Meanderings & mawqifs of poetry, poetics, translations y mas. Travelogue too.

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Uri Avnery: The Settlers’ Prussia

October 17th, 2015 · Israel, Palestine

The Jewish settlement of Har Homa at sunset in east Jerusalem on June 3, 2009. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images) #

The Jewish settlement of Har Homa at sunset in east Jerusalem on June 3, 2009. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images) #

October 17, 2015

ISRAELI DEMOCRACY is sliding downwards. Sliding slowly, comfortably, but unmistakably.

Sliding where? Everybody knows that: towards an ultra-nationalist, racist, religious society.

Who is leading the ride?

Why, the government, of course. This group of noisy nobodies which came to power at the last elections, led by Binyamin Netanyahu. 

Not really. Take all these big-mouthed little demagogues, the ministers of this or that (I can’t quite remember who is supposed to be minister for what) and shut them up somewhere, and nothing will change. In 10 years from now, nobody will remember the name of any of them.

If the government does not lead, who does? Perhaps the right-wing mob? Those people we see on TV, with faces contorted by hatred, shouting “Death to the Arabs!” at soccer matches until they are hoarse,  or demonstrating after each violent incident in the mixed Jewish-Arab towns “All Arabs are Terrorists! Kill them all!”

This mob can hold the same demonstrations tomorrow against somebody else: gays, judges, feminists, whoever. It is not consistent. It cannot build a new system. 

No, there is only one group in the country that is strong enough, cohesive enough, determined enough to take over the state: the settlers.

IN THE middle of last century, a towering historian, Arnold Toynbee, wrote a monumental work. His central thesis was that civilizations are like human beings: they are born, grow up, mature, age and die. This was not really new – the German historian Oswald Spengler said something similar before him (“The Decline of the West”). But Toynbee, being British, was much less metaphysical than his German predecessor, and tried to draw practical conclusions.

Among Toynbee’s many insights, there was one that should interest us now. It concerns the process by which border districts attain power and take over the state.

Take for example, German history. German civilization grew and matured in the South, next to France and Austria. A rich and cultured upper class spread across the country. In the towns, the patrician bourgeoisie patronized writers and composers. Germans saw themselves as a “people of poets and thinkers”.

But in the course of centuries, the young and the energetic from the rich areas, especially second sons who did not inherit anything, longed to carve out for themselves new domains. They went to the Eastern border, conquered new lands from the Slavic inhabitants and carved out new estates for themselves.

The Eastern land was called Mark Brandenburg. “Mark” means marches, borderland. Under a line of able princes, they enlarged their state until Brandenburg became a leading power. Not satisfied with that, one of the princes married a woman who brought as her dowry a little Eastern kingdom called Prussia. So the prince became a king, Brandenburg was joined to Prussia and enlarged itself by war and diplomacy until Prussia ruled half of Germany.

The Prussian state, located in the middle of Europe, surrounded by strong neighbors, had no natural borders – neither wide seas, nor high mountains, nor broad rivers. It was just flat land. So the Prussian kings created an artificial border: a mighty army. Count Mirabeau, the French statesman, famously said: “Other states have armies. In Prussia, the army has a state.” The Prussians themselves coined the phrase: “The soldier is the first man in the state”.

Unlike most other countries, in Prussia the word “state” assumed an almost sacred status. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and a great admirer of Prussia, adopted this ideal, calling his future creation “Der Judenstaat” – the Jew-State.

TOYNBEE, NOT being given to mysticism, found the earthly reason for this phenomenon of civilized states being taken over by less civilized but hardier border people.

The Prussians had to fight. Conquer the land and annihilate part of its inhabitants, create villages and towns, withstand counterattacks by resentful neighbors, Swedes, Poles and Russians. They just had to be hardy.

At the same time, the people at the center led a much easier life. The burghers of Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich and Nuremberg could take it easy, make money, read their great poets, listen to their great composers. They could treat the primitive Prussians with contempt. Until 1871 when they found themselves in a new German Reich dominated by the Prussians, with a Prussian Kaiser.

This kind of process has happened in many countries throughout history. The periphery becomes the center.

In ancient times, the Greek empire was not founded by the civilized citizens of a Greek town like Athens, but by a leader from the Macedonian borderland, Alexander the Great. Later, the Mediterranean empire was not set up by a civilized Greek city, but by a peripheral Italian town called Rome.    

A small German borderland in the South-East became the huge multi-national empire called Austria (Österreich, “Eastern Empire” in German) until it was occupied by the Nazis and renamed Ostmark – Eastern Border area.

Examples abound.

JEWISH HISTORY, both real and imagined, has its own examples.

When a stone-throwing boy from the Southern periphery by the name of David became King of Israel, he moved his capital from the old town of Hebron to a new site, which he had just conquered – Jerusalem. There he was far from all the cities in which a new aristocracy had established itself and prospered.

Much later, in Roman times, the hardy borderland fighters from Galilee came down to Jerusalem, by now a civilized patrician city, and imposed on the peaceful citizens a crazy war against the infinitely superior Romans. In vain did the Jewish king Agrippa, descendent of Herod the Great, try to stop them with an impressive speech recorded by Flavius Josephus. The border people prevailed, Judea revolted, the (“second”) temple was destroyed, and the consequences could be felt this week on the Temple Mount (“Haram al Sharif”, the Holy Shrine in Arabic), where Arab boys, imitators of David, threw stones at the Jewish imitators of Goliath.

In today’s Israel, there is a clear distinction – and antagonism – between the affluent big cities, like Tel Aviv, and the much poorer “periphery”, whose inhabitants are mostly the descendents of immigrants from poor and backward Oriental countries.

This was not always so. Before the founding of the State of Israel, the Jewish community in Palestine (called “the Yishuv”) was ruled by the Labor Party, which was dominated by the Kibbutzim, the communal villages, many of which were located along the borders (one could say that they actually constituted the “borders” of the Yishuv.) There a new race of hardy fighters was born, while pampered city dwellers were despised.

