Thursday, 28 May 2020

The Search for Human Connection in Songs for the End of the World


 “Society is still worth protecting, don’t you think? Maybe now more than ever.”
-          – Saleema Nawaz, Songs for the End of the World
 
Almost two months ago, the Montreal writer, Saleema Nawaz received considerable attention in the Canadian media for her novel Songs for the End of the World, about a respiratory pandemic ravaging 2020 America that bears startling similarities to the current COVID-19 Virus. Among them: the devastation of New York City from a mysterious infectious virus that originated in China; the inconvenience of self quarantines; the individuals on the front line – police and health care workers – risking their lives to save the lives of individuals afflicted with this virulent pathogen; the need for personal protective gear; social distancing ordinances; conspiracy theories posted on social media, and anti-Asian hate crimes. The novel took six years to research and write, and Nawaz’s imagination, combined with her knowledge about previous pandemics from the Spanish flu (1918-1920) to SARS, is etched into her narrative. Still, given her prescience, it is unsurprising that Songs, scheduled to be published in late August, was rushed into an e-book in early April.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

The Plot Against America: Adapting a Novel for Television

"It's about: What if the magnetic forces at work in our country were just given a little push in one direction. What if a certain kind of intolerance was just given a slight nod from powers on high?"
– Zoe Kazan, actor on the HBO series, The Plot Against America

History is a nightmare from which none of us can wake.”
– James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This review contains spoilers

Michelle K. Short of HBO photographed the screenshots

In Anti Social, a riveting account of the alt-right online trollers who elevate the persuasive narrative above any semblance of accuracy, evidence or fairness, Andrew Marantz interjects the wisdom of the philosopher, Richard Rorty, who contends that history is not preordained but is contingent and depends on the way people bend its arc. I thought about Rorty and Marantz’s far-right profiles as I reread The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and watched the six-part gripping HBO mostly-faithful television adaptation by creator David Simon and his collaborator Ed Burns, widely known for their productions among others of The Wire and Treme. I found the gradual slide into fascism in America more convincing in The Plot than I did when I first read it in 2004 – likely because of the current American political climate – and that the Simon’s and Burns’s rendition offers innovations that enhance the relevance of the novel by creatively blurring the distinction between the early 1940s setting and our time. 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Portrait of a Survivor as a Young Man

“The past is intrinsic to the present, despite any attempts to dismiss it.”
Ariana Neumann

Ariana Neumann’s moving, beautifully-written memoir, When Time Stopped: A Memoir of my Father’s War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann (Scribner 2020) chronicles her search to shed light on the early secretive life of her Czech-born father, Hans, whom she remembers as an art-collecting, successful philanthropic business man. But her account is as much a mystery as a memoir because she combines the tools of both a sleuth and historian to unearth her father’s life.
 
Currently, a London based journalist, Ariana spent her formative years in a well-heeled home nestled in Caracas Venezuela. Although her father’s early life for her was basically a tabula rasa, she remembers awaking to her father’s screams uttered in a foreign language. He would say nothing about what provoked these nightmares and he discouraged her from asking questions. At that time, raised as a Catholic, she did not even know she was Jewish. Later as a college student when they both travelled to his homeland in Czechoslovakia, Hans revealed little, apart from a sob near an old railroad station: “Sometimes you have to leave the past where it is—in the past.” The underlying purpose of his daughter’s research and writing is to challenge that assumption.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Expressions of and Responses to Authoritarian Populism

"The greatest threat to liberal democracies does not come from immigrants and refugees but from the backlash against them by those on the inside who exploit fears of outsiders to chip away at the values and institutions that make our societies liberal."
— Sasha Polakov-Suransky, Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy, 2017


“The point of modern propaganda isn’t to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
— Garry Kasparov 

"Populists in power tend to undermine countervailing powers which are the courts, which are the media, which are other parties."
— Cas Mudde, Populism: A Very Short Introduction, 2017



“Every age has its own fascism.”
— Primo Levi

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Challenge of Racism in America

“We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”
— Barack Obama speaking in Selma on March 7 2015 at the fifth anniversary of the famous march


"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their pain."
— James Baldwin

“We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided for the education of the deaf and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and placed it upon the road to prosperity.”

W.E.B. Du Bois
— Thomas Miller, South Carolina Congressman, 1895



“If  there was one thing that  South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro  government."

—W.E.B. Du Bois

“Yet, the harsh fact is that in many places in this country, men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes. Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right.”

— Lyndon Johnson,Voting Rights Act Address, 1965

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Unsilencing of Women




"Beard’s primary subject is female silence; she hopes to take a “long view on the culturally awkward relationship between the voice of women and the public sphere of speech-making, debate and comment”, the better to get beyond “the simple diagnosis of misogyny that we tend a bit lazily to fall back on”. Calling out misogyny isn’t, she understands, the same thing as explaining it, and it’s only by doing the latter that we’re likely ever to find an effective means of combating it. The question is: where should we look for answers? Beard acknowledges that misogyny has multiple sources; its roots are deep and wide. But in this book, she looks mostly (she is a classicist, after all) at Greek and Roman antiquity, a realm that even now, she believes, casts a shadow over our traditions of public speaking, whether we are considering the timbre of a person’s voice, or their authority to pronounce on any given subject.

Personally, I might have found this argument a bit strained a month ago; 3,000 years lie between us and Homer’s Odyssey, which is where she begins, with Telemachus effectively telling his mother Penelope to “shut up”. But reading it in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it seems utterly, dreadfully convincing. Mute women; brutal men; shame as a mechanism for control; androgyny and avoidance as a strategy for survival. On every page, bells ring too loudly for comfort."

— Rachel Cooke, The Guardian November 5, 2017.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

The Dream of Political Racial and Economic Equality in South Africa

"There's no such thing here (in South Africa). The facts may be correct but the truth they embody is always a lie to someone else. Every inch of our soil is contested, every word in our histories." 
– Rian Malan, The Lion Sleeps Tonight 2012

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
– Nelson Mandela




Truth and Reconciliation Commission
“Having looked the beast in the eye having asked and received forgiveness, let us shut the door on the past and not forget it but to allow it not to imprison us.”
– Archbishop Tutu