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Controlled implosion of fossil industries and explosive renewables development can deliver on Paris

June 23rd, 2016 · Climate Change, Environment, Uncategorized

Press release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

23/06/2016 (embargo expired)

While some criticize the Paris climate target as impracticable, a team of scholars argues that it is – on the contrary – a triumph of realism. First, and most importantly, adhering to the Paris target of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius is necessary in view of the massive risks that unchecked climate change would pose to society. A crucial type of threats, associated with the crossing of tipping points in the Earth system, is summarized in a landmark map for the first time. Second, implementing the Paris target is feasible through the controlled implosion of the fossil industry, instigated by a technological explosion related to renewable energy systems and other innovations. Third, the target is simple enough to create worldwide political momentum, the scientists say in their comment published in Nature Climate Change.

“The Paris target of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, aspiring to keep the warming even at 1.5 degrees, offers the chance to avoid some of the greatest climate risks – the tipping of critical Earth system elements,” says co-author Ricarda Winkelmann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “The ice sheets or the Amazon rainforest, for instance, are projected to succumb to disruptive and likely irreversible change once a certain warming threshold range is crossed. These are not isolated processes; they affect the whole planet.”

Necessity: tipping elements and global temperature

Based on the advances made by climate research as a whole over the past two decades, the scientists provide a defining diagram of tipping elements in the context of the global temperature evolution. ”We illustrate that for the Earth system, half a degree really matters,” Winkelmann says. Warming of only 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels will have major consequences, such as threatening the survival of coral reefs worldwide. But the difference to 2 degrees is substantial. In a 1.5-degree warmer world, for example, global sea-level rise could be limited to 1.5 meters by the year 2300, whereas at 2 degrees, 2-3 meters rise by 2300 have been projected, and the Greenland ice sheet may well pass its tipping point.

“Beyond 2 degrees, the course might be set for a long-term complete deglaciation of the Northern Hemisphere,” says Winkelmann. ”This would result in sea-level rise that threatens the survival of many major coastal cities including New York, Mumbai and Tokyo. Hence the necessity of the Paris target.”

Feasibility: carbon pricing, divestment movement, wind and solar power

“While the latest IPCC assessment has shattered the infeasibility myth, showing that the 2 degrees guardrail can be respected at relatively low cost with the proper political resolve,” says co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at PIK, “almost all IPCC scenarios assume so-called negative emissions – taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it. That is a very long shot. However, the price decrease and the efficiency increase of wind and solar power have been beyond the most optimistic predictions.” A technical explosion of renewables would, once the new technologies reach a market penetration of 15-20 percent, lead to an implosion of the fossil industry, the scientists argue. Currently, India appears to be very serious about implementing its colossal renewables target – an example of self-amplifying developments that have the potential to tip the global market scales.

In addition, a strong climate agreement paves the way towards carbon pricing instruments that will be adopted in more and more countries, the authors say. Last but not least, issues of morality are going to interfere with economics – one case in point is the divestment campaign which aims at pulling assets out of fossil businesses. Already today, key financial market players like the German Allianz insurance, the French company AXA or the legendary US oil dynasty Rockefeller are moving in that direction.

Simplicity: negotiators can turn objectives into action

“Beyond necessity and feasibility, the 2°C guardrail has a comparative advantage over competing targets that cannot be overrated in the world of ‘realpolitik’: it is easy to grasp and communicate,” says lead author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK. “In fact, the target strikes the optimal balance between concreteness and intelligibility. Now the world of climate action turns around one single number!” In the days and nights of the Paris negotiations, the 2 degrees concept – originating from a 1995 report by the German government advisory council for environmental issues (WBGU)  – proved its worth since every national delegation could take a stance for the temperature limit of its choice. This would have been hard to imagine with the more complicated target suggestions made recently – ocean heat content, CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations, or temperature change rate.

“The Paris agreement is a historic achievement and a genuine triumph of reason,” Schellnhuber concludes. “Now the pressure is on to implement that consensus in time, in order to avoid the looming humanitarian tragedy for good.”


Figure 1, Schellnhuber et al (2016): Tipping elements in context of the global mean temperature evolution. Shown is the global mean surface temperature evolution from the Last Glacial maximum through the Holocene, based on palaeoclimatic proxy data (light grey), instrumental measurements since 1750 ad (HadCRUT data, black line) and different global warming scenarios for the future. Threshold ranges for crossing various tipping points where major subsystems of the climate system are destabilized have been added. (Note that we follow the tipping point definition of Lenton et al. which does not require irreversibility, so that sea ice cover is included here.) The range for the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has been adapted to account for the observation that part of it has probably tipped already. THC, thermohaline circulation; ENSO, El Niño–Southern Oscillation; EAIS, Eastern Antarctic Ice Sheet. For references, see the paper.

