Weekend

Required Reading

This week, a mural for George Floyd, chilling images of a CNN reporter’s arrest, anti-racism resources for white people, Trump’s ghost writer, Barry Schwabsky on Hal Foster, and more.

Lorie Shaull’s photo of a man walking by a burning building on the morning of Thursday, May 28, after a night of protests and rioting in Minneapolis, Minnesota (photo courtesy Lorie Shaull’s Flickrstream)

When George Orwell distilled his chilling vision of totalitarianism into a single image, he imagined this: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” The last word is critical — forever. It implies a choice, a small measure of hope. As long as the picture of a boot on a face is intolerable, there is hope for political self-determination, a meaningful public sphere and democracy. When it becomes tolerable, when it is normalized and visions like the one America witnessed Friday morning are commonplace, then the authoritarian longings latent in every democracy become totalitarian reality, and there is no escape from what Orwell called the “intoxication” of brute power.

As the CNN crew member was being led away, someone picked up his camera and carried it a few yards before setting it down again. The machine was still recording, and inadvertently and passively it captured another vision, common to people across the world. Now it seemed to see the world again transparently, and the consciousness it suggested was that of a protester — from Hong Kong, or Cairo, or Venezuela or any of the European cities where, a generation ago, people gathered to throw off the shackles of corrupt regimes. Its eye bounced along above the pavement, as if connected to a body that was offering no resistance, that was being carried off limp and compliant by armed thugs in state uniforms. And then it just lay on the ground, seemingly broken and spent, but still conscious, still looking out at the boots of the cops a few feet away.

How do we deal with a person whose core impulse in every part of his life is to deny, deceive, deflect, disparage, and double-down every time he is challenged? And what precisely is the danger such a person poses if he also happens to be the leader of the free world, during a crisis in which thousands of people are dying every day, with no letup in sight?

The first answer is that we must understand exactly who we’re dealing with, and we have not, because what motivates Trump’s behavior is so far from our own inner experience that it leaves us feeling forever flummoxed.

A pharisaical self-congratulation on being part of the righteous remnant is what might be called the kitsch of political critique. Foster, I hasten to add, is no more prone to this fault than any of us are. But when, as in much of the first part of What Comes After Farce?, Foster is working more in the vein of punditry than of criticism strictly speaking, the temptation becomes all the more irresistible, and perhaps that’s why all the rhetoric of trauma and transgression (which is the rhetoric of expressionism, I should add, despite a younger Foster’s damning critique of expressionist art) leads only to anodyne pronouncements such as “We should not let bad actors get a free pass where they should be most held to account…in the political realm,” a formulation hardly more incisive than the urge to “support our troops” or even Kundera’s “idiotic tautology ‘Long live life!’”

Jingle Dress dancing holds a spiritual power for Indian people because of its association with healing. In the Ojibwe world, spiritual power moves through air and sounds hold significance. Rows of metal cones, “ziibaaska’iganan” in the Ojibwe language, dangle from the garment and produce a pleasant rattle as they bounce against one another. When many women dance together in unison, the effect is amplified, becoming a healing reverberation. Observers sometimes describe it as the sound of rainfall, though as an Ojibwe from the north, I hear it as the sound of ice.

Women dance in patterns, not in a straight line, to confuse the disease. Healers in the early 20th century, who could be men or women, were valued for their extensive knowledge of plants. Music and medicine coexist in a symbiotic partnership. Because song and dance heal us, art is as necessary as medicine in the worst of times.

According to archaeologist Sireen El-Zaatari, at least 50 prehistoric sites across Lebanon have been badly damaged or destroyed. In a paper published in the academic journal Quaternary International last year, El-Zaatari found that hundreds of sites had been discovered across Lebanon but only a handful have been properly excavated, largely in the early part of the 20th century and with outdated technology. “Lebanon remains virtually unexplored,” she writes, and offers great potential for further study of late human evolution, which is long overdue, “especially as rapid urbanisation has led to the destruction of many of the identified sites”.

Inspired by the nightingale, Handel incorporated the bird’s song into “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” (1740), “Solomon” (1748), and his Organ Concerto No. 13 (1740), known as “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale.”

“Though we may wish it were not so, George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) himself was an investor in the official slave trading business, the Royal African Company,” writes scholar David Hunter in the September 2019 edition of the Music Library Association’s journal, Notes.

Last week, radio host and podcaster Garrett McQueen, who mentioned Handel’s connection to the slave trade on-air, was contacted by a listener:

“You’re not shy about mentioning that #Handel had dealings with the slave trade. Do you mention that Bernstein supported the domestic terrorists known as the #BlackPanthers?”

McQueen added that it had been six or seven months since he last aired Handel, “so obviously something else triggered him. Probably my existence.”

  • Madonna and her son do something really weird and the Bossip title is all shades of hilarious:

David Makes Dance: Madonna Has Her Black Son “Stamp Out” Racism With Bizarre Sunken Place Soft Shoe; Gets CLOWNED

In TV interview after TV interview with journalists and politicians working from their homes in New York City and beyond, “The Power Broker,” Mr. Caro’s magisterial 1974 biography, is often conspicuously visible in the background, its bold red-and-white spine popping out from the screen, the ultimate signifier of New York political sophistication.

Labor was the obvious starting point for forestalling a full-blown crisis. In July 1977, a commission of inquiry into labor legislation was appointed to investigate and make recommendations regarding all existing labor legislation in South Africa. On Labor Day 1979, the Wiehahn Commission—known after its chairman—presented its report to Parliament. In a historic move, it recommended the abolition of race-based job reservation and the legal recognition of African trade unions. This amounted to the dismantling of the apartheid labor dispensation.

 

Yet local labor observers, and scholars subsequently, were quick to point out that the reforms presented thinly-veiled efforts to safeguard continued white power. The commission recommended strict controls on African unions, and the state envisioned granting labor rights only to African workers in the cities while continuing to exclude the bulk of the labor force seen as migrant workers from the homelands. It was hoped that redefining the status of urban Africans by granting them industrial citizenship would secure their allegiance to the state and divide the black population.

 

This reading of late-apartheid politics assumes that all of white society stood to benefit from these reforms: for white elites, it would imbue the state with legitimacy and secure continued political dominance; for white capital, it promised the return of labor stability. Ordinary white citizens do not feature in these accounts—they are assumed to have been securely middle class, supportive of state policy, and oblivious to shop-floor unrest and black political demands.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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