In the new state, the Kibbutzim have become a mere shadow of themselves, and the central cities have become the centers of civilization, envied and even hated by the periphery. That was the situation until recently. It is now changing rapidly.

ON THE morrow of the 1967 Six-Day War, a new Israeli phenomenon raised its head: the settlements in the newly occupied Palestinian territories. Their founders were “national-religious” youth.

During the days of the Yishuv, the religious Zionists were rather despised. They were a small minority. On the one hand, they were devoid of the revolutionary élan of the secular, socialist Kibbutzim. On the other hand, real orthodox Jews were not Zionists at all and condemned the whole Zionist enterprise as a sin against God. (Was it not God who had condemned the Jews to live in exile, dispersed among the nations, because of their sins?)

But after the conquests of 1967, the “national-religious” group suddenly became a moving force. The conquest of the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem and all the other biblical sites filled them with religious fervor.   From being a marginal minority, they became a powerful driving force.

They created the settlers’ movement and set up many dozens of new towns and villages throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. With the energetic help of all successive Israeli governments, both left and right, they grew and prospered. While the leftist “peace camp” degenerated and withered, they spread their wings.

The “national-religious” party, once one of the most moderate forces in Israeli politics, turned into the ultra-nationalist, almost fascist “Jewish Home” party. The settlers also became a dominant force in the Likud party. They now control the government. Avigdor Lieberman, a settler, leads an even more rightist party, in nominal opposition. The star of the “center”, Yair Lapid, founded his party in the Ariel settlement and now talks like an extreme rightist. Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party, tries feebly to emulate them.

All of them now use settler-speak. They no longer talk of the West Bank, but use the settler language: “Judea and Samaria”.

FOLLOWING TOYNBEE, I explain this phenomenon by the challenge posed by life on the border.

Even when the situation is less tense than it is now, settlers face dangers. They are surrounded by Arab villages and towns (or, rather, they interposed themselves in their middle). They are exposed to stones and sporadic attacks on the highways and live under constant army protection, while people in Israeli towns live a comfortable life.

Of course, not all settlers are fanatics. Many of them went to live in a settlement because the government gave them, almost for nothing, a villa and garden they could not even dream of in Israel proper. Many of them are government employees with good salaries. Many just like the view – all these picturesque Muslim minarets.

Many factories have left Israel proper, sold their land there for exorbitant sums and received huge government subsidies for relocating to the West Bank. They employ, of course, cheap Palestinian workers from the neighboring villages, free from legal minimum wages or any labor laws. The Palestinians toil for them because no other work is available.     

But even these “comfort” settlers become extremists, in order to survive and defend their homes, while people in Tel Aviv enjoy their cafes and theaters. Many of these old-timers already hold a second passport, just in case.  No wonder the settlers are taking over the state.

THE PROCESS is already well advanced. The new police chief is a kippah-wearing former settler. So is the chief of the Secret Service. More and more of the army and police officers are settlers. In the government and in the Knesset, the settlers wield a huge influence.

Some 18 years ago, when my friends and I first declared an Israeli boycott of the products of the settlements, we saw what was coming.

THIS is now the real battle for Israel.

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The Gulf in Luxembourg

October 15th, 2015 · Live Reading, Man-made Disaster, Poetry, Theater

  • Auteur :
    Pierre Joris

    Musique :
    Composers: Gene Coleman, Chris Jonas & Gabriel Jackson.
    Choir Director: Jeff Mack

    Avec :
    with Pierre Joris and The Duke’s Singers

    Une production :
    Théâtre National du Luxembourg

    Lieu de production :
    Théâtre National du Luxembourg
    194, route de Longwy
    L-1940 Luxembourg
    Téléphone: (00352) 26 44 12 70 1

    TICKETS Vendredi
    23 octobre 2015
    TICKETS Dimanche
    25 octobre 2015
    TICKETS Mercredi
    28 octobre 2015


A Trptych


A few months after the 20th April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the ensuing disastrous oil spill, – the largest and most destructive in recorded history – Donald Nally, the conductor of the Philadelphia based chamber choir The Crossing commissioned Pierre Joris to compose three texts for their 2013 Month of Moderns project, The Gulf (between you and me).

Simultaneously, he asked the composers Gene Coleman, Chris Jonas & Gabriel Jackson to write music for these texts. The work premiered in June 2013 in Philadelphia over the course of three weekends. Now, the work will be heard in Europe for the first time.

The Gulf (between you and me) explores how we seem to hear what the earth is saying to us with the same sad inability with which we often listen to those we most love. William Saroyan wrote, « The intention of art has always been to deepen, extend, elevate, ennoble, strengthen, and refresh the experience of living. It cannot begin to do these things until it accepts part of the management of the physical life of man, which is now in the hands of inferior men. »

The Gulf (between you and me) has no pretensions toward having answers, its aim is to sing beautiful, thought -provoking music that is relevant to our lives as we engage art to better understand our world.

The three texts are inspired by Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard by Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as an interview with Sheri Revette, who talks about her husband’s death, and yet another interview with Kindra Arnesen, fisherwoman, wife of a fisherman, mother, activist, cofounder of the Coastal Heritage Society, a feisty and powerful voice in the fight for justice after the Gulf disaster.

Pierre Joris lives and works in New York, but returns to Luxembourg frequently, to maintain his many literary friendships. This season, he is the TNL’s author in residence.The Gulf (between you and me) features the writer himself performing his own poems, accompanied by a choir directed by Jeff Mack.

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Poetry and theater: PJ as Poet-in-residence

October 12th, 2015 · Poetics, Poetry, Prose, Theater, Translation

  by Florent Toniello | | Kultur in Woxx:

He’s a successful Luxembourgish writer who chose already decades ago to live his dream abroad and write in English. Meet Pierre Joris, artist-in-residence this season at the Théâtre national du Luxembourg.