Article: Schellnhuber, H.J., Rahmstorf, S., Winkelmann, R. (2016): Why the right climate target was agreed in Paris. Nature Climate Change [doi:10.1038/nclimate3013]


Weblink to the article:

For further information please contact:

PIK press office

Phone: +49 331 288 25 07


Twitter: @PIK_Climate

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PEN America: ‘Detention of Poet Dareen Tatour Signals Worrying Escalation in Israeli Repression’

June 18th, 2016 · Censorship, Israel, Palestine, Poet, Poetry

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PEN America released a statement about the case of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour yesterday, condemning the “further evidence of the increasingly aggressive measures undertaken by the [Israeli] government to restrict speech critical of the state”:

tatourTatour is one of a number of Palestinians who’ve been arrested for online speech critical of Israel. According to Nadim Nashef of Al-Shabaka, “The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a non-governmental organization dealing with prisoners’ rights, estimates that more than 150 arrests took place between October and February 2016 based on Facebook posts expressing opinions on the uprising.”

As the PEN release notes, Tatour was arrested on October 11 of last year, “when police entered her house in a town outside of Nazareth around 4 am without a search or arrest warrant.”

She was indited for incitement, like many of the other cases against online speech, and also under the law that prohibits “”Support for a Terrorist Organization.” She spent three months in Israeli prisons before being placed under house arrest, one of the conditions of which was being prevented from using the internet. According to PEN, “She will remain under house arrest for the duration of her trial, which is scheduled to resume on July 17 and September 6.”

Tatour’s case is unusual amont the other anti-speech arrests in that hers centers largely around her poem “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” translated for ArabLit by Tariq Haydar. Other anti-poetic evidence included the prosecution citing “Tatour’s participation in a Kafr Qasim massacre memorial event and her poetry reading at a Woman’s Day event in Nazareth.”

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America:

Interpreting an artistic work as a direct call to terrorism dangerously misconstrues an act of free expression by an Arab* citizen of Israel as a serious security threat punishable by preventative detention and prosecution. The connection between Tatour’s activities and the charges of incitement to violence and support for terrorism relies solely on suggestion in the form of a poem and video rather than actual evidence. Her detention, one in a string of recent arrests of writers and journalists, signals a worrying expansion in Israeli law enforcement policy to silence views the government deems unsavory.

PEN America has been criticized by many US writers for partnering with the Israeli government.

Read the full statement from PEN America.

Read Tatour’s poetry: “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” translated by Tariq Haydar; “I Will Not Leave My Country,” translated by Ghada Mourad”; “How Old Am I Now?” translated by Ahmed Zahran.

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‘Lands in Solidarity’ and ‘Resonances’: Producing African Literatures in Algeria

May 26th, 2016 · Africa, Arab Culture, Books, Literature, Maghrebi Literature, Translation, Uncategorized

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Nadia Ghanem talks with Apic editions and Barzakh editions, two Algerian publishing houses trying to promote literary exhange in Africa:

By Nadia Ghanem

From Barzakh's stand at the 2014 book fair in Algiers. From the publisher's website.

From Barzakh’s stand at the 2014 book fair in Algiers. From the publisher’s website.

Last year, during the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made such insightful remarks about the lens through which we observe and narrate ourselves that they have continued being shared and discussed among readers a year on. In particular, her statement “You know I’ve actually found that the older I get, the less interested I am in how the West sees Africa, and the more interested I am in how Africa sees itself” is often seen circulating and included in the continuing conversation of how we write and look at ourselves.

In Algeria, two publishing houses, Apic editions and Barzakh editions, have been actively engaging in this very conversation by focusing on the literature of our continent to promote exchanges between African authors and readers. Each launched their collection dedicated to promoting the literary production of African authors in 2007. Apic’s Résonances [Resonances] and Barzakh’s Terres Solidaires[Lands in Solidarity] were created with the aim to help circulate literary talent, share common experiences, and give visibility to a different world-view.

Samia Zennadi, co-founder and director of Apic editions:

Résonances was born in October 2007 during Algiers’ International book fair [SILA], on the occasion of which we published three titles La fête des masques  [The Masks’ Party] by Sami Tchak, La géographie du danger [The Geography of Fear] by Hamid Skif and Ma planète me monte à la tête  [My planet is going to my head] by Anouar Benmalek. This collection gathers texts by African authors published outside of the continent and to whom we wanted to give visibility in Algeria, to circumvent literary borders. That’s how texts by Rabah Belamri (Algeria), Habib Tengour (Algeria), Louis Philipe Dalembert (Haïti), Tierno Monénmebo (Guinea), Yambo Ouologuem (Mali), Tanella Boni (Ivory Coast), Patrice Nganang (Cameroon), Jean-Luc Rharimanana (Madagascar) and Gabriel Mwènè Okoundji (Republic of the Congo) found themselves in Résonances.

Apic’s collection now has 16 titles to its name. Barzakh has 4 with Sozaboy by Ken Saro-Wiwa (2008), De l’autre coté du regard [On the otherside of the stare] by Ken Bugul (2008), Jazz et vin de palme [Jazz and Palm Wine] by Emmanuel Dongala (2009) and Kaveena by Boubacar Boris Diop (2009). These novels can be found, although disparately, in some of the capitals’ bookshops but few people seem to specifically be aware of the collection and the difficulty in getting hold of the books in other cities does not help circulating these texts.

