his writing, sent to Wenclas some years ago. I should think it'd be appropriate to note these responses on the webpage where Cummings's writings appear.


James Linville

Sent to ULA, 2 February 2007:

To:Skostecke, and Pat Simonelli, Underground Literary Alliance!

Dear Skostecke and Pat,

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Cummings has declined my invitation for a recorded conference call to clarify discrepancies and interpretations reflected in his writings about The Paris Review, where I used to be employed. I'm sure that conversation would have been illuminating about any number of matters, including the elevator Mr. Cummings discovered while visiting George Plimpton's townhouse.

As I stated before, I don’t believe he’s a fully competent journalist, or historian.


James Linville

The Paris Review

To:Skostecke, and Pat, Underground Literary Alliance!

Dear Skostecke and Pat,

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Cummings has declined my invitation for a recorded conference call to clarify discrepancies and interpretations reflected in his writings about The Paris Review, where I used to be employed. I'm sure that conversation would have been illuminating about any number of matters, including the elevator Mr. Cummings discovered while visiting George Plimpton's townhouse.

As I stated before, I don’t believe he’s a fully competent journalist, or historian.


James Linville