When starting a conversation with Pierre Joris, any poetry enthusiast has to be humbled by the achievements of the Strasbourg-born Luxembourger now residing in New York: close to 50 books published, ranging from poetry and essays to translations and anthologies. Among these are three volumes of the critically acclaimed “Poems for the Millennium” series (co-authored with Jerome Rothenberg and Habib Tengour), gathering poems from hundreds of twentieth-century avant-garde writers from all over the world. Yet Joris remains very approachable; poetry, after all, is also a humbling discipline that often requires great efforts to only offer a small albeit passionate public in return. This season’s residence is thus an opportunity to widen his public in Luxembourg.

Innovative poetry to describe today’s world

While most of his countrymen choose to pursue a literary career in French or German, the poet decided himself for English. “At 18, I had started to write in German and in French, but the problematic of post-War German literature was not mine, and I was totally not interested in what the French were doing at the time,” Joris explained last year in an interview with American author Paul Auster. So English it was, a choice influenced as well by childhood memories of American movies and a copy of “On the Road” abandoned by a young couple on a Spanish beach. Probably the reason he remains less known in his native country than in the United States, despite six books published in the Grand-Duchy by Éditions Phi.

How would Joris describe his own poetry? “A poem needs to be a discovery. I get my first line from various sources of inspiration: other poems, newspaper articles, dreams, something I read on the back of a truck – but I do not wish to know where it takes me, otherwise I lose all interest.” This very personal view of creative writing is also the reason why he did not publish any novel: doing so would mean having a predefined plan, which Joris seems above all allergic to. And yet he confesses reading classic poetry with pleasure: “Of course I enjoy rereading Shakespeare’s sonnets. But I do not believe that a traditional sonnet is a meaningful format to describe today’s world.”

The poet’s innovative and modern style will be at the forefront of this year’s TNL season. Encouraged by friends Nico Helminger and Jean Portante, who also were artists-in-residence, Joris took up the challenge and will offer two very different pieces to the Luxembourgish public. The first one, “The Gulf (between You and Me)”, already premiered in the United States while he is still currently writing the second one, “The Agony of I.B.”. The former is a musical triptych on his poetry, commissioned by the Philadelphia-based choir The Crossing, directed by Donald Nally, on the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The latter is a theater play, a genre he had not yet ventured into. “Although my work was never theatrical, it has always been tied to public performance. Public readings are an essential component of American poetry – so in a way my poems are similar to music scores that need to be interpreted on stage to be complete.”

Speaking of scores, each part of “The Gulf” was given to a different composer (Gene Coleman, Chris Jonas and Gabriel Jackson), resulting in three very different atmospheres. They were presented on three different evenings during summer 2013, following a first event where Joris read his own text. In Luxembourg, the triptych will be performed for the first time in one single evening, which the author is understandably quite excited about. “On top of my research, I also did a lot of fieldwork to write that piece. My wife and I drove to Florida and witnessed the scale of the disaster. Among others, I interviewed the fisherwoman and activist Kindra Arnesen, whose words are included in the third part.”

Fighting Moloch with words

It is not difficult to feel that, despite being a commissioned work, “The Gulf” offers the poet the opportunity to take a political stand: “Moloch, Moloch / Moloch – / rules, Moloch / rules / all rules are broken when Moloch rules”, he writes in the final verses of the first part, in a discreet homage to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”. And when Joris adds later “the Vietnamese & the Cambodian communities / a really tough time being hired on / the great language barrier: / 90% of the information put out / in the first 60 days was English only,” he sneaks in a parallel between the predominance of the English language and the almighty power of the conglomerate between the US government and BP that minimized social and environmental unrest. This combination of lyricism and political criticism is to be found throughout Joris’s poetry.

“The Agony of I.B.”, to be staged next June in a world premiere, is by contrast an entirely personal project narrating the last days of Austrian poetess Ingeborg Bachmann. Besides Max Frisch and Hans Werner Henze, the other major character is Paul Celan, the famous German language Romanian poet. “Bachmann and Celan have been important to me from the very beginning of my career: after all, I have been translating Celan for about 50 years! The two met in 1948, two years after I was born, and Bachmann died in 1973, after I left Europe. So I was interested in looking back on this continent I was educated in after the War,” he comments. The play starts with the accident that led the Austrian author to fall into a coma, and then shows her being visited by the voices of the most important men in her life. Here, the evil English language that left some communities uninformed in “The Gulf” turns into a decisive advantage: it introduces a distance factor that the playwright can use to convey his own vision, rather than having to quote his characters in their original language and somehow dilute his personal touch.

How does writing for the theater modify Joris’s routine? True to his appreciation of everything disruptive, he explains: “I have to travel between New York and Luxembourg with 23 kilograms of books, the complete works of all writers mentioned in my play. Every day I dive into Bachmann’s words. Yet I am not sure I will succeed; writing this is taking a big risk, but that is what makes it worthwhile.” Master of parallels, Joris also mentions that Bachmann, not as recognized as she should be, had a literary career that started with poetry and evolved onto prose. “The next books I have in the making will also be in prose, although not using a specific genre – and certainly not novels.” While waiting for the results of this new endeavor, theatergoers will have this season the opportunity to discover or rediscover a unique Luxembourgish author. For those who enjoy the experience, there will be plenty to read after the performances.

At the TNL this season:
The Gulf (between You and Me)”, October 23rd and 28th at 8pm, October 25th at 5pm.
The Agony of I.B.”, June 14th, 17th, 18th and 21st at 8pm.

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Uri Avnery on Mahmoud Abbas

October 10th, 2015 · Israel, Palestine

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas speaks during a press conference on October 8, 2014 in the West Bank City of Ramallah. Clashes broke out as Palestinians protested against Jews visiting the flashpoint holy site on the eve of the week-long holiday for Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, Israeli police said. AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
October 10, 2015

                                                 Leader without Glory

I FIRST met Mahmoud Abbas in Tunis at the beginning of 1983.

I knew that he was responsible for the Israel desk in the PLO leadership. Said Hamami and Issam Sartawi, the PLO delegates with whom I had been in permanent contact since 1974, told me that he was in charge. But he was not present at my first meeting with Yasser Arafat in Beirut during the siege.