On this point, Apic deplores that while it has managed, not without some struggle, to publish many titles in the space of nine years, the collection in Algeria “has no visibility whatsoever on the cultural pages of the written press, not on television programmes or radios shows” dedicated to literature. Yet, Apic says “we’ll continue to maintain this project afloat with the conviction that it is important for these texts to circulate and for books to ‘resonate’ and echo the word ‘free’.”

While these two collections’ aim is to make authors from our own continent known to Algerian readers, Algerian authors published by these two publishing houses are unfortunately not being given the same platform by partner editors. Algerian authors published by Barzakh are not published or distributed by their counterparts. Similarly with Apic’s home authors, according to Samia Zennadi:

At the moment, none of our authors is published by the publishing houses with whom we are trying to establish long-lasting links. Notwithstanding the state of African exchanges with regard to books, we still try to be involved in other book fairs that take place in Mali, Cameroon, Burkina-Faso, Senegal and Niger to make our authors and their texts known.

For Barzakh, it was important to create and follow a specific editorial line dedicated to African literature because “we felt we wanted to appropriate ourselves our African literary heritage and to rebalance geopolitical forces. In a sense, it was a way of going around the intellectual monopoly of the cultural capitals of Europe.”

A sentiment shared by Apic, who wished to reclaim a cultural space they see controlled elsewhere and monopolised.

Our interest for African literature does not boil down to buying book rights so we can reedit them in Algeria. We are trying to contribute to the autonomy of the African literary field. In 2009 we organised a writing residency in Algiers, we had invited African authors edited outside of the continent, and this led to the edition and publication of a collection of texts under the name Ancrage africain [African Anchorage]. It is this type of project that illustrates exactly what we’re aiming to achieve. We also contribute to the Espace Panaf [Panafrican Space].

Espace Panaf is a space dedicated to African literature during Algiers’ yearly International Book Fair. Another example of Apic’s commitment is their participation to the Panafrican festival, “the only concrete achievement of the 2nd Panafrican festival was the production of the magazine L’Afrique parle livres  [Africa speaks books] which was supposed to help consolidate links in the chain of transmission of African literature.”

L’Espace Panaf [Panafrican Space] is now a fixed point of exchange during the SILA, a positive feature of the book fair for Apic “for the last three years, the presence of editors from the continent in this space, editors who have projects, promote ideas and generate debates has enabled Algerian readers to have access to books edited on the continent. It also gave birth to a co-editing project between two editors from Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. One of their titles was presented last year at the SILA and their collection is now called Espace Panaf.”

For Samia Zennadi, although these types of collections and networking between countries on the African continent are positive, they cannot be made firm or permanent unless a general mobilisation of wills ensues:

We are helping our colleagues from Mali, Congo and Benin to publish books in Algeria which we export despite difficult conditions of exportation. Unfortunately, our ambition to get away from cultural domination is not always shared by those in charge of cultural events around literature, and no amount of conferences and empty political declarations will realise these goals. They will become concrete by effectively rewriting the international rules that govern literature spaces, spaces in which the capitals of the northern hemisphere have now essentially become ‘central banks’ that reward and consecrate works, authors and even editors.

Despite trying circumstances, both Apic and Barzakh’s collections have opened a critical space, one for literature produced on our continent and by our continent. That space, and the market it could potentially generate, could be all the more vibrant as Algerians read in several languages, in Arabic, English, and Tamazight, not only French. Novels by celebrated African writers such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o or Chinua Achebe in the English original are distributed by Flites editions in Algiers. But what about novels by African authors who write in Arabic? Shouldn’t the works of authors from countries geographically located in Africa, but exclusively seen as constitutive of the entity Middle East, also belong to the great corpus of African literature?

Novels by contemporary Tunisian, Moroccan, Libyan, Sudanese, and Egyptian authors who write in Arabic are practically impossible to find in bookshops in Algeria. Few of novels seep through to us, such as Ibrahim Al Koni’s novels, or the poetry and novels of Nizar Qabbani, Khalil Gibran, Taha Hussein and Naguib Mahfouz. It is hoped that this dire lack of linguistic representation will be addressed, not only to redress an abysmal book distribution situation, but to set the literature scales right.

Book recommendations

If you are in Algeria and would like to read one of the novels in these collections, Apic editions recommend Peuls by Tierno Monénembo, a novel “written in a sumptuous language” and a story “really difficult to summarize and which, for me, represents what is at stake in the African historical novel roman” as described by Samia Zennadi.

Barzakh suggests Sozaboy by the phenomenal writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, which tells “through an adolescent’s eyes, the story of how he becomes a soldier, not really knowing why, and plunges into the civil war of 1967-1970”.

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Uri Avnery: On Ya’ir Golan & Avigdor Lieberman

May 21st, 2016 · Israel


May 21, 2016

I Was There

“PLEASE DON’T write about Ya’ir Golan!” a friend begged me, “Anything a leftist like you writes will only harm him!”

So I abstained for some weeks. But I can’t keep quiet any longer.

General Ya’ir Golan, the deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, made a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. Wearing his uniform, he read a prepared, well-considered text that triggered an uproar which has not yet died down.

Dozens of articles have been published in its wake, some condemning him, some lauding him. Seems that nobody could stay indifferent.

The main sentence was: “If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016.”

All hell broke loose. What!!! Traces of Nazism in Israel? A resemblance between what the Nazis did to us with what we are doing to the Palestinians?

90 years ago was 1926, one of the last years of the German republic. 80 years ago was 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power. 70 years ago was 1946, on the morrow of Hitler’s suicide and the end of the Nazi Reich. 

I FEEL compelled to write about the general’s speech after all, because I was there.

As a child I was an eye-witness to the last years of the Weimar Republic (so called because its constitution was shaped in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller). As a politically alert boy I witnessed the Nazi Machtergreifung (“taking power”) and the first half a year of Nazi rule.

I know what Golan was speaking about. Though we belong to two different generations, we share the same background. Both our families come from small towns in Western Germany. His father and I must have had a lot in common.

There is a strict moral commandment in Israel: nothing can be compared to the Holocaust. The Holocaust is unique. It happened to us, the Jews, because we are unique. (Religious Jews would add: “Because God has chosen us”.)

I have broken this commandment. Just before Golan was born, I published (in Hebrew) a book called “The Swastika”, in which I recounted my childhood memories and tried to draw conclusions from them. It was on the eve of the Eichmann trial, and I was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the Nazi era among young Israelis then.

My book did not deal with the Holocaust, which took place when I was already living in Palestine, but with a question which troubled me throughout the years, and even today: how could it happen that Germany, perhaps the most cultured nation on earth at the time, the homeland of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, could democratically elect a raving psychopath like Adolf Hitler as its leader?

The last chapter of the book was entitled “It Can Happen Here!” The title was drawn from a book by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis, called ironically “It Can’t Happen Here”, in which he described a Nazi take-over of the United States.    

In this chapter I discussed the possibility of a Jewish Nazi-like party coming to power in Israel. My conclusion was that a Nazi party can come to power in any country on earth, if the conditions are right. Yes, in Israel, too.

The book was largely ignored by the Israeli public, which at the time was overwhelmed by the storm of emotions evoked by the terrible disclosures of the Eichmann trial.

Now comes General Golan, an esteemed professional soldier, and says the same thing.

And not as an improvised remark, but on an official occasion, wearing his general’s uniform, reading from a prepared, well thought-out text.

The storm broke out, and has not passed yet.

ISRAELIS HAVE a self-protective habit: when confronted with inconvenient truths, they evade its essence and deal with a secondary, unimportant aspect. Of all the dozens and dozens of reactions in the written press, on TV and on political platforms, almost none confronted the general’s painful contention.

No, the furious debate that broke out concerns the questions: Is a high-ranking army officer allowed to voice an opinion about matters that concern the civilian establishment? And do so in army uniform? On an official occasion?

Should an army officer keep quiet about his political convictions? Or voice them only in closed sessions – “in relevant forums”, as a furious Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it?

General Golan enjoys a very high degree of respect in the army. As Deputy Chief of Staff he was until now almost certainly a candidate for Chief of Staff, when the incumbent leaves the office after the customary four years.

The fulfillment of this dream shared by every General Staff officer is now very remote. In practice, Golan has sacrificed his further advancement in order to utter his warning and giving it the widest possible resonance.

One can only respect such courage. I have never met General Golan, I believe, and I don’t know his political views. But I admire his act.

(Somehow I recall an article published by the British magazine Punch before World War I, when a group of junior army officers issued a statement opposing the government’s policy in Ireland. The magazine said that while disapproving the opinion expressed by the mutinous officers, it took pride in the fact that such youthful officers were ready to sacrifice their careers for their convictions.)

THE NAZI march to power started in 1929, when a terrible world-wide economic crisis hit Germany. A tiny, ridiculous far-right party suddenly became a political force to be reckoned with. From there it took them four years to become the largest party in the country and to take over power (though it still needed a coalition).

I was there when it happened, a boy in a family in which politics became the main topic at the dinner table. I saw how the republic broke down, gradually, slowly, step by step. I saw our family friends hoisting the swastika flag. I saw my high-school teacher raising his arm when entering the class and saying “Heil Hitler” for the first time (and then reassuring me in private that nothing had changed.)

I was the only Jew in the entire gymnasium (high school.) When the hundreds of boys – all taller than I – raised their arms to sing the Nazi anthem, and I did not, they threatened to break my bones if it happened again. A few days later we left Germany for good.   

General Golan was accused of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Nothing of the sort. A careful reading of his text shows that he compared developments in Israel to the events that led to the disintegration of the Weimar Republic. And that is a valid comparison.

Things happening in Israel, especially since the last election, bear a frightening similarity to those events. True, the process is quite different. German fascism arose from the humiliation of surrender in World War I, the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium from 1923-25, the terrible economic crisis of 1929, the misery of millions of unemployed. Israel is victorious in its frequent military actions, we live comfortable lives. The dangers threatening us are of a quite different nature. They stem from our victories, not from our defeats.