I came to Tunis with General Matti Peled and Yaakov Arnon, in an official delegation of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which we had founded in 1975. Before meeting with Arafat himself, we were asked to meet with Abu Mazen (as Abbas is called) and discuss our ideas, so as to present the leader with an agreed, detailed proposal. That was also the procedure in all the many meetings that followed.

Abu Mazen was very different from Arafat. Arafat was flamboyant, spontaneous, extrovert. Abu Mazen is rather withdrawn, introverted, cautious, meticulous. My first impression was that of a schoolmaster.

When Arafat was murdered (as I believe), there were two obvious candidates to succeed him: Mahmoud Abbas and Farouk Kaddoumi, both members of the PLO founding generation. Kaddoumi was far more extreme, he did not believe that Israel would ever make peace and admired the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad. The PLO leadership chose Abbas.

WHEN ABBAS assumed “power” (in quotation marks) – he found himself in an almost impossible situation.

Arafat had accepted the status of the Palestinian Authority under Israeli occupation as a calculated risk.

First of all, he believed Yitzhak Rabin, as we all did (and as I advised him to). We all believed that Rabin was well on the way to accepting a Palestinian state next to Israel. Within five years, the State of Palestine would become a fact. No one could have foreseen the murder of Rabin, the cowardice of Shimon Peres and the ascent of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Even before that, Rabin had bowed to the pressure of his “security chiefs” and reneged on crucial parts of the Oslo agreement, such as the free passages between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Abu Mazen entered into this situation – Rabin was dead, the Oslo agreement only a shadow of its former self, the occupation and the settlement enterprise in full swing.

It was an almost hopeless task from the start: a dubious autonomy under occupation. According to the Oslo deal, which was meant to last for five years at most, the greater part of the West Bank (“area C”) was under direct and full Israeli control, and the Israeli army was free to operate in the two other areas (“A” and “B”), too. An additional Israeli withdrawal, provided for in Oslo, never materialized.

Palestinian elections held in these circumstances led to a Hamas victory, helped along by the competition among the Fatah candidates. When Israel and the US prevented Hamas from assuming power, Hamas took the Gaza strip over by force. The Israeli leadership was full of glee: the old Roman maxim Divide et Impera served its purposes well.

Since then, all Israeli governments have done everything in their power to keep Abbas in “power” while reducing him to a mere underling. The Palestinian Authority, conceived in the beginning as the embryo of the Palestinian state, was shorn of any real authority. Ariel Sharon used to refer to Abu Mazen as a “plucked chicken”.

TO REALIZE the extreme danger of Abu Mazen’s situation one has only to remember the most recent historical precedent of “autonomy” under occupation: Vichy.

In the summer of 1940, when the Germans overran Northern France and occupied Paris, the French surrendered. France was divided into two parts: the North, with Paris, remained under direct German occupation, the South was granted autonomy. A venerable marshal, Henri Petain, a hero of World War I, was appointed leader of the non-occupied zone, the capital of which was set up in the provincial town of Vichy.

A lone French general resisted the surrender. Charles de Gaulle, with a small band of adherents, fled to London, where he tried by radio to arouse the French people to resist. The effect was negligible.

Against expectations, the British continued the war (“Alright then, alone!”) and the German regime in France became inevitably harsher and harsher. Hostages were executed, Jews deported, Vichy became more and more a byword for collaboration with the enemy. Slowly the “resistance” gained ground. In the end, the Allies invaded France, the Germans occupied the Vichy territory and were vanquished, de Gaulle returned as a victor. Petain was sentenced to death but not executed.

Opinions about Petain were divided, and still are. On the one hand, he saved Paris from destruction and saved the French people from many of the cruelties of the Nazis. After the war, France recovered quickly, while other countries were in ruins.

On the other hand, Petain is regarded by many as a traitor, a former hero who collaborated with the enemy in wartime and turned resistance fighters and Jews over to the Nazis.

OF COURSE, different historical situations cannot be equated. Israelis are harsh occupiers, but they are no Nazis. Abu Mazen certainly is no second Petain. But some comparisons may be in order.

One way to judge a policy is to ask: what are the alternatives?

It is no exaggeration to say that all forms of Palestinian resistance have been tried and found wanting.

In the beginning, some Palestinians dreamt of Indian-style civil disobedience. It failed completely. Palestinians are no Indians, and the occupation army, which has no real antidote to civil disobedience, simply started to shoot, compelling the Palestinians to turn to violence.

Violence failed. The Israeli side enjoys infinite military superiority. With the help of informers and torture, Palestinian underground cells are regularly uncovered, including the last one this week.

Many Palestinians hope for international intervention. This has been prevented by successive US administrations, all of which served the occupation on request of the US Jewish establishment. Sympathizers of the Palestinian cause, such as the international boycott movement (BDS) are far too weak to make much of a difference.

The Arab countries are good at making declarations and proposing plans, but largely unwilling to help the Palestinians in any real way.

What remains? Precious little.

ABU MAZEN believes – or pretends to believe – in “international pressure”. Many Israeli peace activists, despairing of their own people, have reached the same conclusion.

With a lot of patience, Abbas is slowly gathering points at the UN. This week, the Palestinian flag was raised at the UN headquarters among the flags of member nations. This has raised national pride (I remember a similar event in our own past), but does not really change anything.

Abbas may also hope that the growing personal antagonism between President Obama and Prime Minister Netayahu will induce the Americans to withhold their veto in the Security Council the next time a resolution against the occupation comes up. I doubt it. But if so – the Israeli government will just ignore it. The same will happen if Abbas succeeds in getting some Israeli officers indicted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. Israelis believe only in “Facts on the Ground”.

I assume that Abu Mazen knows all this. He is playing for time. He is trying to prevent a violent uprising, which he believes will only benefit the occupation, deploying his American-trained “security forces” in cooperation with the occupation army. This is close to the abyss.