Indeed, the differences between Israel today and Germany then are far greater than the similarities. But those similarities do exist, and the general was right to point them out.

The discrimination against the Palestinians in practically all spheres of life can be compared to the treatment of the Jews in the first phase of Nazi Germany. (The oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories resembles more the treatment of the Czechs in the “protectorate” after the Munich betrayal.)

The rain of racist bills in the Knesset, those already adopted and those in the works, strongly resembles the laws adopted by the Reichstag in the early days of the Nazi regime. Some rabbis call for a boycott of Arab shops. Like then. The call “Death to the Arabs” (“Judah verrecke”?) is regularly heard at soccer matches. A member of parliament has called for the separation between Jewish and Arab newborns in hospital. A Chief Rabbi has declared that Goyim (non-Jews) were created by God to serve the Jews. Our Ministers of Education and Culture are busy  subduing the schools, theater and arts to the extreme rightist line, something known in German as Gleichschaltung. The Supreme Court, the pride of Israel, is being relentlessly attacked by the Minister of Justice. The Gaza Strip is a huge ghetto. 

Of course, no one in their right mind would even remotely compare Netanyahu to the Fuehrer, but there are political parties here which do emit a strong fascist smell. The political riffraff peopling the present Netanyahu government could easily have found their place in the first Nazi government.

One of the main slogans of our present government is to replace the “old elite”, considered too liberal, with a new one. One of the main Nazi slogans was to replace “das System”.

BY THE WAY, when the Nazis came to power, almost all high-ranking officers of the German army were staunch anti-Nazis. They were even considering a putsch against Hitler . Their political leader was summarily executed a year later, when Hitler liquidated his opponents in his own party. We are told that General Golan is now protected by a personal bodyguard, something that has never happened to a general in the annals of Israel.

The general did not mention the occupation and the settlements, which are under army rule. But he did mention the episode which occurred shortly before he gave this speech, and which is still shaking Israel now: in occupied Hebron, under army rule, a soldier saw a seriously wounded Palestinian lying helplessly on the ground, approached him and killed him with a shot to the head. The victim had tried to attack some soldiers with a knife, but did not constitute a threat to anyone any more. This was a clear contravention of army standing orders, and the soldier has been hauled before a court martial.

A cry went up around the country: the soldier is a hero! He should be decorated! Netanyahu called his father to assure him of his support. Avigdor Lieberman entered the crowded courtroom in order to express his solidarity with the soldier. A few days later Netanyahu appointed Lieberman as Minister of Defense, the second most important office in Israel.

Before that, General Golan received robust support both from the Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya’alon, and the Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot. Probably this was the immediate reason for the kicking out of Ya’alon and the appointment of Lieberman in his place. It resembled a putsch.

It seems that Golan is not only a courageous officer, but a prophet, too. The inclusion of Lieberman’s party in the government coalition confirms Golan’s blackest fears. This is another fatal blow to the Israeli democracy.

Am I condemned to witness the same process for the second time in my life?

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Novelistic Sloppiness

May 20th, 2016 · Literature, Uncategorized


On my mind, this morning? Last night’s irritation: I had walked into McNally Jackson, my last (not least) favorite Manhattan bookshop, to browse new books & came upon Max Frisch’s Montauk (which I had reread twice in the last 6 months for a project I had been working on). Somewhat surprised that it had been reissued, I picked it up to see if their was any pressing reason for this. Well, there is a new introduction by novelist Jonathan Dee, so I casually started reading it. I never got to Dee’s explanation of why it was thought useful to reissue this book now, if he actually gave one, as only a couple pages into the intro I came across a serious blunder: Dee explains that Frisch’s book, besides the love affair with his US publisher’s young publicity assistant, is a rumination on, among others, Frisch’s recent horribly failed affair with Ingeborg Bachmann — whom he calls “the Swedish poet.” Bachmann was of course Austrian, and, as anyone even half-educated in European literature knows, the major Austrian writer of the post-WW2 decades. Dee — notorious mainly as the gofer for George Plimpton at the Paris Review — will no doubt know of Thomas Bernhard and possibly Peter Handke. But Bachmann? A woman poet — & thus clearly interesting only as the ex-girlfriend of the Swiss male novelist, so no need to even fact-check who she is. And yet, Bachmann (stopped writing poetry after her first two volumes were published) left us a major prose ensemble (the Todesarten project, including the novel Malina) highly admired by the likes of Thomas Bernhard, that surpasses Frisch’s staid, traditional, irony-clad middle of the road prose-works by a mile. I closed the book, put it back on the shelf & walked away. Such sloppiness, such ignorance! Even a high-schooler with wikipedia could have fact-checked this — and the publisher (Tin House Books) should certainly have done so. 


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Kareem James Abu-Zeid on Al-Mutanabbi and the art of translation

May 18th, 2016 · Arab Culture, Arabic, Translation, Uncategorized

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Steven Kushner’s Cloud House on the Move

May 17th, 2016 · Poetics, Poetry, Poetry Archives


[via Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems & Poetics blog. Note by J.R.:  Since 1970 Steven Kushner (“Kush”) has been known to many of us as the founder & sole proprietor of Cloud House, an amazing & constantly expanding archive of contemporary American poetry, largely audiovisual & equal in size to most institutionally sponsored repositories of kindred materials, or even greater.  As his life work he has come to view Cloud House as a poetmuseum (or, as he likes to say, a poetmusée) of the spirit, carrying it with him from New York City to what has been its ongoing residence for many years in San Francisco.  To this he has also contributed as an ongoing chronicler & video artist, catching the likenesses & voices of most poets of note on the west coast & of those from elsewhere who have passed through his territory.  As I post this he is preparing to move again: a return to the east coast where this all began & a new residence &revitalized project in Catskill, New York.  The search for funding & a permanent home for this extraordinary treasure continues into the present, for which Kush’s description that follows is explanation enough.]

 The Cloud House/”Walt Whitman Breathes Here” is a poet-driven cultural & audiovisual archive, a poetic research center and performance space with programs of screenings, literary-historical art installations and poets theatre, engaging the greater community.

Bi-coastal in its storefront emanations, the Cloud House is a vital experiment of cultural imagination, challenging conventional forms by exhibiting poets work, mind and voice. For more than 40 years, the Cloud House has been a poetic sanctuary for the creators of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissances and nomadic poets from around from world. Integral with this archival vision is the field-documentation of poets performing in their native communities or as visitors to the fabled venues of the Bay Area, week by week, month by month, year by year for decades, creating a detailed record of contemporary poetry practice in the tradition of Paul Blackburn. The Cloud House has built an unmatched audiovisual collection, including historic recordings of poets at the core of the anti-tradition such as Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima and Gary Snyder.

The scope of the Cloud House is open-ended beyond what passes for poetry in the accepted genres/norms, ranging from the avant-garde to the indigenous, from the historic cutting edge to the timeless individual, from the acknowledged to the wild unknown. The Cloud House Poetry Archives encompass poets of all ethnicities, their lineages, legacies and linkages on a planetary scale and especially poet-discoveries from ethnopoetic fieldwork. The Cloud House is a center for investigatory poetics, exploring roots and branches, the origins of poets and back stories of their work. Our mission is now to establish a living museum and research center, a poetmusee based on its audiovisual & multimedia collections, to preserve and transmit the unending breakthroughs of all the East & West Coast Poetry Renaissances. This Cloud is a poetic genius toolkit and a laboratory for the formulation of a new culture, a new consciousness where poetry is at center of life and community, embodying the creative word of truth, beauty and imagination.

 The Cloud House is in the process of establishing a new home at 452 Main Street, Catskill, New York.

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Day of Blogging for Ahmed Naji: His Reading Recommendations

May 16th, 2016 · "Arab Spring", Egypt

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From noon on Monday, May 16 through noon on Tuesday, May 17, the world will host a “Day of Blogging for Ahmed Naji.” This comes on the same day he receives his PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, in absentia, in NYC:

12524157_1764721093763360_4227884242732625602_nNaji has been in jail since February 20 on charges of “violating public morals” with a published excerpt of his novel Using Life. This day of blogging, in organizers’ words, is “to offer a writer who’s been sentenced to jail for two years the chance to get out of prison, but also to ensure that he is the last person imprisoned for his writings.”

Naji first emailed me in 2010, in his capacity as a journalist at Akhbar al-Adab. By then, he was already a relatively well-known novelist, at least in the tiny circles where these things are well-known.

He started blogging in 2005 at Wassia’ khayalak (Widen your imagination), at 20, and he wrote about a variety of things: movies, books, politics, society, human rights. In 2006, he got his Master’s in journalism and started working at Akbar al-Adab. He published his first novel, Rogers, in 2007, and in 2010 it was just appearing in Italian translation. By 2010, he was part of the center of a new literary movement that sought to tear down the more polite literature of the twentieth century and build something new.

Even when he became a successful journalist and novelist, he maintained an interest in blogging and other ways words could be used.

And he didn’t wait for 2011 to free him from his mental chains. “I had that since I started writing.”

Still: “Of course a new era has begun,” he told me in March of 2011. “What is it? How it will be? We’re still waiting for an answer to these questions.”

In the spring of 2011, he emphasized to me several times that “the coming steps will not be easy.” He believed that a “big part of the societal attitudes toward art have been created by military regime which has ruled Egypt for the last 60 years.” And “if we could have a democratic state, this will be a first step.”

He added, back in 2011, that he hoped “there will not be many novels about the revolution. I believe using the revolution as literary topic will lead to kitsch literature, and will turn that great moment to silly stories.”

But before that, in 2010, when Naji was part of a burgeoning new literary movement. He told me his favorite books were Nael Eltoukhy’s 2006 (2009), Ihab Abd El-Hamid’s Failed Lovers (2005), and Yasser Abdel-Hafez’s On the Occasion of Life (2005).

I must like this question, because I asked him again, over email, at the end of 2011. He gave just one new title: Youssef Rakha’s Sultan’s Seal (2011).

The last time we talked was in November 2015, over Skype, and it was mostly about the case against him (and the noise in the background, since I was sitting in a parking lot). He said he was trying to finish a collection of short stories. He was working on edits, hoping it would be published in 2016.