He has one consolation: the Hamas authority in the Gaza Strip has obviously come to the same conclusion and is now keeping a kind of armistice (“hudna”) with Israel.

ONE OF the main differences between Jewish Israelis and Arabs is their attitude towards time. Israelis are by nature impatient, Arabs are patient to a fault. Arabs admire the camel, an animal of infinite patience. The Arabs have a very long history, while the Israelis have almost none.

I assume that Abu Mazen believes that at this point in time there is very little Palestinians can do. So he is leading a holding operation: endure the occupation, prevent violent confrontations the Palestinians are bound to lose, wait for the situation to change. Arabs are good at this kind of strategy, called sumud.

However, the occupation is not just staying around. It is active, taking away Arab land, relentlessly building and enlarging Israeli settlements.

In the long run, this is a battle of wills and endurance. As has been said, a battle between an unstoppable force and an unyielding mass.

HOW WILL Abbas be judged by history?

It is much too early to say.

I believe that he is a true patriot, no less than Arafat. But he is in danger of sliding, against his will, into a Petain-like situation.

I definitely do not believe that he is corrupt, or that he represent a small class of “fat cats” who are getting rich under and from the occupation.

History has placed him in a situation that is well-nigh impossible. He is showing great courage in trying to lead his people in these circumstances.

It is not a glorious role. This is not a time for glory.

History may remember him as a man who did his best in disastrous circumstances.

I, for one, wish him well.

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New Irving Petlin Show in Paris

October 9th, 2015 · Art Exhibition


Last night Nicole & I were at the vernissage /opening of an exhibition of new paintings (pastels and oils) by Irving Petlin, one of our absolutely favorite workers in the field of visual arts — and one of the most literate painters I know. It was as always a major treat, and though I am partial to his pastel works — he is without a doubt the contemporary master in that medium — it was fascinating to see his return to oils, at moments stark statements in/of red or blue, & at others closer, more subtle & playful approximations of the pastels.

If in Paris between now & the end of October, do not miss this show, curated by Nadine Fattouh at Galerie Jacques Leegenboek, 33 rue de Lille, Paris 75007 .

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Why Algerian Novelist Boualem Sansal’s ‘2084’ is a Sensation in France

October 8th, 2015 · Uncategorized

via the excellent Arabic Literature (in English):

Boualem Sansal’s 2084 has become a sensation in France, where it made the longlist for every one of country’s most prestitious literary prizes. Nadia Ghanem reads the book, and its reception, against the backdrop of France’s relationship with Algeria and the aims of its literary prizes:

By Nadia Ghanem

2084CouvertureIn France, every year between October and November, six of the most prestigious literary prizes open the autumn: the Goncourt, the Grand Prix, the Renaudot, the Medicis, the Femina and the Interallie. 

This year, 2084: The End of the World (Gallimard ed., 2015), Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal’s seventh novel, appears on every of these literary institutions’ longlists. 2084 was preselected bythe Goncourt, the French Academy’s Grand Prix du Roman (who celebrates its centenary this year), the Femina, the Renaudot, the Médicis, and the Interallié prizes. In addition, 2084 is onLe prix de Flore’s list and was also selected forLe prix de la page 111 whose winner was Pierre Senges, as announced on the first of this month.

What is the purpose of a literary prize in France?

The Goncourt, the French Academy’s Grand Prix, and Femina are the oldest in the history of French lit prizes. The Goncourt awarded its first prize in 1903, Femina in 1905, and the French Academy its Grand Prix in 1915. Then came the Renaudot in 1926, Interallié in 1930, and the Médicis in 1958. The Goncourt was created for a specific purpose: to institutionally recognize prose as a valuable, separate genre apart from verse,and to rebalance how aesthetics, and its hierarchy, were understood — definitions that had up till then been exclusively set by the French Academy and its immortals (an institution that dates back to the seventeenth century). The Goncourt brothers wanted to reward literary prose, recognise its separate branches, and step away from the French Academy’s monopoly. Other literary institutions created prizes that followed the brothers’ vision.

As time passed, these organizations and prizes grew deep roots and shaped the literary canon, but they took on an international dimension only relatively recently. The Goncourt underwent this process in the 70s, and the French Academy’s creation of the Prix de la Francophonie, initiated in 1986 by Canada, France and Morocco, illustrates this new literary (and geopolitical) objective. It will escape no one that the 70s coincide with a decade that saw the emergence of new nation-states, who in the course of their history had become francophone by force or by choice.

Today, the Goncourt states that it aims to reward the best work of imagination published in the year. The French Academy’s Grand Prix du Roman seeks to reward a work’s originality, and the Femina’s intention is to recompense free thinking. But before and behind these various literary concerns, it is the quality of the French language (they all declare) that is fundamental. The promotion and safeguard of the French language is at stake here.

With notions of language protection and promotion at the prizes’ core, it becomes natural to find francophone writers who come from geographies physically remote from the mothership, France. These authors’ novels are considered for services rendered to the French language, and for enriching the corpus of an institutional canon. Francophone authors are related by language, their second umbilical cord, not by birth or origin.

If colonization has taught us anything, it is to beware the politics of language. While safeguarding one’s language is noble, France has showed time and again that its tactics for survival, and expansion, include intellectual co-opting. Behind every cultural embrace lays a claim for ownership. France isn’t unique here: dominant nations as far back as the Assyrian and Babylonian empires founded themselves on the same principles. They erected their supremacy with weapons and established their hold with culture, absorbing the other until it belonged, according to each’s definition of belonging.

They rewrote history by writing stories.

The substance of the story

Why is 2084 creating such a craze? We are told Sansal’s revisiting of Orwell’s 1984 is key in having captured the imagination of readers. The French literary scene seems quite fond of this book-extension concept, the extension of classics, especially when Algerians are reworking them. It made this amply clear last year with the reception of Kamel Daoud’s Meursault, contre-enquête, which extended Camus’ L’étranger. Algeria was once the land of French expansion. It is now the land of European classics’ extension. But is a concept sufficient to win a prize? What about the story?