He characterized the trial against the excerpt of his novel as not about sex, but about language. Those things that the prosecution claims are “against public morality,” Naji said, you can find them in the hadith, or the reports about the life of Muhammad.

Naji traced this new public morality to the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Arabic literature had its nahda, or “awakening.” That’s when authors like Muhammad Husayn Haykal (Zaynab, 1913) and Salama Moussa put their stamp on Egyptian literature. “They cared very much about not using these words. So they disappeared from the written language, even though you can hear it everywhere on the street.”

Naji said he thought an examination of language was essential to creating a new literature. And: “I believe I have the right to use it.”

As we talked, he listed off a few other Egyptian writers that he saw as at the center of this project: Mohammed Rabie, Youssef Rakha, Nael Eltoukhy.

I didn’t record our talk. But I wrote down that he said, at the end: “I hope they stay safe, I hope.”

From Naji’s reading list:

There is no full-length book in translation by Ihab Abdel Hamid. But you can read “Cairo” over at the Qisus Ukhra blog.

Nael Eltoukhy’s 2006 hasn’t (yet) been translated into English, but his 2013 novel Women of Karantinawas translated by Robin Moger and is available from AUC Press.

Yasser Abdel Hafez’s Book of Safety (2013) will be published soon in English.

Mohamed Rabie’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted Otared was translated by Robin Moger and will be out this fall from Hoopoe Fiction.

Youssef Rakha’s Sultan’s Seal, trans. Paul Starkey, is available from Interlink.

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Uri Avnery on Israel’s Declaration of Independence

May 12th, 2016 · Israel, Palestine, Uncategorized

Israel65_7May 14, 2016

A Document with a Mission

WHEN DAVID BEN-GURION read out Israel’s declaration of independence (officially: “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel”) on May 14, 1948, I was in Kibbutz Hulda.

My company of the (still unnamed) Israeli army was ordered to make a night attack on the Arab village of al-Kubab, near the town of Ramleh. It was expected to be a hard fight, and I was busy checking my equipment and cleaning my (Czech) rifle, when somebody said that Ben-Gurion was making a speech which was being broadcast on the Kibbutz dining-room radio.

I was not really interested. We were all convinced that what some politicians in Tel Aviv might be babbling was quite immaterial to our future. Whether our state would survive or not would be decided on the battlefield. The regular armies of the neighboring Arab states were about to enter the war, there would be bloody battles, and the outcome would decide our lives. Literally.

However, there was one detail which aroused our curiosity: What would our new state be called? There were some rumors in the air. We wanted to know.

So I betook myself to the kibbutz dining room – which we soldiers were not allowed to enter on ordinary days – and sure enough, I could hear the very peculiar high-pitched voice of Ben-Gurion reading the document. When he came to the passage “(we) hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”, I left.

I remember that outside the hall I met the brother of a girl-friend, who was scheduled to attack another village that very night. We exchanged a few words. I never saw him again. He was killed.

ALL THIS crossed my mind when I was called upon three days ago, on the eve of “Independence Day”, to take part in a ceremony in the very hall where the original text had been read out by Ben-Gurion. I was one of the persons chosen to read it out again on the 68th anniversary.

For this occasion I read the entire text of the declaration for the first time. I was not impressed.

The original version was first drafted by some officials, then re-written by Moshe Sharett (who became Foreign Minister on that day). He was a stickler for the Hebrew language, so the text is linguistically impeccable. Ben-Gurion was not satisfied with the text, so he took it and rewrote it completely. It bears all the hallmarks of his unmistakable style. Also, he had the Chutzpah to put his signature above all the others, which appear in alphabetical order.

The writers of the declaration had obviously read the American Declaration of Independence before drafting their own. They copied the general outline. It is not written in the edifying style of an historical document, but as a document with a mission: to convince the nations of the world to recognize our state.

THE INTRODUCTION is a reiteration of Zionist slogans. It purports to set out the historical facts, and very dubious facts they are.

For example, it starts with the words “Eretz Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious, and political identity was shaped.”

Well, not quite. I was taught at school that God promised Abraham the land while still in Mesopotamia. The 10 Commandments were given to us by God personally on Mount Sinai, which is in Egypt. The more important of the two Talmuds was written in Babylon. True, the Hebrew Bible was composed in the country, but most of the religious texts of Judaism were written in “exile”.

“Jews strove in every successive generation to reestablish themselves in their ancient homeland…” Nonsense. They most certainly did not. For example, when the Jews were expelled from Catholic Spain in 1492, the vast majority of them went to the countries of the Muslim world, with none but a handful settling in Palestine.

Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish nation in Palestine, was founded only at the end of the 19th century, when anti-Semitism became a powerful political force all over Europe, and the founders foresaw the calamities to come. 

THE DECLARATION emphasized, of course, recent history: “On the 29th of November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel…”

That is a major falsification. The UN resolution called for the establishment of TWO states: an Arab and a Jewish one (and a separate zone of Jerusalem). Omitting the call for an Arab state changes the entire character of the resolution.