In a sanatorium, set up high in the Ouâ mountains, towering over the Sîn region, Ati is recovering from tuberculosis. A year has passed during which he has received the appropriate dosages of concoctions and powerful talismans to aid his condition. Ati is somewhere around his early thirties, he doesn’t know. No one knows his or her exact age in Abistan, the land of believers in the all-seeing Yölah and his representative on earth Abi, or Bigaye, who rules over 60 regions, that is the whole world. Ati has recovered and can now be sent back to Qodsabad, the capital of Abistan, to resume his work as council clerk. He and all other patients now healed, will leave by caravans pulled by donkeys. It will take a year to reach Qodsabad, during which Ati will meet Nas, a civil servant working for the archives department of the Ministry of Holy books and Memories. Nas has just returned from an excavation where he and a group of archaeologists found a previously unknown site whose remains point to a great flaw in Abi’s truths: there was a world before Abistan, one in which Yölah’s religion and others co-existed. Could a time have existed before the greatest war, the Holy War Char, when Abistanis won against the Chitan and the Enemy, previously known as the United High Regions or the Lig in Abilang, Abistan’s language?

Unnerved by what the excavations will reveal but excited, Nas makes his way back to the Kiiba, around which the oligarchs of Abigouv have set up their ministries and where they fight among themselves for power. Ati returns home haunted by Nas’s tale. The religious scepticism that had gripped him during his sanatorium stay firms up when he meets Koa, a work colleague who shares Ati’s secret questioning of Gkabul, acceptance, and of man’s purpose beyond the worshipping of Yölah nine times a day. Both friends are moved to action by doubt, a feeling for which there is no word in Abilang. They decide to head for the Kiiba, the pyramid that shines like the rising sun and can be seen from all four horizons, to find Nas. They leave searching for what lies within the Holy city, and to discover who or what is Democ and the Return.

The coating of the substance

Some might be inspired by the story’s content, others — like the media, worked up by Sansal during his interviews — have been mesmerised by its coating. And as you read 2084, you can easily see why.

An Iranian or Afghan-sounding city name (Qodsabad) is surrounded by suburbs reachable on rails via underground tunnels (the metro system, shht). In the Kiiba, Ati and Koa’s shady new friend, Toz, has kept a museum intact whose ancient name is the Louvres. He continues to fill it with artefacts to piece together a time before Abistan, even though there is no such thing, Abi says. The languages that survive post-Abilang, spoken in hiding, are French (thank God!) and Modern Standard Arabic.

Piece all this together and now you can start to panic. France, and what’s worse Paris, have been taken over by futuristic brothers bent on Friday floggings, remarrying burniqab women, raping young boys, the total sum of which wear burni-cloaks so dirty you can tell washing machines exist no longer. The death of home electrical equipment is a sure sign all types of sciences have been proscribed, except for IT to keep electronic newspapers going in Abistan. (Meanwhile, Toz represents an onomatopoeic word in various colloquial Arabics, inspired by the anus.)

What lies beyond

Think you might read 2084? You should, but be prepared.

Sansal describes Ati’s journey in four parts called Books, plus a curious epilogue. Book 1 sets the scene and explains Abistan. It is probably the most nebulous. Sansal has no clear idea what Abistan is like because he just can’t see what it could be like. In Book 2, Sansal can no longer sustain his lack of imagination, nor can the reader, and that’s lucky. His talent takes over at this point to breathe a three-dimensional spirit into Ati and his surroundings (basically, it’s Algiers). Book 3 begins Ati and Koa’s detective work. For any detective and crime-novel fan, it’s the best part. Book 4 is the last book. This means you’re nearly done, and it’s worth a read on that basis. Then there’s the Epilogue, composed of seven + 1 articles. Seven articles published by Abistan’s e-news and the +1 is a mountaineer’s tale, written on a sheet of paper circulated by caravaneers.

Think you might not read it? Wait.

Whatever you may think of Sansal as an author, he is not unkind. He leaves a shorter way to get through the book. Every Book, or part, starts with a short summary of the tale it contains. So in essence, Sansal’s novel is not 288 pages, it’s 4 pages + 1.

Boualem Sansal is one of Algeria’s best established novelists, as well as one of the country’s most talented, whether we’re happy about this or not. In 1999, his first novel, The Barbarians’ Oath, earned him two prizes, Le Prix du Premier Roman and the Prix Tropiques in France, and set the stage for his literary career. His novels share the same traits: a fluid, playful and radiant language that carried his vision of a fragile and sinister reality, a world inhabited by individuals whose experiences were moving and actions compassionate. That was the pattern for his first four powerful novels. Something after them changed.

A world of newsreel

2084 is not the first book in recent years to have generated media debates because it mixes the fear ofthe other with electoral suspense. Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission did it in 2015, Sabri Louatah did it in his epic four volume family saga Les Sauvages (2012-2014), in 1982, Christopher Mullin did it in English with A Very British Coup (but the fearsome other were UK Left-wingers). However, these stories didn’t put any of their writers up for five major literary prizes. Could the hermeneutics of numbers in the title 2-0-8-4 have cast a spell? Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Orwell’s 1984 are splendid, but it’s not because of their titles nor hermeneutics.

In 2084, Sansal essentially describes a world we can entirely relate to without stretching our creative powers because Abistan is built on the images of destruction and conflicts we see today, and everyday, on the news. But it is a world so remote from Sansal’s western compass, physically and emotionally, that he just can’t get inspiration for it beyond the first layer, the TV screen layer. 2084 is a CNN news flash.

The world of journalism has been fundamental in shaping contemporary Algerian literature. Algerian lit has been marked by major and classic authors who are, and were first, journalists. Sansal was not one, but that’s the belly he comes from and I wonder if things went wrong because of this environmental legacy. This news diet, and its inherent exploitation of immediate attention-getting and readership, has not solely affected the once awesome writer of Le Serment des Barbares (a cornerstone work in Algerian literature), it has affected Algerian literary production. A serious examination of recently published novels should be commenced to try and determine what is happening, not to French literature, but to Algerian literature and its vampiric news muse.

nadiaNadia is a doctoral student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where she specializes in the ancient languages of Iraq and Syria. Based between Algeria and the UK, she blogs  at about living in Algeria, and Algerian literature.