This was, of course, intentional. Ben-Gurion was already in secret contact with King Abdullah of Jordan, who wanted to annex the West Bank to his Transjordan kingdom. Ben-Gurion approved.

Ben-Gurion saw it as a major aim to eliminate any trace of a separate Arab Palestinian nation. The annexation of the West Bank by King Abdullah was tacitly approved – even before the first Jordanian soldier entered the country, ostensibly to save the Arabs from the Jewish State.

HERE IS the place to tackle these two fateful words: “Jewish State”.

Before the creation of Israel, when speaking about our future state, nearly all of us here used the words “Hebrew State”. This is what we shouted in innumerable street demonstrations, this is what was written in the newspapers and demanded in political speeches.

This was not an ideological decision. True, there was a tiny group of young writers and artists, nicknamed “Canaanites”, which was proclaiming the birth of a new “Hebrew Nation” and wanted nothing to do with the Jews in the Diaspora. Some other groups, including one founded by me, expressed similar ideas without reaching such absurd conclusions.

But in colloquial speech, too, people made a clear distinction between “Hebrew’  (things in the country, like Hebrew agriculture, Hebrew defense forces etc.) and “Jewish” (like Jewish religion, Jewish tradition and such).

So, why “Jewish State”? Quite simple: for the British administration, the population of Palestine consisted of Jews and Arabs. The UN partition plan spoke about a Jewish and an Arab state. The “Declaration of Independence” took great pains to emphasize that we were only fulfilling the UN decision. Hence: “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state, to be known as the State of Israel”. 

(Note: “A” Jewish state, not “the” Jewish state.)

These innocent words have been quoted a million times to justify the contention that Israel is a “Jewish” state, in which Jews have special rights and privileges. This is accepted today without question.

However, it is generally overlooked that in one of the paragraphs, while “extending our hand to all neighboring states” it asks – in the Hebrew original – for cooperation with “the sovereign Hebrew people”. This is flagrantly falsified in the official translation into “the sovereign Jewish people”.

In the main sentence in the Hebrew original, the signers identify themselves as “…representatives of the Hebrew community in Eretz Israel…” The official translation says “the Jewish community in Eretz Israel”.

One has to thank Ben-Gurion for the fact that God does not appear in the document at all. After a strenuous fight with the then small religious Zionist faction, the only religious allusion is to “the Rock of Israel”, which is one of the appellations of God, but which can also be understood differently.

ONE GLARING omission is the stark fact that the declaration does not make one mention of the borders of the new state.

The UN partition plan drew very clear borders. In the course of the 1948 war, our side conquered considerably more territory. In the end the so-called Green Line was established.

The Declaration mentions no borders, and up to now Israel remains the only state in the world which has no official borders.

In this, as in almost all other matters, Ben-Gurion laid down the  track along which Israel has been moving to this very day.

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Litmus Press Spring Open Call & More!

May 8th, 2016 · Uncategorized

Spring open call, Companion Animal wins Norma Farber First Book Award, Restless Continent release



We’re very pleased to announce our spring open call for single-author first-book poetry manuscripts in English. We will be accepting submissions from May 1st to June 1st, 2016. Texts that engage bilingual or multilingual practice are welcome, while writers whose texts are translations from other languages into English are encouraged to send work to our open call for translations next year. Writers who are not U.S. citizens are welcome to send work. The chosen manuscript will be announced this August.

Litmus Press is dedicated to publishing innovative, cross-genre, and interdisciplinary work by poets, writers, translators, and artists. Our longstanding practice of publishing first books is integral to our mission to support the vital work of emerging writers who do not benefit from existing structures of privilege. We are especially interested in writings that acknowledge intersectionality and embrace formal and political wildness.

Follow the link for submission guidelines:

Litmus Press is a program of Ether Sea Projects, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit literature and arts organization.

Magdalena Zurawski wins the 2016 Norma Farber First Book Award forCompanion Animal!

Of the book, 2016 Norma Farber judge Jennifer Moxley says:
“‘Most of the day I feel things. Nobody / pays me, I just do it . . . .’ What more perfect capsule of the lyric poet’s dilemma under the spirit of capitalism? It is this dilemma that animates Magdalena Zurawski’s Companion Animal, which chronicles a redemptive, if grief-strewn, lyric journey back to poetry after an exile in prose.”
Congrats Maggie!!! Read the rest of Moxley’s remarks here.

114916fc-10fa-49a8-8387-29dc591c9399Hot off the press!
Restless Continent
by Aja Couchois Duncan

“In Aja Couchois Duncan’s quest to re-envision a living mythology that gives body and voice to those vital presences that have long haunted the margins of Western knowledge and experience, we, too, are given a chance to reformulate and reassert our relationship to ground, to wind, to language, which Duncan shows us—through a graceful and vigilant thinking line—are all one and the same. There is an intelligence here that I’ve been missing in contemporary poetry, one that writes into a we, an I, a you, a she, a he acutely aware that these categories are constantly re-directing themselves toward the unknown and are always only ‘a fraction of.’ An extraordinary debut.” — Renee Gladman


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