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Joris on Celan & Witnessing @ ENS

October 6th, 2015 · Criticism, Essays, Language, Literature, Philosophy, Poetry, Translation



Open & free to the public
Monday, 12 October, 11a.m. to 1p.m.
Salle Beckett
Ecole Normale Supérieure
45 Rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris

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CMP’s Great Jean-Luc Godard Project

October 3rd, 2015 · Anthology, Books, Translation

Godard, Phrases from Giovanni Piacenza on Vimeo.

To raise funds to complete a Jean-Luc Godard publication to be translated by Stuart Kendall.
Contra Mundum
New York, New York
United States
1 Team Member

Contact See More Details

Short Summary

Contra Mundum Press (CMP) is seeking support for the remainder of printing costs and marketing expenses for a series of five books by Jean-Luc Godard to be translated into English: 1) Allemagne neuf zero; 2) Les enfants jouent à la Russie; 3)JLG / JLG; 4) 2×50 ans de cinéma français; 5) For Ever Mozart; and 6) Éloge de l’amour.

The books will be published under the collective title Phrases and mark the second collaboration between translator Stuart Kendall and CMP, our first being Kendall’s translation of Gilgamesh (2012).

What We Need & What You Get

We have already paid for the translation rights, have funds for typography and design fees, but have only part of the printing fees covered (a total of 2,000 copies will be printed). What remains of the budget for the book is as follows:

Printing costs: $7,600.00

Publicity & Marketing: $3,000.00

Typesetting & Design (for ads): $350.00


For your contribution to the project, these are the gifts that we are offering for different donation levels:

1) A 10% discount on Godard’s PHRASES.

2) A copy of Godard’s PHRASES before it is released to the general public

3) Discounts from 15%–25% on other CMP books.

4) An original work of calligraphy by Alessandro Segalini of a word or phrase of your choice.

5) Discounted subscriptions to CMP books or any twelve CMP books of your choice.

6) An original 12” x 12” silk-screen of Genese Grill’s “World-maker; Word-maker (Robert Musil at Work).”

Genese Grill is the translator of Thought Flights, our edition of Robert Musil’s selected short prose & other texts.

7) Series Titling: In the tradition of Stanford University Press’s Meridian Series (named in honor of Paul Celan’s speech on poetics), for a significant donation, our Godard publication can be named in your honor. On a title page, the publication will be named after you or an agreed upon name, i.e., A Dark Matter Series Publication.

The Team


A pioneer of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard has had an incalculable effect on modern cinema that refuses to wane. Before directing, Godard was an ethnology student and a critic for Cahiers du cinéma, and his approach to filmmaking reflects his interest in how cinematic form intertwines with social reality. His groundbreaking debut feature, Breathless is essential Godard: its strategy of merging high and low culture has been mimicked by generations of filmmakers. As the sixties progressed, Godard’s output became increasingly radical, both aesthetically and politically, until 1968 when he had forsworn commercial cinema altogether, forming a leftist filmmaking collective (the Dziga Vertov Group) and making such films as Tout va bien. Today Godard remains our greatest lyricist on historical trauma, religion, and the legacy of cinema. [Bio taken from Criterion]

TRANSLATOR: STUART KENDALLThe books will be translated into English by Stuart Kendall, a writer, editor, and translator working at the intersections of modern and contemporary art and design, critical theory, poetics, and theology. Kendall is the author of the critical biography Georges Bataille and the editor and translator of four other books by Bataille (SUNY Press). He has also translated works by Éluard, Blanchot, and Guy Debord and is the co-editor of Terence Malick: Film & Philosophy.


Alessandro Segalini studied and practiced graphic design and calligraphy in Milan, Helsinki, Philadelphia, and Rome. He is a member of the editorial board of Multi, the RIT journal of diversity and plurality in design, and co-creator of ISType (Istanbul Type Seminars), a lecture and workshop series devoted to encouraging typographic literacy in Turkey. Hemingway, a typeface designed by Segalini, was inspired by Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and selected for the UK Creative Review Type Annual (2011).

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Five Palestinian Poets in Paris

September 30th, 2015 · Middle East, Minority Literature, Poetry, Poets, Translator

‘Interludes Poétiques de Palestine’:

Palestinian poet and publisher Ashraf Zaghal was in Paris for the “Interludes Poetiques de Palestine.” He writes:


By Ashraf Zaghal

Between September 22 and 26, five Palestinian poets shared the stage at two cultural and literary hubs in Paris, Maison de la Poesie and Institut du Monde Arabe, to read their recent poems and interact with the French audience. The list of participating poets included Ghassan Zaqtan, Rajaa Ghanim, Ashraf Zaghal, Fady Joudah, and Jihad Hudaib. All were invited by the Franco-Palestinian Arab Institute as part of the Institute’s third annual poetry event entitled “Interludes Poetiques de Palestine.” Two of the invited poets, Joudah and Hudaib, could not make it to the event, however their poems were recited and their presence was felt.

The two poetry-reading events, held on September 23 and September 25, incorporated a performance of the French Soprano Elodie Hache with the Palestinian musician and composer Patrick Lama, who wrote the music for two poems written by Ghassan Zaqtan.

The poems that participated in the events were translated by poet and translator Mohamed el Amraoui and recited in French by Phillipe Tanculin, professor of aesthetics at University of Paris VIII, and the French actress Lina Soualem. Most of the poems were extracted from recent collections. The poems included “I Don’t Know the Road to Aleppo” by Ghassan Zaqtan, “Doors of Nostalgia” by Rajaa Ghanim, “A Red Hand” by Ashraf Zaghal, “The Humanitarian Man” by Fady Joudah, and “Impersonal Portrait” by Jihad Hudaib.

As part of the activities surrounding the readings, the poets met the director of the Arab World Institute Jack Lang and the Syrian singer and activist Samih Choukeir. The poets were also interviewed by Radio Monte Carlo, Radio Orient, and France 24.


Ashraf Zaghal was born in Jerusalem in 1974, and has lived in Palestine, the US, and Canada. He has written four poetry collections: Wheels of Ashes, Sleeping as I see, A Desert in the Metro, and A Portrait of the Ugly Family. In 2001, he was awarded the Young Writer’s Award for Poetry by the A.M. Qattan Foundation. He has been translated into French, Hebrew and English, and he is the editor-in-chief of an online literary magazine ( which promotes progressive creative writing and taboo-breaking themes.

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Tageblatt Article on PJ @ Luxembourg National Theater

September 29th, 2015 · Interview, Journalism, Literature, Poetry, Theater

Heute hier, morgen da

Eineinhalb Stunden verfliegen wie zehn Minuten, und selbst der Automatenkaffee schmeckt irgendwie nach Zaubertrank. Ein wenig high verlässt man das Theater schon – nach einem Gespräch mit Pierre Joris. Die Droge? Na, die Sprache.

Mit zwei Stücken ist Pierre Joris in der diesjährigen Spielzeit im TNL vertreten. (Bild: François Aussems)

Mit zwei Stücken ist Pierre Joris in der diesjährigen Spielzeit im TNL vertreten. (Bild: François Aussems)

Er wohnt nicht in Luxemburg, sondern in New York. Und er ist eigentlich kein Theatermensch, sondern in erster Linie Dichter. Der diesjährige „auteur en résidence“ des TNL ist schon etwas ganz Besonderes. Ein Gespräch mit Pierre Joris lässt einige Bruchteile erkennen, aus denen sich diese Persönlichkeit, die u.a. Paul Celan ins Englische übersetzte, mit Janis Joplin und Allen Ginsberg in New York wilde Feste feierte und nun hier in Luxemburg sitzt und über Flüchtlinge und Nomadentum redet, zusammensetzt. Er lebt in keinem Elfenbeinturm, sondern nimmt an der Welt in all ihren Dimensionen teil, ist ständig in Bewegung, ruhelos, nomadisch, aufgewühlt.

Pierre Joris im TNL

• The Gulf (Between You and Me)

• Pierre Joris / Gabriel
Jackson / Chris Jonas /
Gene Coleman

• 23., 25. und 28. Oktober

• The Agony of I. B.

• Regie: Marion Poppenborg

• Mit: Sascha Ley, Nickel
Bösenberg und Fred Frenay

• 14., 17., 18. und 21. Juni



Die Flüchtlingsströme sind die Rettung Europas, findet er. Nur leider hätten das die wenigsten verstanden. „Das mit dem Nationalstaat haben wir versaut“, sagt er, „da müssen wir drüber hinwegkommen“. Die Lösung sei nunmal – er zitiert aus „Zeus hospitalier“ von René Scherer – die Invasion. „Vive donc l’invasion!“ Lasset die Zeit der Anderen kommen, das Einzige, was uns noch retten kann, ist die Vermischung, denn: „Die Wurzel allen Übels ist Reinheit“.

Größte Erfindung der Menschheit

Das gelte übrigens auch für die Literatur, für die Sprache, „die größte Erfindung des Menschen“. Pierre Joris wird sprachphilosophisch:

Es könne keine Reinheit, keine Durchsichtigkeit in der Sprache geben, zwischen dem Ding und dem Wort, das es zu nennen versucht, bleibe immer unüberbrückbarer Raum, Nomadenland. Ding und Wort haben nicht viel miteinander zu tun, das dürfe man niemals vergessen, denn sonst laufe man Gefahr, das Menschliche zu vereinfachen …

Das Übersetzen ermögliche den stärksten Fokus auf ein Sprachgebilde, sagt Pierre Joris. Schließlich versuche ein Übersetzer, ein Sprachgebilde in eine andere Sprache „einzumeißeln“. Bei den Gedichten von Celan zum Beispiel habe er versucht, „das Deutsche so ins Englische einzusetzen, wie der Hölderlin das Griechische ins Deutsche hineinschrieb“.

„Stärkste Ausdrucksform der Sprache“

Kein Wunder, dass jemand, der seine Arbeit als Übersetzer mit solchen Worten beschreibt, sich selbst in der Dichtung, als „stärkster Ausdrucksform der Sprache“, am Nächsten fühlt. „Die Form des Romans finde ich uninteressant. Warum soll ich Situationen oder Personen erfinden?“ Und deshalb liegt der einzige Roman, den Joris, damals in den sechziger Jahren als Student, in irgendeinem Hotel in Paris jemals geschrieben hat, bis heute unberührt in einer Schublade.

Und das Theater? Das ist ihm schon vertrauter. Vor allem, weil er sich dem Theater mithilfe seiner Dichtung nähern kann. „Wissen Sie, die amerikanische Poesie ist sehr unfranzösisch, ihre Sprache viel näher der gesprochenen Sprache und deshalb direkter, lebendiger, spontaner“. Alle seine Gedichte könne er laut vorlesen und vor seinen Studenten, mit denen er über die Notwendigkeit spreche, dass alle Dichtkunst nomadisch sein müsse, laufe er auch ständig herum. Das ähnele schon sehr einer Performance.

Auch im TNL wird Pierre Joris auf der Bühne zu sehen sein. Für das Stück „The Gulf (Between You and Me)“, ein Stück, das das Ölunglück Deep Water im mexikanischen Golf zum Ausgangspunkt hat. Eine Collage aus Text, Musik und Performance, die – davon ist auszugehen – die Grenzen des klassischen Theaters sprengen wird.

Frank Hoffmann wartet, und der Zug nach Paris und die Arbeit auch. Gesprächsfetzen hängen in der Luft, bis zum 23. Oktober, Pierre Joris!

(Janina Strötgen)

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